The time has come. This is my last review post on Libri Draconis. It has been a brilliant few years, but as I’m starting my new role with UK Tor tomorrow, it is time to move on from reviewing. There will still be a few guest posts to come over the next few weeks, and the site will be online for the time being. I am so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read mine – and my co-bloggers – posts over the last years, and I am very thankful to every publicist who has sent me books for review throughout my time reviewing. (And huge apologies for the books I have not managed to cover as this has come on rather suddenly, with a trip to Worldcon in between…) As always, these opinions are entirely my own.
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin is a debut YA fantasy about tea magic. The first in a duology, I need book two STAT. It’s already out in the US – but the UK needs to wait until January 2023 for the second one, and you bet I’m debating with myself whether I can wait three months to have a matching set of paperbacks or whether I need to brave the wilds of Book Depository and get myself the hardcover now. As someone who has tea running through their veins (seriously, I’m a diabetic, it’s one of the few things I’m allowed to drink for pleasure), reading a book so steeped in love for the drink was wonderful. The way Judy I. Lin talks about tea, and food more generally, as well as the immersive world building, makes her love for Chinese culture and mythology shine through. The language is lyrical and permeated by thoughtful descriptions, political intrigue and strong characters. In short, a great story and an author to watch. I adored A Magic Steeped in Poison and highly recommend you pick this one up.
Firetide Coast by Claire McKenna is the conclusion to the Deepwater trilogy. I loved diving back into Arden’s world – these books are criminally underrated if you look at the amount of Goodreads ratings they have. If you are like me and like water, Gothic atmosphere and the occasional dash of romantic elements, then do check out this series. It’s a very solid read throughout, and I found Firetide Coast worked well to wrap up the story threads from the first two books and tie up the trilogy. These books are fast, compelling reads, and while they won’t be among my forever favourites, I really enjoy them and will reread them as comfort reads, especially now I have the whole series together. They’re just that tad creepy, with brooding love interests, a strong heroine and dashing conspiracy. And so much water – much of them takes place on boats, and you can just smell the seaside air come alive. Wonderful.
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, but as usual with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, given a Mexican twist. I love how every single one of her books I have picked up are in an entirely different genre, with a completely different voice but each is a standout, quality novel. I don’t think there are any other authors writing right now that are as versatile as she is – and that makes her criminally underrated. The woman deserves a Hugo already. And The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is her best book to date, in my opinion. It takes the bare bones of Wells’ story, and turns them into a compelling novel about nuanced characters, written in brilliant prose. I thought Mexican Gothic was great, but this just really steps it up to another level. Carlota is one of my favourite determined heroines I’ve read all year in this gothic story of hybrids, scientific experiments and scheming – a book I highly recommend to all of you. I was supposed to review this for Grimdark Magazine before the Summer of Chaos (TM) happened, and I’m really sad that I ended up with just a short mini review here – but do keep your eyes peeled for my colleague’s full take on it over at Grimdark Magazine soon (because I couldn’t resist making sure we have someone covering this brilliance in my stead!).
And another set of excellent books that deserve far more attention than I’m able to give them right now. As I prepare to wind down my reviewing, I’m trying to get through as much as I can this weekend – with a few guest posts still to come in the next few weeks for blog tours I had committed to but won’t be able to follow through myself. A huge thanks again to all the publicists who have sent me these books – all opinions are my own.
Cursed by Marissa Meyer concludes the story begun in Gilded last year – her young adult Rumpelstiltskin retelling. This follows on with Serilda, Gild and the Erlking’s story and weaves an epic fairy tale of love, betrayal and cunning. I loved how the ending ended up using the tropes from the original story so exactly but only in letter and not in spirit – something I found worked really well, and made me feel a lot better about the book as a whole than I might have before then. I found the pacing a bit off for my taste, as parts seemed to drag slightly, and I caught my attention waning a few times. This is something that I don’t think I’ve experienced in any of Marissa Meyer’s previous books – they are usually very quick, compelling reads for me, but this is one I struggled a bit with. I think part of it is that the story may have worked better as a single volume rather than a duology. It felt artificially elongated, and a more succinct tale would have been more organic, as would have a stronger character focus rather than one on a variety on side bits. Having the story streamlined would help the pacing and make it a more compelling read – it is still a solid story, but I did find this duology didn’t quite have the magic other Marissa Meyer books have carried for me in the past.
One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig is the first book in the Shepherd King series. Featuring a magic system inspired by tarot cards and a gothic setting, the cover is a perfect illustration of the atmosphere. And it is a stunning cover – I could keep staring at it for hours. It is romantic, dramatic and a book I think will resonate especially well with the TikTok crowd – it is suited so well to aesthetic videos and dramatic music overlays! In many ways, One Dark Window feels like an adult novel perfect for a YA audience aging out of YA. It has a similarly fast pace, use of tropes and atmospheric romance that resonates with readers of the popular older YA series, but is more mature and clearly written with an adult audience in mind (it is not NA, it is adult) – so a great next step if you feel ready to take that leap. However, for me, that meant I wasn’t the right reader for it. I appreciated the atmospheric nature of the book, but I wished for more character focus and I imagined something very different when I kept hearing tarot-based magic system. I found the characters a bit bland and the romance ultimately didn’t click with me. So, a book I see working far better for lots of people who aren’t me!
The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott by Sharon Gosling is a great middle grade adventure. It features the titular character of Katy Willacott, a determined girl desperate to escape the confines of social convention and hungry for knowledge. Set around the time of the construction of the new building for the British Museum, Katy sneaks on board a research expedition to Brazil, dressed as a cabin boy – and, as is par for the course with MG adventures, finds herself embroiled in conspiracy, shenanigans and great discovery. This is a fast-paced, compelling story that will resonate with young readers of all persuasions – it’s the second novel by Sharon Gosling I’ve read, and I’ve enjoyed this one just as much. Katy is prickly, smart and ambitious, and I love how today’s heroines get to be all these things in books. No more nice and pleasant girls, please! (And, to be entirely honest, I’d love a book about Katy as an adult, I think she’ll grow up into someone fascinating!)
If you follow me on social media, you may have seen that I’m going to be starting a new job soon. As in, next week soon. That means things will be changing around here. We don’t quite know what shape or form that will take as I will step back from reviewing but it means that I have a heck of a lot of reviews that I want to get your eyes on this weekend! So stay tuned for a review bonanza this weekend. Many thanks to the respective publicists for sending me review copies of these books – all opinions are entirely my own. And I loved all three of these!
A Restless Truth by Freya Marske follows on on last year’s A Marvellous Light (which I reviewed over on Grimdark Magazine HERE). While the first book followed Edwin and Robin, two men in Edwardian London, this is set on a grand ocean liner crossing the Atlantic, reminiscent of the grandeur of the Titanic. It features new main characters – Maud Blyth and the dashing Violet Debenham – and of course, a good dose of murder. Just as devastatingly sexy and compelling as A Marvellous Light, A Restless Truth may have captured even more of my heart. Because who can resist women falling in love on a ship? Confined spaces, intense inter-personal relationships and steamy romance on a steamboat! Freya’s writing is truly marvellous and the way she manages to combine a mystery with erotic scenes that will make you blush in public and tenderly developed, nuanced characters is something that makes these books stand out in the market. These books are absolute gems and I can’t recommend them enough.
The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake is the sequel to The Atlas Six, duh – which I adored – see my review HERE. This second book sets in slightly after the conclusion of the first book, after everyone had a chance to digest the events of the ending. I think my favourite bit – and after the threesome of book one, I don’t think this is a major spoiler – is that Libby is officially confirmed as bi on the page. And for me personally, that was a major thing. We don’t get enough of this in books! Also, hi, Libby’s my favourite. As this is essentially the GET LIBBY BACK book (sorry if you haven’t read book one!) for me, this one was all about her. She permeates the story, even when she’s not in it. I did feel that The Atlas Paradox wasn’t quite as magical for me as The Atlas Six had been, but that is often the case with sequels – the world is established, the stakes are set and you know the characters, they have become familiar. I still really, really enjoyed reading this and diving back into this world and already can’t wait for the next one! I need MORE! And there’s a certain new character who I’m very intrigued by and who I think will have a super interesting arc coming up, so AAAH GIMME NOW. A very very solid four stars.
A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson was originally self-published before it was picked up by Orbit to be re-released in October. This is a queer, poly, retelling of the brides of Dracula, set over the course of centuries. Like many, I initially thought that the original cover was far cooler, but that faded fast when I received the physical ARC – the smear of blood over her eyes is foiled, so it actually looks like blood on the cover and has a different texture to the rest and it’s such a brilliant effect. It ended up a stunning edition. I also love the elaborate initials used at the beginning of each chapter – and as the narration is closer to stream of consciousness or conversational narration than traditional chapters, there’s a lot of them. So, even if you have the original edition, I recommend you pick up this Orbit edition. It’s been a while since I read the first edition, so I’m not sure how much is down to Orbit’s editing and how much is down to time and format, but I felt like I enjoyed this a lot more a second time. The characters stood out more and the story as a whole drew me in more. This is written in second person – which seems like an important thing to mention, as I know many of you may have opinions on this – it’s not something which I tend to be very fond of, but I felt like it worked really well here. I ended up loving A Dowry of Blood my second read and highly recommend it.
And welcome from Chicago again! Still here, attending Worldcon, eating my way through American food and having a blast with friends. I hope things are well over in the UK, the world hasn’t imploded yet and everything. Anyway, have another fun collection of Monday minis. As always, huge thanks to the respective publicists for sending me these books for review. All opinions are my own.
The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope is such a great story. Set in the 1920s, around a historical heroine – the afterword explains that Clara Johnson is based on a real person, this is a fresh take on the magical heist story. I raced through this after some friends were raving about it, which immediately bumped it up my TBR, and of course they were absolutely right. The Monsters We Defy is full of compelling characters, a vivid historical setting and a vibrant supernatural community. I especially loved the way the author played with Zelda’s character, a Black albino, and used her as white passing to get into places that other characters couldn’t. I think this was probably the first time I’ve read an albino character being written as an integral member of the core group, as a positive character, and I really appreciate that. This is just a wonderful book, and you need it in your life.
Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge is an odd one. It’s a YA rooted in Arthurian mythology, featuring witches and a girl searching for her own identity. All things that I usually love, and I enjoyed Rachel Burge’s debut, The Twisted Tree. However, Waking the Witch failed to fully connect with me. I’m not quite sure why, as the individual elements are all things I tend to fall for, making it hard to really put the finger on why I failed to click with the book as a whole. It is a decent book, looked at objectively, and an interesting take on the legends, though one that I did find far-fetched. And it may be that disliking Ivy, the main character, as a character, combined with feeling that the worldbuilding may have worked better as something standing on its own rather than linking back to Arthuriana is why the book made me so grumpy. Because it is a fast read, I found it compelling and it worked as a whole story despite my frustrations with it. So, one for the YA readers, but maybe not for the Arthurian nerds?
The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran is… very different to what I expected it to be. For one, there is very little magic in a book about a magical manuscript. There is far more focus on the erotic elements of both the story and the manuscript the story is centred around, which isn’t really what I tend to look out for in my usual reading diet. This is not the magical, bookish, perhaps historically tinted, romance I thought it would be. It is a literary fiction novel with romantic elements, looking at power and how power corrupts – and how power can be achieved through sex. It is compelling, I have to give it that. I blasted through it on my flight, not able to put it down or look away, despite not really connecting with the story either. I just HATED Lily and Lucas both, with a passion. They are such dislikable characters, selfish, power-hungry and motivated by greed. But then, that’s what makes a story. One that isn’t for me, necessarily, but will click much better with readers of literary fiction!
Hello from Chicago! I’m currently in the US, ready for Worldcon, exploring Chicago and reading all the books. As always, thank you to the respective publicists for sending me (e)ARCs of these books, and all opinions are my own.
The Darkening by Sunya Mara is a fun YA fantasy centred on revolution and its aftermath. Vesper is the daughter of failed revolutionaries, trapped in a city surrounded by eternal storm. This is twisty and full of betrayal – almost veering towards Grimdark. And yes, I know how wrong it sounds when I say it’s fun book. But to me, dark, twisty books full of characters with dubious morality ARE fun! Of course, there is also a pretty prince and a romance, as appropriate for YA. And revolutions and the political mess that ensues really aren’t talked about enough in books. It feels like every time politics come up, it’s either to show a successful revolution or to keep the status quo going. But to delve into issues caused by a failed change? I need more of this. The Darkening is a fast-paced read, with high tension throughout, making for a compelling story. The characters are well written, and the world the story is set in is fascinating. I enjoyed this a lot, and I am very much looking forward to the second book in the duology. Writing this up has made me want to pick up the book again and reread it – so that’s a good sign, right?!
With Fire in Their Blood by Kat Delacorte is the sort of YA that should have been Fabnip. Creepy small town in Italy, witchy goings-on, eternal feud reminiscent of the blood feud in Romeo and Juliet, comps to V.E. Schwab? That sounds amazing. But unfortunately, the execution of the ideas was a huge letdown for me. The story is centred around Lilly, whose father moves them to Castello, a tiny town in Italy that is mostly cut off from modern life, supposedly to help modernise it. But when they get there, Lilly learns that her dead mother may have been involved in something similar to a terrorist attack, and the town has a vendetta against people they refer to as Saints – people with powers. The town is under the influence of a man called the General – and Lilly’s father isn’t there to set up the wifi after all. My biggest gripe with this is that the characters are underdeveloped and there is too much plot pushed into the story – there is no space for relationships to develop and mature, for tension to truly build up. The main character has feelings for multiple other characters, but no chemistry, and I found that it didn’t make sense to me. And there were quite a few plot holes that I couldn’t see past. Unfortunately, this is a miss for me.
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen is a tropey, fun fantasy romcom. Hart and Mercy hate each other, but end up unlikely pen pals – and after a true missed connection moment, end up falling for each other. This is a tender, funny novel but also one that will make you cry. It’s absolutely delightful and perfect for this year’s trend of cosy fantasy – I’m here for it! I’ve been really getting into sweet, romancy books lately, and this was exactly what I needed to read this week. It’s got enemies to lovers vibes, banter and so many puns. And if you’ve ever had a conversation with me, you know I love a bad joke and can’t resist a pun. So basically, this was written for me to devour. Some things are quite predictable, but that is part of the fun of this, I think. Vibes and strong characters abound, and that is where Hart and Mercy got me. They snuck their way into my hart. If you need a comfort book, add this to your rotation!
Lost in Time by A.G. Riddle is a high-stakes, fast paced time travel thriller. It revolves around the murder of scientist Nora, and father and daughter Sam and Adeline who were the last people to see her alive. Nora and Sam were part of a group of scientists who created a time machine, allowing the government to essentially eradicate crime by sending criminals into the past, into parallel universes, to have them out of the current timeline for good. Adeline knows that her dad is innocent, but can’t prove it before he is sent to the Jurassic Period… Nevertheless, she doesn’t give up, and is determined to find the true killer – only to find a more intricate plot than she ever suspected. It is a fun read, though I found that it ultimately fell short for me, as do many time travel narratives with how it dealt with the question of predetermination of the timeline. I felt that there wasn’t enough thought put into the ethical, philosophical and moral implications, ending up with a book that read like an action film, with more plot than sense, characters who remained rather shallow and a frustrated Fab who wanted to know more about the WHY of it all.
The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan is classic Grimdark, taking police procedural, but making it medieval and dark. Set around Justice Konrad Vonwalt and his assistant Helena, it is a murder mystery, it is a classic fantasy novel, but also a well-written piece of fiction on its own. While this ultimately wasn’t quite my cup of tea as a whole, I can see why so many adore this book. It’s a solid start to a new series, introducing a compelling set of new characters. It is gritty, it isn’t quite on the side of morally right and it tangles with right and wrong throughout. It makes for an interesting story, though it took me far too long to finish – I may have started this months ago, only to breeze through the last third in a single gulp, drawn in by the mystery and the intrigue. It is a great read for fans of Grimdark, but not necessarily something that will mesh with everyone. Check out a sample of this one first!
Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It by Janina Ramirez is a very interesting take on a popular history book looking at the Middle Ages under a new perspective. Having come to this straight after a certain book with similar aims, but much less solid scholarly underpinnings, Ramirez’ work made me very very happy. This isn’t a feminist manifesto or a rewriting of what is known about the period, but a look at smaller chunks of the Middle Ages through what we know about some of the women who lived at the time. Often ignored for their more famous and traditionally accomplished male counterparts, these women may have done much to have been remembered or, simply, been at the right place at the right time for their burials to survive and be discovered. I found Ramirez’ writing engaging and accessible, drawing parallels to modern times, but still rigorously academic where it matters. I did find that some of the chapters strayed perhaps a bit far from what they intended – for example when talking about the Birka burials, there was extensive discussion of Viking burial culture and archaeology – which wasn’t what I was reading the book for, but then, as someone who used to be a medieval historian isn’t necessarily the target audience for a book like this. These discourses were still interesting, though my brain went “but I wanted to know about THIS, not GENERAL TOPIC I already know about!”. So, most definitely one I recommend picking up!
I should preface my review of The Phantom of the Opera by Cavan Scott and José María Beroy with the fact that I’ve never seen The Phantom of the Opera as a stage show. So I didn’t really know what to expect going into this graphic novel adaptation – only having vague awareness of some of the most famous songs. And I was surprised at how the story differed from how I imagined things – I’d somehow imagined it as this great Gothic romance between Christine and the Phantom, but it really, really isn’t. It went in very different directions to how I thought it would – and some that I am still not clear on if they were red herrings or not. And that is probably my biggest issue with this as a graphic novel. I don’t know if this is due to the source material or a problem of the adaptation itself, but it felt like an incomplete story. Thoughts were expressed, but not finished, and the ending was extremely abrupt. As a whole, it felt rather like a collection of ideas than a complete story. And accomplished comics storytelling and great art, unfortunately, couldn’t fully compensate for that.
I am more of a fantasy reader than a science fiction one, in general. But Kate Dylan’s debut, Mindwalker gripped me so much I breezed through the audiobook in a single day – which, were this a paper book wouldn’t be that unusual, but audio takes about five times as long! Sil Sarrah is a brilliant leading character and the world Kate Dylan creates is both harrowing and compelling. I loved how the story went in unexpected directions and got extremely twisty – not leaving the reader time to breathe and relax. It is a fast-paced, high-octane thriller, a cute romance and a disturbing vision of the future rolled all into one. A great YA, in short. As I listened to the audiobook via NetGalley I would be remiss not to praise Stephanie Cannon’s narration, perfectly translating Kate Dylan’s text to the aural format.
High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson is a Tor.com novella about fairies, politics and bureaucracy. It has the vibes of the UK Houses of Parliament crossed with a good dose of magic and supernatural threat – though it often feels like the fantasy elements thinly veil the author’s contempt at contemporary politics. While I very much agree with the sentiment, I’m not sure it makes for a great reading experience, especially for someone caught in the middle of the futile squabbling of a largely incompetent government. Lana is a scribe, brought to the Low Parliament by circumstance and thrown into these political machinations with little warning. Her allies are only two – a fairy named Bugbite and a human politician called Eloquentia – and those both have their own agendas. As a whole, this novella feels more like a satire with fantasy elements than the fantasy story I was expecting – and I think my lack of enjoyment was more due to timing and circumstance than the quality of the writing or the story.
Welcome back to a new round of Monday Minis. Two YA novels and an adult historical this week – many thanks to the respective publishers for providing me with eARCs via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
Melissa Grey’s Valiant Ladies is based on two real-life vigilantes. Eustaquia “Kiki” de Sonza and Ana Lezama de Urinza were known as the Valiant Ladies of Potosi in seventeenth-century Peru, taking up arms and living a life of vigilante justice while being lovers. This novel sets in earlier in their lives though, when they may already have been headstrong, but still fairly sheltered. The story’s core mystery is the murder of Kiki’s brother Alejandro – catapulting the two girls into a dangerous investigation and a life that is more interesting that they perhaps imagined for themselves. It also focuses on Kiki and Ana falling in love and figuring out how to navigate society’s expectations with their own desires. It is a compelling story with strong characters, though expect to read something that is far more reminiscent of a fantasy novel than historically grounded. It may be inspired by historical figures, but it is not historical fiction in terms of how it reads. A fun read if you like stabby girls!
Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott is set in post-Roman Britain. Isla and Blue are the daughters of the Great Smith, exiled for purported use of magic in smithing his swords. They have been living free lives, learning trades forbidden to women, and when their father suddenly dies, they need to run into an abandoned Londinium to escape enslavement. They find community and kinship, but also danger in this story full of myth and folklore. It is beautifully written and compelling, a feminist story grounded in an image of the past that isn’t quite what we expect, using the period as a vehicle to create strong characters. It is thoroughly enjoyable, though I found that there wasn’t much that truly stood out to me, especially when comparing it to some of my other favourites set in the period. Certainly not a mistake to pick this one up, in any case.
The Blood Traitor by Lynette Noni is the satisfying conclusion to The Prison Healer trilogy. I was lucky enough to get to read eARCs of all three books in the trilogy early, and they are entertaining, quick YA fantasy reads. The story revolves around Kiva, the daughter of the rebel queen Tilda Corentine, who has spent most of her life in Zalindov prison. In the first book, Kiva undergoes a trial by ordeal, and falls for a prince in disguise, in the second book, they leave Zalindov behind and Kiva has to navigate loyalty to her rebel family with her growing feelings for Jaren. In this third volume, the gang is separated through betrayal, and the story enters a much grander scale than before. It is no longer just about a handful of characters, but about continental politics, about long-term loyalty and a huge quest. These books aren’t the deepest or the best-written, but they are certainly fun and solid reads. And now you can binge the whole series in one go.
It’s been crazy over here. So a true catch-up Monday minis post this week – three books I’ve read (slightly late, to my shame), and where I feel like I don’t have all that much to say about them but want to showcase the books all the same. Huge thanks to the lovely publicists for sending me these books for review – and as always, opinions are entirely my own.
Something Certain, Maybe by Sara Barnard is not quite my usual fare. It is a contemporary YA novel with a good dose of romance, set around Rosie who is going off to university to study pharmacy. Rosie has her life planned out – uni, career, everything. But uni isn’t quite what she expected – and the girl she falls for, Jade, is pretty much the only thing she loves about the experience. And then her mum develops health issues too. Something Certain, Maybe is an ode to not knowing, to the insecurity that moving away to university brings with it. It is a book that shows that you don’t need to know all of the answers, and that it is fine to flounder a bit. And for me, personally, it hit on a lot of things I was feeling in that first few months of going away from home, of realising I was doing the wrong course, of struggling with my own choices. But, at the same time, as a book, this didn’t quite work for me. I found it a bit too slow, a bit too evasive. Perhaps that is because I have grown up since then, but it didn’t grip me – I found myself putting it down again and again, taking breaks – or truly make me care about the characters as more than concepts. It is a solid book, but one that I think I wouldn’t re-read.
Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik is a fun space opera romp. The first in a new series, this features Octavia, the captain of a space ship and her crew, and rival frenemy Torran Fletcher who hires them for a job. It is twisty, though not entirely unpredictable. The characters are solid, and it is very entertaining. I enjoyed my read, even if I’m not sure if I did so enough to continue on to the next in the series. It is a bit too superficial and will-they-won’t-they for my tastes, but I can see this working really well for a lot of readers who are more interested in straight romance elements than I personally am. It is more character focused than on the space opera elements, and it’s definitely not the right book if you’re looking for hard science fiction – in terms of storytelling it is closer to paranormal romance set in space than it is to traditional science fiction, which I think caught me out a bit.
For the Throne by Hannah Whitten is the sequel to last year’s For the Wolf. It concludes the duology, and it is just as compelling and delicious as the first book. It goes into more detail about the characters introduced in For the Wolf, though this second instalment focuses on Neve, Red’s older sister, who has taken on the throne – though for most of the story, she is lost in the Shadowlands. This is a dark fairytale, and where For the Wolf was Beauty and the Beast for those who never wanted the Beast to turn into a sleek prince, this is self-determination, rejection of fate and accident of birth. Best read in quick succession, this is a duology I’d recommend for fun escapism and folklore-inspired fantasy fans. It has grown-up fairy tale vibes, but far less wholesome, and it is completely up my street. These aren’t perfect books, and I don’t think I’d go as far as consider them favourites, but I’ve reread the first one, and I’ll probably reread the second one too. They’re the sort of lovely comforting books with an edge that just work for me.
I finally managed to provide you with some Monday Mini fodder again. All slightly whimsical, legend/folk tale inspired fantasy, but with very different approaches and styles today. I hope you find something that intrigues you among this selection. Many thanks to the respective publishers for providing me with eARCs via NetGalley, all opinions are entirely my own.
A Mirror Mended is the second novella in Alix E. Harrow’s Fractured Fairytales series. It follows on from A Spindle Splintered, though is set a few years in the future from that first book. Unfortunately, the things that didn’t click for me with the first novella seemed to be coming out in even stronger force in this second installment. Zinnia is now spending most of her time helping fairy tale characters trapped in their stories to escape tropes, to the detriment of her relationships with the people close to her. This felt far too short for the content that Harrow tried to discuss within the confines of the novella, leaving topics addressed but not properly discussed to their conclusion, with unsatisfying resolutions, relationships that read very superficial even if that clearly wasn’t the intention. I kept longing for more space, for more depth. While I adore Harrow’s full-length work and her short fiction, these novellas are her weakest writing to date and left me wanting more.
The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones is a Welsh-inspired, mythology-based YA fantasy. It tells a heist story as a framing device to retell a part of Welsh mythology that gives an origin story to the landscape – which is absolute catnip to me, having studied similar narratives in my past life as an academic. I devoured this fantasy, and found much to love. Mer, the main character, is openly bisexual – there is a femme ex love interest and a masc current love interest on page – and it is simply accepted in this medieval-ish society. Such heart-eyes, such love from my side. It isn’t the type of highly researched fantasy like Spear, this is more on the lighthearted and entertaining side, but it is exactly what I needed this weekend. The characters were great – Mer, Ifanna, the thief who betrayed her in the past, Mer’s mentor who she was never quite sure how she felt towards him and Fane, the love interest with fae connections. A great YA.
Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah is another YA fantasy. This one inspired by the author’s South Asian background, featuring a large-scale race in which the elite compete for glory. Koral, the main character, is very much not part of this elite, but circumstances have her sneak her way into the competition and stand against those who have been training their entire lives for this. In some ways, this is reminiscent of a better, more timely version of The Hunger Games – in a good way. I found this an enjoyable read, though I thought that perhaps the ending was a bit too convenient in the last couple of pages. I don’t think this is a standout read of 2022 for me, but it is a solid YA fantasy debut I recommend picking up if you like the sound of it.