While I never made it past the first book in Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Curse trilogy (I don’t really know why, it’s been years), The Midnight Lie stood out to me as soon as I heard about it. Magic, class wars, LGBT romance (in this case, f/f rep, which is not immediately obvious from the blurb!) and hints of revolution made me hunger to read this lovely book with one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen this year! I was lucky enough to be approved for a Netgalley ARC in exchange for an honest review – many thanks to Netgalley and Hodder for the opportunity!
RELEASE DATE: 03/03/2020
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colours. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.
Nirrim keeps her head down, and a dangerous secret close to her chest.
But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveller from far away, who whispers rumours that the High Kith possess magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted. (from Hodder)
OPINIONS: Now, as mentioned above, I have only read one of Marie’s previous books, and The Midnight Lie is set in the same world as that trilogy. While reading, I kept wondering whether I missed extensive amounts of background knowledge, but from what I have been able to gather from reading summaries is that Ethin, the city in which The Midnight Lie is set, is a sort of footnote in the original trilogy, so there really isn’t much to have missed, and there is no need to worry if you’re just starting here!
The story is beautifully written, and the world is well nuanced and finely crafted into its details. However, the plot and characters lean heavily into tropes, making twists and behaviours very predictable at times, and leading to slightly flat characterisations. I still loved every second of the book, and as I was reading this eARC on my phone, read it within about a day, picking it up whenever I could, even if it was just for five minutes on the tube. The Midnight Lie is extremely well paced, effortlessly switching from intimate conversations to action to tender descriptions without losing tension at any point.
While the story addresses issues of class, abuse, and revolution, what I believe to be at its centre is self-discovery and acceptance. Breaking free from one’s routine and questioning the status quo in every respect. Both Nirrim and Sid are forced to reevaluate who they are and who they want to be over the course of the story, and show signs of growth, and their blossoming romance is proof of that, as is the end of the book. I am very curious to see how the story continues in the next installment…
March is an evil month for new releases! Trying to compile this list, I had to decide very early on that I could not include any titles that I would be reviewing anyway, as my list was way too long as it was. I also purposefully don’t include any titles that are extremely hyped already to give some space to books you might not have heard of before.
It’s also my birthday month, so if any publishers of these books want to be extra nice to their resident blogger and send a copy of any of these my way… I wouldn’t say no!
Remember how February’s hype post prominently featured Sarah Gailey? Well, March is going to do the same. Because they are releasing another book, When We Were Magic. This time, it’s a YA about teens and accidental magic, and it sounds both amazing and hilarious. It is also queer and focuses on female friendship which gets many bonus points from me. This is out on the 3rd, and I’ve been desperate to get my hands on it since I first heard of its release last year. Pre-order it here.
Another prolific author, Wicked As You Wish is Rin Chupeco’s third novel in a year. They write wonderfully twisty fantasies inspired by their Filipino heritage with a touch of signature darkness. I have really enjoyed all of their books I have read so far, and last fall, I was even lucky enough to take part in the blog tour for The Never Tilting World (see my review here). This one is set in America, dealing with issues of immigration, and apparently features firebirds, magic and a Snow Queen. It’s out on the 3rd as well, and you can pre-order here.
In 2018 I got to go to my very first proper author event while I was in Boston for a conference. One of the authors I met that day was the lovely, witchy, April Genevieve Tucholke, who signed my newly released copy of The Boneless Mercies. I loved that story about a band of warrior girls shamelessly questing for glory! And now its semi-sequel/companion novel, Seven Endless Forests, based on Arthurian legend, is being released on the 31st. As anyone who knows me is aware, I’m a sucker for anything medieval-based, especially now that I get to claim it as research. So, super keen for this one! Pre-order it here.
One of my first reviews on here was for the first book in Melinda Salisbury’s last duology, State of Sorrow. I loved that book so much, especially due to its political nature and portrayal of an election process in a YA fantasy. After finishing one of my favourite duologies of all time, Melinda is back with a supernatural mystery set in Scotland. I can’t wait to dive into it, even though I don’t really know much about it. This is out on the fifth, and if you are around London, Waterstones is throwing her a launch on the 14th, with tickets available here! Add Hold Back the Tide on Goodreads here and pre-order it here.
So, there’s been a lot of YA on this list so far, but Docile by K. M. Szpara is anything but. A dystopian speculative fiction novel thinking about issues of capitalism, free will and servitude, this one has received stellar reviews. I have been super excited for it since I first heard of it and am anxiously awaiting its release on the 3rd. Also, it’s edited by Carl Engle-Laird, the man who also brought us the grandiose Gideon the Ninth last year. So if that’s not reason to read it, I don’t know what is. Pre-order it here.
It is no secret that I’m a sucker for short story collections. And an anthology full of stories about black girls and enbys and their magic? Sign me right up! Featuring an amazing line-up of authors of colour, including names such as Elizabeth Acevedo, L.L. McKinney, Dhonielle Clayton and many more, and edited by Patrice Caldwell, this collection out on the 10th comes out just after the end of Black History Month shows that black experiences should be celebrated all the time. I will definitely be buying A Phoenix First Must Burn as soon as I find a copy! Pre-order it here.
RELEASE DATE: 18/02/2019
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. That’s why when she finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, a member of the rival royal family behind a humiliating scandal involving her little sister, she schemes to get revenge on the young nobleman in order to even the score between their families. The plan? Make him fall in love with her and then break his heart the way his family has broken hers.
Grey Emerson doesn’t connect with people easily. Due to a curse placed on his family by the Raos that his superstitious father unquestioningly, annoyingly believes in, Grey grew up internalising that he was doomed from the day he was born. Sequestered away at St. Rosetta’s Academy, he’s lived a quiet existence in relative solitude. That is, until Jaya Rao bursts into his life. Jaya is exuberant and elegant and unlike anyone Grey has ever met before, but he can’t help feeling that she’s hiding something behind her beautiful smile and charmingly awkward attempts at flirting. Despite his better instincts, though, he starts to fall for her.
Jaya’s plan isn’t totally going according to plan. For one, Grey is aggravatingly handsome. And for two, she’s realising there’s maybe more to him than his name and his family imply.
The stars are crossed for Jaya and Grey. But can they still find their fairy-tale ending? (From Hodder)
OPINIONS: Indian princess meets meets Lord at a fancy boarding school in the Colorado mountains. Easy enough. Though this story has more depth to it than that: adressing the centuries of colonialism and resulting resentment between India and England through the story of Beauty and the Beast, through a stolen ruby, a curse, and a rose necklace.
Despite its modern setting, Of Curses and Kisses is a fairly faithful retelling of the classic story it is based on (the fairy tale, not the Disney version with talking crockery). It is ultimately less about breaking curses than empowerment and making decisions for oneself and opening up towards change. In that respect, both of the main characters, Jaya and Grey, undergo major character arcs over the course of the story and break free of the constraints they themselves and their families and societies put on them. However, the secondary characters fall flat and dissolve into stereotypes upon closer inspection, serving only as a canvas for the main plot.
Another gripe I had was with the writing style – told in alternating third-person PoV between Jaya and Grey, it lacked immediacy and emotion, which I found disconnected me from the story. The author used their full names frequently while reflecting about themselves, something which I found rather irritating. But then, this is mainly personal preference and it might well be that it works better for others!
From what I’ve seen, the book has been very well received, even if it was not quite for me, and my copy has already been claimed by a friend, so do give it a chance! Here’s the link to add it on Goodreads and you can order it here, or from your favourite retailer. Thank you to Kate Keehan and Hodder Books for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review!
Oh how I love gothic novels. Gothic novels featuring lady detectives, spiritualists, fairy tales and mysteries are even more my cup of tea. Which means I raced through The Golden Key – I read about two thirds of this one on a plane ride to Switzerland and was quite upset that I had to stop reading! Many thanks to Lydia Gittins and Titan Books for sending me a review copy of this wonderful story (and look how beautiful the cover is!).
RELEASE DATE: 18/02/2019
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: After the death of Queen Victoria, England heaves with the uncanny. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.
Helena Walton-Cisneros, known for her ability to find the lost and the displaced, is hired by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.
But the Fens are an age-old land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. The locals speak of devilmen and catatonic children are found on the Broads. Here, Helena finds what she was sent for, as the Fenland always gives up its secrets, in the end… (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: I’ve noticed a theme when it comes to reading Victorian and very early twentieth century settings: I pick them up with abandon, hesitate to start them and then completely immerse myself as soon as I do. The same happened with The Golden Key. I pushed out reading it for about a week, although I knew I needed to get the review out by the release date, only to fall in love as soon as I actually started.
Helena Walton-Cisneros is a fantastic character to base a series on, playing into stereotypes associated with the spiritualists the age was so obsessed with while employing psychology and detective skills more reminiscent of the great detectives of the ilk of Sherlock Holmes, albeit with more charm and less arrogance. She is a fantastically complex character, and there is much to discover about her still, giving Marian Womack plenty of fodder for future books. Her partner in the investigation, Eliza Waltraud, sapphic scientific mind, is equally complex, and it begs to wonder how her life will develop after the end of the narrative.
Together they solve the mystery of the missing children in the Fens, which has an unexpected answer threading through to their present day. Part fairy tale, part detective story, Marion Womack writes a gripping debut novel that will capture you from beginning to end. I can’t wait to read what else she comes up with.
Macabre, historical, magical. Three words that summon me at a moment’s notice. So I simply could not resist reading and reviewing this wonderful murder mystery set in late nineteenth century Paris, featuring an independent, strong-willed young woman.
Thank you to Macmillan/Tor Teen and Netgalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 11/02/2019
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: Paris, 1889. When the Exposition Universelle opens in Paris, Nathalie welcomes a much-needed break from the heartache of her friend’s murder. The fair is full of sensational innovations, cultural displays, and marvelous inventions from around the world.But someone is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the guillotine with a gruesome display of their own: beheaded victims in some of the Exposition’s most popular exhibits. Haunted by the past and burdened with new secrets, Nathalie struggles to use her wits and her gift. Yet she and her friends must stop the killer before the macabre display features one of them… (from Tor Teen)
OPINIONS: Jodie Lynn Zdrok is back with a vengeance. In the newly published sequel to Spectacle, Sensational, Paris is in the throes of the Exposition Universelle of 1889, and our heroine Nathalie is confronted with a new string of theatrically staged murders. This killer, dubbed the __, beheads his victims as part of a twisted play.
But murder is not the only challenge Nathalie has to face in the conclusion to her story: romance plays a much bigger role in this second installment. While ultimately reaching a satisfying conclusion, this storyline comes with its share of frustrations and subsequent trust issues that reach further than just romantic relationships… Continuing to flesh out her complex characters from Spectacle, Jodie’s new additions in Sensational are no less multi-dimensional and well-written. Even minor characters come with their sets of flaws, aims, and motivations which become clear throughout the book. She is a master at revelations, sowing just the right amout of doubt early to keep readers on their toes, without giving the game away. And of course we get more Stanley content – officially the best 2020 release featuring a cat named Stanley!
Nathalie also struggles with her powers as they change, an issue that can almost be taken as an allegory for mental health issues nowadays. Looked at under those circumstances, Jodie’s writing of what is both an ability and a disability – something that will become clear when you read the book for yourself – is very nuanced and insightful. (Pun not intended!)
The fourth in a series of standalone science fiction novels, I was a bit worried that it might feel too much like starting in the middle of a series. But never fear, it works as a true standalone novel, and is thrilling and will keep you in its thrall – I am now in dire need of all of Emma Newman’s other books! Massive thanks to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for providing me with a review copy for Atlas Alone‘s paperback release.
RELEASE DATE: 09/01/2019
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.
A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.
Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realises that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to risk losing her own. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: Stuck on a starship after the destruction of Earth, Dee is thrilled when she is invited to join an elite gaming server that will challenge her to play as herself – her own physical and mental limitations will apply in the game as well. However, at the same time, she is also approached through untraceable messages undetected by her AI, insistently inviting her into another game… Emma Newman weaves a masterful narrative around gaming, AI, and morality, as well as the consequences that may arise out of actions not believed to be lasting. It is an interesting conundrum to consider whether killing that is intentional and desired but not considered to be binding is still murder or whether it lacks the gravity to be considered as such.
The technologies crafted for the near future are fascinating, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the standalones in this series to learn more about them! For example, Dee has a study that she can change to look like any place she desires for as far as she likes, and most food is accessed through printers. Sadly, the one weak point are the minor characters: apart from Dee and the antagonist, about whom I can’t anything without giving away too much, the remaining characters are relegated to side action and are not fleshed out very much. It would have been interesting to find out more about Travis and Carl, Dee’s friends. They felt more like characters from a short story rather than side characters from a novel, if that makes sense.
I went into reading this one without knowing much about it. While it’s only being released in the UK on the 6th of February, it’s been out in the US since last summer, and I had heard lots of praise, but never paid it much attention or looked into what the book was about. I won my copy at a giveaway at YALC way back in July and kind of forgot about it until I saw that publication was approaching and I really should get onto reading and reviewing Wilder Girls (I have a spreadsheet in my calendar to help me keep track of release dates and deadlines).
Despite this, it ended up being very different from my first impression and going in an unexpected direction. But more on that below the housekeeping:
RELEASE DATE: 06/02/2019
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.
It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true. (from the author’s website)
OPINIONS: This one didn’t quite work for me. The story is told through the point of view of two girls, Hetty and Byatt – both unreliable narrators in the sense that they have very limited knowledge of what is going on around them and a sense of resignation leading them to lose much of their curiosity. They are best friends, stuck in a boarding school in survival mode after a mysterious ailment has struck, and we readers join them about eighteen months into quarantine.
Hetty gets chosen for a position of authority, and learns more than she bargained for about the way things are run, while Byatt is taken away after her affliction gets worse. It is only the disappearance of her close friend that gets Hetty to wonder if there might be something more sinister at work… Through the way the narration is set up and split into two separate strands, the characters stay rather superficial. There is some f/f rep, and plot and pacing are good – I read through Wilder Girls quite quickly. However, the book as a whole, and especially the resolution left me feeling very anticlimactic.
I would recommend fans of Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation and survival narratives check this one out, it might be that it is better suited to your tastes than mine! As usual, here is the Goodreads link and here is the Book Depository one.
I seem to be somewhat on a SciFi trip at the moment. I’ve been reading a lot of books set in space and can’t seem to stop! So it’s a good thing Sarah Mather from Titan is supporting my problem by sending me great books – thank you so much for the review copy of The Stars We Steal! Described as a sort of Bachelor in space for YA readers, continue reading for my review:
RELEASE DATE: 04/02/2019
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, has only one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin?
But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love, Elliot, returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one who got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself falling for her first love in a game of love, lies and past regrets. (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: A loose retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, The Stars We Steal is a regency romance in a science fiction setting. Don’t expect high literary value, but do expect entertainment, surprisingly complex characters and ensuing shenanigans. Despite being a flimsy romantic novel on the surface, one of the central themes The Stars We Steal deals with is class.
Any hint of rebellion and change is seen as terrorism and the state of the masses is kept from the higher classes. Set in space ships, and therefore segregated more rigidly in terms of location, Alexa Donne paints a haunting picture of an issue permeating our society as well. Together with Leo, we readers get our bubble popped, and are confronted with our privilege and the ways in which it influences our views and opinions. Just as Leo grows to see the world in shades of colour rather than the black and white world view she starts out with, it is to be hoped that readers consider their own biases and think about how they might be able to use their privilege to provide space for all voices to be heard.
Leo undergoes a lot of character development throughout the course of the story. She learns that there are right and wrong reasons to marry someone, both if doing so for love and for money, trust is hard-earned, and sometimes listening is better than stubbornness. While I am generally not a fan of romance novels (and didn’t quite realise what I was getting myself into when I started reading The Stars We Steal) I thought it was incredibly well done for what it was attempting to do and I enjoyed it a lot!
RELEASE DATE: 06/02/2019
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: Born under the crumbling towers of her kingdom, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves. It nearly tore her nation apart. But her arranged marriage to the son of a rival clan heralds peace.
However, he suddenly disappears before their reign can begin, and the kingdom is fractured beyond repair.
Years later, he sends a mysterious invitation to meet. Talyien journeys across the sea in hopes of reconciling their past. An assassination attempt quickly dashes those dreams. Stranded in a land she doesn’t know, with no idea whom she can trust, Talyien will have to embrace her namesake.
A Wolf of Oren-yaro is not tamed. (from Orbit Books)
OPINIONS: Oh Tali, you stole my heart. It is rare enough that dark, epic fantasy is fronted by women, much less by women plagued by emotions, scruples and complex ambitions and intentions. While she is a queen, she is not interested in the amenities and pretentions that come with the throne, but rather in the work needed to unite her people and protect her family. She is clever, fierce and vulnerable. Accompanied by an equally colourful cast of complex side characters, she is faced with adversity throughout the story, which ends on a massive cliffhanger. My e-ARC has an author interview at the end, so I was very surprised when it ended earlier than expected! And now the waiting for the sequel begins…
Its rich, South East Asian inspired setting provided a welcome change to the sci-fi and western-centric fantasy I’ve been reading. It is fantastic to read a story inspired by a set of myths and legends that I am entirely unfamiliar with, and I would love to learn more about Filipino mythology. I am very curious to see how this continues to develop over the course of the series, and what will be revealed about the world’s background. Books like The Wolf of Oren-Yaro highlight both the need and the desire for stories depicting cultures outside of the classic western tradition of fantasy, and the own-voices approach to these stories give them such amazing depth and life.