ARC Review: Crystal Caged (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #5) by Elise Kova

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

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One way or another… she will be the end of the world.

With powers that weren’t supposed to be touched by mortal hands, Vi Solaris is determined to free herself and the world from the deadly vortex it’s trapped in. This mission has taken her to forbidden lands and has transformed her from a sheltered princess to a fearsome warrior.

But the ultimate triumph requires the ultimate sacrifice, forcing Vi to choose between the last tethers to her humanity and the very people she’s sworn to protect.

Vi’s story of magic, sacrifice, triumph, and love reaches its epic conclusion in Crystal Caged.

Release date: March, 14th

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★★★✩✩ 

This book was mostly fine, but I think it suffered a lot because of how it was structured. Potential spoilers below I guess?

The frequent time skips were its weakest point, starting from the fact that it starts a number of years after the end of the previous book. There were also months and years skipped here and there throughout the book and while I understand it was necessary it also made for a read that was hard to get invested into. I admit if it wasn’t for the fact that through it we got to see so many characters and events from Air Awakens my rating would be lower.

I made my peace very early in the series with the fact that I wasn’t invested in the romance and knew this final book wouldn’t change my mind about it. I did enjoy the friendships and the dialogues and interactions with old characters, even when they were painful (why did I have to experience [redacted] again???)

Overall I’m glad I read this series because it reminded of how much I loved Air Awakens, every book was an entertaining enough read but my reading tastes have changed too much since then and I can’t seem to get as emotionally invested as I was in that series.

ARC Review: The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

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

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In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.

Release date: March, 17th

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★★★★

Finishing this book felt like being the “I lived bitch” meme

The Electric Heir messed with my emotions in a way that The Fever King didn’t. I want to make it clear before we start that I don’t consider myself a survivor of the type of abuse portrayed here, and this is a duology that’s especially written for survivors. So there will be things I don’t get and all I can do is listen to those who see themselves in this series.

What I can say is that this book is very hard to read and I don’t know if I recall many books that made me have to stop reading and take a breath because it was becoming too much. I had expectations and thoughts on how this book was going to play out, but even aware of the content warnings I was not prepared for how sudden everything was and how we were thrown in the middle of that whole emotional mess. Saying that I loved it would be inaccurate: this book gets ugly and you can’t help but hate it a little, but it makes its conclusion all the more satisfying.

There isn’t a lot I can talk about while reviewing a second and final book in a duology, but I loved finally getting Dara’s POV and I liked his voice maybe more than Noam’s. I was also under the impression that this series was going to be a trilogy but while I was reading I found out it’s a duology and I have to say, I need more series to be written in this format.

This is a short review because anything I say would be spoilery both for this book and the previous book, but watch out for Victoria Lee and her ability to create unforgettable characters. I’m looking forward to reading whatever she comes up with next.

TWs: inter-generational trauma, genocide, violence, abuse, attempted rape, mental health and suicide, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, emetophobia, drug and alcohol, abuse, parental death, ableist language.

Audiobook review: In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

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In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

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★★.5✩✩

This book was eye-opening for me because I’ve had multiple realizations while listening to it, first and foremost the realization that not caring about a book is a much worse feeling than not liking it.

This book was… objectively fine. It had things I like in theory but didn’t care for here and things I actually liked. I just really didn’t care about any of it and I feel so bad but it is what it is.

It might be that as soon as I started listening I realized that I actually really hate the idea of B&tB retellings, so I started off with a bad feeling in my gut. When I continued listening I could see that the aspects that make me uncomfortable about B&tB retellings were handled well here, but I still might stay away from such books in the future.

It might also be that while I love f/f romances (obviously) I just couldn’t see why Yên had to be so fucking horny for a dragon like, the moment she saw her. No, not even if she has a human form. Maybe I’m just not into monster romances and that’s another things this book made me realize. Generally speaking, I don’t mind insta-lust in most cases but I also didn’t really see an actual relationship development and I just couldn’t care about the romance at all.

I also didn’t really like any of the characters except for the twins, Vu Côn’s children, and actually found them and their relationship with Yên more well developed than the one with Vu Côn.

The world…this is another one of the realizations I’ve had with this book. I like Asian-inspired fantasy but I really don’t like fantasy dystopia. Or at least I didn’t care about this one. Oh, and speaking of the setting: I also don’t like magical buildings. I can’t see stuff in my head anyway so if things are constantly changing and just plain weird it just becomes a nightmare for me.

What I really liked was the diversity, there was an all Vietnamese cast and things about the language were also present in English (like specifying different kinds of pronouns for different form of address depending on relative age/social status etc). I bet that’s going to throw off a lot of monolinguals and I secretly rejoice at the thought of confused English monolinguals growing a big question mark on their faces.

There’s also two secondary characters who use they/them and, from what I could tell, personal pronouns were never assumed based on a person’s appearance. It was nice and effortless and this is how it should be.

I considered hard whether this was more of a 2.5 or a 3 stars for me, considering that what I felt was “meh” and that I do consider it an okay book. But I decided to go with 2.5 because it just doesn’t compare to books I rated 3 stars (which are normally books where I at least enjoy most elements). Regardless of my rating, please still know that this is an objectively good book probably, it just ticked off a lot of points I don’t like or care about.

ARC Review: The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

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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Summary: What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

Release date: February 11th

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★★★★✩

Coming up with a way to first introduce The Unspoken Name in a review is, at the very least, complicated. This is a novel with many layers and many aspects that cohabit peacefully with one another, and to put focus on one before the others would be to build wrongful expectations for what is the end result.

…and there I tricked you by giving you what I feel like should be the first thing to keep in mind when going into this novel. If you expect it to be fantasy more than scifi, or plot more than characters, or characters more than plot, or relationships more than characters, then you’ll end up expecting something this novel isn’t.

Keeping that in mind, now we can move on and talk about the different aspects!

The first thing I realized I liked about this book was the writing. I will admit it does feel like a debut novel but like, in a good way that makes me want to read the author’s future books and see how she improves based on what I already know she does well. I personally love when authors don’t force-feed you information about characters’ intentions and feelings/reactions at any given moment but let you understand it from the context and what you already know about them. I think this aspect was excellent and it had sometimes hilarious, sometimes powerful effects in moments that would have been spoiled by an overly detailed description. I also think each character’s voice was very distinct and immediately recognizable.

Speaking of which, I think characters and relationships are where this book truly shined for me. Amidst a lot of plot and action, these characters bleed through the pages and you absorb them slowly, as you would with a real person. By the end they all felt real in a way that doesn’t always happen with fantasy, and I truly Felt for their relationships.

The romantic aspect was really enjoyable but to be honest, not my favorite part. It was, I guess, just not as present as I usually like it to be, but I do feel that the sapphic (!!!!) relationship was very naturally built up and cute. I was also under the wrong impression (I don’t remember if because of reviews or why) that there would also be a side m/m romance but there is not (if you’ve read it and see a romance in That…I really don’t know what to tell you), and I would like to add: thank the Nine Gods. I don’t think there’s anyone here who’s allocishet but anyway there are like: three confirmed mlm characters (at least one of them is bi/pan) and three wlw ones.

The plot was intriguing and I was never bored. I do think it had some pacing issues, not something that necessarily always bothered me (for example, I love when it got a little slower for the sake of showing us certain characters and relationships), but it did make things a little weird in a couple of points. If you’re someone who cares a lot about plot and pacing, you might notice and care about this more than I did.

The worldbuilding is so unique and I’m not even going to pretend like I’ve understood how things work well enough to be able to talk about them but basically it’s a fantasy + scifi setting in which together with more high fantasy elements we also have uhh,, space (?) ships and you can jump between worlds.

So, would I recommend this? Absolutely! If you’re into adult fantasy and/or casually queer (sapphic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) books then this one is for you. And I’m really looking forward to the next book (by the way, this book can be a standalone because it has an arc that’s fully resolved by the end, which is even more reason to give it a try!), hoping it will follow Tal (my favorite character tbh).

TWs: human & animal sacrifices, violence, gore, drug use, death, alcohol, self mutilation

Review: The Deep by Rivers Solomon

I was sent this book as an advance listening copy via libro.fm for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

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★★★.5

This was one of the best and most unique novellas I’ve ever read.

I went in without knowing a single thing except what the book cover might tell you, so I was launched into this world and immediately, ahem, drowned in it. It was not always easy to follow at the very beginning, but I soon became extremely invested in the world, and later about the main character too.

There’s a reason for this delay, why you first get intrigued and want to know more about why things in this society work the way they do, and only later truly start caring about Yetu. Yetu is the historian of her society, meaning that she carries all the burden of a tragic and violent history while the rest of her species live their lives free of it, but she often loses herself in this history.

Only later, after the yearly ceremony where Yetu gets to share the history with the rest of her group, for only a few days, can we see Yetu free of her burden, and it’s not a wonder that her character might read a little generic at first. She doesn’t really know herself, was too young to really know herself when the full weight of their history was reversed on her.

It was then so satisfying to watch her regain her own identity, take decisions for herself, and reflect on what history means for the individual and for the community, and find out more about her origin while developing a beautiful romance with a human woman.

This is a tale that’s more about a community than about the main character, but it was still so good to see Yetu’s development while raising questions that are relevant to so many people, especially those who have had their roots and history erased from the collective memory. This is a story for those people especially, and as for everyone else who, like me, is white and knows her country’s and her hometown’s history, we just need to absorb the true meaning of this and reflect upon it.

I haven’t seen many reviews mention this, but let me be absolutely clear: this is also as queer as it gets (main f/f romance; m/m side romance; every water dweller is intersex and decides their own gender(s) or no gender at all; there is a human side character who uses they/them pronouns), and everyone is Black (both the water dwellers, who descend from pregnant African slaves, and the humans).

I’m not sure how the book itself would read, but the audiobook was really good and the writing came across flowing well, so I would definitely recommend this format if you’re into listening to books.

TWs: slavery, violence, suicide attempt, suicidal thoughts

Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I was sent this book as an advance listening copy via libro.fm for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world–a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

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★★★✩

First and foremost: I enjoyed listening to this audiobook, I thought all narrators (full cast!! I love full casts!!!) were absolutely right for the parts they were narrating. They made this book flow well and fast and made me want to keep listening even during the parts that I found confusing, and I truly thought that my experience was enhanced by having listened to it as opposed to reading it.

Now, I do also think that this is a book that could’ve benefited from being read and taking one’s time to truly absorb the various stories more, but I am also aware that I wouldn’t picked it up at all if it wasn’t for the chance to listen to it.

The Starless Sea is a beautiful book with beautiful writing that will speak to a lot of readers, so why the three stars and not more? This is a case of it’s not you, it’s me: if I had to judge this book objectively alone I would probably give it 5 stars; my overall enjoyment of it was closer to 3 stars, and I wondered if I should do a mathematical average and end up giving it a solid 4, but that didn’t seem to convey the fact that this was, ultimately, a book that wasn’t for me.

Books about books and stories are, in theory, a great idea, and I see many readers do love them and I have in the past too. But there comes a point where if I feel like I’m being manipulated into this narrative then I get annoyed and stop enjoying this aspect of the book. If this aspect is what constitutes the core of the book, then it goes without saying that I lose interest in the book itself pretty easily.

In truth, I could tell you a bit about the first 20% of the book, where we get to know our protagonist, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, and not much else. It’s not that I lost focus or even that I didn’t enjoy it, because as I stated at the beginning, my listening experience was enjoyable and I even went out of my way to keep listening when I was done with my chores (that I do while listening to audiobooks). It’s just that the book shifts from Stories to our Main Story and yes, there is a point that the book makes, and I feel like I either missed it or it was truly just: “books and stories are nice.”

Well, no shit.

I don’t know, but I truly don’t get what’s so alluring as a person who reads a lot to feel like I’m being lectured about how good stories and books are. I’m not saying there is no place for this book in this world, because there obviously is, but I just don’t like feeling so manipulated into something I’m well aware of. This is obviously my opinion and I know people who read even more than I do and who absolutely adored this.

I did however really like, in the first part, the fact that stories were being talked about in a broader sense than just books. Zachary is a gaming student and he spends some time reflecting on the nature of videogame narratives vs books, and there is a scene where he and a group of students have a discussion about this topic and I thought that was the highlight of the whole book for me. As someone who doesn’t play a lot anymore (because….I don’t have a console or a proper gaming laptop. RIP) but is in love with story-heavy games, it was so refreshing to see videogames that are heavy on plot and narrative being treated as equals to other forms of fiction.

After this first part and after something happens to Zachary, it was all about hearing different stories and trying to piece together the threads of a common narrative, which admittedly would have been easier if one was reading in physical form or in ebook. And as the book progressed, we got to see how Zachary’s own story intertwined with the other ones, and, well, you get the gist of it.

As for the single stories, I found some of them truly beautiful and that’s where Morgenstern’s writing really shone through. However, it was kind of hard to keep track of everything. It’s the kind of thing that would require a reread to really understand fully and maybe you’d find something new every time you reread, but I’m just not going to do that.

One aspect I really did love was the diversity and the fact that this book was so normally and casually gay. The main character is gay, his love interest is nonspecified queer, and there’s two sapphic characters, and there are multiple POC characters including the protagonist. Despite this, I unfortunately didn’t love the romance, which I found too rushed despite being promised a slow burn (they get together late, but the attraction is more of the insta-love type). There also seems to be an age gap and I’m really not fond of that (the MC is 25 I believe but I couldn’t find any info on how old the LI is. nothing problematic, just not my cup of tea).

So, overall, would I recommend this? It really depends on you. If you’ve loved The Night Circus there’s a high chance you’ll love this too. If this doesn’t seem very appealing to you for the reasons I myself didn’t give it a higher rating, maybe read a few more reviews to make up your mind.

Review: Sovereign Sacrifice (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #4) by Elise Kova

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

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Vi was supposed to be the perfect crown princess. Then, she abandoned her throne.
Vi was supposed to save the world as its Champion. Then, the world she loved vanished.

Now, all she knows is that she has deadly magic and brutal cunning and she’s ready to settle some scores.

Old loves and new allies tell her to play it safe. But Vi is done with caution. She has a chance to right ancient wrongs and this princess-turned-warrior isn’t turning back.

She’s ready to bring an end to the vortex of death the world is trapped in.

The magic, romance, and epic adventure continue in book four of Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles.

Out now!

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★★★.5✩

I went into this book having some contrasting feelings about Failed Future‘s ending but I have to say I actually really liked how things worked out here.

Because this is the fourth book in a series and basically the very premise of this installment hangs on a twist that happens in the last few chapters of the previous one, it’s really hard to talk about the plot without giving anything away, so please only keep reading if you’ve finished Failed Future!!!

I freaking love time travel. I don’t always reach for books that have it in them though, because it can be tricky and I feel like many books leave to many questions open and disregard a lot of time travelling rules. I had some of these problems here as well, but I also found it easy to disregard and focus more on the plot and characters.

I was also glad there was less Taavin because I’m still not feeling the romance (and let’s be honest, at this point in the series I’m never going to get into it), and I like how the focus was more on the female friendships that Vi was able to make.

Overall, I enjoyed this for the plot and the characters and I can’t wait to see where the next (final??) book is going to take us!