Everyone on my friends list is bitching about Game of Thrones and threatening to cancel their HBO subscriptions. Meanwhile, I'm sitting here reading the Lightworld/Darkworld series and shaking my head and thinking, "Nobody in the world knows my suffering." I didn't start this weekend intending to bum myself out, but that's exactly what happened, all thanks to Jennifer Armintrout - and even though that doesn't much look like it, that's a compliment.
Most people know Jennifer Armintrout, now Jenny Trout, for her popular blog about books and pop cultural hot takes. She's also a writer, and I've been diving into her rather underrated faerie fantasy series, Lightworld/Darkworld. QUEENE OF LIGHT, the first book in the series, is about a young faerie assassin named Ayla who starts out as an unwitting pawn in a serious game of thrones, and ends up becoming a powerful queen in her own right, with her star-crossed lover, the fallen angel, Malachi, ruling by her side as royal consort.
Second books are hard, because if a book series does well, each book should assert itself as a complete work in the series that also builds off the world-building established in previous books. My expectations when I picked up CHILD OF DARKNESS were low, because I've read a lot of really bad second books - second book syndrome is a serious problem in the literary world - but this book, like the previous one, surprised me. In fact, after thinking about it long and hard, I actually think I liked this book better.
CHILD OF DARKNESS is a much different book from QUEENE OF LIGHT. QUEENE follows the typical rise of the underdog storyline, even if it does it with a slightly untraditional style of fantasy setting. CHILD OF DARKNESS is about Ayla, twenty years in the future. Her mortal consort is aging and even though she physically looks the same, ruling has made her colder and virtually unrecognizable from her younger, idealistic self. She's also struggling with motherhood and the problems of raising a daughter who's chafing at her constraints and expectations. It actually reminds me of this movie I used to have on VHS, called The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.
In Little Mermaid II, Ariel has walled off Eric's kingdom from the rest of the ocean and has forbidden her daughter, Melody, from the water, because Ursula's younger sister has threatened them all with revenge. Obviously, making the ocean forbidden actually ends up making it irresistible and Melody ultimately ends up making the inverse bargain that her mother made, trading her legs for a tail. CHILD OF DARKNESS is similar in that in trying to protect her daughter, Cerridwen, and keep her from the Darkworld, Cerridwen becomes an expert in dodging her guards and wandering into the Darkworld in disguise, where she ends up falling for one of the Dark Elves that her own Lightworld kingdom is on the verge of going to war with. Her flouting of convention is much like her mother's, and yet in her own pride, Ayla doesn't see this until it's almost too late.
There's also a new fantastic villain in this book - waterhorses. I was wondering about the seahorse on the cover, and it's excellent foreshadowing, because waterhorses are terrifying. I thought nothing was going to surpass the heart-trees in UPROOTED in terms of things that authors have invented to give me nightmares, but Jennifer Armintrout gladly rises to the task and she succeeds - horribly. (Also, it just occurred to me that the neon colors are probably supposed to be a nod to the "other sight," in the book, the ability of the Faeries to see life energy written out in pulses of light - neat.)
But amid all the horror and the intrigue and the life lessons, there's also some truly poignant emotional scenes that you don't often see in fantasy novels (especially fantasy novels written by men). The scene when Malachi goes to the sacred pool where he made love to Ayla in the first book and prays to her gods knowing that he might die in the final battle. The scene when Cerridwen realizes who her father really is when he's about to die. Basically any scene involving my poor, darling Cedric in this book, but especially the scene when he comes to the abandoned Gypsy camp. I didn't expect all the deaths and betrayals to weigh so heavily on me, but they so totally did.
Everyone is crying over Game of Thrones, but I'm crying over this book. That ending was so good. The fight scenes - the consequences - the character development. Seriously. What an amazing triumph of character development, and solid proof that foolish mistakes do not always go unpunished. I can't wait to read the final book in the trilogy.
There's a certain type of romance novel published in the 90s that I really don't like. These are 90s bodice rippers. They frequently have all the gender stereotypes of their rapey predecessors, but try to "empower" the heroine by making her spunky and annoying. Why do I bring this up, since this is YA and obviously not a vintage historical romance? Because the main character, Ember, is cast in the mold of these foot-stomping, "feminist" heroines.
I'm honestly surprised that people were saying that this felt historically accurate and that they felt like they were literally in the middle ages. Honestly, that's more testament to the power of their imagination than anything the book accomplished, since it felt anachronistic AF. The way people dressed, the way people talked, the dialogue - the heroine's name, for God's sake. I wouldn't have guessed that this was set in the 1400s.
Apart from the annoying heroine, there's a full cast of other idiotic fools, and one okay character (the love interest - obviously). The story is slow and plodding, mired in its own foolhardy sense of self-importance. This honestly reads like someone heard about Game of Thrones and decided to write their own lame version of it, only the leader of the evil uprising is an idiot and a fool, as well. I never would have finished this at all if I hadn't been trapped on a bus with nothing else to do or read.
I was describing this book to someone as Game of Thrones, only set in a desert where magicians are responsible for bringing the rains and water is the ultimate currency. But honestly, that doesn't quite do this book justice, as it's much better written than Game of Thrones and doesn't quite wallow in the physical and sexual violence like GoT does - not to say that this isn't a brutal MF of a book; it is.
Set in the Quartern, a desert land in which water-sensitive magicians called "Stormlords" are responsible for bringing water, THE LAST STORMLORD is about a land in the middle of political and environmental upheaval. All that magic has brought about climate change and water is becoming scarce in a land that desperately needs it. The last stormlord is dying without a replacement, and hostile factions who have been oppressed by the stormlords are rallying forces to seize powers in the void and resort back to scavenging.
The two main characters are Terelle and Shale, both teenagers. Terelle is a young woman who was sold into a brothel when she was a child by her cruel stepfather, and now lives in dread of reaching puberty and being auctioned off for her virginity like a prize mare. One day she decides to escape, hoping to become a dancer, and instead discovering that she's capable of much more. Shale, on the other hand, lives in the outskirts of the Quartern, called "the Gibber," in a labor camp where people mine for resin. His father is an abusive alcoholic, but freedom comes when Shale realizes that he has the power to detect and manipulate water. Unfortunately, his powers bring him to the attention of very dangerous people on both sides of the water war who will stop at nothing to capture him alive.
Lately, I've found myself reading more and more fantasy by women because for the most part, male fantasy authors don't really deliver what I want: complex, nuanced world-building with a rich tapestry of culture; strong female protagonists who aren't sexualized and whose agency isn't wrapped up with that of the male hero's; and heroes who don't style themselves after the Chuck Norrises or Tyrion Lannisters of the world, punching holes in trucks or laughing drunkenly in the fate of death. THE LAST STORMLORD is set in an original world that deals with poverty, climate change, colorism, racism, sexism, and so much more.
Oh, and this book is brutal. I've seen dudes scoff at female fantasy, but there isn't a whiff of romance in this book yet. Shale is a strong character but also flawed realistically. Terelle has agency and interesting powers, and doesn't need no man in her life to tell her what to do. Taquar Sardonyx was an excellent villain (and does it help that he's brooding and good-looking? But ofc.) It's also a pretty grim world, with mages who can bleed all the water out of people and leave them dried out husks; flesh-eating beetles called "ziggers" that like to burrow into people's eyes or noses and eat them alive; child prostitution and slavery and evil nomads who live by honor and enjoy torture as punishment.
I also loved the machinations of the royal family. There's definite Cersei/Laisa and Joffrey/Senya parallels, which is maybe why I found them such a pleasure to hate. The Lannisters were always my favorite characters in Game of Thrones just because they were so unabashedly evol. There's a lot of heavy thoughts about power and how sometimes you do harm when doing good, and vice-versa. When I saw that the author lives in Malaysia working on rain forest conservation, the climate change messages made a lot of sense. This is no heavy handed Ferngully - it's very nuanced, and very good.
P.S. CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL AND YOU'RE A FUCKING IDIOT IF YOU THINK OTHERWISE. DON'T @ ME.
Nothing - I repeat, nothing - beats a good old-fashioned fantasy romance. Something about the combination of a high-stakes romance and magic gets to me every time. In that regard, the Malediction trilogy more than delivers. STOLEN SONGBIRD, the first book in the series, is a Labyrinth-like story about a human girl who is kidnapped to be the bride of a troll prince who is imprisoned along with his people under a giant mountain. It's hate at first sight until she realizes the tenuous position he holds in his court, and how much he has grown to care about her after getting to know her. HIDDEN HUNTRESS takes place where the last book left off, after Tristan, the prince, has released Cecile for her own good to be back among the humans. She's resumed her singing career under the care of her mother, but the bond between her and Tristan remains, and she can sense that he is in trouble.
One of the major twists of the last book - SPOILER - is that Cecile is actually a witch. Humans and trolls have different types of magic, and while she and Tristan are separated, Cecile begins to really tap into her power ... including dabbling in the Dark Arts. Tristan, meanwhile, is subjected to all manners of torture for his "treachery", as both is father and his father's enemy, Angouleme, have wasted no time in scapegoating him for their own foul purposes, turning even Tristan's sympathizers against him. He's helpless to do anything to aid or protect Cecile, even though he knows she's in danger, because the witch who cursed his people is still around, and Cecile is the key to finalizing her revenge and destroying both him and the rest of the trolls for good.
I love it when sequels build off the previous books, and HIDDEN HUNTRESS made Cecile a force to be reckoned with while also developing the romance between Cecile and Tristan. I'm a huge fan of captive romances but it was great to see them reunite on equal footing. Tristan never got a chance to court Cecile, even when he was falling for her, because it was too dangerous. In this book, he gets to court her for real and it's actually romantic. There's also new characters - Cecile's mom, Genevieve; Sabine, Cecile's best friend; and Julian, her mother's young lover/protege. We also get to see more of Lessa, who was introduced towards the end of the previous book and really becomes a menace here.
Did I guess the major "twist" of this book pretty early on? Yes. It was pretty obvious. Do the hero and the heroine spend most of this book separated? Yes. Is this book more character-driven and less action-driven than the previous book? Yes. Those seemed to be the biggest criticisms of those who were disappointed by the sequel, and that's fair. I would venture to say that HIDDEN HUNTRESS is a different sort of story than STOLEN SONGBIRD, as this is more of a "girl finds and develops her secret powers against dark forces while trying to protect those she loves" story whereas the prequel is "girl is kidnapped by a boy she falls for, and their star-crossed love is hated by everyone" story. Cecile has much more agency in this book and the romance is much more companionate than lustful.
That sequel was evil AF, but I guess it was only a matter of time before magic made its way back into this world. Thank goodness I already own book three, but I think I need a break before diving back in. There were a lot of new developments in HIDDEN HUNTRESS and I need time to process them.
I saw someone in my feed post a status update today about hating books that you might have otherwise liked because of the main character and - um, yup, feeling that pretty hard right now. AIR AWAKENS was one of the most frustrating books I've read in a while because it had a lot of potential, but a lot of that potential was squandered away on Vhalla, the Worst Heroine in the World.
AIR AWAKENS is very similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender in that it takes place in a fantasy land where certain people have magic powers, each based on one of the four elements. Each part of the world is known for possessing a certain type of these magical powers and yup, air, the rarest, was wiped out by an enemy kingdom and our heroine, Vhalla, is the Last Airbender. Oops, I mean Airwalker. She finds this out by complete accident due to her magic powers oozing themselves like magic snot all over an envelope that finds its way into the hands of a trained sorcerer, who then pays her a little visit and patiently walks her through her powers and explains to her who and what she is -
LOL jk, the sorcerer is Prince Aldrik and he pretends to be the Phantom of the Library (no, seriously, he signs his notes "Phantom") and leaves her little notes in the books that she's reading that are half-insult, half-hints at greater knowledge he won't share. When he finally introduces himself to her in person, he asks her if she's ever masturbated before (no, seriously) and then pushes her off a roof.
The argument for this is that her falling is necessary to be Awoken ... but she doesn't float to the bottom or anything with her air magic. She literally hits every spire and roof on her way down and is in so much pain from her bruised, broken, and fractured everythings that the sorcerers have to use magic to heal her. Aldrik later tells her that he only did it because they have a ~bond~ and he knew she wasn't going to die, just get hurt, and if he'd known how badly she would have been hurt, he wouldn't have done it - but then he insults her some more and gets mad at her for not wanting to be #TeamMagic despite the RoofGate incident which... is one thing I'll give Vhalla. I would not exactly want to be #TeamMagic either if some self-righteous a-hole sexually harassed me + tried to murder me, even if it was "for my own good." But anyway, the deed is done. Vhalla has magic now -
Only she doesn't want it. And here's where my big issue with AIR AWAKENS (e.g. Vhalla) comes into play. Vhalla does nothing but whine, cry, complain, sulk, pout, cower, when she's not making moony eyes at her not one, not two, but three love interests. She is the most useless waste of space. The way she treats her alleged friends, Sareem and Roan, is disgusting. She whines and cries so much and threatens to give up her magic (called Eradication) to the point where her would-be magic tutor allows her to take a ridiculously long time to decide whether she wants training because Vhalla is such a special snowflake and such an overall pleasant person to be around, of course he would do her this solid. Probably he just wanted to postpone having contact with her as long as possible. Her personality can be described in one word: books. If there's a book around, Vhalla is going to tell you about how much she wants to read it, and if a person's around (unless it's Aldrik), Vhalla is going to tell you about how she'd rather be reading a book than talking to that person. I get that she's a library apprentice, but this "my whole personality is books" thing feels very lazy to me, and was overused way too much to make up for her lack of other hobbies or personality traits (besides bitchiness).
Also, her romance with Aldrik came out of the blue, honestly. I thought she had a crush on Baldair but no, as soon as she gets over the RoofGate incident (it takes like one day) they become BFFs and have lunch dates and garden parties and sketch under the sunset, even though he called her a worm after he nearly killed her. But honestly, any clout he gets for being a fancy lunch date disappears when Vhalla is framed for treason and held on trial and Aldrik just sits on his royal heiney and does nothing while Vhalla stares at him with big helpless eyes and cries some more. Oh, and the reason she was framed in the first place was because she didn't listen when Aldrik told her not to run into danger, saying, "I'LL SAVE THE DAY WITH THAT MAGIC I HAVEN'T TRAINED WITH YET BECAUSE I'M A BIG STUPID LOSER WHO DOESN'T DESERVE AN OWL OR A HOGWARTS LETTER!" gets to the scene of the danger, realizes she can't do anything, and cries for Aldrik to save her - which he does, because love interest. I was honestly kind of glad when she got tortured, tbh. I spent most of the book wanting to punch her in the face and then at the end someone does it for me.
I hear the series gets better as it goes on, so maybe this is a debut author problem. I noticed a lot of technical errors as well, such as words being used incorrectly or incorrect tense usage, whereas in the author's Loom saga, the quality and style of the writing was objectively better. New book, new you. The problem for me was that AIR AWAKENS was so hyped that my expectations were very high. I read a lot of fantasy and have very particular preferences of what I like, and it didn't help that I'd just read another fantasy romance novel about elemental magic right before this one called THE FIRE-LORD'S LOVER that was so much better. I ended up comparing the two unfavorably the whole time.
On a positive note, there were a few things I did like. Kova doesn't shirk from violence and she knows how to use it in a way that adds dramatic effect without feeling gratuitous. Some of her scenery descriptions are lovely (and more in line with what I expected from this book after reading Loom which I'm thinking now might have had a better editor), and I also liked that Vhalla isn't a virgin when we first meet her. It's refreshing to see heroines that have experimented with sex before meeting the love interest. I'm thinking part of the reason this book is so popular is that the audience reading it seems to be younger and not romance- or fantasy-genre readers, but YA-genre readers, so they're happier with taking things at face value rather than demanding explanations and back story for everything (like me). I know I'm pickier than most and sometimes this makes me look like a jerk when it comes to how I rate, but that's how I am. Your mileage may vary (and odds are, it will vary for the better). If you're a fan of books like CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE and THRONE OF GLASS (both of which I hated, FYI), you'll probably like this. Also, the cover's pretty. So there's that.
Mulan is my favorite Disney movie, so while perusing books to read on my Kindle, in between bouts of flu-induced naps whilst curling up in a ball and asking what sins I've committed to deserve this suffering, there was really no question about indulging in a bit of Mulan fanfiction to make myself feel better. REFLECTION is part of the Twisted Tales series that Disney has put out, in which the corporation asks, "What if...?" hypotheticals that put spins on their original retellings of the story and then hire out young adult authors to write them. Most of the books are written by Liz Braswell, but they actually got a Chinese author to write the Chinese story - how woke.
REFLECTION takes this new approach to Mulan: instead of Mulan getting slashed by Shan-Yu (and betraying her identity as a woman), Li Shang takes the blow for her instead. The wound is fatal, and to save him, Mulan makes a deal with King Yama, the ruler of the Chinese Underworld (Diyu) to find and rescue him and escape from the 100th level of the underworld before time runs out and she's imprisoned there - forever.
I'm a sucker for underworld retellings, and this one smacked a bit of Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as Dante's Inferno, but with Chinese mythology instead. The writing was pretty simple (I think this book is for a middle grade audience) but could be vivid. At times, I could imagine this as one of those direct to VHS sequels that were so popular in the 90s. It really should be a movie; it'd be amazing.
There are a lot of call-backs to the movie, which is to be expected, and I thought the author did a good job staying in keeping with the characters as they were portrayed in the movie, although Mushu fell somewhat flat here in comparison to his portrayal in the movie. While I enjoyed the portrayal of the Chinese underworld and the trials Mulan had to undergo, at times the pacing was inconsistent and the middle section in particular got kind of tedious, although it picked up again by the end.
Overall, this was much better than the cash cow I was expecting. It entertained me and even moved me to tears at a couple points. If you're a fan of the Mulan movie and have always wanted more, you should pick up REFLECTION.
THE LAST NAMSARA was ... okay. I liked it, but I'm not in love with it, which I guess puts this book in the reader equivalent of the "friend zone." It's better than a lot of the YA fantasy that's been coming out lately, but falls short of reaching that level that would put it on my favorites list or make me truly invested in reading the sequel. Which is a shame, because it contains a lot of things I love, like court intrigue, dragons, forbidden love, and curses. It could have been amazing but the execution and world-building failed it.
Asha is the Iskari, or the death-bringer. A cursed god for a cursed girl, after she brought fire to her kingdom by telling the forbidden stories that lure the dragons who cause wanton destruction. The same stories that killed her mother with their power. Everyone in her kingdom despises her, except her father, who sees her value as a dragon-slayer despite the scars that mar her face and body - oh, and her super creepy fiance, Jarek, who sees her as an interesting conquest that might be fun to overpower.
Knowing her reluctance to marry Jarek, Asha's father gives her an ultimatum. If she can kill the most powerful dragon of all - the same dragon that scarred her face and body - before the date of her wedding ceremony, the engagement is off and she will be free. Asha agrees and sets out on her quest, only to experience a vision from one of the older gods instead, who has different plans for her. And this time, when she meets the dragons, she's in for a surprise.
So there were many things this book did right. Asha is a powerful heroine, scarred and not particularly beautiful - it's her personality and her strength that make her attractive. That's a refreshing change from heroines like those from - shudder - THRONE OF GLASS, who double as super-models when they're not incompetently trying to defend the kingdom. Ciccarelli also just has her characters swear instead of making up cutesy fake swear-words for her characters, which I'm sure the pearl-clutching parents of YA readers love but actual YA readers would much rather just see the swear-words. Otherwise it feels like your parent grabbed her book from you and censored out all the good stuff (take note, fuddy-duddy YA authors). The political intrigue was also really well done. There were a couple twists in here that I didn't see coming, and as a jaded reader, I appreciated that.
I think what dropped this book down a couple stars for me was 1) the characters didn't really feel fully fleshed-out to me. I kept comparing this book to THE WINNER'S CURSE, which has a similar plot and similar forbidden romance between a noble and a slave, but in my opinion did it a lot better with more character development, higher stakes, and more emotion. 2) the world-building was not very developed and it kind of felt like you could have picked up this world and plopped it down in virtually any other fantasy novel, and still had it make sense. The best fantasy novels have worlds so strong that they're practically characters in and of themselves. This book didn't have that.
All in all, THE LAST NAMSARA was a pleasant surprise. My expectations are pretty low when it comes to YA these days, but NAMSARA gets more things right than it does wrong and that has to count for something. Plus, dragons. I'm a sucker for dragons. (And if you're also a sucker for dragons and dragon-riding, I highly recommend you read Mercedes Lackey's JOUST, if you haven't, already.) This wasn't a bad debut, and even if I might not continue the series, I anticipate her other works.
I loved SPINNING SILVER. And it's funny, because I only felt lukewarm about her previous book, UPROOTED. Don't get me wrong - UPROOTED wasn't a bad book, and I still occasionally have nightmares about heart-trees, but it didn't wow me the way I expected it to based on all the preliminary reviews, either.
SPINNING SILVER reads like Naomi Novik saw my review for UPROOTED, said to herself, "Aha," and then set about to write a story that personally addressed each and every one of my complaints. UPROOTED was slow to start; SPINNING SILVER grabbed me from the beginning and wouldn't let go. UPROOTED had a very dull heroine who ends up in a very dull love story. SPINNING SILVER has a huge cast, mostly of strong female characters, and the main love story is unconventional and fraught with tension (and doesn't really come to fruition until the end). UPROOTED has a fairy-tale vibe without any clear parallels, whereas SPINNING SILVER very obviously borrows elements from The Glass Mountain, The Snow Queen, and, of course, Rumpelstiltskin. In short, SPINNING SILVER is amazing.
It's difficult to describe the story because there is so much going on, in terms of plot and in terms of the large cast of characters. The main character is really a girl named Miryem, the daughter of a Jewish moneylender who ends up taking up his mantle when he proves too soft-hearted to carry out his work. Actually, that's another thing - I loved how Novik incorporated Jewish culture into this fairytale retelling, especially since the Grimm tales really aren't so kind to Jews. One need only look at the tale, Jew Among the Thorns, to see the rampant antisemitism. So it was great to see the greedy money-lender stereotype turned on its head, as Miryem is portrayed as fierce and capable and willing to do anything to see her family through the cold and cruel winters.
Her ability to turn a profit makes her an enemy of most people in her village, except for a girl named Wanda who Miryem's family ends up taking in as a servant to pay off her father's debt. Wanda is the daughter of an abusive alcoholic and initially, while she sees her job only as a respite from beatings and a means of getting food into her mouth, she starts to truly love Miryem's family and appreciate Miryem's strength. Wanda has two brothers named Sergey and Stepon, who also have POVs later on in the story. They are just as abused and desperate as Wanda, but have cores of strength, as well.
Then there's the daughter of a duke named Irina, whose father buys fairy silver from Miryem, when her money-making abilities catch the eye of the local fairies, the Staryk, who only live in the cold. He uses the silver jewelry as part of his daughter's trousseau, and the magical jewelry enchants anyone who looks upon it into thinking that Irina, who also has fairy blood, is beautiful. She is married as a result to a local tsar she has known since childhood, a powerful man of fire who is possessed by a demon. He wants to devour Irina, to steal her magic, unless she can offer him something better.
One of the things I loved about SPINNING SILVER is the interconnectedness and the focus on relationships. All the disparate storylines connect, sometimes in surprising ways, and it was so satisfying as a reader to see everything neatly come together. I also really appreciated how fleshed-out each character was, even the villains (who aren't as villainous as they initially appear), and how much time Novik seemed to have spent developing each character to be their own person. The ways that they interact with one another are so nuanced, platonic and romantic relationships both handled just as lovingly (which isn't always the case). And all the women characters are so strong.
It isn't often that I find a book that is basically perfect, which is why I tend to be somewhat stingy with my five-star ratings. But SPINNING SILVER is that book, and it deserves each one of those stars. I didn't think this book could possibly have a happy ending, but Novik surprised me there, too.
Celery's punishment saga continues as she finally makes her way into the Red Desert, a vaguely Middle Eastern land where the Silent Assassins live. The Silent Assassins seem to borrow very heavy from George R. R. Martin's Faceless Men, and it's almost funny how closely this story arc mirrors Arya's training under Jaqen H'ghar. But this is not the first thing in this series I've seen that really reminded me of Game of Thrones. The valg are pretty similar to the wights, Mannon and her wyvern is basically a knockoff Daenerys Targaryen (I mean, she's a dragon queen with white-blond hair), and QUEEN OF SHADOWS introduces something called "hellfire" that sounds a lot like wildfire. I'm not even a hardcore GoT fan, and even I noticed the similarities.
Long story shorts, Celery must study under the Silent Assassins and get a letter of recommendation from them. While there, she makes friends with a girl named Ansel, who has a tragic history of her own. After her initial distrust with anything female, Celery finally condescends to accept these overtures of friendship and actually find herself quite taken with the chatty red-haired girl. Of course, this being a Throne of Glass novella, this comes to nothing.
Okay, seriously, what is the deal with the way women are treated in this book. Good women are chaste and end up married and pregnant by their mates, whereas bad women are slutty or power-hungry and ambitious. Even Celery, who's supposed to be the best of the best, doesn't actually do much that's bad-ass. Considering how all of these novellas have the words "assassin" in the title, she doesn't do much assassinating. In fact, she balks from it at every opportunity, even if it's her damn job. And I'm sorry but how does killing people of adultery weigh more than killing people who are essentially selling people (including youths) into prostitution (per pirate lord)? She should have killed Rolfe, but she didn't. And when Ansel betrays her in this book, because of course she does, nobody can eclipse our shining star, Celery Saltine-thin, Queen of Every Fucking Thing, Celery doesn't even kill her. She lets her get away with betraying all the people who took her in. Because of course she does. She even manages to get herself drugged/poisoned by quaffing food that's put in front of her.
Best. Assassin. Ever.
Despite my complaints, this is easily the best of the three assassin prequel novellas I've read so far. The scenery descriptions are much better here, and all of the side characters are interesting (except for, you know, Celery). The way Ansel was treated in this book was basically Nehemia pt. 2 and I don't know why Maas seems so reluctant to portray healthy female friendships, but man, it's becoming a pattern and it's kind of upsetting. Nehemia was the best part about books one and two, and we all know how that went down. Ansel was a repeat of that. Don't be friends with women, I guess, or they'll either try to kill you or die for your sins. Oh, and Celery adds yet another conquest to her ever-growing man-harem, the ill-fated assassin, Ilias. Honestly, considering how cruelly these books treat sexually empowered women, Celery sure has a lot of admirers.
So after ruining her master's slavery trade deal with the pirate lord in the previous novella, THE ASSASSIN AND THE PIRATE LORD, Celery is sent on a punishment mission to the Bumfuck Desert, or whatever it's called, where she is about as subtle and professional as you would expect (i.e. not at all). She wears a hooded cloak and flashes her weapons while hanging around in this inn like a total creep, and of course, everyone in the place is completely fixated on her, wondering who dis?
The other main character is Yrene, who ends up becoming Chaol's wife later on in the series. She's a barmaid in this one, having resigned herself to the fantasy world equivalent of working in a McDonald's after she found she was too poor to go to healer school. She wears a wedding ring to fake out creepers and is generally totally miserable. This new cowled assassin is the most excitement she's ever gotten in her sad little life.
Naturally, Celery saves Yrene from mercenaries and naturally, Yrene can't stop fangirling over the awesomeness that is Celery, whether it's her amazing gold-rimmed blue eyes or the fact that she's so tough omg, or the fact that she has a veritable Derek Zoolander catalog of ~lewks~ ranging from "roguish grin" to "wild grin."
The book ends with Celery strutting off like she is the best thing since the internet, leaving behind a bag of money for Yrene to go off and stake her fortune. Presumably, Celery was indirectly the reason that Yrene even met Chaol in the first place and was able to heal him, which I guess is supposed to make me love Celery even more. #NiceTryButNope
So far these novellas are feeling an awful lot like self-fanfiction. They don't really add anything to the main story and mostly just kiss Celaena's pale little ass. As if it needed more kissing.
The other day, I got a comment on one of my reviews for the Throne of Glass series. A stan had decided to tell me that the only reason I didn't like the books was because I hadn't read the prequels yet. My reaction was, "Are you kidding me? I've read books 1-7, and yet I still need to read more books in this series after clocking in around three thousand pages to give this series a fair shot?" I said as much. The stan did not respond.
I've been told that the prequels are allegedly better than the main novels, but if that's the case, their charm is lost on me. Teenage Celery is just as annoying as adult Celery. We see her here as a sixteen-year-old assassin, and very proud of the fact that she doesn't really kill anyone, so much as kick, punch, shove, and insult them while also bragging about how beautiful and great she is. The only other person I know with so much confidence and so little credibility is Donald Trump.
Celery's mission is to go to the pirate lord Rolfe to see him about his slave trade. She's very angry about the fact that he has so many slaves, but doesn't kill the pirate lord - nor does she see the correlation between assassin and slave trader; like him, she is also a robber of lives, only when you're dead, there's no chance of freedom. No, she's got the moral high ground here. Right. *side-eye*
I thought this book was just as lame as the other books, personally. But I got the anthology edition of these short stories from the library (ironically, the day after I received that stan comment), so I assume that it's fate that I must read these. Who knows? Maybe one will sway me.
Reading this after THE GIRL KING turned out to be a really weird experience because they are both very similar stories. Dare I say that "Asian-inspired" fantasy novels in kingdoms where magic is forbidden seems to be the new trend? But, like, seriously, both are about royal siblings who must struggle to learn to manage their kingdoms in times of severe political upheaval. These kingdoms are also utterly opposed to magic - in THE GIRL KING, magic comes in the form of shape-shifters called the "Kith," and in DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE, it comes in the form of mages called "sooths." Both kingdoms are on the brink of civil war/foreign war, and about to implode from all the factions of unrest stirring up drama within the community.
Hesina is forced to take up the royal mantle when her father dies under mysterious circumstances. Her mother, who dislikes her for unknown reasons, abdicates very reluctantly, leaving Hesina to manage the kingdom and lead the trial to find her father's murderer, all without her help.
Luckily, Hesina has several siblings to help her out. Caiyan and Lillian are twins, and her half-siblings; Sanjing is her full brother; and Rou is the son of her father's favored mistress. Despite knowing that it is high treason, she seeks out a sooth to help set her on her path, who tells her the path she should take to find her father's murderer. It points her towards a criminal imprisoned in the dungeons, a foreign man named Akira, who is brilliant, powerful, and mysterious.
I liked DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE a lot more than I liked THE GIRL KING, for several reasons. The world-building was more cohesive and there were many direct parallels to actual elements of Chinese culture (the writing/characters, the religion, historical allegories (I was thinking of the Cultural Revolution specifically, as the rebellion of the eleven and the persecution of the sooths reminded me of that), culture, and clothing). It did not feel quite as nebulous as THE GIRL KING did. The actual magic was a little vague; I'd like to learn more about sooths in the next book. Still, we did see some examples of sooth-saying and what I did see was compelling (blue fire, though).
This book's biggest weakness was its pacing. There were some elements that moved quickly, that I couldn't page through fast enough. This has one of the best "trial" scenes I've seen in a book, like Joan He was the John Grisham of YA fantasy authors. Then there are other parts that move very slowly and/or feel almost repetitive. It was frustrating for me because I initially thought that this was going to be a four-star read, but then it got too tedious and my enjoyment of it lessened over time.
The book's biggest strength are its twists. Several of the grand reveals in this book were excellently done. I found myself looking forward to seeing how the other mysteries in this book would be resolved and finding myself pleasantly surprised each time.
Hesina is a flawed but compelling character and it is interesting to see how the choices she makes in the book end up changing her. She is a very different person by the end of the story than she was in the beginning. I am curious about the names, and why some are Chinese but Hesina's is, I believe, an alternate spelling of a Muslim name, and Lillian is a very Western name. I'm also confused by the ending, which was very strange to me. The author had already proven she was very good at twists, but that one, for some reason, felt especially extra. Maybe it will make more sense in the sequel.
Hopefully this review helps you decide whether you want to read this book without giving too much away. I am totally in love with the cover and was surprised by how much I enjoyed DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE. Hoping the author continues the story on even stronger footing in the sequel.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about this book. THE GIRL KING is another book in a long line of "strong female" heroine-centered YA fantasy novels being marketed to young adults, and it doesn't do anything that's too different from what's already on the table, apart from being an Asian-inspired kingdom with a heroine who's a person of color. I get that people of color don't have the luxury of saying that they're fatigued by tropey fantasy novels, since they don't even have that degree of rep, but at the same point, it's frustrating to pick up a book that promises to be different and ends up just being more of the same.
That said, THE GIRL KING did a lot of interesting things that set it apart from other disappointments I read over the last year, like FLAME IN THE MIST and GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE. THE GIRL KING has two heroines, a pair of sisters. Lu is the fierce and tomboyish one who has her eye on the throne and thinks up a rather bold and daring coup to wrest it away from her douchey cousin, Set, who also happens to be her fiance. Min is the feminine and passive sister who historically has been cowardly and weak. The best part of this story, in my opinion, is how their characters change over the course of the story. Rather than being rewarded for her impulsive behaviors, as characters like Celaena are in the THRONE OF GLASS series, Lu's foolhardiness results in negative consequences, and she gradually learns to let go of her impulsivity and confront her biases. Min, on the other hand, starts to become more assertive and angry, and that gradual transformation was really satisfying to see.
As for the world-building, I think Emily hits it on the head in her review. It's Asian-inspired, yes, but not in a way that really seems like the culture was thoroughly integrated into the storyline. Contrast that with a book like Sherwood Smith's THE BANNER OF THE DAMNED, where the customs, religions, and social mores are thoroughly enmeshed into not just the world, but also the plot. I had my issues with that book, as well, but the world-building was lovely. I wish that were the case here. I also think THE GIRL KING scrapes at the surface when it comes to racism, which I ordinarily wouldn't really mind, except that it's a pretty big part of the plot. The slipskin/Kith part of the story, for example, deals with genocide, and yet I don't think this was explored or treated with the gravitas it deserved. It took me a while, for example, to realize that "slipskin" in the book was actually a slur, and even when the characters are called out for using that word there aren't really dialogues and back stories in place to explain why "slipskin" is bad, or the resentment and inequality that give it power.
Yu also includes another nation of people - I forget the name of their country, but they're white - derisively referred to as "pink people" at times. This is also derogatory, and characters are called out for using the word - but, again, the world and the history aren't developed to the point where it's clear why "pink people" is offensive (is pink an offensive color in this culture? does it represent something bad?) or what the relationship is between this other nation that would create that sort of tension.
One thing I did really like about this story was that it's grittier than most YA has been allowed to be. We live in a PC culture, and while I think it's incredibly important to refer to people on their own terms with the words that they choose and be mindful of people's sensitivities and triggers and basically just be a decent human with respect for your other fellow humans, I do think that this fear of offense is watering down YA, to the point where people feel uncomfortable tackling difficult issues or ugly topics for fear of causing offense. THE GIRL KING has violence, it has racism, it has genocide, and it has rape - and yes, looking at the reviews, people were offended by these things, for various reasons, which is their right. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it, and I felt that Yu made a solid effort to incorporate these concepts into her book in a meaningful way without being OTT.
THE GIRL KING isn't a bad book. It isn't a great book, but I also didn't feel resentful of the time I spent reading it. Part of the problem is the tedious beginning, the reliance on tired fantasy tropes, and the lack of solid world-building to make this kingdom feel like a real place with high stakes consequences. That said, it also did a lot of interesting and even daring things, and ultimately, that willingness to try and be different and take risks was what pushed me over the edge to liking this book.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I'm a commitment-phobe when it comes to books. Long books scare me. I like the idea of long books, and the satisfaction that comes from reading one to completion, but it's a long and grueling road to that satisfaction. JADE CITY is a long book. Goodreads says it'snot even 500 pages but I'm pretty sure that's a lie. It took me several days to finish JADE CITY, when I can normally read several shorter books in a day. But commitment-phobe tendencies aside, there's really no way I'm going to miss out on a book that the author herself describes as a "wuxia gangster saga." Plus, friendships were at stake. I sucked it up; I read the book.
JADE CITY has a young adult-looking cover, but it is not a young adult book. It takes place in an alternate universe China-like country called Kekon where power lies with those special few who get magical superpowers from jade. The entire economy and power dynamic are based around who has the jade, and other countries want in. Unfortunately, only people who are Kekonese-born can naturally use jade. If you're an outsider, you have to use a drug called "Shine" but it can make you scratch all your skin off and shaves a couple decades off your life because it's hard on your body. But hey - superpowers.
The main narrators are Lan and Hilo, the two brothers who will inherit their grandfather's jade empire when he dies; their sister, Shae, who gave up her jade to live and work in a foreign country and has now returned to mend some of her burned bridges; Anden, a biracial and gay teen who is currently at a boarding school that is grooming him to become one of the jade mobsters while also doing boring things like math; and Bero, a boring-ass thug who got his first taste of jade and will do anything to get more. Anything. I don't normally like books with tons of POVs, but most of the characters in this book are interesting. The only one I didn't like was Bero, but thankfully, his parts were small.
The best way to describe this book is Mistborn meets Game of Thrones. Mistborn has a similar magic system where people get powers from metals (and bad things happen when they use too much) and the power struggles between different jade factions and outsiders were reminiscent of Game of Thrones' various wars and power coups. The title of the next book in the series, JADE WAR, makes me suspect that there's going to be even more of this, especially considering some of the treacherous things that those Mountain clans did to the Green Bones in this installment. Eep.
If you're into dark fantasy, JADE CITY is a good read. It's a bit longer than I'd like - I have trouble rationalizing books with long page counts, since most of them don't really need everything in them - but the pages go by pretty fast, considering. Plus, it's Asian-inspired fantasy that actually does the legwork integrating culture, religion, and tradition into its world-building, rather than just doing the book-equivalent of jangling its keys at you and being all, "Look~ easily recognizable symbols of archaic Orientalism!" That was incredibly refreshing, and one of the best parts of the book for me.
On the surface, The Belles series really doesn't seem like it should work. The concept of a dystopian society overturned by a teenage revolutionary has been done to death thanks in part to the wildly successful Hunger Games and Divergent series. The Belles, in particular, is highly reminiscent of the shallow and superficial Capitol elite in THE HUNGER GAMES, with over-the-top costumes, high premiums on beauty and luxury, and a laissez-faire attitude towards their poor and suffering populace reminiscent of the nobles in pre-Revolutionary France.
Part of what saved THE BELLES for me was how dark it was willing to be to drive home the point that beauty isn't everything. Camellia, the heroine, starts out very sheltered and naive, a pawn in her society's quest to become beautiful and adored. By the end of the book, she isn't just questing her own powers and where they came from, but also where her society's ideals fit in within larger concepts of morality and justice, and whether the ruler overseeing Orleans is really capable of fair and just rule (spoiler: nope).
Of course, this being a dystopian novel, she finds that out the hard way, through blood and tears.
I was excited when I found out that I was approved for an advanced copy of the sequel, THE EVERLASTING ROSE. WARNING: There will be spoilers for THE BELLES in this review, and a few mild spoilers for THE EVERLASTING ROSE, so if you're one of those people who want to go into a book totally blind, I suggest you X out of this tab and pretend you never saw me. I did mostly enjoy THE EVERLASTING ROSE, but not as much as the prequel; it had some glaring problems.
The Belles series takes place in a magical/steampunk fantasy version of New Orleans called "Orleans." Society revolves entirely around beauty and luxury, and the tyrant ruler Sophia has gone literally mad with power, exerting magic and might over her subjects at will, as well as demanding constant assurance that she really is the fairest in the land. The previous book ended with Camellia being betrayed, losing favor with the queen, and being forced to go on the run, until she can lick her wounds and rally her strength to become the revolutionary figure that Orleans needs.
When I saw the cover for THE EVERLASTING ROSE, I could tell that this book was probably going to be a lot darker - and I do like the contrast of that, but I don't think that this cover is as pretty as the original. Her neck ruff is super weird - it reminds me of this line from Black Adder, in which he describes one of his Elizabethan colleagues as looking like "a bird who swallowed a plate." In a way, that's fitting for this book, because it manages to be both horrific and ungodly cheesy at times.
Since this book isn't out yet, I don't want to spoil too much. I will say that we do get the revolution we were promised from the first book, and it is handled pretty well. There's a bunch of creepy women called the Iron Ladies who really like spiders (I can't help but picture Diana Terranova). Camellia discovers that her and the other Belles's powers aren't actually limited to beauty and makeovers. Camellia gets angry, and stoops to cruel acts in the name of justice. She loses her shit. It's brilliant.
And yet, there were things in this book I didn't really enjoy. I didn't like that Ms. Clayton not only seems to be redeeming Auguste, despite his betrayal in the previous book, but also appears to be reintroducing him as a love interest. She chose Remy, dammit! I didn't like the animal death that happens in the last third of the book and, worse, is committed by the heroine herself. It felt totally pointless, like it was done for shock value and that's it. There are better ways to be edgy than to just go around killing innocent little animals, just my two cents. I also didn't like the bizarre Invasion of the Body Snatchers twist this book took towards the end. I'm not going to go into any further detail than that, because spoilers, but if you read this book, you'll know what I'm talking about. It was pretty flipping weird. At that point, it kind of felt like this book had jumped the shark.
Lastly, and I did touch on this briefly in the previous book, I don't really like that the villain is an out lesbian. Not that I don't like lesbians, but it's irritating that when you see LGBT folk represented in fiction, it's usually as 1) the bad guy, or 2) the sacrifice (i.e. bury your gays). The previous book had a character named Claudine, who was the queen's lover, and she was murdered. When I complained about the only gay character dying, people were quick to jump on that in my review, pointing out that Sophia was also gay. Yes - she's gay, and she's evil AF. Having a dead gay and a psychopathic narcissist gay as your two main examples of rep really isn't that great. I know a lot of my LGBT friends who read this book were really upset about that aspect of this book, and I can see why. Especially since this book works so hard to be inclusive with regard to rep of skin color, with several of the main characters described as being various shades of brown, and this being described as beautiful, even desirable (I loved that, by the way - one of the best moments in this book is when the heroine totally goes against shadism, saying that she loves her natural skin color, and that darker is beautiful). It just goes to show that even diverse books can be problematic in how they choose to represent diversity within the worlds that they create.
Overall, though, THE EVERLASTING ROSE wasn't a bad book. I know I always sound harsh when I review these things, but I do really make a point to be fair and discuss as many elements in the book (both positive and negative) as possible because I know some of the tropes and problematic elements I discuss in my reviews do bother people, even if they might not bother me, and I consider it my duty as a reviewer to try and present an accurate recap of my reading experience to help others decide whether or not they want to buy the book. I did enjoy THE EVERLASTING ROSE, and its over-the-top cheesiness that reminded me in so many ways of a better-written version of Amy Ewing's THE JEWEL. I thought the writing was gorgeous, and loved seeing a black heroine getting to save the world for a change. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Dhonielle Clayton comes up with next.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I keep getting rude comments on my reviews of CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE and GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE low-key implying that I hold white cis-het YA to different standards than I do LGBT+ YA or YA about PoCs. Now, I'm 99.9% sure I'm not a bigot, although that's probably not very convincing because bigots, like the spouses of cheaters, are often the last to know. But also, I consider myself an equal opportunity hater. Case in point, GRACE AND FURY. It's actually very similar to GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE, in that it uses a fantasy dystopian world involving the sexual oppression of women to explore feminism(!)... but in a kind of lame way. Woohoo, I guess? Because, hey, why not turn HANDMAID'S TALE into a romance? Because that's what oppression needs... romance!
Seriously, though, was the working title of this book THE HUNGER MAID'S TALE? It's honestly kind of ridiculous how desperately it's trying to revive the dystopian craze of the late 2000s. GRACE AND FURY is about two sisters named Serina and Nomi. Serina has been groomed her whole life to be a "Grace," which is basically a high-class sister-wife. Women in this world have no rights and aren't even allowed to read; they can aspire to bridehood or factory work, and Serina has chosen this as her life goal. Nomi, on the other hand, secretly learned how to read and chafes at this ~oppression~ and simply cannot believe nobody in the history of ever has ever NOT ever felt this way before, because oppression is wack, it's one of the few things you can't cure with a spontaneous Kendall Jenner Pepsi rally, which means it's serious business, you guys, oh em gee.
Anyway, when they visit the ~Heir~, Serina is primping herself to be chosen with her reluctant handmaiden (no, that's literally what they're called) sister in tow, but because Nomi snarked at the Heir in the hall, he finds himself attracted to her sexy defiance (women can be autonomous? they aren't just objects? whaaaaat? Science!), and he chooses her instead. But oh no! Nomi's book is discovered and reading is forbidden, so Serina decides to nobly sacrifice herself and take the fall, and as punishment she is sent away to Hunger Games Island, where women are forced to fight to death for their food while all their male guards leer and jeer and try to trade sex for favors. Lmao, what.
I saw someone say that this book is like a cross between THE SELECTION, THE HUNGER GAMES, and THE HANDMAID'S TALE, and I was thinking, "No way, those are all very different books, there is no way that will work." But that person was totally right, and so was I, because this book is indeed a combination of all those different things, and no, it does not work. The world-building is not good and it's hard to believe that a willful teenager was the first person to question the system, especially since she flipflops pretty hard over her traitorous body when the Heir comes along. It's just as ridiculous as THE SELECTION, but lacks the action-adventure and doomed romance of THE HUNGER GAMES, and to compare this book to Queen Atwood? I can't even. No.
GRACE AND FURY didn't work for me, in a long line of YA books that didn't work for me. Too often, I'm encountering YA books that lack depth and introspection. They rely on marketing and buzzwords to sell their stories, but don't do the legwork for what's inside the covers. I could honestly see a book like this do really well, but it would have to go a step beyond the stabby-stabby white girl oppression route that it's decided to take here. But hey, maybe Kendall Jenner will show up with a Pepsi and fix everything. You never know.
Books like these make me nostalgic for childhood, when I would stay up way past my bedtime reading books with a flashlight, so utterly absorbed that it felt like I was physically unable to put the book down. Mercedes Lackey is an amazing fantasy author who is not afraid to write about serious subjects, strong women, and LGBT characters, and even though she's been around forever, not nearly enough people know about her or read her books. My job today is to try and fix that by telling you about the awesomeness that is JOUST.
Vetch is a serf tied to his land. He is an Altan, a country that is at war with the Tians. His Tian master is cruel and abuses him all day as he toils under the hot sun farming finicky root vegetables, and his only solace comes from cursing his master and wishing him ill. One day, one of the dragon riders called Jousters comes to the land to borrow some water and witnesses the extreme abuse Vetch suffers at the hands of his master. Shocked by such a brazen display of cruelty, the Jouster, named Ari, steals Vetch away to become a dragon boy. At this compound, his new job is to tend to the soldiers' dragons and try to anticipate both their and their riders' every need.
Ari, his savior, is different from other Jousters. He is the only rider to have hand-raised his dragon from the egg, and the difference in behavior shows. However, the work and time involved have kept others from doing this. Vetch, however, who is no stranger to hard work, can't get the idea out of his head. Even though he loves his new job working with the dragons, the cognitive dissonance of working for the selfsame army that oppresses his people does not escape him. And when one of the dragons at the compound goes into heat, suddenly the possibility of getting his own egg to hatch and raise seems more than just a pipe dream. The risk could be deadly. But the payoff could affect wars.
From the beginning, I found myself immersed in this world. Vetch is a great protagonist, selfish and impulsive at times, but also endearingly idealistic and naive. His outsider status makes him relatable to anyone who has ever felt like they didn't belong, and watching him get revenge through patience and hard work is incredibly satisfying. I also loved the descriptions of the dragons, and how each had their own personalities. Dragons are some of my favorite fantasy creatures, and I loved, loved, loved how Vetch's every day tasks with the dragons were so well thought out and detailed. It really added to this world, which was clearly inspired by ancient Egypt, and made it feel vivid and realistic.
If you're into classic high fantasy that is intelligent, deep, and not too dark, Mercedes Lackey is an excellent pick. She has her ups and downs with her books, but man, when she nails it, she freaking nails it. JOUST is a must-read if you love dragons and magic. I can't stress that enough.
The best thing about being a blogger with some sphere of influence is that you can tell people about sorely underrated gems like these. THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL only has just over 1,000 reviews as of my writing this review, which is a shame, because it has many elements that are very popular in the romantic fantasy novels coming out now. The ratings for it are polarized, but my guess is that's because THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL reads like YA, but has elements of both romantic and hardcore traditional fantasy, and it's not really clear who the target audience is. Apart from me, that is. Your residential trash queen contrarian who is here for the lulz.
THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL was published by Luna in 2004. Luna is Harlequin's fantasy imprint, perhaps most famous for its publication of Maria V. Snyder's POISON STUDY, although they have also published titles by Mercedes Lackey and Laura Anne Gilman. Caitlin Brennan is also a big name author, although you wouldn't know it without some minor sleuthing that her "name" is actually a pen name of the famous fantasy author, Judith Tarr.
In THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL, a bunch of gods who take the form of white horses live in a place called "the Mountain." Every year, they send out a Call to mages of potential, which drives them to stumble towards the Mountain by whatever means necessary, like zombies, to seek out the school there which teaches these Call recipients how to use their powers and become Riders. The Call has, historically, only gone to men, which is why Valeria is shocked when she hears the Call as clear as a bell, demanding that she go to the Mountain to learn her new trade. Her family tries to imprison her to stop her, but Valeria escapes and disguises herself as a boy in order to attend the school.
At first, THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL has a kind of Mulan vibe. Valeria even cuts off her hair. That changes when her secret outs, and the school rejects her. The only one who stands up for her is Kerrec, the youngest rider, and her savior when she was nearly raped as she traveled to the school. He is her advocate and volunteers to be her teacher, but then a group of barbarians invade who worship a different god and have managed to channel the magic of the gods into its concentrated, unnatural form, resulting in a dark and evil force called the Unmaking, which has the power to destroy.
The barbarians capitalize on Valeria's anger at the sexist jerks in charge of the magic school, offering her the chance to take her loyal horse and study at a new school that totally welcomes women - as long as they're, you know, willing to be evil. It helps that the guy who stole her virginity, a good-looking prince named Euan, is totally #TeamEvil and advocating for the school and its master. But then when they capture Kerrec after he comes looking for her, torture him, rape him, and then mind rape him, #TeamEvil stops looking so good - especially since Kerrec was the only one in her corner.
THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL is surprisingly dark, much more so than I was expecting given that Luna titles are generally fluffy and romantic (although not always - POISON STUDY was also dark). I was not expecting the hero to get raped, although luckily one of the other reviews I'd read warned me of this in advance, so I don't think it came as quite of a nasty shock to me as it did to her. There's also a pretty gory sacrifice scene, and while Valeria is in the school, there's some pretty unpleasant trials resulting in rather graphic death to those who don't obey the order and take the magic seriously.
Ultimately, I really liked the book. I thought the magic system was interesting and I'm a sucker for fantasy novels about animal companions, and in this regard, THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL reminded me rather favorably of Mercedes Lackey's JOUST. It also has the potential to start some interesting dialogues about feminism and role reversals in fantasy, as the hero is the one who is abused, and the heroine is the one who has all the sexual power and entertains multiple partners while driving the hero made with jealousy and feelings of inadequacy, which he must then overcome. The women in this book are strong characters, and I loved that the heir apparent to the throne, Briana, ended up playing more of a role towards the end of the book in saving the kingdom and redeeming Valeria.
The thing that turned me off the book the most was actually how the romance and the love triangle were handled. I didn't like Euan from the get-go, and when I found out that Kerrec was the love interest, I was frustrated by the fact that Valeria kept sleeping with Euan, even though he has such a sleazy frat-boy vibe going on and she totally knew that he was bad. I was firmly in the Team Kerrec camp from the moment his icy ass walked on the page, and when he had to endure all that torture, my heart ached for him - especially when he heard Valeria banging Euan and thought she had betrayed him. It was interesting to see the gender role reversal of a promiscuous and idiotic heroine jerking the hero around for a change from a feminist perspective, but as a romance reader, I found it frustrating.
Overall, though, THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL was a solid fantasy novel with many great elements and I'm very interested in reading the sequel, SONG OF THE UNMAKING (perhaps when it goes on sale). From the cover, to the writing, to the mechanics of the storyline and magic system, THE MOUNTAIN'S CALL has a lot going for it. I'm honestly surprised that it isn't more popular. If you enjoy dark reads and don't mind rape and violence in your books, you should definitely pay the 99-cents this book currently costs and pick up a copy for yourself. It was a wonderful surprise for me.
I recently watched Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic of Freddie Mercury and Queen's rise to fame. It's an amazing movie and Rami Malek outdoes himself - you should totally go see it if you haven't already. It's the type of movie that wins awards. Anyway, I was sitting in that theater, rocking out to the Queen songs (and other songs from the period, like Rick James's Super Freak), having a good time (having a good time), and then tragedy struck. I couldn't even say I didn't know it was coming, because I totally did. But when he was in that doctor's office, I started crying. And when he was performing at the LIVE AID concert, and started singing the most heart-rending performance of Bohemian Rhapsody that I ever heard, I started crying. I saw it with friends and we were all discreetly sniffing, like, "Oh my God, you guys, can you believe these allergies?" but we were all lying, of course. Those were tears. Tears.
Anyway, when I read THE SONG OF ACHILLES, the same thing happened. I knew, going in, what to expect. I've read The Iliad and seen the movies based on it. I know what happens. Heck, I just read Pat Barker's THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS, which is Briseis's account of the whole chain of affairs, so you can't even say that maybe I'd just plumb forgotten. Nope. And yet, when I got to that part, I started crying like I did the first time I watched Bambi. It was a betrayal. I guess it's testament to the author's story-telling abilities that I still felt that gutting surprise.
I told myself when reading THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS that I wasn't going to compare Pat Barker to Madeline Miller, that it wasn't really fair to considering that they are different authors trying to do very different things. SILENCE OF THE GIRLS gives a voice to that oft-forgotten casualty of war: women. Briseis's narrative chronicles her abduction by the Greeks, her ill-use by Achilles, the occasional sympathy tossed to her like table scraps, her further ill-treatment by Agamemnon, and basically serves the message: to the victor go the spoils, and to the spoils life is a Baskin Robbins of hell consisting of 21 different flavors, plus toppings. Especially if you are a woman. The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was there, but it was more of an afterthought; an, oh, so that's why Achilles went crazy that one time. Okay.
THE SONG OF ACHILLES is more of a romance. It follows Patroclus, the narrator, as a young prince who meets Achilles during his exile. The two form a close bond that starts as friendship and ends as something much more meaningful. Both boys, despite their best efforts to avoid the war, are forced into it knowing that they are both doomed. It's The Hunger Games all over again, but with a much more depressing ending, and trust me. Knowing that ending is coming doesn't lessen the blow. I found myself rooting for them against all odds, silently hoping that the author would find it in her heart to give them a happy ending (my romance side) while also silently hoping that she wouldn't (my purist literary snoot-snoot side). You can probably guess which side won, from the crying.
I don't think that this is quite the masterwork that CIRCE was, but it's still an amazing love story and an amazing piece of historical fiction. Cue me adding this author to my list of stalkables, because so far she hasn't written a thing I didn't like, and that circle of precious trust is mighty small indeed. If you like Greek myths and you like beautiful boys in love and you like crying your eyes out masochistically in the dead of night after reading a hideously good book, this is your deal.
After finishing THE BIRD AND THE SWORD, I was eager to pick up the sequel, THE QUEEN AND THE CURE. Harmon is a good author - her writing is gorgeous, and even if her stories don't feature a lot of swashbuckling action or grim political coups, there is something appealing about a light fantasy that packs in some romance if it's done in capable hands. I liked the hero and heroine of the previous book, too. Lark and Tiras had the whole "star-crossed lovers" thing going on (I'm a sucker for that), and I thought Lark's magical abilities were cool. Plus, she was illiterate and she starts to fall for the hero when he teaches her how to read. YES. I couldn't wait to find out what happened next in the story, because even though the couple ended up together at the end, it was still more of an HFN because the baddie got away.
My first warning that THE QUEEN AND THE CURE wasn't going to be what I expected started at the very beginning. This book isn't about Lark and Tiras (although they have cameos). No, this book is about Tiras's bastard half-brother, Kjell, and the insipid little twit that is his love interest, Sasha - although I prefer to call her Becky, because of how basic she is. You know those spineless, teary, self-sacrificing heroines who immediately cling to the hero like saran wrap. That's Sasha, AKA Becky. To a T.
When Kjell first finds Becky, she's collapsed in the woods, with several broken limbs. She has the Gift, AKA magical powers, so her distrusting village-folk ran her into the woods and off a cliff. Because she would be stupid enough to run off a cliff. Anyway, he heals her (because his magical gift is healing), and she immediately proclaims herself to be his slave now, and that she belongs to him. This becomes a gross recurring theme in the book, her telling him that she's "his." It is also basically the foundation for their insta-love, which is super gross. That's not love. That's needy dependency.
BTW, her "gift" is that she's a Cassandra-like prophet, and most people choose to disregard her. Apparently her visions don't always come true; she can prevent them. I seeeee.
The villain in this book is Lady Firi from the last book, since the other villain died. I was sad about that, because I actually liked Firi, and her big reveal as the bad guy was upsetting. I felt betrayed. We find out that she's even eviler than we previously imagined because - oh, guess what? She's the reason that Becky with the lame powers has amnesia (oh yes, there's amnesia) and ended up a slave in the first place. Because we need a reason to hate Lady Firi, I guess, since Becky doesn't really have a horse in the fight beyond wanting to do what ever Kjell tells her to do.
Oh and guess what? GUESS WHAT?
...It's a spoiler, so don't say I didn't warn you.
No, seriously. It's a big one. Are you SURE???
Well, if you're sure.
Kjell... and Becky with the lame powers...
They're both fucking royalty.
Even though neither of them starts off as anyone of importance (beyond Kjell, who's the "spare" to Tiras's heir), both of them find out that they're actually the Royal Royaltons of the Land of Special. Kjell's mother was a Queen, and Sasha - I mean, Becky - is a Queen. So now they don't need to be sad about not being as special as Tiras and Lark! THEY'RE BOTH SPECIAL TOO! YAY!
Oh. My. God. I wanted to throw this book out the window when I read that. I'm a sucker for a good amnesia plot as much as anyone, but this was ridiculous. And what the hell is that power, pulling memories down from the stars? I don't remember that being one of the four main powers from the previous book. I am pretty sure that this author went ahead and created new ones to insert this fuckery into THE QUEEN AND THE CURE for her special deus ex machina and I am not happy.
I am done with this Becky nonsense. Christ, what a disappointment.
Bluebeard's Castle is one of my favorite fairy tales because it's so dark, and has so many possibilities when it comes to retellings. When I saw THE SEVENTH BRIDE pop up for sale on Kindle, I snagged it the instant I recognized it for what it was without even reading the reviews for it. That's a big risk, I know, and sometimes it comes back to bite me in the rear, but in this particular instance, THE SEVENTH BRIDE was totally worth it.
THE SEVENTH BRIDE is about a girl named Rhea, named for a goddess and possessing the strength of one. She is a miller's daughter and helps her family harvest wheat to mill for bread. One day, Lord Crevan shows up to their house to propose marriage, which she is immediately suspicious of, but her family basically gaslights her into accepting his suit. And when he demands that she come to his home at nightfall, prior to their marriage, alone? Yeah, they force her to do that too, even though they know that his intentions can't possibly be good.
And they aren't, naturally.
Oh my God, this was so good, and I recommend it to fans of Diana Wynne Jones, Rosamund Hodge, or Charlie N. Holmberg. It's one of those young adult books that manages to be deliciously dark without crossing the line of what the matronly no-fun-a-lot puritans consider "proper." You see, when Rhea goes to his house (after following a mysterious white path, befriending a small hedgehog companion, and encountering a number of monstrous creatures), she finds out that her husband-to-be already has a wife. In fact, he has several wives, all of them grievously marred in some way. Lord Crevan is an evil sorcerer who takes something from each of his brides. And if Rhea doesn't manage to complete his tasks and solve the mystery of the house, he will take something from her, too.
I can't get over how good this was. Strong female protagonist, adorable hedgehog companion, female friendships in the face of adversity, NO ROMANCE, creative story, dark atmosphere, and oh yes, a retelling of my favorite fairy tale. Could I put this book down? No. I enjoyed every moment of this story and I especially recommend it to people who liked CRUEL BEAUTY but wished it didn't have the romance. It's an odd duck of a tale, with the quirky morbidity of Tim Burton, and I adored it.
I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed - but I am very disappointed. What is this, the month of disappointing sequels? I just had a similar issue with THE QUEEN AND THE CURE, where I loved the first book, but the second book had a new cast of characters and an entirely different tone. It was like the author took everything I loved about the first book and trashed it. Part of what I loved about RADIANCE, for example, was the slow-burn romance that started from friendship and camaraderie, and ended up becoming a very deep and meaningful relationship borne of a comedy of errors as both the hero, Brishen, and the heroine, Ildiko, attempt to overcome the culture shock of being with the other.
In this book, Grace Draven wields the mighty hammer of angst. There are demons called galla taking over Bast-Haradis (which, funnily enough, is a similar plot to both THE BIRD AND THE SWORD (Volgar) and THRONE OF GLASS (Valg). Evil destructive demons seem to be a very popular plot point in unnecessary fantasy sequels (authors, take note).
We have a new character named Kirgipa who is literally the dullest dull who ever dulled. I skimmed over a lot of this book, but her part was so boring I didn't even bother reading it. Who is she? Don't know, don't care. As Mariah Carey once said, "I don't know her." Not that the Ildiko and Brishen passages are much better. Gone is the deep affection and understanding from the first book as they either (1) bang everywhere, all the time or (2) whine and moan about how they cannot be together, and how they are going to sacrifice themselves for (a) one another or (b) the kingdom, and oh great gods and goddesses, how can they possibly choose between love or the fate of a kingdom???!!
Reading this book was surprisingly fun. I tend to side-eye cultish fantasy novels because they tend to be over-hyped by non-genre readers, and then someone like me comes along, picks the book up, and immediately starts crying, "TROPES! TROPES! TROPES!" But I had high hopes for this author because I'd read a book by her before, called THE LAW OF MOSES. I wasn't a huge fan of it, but I liked her writing style and I thought it would translate well to the fantasy genre.
THE BIRD AND THE SWORD is a very gentle fantasy novel. It takes a while to get rolling and while there's action towards the end, it's not "grimdark" or over-the-top with regard to violence and gore. Lark is a girl with magic powers in a land where magic is punishable by death. She sees her mother executed before her eyes, after her mother takes the blame for her spells, cursing Lark to silence, cursing the father to protect the daughter at the cost of his own life, and cursing the visiting king who executed her - he will fall, and his son will die. That that, suckers.
Talk about a hell of a flounce.
Lark is a reluctant princess, kept illiterate and powerless by her father. When the son of the king who killed her mother takes her captive, she's furious and afraid. But Tiras proves to be an unexpected captor with pity his father never exhibited. Slowly, she begins to warm to him, and he teaches her to read and write, which unlocks the powers she's tried to keep suppressed all these years, and ends up giving her a very different kind of voice than the one her mother imagined, but no less powerful.
This is the story that Sarah J. Maas was going for when she wrote A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES and THRONE OF GLASS. The heroine is pretty and powerful, but also feminine and, in many ways, relatable. There's an evil king who hates magic and is trying to corrupt his son. You could even argue that the evil beings in this book, the Volgar, are a little bit like the "Valg." The difference is that this is actually a good story, there's solid character development, a slow-burn romance that unfolds over time, and some actual character flaws. The heroine can be petty, cowardly, and self-doubting. While irritating, they ultimately contribute to her growth as a character. Maas's characters are Mary Sues that don't really grow as characters; they just find new ways to be special.
I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, and will for sure be reading the sequel. That ending - ooh. Sounds like things are about to be shaken up.
Hello, friends. Did you know that I am a sucker for Greek mythology? Because I am. When I was a kid, my mother used to read me stories from D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. And as obsessed as I was with Ancient Egypt (very), there was something incredibly appealing about the Greek pantheon, and how pettishly, foolishly human they were in foible and flaw, alike. I am by no means an expert in antiquities, but I know enough that I have an internal rubric of accuracy where 1 is Disney's Hercules and 10 is something like Mary Renault or Madeline Miller, depending on how much you allow for artistic license (I do).
I got A THOUSAND SHIPS from a co-worker (perhaps you are noticing a pattern in my latest slew of books, eh?). I'm enough of a nerd that when I heard the word bronze in tandem with comic, my first thought was "The Bronze Age of Comics," which spanned from the 1970s through the 1980s, and I was envisioning a "best of" anthology of panels from artists like Stan Lee or Jack Kirkby. But no, this is about the literal bronze age in Ancient Greece: a comic-book reimagining of The Iliad.
I had to read The Iliad in school and did not like it. Granted, I was only 15 or so, so the thought of a bunch of sweaty dudes duking it out over a girl they thought was hot felt a bit too "been there, done that." Plus, the military stuff. The military stuff was boring. Later, in college, I was forced to read it again, and I also watched some of the television adaptations, Troy (2004) and Helen of Troy (2003), and those actually made me like The Iliad more, because, like Shakespeare, it wasn't intended to be read; it was told, dramatically, and so seeing it on screen brought some of the magic back, I think.
A THOUSAND SHIPS details the prologue tothe famous battle of the Greeks vs. the Trojans, setting the scene, introducing us to the characters, and basically providing context for why the battle started (there were many reasons). The abduction of Helen was unarguably the catalyst, but it wasn't like the Greeks or the Trojans were biffles before that, either. I really liked the story-telling and the dialogue in this book. I thought the writers did a good job condensing the important parts, and used their medium to their advantage. Likewise, the art - the art. It was phenomenal. The characters' faces were so expressive and nuanced, and I loved that the artists actually made them look ethnic - I can't tell you how irritating it is to see illustrations of the Greeks as blonde, pasty white people. Excuse me.
I saw some reviews complaining about the removal of the gods themselves from this retelling - and yes, that is somewhat true. The gods are never illustrated and make no direct appearances in this book. However, their presence is still felt, and we encounter many of the demigods in this book, like nymphs and half-human progeny. I actually felt like this made the book feel more realistic, personally. It made this feel more mythological/religious and less fantastical to have the gods unseen.
If you're a fan of graphic novels and Greek mythology, this is a great book, honestly. Between the art and the condensed retelling of the story itself, I thought the creators did a great job. This would be a great tool for kids who are reading The Iliad and don't get it, because it provides excellent visuals for what's going on and why. I wish I'd had a copy of this floating around when I was getting quizzed on it back in the day, but hey, it was a whole lot of fun to read now, too. :)
What did I just read? I've enjoyed Sarah Vaughn's other works and was really keen on seeing her interpretation of a fantasy novel. Sadly, this was so derivative: 1 part Star Wars, 1 part Avatar: Last Airbender, 1 part creepy fanfiction where Daenerys Targaryen has sex with her dragons. What, dragon sex? you ask. Oh, yes. The hero and heroine in this book have super powers because one of their ancestors got down and dirty with a dragon. Boom-chicka-wow, I so did not need to know that.
Tair is a slave in the coldest part of the Empire and Rion is a slave from the hottest part of the empire. The book is told in three parts, and parts one and two are both about each character's escape - which unfortunately is boring because both of their escapes are very similar and a lot of the dialogue is literally just panting from exertion. Part three is where the interesting stuff finally starts to happen, by which I mean the showstopper we all came here for: MAGIC. But just when the story finally seems like it might start picking up steam, it ends. On a cliffhanger. Of course.
ETERNAL EMPIRE falls into the classic trap of bad fantasy: it acts like we should care about these characters we have only just met and have no reason to be otherwise invested in. All we know about Rion and Tair is that they are slaves working in hellish conditions and they both have special eyes. Re the hellish conditions: yeah, that sucks, but why should we care about them more than any of the others? Especially the ones that, oh, you know, died or lost limbs. And the special eyes and special powers stuff totally came out of left field. Without proper foreshadowing, it feels very Mary Sue-ish.
I also didn't like the art. It falls into uncanny valley territory and looks very amateurish, like something you might see done on MS Paint. When I initially saw the rating for this book, I felt bad and wanted to like it so I could boost the rating for what I hoped was a misunderstood work, but no. The reviewers were right on the mark with this one. ETERNAL EMPIRE is bad.
I've been really into The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina lately, and when I saw this cover pop into my feed on Goodreads, I was struck by the resemblance of the girl on the front of it to Kiernan Shipka. Especially since it purported to be a dark romance involving the occult. As Sabrina would say, "Praise Satan!"
I seem to have a tepid love-hate relationship with Brianna Hale's work. The first book of hers I read was MIDNIGHT HUNTER, which received a lot of push-back from the romance community because the love interest was a Stasi officer. I thought she handled the subject pretty respectfully and actually really liked the romance and historical elements, and bought her other book, SOFT LIMITS, which was a romance between a stage actor famous for playing villains (think a young Jeremy Irons) and the young woman writing his biography. Both of those books became instant faves and I sang their praises to the high heavens.
And then... the author gave me an ARC of her book, THE PROTEGE, and I really did not like it.
You know that feeling you get when you didn't like a book that you completely, 100% expected to like? Imagine that, and then imagine that the person you wrote it is someone you are friendly with and respect a lot. I almost didn't post the review, but I felt like that would have been almost as dishonest as giving the book false praise. So, with reluctance, I posted my critical review.
I still wanted to read her other books, though, and was excited about her new one, COME TO DADDY. You can imagine my surprise when I saw THE NECROMANCER'S BRIDE turn up like a bad penny in my feed, with its Kiernan Shipka-lookalike gracing the front cover. Oh, yes, I thought. A dark fantasy romance about a sexy necromancer? I was getting Naomi Novik vibes, only X-rated. And I think we can all agree that the idea of a pornographic UPROOTED is what the world needs.
***WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW***
The beginning starts off strong. The heroine is a child at her deathbed when we first encounter her. Their town is downriver from a place called "the capital" that is apparently full of magic, and this magic is as toxic as nuclear waste or lead (*cough* Flint's been without water for 1,657 days now, right? *cough*), and as with such crisis in this world, nobody cares because they're poor, so periodically children sicken and die from magic poisoning. But the heroine's parents have managed to get the help of the elusive local necromancer, who places his mark upon her as payment.
The other villagers are put off by the mark and she is shunned and abused, until the sickness that nearly killed her comes to their village again (curse that magic), and she returns to the necromancer again for help. He agrees - but at a price, and given that this is an erotica, I think we can guess what that is. He does it with all the subtlety of a pizza guy showing up at a porno shoot, too.
Let me just say - when reading the other reviews, nobody told me that this was going to be on par with monster erotica. Remember COME FOR BIGFOOT? This is the necromantic equivalent of that. I mean, girl has a wet dream about being fingerbanged by a corpse hand, and then the necromancer brews up some magical slime that he uses on her as a vibrator. But the slime vibrator can also double as lube in a pinch (and there will be a pinch, because he's a fan of butt stuff). Oh, oh, and just in case things couldn't get more weird (they do), when she has menstrual cramps, he heals her by using a leech - yes, a LEECH - as a dildo, fingering her while it's in there, and then pulling the leech out afterwards and tossing it in the fireplace like Christian Grey did Ana's tampon in that scene.
But my favorite scene is at the end. You see, the necromancer is under a curse that keeps him from getting it up (so when they do butt stuff, he has his pet lich, which is basically an undead flesh zombie, bang her instead) because he was cursed by a spurned lover. So at the end, when the heroine returns to him and kisses him with true love's kiss, his "drooping rose" blossoms, IYKWIM. You know, just like in Beauty and the Beast. I bet you didn't know that the rose symbolized dick.
I don't know if this was supposed to be hilarious, but I found it wildly entertaining. It is nothing like her other books, and I can't help but feel like this was Hale's "trick" for the quintessential question of whether one ought to trick or to treat. My only complaint is that this book would have been better to save for April 1st than Halloween. What a truly epic prank to play, making you readers think they'd get fantasy daddy kink, only to surprise them with dildo leeches and vibrating magic splooge. I'm sorry, I can't right now. This was A+ trolling.
Isn't the hero supposed to be blonde? I'm sorry, but one of my pet-peeves is when the cover model bears zero resemblance to the hero and heroine as they're described in the novel. I know it's cool and smoky, and the dude is hot and all, but come on. At least try.
Moving on from Cover Aesthetics 101, KISS OF STEEL is one of those books that aspires to be a little of everything. It's a steampunk novel set in Victorian-era England, only this is a world with vampires and werewolves (oh my), with vampires, naturally, seizing power and forcing many poor humans to resort to using blood as currency. Vampirism exists on a spectrum, first as a plague, then as vampires, and then, in late stages, as violent blood-mad zombies that must be put down as if they were rabid animals.
The heroine, Honoria, was once a part of the glittering upper-class, but when her father was killed, she was forced to take to the streets in order to protect her younger siblings. Now, having reached the bottoms of her shallow pockets, she's forced to turn to one of the local crime lords for help, a vampire named Blade.
I thought the world-building in this book was pretty well-done. McMaster created a pretty terrifying one, filled with squalor and desperation and darkness. You could almost picture the fog-misted blood dispensaries and hear the creep of feet on cobblestones. For the most part, I also liked the romance, although the sexual tension was actually sexier than the actual sex scenes. I'm not really a fan of the phrase "lush pearl," and thought there were actually too many sex scenes towards the end, which seemed to serve an excuse to explain the rushed love between the hero and heroine.
Vickers was a great villain and I'm sad that he wasn't utilized more in the book. This is virtually the only thing that bothers me about some "dark" romances and that's when the books forget to be dark after squeezing in an under-developed love story that makes the story unnaturally fluffy. The beginning of KISS OF STEEL was so promising and even though it wasn't a bad book, I still felt cheated because I thought I was going to get something amazing and ended up with something that was just okay.
KISS OF STEEL passed the time, but it won't be topping any of my favorites lists. That said, if you're tired of cutesy, angsty vampires, this series will probably appeal to you. These guys (and girls) bite.