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.
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DNF Reviews|| Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, Teeth in the Mist & Miranda in Milan

Triple DNF review time. All three were retellings, and two of them started off really well. Read on to find out more.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Retelling/prequel of Snow White

Vietnamese/Asian inspired setting

DNF 66%

I was really looking forward to reading this book, because I love retellings, and I was interested to see the treatment Dao would give to The Evil Queen’s backstory.

Firstly, I loved the change of setting. The worldbuilding was interesting, and I kind of felt like I was watching an Asian drama with all the court politics and beautiful scenery and costumes. Obviously the plot was a bit limited in where it could go because this is a retelling/backstory, but since that’s part of the reason I like retellings this didn’t bother me.

My problem was with the main character, Xifeng. I didn’t really like her, which I was expecting, because she has to become a villain. What I couldn’t stand was having absolutely no understanding of her motivation, and her wishy washy feelings toward everyone.

For example, she hates her aunt who treats her badly, but then she states that she cares about her, but there’s no indication as to why. We’re just expected to accept it because it’s stated. There are no loving flashbacks to support such a claim. Another example: she loves the village boy, but she doesn’t, and apparently just uses him to get to the palace. But then she is really doing it for him, so he can fulfil his dream to join the army. Or something.

As for her motivation, aside from her horoscope saying she is destined to be Empress of Feng Lu, I can’t understand why she chooses to follow that path. She doesn’t seem to really desire that outcome, so there’s no real impetus to do so. If she truly believed that it was her destiny and in the infallibility of prophecies, I could understand. Overall, I think she lacks conviction. In trying to make Xifeng a sympathetic and likeable character, I feel like it ended up making her weak, indecisive and incomprehensible.

That being said, I’m not ruling out the possibility of trying to re-read this again in the future.

Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich

Retelling of Faust

Young Adult Horror

Set primarily in Wales, UK

DNF 51%

Firstly, background. The Faust legend is about a man who makes a deal with the devil. In exchange for knowledge and a demon’s service for a set number of years he promises to give the devil his soul. There are variations of course, but that is the basic story. So when I saw that this book was coming out I was interested to give it a go.

This book follows three girls living in different centuries, all of whom are connected in some way to Medwyn Mill House in Wales. The first is Hermione Smith, a young wife living in the 16th century. Her story is told through the occasional diary entry, and chronicles her husband’s obsession with building the house on a rocky, inhospitable mountain. The second is Roan, who becomes a ward of Dr Maudley who lives at Mill House. Roan and the other two new wards all have secrets, and some mysterious connection to an ancient secret. The final girl is Zoey, a sixteen year old photography student who journeys to Mill House in the present to uncover the mystery of what happened to her father. Her story is told through transcripts of film diaries.

I was hooked for most of the first half of the book. The atmosphere was haunting, and the mystery was really compelling. I especially liked Roan’s perspective. As I hit the half way mark it felt like not much was happening, and there hadn’t been much in the way of plot progression at all. It didn’t help that I wasn’t that interested in Zoey’s point of view at all.

For a different reader, I think this would probably be a great story. I have seen quite a few 5 star reviews around. It just wasn’t for me. I like a bit of thrill and horror, but I also like a faster pace.

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

Retelling/ Sequel of The Tempest by Shakespeare

Young Adult Fantasy Novella

Set in Italy

DNF 32%

I’ll start by saying I know very little about The Tempest. It isn’t a play I ever read or studied, so my knowledge is very superficial. Nevertheless, I thought a young adult retelling would be an interesting way to find out more. What I discovered was that this is not a retelling. It is more of a sequel.

This book promises a sapphic relationship between Miranda and her new friend/maid Dorothea, along with a mystery regarding Miranda’s mother. Unfortunately I couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for either. There are pretty much only two characters in the  first third of the book. The dialogue between them feels pretty unnatural, and the development of their relationship goes from 0 to 100 in about 2 pages. Aside from that, I had no huge problems.

Conservation of Shadows|| Yoon Ha Lee

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

Published April 2013

322 pages

Short Story Collection

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

There is no such thing as conservation of shadows. When light destroys shadows, darkness does not gain in density elsewhere. When shadows steal over earth and across the sky, darkness is not diluted. Featuring an Introduction by Aliette De Bodard, Conservation of Shadows features a selection of short stories from Yoon Ha Lee.

General comments

This is a fabulous short story collection. The stories I loved, I really really loved. Out of sixteen stories over half got 4 stars or above.

The writing is absolutely beautiful. It is sort of jarring, but has this magical quality to it at the same time. The closest comparison I can think of is Tessa Gratton’s writing in Strange Grace.

The themes were quite serious, ranging from colonialism, war, revenge, culture, language. Lee does not pull any punches.

The inspiration behind many of the stories derived from mathematics, physics and philosophy, which was at times fascinating, and at others completely beyond my range of comprehension. Still, I really enjoyed the collection overall.

Since I don’t want to give too much away, I’ll only be giving very brief notes about each story.

Ghostweight (2011) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I had trouble with this one to start with because I was completely unfamiliar with Lee’s style, but it really packed an emotional punch by the end. It is about origami, and ghosts, and spaceships, and colonialism, and revenge. I didn’t see the plot twist coming at all. And the world was a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, which I think was seamlessly blended.

The Shadow Postulates (2007) ⭐️⭐️

The plot in this short story was pretty straight forward, but I just didn’t really like it. To be completely honest, I don’t even really remember much about it beyond two university roommates doing sword dancing.

The Bones of Giants (2009) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion, this featured necromancy, a duo riding resurrected giants, and an evil sorcerer. The world was interesting, and although short, the plot was pretty cool.

Between Two Dragons (2010) ⭐️⭐️

This was inspired by The Imjin War and Admiral Yi Sun Shin, a Korean hero. I didn’t feel that it was a particularly strong piece, because the plot was confusing and it was narrated in second person, which I don’t enjoy.

Swanwatch (2009) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Swanwatch is about exile, music, black holes, and valorising suicide. I liked the characters and their relationships with each other. The whole concept was beautifully executed and really poignant.

Effigy Nights (2013) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Effigy Nights gave me chills. Blending both science fiction and fantasy, we are thrown into a world that epitomises and values the arts that has been colonised by a technologically superior enemy. Our main character is a surgeon, but not quite as we know it. It involves paper people and rebellion against colonialism and destruction of culture. While I don’t believe the author has specifically stated it, I imagine that it is inspired by the Japanese colonisation of Korea, as other stories in the collection are.

Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain (2010) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Lee explores the idea that free will and inevitability are not mutually exclusive in this short, but very powerful story. All I can really say about this one is that it involves a series of guns that have very specific abilities. [*Possible Spoiler* *Highlight to see* For example, one gun not only kills you, but your ancestors as well] It was probably my favourite of all the stories in the collection. I can’t even describe why I loved it so much, but it really hit me emotionally, and the whole idea was so profound. 

Iseul’s Lexicon (2013) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

By far the longest story in the collection, Iseul’s Lexicon is inspired by Imjin War and the Japanese Occupation of Korea. It takes place during war, and melds together language and magic. We follow a magic user, and their attempts to use that magic to influence the war.

Counting the Shapes (2001) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is the oldest story in the collection, and is a little more fantasy than science-fiction. The main character is a mathemagician who is trying to decipher a prophecy using the idea of symmetry to help win a war against demons.

Blue Ink (2008) ⭐️⭐️

Blue Ink was a bit too abstract for my liking. It’s basically about a battle at the end of time, and seventy versions of one girl. I honestly struggled to understand the point of it.

The Battle of Candle Arc (2012) DNF

This is another rather long story and it is connected to the novel, Ninefox Gambit. I found it difficult to get into, so all I can tell you is that the author stated it was inspired by the Battle of Myeongnyang and Admiral Yi Sun Shin.

A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel (2011) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the notes, Lee talks about being inspired by Italo Calvino and basis vectors in linear algebra. It sounds terrifying and complicated, but basically was a series of anecdotes about worlds and societies that use FTL star drives (Faster Than Light), and the way it interacts with and influences their beliefs and culture. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Still, I found this piece very satisfying despite not really being a cohesive ‘story’ per se.

The Unstrung Zither (2009) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

So the basic premise behind this story was the idea that music creates order in society. It’s about colonisation at its core, and revolves around a musician and five adolescent assassins. The world was awesome, and music is used to tune warships and such.

The Black Abacus (2002) ⭐️

I really had a hard time with this one. I still only have a vague sense of what it was about, but basically it was war playing out like quantum chess. It was bizarre and I had no idea what was happening with the two main characters.

The Book of Locked Doors (2012) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Influenced by the anime Code Geass as well as Dungeons and Dragons, The Book of Locked Doors is another story inspired by the Japanese Occupation of Korea. The magic system in this was kind of dark and super interesting, involving dead people being inscribed in books.

Conservation of Shadows (2011) ⭐️⭐️

Inspired by the Sumerian poem, The Descent of Innana, it had a very different feel compared to the rest of the stories in this collection. It was also written in second person which I didn’t really like. I had to look at the notes to work out what had actually happened.

 

The Gilded Wolves|| Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

YA Historical Fantasy

388 pages

Release date: 15 January 2019

#1 in series

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.

It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

General Comments

If you are going into this book expecting it to be like The Star-Touched Queen series you will be disappointed. The writing is still amazing, but it lacks the poetic descriptions and beautiful prose of Chokshi’s debut novel. I’ve also heard it compared to Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, but I can’t comment on the comparison, as I haven’t read that book yet.

While I enjoyed the book overall, I wasn’t really desperate to keep reading it when I put it down. It’s hard to pinpoint what was the problem, but I think I just wasn’t that excited by the plot. It wasn’t bad, so maybe heists just aren’t my thing? I also wasn’t super excited about the magic system, which is something I normally look forward to.

What I Liked

  • I liked the diversity of the characters in this book. Although I felt like they could have had a bit more depth, these four stood out among the six.

Laila is an Indian dancer with an ability to read the history of almost anything she touches. She loves cooking and has a strong mothering instinct.

Zofia is a Polish-Jewish scientist with a talent for Forging. She seems to be on the autism spectrum, and struggles with human interaction, preferring to get lost in mathematics and inventions.

Enrique is a bisexual Spanish-Filipino historian. He’s witty and a bit sarcastic.

Hypnos didn’t have a narrative voice of his own, but he was such a fun character. He is the bastard bi-racial head of the House of Nyx. He was sarcastic and flirtatious, but he had a lot of depth, showing hints of loneliness.

  • I appreciated the exploration of colonialism/imperialism, and how that affected both individuals and societies, although I would have liked to have a spent a bit more time doing so.
  • I did enjoy the witty, sarcastic banter between Severin, Enrique and Hypnos at various times throughout the book.

What I Disliked

  • I didn’t have any particularly strong negative opinions regarding this book, just a sense of being a bit bored and underwhelmed by the plot, which had something to do with Babel Rings, and Babel Fragments.
  • I didn’t really understand the individual characters’ motivations for participating in the heist, or indeed why the heist was necessary at all.
  • Two of the main six characters didn’t have narrative voices of their own, which struck me as a bit odd.
  • I didn’t care much for Severin, despite his story being the central thread running through the book. He is a bi-racial former heir to the House of ___, but his inheritance was taken from him because the Order wouldn’t allow two bi-racial children to inherit Houses at the same time. I didn’t find his narrative that interesting, and I didn’t find his back story or motivations that compelling.
  • I guess I also didn’t care about Tristan, because I totally forgot about him and had to look him up. He’s a bit of a hermit and has a talent for Forging related to plants. He doesn’t have a narrative of his own, and this surprised me given that he was part of the inner circle.
  • I was unclear about the magic system, which is called Forging. I can’t explain it, because I still genuinely don’t understand the rules, except some people have the ability, and it’s somehow related to Babel Fragments.
  • I didn’t feel like there was enough suspense to keep me engaged in the heist. Everything seemed to have a magical solution that one of the Forgers could just whip up. Like invisibility powder or whatever was required.

Wow, I had more issues with this book than I thought I did. If I weren’t analysing it for review I wouldn’t have even thought of these things. Needless to say I won’t be picking up the next volume in the series.

Let’s Chat!

Have you read The Gilded Wolves? What did you think? Do you ever reflect on a book later and find you liked it much less than you thought? Let me know in the comments below.

The Bone Witch|| Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

YA Fantasy

432 pages

Release Date: March 2017

#1 of 3

Synopsis from Goodreads

Let me be clear: I never intended to raise my brother from his grave, though he may claim otherwise. If there’s anything I’ve learned from him in the years since, it’s that the dead hide truths as well as the living.

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha-one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Why I was interested

I was initially interested in The Bone Witch because it featured necromancy and was set in an Asia-inspired world.

General comments

So. I tried to read The Bone Witch last year. Three times. I ended up DNF-ing it every time. The problems I had last year still remain, but I’m just not as agro about it. I think this might be partially because this time I went into it with lower expectations, and I already knew the things I disliked about it.

I ended up actually really enjoying The Bone Witch. Apparently I needed a year to calm down. I still think this book was heavily influenced by Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, but I chose to think of it as a retelling/reimagining of that story, and that made me less belligerent this time.

The Bone Witch is definitely the setup book of the series. It lays out the major characters, sets up the plot, and really immerses the reader in the world. The book is told from two perspectives: Tea of the past narrates in the first person as she learns to be an asha; and a bard in the future/present narrates his interactions with an older, darker, more powerful Tea who is telling him her story.

What I liked

Future/Present Tea: She’s mysterious and full of vengeance. I am so excited to see how the sweet little girl becomes so dark.

Magic system: There are a few different kinds of magic that exist alongside each other in this world. magic is largely the province of women. The more powerful ones can be gifted in elemental magic or necromancy. The less powerful can sense magic and perform simple spells and rituals. Those with powerful magical abilities go to a neighbourhood in Ankyo, the capital of Kion, called The Willows to learn to harness their magic, which is activated by runic symbols. They also learn the arts of music, dancing, conversation, history, politics, martial arts and meditation. The men with magical abilities are drafted into the army to be trained in battle/combat magic.

The other part of the magic system relates to Hearts Glass. They are objects that everyone wears around their necks. Asha are able to read the colours like mood rings. Different colours mean different things. Green means sickness, blue means worry, red is the standard colour of health and happiness. A silver Hearts Glass also indicates that the owner/wearer has magical abilities.

World building: The world is really detailed and beautifully crafted. Chupeco clearly spent a lot of time building the setting, the mythology, the magic system, the political systems and the history of the nations in The Bone Witch.

Themes: While not completely resolved in this instalment, Tea and her friends begin to challenge the accepted gender roles in Kion society. Likh, a boy who works in a jewellery store in The Willows, has magical abilities, but he doesn’t want to join the army. He wants to become an asha, and train in the traditional female arts.

What I disliked

Pacing: It was a bit slow, especially during the first half of the book.

Descriptions: Frankly, they are a bit excessive, but once you know what everyone, in any given situation, is wearing they ease off a bit.

Characters: In general I didn’t think any of the other characters besides Tea were given much complexity or growth in this book. There are hints that lead me to believe this may be rectified in book two, The Heart Forger, so I remain hopeful.

Let’s Chat!

Have you read The Bone Witch? Do you like stories about necromancy? Have you ever gone back to a book you previously hated and DNFed? Let me know in the comments below!

Crimson Bound || Rosamund Hodge

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

YA Fantasy

 448 pages

Release date: May 2015

Standalone (companion)

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis from Goodreads

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

General Comments:

I initially gave this book four stars, but the longer I took to write this review, the less enamoured I was. I really enjoyed reading it at the time, but a few weeks later not as much is standing out to me.

I can’t say it’s really a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s more like one image from the fairytale was used as a prompt for a completely unrelated story. That being said, it was a decent story. It just isn’t a fairytale retelling.

This is the sort of book that would appeal to people who enjoy plot-driven novels featuring stubborn female characters on a mission to save the world. And probably a lot of other people. (I’m not very good at this.)

What I liked:

The writing was really solid. Crimson Bound was really easy to read, and I breezed through it.

I liked Rachelle. She did something awful, and she is trying to make reparations. She let pride win out over the things her elders had taught her and she paid the price. As a Bloodbound, she uses her heightened physical abilities to destroy threats from the Great Forest, choosing to protect humans as penance. I felt that she was a believable and sympathetic main character, but looking back I can also see that she was a bit flat. She had a single minded goal that she pursued, and she didn’t experience that much growth as a character.

I liked the juxtaposition of the Christian-inspired religion of the city and the pagan mythology that still flourished in the more rural areas. I thought the mythology and magic surrounding Woodwives and the Forestborn was interesting too. Woodwives use charms and talismans made from everyday items to cast spells, while Forestborn individuals draw on the power of The Devourer and the Forest. Forestborn can essentially curse humans to become Bloodbound, wherein they start to change into a creature that is not quite human. Bloodbound and Forestborn are stronger, faster, and more violent than humans, which makes them figures to be feared.

I also really appreciated the depiction of a main character with a physical disability. Armand is a bastard prince and has become a double amputee before the story begins. He wears two silver hands, and the struggles he faces both with and without them are explored. Wearing them causes him physical problems and restricts his movements, but he faces shame and people’s pity when he doesn’t.

What I disliked:

There wasn’t anything I really disliked. As I said in the general comments above, I suppose my biggest disappointment was that it was so forgettable.

 Let’s Chat!

Have you read any books by Rosamund Hodge? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Mini Review: Winterglass || Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Fantasy Novella

130 pages

Release date: 2017

Standalone

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis from GoodReads

Winterglass is a sci-fantasy about one woman’s love for her homeland (Sirapirat) and her determination to defeat the Winter Queen who has overtaken the land.

The city-state Sirapirat once knew only warmth and monsoon. When the Winter Queen conquered it, she remade the land in her image, turning Sirapirat into a country of snow and unending frost. But an empire is not her only goal. In secret, she seeks the fragments of a mirror whose power will grant her deepest desire.

At her right hand is General Lussadh, who bears a mirror shard in her heart, as loyal to winter as she is plagued by her past as a traitor to her country. Tasked with locating other glass-bearers, she finds one in Nuawa, an insurgent who’s forged herself into a weapon that will strike down the queen.

To earn her place in the queen’s army, Nuawa must enter a deadly tournament where the losers’ souls are given in service to winter. To free Sirapirat, she is prepared to make sacrifices: those she loves, herself, and the complicated bond slowly forming between her and Lussadh.

If the splinter of glass in Nuawa’s heart doesn’t destroy her first.

divider

Why I was interested:

It’s an Asian retelling of The Snow Queen.

General Comments:

I’ve taken ages to write this review, because I just didn’t know how to express the things I wanted to say. Winterglass is a wonderful novella that manages to explore gender diversity and colonialism in only 130 pages, while still having well developed characters, a great plot, and an AMAZING magic system. It packed a real emotional punch, and I think it will stay with me for a long time.

What I liked:

Gender Diversity: I want to say that Winterglass is a celebration of gender diversity, but that’s not quite true. While numerous gender identities are present, including non-binary, neutral, and transgender individuals, the gender diversity is so seamless and matter of fact that it feels less like an overt celebration, and more like an accepted part of life that doesn’t need bells and whistles. I think that is why I enjoyed and appreciated this part of the Novella so much. Sexuality was similarly portrayed in a frank and no-nonsense manner.

Magic system: The magic system is amazingly disturbing, but intriguing. You can hurt peoples shadows and spirits, and kill them to make ghosts who literally power cities by providing heat and energy. The magic system was a big draw for me. It’s dark and mysterious and creepy.

Sympathetic Main Characters: The two main characters had quite reserved and distant personalities, but I still found them interesting, sympathetic & understandable. It’s the mark of good writing when you can still connect with a character who isn’t completely lovable.

What I disliked:

Occidentalism: Winterglass is set in an Asian coded country, and I had issues with the use of the term occidental. Not because I have a problem with people taking back power by utilising terms that were used to harm them, but because the automatic association is with it’s ‘Other’, Orientalism, and it seems to me that it just perpetuates the same kind of black and white, ‘us’ and ‘them’ sort of thinking that can be dangerous. On the whole the story seemed to be more focussed on portraying gender diversity than any other political agenda, so I’m not going to harp on about it. But it seems to me even using the term itself is somewhat of a political act, so I think it needs to be mentioned.

The Ending: The only other thing I was slightly disappointed with was the ending. Mostly because I didn’t want it to end. I want to know what happens next in Nuawa and Lussadh’s lives! I want to know more about the magic system!

Stain || A. G. Howard

Stain by A. G. Howard

YA Fantasy

500 Pages

Release date: January 2019

Standalone

 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis: 

Once upon a nightmare, her fairy tale begins…

After Lyra—a princess incapable of speech or sound—is cast out of her kingdom of daylight by her wicked aunt, a witch saves her life, steals her memories, and raises her in an enchanted forest … disguised as a boy known only as Stain. Meanwhile, in Lyra’s rival kingdom, the prince of thorns and night is dying, and the only way for him to break his curse is to wed the princess of daylight, for she is his true equal. As Lyra rediscovers her identity, an impostor princess prepares to steal her betrothed prince and her crown. To win back her kingdom, save the prince, and make peace with the land of the night, Lyra must be loud enough to be heard without a voice, and strong enough to pass a series of tests—ultimately proving she’s everything a traditional princess is not.

Why I was interested: 

It’s a retelling of The Princess and the Pea, and I love fairytale retellings.

General Comments:

This book was a trial for me. I loved it, but I almost quit on it a few times, because it was.  So. Damn. Long. In the end I stayed up late and read the last 150 pages in one sitting. Firstly, because I knew I wouldn’t pick it up again if I didn’t just power through it. Secondly, because once I did get sucked back into the story, the pace picked up and all the action started to really happen. In my opinion, it’s more of a reimagining than a retelling, and it definitely also had some other fairytale vibes: The Little Mermaid, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella all come to mind.

If you love gorgeous descriptions, detailed worldbuilding, found families, fairytale retellings, and a meandering pace, this could be the book for you.

What I liked:

The writing was magical, and the descriptions were so evocative and detailed that I had a really clear picture of what this world looked like. Howard really managed to retain the whimsical Disney-esque fairytale atmosphere throughout the story. There wasn’t a single moment when I wasn’t completely absorbed and immersed in the world.

The mythology and history of the story and the characters was also immensely detailed, so it was an absolute thrill to watch as all the pieces fell into place. I thought the premise was fascinating: a world torn in two – one half lived on the surface in permanent sunlight, while the other half was dragged underground and lived in never ending night. As a concept it was hard to grasp, but the detailed descriptions really brought it to life for me.

My favourite part of the entire book was Lyra/Stain’s found family. They were such an odd bunch, and I felt like they didn’t really have as much time together as I would have liked thanks to a time jump. (That being said, without that time jump this would have been a much lengthier book, and it’s already huge.) Crony is a non-human harrower witch, Luce is a sylph who lost his wings, and Scorch is a winged horse. I really enjoyed their interactions with Lyra/Stain, and how they allowed her to grow and become the best version of herself.

I should probably say something more about the characters, but all I really want to do is call out Crony’s name. I don’t know why I loved her so much, but I did. I adored her. She’s   quite ugly, and her accent/speech is kind of odd, and she has so many regrets, but she’s so full of love. She was the most vivid and complex character in this novel, and one of my favourite secondary characters. Ever.

All of the main characters in Stain were given a detailed backstory, which I really appreciated. I often feel a bit robbed in books with an amazing side cast because we don’t see enough of them, but that was not the case in this novel. While Lyra/Stain is the main character, Prince Vesper, Crony, Luce, Scorch and Aunt Griselda are all given plenty of page time (is that a thing? It’s like screen time, but in a book… Maybe it’s only me?)

Lastly, I wanted to comment briefly on the themes of this book. Obviously it’s about the family you make for yourself, but it’s also about embracing your scars and your experiences. One of the major take home messages for me was that your external appearance counts for very little because you can change that, so it is your character that makes the biggest impact on the world.

What I disliked: 

It’s so damn loooong. Sometimes it was hard to pick it back up, because the pacing slowed to a halt at times. While the descriptions were great, there was a ton of them, and sometimes I really just wanted to get back to the actual plot.

That being said, if you can push through those lulls, then this is a really satisfying and emotionally charged story that is well worth reading.

Beasts Made of Night Mini Review || Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

YA Fantasy

DNF 28%

0/ 5 stars

# 1 in duology

298 pages

Year Published: 2017

Synopsis:

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.*

Why I was interested: It’s a Nigerian influenced YA Fantasy with a cool sounding magic system.

What I liked:

Worldbuilding: This society and the magic system were really interesting, and its honestly the only reason I read as much as I did. I thought the idea of mages being able to manifest a person’s sin into a monstrous physical form which could them be killed and eaten by ‘Aki’ really cool. Once the sin was eaten it manifested on the sin-eater’s skin as a tattoo. I was also really interested in the different social groups in society and their interactions, as well as different customs, such as ‘jeweling’ ceremonies for teenage girls and death rituals.

What I Disliked:

Plot: I DNF’d this at 28% and I felt like nothing had really happened in that entire time. I was still waiting for something to happen.

Lack of emotional connection: I just didn’t care about any of the characters, and since it wasn’t clear where the plot was going, I didn’t have any interest in reading about Taj overcoming his ‘obstacle’.

Narration: Finally, I found the super casual, almost flippant first person narration kind of off-putting.

General Comments: 

Beasts Made of Night is not a terrible book, it’s just not for me. I think for a certain kind of reader, this would be an amazing book.

*Synopsis from Goodreads

The Song of Achilles Mini Review|| Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Historical Fantasy Retelling

4/5 stars

Standalone

352 pages

Year published: 2011

Synopsis: Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Trigger warning: violence.

Spoilers: If you know nothing about The Iliad, and the story of the Trojan War, there will be minor spoilers ahead. I’m writing under the assumption that you know roughly what happened.

Why I was interested: It’s a retelling of The Iliad. And it’s by Madeline Miller.

General comments: The Song of Achilles is, at its heart, a character exploration, which Madeline Miller excels in writing. The story follows Patroclus from childhood onward, and the focus is the relationship he develops with Achilles. There was a lot to like, but I did almost quit on it twice. And if I’m completely honest, I would never have picked up Circe if I had read this first. I’m not sure I even understand my feelings about this book, so let’s just move on to the reviewing part of the review.

What I liked:

Patroclus: The best part of this book was Patroclus. He was a pacifist in a world that valorised violence. Achilles was portrayed as a sort of foil – the ultimate representation of that patriarchal warrior culture which was so at odds with Patroclus’ values. Patroclus was a healer, not a warrior.

Writing: Madeline Miller’s writing is lovely and readable. And I really enjoyed the way the narration was handled at the end. I won’t say any more because that ventures further into the realm of spoilers than I’m willing to go.

What I disliked:

Graphic scenes: There were some scenes which made me really uncomfortable, such as the battles, and the sacrifice of Iphigenia. It’s not that I wasn’t expecting them, or that I am particularly delicate. I read Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls which was about fifty billion times more graphic. I think it had more to do with the overall tone of the story being so at odds with these scenes that they really punched me in the gut. Maybe that was the point. But I still didn’t like it.

Apologist retelling: The problem here is not that it is trying to redeem Achilles, it’s that it completely and utterly failed to convince me. Achilles’ only redemption was Patroclus. His conscience was Patroclus. If Patroclus was not there to reign him in, Achilles was just as bad as the rest of the men.

Final thoughts:

I think the problems I had with this book were a result of my comparisons to Madeline Miller’s Circe, which I loved. There is less magic in The Song of Achilles. The narrator is male. And I just don’t think this book was as successful as Circe in making a ‘side character’ of one of the most well-known Greek myths the hero of the story. In the end, I still felt that it was all about Achilles.