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*.

Cast (!!BIG SPOILERS AHEAD!!!)

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

!!!END SPOILERS!!!

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

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?

Review:

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