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.

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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).

ARC Review: King of Fools (The Shadow Game #2) by Amanda Foody

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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Summary: Indulge your vices in the City of Sin, where a sinister street war is brewing and fame is the deadliest killer of them all…

On the quest to find her missing mother, prim and proper Enne Salta became reluctant allies with Levi Glaisyer, the city’s most famous con man. Saving his life in the Shadow Game forced Enne to assume the identity of Seance, a mysterious underworld figure. Now, with the Chancellor of the Republic dead and bounties on both their heads, she and Levi must play a dangerous game of crime and politics…with the very fate of New Reynes at stake.

Thirsting for his freedom and the chance to build an empire, Levi enters an unlikely partnership with Vianca Augustine’s estranged son. Meanwhile, Enne remains trapped by the mafia donna’s binding oath, playing the roles of both darling lady and cunning street lord, unsure which side of herself reflects the truth.

As Enne and Levi walk a path of unimaginable wealth and opportunity, new relationships and deadly secrets could quickly lead them into ruin. And when unforeseen players enter the game, they must each make an impossible choice: To sacrifice everything they’ve earned in order to survive…

Or die as legends.

Release date: out now!

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King of Fools was one of my most anticipated sequels this year and I was not disappointed. Am I mad a this book and at Amanda Foody? Oh, hell yes. But I loved every second of it.

I believe that, in trilogies, second books should feel completely different from book one, and then book three should be an expansion of book two. We’ll see what book three has in store for us, but for now I can say that this book had a totally different feeling from Ace of Shades, and it was great.

Different were the themes, the stakes, the pacing, the POVs. We saw old and new characters in a different light, and the city of New Reynes took its own rightful place as almost a character of its own, with its rich history and legends, even more so than in the first installment.

This book is so rich and full of events, each leading to new and more complicated plot points, that it’s impossible to put it down. Even if you somehow weren’t hooked to the plot, the characters are so interesting and you love them so much that you can’t not keep reading.

Structurally speaking, KoF has two main differences: three POVs (Enne, Levi, Jac) and a both faster and slower pace. Faster because a lot more happens than in Ace, but spread out over several months instead of the ten days of Ace. I think that was necessary, although if we were to analyze it, some time skips were a little too convenient maybe, but I don’t care too much about that. It all flowed well and came together nicely (OR SHOULD I SAY NOT NICELY) for the grand finale.

If you’ve read Ace, you know how much Enne grew in those pages, and here we see the lovely results of that. Mainly we get to see Enne form her own girl gang and it’s everything you’ve ever needed in your life. I really appreciated the variety of girls there, even though obviously there needed to be a focus on only a few of them. Also, there was a lovely side f/f relationship and I’m ready to see more of it in the sequel.

While Enne changed a lot in a short time, Levi’s character development in Ace had more to do with our perception of him the longer we stayed in his head. In KoF, I think it’s fair to say that Levi does quite a bit of character development in the way that usually male characters (and men in general) do: his development is always the result of something that happens, usually something he regrets doing after seeing the consequences it had. I found this both realistic and frustrating at times, but in a way that was always consistent with who he was since the beginning of Ace.

Levi’s development was also integrated by an outside perspective, mainly Jac’s POV, into his flaws, but that’s not all Jac was there for, which was something I was afraid of at the beginning. I’m glad we saw Jac have his own story line and his own agenda, and I loved his POV so much. Jac’s POV also had one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever read, that literally had me forget to breathe while I was reading and I won’t easily forget. I just want to say: Jac Mardlin, I am so fucking proud of you.

I think the writing also did improve, and there were a couple of scenes like the one I just talked about that proved it, as well as certain……..decisions that Amanda Foody took. I am now equally excited and terrified for the sequel, because King of Fools was already a lot in terms of emotional wreckage.

In case it wasn’t clear, I FREAKING LOVED THIS BOOK AND I NEED BOOK 3 ASAP.

TWs: mention of drug abuse and addiction, character deaths, violence, blood, explosions, murder, torture, executions.

Audiobook Review: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

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Summary: Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution.  As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.

Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?

In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and DuneThe Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most celebrated new writers.

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★★★.5✩

This is one of those books I would’ve never read if it wasn’t for the audiobook so I’m glad I had this experience. The narrators are great but I didn’t know how to feel about the story for the first 30% maybe, although there were enough elements to keep me interested so I kept listening.

Once it got to a certain point it became more of a travel fantasy (yes it’s a space opera but to be honest there’s not that much space) I started to enjoy it more, but bear with me: this book is truly disgusting. If you’re squeamish you need to stay away from this book. It has body horror and gore on every page and it takes place on worlds/ships that are rotting cephalopods. The book doesn’t make things nice for you, it just tells them like they are. Also stay away if you’re bothered by pregnancies and reading about giving birth and not in the “omg such a beautiful thing” way. Basically don’t read it if even the mention of bodily fluids makes you go “eww”.

It’s definitely not something I would have wanted to read otherwise but I was in it for the all female, all lesbian cast, and although I wouldn’t say there’s actually a romance (nothing I would call healthy anyway), there’s a really messed up f/f/f love triangle (but one could argue it’s more of a love square) where one of them (at least one of them?) is the villain. Another aspect I loved was the main character having lost her memory and see her on her (not only metaphorical) journey to regain it, alongside a strange and unlikely group of women that were really what kept me listening even when I was confused (and I was confused a lot).

Would I recommend this if you’re able to handle the stuff I warned you about? Probably only if you’re a big scifi/space opera/fantasy reader, or if you’re as invested in stories about lesbians as I am, or if you want to try reading outside of your comfort zone. So basically, yes.

TWs: extreme gore, violence, cannibalism, death, birth, memory loss

ARC Review: The Fever King by Victoria Lee // an incredible debut about trauma, magic viruses and wonderfully queer kids

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

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

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

Release date: March 1st

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★★★★✩

It’s hard to say in a sentence what The Fever King is about.

You could say it’s about Noam, a Jewish Latino bisexual teen who survives the magic virus that kills most of the population and leaves him a witching, status which grants him a spot among the people he and his family have always fought against. You could say it’s about impossible decisions and the line between right and wrong. You could say it’s about intergenerational trauma and what it does to the individual and to a community.

The Fever King is a book that will draw you in and make you care about the characters and the story. Even if you are not familiar with the genre (I would say it’s YA political fantasy/dystopia), the narrating voice of Noam guides you through the book in a way that draws from more light-hearted YA books. That is to say, Noam is a joy to read and he manages to make you smile and laugh even amidst all the stuff that goes on in the book. Sometimes I found like this could have been toned down a little, and at times I felt like the type of narrative used was more proper of a first person POV than the third person used here, but that’s just a personal preference.

I loved the magic system and the fact that, even with magic powers, people still need to know the science behind what they’re doing (eg knowing physics in order to move objects with telekinetics). That’s something I wish was more present in books with magic because it’s always so interesting to see and much better than when magic has no explanation or rules.

One of the strongest things this book has to offer are the many political themes that I don’t feel qualified enough/entitled to talk about. I encourage you to read Victoria Lee’s words about some of the themes that shape this book.

I’m not going to lie, I struggled a lot (for months!) trying to write a review, because this is such an important book and I felt so bad not giving it a full five stars. I also read an early copy and I don’t know how much the final product will be edited, but I fully plan on rereading it because the only problems I had were in the writing, which to me feels somewhat debut-y. I felt like the worldbuilding could’ve been better interwoven into the plot instead of being sometimes dumped in a big bulk. Sometimes it was tell-y instead of show-y, and I think certain *hints* were a little too obvious for my tastes.

Those are just my personal preferences though, and I don’t want anyone to think that this isn’t an incredible debut. There were so many points that made me laugh out loud and others made me SCREAM because they were some of the most evil things I’ve seen done by an author, and I mean that in the best way possible of course.

Some reasons you shouldn’t go into this book is if you’re expecting it to be about 100% good people (they’re not) and also if you don’t like gay shit. But in that case you can gently go fuck yourself and it’s your loss I guess, because e v e r y o n e in this book is wonderfully queer.

TWs: list of trigger warnings on the author’s website, plus a few I feel like I should: sickness and death of a child, mention of c.p., murder, blood, gore.

Review: Vortex Visions by Elise Kova /// the sequel to Air Awakens we’ve all been waiting for

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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Summary: A desperate princess, a magical traveler, and a watch that binds them together with the fate of a dying world.

Vi Solaris is the heir to an Empire she’s barely seen. Her parents sacrificed a life with her to quell a rebellion and secure peace with a political alliance. Now, three years past when her wardship should’ve ended, Vi will do anything to be reunited with her family.

The Empire is faltering beneath the burden of political infighting and a deadly plague. Yet, Vi can’t help but wonder if her inability to control her magic is the true reason her parents haven’t brought her home. Suspicion becomes reality when she unleashes powers she’s not supposed to have.

Powers that might well cost her the throne.

As Vi fights to get her magic under control, a mysterious stranger appears from across the world. He holds the keys to unlocking her full potential, but the knowledge has an unspeakable price — some truths, once seen, cannot be ignored.

All eyes are on her and Vi must make the hardest choice of her life: Play by the rules and claim her throne. Or, break them and save the world.

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★★★★✩

Aaaaand we’re finally back in the Air Awakens world! I can’t express how much I missed AA and its characters, and while I still haven’t managed to reread (because five books are A Lot), I still remembered enough details to dive into this sequel/spin-off and catch all the references.

⇒ Do you need to read the Air Awakens series first? 

You probably don’t need to, since this follows different characters, but at the same time I feel like you’d lose a lot by not knowing what happened before. Kova built a rich, fantastic world with simple but important rules, and there’s a lot that the first series covered (relationships between the different parts of the Empire, the culture and superstition around sorcerers, the way magic works, the history of the Empire, etc) that still plays a huge role in Vortex Visions. While most of it is explained here again as the story goes on, I feel like to get the best reading experience you really do need to have read the first series.

⇒ Review 

This book takes place around twenty years after the events of Air Awakens and sees Vhalla and Aldrik’s daughter, Vi, as the protagonist.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE END OF THE AIR AWAKENS SERIES

If you’ve read the end of the first series, you’ll know that Vhalla’s firstborn is to be sent to the North to live among them. I didn’t remember all the details about the deal and why that came to be, but more is explained here.

Vi is seventeen and while her parents visit her when they can, she has never set foot outside of the North. She has also never met her own twin brother (only younger than her by a few minutes), but communicates with him through letters.

When Vi’s power is Awakened, it’s not as she or most people imagined it, and she must keep it mostly hidden as she trains with Sehra, the Chieftain of the North. And with her power come visions of the future that promise nothing good to come.

I think one of Elise Kova’s strongest abilities, other than the worldbuilding, is how she creates an interesting cast of surrounding characters that relate in different ways to the MC. We see some familiar faces (Jax!!!!, Sehra) and a few new ones: Ellene and Jayme are Vi’s friends; Andru is the son of the Head of Senate and recently sent to the North to assess Vi’s qualifications as future Empress. Taavin is the “voice”, the boy Vi (the champion) summons with her newfound power.

I really liked most characters even though I don’t have strong feelings towards both Ellene and Jayme. I wanted to know more about Andru and I think the clues about his own side romance were pretty obvious and I can’t wait to see it unfold in the next issues. I cared less about the main romance, I’m sure the next books will make me like it more but so far I just don’t see a reason why they should be together. I do however appreciate how inclusive this was (as were Kova’s other series): we have Andru who’s gay, Vi’s brother who’s so-far-not-specified queer, and Ellene has two moms (Sehra and her wife).

I found the ending a bit abrupt, like, I thought I still had one more chapter to go but that was it. But speaking of which, there’s a few appendixes at the end with maps, more explanations on Lightspinning and elemental affinities, a pronunciation guide (it’s not V-ee but V-eye! but I will still keep reading it as V-ee in my head lol) and a recap of the story of Dia. I really appreciate that because it makes the worldbuilding more accessible and idk, I just really like when authors do that.

Overall this is a strong first installment for a spin-off and I can’t wait for the next one.

Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

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Summary:

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

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

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

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

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★★★✩

I had a hard time trying to come up with a rating with this before even trying to write a review, so I’ll just get straight to the point: I listened to this and I usually can follow audiobooks very well. (If you’ve read my Audiobook Guide, you know this by now, and you’ll probably laugh at me for this. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it and then come back so you can laugh at me.) I’ve listened to fantasy books with worldbuildings supposedly more complicated than this one and felt like I understood them with no problems. And yet, listening to this I felt like I was lost half of the time. Part of it I’m sure is due to the fact that I didn’t like the male narrator – while he can do dialogues and voices splendidly, he’s always so….monotone and boring when actually narrating. And since he had most of the worldbuilding to do (because of Séverin’s POV), that was a big deal that made me not enjoy this/not understand this as much as I would’ve liked. But seeing as I had similar problems with the other narrator, which I liked much more, makes me think that the book itself was confusing too.

The pacing and amount of action was also not for me. I usually prefer slower books where I get to know the characters slowly and everything builds up to a big action-y thing, but not before a good 200 pages of build-up in which I actually get to care about what’s going on and I am able to familiarize myself with the stakes and consequences if things go wrong. In this book, I felt like one action scene was followed by another, and this, on top of my problems being able to follow the audio, threw me off things.

I also feel like there was a disconnect between how I felt about the characters for like, 80% of the book and how I felt about them by the end. I definitely loved the found family element in this and I think the squad + Hypnos are going to be a lot of people’s new favorites, but I hard a hard time getting invested. It’s not that I didn’t care about them, but I couldn’t stop seeing them as very arbitrarily constructed archetypes that had to make up just the perfect recipe in order for the reader to fall for them. No, I’m not trying to go the “let’s compare every trait of every TGW characters to every trait of Six Of Crows characters” route, because while I definitely would recommend this books to SoC fans, such a trait-by-trait comparison has been done before and I don’t think that’s a very kind thing to do to an author. These are Roshani Chokshi’s characters, but they only started to feel like actual people to me at the end of the book.

And what an ending this book has. I might not have known what was going on most of the book but BOI did the entire ending shook me to my core. That’s where I saw the characters come truly alive for the first time, and everything about it made me want to jump right into the next book. Which, you know, won’t be out for at least another year, which is totally. fine. Yep. Most definitely. f i n eJUST KIDDING I kind of need it right now.

Another thing I loved is the casual diversity and how everyone’s identity is fleshed out and is fully part of them. Because of the problems I had following the book and because so many of these characters’ experiences (effects of colonialism, being biracial, being brown, being white-passing, not fitting in or being welcome in any of your cultures, etc) aren’t in any way similar to my own, I don’t feel like I can properly talk about them in depth, so I definitely encourage you to look for more reviews. For example, check out Mel’s review in which she talks more about Enrique’s character. All I can speak for myself is that I loved the fact that not one but TWO characters (Enrique and Hypnos) are bi/pan and that they’re kind of in a low-angst love triangle (which I’m hoping is going some kind of way *coughs*polyam triangle*coughs* in book two but WE’LL SEE).

Overall I can say that I definitely liked a lot of elements in this but I also feel like I didn’t get the best experience I possibly could out of this, and I can’t gauge how much of that is actually the book’s fault, which frustrates me to no end. I’m going with a 3 stars rating for now, but I WILL reread before the next book comes out and this time I’ll get my hands on a paper or digital copy, since the audiobook didn’t work for me.