Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: The Immortal Words by Jeff Wheeler

Quickfacts:

  • Title: The Immortal Words
  • Series: The Grave Kingdom, #3
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North – September 22nd 2020
  • Length: 347 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fantasy and clean readers ❤

Thank you so much to 47North via NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review!  I was so excited to be able to read The Grave Kingdom Series as ARCs and I am just mind blown by the end of the trilogy

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

As kingdoms fall, brave young warrior Bingmei fights to fulfill a prophecy and save what’s left of the world from the coming darkness. Should she fail, Echion, the diabolical Dragon of Night, and his queen will hold sway over the next thousand years. With Echion comes his unstoppable army of dragons—powerful, vengeful, and under his control.

Accompanied by her loyal friend Quion, Bingmei journeys toward her last hope. It lies among the savage beasts just beyond the ancient Death Wall—an uninhabited realm from which no one has ever returned alive. Bingmei’s mission is to find the phoenix shrine and learn the Immortal Words that will allow her to harness eternal magic. With Echion and his legions in pursuit, Bingmei must choose her words wisely to break Echion’s spell and accept her fate.

Bingmei knows what she must do. She must join the ranks of the dead as well. For a fearless and selfless warrior, it’s the ultimate sacrifice. But Bingmei is about to discover that even in death, the greatest sacrifices are yet to come.

First off – if you want to read my review for book #2, that can be seen at https://onereadingnurse.com/2020/07/01/arc-review-the-buried-world-by-jeff-wheeler/

So yeah… I knew this was going to be an epic conclusion but I was not expecting half of the things that happened in this book.  To keep things spoiler free, let me just say that this is another fantastic series conclusion by Wheeler and he didn’t at all take it in the direction I thought he would.

I can’t honestly say that The Grave Kingdom series was my favorite by Wheeler, but it’s truly a work of art. I can always count on Wheeler for wholesome fantasy reads, strong women with incredible character arcs, and all sorts of lore, myths, and found families. Even in an Asian based fantasy he twines in an underlying Christian message. It was nice that he wasn’t preachy in these books, and I felt like the Phoenix and the Dragon could have carried a few different allegories.  I would love to ask him if he was thinking about any specific reference regarding the interactions of the Phoenix.

Wheeler is an exquisite world builder as well, from setting to food to weather and the smells of conscience, I truly enjoyed the world of The Grave Kingdom.  Each region had it’s own character, each city it’s own personality and feel, customs, traditional food, and animal guardians, and I think truly that this is Wheeler’s best developed world yet.

Plus I got my OTP wish.  Oh I was so happy I almost cried a little bit for these characters at the end. The books contain a wonderful cast of characters including a snow leopard and a blind king.  Bingmei went from a little girl to a fledgling leader to a strong, thoughtful, powerful woman who was able to decide that humanity was worth saving.  There was a wonderful open ending that echoes the book’s message of good balancing evil in the cycles of the world. It makes me think maybe there may be another trilogy in the world at some point and I would be totally on board with that.

My only issue was a bit of confusion involving Rowen and the Phoenix, I think Wheeler got lost in the mythology a bit and didn’t quite explain Rowen’s role in the grand scheme of things adequately.  Specifically when, why, and how was he chosen, plus  when did he become the Phoenix?  Couldn’t he have just busted out of the prison long before he did? It was slightly incongruous.   Also the fighting scenes were getting pretty repetitive by the end of book 3.

If you are looking for a truly epic fantasy series set in an Asian based world, with dragons, phoenixes, lore, love, loyalty, and found family, this is the book for you.  I was so happy and proud of the entire quonsuun and thought that the ending just was priceless.

The Immortal Words, the epic conclusion of  The Grave Kingdom series, releases 9/22.

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Firefrost by Camille Longley

  • Title: Firefrost
  • Series: Flameskin Chronicles #0
  • Author: Camille Longley
  • Publisher & Release: self published? Sept 21st 2020
  • Length: 340 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for fantasy fans

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

So we have a classic enemies to lovers story, set against the snowy and magical Ulve Mountains.  The Flameskins are a race of people who coexist with a demon called a pyra, and once their soul is fully consumed they essentially turn into demons.  The nonmagical people and army of Tokkedal are attempting to eradicate this army of fire demons, a war which was been ongoing.  With atrocities like cutting out the hearts of, and then burning flameskins being commonplace, the hatred and prejudice and fear of the nonmagical citizens runs deep.

The world building was really quite well done.  We learn all about the snowy and inhospitable mountains, their legends, and the people who inhabit them.  How they live, what they eat, how they feel in regards to the ongoing war.  The political aspects got a bit confusing because even though a Tokken King was mentioned several times, a queen ended up being in power?  Other than that I enjoyed the world quite a bit, especially the place at the end.  Cough no spoilers.

The magic includes the Flameskins who have their demons, or mages that have similar skills but must use a stone to achieve them.  There is so much intricate detail about the pyras and mages and their respective curses, that I was pretty impressed for the first 40% of the book.  Even the history and prejudices and course of the wars were pretty interesting, as were all the ways in which the fire could be used.  From firesharing to Saint Katerine and her powers, there were a very wide range.

The characters are a bit of another story. Sol is her village’s huntress, and ends up on a confusing journey of survival with a Flameskin commander named Kelan.   They have to rely on each other for guidance, food, warmth, and emotional support while more or less having to escape both armies and everyone else they meet.  Their goals change as they go, but safety is hard to find in a world where there is no place to be together.

Can they trust each other? Should they hate each other or jump into a bedroll? Can Kelan fight off his Pyra and stay human despite the fact that Sol is a bit of a moron and forces him to use it all the time?  The relationship and inner monologue between them got so repetitive during the 35-70% part of the book that I just had to skim at times.  There were no new revelations and yet every few pages I had to read about their very repetitive feelings and confusion towards each other.  1.5 stars docked right there, I would have just preferred a shorter book or to spend those pages maybe hearing more stories about the mountains, the Saints for sure, or literally anything else.

Kelan was a pretty interesting and complex  character, while Sol just drove me nuts until she got her sh!t together and figured out which side to be on.   I get that watching your pa cut out a Flameskin’s heart would have lasting effects, but it took her a very long time to come off her high horse and work cooperatively with him to survive.

I was on an easy 5⭐ course until I hit the middle of the book doldrums that some of the early reviews mentioned.  There was still action going on but just so much repetition. This looks to be a prequel book to the rest of the series, taking place 100ish years before the next book occurs, so there was just no reason for it.  I once again encourage YA authors to give their readers some credit and back off the repetition.

Fans of enemies to lovers, found families, adopted families, fire magic, superstition and lore, keep an eye out for this one!  It releases September 21st!

Have you read this one? Want to discuss it? Leave a comment below!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

  • Title: Down Comes the Night
  • Series: Standalone?
  • Author: Allison Saft
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 3/2/2021
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for YA

Thank you to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for the wish-granted early read of Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

A gorgeously gothic, deeply romantic YA debut fantasy about two enemies trapped inside a crumbling mansion, with no escape from the monsters within.

Honor your oath, destroy your country.

Wren Southerland is the most talented healer in the Queen’s Guard, but her reckless actions have repeatedly put her on thin ice with her superiors. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate to cure his servant from a mysterious disease, she seizes the chance to prove herself.

When she arrives at Colwick Hall, Wren realizes that nothing is what it seems. Particularly when she discovers her patient is actually Hal Cavendish, the sworn enemy of her kingdom.

As the snowy mountains make it impossible to leave the estate, Wren and Hal grow closer as they uncover a sinister plot that could destroy everything they hold dear. But choosing love could doom both their kingdoms

Overall this is a decent standalone? fantasy/romance, and seems to be pretty YA appropriate. The advertised age range is 13-18 on Amazon and I can see that.  The description gives away the first couple huge plot twists though, so there’s that.

Let’s start with the world building. The religious and political bits are pretty well explained, even the military structure, but the humanitarian bits are totally missing. Saft mentioned pollution and a black river multiple times but hardly mentions the industry causing it at all. (A train and steamboat are mentioned). What’s causing all that pollution? Factories? When asked about what Danu holds over Cernos (strong with technology), all they ever say is Magic. Is the industry stronger? Steam or iron? Why neglect this and just say “magic”? Also how do the people feel in the city? What do they eat even? The world was flat.  Vesria and Cernos were both better described than Danu. On a micro level though, the Colwick house was described excellently, ominous and dark and huge, and so was the North Tower.  I thought all those clocks were a pretty chilling touch!

The plot is fairly well done with a war between two countries that seems mostly based on lies and a generations old power struggle. Why are they really fighting though? I couldn’t find any real good reason except religious differences and some contested land of which the value was never mentioned. It just seemed like needless killing. The plot kept moving at a solid pace. I did skim quite a bit where the main character was just endlessly pining over another character.

As far as content, the most they ever actually do is kiss and make out and I THINK there was off page intercourse, but I wasn’t sure. Either way there is so. Much. Pining.

The actual action and plot kept moving along pretty quickly though. The action was fairly steady, with plenty of suspense and even a murder mystery involved. Lots of close calls, narrow escapes, murders and poisoners, even a dastardly political plot. The book reminded me of Stalking Jack the Ripper…. Just a little bit.

As far as the characters, I do like Wren and Hal. I think if Saft was going to leave those two together there wasn’t much point in doing the whole Una thing, but it did give Wren something to keep working towards even if the relationship was horrible. I didn’t like how Una kept belittling her, like right or wrong she was just being mean. I don’t understand the collarbones thing either, I guess we will soon find out how many fans have collarbone fixations. Wren is wishy washy and kind of an idiot but it was interesting watching her grow as a character. Hal was just sad but seemed to have a much older view of the world than his age.

I loved all the medical bits, I think the author almost has to be somewhere in the medical field. Some of the medical analogies were a stretch or just weird, but I enjoyed it all the same. This is where the SJtR comparison came from. My only real issue was ….. If a corpse has been expired, you really cant draw blood from it. That was the only thing that didn’t make sense. Magical healers are one of my favorite fantasy things though.

Anyway: yes I would recommend this to those who enjoy fantasy romance, enemies to lovers, and aren’t bothered by some light homosexual content. I am kind of hoping this ends up being a duology or trilogy. When not picking it apart it’s a solid read, although I hope a few of the plot holes get shored up in the final version. 3.5 rounded up to four stars.  The book comes out in March so there’s plenty of time to preorder or request on NetGalley if anyone wants to read it sooner!

Thank you again to Wednesday Books for my early copy! All opinions are my own

 

 

 

******below this line is a LIGHT spoiler that is the biggest plot hole in the book! So only read if you want to discuss it******

 

 

Final warning!!! Turn back now!!!

 

 

 

 

******ok******

 

 
Here it is the biggest plot hole: when Wren was talking to the queen and Una about Lowry, and the queen didn’t believe he had attacked Danu troops… WTF Byers’ corpse was sitting in the basement. Why not just walk them down there? Why not show Una? For all the bitching and needling and complaining and self loath she has over Byers, they totally neglected his corpse once Wren found him. Huge oversight IMO.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal

Audiobook Review: Star Stable – Jorvik Calling by Helena Dahlgren

  • Title: Jorvik Calling
  • Series: Soul Riders #1
  • Author: Helena Dahlgren (Star Stable Entertainment AB)
  • Narrator: Jennifer Jill Araya
  • Length: 5 hours 38 min (192 pages)
  • Publisher & Release: May 2020
  • Rate & Recommend: YES for the middle grade age group

Thank you so much to Andrews McMeel Audio via NetGalley for the free audiobook in exchange for an honest review!  I love audiobooks and have listened to a ton of them but have yet to actually review one, so bear with me! Feedback is appreciated!

First off here is the description of the story from GoodReads:

Step into the universe of the massively popular online MMORPG game Star Stable, and follow four friends who discover their magic powers and learn that every girl can be a hero in this fantasy trilogy.

Soul Riders tells the heroic tale of four young girls who have been chosen by destiny to save the world from the ancient demon: Garnok and his band of dangerous Dark Riders. Lisa is a teenage girl who is still coming to terms with the tragic loss of her mother in a riding accident and has sworn never to go near a horse again until she met Starshine, a mysterious blue-maned steed who comes to her in dreams. New on the island of Jorvik, Lisa befriends Alex, Linda, and Anne. Under the guidance of mystical druids, they discover they each have a special bond to their horses that gives them magical powers. While trying to balance school, family, and friendships they have to figure out what it means to be a Soul Rider. They are attacked by the Dark Riders and the mysterious Mr. Sands, discovering that their horses are in danger. Instead of relying on their combined strength, they decide to split up on their quest to find answers and learn to fight back against their enemies. However, will it be too late before they realize their mistake?

Jorvik Calling is the first installment in the epic, fantasy trilogy, Soul Riders, about magic, friendship, and horses bound to thrill all young equestrian fans

I have not played nor even heard of Star Stable before, and I don’t think that affected my enjoyment of this book at all.   As a lifelong rider I definitely connected a bit with the young girls, especially Alex, who likes to ride super fast on trails and seems fearless.  The other characters and their horses each have interesting stories that I think will be thrilling to girls in the target age range for the books.  Speaking of, do you even see this cover?? It radiates magic!

Jennifer Jill Araya seems like the perfect narrator for the book as well.  She clearly differentiates between the girls’ voices, and does a decent job with the male voices as well.  She portrays excitement and fear and sadness through her voice and I enjoyed listening to her.  The music seemed super cringey for someone my age but was honestly really well done, with full songs composed and included within the story and as bonus content at the end.  It definitely will add to young listener’s experience.

I also feel like the book is entirely appropriate for young girls.  There is no profanity, no romance, and the scary parts are suspenseful but not overly terrifying.  I would have NO problem handing this to any child capable of the reading and listening level.  The emphasis on friendships,  building trust, and self confidence are great themes for young readers.  There is the theme of grief related to parental loss but nothing else too strong.  My only qualm is that Lisa probably should have been more worried when her father didn’t return her text messages in a reasonable time frame.  He just literally stays gone forever and I found that a little odd.

I was also surprised to find that this ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, I was expecting each book to wrap itself up like, for example, Saddle Club but with a fantasy twist.  Man do I love reading about horses though, especially magic ones.  Even as an adult.  This is a really good building block for girls trying to get into fantasy as well, such as the Green Rider books for young adults.

Again I would fully recommend this to any age level of listener or reader.  I thank the publisher and NetGalley again for allowing me to review the audiobook! All opinions are my own.

Have you read or listened to this book? Want to discuss what makes a good audiobook review? Drop a comment below!

 

Categories
Fantasy Paranormal Suspense

ARC Review: The Hollow Gods by A.J. Vrana

  • Title: The Hollow Gods
  • Series: The Chaos Cycle Duology, #1
  • Author: A.J. Vrana
  • Publisher & Release: The Parliament House, 7/28/2020
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ most likely

Thank you so much to BooksGoSocial via NetGalley for the eARC of The Hollow Gods in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Here is the description from GoodReads:

A perfect story for contemporary fantasy readers who love their narratives razor-sharp and their secrets dark and deadly.

Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret.

For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: occasionally, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.

When Kai wakes up next to the lifeless body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience.

Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim. Can she trust Kai as their paths collide, or does he herald her demise?

And after losing a young patient, crestfallen oncologist, Mason, embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.

A maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears and unite to confront a centuries-old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat?

The Hollow Gods is a solid debut from author A.J. Vrana.  I feel like the mood of this book is the most important aspect.  It is a dark, atmospheric read, and fits right in to the block of literature that tackles ancient legends in small towns, superstition, possession, and dreamscapes.

The book tackles three unique points of view.   Kai is definitely my favorite, the man who is a wolf, because his moods and foul mouth are just so memorable.  He has a lot of reasons to be angry, not even to mention an ancient spirit that likes to run him in front of buses and the like.  I did not like Mason at all, honestly if you can’t handle death don’t be a doctor, especially an oncologist.  All I heard was WHINE whine WHINE and I wanted to smack him.  It must be different in Canada because in the United States, a resident doctor wouldn’t be left in sole custody of a patient like that.  It might have also been an artistic stretch but I spent the entire book wanting to smack him.

The legend of the Dreamwalker was brought out in small bits and pieces throughout the story.  I think the townspeople are definitely crazy but what can you do when an evil entity is influencing mass hysteria?  Miya is the third character and she grew on me, especially once she truly became a main character and began interacting with Kai.  I hope that the second novel talks more about how Kai and Ama (the other wolf) even exist, they definitely aren’t werewolves … they are just what they are.  The raven was an interesting character too, there is a lot of ground that could be potentially covered in the next book.

Vrana’s writing is perfect though, she spent the entire novel capturing the dark atmosphere required for a book like this.  It was never creepy, and I was never scared, but still managed to capture that ancient wisdom and brash moody feel.   I think it is super interesting too that the author studied supernatural literature related to violence for her doctorate –  the interest and accuracy and thoughtfulness for which this is captured throughout the pages is quite evident.

Additionally, all of the characters have to deal with their own tough issues of personal inadequacy, grief, and discovering their places in the world.  If they like it or not, they are tied together and I did enjoy watching them all work through their issues.

So why am I only giving it 3.5 stars? I can’t explain it but I tuned out a few too many times.  There was a lot of dreamscape action before I figured out what was going on that made me lose interest, and I felt like she took a long slow approach to get there.  I am 100% definitely going to read the next book though and have no problem recommending this to fans of legends, supernatural, witch hunts, and animals in folklore.  It releases July 28th so add it to your TBR now if it sounds up your alley!

Have you read it? Want to discuss it? Drop a comment below!

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: The Buried World by Jeff Wheeler

  • Title: The Buried World
  • Series: The Grave Kingdom, #2
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North – June 23, 2029
  • Length: 335 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⚡ yes for fantasy and magic readers

Thank you so so much to 47North via NetGalley for my e-ARC of The Buried World by Jeff Wheeler!! After reading both Muirwood trilogies, both Kingfountain trilogies, and the Mirrowen books, I can firmly say that Wheeler is becoming one of my favorite authors and I was so thrilled to be able to review this.

Here is the description from Amazon:

The young warrior Bingmei pits her courage, combat skills, and very life against a brutal tyrant’s dark magic in the follow-up to Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jeff Wheeler’s The Killing Fog.

The orphaned Bingmei didn’t choose to be a hero. She has no wish to cross the Death Wall to save the world. But she has awakened Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom and Dragon of Night, and it is her destiny to defy him. From his imperial city of ancient sorcery and immortal darkness, Echion conspires to fulfill his own destiny: vanquish Bingmei, revive his queen, and rule together for another eon unchallenged.

Traversing a labyrinth of caves and mountains, Bingmei and her band of allies prepare their defense against a fateful war they cannot win. But when they are overcome by Echion’s terrible power, Bingmei is left vulnerable to a ruthless assassin…one with orders to capture, not kill.

Before he destroys her, Echion craves something more than Bingmei’s soul. Only she has the power to resurrect Echion’s ancient queen, Xisi, whose evil is matched only by his own. Once reunited, their dark shadow will fall like a shroud over the realms. To be a savior, Bingmei must first survive what she has unleashed, and to survive she must begin to understand the seeds of power she’s never learned to control.

The Buried World picks up where The Killing Fog left off, and I will keep this spoiler free so don’t worry. If you read The Killing Fog and felt that it was a little long, rest assured that The Buried World is considerably shorter and moves along at a quick pace.

These books are a slow burn for sure though, Wheeler takes time to build this world and it’s mythology, revealing the legends over time and also taking time to build the characters.

Bingmei had a lot of self discovery and acceptance and personal hurdles to overcome in this novel. She had to lead the ensign while making decisions based off her own instincts…which after book 1 were obviously hard to trust. I loved the friendships and relationship building in this, even between the siblings and the members of the ensign. This is 100% one of Wheeler’s most intricate groups of characters. A little brutality, a little redemption, he puts his characters through the ringer and I just love love love the determination and resolve that the remaining group has mustered.

Have I mentioned how much I love Rowen yet? I do. Seriously.

Wheeler also mentions in the afterword that he was inspired by accounts of near death experiences and dreams to write Bingmei’s death sequences. From someone who deals with a lot of death, I really like how he had handled this so far. Wheeler tends to get preachy sometimes but he has done a really good job sticking to the made up mythology of The Grave Kingdom, without bringing a lot of Christianity into this…yet.

I also just want to mention how much I love magical walls – the Death Wall is right up there with the D’yer wall in the Green Rider books, and the Wall in the Old Kingdom books. There is just something magical about walls built on the blood and bones of our ancestors.

All in all – as much as I love this there is something keeping it from being a 5 star read. I think it just burns a tad bit slow for me in some places, then starts racing towards the end. I would call it a 4.5 star and definitely recommend for fantasy fans and people looking for clean reads, clean fantasy, Christian fantasy.

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke

Thank you so much to North Star Editions: Flux for the ward via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Here is the description from GoodReads:

Ren Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out.

If you know me, you already know that all the And’s and But’s in the summary are driving me crazy; I do hope that this won’t be the books final description. It is a common error to start sentences like that (cough Caraval books) but we were always taught that it was not proper English.

Anyway!  Magic in the form of Silver has been outlawed in the country of Erdis for years.  The Kingdom’s bloody history includes a huge genocide of magic wielders and a systematic eradication of trade routes and immigration from areas where refugees fled.  The King is a murderous bastard, the crown prince is even worse, and the youngest prince is the snarky one that wants nothing to do with royalty.  He reminded me of Nikolai except he’s a pit lord, not a privateer.

The rebellion is seeking to overthrow the crown and has been planting seeds to do so since before Darek (this generation’s rebel  leader) and Ren were born.  The characters are pretty well described in the summary.  There is a lot of squabbling (or sexual tension) between a few of them, but the book has a lot of quite well done banter.  I just kept being reminded of Nikolai with the whole second prince syndrome.

Silver is just an innate ability like fire wielding or any other mage ability.  It seems to be the only magical ability in the kingdom.  Silver can be used for anything from lockpicking to torture to making a giant silver lion appear – like an illusion with substance.  The king uses it to torture people while Ren picks locks and destroys ships… I felt like we were deprived of a good mage fight.  I wanted to see silver vs silver in combat.  While it is a simple enough magic system, and a cool ability, it’s a bit underdeveloped.  Hopefully there will be more explanation in book two.

The world building is really excellent in some places.  The descriptions of the city, buildings, river, mood, political structure, and tension in the city were real.  We even got to see the festival, some food, and see some music and entertainment.   The characters used English slang though, in high quantity.  It isn’t a bad thing but I forgot this was a YA book while reading. There actually isn’t a lot of magic since only the Royalty and Ren wield it now, and seeing as there wasn’t other magic described in the world…. This isn’t quite low fantasy but the fantastical aspect is limited to silver wielding.

Speaking of age appropriateness: the tortures used in the book aren’t for the fainthearted!  I enjoyed reading a book with some teeth, but kind of had it in my head that I was reading an adult fantasy.  I enjoyed it though. Flaying skin and muscle, blood and arrows stabbed and sliced in unconventional ways, courtesy of Adley and Lesa.  I cringed a few times during torture scenes😳 As long as I’m talking about those two, they are a pair of women but the worst that they do is pine and kiss and pine some more.  Otherwise for romance, two characters hook up off page.  I kind of feel like if we get to read about Adley flaying off a guy’s skin, we could have read about Darek in bed, but to each their own.

The pacing of the entire book was good, fast, and then the last maybe 100 pages were BREAKNECK!! I could not put it down!

All in all I think older teens and young adults are a good audience for the book.  I actually enjoyed it as an adult. The most eye-rolling thing that happened was how often the two coupled pairs eyed each other before getting it over with, but some scenes definitely require a slightly more mature audience.

My original instinct was 5stars for the last part of the book – but overall I will go with a strong, strong four.  Thank you again to the publisher for the advanced read!

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

0225202030_HDR

 

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!