• Reviews

    Nettle & Bone – T. Kingfisher

    I love me a T. Kingfisher book as a comfort read, and Nettle & Bone is her best yet. Full of dark humour and dry wit, this is the twisted take on the fairy-tale trend I needed. A book I’m sure I’ll be re-reading again and again, as it’s exactly the kind of thing I want in a cosy read.

    Many thanks to Sarah at Titan for sending me a review copy (with a spell kit!), all opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 26/04/2022

    STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

    Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

    On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last. (from Titan Books)

    OPINIONS: I adored this book. Nettle & Bone is exactly what I want in a comfort read. It is a darker take on the fairy-tale tropes currently popular in fantasy literature, so it was sure to appeal to me – a princess who decides to kill the prince? What’s not to like about this concept. And then there is a chicken possessed by a demon, which… may be the best animal familiar ever. While the plot is not altogether unpredictable, it is fun, twisty and keeps the reader enthralled, but ultimately, it is the characters and the voice of the story that make it truly shine.

    I loved the quirky cast of characters, which is one of Kingfisher’s main strengths. Marra, having spent years in a convent, needs to re-adjust to the outside world, and as usual, there is a traumatised, sensitive hunk of a man (this is a recurring theme in Kingfisher’s books). Cranky witches and odd animals add to the mix, making up a very random group of intrepid adventurers, trying to break a curse. And there is nothing better than a reluctant gang, brought together by happenstance and need to complete a quest…

    The story is full of dry wit and dark humour, with a distinct voice narrating the story. And for me, that was Nettle & Bone‘s lifeblood. A great voice can really elevate a book, and this is a stellar example. The sometimes wacky plot and characters could easily have fallen into the absurd, or into more comedic fantasy, which is very hard to pull of if you’re not Terry Pratchett, but staying on the side of sarcasm avoided these pitfalls and made this a pure delight to read. That said, Nettle & Bone does address heavier subjects such as abusive relationships and miscarriage, which may be triggering for some readers, especially within the target demographic. I wish that the publisher had included a content warning – and I hope that this is something they may consider for the paperback edition still.

    As you can tell, I loved this book, and will add it to my list of comfort reads, most likely re-reading it again and again. If you too want to experience the magic, add Nettle & Bone to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    More Monday Minis! It’s a true Monday today, Mondaying hard for me. But have some minis to cheer you up and get you in the reading mood – and hopefully improve your Monday… Many thanks to the publicists for eARCs of all of these via NetGalley, opinions are my own as always.

    Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May has been very high on my most anticipated list for a very long time – just look at that cover. Absolute Fab-bait right there. Sapphic historical fantasy with witches? Doesn’t really get more me than that. But unfortunately, the book got swept up in my struggles to read digitally – I only managed to get an eARC as the promised physical copy got lost on the way somewhere, and struggled to get into it, mostly because I don’t like reading on kindle and forget about books that aren’t visibly in front of me. So when I finally picked up my final copy (yay gilded edges from Goldsboro, they look amazing and fit the book so well) I ended up racing through it in a day because it gripped me and I connected much better to the story in that format. I loved Emmeline, Annie and Bea, the three women driving the story. It is a slower book, but an immersive one. One that grabbed me just right and hit the stop perfectly. It is a story of self-determination, of finding your own path outside of the conventions that are given to you by society, and especially one where women realise that they don’t need men to live a fulfilling life in a period where they very much still determine how the world works. It is a lovely story, and one that I know I’ll come back to again.

    Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen is a fun YA fantasy about witches, seers and princes. I really enjoyed how it did not have a pleasant main character, how Violet was allowed to be prickly and quite literally be made of thorns. It is a fast read, and an entertaining one. Prophecies are usually considered to be a good thing, a driving force in YA and I loved how this took that trope and turned it on its head by having Violet, the resident seer also be a liar and actively speak a false prophecy that affects the elite of the kingdom. In that, Violet Made of Thorns plays with fairy tale tropes throughout, and is a refreshing voice in YA. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Gina Chen’s writing in the future, even if ultimately this one wasn’t 100% my cup of tea in execution.

    Seven Devils by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam is one that I read ages ago and somehow just forgot to review – I read it before release! It is a delightful space opera with a ton of references to Greek mythology which made me love it even more. Combining queer found family elements (pretty much all of the main characters are queer, and female or non-binary, which is awesome) with hints at pre-determined story elements through the references and generally a fun space opera story, Seven Devils is pure entertainment. It is fast-paced and not scientifically accurate. This is one of those science fiction books where the rule of cool supersedes everything, rather than being meticulously researched in terms of technology and science. And it makes it compulsively readable. I need to catch up with Seven Mercies, the second book in the duology which has been released in the meantime (shame on me, this is how long this took me…) and dive back in the world of Eris, Ariadne and co. I loved all of the characters, who became more like friends over the course of the story, which I found wonderful. Definite recommendation for a relaxing and quick read.

  • image of a red-headed woman holding a mirror against a grey muted background
    Reviews

    Cast Long Shadows – Cat Hellisen

    In a web of political machinations and religious tension, three women battle for survival with each other and, more poignantly, with their own selves. But this suggests a story of sweeping battles and loud proclamations, instead, Cast Long Shadows is full of quiet, and darkness, and stomach churning tension.

    RELEASE DATE: 31/05/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5*

    SUMMARY:

    Marjeta Petrell.
    Replacement bride, shadow of a dead and perfect wife, step-mother to a duke’s treasured daughter.
    A girl out of her depth, alone and afraid.
    Magic runs deep in her veins, stitched in blood ties, embroidered with kindness and pain.
    In an unfamiliar court, Marjeta must discover who are her friends and who are enemies; who she can trust before she is accused of witchcraft and executed (from lunapresspublishing.com).

    OPINIONS:

    I was terrified of writing this review… of finishing this book… of confronting internalised misogyny, rejecting which feels so dangerous. Cast Long Shadows is a book about witches, sure, but it is also a book about women, and about how easy it is to brand your friend as an enemy when that is what you’ve been taught your entire life.

    Marjeta’s initial perception of femininity as deplorable and dangerous is something familiar to me from my own teenage years – I, too, did not see magic in embroidery, or quiet charm-weaving, or well placed words in a world made by boot, gun, and shout, in a world made for men. It’s captured strikingly in the protagonist’s disdainful, pain filled words ‘What good is a message? Will it help her burn faster?’ Marjeta’s evolution through the novel is telling, just as my own had been, moving in evocative sweeping passages of excellent prose. It is, however, a little over-long, and I became inured to the tension. The distrust and paranoia strike close to home, as does the penitent abnegation of Lilika, Marjeta’s foil, for a transgression in equal parts real and imagined.

    The novel presents a variety of complex mother figures, ranging from step-mothers to confidantes, that is refreshing in a work which touches on the archetypal narrative of the witch-bride come to replace the benevolent ‘real’ mother. And it offers a bleak justice at the end, but it leaves a sour taste, like old ashes.

    It is not a comfortable read, but a necessary one, all the more for the work it does to rehabilitate logos and writing from the masculine paradigm. This might not be the kind of witch story you expect, but it is one that is sorely needed, and lies closer to the historical witchcraft accusations of the early modern period.

  • Blog Tours

    Blog Tour: Equinox – David Towsey

    Equinox is a very unique dark fantasy book, set in the eighteenth century, but in a world where people share their body between a day-self and a night-self. Towsey has created a thrilling mystery in a setting that is sure to draw readers in and enchant them. Massive thanks to Ad Astra at Head of Zeus for having me on the blog tour and sending me a finished copy for review. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 12/05/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: In this world, two souls inhabit a single body, one by day, one by night. But though they live alongside one another, their ends do not always align. For Special Inspector Morden, whose hunt for a dangerous witch takes him far from home, this will be a problem…

    Christophor Morden lives by night. His day-brother, Alexsander, knows only the sun. They are two souls in a single body, in a world where identities change with the rising and setting of the sun. Night-brother or day-sister, one never sees the light, the other knows nothing of the night.

    Early one evening, Christophor is roused by a call to the city prison. A prisoner has torn his eyes out and cannot say why. Yet worse: in the sockets that once held his eyes, teeth are growing. The police suspect the supernatural, so Christophor, a member of the king’s special inspectorate, is charged with finding the witch responsible.

    Night-by-night, Christophor’s investigation leads him ever further from home, toward a backwards village on the far edge of the kingdom. But the closer he gets to the truth, the more his day-brother’s actions frustrate him. Who is Alexsander protecting? What does he not want Christophor to discover?

    And all the while, an ancient and apocalyptic ritual creeps closer to completion… (from Head of Zeus)

    OPINIONS: I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky and unique take on dark fantasy, with elements adjacent to horror and tropes taken from the classic detective procedural. What makes Equinox stand out most is its world building – everyone is split into two separate people, a day-sibling and a night-sibling. These often have utterly different personalities and don’t share each other’s worldly attachments (so if a day-sibling is married, the night-sibling is not married to the night-equivalent of the day-spouse), which can lead to interesting entanglements, especially in terms of family and relationships. Our hero in this story, Christophor and Alexsander, is utterly different in night and day. Whereas Christophor is a detective, Alexsander is a musician – which the former does use to his own benefit over the course of the investigation, as Alexsander can go places where Christophor may not be able to go as openly.

    This makes for an interesting narrative, though at times a confusing one. I appreciated the design choices ensuring that each section was marked with the day or night symbol mirroring the ones used in the cover design, but I can’t help but wish they’d taken a page out of the German edition of The Never-ending Story that I grew up with, and used different font colours for day and night. But alas, that is an expensive production extra, and may be more reasonable in case Equinox ever gets a special edition.

    Equinox is fast-paced and compelling, though I found myself more invested in characters over plot. However, the pacing is well-done, so it never feels like the plotting drags or the mystery is too transparent, which makes the story read well to both the casual reader and the reader looking to dive deep into all of the lore mentioned within the story and immerse themself. It is a book that I would definitely recommend – if you like the darker side of humanity and a gripping read, do check this one out.

    Add Equinox to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Elder Races – Thea Harrison

    The Elder Races series by Thea Harrison is a Paranormal Romance series that started in 2011 and made quite the impact – book 1, Dragon Bound, won the RITA (the RWA’s highest honor) for Best Paranormal Romance in 2012. With nine primary works (and countless novellas in the universe), Elder Races follows the politics and relationships of the seven Elder Races that share the world with humans: the Wyr, Light and Dark Fae, the Elves, Demonkind, Nightkind, and Human Witches. There is an aspect of portal fantasy here as well in that there are pockets of Other land that can be accessed through passageways throughout the mortal world, and the characters often enter these lands as part of the stories.

    I read the first three books , because I find that with these longer-running PNR series, you don’t really get an accurate impression until you are a few books in. In addition, I was intrigued by the fact that the first three MMCs were non-traditional shapeshifts in that they were mythical creatures – first a dragon, then a thunderbird, and finally a gryphon. So, this review tackles both the book I read for the square as well as the series.

    This review was originally written as part of a personal project to complete an all Fantasy Romance card for r/fantasy’s 2022 Book Bingo. You can read an introduction to my project here. All opinions are my own.


    Dragon Bound
    RELEASE DATE: 01/05/2011
    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
    Storm’s Heart
    RELEASE DATE:
    01/08/2011
    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
    Serpent’s Kiss
    RELEASE DATE:
    04/10/2011
    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    The world-building stage is set in the first book, but it really isn’t until the second and third books that we see just how expansive the world is and get a sense of the politics and machinations of the various races. It isn’t often you get to read a book where you have a gryphon, vampyre, medusa, and djinn all in one scene! The world-building is rich enough to provide the backbone for a series with staying power.

    In terms of the romance, it has a heat level on par with a series like Psy-Changeling by Nalini Singh – it is steamy and explicit, but not to the point where it detracts from the plot. The MMCs are alphas, straight up, so if you don’t like that trope, these books are not for you. In fact, the MMC’s of the first two books are some of the most brutish, out-of-touch-with-my-feelings alphas I’ve read in a while. However! The character transformations are profound and definitely come across on the page.

    In terms of FMCs, one of the things I really appreciated about this series is how genuinely nice the FMCs are. I absoluletly love a “strong” heroine, but sometimes the stereotyping of what a “strong” heroine means can become grating – they are often set up as assertive to the point of aggressive, in constant conflict with the MMC. It was refreshing to read “strong” heroines that instead were simply kind. For example, toward the beginning of the first book, prior to even starting a relationship, Pia literally cuddles Dragos and falls asleep on top of him. When they are captured by the goblins and thrown in a dungeon, she saves a struggling beetle in her cell from falling down a crack. In the second book, Niniane is often found simply listening to her subjects, connecting with them to make them feel heard. She wants to use her resources to set up a school for her people so that they can integrate into the human world. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted to read FMCs like these, but apparently I did – it was a nice change of pace.

    The writing was a little rough for me, but I think that’s a personal taste thing. I sometimes struggle with an author that flips between “elevated” language and colloquialisms; it gives me whiplash to read a beautiful sentence followed by a character using the word “freaking.” It did improve as the series progressed, but it is the reason Serpent’s Kiss (which was my favorite of the three books I read) was not a five-star rating for me. I wanted to give it five stars SO badly, but unfortunately, I do have a hang-up about prose. That, combined with repetitive words and phrasing, and sometimes odd construction, kept the book at a four for me.

    Interestingly, the dual POV is not split up into sections like most modern Romances – hello head hopping! You bounce between the two POVs throughout the chapters, but it was done in such a way that, although I noticed it, it didn’t pull me out of the story.

    The focus of the third book – my favorite of the three, and the book I used for r/fantasy Book Bingo – is Carling. She is an old vampyre who is bored with life, essentially waiting for death, and her ennui is palpable. She undergoes a “rebirth,” if you will, finally attempting to pursue a second chance at life, in part due to the MMC. I highlighted this passage, because as Carling’s character evolves, and she begins to be pulled out of her complacency, it beautifully captures the impact of his love and support: “Or maybe that was just Rune, reawakening her soul.” Make no mistake – this book is about the FMC and her journey, and the MMC simply plays a supporting role.

    I enjoyed the maturity of the characters – Rune and Carling are much older than the characters of the first two books – and the somber tone. Serpent’s Kiss is mature and poignant, and its themes resonated with me. Although Rune is an alpha, he is much more of a cinnamon roll than the previous two heroes. He’s a laid back, ripped jeans and Jerry Garcia t-shirt wearing, easy-going guy. But make no mistake, he can flip on a dime when his friends or mate are in trouble. It does lend a different dynamic to this couple and this book, because he is far more sweet – there is a scene where he does Carling’s makeup, for example, because she hasn’t worn any in hundreds of years and doesn’t know what to do. And Carling being as old and powerful as she is does not stand for any high-handedness at all. I thoroughly enjoyed their dynamic.

    I’m usually not a huge fan of books that mess with time. I often find them confusing. But I think this book did a good job of addressing paradoxes and laying out the impacts of their forays into the past. I never felt like the time-travel was contrived. The plot was well-constructed around it and the characters abilities naturally shaped in support of it. The explanations were not confusing and all the typical time travel pitfalls were addressed. It was well-done.

    Serpent’s Kiss was by far my favorite of the three books. If you’re interested, you can read it standalone although you’d miss some of the context and world-building that preceded it. I don’t think I will read on in this series. I liked it well enough, but it didn’t really grip me in a way that propels me to keep reading. I think that’s in part due to the prose. This is a solid PNR series however, and I think many fans will find it enjoyable.

  • Blog Tours,  Reviews

    Blog Tour – The Collarbound – Rebecca Zahabi

    Welcome to today’s second post – a blog tour review of The Collarbound by Rebecca Zahabi. Fun epic fantasy galore and a promising start to a writing career! Many thanks to Gollancz for sending me a review copy and having me on the blog tour.

    RELEASE DATE: 12/05/2022

    STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: On the other side of the Shadowpass, rebellion is brewing and refugees have begun to trickle into the city at the edge of the world. Looming high on the cliff is The Nest, a fortress full of mages who offer protection, but also embody everything the rebellion is fighting against: a strict hierarchy based on magic abilities.

    When Isha arrives as a refugee, she attempts to fit in amongst the other mages, but her Kher tattoo brands her as an outcast. She can’t remember her past or why she has the tattoo. All she knows is that she survived. She doesn’t intend to give up now.

    Tatters, who wears the golden collar of a slave, knows that this rebellion is different from past skirmishes. He was once one of the rebels, and technically, they still own him. He plans to stay in the shadows, until Isha appears in his tavern. He’s never seen a human with a tattoo, and the markings look eerily familiar…

    As the rebellion carves a path of destruction towards the city, an unlikely friendship forms between a man trying to escape his past and a woman trying to uncover hers, until their secrets threaten to tear them apart. (from Gollancz)

    OPINIONS: In a lot of ways, The Collarbound is pure entertainment. Fast paced epic fantasy, plot-driven but not quest-oriented. It profits from extensive world building, and it is made clear that what we see in this book is only a fraction of a greater world. This is something that always makes me enjoy a book more, seeing obvious thought and care being put into a world that the reader doesn’t fully see – it does pay off, even if it isn’t immediately visible. It makes the story more immersive. And immersive storytelling leads to books you can’t put down – The Collarbound is a very addictive read!

    The characters are great as well – with distinct edges and flaws, not forced to be consistently pleasant. This drew me in too, and made it feel as if I was there with them. I loved the interactions, the reluctant familiarity that built between them over the course of the story. And a good dose of politics and intrigue never hurts. While it is plot-driven rather than character-focused, The Collarbound stands out from other epic fantasy due to its focus on the small, rather than a big quest story. It is a book that despite its compelling nature needs attentive reading as it is full of details rather than just allowing the reader to go on the journey with the characters, so be prepared to have to unravel some of the plot strands and world building as you go along.

    So, definitely a rec if you like twisty, epic-y stuff with a lot of politics and fun characters! It’s not one of my all-time favourite books, but one I’ll probably re-read in the future and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

    Add The Collarbound to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Fire of the Frost – Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet

    Fire of the Frost is a Fantasy Romance anthology consisting of four distinct novellas, which is quite an ambitious undertaking. Writing Romance novellas is hard, and compiling four well-executed Romance novellas even harder. Why? Because Romance novellas often suffer from the problem that there isn’t the page time to develop the characters in enough detail to make the plot or the romance believable. Layer on top of that a genre like Fantasy, and you’re faced with an even trickier prospect – now you also need page time to flesh out the world-builidng to the degree needed in support of the story or the romance. 

    However! It can be done! In the right hands, an author can construct a novella-length story that delivers on the promises of the premise of both Fantasy and Romance. In my opinion, Fire of the Frost accomplishes that, and I’ll try and unpack why it is so successful here by looking at each of the four novellas separately.

    This review was originally written as part of a personal project to complete an all Fantasy Romance card for r/fantasy’s 2022 Book Bingo. You can read an introduction to my project here. All opinions are my own.


    RELEASE DATE: 05/01/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

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    A Wynter Fyre by Darynda Jones – 5/5

    This is the shortest novella in the anthology, and despite the story being standalone, it really worked for me, I think, for three reasons. First, much of the page-time is dedicated to the world-building, and since the world itself is what drove the plot, the author made a good choice here. This is great literary device for managing page time – tie your world into the driving plot points and suddenly you’ve created a page efficiency that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

    Second, the steaminess is not tied to the HEA. I know – you’re thinking gratuitous sex? Well, maybe a bit gratuitous, but I don’t think so. If you don’t have time to have your characters fall in love, add steam another way, avoiding insta-love altogether. That’s what the author did here. I’d be remiss if I didn’t add a content warning – there is dubious consent in the opening scene where the FMC is assaulted by vampires after being bitten and injected with what is essentially aphrodesiac vampire venom. This didn’t bother me and, like I said, I thought it was an ingenious way of getting the FMC and MMC into a steamy situation (he did not perpetrate the assault – their encounter came after), but I know that this is a big trigger for some folks, so reader beware!

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this book had an HFN as opposed to an HEA, making the relationship arc far more believable. Our couple doesn’t go all the way to love and a full HEA, but you get the sense that their HFN will lead to a true HEA and that is enough to make you feel complete while avoiding the feelings of the end being contrived and reeking of insta-love. The plot twist and relationship reveal is key to achieving this story. It was unexpected and made the plot work.

    Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet – 4/5

    Another way to make a Romance novella work? Write the story of a secondary character from an ongoing series. The world has alrady been established, the backstory of at least one of the characters is already in the mind of the reader, and you’re able to use your page time to develop the plot and Romance. That’s exactly what Bouchet does in Of Fate and Fire, which is a novella set in her Kingmaker Chronicles world. It contains the story of what happens to Piers after he is banished from Thalyria by Athena.

    For me, that was always a tough scene – I was SO conflicted about Piers’s fate, and for him to get a bit of character redemption and an HEA was extremely satisfying. The story is set in NYC at Christmastime, and the “big bad” is this billionaire tech mogul, both of which were extremely satisfying plot points (especially the downfall of the billionaire). I also love how much Bouchet leans in to her Greek heritage and mythology. She really leveled up with those elements in this novella, having the FMC being a part of a Greek immigrant family and a descendant of Heracles. I’m really looking forward to book 4 in the Kingmaker Chronicles series, which comes out this fall!

    The King of Hel by Grace Draven – 4/5

    If you follow my posts and reviews, you know that I’m a huge Grace Draven fan. She consistently delivers, and this story is no different; it has the tone, prose, and world-building I’ve grown to love in her works. This was the first story she ever published, expanded into novella for this anthology. It is standalone, and effortlessly tackles world-building and character development within the confines of a novella’s short length. Draven is truly a master of Fantasy Romance.

    The novella is as much a love story between Castil and her best friend as it is between Castil and Doranis. The tone is rather somber, tackling themes of inequity and loss. Each of the three main characters is bound by the expectations of their birth, relegated to class expectations and rights. Yet amid the unfortunate outcomes of being forced to live within those societal strictures, love and friendship perservere. A poignant tale that fans of Grace Draven will thoroughly appreciate.

    Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy – 3/5

    This novella was my least favorite of the anthology, but that had more to do with my personal taste in tropes than anything else. In general, I am not a big fan of magic schools or YA-leaning characters, and since this story followed the relationship of two students of the Convocation Academy – the magic school in Kennedy’s Bonds of Magic world – it wasn’t my preference. However, I know this isn’t a turn off for others, so if you like that series and Kennedy’s writing (which is fantastic!) and want to delve deeper into the unique world-building that is an allegory for slavery and caste systems, this might be a great novella for you!

    Familiar Winter Magic is another example of a novella set in an existing world, but unlike other examples I’ve read that employ this approach, this novella is far more tied into the main storyline of the series than usual. Although the characters and relationship are well-developed, it reads almost like a prelude to book 3, with multiple references to the series plotline and a cliffhanger ending that ostensibly will be resolved in book 3. I recommend this novella primarly to fans of the Bonds of Magic series as its an excellent and compelling entry into that world.

  • Reviews

    The Demon’s Daughter – Emma Holly

    I get my recs for Fantasy Romance from a lot of places, and this particular book was rec’ed to me on r/RomanceBooks over a year ago as part of a request for well-written, adult Fantasy Romance books (not YA, not NA, no romantic subplots, etc.). It’s been sitting on my TBR since that time until I recently started the process of culling my TBR and searching for books that might fit my all Fantasy Romance r/fantasy Book Bingo card. I didn’t know anything about Emma Holly going into this book aside what I’d learned from some online book buddies – she is best known for Erotic Romance (Romance that is steamier than most, packing more explicit sex than your average Romance) as well as late 1990’s early 2000’s SFF Romances. So, I decided to give it a try.

    I continue to marvel at the luck I have falling into books that seem to be made for me. This book screams Kat; it checks so many boxes for me, it’s almost scary. Look – I’m not going to say that what I like is close to being universal. This review is going to be more of a list of why this book works for me, and if you read it and you find that what works for me also works for you? Well, then I highly recommend reading The Demon’s Daughter by Emma Holly, because it was absolutely satisfying.

    This review was originally written as part of a personal project to complete an all Fantasy Romance card for r/fantasy’s 2022 Book Bingo. You can read an introduction to my project here. All opinions are my own.


    RELEASE DATE: 02/11/2004

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶

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    I really enjoy the approach to world-building that fuses a quasi-historical settings with a completely different world. I’ve read this a couple of times, and this book solidified my love of this approach. The author took late Victorian era London and pieces of its history and plunked it down inside a secondary world and alternate history on another planet with a race of demons. She then deepens the immersion through the use of chapter epigraphs that are meant to be excerpts from various historical texts. The world-building was this amazingly creative fusion of ideas and histories, and I was totally diggin’ it.

    The theming in this book draws on this world-building, focusing on both the human-demon interactions as well as the class structure within both races. Much of the conflict stems from racism between humans and demons, with both Adrian and Roxanne struggling given their unique ties to the demon race. Layer on top of that the classism that exists in both worlds, and you have a solid foundation for a plot rife with societal tension.

    I loved Adrian and Roxanne, the main characters in this book; I felt very connected to them and wanted them to find happiness both for themselves and with each other. Like most modern Romance books, this book is dual-POV, and the development of each character is rich and engaging. I will admit that my preferences tend to older protagonists given my age and the point I am in in my life, and so it was a pleasant surprise to find that the MMC is in his early 40’s and the FMC around 30.

    Adrian is not Alpha in any way, but an emotionally-connected man deseparate to find love after a failed marriage and a lonely life dedicated to his job as a Inspector (this book gives off a strong detective noir vibe). He wants the type of family he grew up with, and we get to see a glimpse of what that looks like when he visits his parents. His parents wanted a better life for him than they had, and his drive, the choices he makes with his first marriage, and his decision to take the demon implants all stem from these familial drives. The themes of race and class dynamics and family all tied together nicely to form Adrian’s character arc.

    But the same is true for Roxanne. She is alone in this world, never knowing her father and losing her mother at a young age, but she creates a family for herself adopting two children and shapes a life around her art that is uniquely her own. This book has a tremendous message of women’s independence – Roxanne is a force to be reckoned with in an era where a woman’s worth was associated with her husband and her family. She stands apart, making her own living with her art and conducting her day-to-day life in the manner that suits her regardless of societal expectations.

    By the end of the book, I realized that The Demon’s Daughter is very much a book about family. It’s a theme that is revisited and explored throughout the story, from Roxanne’s adopted children, to Adrian’s massive family, to the difficult relationship Roxanne has with both of her parents, and finally the formation of a family of their own.

    The Demon’s Daughter is a deeply sensual book, and I didn’t realize how much I’d been craving that. Yes, this book does get steamy – Emma Holly is known for her Erotic Romance – but what stood out for me was the intense sensuality of the couple for much of the first half of the book in the form of simple touching, caresses, and foot massages, as an example. That being said, this book does pack a lot of steam, so if you like your explicit sex scenes on the thinner side, this might be a bit much for you.

    Finally, the prose. I found this book extremely well-written. It didn’t feel basic, nor was it overwrought. Instead, is struck the perfect balance for me, reflecting the tone the author wanted to deliver with nary a hiccup.

    I highly recommend this book. I adored it. I’m not sure if I will read the other two full-length entries in this series – I felt complete at the end of this book – but I am so pleasantly surprised and happy to have read The Demon’s Daughter.

  • Blog Tours,  Reviews

    Blog Tour: Sistersong (paperback) – Lucy Holland

    In my current research project, I have this knack – I’m working on the Horned God in fantasy fiction, a figure that usually pops up on the sidelines or has a very limited presence, but casually browsing bookshelves in a shop or library, I’ll often pick up a random volume that catches my eye – and there he is. It’s uncanny, honestly! This was certainly the case with Sistersong. I picked the volume up on recommendation from Fabienne and because I enjoyed Lucy Holland’s previous fantasy oeuvre, the Worldmaker trilogy. I did not expect to find Cernunnos in its pages, nor did I expect that this novel would come to occupy such a central space in my research.

    Sistersong weaves a sellic spell that pluck at the heartstrings and leaves the reader wondering.

    RELEASE DATE: 28/04/2022

    STAR RATING: 5/5✶

    SUMMARY: King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for adventure.

    All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky – bringing Myrdhin, meddler and magician. The siblings discover the power that lies within them and the land. But fate also brings Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.

    Riva, Keyne and Sinne become entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, and must fight to forge their own paths. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain (from Pan Macmillan).

    OPINIONS: First and foremost, this is an excellently researched novel. The historical details are grounded in both medieval chronicles and longstanding tradition of reimagining the Middle Ages, but Sistersong also respectfully engages with concerns of the 21st century, especially gender politics and notions of spiritual autonomy.

    As for the Horned God, Cernunnos, his godhood is more literary than factual – the name survives to us in a single inscription of a Gallo-Roman devotional stele discovered in Paris (you can see it here), and archaeological evidence suggests he was a local deity subsumed into the Roman pantheon as Gaul became part of the Roman Empire. Further concrete information about how he was worshipped and by whom is lost to history, but he did find an ally in anthropologist Margaret Murray, whose ideas can be considered key for modern paganism in the West. Murray suggested that Cernunnos was one example among countless expressions of a pan-European Horned God, embodiment of male sexuality, wildness, and the natural world. This idea was taken up by fantasy authors to give Cernunnos a revived divinity. And he makes his appearance in Sistersong, along with Celtic goddesses Andraste, Brigid, and Epona.

    What struck me specifically was the gods were seen as ways of understanding the natural world. It’s something I’m arguing in my thesis: pagan gods in fiction are used to bring to mind nature and our relationship with it. And Holland presents this idea is a wonderfully eloquent way: at one point in the narrative one of the protagonists discusses the nature of magic with Myrdhin/Mori, a mysterious mentor character. Mori insists that there are no gods, and that ‘Brigid, Andraste, the Horned One […] are just names […] folk have given the land and its many faces.’

    Throughout the novel, humanity’s union with and attention to the land is leitmotif that defines the characters’ success or downfall – forget the land’s name and you forget yourself. Without overtly referencing the current ecological catastrophe, Holland brings to mind the importance of human compassion to our environment. I found this incredibly powerful.

    Now that Sistersong is out in paperback, do give it a read yourself and delve into legends of spectral hunts, ancient monuments and the uncanny bond between three siblings.

  • Reviews

    The Stardust Thief – Chelsea Abdullah

    There are many wonderful books out there, but few manage to tick all the boxes for elements I love as much as The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah did. I inhaled this – and I admit, I may have inhaled it a bit too quickly, as my memory of the plot is getting a bit hazy – but it was so worth it. I am already looking forward to diving back into the world of this wonderful book, and I hope I get to love it as much as I did this time around for many more reads.

    Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for sending me an ARC for review. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 19/05/2022

    STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Neither here nor there, but long ago…

    Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp.

    With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artefact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything – her enemy, her magic, even her own past – is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality. (from Orbit)

    OPINIONS: I adored this. My current gremlin brain has already forgotten far too much other than that – and I’m looking forward to rereading it soon to refresh my memory. But the story was delightful and dark, gritty and compelling, and all-around wonderful. I fell for this book within just a few chapters, and its many twists and turns kept me engrossed until the very last page. The worldbuilding in this is rich and plastic, which just adds to the book as a whole transporting you into its realm.

    This is the sort of fantasy that takes its cues from mythology and stories, but turns them into something wholly its own. The focus is laid on character development and platonic relationships, with romance being very much on the backburner (which I really appreciated, especially as the most obvious comp to this is S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad series, which is wonderful, but also very focused on its romance). The main story is interwoven with in-universe tales, which I loved too, as it added another dimension to the linear storytelling which you don’t see too often. The characters are varied and amazingly well-developed, from Loulie, a merchant of stolen magical artefacts, to Qadir, her bodyguard or Aisha, the resident thief. Each of them brings something unique to the table as they are somewhat unwillingly thrown together on the book’s central quest – and I’m excited to read more when books two and three come out, as The Stardust Thief is announced as a trilogy.

    One of the elements I loved most as a reformed historian was the inclusion of magical artefacts, old, valuable and highly sought after. I adore old things, and it’s catnip for me if they’re used as a plot device in books… Combined with the inserted stories and nods to A Thousand and One Nights, this was a book I was always going to love – and what is not to love in a thrilling story based on Arab mythology, with a fantastically diverse cast of characters and an epic quest?

    Add The Stardust Thief to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).