So, You Want To Get Into MO DAO ZU SHI (MDZS)/The Untamed…

Hello and welcome back to an episode of Silvia Gets Everyone Into Her Latest Obsessions.

First of all, an introduction, because I don’t want to assume that everyone who finds this post has even heard of this. Or maybe they have but they’re still as confused as I was when I saw my friends on twitter get into it.

So, what is MDZS?

Mo Dao Zu Shi is the title of a Chinese novel by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, and it translates to “Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation”, and it’s also the title of some of its adaptations (except for the live action, which I’m going to talk about later).

Here’s the synopsis from goodreads:

As the grandmaster who founded the Demonic Sect, Wei WuXian roamed the world in his wanton ways, hated by millions for the chaos he created. In the end, he was backstabbed by his dearest shidi and killed by powerful clans that combined to overpower him. He incarnates into the body of a lunatic who was abandoned by his clan and is later, unwillingly, taken away by a famous cultivator among the clans—Lan WangJi, his archenemy. This marks the start of a thrilling yet hilarious journey of attacking monsters, solving mysteries, and raising children. From the mutual flirtation along the way, Wei WuXian slowly realizes that Lan WangJi, a seemingly haughty and indifferent poker-face, holds more feelings for Wei WuXian than he is letting on.

I would say this description is not 100% spot-on, but it does mention a lot of its strong points.

Before we talk about the different adaptations, I’m going to tell you…

Why I love this series so much

(in bunny-points)

🐇 canon gay happy ending

🐰 non-linear storyline taking place over many (20) years

🐇 so many different plotlines and they all come together beautifully by the end (while realistically leaving a few things unsolved or bitter-sweetly solved)

🐰 music magic!!

🐇 great cast of characters

🐰 beautiful relationships & found families

🐇 fascinating world and magic

🐰 bunnies!!

🐇 it’s dark but it’s balanced by a lot of funny and cute moments

🐰 good balance of shallow + deep villains

🐇 strictly-followed typical villain arc but SUBVERTED

🐰 zombies and ghosts (psst, they’re not all bad!)

🐇 blurred line between right and wrong, does the end justify the means, etc

🐰 adopting children along the way

🐇 lots of beautiful heartbreak

🐰 investigating a mystery while falling in love

🐇 oblivious bisexual main character

🐰 …and so much more!

If everything I mentioned above sounds like something you’d also like, read on to learn about the different adaptations!

The basics

There are a few rules I feel are best to follow if you want to get into this fandom and enjoy each adaptation at its fullest, but of course this is just my experience with it and you should do what you feel like. In any case, here’s my general advice:

Start with something visual, doesn’t matter if it’s the comic or the animated version or both. I’d advice against starting with the novel because there are a lot of characters and you’ll be able to better tell them apart if you remember how they look (also, the different sects/clans are color-coded, which is nice).

• You can probably binge all the available comic chapters in a couple of hours or less before you start the novel, and to be honest you should. However, I don’t think it matters how far you’ve reached into the animated version, but by now it’s pretty far and you will be spoiled for a lot of things that happen in the novel if you watch the full two seasons. This is up to you, my personal advice would be to either stop watching at a point you feel right for you, or stop after episode 15 (where the first season —and a huge flashback— ends).

• If you’re planning to read the novel, absolutely leave the live action for last. It is an adaptation I absolutely adore and it is in some aspects an improvement from the novel, but it does get pretty canon divergent. So if you don’t want to get confused about some plot points, read the novel first, and preferably finish watching the animated version too, so that the canon plot gets solidified in your head before you get to enjoy the more canon-divergent version.

Again, this is just based on my experience and how I got to enjoy this series of adaptations, but if you’re like, “You know, I really only care about the live action”, then go for it and watch it first! And it won’t come in the way of your enjoyment of the novel if you end up wanting to read it anyway.

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The novel

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The novel is the original version written by MXTX and it’s unfortunately not yet officially translated in English (although, as you can imagine, there are fan translations on the internet). You might be able to purchase it if you can read Chinese, but I’m not sure if that’s possible because I heard of issues with censorship due to the M/M content. I know the author has had to write many different versions to appease Chinese censorship before but I’m quite honestly lost as to where it stands now and can’t find the information I want. But chances are, if you can read Chinese you can find this information better than I can (and if you do or you know about it already, please let me know!).

Anyway, the novel is very long and very beautiful. If you want to know more about it you can DM me on twitter @ verelaurent and I’ll try to answer your questions.

The manhua

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The manhua (Chinese manga) is structured like a webtoon and there are currently around 80 chapters, as far as I know. It’s also not yet officially translated in English, but of course there are fan translations.

I think as far as I know this is the second-closest adaptation that follows the novel, only second to the audio drama (which is the only adaptation the author herself has any supervision on, afaik, but I’m not covering it in this post because I haven’t listened to it -but I know it’s beautifully acted from snippets I’ve heard online).

Explanation time: the novel has many flashbacks (I told you, non-linear storyline), alternated with chapters in the present. The past timeline follows Wei Wuxian’s life before his death, and the present chapters follow him after his resurrection (this is not a spoiler since it tells you in the literal prologue of any adaptation, and it’s also in the synopsis!) Because some things work differently in different formats, the flashbacks don’t always interrupt the present story at the same time throughout all adaptations, but the manhua is more or less closer to the novel in this regard.

Here’s some fun screencaps from it:

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Wei Wuxian getting flustered
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drunk!Lan Wangji

The donghua | watch here!

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The donghua (Chinese anime) is one of two adaptations you can consume legally because it’s been officially translated!

It currently has two seasons (or, one 23-episodes-long season) and it will be a while before the next one comes out, but now is a good point to start it. Since it’s literally on YouTube, you really have no excuse not to start watching it (…unless you don’t want to, but then why did you get so far into this post? eheh), and if you don’t like it you can always close the tab and no harm done!

I think this adaptation is very well done, it keeps things a little more superficial compared to the novel or the live action, but that’s to be expected. It changes some things slightly, too, but less than the live action does. And the animation itself is so good, you can clearly see how much thought the creators put into each scene.

The live action | watch here!

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The live action is called Chén Qíng Lìng – The Untamed (usually people in the fandom just refer to it as cql), and sees Xiao Zhan as Wei Wuxian and Wang Yibo as Lan Wangji. The fandom loves them both and with good reason. I think they did their roles perfectly and truly became their characters and did them justice. Especially Yibo, who had the difficult task of portraying Lan Wangji, did such a masterful job (and keep in mind this was his first time acting!). The other actors were all amazing as well, and I love them all so much. I now see their faces when I reread the book or read fanfiction!

I like to see this adaptation as its own canon divergent universe. It did some things I preferred compared to the novel, especially how it gives more space to a few characters that in the novel have a smaller role, especially the female characters. Then there are things that I personally didn’t care about but I can sort of understand why they changed (especially in the past timeline, giving more scenes to the Wen clan, the yin iron…), and then there’s stuff I’m neutral about (the present plotline and what they did with the investigation plot).

There’s also the fact that because of Chinese censorship they had to formally no-homo the main relationship, but if you know me a bit you should at least trust me, lover of making things GAY, when I tell you that they did everything they could to convey how much the two main characters deeply love each other. Especially if you’ve read the novel, you’ll be able to tell exactly what’s going through their minds (especially Lan Wangji) at any given scene. I truly appreciate them giving them some of the most romantic, cheesy scenes I’ve ever seen in any live action ever (and, minor spoiler alert, they might not be able to show them as a couple, but the word “soulmate” might or might not have canonically used, so…)

I could honestly wax poetics about this adaptation for hours, but I promised myself this post wouldn’t be a review so I’m keeping this short(ish).

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The warnings

I would love to give y’all a full trigger warning list, but the fact is the novel is very very long and I wasn’t taking notes when I read it, so my list is going to be lacking. And as always, you should never count on only one person to spot all the triggers in any given work anyway.

This is a very dark story that sees major character deaths (although the most important one you know from the start, and you know he gets resurrected), grief, war, and so much more. If this was a western novel we’d label it Adult, and if you don’t normally read dark, adult fantasy, I would recommend you procede with caution.

A most definitely not complete list of content warnings (note: not all warnings may apply to all the adaptations, and not all warnings apply to the main characters/relationships and have the same importance throughout the story):

(highlight the paragraph to read): multiple major character deaths, loss of parents, grief, effects of trauma, self-sacrificing for others in more than one way, eye horror, betrayal, gore, walking corpses, monsters etc, war, mention of incest, murder, mention of torture, portrayal of work/death camp-like setting, mention of rape, mentions of extreme poverty and homelessness, dubious consent, child death, presumed child death, corporal punishment, mutilation, dismemberment, explicit sex scenes, alcohol consumption, mention of parental abuse.

Another no-context warning from the bottom of my heart: if you read the novel and you finish it, you will see there are extra chapters. They’re mostly good to very good, but don’t read the one that’s called Incense Burner (you will thank me).

The disclaimer

Like every piece of fiction, this is not perfect. If I were to review it like I do other books or shows, I would give it five stars because my ratings tend to focus more on my emotional response than anything, but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of its flaws. But the fact is that this story has consumed my time and thoughts for more than a month, thanks to the different adaptations (and fanfiction), so much that I’ve been in a reading slump ever since and I don’t even care about forcing myself to get back to reading until I get it out of my system.

It’s a fantasy story set in a world and a culture I knew nothing about (and still can’t claim to understand beyond what MDZS showed me), but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the page although the novel is 113 chapters long (and something that would probably be around 1k+ pages of a print book), and I honestly can’t say that many of the books I read were able to do the same.

Also, all my friends who have spontaneously (after seeing me talk about it all day on twitter…….) started to watch/read it are now in hell and can’t stop talking and thinking about it, so I guess it’s one of those things that once you start you kind of get obsessed with. I take no responsibility for your book slumps, y’all.

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I hope this post was useful to those of you who have been wanting to get in on this fandom because I know it can be hard to understand where to start with. And if you didn’t know about it before, I really hope I have piqued your interest! If you need more information / links just shoot me a DM on twitter @ verelaurent (please mention you came from this post if I don’t know you, so I know why you’re writing me).

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ARC Review: The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore // or: sometimes a family can be an assassin, her girlfriend, an annoying magical nerd and three dead camels

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Second in K. A. Doore’s high fantasy adventure series the Chronicles of Ghadid, a determined assassin travels to the heart of the Empire in pursuit of a powerful mark, for fans of Robin Hobb, Sarah J. Maas, and S. A. Chakraborty

Thana has a huge reputation to live up to as daughter of the Serpent, who rules over Ghadid’s secret clan of assassins. Opportunity to prove herself arrives when Thana accepts her first contract on Heru, a dangerous foreign diplomat with the ability to bind a person’s soul under his control.

She may be in over her head, especially when Heru is targeted by a rival sorcerer who sends hordes of the undead to attack them both. When Heru flees, Thana has no choice than to pursue him across the sands to the Empire that intends to capture Ghadid inside its iron grip.

A stranger in a strange city, Thana’s only ally is Mo, a healer who may be too noble for her own good. Meanwhile, otherworldly and political dangers lurk around every corner, and even more sinister plans are uncovered which could lead to worldwide devastation. Can Thana rise to the challenge—even if it means facing off against an ancient evil?

Release date: November 12th

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★★★.75✩

This book is the second in The Chronicles of Ghadid series and while it follows different main characters than The Perfect Assassin, you shouldn’t jump directly into this one if you haven’t read that first, because you will miss important information and context that makes this world so interesting.

And speaking of the world, after reading TPA I knew I loved it, but this second book solidified my appreciation for it (and it made me realize that it’s perfectly possible to get attached to a fictional city, and oh how I am attached to Ghadid).

While TPA was more focused on the city, giving a cozy introductions to the world and its rules, The Impossible Contract expands our horizon and shows us what’s beyond Ghadid, bringing us to the sands below and to the Empire’s capital. I loved seeing the different rules and customs, I loved the different stakes that this book’s characters faced, and the fact that magic played a much bigger role than in book one. It’s also simultaneously rather darker than TPA and funnier, and a little more hopeful. Also, camels. 🐪

TIC follows Thana, Amastan’s cousin, who has a contract to kill Heru, the Empress’s en-marabi (sort of a necromancer) and a man whose work many people consider blasphemous. When she doesn’t succeed on her first try, she finds that there’s so much more going on, and the stakes are higher than she could have ever imagined. Also it doesn’t hurt that her healer is really cute. What follows is a rather action-packed adventure among zombies, guuls, sand, magic, sand, and more sand. And have I mentioned camels? 🐪

Thana, Mo and Heru are one of the best and most fun travelling trio I’ve ever met in fiction. Heru is exactly the type of character I can’t help falling in love with, with his deadpan, accidental humor. He’s a first class nerd, a Ravenclaw who does everything he does for the sake of expanding the horizons of knowledge. Someone please keep him away from camels.

Thana is a wonderful MC. She wants to prove herself not just as the daughter of a famous assassin, she wants to built her own name and to do so she ends up having to cross the desert with unlikely allies. My heart ached for and with her more than once, and I just wanted her to get her happy ending.

Mo is the other side of the nerd coin, she and Heru have very different principles but rely on similar strengths. Usually it’s the MC that has to see their beliefs challenged during their character arc, but here Mo takes on that role and it works so well. I love her (and so does Thana).

I’m sure I could say much more (and come up with more camel jokes), but I’ll finish by saying that this was such a joyful experience for me, and this series is so much fun to read and to talk about with my friends who’ve also read it. Even though I’ve already read the ARC I think I will listen to the audiobook when it comes out because that’s how I read TPA and it was so nice.

So, if you’re looking for a well-crafted world, a cute f/f romance set in a scary desert, well-rounded characters and an adventure that’s above all fun, definitely get your hands on this book. And don’t forget to read The Perfect Assassinfirst for soft gay ace assassins and murder mysteries.

TWs: blood, gore, blood magic, violence, slavery, vomiting, injury, magical healing, animal deaths, eye horror, minor character deaths, zombies, mind control

Review: Failed Future (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #3) by Elise Kova

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the author for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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When worlds collide, and things are rarely what they seem, there may be no one Vi can trust.

Having forsaken her crown for a chance to save her family, and the world, Vi Solaris washes up on the shores of Meru. She’s wounded and barely alive. But Vi’s fight for survival is only just beginning.

As a princess in a foreign land, everyone is after her.

The pirate queen Adela wants to sell her to the evil elfin’ra. The Twilight King wants to use her to settle an old score. And, perhaps most dangerous, is the scheming Lord of the Faithful who sees her as an opportunity to further consolidate his power.

The only path for Vi is forward. But she doesn’t yet know if she’s running toward salvation… or a brutal end to everything she loves.

Vi’s journey continues with even more betrayal, romance, magic, and a twist you never saw coming that leaves readers begging for the next book. 

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★★★✩

Third books in long series are always a turning point and this one was as well, in more ways than one.

In the first half of the book there was a lot I liked. Kova’s ability to introduce new characters and make them interesting right off the bat is something that works really well at the beginning of new series or, in this case, when our main character is somewhere new and has to make new connections.

However, the rest of the book was a little boring to me despite the fact that it was rather fast paced, or maybe that’s why, since I enjoy a bit more focus on characters and relationships. But I might have honestly just not been in the mood for this, because I was also bored with Vi and Taavin’s relationship since it took more page time than the prequels. I did enjoy some moments of course and I was able to focus on the final 20 pages more than I did for the second half of the book.

And that brings me to the ending (no worries, no spoilers from me). I think what Kova did in this book is very brave and I’ll be able to fully process what happened in this book when I read the next, but it’s certainly taken a turn I’d have never seen coming. I’m still not entirely sure what it all means for the rest of the series and for our view of Air Awakens, but I’m very curious to see what will happen next.

Speaking of Air Awakens, I truly believe that while it’s not necessary to read it for the first two books of this series, there will be a lot of connections that are lost if you haven’t read the original series. Especially going into the next books, I fully recommend catching up with the first series if you haven’t done so already.

ARC Review: The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Rinn has grown up with the Tea Dragons that inhabit their village, but stumbling across a real dragon turns out to be a different matter entirely! Aedhan is a young dragon who was appointed to protect the village but fell asleep in the forest eighty years ago. With the aid of Rinn’s adventuring uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel, they investigate the mystery of his enchanted sleep, but Rinn’s real challenge is to help Aedhan come to terms with feeling that he cannot get back the time he has lost.

Release date: September 17th

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★★★★

What an utterly delightful story, and what a gift to the world is Katie O’Neill!

The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion-prequel to The Tea Dragon Society and it follows Rinn (they/them), who is an aspiring cook, and a Dragon (not a small tea dragon!) who’s been asleep for too long. We also see a young Erik and Hesekiel in their bounty hunters days and they’re just as cute as you might imagine if you’ve read TTDS. There’s also a side character who uses Sign Language and the whole village has learned SL because of her and it’s like, no big deal to them and it was so endearing to see.

As always the author has created a rich and inclusive world that radiates the positivity we so desperately need sometimes with escapism nowadays. This is both great for a younger audience and for everyone else who’s just looking to read a wonderful diverse story and look at seriously cute art. I can’t recommend it enough!

Review: Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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I’m willingly not sharing the official summary of this book because I found it super misleading.

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★★★★.5✩

This book’s biggest flaw was the way it was marketed.

First things first, I loved this book. I think it might have been a 5 stars under slightly different circumstances, and if I can ever bring myself to read it again I think I will be able to give this the 5 stars it probably deserves.

Before we get into what it did right and why I liked it, let me once again do the job that the publisher* failed to do and clarify that, first of all, that blurb is totally misleading. Prince is not the protagonist of this book and he’s frankly not even that important. Fairies in this book are just a clever excuse to explore humanity, or better said, some very fucked up and ugly sides of humanity. And that brings me to my second point, which you should keep in mind before even thinking about reading this book: this is fucking dark. It’s ugly, it’s triggering, it’s maddening, and if you manage to read enough of it it has one of the most satisfying character developments and conclusion of any book I’ve ever read.

To put this on Netgalley without a single trigger warning, and especially to set it as “Read Now”, was a huge mistake and a huge disfavor to both readers and the book itself. I’m sorry if I come off as harsh but I’m not just here to review the book, if the publisher really cares about feedback I hope they will take this into consideration for the next books they put up for review.

* (hi, publisher person that will read this when I send my review through Netgalley! please don’t take this review as your cue to never approve me for your books ever, again, thank you)

This is initially a story about the codependency between two foster siblings, Josh and Ksenia. Their relationship gets about as unhealthy as you can imagine, and because for the first good chunk of the book we only get to see things through Ksenia’s eyes, our reading experience can get incredibly frustrating. If you’re someone who while reading needs to be told at any given moment, “This is wrong, btw,” then you should stay away from this book. You know it’s so, so wrong, but the book *shows* you that it is instead of telling you, because character perspective matters and that’s the whole fucking point.

As the story progresses and the codependency slides pretty heavily into abuse, you get a different, healthier POV. And thank god, because reading Lexi’s POV chapters are like emerging to finally take a breath after being held under water by Ksenia and Josh. And still it’s a while before things can get better, because they need to get worse first.

What truly struck me about this book were two things: the writing, which is absolutely stunning and it completely captured me from page one, and the fact that Ksenia is given all the compassion, all the redemption, all the healing and forgiveness we usually bestow upon male characters. And I don’t know if she’s a female character, other reviewers have said she’s possibly genderqueer, although this isn’t explicit in the text, but she’s a character I feel was missing in YA, or maybe I just haven’t encountered one like her yet.

The leading theme in this book is how abuse will affect the mind and affections of a victim. How a victim is left alone, ignored, blamed even, and is left so vulnerable to the slightest hint of what they think is love. They think, this is the best I can ever hope for. This is better than it was before, so it must mean it’s all I’m worth. And sometimes things really are good, but sometimes they’re really fucking not, and Ksenia was unlucky enough to first read the definition of love from the dictionary of Josh, except Josh is a victim too and his definition of love is all wrong, too. This book does an amazing job at never victim-blaming anyone but also at showing the effects of your first, your second, your life-long abuse, because those things can’t be ignored when we talk about abuse and especially when we talk about surviving it.

Ksenia isn’t magically saved by her love for Lexi, or by Lexi’s love for her, but she’s given the tools to dig herself out of eighteen years of wrong, and that’s the most powerful message you can send readers.

There are so many other things I loved about this book. Everyone is queer (Ksenia is possibly genderqueer and attracted to multiple genders, Josh is fat, pansexual and gender non conforming, Lexi is Black and discovers her multiple-gender-attraction throughout the novel), the writing, as I said before, is absolutely beautiful and atmospheric. The faeries are seriously creepy as fuck and I loved (hated) them. The conclusion was the best one I could hope for. But seriously, the best thing of all is everything I talked about for most of my review.

Now more than ever I encourage you to read the trigger warnings and know that it’s okay if you think you can’t handle them; these aren’t things that are just mentioned in passing, they are very real in the novel and it WILL get super uncomfortable even if this stuff isn’t usually a trigger to you. But if you think you can, give this book a try because it’s so, so worth it.

Trigger Warnings: incest, codependency, abuse, sexual assault and rape, death on page, violence, body horror, parental neglect.

ARC Review: Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.

If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground…

With time running out, can Maren survive long enough to rescue Kaia from impending death? Or could it be that Maren is destined for something greater than she could have ever imagined?

Release date: July 30th

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★★★✩

An interesting worldbuilding and a perfect story for fans of The Dragon Prince, which was ultimately just a little too forgettable for me.

This book starts with a really great premise, a QPOC girl who decides to go save her girlfriend and undertakes a journey in a very interesting fantasy world with dragons that can bond to humans.

I thought the execution was okay for a debut, but if you’ve read a lot of fantasy books this will read a little too generic. The protagonist, Maren, is on a deadline to save her girlfriend, and yet we conveniently forget about the time issue for the time that it takes Maren to learn useful skills and important bits of worldbuilding and forge new friendships and relationships. Then time is suddenly relevant again and everything has to move forward rather fast. So, overall the pacing doesn’t usually bother me and it didn’t here, but it was definitely something I noticed. Some things were also very predictable, and all the foreshadowing was very obviously foreshadowing from the moment you read it and not 100 pages later when it actually became relevant. This is all just nitpicking and it’s just something you notice if you’ve read a lot of books, like I said.

Probably my favorite part of the whole book was the dragon egg that reminded me so much of The Dragon Prince, one of my favorite shows. It was really cute.

Maren is a bi girl in an already established relationship with a girl, that will be the reason for her whole quest. And here comes the part of this review that I dread to write, because it’s impossible for me not to mention it but as a bi girl I am aware of all the nuance in this. Of course, there’s a boy and Maren is like, immediately attracted to him. While still in a relationship with Kaia, her girlfriend. Think of it as you like, I personally was annoyed at this aspect of the story. There are other ways to show bisexual attraction without involving actual emotional cheating (and I use this term because it was more than just, “oh he’s so hot.”). Does it happen IRL? Of course. But maybe it’s not great in general and especially when the bisexual character is the one doing it. In any case I was mostly able to overlook it and pin it to the writer’s inexperience, I just want to warn other bisexual readers that this is something that happens.

So, would I recommend this book? I think the worldbuilding was interesting and it has a lot of potential for the rest of the series, if you can overlook some of the more debut-y aspects. I’m going to keep an eye out for the next installment if I remember, but even just a few weeks after reading it I don’t remember enough about this to really crave the sequel.

ARC Review: The Queen of Rhodia (Tales of Inthya #3) by Effie Calvin

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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It has been sixteen months since Princess Esofi arrived in Ieflaria, and eight since her marriage to Crown Princess Adale. The princesses have a peaceful life together, preparing to become co-regents and raising their baby dragon, Carinth.

Their peace is shattered when Esofi’s mother, Queen Gaelle of Rhodia, arrives in Birsgen. She has heard about Carinth and believes that she deserves custody of him due to her greater devotion to Talcia, Goddess of Magic.

Adale and Esofi have no intention of giving up their son, but Gaelle is impossible to reason with—and there’s no telling what lengths she’ll go to in order to get what she wants.

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★★★★.5✩

I was so proud to see that the few minor issues I had with the first installment of this series were completely absent here. Not to brag but I KNEW IT and I love seeing that I was right about the writer’s potential.

So, our main characters Esofi and Adale got married and are now in an established relationship and dealing with their dragon son and with the political repercussions of The Things That Happened in book one. Of course Esofi’s mother, who is a fucking abusive bitch, enters the picture and stirs trouble. Plot happens, they’re still gay, the MCs from book two have cameos and they’re also gay, everything’s good, the end.

In all seriousness, I loved how this book dealt with pretty much everything. I knew it was going to be tough to read because of the abuse that Esofi went through her whole life and because she was forced to deal with her mother again. I wouldn’t say that any of that particular plot line was, strictly speaking, pleasant to read, and it didn’t offer me personallyany sort of closure because of the particular abuse dynamics here, but I know it will help another victim of abuse out there, and I’m so glad.

I don’t usually care for established relationship conflict in most cases, but here I thought it was done so well and so delicately. I’m really grateful to Effie Calvin for giving this couple their well-deserved sequel and exploring things we usually don’t get to see in get-together romances.

I don’t know what else to say except that I loved this and that I’m going to pick up book two as soon as I can (yes, I know, I suck, but in my defense this was perfectly understandable without having read book 2 since it followed the couple from book one, okay).