Mini Reviews · Reviews

April and May Mini Reviews

Hi friends!

I know in my last post, which was quite a while ago now, I said that I’d be moving back to my more traditional format of full-length reviews and book summaries. While I have been reading quite ravenously over the last two months, I haven’t actually read anything hugely intense that I felt like warranted a full-length review, and I also haven’t read anything that didn’t have a sequel already out, so I didn’t have to write a full summary for when the sequel does come out. Mostly I’ve been working through a lot of books on my TBR that I purchased back in 2020 or earlier. However, I do think I have some newer books that are coming up that will be getting more robust reviews and summaries, so if that’s the kind of content you like, stay tuned, and I appreciate you checking in.

However, for now, I present mini-reviews for all the books I’ve read in the last two months. As always, mini-reviews are spoiler-free!

1. Ashes of Gold by J. Elle

This is the second and final book in the duology that started with Wings of Ebony. I have to say that I enjoyed this one more than the first one by a pretty wide margin, because this book picks up right where the first one left off and abandons the odd non-linear storytelling style from the first one. Also a major turn-off for me from the first book was that it felt as though I was thrown into a sequel without having read the first one, and due to this book actually being a sequel where I HAD read the first one, I didn’t have that whiplash feeling either. I felt that this book wrapped up the series well, though there is a bit of a love triangle, which is not my favorite trope. And I also feel like something that I kinda liked about the first one was that it blended the story along the “real world” and the magic island that is Rue’s heritage well, whereas the sequel is pretty much all magic island all the time, so I was kind of bummed that the blend didn’t continue. Overall, an read I enjoyed. 4/5 stars.

2. Lobizona by Romina Garber

Alright, I had no idea what to expect from this book, but it was absolutely incredible. As an elevator pitch, it’s about a girl named Manu who has had to hide her whole life with her mother in Miami because they are undocumented. They fled from Argentina when Manu was a small child because her father’s family made it too dangerous to stay after he was killed. But when her mother is tracked down by ICE and Manu has to go on the run, she finds that there is more to her heritage than she has ever known, and trying to hunt down the truth leads her right into the world of Argentinian folklore. This book was a beautiful exploration into Argentinian culture and a cutting, real-world look into how fucked up immigration policies are in the US. Plus it has a very cool magic-school element, and works through themes of deep-rooted, cultural sexism. Overall, it’s a masterpiece, and I can’t wait to read the sequel and finish the duology. 5/5 stars.

3. Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova

This was another one I picked up on a whim at a long-ago B&N trip, so I had few expectations here as well. Do you ever get the feeling that a book was too long? Like I feel like almost everything that happened in this book could have happened quicker. I wasn’t bored reading it, per say, but I just felt like each step in Ren’s journey could have taken about half the time. It was a cool fantasy world with an interesting magic system, but Ren wasn’t particularly the most interesting protagonist, to me at least. I was engaged by the end and definitely want to know what happens in this duology, so I liked it well enough, just think that the pacing was not that great. Oh, and I think I’m going to be unhappy with how the love-triangle works out. 4/5 stars.

4. Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller

This is a non-fiction book about relationships and attachment styles that was given to me to read by my therapist. This was the first such book I’ve ever read, and it was an interesting experience. While I thought the research to be interesting and definitely found that most people I know (myself included) fall into the three categories of attachment: secure, anxious, or avoidant, I feel that the book was a little dated and that everything was spelled out very black and white, as if psychology doesn’t have tons of grey area. I also found the stereotypes to be a bit over-the-top, and the example scenarios that they gave so cringy sometimes that they made me laugh out loud. Overall I feel like I learned something, but I’m sure there are much better books on the subject out there. 3/5 stars.

5. The Camelot Betrayal & 6. The Excaliber Curse by Kiersten White

These are the final two books in the Camelot Rising trilogy that I started quite some time ago. I think these books are just a blast! Kiersten White is one of those authors that I’ve enjoyed every book she’s ever written. This was a retelling of Arthurian legends, with a huge focus on the women of the tales: Guenivere, her lady’s maids, other ladies of Camelot, and White even gender-bends one of the knights, which was so cool and fun. I know pretty much nothing about King Arthur or any of the knights of the round table, so I didn’t have any idea what was coming next in terms of the story, which was a big part of the reason why I enjoyed them. Though I’d be interested to know the opinion of someone well-versed in Arthurian legend. Overall, great characters, lots of action and suspense. The only thing I’ll say is the romance didn’t wrap up quite the way I expected/wanted, but I wasn’t mad about it at all. All of these books are 5/5 stars.

7. Fable by Adrienne Young

This is a BookTok darling that I’d been so looking forward to reading, and I was very pleased we picked it for our May book club. Fable was just what I needed at the time: an easy, breezy, light-hearted fantasy with low stakes. The book was short, so it was nice and quick with the pacing, and our protagonist Fable is instantly someone you want to root for. The rest of the cast is a crew of lovable, somewhat morally-grey merchant (read pirate) youths. Is it predictable? Sure, it’s filled with classic YA tropes. Did I love every second of it? Absolutely! Just because a book is predictable, doesn’t mean it’s bad (unless it’s a suspense/thriller or something, then you probably want less predictability). Fable was a breath of fresh air from reading lots of heavy fantasy. 5/5 stars.

8. Queen of Volts by Amanda Foody

Queen of Volts is the conclusion to a trilogy that I started I’m not even sure how many years ago. I’m trying to be better about it, but I have the bad habit of shoving books I’m not as excited about further down on my TBR, meaning sometimes I have too-long gaps between books. This is unfortunate, because I have a bad memory and if more than a year goes by in-between reading two books in a series, I will forget almost everything. Which, unfortunately, is exactly what happened here. The books are sizable, so I in no way had the inclination to go back and re-read the rest of the series, I just wanted to get it done with. This series is full of beautiful, complex world-building and a huge cast, so it took me quite a while to get back into it. But Amandy Foody is a great writer, and I ended up feeling totally satisfied by the end of the series. Only rating it less than perfect because of my own knowledge gaps, but I do think I’ll probably rate it higher some day when I go back and read them all together, as I highly recommend the series as a whole. For now, 4/5 stars.

9. The Nemesis by S.J. Kincaid

This is another one that I believe I read the previous book in the trilogy at least 3-4 years ago. And I didn’t have much love at ALL for the previous two books, but the previous book did have a cliff-hanger as such that I couldn’t NOT finish the series. So I finally did. This is a YA sci-fi trilogy, which is typically not my genre at all, but I purchased the original book in a long-ago effort to branch out a bit. The first book had almost everything I hate about sci-fi (slow to start, info-dumpy with worldbuilding/technology, etc.), but was objectively well-written. And honestly, despite the long gap between when I’d read the last one, I liked this one the best of them all. It had a satisfying conclusion and was generally packed with more action/intrigue/betrayal than the other two combined. I don’t think I’ll necessarily read them ever again, but I would recommend them to someone who likes sci-fi, especially one with truly morally gray/”inhuman” protagonists. I’d give the series somewhere between a 3 and a 4, but the last one was definitely a 4/5 for me.

10. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

I’ve had multiple friends recommend this one to me, plus BookTok loves it, so I was very excited for this start to a fantasy duology based on stories from One Thousand and One Nights. Zafira the Huntress is everything you want in a YA protagonist: brave but vulnerable, bold but imperfect. Also I love a story with absolutely no real love triangles (my least favorite YA trope), and the romance that blossoms in this book is a slow burn but totally sweet. As much as I want to give this book full marks and as excited as I am to read the sequel, the book had quite the slow start, and though the stakes were high, they did a lot of sitting around and talking for a journey supposed to be fraught with peril. So while I think this book is absolutely incredible, the pacing in the first 1/3rd was a bit off for me. So 4/5 stars with full expectations that the sequel will be a 5.

11. Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

This book was a Christmas gift from a dear friend, I’d never heard of it before (though neither had she). I’ll just straight up say, after the first chapter, I did not want to like this book. I almost DNF’d a few times, but it ended up getting me by the end and I will be finishing the trilogy. I just have to say that our protagonist Zera has absolutely the most obnoxious “Pick Me” girl energy I have ever witnessed. She comes out of the gate strong, and not in a good way. I was supremely irritated with her as a character, which I feel like gives the whole book an unfair advantage, because since I didn’t really like her I had a hard time (while I was reading it) seeing past that to the good qualities of the book, which I was able to see a bit later with some reflection. Besides Zera, I would say the overall vibe is “just fine” for the rest of the book. And she DOES get less annoying at the very end, so I have hope for the next two books in the series. I can’t say I recommend it, though I am forcing the friend who bought the book for me to read it as well, just to see if she’s of the same mind (because I can be wrong sometimes). Anything that I end up finishing is at least a 3/5, so that shall be its mark.

We Do by Stan Tatkin (DNF)

This was another non-fiction, relationship book given to me by my therapist. At about 80 pages in she asked for it back, since she needed it for something else. She promised I could have it back the following week, but I told her I wasn’t that interested. Even though I only read the first 80 pages out of about 200, I liked this one even less than the first one she gave me. This one felt really heavy on the science and inaccessible to me. Not as many example scenarios, which even if they were bad in the other book were at least interesting. The author touts this book as a necessary manual to read with your partner before marriage, but if I couldn’t even get through it, I have no doubt my non-bookish partner wouldn’t have stood a chance if asked to read it. Unless you’re interested in the science of psychology, I’d give this one a pass.

Thanks everyone! I will have a full-length review/summary coming out shortly, so stay tuned if that’s the kind of content you’re looking for, though I do enjoy the mini-review format and will likely be keeping that up as well.

Mini Reviews · Reviews

March Mini Reviews

Hi everyone!

I had a pretty exhausting few weeks in February and early March writing long and detailed summaries for the Black Witch Chronicles by Laurie Forest. All I wanted to do for the rest of the month is read without feeling the need to write long and and time-consuming blog posts, so I’ve decided to do a mini reviews of all the books I read in March (7), as well as the 3 books I read as part of me and my friend’s 24 hour Read-a-thon on April 2nd/3rd, for a grand total of 10 mini reviews (plus a bonus). Enjoy!

  1. The Demon Tide by Laurie Forest

What to say about this latest book in the Black Witch Chronicles that hasn’t already been said…in my top five favorite series of all time for absolutely certain, it’s perfection. The characters, the plot, the worldbuilding, the romances…all completely unmatched. If you are a fan of fantasy, YA or adult, you are missing out if you haven’t read this series. 5/5 stars.

2. Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

This is part of a long-winded re-read I’m doing all of Patricia Briggs’ books that take place in the Mercy Thompson world. These are comfort books to me, and while I think the main Mercy Thompson series is my favorite over Alpha and Omega, Charles and Anna give me the same sort of comforting fuzziness as Mercy herself does. Though these books are definitely meant to be read in order, each book has a standalone storyline, and there are a million of them. If you like books that are quick, fun, adult urban fantasy books, I can’t recommend Patricia Briggs enough, she’s my favorite. Start with Moon Called if you haven’t read any of her books before. 5/5 stars.

3. Wings of Ebony by J. Elle

Wings of Ebony is a debut novel. I struggled right off the bat with J. Elle’s storytelling style, it’s very non-linear, which isn’t bad, it was just not my favorite. It felt to me like I was reading a sequel where I’d never read the first one. I almost DNF’d it, but even though I struggled with the style, I could tell there was talent and am glad I ended up finishing it because I did go out and buy the sequel. Her characters have a lot of heart, and it’s a very interesting genre blend of urban fantasy/contemporary/sci-fi, because it takes place largely in the “real world”, but also partially on a magical island hidden from the real world. It deals with a lot of social themes like racism, cultural appropriation, and poverty. Overall, a well-written book that wasn’t quite my style, but got me enough in the end. 3/5 stars.

4. A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

Another debut novel, I thought it had a really cool concept and a beautiful world with African influence, but also the author’s own take on fae and “bloodletters” (read vampires). I liked the rival heirs theme (one sibling must kill the other for the crown), it reminded me of Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series, though not as dark. I liked the narrator and the supporting cast was great too. But it didn’t quite give me that *something*, as much as I enjoyed it, but I was certainly eager to go and get the sequel, which I was happy was already out. 4/5 stars.

5. Neon Gods by Katee Robert

I think this is the first romance novel I’ve rated on this blog. As a Greek mythology nerd, I was warned that this book takes some liberties and is more like going to a party where the theme is Greek mythology rather than reading an actual Greek myth retelling. The writing itself isn’t bad and the characters are fun, their relationship is cute. There are several plot holes though. But that isn’t the point. This book is all hot, steamy smut, and I absolutely devoured it. 4/5 stars for a great erotica novel.

6. Skin of the Sea by Natasha Brown

Yet another debut novel (I read a bunch this month). Skin of the Sea is a beautiful novel inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, but with real-world historical influence as well as a stunning African backdrop. While the story itself and the characters were on the simpler side (it’s a very short novel in true YA style), I felt absolutely transported to Simi’s Africa, and I was fully engrossed in the African mythology and history that this book taught me. Truly fantastic, but not quite long enough or complex enough to push me into giving it full points. 4/5 (though I did already pre-order the sequel).

7. A Queen of Gilded Horns by Amanda Joy

The sequel A River of Royal Blood and end of the duology. While I’m happy with the ending of the story, I found myself a bit disapointed in that I simply wanted MORE…I feel like the author chose to focus on only really one of the relationships with the narrator and another character, and that part was fine, except that the author built up the narrator’s relationships with two other characters in the first book, and I felt like their arcs weren’t quite given enough love. Honestly, I have no complaints about the content that was there, she’s a great writer, I just think that she did so much lead up but wrapped up the ENTIRE STORY in the last 50 pages, so it felt a bit rushed to me. I think this story would have been way better as a trilogy. But I still had a great time reading, so 4/5 stars.

8. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

This is my Book Club book for the month, and was the first book I read as part of my 24 hour Read-a-thon. I’ve seen this book all over BookTok, but I had no expectations for it. I think it’s going to be controversial among my Book Club gals but I LOVED it. Galadriel is one of my favorite narrators in a long time simply because this book is like reading her journal/magic manuel. There isn’t much plot to speak of, which normally would be a huge turnoff for me and did make the pacing pretty slow, BUT Galadriel is absolutely so hilarious that I found myself actually, physically laughing out loud and reading quotes to my reading partner. The book was so good and I’m ravenous for the sequel. 5/5 stars.

9. Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa

The finale to the Shadow of the Fox trilogy that I started forever ago and only just got around to finishing. I truly love Julie Kagawa’s writing and have for more than a decade now. I always compare this trilogy like reading the novel version of anime or manga (which are two mediums I don’t really partake in but I still know a lot about the tropes). This final book also reminded me of a video game where the characters are like “here we are, the final fight”, and then the bad guy goes down and they’re like “we did it!” but then an even BIGGER, BADDER GUY rises up and they have to keep fighting, and that just keeps happening? There was a lot of action and drama in this final book, which kept it moving at lightning speed. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s pretty crazy. This book and the series overall is a 4/5 stars.

10. Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater

One of my truly favorite authors of all time, Maggie Stiefvater’s novels feel like reading poetry. It’s all about imagery and vibes with her, plot is definitely secondary. This is the sequel to Call Down the Hawk and the second book in the The Dreamers trilogy. It had been a while since I’d read the first book, and unfortunately Maggie isn’t much of a recapper, but besides it taking me a little bit to get into the story, I loved it as usual. Her style is completely dreamy and her characters are deep and complex. But the pace is slow, as with almost all of her books, but somehow they’re still pretty impossible to put down. Can’t wait for the finale, 5/5 stars.

Belle Revolte by Linsey Miller (DNF)

I do not count books that I don’t finish toward my overall count for the year, but I wanted to give my review here because I rarely review books that I don’t like. This is my first DNF in at least 18 months and I am going to try and do it more with books that I’m not enjoying. I put this book down after reading 1/4 of it. The reasons were that I found the writing style clunky and confusing, the characters bland, and the plot VERY sluggish. I think she had a decent concept, but the book definitely needed editing and a better inciting event to keep the reader engaged.

I’m going to try to do a few more full reviews of my April books, but I do like this mini-review style, so I’m going to try and throw together a monthly recap of everything I read in this style that I don’t give a full review.

Let me know if you have read and liked any of these books, or if you disagree with anything I’ve said here, I’m always hungry for discourse. See ya next time!

Reviews · Summaries

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Wu Zetian has lived her whole life bound: everything from the shape of her feet to her cultural role has been decided for her simply because she was born a woman. She has two options for her future: find a good match for marriage, or sell herself into service as a concubine pilot, giving her lifeforce to help the male pilots control the giant Chrysalis warriors in the neverending battle against the invading hunduns. Zetian was determined that she would never give her life in service of that abominable tradition.

Until Big Sister died.

Now, despite despising everything the Chrysalis pilot system stands for, Zetian will infiltrate it to understand once and for all what happened to her older sister. When she comes out of her first Chrysalis battle unscathed, and on top, she is labeled an Iron Widow and paired with Li Shimin, the only male pilot able to match her mental strength to power a Chrysalis.

Zetian did what she never knew was possible: used her mental strength to overpower her male copilot. And now that she knows what she can do, she is determined to find out why so many young women are killed when she was able to rise. And prove once and for all that women can do everything the men can and more.


I can genuinely say that I have never read anything like this book before, and as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of young adult, that’s saying something. I loved this book. I’d climb to the top of a mountain and yell to the heavens how much I loved this book. This is the kind of dystopian/sci-fi/fantasy blend that I am here for. This may as well now be an Iron Widow stan blog. Seriously, definitely my favorite book of the year so far (out of six, but that’s still pretty good considering four of them were rated 5 stars).

I’m going to be brief and spoiler free, because I think that every single person who stumbles upon this blog post and hasn’t picked up Iron Widow should shut this window, go straight to wherever you get your books, and start this one right now.

First worldbuilding/story setup: definitely one of the better sci-fi/dystopia books I’ve read in terms of getting pretty much all the information I needed on the way this world worked in about the first 20 pages (or less). Normally I especially suffer when trying to read sci-fi because they tend to be heavy on the (often necessary) info-dumping right at the beginning. Since it’s not my favorite genre, that’s where sci-fi usually loses me. However, I really feel like I understood the world: obviously based in Chinese culture, with specific details such as the pig cage drowning for adulterers and the lotus feet practice. But also they’ve got these crazy alien hundun creatures that they have to battle using giant mecha robots that are powered by qi (spirit power). And lower class and rural families sell their daughters for a “glorious” death powering these Chrysalis robots in exchange for prestige and a healthy payout. All of this is covered in the first two chapters, and other less important snipits are woven in well throughout. All in all, I was never bored and was engaged in the world from the start.

Next, characters: I’ll come right out and say that I have NEVER read a protagonist (particularly a YA protagonist) like Wu Zetian. In the wise words of the author in one of their TikToks “She is unhinged”. Truly. She is vicious and bloodthirsty and hell-bent on revenge throughout the whole story. Female characters (even tough ones) are almost always softened in some way. Love of family, love of children, love of animals, even their love of their romantic interest is often made into a weakness of some kind. Zetian has none of this weakness. She is intrinsically driven by revenge and her arguably sketchy moral code. She believes women are not the weaker sex, good, feminist, yay, but also she is willing to be the sole prosecution, judge, and jury for those who wrong her: you mess with her, she’s just gonna kill you. And while I would certainly fear her if I met her in real life and I don’t find her particularly relatable, she is awesome to read about her and I love her vicious nature. Without revealing too much, there is a love triangle in this story, and I do love both of these characters so much. Personally, love triangles are my least favorite YA trope, BUT, this author makes what I believe is the only acceptable romantic ending for a love triangle, and I will just leave it at that. Long story short, characters are great, pick up the book and read all about them.

Pacing/Style: I thought this book was paced very well. Normally it’s very difficult in my experience to classify a sci-fi/dystopia as fast paced due to, as I mentioned, the necessity of world/technology building. But this book takes off like a speeding bullet and never really slows down. I easily consumed the last 200 pages of the book in one evening. Particularly at the end I found it really impossible to put down. And for style I have to say I’m always so impressed with the quality of some debut novels. It really didn’t read like a first publication, and I think that the author is such a talented person, and I cannot wait to see what they put out in the future.

Summary !!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE for the love of all things holy stop right here if you have not read Iron Widow. I am such a passionate believer that everyone should check this book out, and this will spoil everything, and there are so many delicious moments that I want you to experience yourself so please stop…unless you’ve finished the book, in which case feel free to check out this summary!

  • Zetian decides to sell herself off to the army to be a concubine pilot to Yang Guang, the Chrysalis pilot who killed her older sister, who was also his concubine pilot. Chrysalis pilots fight the hunduns, faceless creatures who try to invade human settlements.
  • Zetian wants to be Yang Guang’s copilot so she can kill him for the brutal murder of her sister, who didn’t even die in battle so their family didn’t even get the compensation they would have gotten. Zetian knows they’ll execute her and her whole family for Yang Guang’s murder, but she blames her family for her suffering (warrented) and so doesn’t care that they’ll die.
  • Her best friend Yizhi is the son of the richest man in the city, and tries to stop Zetian from carrying out her plan by offering to marry her. Zetian is undeterred and kisses him once before heading to her destiny.
  • Zetian is tested for her spirit ability, and she has a much higher number than average, assuring she’ll be accepted quickly by Yang Guang, allowing her to get close to him. She is in fact chosen the same day she arrives.
  • She goes with Guang to his suite, where he begins to seduce her and she doubts her plan, he seems kind, could he really have killed Big Sister? But before they can go to bed together, they are pulled into a battle, which Guang has to carry her kicking and screaming to the Chrysalis. Zetian is sure she’ll die before she can carry out her plan.
  • Zetian is pulled into Guang’s mind realm, where she learns to take control and fight through his mental barriers. But she also sees images, that he says the same things he said to her to all the other girls, and that he did in fact kill Big Sister in cold blood. So within the mind realm, the two of them fight and Zetian kills Guang, the second most powerful Chrysalis pilot, and takes over the Chrysalis herself, fighting on her own. When the battle is over she wakes up to see she’s killed Guang for real, fulfilling her plan, if not the way she intended. She exits the Chrysalis, holding his body for all the media to see.
  • Zetian is proclaimed the Iron Widow, and paired with the strongest pilot they have, Li Shimin, who with pure spirit power kills every female concubine pilot who he ever fights with. Zetian is determined now to live, to beat Shimin somehow. They go into battle, and Zetian is unable to overpower him, and they somehow manage to do something to the Chrysalis nobody has ever seen, and the two are declared equal partners.
  • Zetian is determined to hate Shimin, despite what she hears about him: that he killed his abusive father and brothers for raping a local girl, and that the military forces him to fight, that he’s not killing his copilots on purpose.
  • Yizhi arrives at the military compound in disguise, determined to help them. Shimin is a drunk, and Yizhi helps him work on getting sober. Zetian and Yizhi learn that the military forced alcohol on Shimin to keep him compliant.
  • The hunduns are becoming more aggressive, and there is a campaign to go and destroy their emperor and their nesting grounds to take over those lands. But nobody in the military wants to see them succeed, so Zetian makes a deal with Yizhi’s father, the lecherous king of media from the capital. He paints Shimin and Zetian as the powerful, scandalous couple that they appear to be.
  • Zetian admits her feelings for Yizhi, and they begin their relationship, which Zetian tells Yizhi that she can’t be constricted to being just with him, and Yizhi understands and is supportive.
  • Shimin and Zetian have gotten closer during their battles together and have mastered the copiloting of their Chrysalis. They are matched together in an extravagant wedding-like ceremony, where Zetian and Shimin also enter into a real, physical relationship to match their persona. Both Yizhi and Shimin are equally dear to Zetian (yay for polyamory).
  • Zetian and Shimin torture and kill a military leader who is responsible for torturing Shimin over and over and forcing him to fight and become addicted to alcohol. They do this so they can get information about why female copilots are so much more likely to die. They find out that the female pilot seat is literally designed to drain their qi (power) so that even if the girls are equally as powerful as their male pilots, they are far more likely to die, making Iron Widows like Zetian one in a million. This is the reason why Shimin’s previous girlfriend, who he loved, died in the Chrysalis when she should have been his equal.
  • Armed with this knowledge, Zetian plans on revealing to the world that the military has been killing their daughters for hundreds of years to sustain the Chrysalis’s, simply to keep women imprisoned in their place as the “lesser sex”. But first they have to go and save the world from the hundun emperor.
  • Zetian and Shimin (with Yizhi along for the ride to offer them extra qi), lead the army of Chrysalis’s to fight the hundun’s on their territory.
  • There are two huge emperor class hunduns, who seem to be able to talk a little bit into Zetian’s head, calling them invaders and asking them to stop. They are able to kill one and damage the other, but before they can finish them off, one of the other Chrysalis’s attacks Zetian and Shimin’s Chrysalis (the Vermillion Bird), with the intent of killing everyone inside.
  • Shimin sacrifices himself to save Zetian and Yizhi, who are able to escape the Chrysalis unharmed. Blinded with rage and grief at Shimin’s death, Zetian follows a tribe of people who have been living in the hundun lands for generations to where the last great Chrysalis pilot and former emperor is said to be waiting to be reawakened.
  • With the help of his protectors, Zetian wakes the emperor and convinces him to let her take the male pilot’s seat in the great dragon Chrysalis. Zetian rides it back to the battlefield, ending the battle and declaring victory over the hunduns.
  • Zetian finds out that the pair of pilots who killed Shimin in the Vermillion Bird did so on orders from command, who said that they’d kill the pilot’s two young children if they didn’t kill Shimin and Zetian. Zetian does not take this as an acceptable answer and uses the dragon Chrysalis to crush the two pilots who betrayed them.
  • Picking up Yizhi on the way, Zetian pilots the dragon all the way back to the city, where Yizhi’s father has held her family captive, saying that if she doesn’t stop her absolute revenge rampage that he’ll kill them.
  • Yizhi goes out to try and reason with his father, but instead just kills him and the two of them leave Zetian’s family to their fate. Zetian is determined to remake the world with her at the helm, ensuring that no women will ever have to die at the hands of a male Chrysalis pilot.
  • The ending finds Yizhi contacting Zetian from where he is going through the old Sage’s archives, discovering that their entire civilization is a lie: this is not earth, and the hunduns are the native species, with humans being the invaders. And then the “gods” up in the sky cut off Yizhi’s message with a message of their own: stop what she’s doing and submit to them, or they’ll finish off Shimin, showing what appears to be Shimin’s preserved remains. The book ends with Zetian falling to her knees with a scream.

The End


# of Pages: 391

Time it took me to read: 4 Days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 56

Rating: 5 out of 5

If you liked Iron Widow, try:

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Furyborn by Claire Legrand

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong


Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

*The following blurb was taken from Amazon*

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

I’ve seen this book pop up on all my social media for months now, so I was amped when my book club chose it as our bonus book this month. Because I’m allowed to buy new books when they’re for book club and it doesn’t break my resolution of trying to buy fewer books this year 😉

Alrighty, straight into my spoiler-free review. Even though this is not the type of book I’d normally gravitate towards as a contemporary YA novel, I absolutely love love LOVED this book. I am so impressed that it is a debut novel by a young writer who took on this project while she was still in school. Mind blown. One of the most enjoyable standalone novels I’ve read in quite some time.

Now, I’m not a Gossip Girl fan (never seen it), but this book DID bring me straight back into my high school adoration of the Private book series by Kate Brian. Chiamaka at the beginning of the book would have fit right in with the girls in that series. But I really liked reading a book from the perspective of the “queen bee mean girl”, and I was just really intrigued from the beginning about her motivations and her personality. Devon is pretty much the opposite: quiet, sensitive, content with being invisible and just getting through high school. The way that these two come together is very authentic and their reluctance to trust each other really makes the relationship they build by the end seem very earned. Overall, they were both well-rounded protagonists, and the side characters were all A+ as well.

In terms of pacing, I felt that this book was pretty fast-paced and engaging from the get-go. It took me about 40-60 pages to really get into, simply because it’s a bit of a genre departure from what I usually read these days, but I was invested into the mystery and the characters right away, and that’s certainly enough to get me through an initial genre-difference shock.

Overall I felt the themes of this story were really important. This is a story with POC and LGBTQIA+ topics, and as a cishet white woman I really cannot imagine what these characters go through, but I know that this kind of thing is real and out there and happening today, no matter how “progressive” we seem to be here in 2022. But ultimately this book is about black power and perseverance, and I cannot express how much I enjoyed it.

As much as I’d love to say more, I really don’t want to spoil anything because the payout is so high for the amazing mystery that debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé presents. All I can say is seriously, go read it.

# of Pages: 415

Time it took me to read: 4 Days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 59

Rating: 5 out of 5

Normally I try to recommend similar books to the one I just read, but I really don’t think I have any other that qualify that I’ve read recently, so I’m just going to recommend some of my other recent favorite debut novels by POC authors, so if you liked Ace of Spades, try:

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Rosanne A. Brown

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

The Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao


A Tale of 3 Books: Blood, Metal, Bone vs The Storm Crow Duology

Happy new year everyone! I know I’ve been absent for a few months now, but I had a crazy-busy end of the year. But when I have the time, I always want to keep up this blog because I so enjoy sharing the books I read out into the world. But sort of in a whirlwind, I read three books at the first half of this year, and I have two more to read for my book club, so I’m consolidating these first few reviews this year into a comparison, because I could not have felt more differently about the first book I read vs the duology I read back-to-back.

My first book of the year was Blood, Metal, Bone by Lindsay Cummings, and the next books I read were The Storm Crow and The Crow Rider by Kalyn Josephson. I’m going to compare the different aspects of both of these stories and then give a final score to each at the end. Let’s get into it.

First, pacing. Blood, Metal, Bone is a standalone novel, which in my opinion means that the story should waste no time in grabbing your attention. Setup is important for any novel, of course, but when you have less than 500 pages to tell your entire story from start to finish, the action needs to start early or the characters have to make you care early on. Neither of which happened for me with this story. I found the pacing to be almost agonizingly slow, which does not bode particularly well, especially in the YA genre, where I expect to be grabbed early on. The Storm Crow, on the other hand, had action and tragedy strike quick, so not only was I invested in the narrator and what was going to happen to her from the get-go, but the inciting action set my expectations within the first fifty pages. I was hooked.

Next, characters. Blood, Metal, Bone had a mid-size cast of characters, and two very different narrators. Normally, I don’t mind a split narrator situation, in fact I often write stories that way myself, two different perspectives can add a lot. However, in this case, I didn’t really care for either of the narrators, and I felt like one of them was the main narrator and the other one was sort of added in there as an afterthought, since I would say that probably 2/3 of the book was in one narrator’s perspective and 1/3 was in the other’s. It gave sort of an unbalenced feel. The Storm Crow duology was told entirely from a single perspective, and in this case I felt like it added to the attachment I felt to the narrator and kept me invested in the main storyline. The cast of the Storm Crow duology was also smaller, and while I do often enjoy a large cast story, I find with many small cast stories I care much more deeply about the outcomes of each one because the time is dedicated in the story to make me care about them.

Next, worldbuilding/genre. In Blood, Metal, Bone, I believe the author was going for a bit of a genre blend, but I don’t believe it was particularly successful and just left me feeling as though this book has a bit of a identity crisis. The prologue sort of tricks the reader into believing it’s a fantasy, but then all of the sudden in chapter one, the narrator changes and the book is suddenly set in space, turning it into a sci-fi somehow? And then we switch back to the original narrator and she’s this kind of desert outlaw, and the book then tries to read like a western? Too much, in my opinion. Pick one or two. I think if the author had made it more clearly a sci-fi from the first page, it would have been simply a space-western, and that could have been more successful. And since the genre was so confused, that left the world-building all over the place and I never had a clear connection with the setting at all. With Storm Crow, it was relatively simple yet fun fantasy world with giant, intelligent crows that have elemental magic. I think Josephson did a pretty good job with giving a history and backstory to the magic and mythology, and then having that become relevant in the second book.

Finally, overall story/endings. I’ll keep it spoiler free, but try to give as much detail as I can. For Blood, Metal, Bone, the prologue sets you up with this kind of mystery from the very beginning, which is honestly the whole reason I read this book to the very end. There is so much lead up to the discovery of this mystery, and the truth ends up being, in my opinion, a huge letdown. The ending also takes a bit of a wild turn, and not in a good way. I found myself to be pretty dissatisfied with the resolution of both the plot and the characters. For Storm Crow, I liked the story pretty much immediately, and am very happy with how it ended. My one gripe is that it did contain a love triangle, particularly in the first book, which is not my favorite trope, but it did end up resolving in a way that I was very happy with (both the love triangle and the story overall).

It should come as a surprise to nobody after reading this that the Storm Crow duology was a clear favorite. I gave the first book in the Storm Crow series a 4/5 and the second a 5/5, because I was hooked from beginning to end and absolutly devoured the series in about five days total. Blood, Metal, Bone, on the other hand, I almost DNF’d (did not finish), and only really kept going because I didn’t want to set a bad precident for my first book of the year, and also I was sort of invested in the resolution of that mystery, which ended up being a big letdown. I gave that one a 2/5, because I did indeed finish it.

So in the end, I can’t recommend Blood, Metal, Bone, but highly recommend the Storm Crow duologies for fans of YA fantasy that enjoy a quick, engaging read. I also felt as though the Storm Crow books gave a really realistic, thoughtful representation of grief, PTSD, and a character with depression.

P.S. I probably won’t do many of these comparison-style reviews and will return to my traditional formatting, but if you enjoyed this side-by-side review, please let me know and I’ll throw some more in there. As always, thanks for reading, and let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessments, I always love discourse.

If you enjoyed the Storm Crow duology, try:

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Defy by Sara B. Larson

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

The Glass Spare by Lauren Destephano

Reviews · Summaries

Red Tigress by Amelie Wen Zhao (Book 2)

# of Pages: 425

Time it took me to read: 4 Days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 61

Rating: 5 out of 5

With the kingdom of Cyrillia now in the hands of the powerful false empress Morganya, Ana and Ramson are on the run and in desperate need of allies. Because though she has no title, no army, and few friends, Ana knows she is the only one who can save her kingdom from destruction as Morganya’s army sweeps through the kingdom, killing non-Affiniates and anyone else who gets in the way of her plans.

When the last of her kingdom’s strongholds falls to Morganya’s power, Ana is forced to turn her gaze overseas, where foreign kingdoms with powerful armies could be the answer to the alliance she’s been looking for. But will Ramson be able to return to his home, the kingdom of Bregon, after all these years of self-imposed exile? And will the effort of Ana, Ramson, and their friends to expose Morganya’s plot to steal a powerful weapon from Bregon expose even more dangerous secrets brewing in the courts of Bregon?

Review (!!!Spoiler Free!!!)

I’ve been excited beyond belief for this book, as it’s the sequel to my 2020 Book of the Year, Blood Heir. If you’re unfamiliar, think dark fantasy retelling of the Anastasia fairytale (animated movie or awesome broadway show, take your pick). Anyway, this book has been out for a while but I’m trying to have much better self control and read books mostly in the order I buy them, alternating between sequels and new standalones/new series. So I’ve been waiting for this one to make its way to the top of my stack.

Everything about the first book was great, and Red Tigress did not disappoint. Ana’s story is just as compelling as it was in the first book, and there is the continuation of the lovely slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance. Something that I don’t see as often as I wish I did but is a component in lots of my favorite books is when both there are multiple protagonists which include both members of the romantic pairing, because I just feel like it makes it more satisfying when they admit their feelings for one another, because both of the characters are being developed individually, so it’s not like “oh, I love this boy, is it possible he loves me too”, you get to watch the feelings develop from both ends, and it’s awesome.

There is also a really great third protagonist in this story in the form of Linn, Ana’s friend who is briefly introduced in the last half of the first book. She’s a super cool badass also, and seeing her work to overcome her struggles and her distrust of others is a wonderful addition to this story.

I’ll wrap up this brief review, I obviously don’t have too much to say that is different from the first book: world-building is top-notch, characters are compelling and well developed, magic system is *chefs kiss* and pacing is great.

The one thing that I’ll say is I do wish I’d had time to re-read the first book before I jumped into the sequel. There was enough of a refresh that after a few pages I remembered who all the characters were and generally what happened in the first book, but a lot of the details were referenced here in the sequel but not fully refreshed, so it was like “oh yeah, I remember that this character died in the first book and it obviously had an impact, but what exactly happened again?”.

So I’m obviously going to move into my summary of this book so that the above scenario does not happen to me again when it comes time to read the third book, which will be coming spring of 2022 *sob*.


Ana – main protagonist, true heir to the throne of Cyrillia, last of her line. Also known as the Blood Witch of Salskoff, her Affinity is to blood. She mostly came to terms with it in the first book and has stopped seeing herself as a monster. Her goal is to regain her throne from Morganya, who is the reason her family is dead and currently sits on the throne. Best friend of Linn and in love with Ramson.

Ramson – bastard son of Roran Farrald, Admiral of Bregan. A talented hand-to-hand fighter, former con man who worked for Aleric Kerlan. His goal is to hunt down Kerlan and get rid of him once and for all, mostly for all the harm he’s done to Ramson, but also for his role in helping Morganya take the crown and his trafficking in Affinates. In love with Ana but convinced it’ll never work out between them.

Linn – Wind Affinate who was trafficked in Cyrillia when she was searching for her brother. Freed by Ana and Ramson when they liberated the Playpen in book one, was captured by Morganya’s soldiers and taken to prison. Broken out of prison by Kais. Linn is Ana’s closest friend and finds her mission in liberating Affinates and fighting for their freedom.

Kais – A yaeger Affinate, meaning they can block or control the Affinites of others. Formerly a soldier for the royal army, decided to desert and helped Linn break out of prison. Son of Shamaira, a friend of Ana’s who was captured early on in the book. Mother and son have been searching for each other for years. Kais wants to find her more than anything, and when Ana promises her help, Kais is infinately loyal. Possible love interest of Linn.

Daya – Sailor from the Crown kingdom of Kusutri. Hired by Ramson to take him, Ana, Linn, and Kais to Bregon. Saves Ramson’s life when Kerlan tries to drown him, and ends up joining up with Ana’s cause by the end.

Yuri – lifelong friend of Ana’s, former soldier at the castle, leader of the Redcoat rebellion. The Redcoats are anti-monarchy, so they won’t ally with Ana, even though Morganya is a common enemy. Loses his mother to Morganya’s reign of terror, vows to end the monarchy no matter what, even if it means Ana has to be eliminated.

Sorsha – Ramson’s half sister, legitimate child of their father. Certifiably insane, the victim of a tortuous life of experiments on her due to her Affinity. She’s naturally an iron Affinate, but due to the power of the Affinity siphons, she also has power over fire and stone. Wants revenge on her father for giving her up to the experiments and Kerlan as well for being the cause of them.

Roran – Admiral of the Bregan navy, father of Ramson and Sorsha. A cruel, harsh man who killed Ramson’s best friend in front of him when he was only a boy. Submitted his daughter to excruciating experiments regarding the Affinity siphons. Wanted to take over the entirety of Bregon, was poisoning the king for years.

Kerlan – Former gang leader in Cyrillia, trafficker of Affinites. Ally to Morganya, power-hungry. Former boss of Ramson. Discovered the ability for searock to siphon the power from an Affinate and grant it to someone else.

Morganya – Current empress of Cyrillia. Flesh and mind Affinate. Killer of Ana’s family, determined to have entire power and domain over Cyrillia under the guise of caring for Affinates and killing any who persecuted them.

Darius – Fourteen year old king of Bregon. Ally of Ana in her quest to retake the throne of Cyrillia.

Summary (!!!BIG SPOILERS OBVS!!!)

Ana and Ramson arrive in Novo Mynsk looking for allies. Ana is there to meet up with someone from the Redcoat rebellion which is tied to her friend Yuri. She meets this person, Seyin, who tells her that the Redcoats believe the monarchy should be abolished, so unless she gives up the claim to her crown, they will not ally with her. Ana leaves, discouraged, but still wanting to meet with her friend Yuri directly in hopes she can change his mind.

Ramson goes to the former mansion of Kerlan, his old boss, where he meets an old collegue who makes a deal with him: she’ll give him information and help keep Kerlan’s thugs off of him if he’ll help her find her husband, who went with Kerlan overseas and hasn’t come back. Ramson agrees, since he’s looking for Kerlan anyway.

On her way back to meet up with Ramson, Ana gets into a fight with a bunch of Morganya’s new Inquisitors that are rounding up anyone who owned or trafficked Affinates, punishing their family members as well. Ana reveals herself and has to flee, hiding briefly with an old friend Shamaira, who advises her that she should go to Goldwater port.

Ramson is waiting for Ana at the hotel when he is almost killed by some thugs, so he goes out to look for Ana before she gets back. Ana arrives back at the inn, where she is met by Seyin, a shadow Affinate, and he stabs her, intending to kill her and end any competition for the monarchy. Ana survives, takes her horse, and makes for Goldwater port without Ramson.

Linn is trapped in prison. She finds that Kais, the yaeger Affinate who she battled at the end of the last book, is there too. He says he wants to change sides and free her so they can both go to Ana’s aid. She doesn’t trust him, but he ends up saving her when she gets in over her head with an escape plan, and they flee the prison together.

With the help of Yuri, Ana makes it to Goldwater port. Yuri brings her to his home with his mom and sister and gets her cleaned up, but says they cannot ally with her as Seyin said, though he did not order Seyin to try and assassinate her. Just as she finds Ramson again, Morganya and her troops arrive at Goldwater port and wreak havoc.

Ramson and Ana manage to flee the port on a ship with Linn and Kais, who have made it there as well. The ship is owned by a sailor, Daya, that Ramson has hired to bring them to Bregon. Ramson is going to Bregon to find Kerlan, as he has intel that’s where he’s gone, and Ana is going because she needs allies to fight Morganya, and hopes the Bregonians will be those allies. They also have intel that Bregon has some sort of powerful weapon that bestows Affinities that Morganya wants, and Ana knows they have to stop her from getting it.

Ramson won’t tell Ana anything about his past in Bregon, who his father is, etc. Thinks he can avoid it by going off on his own while Ana and the rest of the crew go to meet with his father and the king. They arrive in Bregon after a long journey, and are shortly thereafter beset upon by Sorsha, Ramson’s half sister. She is an insanely talented fighter, and tries her best to kill Ramson before Ana and the rest step in. Sorsha begrudgingly agrees to bring them before the king and courts. Ramson’s identity as the son of the Bregonian admiral is revealed to the rest of the group.

Something is off in the Bregonian courts, they realize it right away. Ana, Linn, and Kais stay to work on getting their alliance, while Ramson dips back out to search for Kerlan. Ramson and Daya find Kerlan’s ship in the harbor, and it’s loaded with searock. A second look the next day reveals that it’s a siphon made out of searock that is the weapon that allows an Affinity to be stolen from an Affinite and bestowed upon someone else, Affinate or not. Kerlan discovers Ramson, weighs him down, and throws him into the harbor to drown, but not before revealing his whole diabolical plan with Morganya to harness the power of the siphon and put Kerlan on the throne of Bregon, another jewel in Morganya’s crown. Daya is able to save Ramson’s life.

In the Blue Fort, Ana tries to get to the bottom of what’s going on, but it’s Linn happens upon the king, only to find that the poor young king, only fourteen, is being poisoned into submission by Ramson’s father the Admiral Roran so he can rule himself. Linn also finds the secret labratory where Affinites are being kept against their will and experimented upon with the searock siphon. Linn finds that Sorsha is deeply involved, and that Kais seems to have betrayed them.

Ana is about to go and confront the king and the Admiral when Sorsha and Kais come upon them. Sorsha commands that Kais take her prisoner for the coup that is about to happen. Sorsha leaves, and Linn arrives, willing to fight and kill Kais for his betrayal. Kais reveals that he didn’t want to betray them, but he found out that Morganya had captured his mother and would kill her without Kais’s complete cooperation. It’s revealed to Ana that Shamaira, Ana’s dear friend, is Kais’s mother. Ana vows to save her, and Kais gladly switches back to their side. Linn and Kais rush to save the trapped Affinates while Ana rushes to try and stop Sorsha.

Ramson makes it back to the Fort, hoping to warn his father about Kerlan’s coup. He realizes his father has been behind the whole Affinate siphon plot the whole time, but is too late to save him. Sorsha arrives, takes the key to the secret blackstone collar she’s been wearing, and kills their father. Unlocking her collar, she reveals that she’s been the only successful subject of the siphon’s power, adding fire and stone Affinities to her natural iron Affinity. She is by far the biggest, baddest boss with all the powers.

Attempting to kill Ramson, Sorsha is stopped by Ana, who arrives just in time. Sorsha is late for the coup, so she runs to find Kerlan. Ana and Ramson know they have to ring the war bells to bring the Bregonian navy to the fort to stop Morganya’s forces, which should be arriving any time to aid Kerlan’s coup. The two share their first kiss before going into the final boss fight.

Kerlan and Sorsha have already killed much of the three courts of Bregon, but they don’t yet have the king. Ramson tries to ring the bells, but Sorsha catches him. Ana rushes in and is able to ring the bells while Sorsha and Kerlan are distracted. Sorsha manages to cut Ana and siphon’s her Affinity. All seems to be lost, but Linn and Kais arrive with a dozen Affinites that they were able to save from the dungeon. Kerlan’s men fight the Affinites. Before Sorsha can absorb Ana’s blood Affinity, Ramson is able to best her and lock the collar back on her, so she’s once again without access to her Affinities. She flees.

Kerlan captures Linn and threatens to kill her unless they call off the navy. Linn says she’d rather die than have him win. So he throws her over the cliff. Kais is able to dive after her and save her, aiding her in the use of her wind Affinity. Ramson finally kills Kerlan and the action is over.

The story ends with Darius taking his throne properly and granting a huge fleet to Ana so she can return to Cyrillia for her throne. Ramson isn’t going with her, he agreed to head a special task force to find the rest of Kerlan’s men. Ana thinks that he doesn’t want to be with her, and the kiss wasn’t what she thought. Ramson does totally love her, but thinks it’ll never work out once she’s empress so is just dipping out to save himself heartbreak (lame).

Linn and Kais agree to be Ana’s ambassadors to Kemeira, Linn’s homeland, where she wants to return and convince them to aid Ana and fight for the freedom of Affinites everywhere. Ana sends a bird to Yuri, letting him know she’s returning to wage war on Morganya. Yuri has just discovered that his mother was killed by Morganya, and he reinstates Seyin as his second in the Redcloaks, with the intent of ending the monarchy, no matter what.

End Book 2


Thanks to everyone who made it this far. If you love these books as much as I do, let me know in the comments. If you think they suck and wanna tell me why, I’d love to hear from you anyway. Catch ya’ll later, I’ll just be curled in a ball waiting for Spring of 2022 and the release of Book 3, Crimson Reign.

If you liked Red Tigress, try:

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Furyborn by Clare Legrand

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Reviews · Summaries

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna (Book 1)

# of Pages: 415

Time it took me to read: 3 Days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 59

Rating: 4 out of 5

This is the most important day of Deka’s life. Today is the day she will go through the Ritual of Purity, which will mark her as a true member of the village where she has always felt like an outsider. So long as her blood runs red, she will be welcomed by her community with open arms and will prepare herself for marriage.

But when the ritual goes horribly wrong and her blood runs gold, she is subjugated to the punishment of all girls who fail the Ritual: the death mandate. Just when Deka thinks all is lost, a powerful stranger arrives and offers her a choice: remain in the power of the village elders, or be conscripted into the Emperor’s army of elite alaki warriors, made up entirely of the girls who would otherwise have been under the power of the death mandate.

Abandoned by everyone she thought cared for her, Deka is whisked away from her tiny village and travels to the capital for training, because the alaki army has one purpose: to rid the kingdom of its most terrifying predator, the deathshrieks.

Though it’s not the life she always wanted, Deka is determined to make the best of her situation, and she quickly finds that though she has always felt powerless in the face of her fate, she may be the key to saving her kingdom from the monsters that hold it captive.

Review (No Spoilers):

Oh boy, what a breath of fresh air! It’s been a while since I’ve read a new fast-paced YA fantasy, and The Gilded Ones totally delivered. Namina Forna’s debut novel is extremely engaging with a fantastically immersive world.

Just going to post a brief review here, as I’m going to spend most of this post doing a summary, but this section will be spoiler-free, and I’ll definitely give a warning before I get into the section with spoilers, because I highly recommend this book and you don’t want to be spoiled if you haven’t read it yet.

Starting with pacing, which as I stated above is fast. The reader is undoubtably hooked within the first few chapters because the action starts right away. The way that the author builds mystery after mystery kept me asking questions, which kept me turning pages. As much as I love intense world-building, it often slows down the pace of the story if there is heavy-lifting to be done story-wise, but despite an impressibly imaginative world in Oterra, I felt that the information about the world was thoroughly interspersed, which I love over an info-dump anyday.

Moving briefly into world-building, as I said, fantastic for a debut novel. Oterra is a bright and vibrant world with rich cultures and fantastical creatures galore. The one thing I’ll say, and I won’t get too much into it here, is that there was one creature that should have been left out of the story all together, and that is the equus. They’re supposed to be like centaurs, kinda, but with horsy facial features. But what really alarms me is that they have what appears to be human intelligence and speech patterns, but they seem to be content to be the pack mules to humans, and a lot of their commentary revolves around liking apples, which makes them seem much more like they have horse brains in their human heads. Long story short, I don’t think they add anything to the storyline at all and they creep me out, I wish they weren’t there. Other than that though, I love the world and I love the creatures.

Now characters. I thought that Deka had a really nice arc. She starts out as meek, keeping her eyes down and wanting nothing more than to be the traditional subservient woman that her religion tells her is the only appropriate way for a woman to be. She has an understandable, realistic struggle with completely shifting from subservient woman to elite warrior. The transition happens a little fast in terms of actual timeline of the story, but I think it mostly makes sense for it to happen quickly because there is so much going on with the plot, and Deka has to keep up. Regarding side characters, I think Deka has a really lovable, well-rounded group of friends, including her love interest. I thought their relationship was very sweet, very pure, and I was into it, I wish there was more of it to be honest but hopefully that’ll all be in book 2 *fingers crossed*. But probably the “best” character was Deka’s mysterious benefactor White Hands. Deka goes up and down and up and down with whether or not she trusts her, and I as a reader really enjoyed trying to guess whether or not White Hands had Deka’s best interests at heart or not.

Lastly, I’ll take a moment to talk about style. As a reader, I could tell this was a debut novel, simply because the flow was occasionally a little rough around the edges. Forna is certainly a talented writer, and I can only imagine that the writing will get better as the series progresses. But once again, not a bad writer, I could just tell there was some inexperience there as someone who’s read a lot of YA. However, from the perspective of being a writer myself, I know how hard it can be to make a story flow, so I’m just proud of her for getting it done! And something that was sort of funny was that a habit that I think Forna has is that she really spells out every single one of her tropes. There is pretty much no subtly, which cracked me up. Because normally in YA, the tropes are really obvious, but the author usually at least tries to bury the lead a little bit. For example, a big theme in this story is found family, and where normally in YA the author would just write a nice scene where the found family comes together and leave it at that. But Forna takes it a step further by writing that heart-warming found family scene, but then ending the chapter with a sentence like “and it was like I finally found my family.” Literally spelling out the trope. I’m not mad about it though, because it’s totally something that I would do, because as a writer and a person I’m about as subtle as a punch in the face.

Now, the next book doesn’t come out until spring of 2022 (curse you paper shortage!), so I’m definitely going to do a summary for this one. I’m really going to work hard to make these summaries still contain all the important, juicy information about characters and plot points while being condensed because these summaries are really exhausting to write.



Deka – The sixteen year old protagonist of the story. Always wanted to fit in, but her mother is from a different province so she’s darker than all of the other people in her village. Taken from her village to be an alaki warrior when her blood runs gold. White Hands is her mysterious benefactor, and she is best friend to Britta. Love interest to Keita. She starts out meek and completely affected by the brainwashing that women are weak, but transforms into a strong, feminist leader of the alaki warriors.

Britta – Sixteen year old alaki, travels with Deka to the capital to train and becomes her protector and best friend. Chatty, optimistic, gentle-hearted, fiercely loyal.

White Hands / Lady of the Equus – All we know about her from the start is that she is a noble, but we find that she is the emperor’s “cousin” and has a lot of influence, so she is able to protect and influence Deka. She’s mysterious, and plays it close to the vest. By the end we find she is one of the firstborn, a daughter of the Gilded Ones (goddesses).

Ixa – Deka’s loyal pet/sidekick. He’s a shapeshifter, and can communicate a little in Deka’s mind. Commonly seen as a little cat with horns, but can also transform into a fierce dragon-type creature for battle.

Adwapa – Friend to Deka, one of the fiercest alaki warriors. She’s from the tribe that always worshipped the Gilded Ones in secret.

Belcalis – Friend to Deka, young alaki warrior. She suffered greatly before coming to the capital to train, it takes her quite some time to lower her walls enough to let in Deka and the others close to her.

Keita – young jatu soldier that is paired with Deka as his alaki partner. He’s got a hard exterior, but he respects Deka for the warrior that she is, and they fall in love throughout the story.


I’m going to try a new format, list format rather than whole rambling paragraphs. As I said, I’m trying to reap the benefits of summarizing the book for myself (and hopefully others) without having to write 3000 words. Alrighty, let’s see how this goes:

  1. We meet Deka, sixteen years old and excited for the purity ceremony that will prove she is a faithful woman of her village. She has always felt different, especially since her mother died a few months prior.
  2. During the ceremony, monsters called deathshrieks attack. Deka seems strangely unaffected by their bloodcurdling wails, and, desperate to save her family and friends, she commands them to stop and leave. However, she gets hurt in the process and her blood runs the cursed gold. The boy she has a crush on puts a sword through her stomach.
  3. We find that Deka is an alaki (descended from demons), which means she cannot die, no matter how many times they try and kill her. She is tormented for months by the elders in her village, who want to kill her but also take her golden blood to sell. She’s rescued by White Hands, an emissary of the emperor. She is told that if she wants to escape the torture, she must come to the capital and join an army of alaki warriors to fight the deathshrieks. She agrees.
  4. Deka travels with White Hands and another alaki, Britta, who is from a village north of Deka’s. They bond over their faith and shared experience.
  5. The girls arrive at the capital and are left by White Hands. They go through the process of being conscripted. Their hands are dipped in gilded gold blood and they are such marked. They are paired with a male jatu soldier to be their partner on the battlefield. Deka is paired with Keita.
  6. Deka and Britta make an alliance with the other girls in their transport to the training camp, two sisters from a southern tribe and Belcalis, who is very reluctant and angry, but not about to turn down an alliance.
  7. The girls get to the camp and are introduced to their teachers, who are all human, non-alaki women. The training begins, and the girls go for a run and learn that they can enter a combat state where they are inhumanly fast and strong. They are meant to be warriors, and this is a time where Deka and the other girls come to terms with their demon blood and accept that it makes them strong and worthy to be warriors to fight the deathshrieks for their empire.
  8. One of Deka’s friends is killed (her final death) by some deathshrieks who make it into their camp. Deka feels that her mother was part of the legacy of this place, and finds that she was a shadow, which is an elite female assassin before she was exiled to the north with her father when she was pregnant with Deka.
  9. Deka realizes she can command the deathshrieks, and trains with White Hands and her friends to form an elite deathshriek killing squad, along with their jatu partners.
  10. Deka realizes that she has special abilities that even the other alaki do not have, and tries to solve the mystery, but White Hands doesn’t really give her much.
  11. During a deathshriek raid, Deka discovers Ixa, a shapeshifter creature unlike anyone has ever seen. She feels in her gut that they are meant to stay together, so she starts bringing Ixa with her everywhere. He is often a little kitten with horns, but also can transform into a giant dragon like creature for battle
  12. Deka and Keita form a close connection, Deka learning that Keita is the final male in his family line, his entire family was killed by deathshrieks. While Keita obviously has a lot of emotions toward the deathshrieks, he’s never vicious or cruel to them. Deka and Keita are in love.
  13. Deka realizes that after some time, she can understand the deathshrieks, that they have language and are intelligent, not mindless monsters like she was led to believe. She is not sure what to do, since they are going on campaign soon, the whole army, to destroy the deathshriek nest and “rid the land of the monsters forever”. But she knows she will be destroyed by the Emperor and the rest of the army if they find out she is having doubts about their mission to erradicate the deathshrieks. Especially since she’s found out her commanding voice not only works on the deathshrieks, but on the alaki as well.
  14. During a battle on the campaign trail, Britta is fatally wounded, and it looks like she’s about to die her final death, but Deka commands her not to die and that somehow heals her enough to stop her final death.
  15. During the next battle, Deka comes face to face with a deathshriek that looks to be her friend that was killed at the beginning in the deathshriek attack. Deka can talk with her and believes it’s her, which makes her realize that all deathshrieks are alaki that have died their final death, they come back as deathshrieks. She refuses to fight them anymore.
  16. The emperor wishes to have her killed for this, and Keita says he’ll do it, he’s her partner. But he says it in such a way that she knows it won’t be her final death, because her village elders already tried to kill her that way and it didn’t work.
  17. So Keita takes Deka’s prone body and flees with it away from the army, where they happen to meet White Hands and an army of deathshrieks.
  18. White Hands explains that she is one of the firstborn, a direct daughter of the Gilded Ones, from which all alaki are descendants. Also the Gilded Ones were not demons, they were the goddesses of this land. The first emperor of Otera and the original jatu sought power for themselves, so they trapped the goddesses and wrote history saying that they were demons, and that their descendants needed to be killed.
  19. White Hands tells Deka that she is special, and that she is the only one who can free the goddesses from their prison. The goddesses created her “soul” (basically) hundreds of years before, and White Hands carried it until the time was right, then gave Deka’s soul to her mother to carry to term as an alaki. The deathshrieks who came to her village in the beginning were actually trying to save her, but their plan didn’t work.
  20. White Hands was the mastermind behind all of this, she says it is now Deka’s time to lead the charge, to bring all of her alaki sisters over to their side, and fight the emperor’s army and free the goddesses.
  21. Deka is able to do it, she realizes her destiny. She goes down to the battle between the deathshrieks and the alaki and imperial army, and tells the alaki to not fight their sisters, the deathshrieks. She tells the deathshrieks to hurt none of their jatu partners either, so long as the jatu do not try to harm them.
  22. Deka goes to the cave where the goddesses have their prison, and finds that the emperor is already there, with Britta and Keita prisoner. The emperor gives his villain speech, how he always knew exactly what him and his family did for generations, killing and oppressing woman, human and alaki alike, to keep power. The emperor and his elite army are REAL jatu, which are the male descendants of the Gilded Ones, the ones who imprisoned the goddesses in the first place.
  23. The emperor and his jatu are just as strong and fierce as the alaki, so Deka and the emperor have their final battle, but it doesn’t take Deka long to dispatch him (not kill him).
  24. Deka is able to free the four goddesses, and they plan on uniting the deathshriek and alaki armies to take back their kingdom and bring peace and equality to all of Otera. But with years of oppression, they will likely meet a firm resistance from the men and women alike. But Deka is up to the challenge and believes in the mission of the goddesses.

End of Book 1


Well, that was still pretty long, but we got there in the end. Thanks for reading along everyone, I really recommend The Gilded Ones, and if you’ve read it, hit me up in the comments and let me know what you think. See ya’ll next time!

If you liked The Gilded Ones, try:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

Blood Heir Amelie Wen Zhao

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan


Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell (Book 1)

# of Pages: 579

Time it took me to read: 5 Days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 83

Rating: 4 out of 5

Chatine Renard has been a crook all her life. In the Frets of the capital city on the planet Laterre, she must steal, lie, and con as a boy to survive. If anyone knew she was a girl, it would be off to the blood bordels for her, where she’d be forced to sell the nutrients in her blood for money. But she, like everyone else in the Third Estate, dreams of a better life. And she’s so close she can taste it, all she needs is one last, big con and she’ll have the money for passage off of Laterre.

Marcellus is desperate to fill the shoes he was born into. He is constantly in his grandfather’s shadow, the great General of Laterre, and next in line to be commander. That is, if he can show everyone that he is not a traitor like his father, a famous terrorist currently serving life in prison for treason and murder. But when rebellion starts to brew on Laterre, will Marcellus stick to the status quo, or find that he has more in common with rebels than the Regime he is sworn to uphold?

Alouette has lived underground as long as she can remember. Safe from the turmoil on the planet’s surface, Alouette and her father live a simple life with the sisters, an order sworn to a quiet life of protecting the precious books brought over from the old world, the only written history on Laterre. Alouette wants nothing more than to join this order and dedicate her life to the library that would certainly be destroyed if ever discovered by the Regime. But when Alouette braves the world above to help someone in need, she’ll find all is not what it seems. She’ll have to question everything she’s ever known if she’s to discover the truth: about who she is, and how she and her father came to live among the sisters.

The stories of Chatine, Marcellus, and Aloutte become inextricably woven as a rebellion works to rise again, despite the current Regime’s desperation to cling to the way things have always been: with the Third Estate poor, hungry, and submissive, while the First Estate plays and the Second Estate rules. In this imaginative retelling of the classic story Les Miserables, you’ll find that nothing is as it seems, until you’re sure that the only thing you know is that you know nothing at all.


Howdy friends! Normally here I’d do a brief review and then a summary, since this is Book 1, but the main reason I do summaries is so that I can review them before diving into the sequel, a little gift for my future self. However, I have learned that Book 2 in The System Divine series HAS A SUMMARY published in the front of the book, which is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. So I’m just gonna do a regular review for ya’ll.

I have to start by saying that I am a HUGE Les Miserables (Les Mis) fan. I’ve only seen the stage production once, but I’m obsessed with the 2012 move, obsessed with the music, etc. So I fully read this book knowing it was a Les Mis retelling, and looking for every detail that they threw in, every Easter egg. And boy were there plenty, so if you read this review and know nothing of Les Mis, sorry, you might not know why I’m so excited or who all I’m referencing as the characters. So I’ll just leave this here for anyone interested in reading this book, but is unfamiliar with the source material: You should read it anyway! It’s a great story, and it doesn’t require any Les Mis knowledge to enjoy.

Moving on to the main characters. For those Les Mis fans out there, I’ll make it real simple (this is not a spoiler, it’s literally clear from the first time you meet these characters): Chatine = Eponine, Marcellus = Marius, and Alouette = Cosette. They are the three protagonists in this story, as well as in part of Les Mis. And while other memorable character archetypes are present throughout (Marius’s grandfather, the Thenardiers, Javert, Gavroche, and of course Jean Valjean), they don’t all play the roles you’d expect, and their relationships to each other aren’t all the same either. There are some interesting original characters as well, so it’s not a mirror image to the source material.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of all three protagonists. I occasionally struggle with stories with casts that I call “in-betweeners”. In my experience, one to two narrators is normal, and indicative of a small to medium cast of characters. Then there is large cast, with the narration changing between 4+ characters, often giving more of an omnipresent narrator or “movie” vibe. I enjoy large cast books, if done well, but read mostly books that stick to one to two perspectives. With three protagonists and thus three primary narrators, this book is definitely stuck between small and large cast. But it totally worked for me, I found myself engaged in the storylines of all three protagonists, which is tough to accomplish.

I’m going to speak briefly about the plot, and how similar or dissimilar it is to the source material. I’ll be brief, because I don’t want to give any spoilers. But I thought these authors did a great job of blending original plot and ideas into this story, while still being true to the source materials. There are some areas that are totally original, for example Marcellus’s backstory (although, tbh, I’m basing that off of my movie/stage production knowledge of Les Mis, not Victor Hugo’s original novel, which I have never read). However, there are some parts that are as by-the-book (or by-the-movie, rather), as it gets. I’ll not reveal which parts, because that’s obviously a spoiler. And there are just some little details that gave me a thrill to read, such as the prisoner number 24601 being used (Jean Valjean’s prisoner number), and the fact that Alouette is a singer. There’s also an awesome little scene that gave me big “Lovely Ladies” vibes, which is one of my favorite songs, so that was *chef’s kiss*.

Alrighty, world-building. I was absolutely HERE for the concept of “Les Mis, but instead of 19th century France, make it a space dystopia that is super based in French culture”. I thought the authors did a great job of not doing a lot of info-dumping, even though they did include a lot of lingo and there was a lot of world building / history to be done. I also mostly thought the little bits of French that they threw in there were fun, even if some of the substitutions did make me giggle/roll my eyes a little bit. For example the sentence “I had never felt so stupide”, like why would you not just say “Stupid”? Anyway, that’s obviously nitpicky, I overall enjoyed the vibe very much.

And now, finally, the reason that I knocked off a star: pacing. This was a long book and I FELT it. I don’t really feel like much happened in the first half, at all, besides the minor event that triggered the story taking off. There is a lot of mystery and intrigue, which is great, but it’s the kind of stuff that you’re like “I’m not going to learn the answers to this until the very end, or even maybe not until the next book”, which makes it really hard to be eager to turn page after page when you’ve still got 300 pages until the end. I think it was probably slow-paced by necessity, there was a lot of backstory, but I do wish there had been more action sprinkled in to keep me going through all the backstory. I have a feeling the next book is going to be much quicker, so I’m stoked, but I had to take off a star because a book that is almost six hundred pages and super slow until almost the last quarter is kinda rough.

Overall, I loved it. I can really see the next book being a five out of five for me, and I’m very excited that the sequel is already out. I probably won’t get to it for a while, but I’m really looking forward to when I do get the chance to pick it up. Once again, I recommend checking out this book, even if you’re not a Les Mis fan, but ESPECIALLY if you are.

Now, I’m off to watch the 2012 Les Miserables movie for the millionth time, see ya’ll next time!

If you liked Sky Without Stars, try these other creative retellings of classic stories:

Troy by Adele Geras is a retelling of Homer’s Iliad with unique perspectives

Thorn by Intisar Khanani is a retelling of the classic Goose Girl fairytale

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is a dark, gangster spin on Romeo and Juliet

Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson is a fantastical retelling of the Swan Lake story


Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim (Book 2)

# of Pages: 351

Time it took me to read: 1 Day

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 50

Rating: 4 out of 5

NOTE: This review will have spoilers from here on out. If you haven’t read the Spin the Dawn and plan to, I recommend skipping this review entirely. I’ll be back soon with fresh, spoiler free reviews. You’ve been warned 🙂

Maia Tamarin has already proven herself to be the greatest master tailor in all of A’landi. But in order to save her true love, Edan, from becoming the demon guardian of Lapzur, Maia has made a bargain with a demon and with the moon goddess herself that she will take his place so long as Edan is free.

Now, alone at the palace, Maia waits for the shensen’s daughter, Lady Sarnai, to wed the emperor. This wedding will preserve the delicate peace in the land after the war between the shensen and the emperor. But when things don’t go exactly as planned, Maia is forced to flee, on the run from the emperor as well as the shensen.

Maia must find a way to stop darkness from ripping apart her beloved land, all while fighting against the darkness rising within herself. But how long can she run from an enemy that seeks to destroy her from within?


Like its predecessor, this book came at just the right time. I just finished slogging my way through an absolute beast of a Sci-Fi for book club (see my review of Red Rising), and I’m really trying hard to get back into my reading habit, and Unravel the Dusk made it easy. I read the whole thing in 24 hours, without even trying that hard.

I’ve read a lot of great books this year, but usually the ones I end up enjoying the most are a little beefier and heavier on the fantasy aspect, which this one is not. But that’s not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this book.

Maia is a great character. She’s noble, self-sacrificing, exactly the kind of protagonist you want to root for. And she made things really tough on herself. In this book, she literally had enemies attacking her from ALL sides. She promised to be in the emperor’s service, but then she has to leave, so he’s hunting her. The shensen is basically a demon himself, and know’s what she’s becoming, so he’s hunting her. And then there’s Baldur, the demon who forced her into swearing an oath to become the new demon guardian of Lapzur. And he’s all up in her head trying to get her to come back to Lapzur like, right now, so he can be free. And then there’s the fact that she’s actually turning into a demon more and more every day, so she’s got this demon voice inside her head, that is her own voice, telling her to submit and use the demon magic that is fueled by rage and vengeance but will only make her lose herself even faster. So she’s got a lot to deal with, and I think this final book in the series did a good job of making sure all of the enemies were fully vanquished by the end.

And then of course there’s Edan. No longer the all powerful enchanter he once was, he is still fiercely loyal and heart-meltingly loving to Maia. Even though in this book I feel like he is much more of a plot device in some ways, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because okay, hear me out.

So Maia basically made this decision to become a demon and take Baldur’s place because of her love for Edan. It was a decision made selflessly, but specifically to save one person, this boy she loves. Which is great, I love a good romance. But it would have been real easy for this book to basically have the theme “she sacrificed it all for true love, and in the end true love saved her”. I’ve read that book before, I’ve loved books like that. BUT. Elizabeth Lim made it so that every battle she had to fight, every obstacle she had to overcome, she did it herself. Edan was by her side for a lot of it, but she certainly had to fight her own battles and win in her own way. Particularly the war against herself, against losing everything she is to the demon. She fights that ever page of the book, and while love of Edan is a big factor in why she doesn’t give in, he’s not the only thing. She fights for her brother and her father, for her friend Ammi, for Lady Sarnai and her army, for her country. But mostly she fights for herself. Because she is a good person who is strong and even though any second of any day she could completely give in to the demon and feel no more pain, no more human emotion, and become all powerful, she fights that. So when she wins, and she does fully win in the end, it feels like she really earned it. I wasn’t expecting that and I really liked it.

I’ll quickly cover the things I usually do, pacing, world building, characters, style, etc. But there is very little else to say that I didn’t already say in my initial review of the first book, so head over to that review if you want more detail. Pacing is fast, as I mentioned I blew through this book and it did not feel like a hard push. World building is pretty good, I was really sucked into the land and immersed.

The one thing I’ll mention is that there are pretty much no rules to her magic system here. Elizabeth Lim has magic behave pretty much how she wants it, and you’ll just have to deal with it. It didn’t particularly bother me, since it’s not like this book takes itself particularly seriously anyway, but it did make me raise my eyebrows every now and again because I’m used to reading fantasy where worldbuilding is everything and the magic is very regulated and well explained. Not here. The reader needs to know what’s going on somewhere that Maia isn’t actually at? No problem, Maia has “demon vision” that takes over every now and again and shows her events that are important for her to see. That’s just one example too. Kinda funny.

I talked about characters already, Maia is pretty much the only actual complex character, but as I explained, I loved so much how much this book was about her struggle and her triumph, I didn’t mind pretty much everyone else being a plot device. I like the style, it’s “easy-breezy fantasy” that doesn’t take itself seriously, which is great especially after that heavy Sci-Fi I just read.

Once again I left a star off because I liked it pretty much exactly the same amount as I liked the first book, and once again no special “X Factor” to shoot it up to a perfect score. But a really solid 4 that I’d highly recommend to anyone who likes lighthearted fantasy romances.

The last thing I’ll mention, and it’s not necessarily a critique, but I’d be remiss if I skipped over the deus ex machina. For those of you unfamiliar, a quick lesson: deus ex machina originated as a device in ancient Greek theatre. In that sense, it describes when something, usually a god or a mythical creature appears at the end of the play to resolve the ending. For example, in Euripides’ Medea, Medea kills her children to get revenge on her scheming husband, and when it appears she will be killed for her crimes, a sun dragon appears and Medea rides off on it, escaping the consequences and denying her husband his revenge upon her.

Anyway, nowadays it’s mostly a device used in storytelling when a seemingly hopeless situation is quickly and conveniently solved at the end by a highly unlikely occurrence. In this case, Maia knows that if she destroys all of the dresses that she made in the previous book, which are connected to her body, mind, and heart, she will die. Those dresses are her life force. But the only way to win in the end is to sacrifice herself by destroying the last dress. So she should have died. And she kind of did, but then she goes up to heaven(?) and talks to her mom, who says the moon goddess is granting her the choice to go and live on earth with her dad, brother, and the boy she loves. Or she can become tailor to the gods and be with her dead mom and brothers. Yeah, seems kinda obvious what you’d pick. So she gets brought back to life with absolutely no consequences for her actions. A very convenient happy ending. But you know what? Not mad about it, because as I said, she works very hard to defeat all of her damn enemies, so I think she deserves a happy ending, no matter how suspiciously convenient it is.

And that’s it! Check out the series, it’s only two books, they’re really short and fun to read. See ya’ll next time!

If you liked Unravel the Dusk, try:

Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Defy by Sara B. Larson


Red Rising by Pierce Brown (Book 1)

# of Pages: 382

Time it took me to read: 7 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 54

Rating: 3 out of 5

Darrow has the life he has always imagined for himself. He’s a Helldiver, the most dangerous job in the underground mines of Mars where his caste, the Reds, live. But the job comes with prestige and respect, and he’s married to the girl of his dreams, Eo, and lives surrounded by his family. But Eo has always dreamed of there being more in life than working the mines, watching their families, their people, die so very young due to the hard, dangerous nature of their work.

When Darrow and Eo get caught somewhere they shouldn’t be, Darrow never dreams that it will change his life forever. Because just as he thinks all is lost, someone finds him. A rebel sect that tells him everything he’s ever been told about his life and his purpose is a lie. Suddenly he is given an opportunity: make Eo’s dream a reality, and infiltrate the highest caste of their Society: the Golds, who are the perfect embodiment of human creation down to their very DNA. But if Darrow wants a chance at revenge and lifting his people from the underground mines of Mars, he must become a Gold both physically and mentally. Because then, they’ll never see him coming until it’s too late.

Review (Spoiler Free!):

Okay, I’ll say it. I really didn’t want to like this book. In fact, I was convinced I hated it until about half way through. But it’s a book for my book club so I had to finish it and now here we are. I gave this book a 3 out of 5, but really it was probably closer to a 3.5 or a 4, but since I don’t give half stars and I simply could not bring myself to give it a 4, I had to settle at 3.

I’ll start by telling you that this really isn’t my genre. Even though the protagonist, Darrow, is between 16 and 18 through the story, this is not YA. It was in the adult Sci-Fi section of the bookstore, and is certainly written in the adult style, not the YA style. And it’s Sci-Fi, of which I read very little, so I didn’t think I would like it in the first place. But I’m trying to diversify, and my book club voted on this book fair and square.

Let’s begin with pacing. This was one of the slower paced books I’ve ever read. 382 pages dragged, I had to read the book around 50 pages at a time all the way until the last hundred or so when I was finally able to push hard through it. The first 50 pages in particular does that thing, you know, that a lot of Sci-Fi (and some hard fantasy) books do where they spend the first 50-100 pages completely info-dumping you into the world. The second 50 pages is a bit better, but still a tough read. If I could rate the first 100 pages separately from the rest of the book, I’d give them a 1 out of 5 and the rest of the book a 4. I’m pretty convinced that this book is objectively slow-paced, but I’ll admit that my opinion that it was a complete sludge to get through is probably subjective. If you’re into this genre, it probably isn’t so bad.

So here I am, 100 pages in, and I’m convinced I’m going to hate this book from start to finish. Because up until now all that has happened is the catalyst to the rest of the story buried in very in-depth Sci-Fi explanations and lingo. But then, all of the sudden, this book stops reading like a Sci-Fi I can’t wrap my head around and starts reading like dystopia. It gets VERY Hunger Games-esque, very fast. And all of the sudden, pretty much against my will, I find myself on board. I would have bet money at 100 pages in that never in a million years would the plot hook me by the end, but I would have lost that money. Because not only did the plot hook me, but by the end of the book I found myself completely immersed in the story, staying up too late on a work night to finish it, almost like I’d do with a book I actually enjoyed. Go figure.

However, as much as I did end up enjoying the plot by the end, there were a few parts of this book that I have to rant about because I did not like at all. First off, the style. Ugh, the first 50-100 pages the writing was so stylized that I felt like I was rolling my eyes and gagging through most of it. Not only was the sci-fi lingo almost unintelligible from the very first page, but the way the dialogue was written was so incredibly strange, almost like someone put English through Google Translate into a completely different language, and then had Google Translate it back to English. But the even weirder part…like half way through the book they just…stop talking weird. Like, any kind of “dialect” that the author created just kind of…went away. Except for a few random moments that felt purposeful, the rest of the dialogue was normal. Super duper strange. Like, I feel like if you’re going to commit to the unique dialect, you have to go all in, or not do it at all. This half-and-half thing seemed wishy-washy.

Also, and this is definitely a personal opinion that I get is pretty snobby, but the author kind of tried to pull some Greco-Roman (mostly Roman) themes in there with each of the Gold houses being like “House Venus” and “House Jupiter”. But it kinda just felt like the author cracked open one book about the Roman gods, skimmed it, and then decided to try and make it a whole thing. I think he should have either made something up entirely his own, or just gone real big with it. But again…kinda wishy-washy.

And finally, probably one of my biggest pet peeves (particularly since I ended up being hooked by the plot in the end), is that I do not like Darrow. I think he is a boring, pretentious character who doesn’t go through any earned or engaging arc. I was far more engaged by some of the side characters, though many of them annoyed me too. Besides like one female character, I felt like all the female side characters were plot devices, which is honestly pretty typical of many male sci-fi and fantasy writers that I’ve read (at least in adult). I found Eo, Darrow’s young wife, way more interesting and wish she would have been more involved in the overall story. But like I said…plot device. I’m particularly peeved because it sucks for me as a reader to be engaged enough in the story that I’m going to pick up the sequel, because while I am rooting for Darrow’s cause and am engaged by the events that surround him, I am not rooting for Darrow and honestly, truly, would not care if he died in the end. It’s always mildly unpleasant/uncomfortable for me to read a book where I care about the plot but not the characters.

Regardless, I’ll pick up the sequel at some point (it’s a completed trilogy), and I’ll see if I enjoy the second book enough to finish the whole series.

I’d say, if you’re a fan of adult Sci-Fi or even a fan of Hunger Games style “fight to the death game” type stories, you could give this one a try. I think a lot of what I didn’t like about this book was subjective, I don’t think that Pierce Brown is a bad writer or anything, I just wouldn’t call myself a fan and probably wouldn’t have finished this book had it not been for my book club.

If you liked Red Rising, try:

Zenith by Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Diabolic by SJ Kincaid

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth