Categories
Fantasy Uncategorized

Book Review: Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan

I originally read and reviewed the ARC (courtesy of Wednesday Books via NetGalley, thank you!) of Wicked Saints back in January of 2019.  Now that I’m writing my review of the second book in the trilogy, it makes sense to bring the original review over.

After glancing this morning I noticed that my ‘unpopular opinion’ of the book wasn’t entirely unpopular. The average GoodReads rating only ended up at a 3.7 for Wicked Saints.  Let’s talk about why.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

“A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light

Let’s start with the plot.  Blood & bones, magic, layers of political intrigue and betrayal. The story is actually a good idea. A Slavic based fantasy where Kalyazin’s last remaining holy cleric is being pursued by the brutal blood mage prince and army general of Tranavia, the opposing country.  The cleric escapes, finds a small group of friends working their way towards the Tranavian king, and decides to join. This is vastly over simplified but the blood mage prince pursues them across the land. The third main character is Malachiasz, an awkward boy who is also a Vulture.  These vultures are crafted monsters that form a separate religious faction in Tranavia, complete with their own leader – The Black Vulture –  who is a king in his own right.

Meanwhile the oh-so-brutal-and-terrible prince Serefin carries the other point of view in the story, as he drinks himself under the table chasing Nadya across the country.  He wants nothing to do with his father or the crown and seems pretty sick of war.  He is summoned home for a totally bullshit selection of a suitor by the King, which gives the others an opening to get close to the palace.  Serefin is immediately painted as a bad guy as he razes Nadya’s monastery in the first chapter, and it is interesting to read his chapters and get into his mind to make our own conclusions about him.

So there you have it: The girl, the boy, and the prince.  Let’s talk about the characters. Nadya has grown up with a cleric’s education in a monastery, so we can forgive her naivety in the real world. To an extent.  Nadya’s face is on the spine and the tagline on the cover is “let them fear her”, so I assume that she’s going to be a strong and formidable character.  That was my first letdown – she takes almost every direction from her Gods, which talk to her incessantly, and makes very few decisions for herself throughout the story.  When she does start making her own decisions they are really only to follow Malachiasz, who doesn’t have to do much and immediately throws Nadya’s entire sense of righteousness into a kerfuffle, showing that her entire sense of being is pretty… weak.  Religious deliberation is definitely an important theme for teens to think about, and this could have been done really well except that it turns into a nauseatingly  repetitive inner monologue where Nadya ends up giving her entire agency over to him.  Whoop-de, kiss a boy and throw out your entire life’s training and everything you believe in, who is fearing this girl?

Malachiasz is obviously up to something from the start, and is Duncan’s favorite character.  This was pretty clear from following her Instagram.   One thing about Duncan’s writing style is that it is repetitive, to the point that I guarantee the average reader is going to be skimming.  He is  a vulture so we know he is tortured, we know he is also awkward, and she repeats these things as well as the word “boy” on practically every single page, to the point where I was just sick of seeing the same modifiers.  There is ONE scene where Duncan actually SHOWS us the extent of the Vulture’s mind-erasing torture, and it hit harder than all the babbling about tortured boys in the world put together.  I did like the scenes where his blood magic was used though, he is a formidable mage.

And Serefin, oh Serefin… my favorite character.  His main function in the book is to blur the lines, to show that he’s not necessarily a bad person for doing his job and duty to his country.  Serefin is just another confused (ish) young man who doesn’t particularly love his lot in life, but what do you do when your father is an abusive and insane king?  Read to find out, but I liked him as a general and as the most powerful blood mage outside of the vultures.  I also liked his banter and the two friends who make up his inner group, they try SO hard to keep him centered.  I also love characters with visual issues, and Serefin is more or less blind on one side with funky vision on the other, and I can relate painfully to that!

So while discussing the characters I threw in my bits about her writing style, the ridiculous romance, Nadya’s pining, and the gray-zone characters.

Some other stylistic points: The book is told in the dual point of view style between Nadya and Serefin.  Their names are used, in full, at each chapter heading…. kind of weird.  There is also a blurb about either saint or a god at each chapter start, unrelated to the story and distracting.  Other than the climate and certain bits of architecture and religious aspects, the world building is not fleshed out at all.  I didn’t feel like I was in Kalyazin OR Tranavia and that’s all I will say about it.

This has been hailed by some as GrishaVerse fan fiction and I really have to agree.  Some noted similarities are Alena the Sun Goddess, the bit where the dark character doesn’t remember his name, torturing prisoners in mines, experiments on people.  Also the journey in general across the country reminds me a bit of Alina and the Darkling, where she really should know better but has no issue turning into something else for the big, dark, bad guy.

All three main characters in Wicked Saints turn into someone, or something different by the end of the book.  The transformations set the base for book two, which I will begrudgingly read.  Even at the end I wanted to smack Nadya for being an incredulous idiot…actually I wanted to smack her hardest right at the end.  I would have also liked to see more of the fighting and intrigue in the parts about the suitor competition, Nadya was learning a lot right then about power and magic.

In summary: A good idea but Duncan’s language fails at the delivery.  I can’t be horrified and rolling my eyes at the same time, although the potential is there.  The pacing of the story is ALL over the place and I think we need more worldbuilding. I hope she takes these criticisms into book two and improves because I think that she can.   I would let my kid read it but probably caution older fantasy readers; there’s just too much eye rolling.  Final thoughts: give our young readers some credit, show not tell, and stop repeating the same phrases over and over.  Thank you again to Wednesday Books for the advanced copy, all opinions are my own

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Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: Race the Sands

Thank you to Harper Collins Publishers – Harper Voyager for the eARC of Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst!  The book releases April 21st 2020 so add it to your TBR now if you are interested!

Here is a portion of the description from Goodreads:

In this epic standalone fantasy, the acclaimed author of the Queens of Renthia series introduces an imaginative new world in which a pair of strong and determined women risk their lives battling injustice, corruption, and deadly enemies in their quest to become monster racing champions.

Life, death, and rebirth — in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.

Unless you can win the Races.

As a professional trainer, Tamra was an elite kehok rider. Then a tragic accident on the track shattered her confidence, damaged her career, and left her nearly broke. Now Tamra needs the prize money to prevent the local temple from taking her daughter away from her, and that means she must once again find a winning kehok . . . and a rider willing to trust her.

Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancé. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she can’t become good enough to compete without a first-rate trainer.

Impressed by the inexperienced young woman’s determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win — if he can be tamed.”

I feel like the description gives away a LOT of the plot.  We are following Trainer Tamra Verlas, who used to be a champion kehok racer and now is looking for a rider to be the next champion.  Tamra needs funds to pay for her daughter’s augur training and is working on a budget.  She meets Raia, a runaway, and together they have to train a very deadly, strangely intelligent kehok.

Does it sound a bit like The Scorpio Races? Yes, to the point where I almost put it down – but I encourage you to keep reading if you feel like DNFing at first.  The first few chapters as well as the rest of the book read very “young” to me in the writing style, but the political intrigue and maneuvering part of the plot take over after the races start and I really did enjoy the book overall.

I would have liked to see more of Raia training the kehok at first – it happened so quickly where she went from a total novice to being ready to race.  Not that they didn’t have enough hurdles to overcome as it was but the racing ended up not being the main storyline of the book at all, which is where it differed from TSR and other similar books.

I liked the main character cast but they all had very similar voices.  Raia can sound like a teenager because, well, she is one, and so can Dar, the emperor to be, but Tamra sounded like a kid and she had to be in her 30s at least.  Lady Evara and Yorbel sounded a bit alike too and they ended up being amazing ancillary characters.

As far as the world building, SBD did an amazing job for a standalone novel.  It is hard to build a world in one book and she described the architecture, art, food, religion, and social structure of Peron and the Heart of Becar in such a way that I felt like I knew not only the setting but the mood of the city.  I would have liked to know more about the strict divisions between rich and poor though; it seems like in a reincarnation based society that anyone reborn as a human would be considered…. honorable? So why go as far as to keep the poor out of sight?

The religion was one of the most interesting parts of the plot.  In order to crown a new emperor, the soul of the old emperor had to be found….and the augurs couldn’t find him!  I enjoyed the bits about reading souls and auras, worrying about what animal they would be reborn as, and the mental image of augurs canvassing every single ant hill looking for the emperor’s soul!  The downside of this is…. I called the major plot twist the second it was mentioned.

Also like I said, I found the races to be anticlimactic, even the championship race. This was a huge bummer for me but I understand that the races became a vessel for the rest of the book’s plot in the second part of the book.  It was a quick read and became impossible to put down in the last 150 pages or so.

I never feel like I do a good job describing books but if you are into strong female characters, monsters, racing, political intrigue and plotting, definitely pick up this book. I feel like it’s marketed for adults as Tamra is older, but this is definitely appropriate for young adult readers.   I went 4/5 stars just because of the lack of variation in character voices, but really the action and intrigue packed into this book is pretty impressive.  Thank you again for the eARC, all opinions are my own!

Categories
Fantasy

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

First off, a huge thank you to Berkley Publishing Group – Ace – for the electonic ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

To get started, here is the summary from GoodReads:

In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell … and Earth.

There isn’t much more to summarize! Claire the undead librarian has a muse assistant, a demon, and a book’s Hero that end up on an adventure together to retrieve this lost manuscript that is apparently the devil’s bible. It’s a great idea, although the book felt wordy and long in places which might have to do with the fact that per the author’s note, this originally started out as a short story. Streamlined, this would have made an amazing novella or shorter book. 384 pages to cover two days is a lot of space to fill!

Other than a few swears and some fighting, this book could be appropriate for any age group. I think it is meant to be an adult fantasy but the language used and casual banter makes it seem like a younger audience was intended. Some of my favorite elements were fighting with words, exploring the other realms, and the pet gargoyle.

I like motley groups, and my favorite character ended up being Brevity, the muse. She had a lot of potential that wasn’t tapped in this book, she was hardly featured, but it looks like she might have more time in book two. She is funny and quick thinking and quite a character. Other than her and Claire, I didn’t care reading from Leto and Rami’s view points.

I also had a lot of questions such as – why are unwritten/unfinished books and other pieces of art in Hell? It seems like a punishment to put them there even if it’s neutral territory! Also what kind of weapon is the bible they were chasing, how is it powerful, and how do the different sides plan to use it? Some of my questions were answered right at the end, but not those ones! This book wrapped up fairly thoroughly but it looks like there is going to be a series.

All in all, if you like reading about books and libraries and stories, there are a lot of really interesting concepts here. The book dragged for me but I mostly enjoyed it, and others might love how philosophical it is about stories. I would rate it 3 stars and still recommend to fans of angels and demons and stories. It published on October first so go grab a copy if it sounds up your alley!

Categories
Fantasy

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker

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Thank you so much to Orbit Books via NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Honestly I just want to start by saying that The Bone Ships is one of the best books I have read all year, and I can’t wait to have it in a hard copy with the rest of the trilogy!! I KNOW I will be re-reading this! I was swept away by all 500+ pages and never felt bored, never skimmed, and definitely can’t wait for the sequel.

The description from NetGalley:

“For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war. The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted. Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favour, because whoever catches it will win not only glory, but the war”

I will start by saying that the cover and internal map are both really awesome designs, and I think the map adds a lot to the story. It is helpful to be able to visualize the ship’s route and have some sense of scale to the journey they are on.

The story itself is completely unique to anything I have ever read before, and very dark as well. The entire war at this point is based on stealing children from the other side to sacrifice their souls as corpse lights on their ships. Additionally, each healthy first born of the Hundred Isles’ women is sacrificed in the same regard. These souls seem to make the ships literally alive, as when the ships take damage, the corpse lights go out. This doesn’t seem like an intelligent way of life to some people, which may or may not be one of the many sources of intrigue, treason, and subplotting within the empire.

There are also black ships of the dead, where the brilliant white ship is painted black to signify that those on board are condemned to death as criminals. They sail to their deaths…. Good lord what an amazing cast of characters as well. Meas, the ship’s captain, or shipwife, is one of those morally grey characters that I wanted to hate but ended up loving. She is known as the best shipwife in the isles, if not the world, and stole command of the black ship Tide Child from the other main character, Joron Twiner, who had an arc of growth and leadership that made me proud of him. My favorite character was probably the Guillaime, I wanted to set the book down and clap when he finally did his thing but I really can’t talk about him without spoilers, but trust me. The same concept kind of goes for the sea dragon, an amazing being but too full of spoilers. The ship’s crew was such a rag tag bunch but they faced soooooo many things together including learning discipline, enemy ships, inclement weather, traitors in their midst, and becoming unsung heroes… Watching the crew come together was a huge strong point for me.

I also can’t get over how well Barker describes, well, pretty much everything. The flora and fauna as the crew discovers new places, I felt like I was there. The ships themselves felt so visible in my mind as well, even the clothes and uniforms and weather. The language and ship slang is done impeccably as well, right down to Black Orris! The one other thing that really had my spine tingling were the naval battles, let those giant bows fly!!

So long story short, I absolutely 100% recommend this book to anyone with any slight interest whatsoever in fantasy, dragons, pirates, sea life, old gods and legends, treason, morally grey characters, women in charge, snarky animals….basically read it. Thank you again to Orbit Books and NetGalley for this early read! The book comes out September 24th so be sure to preorder if it sounds up your alley!

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy

An Interview With The Phoenix Grail author Helen Savore!

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Hi everyone, welcome to the OneReadingNurse stop on The Phoenix Grail blog tour! I was so happy to interview author Helen Savore, who is obsessed with anything paper and is hilarious on Twitter. Here is her bio, followed by a synopsis of the book, and then the interview! I do hope you guys read through, Helen offers some excellent advice about writing and life in general as well!


Biography:

Helen Savore writes fantastical worlds filled with a mixture of modern and medieval settings. She explores stories loosely based on Arthurian legends, secretly wishing that King Arthur would return to pull the world from the brink of darkness. An engineer by day, and a gamer when time allows, this paper ninja writes, reads, plays with pen-and-paper RPGs and folds origami. It’s not surprising that her stories are filled with unexpected folds and twists that blend seamlessly with reality.

You can also follow her on Twitter @ImaPaperNinja.

Or http://www.oberonsforgepress.com/


Interview:

For those who haven’t read the book and author’s note, would you take a second to introduce yourself and explain your motivation behind writing?

Hi, I’m Helen Savore, sometimes known online as a Paper Ninja. I like to call myself a literary engineer. Storytelling is a great form of escapism, and you know we can use a little of that from the world right now. Actually, we can always use more than a little bit of that. We are living in a shared hallucination, so it’s fascinating to slip into different people, different worlds. It’s amazing how immersive a story can be. So that explains why I’m a reader, but a writer? There are stories I would like to experience I just haven’t found. Which sounds insane given all the content we can now connect with through online book stores. Unfortunately once I started ideating I came up with an ever stranger combination of concepts. But hey, I’m always open for more reading suggestions if you can parse the threads I’m weaving into my stories.

Was there a particular book or story that got you interested in the Grail legend and the fae?

The Gargoyles cartoon from the 90s. Mixing the third race, the fae, into Avalon seemed such a fun match. Arthur didn’t interact with the fae so much there, but the ideas came close enough in my mind to want to write about that. I had ties to Arthur from much younger. My aunt brought us these beautiful illustrated books which kills me I can’t find again as an adult.

Is The Phoenix Grail your first full novel? I know there is at least a second book coming, do you have a rough idea of when it will be available?

Lady Leaves the Lake is planned for a September 20, 2019 release. This isn’t a sequel to The Phoenix Grail, but another story within the universe. I’m calling these focuses on a particular character or “historical” event Faerie Forge Chronicles.
Sword in the Throne follows the Phoenix Grail, and that is planned for December 20th.
I’ll be releasing my first five stories over the course of a year, around the solstice/equinox dates. After that I plan to settle into one book a year cadence.

Are any of the characters written in your image? If you had to pick a favorite….and why?

I would say there’s a different aspect of me in each of my main characters. Because of that a favorite is tough. At this point in time I’m going to have to go with Raebyn. Prepping for The Phoenix Grail release I realized Raebyn had most of the best lines.

They [Fae] can physically be anything and anyone, and have been around long enough to have collected a myriad of experiences. They’re playing a long game that has noble intent, but they’ve gone terribly awry. I guess I like to explore those stories of do the ends justify the means. The trick is most people don’t yet know what’s at stake…

Did you pull any real life travel destinations or experiences into the novel?

It was more reverse on destinations. The Arthurian legends have become an amalgam of so 111many stories and traditions Arthur could be from a few different places, but I tend to favor the welsh traditions, so I knew I wanted to go there. I managed a short trip and to Wales and hit six of the northern heritage castles. I had actually studied the google maps walking view so much I navigated one of the towns without map or phone.

There’s a bit of me in each character. When I was young, some things happened and what gave me comfort and rationalization was that these experiences prepared me to do something, and I was on a hero’s journey. As an adult I’ve become disillusioned, there are no simple dragons to slay. But I tried to put that dichotomy into Drea. She grew up with Moralynn, and has known since a child this was what she had to do, and it set her apart from her peers. I’ve had a history of sometimes trying to reach too far too fast, so designed Jamie to have treading in unknown waters. Viviane, who we’ll see more of in Lady Leaves the Lake, constantly goes through surviving a lot of restrictions. From the age of eight into adulthood I couldn’t swim underwater due to ear issues which inspired some of Viviane’s initial curse.

Did you either have to, or choose to cut out any major scenes or chapters from The Phoenix Grail? If so, why?
I’ll just come out and say it, this is half of what was originally one story. It hit a point where it felt two large for one book, and I thought I could achieve satisfying arcs in both. A lot of scenes did move around, this was my first novel so I have learned a lot and did a lot of work on this. I am waiting to see if it’s even recognizable to my beta readers.

In writing a full length book, did you acquire any quirks or pet peeves that you didn’t have before?

I overanalyze storytelling. Granted I am a systems engineer so I make a career of understanding the components and connections of everything. However writing a book meant I’ve gained a lot of domain knowledge in story telling, so I can dissect those elements. Not sure this is a pet peeve but now I absolutely need a Mac so I can use all the good writing and publishing software. I also play a lot less video games, that’s sad.

Outside of writing, what hobbies do you have? Did you pull any of them into the novel for your characters?

An engineer by day, a writer by night, and a gamer when time allows. That’s why I gave Rhys a bit of a secret game obsession, and in future books that’s going to blossom in a lot of fun. How would a gamer handle real magic in the world?. One of my future books even features my favorite Pathfinder character.

A hobby you won’t see in the stories is origami. See I love all things paper. Reading books, writing books, and folding it. It’s very portable art, and my own cute fidget toy no one can be upset about. I do leave paper cranes everywhere, so keep an eye out if we’re ever at the same con!

Do you have any advice on finding a work/life/writing balance?

Ha! Next question.
More seriously, you just have to decide what your life priorities, and segment your time..
I’m also a relatively new mother so that changed priorities a lot. I worked really hard to get a daytime boss I could work with to keep my hours to an appropriate level, but that means I am passing on some opportunities. The dedication is actually in reference to one of my previous bosses who called out my workaholism and straight up told me to cut my hours; I wasn’t being effective. I don’t have a lot of free time otherwise, which meant giving up video games and entire day RPG sessions.

For writing specifically how much progress can you make in a doable unit of time?… then just know it’ll take a lot of those units to achieve your writing goals. It’ll probably take some practice to really get a good idea of your capacity. I’m a planner so I can do that math. If you’re a panster that’ll probably be tougher, so to be safe don’t set your release and editing deadlines until you hit a good level of doneness.

You will have to figure a way to balance the business side too. Does that come out of your writing time? Or is that a different kind of time? For me the energy for business and writing is different so I can schedule those different. I can watch things when I’m doing business math, planning, communication. When I’m writing, very minimal stimulus.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview! I want to have an open ended question and just ask if there is anything else you want to say either about the book, the characters, writing in general, life, or anything else?

I believe the Arthurian legend is the original fanfiction. So many influences came together to get us to the version we have today. The versions actually. Everyone can have “their” Arthur. I feel both a bit of a responsibility and a joy I might in the tiniest way influence peoples experience with it. Fanfiction is the highest form of compliment and interaction with a story. If you want to get into writing, don’t be afraid to write in the worlds you love first. I grew up in Pern fandom writing in weyrs and I couldn’t be where I am today without that experience. You will not only practice your craft, you are going to find a community. You need a community to bolster you through writing. Creative work is not easy and it isn’t always inherently collaborative so it’s easy to withdraw. So find those people you can share with, help each other, and never let go.


Here is the link to purchase the book:

Thank you guys so much for tuning in, to the publisher and author for including me in the tour, and for any future opportunities to participate!

Categories
Fantasy

Smoke and Summons by Charlie N Holmberg

Hi everyone, and welcome to the few new subscribers! It had been hard to keep up on the blog recently, but I have been invited to two blog tours and am doing an author interview as well in July, so I feel like there is some validation coming from this.

Also it is kind of nice to have my own little space where I can be a little more honest about things than on, let’s say, Instagram

One book that I read recently and absolutely loved (I Actually really loved the entire series, and just read the ARC for the third book) is Smoke and Summons by Charlie N Holmberg.

The description reads:

A captivating world of monsters and magic from the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician Series.

As a human vessel for an ancient spirit, Sandis lives no ordinary life. At the command of her master, she can be transformed against her will into his weapon—a raging monster summoned to do his bidding. Unlike other vessels, Sandis can host extremely powerful spirits, but hosting such creatures can be fatal. To stay alive, she must run. And in a city fueled by smoke and corruption she finds a surprising ally.

A cunning thief for hire, Rone owns a rare device that grants him immortality for one minute every day—a unique advantage that will come in handy in Sandis’s fight for freedom. But Sandis’s master knows how powerful she is. He’s determined to get her back, and he has the manpower to find her, wherever she runs.

Now to outwit her pursuers, Sandis must put all her trust in Rone and his immortal device. For her master has summoned more than mere men to hunt her down…

At the end of the book I was absolutely screaming (figuratively), and I don’t usually scream at books. I was screaming at the audiobook then had to ditch it with 20% left to read faster. I had never heard of Charlie N. Holmberg but was looking for something to listen to on a long drive, and I was SO SHOCKED, so shocked at how amazing the book is.

Rone gets himself into a shitload of trouble when he meets Sandis, who is on the run from quite literally her own personal hell. The book opens with the lifestyle of Sandis and the vessels in Kazen’s lair, and it is not a happy opening. The whole book maintains a darker tone. I love the characters, they are flawed but pretty deep in their own way. There is a lot of room for development throughout the series. The Rone Sandis friendship seemed special, with hints of more being a possibility in the future, and it was in such a real way that she interacted with him and ended up appealing to Rone’s good side. Unless someone summons fire-horses into you and murders your friends, you probably won’t relate to the characters, but they are very likeable and have some great banter.

The world is a dreadfully dirty city, crammed full of factories and people, horses and carriages, and what seems like early firearm production. The magic is occult, highly illegal, and dark and cruel to those involved. There is not a lot of actual lore and background in this book though, it sets the stage for the rest of the series and is more action packed with nonstop events than background-y.

The craziest part was that towards the end I just couldn’t put it down, despite that the book is nonstop filled with action. The last 50 pages or so were INSANE. For a 47North published book as well, this was extremely well edited and well written. Holmberg is a storyteller for sure, and I finished the book and immediately started looking for the second in the series.

The two narrators were great as well in the audiobook, they were very consistent and Scott Merriman really had the Rone drawl down to perfection.

If I had to come up with one bad thing to say, it is probably that I don’t love cliffhangers. I would have had book 2 on speed dial anyway, but there is definitely a huge cliffhanger.

The book really is truly unique though, I haven’t read anything with a premise even close to this before. I 100% definitely recommend to any fans of fantasy, the occult, snarky thieves, and fiery demon horses😍

 

 

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

The Exalted by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson

Thank you so much to Inkyard press and NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

Here is the summary from Goodreads;

Alskad has been ruled by the singleborn…but the new heir to the throne carries a secret that will change everything

When an assassin’s bullet takes the life of Queen Runa and allows an impostor to steal the throne, Bo Trousillion is forced to flee the empire that is his birthright. With few choices left and burdened with a secret that could disinherit him, Bo pursues an alliance with Noriava, the Queen of Denor, but the devious royal ensnares him in a trap and demands a huge price for her aid.

To the south, Vi Abernathy—Bo’s secret twin—joins a ragtag army of resistance fighters, determined to free Alskad and the colony of Ilor from the control of the corrupt temple and its leaders. But as Vi discovers a strength she never knew she had and prepares to rejoin her brother in Alskad, news of the coup and Bo’s narrow escape arrive in Ilor.

Determined to rescue Bo, Vi sails to Denor with the rebels at her side and a plan to outwit Queen Noriava, knowing there’s only one way she and Bo will be able to save the Alskad Empire—together

When I first requested The Exalted I didn’t realize that it was a sequel, so I had the pleasure of binge reading the duology. One thing I really appreciate is how The Diminished ended in a very. satisfying and non cliffhanger ish way, so I was more than ready to read this but did feel pressured to. I was glad to have it lined up!

This book put me through the entire spectrum of emotions, I was laughing, clapped a few times, spilled a few tears for various fallen warriors, and ended with a book hangover that resulted in a grossly delayed review (I’m sorry, my bad). There was a LOT going on in this book though -the Suzerain (religious sect/temple) took down the queen and plotted a coup, Bo had to go deal with Noriava, all the rebel fighting, then the maneuvering to take back the throne… Very busy but very well fleshed out and surprisingly linear novel – I had to force myself to put it down.

The Exalted moved a lot faster than the previous book and every part of it mattered. I was reading as much as I could each day! I loved Bo and Vi’s family and the little girls were hilarious. All of the new characters were great, Noriava as cunning as anyone, the general, and the camp warriors who we met. There were some surprising characters too but I will leave it at “holy cow, the Shriven”! (They are the Suzerain’s warriors.)

I do believe that some books read better with a rough ending, and I appreciate that in a war important people are going to die…but really? I wasn’t sure if I should be impressed at how many main characters died or if it was overdone. One particular hero I do feel like should have gotten some last words, or something, he was so important and if you were reading quickly you would have missed where he died. Bye bye new and shortlived book boyfriend 😦 😦 😦

Why did H die and not M? the twin thing didn’t seem entirely consistent but I am so glad there were also some platonic relationships in this book. I also think Vi’s depressive bout was real and important, this whole book just felt very,,,real…at times.

Anyway – Found families, gay characters, I don’t understand nonbinary but that was mentioned, strong female leaders, and nail biting nonstop action with a twist of court intrigue and betrayal out the wazoo…if these are your tropes and you’re not afraid to cry, go grab this duology and get to it! An easy 5 stars for this book!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

The Diminished by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson

I requested The Exalted on NetGalley without realizing it was a sequel, and then had the pleasure of binge reading this duology by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson.

It is hard to go into a lot of summary without spoilers, so here is the GoodReads summary:

In the Alskad Empire, nearly all are born with a twin, two halves to form one whole…yet some face the world alone

The Singleborn
A rare few are singleborn in each generation, and therefore given the right to rule by the gods and goddesses. Bo Trousillion is one of these few, born into the royal line and destined to rule. Though he has been chosen to succeed his great-aunt, Queen Runa, as the leader of the Alskad Empire, Bo has never felt equal to the grand future before him.

The diminished
When one twin dies, the other usually follows, unable to face the world without their other half. Those who survive are considered diminished, doomed to succumb to the violent grief that inevitably destroys everyone whose twin has died. Such is the fate of Vi Abernathy, whose twin sister died in infancy. Raised by the anchorites of the temple after her family cast her off, Vi has spent her whole life scheming for a way to escape and live out what’s left of her life in peace.

As their sixteenth birthdays approach, Bo and Vi face very different futures—one a life of luxury as the heir to the throne, the other years of backbreaking work as a temple servant. But a long-held secret and the fate of the empire are destined to bring them together in a way they never could have imagined.

The Singleborn are few and born to rule and be leaders, while most of the population is born as twins to keep their other half in check. This ties in with the pretty cool lore and world building, depicted by the halved moon on the gorgeous cover. See this below! The lore and premise really had me interested in this series and I found a lot of unique elements. I also freaking loved Queen Runa by the way.

What I really liked was the world building, political structures, and how quickly the action progressed. I liked the journey but some parts felt too easy, like Mal and Quill coming out of no where and being Vi’s new bffs. I was also cringeing at the insta love between like…everybody, but at least they kind of recognized it as lust and didn’t get all emotional at first. Bo is also extremely gay which seems to be a big draw these days.

Really though between the world, the friendships built, the unlikely families and friends, the betrayals coming from unlikely places, and how terrible certain things end up being for Vi’s old friends…This story really twined together quite nicely and progressed quickly enough to keep me fairly rapt. I think the author took riding lessons or has horses as well, because Vi’s riding lessons had me laughing at the 😂

This might be book two but the atrocities that the Suzerain and the temple are committing are like 😳, fear ruling bastards. I honestly forget where in the major plot line book one ended, but it was not a cliffhanger. The book didn’t need one, I already knew I would be reading the sequel and appreciated the solid ending of this first installment.

Highly recommend to any fans of fantasy, found families, political betrayals, and thick plot building!

Categories
Fantasy

An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass

Thank you so much to MacMillan – Tor/Forge, Tor Books for the e-ARC of An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass. Provided through NetGalley, all opinions are my own!

An Illusion of Thieves is a refreshing new young adult novel about a sister and brother who must first learn to coexist, and then foil an attempt by a rival group to start a civil war.

The description from GoodReads:

Romy escapes her hardscrabble upbringing when she becomes courtesan to the Shadow Lord, a revolutionary noble who brings laws and comforts once reserved for the wealthy to all. When her brother, Neri, is caught thieving with the aid of magic, Romy’s aristocratic influence is the only thing that can spare his life—and the price is her banishment.

Now back in Beggar’s Ring, she has just her wits and her own long-hidden sorcery to help her and Neri survive. But when a plot to overthrow the Shadow Lord and incite civil war is uncovered, only Romy knows how to stop it. To do so, she’ll have to rely on newfound allies—a swordmaster, a silversmith, and her own thieving brother. And they’ll need the very thing that could condemn them all: magic

So I really enjoyed this book for a couple of reasons, first being that I am sick of romance in young adult novels. This book instead focuses on a first tentative, then beautiful slow burn hate to love relationship building between Romy and Neri. They form a real sister and brother bond and eventually while reading, it dawned on me that Neri is the true central character. I love how he goes from criminal angst to finding a purpose, then is able to function as a fairly reliable member of a group, thanks to Romy and the weaponsmaster.

The magic system is also pretty cool, where each person’s magic seems to be more of a more innate talent. Romy can wipe and reorder minds, others can read steel, some can smith magically… I felt like they all had Skyrim-esque skill sets that were magic, except those people were considered dangerous as sorcery is illegal in the world.

The world is also fantasitcally built, in what felt like an old Roman style. The rings of the city were clearly described, as was the political situation. Also the cruelty described in the book felt SO real – the sniffers for example. There are a lot of messed up things going on against magic users. I felt like I was wading through the crappy morale of the lower city with the rest of the rabble. Now if you like a long, intricate description of political intrigue, this will be your book. I can fully appreciate what Glass did with the political structure, but the book slowed down SO much between say 45 and 70% that she lost me a little bit. Then at the end, the heist felt a tad bit anticlimactic and left me wondering if it couldn’t have been a little more exciting, although the painter….the painter! I love his magic the most!

I definitely love the characters though and can not wait for book two. The crew will be involved in an even bigger scheme this time and I am so absorbed in the political aspects that I will be interested to see how the threads of the bigger world struggle all tie together.

100% Recommend for fans of fantasy, young adult fiction, heists, political intrigue, and a good group of characters! Thank you again to Tor for the opportunity to read the book early!

Categories
Fantasy Paranormal

A Pack of Blood and Lies by Olivia Wildenstein

Title: A Pack of Blood and Lies

Author: Olivia Wildenstein

Publisher: Twig Publishing

Rating: 4/5 ****

Release Date: April 30th 2019

Thank you to NetGalley and Twig Publishing for the eARC in exchange for an honest review! This book isn’t coming out until the end of April but if it is up your alley, check it out and consider pre-ordering!

Summary:

Ness is a teenage werewolf living in LA. After her mother dies of cancer, her aunt and uncle decide that she should come back to the rest of the family (and the pack) in Colorado. Ness, as the only female born to the pack in generations, was originally not allowed to join. They are definitely sexist and manly-men, and the warning excerpt states that the book contains Alpha males. Anyway, Ness is understandably frustrated and unwilling to return.

Once there, she is thrown into life at the family inn, which is also pack headquarters. The old pack alpha, Heath Kolane, was a truly terrible man who is now dead. His son, Liam, is in line to become the new Alpha until Ness decides to challenge him, assuming that he is also a terror like his father.

Enter a slightly favored competition for alpha, angsty romance, bromance, and lies upon layers of lies (and misunderstandings) as Ness fights for her place among the men.

The world and story:

The world is modern day Colorado and Wildenstein did a good job describing pack history throughout the book. This is my first werewolf/changeling book and I still had some questions about their motivations, but I was satisfied with the amount of “world-building” for now. I read the whole thing in about two sittings, the story definitely kept me going. The little murder mystery aspect was as interesting as the competition, but I also had no problem staying involved when she was describing the friend outings or building relationships.

The writing:

Solid writing! The book flows well in first person and is well edited. Even when writing text messages from phones, it flows smoothly enough and I can always tell who is talking. There are a lot of flowery examples at first but I like the point of view when I feel like I am there.

The characters:

I really liked Ness. Main characters that are passive drive me nuts. She doesn’t let the boys intimidate her, doesn’t back down from the competition despite being taunted, waylaid, and eventually blackmailed. A true strong female lead! Liam is everything an alpha should be, and has a soft spot for Ness. He doesn’t let her preconceived notions of him stop him from being a decent guy, and he saves her life at least twice. These two have a slightly cringe worthy hate – to – love relationship, for half of the book I was saying “just get together already!” Typical young adult angsty miscommunication nonsense!

The other main characters are Liam’s friends in the pack, a generally decent group of guys even though they come across as pigs sometimes. I liked the “bromance” element. Sarah was a wildcard, as were some of the other characters mentioned, but most of them ended up being pretty generally good people. A few of them seemed to act out of character at times, like Matt towards the end, it all worked out though.

Overall:

I cringed a few times during the relationship parts, but it was overally clean and appropriate for young adult. I would probably let 16+ read it if it were my kid, but the warning states 14+. It really was hard to put down, kept me interested, and makes me want to read more books by Olivia Wildenstein, because this is my first by her and I like her style! Recommended for fans of YA, werewolves, with a romance bit. There may be more in the next books. 4/5 stars and looking forward to the next release!