Rating: 3.5 STARS
Genre: Adult Fantasy/LGBT+
Series/Standalone: Magic of the Lost #1
How I got this book: Bought (Illumicrate - check out my unboxing!)
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet's edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren't for sale
TW: rape, racism, slavery, torture, violence, gore
Rep: physical disability, queer
I've been ruminating on my review of The Unbroken for a couple of days. My head was a little all over the place when I finished reading it and I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about the book.
The Unbroken is unlike any book I've ever read. It's a very dark, adult fantasy, and while it is fiction and contains magic, it feels very real as the author deals with very heavy, unpleasant topics.
The book centres around two characters, giving us a dual POV from Touraine, a conscript taken from her home as a child and raised as a soldier by the empire that took her, and Luca, the would-be queen.
We meet Touraine as a lieutenant of the conscripts (the Sands). She's loyal to the empire that raised her, despite the hardships she and her soldiers face at every turn, but now she's met with new, unexpected challenges as she returns to the country she was taken from as a child to help quell the rebel resistance.
Unlike her fellow soldiers, Touraine has no interest in defaulting or making connections in her homeland, knowing only too well the consequences for desertion and fully believing that if she works hard and is loyal, the empire will reward her.
But things quickly go awry as Touraine prevents an assassination attempt against Princess Luca and finds herself surrounded by enemies and suspicion.
Luca is a princess trying desperately to claim the throne from her uncle, who doesn't see her as a capable ruler and has sent her to stop the rebellion as a test of her abilities. Struggling to make allies and work around her uncle's military, Luca turns to books and strategic games to forge peace and unlock the country's secrets to win back her throne.
“What is war if not a complicated web of mathematics and charm? Luca thought.”
One thing I love most about this book is the gender roles. When being introduced to a person in a position of power, you almost always come to expect a man, because that's the general rule in life and in fantasy. When you hear General, Lieutenant, Sir, you typically expect the person to be male, but that is completely not the case in this book and it was very refreshing. I absolutely love that this book centres around violent women in positions of power.
Not only that, but the characters are all morally grey, there is no good and evil here, there is complexity and drive that makes each character harder to like while also giving deeper reasoning and motive behind their actions.
On the surface, Touraine and Luca couldn't be more opposite, Touraine is a hardened soldier whose every other word is a curse. Luca is a princess, a would-be queen, who spends her time pouring over books and research. But when you look deeper, both Touraine and Luca deal in death, and they're both doing what they feel is necessary to protect that which they care about. For Touraine, that's the Sands, her family, and for Luca, it's her throne and her empire.
The characters are so complex, and that's such a fantastic element in this book. Honestly, it's so difficult to decide whether I like or support certain characters because at first, they seem to go in one direction and then they make choices that, while it makes sense to the character, just made me want to scream at them.
The supporting characters are also fantastic. They add a lot to the story and to the overall tension and politics. Personally, Touraine, the conscripts, and the rebels are my favourites, while I found it much harder to like Luca and the other Balladairan's.
"We just die, and when we die, we're not even worth the wood to burn us.”
This book is sapphic, the queerness is a quintessential part of the book, and I love that it's just present and there with no explanation needed. However, saying that, I had a problem with the romance element in that it felt really rushed. For me, there wasn't quite enough chemistry between the two characters to justify their actions, so I just wish there was more of that build-up.
The world-building was fantastic, I loved the description of the land where the story takes place; it felt extremely real, and there is a magical element to this story, which is really quite dark, I just would have liked to see a bit more of this. It came through more towards the end of the story though, so I'm guessing that will feature more heavily in book two.
My biggest issue was the pacing, which felt a little all over the place. It starts slowly, then there's some action which speeds things up, and then things slow down again as the characters deal with politics and planning, before the action comes back and speeds things up, and repeat. Some sections just felt a little too rushed, when it would have been nice to have more development, and then some scenes/chapters dragged and felt as though not a lot happened. The pacing wasn't bad, it was just really mixed.
Overall, I think The Unbroken is a really interesting first novel in an adult fantasy series. It's laid a lot of groundwork in terms of the politics and the bloodshed that we can expect from the rest of the series. I love the gender-role reversing and the queerness of the characters, but just wish the romance had more time to develop and that the pacing was a little quicker.
I think fans of dark fantasy and violent, morally grey female characters will love The Unbroken by C.L. Clark.
"Be the rain."
Rating: 3 Stars
Series/Standalone: Shadow and Bone Trilogy #1
How I got this book: Bought
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
As always, I'm late to the party! I read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom a couple of years back, only to realise that I should have read this series first. (Oops!)
Although, I don't feel like reading those two books has spoiled anything for me in Shadow & Bone.
I really, really wanted to love this series, it's so popular and we have the Netflix adaptation coming out next week, so I'd convinced myself it was going to be a great read.
So, what the hell happened?
In the first 11 pages of the book, I counted 3 fat jokes (like, really?!). The whole tone of the book at the beginning felt really immature, not what I'd expect from a YA by a prominent female author.
Alina, our chief character, is a bit dull. She's plain-looking, which I liked (although the casting director for the show clearly missed that because the actress they've cast is gorgeous), but other than her obsession and unrequited love for Mal, her childhood companion (I hesitate to say best-friend because their whole relationship dynamic screams that they literally only stuck together because they had no other choice), she doesn't have a great deal else going on.
She's an orphan (because of course she is) training to be a cartographer in the first army, I can't really remember if there was a reason they're both in the army, I think they just are, but she doesn't seem to have any real desire to do anything other than cling to Mal's side.
As the book progresses, it's also clear that her heart is a fickle thing indeed.
Mal is incredibly annoying. He's a womanising playboy with an immature streak and constantly blames/belittles Alina. He honestly drove me mad and I can't understand how he's a legitimate love interest; why would Alina want to be with this guy after constantly hearing him brag about the women he's "bedded"? I guess I just don't understand the appeal.
So far, this doesn't seem like a 3 star read, so let me round up the things I DID like about this book:
- The world-building - while confusing, it was interesting. I liked the idea of the shadow fold, this area of complete darkness that's separating the lands, making crossing nearly impossible, and the volcra, creepy creatures that live within the fold and basically eat anyone who dares enter.
- The magic - the magic system is again very confusing, but pretty unique, I think. I liked the concept of the different Grisha and that their powers are reflected by what they wear. My biggest issue with the Grisha is that they're all children (or at least they all act like children) yet they have these incredible powers but don't really use them.
- The Darkling - This character feels like he has potential. He's a villain, and he does many villainous things, but he is compelling and I think he has an interesting story to tell. There were moments when I felt conflicted, because I did honestly empathise with him, but then he'd turn around and do something dastardly. I just hope he doesn't become a two-dimensional 'bad-guy' and that Bardugo actually gives him some depth and character development.
“The problem with wanting," he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, "is that it makes us weak.”
- Genya - I LOVE Genya. She's a great, complex character, and a hell of a lot more interesting than Alina.
Once I got over the first few chapters, the pacing did kick up a notch and I enjoyed the story a lot more. I think Alina's journey was much more interesting than Alina herself. Her struggle to tap into and control her own power, while predictable, made for more compelling reading than her lack of character.
I'm really hoping that, as the series progresses, Alina grows more of a spine and actually does more for herself and becomes a stronger character. Fingers crossed she also ditches Mal and we get some new, interesting (hopefully diverse) characters.
Overall, I enjoyed the world-building, the magic system and the side-characters, but I felt the main character needed a lot more development and that some aspects were more confusing than they needed to be. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series, because the potential is there, I just hope that it picks up and lives up to the hype.
“The Darkling slumped back in his chair. “Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Malice by Heather Walter!
I'm SO EXCITED to share my review of this book with you! I haven't stopped thinking about it since I put it down and I really, really can't wait for it to release on April 13th! Less than two weeks to go!
Huge thanks to DelRayUK and Rachel Kennedy for the ARC copy of this book and for allowing me to be part of the tour.
Keep reading to check out the synopsis (queer sleeping beauty, villain POV), my review (5 STARS!!) and don't forget to check out the rest of the blog tour!
Rating: 5 STARS!!
Genre: F/F Fantasy, Fairytale Re-telling, Romance
Series/Standalone: Malice #1
How I got this book: Paperback ARC via DelRayUK
Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.
You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.
Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.
Until I met her.
Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.
But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.
Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I--
I am the villain.
There are also SIGNED hardback copies of Malice available to pre-order now from Forbidden Planet!
Do you see now why I was so excited to read this?!
It's not every day that you get a queer, feminist Sleeping Beauty re-telling from the villain's perspective!
I should start by saying that I made a couple of assumptions before reading this book:
I guess I should also mention that Sleeping Beauty is one of my least favourite Disney fairytales (I haven't read the original). I hate how two-dimensional Aurora is; I hate that a kiss from a practical stranger wakes her from her curse and equals true love. I enjoyed the Maleficent film adaptation and the mother/daughter true love spin, but it really intrigued me to see what Heather Walter has created in Malice, giving us a new villain, a feminist princess, and an f/f romance.
The world that Heather has created is fascinating, particularly the fey, new creatures called vila, and the graces. I love that she's retained the essence of Sleeping Beauty while also drastically changing the characters and the world itself into something much more compelling.
I found the magic particularly intriguing, where the graces are controlled and must draw blood to use their magic.
Alyce is a brilliant protagonist. She's flawed, like many of us, and her insecurities make her even more relatable. She has a moral conscious, be it somewhat grey from the treatment she's endured at the hands of those afraid of her and cruel to her, and while ridiculed for her physical appearance and feared because of her unusual blood, she maintains an essence of goodness and a willingness to trust in others.
Seeing Alyce develop and grow as a character was easily the best and most compelling part of this book.
Aurora at first seems in complete contrast to Alyce. Born into privilege as a princess and naturally beautiful, but just as trapped by circumstance and those around her. I also love how the author has breathed new life into the curse aspect of this dark fairytale, giving it new meaning and a darker, more tragic history.
As Alyce and Aurora discover more about themselves, and each other, dark secrets lead to fresh revelations in shocking twists and turns similar (in that they took me by surprise and kept me guessing) to those in Holly Black's Folk of the Air series.
I loved the relationship build-up between Alyce and Aurora. It's almost a slow burn in that it takes time for the two to become close as they go warily (on Alyce's part) from strangers to friends to lovers, facing challenges along the way. The one sex scene was really refreshing in its honesty and is beautifully written.
As well as the two main characters, the side characters in this novel are well developed and feature heavily in the plot which is fast-paced and gripping, I honestly couldn't put it down and read the whole thing in a couple of sittings.
The ending completely blew me away. I'd gone in expecting a happy ending, and I'm so glad that the author took things in a different direction. It showed Alyce's growth as a character perfectly and left me feeling completely awed and in love with her. She's just incredibly badass.
I cannot wait for the next book and to, hopefully, see more villainy and epic action from Alyce, who has quickly become one of my favourite characters of all time.
If you love the kinds of shocking twists found in books by Holly Black and Jay Kristoff, paired with feminist, sapphic heroes and villains, you'll devour Malice by Heather Walter. It's easily the best book I've read so far this year!
Also, if you enjoy bookish podcasts, you can catch my review of Malice by Heather Walter on Episode 7 of the Turn The Page podcast.
Rating: 4.5 STARS
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Series/Standalone: Love, Austen #1 (can be read as a standalone)
How I got this book: Bought
Emerett “Lake” Lakewood has a healthy ego and a flair for the dramatic. After losing his best friend to marriage—completely crushing his heart—he deems it prudent to distract himself, and what better way than playing cupid?
He’s already got his eye on two young men desperately seeking romance, and he has a plan to hook them up.
Reciting Shakespearean love declarations.
Lake is killing it. Love is positively pulsing in the air. Anyone could see it.
Well, anyone other than Knight, his best friend’s dad, who cautions Lake to stop meddling. To leave love to its natural course.
Lake has always valued Knight’s frankness, but this time he’s wrong. Without him, two hearts might be doomed never to find love.
Besides, what does Knight know about romance? He’s barely dated in all the seven years Lake’s known him. He’s clueless.
Though, there’s a thought. Knight has everything going for him. Sensibility. Kindness. Generosity. And for a forty-four-year-old, he’s—objectively—freaking hot.
Why is he single?
Emerett Has Never Been in Love is another prime example of why Anyta Sunday is one of my absolute favourite feel-good authors.
This book is the first in Anyta Sunday's brand new, Love, Austen series. A series where each book will be a contemporary m/m retelling of a beloved story by Jane Austen. This one was inspired by Emma, one of my favourite Jane Austen characters, and I couldn't wait to get started.
As always, Anyta sucks you in with goofy and naïve but completely loveable characters. Emerett and Knight are quite frankly adorable and a perfect pairing. Emerett is hilarious. He's young and completely hopeless without his best friend, who just got married and left Emerett with nothing to do but play match-maker, with hilarious implications.
Enter Knight, father of Emerett's best friend. He's good-looking, he's single and up until now, Emerett hasn't really noticed him, but Knight has certainly noticed Emerett, not that Emerett has any idea. He's completely clueless when it comes to love...but all that is about to change.
Anyta Sunday writes absolutely brilliant slow-burn romance and watching Emerett and Knight tiptoeing around their feelings in a will they, won't they dance, is equal parts frustrating and satisfying, with a great pay-off when they finally get together.
What's great about this book is that Anyta perfectly captures the comedy of Emma through the supporting characters and all the bad match-making attempts by Emerett.
Overall, this was a really brilliant start to a new m/m romantic comedy series. There' are plenty of laughs, likeable characters and a delicious slow burn.
Rating: 3 Stars
Genre: Historical Romance
Series/Standalone: Bridgertons #1
How I got this book: Bought
In the ballrooms and drawing rooms of Regency London, rules abound. From their earliest days, children of aristocrats learn how to address an earl and curtsey before a prince—while other dictates of the ton are unspoken yet universally understood. A proper duke should be imperious and aloof. A young, marriageable lady should be amiable… but not too amiable.
Daphne Bridgerton has always failed at the latter. The fourth of eight siblings in her close-knit family, she has formed friendships with the most eligible young men in London. Everyone likes Daphne for her kindness and wit. But no one truly desires her. She is simply too deuced honest for that, too unwilling to play the romantic games that captivate gentlemen.
Amiability is not a characteristic shared by Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings. Recently returned to England from abroad, he intends to shun both marriage and society—just as his callous father shunned Simon throughout his painful childhood. Yet an encounter with his best friend’s sister offers another option. If Daphne agrees to a fake courtship, Simon can deter the mamas who parade their daughters before him. Daphne, meanwhile, will see her prospects and her reputation soar.
The plan works like a charm—at first. But amid the glittering, gossipy, cut-throat world of London’s elite, there is only one certainty: love ignores every rule...
It's probably no surprise that I, along with a huge number of the population decided to binge-watch Bridgerton while in lockdown over Christmas.
I enjoyed the show, for the most part, more on this below, and wanted to discover more about the origins of these characters. So, I grabbed a copy of The Duke and I and got reading.
This review is going to be a little different than my others as I'd really like to do a comparison of the book and its adaptation.
What I loved/hated about the show:
So, first of all, I loved the fact that this wasn't a completely white-washed show. I want more diversity when watching tv and movies so that it reflects my reality of living with and being surrounded by a variety of different people. The problem is that Bridgerton didn't take it far enough. Yes, they featured some black actors but we didn't get much in terms of other ethnicities, hardly any non-hetero sexuality was explored (don't even get me started with the queer-baiting we got with Benedict) and disability rep was at a zero.
I loved that we had a wonderfully intelligent, fat girl character in Pen, but I am oh so sick of the 'fat girl is miserable and hates her life' take that we get from pretty much every show/movie featuring anyone who isn't a size model.
Okay, so taking a step back, the books are about as white-washed and hetero as you can get. So yes, they did a fair bit with the casting but did they really do enough?
The music was one of my favourite things about the show. Listening to these gorgeous classical pieces and then thinking, oh, that's Girl Like You by Maroon 5 or Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift was really fun.
Penelope & Eloise
Yes, make the fat girl the most interesting and mysterious character in the whole thing, I bloody love it. Pair her with Eloise, a feminist riot and you have a fantastic, memorable pairing that I'd love to see more of.
What I loved/hated about the book:
Two Dimensional Characters
So, for the most part, the characters in the book are way less developed than they seemed to be in the show. Anthony, Colin, Benedict are all props, Lady Danbury speaks a mere couple of lines and features in a scene or two and Daphne has the emotional range of a teaspoon, although the same can be said for her tv character as well.
I loved Violet so much more in the book than in the show. She's a lot sassier and has more depth than she does in the show.
WHERE ARE ELOISE AND PEN???
Where is Marina?
Also, where is Hyacinth's personality in the show because she's hilarious in the book?!
I really enjoyed the language in the book and how the author has modernised and feminised it to make it more contemporary and easily accessible.
What I loved/hated about both:
You can't include a rape scene between the main love interests in a romance novel/show and expect it to be okay.
It doesn't matter that it was a woman taking advantage of a man. It doesn't matter if he was drunk (actually, this makes it worse). It doesn't matter if he changes his mind about wanting children later, and it doesn't matter if he was too caught up in the passion to pull out. The goddam point is that he said no. Explicitly. Multiple times. Before and after they got married.
She also (in the book) knew the exact reason, the trauma and abuse he had faced as a child that led to that decision and still, she took advantage. For the author to then try to pass this off later with both Daphne and Simon thinking to themselves that 'it wasn't as bad as all that' is really shocking and at complete odds with the feminist, modern take on the rest of the book.
I think that this scene is much worse in the book because Simon is drunk, but the show should have removed it entirely. Far better for Simon to have eventually felt accepted and loved enough (both by Daphne and himself) to change his own mind and make that choice willingly or, you know, just don't have kids. A couple can be a family without children being involved.
Anyway, it's for this scene that I just couldn't rate the book higher than I have, and in fact probably shouldn't have rated the book at all. I'm only rating it on the basis that, if that scene were removed I would have actually liked this book a whole lot more and I enjoyed the adaptation significantly more than the book itself.
Rating: 4.5 STARS
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Series/Standalone: Winternight Trilogy #1
How I got this book: Bought
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales.
TW: Death, rape, child-marriage, paedophilia, mental health, religion
I finished reading this last night and couldn't wait to write my review.
Unlike the last book I read and reviewed, I had absolutely no trouble rating this one; it was fantastic!
"Sleep is a cousin to death, Vasya. And both are mine."
The Bear and the Nightingale was so much better than I expected it to be, partially because the synopsis hadn't actually won me over and so I wasn't sure whether I'd like it.
Think of this book like a really dark Russian fairytale. It centres around the household of Pyotr Vladimirovich; his three sons and three daughters. The landscape is wintery Russia, and the story begins on a dark, freezing night in mid-winter as four of the six children gather around the fire, listening to an old fairytale about the winter demon, as told by Dunya, their nurse.
I struggled a little at first with the different names for each character, trying to stay wrapped up in the story while getting my head to understand that Sasha, Sashka and Aleksandr were all the same person. But it didn't take long for me to figure it out and fall back under the author's spell.
The writing in this book is beautiful and gripping, and the author paints a gorgeous picture of the wintery Russian landscape, made even more immersive given that I read this while watching the snowfall outside my window.
The masterful storytelling and dark plot held me under its spell from start to finish, and I never wanted to stop reading. But I honestly hadn't expected the book to be so dark. It reminded me a little of The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, which was equally gripping.
In terms of the historical accuracy of the book, i.e. the prejudice, the expectations and superstitions rife at that time, I felt the author captured the period perfectly.
Not long into the book, we meet Vasya, our heroine. Vasya is a headstrong character who I grew to love immediately. Her fire and stubbornness created a character who was instantly compelling, and I truly enjoyed the growth and strength of her character.
This book is filled with characters to love and hate, and the author does another trick that I love in books, where she changes how you feel about certain characters from one point to the next. When we first meet Anna, Vasya's soon-to-be stepmother, we pity and sympathise with her, hoping she'll triumph in the story, but as time passes, she becomes a character almost to despise.
The opposite can almost (but not quite, as he's quite a repulsive character) be said about the priest who comes to live in Vasya's home. When we first meet him, he's a dark, untrustworthy character, but as things befall him, there's a point where he's quite pitiable.
Then we have all the mythical creatures in the book. They're so varied, each having their own purposes and personalities that I could picture them clearly and there were so many times when I just wanted to step between the pages and explore this dark and magical land.
From what felt like an almost subdued beginning, this book grew in intensity until everything came to a crashing climax.
I flew through pages, and after finishing the book, I'm completely ready to continue the story and dive into the second instalment.
"Now here me. Before the end, you will pluck snowdrops at midwinter, die by your own choosing, and weep for a nightingale."
Overall, The Bear and the Nightingale was one of the best debut novels I've ever read, and I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to read this book. I'd recommend it to absolutely everyone who enjoys dark, twisted fairytales and monsters, and heroines who defy all expectations.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
How I got this book: Bought - Fairyloot
Sinister sorcery. Gallows humor. A queer romance so glorious it could be right out of fae legend itself. Master of One is a fantasy unlike any other.
Rags is a thief—an excellent one. He's stolen into noble's coffers, picked soldier's pockets, and even liberated a ring or two off the fingers of passersby. Until he's caught by the Queensguard and forced to find an ancient fae relic for a sadistic royal sorcerer.
But Rags could never have guessed this "relic" would actually be a fae himself—a distractingly handsome, annoyingly perfect, ancient fae prince called Shining Talon. Good thing Rags can think on his toes, because things just get stranger from there...
With the heist and intrigue of Six of Crows and the dark fairy tale feel of The Cruel Prince, this young adult fantasy debut will have readers rooting for a pair of reluctant heroes as they take on a world-ending fae prophecy, a malicious royal plot, and, most dangerously of all, their feelings for each other.
I have so many mixed feelings about this book, and I've been torn over how to rate it. So, I'm going to start at the beginning.
I've been excited to read this book ever since I first heard of it, and so I jumped at FairyLoot's December box once I knew it was inside. I imagined The Cruel Prince meets Six of Crows, which just sounded fantastic.
I started reading with high expectations. I loved the idea of a heist-style plot and the unexpected LGBT romance, and that a queer couple wrote it was really exciting.
In the beginning, I was not at all disappointed. The prologue was unexpectedly brutal, but it was incredibly gripping and had me hooked immediately.
Then, in chapter one, we meet Rags. He's a cocky, sarcastic thief from the slums who's found himself on the end of a job gone wrong, bruised and battered in the royal dungeon, trying to plot his escape.
I love Rags. He's the perfect incarnation of the loveable rogue. A sweet-heart with a rough, sardonic exterior and I instantly wanted the best for him.
"Daring a ravens, rich as magpies."
As Rags sets off on his journey, I flew through the pages. The pace was brilliant, the deception and trickery gripping, and that puzzles and challenges that Rags has to face are really interesting.
I was convinced that this book was going to be a 5* read for me.
The next character we meet is Tal, affectionately referred to by Rags as Shiny and, even though something between them felt a little 'off' for a while, I grew to enjoy their connection and the scenes they shared.
However, shortly after this point, the narrative completely changed and split into multiple POV's. After 20 chapters of focusing solely on Rag's perspective, it felt really jarring to suddenly have POV chapters from completely new characters.
The pacing also took a bit of a nosedive from here and I sped through to find Rag's chapters, which were easily the ones I enjoyed the most.
A couple of the characters, to me, felt a little stiff and lacking depth and it took a while for me to settle back into the story.
Saying that though, as I neared the end of the story, the pace, the danger and the intrigue picked up again to where, upon finishing the book, I'm back to feeling how I did at the beginning and really wanting to read the next book (although it hasn't been confirmed yet) to find out what happens next and how it all plays out. (Read: I really want Rags to get the happily ever after he deserves.)
Can you see what I meant now about not knowing how to rate this one?
So, I've decided to go for 3.5 stars because I loved Rags and enjoyed the plot itself but just felt that the pace took a nosedive once the additional POV's were introduced.
What do you think? Agree or disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Rating: 4 STARS
Genre: Historical Romance
Series/Standalone: The Penwich School for Virtuous Girls #1
How I got this book: Bought
She works to live...
One would think the last place a beauty like Fallon O'Rourke could keep her virtue was in the Mayfair mansion of London's most licentious duke, the notorious Dominic Hale. Yet Fallon—who's endured nothing but lecherous advances since her father's tragic death—is perfectly safe there...disguised as a footman! Beneath the notice of the dark-haired devil with his smoldering blue eyes and sinful smile, Fallon never imagines her secret will be discovered. But how long can her deception last when she begins to wish she is one of the many women traipsing in and out of the sinful rogue's bedchamber?
He lives to sin...
Most men envy the duke, never suspecting his pleasure-loving ways are a desperate attempt to escape, however briefly, the pain of a past that's left him with a heart of stone. Only one woman can break down his defenses. Only one woman can win his love...if she reveals her secret and succumbs to the sins of the wicked duke.
TW: Child-abuse (beating).
My first book of the year was very much a comfort read.
After binge-watching Bridgerton over the holidays, I desperately wanted to read something set in the same period and with the same level of upstairs/downstairs gossip and drama.
So, not having Julia Quinn's, The Duke and I, in my collection, I turned to an old favourite!
“I wish for adventure. I wish to matter. I wish for a home.”
Sins of a Wicked Duke is one of my favourite romance novels. Sophie Jordan does a brilliant job of creating Fallon, a strong heroine who, as a reader, I completely empathise with as she struggles to deal with life as a woman in the service of men.
Since leaving the orphanage where she was raised and abused by the headmaster, she goes into work without a reference befitting her education and can only find work as a maid. But life as a woman in service is hard; with the unwanted attention from the men who employ her driving her out of every steady position.
Faced with no choice, and with the help of her two best friends, Fallon decides that the only way for her to get the money she needs to escape this life is to pretend to be a man and take the job of footman at the house of the most notorious Duke in the ton.
I absolutely love Fallon. She's fierce, tough, and compassionate. Damien is, at first, the polar opposite. He's a complete rake with no manners and no respect for women. Until his layers are revealed, and we see his true nature, hidden beneath the trauma of his childhood, not so dissimilar to Fallon's in the abuse he received as a child.
With a guaranteed HEA and a Mulan-style gender-swapping twist, Sins of a Wicked Duke is the perfect read for lovers of Bridgerton and Downton Abbey who're looking for a little heat!
Rating: 5 STARS!!
Series/Standalone: Hells Library #1
How I got this book: Bought
Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.
But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil's Bible. The text of the Devil's Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell ... and Earth.
The Archive of the Forgotten, book two of the Hell's Library series is due to be released on 9th February 2021.
Rating: 3 Stars
Series/Standalone: Deluge #1
How I got this book: ARC from the author
Some secrets are worth killing for
The ancient city of Kepos sits in an isolated valley, cut off from the outside world by a towering wall. Behind it, the souls of the dead clamour for release. Or so the priesthood says.
Kala has never had any reason to doubt their word – until her father dies in suspicious circumstances that implicate the city's high priest. She's determined to investigate, but she has a more immediate problem: the laws of the city require her mother to remarry straight away.
Kala's new stepfather is a monster, but his son Leon is something altogether more dangerous: kind.
With her family fractured and the investigation putting her life in danger, the last thing Kala needs is romance. She would rather ignore Leon entirely, however difficult he makes it. But when she learns the truth of what really clamours behind the wall at the end of the valley, she faces a choice: share what she knows and jeopardise her escape, or abandon him to his fate along with the rest of the city.
If she doesn't move fast, then no one will make it out of the valley alive.
Review by Sophie
TW: Murder/ Suicide/Attempted Rape/Discrimination/Homophobia/Slavery
When I first saw the cover of this book, I was immediately drawn in by the pretty illustration and the promise of a thrilling mystery set around the ancient City of Kepos.
I found the Greek setting and Lost City of Atlantis vibe really intriguing, and I couldn’t wait to get started.
"It was cool and dark, and the roar of the cascade gave Kala a perverse sense of silence. This was a place in which words and noise meant nothing, because there was nothing to be heard except the crash of water. Here, the water ruled."
The plot was interesting and fast-paced, with plenty of mystery. Almost immediately, you're thrown into the chaos.
We meet Kala, the main character, who learns of her father’s death and becomes convinced that it's murder.
Kala is a very strong-willed character who faces numerous challenges, but I was quite disappointed very early on because, despite all the trauma and heartache that Kala experienced, I found that not only her but all the characters in the book seemed to lack any real emotion and drive.
I think this was one of the main reasons I struggled to connect with the characters in the book, and at times felt I was only pushing myself to keep reading to find out who the mystery murderer was.
As the story progresses, we meet Leon. Leon was my favourite character. He's kind, witty and sarcastic, and added humour to the story.
But there were a few characters in the book that surprised me with how little they were mentioned. For a start, Charis (Kala’s mother) felt as though she should have been a more consistent character since detailing the pain of losing her husband in such an awful way, how she must quickly re-marry, and the worry of what would happen to her daughter at the order of her new husband, but Charis is barely mentioned, and I would have liked to know her character better.
Another character I felt should have had a much bigger role was Nikos (Charis’ new husband). He’s a wicked character, cruel and with no regard for anyone, including his own children, but despite his cruelty, I felt like he should have more of a backstory, some reason maybe as most of his actions felt pointless and again, he was only referenced a few times throughout the book.
The Wolf and The Water has really good LGBTQ+ representation through a very clean and sweet romance. Buuuut, I can honestly say the love triangle just didn’t work for me. Melissa and Kala seemed really sweet together, and then Leon comes along, Melissa encourages Kala to marry Leon, and they all get along great. And yes, I actually hate myself for saying this….because I really wanted it to work and be all sweet and have lots of aww moments, but it all just felt so forced!! There wasn’t any genuine love or passion.
As I said before, the book is quite fast-paced, and there were definitely lots of things happening while I was trying to sus out who the murderer was, and finding out further details of how Kala was to escape the City of Kepos.
I was honestly a few pages off finishing the book, and thinking to myself, there’s no way this is going to end in such a short amount of pages, and there was, for me, the biggest disappointment; I feel like the ending was so rushed.
Throughout the entire book, we’re discovering the plan to escape, and things keep going wrong and attempted murders are taking place, but we aren’t getting any closer to discovering who it is and why, and then it’s just over. There was no heroism, no action, no battles, and I felt like there were too many unanswered questions.
At first, I thought the plot sounded so good, but for me, how it played out just didn't justify the build-up.
I loved the setting of the book, though. Imagining a secret city, with woodlands, villages, temples and sacred waterfalls that has a huge wall built up around it, and despite all the bad things taking place in the book, the valley still had a tranquil and peaceful feel to it.
I definitely recommend The Wolf and The Water if you’re a fan of fast-paced mysteries, races against time and if you have an interest in Atlantis.
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About Kayleigh (She/Her)
Book addict, film mad, music lover, business owner, writer and mum (not necessarily in that order), living in the UK.
About Sophie (She/Her)
Sophie loves books (obviously). She has a passion for photography and spotting wildlife, and is interested in anything made with passion and creativity.
THIS BLOG IS SPOILER FREE!
5 Stars - AMAZING!!
4.5 Stars - Almost perfect!
4 Stars - I really loved it
3.5 Stars - I liked it alot
3 Stars - I liked it
(I don't typically review books that I rate below 3 stars)
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