Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Fantasy

We Hunt the Flame Review
Faizal, Hafsah
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Zafira has gained respect amongst her community for being the only person brave enough to dare the forest of a the Arz – a rapidly growing magical forest from which most who enter don’t return. She’s known as the Hunter. However, all respect Zafira has gained would be lost if folks were to find out that she was a girl. Nasir has a name of his own: Prince of Death. He assassinates all who cross his autocratic, despotic father, no matter how he feels on the subject. As the Arz grows and resources get more scare, both Zafira and Nasir find themselves on a journey to find a magical relic long buried on a dangerous island long presumed lost.

Another nearly impossible to write description! The worldbuilding in this thing is complex, and its really hard to give a short summary of the plot outside of “awesome” girl and scary-but-hot boy go on a quest for a magical object. While I do love complex worldbuilding, it bogged down the story for the first 40% of the book, and I kept getting confused by which peoples had what characteristics if they weren’t the peoples of our main two protagonists. Speaking of our two main protagonists, they were the least interesting characters in the story. Zafira is your standard strong-but-still-insecure-attracted-to-the-bad-boy YA fantasy protagonist, and Nasir kills people for no reason. The author tries to describe it away (his girlfriend will be brutally tortured), but this guy kills hundreds of people to (maybe) spare the lives of a few. Utilitarian he is not.

Anyway, after a lot of labored worldbuilding, we finally get to the island and team up with some other folks on the same quest. After this, the book is a lot of fun for about 30%. The characters have great chemistry, and the new ones are all dynamic and interesting people (beings) who we learn about slowly through the switching perspectives of our main characters. There’s a heist vibe and some great chemistry between friends and enemies alike . If that section had been the whole book, you would be reading a very different review. However, unfortunately, the book then focuses on a romance between our two leads, and I never found it to be convincing or compelling.

TLDR: This book was so close to being a really fun read, but a forced romance between two largely un-compelling leads overcame my love of the supporting characters, their chemistry, and some really fun worldbuilding elements.

I think folks who liked The Gilded Wolves or the Throne of Glass series will find things to like here. For this reader, it was mostly a miss. 2 stars – it was ok.

Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. We Hunt the Flame will be available for purchase on 14 May, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Devouring Gray Cover
Herman, Christine Lynn
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

After the tragic, premature death of Violet’s older sister Rosie, Violet and her mother move back to her mother’s home town in the sleepy little town of Four Paths, NY. But Four Paths has more going on than originally meets the eye: it’s secretly the prison of a nefarious beast. Captured by the founders of the Four Paths, the beast lives in a shadow world on top of the regular world, called the Gray. As more and more people get pulled into the Gray and are violently, Violet and her new friends are called to use their newfound magical powers to stop the beast at any cost.

The book is being marketed as “Stranger Things” meets “The Raven Boys”, and I would say that is a pretty spot on comparison. The Gray is not unlike The Upside Down or Cabeswater. The difference, really, is that this book is lacking in a few areas where Stranger Things and The Raven Boys succeed: detailed characterization, nuanced worldbuilding, and extremely good writing. The characters in this one were one dimensional; Violet and Harper, two of our four main characters, were fairly interchangeable to me. The book fluctuates between following the children of the four main founders, and as a result, we only get to know a few of them really well. They are still interesting – they all have to deal with quite a bit of pressure from their parents and the town, but I wish they had each been developed more.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding at first, but then a few details were introduced that clearly just served as plot devices. For example, if the children of the founders date each other, they will lose any magical abilities they may have inherited – there’s no need for this aside from generating romantic tension that could have been generated in a number of other ways. There were a few other plot points (like the rituals) that were never explained in a satisfying way. That said, I raced through the book. As I got closer to the end and realized there would be a sequel, I got a little less interested (this did not need to be a duology).


TLDR: While it’s not quite as good, folks who enjoyed Stranger Things or The Raven Boys will find a lot to like here too. Despite its many problems, it was a creative, compelling read, and I did end up enjoying it! 3 stars. I liked it. I’d read another book by this author.


Thanks to Titan Books and Netgalley for the advance electronic copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Devouring Gray will be available for purchase on 02 April, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Wicked Saints Cover
Duncan, Emily
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Nadya might be her country's last hope. She is one of the last clerics - folks who can talk to the gods . And while most clerics only can talk to one god, Nadya can speak with all of them. While honing her skills and powers at a monastery, the monastery is unexpectedly attacked by a neighboring country, and Nadya must go on the run. Not long after fleeing the palace, she meets up with a rag-tag group of rebels, who only want to stop the war. Nadya joins them as their plot starts with murdering the neighboring country's king.

Clearly, Emily Duncan has read and enjoyed some Leigh Bardugo. As a fellow Leigh Bardugo fan, I was not mad about how much this series was obviously inspired by the Grishaverse. Its got the same Russian inspired atmosphere, and its more than a little evil. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I didn't even mind the love interest, even though it was instalove, predictable and often angsty. I raced through this to get to the conclusion, and really loved how bloody it was. The bits where Nadya was talking to the gods and struggling with her religion were fun to read and thought-provoking at times. That said, this book is pretty clearly a debut. The writing gets a bit purple at time, twists are telegraphed early, and you read all that stuff I just said about the romance, right? Nonetheless, the book is fast paced, and while I skimmed parts, I ultimately enjoyed it.

If you are looking for a fun, if occasionally cliche YA fantasy, you'll devour this one. Otherwise, give this one to teens who can't get enough of Leigh Bardugo. They'll immediately want the sequel. 3.5 stars - I liked it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Wednesday books for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an honest review. Wicked Saints will be available for purchase on 02 April, or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Cover
He, Joan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Hesina’s father, the King of Yan, was found dead. Murdered. And Hesina, now the queen, wants answers. After talking with a sooth, a person with magic who can see the future, Hesina knows how to get answers. She needs a trial, and a prisoner from the dungeon must be released to act as her legal representative. But in Yan society, sooths are executed when discovered, and so even talking to one has put Hesina’s own life in jeopardy. But she doesn’t care, because the truth is out there. And no matter what it takes, she’ll find it.

That description might not make a ton of sense because there are so many things happening in this book that it’s hard to focus on just one of the plotlines. There were three main plotlines: solving the murder, getting justice for the sooths and a brewing rebellion with a nearby kingdom. The last seemed completely unnecessary to me until it wasn’t, but there were several subplots happening as well, and I would occasionally get pulled out of the story by trying to remember who was involved in what. It was a little much. With that said, though, this is one of the best fantasy books I’ve read so far this year.

This book felt really unique to me. It stands out from a very crowded YA fantasy field in that it really hones in on political/court intrigue. Is the oppressed-magical-peoples plotline a bit hackneyed? Sure, but what the author does with it is really cool. Hesina doesn’t automatically do what she thinks is right (save the magical peoples), she actually considers what is best for her kingdom, and what her people need and want. This is a very thoughtful book – our main character spends a lot of time considering her options and hatching plots. Because of this, she’s a really likable character. The book spends a decent amount of time at various trials, and legal settings in fantasy, at least for me, are a bit of a rarity that I really enjoyed. It’s also very twisty. While I figured out who the villain was, I was way off on the murderer. And action lovers, don’t despair – there are fights aplenty here for you and there’s even a touch of romance as well.

TLDR: While perhaps a bit overstuffed, The Descendant of the Crane is an exceptional YA fantasy that is not to be missed. Readers who like their books with a healthy dose of mystery and court/political intrigue will really enjoy this one. For fans of Game of Thrones and Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince. 4 stars – I really liked it.

Thanks to the Albert Whitman Company and Netgalley for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Descendant of the Crane will be available for purchase on 09 April, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Kingdom of Copper
Chakraborty, S. A.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Kingdom of Copper is the sequel to City of Brass, and there are spoilers for that book ahead.

Kingdom of Copper picks up about five years after the events of City of Brass. Nahri is married to Muntadhir and is navigating court politics and learning to use her skills as magical healer. Ali, after getting exiled from Daevabad following the events of City of Brass, has managed to survive several assassination attempts and has made a life for himself in a small village. Forced to return to Daevabad, Ali quickly returns to his post as resident trouble maker/possible emir (which in this case means heir to the throne), and Nahri finds her world rocked once again.

The complex, Middle Eastern inspired world and world-building that were the best part of City of Brass are still present in this book, while they are less of a focal point. Overall, I much preferred Kingdom of Copper to City of Brass. My short review of City of Brass read as something like: "great worldbuilding, annoying characters, promising ending." But because we had that time jump of five years, our characters have separated, matured (at least a bit), and the love triangle that brought down the first book died a satisfying death. The worst part of the first book to me was the romantic angst, and little of that exists in this sequel to the betterment of the book.

TLDR: If you liked the first book, you’ll love this one. If you were on the fence about City of Brass as I was, know that the sequel is much improved.

Kingdom of Copper would appeal young, new and other adults and fantasy readers who like rich world building and a unique setting. 3.5 stars.

Thanks to HarperVoyager for the advance edition, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Kingdom of Copper is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Four Dead Queens
Scholte, Astrid
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This book was not for me, but I think a lot of young adults will really love it. The following is essentially a laundry list of my issues. First, the worldbuilding was pretty weak. The fours quadrants are fairly reminiscent of those in Divergent, but they rarely interact and the farming sector basically works on Amish rules while the technological sector has holographs and advanced biosuits and all sorts of stuff. It does not make a ton of sense. And neither does the “queenly law” or really anything to do with the rules the palace or kingdom operates under – it all seemed pretty transparently created to serve the story that was written. Moving along. The characters really left something to be desired. Most were one-dimensional. The main character, Keralie, couldn’t make a good decision if her life depended on it and falls squarely into the snarky and ostensibly clever thief trope. We do get to hear from the queens a bit, but as I knew they’d end up dead and we only spent a little time with each of them, I didn’t find that it added to the story. And, of course, there is instalove between Keralie and our extremely boring male lead, Varin.

Some components of the book are pretty enjoyable. I think the premise is really cool (if executed poorly). The first queen’s murder took me a bit by surprise, and was deliciously gruesome. There were a few twists that I didn’t see coming. I quite liked the last 50 pages or so – the author, a debut, clearly has some really great ideas. Unfortunately, they didn’t come together in this book, though I’d try another book by this author pending favorable reviews.

TLDR: Readers who loved The Red Queen and Divergent will probably enjoy this one as well. I couldn’t get past the weak characters and worldbuilding, but I think a lot of readers will likely devour this one nonetheless. For me, it was just ok. 2 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and G. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Four Dead Queens will be released on 26 February.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Once Upon a River
Setterfield, Diane
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I know by now there isn’t much that hasn’t been said about Diane Setterfield’s latest offering, Once Upon a River, but I want to add my two sense. There is a reason why Setterfield’s beautiful haunting stories have touched millions since she first came out with The Thirteenth Tale, several years ago. The simple reason is, her books use the art of story as a medium to express to the heart, truths that words alone have not always been able to accomplish. Stories have a way of creeping up on you and taking root in the heart of the reader by the author being able to take everyday experiences and ideas, such as love, loss, and beauty and bring them to an emotional level, making them more real. And sometimes, a story, to fully germinate, takes time and patience; and knowing not only the characters, but its environment and history intimately. And that’s ok, it makes reading them, when they are finally available, that much more satisfying.

That is why I am such a fan of Setterfield’s works! She has a way of enveloping her characters in the power of story, and produces such a strong relationship between the characters in her stories and their environment! And Once Upon a River is no different. It uses the medium of story to forge a relationship between the environment of the Thames river and the community living on its banks, to weave a tale that strongly evokes the searing pain of loss, the beauty of love, and the hope of reunion.

The premise is simple. One wintery night a man, stumbles into a local tavern of a small English town on the river Thames, with a mute girl, who at first appears dead. What follows from that incident is a wild, haunting story that is weaved day in and day out, and changes and flows like the Thames river it is set upon. As the girl, appears mute, the mystery as to where she came from deepens, as several villagers claim her as their own missing daughter, or sister. The characters include every villager and every villager is included in this story. As the tale develops, it is clear how her arrival builds up hope in some, and compounds the searing loss for others, but the truth, later revealed, is not so simple.

Filled with haunting prose, drawing upon local and international folklore, strong character development, from the most minor character to the most central, and a beautiful story of love, loss, and reunion; Once Upon a River is a great feat in modern storytelling. Part mystery, part fairytale, and part legend. If you love any or all of these elements, you need to pick up this beautiful tale today! Thank you to the publishers and #netgalley for my DRC for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Awards:
Echo North
Meyer, Joanna Ruth
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Would you all like to know what kept me up, new years eve, until 1 am? It was not the obvious fact that it was new year’s eve, and staying up until 12am was what we are all supposed to do, right? No! It was the simple reason, that I was spellbound and entranced, by this beautiful fairy tale of a book, and could not get away until I knew what happened. This tale captivated me and wouldn’t let go. This fable is a brilliant and magical retelling of a Norwegian tale called East of the Sun West of the Moon with references to other fairytales smattered throughout including Tam Lin and Psyche.

It’s basic premise is that one day after her father leaves town and mysteriously disappears, Echo Alkaev goes to look for him. She finds him on the brink of death. In order to save him she is sucked into a deal, by the same talking white wolf which disfigured her face and whom, she saved years before. A deal that will define and change the rest of her life. Live with me for a year in my enchanted house under the mountain, and I will save your father. There is only one rule, you cannot look upon me at night. Desperate and scared, and propelled by the mystery surrounding him, she does as she is asked.

She is soon launched into a magical world she never knew existed. With an enchanted house; in each room a different magical wonder, woven together like a tapestry; a magical library, with books explored through mirrors that one could travel into and experience, the four winds, a witch, a goddess and, a dreadful curse; Echo finds this world, on the edge of magic itself, dark, mysterious, lonely, full of peril, and wonder, and fantastical beyond belief. But more importantly, she finds a resiliency and strength in herself she never knew she possessed, the capacity to love beyond belief, and the courage to do what’s right even in the most dangerous of circumstances.

This book is filled with so many layers, it’s impossible to describe them all here, but suffice it to say, that if you let it, this story will weave itself into an incredible tapestry around you. It’s filled with so many different worlds that I just wanted to dive into and stay there forever. It’s filled with likable and relateablecharacters that felt like friends. Hal, the love interest, the tortured and lonely white wolf, Echo, the heroine, and so many lovable side characters, I can’t choose. It’s filled with vivid prose and world building and just so much goodness, and magic, and love, I just can’t even….

All I can say is pick up this book when it comes out. If you love fairy tales, and magic and heart felt story telling that will get you lost in worlds you don’t want to leave, and heart wrenching secrets that will make you happy and sad all at the same time. Than do yourself a favor and pick up this wonderful, fable! Total5 star read for me all the way! Thank you to Netgalley and Page Street Publishing for a Digital Review Copy for review. This comes out January 15 but you can pre order it, or put it on hold at your local library today!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Winter of the Witch
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In everyone’s reading adventures they find that there are those books they come across that they like, some they love, and then there are those books that resonate so deeply, that you say to yourself and all who will listen “this is why I read.” Its not just the stunning world building, the lyrical prose, or the deep character development, but something more, that speaks to your soul, about who you truly are or what the world around you is really like. Something that can’t always be expressed through spoken word or any other means, expect through story. This is what Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch has done for me.

Picking up right where The Girl in the Tower had left off with Rus in shambles and the people needing to blame someone for what happened to their city they naturally turn to Vasya. I am not going to try to explain the rest of the plot because so much happens. But suffice it to say that in this one there is so much more wintery magic, more of the winter king, everyone’s favorite hero, and so much more action and adventure I could barely keep up.

This book flows seamlessly from the 2nd to the third one without taking a single breath. And the blending of the historical and fantastical is so complete it totally had me believing that 13th century Rus existed side by side with this wintery magical world called midnight and had me longing to time travel so I can visit it. With mysterious and magical midnight roads, it’s chiriti and spirits of all types, its magical house, and a lake on the edge of worlds, it’s flying horses, its river monsters and so many other fairy tale elements this book appealed to me on so many levels. It really awakened that inner child in me, that I think is in all of us that loves fairy tales and magic, wants to be accepted and loved but also wants to have purpose and feel needed. Their was just so much about this fable and Vasya as a character that spoke to my soul that it’s hard to express it all in one measily review.

Vasya also grows so much into her power in this tale. She really discovers her identity and the book delves not only into more of who she and is becoming but also who her family is and their magical legacy. I really grew to love Vasya as a character and her determination to never give up even in the most difficult of circumstances, her love of her city and people, her strength, and how she doesn’t just accept her circumstances but fights for better things and saves herself and those around her.

Can we also talk about Vasya and Morozko relationship for a second. I love their relationship and think it is a great representation of what love in real life is often like. I love how they grow into their relationship, and that she loves him but doesn’t always love everything about him or the choices he makes. It proves what is often true about love that it is not always magic and sunshine and unicorns but can often be difficult. It often requires sacrifice and one to be selfless enough to make sacrifices. It also requires each partner to live with each other in daily life with all their imperfections no matter how much it annoys and frustrates you. I love the fact that, though Morozoko is this ancient powerful being, his character also has imperfections and issues and his own sorrows that Vasya has to learn to live with. I also love that they save each other in more ways than one, and in the scenes when they do connect it is often tender and beautiful and heart wrenching all at the same time.

Beyond the character development, the story itself is filled with lush and atmospheric imagery, beautiful and lyrical prose, and quirky and whimsical details that speak to my heart childhood heart. I also, being a history major, really appreciate the research done for this series with regards to historical detail. In history we call this establishing historical context, putting the person we are studying in their historical environment within the whole of history. It blended Vasya’s magical world and grounded her in a specific place in history seamlessly.

All this to say I loved this book and this series! Both are a solid 5 stars! And when it comes out next Tuesday Jan 8, run, don’t walk to your local library or book store to get this beautiful fable and complete your collection of one of the best series of all time. Seriously it’s up there with CS Lewis and Tolkien for me ya’ll. Thank you to Edelweiss and Del Ray for my Digital Review Copy for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Gilded Wolves cover
Chokshi, Roshani
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Severin’s legacy has been stolen. And he wants it back. As the sole heir to the House of Vanth, leading it should be his birthright. But folks from two of the other three houses stopped him from assuming the mantle of head of House Vanth. So when a secret society, the Order of Babel, approaches him and promises him his true inheritance in exchange for an artifact, he agrees to find the artifact along with his crew.

I enjoyed this one, though it isn’t without its flaws. Normally I end a review with my complaints, but in this case my main issue is also a positive so we’ll just start there! This book is quite similar to Six of Crows. Arguably a bit too similar. I mean, there are character analogs (Severin is fairly close to Kaz, Laila is like a Inej/Nina hybrid), and aspects of the plot are pretty similar as well. It felt like I was reading really incredible fanfiction on occasion. The thing is, though, I loved Six of Crows, so I really ended up enjoying this book too. Where Six of Crows is gorgeously bleak, The Gilded Wolves is exuberantly lavish. Set in late 19th century Paris, the trappings of this book are dazzling. Each scene is more lush than the last, and our characters’ surroundings are brought to life in the most whimsical of ways. Magical extravagance abounds, and I had the best time imagining the various rooms, secret chambers and tunnels. The world building was cool, although it occasionally felt convoluted. Overall, though, the author manages to blend religion and science and math, which is really no easy feat. The other thing that I really liked about this book is that the cast is very diverse in race, ethnicity and sexuality and that the author makes commentary about important, relevant issues such as colonialism, racism, and immigration.

I’ve read a few other books by this author, one that I hated (Star Touched Queen) and one that I enjoyed (Aru Shah). This one was much closer to an Aru read for me, although I do find that the rich prose reads as purple on occasion. There will obviously be a sequel, and I’ll definitely give that a go when it comes out in something like two years. I think a this book may also improve upon a reread. Some of the characters were a bit hard to keep track of - when the villain was ultimately revealed, I was like…who was that again? The end also felt super rushed and disjointed, and I think several of the plot points and character developments introduced might have made more sense at the top of the next book.

TLDR: A lavish heist and adventure fantasy for readers of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Ryan Graudin’s Invictus or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I think most readers of YA fantasy will like this one – I did! 3.5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Gilded Wolves will be available for purchase on 15 January 2019, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Ayesha: The Return of She
Haggard, H. Rider
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Coming from the author of "King Solomon's Mines" and creator of Allan Quartermain, you can expect a terrific turn of the century, adventure story. Written as the sequel to "She", "Ayesha: The Return of She" stands on its own, and I find it even more enjoyable than the original story (but "She" does make for a good prequel - as I read them out of sequence). Our hero Leo, sets out with his friend to seek out his long lost love. This leads them to the most remote of areas, across vast deserts, and over treacherous mountains. When they reach the empire of Kaloon, the Khania Atene swears that she is the woman Leo is searching for, but he is unsure, and wishes to consult with the mysterious Hesea, an ancient priestess of the mountain, who has sent for him. Atene will risk everything, even war with the people of the mountain, to keep Leo by her side, even though he wishes to see the Hesea. Is Atene the woman Leo is seeking? Who is the cryptic Hesea? What dangers await Leo and his friend, both in Kaloon, and on the mountain?

This story was originally published in a serialized form in 1904-1905, with gorgeous Art Nouveau illustrations. If you can find it, I highly recommend reading a reprint that includes the original illustrations. One of my favorite books of all time!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Fire & Heist
Durst, Sarah Beth
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Sky’s mother has disappeared. Assuming that their mother is dead, Sky, her three brothers, and their father feel unmoored. Especially because their mother disappeared in the midst of a heist she was committing – heists are fairly normal for wyverns as they are always trying to increase their horde, but this heist was a direct attack on Sky’s boyfriend’s family. As Sky learns more about the failed heist, she realizes that her squeaky-clean-now- ex-boyfriend’s family might be hiding something. And Sky’s going to find out what it is, and save her mother…or suffer her mother’s fate.

I wanted to read this book as I’ve read Durst’s adult fantasy series the Queens of Renthia, and I really enjoyed it! When I was approved for Fire & Heist on Netgalley, I was pretty excited. And I liked the book – it’s a solid YA standalone fantasy. The worldbuilding and plot are cool, though the characters are a little one dimensional. My biggest complaint was that the book straddled two worlds and tones, and I think it would’ve been a bit better had it leaned into one a little more. The book was part quirky middle grade fiction, part dark YA fantasy. Had it gone full bore in either direction, it would’ve been a higher quality book. As it is, it’s a fun heist fantasy with some dragon flavorings which makes for a fast, amusing read.

This one would be a great read for younger teens and mature tweens who aren’t quite yet ready for Bardugo’s Six of Crows or Hartman’s Seraphina. I liked it! 3 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an unbiased review. Fire & Heist is available to put on hold now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Graveyard Book
Gaiman, Neil
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Nobody Owens (Bod for short) grows up in an ancient cemetery, raised by the spirits who reside there. As he becomes older, along with his school lessons and the special abilities given to him with the “freedom of the graveyard”, Bod must discover the secrets behind the death of his birth family, and the "Jacks of All Trades” (a dangerous secret society). Along the way Bod learns from various night creatures in addition to his extended family of ghosts, including ghouls, a witch, a werewolf, and a vampire. He must use all the knowledge that he acquires to fulfill his pivotal role in defeating the Jacks.

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Girls of Paper and Fire
Natasha Ngan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every year one girl from the lowest caste in each of the 8 provinces is selected to be a Paper Girl - a concubine to the king. Usually, the girls choose to put themselves forth for the selection. But this year, there will be nine girls. Lei, the ninth, was ripped from her home by a General trying to curry favor with the King. And unlike the other paper girls, this was in no way a choice for her. As she learns more about her fellow Paper Girls and life in the palace, she becomes further disgusted with the caste systems and the concept of Paper Girls. And she'll do everything in her limited power to defy the king - even if it costs her her life.

Girls of Paper and Fire was awesome. I've been burned by heavily hyped diverse YA fantasy lately (Children of Blood and Bone, Mirage), but luckily for me, this one did not disappoint. The premise sounded fairly...gross for lack of a better word - a girl stripped from her home against her will to become a concubine to the king. You know there's going to be some unconsensual sex happening. And there was, but it was handled really well by the author. She takes a very sensitive issue and does not sensationalize it. In fact, its presented in such a way that women who have had similar experiences might find some solace in the book, which, if you read the Afterword, was clearly the author's intention.

Unlike some YA fantasy, this was a slowly paced book that was mostly about developing our main character. Lei really grew as a woman and a person throughout the course of the book. She stands up for her beliefs, herself, her body, even though it almost gets her killed. There's also romance, and its a slowly developed, realistic story of love in the worst of times. The worldbuilding was stunning - the setting was Malaysia inspired, and the formation of the three different castes and their traditions was well thought out and presented in such as way as to be simultaneously creepy and gorgeous. My two complaints are fairly minor: there were a few very predictable plot elements, and the writing occasionally leaned into too flowery territory. Otherwise, though, I loved it.

If you are looking for a feminist fantasy read with excellent worldbuilding and character development, you won't go wrong with Girls of Paper and Fire. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Brilliant Death
Capetta, Amy Rose
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Teodora DiSangro is the daughter of one of the heads of the five families. And, while most people wouldn’t expect this of a woman, she’s the heavy. That’s because she’s got a secret: she a streghe, a witch. She can turn people into inanimate objects. So, when her father is poisoned by the Capo, she heads to the capital. Not just to represent her family as the new head of the family: her ultimate goal is revenge. NO ONE crosses the DiSangros. No one.

I really enjoyed this one! YA fantasy is one of my preferred genres, but after a while, much of it can seem pat or a bit too similar, so it feels so refreshing when something new comes along. This was something new, at least to me. A mob story that features gender queer protagonists who also happen to be a witches? I loved everything about that, and the book delivered on the plot and character development as well. The worldbuilding is rich, the characters are likable with understandable and clear motivations, and there are a few twists and turns that will keep most readers guessing. I’m not sure if there’s a sequel planned, but the book was tied up nicely with enough loose threads to justify a sequel should the author choose to write one. I know I’d read it.

TLDR: Looking for a mob based fantasy with a strong, engaging gender queer protag? Not to worry – The Brilliant Death has you covered. For fans of The Godfather and/or The Brooklyn Brujas, or really for anyone who likes inventive and inclusive YA fantasy. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Viking Books for Young Readers for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Brilliant Death will be available for purchase on 30 October 2018, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Cover Image
Kagawa, Julie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every 10,000 years, an ancient dragon rises to give one mortal a wish (in exchange for their soul) and the world changes. Two characters, a kitsune-hybrid and a ninja, find themselves trying to keep the path to the dragon out of the hands of several interested and nefarious parties. Shadow of the Fox follows our heroes as they travel to and from different monasteries dodging monsters in their quest to protect ancient scrolls.

Shadow of the Fox was a ton of fun! It gave me Percy Jackson vibes, but was definitely for a slightly older audience and the mythology in this book was Japanese, which I found to be very cool. I liked both of the characters – the kitsune must hide her fox nature from her ninja travelling companion as he is a monster killer, and kitsune are a type of…if not monster, then non-human trickster. The ninja is trying to resist becoming possessed by the evil demon that occupies his sword. Their relationship is thus a bit fraught, but adds a really interesting dynamic. Their other travelling companion (a disgraced Samurai who spends most of the book amusingly drunk) provided some levity. Some of the mythology was completely new to me, which made for a engaging reading experience. I liked it enough that I read one of Kagawa’s other books, The Iron King, as well. If you enjoyed that one, you’ll likely like this – I found the formats to be similar, though I personally found the Japanese mythology more interesting than the fairies.

TLDR: This is a really entertaining and action packed fantasy for fans of Percy Jackson and Kagawa’s other books. I loved it, and am excited to get my own copy! 5 stars.

Thanks to Harlequin Teen and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Shadow of the Fox is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Muse of Nightmares
Taylor, Laini
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This follow up to the beautiful best seller Strange the Dreamer picks up right where the first one left off. This book is just as intense, dark, raw, magical, entrancing, dreamy, atmospheric, and amazing as the first one. I can not sing the praises of Laini Taylor enough. She is a force in YA fiction that infuses her characters with such deep emotions, that the reader cannot help but to be pulled in to the tide of emotion that the character is feeling. This is definitely a very emotional book that transcends the story itself, to explore the power of the human spirit.

When we left Lanzlo and the others in Strange the Dreamer, the citadel had nearly fallen, Lazlo had just discovered his true identity, that he was more than just farangii junior librarian who liked to dream, but a god blessed with the very god like power that caused so much pain and anger all those years ago when the godspawn first came to Weep. Sarai his lover also was no longer a goddess but a ghost. She goes to join the ranks of other ghosts all held together and controlled by her sister Minya who is still intent on the revenge of Weep, and holds both of them hostage using Sarai’s soul as a bargaining chip. We also have the addition of two new characters Kora and Nova, and their stories intertwine to meld with the main narrative in both beautiful, surprising and painfully sad ways. As these various characters go through the grief and trauma, and pain that resulted from the citadel’s near fall, they also discover all they are truly capable of.

If Strange the Dreamer was about the question of Identity, Muse of Nightmares is about the question of origins. This book also explores origins from many different perspectives. It explores origins of the citadel and how it came to be in Weep, of Weep the city itself, it explores the circumstances of Lazlo’s true birth and nature, it also explores how the other characters in the book, such as Minya, developed to become the people they are today and how their perspectives shape their future actions. It asks the question What really happened all those years ago? And the various answers to this question once their discovered, are anything but simple. They open up paths to new worlds, characters, and horrors that are both painful and beautiful. Filled with mystery, intrigue, loss, pain, beauty beyond imagining, and so much
more, Muse of Nightmares is a diamond in the rough of YA fiction and needs to read by everyone. Laini Taylor is a truly magical and memorable writer. If you haven’t yet please pick up the first book of this series Strange the Dreamer, these characters are truly memorable characters that everyone needs in their life. This book come out October 2, so now is the time to catch up if you haven’t yet. You can put both on your holds list today! Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Genres:
Black Wings Beating Cover Image
London, Alex
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In a world where dominion over birds of prey equals power, twins Brysen and Kylee have a love/hate relationship with falconry. Brysen longs to be good at the sport, but lacks the patience and ability. Kylee is a natural, and even has powers that allow her to speak with the birds, but she just wants to pay back their family’s debts and then leave their village forever. When Brysen compounds their debt and then agrees to hunt the ghost eagle – the very same eagle who killed their father – Kylee knows that she has to help, or lose her brother to the birds as well.

The world building in this book is phenomenal. London creates a rich world with opposing religions about to go to war, and creates an entirely new mythology built around falconry. Now, I know there are other fantasies based around falconry, but as I’ve not read them, this was all totally new and fascinating to me. Kylee and Brysen take turns narrating, and their perspectives were realistic and different enough that you had a great feel for them as characters quite early on in the book. They were so authentic as not to be entirely likable – Brysen in particular makes quite a few stupid and/or impulsive decisions and I found him to be a bit hard to root for. I really enjoyed Kylee, though, and I loved how the world was presented with equality in terms of sexuality and race. Several of our characters are people of color and/or LGBTQ+, and they don’t seem to be oppressed or seen any differently because of it, which was refreshing to read.

For this reader, the plot left something to be desired. The book starts off with a bang, but then quickly devolves into an adventure story in the woods as Kylee and Brysen search for the ghost eagle. The aforementioned “opposing religions about to go to war” parts show the most promise, but were unfortunately relegated to the background. That will likely change in the sequel, but it made this book a slow read for me. I actually put it down in the middle and read an entirely different book as it wasn’t really holding my interest. I felt like the book might have worked really well as a prequel novella, but as a full length novel, there was a lot of filler as Kylee and Brysen navigate the woods with only one important seeming development.

Black Wings Beating was an interesting dive into the world of falconry that sets up a sequel with a lot of promise. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes adventure stories with a touch of the fantastical. 3 stars – I liked it!
Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Black Wings Beating will be available for purchase on 25 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Cover Image
Revis, Beth
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Nedra wants nothing more than to become a medical alchemist (think magical doctor). When the opportunity arises for her to spend one year at the best alchemical school in the country, she jumps at it, even though she knows it means leaving her twin sister and her parents – perhaps forever. Nedra quickly jumps to the top of her class, but when a plague breaks out and starts killing commoners, Nedra finds herself out of the classroom and into the hospital. As she studies the plague, she realizes that it might not be entirely natural. Anyone around her could be responsible for its rise, even those that she trusts the most and she turns to a forbidden form of alchemy, necromancy, to try to find the answers.

The book is narrated by two characters, Grey and Nedra. Nedra was an enthralling character. The book follows her as circumstances get progressively more dire and she does what she has to do to survive and keep her twin sister alive. Her inevitable descent into darkness felt earned and real. Grey is Nedra’s classmate and love interest, and I didn’t mention him in the synopsis because he was entirely unnecessary to the book. I think he just served to give an outsider’s perspective on Nedra, but his chapters read as wholly superfluous to me. Perhaps he’ll have more of a role in the sequel?

The alchemy and necromancy themselves were quite cool, aside from the cruelty to rats. The cruelty is addressed and makes sense (one could argue that we use lab mice in a similar fashion), but might be upsetting to animal lovers. The first part of the book, while not fast paced, was still fun to read as we got to hang out with Nedra quite a bit in the hospital and learn about her craft and motivations. As she experiments more with necromancy, the book gets twisty and dark, and I really enjoyed the ending. There are also some fun political machinations and a revolution brewing in the background, all of which add to the immediacy of later plot points.

If you enjoyed a good villain origin story, such as Marie Lu’s The Young Elites, Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter or the TV show Breaking Bad, you should give this book a read. I enjoyed it, and I think I’ll like the sequel even more when it comes out in a year or so. 3 stars.

Thanks to Razorbill and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Give the Dark My Love will be available for purchase on 25 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Mirage Book Jacket
Daud, Somaiya
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In this Moroccan inspired sci-fi/fantasy read, our protagonist, Amani, is taken away from her family and planet by an oppressive regime right in the middle of her coming of age ceremony. She soon discovers that she’s been taken because she looks exactly like the princess and heir to the throne, Maram. As assassination threats aimed at Maram get more serious, Amani realizes that she’s been taken to be trained as a body double. While at first swept away by the trappings of the court, Amani comes to understand that she faces mortal danger on two fronts: if she doesn’t portray the princess well enough, if she’s discovered, she’ll be killed. If she plays the princess too well, she’s likely to be assassinated.

When I read this premise, I knew I needed to get this book in my hands. I love court intrigue and the chance to learn about a new-to-me culture. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed. For almost every element that I considered, there was something that I liked and something that I hated. For example, take the world building. The Moroccan lense through which the world was built led to some rich cultural and fantastical elements as well as some pointed commentary about the negative effects of culture erasure and colonialism. However, the science fiction elements were completely out of place, unnecessary, and jarring. They’d take a spaceship to another planet and I would have totally forgotten they were in space, that’s how extraneous the science fiction elements were. There was a paradoxical wealth and dearth of technology that drove me a little crazy.

Maram was really well developed and was a very interesting character as she's got a bit of moral ambiguity going on. Amani was a little flat and seemed to have almost no agency. She falls into instalove with Maram’s fiancé who was even more flat than Amani, so perhaps they deserve each other? The plot meandered, and I often wondered where the story was going – it did get interesting after Amani realizes she’s in a great place to further resistance efforts but that realization was a long walk to a short drink of water, to use an aphorism from my childhood.

While I liked elements of the book, on the whole, it didn’t work for me. Many other reviewers have loved it, though, so if the premise sounds intriguing, you may consider giving it a try. For readers of Renee Ahdieh and Tomi Adeyemi. I liked half of it, so I’ll give it half of the stars: 2.5.

Thanks to Flatiron Books and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. Mirage is available now – put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt

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