Mythology Retelling Mini Reviews|| Gods of Jade and Shadow/ The Chaos of Stars/ A Spark of White Fire

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Historical Fantasy

352 Pages

Publication: 23 July 2019

⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Synopsis

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

General Comments

It started out like Cinderella and Pandora’s box, then turned into an adventure with a Mayan death god.

Gods of Jade and Shadow was written in the third person, and followed three points of view- Casiopea, Martin, and Vucub- Kame. I appreciated the insight into the minds of all three. It made the ‘villains’ less two-dimensional, and I actually understood where they came from.

The world building was very detailed. There was so much information about places, clothes, events, items etc. that I had a very clear picture of the world the characters inhabited. Sometimes it felt like I was reading a textbook though, which I found a bit off putting.

The writing style had the effect of keeping the reader somewhat removed from the characters and action as well. For some, this will make it feel somewhat like a fairytale, but I imagine for others it will be a problem.

The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

Young Adult Fantasy

Publication: September 2013

277 Pages

Standalone

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up—which comes with the territory when you’re the human daughter of the ancient Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris. Isadora is tired of living with crazy relatives who think she’s only worthy of a passing glance—so when she gets the chance to move to California with her brother, she jumps on it. But her new life comes with plenty of its own dramatic—and dangerous—complications . . . and Isadora quickly learns there’s no such thing as a clean break from family.

General Comments

I struggled with the rating for this one. It’s not a terrible book, and it doesn’t deserve a lower rating. That being said, normally a 3 star book is one I’d still recommend, but I’m not sure I’d really encourage anyone to go out of their way to read this. So let’s just move on to what I liked and disliked.

I liked the mythology aspects of the book, and how ancient Egyptian gods were brought into the modern era.

Isadora, as an MC, was at times hilarious, and others, very annoying. I appreciate that she knows what she’s interested in, and what she’s good at – interior design. I quite liked the snark and sarcasm at times. That being said, she whinges a lot, and it gets irritating and repetitive. There was also very little character development beyond Isadora, and even then, I feel it’s quite limited.

It also wasn’t hard to guess where the plot was going or who the main players were, so there were really no surprises.

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

Young Adult Fantasy

311 Pages

#1 of 3

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.

Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.

It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.

Inspired by the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian stories, A Spark of White Fire is a lush, sweeping space opera about family, curses, and the endless battle between jealousy and love.

General Comments

I actually cannot think of a single thing I disliked about this book. It had a bit of everything – a smart protagonist, a twisty revenge plan, political intrigue, a touch of romance, a dash of mystery, three dimensional characters, a complicated family dynamic, wonderful writing, fabulous worldbuilding, and an exciting plot.

It was completely gripping, and I had trouble taking breaks from it. I was emotionally invested in every moment. I was laughing, and crying, and anxious, and excited, and angry.

And I was absolutely wrecked by that ending. Good thing book two comes out later this month!

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Marilla of Green Gables|| Sarah McCoy

 

Historical Fiction

288 Pages

Publication: October 2018

Standalone

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

CW: Violence, execution, slavery, death of a loved one

Synopsis

A bold, heartfelt tale of life at Green Gables . . . before Anne: A marvelously entertaining and moving historical novel, set in rural Prince Edward Island in the nineteenth century, that imagines the young life of spinster Marilla Cuthbert, and the choices that will open her life to the possibility of heartbreak—and unimaginable greatness.

Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother has dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.

In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.

Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.

Comments

I will admit it. I was hesitant going in to this book. I felt that it was entirely possible the author may somehow butcher a beloved story. I am so incredibly relieved to report that this was unequivocally NOT the case. Marilla of Green Gables is a quiet sort of book, and in a similar vein to Anne of Green Gables, but much more mature. It also has a bit more of a political bent, but I kind of like the realism.

I read this immediately after reading Anne of Green Gables, and I could see the connections the author had made. It shows very much how Marilla and Matthew (and Rachel Lynde) become the people we meet in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s series. I thought their backstory was believable, and I’m going to find it difficult not to think of this as part of LMM’s canon. I also appreciated the change in narrative voice as the novel progressed – from the childish to more mature.

The book revolves primarily around Marilla’s relationships – with her family, with Rachel, with John Blythe, and to a lesser extent, with the larger Avonlea community. There are a lot of familiar names for fans of the series.

Like AoGG, Marilla of Green Gables is written in the third person, and primarily follows the eponymous heroine. It is divided into three parts, mirroring the titles of three of the  books in Anne’s series – Marilla of Green Gables, Marilla of Avonlea, and Marilla’s House of Dreams.

The first part opens when Marilla is thirteen, and Matthew is twenty-one, focusing on family life, and the arrival of Aunt Isobel, and her new friend, Rachel White (later Lynde).  This part sets up the core relationships that endure throughout the novel, including Marilla’s blossoming relationship with John Blythe.

Part two, Marilla of Avonlea, takes place in the years after part one, with Marilla becoming a woman, taking on household responsibilities, as well as becoming more involved in the Avonlea community. This is where much of the budding romance with John Blythe takes place, against a backdrop of political upheaval in Canada, as well as Marilla’s involvement in charity, and peripherally, The Underground Railroad. This section also advances Matthew’s character development, and I kind of love it.

Part three occurs twenty years after the final events of Marilla of Avonlea. The jump between the two was a bit jarring to start with, but I think it was a smart move on the author’s part. Marilla’s House of Dreams focuses on a middle-aged Marilla – one who is very similar to the woman in Anne of Green Gables. There’s a bit of action in this section, but it quickly gives way to the more thoughtful, quiet style that permeates most of the book.

If I’m being honest, the prologue and the ending (the last two or three pages) were the weakest parts of the book from my perspective. They weren’t terrible, but they didn’t quite pack the punch I want from a prologue and an ending. The rest of the book was well-written, and had a very strong narrative voice, but the first and the last parts didn’t quite feel the same. In the grand scheme of things, these were very minor issues though.

I do feel the need to address one other issue. I’ve read other reviews which took a dim view of the inclusion of certain historical events, such as The Underground Railway. Having read Anne and Marilla back to back, I have to say I disagree. Marilla is a different kind of book than Anne, and ultimately it was not officially condoned by LMM, so McCoy is entitled to her interpretation. It isn’t meant to be part of the AoGG canon (even though I can’t help but think of it as such). I liked the exploration of political and social issues prevalent at the time, and I thought they added more substance to the story.

Tiger Lily|| Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

YA Fantasy/Magical Realism

309 Pages

Publication: October 2013

Standalone

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

CW: Violence, sexual assault, child abuse, death, transphobia

Synopsis

Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair…

Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.

Peter is unlike anyone she’s ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she’s always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.

With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

Comments

I went into this book with very little knowledge, and very few expectations. All I knew was that it was a retelling of Peter Pan, and that it had quite good ratings and reviews. I was blown away.

Firstly, I loved Tinkerbell as the narrator. She’s curious and loyal, most especially to Tiger Lily. We learn about Neverland, its people, its history, and its magic through her eyes. I particularly liked the explanations about magic, and magical creatures (such as fairies and mermaids). I won’t say anything further, because I think it’s best experienced firsthand.

As the title suggests, the focus is on Tiger Lily, and her interactions with others. Tiger Lily was an interesting and complex character. Although it’s been a while since I read the original novel by J. M. Barrie, I felt the characterisations of Tiger Lily and Peter Pan were true to the source material, while also giving them both extra depth.

Peter Pan is still cocky, adventurous, sulky and stubborn; while Tiger Lily is still aloof, jealous, and strong-willed. Jodi Lynn Anderson manages to make both characters softer, and more sympathetic. Peter is thoughtful, and easily hurt despite his bravado. Tiger Lily, on the other hand, is both feared and reviled in her village for being different to the norm – she is strong, smart, angry, righteous, and brave. She faces an arranged marriage with a man she despises, and is looking for an escape.

The side characters are some of my favourite. I absolutely adore Tik Tok, who is Tiger Lily’s adoptive father. He is what is sometimes referred to as two-soul. He dresses as a woman, sometimes identifies as a woman and a man, and he performs a ceremonial role in society. He’s basically a shaman and healer for the tribe. He has such a positive, patient, and understanding nature, and I loved his relationship with Tiger Lily. His story is heartbreaking though, so prepare the tissues beforehand.

(I should probably say something about the representation of Native Americans at this point, but I don’t feel qualified to do so. I didn’t think there was anything that was overly offensive, but you would have to judge for yourself.)

The other character I love is Tiger Lily’s friend, Pine Sap. He’s also a bit of an outcast in the tribe, and doesn’t conform to traditional gender roles either. He doesn’t enjoy hunting or participating in traditionally masculine pastimes. He likes inventing, and thinking, and swimming.

I think the twists in the original were so clever. It was the story we all know, but somehow so much more. It also managed to cover a lot of themes, such as colonialism, proselytism, gender roles, belonging, friendship, love in its many forms, and duty vs. desire. 

All in all, I would highly recommend this book to pretty much anyone who enjoys fantasy. It would also appeal to those who like Peter Pan, retellings, and character-driven novels.

Let’s Chat!

Do you enjoy retellings? Have you read Tiger Lily? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

The Girl in Red|| Christina Henry

The Girl in Red by Christina Henry

Horror/Sci-Fi Dystopia

304 pages

Publication: 18 June 2019

Standalone

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a postapocalyptic 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…

General Comments

The Girl in Red was a fantastic read. I was completely addicted. Even though it is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopia, it still manages to retain a dark fairytale feel throughout.

Red, for the most part, is a brilliant protagonist. She’s strong and she’s curious, but she’s also vulnerable (emotionally and physically) and she has a healthy dose of common sense. She’s intelligent, a tiny bit paranoid (or is that cautious) and she was interested in survivalism pre-apocalypse, so she’s got a pretty huge skill set. Honestly,

I liked the disability representation in this book. Red is an amputee, and I thought the representation was both realistic and positive.

There were some parts of the book where I thought her success was a bit unrealistic, especially since she claims she learned her survival skills from horror movies and books. Still, I’m willing to give Red the benefit of the doubt, and conclude that she’s extremely lucky, as well as prepared.

I thought the comments about the (American) government’s lack of funding for pandemics (resulting in slow response in treatment and prevention of further infection), and the general lack of science education in America was relevant, and definitely something that should be remedied. There was even some racism, racial violence, sexism, and implied sexual violence involved.

This book had it all. Fantastic writing; detailed worldbuilding; a cast of interesting characters; social, environmental and political themes; a high stakes adventure.

My only tiny quibble was Red’s capitalisation of things. One example is “‘Behind The Counter’ as Red thought of it.” I didn’t think they were necessary, and I got a bit snarky every time I read one of those bits.

Sea Witch|| Sarah Henning (DNF Mini Review)

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

YA Historical Fantasy

368 Pages

Publication: July 2018

#1 of 2

DNF 55%

Synopsis

Everyone knows what happens in the end. A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss. But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends. One feared, one royal, and one already dead.

Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.

A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.

Comments

Set in 19th Denmark, Sea Witch is the backstory of the eponymous character from The Little Mermaid.

Evelyn is a witch, and is close friends with the crown prince of Havnestad, Nik. She also has a gigantic crush on his cousin, Iker. Four years ago, Evie’s best friend Anna drowned, and she has never really come to terms with what happened, or the guilt she feels for her part in it. Then suddenly a girl called Annemette, who looks just like Anna, appears in their lives and turns everything upside down.

Firstly, I want to state that I thought the writing was fantastic, and the worldbuilding was very good. I felt like I was inhabiting the world with the characters. It doesn’t hurt that the history and setting were real, as was the fear of witches. I love a dash of reality with my fantasy, so I really enjoyed the little nods to history.

That being said, I was bored. The characters were pretty one dimensional, which made it difficult to care about the outcome of the story. The focus was split unevenly between the mystery surrounding Annemette (the Anna look-alike) and the romances (with more emphasis on the romance than the mystery.) While I was reading it I breezed through it, but once I’d wandered off to do something else, I didn’t think about the book at all. And that is really the biggest problem. There wasn’t enough to hook me and keep me interested.

I really dislike having to DNF a book that isn’t terrible, but just isn’t amazing. I prefer to be able to rage quit on books because they’re annoying or offensive. Still, for me, a DNF is a DNF. I rarely revisit them or give second chances. So farewell Sea Witch.

Let’s Chat!

Have you read Sea Witch? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Literature Retelling DNF Mini Reviews||Jane Steele/ The Collectors’ Society

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Historical Fiction

Publication: March 2016

432 Pages

DNF 10%

Synopsis

Reader, I murdered him.

A Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre.

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London’s underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate’s true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household’s strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul and secrets – and what if he discovers her murderous past?

Comments

Jane Steele sounded like it had a cool premise- a murdering governess who loved the novel Jane Eyre, and whose life mirrored the famous story.

Sadly, I just couldn’t get behind Jane Steele as a protagonist. I struggled through all 43 pages I read. I didn’t enjoy the writing style, which was sort of 19th century, but also very blunt. I couldn’t sympathise, or empathise, with Jane. Finally, I just felt a vague sense of unease, the cause of which I couldn’t precisely identify. It may have had something to do with the sexual assault scenes.

All in all, just not the book for me. Call me close minded, but I want to read about characters I actually care about. Or a story that makes me curious, rather than just uneasy.

The Collector’s Society by Heather Lyons

Fantasy/Romance

355 Pages

Publication: October 2014

#1 in series

DNF 52%

Synopsis

After years in Wonderland, Alice has returned to England as an adult, desperate to reclaim sanity and control over her life. An enigmatic gentleman with an intriguing job offer too tempting to resist changes her plans for a calm existence, though. Soon, she’s whisked to New York and initiated into the Collectors’ Society, a secret organization whose members confirm that famous stories are anything but straightforward and that what she knows about the world is only a fraction of the truth.

It’s there she discovers villains are afoot—ones who want to shelve the lives of countless beings. Assigned to work with the mysterious and alluring Finn, Alice and the rest of the Collectors’ Society race against a doomsday clock in order to prevent further destruction . . . but will they make it before all their endings are erased?

Comments

The Collectors’ Society, like Jane Steele, seemed like it was going to be super interesting. I love retellings, and prequel/sequels to famous stories.

The beginning was engaging, and I quite enjoyed Alice as narrator. I thought the basic plot was solid, and had I not encountered the following issues, I would have happily finished reading book one in the series.

However…

The very premise was based around a magic system – famous works of literature having a life of their own. The problem is that the characters had no clue about the magic system, or even the technology they build and use. I wish they’d just said: this is just how the world works, and left it at that. I’ll suspend my disbelief. But when questions are asked, they all just respond with, ‘We don’t know.’ Maybe it seems irrational, but it annoyed me that they kept saying ‘we don’t know anything about anything’ in regards to the magic and tech they were using. For example, Wendy just makes the magical pens, but she doesn’t know how they work, or who created them. I expected someone to have a clue. If you’re going to have a soft magic system, don’t try to pretend it’s a hard magic system and then say ‘I don’t know how it works.’

Secondly, the romance. It started out okay. I was happy to see Alice and Finn’s relationship progress. But I got sick of the constant ‘Finn is so good looking, and kind, and smells good, I’m so attracted to him, but I have to keep him at a distance, so I’m going to go on and on and on about it.’ Alice’s internal monologue regarding Finn was repetitive and tiresome. She’s meant to be a 25 year old woman for goodness sake.

Due to the Finn obsession, the pacing started to really grind to a halt. The last straw for me was when Alice and Finn start pashing in a cupboard, on assignment in a villain’s lair, with a villain a few feet away. It is not only completely out of character, but ridiculously stupid. I don’t have time to read about allegedly intelligent people who have no common sense at the precise moment when they need it.

Let’s Chat!

Have you read either of these books? What did you think? Did you have any of the same issues? Let me know in the comments below!

Shakespeare Retelling Mini Reviews|| Ophelia, Queen of Denmark/ Illyria/ I, Iago/ Prince of Shadows

Ophelia, Queen of Denmark by Jackie French

Young Adult Historical Fiction

288 Pages

Published: 2015

Standalone

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

She is the girl who will be queen: Ophelia, daughter of Denmark’s lord chancellor and loved by Prince Hamlet.

But while Hamlet’s family stab, poison or haunt one another, Ophelia plans a sensible rule, one filled with justice and the making of delicious cheeses. Even if she has to pretend to be mad to make it happen, Ophelia will let nothing, not even howling ghosts, stand in her way.

This is Shakespeare’s play, but with what might also have happened behind the scenes.

General Comments

In general I quite enjoyed this novel. It’s fairly short and easy to read, and I thought the worldbuilding was also very good. I had a clear mental image of the setting and the people involved in Ophelia’s life. I quite enjoyed the descriptions of food and clothing and the general running of the castle. But I did get sick of Ophelia’s cheese references.

Written in first person from Ophelia’s point of view, we get to see Shakespeare’s play from a different (female) perspective. For the most part, I liked this version of Ophelia. She’s a little naive, but generally straightforward and pragmatic (at least in her internal narration).

I found the change between Ophelia’s internal voice and the flowery Shakespearean ‘courtly speak’ used between characters quite jarring. It only started happening from the middle of the book, and I don’t understand Shakespeare at the best of times, so I was pretty confused when it first appeared. It was like Jackie French just dropped lines from the play straight into a completely different style of writing.

I didn’t like Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet at all. It was weird and kind of smacked of insta-love. That being said, it does mirror the play, and Ophelia does reflect on it, which was a relief.

The novel explores themes ranging from greed, to gender divisions to what makes a good ruler.

Other than that, I thought the middle dragged a bit, but I thought the twists on the original play were clever and original.

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

Young Adult Contemporary Magical Realism

144 Pages

Published 2010

Standalone

⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

Madeleine and Rogan are first cousins, best friends, twinned souls, each other’s first love. Even within their large, disorderly family—all descendants of a famous actress—their intensity and passion for theater sets them apart. It makes them a little dangerous. When they are cast in their school’s production of Twelfth Night, they are forced to face their separate talents and futures, and their future together.

This stunning short novel, winner of the World Fantasy Award, is the perfect introduction to Elizabeth Hand’s singular voice. Her many novels offer a window into what it means to create art, to experience it, to feel passionately about the world. Illyria throws her talent into high relief—it is magic on paper.

General Comments

I don’t want to say this is a bad book. It had lovely writing and some beautiful scenes. It was more of a character study than anything else, which is fine, but ultimately I felt it lacked anything resembling a plot. I just couldn’t see what the point of it was.

Also, it wasn’t a retelling. It just featured Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as part of the story. CW: incest, drug use, implied child abuse.

I, Iago by Nicole Galland

Historical Fiction

370 Pages

Published: 2012

DNF 16%

Standalone

Synopsis

The critically acclaimed author of The Fool’s Tale, Nicole Galland now approaches William Shakespeare’s classic drama of jealousy, betrayal, and murder from the opposite side. I, Iago is an ingenious, brilliantly crafted novel that allows one of literature’s greatest villains–the deceitful schemer Iago, from the Bard’s immortal tragedy, Othello–to take center stage in order to reveal his “true” motivations. This is Iago as you’ve never known him, his past and influences breathtakingly illuminated, in a fictional reexamination that explores the eternal question: is true evil the result of nature versus nurture…or something even more complicated?

General Comments

I don’t have a lot to say about this book. I was interested because I like retellings that explore the villains and their back stories. The writing was decent, but I didn’t care about Iago or his life. Basically, I was bored and I didn’t give two hoots about all the military descriptions (the weapons, the strategies, the training, the barracks.)

Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

Young Adult Historical Fantasy

368 Pages

Published: 2014

Standalone

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and—if they survive—marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.

Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona—and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona…

… And will rewrite all their fates, forever.

General Comments

The first thing I want to say is that this book was extremely addictive. I flew through it. The writing quality is excellent, and Rachel Caine really knows how to emphasise the right notes of a story.

Told primarily in first person from Benvolio’s point of view, Prince of Shadows is the story we know, but so much more. There’s a little bit of a supernatural edge, but it’s mostly realistic (although not necessarily completely believable.)

It was a compelling, action-packed read. I loved the twists on the original, and I think I almost prefer this version. There was still plenty of character development, especially within the Montague household. That being said, there were some dark, violent and frankly distressing scenes.

I often forget to provide trigger warnings because I’m pretty tolerant of awful things, but in this case I feel it’s important. There is a particularly brutal murder of a gay man, and it is a pivotal moment in the narrative. Whether this makes it more or less problematic, I don’t know. All I know is that I was sobbing in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, and my heart was breaking. As for other triggers, since I’m already on a roll, there’s plenty of death, violence and blood. There’s also suicide and homophobia.

Perception|| Terri Fleming [Pride & Prejudice Retelling Mini Review]

Perception by Terri Fleming

Historical Fiction

400 Pages

Published 2017

⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Synopsis

Mary Bennet does not dream of marriage. Much to her mother’s horror, Mary is determined not to follow in the footsteps of her elder sisters, Jane (now Mrs Bingley) and Lizzy (now Mrs Darcy). Living at home with her remaining sister, Kitty, and her parents, Mary does not care for fashions or flattery. Her hopes are simple – a roof over her head, music at the piano, a book in her hand and the freedom not to marry the first bachelor her mother can snare for her.

But Mrs Bennet is not accustomed to listening to her daughters. When one of Meryton’s wealthiest residents reveals her son is returning home, Mrs Bennett is determined to hear wedding bells ring for one of her girls. Thrown into society, Mary discovers that promises can be broken, money can conquer love, and duty is not always a path to happiness. But by the time she realises her perceptions might be false, might she have missed her chance at a future she’d never imagined?

Comments

The main protagonist is Mary Bennet, the middle daughter of the family. In the original she is described as plain, and is mostly interested in music and reading. She had no interest in social occasions beyond finding an audience to display her accomplishments, of which she was rather vain.

This book takes place a few years after the end of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There are many familiar characters, plus a few new ones. It mirrors the original in many ways and plays on familiar riffs of Pride and Prejudice.

Perception keeps to similar themes such as gender roles, marriage, social and class divisions, social climbing, and family. However, at its heart, it is a romance.

Yes, you heard me – a romance revolving around Mary Bennet. It was sweet and very well written. I was a little dismayed at the whole makeover part, but I enjoyed reading about Mary’s internal growth and change as a character. I felt it was perhaps a teeny bit dramatic, and sometimes I found myself wondering how believable it was. But this might not be an issue for others.

My only real issue was the portrayal of the majority of women as frivolous and stupid. It’s been a while since I read the original, but I’m pretty sure this type of talk was present. It still makes me uncomfortable.

The language is more accessible than Austen, but still keeps the historical feel. It’s very readable, and I’d recommend it to fans of Austen, and historical romance.

Descendant of the Crane|| Joan He (Mini Review)

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Young Adult Fantasy

416 pages

Publication: 9 April 2019

#1 in series

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

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

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.

General Comments

I could wax poetic about this Chinese inspired fantasy for hours. Well, it would be less poetic and more incoherent ramble. This book seriously has it all. At least, a bit of everything I enjoy. It was completely addictive and so easy to read. I literally devoured it in a few hours.

What I loved

  • Complicated family dynamic: Hesina has complex and varying relationships with all the members of her family. The relationship with her mother is strained, bordering on loathing. It doesn’t help that her mother lives in some far off mountain monastery or something and acts like a bit of a b****. Hesina has, on the other hand, completely idealised her now-deceased father, which is obviously never an accurate or realistic representation of reality. She’s got a strained relationship with Sanjing, her biological brother, for something that happened when they were kids. Added to this, she has two adopted siblings. Lillian is absolutely awesome and very supportive, while Caiyan, her adopted brother is very logical and Hesina’s closest adviser.
  • Court politics: When this is done well I really enjoy all the intrigue and deals and sacrifices that come with being part of an imperial court. I wasn’t perhaps terribly surprised by all of it, but it was still a lot of fun to read.
  • Legal trial: In a lot of fantasies the legal system doesn’t get a lot of focus, so I was absolutely fascinated by the trial/inquest part of DotC, and I loved Akira being Hesina’s legal representative. He’s intelligent and it sort of leaves me in awe.
  • Murder mystery: I don’t read a lot of murder mysteries (I watch them though), so this was another element that I loved. Hesina’s quest to find out what happened to her father is a goal I can get behind, and I enjoyed reading how it played out. It went in a direction I was absolutely not expecting AT ALL, and I loved it.
  • Detailed mythology/ back story: This mostly pertains to the founding of the current dynasty, and the laws and advice the founders, know as The Eleven, left behind to run a fair and just society. It added so much more depth to the novel, and was fascinating in and of itself. I’d actually love to read that story if Joan He would consider writing a prequel.
  • Forbidden blood magic: Certain people, called sooths, have the ability to see the future. It’s an inherited blood-related magic, and it was fascinating. It really spoke to inequality and the dehumanisation of vulnerable groups.
  • Themes: There are quite a few themes running through the story. A big one was whether the concept of a just and equitable society is achievable, and what sort of sacrifices a person is willing to make to achieve their goals. What price is too high?
  • Complex characters: The bad guys aren’t wholly bad, the good guys aren’t wholly good. They’re human, and they’re messy, and they’re complicated. Everyone had realistic motivations and their reactions were always consistent with their personalities, which is pretty important to me.

Wicked Fox|| Kat Cho (Mini Review)

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Young Adult Urban Fantasy

429 pages

Publication date: 25 June 2019

#1 in duology

⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Synopsis 

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl–he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to humans. He’s drawn to her anyway.

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

My Review

This was a difficult book for me to review because there were parts I loved, and parts I felt were a bit underwhelming. As a fan of Korean Dramas, it felt very much like a mishmash of every drama I’ve ever watched. That is both a good and a bad thing.

It had a lot of the tropes, archetypes, and recycled plot elements I’ve seen in dozens of dramas. I don’t necessarily dislike them, I just enjoy seeing them turned on their head because I don’t find them surprising anymore.

I did enjoy the mythology elements- gumiho, goblins, ghosts and shamans (no, shamans aren’t mythological, they still exist in Korea today, I’m just being lazy). They were familiar, but Cho had an interesting twist on them, so I was excited to find out more. The short passages between chapters (written in italics) about gumiho lore (both real and specific to this book) were fascinating.

I didn’t mind the love story. It was a cute reluctant friends- actual friends- lovers romance. I saw some of the twists coming a mile off, but the big reveal did sneak up on me and surprise me. I always appreciate an author that can pull that off.

Despite the occasional dark and somewhat violent scenes, I’d describe Wicked Fox as a light, entertaining read. I recommend it to fans of Asian inspired stories and especially to fans of Korean Dramas.