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 · 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.

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD, DO NOT READ PAST HERE UNLESS YOU HAVE READ THE BOOK. IT’S SERIOUSLY NOT WORTH BEING SPOILED IF THERE IS ANY CHANCE YOU’LL READ THIS BOOK!!!

Characters:

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.

Summary:

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

!!!END OF SPOILERS!!!

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

Reviews

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.

Review (SPOILER FREE!):

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

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

Mini Reviews · Reviews · Uncategorized

Camping Trip Mini Reviews

Hi friends! I’ve recently returned from a big camping trip where I got to read a whole handful of books. So I’m just going to do the tiniest of mini-reviews for each one, and if anybody wants to know more or talk more about any of these books, hit me up in the comments. Without further ado, camping trip mini reviews (all are spoiler-free)!

# of Pages: 439

Time it took me to read: 2 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 63

Rating: 5 out of 5

This book was a Secret Santa gift given by a co-worker who doesn’t read, he just picked it out because he thought it looked cool on Amazon. And I have to say, I was excited to read it regardless because I’d heard great things about it, but my friend really made a great pick! I started out thinking this retelling might be a little cheesy, because the character’s names are “Roma” and “Juliette”, so pretty on-the-nose, and in the setup it’s pretty obvious who the other side characters are supposed to be if you’ve read Romeo and Juliet. But this is not the simple love at first sight then die unnecessarily story. Both Roma and Juliette are well-developed characters with a past history, and the ruthless, bloody gangster backdrop makes for a really interesting read. I’m not super familiar with early 20th-century history, so I’m not sure how much of the 1920’s Shanghei is fiction and how much is history, but either way it was monstrously compelling. I’d say the story is a little slow to start, but ramps up quickly and is impossible to put down after a point. I’m so very excited for the sequel later this year, and would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of YA, classic story retellings, or historical romances.

# of Pages: 511

Time it took me to read: 2 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 73

Rating: 5 out of 5

I’ve only ever done a Throwback review way back in the day where I got to talk about Leigh Bardugo, so I’m stoked to finally be getting that chance again. If you haven’t heard of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, I’m not sure what rock you’ve been hiding under. A few months ago the wildly popular Shadow and Bone series premiered on Netflix, which covers characters from a few different series of Bardugo’s. The events of King of Scars have not been covered in the show (yet), but I’m hopeful for the future. Anyway, King of Scars is a re-read for me, because I read it years ago when it first came out, and the sequel was recently released, and I wanted to read them back-to-back. I could literally spend pages talking about why Leigh Bardugo is no-doubt one of the top authors in YA currently, but I’ll try to keep it to a few sentences. The “Grishaverse” world she has built is incredibly detailed and vivid, with each country based on the cultures of real-world places (Ravka = Russia, Kerch = The Netherlands/Amsterdam specifically). Having a fantasy world based on the real world in some ways really grounds the reader and makes it immersive. For characters, these books are pretty large cast, and she does a great job flipping perspectives while keeping the reader engaged no matter who’s story you’re reading. These books are incredibly fast paced and impossible to put down. I loved it just as much this time around as I did the first time.

# of Pages: 588

Time it took me to read: 2 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 84

Rating: 5 out of 5

Sequel to King of Scars, Rule of Wolves is equally fantastic. I really enjoyed the opportunity I had to read them back to back, I think it added a lot to my understanding of all of the details and plot points of this final installment. Not a whole lot to say here that I didn’t say in the previous review, Leigh Bardugo is a master world-builder and storyteller. Each of her many characters are pretty much equally engaging, and her pacing is always perfect. I think of all of my camping books I finished this one the quickest, because I honestly, truly could not stop reading it. Rule of Wolves did not end as I expected in a lot of ways, but I think all of the storylines that needed to be wrapped up were, but Bardugo always leaves herself room for writing new adventures, and I’m hoping I guessed right and she teased a new story with old favorites coming someday. Anyway, if you haven’t read any Leigh Bardugo, just do yourself a favor and get into the Grishaverse. Here is my official recommendation for the order you should read her three Grishaverse series: Six of Crows duology, Shadow and Bone trilogy, King of Scars duology. This order is not entirely chronological, but as someone who has read all of these books originally in chronological order, I can tell you you’ll have more fun reading it in the order I provided.

# of Pages: 365

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 52

Rating: 4 out of 5

This book was a big shift from everything else I was reading on this trip, I really wanted to have a little bit of variety after reading only YA fantasy. The World That We Knew is a historical fiction novel set in Europe during the Holocaust, and like most of Alice Hoffman’s work that I’ve read, has just a touch of magic added to move it along. Lea is a young Jewish girl living in Berlin during the second world war. Her mother will do anything to get her out of the country, so she works with the daughter of a rabbi to construct a golum, a being made of clay that will serve the wishes of its master. Lea’s mother names the golum Ava and sends the two off to Paris, where she hopes they will be safe. The World that We Knew tells the story of men, women, and children across Germany and Paris who fight for the survival of themselves and others. It’s very well researched and provides many facts and figures of the devistation wrought by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Alice Hoffman is a wonderful writer, her historical novels are some of my favorites, but one thing kept me from falling completely in love with this story, and it took me a while to put my finger on it. I think that, personally, I was sort of brought out of the story because it focused on too many different characters, it left me hard-pressed to become particularly attached to any of them. And in certain sections she’d be telling the story of a character fleeing arrest by the Germans, and then it would flow into an objective, real fact about the prison those that were arrested that day were sent to, and how many died. While I appreciated the facts as a history buff, it sort of transported me out of the story and back to reality, which was for me not my favorite decision she made. But overall I’d definitely recommend the book to anyone who enjoys WW2 historical fiction.



Thanks for hanging in there everybody, I’ll be back with more regularly scheduled reviews and summaries soon. Hope everyone has a great August ❤

Reviews

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim (Book 1)

# of Pages: 387

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 55

Rating: 4 out of 5

Maia Tamarin is the fourth child of one of the greatest tailors in A’landi, and the most talented of her siblings. But as the only daughter, she is forbidden from taking ownership of her father’s shop and fulfilling her dreams of being a master tailor. Until one day when a messanger comes from the palace, wishing to take her father to the emperor to become a royal tailor. Maia’s father is too sick, and her brother has nowhere near her skill. So with the gift of her grandmother’s scissors and the blessing of her father, she disguises herself as one of her brothers and is off to the palace.

When she arrives, she finds that she will be pitted against eleven other master tailors for the honor of being the new imperial tailor. The tasks are set and judged by the future empress, Lady Sarnai, who is known for her harsh judgement. Maia knows that she has what it takes to fill the role, despite being a woman, and is willing to risk everything, including exposure, to bring this honor to her family.

But what she doesn’t expect is to gain the attention of Edan, the Emperor’s Lord Enchanter. Somehow he seems to see right through her, though to anyone else she seems to be the unremarkable son of a tailor. However, when Lady Sarnai sets a seemingly impossible final task, Maia’s only hope is to team up with Edan to complete gowns known only in legend.

Note:

Hi friends, normally in this situation I’d write a review along with a summary of this book, since it’s the first in a series. However, since the second book is out already and I intend on reading it soon, I’m going to skip the summary, because they honestly take me forever to write and I’d rather just write a simple review for this book. But the good news is that this post will be entirely spoiler-free, so I hope you enjoy!

Review:

I’d like to start out by saying that this book was the breath of fresh air that I needed. Because the last few books I’ve read have either been heavy but wonderful (read Chain of Iron) or lighter but not that enjoyable (the last two books I’ve read for book club). But this month’s book club book was a great pick by my friend Dani. In just one sentence, the reason I liked this book so much was because it was easy breezy fantasy with a romance you’re rooting for and a fast paced, engaging plot.

So let’s break this down. We’ll start with what I mean when I say “easy breezy fantasy”. Much of YA fantasy these days I find gets really into intense world building with really intense fantasy themes, such as leading a rebellion or trying to save a kingdom from eternal darkness, etc. But this story is just about a girl who wants to be a master tailor, despite being forbidden because she’s a woman. And then the girl falls in love with a boy she isn’t supposed to have, and the follow up story is all about how they can go about being together. No super intense themes, just a super chill Mulan-meets-Project-Runway vibe.

I’ll talk about the cast just briefly, because they were certainly not particularly remarkable. Maia is the kind of protagonist that you root for right away. She’s lovably naive but fiercely determined, a winning combo for a YA protagonist, if not a particularly original one. There are “villains” working against her at every turn, I do sort of like the idea that there is no single antagonist that she’s going head to head against. And I’ll just briefly mention Edan, Maia’s charming partner in crime. They’ve got that fun back-and-forth banter going on throughout, and great adventure-partner chemistry. The two of them are enjoyable to read about from the beginning of their journey to the end.

Finally, to end my high notes I’ll take a paragraph to talk about plot and pacing. As I talked about a little bit above, the basic plot of this is like a mix of Mulan, Project Runway, with a little dash of Aladdin/Genie for flavor. None of the bits separately are particularly original, but the combination of them certainly is. I will say that I think the blurb on the back of the book was a little bit misleading, because I thought the Project Runway storyline was going to last longer, but the book has a lot more to offer beyond just that competition aspect, I’ll leave it at that to avoid any spoilers. And because there was so many different plot pieces in a book that isn’t even 400 pages, that meant the pacing had to be quick to fit everything in, which I was into because the last few books I’ve read have not been particularly fast paced, which I’m often fine with but I needed something fast paced and light to help me get back into a reading run.

To finish off the review, I’ll talk a little about why I left off a star. For me, a five star read has to be something that really hits on all cylinders, is entirely enjoyable to read, and usually has some sort of X factor. This book didn’t really have anything that I could fault, besides being a little tropey and cheesy at times (which in my opinion is usually not a fault), but it certainly didn’t have anything that screamed X factor. It is a thoroughly enjoyable story that I am excited to read the sequel to, but I’m not rushing out to my local bookstore to buy it right away or agonizing over having to wait, so this one is a solid four for me.

End Review

If you liked Spin the Dawn, try:

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

The Glass Spare by Lauren Destefano

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngun

Reviews · Summaries

Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare (The Last Hours Book 2)

# of Pages: 656

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 94

Rating: 5 out of 5

Cordelia Carstairs has loved James Herondale since she was a girl. She should be happy as can be, since she’s due to marry him. But this marriage comes on the aftermath of scandal, and it is a marriage of convenience in order to save Cordelia’s reputation: so not the romantic dream she always imagined. Besides, James loves Grace Blackthorn, he’s made that clear: this will be a marriage in name only, between friends, until they can get divorced in a years time and move on with their lives. All James has to do is resist seeing Grace, and Cordelia must shield her true love from her new husband.

Meanwhile, Lucie Herondale works tirelessly to bring the boy she loves, Jesse Blackthorn, back from the grave. This brings her into an uneasy alliance with Grace, Jesse’s sister, who is the only one who understands that Jesse’s soul hangs between life and death, and that there must be a way to bring him back. But necromancy is powerful magic, forbidden to the Nephilium, which forces Lucie and Grace to the Downworld, where the warlocks may be their only chance at success.

All this while a killer stalks London. Killing Shadowhunter after Shadowhunter, the entire Enclave is on edge, as no one can even catch a glimpse of the killer. Though James and Cordelia believe they have defeated Belial, James’s demon grandfather for now, they cannot help but think that he is somehow behind the mayhem. Along with their friends, Cordelia and James must figure out who is behind the murders and stop them before something even worse is unleashed upon London to threaten everything they hold dear.

Note:

Hi all, I’m soooo thrilled to be taking the time to review a Cassandra Clare book on this blog. I’m a huge fan of pretty much everything she’s done (besides the Mortal Instruments, but that’s another story), so this book was such a treat and an easy five.

However, to anyone who HAS read Cassandra Clare before, you know she is the QUEEN of large casts and complex plots. So I’m going to be styling this review / summary pretty differently. The review is going to be short, sweet, and spoiler-free. However, instead of doing the normal cast and summary sections after, I’m going to do sort of a blend. I’m going to hit major plot points, and then I’m going to do short sections on important character pairings and give a brief overview of what happens between them. It’s definitely going to be chaotic, but I think it will be the best way to get everything covered without having to actually write a 10,000 word summary.

Don’t worry I will very clearly mark where the spoiler section begins and ends, and believe me when I say that section will be RIFE with spoilers so please if you haven’t read Chain of Iron yet, skip at least that section if not the whole review, because this book is really worth remaining spoiler-free for.

Review:

I just wanted to take a few paragraphs to give a spoiler-free review. Well, really, this is just a chance for me to rant about how much I love Cassandra Clare and why, so if you’re also a fan, so glad you’re here to hang out, or if you’ve been wondering whether or not to give Cassandra Clare a try, hopefully this will be the push you need.

First off I’ll start with the world-building. Truly, nobody out there in YA today has such an expansive, detailed, and vivid urban fantasy world. She has a dozen “main cast” books written already, with more in the works, as well as several side cast stories (most of which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet). But everything she puts out is consistently excellent, and her historical fiction series (The Infernal Devices and The Last Hours), are well researched in their settings of Victorian and then Edwardian England, respectively. They feel so authentic, with everything from the parties to the social standards and even the clothing. It was all so very complex during that period, and though I’m no historian, I think that she really gives it that authentic edge while ridding with some of the rules where it fits her, since the Shadowhunters are a secret society within society, so while she keeps the sexist bits to a certain extend, certainly nobody would ever call her women repressed or powerless, which I love.

Anyway, onto the cast. As I mentioned before, nobody does large cast like Cassie Clare, and I’m truly not sure anyone ever will. Because unlike some large cast stories I’ve read, Clare really takes the time to delve deep into the side stories, so much so that they really read as just as important as the main storyline. Every character feels important, and is developed accordingly across her trilogies. In The Last Hours in particular, it’s such a treat for fans of the Infernal Devices because the main cast of The Last Hours are the children of the main cast of The Infernal Devices, so not only do you have a new generation to get to know and love, there are still plenty of moments from their parents that make true fans melt.

Lastly, as I am trying to keep this somewhat brief, I’ll cover plot. As well as being the queen of large cast, Cassie Clare is also the queen of complex storylines. There is always SO much going on, in every single book, and the chapters jump around from character to character, so you’d think it would be hard to keep track. But no, I’ve never found myself loosing the thread of one plotline as she moves to another. Everything is woven together seemingly effortlessly (though I’m sure it actually takes monumental effort). And her favorite thing to do is to start each book with a ton of seemingly unconnected plotlines but, by the end, many of them end up coming together as interwoven and related the entire time, which is undoubtably genius.

So anyway, I loved everything about this book, there are certainly parts that hurt, but it’s that beautiful hurt of a good story told well. And that last bit is not a spoiler, because you know if you’ve ever read a Cassie Clare book that she is going to hurt you somehow.

!!!SPOILERS BELOW!!!

Seriously, stop right here if you want to avoid spoilers. And I beg you not to spoil yourself if you ever have any intention of reading this book. Please, rather than spoiling yourself I’d rather you click from this page and pick up this book from the bookstore, online, or your library and start reading it right now.

Characters:

James and Cordelia: The story starts with James and Cordelia’s wedding. In the first book, Cordelia claims that James was with her all night, unchaperoned, the night he burned down Blackthorn manor at the behest of Grace. In order to save Cordelia’s honor and reputation, James agrees that they will marry. The two of them agree that it will be a marriage for appearances only, and then after a year they can divorce as friends and be with other people. Thus this story begins with the marriage between these two friends. Cordelia loves James desperately, always has, but swears that he will never know it. James, underneath it all, loves Cordelia certainly, but Grace Blackthorn has a bracelet locked around his wrist that makes him have complete devotion and loyalty to her. Their marriage is comfortable, and Cordelia only becomes closer to James, and vice versa. The deeper James’s feelings become, the weaker the bracelet gets, and then one night they end up kissing and the bracelet breaks, freeing James from the spell of Grace Blackthorn. But before they can discuss anything and James can confess his true love to Cordelia, Grace arrives. James confronts her and Grace admits to everything. But all Cordelia saw was their initial embrace and their first words, taken out of context. So Cordelia believes that he truly has chosen Grace over her, even though in her heart she started to believe just a little that James was starting to fall in love with her. Cordelia runs off to Matthew and they end up running to Paris together. James, after realizing what Cordelia saw and heard, flees after her, desperate to make things right. He has almost caught up to Cordelia, but his father intercepts him and says that they need to rescue Lucie, so James must let Cordelia go for now.

Cordelia and Matthew: Cordelia and Matthew become very close in this story. Matthew is often Cordelia’s escort when James cannot attend to her, which is perfectly acceptable because Matthew is James’s parabatai. Cordelia is the first and only person Matthew confesses his greatest secret to: that he bought what was supposed to be a truth potion from the Shadow Market as a boy. He fed it to his pregnant mother in order to know for sure that Henry was his true father. The potion ended up being a poison that nearly killed his mother, and did kill the baby she was carrying. Cordelia trusts Matthew to take her to try and find Waylon the Smith because she believes that there is something either wrong with Cortana or wrong with her. And Cordelia, after believing that James has chosen his loyalty to Grace over her, runs to Matthew. Matthew confesses his love for Cordelia, even though he knows she loves James. He proposes they run away to Paris together for a little while to try and do their healing and keep the whispers away from Cordelia should news of Grace and James get out. Cordelia, heartbroken over James, agrees.

Matthew and James: The relationship between these two loyal parabatai is pushed during this story. Though their love for each other never wavers, Matthew struggles with his secret love for Cordelia, because he both cannot stand to see Cordelia unhappy, as he knows she loves James, but he also cannot bear to watch them be together. James, on the other hand, watches Matthew drink more and more heavily and argue with his mother, Charlotte, about his health. It comes to a head when the two of them argue about Matthew’s drinking, the first time they’ve really ever talked about it. The story ends with James watching Cordelia and Matthew run off together to Paris (as friends, mostly, but still). Matthew thinks that James has fully betrayed Cordelia because of his “love” for Grace Blackthorn.

Cordelia and Lucie: Despite their upcoming parabatai ceremony, Lucie and Cordelia are more distanced than ever during this story. Lucie is keeping her knowledge about Jesse and her alliance with Grace under complete wraps from Cordelia and everyone else. Cordelia has never told Lucie she’s in love with James, and as that is a big secret that Cordelia is keeping, it is rare that the two of them are on the same page. In fact there is a scene where they train together and they are very out of sync. So much so in fact that when they practice their parabatai rites, something unexplained goes wrong.

Lucie and Jesse: Much of their history happens in the first book, but Lucie is totally in love with Jesse Blackthorn, the Shadowhunter boy who died at seventeen from receiving his first rune. In the previous book, he sacrificed his last breath to save James’s life, and now Lucie and Grace Blackthorn are doing everything they can to try and raise Jesse, as he is still trapped somewhere between the life and death. The two of them, after some arguing, finally confess their feelings for each other, and after that Lucie is more determined than ever that Jesse can come back so they can have their happy ending. At the end of the story, once the piece of Belial’s soul is removed from Jesse, Lucie uses her power of commanding the dead to apparently raise Jesse, though the story ends before we understand completely what happens.

Lucie and Grace: This slightly uneasy alliance was made at the end of the previous book, when the two agreed to work together to try and raise Jesse Blackthorn, Grace’s brother and the ghost boy that Lucie loves. The two decide to work with the warlock Malcolm Fade to try and raise the dead without having to perform unspeakable deeds to do it. Grace is a little too unfeeling and willing to push the boundaries, so Lucie always feels as though she has to reign her in, even though the two are equally desperate to bring him back for their own reasons.

Grace and Christopher: When Grace sneaks into the Fairchild home to get some ingredient for her quest to save Jesse, she comes across Christopher working in the lab. Christopher shows Grace around and they talk about science together before discovering the true nature of the false-stele that was found with Lilian Highsmith. The stele can take runes from one Shadowhunter and transfer them to another. This is only a quick scene, but I wanted to note it here. As much as I generally don’t like Grace Blackthorn (opinion), I think that if Grace somehow ends up redeeming herself and not dying, I like the thought of these two together, they had some adorable chemistry.

Thomas and Alistair: Most of the backstory is in the previous book, but Alistair and Thomas had a brief summer friendship a few years back in Paris, while Alistair was still in love with Charles Fairchild. But Thomas had a bit of a crush on Alistair that whole time. But here in London, where Alistair was often the bully of the Merry Thieves back in school, Thomas tries to convince himself that he hates Alistair as his friends do. But when Thomas is charged with the murder of Lilian Highsmith, Alistair comes forward and says he was following Thomas the whole time, and saw that Thomas tried to save Lilian, not kill her. While the two of them are being held together before their trial by the Mortal Sword, they get to talking and then the talking becomes kissing. After the big battle with Leviathan, Alistair says that there can never be anything between them because of what he’s done to Thomas and their friends.

Anna and Ariadne: From the beginning, Ariadne has her heart set on winning back the person she loves, Anna Lightwood. However, Anna makes it clear that while she is happy to dally around with her, there is no love and there can never be. The two of them engage in plenty of covert sexy-time, where Ariadne continues to try and win Anna over. But by the end, the two of them has a conversation that has Ariadne storming off because she finally realizes she’s not going to get what she wants. Anna breaks down over this, because though she’s had the cool exterior this whole time, inside she’s a cinnamon bun who loves Ariadne back.

Summary:

This section will be composed of short and sweet plot points. I will try and get them mostly in order, but if a few are out of order bear with me. I won’t be able to cover everything, but my hope is that anyone who is about to read Chain of Thorns (book three coming in 2022) can read this summary combined with the characters above and feel refreshed.

  • The night before his wedding, James falls into the shadow world, which he thinks shouldn’t happen again after wounding Belial in the previous book, but the shadow realm looks different, so he’s not sure that it belongs to Belial
  • Cordelia’s dad Elias comes back just in time for her wedding, giving her a beautiful sheath for Cortana as a gift
  • James and Cordelia get married in a ceremony that goes off without a hitch. The reception is nice, but Elias has a little too much to drink and has to be carried off by James and Alistair
  • Cordelia and James go to their new home, where they agree to have a this marriage be a partnership where they still talk every night, as friends. James has set up separate bedrooms with an adjoining bathroom for them. Cordelia loves him desperately, but James is still wearing the bracelet given to him by Grace that makes him “love” her
  • Lucie and Grace have been trying their own mix of magic and science to raise Jesse, but to no avail. Grace wants to dive right into necromancy, but Lucie will not do great evil to raise Jesse. They decide to try and seek the help of the warlock Malcolm Fade to see if he can help
  • A Shadowhunter, Amos Gladstone, is killed on patrol. There is no traces of demon ichor around, but they assume it must have washed away in the snow. The Merry Thieves think that it may not have been a demon, but a Downworlder or a Shadowhunter that killed him
  • Lucie and Grace ask Malcolm Fade for his help. At first he refuses, but Grace offers to get information on Annabel Blackthorn, Malcolm’s love, who has been an Iron Sister for nearly a century. He says he’ll see if he can help them after he gets this information
  • A second Shadowhunter is killed, Basil Pounceby, and James thinks he may have had a dream about it. He immediately suspects Belial, but Belial cannot inhabit the human world and should have been weakened for at least a century by the wound dealt to him by Cortana. He cannot ask Jem about it though, because he and Magnus Bane are on a mission in the Spiral Labyrinth and unreachable
  • Grace asks her mother about Annabel Blackthorn, because Tatiana is being kept as an Iron Sister by the Clave. Tatiana laughs and says that the old Blackthorns killed her for being in love with a warlock, she was never an Iron Sister at all. Grace and Lucie return to Malcolm, where Grace tells him in a pretty cruel manner. Malcolm refuses to help them
  • A young Shadowhunter girl, Filomena di Angelo from Rome, is murdered. This time James is sure that he sees it in a dream, and in the back of his mind thinks that he may be going out in his sleep and committing the murders himself
  • Lucie is told how to find Filomena’s ghost, so the Merry Thieves, along with Lucie, Cordelia, and Anna, go off to find her. They find Filomena’s ghost, but she simply tells Cordelia in Italian that as the bearer of Cortana she should have saved her. The group is then attacked by a demon, and when Cordelia attempts to draw Cortana, the blade burns her and she is unable to use it. She believes the blade no longer considers her worthy of it
  • Elias Carstairs comes to James and Cordelia’s home and demands that James loan him an exorbitant amount of money. James refuses, saying he cannot afford, and Elias leaves angry and drunk. The next morning they are told Elias has been murdered, and James becomes sure that he is somehow the culprit, that he’s being controlled by Belial somehow. Cordelia and her family must grieve the loss of her father
  • Cordelia gets Matthew to drive her out to find Waylon the Smith, forger of Cortana, to see if he can help her restore the sword. Cordelia meets with the Smith, who repairs the blade and asks Cordelia to be his paladin and serve him as his warrior. She agrees to do so because she wants to be able to help prevent future murders
  • Lucie goes to Malcolm and says that if he helps them with Jesse, she’ll help him find a way to raise Annabel. Malcolm tentatively agrees
  • James finally tells the Merry Theives about his theory that he’s the one doing the murders. They all agree to stay with him and watch him while he sleeps. Cordelia ties him mostly up, and they make out a little. Thomas goes out to patrol on his own, like he has been doing
  • James once again dreams of the murder, but Cordelia is able to confirm he never left the night before. Thomas, at dawn, hears a scream and finds Lilian Highsmith dying from wounds inflicted by the murderer. The Inquisitor finds Thomas covered in blood next to the body and they arrest him. When the Merry Thieves visit him in holding, Thomas gives to them what appears to be a stele, but isn’t really. Thomas will be tested by the Mortal Sword the next day to prove his innocence, and in the meantime Alistair comes forward as a witness to Thomas not being the murderer. Alistair and Thomas are held together in the Institute to await trial
  • The rest of the group goes to the Shadow Market to try to find out what the not-stele is. While they’re there they find Magnus Bane, warlock friend of their families, who was supposed to be away, but is in town for one night. They tell him about James’s dreams and Magnus says that he’ll come help James access the shadow realm again to see if it is indeed Belial who is to blame for the murders and the dreams. Cordelia will watch over with Cortana to make sure nothing goes wrong
  • Grace goes to the Fairchild house and runs into Christopher in the lab. After talking for a while, they come to realize that the not-stele is capable of transferring runes from one person to another, and that is how the killer is stealing runes from his victims
  • James and Magnus go into Edom, the realm that they believe has been taken away from Lilith by Belial. But when they arrive it is not in Edom. It is in a trap by Belial, who tries once again to get James to willingly let Belial possess him. James refuses, and Belial casts Magnus out and nearly overcomes James, but Cordelia is able to save him and pull him out of the trap. James and Cordelia kiss and the bracelet breaks
  • Lucie comes to the realization that Jesse’s body is the one being used to commit the murders. She goes to his coffin and finds the stolen runes all over his body. She’s about to destroy the body when Grace knocks her out. When she comes to Jesse’s body is gone and Lucie runs to try and stop it from committing another murder. Grace makes Lucie promise that she won’t let anything happen to Jesse’s body
  • Thomas is found innocent by the Mortal Sword, but as soon as that’s over, the Institute is under attack and everyone who is there, including Thomas, Alistair, Anna, Ariadne, Christopher, etc.
  • Magnus runs off after being ejected from the trap and Matthew comes over and they discover that the symbol that is being drawn by the murders is that of Leviathan, sea demon and brother of Belial. The three of them run to where the last murder would have to take place to find Charles, Matthew’s brother, clinging to life. Matthew works on healing him, because if he lives Leviathan won’t be able to fully enter the world and kill everyone.
  • Belial arrives in Jesse’s body, covered in the runes that he’s stolen from the murdered Shadowhunters. He is convinced that he has built a super warrior that will be able to defeat Cordelia and Cortana in battle. Belial says that he is giving James this last chance to join with him, or else Leviathan will kill everyone at the Institute and he’ll kill Cordelia for good measure. James refuses, and Cordelia locks into battle with Belial/Jesse, her powers as a Paladin giving her the edge she needs to keep up with Belial/Jesse.
  • At this point, a new player arrives. Lilith, mother of demons, reveals that she has tricked Cordelia into becoming HER paladin, who she controls. She had disguised herself as Waylon the Smith after putting the curse on Cortana herself to force Cordelia’s hand. She also disguised herself as Magnus to try and get back into Edom herself that way, but Belial had foiled her. She tells Belial that she will have Cordelia kill him unless he surrenders Edom back to her. Belial refuses
  • Lilith forces Cordelia and Belial back into battle, and just when Cordelia is about to strike a killing blow Lucie arrives and throws herself in front of Jesse/Belial. Cordelia must use all of her strength in order to avoid killing Lucie, even though Lilith is telling her to do so.
  • James ends up shooting and wounding Lilith with his special revolver, because it was blessed with the names of the three angels that are Lilith’s mortal enemies, so Lilith is temporarily out of the game, though Cordelia is still her paladin. Lucie is able to sort of force Belial out of Jesse’s body and Cordelia uses Cortana to deal a second mortal wound to Belial without harming Jesse. Belial disappears, leaving Jesse apparently completely lifeless on the ground.
  • Malcolm Fade arrives just as Matthew is able to save Charles and Leviathan is banished from the Institute. Everyone is caught up on the situation and they all head back to the Institute
  • End of Story: Lucie and Malcolm bring Jesse’s body back to the Institute to be looked over by the Silent Brothers so they can prove to the Clave that a demon possessing it was doing the murders. Malcolm and Lucy agree to go to Cornwall, Malcolm’s home, to work on Jesse and also look for where Annabel is buried. When everyone is gone, Lucie commands Jesse to wake, and he appears to do so, but the effort causes Lucie to pass out, and it seems that she’s being carried off by Malcolm and Jesse as she slips into unconsciousness
  • End of Story: Cordelia and James go home together. James is about to confess his love for Cordelia when there is a knock on the door. Grace arrives and embraces James, saying she’s going to leave Charles to be with him. James takes her into the other room and confronts her about the bracelet and the control she’s had over him. Grace admits to it all, her power to control men, everything. James says that he’s going to turn her into the Clave and she should stay here. Grace agrees, because she’s broken from under her mother’s influence and the only way to stay safe is for the Clave to know everything, despite how she will likely be punished. James goes to Cordelia to tell her about the development, when he finds out she saw Grace wrapped in his embrace and heard him say “Thank god” when she said she’d leave Charles, even though what he said right after was scathing. James runs after Cordelia, tracking her to Matthew’s, where he finds out the two of them are going to Paris. He runs to the train station to try and stop them, but Will catches up and says they need to go save Lucie, as she’s gone missing. James has to turn his back on Cordelia for now to get his sister back
  • End of Story: The epilogue shows Belial breaking Tatiana Blackthorn from the Adament Citadel. That defs won’t be problematic later.

Okay, yeah, I probably missed some stuff, but hopefully not anything super important.

!!!END of SPOILERS!!!

Anyway, just here trying not to freak out waiting for the final installment not coming until probably next summer. But for all of you that’s a good thing, because that gives you time to read both book 1 and 2 of The Last Hours.

If you liked Chain of Iron, try:

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

And I Darken by Kristin White

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Reviews

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman (Book 1)

# of Pages: 465

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 66

Rating: 3 out of 5

Nami is one night away from the rest of her life. She’s graduating high school, going off to college, and is finally going to get to have a real date with her best friend Finn, who she’s been in love with for years. But all of that gets cut short when she dies on the way to the graduation party.

She wakes up in Infinity, the land where all human consciousness goes after death. Immediately suspicious of the pill she is offered that will send her to paradise, she ends up escaping the facility she is being held in. With the help of the Colony, a small group of people who have also avoided taking “the pill”, she finds out that the afterlife has been hijacked by an AI named Ophelia. She and the other AI “Residents” coerce humans into taking a pill that traps them in their own mind and puts them entirely at the mercy of the Residents. Any humans that resist are captured and sent to torment in the courts of War, Famine, or worst of all Death.

Nami quickly finds that she has the unique ability to infiltrate the Resident society as a spy. But while all the humans in the Colony believe that the AI needs to be destroyed so that humans can have their afterlife, Nami doesn’t think it’s that simple. Will Nami be able to find a solution that protects the humans in the Colony that she has come to love without completely destroying the Residents and their way of life?

Note:

Alright, so I’m normally I’d do my full summary here, since this is the first book in a series that I intend on reading, but the summaries take me a long time to complete, and I truly did not enjoy the book enough to dedicate the time to a summary, so I’m just going to list the cast of characters below before starting my review. This whole bit should be spoiler free, so you can read on without fear.

Cast:

Nami – eighteen year old protagonist. Just graduating from high school, is excited to finally get the chance to date her best friend Finn, who she’s been in love with for years. Her dad is a graphic novelist who wrote a book called Tokyo Circus that is about a cyborg girl who bridges the gap between robots and humans to end a war.

Mei – ten year old sister of Nami. They have grown apart recently, but Nami loves Mei more than anything.

Finn – Best friend of Nami. They’ve been friends forever, but recently confessed their feelings for each other. The graduation party is going to be their first real date.

Gil – member of the Colony in the Court of Victory in Infinity. Doesn’t like Nami from the start, thinks she isn’t committed enough to the cause of destroying the Residents in Infinity and giving it back to humans.

Annika – leader of the Colony. Will do whatever it takes to protect her people, but generally kindhearted and wants to give Nami the chance to help the Colony in the fight against the Residents.

Ahmet – head Engineer of the Colony, his expertise is manipulating Infinity to create things, such as weapons for the Colony. Soft-spoken, passionate person. Encouraging to Nami.

Shura – a girl a little younger than Nami, befriends her right away. Her expertise is veiling, meaning she can hide people or places from the view of the Residents. Adopted daughter of Annika.

Theo – Helps rescue Nami from the Residents when she first arrives in Infinity. His skill is fighting the the Residents. Passionate about helping humans retake Infinity.

Caelan – the Prince of the Court of Victory. One of the AI “children” of Queen Ophelia. Nami’s goal is to spy on him and use the knowledge to help the Colony undermine the residents.

Ophelia – Queen of Infinity, the AI that took over Infinity. She was a virtual assistant widely used by humans like Nami during life.

Review:

Alright, I’m going to start by saying that my rating of 3 out of 5 stars is almost entirely subjective. We read this book for my book club, and I had the lowest rating of the bunch, so I think that I can say that this book is objectively closer to a four, but I really didn’t get much from it, so I kept my rating down at a 3.

As usual, I’m going to start out with what I did like about this book, which was almost exclusively the protagonist. Nami is somewhat unique in the world of YA protagonists because she never really becomes fully influenced in “the cause”. In most YA books that have the theme of “a small group of rebels fight against tyranny and oppression”, most protagonists are usually leading the fight from the start, or they become influenced into joining the cause through either direct pressure from other characters or a critical event.

Nami, from the very start, doesn’t particularly want to be involved in this fight against the Residents. She wants a good afterlife experience for her family, but she is also unable to look at the Residents or even Ophelia herself and see “evil” like the other members of the Colony do. Even when faced with continual, intense peer pressure by her companions, she continues to fight for and believe in an alternative to “one side wins, the other side dies”, and I think that this conviction makes her likable and unique.

The one other thing I will commend is the last twenty to thirty pages or so of the book. I think that she does a really good job of surprising you with the ending, but when you look back you realize the breadcrumbs were there all along, which is always the mark of a strong writer. And since I promised spoiler-free, this is all I’ll say about that.

Alright, now the parts that I didn’t like. I’ll begin with parts of the story I believe were objectively weak. The first being the pacing. I personally felt that I was pretty much snoozing through this book right up until the very end. While I believe a slow build is just fine, if you’re doing a lot of world-building / setup, I think that as a writer your reader isn’t likely to stick around if you keep them waiting for the action until right at the last fifty pages.

I also didn’t like the world-building as much as I wanted to. Definitely an interesting concept, a human afterlife taken over by robots, but besides one line somewhere that says “Ophelia hacked the afterlife”, there is literally NO explanation of HOW an AI (who is by definition a computer and thus code) “hacked” an afterlife that is organic and human? I wasn’t looking for a believable explanation, just some attempt at an explanation would have been nice. Because of this sort of lack of attempt to go into any sort of depth on the technical workings of this afterlife, I never got engaged in the world at all.

Okay, now moving onto the parts that I thought were weak, but that I believe are very much my subjective opinion. Starting off with the cast. This was a somewhat large-cast book, which I can totally be into. However, besides the protagonist, I did not care about a single other character in this entire story. There are a half-dozen members of the Colony that Nami is close with, and I truly didn’t care about a single one of them. Literally any of them could have “died” and I would not have cared. And I’m someone who gets really attached to side characters normally, so I found it really disappointing that I didn’t care for any of them. I mean, I thought they were all good people, but none of them pulled on my heartstrings at all, not even the love interest(s).

Next, I’m just going to say that I may have been pre-biased against this book from pretty much the very beginning because the concept bums. me. out. Like Nami is this nice, normal girl who has a nice family and a boy who is her best friend who she is going to kiss. Then she dies. And the whole book she’s just dead and she’s never going to get the life she deserved. And that just made me depressed from the start. So, conceptually, I was pre-disposed not to like it from the start.

And finally, as a followup to my last point, I think the biggest weakness in my personal, subjective opinion were the complete lack of stakes in this story. I think that, my definition, a book where the characters are already all dead means that the stakes cannot be much lower. Like, there is this general fear of like “oblivion” in the afterlife, but it’s not specific and, to me, didn’t seem that bad. What I LOVE so much about YA is how high the stakes always are. “Save a kingdom”, “Save my family”, “Fulfill my destiny as the chosen one”, etc are all common high-stakes tropes in YA, which are great. Because there is always the risk of capture, torture, or death, and that keeps things exciting and keeps me invested. However, while there’s technically fear of capture or torture, all of these characters are already dead, so why should I care?

After all that, you may ask, why am I going to read the sequel? Well, because particularly the last fifty pages hooked me, and I have to know how this is going to end. Like, the stakes are low, but I just can’t stand not knowing how the overall story is going to end?

I will end this review by saying that I do in fact recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the concept. I think that her writing does objectively get better as the book goes on, and pretty much everyone in my book club really liked it, I’m the odd one out. Most of my friends loved the concept and they also loved the love interest(s) that were at play. So even though this book wasn’t for me, it does have a pretty compelling protagonist and an interesting concept, so check it out if you want!

If you liked The Infinity Courts, try:

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Reviews

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore (Book 4)

# of Pages: 511

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 73

Rating: 4 out of 5

The world is getting bigger. Ever since Queen Bitterblue found out about the two lands, Pikkia and The Dells, over the mountains that form the eastern boundary of her kingdom of Monsea, things have only changed more and more. Across the eastern ocean from The Dells lies yet another continent, full of countries with democratic governments and advanced technology. In the five years since their discovery, all of the lands of Bitterblue’s continent as well as the countries on the continent of Torla have exchanged languages and cultures and lived peacefully.

But when two of Bitterblue’s agents in the country of Winterkeep on Torla end up dead, she finds that it might not have been the accident that it seems to be. Along with her half sister Hava and trusted friend Giddon, Bitterblue knows she has to journey to the land of Winterkeep to get to the bottom of the deaths of her envoys, as well as the possible wars brewing along at least one of her borders.

Things have always been the same for Lovisa Cavenda. First born child in the wealthy and powerful Cavenda family, she has always known what her place would be: study government, choose a political party when she graduates, and follow her family’s expectations.

But things are heating up between the two political parties of Winterkeep, which are the Scholars and the Industrialists. Lovisa’s mother is the president of Winterkeep, and a Scholar, while her father is a shipping magnate, and part of the Industrialist party. When Lovisa learns they will be hosting the queen of Monsea at her home when she visits Winterkeep, she begins to sense that something isn’t right. Winterkeep is full of secrets, and Lovisa can’t trust anyone else to get to the bottom of it.

Review:

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!! I’m so sorry everyone, normally I try to post spoiler-free reviews, but many of my feelings about this book involve spoilers, so if you think you may be interested in reading Winterkeep but haven’t yet, please click away!


I’m going to try to not let this review completely derail into a rant, but it likely will at some point so thanks to anyone who is able to stick with me.

I’ll start by saying, as I’ve covered in other reviews of Graceling books, that Kristin Cashore might be one of the most creative authors in all of YA. She’s created not one, not two, but three completely unique lands with unique magic and unique problems. This book, which takes place primarily in Winterkeep, is no exception. Winterkeep doesn’t have gracelings like the Seven Kingdoms or monsters like The Dells, but the magic of the land comes in the form of two kinds of telepathic creatures who can communicate with people: the blue foxes and the silbercows. The blue foxes are very intelligent and will often choose a human to bond with, when human and fox share a special and closed connection. Silbercows live in the sea and are very friendly with humans, often saving them from drowning in the dangerous ocean. Winterkeep also has a unique government with two political parties rather than a monarchy like the countries on the other continent. Cashore has really gone all out in creating an immersive new world in this story, so A+ on that.

Next, plot and storyline. Cashore really seems to have found her calling in political dramas / mysteries. Ever since Graceling, each book after has had less and less of an action element and more of a spy intrigue feel, which is not normally my cup of tea, but Cashore is such a talented writer that her books are a joy to read no matter what. Winterkeep, like Bitterblue, started out very slow for me, but as the threads became more tangled, the excitement built. I felt that Winterkeep was a bit more on the predictable side than Bitterblue, which didn’t particularly disappoint me, but is something that I wanted to mention. In Bitterblue, there wasn’t really a singular antagonist, and it felt as though any of the characters, even the ones you were supposed to trust, could be working against Bitterblue. But in Winterkeep, it felt pretty clear from the beginning who the antagonists were, though the goals of those antagonists weren’t as predictable. I know it sounds like a pretty boring political intrigue / mystery if it’s predictable, but again, these books are so well written and generally enjoyable to read, I personally don’t feel let down by being able to predict the endings.

And now, onto certainly the most important part of these most recent Graceling books, the characters. Winterkeep was unique because unlike the previous three books, instead of having one main protagonist, there were arguably four: Bitterblue, Lovisa, Giddon, and Ad. Bitterblue’s voice was probably my favorite, because she’s familiar and I recently read her titular book, so I enjoyed getting to be back in her head again. Though Giddon has never had a protagonist role before, he’s been a part of three of the four books, so he felt somewhat familiar as well. At first I wasn’t really a fan of this book trying to endear him to me, because he’s never been a favorite of mine, ever since he was such a big baby when Katsa rejected him in the very first book. But over time I felt myself rooting for Giddon, even if it was a little bit begrudgingly. The character Ad, short for Adventure Fox, is one of the telepathic foxes of Winterkeep, bonded to Lovisa’s mother. Ad is an interesting perspective, pretty human-seeming, which I found kind of odd for an animal. I mean, I think Ad would have not been a particularly successful protagonist had he been so animal-like that he was unrelatable, but I think it was an interesting choice of protagonist.

And finally, Lovisa. She was probably my least favorite protagonist, but that’s just an opinion of mine, not due to anything I think was wrong with the way she was written. She’s sixteen years old, and I find her immensely unlikable for most of the story. I think it’s clear that she’s “the good guy”, so it’s not like she’s morally questionable, in fact she has to deal with all of the hardest hitting moral dilemmas of the story. She’s well written, and clearly on the “right side” so you have to root for her, but I just never felt as engaged when reading her chapters as I did with the other protagonists. She’s objectively interesting and well-written, and I think is probably an accurate reflection of her life experiences, many of which are traumatic, but I just didn’t like her. I think that were Kristin Cashore to write another book more specifically focusing on her, I’d certainly read it and perhaps she’d eventually endear herself to me, but in this story I felt that her arc didn’t particularly matter very much to me.

Alright, I’ve held off long enough, this is going to be my rant section and then I’ll wrap this review up. And this is REALLY where the spoilers hit, so if you ignored my warning above and kept reading, but you actually don’t want spoilers, LAST CHANCE.

The romantic subplot in this book belongs to Bitterblue…and Giddon. Which I could tell was going to be the case like fifteen pages in, and initially I was like NO. Because here’s the deal. There is no evidence that Giddon and Bitterblue really met in Graceling, when Bitterblue was ten and Giddon was eighteen, so I think we can avoid any gross “I’ve had my eye on you since you were ten” vibes. But they became close in Bitterblue, when she was eighteen and he was twenty-six. Now, in this book, Bitterblue is twenty-four and Giddon has just turned thirty-two, which in modern times is a pretty big gap for this age group, but in fantasy isn’t as big of a gap as I’ve seen and been okay with. And Bitterblue is VERY mature for twenty-four, as she’s been a queen for nearly a decade and a half already. But I think where my main problem is is that in Bitterblue, I sensed NO romantic inklings, their relationship gave me more sibling vibes, so I feel as though in Winterkeep this type of connection was just drawn up out of thin air. And while yes, by the end of the book I was rooting for it, it was a bit begrudgingly because I don’t fully feel as though Giddon had earned it because once again, I’m still bitter that he was a big baby in book one. Whew. End rant.

!!!END SPOILERS!!!

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much, it was a worthy addition to the Graceling world. I only ended up taking a star off for personal reasons: it took me a while to get into, I found one or two of the protagonists to be kinda meh, and there wasn’t quite enough action to get me to yell five out of five stars. I certainly hope that Kristin Cashore will write another Graceling book, and that she won’t wait ten years this time.

If you liked Winterkeep, try:

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

P.S. I’ve had quite a busy few weeks in my personal life, but I’m hoping to get back to posting here regularly again, so thanks a bunch for your patience!

Mini Reviews · Reviews

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (Book 3)

# of Pages: 539

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 77

Rating: 4 out of 5

A quick personal note:

Hi everyone! I apologize for disappearing without a trace! I’ve been trying to do a post every 7 to 10 days, but have failed spectacularly the last three weeks or so, and for that I’m sorry. My friend and I are currently doing Camp Nano, so we have a goal of each writing 30,000 words this month, which takes up most of my free time! Bitterblue is genuinely the only book I’ve read since my last post, and I’m glad to finally get to bring you the last of the mini reviews for the Graceling series.

Thanks for your patience, those who have stuck with me!

Ever since the death of her father when she was only ten years old, Bitterblue has been queen of Monsea. Now eighteen, she is doing her best to help her people escape from her father’s horrific thirty-five year reign. But how can she help the Monseans who live in her city if it feels as though her advisors keep her trapped in her office all day under a mountain of paperwork?

Bitterblue thinks she has a pretty good idea of what it was like to live in terror under the rule of her father, but when she starts sneaking out at night in disguise and meeting her citizens, she finds that she really has no idea. She finds that her citizens are still suffering, and someone with power is working to make sure that Monseans stay in the dark about the crimes of their former king. Bitterblue’s new friends think that the queen is behind it all, but how can she defend herself when no one knows who she truly is?

With the help of some familiar faces and new allies, Bitterblue works to get to the bottom of what is going wrong in Monsea. Because someone is working against all that she has tried to build in the eight years of her reign, and if Monsea is ever to recover from the memory of Leck’s cruel kingship, the truth must be revealed so everyone who ever knew him can heal.

Review:

This is the only Graceling book that I haven’t read more than once, which was when the book was released in 2012, so almost ten years ago. At the time I was seventeen, and I thought the book was a bit of a letdown. Almost no action, little romance, especially compared to Graceling and Fire I found this book a disappointment.

Well, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have given this a re-read as an adult. Because though this book is YA, there are a lot of adult themes throughout this story, and I feel like when I first read it I was too young to appreciate them. 

Honestly, I think I would personally rank this book above Fire and below Graceling and here’s why: though this book is even more of a political intrigue than Fire is, Bitterblue has a much more engaging plot that kept me turning the pages faster than I did for Fire. Fire had a little bit more action, but it was mostly a character study wrapped in a spy story, which I still enjoyed, but Bitterblue had a big mystery threaded throughout, and the consequences and fallout are devastating, Cashore does not shy away from some unhappy endings here, which is I think a large part of the problem I had with it when I was young.

Another thing that Bitterblue has that Fire doesn’t is pretty much all your favorite characters from the previous books, which is great if you, like me, did not get nearly enough Po and Katsa in Graceling alone. 

As far as pacing goes, I mentioned it above, but I thought this book was quite well paced, despite being the longest of the three books in the series so far. There are so many puzzles that Bitterblue is trying to solve all at once, so there is certainly enough to keep one engaged page after page.

One of my favorite things about Bitterblue that I think wasn’t quite as strong or memorable in the previous two stories were the rich, well developed side characters. This story has a large cast, but I feel as though a lot of time and effort is given to developing backstories and personalities of the many people who revolve in and out of Bitterblue’s world. She isn’t the most unique or “special” protagonist out there, but those who surround her make her very interesting to read about, if only due to her interactions with others.

I’ll only spend a line or two talking about world building, because you know if you’ve read these books, or if you’ve even read my last two reviews, that Kristin Cashore is a brilliant worldbuilder, and the rich uniqueness and diversity of her world and her kingdoms is evident, despite the entire story taking place in Bitterblue’s capital city.

One of the beautiful things about this group of books is that in each Kristin Cashore seems to push herself to do something different, to challenge herself, and even though all three take place in the same world, each story brings something new to the table. I really can’t wait to see what the latest installment, Winterkeep, has to offer.

I’m going to briefly return to my longer-form summary format for my book club book this month, so keep an eye out for that. After that I’ll be back with my thoughts on the final Graceling book Winterkeep.

If you liked Bitterblue, try:

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor