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 this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

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 this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

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 this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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 this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.

Review: CROWN OF FEATHERS

Review:  CROWN OF FEATHERSCrown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto
three-half-stars
Series: Crown of Feathers #1
Published by Simon Pulse on February 12, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 496
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CROWN OF FEATHERS Review

 

Nicki Pau Preto’s Crown of Feathers is an epic fantasy that centers on a world that has been torn apart by a war between two warrior queens who also happen to be sisters.  The legendary Phoenix Riders were the heroes of that world until the war between the sisters destroyed everything.  Years later, many are still struggling to make ends meet and keep food on the table, including main character Veronyka, who is an orphan because of the war.  Veronyka is also an animage, which means she can communicate with animals. Animages are considered dangerous by the new empire, so Veronyka lives in hiding.  As an animage, however, Veronyka’s biggest dream is to find and join the Phoenix Riders.  She knows they’re still out there somewhere and is willing to do whatever it takes to become one of them, especially if it will get her away from her psychologically abusive sister, Val.

When Val betrays Veronyka in a most heinous and cruel way, Veronyka abandons her and sets out on her own, determined that she will either find the Phoenix Riders or die trying.  She finally locates a compound where apprentices are being trained to become Phoenix Riders. It’s everything she hoped it would be, except there’s a catch.  They aren’t taking new apprentices because they don’t have anymore available phoenixes and even if they were, they only train boys.  To join their ranks, Veronyka disguises herself as a boy, Nyk, and signs on as a stable hand.  She makes friends with Tristan, the son of the Phoenix Riders’ commander, who promises to sponsor Nyk as an apprentice Phoenix Rider the next time they’re taking on new apprentices.

Can Veronyka keep her true identity hidden?  Where’s Val during all of this?  Are the Phoenix Riders safe from the new empire?  What will happen if they’re discovered?

My favorite character, by far, in Crown of Feathers was Veronyka.  The author had me in her corner from the first moment we meet her and see how poorly her sister Val treats her.  And as much as I hated it when Val betrays Veronyka, I loved the growth we get to see in Veronyka when she sets out on her own.  She’s determined, she’s fierce, and just a real force to be reckoned with, especially the closer she gets to making her dream come true.  She had my sympathy right away but eventually she earned my respect and admiration as well.

I also really liked the other two main characters, Tristan and Sev, and thought they also had interesting journeys in this book.  As I mentioned earlier, Tristan is the son of the Phoenix Riders’ commander.  He is under tremendous pressure to live up to his father’s high expectations so that he might lead the Riders someday. In addition to watching his relationship with Nyk/Veronyka grow, much of Tristan’s journey focuses on him desperately trying to overcome his fears and make his father proud.  Sev, like Veronyka, is an animage in hiding.  Unlike Veronyka, however, Sev is hiding in plain sight, working as a soldier in the empire’s army.  His life takes an interesting and even more dangerous turn when he is approached by someone who knows what he is and is tasked with spying on the enemy from within.

Having the story unfold from these three unique perspectives added so many complex layers and interesting relationship dynamics. I really enjoyed watching all three of these characters grow and mature.

Aside from the characters, I also loved the whole concept of the Phoenix Riders.  The visual of these fierce warriors riding on fiery phoenixes gave me chills, and I also loved the way the author describes the unbreakable bond that forms between a phoenix and his or her rider of choice.  Everything about this was just so well thought out and well written. The author made it very easy to see why becoming a Phoenix Rider was Veronyka’s dream.

The ending was actually my absolute favorite part of Crown of Feathers.  If you’re into epic battle scenes, this book is for you.  I don’t want to spoil anything but think along the lines of the battle in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or even the battles to protect the wall in Game of Thrones.  It was so intense and had me flying through the pages to see who would come out on top.  Regardless of my overall rating, I’d give the last 100 or so pages 5 stars.

My biggest issue with A Crown of Feathers centered on the worldbuilding.  As I mentioned, I thought the world itself was fantastic, especially the Phoenixes and the whole idea of the Phoenix Riders.  I just had a hard time with the way all of the background information was inserted in large clumps throughout the story.  It’s probably just me but getting the information that way really slowed the pacing of the story for me at times and just felt in the way of the action.

I also wanted more interaction between Val and Veronyka.  I have a thing for complicated sibling dynamics and was so excited by the way this story started off with Val betraying Veronyka in such a big way.  Then she just disappeared for hundreds of pages.  I spent much of the book wondering when she was going to make an appearance and either redeem herself or make things even worse between herself and Veronyka.

Even though I struggled with the pacing in the first half of the book, I still think Crown of Feathers is a very solid series opener and a stellar debut effort.  The way this first book ended has me very excited to find out where the story is going next. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy, fierce female protagonists, and of course, those beautiful fiery phoenixes.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

three-half-stars

About Nicki Pau Preto

Nicki is a YA fantasy author living just outside Toronto, Canada. After getting a degree in visual arts, a masters in art history, and a diploma in graphic design, Nicki discovered two things: she loves to escape the real world, and she isn’t interested in a regular 9-5 life. Luckily, her chosen career covers both.

Her YA fantasy debut CROWN OF FEATHERS is coming February 12, 2019 from Simon Pulse.

Review: SISTERS OF THE FIRE by Kim Wilkins

Review:  SISTERS OF THE FIRE by Kim WilkinsSisters of the Fire by Kim Wilkins
Also by this author: Daughters of the Storm
four-stars
Series: Blood and Gold #2
Published by Del Rey on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 448
Also in this series: Daughters of the Storm
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

SISTERS OF THE FIRE Review

Sisters of the Fire is the second installment in Kim Wilkins’ captivating epic fantasy series, Blood and Gold.  It picks up four years after the events of the first book, continuing the adventures of the five royal daughters of the King of Thyrsland.  Events from the first book have left the King’s daughters scattered far and wide throughout the kingdom.  Only Bluebell, the eldest daughter, has remained at home with her father, as she will be heir to the throne one day.  Bluebell has attained nearly legendary status as a warrior and is deemed by most to be unkillable, so when she learns one of her enemies has had a magical sword created that has the power to kill her and that it is in the possession of one of her sisters, Bluebell goes on a quest to find each of her sisters and figure out who has the sword so that she can destroy it before it can do her harm.

As with the first book in the series, we follow the perspectives of each of the five sisters, so we see what trials and tribulations the other four sisters are facing while we’re also following Bluebell on her quest.  Sister Ash, a seer, is still in self-imposed exile learning to control her magic and hunting dragons, while sister Rose, is in hiding, having been cast aside by her husband because she was unfaithful. What made this second book an even better read for me than the first one was that the two younger sisters had much bigger roles this time whereas they felt more like secondary characters in the first book.  Ivy is living with her much older husband and is in a position to attain great power should something happen to him, and Willow, our religious zealot from the first book, has become even more fanatical about her faith when we meet her in this book.

Sisters of the Fire is filled with secrets, lies, betrayal, plenty of action, familial love, and yes, even a few hints of romance. It also does a wonderful job of advancing the story arcs of each of the sisters, as well as introducing my new favorite character, Rose’s daughter, Rowan, who was an infant in the first book. Rowan has grown into a feisty rebellious character, who aspires to be a fierce warrior like her aunt Bluebell, while everyone around her wants her to be proper and ladylike.  She’s a delightful addition to what was already a stellar cast of badass females, and I can’t wait to see how she factors in as this exciting series continues.

With this second installment, the Blood and Gold series continues to impress me and I look forward to seeing what is in store for all of the sisters, and of course, Rowan, in the next book. I highly recommend the series to fantasy fans, but I also wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about complicated family dynamics, especially sibling relationships.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In the next chapter of a fantasy series featuring five unforgettable sisters—the warrior, the magician, the lover, the zealot, and the gossip—an insidious threat jeopardizes a fragile peace.

Four years have passed since the five royal sisters—daughters of the king—worked together to restore their father to health and to the throne while fracturing the bonds among themselves almost irreparably. Only Bluebell remains at home, dutifully serving as heir to her father’s kingdom. Rose has been cast aside by her former husband and hides in exile with her aunt, separated forever from her beloved daughter, Rowan. Ash wanders the distant wastes with her teacher, learning magic and hunting dragons, determined that the dread fate she has foreseen for herself and her loved ones never comes to pass. Ivy rules over a prosperous seaport, married to an aged husband she hates yet finding delight in her two young sons and a handsome captain of the guard. And as for Willow, she hides the most dangerous secret of all—one that could destroy all that the sisters once sought to save.

four-stars

About Kim Wilkins

Kim Wilkins was born in London, and grew up at the seaside north of Brisbane, Australia. She has degrees in literature and creative writing, and teaches at the University of Queensland and in the community. Her first novel, The Infernal, a supernatural thriller was published in 1997. Since then, she has published across many genres and for many different age groups. Her latest books, contemporary epic women’s fiction, are published under the pseudonym Kimberley Freeman. Kim has won many awards and is published all over the world. She lives in Brisbane with a bunch of lovable people and pets.

Early Reviews: DARK OF THE WEST & COURTING DARKNESS

Early Reviews:  DARK OF THE WEST & COURTING DARKNESSDark of the West by Joanna Hathaway
three-half-stars
Series: Glass Alliance #1
Published by Tor Teen on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

He was raised in revolution. She was raised in a palace. Can their love stop a war? Code Name Verity meets The Winner's Curse in Joanna Hathaway's Dark of the West, a breathtaking YA fantasy debut.

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.

Review:

Joanna Hathaway’s Dark of the West is the exciting first book in her ambitious debut YA Fantasy series, Glass Alliance. Inspired by the political landscape of WWII, the worldbuilding in this novel is lush and intricate, and manages to feel familiar and yet unique all at the same time.  I think this is a series that is going to have a little bit of something for everyone:  political intrigue, war mongering, spies, assassinations, epic battle scenes, just to name a few.  As exciting as all of that sounds, however, what really makes the story come alive are the star crossed lovers at its heart, Athan and Aurelia,

I loved the portrayal of these two young people.  Athan is a gifted pilot and the youngest son of a famous and ruthless general.  The general’s primary rival, is the Queen of Etania, who also happens to be Aurelia’s mother.  When Athan’s mother is unexpectedly gunned down by a sniper, Athan’s father is convinced that the Queen is behind it and sends Athan on a mission to avenge his mother’s death and to help his father overthrow the Queen.  It is while on this mission that Athan meets and falls in love with Aurelia, the one person he shouldn’t be with.

What I loved about this story is that it is presented to us from the viewpoints of both Athan and Aurelia.  We get to see firsthand from each side what is happening with regard to the war preparations since war appears to be imminent.  But then we also get to see firsthand just how conflicted both Athan and Aurelia are when it comes to their wanting to remain loyal to their families, but also the undeniable attraction they feel for one another.  Athan’s chapters were my favorites because in addition to witnessing all of the internal conflicts he is struggling with, we also get exciting chapters where he is in the sky, either flying training routes or actually engaged in battles in the air.  I kept thinking of Star Wars and Top Gun while reading those scenes and they were just such an adrenaline rush.

I did have a few issues with the book, however, which is why I’ve rated it what I have.  Aside from those flying scenes, I found the pacing of the first half of the novel to be somewhat slow.  I also wasn’t a big fan of the prologue, which drops some pretty big spoilers about where the story is ultimately going as it pertains to Athan and Aurelia.  While that information made for an exciting beginning, it ended up leaving me frustrated as Athan and Aurelia don’t even cross paths until almost the halfway point of the first book.  I honestly think I would have preferred no prologue. Even with those couple of issues, however, I still found Dark of the West to be a very solid first book in this series and I look forward to seeing how we end up at the scene we are presented with in the prologue.  3.5 STARS

 

 

Early Reviews:  DARK OF THE WEST & COURTING DARKNESSCourting Darkness by Robin LaFevers
three-half-stars
Series: Courting Darkness Duology #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Death wasn’t the end, it was only the beginning…

Sybella has always been the darkest of Death’s daughters, trained at the convent of Saint Mortain to serve as his justice. But she has a new mission now. In a desperate bid to keep her two youngest sisters safe from the family that nearly destroyed them all, she agrees to accompany the duchess to France, where they quickly find themselves surrounded by enemies. Their one ray of hope is Sybella’s fellow novitiates, disguised and hidden deep in the French court years ago by the convent—provided Sybella can find them.

Genevieve has been undercover for so many years, she struggles to remember who she is or what she’s supposed to be fighting for. Her only solace is a hidden prisoner who appears all but forgotten by his guards. When tragedy strikes, she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands—even if it means ignoring the long awaited orders from the convent.

As Sybella and Gen’s paths draw ever closer, the fate of everything they hold sacred rests on a knife’s edge. Will they find each other in time, or will their worlds collide, destroying everything they care about?

Review:

Robin LaFevers latest offering, Courting Darkness, is the first book in a new duology that follows some of the beloved characters from the popular His Fair Assassin series on a new adventure.  I didn’t realize this was connected to the other series when I requested it, but aside from a few moments of confusion here and there, I was able to settle into the story and read it without too much difficulty.

Set in 15th century France, this story is full of secrets, lies, and danger as it revolves around conflicts between France and Brittany.  It is presented in alternating points of view from two assassin nuns, Sybella and Genevieve, who were trained at the convent of Saint Mortain.  I was a little confused about what exactly they were supposed to be doing, but the gist is that Genevieve is deep undercover in the French courts and has been so for years, awaiting word of her next mission, while Sybella is stationed with the Duchess of Brittany and ends up accompanying her to France when it is agreed that the Duchess should marry the King of France.  While there, Sybella and the Duchess find themselves in hostile territory with Sybella’s siblings in the line of fire.  Determined to protect her sisters at all costs, Sybella starts scoping out all of the ladies in the French court, hoping to figure out which one is her fellow assassin so that the next phase of their mission can move forward.

While the politics, the deceits and the whole idea of assassin nuns are all quite interesting, even if a little confusing at times, my favorite part of the story was actually Sybella and Beast, one of the royal guards.  Their relationship was so sweet and it was ultimately what kept me turning the pages.  From what I’m hearing, they are a favorite pairing from His Fair Assassin so I definitely plan to go back and read more about those two, especially since I really did enjoy LaFevers’ fluid writing style.  I didn’t care for Genevieve quite as much as Sybella but I have a feeling that will change based on the excellent cliffhanger we’re left with at the end of Courting Darkness.

I think Courting Darkness would have been an even better read for me if I had gone into it after reading the His Fair Assassins trilogy, but I still found it to be an exciting read, especially for anyone who is into political intrigue.  3.5 STARS

three-half-stars

About Joanna Hathaway

JOANNA HATHAWAY was born in Montréal and is an avid storyteller who was inspired to write after reading her great-grandfather’s memoirs of the First World War. A lifelong history buff, she now has shelves filled with biographies and historical accounts, and perhaps one too many books about pilots. She can often be found reading, traveling, or riding horses.

Her debut novel, DARK OF THE WEST (Tor Teen, February 5th, 2019), is the first in a WWII-infused fantasy series of forbidden love and deadly revenge.

She is represented by Steven Salpeter of Curtis Brown Ltd.

About Robin LaFevers

Robin LaFevers was raised on a steady diet of fairy tales, Bulfinch’s mythology, and 19th century poetry. It is not surprising she grew up to be a hopeless romantic.

Though she has never trained as an assassin or joined a convent, she did attend Catholic school for three years, which instilled in her a deep fascination with sacred rituals and the concept of the Divine. She has been on a search for answers to life’s mysteries ever since.

While many of those answers still elude her, she was lucky enough to find her one true love, and is living happily ever after with him in the foothills of southern California.

In addition to writing about teen assassin nuns in medieval Brittany, she writes books for middle grade readers, including the Theodosia books and the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series. You can learn more about those books at www.rllafevers.com.

Mini Reviews for THRONE OF GLASS & THE LADY’S GUIDE TO PETTICOATS AND PIRACY

Mini Reviews for THRONE OF GLASS & THE LADY’S GUIDE TO PETTICOATS AND PIRACYThrone of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Also by this author: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)
four-stars
Series: Throne of Glass #1
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 7, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 406
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass--and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.

Review:

After three years of saying I wanted to read Sarah J. Maas’ popular fantasy series Throne of Glass, I have finally started it. It was totally worth the wait too!  I was hooked from the moment we meet the main character, Celaena Sardothien, who is only 18 years old but is already a famous assassin.  When the story opens, Celaena is a prisoner working in the Endovier salt mines. The harsh conditions the prisoners work in make it a death sentence for most, but somehow Celaena has managed to survive thus far.  I’m always looking for a underdog to root for, so Celaena had my support and sympathy from the first pages of the book and especially after she is approached by Crown Prince Dorian of Endovier, who wants her to compete as his champion in a tournament which will determine who will be the next royal assassin.  If Celaena wins and serves as the King’s assassin for four years, she will then be granted her freedom.  It’s a deal too good to pass up, as a few more months in the salt mines will mean certain death for Celaena.

The cast of characters and the tournament itself are what really made this book a hit for me.  I had mixed feelings about Celaena because she sometimes came across as way too cocky and arrogant, but even with that tendency, she really grew on me as the story progressed (especially when it was revealed that she’s a book nerd and she uses her charms to get the Prince to allow her access to his library, lol).  I also really liked Prince Dorian, who was quite charming and funny.  My favorite character though was actually Chaol, the Captain of the Guard. I’m a sucker for a seemingly gruff guy who turns out to be a softie and that is Chaol all the way.  I loved all of his scenes with Celaena because you could tell that even though he was hard on her while they were training and pushed her to the limit, he was growing to care about her very much.  I have a feeling this is going to turn into a love triangle, which kind of bums me out because I didn’t think the chemistry felt very realistic between Celaena and Dorian, but I’ll reserve judgment for now.

Aside from this cast of characters, I was especially drawn in by the assassin’s tournament.  The challenges themselves were all very exciting, and Mass paced them well so that I never found myself bored even though there were so many of them to get through.  The menacing atmosphere throughout really kept me on the edge of my seat, especially once competitors started turning up dead in the middle of the night with no signs of who or what could have possibly killed them.  The story becomes an exciting race against time to find the killer as I found myself rooting for Celaena to not just win the tournament, but to also find and take down the killer.

Throne of Glass was a riveting first book in what I think is sure to become one of my favorite fantasy series.  I can’t wait to read the second book and see what happens next! 4 STARS

 

Mini Reviews for THRONE OF GLASS & THE LADY’S GUIDE TO PETTICOATS AND PIRACYThe Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
Also by this author: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
four-stars
Series: Montague Siblings #2
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on October 2, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 450
Also in this series: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Felicity Montague must use all her womanly wits and wiles to achieve her dreams of becoming a doctor—even if she has to scheme her way across Europe to do it. A must-have for fans of Mackenzi Lee’s extraordinary and Stonewall Honor-winning novel.

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

Review:

Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was one of my favorite reads last year.  The story was just so much fun and I loved everything about Monty and Percy and all of their antics. My favorite character in that book was actually Monty’s younger sister, Felicity, so I was over the moon when I heard that the sequel, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, would put Felicity front and center.

Felicity is a sassy young woman whose dream is to become a doctor.  I admired her fierce determination to make her dream come true, especially considering this series is set in the 18th century so the odds are, unfortunately, not in her favor.  This book is all about Felicity’s adventures as she, fed up with the way she is  constantly dismissed by academics in her own country, travels across Europe in hopes of securing an opportunity to study medicine. Her adventure is funded by a mysterious Muslim woman named Sim, and the dynamic between Felicity and Sim is fantastic.  I wouldn’t say they were quite as entertaining a duo as Monty and Percy in the first book, but they’re right behind them.

Speaking of Monty and Percy, my favorite duo also makes several appearances in this book, and I was so happy to see them again and know that they are still madly in love with one another.  They also brought some of the hilarity from the first book with them, which in many ways, was my favorite part of this book.  Without them, the overall story wasn’t nearly as funny as the first one was, and I missed that humor.  The Gentleman’s Guide was laugh out loud funny from start to finish and this book was a little more serious in tone.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but since I was expecting a repeat of that, I was a little bummed that the same level of humor wasn’t there.  Still a fantastic read though. 4 STARS

four-stars

About Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee holds a BA in history and an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults, and her short fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Atlas Obscura, Crixeo, The Friend, and The Newport Review, among others. Her debut novel, This Monstrous Thing, won the PEN-New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. Her second book, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, a queer spin on the classic adventure novel, was a New York Times bestseller (what is life?), and ABA bestseller, earned five starred reviews, a #1 Indie Next Pick, and won the New England Book Award.

She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home, where she works as an independent bookstore manager.

About Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, released on September 6th, 2016.
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

Blog Tour Book Review: WHITE STAG by Kara Barbieri

Blog Tour Book Review:  WHITE STAG by Kara BarbieriWhite Stag (Permafrost, #1) by Kara Barbieri
three-half-stars
Series: Permafrost #1
Published by Wednesday Books on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

White Stag is the first installment in an exciting new fantasy series by author Kara Barbieri.  I’ll admit right from the start that I first became interested in this book because I was drawn to its stunning cover and especially because the white stag on it brought to mind Harry Potter and his patronus.  Cover love aside, once I read the synopsis and saw that the book was actually about goblins, I knew I had to read it!

Barbieri gets her story off to a strong start by tossing her readers right into an action-packed fight scene in the Goblin Palace.  In one fell swoop, we meet the main character Janneke, learn that she is a slave who has a complicated relationship with her captor, Soren, and that she is also a pretty badass fighter.  We also meet the heinous and sadistic villain, Soren’s uncle Lydian, and learn that he has a history of violence with Janneke that still haunts her to this day.  In addition to all of this, we also see the Goblin King slain before our very eyes and learn that there will be a stag hunt to determine who the next King is.  Talk about starting off with a bang!  I was thoroughly engaged from that first scene and wanted to know more about Janneke, how she ended up where she is, and why Soren and his uncle seem so completely different from one another even though they’re both Goblins, and then of course I wanted to know more about the death of the King and the stag hunt to crown the new King.

The only survivor when the Goblins burned her village to the ground, 17-year-old Janneke is a character I was drawn to immediately.  The Goblins took her into their world, and for the past 100+ years, she has been their slave, first to the repugnant Lydian and then to Soren, once Lydian grew tired of her. Consider yourself forewarned that Janneke’s history with Lydian is dark and violent (Trigger warnings for rape, sexual abuse).  I had a somewhat difficult time reading about her time with Lydian and how it still torments her, but it is portrayed realistically and it does shape the person that we meet in the book so I think it’s well done. Janneke is definitely a survivor in every sense of the word and it’s easy to feel sympathetic toward her as she realizes and becomes conflicted by the fact that the more time she spends with the Goblins in their land, the less human she has become.  She fears turning into a monster, and it’s easy to understand why she feels that way knowing her history with Lydian.

Soren is also a very likeable character.  Even though Janneke is technically his slave, it’s clear from the opening pages that their relationship is anything but Master and Slave.  I found Soren to be very intriguing, and I liked how protective he was of Janneke. It often felt like he’s trying to make up for his uncle’s cruelty. Soren stands as a reminder that Goblins aren’t necessarily monsters, and throughout the course of the novel, I think he and Janneke learn a lot from each other about the nature of humanity and monsters.

Another aspect of White Stag that I really enjoyed was that there were two equally compelling plotlinesJanneke’s journey is an emotional one as, caught between the human world and the world of the Permafrost, she battles her inner demons and tries to figure out who she is and where she belongs.  Janneke’s plight is one that is easy to get caught up in and she’s such a likeable character that I just found myself really wanting her to find a resolution that would make her happy.

In addition to Janneke’s emotional story, however, there is also the very exciting stag hunt, which will determine the next Goblin King.  In many ways, this was actually my favorite part of the story because it was just so action-packed and fraught with danger, not to mention all of the backstabbing and conniving behavior!  The stag hunt is basically a free-for-all, and even if you form alliances with other goblins, it’s fully with the understanding that all alliances are temporary the closer everyone gets to the stag.  Barbieri does a very nice job of crafting these two separate plotlines and then seamlessly entwining them by way of Janneke, who has a tremendous stake in who becomes the next Goblin King since the main two contenders are Soren and Lydian.

Another strong point of the novel is the worldbuilding.  I just loved the wild and wintry setting of the Goblin’s Permafrost.  It’s filled with danger and excitement, myths, ancient rituals, and magical creatures and was just everything I hoped it would be.

Although I enjoyed the novel very much overall, I did run into a couple of issues while reading White Stag. One was that I was not completely sold on any kind of a romantic relationship between Soren and Janneke.  I’m not even sure why honestly. I enjoyed their banter, especially when Janneke was trying to teach Soren how to appreciate sarcasm and use it properly, but I guess for me, their chemistry felt more friend-like than it did romantic. For that reason, it threw me for a bit of a loop when things started to heat up between them.

 A second issue was that there were a couple of times when I just felt like I wanted more information, such as the idea that Janneke is still technically 17 years old even though she has been with the Goblins for over 100 years.  I would have liked a little more explanation as to how that was possible.

Overall, I found White Stag to be a very impressive debut from Kara Barbieri and I look forward to seeing where she takes the story in her next book.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The first book in a brutally stunning series where a young girl finds herself becoming more monster than human and must uncover dangerous truths about who she is and the place that has become her home.

As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.

Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling.

three-half-stars

About Kara Barbieri

Kara Barbieri is a writer living in the tiny town of Hayward, Wisconsin. An avid fantasy fan, she began writing White Stag at eighteen and posting it to Wattpad soon after under the name of ‘Pandean’. When she’s not writing, you can find her marathoning Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reviving gothic fashion, and jamming to synthpop.

Early Review: THE GIRL KING

Early Review:  THE GIRL KINGThe Girl King by Mimi Yu
three-half-stars
Series: The Girl King #1
Published by Bloomsbury YA on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 

MY REVIEW:

Mimi Yu’s debut novel The Girl King is an Asian-inspired fantasy that is filled to the brim with political intrigue, sibling rivalry, betrayal, rebellion, and of course, magic. It follows Lu and Min, two sisters who are as different as night and day, and who are princesses of the Empire.  Lu, the more outspoken and rebellious of the two, believes that their father (against their mother’s wishes) is about to name her as his successor, which would make her the Empire’s first female ruler. Min, the more docile and reserved sister, also believes that Lu is destined to be Empress and that her own role is simply to continue being the meek and dutiful daughter that makes their mother happy.

It’s also not only the sisters who expect Lu to be named the next ruler.  Most of the citizens of the Empire expect it as well. So, when the unthinkable happens and their father names their cousin Set as the new Emperor instead and proclaims that Lu’s destiny will be to marry Set, chaos ensues on all sides. Lu feels betrayed and Min is utterly bewildered.  Determined to reclaim her birthright at all costs, Lu sets out to find allies who will help her take back the throne.  In doing so, however, she leaves her sister Min behind.  Min’s future has also been up-ended, both by their father’s proclamation and by Lu’s desertion.  What role will Min play now that everything has been turned upside down?

The three main characters of The Girl King were the story’s biggest draw for me.

  • Lu.  I really liked Lu’s fierceness and determination, and that she’s a bit of a rebel.  Most of all though, I liked her self-confidence.  She truly feels that she is more than capable of taking her father’s place as ruler of the Empire.  The fact that she would be the first female ruler doesn’t faze her in the least.  Some may find her arrogant, but I just found it refreshing that she knows what she wants and feels ready for the responsibility.  My heart broke for her when her father announced that Set, a cousin that Lu despises, would be named the next ruler instead of Lu.
  • Min.  Min was a little harder to get to know, mainly because she’s so quiet and retreating compared to Lu.  She functions as little more than a secondary character while Lu is around.  Even relegated to the background, however, Min still got to me.  I still found myself really caring about her and feeling protective of her.  It seemed like no good could come from her being left behind at the palace without Lu there as a buffer between her and anyone else who might try to take advantage of her meek nature.  I don’t want to give away anything too spoilery but I will say that the transformation Min undergoes throughout the course of The Girl King wins her the Most Shocking Character award.  It’s amazing what can happen when someone is just pushed way too far!
  • Nokhai (or Nok). Nok was actually probably my favorite character.  As much as I enjoyed the sibling dynamic between Lu and Min, I just found Nokhai’s story equally, if not more, compelling than theirs.  Nok is a wolf shapeshifter, and thanks to Min and Lu’s father wiping out his people, Nok is the last surviving one of his kind. Unable to master this shapeshifting power that he has, Nok has been in hiding and would prefer to stay that way, However, when he and Lu meet up out in the forest, he finds himself drawn into an awkward alliance with her and vows to help her reclaim the throne.  I love how the author infuses this character with so much complexity and inner turmoil.  On the one hand, he hates the Empire and everything it stands for, but on the other, there’s something about Lu that makes him believe he can trust her to be a just ruler.  Add to that Nok’s immense frustration that he cannot master his power and that there is no one left to teach him how to do so and we have ourselves an emotional mess of a character.  Nok just needed a hug so badly.

Aside from the characters, I also thought the worldbuilding was wonderful too.  Everything is just so detailed and vivid. There’s a complex and very cool magic system of course, but there’s also spirits, shapeshifters, prophecies, and even a hidden city and temples.  I do wish I was more familiar with Asian folklore and history so that I could have appreciated it even more, but I was still quite captivated by the world the author has constructed.

The author also strikes a nice balance between action and emotion.  While much of the story feels quite character driven as Lu, Min, and Nok are each battling their own inner demons, there is also a very strong plot that is filled with political intrigue, betrayal, and epic fight scenes.

Overall, I found The Girl King to be a very entertaining read.  My only real complaint was that I wish the story had felt a little more original.  I guess I’ve just read too many stories where the rightful ruler goes into exile and has to come back and fight for their throne.  It was a nice twist to have that rightful ruler be a female this time though.

There were also a couple of plot twists regarding Nok that I found somewhat predictable.  Predicting how things would turn out didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story, although I always prefer to be kept guessing for as long as possible to build suspense.

If you like fierce heroines, sibling rivalries, vivid worldbuilding, and political intrigue, I think you would find The Girl King to your liking.  I found it to be a very solid debut for Mimi Yu and look forward to seeing where the second book in the series takes me.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Two sisters become unwitting rivals in a war to claim the title of Emperor in this sweeping tale of ambition, sacrifice and betrayal for readers of Sabaa Tahir and Alwyn Hamilton.

All hail the Girl King.

Sisters Lu and Min have always understood their places as princesses of the Empire. Lu knows she is destined to become the dynasty’s first female ruler, while Min is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then their father declares their male cousin Set the heir instead—a betrayal that sends the sisters down two very different paths.

Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu goes on the run. She needs an ally—and an army—if she is to succeed. Her quest leads her to Nokhai, the last surviving wolf shapeshifter. Nok wants to keep his identity secret, but finds himself forced into an uneasy alliance with the girl whose family killed everyone he ever loved…

Alone in the volatile court, Min’s hidden power awakens—a forbidden, deadly magic that could secure Set’s reign…or allow Min to claim the throne herself. But there can only be one Emperor, and the sisters’ greatest enemy could turn out to be each other.

three-half-stars

About Mimi Yu

Mimi Yu was born and raised in rural upstate New York. Her hometown is the site of both the Women’s Rights Convention (1848) and the largest active landfill in New York State (ongoing).

She currently resides in the SF Bay Area of California, and soon she will live near Chicago. She has never been a midwesterner before, but she does enjoy a good casserole.

Besides books, Mimi likes quilting, gardening, drawing, picking up heavy weights, and pop music. She has four planets in Aquarius. She knows a little bit about a lot of animals, and far too much about cats.