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.

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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.

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.

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!

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

Strange Grace|| Tessa Gratton

YA Fantasy

Standalone

4/ 5 stars

389 pages

Year published: 2018

 

Once, a witch made a pact with a devil. The legend says they loved each other, but can the story be trusted at all?

Long ago, a village made a bargain with the devil: to ensure their prosperity, when the Slaughter Moon rises, the village must sacrifice a young man into the depths of the Devil’s Forest.

Only this year, the Slaughter Moon has risen early.

Bound by duty, secrets, and the love they share for one another, Mairwen, a spirited witch; Rhun, the expected saint; and Arthur, a restless outcast, will each have a role to play as the devil demands a body to fill the bargain. But the devil these friends find is not the one they expect, and the lies they uncover will turn their town—and their hearts—inside out.*

Why I was interested: It was a story about a creepy forest and witches and sacrifices. Also I was curious about the so called ‘polyamorous relationship’.

What I liked:

Atmosphere: The atmosphere of Strange Grace was enchanting. Everything just feels magical and mysterious. There’s a lot of build up to the sacrifice of the saint to the forest, and it is honestly the best part of the book. That sense of anticipation and wondering what will happen next.

The Characters: Let me be clear about this. I didn’t like the main characters, but I liked how they were written. I liked their personal journeys and growth throughout the story.

Mairwen is a young Grace witch who has been drawn to the forest all her life. She loves Rhun and wants to save him from being the saint. Her relationship with Arthur is strained, and she’s constantly rejecting him. I enjoyed Mairwen’s growth as she takes hold of her power and wields it without apology.

Rhun is the best of the boys in the town. He is cheerful, and kind, and generous. Rhun is secure in the knowledge that when the time comes he will be selected as the saint who is sacrificed to the forest, and he is completely sure that he will make it out alive. Rhun is interesting in that he loves both Mairwen and Arthur, and really wants nothing more than the three of them to be together. Rhun’s character arc is one of the most dramatic in my opinion. The sacrifice in the forest changes him completely. He is no longer the steady, calming presence he once was. Instead, he is plagued by doubt and angry and grief.

Arthur is the prickly, angry character who feels he has something to prove. His mom dressed him as a girl when he was young so he wouldn’t be chosen to be sacrificed to the forest. Once her deceit is discovered she leaves the valley, and Arthur is fostered with Rhun’s family. Arthur loves Mairwen and Rhun, but his pride and determination to reject any kind of femininity prevents him from accepting his feelings for Rhun. He is determined to be the saint even though he is an asshole and hates pretty much everybody. After the sacrifice Arthur mellows a fair bit.

Mythology/World Building: The magic was quirky and interesting, and heavily connected with nature and the natural progression of the seasons.

Writing: I find Tessa Gratton’s writing not exactly lyrical, but somehow mesmerising. It’s a personal thing and kind of hard to explain. But I’ll try. Keep in mind that it has been over 2 months since I read Strange Grace. I think Tessa Gratton plays with the length and construction of her sentences and paragraphs to make it sound sort of lilting. And I find beauty in that kind of off balance writing.

What I didn’t like as much:

The characters: I just didn’t really like any of them, as I said above. I felt no sympathy for them, and couldn’t really relate. I think this is probably because they were moody and brooding and wouldn’t communicate with each other about their feelings, and frankly, I’m too old for that kind of crap. To be clear, this is a personal pet peeve that prevented me connecting with them emotionally. It was not a giant glaring problem with the character development. Their thoughts and emotions and actions are all perfectly believable.

Plot: For most of the book the plot was fine. I was hooked. There was a mystery. There was anticipation. It’s just that when we reached the first climax (going into the forest) the plot took a turn for the weird. I was just sort of vaguely confused for the last third of the book. And after that point all of the ‘big surprise reveals’ weren’t actually that surprising. So I felt a bit deflated by the end of the book. The ending is decent, so at least I finished reading Strange Grace satisfied in the knowledge that the author didn’t completely drop the ball.

 

 

 

 

 

*Synopsis from Goodreads

Most Anticipated YA Fantasy 2019

Here’s a list of my top ten most anticipated new YA fantasy releases of 2019 (January to May). I’ve also included a few sequels that are slated for release early next year.

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The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Release Date: 15 January

Set in a darkly glamorous world, The Gilded Wolves is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous but thrilling adventure.

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

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Enchantee by Gita Trelease

Release Date: 5 February

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…

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The Antidote by Shelley Sackier

Release Date: 5 February

Magic is not allowed, under any circumstances — even if it could save someone’s life. Instead, there are herbal remedies and traditional techniques that have been painstakingly recorded in lieu of using the mystical arts. Fee knows this, so she keeps her magic a secret.

Except her best friend, Xavi, is deathly ill. He’s also the crown prince. Saving him is important, not only for her, but for the entire kingdom.

Fee’s desperation to save her friend means she can barely contain the magic inside her. And after the tiniest of slips, Fee is thrust into a dark and secretive world that is as alluring as it is dangerous.

If she gives in, it could mean she can save Xavi. But it also means that those who wish to snuff out magic might just snuff her out in the process.

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An Affair of Poisons by Addie Thorley

Release Date: 26 February

After unwittingly helping her mother poison King Louis XIV, seventeen-year-old alchemist Mirabelle Monvoisin is forced to see her mother’s Shadow Society in a horrifying new light: they’re not heroes of the people, as they’ve always claimed to be, but murderers. Herself included. Mira tries to ease her guilt by brewing helpful curatives, but her hunger tonics and headache remedies cannot right past wrongs or save the dissenters her mother vows to purge.

Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon is more kitchen boy than fils de France. But when the Shadow Society assassinates the Sun King and half the royal court, he must become the prince he was never meant to be in order to save his injured sisters and the petulant Dauphin. Forced to hide in the derelict sewers beneath the city, any hope of reclaiming Paris seems impossible—until Josse’s path collides with Mirabelle’s, and he finds a surprising ally in his sworn enemy.

She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. Together, they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and former nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?

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Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Release Date: 26 February

A divided nation. Four Queens. A ruthless pickpocket. A noble messenger. And the murders that unite them.

Get in quick, get out quicker.

These are the words Keralie Corrington lives by as the preeminent dipper in the Concord, the central area uniting the four quadrants of Quadara. She steals under the guidance of her mentor Mackiel, who runs a black market selling their bounty to buyers desperate for what they can’t get in their own quarter. For in the nation of Quadara, each quarter is strictly divided from the other. Four queens rule together, one from each region:

Toria: the intellectual quarter that values education and ambition
Ludia: the pleasure quarter that values celebration, passion, and entertainment
Archia: the agricultural quarter that values simplicity and nature
Eonia: the futurist quarter that values technology, stoicism and harmonious community

When Keralie intercepts a comm disk coming from the House of Concord, what seems like a standard job goes horribly wrong. Upon watching the comm disks, Keralie sees all four queens murdered in four brutal ways. Hoping that discovering the intended recipient will reveal the culprit – information that is bound to be valuable bartering material with the palace – Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt, the Eonist messenger she stole from, to complete Varin’s original job and see where it takes them.

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The Fever King by Victoria Lee

Release Date: 1 March

In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

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To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

Release Date: 1 March

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.

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We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Release Date: 14 May

People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing in Arawiya, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, WE HUNT THE FLAME is a gripping story of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.

 

The Bone Charmer by Breeana Shields

Release Date: 21 May

In Saskia’s world, bones are the source of all power. They tell the future, reveal the past, and expose secrets in the present. Each village has a designated seer who performs readings for the townsfolk, and in Midwood, the Bone Charmer is Saskia’s mother.

On the day of her kenning—a special bone reading that determines the apprenticeships of all seventeen-year-olds—Saskia’s worst fears come true. She receives an assignment to train as a Bone Charmer, like her mother, and even worse, a match-making reading that pairs her with Bram—a boy who has suspicious tattoos that hint of violence.

Saskia knows her mother saw multiple paths for her, yet chose one she knew Saskia wouldn’t want. Their argument leads to a fracture in one of the bones. Broken bones are always bad luck, but this particular set of bones have been infused with extra magic, and so the break has devastating consequences—Saskia’s future has split as well. Now she will live her two potential paths simultaneously. Only one future can survive. And Saskia’s life is in danger in both.

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The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

Release Date: 14 May

Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population — except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.

But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.

Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand cultures and cadences.

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In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

Release Date: 9 January

This is the story of a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.

For anyone . . .

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The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty

Release Date: 8 January

Return to Daevabad in the spellbinding sequel to THE CITY OF BRASS.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family and one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid-the unpredictable water spirits-have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

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Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Release Date: 5 March

After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too.

Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But when the monarchy and military unite to keep control of Orïsha, Zélie must fight to secure Amari’s right to the throne and protect the new maji from the monarchy’s wrath.

With civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the stunning sequel to Tomi Adeyemi’s New York Times bestselling debut Children of Blood and Bone, the first title in her Legacy of Orïsha trilogy.

 

* Synopses from Goodreads