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Review: Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Review: Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

‘After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too.

Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But with civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.’

My favourite things about this series so far have to be the worldbuilding and the magic. I love the way the use of magic is described, the way in which Adeyemi writes making it an almost tangible thing. I like that it it grounded in the physical and not all flashing lights and invisible strength, and that there is, more often than not, a cost for power wielded, consequences making it a system that feels more realistic and something that should be respected. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of overpowered characters who pay no price for the powers they can use, and while there are some characters that can use magic without direct consequence to themselves, the damage they cause to others is devastating, whether they mean it to be or not. Primarily, magic is honoured and not exploited, and there’s a real human impact felt whenever it goes awry in the course of learning how it can be used and uncovering all that has been lost.

Zélie has a lot to work through over the course of the novel, and in its opening pages is still attempting to come to terms with the events that occurred at the conclusion of Children of Blood and Bone, to the extent that her relationship with her magic is fractured and brings her immense guilt. That she has to constantly face the fact that what she has tried to do for her people has also gifted their enemies with what appears to be a more powerful and destructive force is something that she struggles with, especially when interacting with Amari, who only serves as a reminder of what she’s fighting against and the ‘mistake’ that she has made. Despite this, she still cares for Amari and initially attempts to conceal her feelings because of this, fighting against the urge to lash out at her for claiming what she has always revered of her heritage for her own, however without intent. While trying to work through the trauma of what she has recently lived through, she also has to handle her new role in her community and how others see her now, something else that she has difficulty coping with, particularly as her life all the more frequently asks for sacrifice after sacrifice from her for a broader good.

To my mind, one of the strongest features of Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the host of characters who spend a lot of time convincing themselves and manipulating others into believing that they are doing what is best for Orïsha. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time internally screaming at some of them to better anticipate the consequences of their actions and see through the deceptions that others were feeding them to use them for their own means. Amari’s mother in particular remains a despicable woman, both in her attitude towards her daughter and how she alters her behaviour to convince others that she is not a threat and only wishes the best for them and for Orïsha. The trauma that Amari’s formative years have caused to how she sees herself, her destiny and others becomes more and more evident as the story unfolds, making her more dangerous to herself and others as her idea of what is ‘best’ becomes more and more warped. I can’t really go into much detail about the main culprit and perhaps most self-deceiving of the cast (in my opinion), as I think it’s too much of a major spoiler, but that they let themselves be led and manipulated to the extent that they saw what they had been fed as truth was one of the main things that had me silently yelling (in a good way) at pages for them to wake up.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t too invested in the romantic elements of the story, as I felt that there was so much more at stake that it felt a little like an unnecessary addition, or something that wouldn’t be at the forefront of the character’s minds while in the situations that they are in. However, this is not to say that I was complete averse to them, and I particularly felt for Amari, as she struggles with what she feels she has to do and what she knows it stands to cost her, especially having experienced an upbringing where affection was not something that she received from any source that she could rely on (and she has already lost the one person who seemed to truly care for her in her youth). I’m not quite sure how I feel about the romances that Zélie engages in, particularly because they both read as quite unhealthy, made more so by the fact that it seems she is using one as a way of trying to forget the other. This said, her behaviour in terms of relationships often reads as quite instinctive and impulsive, and not necessarily always thought through, despite her attempts to, the weight on her shoulders and likelihood of impending death things that don’t afford her the opportunity to be entirely reasonable and rational about everything.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance is a brilliantly written and thought provoking read, and out today! I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds in the final book of the trilogy! Thank you to Pan Macmillan & MyKindaBook for sending me a copy for review!

Review: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Review: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

‘After being pronounced Queen of Faerie and then abruptly exiled by the Wicked King Cardan, Jude finds herself unmoored, the queen of nothing. She spends her time with Vivi and Oak, watching reality television, and doing odd jobs, including squaring up to a cannibalistic faerie. When her twin sister Taryn shows up asking a favour, Jude jumps at the chance to return to the Faerie world, even if it means facing Cardan, who she loves despite his betrayal.

When a dark curse is unveiled, Jude must become the first mortal Queen of Faerie and break the curse, or risk upsetting the balance of the whole Faerie world.’

The Queen of Nothing was one of my most anticipated books of the year and I was lucky in that the bookseller that I’d ordered from shipped my copy nearly a week before release date, meaning I was far less paranoid about running into spoilers in the days around said date. However, I confess that I still sat down and read the whole thing almost as soon as I got my hands on the book, both because I was afraid others who had their copies might be posting spoilers (I would not assume deliberately) and because I am a terrible human being who, nine times out of ten, always reads the last page of any book before the first, and I knew that, despite being determined not to do this with The Queen of Nothing (as I hadn’t with The Wicked King), I would probably cave if made to put the book down for long.

My favourite elements of this series have always been the political intrigue and the manipulation that are a range of characters are capable of, which I feel is particularly well done in both The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King primarily because there are characters that are actually willing to go through with their threats and do whatever they must to achieve their goals. There are certainly some less than pleasant and manipulative characters in other series, but, in many instances, they shy away from executing the full extent of their plans, which rather takes away levels of characterisation and any tension created. Reading through the Folk of the Air series, I wasn’t 100% certain that any character was absolutely safe from the machinations of others or the meeting of a deadly fate at any time, which I don’t think I’ve experienced to the same extent with other novels (and is another reason I raced through The Queen of Nothing). I’ve seen commentary from others who say they don’t like Jude (and they’re perfectly entitled to that opinion!) because she is manipulative and is quite often selfish, but I can’t help but feel that she is a very honest character in how she looks at the world around her and herself. I’m not suggesting that she behaves particularly well towards others, but she takes on a world and people that have been a threat to her since she was involuntarily taken to Faerie and decides that she is going to take what she wants from it before it can destroy her. She knows what she can use against people and employs what tactics she must to ensure as best she can that she gets to strike first when she must, without apology – knowing she will not receive regrets or apologies from those who would view her as a plaything and mortal amusement.

I’ll admit that there was significantly less in terms of political machinations in The Queen of Nothing, which did disappoint me slightly, but there were other elements of it that I very much enjoyed, such as Jude and her sisters working together, when they have often been at odds for various reasons. I particularly loved what we see of Vivi and Heather and how they are trying to work through what Heather’s visit to Faerie has done to them and what she has learnt of Vivi’s powers – and her ability to make her see and believe anything she chooses. Some of my favourite things from the novel are actually not part of the standard edition, being the letters sent from Cardan to Jude during her exile, which are added at the conclusion of the story. The initial interactions between Jude and Cardan once she arrives in Faerie had me grinning and I really enjoyed the spans of the story where it was clear that neither of them quite knew where they stood and whether they could truly trust anything the other said or did. To my mind, there are a lot of threads introduced in The Wicked King that still need to be resolved, which gives me hope that we might see more material in this universe.

There’s a lot more that I’d like to go into detail about, but I don’t want to spoil specific pieces of the story for anyone so soon after its release date. When a few more months have passed, I hope to come back to this and discuss several character relationships in detail, especially things such as power dynamics and family ties.

In short: loved this series! It’s still one of my favourites and I hope to reread it soon!

Review: Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao

Review: Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao

‘Will love break the spell? After cruelly rejecting Bao, the poor physician’s apprentice who loves her, Lan, a wealthy nobleman’s daughter, regrets her actions. So when she finds Bao’s prized flute floating in his boat near her house, she takes it into her care, not knowing that his soul has been trapped inside it by an evil witch, who cursed Bao, telling him that only love will set him free. Though Bao now despises her, Lan vows to make amends and help break the spell.

Together, the two travel across the continent, finding themselves in the presence of greatness in the forms of the Great Forest’s Empress Jade and Commander Wei. They journey with Wei, getting tangled in the webs of war, blood magic, and romance along the way. Will Lan and Bao begin to break the spell that’s been placed upon them? Or will they be doomed to live out their lives with black magic running through their veins?’

Song of the Crimson Flower follows the story of Bao, who has been in love with a girl he has grown to idealise, and Lan, the pampered girl herself. Though the book’s blurb claims that Bao ‘despises’ her after her rejection of him, I feel it’s important to point out that that isn’t a word that accurately portrays his feelings, nor reflects truly on him, as Bao is very much presented as someone who would not leap to such anger without incredibly good reason – certainly better than being rejected by Lan.

Bao is portrayed as an honourable soul who does his best to do right by as many people as he can, his past suffering something that drives him to try and ensure that he gives what he can to try and prevent others, even those he does not know, from experiencing what he has. The situation he finds himself in with Tam is more complex than it looks on the surface, for while Bao stands to suffer if he does not do as Tam’s mother directs, Tam is also trying to avoid being mistreated by his parents, for all that he does not go about it in the right way. Both of them are yearning for something different in the world, though it is much harder to sympathise with Tam, who comes across as arrogant and ungrateful, for all that to be forced into something he does not want is not something to wish upon a person. What is refreshing to see in Bao is a male protagonist who does not go out of his way to try and change the object of his affection, is not aggressive and not rude in his interaction with her or others. However, it could be said that he does need to stand up for himself more, as he accepts unreasonable behaviour on more than one occasion.

Lan is a difficult character to sympathise with, much as Tam, and though there are some moments (which I wish had been developed in greater detail) where it seems that she could have been a much different person, there are instances where it feels that she and Tam are much more on the same level than it would be kind to acknowledge. She appears to be very much someone who has been raised by a lifestyle and expectations rather than real human interaction, and once the one person that that there is evidence she truly cared about was gone, so was a good deal of her humanity. The thing is, Lan knows that she could and should behave better, but she spends a lot of time berating others and being annoyed with Bao for having feelings for her, often treating him very unkindly when he is only trying to do his best in the circumstances that he finds himself in. She does learn as the narrative unfolds, but whether it is enough is, I think, down to the individual reader.

If I were to be honest, I was more invested in Wei and Yen’s love story than that of Bao and Lan, as I kept hoping for more of their interactions as I was reading. Some of what the reader sees of them is clearly designed to try and teach Lan something, and while it’s true that she learns to reflect on her own behaviour and consider whether her desires are her own or those imprinted on her by circumstance, I was more intrigued by the story unfolding before her than I was in those realisations at that moment.

I would say that one thing I was quite conscious of as I was reading was the quite frequent use of heavy exposition. This, paired with the fact that there are some elements of the story that the characters accept without question, such as Bao’s visions and the very quick understanding of who his mother is, make the narrative a little clumsy in places. This is not to say that it is not an enjoyable read, because I did genuinely like the book, but these instances of easy acceptance take away a lot of suspense and tension and sign-point where events are headed quite early on. It is certainly well written and the description is often beautiful, and it’s a good addition to the other books set in this universe.

Song of the Crimson Flower is available in bookshops now!

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.