Review: The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli

Review: The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli

‘At the end of one world, there always lies another.

Safire, a soldier, knows her role in this world is to serve the King of Firgaard-helping to maintain the peace in her oft-troubled nation.

Eris, a deadly pirate, has no such conviction. Known as The Death Dancer for her ability to evade even the most determined of pursuers, she possesses a superhuman ability to move between worlds.

When one can roam from dimension to dimension, can one ever be home? Can love and loyalty truly exist?

Then Safire and Eris-sworn enemies-find themselves on a common mission: to find Asha, the last Namsara.

From the port city of Darmoor to the fabled faraway Sky Isles, their search and their stories become threaded ever more tightly together as they discover the uncertain fate they’re hurtling towards may just be a shared one. In this world, and the next.’

The Last Namsara and The Caged Queen number among my favourite books and I’ve so been looking forward to The Sky Weaver (while also being sad that it’s the last book in this world and with these characters). I’m pleased to say that it was the same high quality that I’ve come to expect from this series and I loved the continuing structural device of using history/mythology between chapters set in the present to augment the story and reveal more of the world to the reader ahead of the moments in which threads draw together for the characters, ensuring the significance of these moments is not lost.

Safire is a character we’ve met before and is the commander of her cousin’s forces, having worked to prove herself more than capable while others have looked down on her because of her birth, and while she presents herself as brave and fearless, she remains haunted by the treatment of those who attempted to drag her down – and, ultimately, her response to it when she finally had the upper hand and ability to decide their fate. Having been fighting against a particular kind of evil for much of her life, that those she holds dear are now free and in power tends to skew her beliefs to absolute faith and loyalty to them, something that she begins to question when Eris enters her life. What I find most interesting about what happens to not only Safire, but much of the main cast, is that they are often trying to find their way and make the best decisions based on choices which will ultimately end up hurting someone that they love, making it feel somewhat like damage control. None of those who have become leaders since The Last Namsara are particularly experienced by this point, and all are attempting to do what is right for as many as possible in a world that they are still changing and shaping, and I liked that there is not one character who is presented as infallible or so knowledgeable and powerful that they know absolutely what to do when presented with difficult situations that stand to make someone pay a price.

Eris’ story is slightly removed from that of the cast that the reader has got to know over the past two books, her narrative one that develops the already established storylines and brings them together and to their conclusion. Working as a thief, she steals that which her boss orders her to, using a magical device in the form of a spindle to appear and disappear, creating legends that she can walk through walls and evade capture. Between one point and another is a place that she calls Across, where she can weave doors to particular places or people as more fixed points, though even here she is not entirely safe from her enemies. Eris carries the buden of being unaware of her origins and having experienced the destruction of that which was her first home, and has long lived with the belief that no-one really wants her around. Having had to survive among those with very few morals, her world view is considerably wider than Safire’s and, while they stand to be enemies, it’s Eris who takes the first steps of kindness towards the other (and the first steps in deliberately irritating and annoying her too).

I loved that we saw more of the dragons in The Sky Weaver and got to hear more about how they are being treated now that Dax and Roa’s kingdom knows the truth of them. It was lovely to see dragons and humans working together and to see more established about how the bond between a dragon and rider works. Sorrow was adorable and I particularly liked his role in the story.

Thank you, Gollancz, for the ARC!

I received a digital ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.

Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan

Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan

‘Lei and Wren have escaped their oppressive lives in the Hidden Palace, but soon learn that freedom comes with a terrible cost.

Lei, the naive country girl who became a royal courtesan, is now known as the Moonchosen, the commoner who managed to do what no one else could. But slaying the cruel Demon King wasn’t the end of the plan—it’s just the beginning. Now Lei and her warrior love Wren must travel the kingdom to gain support from the far-flung rebel clans. The journey is made even more treacherous thanks to a heavy bounty on Lei’s head, as well as insidious doubts that threaten to tear Lei and Wren apart from within.

Meanwhile, an evil plot to eliminate the rebel uprising is taking shape, fueled by dark magic and vengeance. Will Lei succeed in her quest to overthrow the monarchy and protect her love for Wren, or will she fall victim to the sinister magic that seeks to destroy her?’

Girls of Paper and Fire is one of my all-time favourite books and I was both desperate to read and terrified of reading Girls of Storm and Shadow, fearing I would get my heart broken by something terrible happening to Lei and Wren, and while I can’t say whether or not that came to pass without too many spoilers, what I will say is that I think I loved Girls of Storm and Shadow even more than the first book. I love books with the exploration of ethics, morality and politics that its plot allows and I enjoyed the wider view of the world (though I feel that we have much of it left to see in the third novel).

Wren and Lei’s relationship is one of quiet affection, support and an understanding of pieces of each other that have been shaped by their shared experiences in Girls of Paper and Fire. While they both make every effort to not let these experiences take hold of them when they are in public, or even with those that they trust, when they’re alone they give each other the safe space to fall apart and help put each other back together again. Both are understandably suffering from their own forms of post traumatic stress, though seem to attempt to deal with it in different ways: Wren by throwing herself ever more dangerously into her mission and Lei by first learning how to fight and defend herself so that can know she is proficient, all the while haunted by her memories of the Demon King and the assaults she has suffered at his hand, both physical and otherwise. That their trauma is not seen as a plot device to be ‘got over’ is such an important part of the narrative, both in Girls of Paper and Fire and this instalment, and I wish there were more books that handled this subject in the emotionally sensitive manner that Ngan does.

Romantic without being needlessly and overtly sexualised, their relationship is often formed of little moments of simple physical contact and embraces. There are some potentially worrying moments where Lei continues to believe that Wren is all that is good and right in the world (which is understandable, given what she knows of her at these points), her beauty and strength something that she often lingers on in thinking of her, inching her admiration a little towards towards the grateful variety of infatuation one might form for someone who has done as Wren has for her (though this is not to say that Lei was not key to securing their freedom). As the story unfolds and Wren begins to become more and more willing to make unsettling sacrifices for the ‘greater good’, experiencing Lei slowly reaching the conclusion that she actually knows very little of all that Wren is and what she is determined to do, seemingly no matter the cost, is almost painful. Though what she witnesses doesn’t ultimately shake her love for her, what she believes and thinks of Wren take a dramatic shift as she finds herself unable to reconcile the price that she and others are willing to pay – and her own unwitting part in threads that others have drawn on.

Lei’s role in Girls of Storm and Shadow is an interesting one, in that, while she is attempting to rid herself of the control of a man who has dominated, exploited and assaulted her, she is simultaneously being used by another as a figurehead and a reason for people to rebel and take up arms against the king. That she is uncomfortable with her title and isn’t quite sure what she can do about the situation she now finds herself in is most evident when she directly interacts with Wren’s father, and while she clearly wants freedom for the Papers and to rid the world of the king’s grasp, being elevated to the position of the Moonchosen and admired for what she has done seems to sit very ill with her.

There is so much I want to write about Aoki, but I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll have to settle for saying I was internally yelling for much of her appearance. I both love her and am terrified for her.

One of minor detriments to my enjoyment at the novel was primarily at its beginning, when Bo’s humour often seems rather out of place and his continuous jokes can be a little jarring and irritating. This isn’t to say that I disliked him as a character – I’m actually half-convinced that he is meant to be slightly irritating at the beginning of the novel to give room for him to become endeared to the reader, as my opinion of him had changed quite drastically and I was rather attached to him by the middle of the book.

Girls of Storm and Shadow is a beautifully written and enchanting read and is out today!

Review: Skein Island by Aliya Whiteley

Review: Skein Island by Aliya Whiteley

‘Skein Island, since 1945 a private refuge for women, lies in turbulent waters twelve miles off the coast of Devon. Visitors are only allowed by invitation from the reclusive Lady Amelia Worthington. Women stay for one week, paying for their stay with a story from their past: a Declaration for the Island’s vast library.

Marianne’s invitation arrives shortly before her quiet life at the library is violently interrupted, the aftermath leaving her husband David feeling helpless. Now, just like her mother did seventeen years ago, she must discover what her story is. Secrets are buried deep on Skein Island. The monsters of Ancient Greece and the atrocities of World War II, heroes and villains with their seers and sidekicks, and the stories of a thousand lifetimes all threaten to break free.

But every story needs an ending, whatever the cost.’

Skein Island follows the journey of Marianne, who, in the wake of a violent intrusion into her life, accepts an invitation to Skein Island, curious to know just why her mother visited the island and never returned to her. Her decision to visit the island forms part of her desire to take greater control over her life, determined that she will not be viewed as to be protected or ‘rescued’ by her husband and other men, and her need for answers presents the opportunity to examine multiple facets of her past and her present.

The story’s content primarily (and I use the term loosely, for there is a great deal covered by the novel’s themes and plot threads that I couldn’t possibly hope to examine in as much detail as I’d like in a single post) addresses imbalances of power and how the sexes view each other, particularly how women are historically seen as the weaker sex, to be footnotes in the stories of men and not permitted to take charge of their own stories. There are a good deal of references to Ancient Greek literature and mythology, which I very much appreciated, especially as it serves to highlight just how much society unfortunately hasn’t left behind the ancient belief that women are to be controlled and must behave only in particular ways – and that any woman who steps outside of those boundaries is to be considered unnatural and out of control. There are repeated instances of men growing frustrated with women when they do not behave as is desired or refuse to let their partners be the ‘hero’ that they wish to be, with the male point of view ultimately finding women unreasonable for not permitting them to always respond as they wish or in ways they appear to find instinctive.

What I’m not sure is deliberate or not, but will comment on as an interpretation as if it is, is that there appears to be an ironic presentation of different stereotypes of women. To go into too much detail would give away too much of the plot, but there seem to be characters who are deliberately crafted to fit a category, such as the ‘mother’ and the ‘homewrecker’, which I think is an interesting construct in a novel exploring female identity, especially as it makes the reader think just how much of the idea of these judgements passed on women is down to a society, media (etc) that has long been controlled by men.

The magic and fantastical elements of the story are chilling and there are no punches pulled in the execution of the more disturbing features of that which forms Skein Island’s core fantasy component. Coupled with the commentary about stories of women and their role in their own narratives, it makes for a haunting read that acknowledges the frustration and suffering of women through the ages – and addresses the fact that acknowledging such does not give even the most self-aware complete freedom from all that continues to bind them.

One thing that I feel I have to mention is that I don’t believe the blurb accurately represents the novel’s content. Given the content of said blurb, I was anticipating a great deal more to do with Ancient Greece and historical struggles, and though I did, as mentioned above, greatly appreciate and enjoy the references to mythology, it wasn’t quite what I was anticipating.

Skein Island is out November 5th! Thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy for review!

Review: Find Me Their Bones by Sara Wolf

Review: Find Me Their Bones by Sara Wolf

‘No one can save her.

In order to protect Prince Lucien d’Malvane’s heart, Zera had to betray him. Now, he hates the sight of her. Trapped in Cavanos as a prisoner of the king, she awaits the inevitable moment her witch severs their magical connection and finally ends her life.

But fate isn’t ready to give her up just yet.

With freedom coming from the most unlikely of sources, Zera is given a second chance at life as a Heartless. But it comes with a terrible price. As the king mobilizes his army to march against the witches, Zera must tame an elusive and deadly valkerax trapped in the tunnels underneath the city if she wants to regain her humanity.

Winning over a bloodthirsty valkerax? Hard. Winning back her friends before war breaks out? A little harder.

But a Heartless winning back Prince Lucien’s heart?

The hardest thing she’s ever done.’

I absolutely loved Bring Me Their Hearts (I literally shrieked at the cliffhanger it was left on and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever done that before) and have been so looking forward to Find Me Their Bones – and I’m glad to say that I was not at all disappointed by it. I read it cover to cover in one go, simply because I couldn’t put it down and I had to know what happened not just to Zera, but to the rest of the cast (including the more villainous variety) as well. In my experience, I find it quite rare to have a cast of characters – both the ‘heroes’ and the ‘villains’ – that are so easy to care about and become invested in. This series is one of my all-time favourites and if you’ve not yet picked up Bring Me Their Hearts, I urge you to give it a read!

I think what I appreciated most about Find Me Their Bones is the tone in which it’s written, particularly Zera’s dialogue and her attitude. The ‘strong and confident’ female lead can be done very poorly, in that many YA books have this character type behave in an over the top fashion for the duration of the narrative. The way that Zera behaves, often bringing sass and trying to find humour in situations in which she she cannot escape or finds too uncomfortable to bear is clearly presented as a coping mechanism when paired with her moments of fear, uncertainty and a deep sense of being unworthy. Her humour feels like a natural, defensive response and it doesn’t paint her as unbearably smug or overconfident. She is simply trying to deal with all that’s been forced upon her. Wolf strikes a very fine balance with Zera, ensuring that, while she has moments of physical and emotional strength, there are just as many instances of pain and vulnerability that keep her from being too much of one and not enough of the other. Though there are a lot of characters in YA books that I appreciate for the way they are, I find that Zera is one that I actually like, which I think is quite different to simply enjoying how a character is written. I love her quiet strength and that she is not overly maudlin about about that which she has every right to be, such as the fact that she quite literally dies at the hands of others who care not for her wellbeing more than once over the course of the novel. Zera gets on with what she must and looks for solutions, proving herself to be brave and clever and willing to aid others, often at a cost to herself.

One of the things I was glad of is that Zera, though plainly upset over what has happened to her relationship with Lucien, doesn’t obsess over it or let herself be so much in love that it overwhelms everything else. Yes, she loves him, and yes, there are moments when she wishes things could be different and thinks about him in a romantic way, but in almost every instant she is quick to divert herself from those thoughts and try to do something practical about not getting close to him again (whether it works or otherwise). She does her best to push him and others away, lying as and when she must with the intention of hurting them to keep them from growing attached to her in ways that will cost them, and does not dwell on how this makes her feel or fall into the trap of agonising about it to the detriment of the narrative. The exploration of her relationship with Lucien and those Zera has formed friendships with in the previous novel is, in Find Me Their Bones, not so much a look at romance, relationships and regrets, but how dangerous feelings stand to be, particularly in how they can be used to manipulate and expose weaknesses. While Zera knows that it would be better for all that she keep her distance and not let herself become involved in any way with those she has betrayed, the prospect of more simple and human interactions seems to keep luring her back, which she well knows could cost her her heart (literally) and what of her humanity, her memories and her past that she wishes to regain. It isn’t only herself that she worries for in terms of the toll of emotional involvement, and it’s that she genuinely cares for those around her (those she was never meant to love or want to protect) that ultimately leads to her feeling some of the worst of the same variety of betrayal that she was forced to commit in Bring Me Their Hearts.

Find Me Their Bones is a well-paced, engaging and immersive read with a solid cast of characters (even those with smaller roles are not merely names and titles, but given their own histories, motivation and story) and I can’t wait for the next book! Thank you to Entangled: Teen for the ARC! Find Me Their Bones is out on November 5th!

I received a digital ARC of Find Me Their Bones from Netgalley and the publisher.

Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

‘The gods of the Myriad were as real as the coastlines and currents, and as merciless as the winds and whirlpools. Now the gods are dead, but their remains are stirring beneath the waves…

On the streets of the Island of Lady’s Crave live 14-year-old urchins Hark and his best friend Jelt. They are scavengers: diving for relics of the gods, desperate for anything they can sell. But there is something dangerous in the deep waters of the undersea, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it.

When the waves try to claim Jelt, Hark will do anything to save him. Even if it means compromising not just who Jelt is, but what he is…’

Initially, I wasn’t sure that Deeplight was my sort of read (only because I tend to sidestep features of horror and generally favour books with female protagonists) and I was a little apprehensive about it, but after having read it cover to cover without pause, I think I can safely say that any worries were unfounded. Due to be released on Halloween, I think it’s the perfect read for the season, its blend of quiet horror and living mythology one that easily grabs hold of the reader and refuses to let go. I loved the mythology that isn’t actually mythology in this one, for the gods are both very real and not entirely what people believe they are all at once, and even the gods themselves have their own stories and legends that bleed into the narrative.

The story primarily follows the story of Hark, an orphan who has grown to rely on con work and other less than legal tasks to survive. Hark’s best friend goes by the name of Jelt and is, from the start, rather obviously set on manipulating him, though he claims that he only wants good things for Hark. Jelt repeatedly claims that Hark needs to grow up, and most of the ways that he presents to do this involve doing as Jelt wishes him to, his emotional manipulation and guilt-trips something that continue for much of the story. While Hark believes that Jelt is a good friend and genuinely cares for him, I would hope that it’s obvious from the very start that this is, in-fact, not the case, and despite their being bigger and badder forces at work, I have to say that my ire was most often directed at Jelt.

During one of the missions that Hark is manipulated into taking on, he gets himself caught and put up for auction as an indentured slave, subsequently bought by a supposed scientist who is investigating the nature of the Undersea and the gods. He’s put to work looking after the priests who used to commune with the gods by travelling underwater to speak with them through a variety of communication methods, though Hark’s actual work is extracting information and encouraging the priests to share their stories of their experiences with the gods with the purpose of furthering his owner’s research. It’s the stories and expansion of the history involving the gods from these sections that I particularly enjoyed, especially as more and more of the truth comes to light and the ethics behind the whole endeavour become something to consider even more seriously than before. There’s a lot to unpack here and I very much enjoyed the different angles from which characters undertook their actions and made their choices, at once able to defend their decisions and, in the larger picture, often not, and I admit it was many of these features, as the threads of the narrative began to draw together for some and simultaneously unravel for others, that made me flinch as much as, if not more than, the darker elements of the more physical aspects of the tale.

It’s during another ‘adventure’ with Jelt that he’s coerced into that Hark discovers something that stands to change the course of history, though first it begins to change his life and that of Jelt in dangerous and disturbing ways that only he seems concerned about. I don’t want to ruin the plot, so I’m not going to linger long on the direction in which this takes the narrative, but I enjoyed that it includes further consideration of morality and what it means to perceived as ‘fixable’ for what is a natural response to a traumatic event.

Deeplight is out on October 31st! Thank you to Pan Macmillan for sending me a proof copy!

Review: A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

Review: A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

‘Sixteen-year-old Eva is a princess, born with the magick of blood and marrow–a dark and terrible magick that hasn’t been seen for generations in the vibrant but fractured country of Myre. Its last known practitioner was Queen Raina, who toppled the native khimaer royalty and massacred thousands, including her own sister, eight generations ago, thus beginning the Rival Heir tradition. Living in Raina’s long and dark shadow, Eva must now face her older sister, Isa, in a battle to the death if she hopes to ascend to the Ivory Throne–because in the Queendom of Myre only the strongest, most ruthless rulers survive.

When Eva is attacked by an assassin just weeks before the battle with her sister, she discovers there is more to the attempt on her life than meets the eye–and it isn’t just her sister who wants to see her dead. As tensions escalate, Eva is forced to turn to a fey instructor of mythic proportions and a mysterious and handsome khimaer prince for help in growing her magick into something to fear. Because despite the love she still has for her sister, Eva will have to choose: Isa’s death or her own.’

What I enjoyed most about A River of Royal Blood is the magic, history and cultures involved in the worldbuilding. Though the reader is not given a huge amount of information about how exactly every facet of how the Queendom of Myre functions, I appreciated that the early chapters of the novel are not simply a huge amount of exposition to introduce us to the world before any of the plot truly gets going. Flashes of each of the prominent races and cultures are shared, so that it’s enough to know how some of their society functions and what has happened to bring them to where they are, but some is left to unfold over the course of the story and there’s a good deal that, I can only assume, is wisely being left for future books, given the novel’s conclusion. Myre is built on a hugely bloody and questionable past, in which the rightful queen was removed from the throne and her people subjugated and driven into reservations, echoing some of the worst of mankind’s treatment of each other and opening up the exploration of a vast number of ethical and moral issues.

Eva has ever been deemed to be the weakest and thus unlikely to overpower – and kill – her sister in combat and win the throne through the Rival Heir system. While Isa, her sister, has the ability to control the minds of others, Eva’s magic of blood and marrow is one that she has demonstrated next to no ability to access, leading her to seek out assistance in unlocking her potential as the day that will invoke the system that invites sister to kill sister draws ever closer. What I liked most about Eva is that she is not perfect by any means. She hates the situation that she is in and often struggles to see when those who care about her try to do right by her, mostly because she feels her mother and sister have decided that she is inferior and beneath noting. However, she tries to take what control she can of the situation, even if it does mean taking some people for granted, her sympathies nevertheless leaning most towards those who have always been in her life, even when she struggles to find any goodness in the world. That these sympathies are not with her own race complicate matters for her, particularly when she is set to fight for the throne that has caused so much harm.

Though there are moments of romance that develop over the course of the narrative, I was pleased to see that the romance is not something upon which the whole story hinges or focuses on. I was also glad to see that, though Baccha is described as handsome, powerful and mysterious – employing the descriptors usually used for the romantic interest in YA literature – he is not the one that she chooses for that sort of entanglement. I admit I was a little worried about this to begin with, especially when it’s revealed that she and Baccha have been bound together to the extent that can feel each other’s emotions (another reasonably common feature of fantasy romances), as I’m really not on-board with anything that turns instructor/student relationships into something romantic. I’m glad that those lines weren’t crossed and that, though she and Baccha seem to develop a constructive friendshp and working relationship, it is not more than that.

Without discussing major spoilers, though there is a reason (I won’t say ‘good’ reason, because her choice to behave in the manner in which she does is coloured by her experiences and what she’s learned, but not necessarily a valid reason for it) that Isa is the way she is, she was the character that I was most conflicted about and felt that I couldn’t quite work out. Her motivation doesn’t seem entirely solid and I hope that this is something that is made a little clearer in future books. Though she seems to want the crown and power, her ambition for them seems to fluctuate, in that sometimes it seems a genuine lust for power, at others simply because she ‘can’ and has lived with the assumption that she will be queen for most of her life, and then there are the moments when she appears only to want it because she perceives that Eva doesn’t and, therefore, as her mother’s daughter, she will. She’s an interesting antagonist, especially because Eva understands that she is the enemy and still, despite having plenty of evidence not to, wishes she weren’t, her feelings for her never quite settling as beloved sister or enemy. I’d really love to see more of Isa in future instalments and hope that she and Eva spend more time together in the present, seeing as a lot of what we see of them together in this book is from a past before either of them knew that one would have to kill the other.

A River of Royal Blood is out on October 29th!

Review: Emergence by Gaja J. Kos & Boris Kos

Review: Emergence by Gaja J. Kos & Boris Kos

‘A new breed of nightmare

Broken relationships. Broken heart. Broken world.

Ember has left illusions behind in Somraque, but reality is just as treacherous in a land where nothing is static. Not even the ground beneath her feet.

To find the missing fragment and fulfil the prophecy, she has to rebuild the trust left in ashes in the Whispers. While Mordecai might have placed his faith in his enemies, will they be able to do the same to the monster in their midst?

And more importantly—can a Savior even exist in a world that does not want to be saved?’

I read an advance copy of the first in the Shadowfire trilogy, Evenfall, last year and was grateful to also receive an ARC of the second book in the series, Emergence, from Gaja Kos! Thank you! Though I enjoyed Evenfall, I have to admit that I think I enjoyed Emergence even more, particularly for its choice of location for much of the narrative and the system(s) of magic that are uncovered and explored there.

Emergence picks up where Evenfall left off, with Ember and her friends having just stepped through a portal from Somraque to Svitanye, which they immediately find to be very different from the world they’ve left behind. Svitanye is subject to shifts which change its layout and location, these instances often unpredictable and, most importantly, near indiscriminate in occurrences that can also tear apart people who are caught in them. These shifts almost immediately separate Ember from her companions, meaning the first thing she has to do is try to find a common place to attempt to locate them. As she does this, the reader is introduced to the other ways in which Svitanye is different to the other two worlds, such as the manner in which its inhabitants embrace a myriad of colours and styles to express themselves, dying their hair vibrant colours and using spells to permanently change elements of their appearance. Compared to what they have left behind, Svitanye seems much more alive, yet, as they soon find out, it’s just as deadly, only a different fashion (if you’ll excuse the inadvertent pun).

There isn’t a great deal of action in the first two thirds of Emergence, but, as I’m sure I’ve said before, this is exactly the kind of thing that I love, as it allows more focus on character development. I’m not a huge fan of action-packed books in general, so I was delighted to find that, while bringing the plot along at a steady pace, there were not vast chapters of fighting. The conflict in this is mostly internal, as Ember struggles to come to terms with the numerous tragedies that her very birth brought upon the worlds and her own family, attempting to accept what others have – that it was beyond her control – while finding she is unable to do anything but feel sick to her stomach each time some new element of the awful day is uncovered. She is both the Savior of the worlds and the one who has caused some of the worst destruction, something that she finds herself quite unable to reconcile. As everyone searches for evidence of the fragment that is key to saving the worlds, Ember searches also for ways to accept herself and her still developing powers – and what they mean for her, those she loves and all three worlds.

I loved the focus on books and the ways of interacting with the texts within that are revealed as the ways that magic is used in Svitanye is explored. By using some key command words, Ember (and others native to the world) are able to essentially walk through memories that have been left in pages, and it’s through this that she uncovers not only important historical information, but also things about her family history that she would rather not know, especially as pertains to her relationship with Mordecai. Speaking of the Crescent Prince, though he isn’t present for much of the narrative, he is nevertheless key to it when he is involved. It might be a small thing to others, but I thought how he interacts with Lyra was adorable and it was a positive way of showing his more human side, especially as it’s often said that one can judge a person on how they treat animals.

Emergence is a well-written novel with beautiful description and immersive prose, and will be on shelves from October 29th!

Review: Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo

Review: Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo

‘The streets of Creije are for the deadly and the dreamers, and four crooks in particular know just how much magic they need up their sleeve to survive.

Tavia, a busker ready to pack up her dark-magic wares and turn her back on Creije for good. She’ll do anything to put her crimes behind her.

Wesley, the closest thing Creije has to a gangster. After growing up on streets hungry enough to swallow the weak whole, he won’t stop until he has brought the entire realm to kneel before him.

Karam, a warrior who spends her days watching over the city’s worst criminals and her nights in the fighting rings, making a deadly name for herself.

And Saxony, a resistance fighter hiding from the very people who destroyed her family, and willing to do whatever it takes to get her revenge.

Everything in their lives is going to plan, until Tavia makes a crucial mistake: she delivers a vial of dark magic—a weapon she didn’t know she had—to someone she cares about, sparking the greatest conflict in decades. Now these four magical outsiders must come together to save their home and the world, before it’s too late. But with enemies at all sides, they can trust nobody. Least of all each other.’

This book. I’ll admit, it took a little while for it to drag me in, but I do say it dragged me in because I just didn’t want to put it down and I didn’t want it to end once it got hold of me. The follow-up to Into the Crooked Place is already one of, if not my most anticipated read of next year and I cannot wait to see more from this world and these characters because there is just so much that I loved about them.

In my opinion, one of the things that Into the Crooked Place does very well is skilfully manipulate how the reader feels about particular characters. I don’t want to name those I mean because I feel that a big part of the journey of the narrative is how your opinion of them alters and how you grow to care for those that it’s been signposted you ought not to. And despite knowing it’s probably going to be a bad idea to start to sympathise and want positive things for them, in the end there is very little fighting it. The cast of the book go on some grand journeys both literally, in terms of travel, and within themselves and their own feelings, but I think the most important is that which the reader goes on as characters transform in a number of ways and become more than what they may have been assumed to be very early in the story, subverting the expectations for their own tales and interactions.

I love, love, love Karam and Saxony, both together and as individual characters, and it’s their backstories and histories that lend the novel a good deal of its atmosphere and bring together a lot of its worldbuilding and magical mechanics. One of my favourites things is how vividly and richly the magic Saxony wields is described, and I adore the systems of magic employed by her people (I would quite happily read endless stories about them). That Karam is not what she has made herself be perceived as, especially how she is in her quieter moments, is another of my favourite things about the book, and I hope that we get to see more of her working through what she left behind, who she is, and who she wants to be.

I tend not to favour books with multiple points of view, but Into the Crooked Place is structured in such a way as to make the different viewpoints of its different protagonists flow together seamlessly and keep the switches from being too jarring (which is my primary complaint when more than one point of view is involved, because I tend to end up liking one character’s chapters more than that of the other(s)). The chapters are not built to be so long as to let you settle completely into one character’s mindset, yet each propels the story and shares enough of their thoughts and feelings about events both present and past (often incidents which have involved the others) as to weave together what feels like a very elegant tapestry.

Into the Crooked Place is out tomorrow! Thank you so much to Hot Key Books for sending me a proof copy to read! It truly was my favourite read of the summer.

Review: Hex Life

Review: Hex Life

‘These are tales of witches, wickedness, evil and cunning. Stories of disruption and subversion by today’s women you should fear. Including Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine and Sherrilyn Kenyon writing in their own bestselling universes.

These witches might be monstrous, or they might be heroes, depending on their own definitions. Even the kind hostess with the candy cottage thought of herself as the hero of her own story. After all, a woman’s gotta eat…’

Hex Life is exactly the kind of book I absolutely adore and it did not disappoint. I am a huge fan of stories about witchcraft, and particularly those that examine the representation of and assumptions about women involved involved in it – and exactly why the perception of women involved with magic changed so early in history (big surprise: because of men). In ancient literature, it’s relatively easy to track the presentation of women from all-powerful and beautiful sorceresses to the more common and stereotypical haggard and evil witch figure, used by male dominated societies to paint women as emotional, unpredictable and not to be trusted (I could rant for many thousand words about Medea, but I’ll save that for another time). That we have more and more works by women reclaiming the witch figure and writing them as the powerful, unflinchingly human characters  that they are is, in my opinion, one of the best things happening in modern literature.

A collection of short stories about women and witchcraft, Hex Life encompasses a variety of styles, time periods and themes, with the common thread being the involvement of different magics. Some of them contain the more familiar and typical features of what people have come to expect of the genre, but even those that do certainly cannot be considered ‘typical’, especially in their tone, which is, more often than not, brilliantly unapologetic.

My favourite of the collection is actually the last: How to Become a Witch-Queen by Theodora Goss. One of my favourite things to read is a fairytale retelling, which is what How to Become a Witch-Queen is a twist on, carrying on the tale of Snow White after she has lived her days as a queen and now faces the fact of her son inheriting the throne in the wake of her husband’s death. One of the the features I loved most about it was it being perfectly its own story in its own right, while linking back to the the events in the more widely-known version of Snow White and turning them on their heads to create a new tale and a new, more modern character without dashing the original to pieces. Her primary motivation is to ensure a brighter future for her daughter, knowing that the men in her life will inevitably remove any chance of her making her own choices, determined to use her for their own advantage, and both the journey of mother and daughter and the unthreading of the supposed reality of the past was simply a joy to read.

Hex Life was released on October 1st and is available in bookshops now! Thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy!

Review: SLAY by Brittney Morris

Review: SLAY by Brittney Morris

‘By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is a college student, and one of the only black kids at Jefferson Academy. By night, she joins hundreds of thousands of black gamers who duel worldwide in the secret online role-playing card game, SLAY.

No one knows Kiera is the game developer – not even her boyfriend, Malcolm. But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, the media labels it an exclusionist, racist hub for thugs.

With threats coming from both inside and outside the game, Kiera must fight to save the safe space she’s created. But can she protect SLAY without losing herself?’

SLAY is one of those books that I picked up intending to read the first few chapters of and ended up halfway through it before realising quite how long I’d been reading for. I thoroughly enjoyed SLAY and found it incredibly engaging. It’s quick to reel the reader in, its pacing – both in the real world and that of the virtual reality – fast and story to the point, which is one of the things I liked most about it. There’s an urgency to the narrative that doesn’t let you gain much distance from the ideas at its heart as they are examined, the need to acknowledge the topics within as a matter of keen importance paired with Kiera’s imperative need to fight for and shield the world she’s built for so many.

In creating SLAY, Kiera has constructed a game that uses virtual reality equipment to bring the player to a fantasy world, where they can primarily get involved with the card collecting and wielding element of the game, as well as roleplay characters and build their own homes. The cards themselves are based on elements of black culture and become different powers and buffs when used in a duel, seen as additions to players’ avatars. To maintain a safe environment for her players, she has done her best to ensure that only black players can access SLAY, meaning for the game to be a celebration of culture, achievement and somewhere free of the racism that is a ugly part of the real world. This being her intention, that her game is labelled as racist and one that deliberately excludes others in the aftermath of the murder hurts her deeply, and one cannot help but flinch that people have the audacity to suggest such a thing.

Malcolm’s behaviour is almost immediately unsettling, particularly the manner in which he speaks of and addresses Kiera. He rather frequently refers to her in a fashion that suggests she is an object, she is his, and he is to be obeyed, while telling her how she ought to behave towards others and what she ought to think. He builds her up in one moment, provided it is in the way he permits, and tears her down in the next. I don’t mean to suggest that he is incorrect for being angry of the injustices of the past and present, but how he behaves both towards her and others, using said anger as an excuse for increasingly poor behaviour that begins to spiral completely out of control, is one of the things that has stuck in my mind long after finishing the novel.

The discussion of online gaming creating safe spaces focuses on something that I feel is becoming increasingly important, particularly as they are many who are determined to believe that gaming is something dangerous that can only perpetuate violence. Those who have never been a part of a gaming community might never understand how much a positive part of a person’s life that they can become and never see online friendships as ‘real’ ones, which is one reason why I particularly appreciated the portrayal of Kiera and Claire’s friendship as supportive and something that brings them both joy and ultimately leads to good things. Those who are a part of the SLAY community are there to share their culture and uniqueness and all that is brilliant about each individual and I especially enjoyed that the different viewpoints in the novel thread together to build and bring worlds closer, encompassing friendships, family and more.

SLAY is out today from Hachette Children’s Books! Thank you to the publisher and Team BKMRK for sending me a proof copy!