Review: THE GUINEVERE DECEPTION

Review:  THE GUINEVERE DECEPTIONThe Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
three-stars
Series: Camelot Rising #1
Published by Delacorte Press on November 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GUINEVERE DECEPTION Review

 

Everyone who follows my blog knows I love retellings. I seriously can’t get enough of them and have been especially intrigued by the influx of retellings focusing on the legend of King Arthur and Camelot.  When I heard that Kiersten White had one coming out and that it would focus on Guinevere, I knew I just had to read it.  I’ve been wanting to try one of White’s books for ages anyway, so The Guinevere Deception seemed like a perfect fit.  Sadly, however, it ended up being somewhat of a mixed bag for me.

I was hooked from the moment I realized that Guinevere was not the Guinevere from the original Arthurian legend.  Instead, she’s a witch sent by Merlin to protect King Arthur.  I loved how unique White’s take on the Lady Guinevere is and thought it was absolutely brilliant to have her placed in the castle, posing as Arthur’s wife, but really serving as a secret weapon right under any enemy’s nose.  It might just be me, but I also found it amusing that Arthur was totally cool with going along with Merlin’s plan. He hadn’t found anyone he wanted to marry yet anyway, so hey, why not?

One of my favorite parts of The Guinevere Deception was watching Arthur and Guinevere’s relationship develop.  Around every other character, Guinevere has to put up a front and play her assigned role, but when she and Arthur are alone, she has those rare moments where she can let her guard down and we get to see more of the real Guinevere.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call their relationship romantic by any stretch — it’s more of a friendship or alliance — but it’s just nice watching two people have meaningful conversations and get to know each other better.

The world building was intriguing as well. I really like the way White brings her vision of a magical Camelot to life and was especially fascinated by the role of the trees in the opening scenes.  They appear to engulf and destroy a small village, leaving behind no survivors.  That whole man vs. nature creepy supernatural vibe really sets the tone for the rest of the book and left me hungry to know so much more about this world.

There’s one other scene I adored and I can’t say much about it for fear of spoilers, so all I’m going to say is that fans of Brienne of Tarth from Games of Thrones will love it too.

So, why the average rating when I clearly enjoyed several elements of The Guinevere Deception?  In one word, pacing.  The pacing of the book is excruciatingly slow and honestly just seemed to meander aimlessly for over two-thirds of the book.  Merlin has sent Guinevere to protect Arthur but he never tells her who or what the threat is, so she just wanders around, chats with other characters we recognize from the Arthurian legend like Mordred, she ties magical protection knots, and tying the knots makes her tired so she has to rest. The knot magic was interesting at first, but after a while, I found it boring.

The characters, for the most part, felt very flat too.  The exceptions to that were Guinevere and Mordred.  Most of the other characters were unfortunately pretty forgettable.  Between this and the pacing, I just found it very difficult to get fully invested in the story and found myself full on skimming by the halfway point.

I will say that the last third of the book is pretty amazing though.  It has the action, the betrayals, and all of the excitement we were promised in the synopsis.  The real threat to King Arthur is also finally revealed, but gosh, it just took so long to get there!  I don’t want to say I didn’t care by this point, but I think an earlier reveal would have had me more invested in the story overall and in how Guinevere and Arthur would deal with the threat.  I have a feeling that the rest of the series is going to be very exciting based on all of the set up done here.

If you’re into King Arthur retellings and don’t mind a slow burn plot, I’d definitely suggest giving Kiersten White’s The Guinevere Deception a try.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a new fantasy series reimagining the Arthurian legend, set in the magical world of Camelot.

There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

three-stars

About Kiersten White

Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of many books for teens and young readers, including And I Darken, Now I Rise, Bright We Burn, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, and Slayer. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, where she perpetually lurks in the shadows. Visit Kiersten online at KierstenWhite.com and follow @KierstenWhite on Twitter.

Review: SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT by Sara B. Larson

Review:  SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT by Sara B. LarsonSisters of Shadow and Light by Sara B. Larson
three-half-stars
Series: Sisters of Shadow and Light #1
Published by Tor Teen on November 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT Review

 

Sara B. Larson’s latest novel Sisters of Shadow and Light is a beautiful fantasy story about love, family, and sacrifice.  It features two sisters, Zuhra and Inara, who have been living in isolation inside a Citadel for the past 15 years with only their mother and a servant for company.  They are isolated from the rest of the outside world by a sentient hedge.  The hedge not only won’t let anyone from inside the Citadel leave, but it will also actually attack anyone from the outside who tries to approach the Citadel.

One of the elements of the story that immediately jumped out at me was the worldbuilding.  While the idea of being trapped in a Citadel is somewhat reminiscent of Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer, everything else about it felt fresh and unique.  The Citadel the girls are living in is an abandoned fortress that once housed Paladin warriors.  All the girls really know about these legendary warriors is that they possessed powerful magic and that they’re now gone from this world.  That includes their Paladin father, who actually disappeared the night Inara, the younger sister was born.  He disappeared and the magical hedge appeared, trapping the girls and their mother in the Citadel.  No one really knows the circumstances behind his disappearance and his wife assumes he has abandoned his family, which breaks her emotionally. She retreats into herself, leaving the girls to raise themselves with the help of their servant. I was just so intrigued by the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Paladins and trying to figure out how it would factor into the girls’ journey.

I love a good sibling story so what actually first drew me to Sisters of Shadow and Light was learning that the focus of the novel is actually the bond between two sisters. Inara has inherited her father’s magic but without him there to guide her, it has just become this uncontrollable roaring sound in her head that makes it impossible for her to communicate with anyone. Zuhra makes it her mission to try to figure out how to help Inara control it and while she is by no means fully successful, she does manage to calm Inara’s mind enough that they can occasionally sit down and chat and bond as sisters.

What drew me in to the story is also unfortunately what left me somewhat unsatisfied.  While I did love seeing the bond between sisters and was especially touched by Zuhra’s determination to break through the magic to reach Inara, I did feel that the character development was a little lopsided at times since we got so little from Inara firsthand.   I understand why because of the whole ‘magic roaring in her head’ business, but it still just made her feel like a secondary character for much of the story, which didn’t quite work for me.

Although the uneven character development was a bit of a letdown, the mystery surrounding the hedge still very much held my interest, especially when after fifteen years, it randomly lets a young man wander right through it and approach the Citadel.  Why has this young man been granted access after all of these years and how will it impact the sisters?  Once this young man enters, everything changes and the story blossoms into something entirely new and much more exciting than what it started as.  Long-buried truths are revealed and everything the girls thought they knew is turned on its head, especially as it pertains to both their father and the Paladins.

Even though Sisters of Shadow and Light starts off somewhat slowly as we are introduced to the characters and their world, it gradually picked up the pace and the intensity so that by the last third of the book, I just couldn’t put it down.  It also ends with an evil cliffhanger that has me anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.  I would recommend Sisters of Shadow and Light for anyone who enjoys YA fantasy, sibling relationships, mysteries, and adventure.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“The night my sister was born, the stars died and were reborn in her eyes…”

Zuhra and Inara have grown up in the Citadel of the Paladins, an abandoned fortress where legendary, magical warriors once lived before disappearing from the world―including their Paladin father the night Inara was born.

On that same night, a massive, magical hedge grew and imprisoned them within the citadel. Inara inherited their father’s Paladin power; her eyes glow blue and she is able to make plants grow at unbelievable rates, but she has been trapped in her own mind because of a “roar” that drowns everything else out―leaving Zuhra virtually alone with their emotionally broken human mother.

For fifteen years they have lived, trapped in the citadel, with little contact from the outside world…until the day a stranger passes through the hedge, and everything changes.

three-half-stars

About Sara B. Larson

Sara B. Larson is the best-selling and critically acclaimed author of the YA fantasy DEFY trilogy (DEFY, IGNITE, and ENDURE) and the DARK BREAKS THE DAWN duology. Her next YA fantasy, SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT, comes out November 5th from Tor Teen. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t write books—although she now uses a computer instead of a Little Mermaid notebook. Sara lives in Utah with her husband, their four children, and their Maltese, Loki. She writes in brief snippets throughout the day and the quiet hours when most people are sleeping. Her husband claims she should have a degree in “the art of multitasking.” When she’s not mothering or writing, you can often find her at the gym repenting for her sugar addiction.

Review: FIREBORNE by Rosaria Munda

Review:  FIREBORNE by Rosaria MundaFireborne by Rosaria Munda
four-stars
Series: The Aurelian Cycle #1
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on October 15, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIREBORNE Review

 

Rosaria Munda’s debut novel Fireborne has everything I love in a fantasy: complex characters, exquisite world building, political intrigue, and most importantly, dragons!  Fireborne follows two main characters, Annie and Lee, both of whom were orphaned during a brutal revolution that took place when they were just young children.  Lee’s family was part of the aristocracy and was therefore murdered by the revolutionaries when they launched their attack, while prior to that, Lee’s father executed Annie’s whole lowborn family to make an example out of them for their fellow villagers.  Both Annie and Lee were spared execution themselves only so that they could serve as witnesses to what had happened and report back to their people.  Lee’s true identity is hidden for his own protection, and he and Annie eventually end up in the same orphanage together and immediately become friends.

When we first meet Lee and Annie, they are young adults and they are also Dragonriders, which is truly every bit as cool as it sounds.  The characters really do ride dragons, which gave me a combination Game of Thrones/How to Train Your Dragon vibe that I loved.  Lee and Annie are still the best of friends, but they are also both excellent Dragonriders and so are also friendly rivals for the title of Firstrider, a title that all Dragonriders aspire to.

Their world changes, however, when it is learned that there are survivors from the old regime and they’ve decided they want their city back.  This puts Lee in an almost impossible situation – he must decide whether to fight for or against his birth family. Will he and Annie end up on opposite sides of this war that is threatening their way of life? And If Lee chooses to fight for his birth family, does Annie have what it takes to fight against her best friend?

It took me a couple of chapters to really get into Fireborne but then I was just glued to it and finished it in less than two days.  Annie and Lee are both such likeable characters.  I was sympathetic to them both because of what they had gone through as children but also loved watching them achieve success and literally soar as Dragonriders.  I also loved watching their relationship evolve – they’re friends, they’re family, and at times, even felt like possibly a little more than that.  Lee was an especially fascinating character to me because of the complication of his hidden identity and what a wildcard he is when it comes to the old regime trying to return to power.  There’s plenty of gut-wrenching, emotional moments as Lee considers the choice he has to make.

Aside from Annie and Lee, I also really liked the rest of the Dragonriders fleet, especially Duck, who is just a sweetheart.  Power, another rider and rival of Lee’s, is kind of an ass at times, but I still found him very entertaining.  The best part of the Dragonriders though were the actual dragons.  I was fascinated by the way everything worked, from the way the dragons chose their riders, to how the tournaments worked to decide who would ultimately be first rider.  I thought the author did a fantastic job with her attention to detail here – from the rules of the tournament with its full heat kill shots versus glancing penalty shots, and especially with the fire suits with built-in coolants that the riders wore. It felt like she thought of everything and it really brought the contests to life.  Between the glorious images of dragons flying through the air and the exciting contests between the riders, I found myself flying through the pages to see who would come out on top.  I loved everything about this aspect of the fantasy world in Fireborne.

I’m also a big fan of political intrigue, so seeing what’s going on behind the scenes as the Dragonriders prep for possible war was a big selling point for me too. I’m always drawn to those scenes where alliances are formed while other alliances are called into question and tested.  In the case of Fireborne, this led to a question that ultimately left me with food for thought:  If the new regime starts doing the same things that the old regime was doing, are you any better off now than you were then?

Even with everything I’ve written, I’ve still barely scratched the surface of the many layers of Rosaria Munda’s Fireborne.  It’s an emotional novel about revolution, rivalry, and family that is sure to captivate you.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Game of Thrones meets Red Rising in a debut young adult fantasy that’s full of rivalry, romance… and dragons.

Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone—even the lowborn—a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.

Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.

With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

From debut author Rosaria Munda comes a gripping adventure that calls into question which matters most: the family you were born into, or the one you’ve chosen.

four-stars

About Rosaria Munda

Rosaria grew up in rural North Carolina, where she climbed trees, read Harry Potter fanfiction, and taught herself Latin. She studied political theory at Princeton and lives in Chicago with her husband and cat. Fireborne (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019) is her debut novel.

Review: THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW by Alice Hoffman

Review:  THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW by Alice HoffmanThe World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
Also by this author: Faithful
five-stars
Published by Simon & Schuster on September 24, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW Review

 

I’m very hit or miss when it comes to books that feature magical realism.  The one author whose books are an exception to that is Alice Hoffman.  When I saw that she had a new novel coming out, I immediately requested it, especially once I saw that it was set during WWII.  I know WWII fiction has dominated the historical fiction market for a while now and that it seems like every possible story has already been told, but I was also sure that Hoffman would bring something new to the table.  And I’m happy to say she did not disappoint.

With The World That We Knew, Hoffman delivers a powerful story of love, sacrifice, and survival.  It begins in Berlin in 1941, where a Jewish woman named Hanni Kohn is faced with an impossible decision. She knows it’s time to get her family out of Germany before it’s too late, but she also knows that her elderly mother is too sick to travel and will refuse to leave her home anyway.  Hanni make the heart wrenching decision to stay with her mother but to send her own daughter, 12-year-old Lea, away so that she has a chance to escape from the Nazis and survive.  Hoffman does a beautiful job painting a portrait of a mother who is willing to do absolutely everything she can for her family, even if it means sacrificing herself.  Hanni’s love comes through loud and clear in every sentence as she desperately seeks someone who can help get Lea out of Germany.

The story takes a magical turn when Hanni is directed to a rabbi who can help her.  It isn’t the rabbi who eventually helps, however. It’s his daughter, Ettie.  Ettie has watched her father at work for years and she knows how to create a mystical Jewish creature called a golem.  A golem is a creature made out of clay whose sole purpose is to do whatever its creator asks it to do.  In this case, Ettie asks the golem, who she and Hanni name Ava, to serve as a protector for Lea and to do everything in its power to ensure she does not fall victim to the Nazis.  The rest of the story revolves around Lea, Ava, and Ettie whose lives become intertwined as they each strive for survival in wartime Germany and then France.

I don’t want to say anything else about the plot because I think each of their journeys is best experienced spoiler-free, but I will say that the story explores many powerful themes that resonated with me.  It explores love in many different forms, including the love between a mother and child, the love between sisters, and even first love, which somehow still manages to blossom even in the middle of a war zone.  Hoffman also explores sacrifice, resistance, and the strength and resilience that it takes to survive in such a dark time.  With her inclusion of the golem and even Azrael, the Angel of Death, The World That We Knew almost reads like a fairy tale or fable and it’s that element that raises Hoffman’s version of historical fiction to a level all on its own.

Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors not just because her writing is gorgeous, but also because she uses magical realism in a way that is truly captivating.  I don’t know how she manages to do it so consistently and effectively, but the magic she infuses into her stories always ends up seeming so convincing and authentic that it leaves me with a feeling that perhaps there is a little magic in the world after all.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites Alice Hoffman.

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

five-stars

About Alice Hoffman

alice hoffman

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston.

Hoffman’s first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of twenty-three novels, three books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Hoffman’s advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman’s recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. Her most recent novels include The Third Angel,The Story Sisters, the teen novel, Green Witch, a sequel to her popular post-apocalyptic fairy tale, Green Angel. The Red Garden, published in 2011, is a collection of linked fictions about a small town in Massachusetts where a garden holds the secrets of many lives.

Hoffman’s work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay “Independence Day,” a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her teen novel Aquamarine was made into a film starring Emma Roberts. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Times, Architectural Digest, Harvard Review, Ploughshares and other magazines.

Toni Morrison calls The Dovekeepers “.. a major contribution to twenty-first century literature” for the past five years. The story of the survivors of Masada is considered by many to be Hoffman’s masterpiece. The New York Times bestselling novel is slated for 2015 miniseries, produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, starring Cote de Pablo of NCIS fame.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things was released in 2014 and was an immediate bestseller, The New York Times Book Review noting, “A lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people, haunted by the past and living in bizarre circumstances… Imaginative…”

Nightbird, a Middle Reader, was released in March of 2015. In August of this year, The Marriage Opposites, Alice’s latest novel, was an immediate New York Times bestseller. “Hoffman is the prolific Boston-based magical realist, whose stories fittingly play to the notion that love—both romantic and platonic—represents a mystical meeting of perfectly paired souls,” said Vogue magazine. Click here to read more reviews for The Marriage of Opposites.

Review: THE LADY ROGUE by Jenn Bennett

Review:  THE LADY ROGUE by Jenn BennettThe Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett
Also by this author: Starry Eyes
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 3, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE LADY ROGUE Review

 

I’ve been a fan of Jenn Bennett’s YA contemporary novels for a while now but had yet to try one of her fantasy series.  When I saw that her latest novel, The Lady Rogue, was a fantasy novel with a historical twist, set in Romania, I couldn’t resist requesting it.

Jenn Bennett is one of my favorite authors because she does such a great job of creating characters that I immediately fall in love with and she did not let me down when it came to the main characters of The Lady Rogue.  I adored teens Theodora (or Theo as she is called) and Huck from the moment I met them.  Theo is sassy, whip-smart, and is addicted to cryptology and crossword puzzles.  She is also incredibly annoyed with her father when we first meet her.  She’s angry because he has dumped her in Istanbul with a babysitter while he’s off on a treasure hunting expedition in the mountains of Turkey.  When the babysitter gets tired of Theo’s antic and bails, taking all of Theo’s traveler’s checks with her as severance pay, Theo changes her tune.  She is now stranded until her father finally returns from his expedition.

Where Theo is all sass and brains, Huck is more of a lovable goofball but with a heartbreaking past.  His parents died in a car accident when he was younger, and he ended up living with Theo and her dad.  He practically became part of their family, until something happened between him and Theo that made everything awkward and ended with Theo’s dad finally telling him to move out and to have no further contact with Theo.

When Huck shows up at Theo’s hotel to retrieve her instead of her father, and with her father’s journal in hand, Theo is shocked and just knows something terrible has happened. She hasn’t seen Huck in over a year and assumed her father hadn’t either based on how they parted ways.  Her father’s instruction to Huck were quite simple:  give the journal to Theo, keep her safe, and get her home.  Or else…

Chaos and adventure ensue when Theo wants no parts of going home and decides she needs to find her father no matter what.  Huck reluctantly agrees to disobey his orders and help Theo find him.  Their adventure takes them on the Orient Express to Romania because apparently Theo’s father’s misadventures involve a supposedly cursed ring that once belonged to the legendary Vlad the Impaler, or as we more famously know him, Dracula.  As Theo and Huck quickly learn, Theo’s dad is not the only one looking for the ring. Some unsavory characters are also in pursuit of it and seem to think Dad’s journal would be a valuable resource, so Theo and Huck find themselves in the middle of a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

The Lady Rogue is one of those books that has something for everyone.  If I was going to compare it to another novel, I’d say it has a Hunting Prince Dracula/Stalking Jack the Ripper vibe.  I loved the sense of adventure and suspense that Bennett builds as we follow Theo and Huck as they try to find Theo’s dad while evading their own pursuers.  I also thought Bennett did a beautiful job of capturing the Gothic feel of the Romanian villages and that creepy atmospheric vibe of knowing that’s Vlad the Impaler’s old stomping grounds.  In addition to the adventure and the mystery that surrounds the cursed ring and the disappearance of Theo’s father, I also really enjoyed the added tension from the personal storyline between Huck and Theo as they eventually have to talk about what happened the night when Huck was forced to move out.

Jenn Bennett continues to impress me with her writing and her storytelling abilities with The Lady Rogue.  If you enjoy reading fantasy and/or historical fiction that features lovable characters, magical or cursed objects, and an atmospheric Gothic-like setting, The Lady Rogue needs to go on your reading list.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it.

four-stars

About Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Review & Giveaway: BEASTS OF THE FROZEN SUN by Jill Criswell

Review & Giveaway: BEASTS OF THE FROZEN SUN by Jill CriswellBeasts of the Frozen Sun by Jill Criswell
four-stars
Series: Frozen Sun Saga #1
Published by Blackstone on August 6, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Edelweiss. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Fantastic Flying Book Club for including me in the blog tour for Jill Criswell’s debut novel, Beasts of the Frozen Sun.  It’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read all year so I’m thrilled to share my thoughts on it.

Beasts of the Frozen Sun is an entertaining and action-packed read that features clans engaged in warfare, Gods who enjoy manipulating members of the clans for their own entertainment, and caught in the middle of it all, a young man and woman who should be enemies but cannot help their attraction to one another.  It’s set in a dark world with an almost medieval feel to it.  Battles are fought with axes, swords, and arrows, and prisoners are brutally tortured at will. The warring clans reminded me of Vikings, which was a big draw for me, and I also loved the Gods as a meddling presence, as well with the mythology of Aillira, a God-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair was the catalyst for a war between the Gods and mortals.

The protagonists were the biggest draw for me though.  Lira, who is named after the famed Aillira, is God-gifted like her namesake and has the ability to read a person’s soul just by placing her hand on their chest. She’s literally a human lie detector, and her father, who is the chieftain of their clan, uses her as such to root out traitors.  Lira is a scrappy heroine who knows how to wield a sword. I loved how feisty and strong-willed she is, and I especially admired how determined she is to stand up for what she believes was right, even if that sometimes means defying her father and her entire clan.

Lira’s gift comes in handy as we meet the second protagonist, Reyker, a warrior, who after nearly drowning, has washed up on the shores of Glasnith, where Lira’s clan is based.  While it’s clear from Reyker’s appearance – golden hair and ocean blue eyes – that he is from the land of the Frozen Sun and therefore a ruthless monster and a sworn enemy of Lira’s clan, one touch from Lira reveals that he is not the monster she has been led to believe all of his kind are.  Rather than kill him as she has been taught she should do, Lira opts to hide Reyker and nurse him back to health.

I adored Lira, but Reyker is a really great character too.  Yes, he has done some things that could be considered monstrous, but as Lira sees, both through her gift and as she gets to know him better, most of what he has done he was forced to do against his will.  Reyker is actually a tortured soul who hates himself because of the violent things he has been forced to do.  He has also suffered great personal losses, which have left him broken and alone.

While the action surrounding the war between the clans was exciting and certainly made Beasts of the Frozen Sun an entertaining read, it’s this growing relationship between Lira and Reyker that really made me fall in love with this story.  I’m not generally a huge romantic but forbidden love is definitely a soft spot of mine, especially when the chemistry is off the charts like it is between these two.  I was there cheering them on every step of the way and pretty much willing them to stand up and defy their clans in the name of love.

The writing and the pacing of Beasts of the Frozen Sun couldn’t have been more perfect. The book is nearly 400 pages and I zoomed through it in just a couple of sittings because I was so invested in the fate of both Lira and Reyker.  Criswell does end Beasts with an evil cliffhanger though and now I’m anxiously awaiting the second installment in this exciting series.

If you’re into fast-paced, action-packed dark fantasies that feature warring clans and star crossed lovers, you should definitely give Beasts of the Frozen Sun a try.

 

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book DepositoryKobo | Google Books

 

Synopsis:

Burn brightly. Love fiercely. For all else is dust.

Every child of Glasnith learns the last words of Aillira, the god-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair sparked a war of gods and men, and Lira of clan Stone knows the story better than most. As a descendant of Aillira and god-gifted in her own right, she has the power to read people’s souls, to see someone’s true essence with only a touch of her hand.

When a golden-haired warrior washes up on the shores of her homeland–one of the fearful marauders from the land of the Frozen Sun–Lira helps the wounded man instead of turning him in. After reading his soul, she realizes Reyker is different than his brethren who attack the coasts of Glasnith. He confides in her that he’s been cursed with what his people call battle-madness, forced to fight for the warlord known as the Dragon, a powerful tyrant determined to reignite the ancient war that Aillira started.

As Lira and Reyker form a bond forbidden by both their clans, the wrath of the Dragon falls upon them and all of Glasnith, and Lira finds herself facing the same tragic fate as her ancestor. The battle for Lira’s life, for Reyker’s soul, and for their peoples’ freedom has only just begun.

 

GIVEAWAY

 

Prize: Win (1) of (3) BEASTS OF THE FROZEN SUN bundles: a signed copy of the book and some author swag (a bookmark, pendant, and magnet) [INT]. Giveaway ends August 28, 2019.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

four-stars

Review: THE GIRL IN RED by Christina Henry

Review:  THE GIRL IN RED by Christina HenryThe Girl in Red by Christina Henry
Also by this author: The Mermaid
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 18, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

THE GIRL IN RED Review

 

Christina Henry’s latest novel, The Girl in Red, is everything I didn’t know I needed in a fairytale retelling.  The Girl in Red is not just a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood; it’s also a postapocalyptic survival story that features a deadly virus that has wiped out thousands of people, and an ax-wielding, modern day Little Red Riding Hood character.  The world doesn’t resemble the world Red grew up in. Survivors are desperate and the rule of law has pretty much been thrown out the window, but Red is determined to survive and make it to the safety of her grandmother’s house, no matter who or what stands in her way.

Red was of course my absolute favorite part of the story.  I just truly loved everything about her.  She’s smart, sassy, resourceful, and incredibly determined to survive no matter what.  She also has an extensive knowledge of post-apocalyptic survival skills, much of which she has acquired from the many books and horror movies she has watched.  Her family actually mocks her for her obsession with being ultra-prepared to survive an apocalypse, but I have to say after reading just a few pages, I was convinced Red was just the person I’d want in my corner if the unthinkable were to ever happen.  I loved that she was so practical and that she managed to stay calm no matter what was going on around her.

I also loved the way that Henry unfolds this riveting tale.  She uses a dual timeline format where we are presented with “Before” and “After” chapters. Each “After” chapter is presented first and illustrates that something major has happened, and then that chapter is followed by a “Before” chapter that shows the lead up to the event from the “After” chapter.  When the story first opens, for example, we see that Red is traveling on her own but we learn soon afterwards that she and her brother were initially traveling together.  We then follow along and learn what has happened to separate Red from her brother.  I loved this technique because it creates so much tension and suspense.  As soon as I realized Red’s brother had been with her but wasn’t anymore, I just had to know what had happened to him.

I don’t want to give away any major plot points so that’s all I’m going to say, but if you enjoy retellings, gripping post-apocalyptic survival tales, or just really want to read a truly unique story, I highly recommend Christina Henry’s The Girl in Red.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a post-apocalyptic take on the perennial classic “Little Red Riding Hood”…about a woman who isn’t as defenseless as she seems.

It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods….

four-stars

About Christina Henry

CHRISTINA HENRY is the author of the CHRONICLES OF ALICE duology, ALICE and RED QUEEN, a dark and twisted take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as LOST BOY: THE TRUE STORY OF CAPTAIN HOOK, an origin story of Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

She is also the author of the national bestselling BLACK WINGS series (BLACK WINGS, BLACK NIGHT, BLACK HOWL, BLACK LAMENT, BLACK CITY, BLACK HEART and BLACK SPRING) featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle Beezle.

ALICE was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2015. It was also a Goodreads Choice Award nominee in Horror and one of Barnes & Noble’s Bestselling Science Fiction and Fantasy novels of 2015.

She enjoys running long distances, reading anything she can get her hands on and watching movies with samurai, zombies and/or subtitles in her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.

Review: MIDDLEGAME

Review:  MIDDLEGAMEMiddlegame by Seanan McGuire
three-stars
Published by Tor.com on May 7, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 528
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

MIDDLEGAME Review

 

Seanan McGuire’s latest novel Middlegame is a very ambitious novel.  It reads like equal parts science fiction and fantasy, and is a wild ride from start to finish.  It features twins separated at birth who somehow have the ability to telepathically communicate with one another, as well a man who wants to use the twins to help him carry out his ambitious and perhaps delusional plan to become a god and control the universe.  If that isn’t enough to pique your curiosity, Middlegame also features alchemy, time loops, and its fair share of ruthless killers.

This was my first time reading one of McGuire’s novels, but after seeing so many stellar reviews for the author’s Wayward Children series, I fully expected to love Middlegame.  That said, however, I unfortunately didn’t love it nearly as much as I was expecting to.  I can’t put my finger on exactly why it wasn’t a great read, but part of it was because I just felt like I had to work way too hard to keep everything that was going on straight in my mind.  The plot is very complicated and twisty, and then time starts to twist as well, which made everything all the more complicated, and at a certain point, my brain just screamed “Enough!”  On top of that, I felt like the pacing was slow in places which didn’t help since the book is over 500 pages long.

That said, however, even though I didn’t love the read because it confused me a few too many times for my liking, there were quite a few things I did enjoy.

I love how wild and original the overall concept of the novel is.  On one level, it reminds me of Frankenstein, with James Reed using his alchemical skills to create children that can help him achieve his goal.  His actions and motivations are unnatural and more than a little creepy, but yet fascinating at the same time.  On another level though, Middlegame reminds me of nothing I’ve ever read before. The idea of this Doctrine of Ethos being the key to controlling the Universe and that Reed can somehow harness its power and become a God if he places half of the doctrine in each child just blew my mind.  Reed was a disturbing yet almost mesmerizing character just because he’s so passionate that his goal is 100% achievable and is clearly totally okay with the idea of using his homemade children as science experiments and with eliminating anyone or anything that happens to get in his way.

While I found Reed completely disturbing, I found the other main characters, twins Roger and Dodger, quite endearing, especially the connection they shared.  The implanting of half the Ethos Doctrine in each of them has left Roger as a master of all language and communication, while Dodger is an absolute genius at math. There is literally no math problem she can’t solve.  Put them together and they’re pretty much unstoppable.  As soon as they are “born,” Reed separates them.  He has several sets of twins that he’s experimenting with so this “separation” variable is specific to Roger and Dodger’s experiment.  Except that they somehow manage to connect telepathically even though they live thousands of miles apart.  No matter how many times they get re-separated, they manage to find each other again.

Even though I felt frustrated and confused sometimes by everything that was going on in Middlegame, that bond between Roger and Dodger is what really kept me turning the pages. I was just so invested in them and ultimately wanted them to realize they were pawns in Reed’s deadly game and somehow turn the tables on him and stop the madness.

While Middlegame wasn’t a book that I loved, I did enjoy the read overall and would definitely recommend it to fans of science fiction and really to anyone who enjoys a wild and twisty read that makes you put on your thinking cap.  It has also intrigued me enough about McGuire’s unique brand of storytelling that I definitely plan to read the Wayward Children series.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

three-stars

About Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire was born in Martinez, California, and raised in a wide variety of locations, most of which boasted some sort of dangerous native wildlife. Despite her almost magnetic attraction to anything venomous, she somehow managed to survive long enough to acquire a typewriter, a reasonable grasp of the English language, and the desire to combine the two. The fact that she wasn’t killed for using her typewriter at three o’clock in the morning is probably more impressive than her lack of death by spider-bite.

Often described as a vortex of the surreal, many of Seanan’s anecdotes end with things like “and then we got the anti-venom” or “but it’s okay, because it turned out the water wasn’t that deep.” She has yet to be defeated in a game of “Who here was bitten by the strangest thing?,” and can be amused for hours by almost anything. “Almost anything” includes swamps, long walks, long walks in swamps, things that live in swamps, horror movies, strange noises, musical theater, reality TV, comic books, finding pennies on the street, and venomous reptiles. Seanan may be the only person on the planet who admits to using Kenneth Muir’s Horror Films of the 1980s as a checklist.

Seanan is the author of the October Daye urban fantasies, the InCryptid urban fantasies, and several other works both stand-alone and in trilogies or duologies. In case that wasn’t enough, she also writes under the pseudonym “Mira Grant.” For details on her work as Mira, check out MiraGrant.com.

In her spare time, Seanan records CDs of her original filk music (see the Albums page for details). She is also a cartoonist, and draws an irregularly posted autobiographical web comic, “With Friends Like These…”, as well as generating a truly ridiculous number of art cards. Surprisingly enough, she finds time to take multi-hour walks, blog regularly, watch a sickening amount of television, maintain her website, and go to pretty much any movie with the words “blood,” “night,” “terror,” or “attack” in the title. Most people believe she doesn’t sleep.

Seanan lives in an idiosyncratically designed labyrinth in the Pacific Northwest, which she shares with her cats, Alice and Thomas, a vast collection of creepy dolls and horror movies, and sufficient books to qualify her as a fire hazard. She has strongly-held and oft-expressed beliefs about the origins of the Black Death, the X-Men, and the need for chainsaws in daily life.

Years of writing blurbs for convention program books have fixed Seanan in the habit of writing all her bios in the third person, so as to sound marginally less dorky. Stress is on the “marginally.” It probably doesn’t help that she has so many hobbies.

Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed (as Mira Grant) was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010. In 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo Ballot.

Review: DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He

Review:  DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan HeDescendant of the Crane by Joan He
four-stars
on April 9, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE Review

 

I was initially drawn to Joan He’s debut novel Descendant of the Crane because I heard it described as a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones.  The promise of a Game of Thrones-style, action-packed epic fantasy set in a Chinese-inspired world just sounded way too good to pass up.  When I dove into the novel, however, I realized that it had a lot more layers to it than I was expecting.  Descendant of the Crane is equal parts epic fantasy, coming of age story, and murder mystery all rolled into one very compelling story.

In the kingdom of Yan, magic has been outlawed for centuries.  Seeking to use it for any purpose is a crime punishable by death.  Joan He grabbed my attention immediately by starting Descendant of the Crane on a most unexpected note, with the protagonist, Princess Hesina of Yan, knowingly committing an act of treason by seeking the counsel of a soothsayer, or fortune teller.  Hesina is willing to risk getting caught, however, because she desperately needs information that only a soothsayer can provide.  Her father, the King, has recently passed away, and Hesina is convinced that foul play was involved.  Hesina knows that while the soothsayer cannot see the past and provide her with the killer’s name, the soothsayer does have the power to see into the future and can thus point her on the path to bring her father’s killer to justice.

I admired Hesina right away, for her determination and bravery, and for her devotion to her father.  What I liked most about Hesina though is how much growth she undergoes throughout the story.  She determines that sitting on the throne will provide her the best opportunity to bring her father’s killer to justice, so she convinces her mother to let her go ahead and ascend to the throne to rule as Queen of Yan.  Descendant of the Crane is a coming of age story in the sense that Hesina really has to grow into the role of Queen and learns many tough lessons along the way.  When she first takes on the role, her main goal is just to avenge her father’s murder, but the longer she rules, however, the more she realizes her kingdom is unstable and fueled by its hatred of the soothsayers and their magic.  She becomes determined that it’s time to wipe out this hatred so that the soothsayers can just live in peace.  Undoing centuries’ worth of hatred is a tall order though, and Hesina quickly learns it’s not easy being Queen and that her decisions and actions sometimes have unintended consequences.

In addition to Hesina’s journey to figure out what kind of ruler she wants to be, Descendant of the Crane is also filled with plenty of political intrigue to keep the plot moving along.  Hesina quickly realizes that there are many potential suspects as to who killer her father.  Many within the palace have much to gain from the King’s death that Hesina is convinced it’s an inside job.  It makes her really examine each of those around her, looking for potential motives and whether or not they would have had easy access to the King.  And once there are actual suspects, there’s even some courtroom drama to mix things up a bit.  It reminded me of an epic fantasy version of Law and Order, which I thought was quite unique and very entertaining, especially since Hesina’s legal representative, in another unexpected twist, was a sexy ex-criminal named Akira.

While the pacing for the novel wasn’t the fastest, it still worked well for this story.  It’s kind of a slow burn to find out what really happened to the King, but there are so many twists and turns along the way that it really effectively keeps the suspense building. There were a couple of jaw dropping twists, in particular, near the end that have left me anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.

I think my favorite part of the story is the way the author has crafted her characters.  There are lots of complicated characters and relationships, and who’s good and who’s bad, isn’t always obvious.  Morally gray characters abound, which always makes for a great read for me.  There’s also some interesting sibling dynamics within Hesina’s own family that I very much enjoyed reading about.

Overall, I was very impressed with Joan He’s debut.  Equal parts epic fantasy, murder mystery, and coming of age story, Descendant of the Crane has a little something for everyone.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

four-stars

Blog Tour Book Review: WICKED SAINTS by Emily A. Duncan

Blog Tour Book Review:  WICKED SAINTS by Emily A. DuncanWicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
four-stars
Series: Something Dark and Holy #1
Published by Wednesday Books on April 2, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thanks so much to Wednesday Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Wicked Saints.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this riveting read today.

Emily A. Duncan’s Wicked Saints is a dark and gritty fantasy that captivated me and kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  It’s also a multi-layered story that features a religious war, political intrigue, morally gray characters, and a pretty hefty dose of secrets and lies.

At the center of the novel is a war between two lands, one is a land filled with heretics who rely on blood magic, while the other, a more religious land, is filled with those who worship saints and with clerics who can communicate with the saints and borrow their powers.  The heretics loathe all that the religious land stands for and the King of their land has made it his mission to wipe out his enemy.  This war has been raging for a long time and the King is so close to his objective, he can practically taste victory.

In fact, there is only one cleric left, a teenager named Nadya. As the last in her land who is able to call magic from the saints, Nadya had a target on her back and therefore has spent most of her life hiding in a monastery.  When the novel opens, the monastery is under attack because the King’s men, including his son Crown Prince Serefin, have figured out where Nadya is hiding and have been sent to kill her.

Nadya manages to escape but is on her own until she meets up with a band of rebels, led by Malachiaz.  The rebels say that they want to bring this war to an end, and when Nadya says she does as well, they hatch a plot to work together and assassinate the King.  Since he’s the one driving the war, they think eliminating him is the key to peace.

When they start implementing their plan, however, it becomes clear to Nadya that nothing and no one is as they seem.  She begins to question everything and has no idea who she can trust, if anyone…

Can Nadya bring an end to this war and bring peace to her people or is she destined to fail?

* * * * *

5 REASONS WHY WICKED SAINTS SHOULD BE ON YOUR MUST-READ LIST

 

Wicked Saints sounds pretty epic, right?  Now I want to dive just a little deeper (in a non-spoilery way, of course) and share some of the highlights of the story for me.  If you love these qualities as much as I do, then Wicked Saints is a must-read for you!

 

  1. Nonstop Action and Suspense. I’m all about action scenes when I read fantasy, and this book is filled with intense fight scenes.  They’re violent and bloody and probably not for the faint of heart, but they are an adrenaline rush for sure.  Think Game of Thrones and you’re in the right ballpark!
  1. Incredible Worldbuilding. It’s a Russian-inspired world and it is beautifully done.  The snowy, rugged landscape, the magic system, the lore surrounding the Saints — all of it combined to make a very atmospheric read.  If you’ve read Leigh Bardugo, there’s a slight Grishaverse vibe, but I actually preferred this world.
  1. Morally Gray Characters. The characters in Wicked Saints really drew me into the story because each one has his or her own agenda, whether political, religious or something else altogether, and all of them are willing to do whatever it takes to try to achieve that agenda.  Some motives seemed purer than others, but I found myself constantly second guessing which characters were the monsters but still liking them all even if I started to consider them villains.  I really liked Nadya, Serefin, and Malachiaz pretty equally even though they all couldn’t possibly be heroes.  And in many ways, the character who turns out to be the most monstrous ended up being my favorite, which I totally did not see coming and was fascinated by my own reaction.
  1. The Magic. Nadya’s use of magic was just so cool.  Most clerics have the ability to communicate with a single saint and to borrow that saint’s magic as needed.  As we learn in the opening pages, however, Nadya somehow has the ability to do this with all of the saints.  She therefore has a pretty powerful arsenal of magic at her disposal. While she may be the last cleric, she is a mighty one.  What I loved most about her magic is that she literally has conversations with these saints in her head and they talk back to her.
  1. The Vultures. I don’t want to say much about this little band of creeps, but they are just deliciously evil and add an extra layer of danger throughout the story, which helped to ratchet up the suspense.  Everyone is aware of the Vultures and how menacing they can be, but what no one anticipates is that these villains are somehow able to weasel their way into the castle and become unexpectedly tight with the King.

 

I have to admit that I was really nervous when I first started reading Wicked Saints.  I had been in a fantasy rut for a while – nothing I was reading was holding my attention – and I worried that Wicked Saints would fall short for that reason.  I’m thrilled to say that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about though because Wicked Saints is everything that I love in a dark fantasy.  The story is riveting and gritty throughout and it ends with a jaw dropping cliffhanger that has me anxiously awaiting the next installment.  Thanks to Emily A. Duncan for a read that was so entertaining it busted me out of my reading slump!

 

 

CLICK TO PURCHASE A COPY…

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

four-stars

About Emily A. Duncan

EMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.