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Book Review: Mage's Apprentice (Mages of New York - Book 1)

Mage’s Apprentice (Mages of New York – Book 1) by Sean Fletcher

4 stars
Category: Young Adult
Note: Free on Amazon!

Summary: Aspen has always lived in the magical boroughs of New York City even though she is a normal non-magical person. And because of that, the magical community has always looked upon her like a roach or a plague, even before the murder of her parents when she was just a kid. But it has just made her tougher and more stubborn to live there. So, over the years she has become a thief-for-hire armed with an arsenal of weaponry, gadgets, and magical tricks. But one night, she tries to rob from the wrong person. And finds herself caught in a deal with High Council mage Lucien to compete in the contest for the open council seat as his apprentice, even though she doesn’t have any magic herself.

Comments: Even though the contest is a major plot point, not much time is actually spent on it. But then, the contest didn’t seem like all that much of a challenge anyway. The heart of this book was mainly fleshing out the magical world of New York City and all the main players inside it, from the flashy mages, to the criminal underbelly (reminded me a lot of Chicago in the Harry Dresden books). It is a fascinating world and all of the characters were interesting. The least interesting character though was Aspen herself. She had an interesting background and things to discover about her, and she excelled at action scenes (which there were plenty of), but she was rather focused on the one guy who screwed her (even though she really didn’t have any evidence that pointed to him, and she knew another certain character was bad, which didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense). But with being a cliché tough chick in black leather (I gripe about those regularly since they all seem to be clones of Black Widow), she considers showing emotion as a weakness. And because of her being emotionally distant, I’m not feeling emotionally attached to the story. Lucien reminded me mostly of Doctor Strange from the Marvel movies, complete with the cape that could move on its own and Chinese training facilities (okay, so the one in this book was Japanese, but you get my point). He was also a lot like Harry Dresden. He had the same scorn, cavalier regard for, and itch to screw with the High Council that Harry had, and the same reputation as a loose-cannon (come to think of it, the High Council itself felt very borrowed as well from the Harry Dresden books or even the Star Wars prequels). He also used a lot of the same rune powered rings and shield bracelets. Isak was interesting that I couldn’t pick out who his character was borrowed from and he had a lot of depth to him and loyalty, even though he was hiding behind the same emotionally distant wall that Aspen was hiding behind and I liked that they had similar backgrounds and were able to bond over it. I was a bit annoyed that the elven borough was named Rivendell, without even bothering to acknowledge that it was borrowed from Tolkien. I did like Aspen and Lucien’s relationship, the little I saw of it. And also like the Harry Dresden books, this world also has plenty of diverse supernatural/paranormal creatures residing within the city (from mages, and druids, to necromancers, and ghouls, and ghosts, and vampires, and fairies and elves, giants, and even primordial gods). Fans of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books might find this an action-filled read with their vein of fantasy.
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Book Review: Quick Study: A Federal Paranormal Activities Agency Prequel

Quick Study: A Federal Paranormal Activities Agency Prequel by Katherine Kim

5 stars
Category: Young Adult
Note: Only $0.99 cents on Amazon! I obtained a free copy via the author’s newsletter.

Summary: After an incident at school, Caroline hides in the small museum inside the City Hall. A group of thieves hold up the small museum, taking with them some relics, and Caroline. They throw her into a locked room with the hope of getting some ransom money for her. She finds she’s not alone in the locked room. Her fellow prisoner claims to work for a federal agency known as Federal Paranormal Activities Agency, and he’s a vampire. He tells her that the group that took them prisoner are elves, and that his agency won’t be coming for him because his agency sees him as a problem, so it’ll be up to the two of them to escape their captors.

Comments: I liked this story. It’s aimed at a young audience, with Caroline being a typical teenager. She’s awkward, and bullied by other students, but she’s also smart to know when people are lying to her and devises an escape plan, and she keeps an open mind, allowing her to accept the idea of Darien being a vampire and a good guy. And I loved that she was able to hold her own without being a cliched shoot-first black leather wearing tough chick. I liked Darien, too, who was a nice guy in a bad predicament, and relatively young, so still a rookie, and I liked his determination not to let prejudice of his species and other species ruin his job, and I loved that he had flaws to him, like his hero complex which seemed to get him into bad situations, and his problematic previous relationship that got him black balled with the entire agency, and that he was talkative. The plot is a fun one, though straight forward with the two of them locked up together with plenty of time to build the paranormal world around them. And I liked that there was chemistry between Darien and Caroline, though at this point it was just a nice blossoming friendship topped with Darien’s hero complex wanting to protect her. And I liked Point who had a lot of humor to him. The copy I obtained did have typos in it. Not a lot, but I noticed them every couple of pages. My largest quibble with the story was that the copy I had never really described what happened to Caroline that prompted her to seek refuge in the museum. All it mentioned what that something happened during gym and that the bully Monique was involved. I really have no idea what happened. I liked both Caroline and Darien enough that I’m eager to see further adventures of them working together, but I’m really not a fan of paranormal organizations -they’re just so cliché.
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Book Review: Throne of Sand (Desert Nights - Book 1)

Throne of Sand (Desert Nights – Book 1) by Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince

4 stars
Category: New Adult
Note: Only $0.99 cents on Amazon.

Summary: Princess Shahrazade (who prefers her name to be shortened to Zadie) is willful, loves her freedom, has plenty of opinions on governing, love reading, and loves riding on horseback, and prefers pants to dresses, and is the opposite to her sister, the renown beauty Lalana. But when Lalana elopes with a relic trader after being promised to a formidable neighboring sultan, Zadie has to marry the sultan in her sister’s place, and become everything that her sister was. But she finds that the sultan is a whole lot more old-fashioned and traditional than she was led to believe and that his idea of his wife is just to look beautiful and do dainty things and leave the ruling to the men folk. It is up to her to change his mind. So, when a group of thieves inadvertently lead her to a magic ring with a Djinn, she sees an opportunity to open the sultan’s eyes, but she knows to be wary of Djinn who are known to trick people.

Comments: This story was entirely focused on finding magical artifacts, which got a bit tedious, especially when at the end of this book, we still hadn’t found the particular item that the sultan was looking for (though they did find other items). The story is in part a retelling of Aladdin with the finding of a Djinn, though the Djinn in this is a whole lot less helpful or useful. Zadie is interesting in being a tomboy who has to disguise herself as a dainty lady, and has to go against everything that she yearns to do. She is perpetually frustrated at the sultan with his rigid way of thinking how women ought to act and do. Considering this is a spin on the Aladdin tale, we know off the bat that the vizir is evil, though she seems to be moving pawns behind the scenes to her own ends, rather than doing anything outright. The sultan I really haven’t latched on to since the only thing to his credit is that he’s handsome, and since I can’t actually see him, that doesn’t sell me on him. Beyond that’s he’s uptight, stuffy, dry, not interested in Zadie except as something to show off, chauvinistic, and I kept wondering why Zadie was trying so hard to get him to like her since he’s really a poor catch other than being rich (which makes Zadie look superficial and power-hungry -not a good look on a heroine. She’s not bothering to get to know who the sultan is at all beyond what she already knew of him). Honestly, I’m not seeing any hint of a romance between the two, and I keep hoping Zadie falls for the Djinn instead who flirts with her (which I adore). Zadie keeps whining at every turn about how the sultan doesn’t let her into this meeting, or want to go riding with her, or hear her views on his trade route. And then there’s the Djinn, who’s potentially very interesting. It took the Djinn pointing it out that half a book after Zadie had made a deal with him, she hadn’t spared a minute to help him, even though it was a simple request. It spotlighted just how self-centered Zadie really is. Helping the Djinn just wasn’t important to her since it wouldn’t further her quest of trying to gain the attention of the sultan. The other thing that annoyed me was that Zadie kept referring to the kingdom as being hers. But it’s not. She’s just there as the sultan’s betrothed, but she hasn’t married him yet. Until she’s officially married, the kingdom isn’t hers. She’s just a guest there. Beyond an awful arranged marriage and treating the woman like she’s an object, there is action and thrill with bandits lurking in the deserts, and thieves stealing through the palace, and Zadie does find herself in some odd predicaments in her quest to win the favor of the sultan (for being such a smart character, she does make rather dumb decisions that put her in those troubling moments like trying to follow the thieves instead of say getting a guard, not realizing from the moment of setting foot into a place that she could get locked inside, that group wouldn’t hesitate in leaving without her, not bothering to help the Djinn, trying to watch the soldiers train -how did she honestly think that would look to the sultan?). I did love the adventure in this story, and the wonderful Arabian setting with the lush palaces, oasis, and desert swallowed ruins, and exotic market, and the trickster magic of the djinn.
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Book Review: Tales of Dunes and Dragons (Luminous Lands - Book 4)

Tales of Dunes and Dragons (Luminous Lands – Book 4) by Juliet Vane

5 stars
Category: New Adult
Note: I read this as part of the Dragons and Mages anthology.

Summary: The City of the Sand located in the middle of the desert is running out of water. Their only hope is that there will be water tomorrow. A group of travelers arrive into town, asking for water as they continue with their journey. And in exchange for the City of the Sand’s hospitality, the travelers tell them a tale about water being found by using the skins of dragons. Orion announces that he wants to travel to the South in search of the water dragon that the tale told of and he asks Inez to accompany him.

Comments: I’ve read my way through all of the other Luminous Lands books and even a couple of Juliet’s other books, and I’ve rated all of them 5 stars. I adore all the worlds that she creates. From the rainforest jungles filled with gigantic scorpions that people ride upon like horses, to the Arabian-like palace of the City of the Stars with ghostly windhaunts waiting to steal people’s memories, turning them into windhaunts as well. Her worlds are lyrical and dreamlike with their own mythology and lore scattered within, and immersive detail making you feel like you’re there in the book. This story follows Inez, the best friend of Nima Storyteller from Tales of Sand and Stars and it continued the friendship she formed with Orion in Tales of Wind and Wolves. As I said in my review for Wind and Wolves, I really don’t remember Orion from Tales of Sand and Stars and it’s making me want to re-read the book just to see how he was first introduced since I’m annoyed by the gap in my memory making me feel like a windhaunt stole it. I don’t want to say too much since it would give away all the wonderful twists and turns in this book, but there was plenty of adventure, and romance, and betrayal, and windhaunts, wolves, and giant scorpions, and even a couple of dragons (I do have to say that dragon shifters are more than cliché these days though). And a brief cameo of Nima, touching base with her again. Inez is a strong heroine, which isn’t a surprise since she had joined the warriors in the village before Tales of Sand and Stars was set. I loved the journey that Inez and Orion go through, and they both grow and change and learn, and I love seeing that change in their characters.
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Book Review: The Shadow Prince (A Mortal Enchantment prequel novella)

The Shadow Prince (A Mortal Enchantment prequel novella) by Stacey O’Neale

4 stars
Category: Young Adult
Note: Free on Amazon. Novella length.

Summary: Prince Rowan is called back to the court of the fire fey in Avalon after a long exile in the mortal world. His cruel, evil, power-hungry immortal mother, Prisma, tells him that she wants to give him the throne. He knows there has to be a catch to this since his mother would never just retire and give up power, and especially not to him, even though he is crown prince. The catch is that she wants him to assassinate the daughter of the king of the air fey. His mother is convinced that Kalin will be able to wield the power of all four elements and rule over all of the fey if she ascends to the throne and his mother refuses to have another court have power over the fire fey. Rowan watches Kaylin’s house where she is being raised in the human world and sees how innocent, warm, happy and beautiful Kaylin is, smitten instantly, forcing him to return to his mother to refuse the task.

Comments: This mainly an introduction to the main players of the series. Rowan is interesting in his conflictedness. He wanted the love of his cruel mother, even though he knew that was an impossibility and he wanted her to be proud of him, but he also wanted the friendship and respect of the other courts, and the friendship and freedom of his best friend and for his hellhound friend to be looked at on equal footing instead of having the fey look at him like a servant or an animal. And he wanted to be welcomed and wanted in his own court among his own people, even though he was always at odds with his mother the evil queen. There’s a lot to like about Rowan. His only real failing (aside from being rather naive and dense about what his mother might do) was the stereotypical cliched insta-lust for the cliched Mary-Sue Kalin, which didn’t make any sense in the scene. Kalin read like the usual ultra-perfect, soon-to-be ultra-powerful cliched teenage Mary-Sue author insert that all the other characters can’t help but love even though she’s painfully one-dimensional. I have no interest in reading a series starring her. Avalon, which could have been so much more just because of all the Arthurian lore in other books that could have been brought in and turned the world into something truly detailed and magical, just was a name slapped on a grouping of fairy palaces that were pretty much just made up of ballrooms, bedrooms, and throne rooms. Though I root for Rowan, it doesn’t inspire me into reading books starring the overly cliched heroine.
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Book Review: Unicorn Magic (The Celtic Fey - Book 1)

Unicorn Magic (The Celtic Fey – Book 1) by Roz Marshall

4 stars
Category: Young Adult
Note: Short Story/serial size.

Summary: After the death of her beloved horse Midnight, Scottish teenager Corinne seeks solace in the VR MMO game world of Feyland, which feels real to her, and populated with all sorts of fey creatures. After spying a minstrel entertaining the Bright king and his seelie court, she is chased, and rescued by a mysterious man with pockmarked orange skin. And she finds a unicorn which she is convinced is the subject of the quest she was on.

Comments: Set in the world of Anthea Sharp’s Feyland series (which I’ve read a couple books of already. It’s an excellent series, BTW. I love the idea that runs through all of the books that the game actually taps into the very real, unseen land ruled by the fey), this is a serial, telling a continuous story with each section being relatively short. I actually picked up Kelpie Curse first, and noticed that characters in it weren’t being introduced/described, so I had no idea who they were (specifically the minstrel, the Bright King, Elphin, and the Cailleach). Having read my way through this, I still have no real idea who Elphin is beyond being a mysterious guy who rescues her (at first I thought he was the minstrel, but in appearance they are completely different). And I still have no idea who the Cailleach is since she wasn’t even mentioned in this section. Corinne is obsessed with horses, to the point of dismissing or ignoring people around her as not being as interesting or as important as the horse. I have little patience for people like that. But Elphin is a potentially interesting character since he is under a curse and I do want to know more about him, even if Corinne isn’t interested in him since she’s more interested in the unicorn. At 69% I hit the end of the story and it went into the sample of the next book.
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Book Review: Dark Water (A Little Mermaid Reverse Fairytale - Book 1)

Dark Water (A Little Mermaid Reverse Fairytale – Book 1) by J.A. Armitage

5 stars
Category: Young Adult
Note: I read this as included in Kingdom of Salt & Sirens anthology.

Summary: Even though the palace of Trifork is next to the ocean, the queen has always had an unreasonable fear of the water, and because of it, she has forbidden both her son and daughter from so much as setting a toe into the water. On her birthday Princess Erica is gifted a ship with her name on it that will sail the seas in her name. Overcome with jealousy of the ship with her name on it that can go where she’s always longed to, she makes a running jump, landing on the deck. The captain decides to let Erica enjoy it for a bit before they turn around and head back home, but before they reach port, a storm strikes and the ship goes down. And Erica finds herself washed up on the beach with a mysterious unbelievably handsome man leaning over her.

Comments: When I started reading this in the anthology, I was expecting it to be short. I was expecting it to be just yet another retelling of The Little Mermaid but from the point of view of the prince (or rather princess since this is a reverse gender retelling). The book is 348 pages long, and so much happens within these pages. The Little Mermaid retelling (which sadly is the Disney version yet again. It’s like no one bothers to source the original tales any more if there’s a Disney version they can just watch and take notes from instead) really only goes as far as the first thirty pages to the point where the merman rescues the human princess. From there, the story weaves a tale all its own. There are some familiar characters from the original, but the story from there is completely original, which I loved since it made it fun predicting what might happen next. I loved that it had extra large characters like her best friend Hayden and his girlfriend Astrid. And I loved that one of the mermaid sisters actually played a part. I always thought they were potentially really interesting characters in the Disney cartoon and totally wasted since they were only there to throw in a comment or two. I’ve always wanted to see a book where the mermaid sisters actually take an active role. And I loved that it made it an interesting study to see how different the story could be with a teenage princess (though rather superficial, spoiled, and acts immaturely on some odd leaps of logic) (rather than a prince who didn’t even note what the mermaid looked like initially) and how different the story could be with a strong-willed merman (named Ari El and, yes, my brain jumped to Superman Kal-El, too) rather than a flighty mermaid (though he was largely undefined as a character. Erica was always stressing about how handsome he was. But she never really got to know who he was, his likes, his dislikes, his life underwater, his history, just that they shared insta-love and that was enough to base their relationship on). I also thought Trifork was fascinating. I mean, the palace by the sea, I kept imagining as being a medieval structure, but it also had modern conveniences mixed in, like cellphones (which felt odd being in certain scenes and not others, when I would expect her to use it), and cameras and broadcast video (not to mention all of the paparazzi which were an interesting addition and complication to the fairytale). The underwater kingdom though didn’t feel all that fleshed out or described, since we only got a quick glimpse of the palace and surrounding grounds (I kept wondering why there were streets in the underwater kingdom since there definitely weren’t cars there). I had to groan when the bond got mentioned. Doesn’t seem like I can read an indie fairytale book without there being the overly cliched fated, bond, or mates mentioned (which is lazy cutting corners and depriving the readers of a falling in love gradually and genuinely) (btw, thank you for not being a reverse harem! I did worry about it being as such with reverse being in the title). Though we get a full story in this, it does lead into the next book in the trilogy.
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Book Review: Craving (Willow Creek Vampires - Book 1)

Craving (Willow Creek Vampires – Book 1) by Stephanie Summers

5 stars
Category: New Adult

Summary: Back in history in Willow Creek, when the first settlers came there, they were approached by a vampire who told them that he could keep their village safe from all outside monsters, for the price of one citizen (who has just turned 21) every ten years to feed him and his family of vampires. The human citizens are also not allowed to leave the village, and if they do, they forget everything about vampires while they are away. Sabine’s family knows she will reach 21 on the year the vampires select a citizen and they know she is most likely to get picked since she is the prettiest girl in town. And because of that, they have treated it like it will inevitably happen, so there’s no point in shelling out money for a new uniform for her recital, or bothering to even apply to outside colleges, and instead dote on her younger sister instead. Sabine has argued against the unfairness of the situation, and even more so when she gets the letter notifying her that she has indeed been selected, and even the vampire paired with her, though he’s not supposed to claim her until she’s 21, has begun following her around, mostly to annoy her since Remy doesn’t want to be stuck in a small town, tied down to just one girl for the rest of Sabine’s life.

Comments: Say it. Out loud. Twilight. At least Remy doesn’t sparkle. This goes through all of the Twilight stages. Sabine finds Remy stalking her at various times, even in her bedroom at night. Just like Edward, he’s old, lives the lifestyle of the fabulously wealthy, has plenty of human emotions, and doesn’t fall in love easily, though he’s painfully handsome, and she finds herself drawn to him like a magnet though she resents the idea of never being able to leave the town she was born in or be able to study at a college and pursue being an artist. I loved their antagonistic relationship (which the book centered around -honestly, the book was focused solely on just their relationship and nothing else) as they both tried to deny their feelings or convince themselves it was just a one-way thing, so they ended up annoying the other. Remy knew right where it would hurt the most each time. There really wasn’t much actual romance until near the end (unless you count all the arguing and antagonizing each other). Though where Twilight is aimed at a Teen-Young Adult audience, this book has plenty of swear words, and sexual situations, graphic sex scenes, and even a near rape, and the heroine is not virgin (even at 17). I did get a bit irritated at the constant switching POV of third person omniscient, often within a paragraph. And I really got irritated of some of the omniscient talking about future things as if they happened to the POV in the future, but haven’t happened at the moment to the POV, which takes the reader out of being in the moment. In the end though, I did love all the arguing and teasing, and getting on each other’s nerves, and the eventual romance (though I skimmed the sex scene, which felt rather trashy compared to the rest of the book), and it’s got me hooked on the two of them together enough to want to read the next book.
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Book Review: Magic is to Dance (Magic is to Be - Book 1)

Magic is to Dance (Magic is to Be – Book 1) by A.J. Bakke

5 stars
Category: Adult

Summary: Cayden’s daytime job of shoveling dragon dung isn’t as bad as it could be. He has to suffer the torment of the champion dragon rider, and the affection of the champion’s dragon, but it hides his true talent of stability magic. Because once one tests as a stability mage, they are forced into service to support and fix all of the structures in their elfin land, and they aren’t allowed to have the freedom to choose what they want to be or love who they want to love, and they’re poorly paid with long hours. His parents and brother were all stability mages and he is trying his utmost to avoid that fate. Besides, his daytime job allows him enough evening time and days off to pursue his true love of magic dancing and even enter the competitions.

Comments: This is book one in a trilogy, so not all of the plot points get resolved in this story, and I do look forward to getting more of my questions answered. Like just why does the champion dragon rider keep tormenting him? Cayden said he did nothing to him. I love the idea that he doesn’t want to get stuck in a profession he doesn’t have any freedom in. I hope he gets more proactive, showing how unfair their world is being to the stability mages when they rely on them so heavily. I loved how his stability powers came into play in this, as he paranoidly started checking the buildings after one comes down and wants to keep the population safe, though keeping his power from being exposed gets even more difficult. And with recent events in our own world, it really puts into perspective how much of a disaster it is when a building randomly comes down. I loved how detailed this world as Cayden went through his day, spending time with his little sister, to practicing dancing with his friends, to his life at work. I was surprised there wasn’t any romance in this, but he really didn’t have extra time for that sort of thing. I am eagerly looking forward to reading the next book since I definitely want to see more of Cayden.
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Book Review: Psychic Prodigy (Psychic Academy - Book 1.5)

Psychic Prodigy (Psychic Academy – Book 1.5) by Samantha Bell

4 stars
Category: New Adult
Note: Novella-length. I obtained a free copy via BookFunnel.

Summary: Ryland Williams is the confident, arrogant, uncaring, callous king of the Psychic Academy West Campus in California. He’s the best at both his talent of telepathy and hand-to-hand combat, and knows it and only has patience for people of his caliber (which is to say, no one except for the teachers). He’s gotten into fights with other students more times than anyone can count, but with his rich, important family, he thinks he’s untouchable, until a training session when the student he’s partnered with accidentally teleports him into a fountain and he blows up at them, causing the student to not have enough focus on their teleportation skill. Ryland suddenly finds himself expelled from the West campus in California and transferred to the freezing North Campus in Detroit. But it doesn’t make much of a difference to him since he knows he’s still leagues beyond everyone on this campus as well, though he hates the freezing weather of Detroit and makes a plan to get transferred back to California. The only one who gives him any sort of challenge is Luke, who he gets partnered with. And then they meet Bianca. Her talent is a psychic shield. Ryland finds her vastly intriguing with his telepathy stopped in its tracks, not able to penetrate her shield.

Comments: (Plenty of four letter swear words in this one, just FYI). I loved that this starred a guy for once. It makes such a change from all the Mary-Sue heroines in the indie books these days. And I loved the idea of a psychic school, which makes a refreshing change from all of the fantasy school books. It isn’t just that with being a psychic school that fits it into the scifi genre, but the talents that are being trained her are just one step away from being superheroes, which is a trope, I adore (though I prefer my superheroes in bright costumes. I get so tired of all the black leather). But, based on this book, I probably wouldn’t pick up the series. While I liked the idea of a male central character, Ryland is not a likeable person. And in the course of this story, he doesn’t change and become a likeable person either, learning from his mistakes. He’s arrogant, callous, uncaring, ruthless, and egocentric. He doesn’t care one bit about any of his fellow students and thinks they are so far beneath him, there’s no point in them even being there. In all, not a person I would want to read a book about. The series actually stars Bianca and Ryland is actually just one in her harem. Also not a sale point. I’m not a fan of reverse harem. I’m yearning for the day they finally vanish from the market. The little bit we saw of her in this, Bianca is rather Mary-Sue bland. Actually, it’s worse than that. She’s actually more than a little borrowed from Bella Swan of Twilight. Bella had the very same power, blocking Edward’s telepathy, making her utterly fascinating to him as well. And Luke doesn’t seem to have much of a personality either, except that he’s a milder version of Ryland and was the reining king of the North campus until Ryland showed up.