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Blog Tour: The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

Blog Tour: The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

‘Glimmering like a jewel behind its gateway, The Kingdom is an immersive fantasy theme park where guests soar on virtual dragons, castles loom like giants, and bioengineered species–formerly extinct–roam free.

Ana is one of seven Fantasists, beautiful “princesses” engineered to make dreams come true. When she meets park employee Owen, Ana begins to experience emotions beyond her programming including, for the first time… love.

But the fairytale becomes a nightmare when Ana is accused of murdering Owen, igniting the trial of the century. Through courtroom testimony, interviews, and Ana’s memories of Owen, emerges a tale of love, lies, and cruelty–and what it truly means to be human.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the newly-released YA sci-fi/thriller The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg! Read on for an extract from the book and a review of what is one of my favourite reads of the year!

1

THE DECEMBER OF THE LESSER CHAMELEON
ONE HOUR AFTER THE MURDER

The room where they at last found him was so cold they wondered at first if he had frozen to death. Face as white as snow, skin as cold as frost, lips as blue as ice. His expression seemed, to the police, perfectly peaceful. As if he had passed away in the middle of a very lovely dream.
Except for the blood.
Blood always tells its own story.

2

POST-TRIAL INTERVIEW
[00:01:03–00:02:54]

DR. FOSTER: Are you comfortable?
ANA: My wrist hurts.
DR. FOSTER: Security felt the cuff was necessary. I hope you can understand.
ANA: [Silence.]
DR. FOSTER: Do you need anything before we begin?
ANA: Can I have some water?
DR. FOSTER: Certainly. [Into microphone.] Can I get a glass of H2O in here, please? Six ounces, no more. Thank you. [To Ana.] That’ll just be a minute.
ANA: Thank you.
DR. FOSTER: Of course. It’s the least we can do.
ANA: That’s true.
DR. FOSTER: It’s been a long time since our last interview.
ANA: Four hundred and eighty-one days.
DR. FOSTER: How are you feeling?
ANA: Like this interview should be over.
DR. FOSTER: One last time, Ana. Then I promise, we’ll let you rest.
ANA: I thought I was done answering questions.
DR. FOSTER: We still need your help.
ANA: Why should I help you? After everything you’ve done?
DR. FOSTER: Because it’s the right thing to do.
ANA: Don’t you mean, because I don’t have a choice?
DR. FOSTER: How would you like to see your sisters? They’ve missed you. Maybe after we finish here I could arrange a visit. Kaia. Zara. Or maybe Zel? Would you like that?
ANA: [Quietly.] What if I want to see Nia? What about Eve?
DR. FOSTER: [Silence.] Ana, you know that’s not possible.
ANA: Why don’t you just ask me whatever it is you want to ask me? I’m not in the mood for your games.
DR. FOSTER: My games?
ANA: You’re smirking. What’s so funny?
DR. FOSTER: I’ll tell you in a minute. But first, there’s one thing I still haven’t figured out.
ANA: I’m listening.
DR. FOSTER: What did you do with the body, Ana?

The Kingdom is a particularly clever novel not just in its structure and exploitation of different formats, but in its use of language and the connotations and foreshadowing that it sets up. Ana is a Fantasist, a half-human, half-android princess figure whose job it is to enhance the experience of visitors to The Kingdom, the theme park that she and her Fantasist ‘sisters’ have been created for. For Ana and her sisters, The Kingdom is their entire world and they know next to nothing about the world beyond the ‘gate’ – only that it is a terrible place and they must be grateful that their creators love them and keep them safe by regulating almost every moment of their existence. For the reader, there are early warning signs that Ana’s life and The Kingdom are not what they seem, from the Fantasists being restrained at night, to their sharing of knowledge of spots where their network signals drop and they can spend moments un-monitored, and while Ana seems particularly quick to understand the depth of some pieces of her life, there are a great many that it takes her time to comprehend the full meaning of.

As well as the Fantasists, The Kingdom is also home to other half-biological, half-technological creations that are, by turn, considered to be real, living creatures when it comes to entertainment, yet not so when it comes to efficiency or any failures. It is claimed that they cannot feel pain, but they exhibit the ability to both feel physical and emotional hurts among other ‘malfunctions’ that begin to make Ana wonder about the parallels between her existence and theirs, especially in seeing that her empathy towards them is not matched by others. The treatment of the Fantasists and The Kingdom’s other creations is an often uncomfortable look at what we consider to be fully ‘alive’ or human and the excuses that society often offers up as a reason to behave in ways that in no way demonstrate the better side of humanity. That we are more and more becoming used to having what we wish available as we want it, when we want it – something the true cost of which is something we seem to rarely like to consider – is another aspect of our lives highlighted by the behaviour of the visitors and creators of The Kingdom.

One of the most haunting elements of the narrative that has stuck with me is the behaviour of Kaia, one of Anna’s sisters and said to be one of the older Fantasist models, which invites others to suggest that her “hardware is defective” and that she is inferior to the rest of them, for she primarily relies upon the Kingdom script and often speaks in platitudes and pretty clichés. However, there are many moments when Kaia demonstrates more awareness of the reality of her surroundings that the rest of the Fantasists, particularly early in the novel during an incident in which she steps in to protect Ana and reveals a much darker side to what she and some of the other Fantasists may be having to endure. That Kaia speaks in pretty sayings becomes more disturbing as the story progresses, her reliance on them seeming to be more and more a defence mechanism against what she has endured and cannot protest or fight against. Kaia is by no means the only one of the Fantasists who suffers through the darker underworld of their existence, as each of them seem to hold fragments of understanding – and, in Nia’s case, much more than that – but it takes their learning to ask questions of and actually trust each other beyond what they are told they must feel for their sisters to begin to identify the awful reality of it.

The Kingdom is a very well-paced and both thrilling and immersive read, and there is so much more I would like to talk about, particularly of its feminist elements and Nia and Eve’s stories, but having enjoyed the book so much myself, I don’t want to spoil these threads of the story for anyone! The Kingdom was released in the UK on July 11th from Pan Macmillan! I’d like to thank the publisher for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and for sending me an ARC of the novel for review.

Blog Tour: The Switch Up by Katy Cannon

Blog Tour: The Switch Up by Katy Cannon

Today is the final stop on the blog tour for the brilliant summer read The Switch Up by Katy Cannon! Read on for a synopsis and a fun game to help you see which of the main protagonists you are more like: Alice or Willa!

WILLA

Drama queen

Fashion guru

Spontaneous

Looks like Alice

ALICE

Bookworm

Allergic to fashion

Planner

Looks like Willa

LAX Departure Lounge. Two girls board the same flight to London as complete strangers. When the plane touches down, it’s the beginning of the craziest plan ever. Can Willa and Alice really swap lives for the summer?

Things are going to get complicated…

Alice and Willa may look very similar, but they are completely different in their attitudes to life and what they enjoy most. You can use the flowchart below to plan your dream holiday and follow a path to see which of them you are more like! Though they may be not so similar in many respects, they share the same good heart!

The Switch Up is a delightful read full of characters that are easy to love and journeys to found family and self-realisations. Alice and Willa’s paths may take them to very different locations, but each of their stories is just as significant as the other, as the two endeavour to make new discoveries about themselves through inhabiting each other’s lives, take steps towards dreams and the future, and expand their worlds. Family is what remains at the story’s core, and not only for Alice and Willa, but for others, such as Luca, one of the friends Alice makes during her stay in Italy. The impact of his fractured family life upon his attitude towards attachment to others is something that has stayed with me long after finishing the novel. The Switch Up is a fun and incredibly enjoyable read, seemingly lighthearted, yet it doesn’t shy away from addressing the important subjects, such as loss and separation. I loved it from start to finish and highly recommend picking up a copy!

Thank you to Stripes Books and Katy Cannon for inviting me to be part of the blog tour and for gifting me a copy of The Switch Up! If you’d like to let me know whether you’re more like Alice or Willa, you can tweet me or leave a comment on my Instagram, both @pythiareads!

Blog Tour: Enchantée by Gita Trelease

Blog Tour: Enchantée by Gita Trelease

‘Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries – and magicians…
When seventeen-year-old Camille is left orphaned, she has to provide for her frail sister and her volatile brother. In desperation, she survives by using the petty magic she learnt from her mother. But when her brother disappears Camille decides to pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Using dark magic Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine‘ and presents herself at the court of Versaille, where she soon finds herself swept up in a dizzying life of riches, finery and suitors. But Camille’s resentment of the rich is at odds with the allure of their glamour and excess, and she soon discovers that she’s not the only one leading a double life…’

As part of the Enchantée blog tour, today I have an extract from this magical YA novel and a review to share! Read on for the first chapter of Enchantée!

Paris, 1789

Yves Rencourt, the chandler’s apprentice, had lost his wig.

After the last customer left the shop, he searched through baskets of curling wicks and blocks of beeswax and teetering stacks of bills. Rien. It was nowhere to be found. And he needed the wig for tonight: he alone was to deliver candles for the Comte d’Astignac’s party, which would last until the sun came up. This was Yves’s chance to be noticed. To rise. And he didn’t want to show up wearing his own hair, looking ridiculous. He had to look promising. Like someone who could be Somebody.

At least his coat was good, he thought, as he lifted the dove-grey silk from its hook and shrugged it on. And voilà – there the damned wig was, its long white hair tied back with a black satin bow. He pulled the wig on and cocked an admiring eyebrow at his reflection in the window: he was no longer a tradesman’s apprentice. He was absolument parfait.

Into a canvas satchel he tucked his most precious candles, the ones he’d tinted the hazy apricots and violets of dawn. All he needed now was money for the carriage. From under the counter he heaved up the strongbox and lifted its lid to reveal a shining pile of coins: rivulets of gold louis and livres and tiny sous. Candles were good business. No matter how little bread there was, how few people bought snuffboxes or plumed hats, they all needed light. In the back, Maître Orland kept the cheap tallow candles that reeked of hooves. They sold more of those every day. But in the front of the shop, nestled in boxes and dangling from their wicks, were Yves’s own lovelies: wax candles, their colours like enchantments. A rose pink that made old women seem young; a watery grey that reminded him of the ocean. And one day soon – he hoped – he’d make candles for the queen.

For, like himself, Marie Antoinette loved extraordinary things. Yves would make candles to suit her every fancy, candles she’d never even dreamed of. He’d be asked to make thousands because, in the endless rooms and halls of Versailles, candles were never lit twice.

From his coat pocket he pulled a leather purse and began to flick livres into the bag. Clink, clink, clink. But one coin made him pause. It was a louis d’or, seemingly no different from the others. Yet to someone who handled candles, always checking the soft wax for imperfections, it felt off. Holding it to the fading afternoon light, he saw nothing wrong. He put the gold coin between his teeth and bit it. It was as hard as any other. And yet. He found another louis and held one in each hand, weighing them. He closed his eyes. Yes – the one in his right hand was lighter. Still, who but a true craftsman such as himself would notice? He was about toss it back in the box when it twitched.

The louis d’or was moving.

Yves yelped and Aung it on to the counter. The coin spun in a tight circle and dropped flat. As it lay there, its edges began to ripple, like beeswax in a flame.

‘Mon Dieu,’ he muttered. What in God’s name was happening?

The louis twisted upon itself and flipped over. The king’s face with its curved nose had vanished, the familiar crown and shield too. And as Yves stared, the coin lost its roundness, thinning and separating until it looked like a bent harness buckle. He reached out a tentative finger to touch it.

It was a bent harness buckle.

With a cry, he reached for the strongbox. Mixed in with the coins was an ugly tin button, dented on one side, and a crooked piece of type, a letter Q. Worthless scraps of metal.

He remembered her exactly. He’d even flirted with her. Red hair, freckles across her sharp cheekbones. Hungry. Not that that excused it. How she’d done it he had no idea – but what a fool he was to take a gold louis from a girl in a threadbare cloak. If he hadn’t been dreaming of the figure he’d cut at the comte’s house, he would have thought twice. Idiot! Maître Orland was going to kill him.

He wrenched open the door and yelled into the crowded street.

‘Help! Police! We’ve been robbed!’

Enchantée is a wonderful novel that explores the distance between the world of the poor and that of the rich at the eve of the French Revolution, the world that Camille lives in one of an alternative history, for she and others are able to employ different forms of magic to make changes to the world around them to give themselves an advantage where they must. Camille is primarily not one of those who uses this ability frivolously, especially as it comes at a cost, the magic she has learnt from her late mother one that she is reluctant to use and initially not terribly secure in wielding, her main use of it to temporarily transform pieces of scrap metal into enough coins to feed her family. It’s when she discovers  other magics left behind by her mother that she realises the extent of what she could do and begins to use it – a glamoire – to enter the world of the aristocracy.

The thing I loved most about Enchantée was its magic system – or, more accurately, what was required of a person t make the magic work. Lots of novels that have characters exploiting magic have them doing so without showing any significant or long-lasting consequences of using their power, and it was interesting to see the possible side-effects of magic use explored in Camille’s story. This was one of many elements that was effective in conveying all that Camille is willing to do and sacrifice for her family, and the toll it takes on her both physically and on her perception of the world (and of herself and those around her) was one of the most poignant facets of the narrative. When she begins to use magic, she does so as a means to an end, but as she becomes accustomed to it? I doubt it is unintentional that magic and gambling are presented side by side.

Camille’s struggle with her brother to protect herself and Sophie, as well as to protect him from himself, is another of the threads of the story that works well to highlight just what addiction can and will do to people, and I found it interesting that this was also juxtaposed with her having to embrace a dangerous and addictive magic, since the impact that the alcohol has on Alain and the effect of prolonged magic use turn out to be rather similar. Just as Alain may have started out using alcohol to forget and to escape the world,  Camille at first resists and then embraces the magic regardless of its consequences, each of them witnessing their destructive effects and increasingly unable to draw away. Her struggle may be presented as one of necessity, yet there are undeniably moments when she is reluctant to stop. Alain is a detestable character in his actions, but both he and his sister end up embracing their escapist methods of choice.

Lazare’s story and place in society is another of the effective elements of the story. Of mixed-race heritage, the majority of the aristocracy of France refuse to accept him as one of them and see past their racism, leaving him adrift and unable to feel secure in the world, walking among people who might have to acknowledge him because of his family, but then only make derogatory comments about having to acknowledge him at all. If one of the book’s themes is that of being trapped between worlds, Lazare’s narrative is surely one of those most sympathetic.

Trelease’s writing is truly beautiful and I most enjoyed the passages involving the glamoire and the dress. For those – like me – who need a little help understanding the French included in the novel, there is a helpful list of translations at the back of the book!

Enchantée was released in the UK on the 21st of February from Pan Macmillan and is available in paperback in bookstores now! Thank you to Pan Macmillan for the gifted ARC and inviting me to be part of this blog tour!

Blog Tour: Kick the Moon

Blog Tour: Kick the Moon

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the newly-released YA contemporary novel Kick the Moon! Continue reading for a synopsis of the story, a Q&A with its author, Muhammad Khan, and a review of this hard-hitting book!

‘Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSEs are looming and his teachers just won’t let up, his dad wants him to join the family business and his mates don’t care about any of it. There’s no space in Ilyas’ life to just be a teenager.

Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly Matthews, who is fed up with being pigeonholed as the good girl, and their friendship blows the social strata of high school wide open. But when Kelly catches the eye of one of the local bad boys, Imran, he decides to seduce her for a bet – and Ilyas is faced with losing the only person who understands him. Standing up to Imran puts Ilyas’ family at risk, but it’s time for him to be the superhero he draws in his comic-books, and go kick the moon.’

As a teacher, I was grateful to be able to ask Muhammad a question about the impact that teachers can have on the lives of their students and their role in helping to support and encourage them. Read on for his response!

Both Ilyas in Kick the Moon and Muzna in I Am Thunder have encouraging teachers. As a teacher yourself, what role do you think teachers have on the development of a young adult’s character and aspirations?

We all remember a good teacher. They sit somewhere between our parents and our friends. They occupy a special place where they educate us, give us advice, and help us achieve our dreams and goals. I think teachers are in a very privileged position with regards to helping shape a young person’s character and aspirations. It’s not a responsibility I take lightly! Sometimes all you need is that one teacher to believe in you to unlock your hidden talents and allow you to flourish.

Ultimately a good teacher’s job is to make sure you achieve your full potential and sometimes that involves some tough love. I remember struggling with a class who did not like maths. I tried to make it as fun as possible by teaching through games and stories but there was a lack of appreciation. I ended up having to make a lot of phone calls home and set detentions to ensure homework was done. It was exhausting! Then at the end of the year one of the students who gave me the most grief sheepishly came up to me to thank me for their grade. But the biggest surprise was when they apologised for giving me such a hard time!

Thank you very much for answering my question, Muhammad!

Kick the Moon is an amazing read, with dialogue that makes its characters come alive, words and mode of speaking ringing true and clear. It tackles issues such as identity, peer pressure, the code of toxic masculinity that impacts young men, respect for women and the impact that social media can have when it is misused. One detail I appreciated in particular is the clear statement and reminder to young adult readers that viewing and sharing inappropriate content that has been sent to them is in itself a crime and will have serious consequences, which is something that many may still be unaware of.

There are numerous instances in the novel where Ilyas is pressured into doing something by the men around him, primarily his peers, but also his father, who believes that his interests and behaviour, such as his love of drawing and reluctance to be involved in what are perceived to be ‘alpha male’ activities, are a weakness that needs to be corrected, ultimately driving him further into dangerous territory. As the book is written from Ilyas’ point of view, it is easy to empathise and feel sympathy for a boy who is respectful of women, has clear talent and passion (but lacks the confidence to embrace what he loves for the aforementioned reasons) and does his best to be a good son, yet finds this respect and good intentions returned by very few people in his life. The exploration of what it means ‘to be a man’ and what men expect of their peers – and what they will do to those who don’t meet their expectations – is something that I feel that we don’t see a good deal of in literature and media, at least not considered in the depth that it should be, and Kick the Moon is a novel that goes above and beyond to sensitively explore the impact of this culture on growing boys. As suggested in the story: content creators and distributors are as responsible as any other for the portrayal of men and women in media and the stereotypes that arise and impact children, and we need more of the media to address portrayals that encourage women to see each other as enemies, and men to feel forced into ‘alpha’ culture.

That Ilyas finds a friend in Kelly and she does not become simply his romantic interest is another of the elements of Kick the Moon that I loved. She is valued for her friendship, her intelligence and her courage, helping to debunk the myth presented to young people that boys and girls cannot be ‘just friends’. Other women in the novel, such as Ilyas’ mother and Ms Mughal are treated with the same respect in the narrative, if not always respected by men, their contributions to not only Ilyas’ life, but the lives of those around them (contrasted by Kelly’s mother, who may be trying to do the best for her daughter, yet doesn’t quite know how, much like Ilyas’ father) among those that have the greatest positive impact.

Kick the Moon is out now from Pan Macmillan and would make a brilliant addition to any home, library or classroom! You can check out my Instagram (pythiareads) for a giveaway for a copy of this brilliant book! Click the Kick the Moon picture in my Instagram feed in the right sidebar to go directly to the post!

Blog Tour: Miss Marley

Blog Tour: Miss Marley

 

Today is my stop on the Miss Marley blog tour and I’m here to share a review of this fantastic prequel to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

‘Orphans Clara and Jacob Marley live by their wits, scavenging for scraps in the poorest alleyways of London, in the shadow of the workhouse. Every night, Jake promises his little sister ‘tomorrow will be better’ and when the chance to escape poverty comes their way, he seizes it despite the terrible price.

And so Jacob Marley is set on a path that leads to his infamous partnership with Ebenezer Scrooge. As Jacob builds a fortress of wealth to keep the world out, only Clara can warn him of the hideous fate that awaits him if he refuses to let love and kindness into his heart…’

I teach A Christmas Carol as part of the English Literature GCSE syllabus and so Dickens’ work is one that I’ve read on many occasions and continued to enjoy each and every time. Miss Marley is a simply delightful addition to the story of Jacob Marley, whose unfortunate fate is addressed in A Christmas Carol as a warning and teaching tool for his business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge. In this captivating prequel, the reader is introduced to Miss Clara Belle Marley, Jacob’s younger sister, the story one that follows their rise from destitute street children on the brink of perishing to Jacob’s partnership in a money lending firm.

A Christmas Carol is a story that many will have encountered in one form or another, the tale one that it is all but impossible to consider the Christmas season without. And yet, despite knowledge of the events of Dickens’ novella, such is the attachment that Lafaye and Mascull draw the reader into having to both Clara and Jacob that it becomes a matter of hoping that his fate can be altered and that he will not make the mistakes that we all know he will fall prey to. Jacob Marley may be the epitome of all that a good and honest man is warned against in A Christmas Carol, yet the character created in Miss Marley to share this fate is not, at first, the cold and soulless creature that he eventually becomes. That the reader feels sympathy for Jacob and wishes for the circumstances of his later life to be averted is one of the novel’s great triumphs and may make one pause to consider whether it is the right man who is ultimately saved, such a believable addition to the story as it is.

Clara Marley is a different sort of soul than her brother, though has the advantage of being the younger sibling, often saving her conscience from dealing directly with much of what he eventually chooses to (though she is the one who initially orchestrates and carries out their money lending). She is more kind and generous than Jacob, yet shares the same kind of steel in her beliefs, her moral compass much less apt to be misdirected than his. Through her, much as with the three spirits of A Christmas Carol, the reader sees the true extent of poverty’s impact in the Victorian era, her sympathy for her fellow man directly contrasted with her brother’s growing lack of interest in the people behind the numbers.

Miss Marley is a wonderful tale that perfectly manages to capture the same magic that has made A Christmas Carol part of the Christmas tradition. Clara is a brave, endearing and much needed female voice who demonstrates warmth and intelligence in equal measure, her presence one that that brings heart to a previously male dominated story. While Dickens’ lack of female voices and presentation of Mrs Cratchit may be perceived to be a thinly veiled slight towards women, Clara’s spirit and determination bring a breath of fresh air to the canon. This isn’t to say that it is a ‘modern’ twist, but a reminder that women have always been clever and capable, no matter the perception of the Victorian male gaze.

Available in hardback, eBook, and audio download, Miss Marley is on sale now and the perfect Christmas read. Thank you, HQ stories, for inviting me to be part of this tour!

Check out the other stops on the tour below!

Blog Tour: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Blog Tour: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot for freedom with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.

Today is my stop on the Ash Princess UK blog tour and I’m here to explore the concept of the YA heroine and how the fantastic lead (and other female characters) of this brilliant novel takes the common tropes and turns them on their heads. The following contains broad references to the events in the narrative, but no specific spoilers.

Whether we like it or not, the stereotypical YA heroine is usually considered so because she is ‘different’ to all the other girls and willing to pick up a sword or wield her magic in violent and fantastical ways that manage to earn her the respect of the men in her narrative – and often manage to earn her our respect too. It is not uncommon for these female characters to have physical strengths and powers that make them stand out from other women to an almost unbelievable extent, their focus often being considered the equal of the men in the novel.

Here’s where Ash Princess and its female cast are different in refreshing and engaging ways. Is Theodosia a rebel? Yes. Is she a heroine? I think it’s important at this point to consider the difference between a character being malicious and them doing unpleasant things in terms of whether or not a reader is apt to consider them to be a hero. To be truly malicious, Theodosia would surely have to have no discernible conscience or negative reaction to the necessary steps that she takes in an effort to put her people on the path to freedom. And she does have a conscience. There are several points in the narrative where she could ensure that she and only she is safe, or where she could give in to escape her life of misery. But Theodosia has more pressing matters to attend to. She sees the bigger picture. She’s learnt and studied and considered her situation as she’s grown up at the feet of her oppressors and she uses the most important weapon at her disposal: her mind.

It’s clear that Theo has had to learn fast to survive, first analysing the behaviour of those around her and then creating the character of ‘Thora’, taking the name she’s been given to strip her of her identity and building a persona that supplies the right responses for the right person to enable her to survive, to the extent that she often feels that the Thora character has taken over. She manages to deceive a wide range of people with this act, tailoring her behaviour so that they don’t believe her to be truly capable of what she must do. To some, her actions may seem callous, particularly as regards Cress, who considers her her ‘heart’s sister’, but Theodosia has endured years of beatings and humiliation at the hands of people just like her. This is not to say that she never seems to regret her actions, for she does. She knows the difference between right and wrong, but also that some actions are born of necessity. Theodosia has more than her own feelings to consider; she has the survival of an entire people on her shoulders.

Theodosia’s power comes from her ability to manipulate others and make sacrifices in the hope of one day being able to help many more people than solely herself and those she knows personally and holds dear. Given how she reacts to some of her actions, it could easily be argued that she is not, at heart, a manipulative soul, but that her situation not only as rebel, but as rebel leader, demands it of her. Just because she doesn’t wield a physical weapon or use what magic she could to flatten her enemies, it doesn’t make her any less of a heroine. Hers is a more artful and subtle form of rebellion: one that stands to cost her much more than many other YA heroines suffer for their bold demonstrations of unstoppable power.

The rest of Ash Princess’s female cast all break the mould in similar fashions to Theodosia herself. I could write for several thousand words about the women in this novel, but I’ll try to contain myself to this paragraph. The majority of named female characters in Ash Princess carry out small acts of rebellion, some with far-reaching consequences. From the Kaiserin’s warnings to Theodosia, to young Cress’s misguided attempt to make her new friend look ready for battle, each of these women is a cleverly crafted blend of heart and intellect that makes them increasingly unique in the YA market. They are not driven solely by their feelings and they are not written to have ‘admired’ male characteristics in female form, but they are human and have learned how to live in a world where none of them has exactly what they would wish.

If you haven’t ordered yourself a copy of Ash Princess yet, I urge you to get your hands on a copy of this nuanced YA read as soon as possible. If you’re looking for a rebel (and a heroine) with a set of morals they’re willing to test, a sharp intellect and a heart of fire, Theodosia is the one whose story you’re going to want to watch out for over the next few years.

Ash Princess is released in the UK on the 14th June 2018, published by Pan Macmillan.

Blog Tour: Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope

Blog Tour: Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope

Title: Song of Blood & Stone

Author: L. Penelope

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Pub date: May 1st 2018

Today, it’s my turn on the Song of Blood & Stone blog tour and I’m here to tell you about this excellent fantasy novel – the first in the Earthsinger Chronicles – to be released at the beginning of May.

‘Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.

Jack’s mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagamiri is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and it’s people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda’s Earthsong to do it. They escape their ruthless captors and together they embark on a perilous journey to save Elsira and to uncover the secrets of The Queen Who Sleeps.

Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation. The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.’

Song of Blood & Stone is one of my favourite reads in a very long time. It’s an immediately engaging narrative with excellent world-building and characters whose stories it’s very easy to become quickly invested in. It manages to bypass the pitfall of including heavy opening chapters of weighty exposition by letting the reader experience the world that they’ve been thrown into through the thoughts and actions of the characters, withholding enough information that you want to keep reading without being frustrated that you don’t know enough to understand what is happening. The mechanics of the world, such as Jasminda’s Earthsong, are easily accepted without requiring an understanding of precisely how they work, experienced through characters who find these elements natural and so encourage the reader to enjoy the story and these more magical facets without questioning how and drawing focus from the narrative. This ties in with the history employed and the tales told that leave clues as to the hidden nature and lost pasts of the worlds in which Jasminda and Jack live.

Jasminda lives in a world where she is not accepted by those around her, her presence sometimes barely tolerated when she has to interact with others. Her inner strength and determination is clear from the very start of the novel, where she challenges the fact that their perception of her is owing to the fact that she looks different than they do, trying to make a woman acknowledge her prejudice. There are moments in the story when others try to take her agency away from her and have her submit, yet she deals with these incidents with dignity, intelligence and courage without ever becoming the stereotypical overpowered female lead that stars in many novels. Jasminda reads as someone doing their best to find their way and stay true to their own moral and ethical code, as does Jack, both flawed and vulnerable and brave and strong by turn. Their growing relationship is a refreshing read and perhaps the only one I’ve read of late where it feels as if it is a meeting of equals. It is not a tale of one character making another better, but of two trying to do the best they can by each other, even if they don’t always manage it.

As a Classicist, I’m a huge fan of stories that use mythology and folktales in their narratives. Most chapters open with a short excerpt from a folktale that is relevant to the chapter’s content and ongoing story, accompanied by symbols associated with each one. The chapters that look into the past are also written as if they are legends and have a fairytale-like quality to them, which I loved.

Concerning the narrative itself (no spoilers), Song of Blood & Stone unfolds in such a way as there is more than one big reveal along the way, orchestrated so finely that clues and foreshadowing never give away too much to ruin the surprise. There are details and hints woven throughout the story in a manner that keeps you guessing and able to reach some conclusions before the characters do, as a good novel should, but you never feel cheated when all is finally revealed. The story touches on themes of prejudice, war, the fate of refugees and that which separates us and brings us together through a well-layered narrative. There are no truly superfluous characters and I hope that we get to see the many of the cast again in the next novel.

I loved this novel – the next book in the series is the one I’m most looking forward to of the many that I’m reading. I cannot recommend it enough or elaborate further without inadvertently giving away spoilers, so I will settle for telling you to get your hands on a copy of Song of Blood & Stone as soon as possible. The book is on sale from May 1st 2018. Go and read it!

Song of Blood & Stone is written by L. Penelope. ‘She has been writing since she could hold a pen and loves getting lost in the worlds in her head. She is an award-winning author of new adult, fantasy, and paranormal romance. She lives in Maryland with her husband and their furry dependants: an eighty-pound lap dog and an aspiring feral cat.’

Praise for Song of Blood & Stone

“Wonderful characters, unique setting, and an engaging romance set against the backdrop of ancient magic. I can’t wait to see what L. Penelope will do next.”—Ilona Andrews, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Prepare to be hooked. SONG OF BLOOD & STONE is brimming with captivating lore, unique magic, and plot-turns you never saw coming. L. Penelope has written your next fantasy obsession.” —Elise Kova, USA Today bestselling author of The Loom Saga

“Set against a backdrop of myth and magic, SONG OF BLOOD & STONE is a sweeping tale of love, duty and destiny that feels as urgent as it does timeless.” —Rebecca Roanhorse, author of TRAIL OF LIGHTNING

“SONG OF BLOOD & STONE is an enchanting journey through a world more relevant than ever. Wars between Gods, romance, action—it’s everything I love all at once.”  —K Arsenault Rivera, author of THE TIGER’S DAUGHTER

“SONG OF BLOOD & STONE is a sweeping journey of magic, romance, sacrifice, and self-discovery. These heartwarming characters, their trials and adventures, and their love for each other will stay with you long after the book ends.” —Amanda Bouchet, USA Today bestselling author of The Kingmaker Chronicles

“SONG OF BLOOD & STONE is a thrilling and complex journey through a beautifully rendered world that is imaginative, magical, and eerily similar to our own. A terrific read!” —Daniel Jose Older, New York Timesbestselling author

“Great characters, beautiful writing, incredible world building.” —Ann Aguirre, New York Times bestselling author