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In Julia Ember's dark and lush LGBTQ+ romantic fantasy Ruinsong, two young women from rival factions must work together to reunite their country, as they wrestle with their feelings for each other.

Her voice was her prison...
Now it's her weapon.

In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence has been forced to torture her country's disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen's bidding.

But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen's footsteps and become a monster herself.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published November 24, 2020

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About the author

Julia Ember

6 books735 followers
Julia Ember’s books include The Seafarer’s Kiss duology, a Norse myth inspired retelling of The Little Mermaid, published by Interlude Press (Duet Books), and Ruinsong, a standalone high fantasy reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera, published by Macmillan Kids (FSG) in November 2020.

Ember’s work has been featured in USA Today, Bustle, Book Riot and Autostraddle, among many others. Julia has a lifelong appreciation for history and classic literature, and holds an MLitt in Medieval Literature from the University of St. Andrews. She currently lives in Seattle with her wife and two very fluffy cats. When she isn’t working on her prose fiction, Julia writes for video and app games.

You can find her on Instagram.

NOTE: I no longer actively review books. If loved something, I may rate it a 5 and leave a small note, but I believe that other authors are my colleagues and I don’t leave critical reviews nor do I accept books for review purposes. I also do not read or respond to messages sent to me through Goodreads.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 565 reviews
Profile Image for Julia Ember.
Author 6 books735 followers
January 12, 2020
UPDATE: Ruinsong will be released on November 24, 2020!

This book is a queer Phantom of the Opera retelling with music magic and girls wearing pink ballgowns and ribbons while brutally destroying their enemies.

I'm made an aesthetic for it today, so I decided to share it here too:

Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone.
1,460 reviews184 followers
December 21, 2020
3.5 Stars

CW: torture,

Well this book had such a wonderful magic system with singing being the vehicle for people's power.

I'm not sure who decided to liken this to The Phantom of the Opera because that feels like a bit of a stretch. That being said I got swept into the characters and their journeys. I wish we had a few more magical musical showdowns and the world building had been a bit more solid, but the author has left things open for a possible sequel so hopefully we get to explore this world more. I really enjoyed the characters and their dynamics. It's lucky because this is mostly a character driven story as Cadence and Remi navigate their relationship under the ever watchful eye of a power hungry Queen. An engaging story.
Profile Image for ♠ TABI⁷ ♠.
Author 15 books475 followers
Want to read
December 5, 2019
please don't let instalove ruin the glorious song of this concept

also that cover is PURPLE and glorious and therefore I love it dearly
Profile Image for Toya (the reading chemist).
1,071 reviews77 followers
October 19, 2020
4.5 stars rounded up!

Ruinsong is a brilliant dark fantasy that features enchanted songs and a slow-burn sapphic romance. The story follows two young woman. Cadence is the queen's new Principal singer who uses her magical songs to torture the queen's enemies (mainly the nobles). Remi, the daughter of a Viscount, wants nothing more than the queen's torturous reign to finally be over.

There are so many things that I just loved about this book. The world building is lush and incredibly intricate. The author takes her time immersing the readers into this world where you are entranced by the beauty of music but then jolted awake when the magic takes hold and destroys its beholders. It was amazing, frightening, and original.

I loved the entire conversation surrounding queerness. There are those who are accepting (the mages) and those who aren’t (the nobles). There’s a scene where Remi laments about being noble born because she just wants to be able to walk around the market and wink at a pretty girl if she wants to.

I thoroughly enjoyed both Remi and Cadence. Both of them are complex and fully developed. I loved their banter and chemistry. As far as side characters go, I wish that we would’ve seen more development for both Nolan and Ren. We only got snippets of both rather than the depth we see in some of the other characters.

Lastly, I love that the author is transparent about race when describing the characters. The characters race is always mentioned first then the details of their appearance comes next. This is something that I wish that more authors would do.

I can honestly keep talking about this one, so just pick it up and give it a try.

Thank you to Fierce Reads for providing a review copy through NetGalley. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Rebecca Schaeffer.
Author 6 books1,063 followers
September 27, 2019
I am so excited for all of you guys to read this book. It is everything I love in my fantasy, lush, immersive world-building, unique, vicious magic, morally grey characters, and a twisty, twisted plot. 2020 can't come fast enough!
Profile Image for Alex (The Scribe Owl).
340 reviews107 followers
December 13, 2020
Come see this review and more at my blog, The Scribe Owl

Thank you to Expresso Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy in exchange for a blog tour stop and honest review!

3/5 stars!

I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would! I honestly didn't have very high expectations, but this was a very entertaining read that I loved for the worldbuilding and unique magic system. I didn't really care for a couple of other elements, but I'll get to that later.

We follow Cadence, the Principal singer of a cruel queen and Remi, a viscount's daughter and member of the nobility. Cadence and other mage singers have magic in their songs that the queen exploits for her own gain. She forces Cadence to sing to torture the nobility, whom the queen hates from a slight in her past. Remi and Cadence were childhood friends, but when Remi sees what Cadence has become, she feels like she no longer knows her.

The absolute best part of this book was the magic system. I have not read a single review where the reader did not like the magic system. I love when a book has magic in music, and Ruinsong didn't disappoint! Don't think me macabre, but the scene at the beginning of the book with Cadence torturing the nobles with her song? That kind of crazy display of power is awesome. But then we didn't really get any cool crazy dark magic. The magic system is awesome, but I would have liked to see more of it.

The world was pretty basic. It was enjoyable enough, but it was bland. Just a run of the mill high fantasy world. What I did like was that the queen and the nobles were at odds. Normally the royals have the nobility in their pocket for whenever needed, but the queen literally tortured them here.

I thought Cadence was a great character. She was a bit of a morally grey character, with a good heart but a bit of a weak outlook on life. She had a character arc. Remi on the other hand... annoying, and no character arc whatsoever. Not a fan. And for the romance? There was instalove. I guess we missed them meeting and getting to know each other because they were childhood best friends, but I feel like I missed out.

The writing was fine. I normally prefer fantasy to be written in third person for more of that magical feel, but that's not really a big thing. Again, another thing that was just fine but not great. She didn't segue between different plot points very well either, but it was fine.

What I didn't like was how Julia Ember felt like she had to introduce every tiny side character, some of which didn't even get the chance to talk or do anything, by their race. And they were only white or black, nothing else. It was...weird. I don't quite know what to make of it, but I'm not a fan.

Ruinsong is marketed as a Phantom of the Opera retelling, but I didn't get that vibe at all. There were music and masks. I just don't really feel like that makes it a Phantom retelling. More of a half-abandoned attempt and a marketing ploy.

All in all, though I didn't exactly regret my read, I wouldn't recommend it. It had so much potential, but it fell flat. If you do end up reading it, I hope you have a better time than I did!

Profile Image for Lea (drumsofautumn).
612 reviews625 followers
November 24, 2020

“These mages put too much stock in their songs. They never notice how much you can say in silence. ”

3.5 stars. Ruinsong is a novel that really draws you in with its intriguing magic system and having a really refreshing take on some familiar YA Fantasy themes.

Ruinsong is set in a world with mages whose most powerful tool is their voice. Singing is their way of casting spells. One of our main characters, Cadence, is such a mage. She is employed by the queen to torture the noble people and make them compliant.

The other POV we follow is Remi, a noblewoman and old childhood friend of Cadence's. She is one of the few nobles who really sees through the queen's scheme and starts rebelling against the sytsem.

When Remi suddenly becomes the queen's prisoner because her family is suspected to be involved in the rebellion, her and Cadence get reunited and Cadence starts questioning her upbringing and loyalty to the queen.

“Others around us begin to chant their thanks as well. Praise be to our most gracious, merciful queen, who has healed us, who has reminded us once again of our place, who keeps our country safe. How can they thank her? The queen is a monster, with a menagerie of torturers at her beck and call.”

I absolutely loved the magic system and it was for sure the stand-out element of this novel for me. Just the idea itself, of the magic being cast by singing, is something that I found so very intriguing. I loved reading Cadence's chapters and seeing how the magic works and how you are attuned to certain things as a corporeal singer. It really seemed like the author put a lot of thought into the magic system, as it was describe very detailed.

I did feel like we didn't learn too much about the world itself but it was easy enough to understand. And because the magic system was so intricate, it didn't really bother me that we didn't find out too much about the world building in general.

What we do find out about the world was that it had been a queendom for hundreds of years. It was also very interesting to read about the differences between the nobles, the commoners and mages. The nobels represent a more conservative society, who resist change, especially when it comes to views of gender and sexuality and they still engage in arranged marriages for political reasons.
Their views are seen as outdated, especially compared to the mages, who freely get to love and marry whoever they want to and the commoners are starting to adapt that same thinking too.

“If I had been born a mage, I would be free to flirt with pretty girls, and no one would judge me for it. I’ve imagined myself sometimes: strolling through the market with a mage’s badge pinned to my collar, winking at the shopgirls or seducing a fire-haired tavern wench over a mug of ale.”

One of my favourite elements of this story is Cadence starting to understand that she grew up in a very controlled environment and that her magical education was always very selective. I love elements like that in a story, where a characters eyes get opened to an aspect of their own magic that had been hidden from them before and I thought that this aspect was very well executed in this story.

In general I absolutely loved reading from Cadence's point of view and finding out her story. Even with being loyal to the queen, she questions her ways and doesn't want to be a singer that tortures the people. She sees herself in a position where her magic is still the best option for the folk because her healing powers are so strong too.
I thought that Cadence was a very nuanced, complex and interesting character to read about.

“Madam Guillard didn’t once mention that there were spells I could learn, even when I ran to her sobbing after Ren had hexed me. She always told me it was impossible to block. Has my tutor, my mentor, left me vulnerable by choice?”

There is a romantic storyline between Remi and Cadence and it is basically a childhood friends to enemies to lovers romance. I will say that their relationship didn't really stand out to me much. Maybe it was because they already knew each other as children and so I felt like I missed out on their development and didn't feel attached to their friendship or romantic relationship.
Their chemistry was very well written though.

Apart from the queer representation, Remi is described as chubby. There is one fatshaming incident in the book but it is challenged and Remi states that she generally does not mind being called fat, as long as it is said as a fact and not an insult.

“I wonder what it would be like to undo them one by one, to trace my fingers down the hollow of her spine, to follow the touch with my lips. What would her skin taste like? Would her back, so supple and firm, quiver when I kissed it? Would she arch up into my touch?”

Overall, I enjoyed reading Ruinsong a lot, even though I wasn't super invested in all the elements of the story and found the ending to be anti-climatic.
But this novel's magic system was one of the most intricate and intriguing ones that I have read about in a while and I would absolutely recommend it.

Trigger and Content Warnings for mentions of cancer, animal death (the death itself is not on page but the scene of the main character discovering the animal is very graphic), blood, torture, vomiting.

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I received an ARC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Melanie (mells_view).
1,683 reviews311 followers
November 25, 2020
Ruinsong has Phantom of the Opera vibes, magic, strong female leading characters, a revolution, and a little bit of romance. The perfect mix for an amazing YA fantasy read! I enjoyed this story, because it really played on the power of using ones voice. You can use your voice for good or you can use it to harm. We’ve just gotta make the choice to do what’s right, even when it’s hard.

Profile Image for the bard.
156 reviews117 followers
December 27, 2020
wlw phantom of the opera retelling with MAGIC? yes, please!

i have a few things that i'd like to say before beginning my review. first, i have never read The Phantom of the Opera, but i love the musical. i have no idea how accurate the musical is, so my connections may be off. second, this book has a fair amount of gore, but i think it's a great read if you can stomach it. there's a lot of torture (nothing too bad, but it can still be triggering to some), some of which involves burning, rib-cracking, and drowning. i'm not very great at TWs, so i suggest you check someone else's review out for that. alright, enough of my blabbering, and onto the review.

the setting of Ruinsong is in bordea, a place where magic is sung. the magic system is awesome, and pretty well explained, although i was left wanting more at parts. this is where some of the Phantom parallels come in, with the whole "angel of music" thing, and whatnot. bordea is a queendom, and they worship two goddesses of music, odetta and adela. those goddesses gift children with magical song, which makes that child a mage. mages work for the queen, and if they aren't good enough, their magic is taken away. the queen is a tyrant, and we get to see exactly how awful she is in our reading experience.

cadence, our protagonist, is a morally grey character who works for the queen. she struggles between self-preservation, and doing what's "right". her love interest, remi, is a noblewoman who wants to conspire against the queen. cadence's and remi's fates collide in an epic tale of survival, revenge, and love.

this was a wonderfully told story, but there were a few issues i had. first, with the branding. this is a very loose Phantom retelling. there were a few parallels, but not many. second, the author felt the need to clarify every person's race. all side characters were referred to as "the white woman," or "the black man". i personally don't see the necessity behind telling every single character's race, especially in such a monotonous way. lastly, i feel a little confused. i wanted more from the world, and the magic system, and the politics. i was also confused by the ending. it's very possible that the author set this up for a sequel, which would answer a lot of my questions. the ending is incredibly satisfactory until the very last page, which is almost open-ended. i need answers!

well, thanks for reading this poorly planned review; i hope it persuaded you to pick this up! chao!


dec. 22, 22%: "Sometimes I think about telling Mama... But then I think of Elspeth, and the look of disgust she gave me. I never want Mama to look at me like that... Maybe someday soon, I'll be able to trust my family with the truth about me. Just... not today."

i will cry. we are going through the same crisis and i need to stop reading all of this stuff that's hitting different,,,"

dec. 22, 3%: *surprised pikachu face*

that did not just happen??? it's only the prologue, but that was INSANE
Profile Image for Alexia.
222 reviews33 followers
November 24, 2020
I adored this book. From the prelude alone, I was like this is gonna be a great story. This story was dark and full of bones breaking and blood dripping which really added to the urgency of the rebellion. I liked the contrast between Remi who was willing to risk it all and went after what she wanted and Cadence who went with the flow and was scared of making too much of an impact. Cadence was tryna dismantle the master's house with the master's tools and that just doesn’t work.

Nolan was one of my faves and wish we could have seen more of him just because he seemed like a lot of fun. Also don't get me started on my complicated feelings about Ren. One of my favorite elements of the story was the history about the goddesses and how their power flowed through the people.

There was a lot of unexpected twists toward the end and the ending literally made me 😮. I would definitely give this one a read if you like romantic fantasy.

*Thank you the publisher for the ARC. All opinions are my own*
Profile Image for USOM.
2,277 reviews190 followers
November 11, 2020
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Tw: torture

Ruinsong is a story about choices. About taking a stand, discovering the truth about our own power, and figuring out how to use it. To reject people's choices about who you are, and to let your voice be heard. Cadence knows loss. She knows poverty and what it sounds like when that voice in the back of your head is ignored. Remi feels the boiling beneath the surface and the rage to fight. On the surface, they seem like they couldn't be more different, but could their friendship be a spark?

When we are confronted with our own survival versus doing what is right, what would you choose? Where Ruinsong truly shines are the characters. The world is one of disparity and injustice, cruelty and spectacle. In a world where sacrifice always follows compromise, how can we continue to fight for a better world? For a sense of justice or security? Especially when our loved ones are in danger, when we know what the mud feels like beneath our feet, when do we take a stand?

full review: https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/revi...
Profile Image for Mishma Nixon.
326 reviews67 followers
November 25, 2020
Read my full review and chat with Julia Ember, and enter to win a hardcover of the book!

What a year for dark, lush, and sapphic fantasies! 2020 has given some amazingly dark and twisted fantasies, and Ruinsong is a strong addition to that list! Told in the perspectives of two very different characters in the middle of a rebellion against a tyrant evil queen, the Phantom of the Opera retelling creates a world of deadly musical magic, the politics of class and power, and a world where choices hold so much weight – and consequences.

Profile Image for Anne.
Author 1 book206 followers
December 5, 2020

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the singing magic system and the main character, Cadence. This book had a lot of potential to do other things as well. I would've loved to see the expelled Mages use their magic through sign language (potential sequel idea please?) And I would've liked to see more characterization about the Queen, but all in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable, sapphic, very magical book that made me want to watch Phantom of the Opera again!
Profile Image for Morgan Boyd.
144 reviews696 followers
Want to read
November 18, 2020
Ruinsong was one of my most anticipated releases for 2020, and it did not disappoint. I love when books don't assume sexualities and It was so refreshing to see the main characters be able to love whoever they want without clarifying. This sapphic slow-burn was filled with fantastic world-building, loveable characters, and a fascinating magic system. I will definitely be buying a copy on November 24th.
Profile Image for Artemis Crescent.
856 reviews
March 31, 2021
The Good:

• The writing is ok.

• The LBGTQ relationship between the two female leads being a slow-burner (a bit too much, mind you, since the reader knows they'll get together eventually in this 360 page book) makes it stand out somewhat from other YA romances with their instalove.

• The cover is gorgeous. The purple, mauve, grey and white colours make it instantly striking (though the white-haired girl, supposedly Cadence, looks more bored than traumatised and made complicit).

• 'Ruinsong' is a standalone. Keep this trend up, YA publishing.

The Bad:

• The villain is a murderous queen who is motivated by revenge because her heart was broken by a man. Yep, we're still applying that millennia-old sexist "woman scorned" cliché. In this version of that ancient chestnut, the queen hates nobles and wants to kill and punish them all (why she doesn't commit genocide on them, or banish them from her kingdom, at the beginning of her reign is anyone's guess), including their children who weren't even alive when she suffered at the hands of the nobles... because her lover was a noble who betrayed her. Surely, even if she hates nobles that much, she should have some self-awareness left to know that what she's doing, what she's putting the kingdom through, makes her far, far worse than her own bigoted enemies. She's mad. That's all we get. I'm not even sure if the author intended for the reader to sympathise with the queen (I can't be bothered to remember her name). I hope not. She is absolutely irredeemable, and must have been psychotic before her imprisonment at the hands of a man.

• If you need more proof of how cartoonishly evil the queen is, she brags about killing the previous queen and starting her reign of terror. It's common knowledge. Why would anyone in this fantasy kingdom, where magic and mages exist, put up with this?

• The book is inconsistent on just how powerful the queen is, and why hundreds of people, whether or not they also have magical "songspell" powers, haven't revolted against her yet. She's been in power for years and is allowed to get away with her tyranny with very little resistance.

• The female leads, Cadence and Remi, were childhood friends before the evil queen's takeover. Less than a decade later, they are within eyesight of each other again, and Remi, a victimised noble, instantly believes that Cadence is willingly working for the queen as her professional songspell torturer on the nobles. Or, in Remi's own words, Cadence is wilfully "the queen's monster" or "the queen's creature". Granted, Cadence never does much to try to defy the queen and break for freedom, one chip at the armour at a time, no matter how monstrous the tasks that the queen forces her to do. But Remi has no proof of her accusation - she still believes that Cadence is like their tyrant even when she sees how horrified Cadence looks and acts after singing to bring unspeakable pain on the nobles at annual faux concerts, called Performings. And even after Cadence then sings a healing spell - which apparently no other principal mage has done before, to show some semblance of mercy. This is done just to add conflict to the couple's relationship, or their lack of one, since, again, their development, their acting on their true feelings for each other, is slow and boring as hell throughout 360 pages.

• The addition of the different goddesses worshipped in this fantasy world seems like a last-minute worldbuilding detail, to make the characters read as being cultured and therefore "real", since it doesn't really factor into the plot in a meaningful way.

• Cadence and Remi appear rather passive and ineffectual for "heroines". Remi isn't involved in the resistance plot until she finds out that her father is part of it - which comes too late for me to be invested in it - and, spoiler, her would-be fiancé is a rebel, too. It is men who motivate her, not her love interest Cadence, whom she views as useless and cowardly for the majority of the book (which, to be fair, she's not wrong, but it's still wrongheaded on the book's part). As for Cadence: when she's not the queen's favourite torture instrument (quite literally), she occasionally helps heal people in a hospital (I have a feeling that this feature is added to make Cadence look more proactive and likeable, and it's used as a contrived sudden meeting spot for her and Remi). This isn't done in secret or as part of a resistance. The queen knows about these hospital visits and grants them for her pet because... I don't know. There's something about making Cadence witness the horrors and suffering of the lower privileged class people who might dare to defy her. Then why let Cadence go and heal them, then? The queen wants all nobles dead. I think. Or is the crazy queen that twisted and loves torturing people - for annual events and public pleasure at that? This would only make her subordinates want to overthrow her even more than if she'd been committing horrendous crimes against humanity subtly. The queen's motivations are inconsistent and make no sense to me.

• On the note of the queen letting Cadence heal hospital patients: why does she, when she treasures Cadence's voice and wants it to remain powerful enough for the Performings? The young mage's voice gets tired and sick from overuse - to the queen, healing would be considered overuse.

• And how would she know whether or not the patients that Cadence heals are rebels? For all she knows, they are. She's had plenty of her people tortured for funzies! Enough to spark rebels who will end up in agony or killed in her regime! She can't trust everything the girl says, who isn't that good an actor.

• Remi being "chubby", which isn't even mentioned until 110 pages in. It might read as positive inclusion and a breath of fresh air at first, especially for a female lead - a lesbian female lead - in a YA novel. But later it is said that, in the world of 'Ruinsong', it is considered an ideal for women to be fat, or of a plus-size variety, because they tend to be the most robust and powerful. Powerful mages, for example. Except that A) Remi isn't a mage nor is she magical in any way, so Cadence being the chubby one would have made more sense (the queen is determined to keep her satiated and healthy because of her voice, too), B) The oh-so powerful queen isn't described as being chubby or fat, so what the heck?, and C) When it is first revealed that Remi is, in fact, fat, it is in the form of an insult said by a hospital nun, who shows resentment towards Remi because she thinks Remi's pregnant and came for an abortion. So fat women are not so common, then, if there are not enough of them that they can be mistaken for being pregnant by hospital staff. Is it good or bad to be a fat female in this world? The body positivity seems forced in during the editing process for inclusion's sake. But the circumstances surrounding the revelation that Remi is "fat" may have been forgotten about, resulting in contradictions. Whoops.

• The queen's partner-in-crime, a mage named Ren (easy to get confused with Remi, in making characters' names so similar). Ren is just as sadistic a murderer as the queen is, if not more so. I swear he exists in order to refute the book's accusation of depicting a woman in power as OTT, unconscionably evil - "But here's a man who is worse than she is! See, it's not misogynistic!" Except that Ren likely wouldn't be in the position of power that he is if not for the queen's influence. He's hardly a memorable presence in the story otherwise. He's generically evil, with no depth to him.

• 'Ruinsong' is marketed as being like 'The Phantom of the Opera'. However, it barely has anything to do with that. There are hardly any allusions to the classic novel. They're both gothic stories that revolve around powerful singing, dangerous concerts, and the aristocracy. But that's it.

• It's not limited to 'The Phantom of the Opera', either. 'Ruinsong' tries hard to be like 'Game of Thrones', 'Poison Study', Sarah J. Maas's books, and Victoria Aveyard's 'Red Queen' series. It gets derivative and boring quickly.

The Ugly:

• This book contains bloody, gruesome animal death. And bloody, gruesome child death. Be warned.

• In the prologue/prelude (I'm really tired of seeing those in YA; it looks amateurish at this point), eight-year-old orphan Cadence is forced to brutally murder a poverty-stricken boy around her own age, using her voice. Such a tragic, traumatic event, which should give her severe PTSD and haunt her for the rest of her life, is only mentioned once more afterwards. In the entire book. And even then there's no gravitas, nor is it a clear indication that this is the specific moment of murder-by-the-queen's-orders that Cadence refers to. It's nothing more than a shock opening for the novel. Barely anyone cares, including the author. Yikes.

• On the subject of the poor being treated appallingly, in the queen's kingdom they are made to live in the slums, called the settlement of the Expelled, and their voices are magically cut out of them. They are literally voiceless. The queen sometimes makes Cadence watch them in order to intimidate her further; like, "This is what happens to those who turn against me," (why not just kill them? again, I have no idea). There are no important characters, none of the Expelled, that we follow from this settlement, minor or otherwise. Both Cadence and Remi are in the upper-to-middle class caste system in their kingdom. Yeah, for a marginalised and oppressed noble, Remi lives in relative luxury otherwise (she has two horses!). She can opt out of the torture chambers of the Performings by marrying outside of nobility, so at least she has a prospect of freedom ahead of her; it's something she can choose. Cadence was a poor orphan child practically living in the streets before the queen took her in, but that part of her past is rarely touched on. The Expelled are treated as a cautionary tale both in the story's context and in the framing of it. I'm not even sure if the Expelled are saved and given equal human rights at the end of the book (it's not really a spoiler to say that the evil queen is overthrown at the end, because what else would anyone expect?). Ignoring the poverty-stricken masses, who in this content have had their voices literally taken from them, in favour of focusing on the more privileged "heroes" - I repeat: yikes.

• In the same chapter we are introduced to the Expelled, Cadence's carriage driver, who is described as being just as scared and as oppressed by the queen, suddenly destroys and steals away a ball belonging to the Expelled children, for no reason, leaving them with even less than they had before to feel human. This is never brought up again. Just.. why? This is egregious and unnecessary. It makes it look like those working under the queen's authoritarian rule are just as cruel and corrupt as she is, making it hard to sympathise with anyone, except for the voiceless poor who are given barely any page time.

• Is this kingdom accepting of the LBGTQ community or not? It's confusing. The book tries to normalise queer folk in 'Ruinsong'... as in, it's accepted as normal by the queen and her class. She takes part in multigender orgies, it appears in one moment in the book (so she's a female depraved bisexual as well as a genocidal dictator - keep those retro sexist stereotypes coming!). But the abused nobles aren't so tolerant. Part of Remi's backstory is that a girl she had a crush on rejected her because, in the crush's words, "Our kind of people [...] don't engage in that sort of depravity." Then there's this: 'Here in Bordea, the mages and commoners love and marry as they please--not caught up in ideas of bloodlines and inheritance. They don't force their children to learn outdated, Sapphire Age ideas about sexuality and gender or arrange marriages for political gain and dowries. But for generations, all the noble families we know have resisted change.' Well, what a great way to garner sympathy for a group of people who are persecuted horrifically on a regular basis for existing - by presenting them as hypocrites who learn nothing and refuse to progress and change their views in the worst of times! It's an unintentional way to make the cartoon of a monstrous queen look better than the nobles she targets - "Hey, at least she's not homophobic!" WHOOPS!

• Now onto the diversity in terms of race in 'Ruinsong'. A lot of characters are introduced as 'white'. So it's not the default? It's unusual enough for it to be remarked upon? No, that's not the case here. Nearly everyone is white in 'Ruinsong'. Cadence and Remi are white. The only people of colour are Remi's fiancé Nolan, and a few minor players, who don't appear to have any real importance until the very end. They're doing much of the work behind the scenes, but the book still focuses on the white heroes who are comparatively less effective and less motivated in the rebellion.

• The chapter where Cadence and Remi meet properly, in the hospital. After Remi expresses hostility towards her former friend whom she had missed, Cadence uses her magic singing to subdue Remi and render her immobile in order to heal her properly, after Cadence had healed her before, when she'd used her torment songspell on Remi in a Performing . This is done without Remi's consent. On the same page Cadence mentions that using magic on people, like taking away their consciousness, without their consent, is a violation. She then immediately uses magic on her love interest without her consent, and creepily brushes her hair back!!! WHAT WAS THAT!? WHY DOES THIS NEVER COME UP AGAIN? WTF!?

The Incomprehensible:

• It's established in 'Ruinsong' that songspells can only work through people hearing them. Including healing songspells, apparently, for ails that include broken bones and cancer, which doesn't make much sense (is singing a medicine that travels by ear?), but whatever, it's fantasy. So are there no deaf people in this kingdom? They wouldn't be affected by the powers of the queen and her mage underlings, if hearing is required for the victim's pain and suffering. And are you telling me that in all the years that the queen has been in power, and during the methods that the rebels have very slowly worked to infiltrate and overthrow their deadly singing tyrant, none of them thought to utilize earplugs!? Are you serious!?

The Horrifying:

• Did I mention the animal and child torture and deaths in this YA book?

Overall, not a terrible book. You can do far worse. This is merely a list of things that I liked in 'Ruinsong', and what bothered me about it; that kept me from enjoying it. I'm not criticising the author of this #OwnVoices book, whom I'm sure is a lovely person.

Final Score: 2/5
Profile Image for maegan.
337 reviews77 followers
June 28, 2021
What a bad run I've had with fantasy books this month. Let it be said that I feel bad for rating this so low but it is just mind numbingly boring.

The heroines were passive and bland, the villain caricaturesque and the world building was flat.

Profile Image for cossette.
277 reviews212 followers
November 20, 2021
buddy read with robin 🤍

trigger warnings for: mentions of cancer, child abuse, animal death (the death itself is not on page but the scene of the main character discovering the animal is very graphic), blood, torture, vomiting.

overall, a fast-paced read; highly enjoyable -- i loved the immersive world-building, the magic system & morally grey characters, but i think the romance wasn't developed as strongly. i also don't think it was as POTO-y as i expected, but since i'm not the biggest phantom fan anyways i didn't really mind!
Profile Image for Rachel.
Author 9 books55 followers
October 14, 2020
A lush fantasy novel about song magic and fighting for what's right--even when you've been complicit in wrongdoing.

In the Queendom of Bordea, music is magic-- at least for those gifted with it by the goddess. But for the Queen's Principal Singer, Cadence, her powers feel like more of a curse. At least, they have ever since she was taken in by the new queen and trained to become her chief weapon against the nobility. Now, her voice is used in shows of mass torture, used to keep the nobility living in fear. There's little other choice for Cadence, though, with the threat of being sent to the outskirts with her vocal chords being cut. No matter how much she hates hurting others, she knows she can at least ensure she makes things quicker and more painless than any of the queen's other singers would. But a rebellion is brewing, and when a childhood friend from the nobility becomes involved in a plot against the queen, Cadence has to decide once and for all where her loyalties lie. She'll either stand up to the queen or see the girl she loved--and maybe still loves--lost forever.

I wanted more depth and nuance from this books in places and sometimes got frustrated with Remi for her hardline views on Cadence when she's clearly in such a difficult position, but I nonetheless enjoyed it quite a bit overall. Also-- bonus points for cute saphic romance and fat rep!
Profile Image for Amber.
587 reviews27 followers
March 1, 2021
This was a great queer YA fantasy. Can I just say that I love that this is a stand alone? Please don't change that anytime soon.

"We need more stand alones, please!"- From a girl who has a hard time finishing series, Me.

I also loved that we have amazing body confidence in here. I love a girl that I can relate to, who says yes to cake and fuck off to people who dare say shit. Remi was my girl, she honestly made this book for me.

I also loved the magic in here, despite not having a lot of pretense or explanation I had a fun time figuring things out as the story progressed. There really isn't much info-dumping and the reader is left to connect the dots and fill in the blanks when necessary, which I kind of appreciated. It wasn't overly complicated and didn't bog you down with a ton of backstory because it plans to be this expansive series. Instead this is a short, action packed fantasy with characters you want to root for.

I also liked that it was dark. My horror loving, twisted side reveled in it. Queer, gory, and magical, yes please!
Profile Image for Alex Nonymous.
Author 15 books295 followers
December 31, 2020
Sapphic witches is my favourite current YA niche trend and Ember delivers on them here. The angst! The drama! The longing! I was here for every second of it.

Ruinsong is told in the perspective of two girls, one who can create magic through song and one the daughter of a noble. Best friends in childhood, they find each other on opposite sides of a magical regime, with one being used as the tyrannical Queen's biggest weapon of suffering and destruction and the other being made to experience said suffering to try and save her family.

I love how unique the magic system, world, and villain motives were here! I do wish it was a tad longer but that has more to do with me wishing we had scenes of the main couple being cute and sweet since most of there scenes that start that way are cut off abruptly by the plot than actual pacing issues.
Profile Image for nora⁷.
292 reviews71 followers
December 26, 2020
3.5/5 ☆ = 4-

To be honest, Phantom of the Opera is not my favourite musical, and this book is a re-telling of that musical. Fortunately, there are minimal similarities. I will say that the singing magic aspects were great and intriguing. Yet, the world-building was somewhat lacking and the insta-love did definitely not work for me. I would have liked to see more of the antagonist thoughts and reasons. I will also say that Cadence was a really interesting characters. It was intriguing to follow her development and how she tackles the world around her.

Also, the author did this thing when introducing characters, they would be introduced as either white or black. I imagine it implies the skin colour. This leads to a lot of issues, like the fact that there are only "two" skin colours. One can only be black or white. But what about mixed people, or people who are not white or black. What happened to the people of colour? Moreover, it also made it more obvious that the majority of the characters in this book are white. I can only think of three or four black characters, and they were all side characters. Hmpf

Over and out. -Nora<3


TW//torture, death, mentions of cancer and abortion, death of animal (off-page), grief, cutting of vocal strings, manipulation, body shaming, gore, blood
Profile Image for Mira Mio.
270 reviews50 followers
November 29, 2020
DNF 10%

Итак, опера, в которой певица своим волшебным голосом пытает слушателей. В буквальном смысле.

Идея интересная, а вот исполнение скучное и квадратно-гнездовое.

До лесбийства я не дошла.
Profile Image for Sahitya.
1,004 reviews200 followers
January 8, 2021
Probably more of a 3.5.

CW: torture

I’ve been very very excited to read Ruinsong since the first time I saw that gorgeous purple cover and to be honest, I didn’t even bother to read the premise in detail. I just knew I needed this book in my life.

The world the author creates in this book is full of cruelty and fear, and it wasn’t always easy to read. The history of the world, the mythology of the goddesses and the song magic system, the backstory of the current Queen’s ascension and the hierarchy of the people in this world is also described wonderfully without ever feeling like an infodump and I found myself quickly get pulled deep into the story. As someone who loves singing despite being a bad singer myself, I loved the magic system even when it was used in grotesque ways.

The plot itself wasn’t very complicated - its a straightforward tale of a tyrant queen and a brewing rebellion to overthrow her. This was mostly a character driven story and hence mostly full of inner monologues and conversations, rather than action. This did make the pacing feel quite slow and as if nothing much was happening, but then everything came to a head too quickly towards the end which felt too simple and unrealistic. Otherwise, the writing itself was easy to get through and while I’m not always comfortable diving into a new fantasy world via the audiobook, the narration of this one was very good and I never found it difficult to understand.

The characters Remy and Cadence are definitely the backbone of this novel. Cadence maybe blessed with powerful magic but what she doesn’t have much is choice in how to exercise it. Her struggle with the tasks that she is assigned and what she is asked to overlook is palpable through the pages, and this theme of how much cruelty one can let go just to ensure one’s survival forms one of the main questions the author asks us through the story. Cadence is a very sympathetic figure and I could really empathize with her fear and her need to heal people after being forced to do horrible things.

Remy on the other hand maybe part of the nobility that is reviled by the queen, but she still has a slightly privilege life and couldn’t always understand the struggle that Cadence was facing. I ofcourse understood her rage at the cruelties her family and her friends faced at the hands of the queen, but I also thought she was slightly harsh in judging Cadence for her choices at various points in the story. But Remy’s character arc highlights the other main theme of the story - how far will one go and sacrifice for the sake of protecting their family. Even when their friendship deepened and it looked like it was becoming something more, I wasn’t sure there was enough trust between them for a long lasting love. But I still enjoyed their interactions a lot and it’s nice to see more sapphic couples in fantasy.

To conclude, this was an enjoyable standalone fantasy with a very cool singing magic system and two female characters with their own kinds of strengths, fighting back against an oppressive system. It maybe slow but this story of resilience and standing up to cruelty is definitely worth a read. But don’t mistake this for a romance novel - you’ll get to see the beginnings of a sapphic relationship but that’s not the crux of this story.
Profile Image for Stay Fetters.
2,014 reviews117 followers
January 17, 2021
"Everyone knows that men aren’t fit to rule."

Revolution or Silence?

This was a unique and decent debut novel. A story of music that can hurt and cure you all the same was intriguing but there was a part of this book that bothered me. It got to me so much that I found myself distancing from the story after that. I know why it was placed in the book at that time because once you break the rules they hurt the ones you love the most. Understandable but I didn’t like it.

What I did love was the characters, good and/or evil, they were all well written and you felt their emotions when they were present. And I can’t help but love Queen Elene. She was so deliciously evil that it made me giddy with excitement. Another thing I liked was that the entire story was like nothing I’ve read before. It was really different and that makes for an even better story.

What I was really hoping for was more of a backstory for some characters. I needed a deeper look at the life of Queen Elene and why she was so powerful and wicked. What made her snap and morph her into the person she currently is. That’s what I needed more of.

Ruinsong was a decent read. This debut was strong and this author will only get better as time goes on. I’m excited to see what else she creates because this one was twisted and monstrous book. It just proves the lengths people will go to to save themselves and the ones they love.
Profile Image for Josie.
111 reviews53 followers
January 23, 2022
The prose was beautiful, the characters were distinct as well as compelling, it had some really interesting concepts and the world was intriguing. While I debated a 4 star for all of the aforementioned reasons, the issues I had with the pacing (for not only the plot, but the romance as well) were far too glaring to ignore. The ending felt rushed and mostly relied on luck. As for the romance, the build up as well as the scenes the two leads had together were (mostly) good, but we got so little of it and I wanted more. We never even got a confession/getting together scene! They just share a seemingly random kiss in the heat of the moment and then we skip to an epilogue where they are already together. Not everything about the ending was poor, but it was pretty disappointingly underwhelming compared to the rest of the book.
Profile Image for Erin.
565 reviews36 followers
December 11, 2020
4.5 Stars

Every element of the worldbuilding in this book stands in perfect harmony. Julia Ember's descriptions are beautiful and her magics are hauntingly deadly. Because Ember's writing is lyrical, her world is intriguing, and her characters are so dynamic, I wish there was more to come. Unfortunately, this is a standalone.

Read my full review here: https://gatewaybookreviews.blogspot.c...
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