• Reviews

    Dark Court Rising – Bec McMaster

    The Dark Court Rising trilogy is Epic High Fantasy rooted in the lore of the Fae Courts. Iskvien is a princess in one of the Seelie Courts, bargained by her ruthless and evil mother to spend three months with her mortal enemy Thiago, the dark prince of Evernight in exchange for peace. But all is not what it seems, and the first book shows Iskvien uncovering truths about herself, Thiago, and her mother’s treachery. The first installment ends with an HFN, Happy For Now, but it is clear that the stakes are much higher than originally thought, and this isn’t the end of the story for Thiago and Iskvien.

    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.

    Promise of Darkness
    RELEASE DATE: 17/09/2019
    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
    Crown of Darkness
    RELEASE DATE: 15/09/2020
    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
    Curse of Darkness
    RELEASE DATE: 22/03/2022
    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶

    Ultimately, this series is about unconditional love. It’s about dealing with the trauma of an abusive parent and learning to truly love yourself in spite of that trauma. Thiago shows Iskvien that she can be loved, but its up to Iskvien to set aside the self-doubt instilled in her by a horribly evil parent and learn to love herself. It is fitting that Iskvien comes into her full power not when she recognizes that Thiago loves her, but when she casts aside her mother’s absuses and accepts herself for who she is. To amplify this theme, Thiago’s own character arc involves self-loathing due to the Darkness inside of him, bestowed by his evil father. Until Thiago accepts that part of himself, he is never truly whole. At the heart of this trilogy are poignant messages about finding your personal power through accepting and loving yourself.

    One of the things I appreciated most about these books is that the characterization and themes are mature despite being rooted in the Fae. So often, Fae-based books are YA or NA (not always, but often) and so I was pleased to find this adult, epic fantasy series with the Fae courts as their foundation. In some respects, McMaster hit the nail on the head with Fae lore. You can see the threads of classic Fae stories shaped to serve this particular world and plot. Her spin was different enough that it made me smile as opposed to thinking it “the same old” or this is “not quite right.” (Grimsby the grimalkin is an absolute delight!) This series is rife with magic, bargains, curses, and treachery, and she leans heavily into the concept of the precise wording that often leads to unexpected outcomes. But, at the same time, I did struggle to track the concept of Death, Darkness, and Darkyn (were these distinct or related in some way and how) and how these creatures fit in with the Seelie, Unseelie, the Old Ones, and the Otherkin. Maybe it was just me, but there were times when I had to just set aside my confusion with the world-building and keep going.

    The interplay between the courts and side characters is what makes this series truly shine. The politicking, intrigue, treachery, and back stories of the various players make these books come to life in true epic fantasy fashion. The sub-plots were compelling and well-developed despite the majority of that happening from Iskvien’s POV. There are limited forays into alternate POVs and I wish there would have been more!

    McMaster ended book three with wrap-ups for each sub-plot, many of which contained major open questions. It is abundantly clear that these fairy-tale-esque threads are being set up to become follow-on books in this world. She has already announced that the next book will be Andraste’s story (Iskvien’s sister), and it will be interesting to see how that pans out given her marriage to the Goblin King, Edain’s love for her, and the (I’ll say it – weirdly unexpected) erotic fight between Edain and Lysander at the end. And that’s just one thread! This trilogy definitely provided the foundation for an expansive, on-going series.

    Throughout the first two books, I kept thinking, “Wow, her pacing is perfect!” The balance between character development and introspection and plot was on point! By the end of book two, I found myself furiously turning pages, and the ending was a complete kick in the teeth. It’s a cliffhanger, make no mistake, and I’m glad that I waited until all three books were out before reading through, because I immediately started book three.

    That being said, the pacing slows considerably with book three, which in my opinion is the weakest of the trilogy. I liked it. It was a good book. But it could have been about 100 (or more, to be honest) pages shorter. It became repetitive at times, which made the declarations of love, instrospections about not deserving love, and the sex scenes start to fall flat, and I ended up skimming those after a time. Thiago and Iskvien’s HEA was hard-won and satisfying. It is the ending that they deserved, and I was pleased at how their story wrapped up.

    Overall, I would recommend these books, especially for someone looking for an adult series rooted in Fae lore. Despite some of my critique, I think McMaster did a great job of blending world-building, romance, and deep theming into a satsifying and noteworthy epic fantasy series. I am intrigued enough that I would like to revisit this world and read Andraste’s story, set to come out in 2023.

  • Reviews

    Scoundrel – Zoe Archer

    Lately, one of the ways I’ve been finding new Fantasy Romance books is by mining the literary awards database for all the past winners of the RITA for Paranormal Romance. I came across the book Rebel, book 3 in The Blades of the Rose series, and was intrigued so I added it to my TBR, not really sure which square I’d use it for. I was about to dig into the series, when unexpectedly a Historical Romance writer (Eva Leigh) who I’ve read in the past and follow on Twitter posted about this exact series and that she had written it under the penname Zoe Archer. I had no idea! It seemed as though the fates aligned to encourage me to read this series, and so I decided to dive in.

    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: 01/01/2010

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶

    It didn’t take me long to figure out which square was best for this series – Historical Fantasy. Why? Because this series reads and feels like a Historical Romance. The writing, the structure, the tone – you can tell it is written by a prominent Historical Romance author. I think one of the things I found unique about this series was the fact that it’s an accurate Historial Romance first and Fantasy second – the magic system and world-building were layered atop of the accurate historical setting. In some respects, the Fantasy plot is suppoting!

    The series takes during the late Victorian era. The main characters are all British and are fighting a war for the posession of magical Sources. The Blades of the Rose are a secret society of English men and women who are protecting ancient artifacts – Sources – from falling into the wrong hands. The Heirs of Albion are another secret society in opposition to the Blades; the Heirs are Imperialists, their goal is to acquire as many Sources as possible with the intent of using their powerful magic to promote the expansion of the British Empire and establish England as the center of the world. These books have a strong anti-colonialism theme.

    This world is our world – it is an accurate historical representation. Magic is simply layered on top. Magical Sources are artifacts pulled from various traditions and myths. In other words, the magic is that these myths are real and are sources of incredible power. For example, in the first book we learn that many historical battles were actually won due to an army in possession of one of the Sources.

    What’s great about this series is that although the main characters are all English, they are traveling around the world to find and protect the Sources. The first book takes place in Mongolia and the second in Greece. This really ups the ante in terms of history, because not only is English history being referenced, but the reader also becomes immersed in some of the culture and history of the location where the Blades and the Heirs are hunting for the Source.

    I picked the second book in this series to review – Scoundrel – because it blew me away. I’d been in a reading slump, and this book pulled me right out of it. It had so many of the romance tropes I love all tied together nicely in a neat little package. For me, this one was all about the character and relationship arc and how beautifully Archer developed both.

    I absolutely loved the dynamic between Bennett and London. This is a true enemies-to-lovers story, because London is the daughter of one of the Heirs and Bennett is a Blade. They are sworn enemies, and the path they take to become allies is so well-constructed and natural, it was a pleasure to read. London’s character arc as Bennett encourages and supports her to grow into her personal power after being sheltered and held back by her father is magnificent.

    One of my pet peeves in HR is when the rake really isn’t a rake. When the title of the book and characters referring to him as a rake are the only things that tell me that the MMC is a scoundrel, I take issue. But that is not the case here and I absolutely loved it. Bennett is set up as the quintessential rake, the opening scene showing him being chased through the streets by an angry husband. Heck! He even slept with the other woman in their group of allies! Even after he and London come together, he admits to her he can’t bind himself to one woman or love her the way she wants. The transformation of Bennett’s character given his love for London is perfection. This is one of the best “reformed rake” stories I’ve ever read.

    And the steam – whew! The tension between these two characters is palpable and their encounters absolutely delicious. In particular, the scene between them on the ruins was incredibly erotic. I knew Archer could write wonderfully explicit and erotic sex scenes from her HR novels, and she does not disappoint here!

    The adventure was just as compelling as the romance. This book has strong Indiana Jones / The Mummy vibes – a true treasure hunt filled with riddles, hidden maps, traps, all to uncover the location of the hidden magical treasure. They were truly a team working together to find the lost artifact and defeat their enemies. Archer also really stepped up the magic in this second installment. Unlike the first, this book also had powerful sorcery, wielding both by a powerful witch Blade named Athena and an evil Heir Chernock as well as magical creatures. The pacing and balance between the fantastical and historical was perfectly achieved.

    Leigh/Archer’s prose is delicious without being overwrought. She’s such an amazing writer, and her prose is consistent across the various genres in which she writes.

    You don’t have to read the first book in order to enjoy the second. There is some backstory presented in the first, but the majority of it is covered in the second book, so the only thing you’d miss out on is references to the plot of the first. That being said, the first book is still an enjoyable read. I will read on in this series. It’s a total of four books and the last two take us to the wilds of northern Canada and then to Chicago. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I’m enjoying it!

  • Reviews

    Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure – Lewis Hancox

    Welcome to St. Hell: A Trans Teen Misadventure by Lewis Hancox is part autobiography, part memoir and part guide to figuring out gender as a trans teen. It is an invaluable resource, and I hope one that many questioning teens get their hands on.

    Huge thanks to Scholastic for sending me a review copy, all opinions my own as always.

    RELEASE DATE: 02/06/2022

    SUMMARY: Lewis has a few things to say to his younger teen self. He knows she hates her body. He knows she’s confused about who to snog. He knows she’s really a he and will ultimately realize this… But she’s going to go through a whole lot of mess (some of it funny, some of it not funny at all) to get to that point. Lewis is trying to tell her this … but she’s refusing to listen. In Welcome to St Hell, author-illustrator Lewis Hancox takes readers on the hilarious, heartbreaking and healing path he took to make it past trauma, confusion, hurt and dubious fashion choices in order to become the man he was meant to be. (from Scholastic)

    OPINIONS: Telling creator Lewis Hancox’s own story of discovering his trans identity, this touching graphic novel is a great resource for teens questioning their own gender identity. It isn’t a straightforward or easy story, and shows that being queer is not a sudden choice for most. It is a slow process, and one that often includes a lot of denial and internalised prejudice and fear.

    Autobiographical and benefitting from the perspective of adult Lewis, the author self-inserts his adult persona into the story throughout, interacting with his younger self and the people around him, both to give reassurance and to have sometimes uncomfortable conversations about how especially his initial coming out went and how it affected their feelings. And that is something I found interesting to see – the acceptance of others struggling with the change, not because they struggled with Lewis being a guy but because it is a major change and comes with fears of their relationship changing and insecurity. Lewis comes across as wise, and it is great to see his insight into people’s thoughts and behaviour, even if it is clear that the journey to get there wasn’t easy.

    I think this graphic novel is a valuable resource and I am incredibly glad it exists. It is nuanced and informative, and I think it will help many teens. While the specific humour didn’t always fully click with me, I think ultimately, the messages and content are far more important. This is an essential book to have in every school library and I hope one that is made accessible to the teens that need it. Add Welcome to St. Hell to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    The Luminaries – Susan Dennard

    A very long time ago, in a different world, Susan Dennard spent nearly six months entertaining Book Twitter with a create-your-own-adventure story based on an idea she never sold. We got invested in the daily polls about our chaotic heroine Winnie Wednesday, love interest Ugh Jay and best friend Erica, and regularly killed off our characters because we had no sense as a hivemind. And now, Susan wrote the book, edited it and sold it. And it’s coming out in November. Welcome to The Luminaries.

    Huge thanks to Tor Teen for sending me an eARC via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 08/11/2022

    STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

    Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

    Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

    But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

    Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark. (from Tor Teen)

    OPINIONS: This book was everything I hoped for and more. While it is a very different story than what I remember from the #TheLuminaries Twitter thread, it carries the same energy forward into a compelling YA fantasy. We still have our favourite stubborn but charming Winnie, Ugh Jay and Erica, though in this version, Winnie and Erica aren’t currently as close anymore because reasons. But we also meet so many new characters who round out the story. Where the create-your-own-adventure was fairly basic, this is a true novel, complex and full of nuanced backstory. 

    There is plenty of fan service – such as the iconic boop moment straight from the Twitter thread. And believe me when I say I squeed out loud when I got to it. We also get answers to a lot of things that remained open questions, especially around the locket, so central to the story. I did wish there was more Diana action, as I found the organisation fascinating and I was disappointed that the shed didn’t find its way into this version. But then I think about the fact that this is billed as book one and gleefully think about how Susan will go on to torture us next and get VERY excited. 

    The Luminaries is both an exciting, action-packed YA fantasy for those new to the universe and a lovely comfort read for those who have been following the story’s journey since Summer 2019. Susan has done it again, and I for one am a fan – I’ve already ordered my copy from the US because I can’t wait for the UK edition.

    Add The Luminaries to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Book Depository here.

  • Reviews

    Return to Blackwater House – Vikki Patis

    I’ve been on a bit of an escapist thriller binge recently, so when Ollie from Hodder emailed about this psychological thriller with gothic elements, I was all ears. It’s a compelling story where things are not as they first seem – a great book to take along on holiday this summer!

    Many thanks to Ollie at Hodder for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 26/05/2022

    STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: You can run from your past, but you can’t hide forever…

    Rebecca Bray has moved on from a childhood she desperately wants to forget.

    She has everything she’s ever wanted – the perfect fiancé, a loving stepdaughter, a career she’s proud of, and now the house of her dreams.

    But when the family move to the Cornish village where Rebecca grew up, everything she wanted to bury from those years starts to claw at the surface.

    Then, when her stepdaughter goes missing at a New Year’s Eve party, Rebecca must finally face the ghosts of her past – or Ava might never come home safely… (from Hodder)

    OPINIONS: I’m not sure why, but when my brain is tired these days, crime and thriller novels work great as quick reads that help me relax and regain energy. I spent a long time not really reading much in the genre, and have only really gotten back into it in the last year or so, and I’m really happy that I’m getting the opportunity to read a bunch for review at the moment. Return to Blackwater House by Vicki Patis is an atmospheric psychological thriller that keeps the reader guessing for a very long time. It is dark, even messed up at times, and it is most definitely twisty. But most of all, it is a fun and compelling read.

    And it has interesting characters. Every single character has depth and a backstory that comes through in layers, from Rebecca, the stepmother, to Ava, the missing daughter, to the dad, the detective, and everyone else involved. Nothing is as it seems in those first few chapters of exposition and the story slowly unravels to show past and present, weaving in strands of mental illness struggles blending hallucinations with reality to keep the reader on their toes.

    Vicki Patis is an author to look out for, and I’m curious to see what she comes up with next. I’m hoping more delightfully psychological thrillers with gothic elements like this!

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

  • Reviews

    Olivia Atwater’s Regency Faerie Tales

    I’ve heard great things about Olivia Atwater’s Regency Faerie Tales for years, which means I was thrilled when I found out that her self-published work was so successful that the lovely folks over at Orbit decided to pick them up for re-release. I’ve never read them before – and reading them now, I’m finding them magical and lovely and am kicking myself for missing out for so long. And now my flatmate is stealing them as soon as I finish…

    Huge thanks to Nazia at Orbit for sending me review copies of both these books. All opinions are my own.

    Half a Soul

    RELEASE DATE: 30/06/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    Half a Soul tells the story of Theodora, a young woman in dire need of a husband to settle her family’s finances. But as it is wont to do, life has other ideas. And she gets pulled into a world of fae and magic. A lovely romance with wonderful characters that introduces the world of Olivia Atwater’s Regency Faerie Tales. Dora finds out that she was part of a bargain her late mother had made with the faerie Lord Hollowvale – and has to contend with a copy of herself, retaining her autonomy and ensuring her and her family’s future. And of course there’s also a good dash of romance. I devoured this book and immediately went on to read the second in the series of standalones – I highly recommend these wonderful stories as light, comforting reads, especially for vacations and times when you want to relax. Order a copy of the Orbit edition via Bookshop here. (affiliate link)

    Ten Thousand Stitches

    RELEASE DATE: 21/07/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    Ten Thousand Stitches is the second book in this series of standalones in a shared world. This one is loosely based on the story of Cinderella, taking elements from the fairy tale but making it its own story. I adored this one even more than Half a Soul. I loved the chaos of maid Effie trying to muddle through life, to achieve dreams that were outside of the social boundaries, and I loved Lord Blackthorn’s attempt at being a fairy godfather. While the trope of the fairy godmother is an ubiquitous one, I’ve never seen a male twist on it before, and this one really worked well – in D&D terms, he’d have a chaotic good alignment, trying his best, but outside the codex of laws and regulations of society and therefore causing havoc. There is romance, there are shenanigans and there is a socialist revolt and proto-unionising. An absolute delight of a comfort read. Order a copy of the Orbit edition via Bookshop here. (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Meet Me in Another Life – Catriona Silvey

    SUMMARY: Thora and Santi are strangers in a foreign city when a chance encounter intertwines their fates. At once, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit—someone who shares their insatiable curiosity, who is longing for more in life than the cards they’ve been dealt. Only days later, though, a tragic accident cuts their story short.

    But this is only one of the many connections they share. Like satellites trapped in orbit around each other, Thora and Santi are destined to meet again: as a teacher and prodigy student; a caretaker and dying patient; a cynic and a believer. In numerous lives they become friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies. But as blurred memories and strange patterns compound, Thora and Santi come to a shocking revelation—they must discover the truth of their mysterious attachment before their many lives come to one, final end

    OPINION: The time traveller’s wife is one of my favourite books, and one I come to time and time again. So when I saw that “Meet Me in Another Life” was comped to it I was very excited. Additionally, questions of determinism and to what extent events in our lives shape our core selves are like catnip to me. However to assume its another version of TTW is to do both of them a disservice, I love that MMiAL isn’t a romance – that a variety of ways Thora and Santi interact and relate to each other occur and very rarely are the two of them as a romantic couple a possibility.

    When I first started reading this for SCKA, I was bemused though. It had been nominated for the science fiction category but I felt like it was much more literary than SF, however as the story progresses it becomes much more clear and to say anymore would be a spoiler. However for those who like a very strong sci-fi element they may be slightly disappointed, it is relevant to the story, but many of the tropes of sci-fi are missing here.

    We get to see both sides of  Thora and Santi. While Thora is initially presented as the difficult prickly one, and Santi the more calm, patient one this evolves and changes throughout the book and different lives, with Thora learning different ways of behaving, and Santi having his faith and sense of surety shaken through some of the iterations. However the book makes it clear that that Santi’s acceptance doesn’t have its own issues and that it’s not smoothing out Thora’s sharp edges, or changing her too far away from her core self – one that remains not easy to cooperate with. I really enjoyed this element as we ask a lot of our women characters, and it’s nice to see one that wasn’t the perfect team player at the end of the book. 

    To conclude this is definitely a character driven book, one with speculative elements but not necessarily in the guise or format expected for a sci-fi book. It definitely leans on the more literary approach even if it doesn’t suffer from some of the frustrations lit fic can sometimes have for me. 

  • Reviews

    The Quarter Storm – Veronica Henry

    If I were to pick one word to describe The Quarter Storm it would be atmospheric. This mystery steeped in Vodou magic immerses you in the communities, environment, and day-to-day life of a post-Katrina New Orleans so effectively it’s as if you’ve been transported there, feeling the humidity on your skin as you walk down the streets of the Quater and witnessing the events of the book yourself. In some respects, The Quarter Storm reads like a slice-of-life fantasy. As the mystery unfolds, the reader experiences the mundane: preparing gumbo, walking into a neighborhood bar and grill, or bringing a meal to less fortunate friends. Yet these events are interwoven with the plot elements so as to play an important role in unraveling the mystery. If you enjoy atmospheric, slice-of-life fantasy that is steeped in the culture and traditions of a specific urban center, then you’ll like The Quarter Storm. It is quite the nod to New Orleans and a satisfying read. I received an ARC of this book from 47North. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 01/03/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶


    A practitioner of Vodou must test the boundaries of her powers to solve a ritual murder in New Orleans and protect everything she holds sacred.

    Haitian-American Vodou priestess Mambo Reina Dumond runs a healing practice from her New Orleans home. Gifted with water magic since she was a child, Reina is devoted to the benevolent traditions of her ancestors.

    After a ritual slaying in the French Quarter, police arrest a fellow vodouisant. Detective Roman Frost, Reina’s ex-boyfriend—a fierce nonbeliever—is eager to tie the crime, and half a dozen others, to the Vodou practitioners of New Orleans. Reina resolves to find the real killer and defend the Vodou practice and customs, but the motives behind the murder are deeper and darker than she imagines.

    As Reina delves into the city’s shadows, she untangles more than just the truth behind a devious crime. It’s a conspiracy. As a killer wields dangerous magic to thwart Reina’s investigation, she must tap into the strength of her own power and faith to solve a mystery that threatens to destroy her entire way of life.


    There are several aspects of The Quarter Storm that stood out to me, the first of which was the characterzation. I thought Henry did a phenomenal job here. The characters felt real with all their faults, and oh do they have faults. From the high-spirited, eager-to-fight Tyka, to the righteous and Vodou-wary Roman, to the haughty and self-serving Lucien, Henry’s characters have a depth that you can only achieve through vice and virtue. These characters do not always make the right decisions, and in fact sometimes take morally ambiguous action. But that’s what makes them so compelling. That’s real life.

    Reina, the MC, is especially human, and I found myself invested in her life. She is three-dimensional, having powerful magical capabilities through her lwa, while at the same time struggling to pay her bills. She makes her livelihood through practicing her religion, but never at the cost of authenticity – no commercial exploitation of her beliefs just for a quick buck here! Despite multiple warnings, she devotes herself to uncovering the truth of the grisly murder pegged on one of their own, protecting her religion against the dangerous stereotypes and assumptions that would make it an easy scapegoat.

    But the depth of character doesn’t stop there. Reina is a terrible cook, trying unsuccessfully to make meals for her friends using all the wrong ingredients. She grieves the loss of her mother, unable to let go years later – had her mother abandonded New Orleans, or had she been swept away by the waters of Katrina? Reina is in love with the wrong man, in and out of a relationship with Roman despite the fact that he rejects and despises her religion. Love is like that sometimes, coming unwanted and pulling you toward someone you have no business being with. These aspects of her character combine to make Reina so human and so relatable.

    The use of Haitian Creole thoughout the story as well as the in-depth history and lore of Vodou lent further authenticity to the characters and the world. I found myself googling translations and reading Wikipedia to learn more. To me, that’s a sign that an author has done a great job at urban world-building – her sprinkling of language and lore throughout the story hooked me into wanting to learn even more about these people and their culture.

    The most profound and surprising aspect of this book was its treatment of Katrina. Katrina’s presence is felt; it loomed in the background almost as if it was its own character, but it was never the centerpiece of the story, and I thought that was masterfully done. The setting is a post-Katrina New Orleans, and the author’s treatment of that fact cannot be overlooked despite the fact she doesn’t beat the reader over the head with it! The real message here is that life goes on. Yes, Katrina was a defining moment in history that changed things irrevocably in New Orleans, and yet life goes on, however changed. And although Katrina did shape many of the events in the story and the mystery, it was woven into the fabric of the atmosphere and plot so subtly and naturally that it didn’t overshadow the other aspets of the story. Henry’s treatment of Katrina deserves applause. Bravo!

    I’ll admit that the elements of the mystery did feel somewhat thin. The various encounters Reina had to find clues left me wanting more insight. It often felt like she instigated investigative conversations and then walked away with no more information than when she entered the encounter. I overlooked that though, because she wasn’t a detective, and that really didn’t feel like the focus of the story to me. The focus was Reina’s life as a Vodouisant in New Orleans and the mystery was a means by which Henry explores that.

    Henry’s prose was lovely, and her use of colloquial dialogue struck the right balance, especially considering the strong and varied dialects of that particular region. It wasn’t overdone and never pulled me out of the story.

    I would recommend The Quarter Storm to anyone interested in a “witchy” vibe, in an urban fantasy where the setting is almost as imporant as the story itself. It would also be perfect for someone craving a trip to New Orleans, who wants to be transported to that city through the fantastical exploration of Vodou magic and murder mystery. 

  • Reviews

    Out There: Into the Queer New Yonder – ed. Saundra Mitchell

    If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I adore short fiction, especially in the form of YA anthologies. And one of the books that sparked that love was Saundra Mitchell’s anthology All Out. So of course I jumped at the opportunity to read the last anthology in this series of three, Out There: Into the Queer New Yonder, featuring future-set stories about queer teens from a wide range of identities and authors. However, I think while the concept is amazing, this one is the weakest link in the series.

    Many thanks to Harper360YA for sending me an ARC for review. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 07/07/2022

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Explore new and familiar worlds where the human consciousness can be uploaded into a body on Mars…an alien helps a girl decide if she should tell her best friend how she feels…two teens get stuck in a time loop at a space station…people are forced to travel to the past or the future to escape the dying planet…only a nonbinary person can translate the binary code of a machine that predicts the future…everyone in the world vanishes except for two teen girls who are in love.

    This essential and beautifully written collection immerses and surprises with each turn of the page.

    With original stories from:
    Ugochi M. Agoawike
    K. Ancrum
    Kalynn Bayron
    Z Brewer
    Mason Deaver
    Alechia Dow
    Z.R. Ellor
    Leah Johnson
    Naomi Kanakia
    Claire Kann
    Alex London
    Jim McCarthy
    Abdi Nazemian
    Emma K. Ohland
    Adam Sass
    Mato J. Steger
    Nita Tyndall

    (from Inkyard Press)

    OPINIONS: I loved All Out, Saundra Mitchell’s first anthology about queer teens, featuring a range of the best YA authors writing about their takes on historical queerness. This winning streak continued with Out Now, featuring contemporary stories and now, Out There, which reaches for a queer future. Many of the stories in this anthology are science fiction, some are merely set in a contemporary future, but all of them continue the theme: featuring queer teens living their lives, showcased by some of the best YA talent publishing right now. I did find that this third anthology had less standout stories than the first two – for me personally, All Out was full of them, Out Now had a fair amount and the standouts in Out There were only a handful.

    But the quality of the anthology throughout is solid – and just because not every story worked for me personally doesn’t mean it should not be told and doesn’t have an audience. Because to me, that’s the beauty of these anthologies: they feature such a wide range of identities and perspectives that there is something that will click with every reader, whether they are trying to find their identity or looking for representation, or even just exploring what the world has to offer.

    Among the stories that really touched me was Kalynn Bayron’s “The Department of Homegoing Affairs” which was a heartwarming sapphic story with a dark side, dealing with death and loss as well as queerness. I love her writing and this was no exception. I found it magical and compelling. I also adored “Concerto” by Abdi Nazemian, though again this had a lot of bittersweet elements to it – it seems that I need a good dose of darkness with my comfort these days! There were other stories that I really enjoyed too, but these two were my favourites in the anthology and the ones that stuck with me for a while after reading.

    While I do think that Out There is the weakest entry into this trilogy of anthologies, it is a strong weakest link and I think this concept is more valuable than potential flaws in its execution for the individual reader. I hope you pick one of these anthologies up for yourself or a young person in your life and it gives you joy.

    Add Out There: Into the Queer New Yonder to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    The Black Dagger Brotherhood – J.R. Ward

    J.R. Ward is a force in Paranormal Romance and Romance in general (as Jessica Bird), having won multiple RITAs and creating a fandom that is staggering in size and devotion. The Black Dagger Brotherhood came out in 2005, one of the foundational PNR series that “started it all” in the wake of 9/11, and like some of the other “blockbuster” series that emerged during that time, it’s still going. With twenty books, the most recent of which came out this April, and two spin-off series, the Black Dagger Brotherhood has established itself as a franchise with staying power. This review will survey BDB in general – at least the books I’ve read thus far – in an attempt to understand why it is so beloved and a cornerstone of the PNR genre.

    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.

    Dark Lover
    DATE: 19/02/2005
    STARS: 3/5 ✶
    Lover Eternal
    DATE: 07/03/2006
    STARS: 3/5 ✶
    Lover Awakened
    DATE: 05/09/2006
    STARS: 4/5 ✶
    Lover Revealed
    DATE: 06/03/2007
    STARS: 5/5 ✶

    There is a lot to unpack about the Black Dagger Brotherhood; it’s difficult to know where to start. The best place, perhaps, is through comparison. Imagine if you took The Black Company by Glen Cook, and you turned the concept of their hyper-masculine band of brothers-in-arms, moved it to the modern world, made them vampires, and added a heaping dose of romance. Presto! You have the Black Dagger Brotherhood. They are an elite force of military-grade vampires, bred for protecting their race, bonded into brotherhood by hundreds of years of devotion to their King and one another, but each having their own unique story, traits, and abilities.

    One of the things I found fascinating about this series is its take on vampires. In terms of tropes, it has the standard vampire-slayer conflict, except that the world-building around that trope is wildly unexpected. In this world, vampires are a species distinct from humans that are born, not sired. Their progenitor is an immortal being known as the Scribe Virgin who is at war with another immortal known as the Omega and is determined to put an end to the vampire race. Furthermore, vampires don’t kill or feed on humans; only the blood of their own race can nourish them. So, this is not a battle of humans against vampires, but of the legions of “lessers” created by the Omega to exterminate the vampires set in the human world. Like I said, fascinating take.

    In my opinion, this series falls squarely under the Dark Fantasy subgenre (from a Speculative Fiction perspective) for multiple reasons. Yes, it is incredibly violent, but in some respects that’s simply a “surface” darkness. What I find truly dark, because it is troubling on a deeper level (and, in fact, flat out creepy) are the “lessers.” These beings are created by the Omega by removing their soul both metaphorically and physically in exchange for immortality – their hearts are literally excised from their bodies and stored in jars – to gain their powers. These beings are straight up sociopaths, even before they are turned, and it is described in detail on page. One of the unique things about this series is that it is multi-POV. The reader gets to read the events from the lessers POV, and it is disturbing. They have no conscience. I’ll be honest, those sections are hardest reads for me. It is purposeful though in that the author is presenting a clear contrast between the necessary violence of the brotherhood and the pure acts of evil transgressed by the lessers.

    To further establish the dark tone, the world itself is incredibly bleak. The series takes place in a fictional large city in upstate New York where drugs, alcohol, prostitution, sex, addiction, murder, and what is essentially gang warfare are all taking place, explicitly. Characters are tortured. Characters you like are shot and killed point blank. Heroes are borderline alcoholics, and one almost turned to heroin to quell his emotional turmoil. Couples do get their HEAs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean things turn out well for the other characters. This series comes with a LOT of content warnings. I’m not going to list them here. But as with any Grimdark or Dark Fantasy series, if readers have particular triggers, you should definitely search out the CWs and make sure you understand them going in (e.g. book 3 contains explicit descriptions of the MMC being raped). It is a brutal world that, combined with the multiple POVs and the plot, deliver a truly Dark Urban Fantasy experience.

    The first book is perhaps the weakest of the bunch, but I think that’s more endemic of the fact that it’s a first book in a sweeping Urban Fantasy series than it is of this series in particular. A significant amount of time is spent explaining and exploring the world. So much so that Romance fans will probably find the romance in book one a touch thin. It definitely has a fated mates element to it as well, and unfortunately under-developed insta-love, which was one of the reasons I gave the first book only 3 stars. But that quickly turns around in book 2, where the romance and characters are developed in significantly more detail. By books 3 and 4, the character and relationship arcs are far more fleshed out and fully developed as you can see reflected in my ratings (4 and 5, respectively). I’ll be honest, had I not made a commitment to read 3-4 books per series for this Book Bingo project, I probably would not have read on in this series. But I am SO glad that I did, because book 1 is not representative of what you’ll find as you progress through this crazy world, and by the time I got to book 4, it was a 5-star read for me.

    This series rides a line between Urban Fantasy Romance and Paranormal Romance given the multiple POVs and structure. Yes, there is a single HEA per book, but the foundations of other relationships, both romantic and otherwise, exist to a far greater extent in each book than I’ve seen in other series, in part due to the multi POVs. Also, the series-spanning plot arcs of the war between the brotherhood and the lessers definitely takes a front seat in equal measure to the romance. In my estimate, that tips the scales for me to categorize this as Urban Fantasy Romance (at least as far as I have read).

    This series is not without its faults. So many fans have commented on the names, and I’d be remiss to not bring it up. Yes, the names of the brothers are ridiculous – Phury, Rhage, Tohrment, Rehvenge, Vishous – but honestly, as I continued to read on in the series, it didn’t stand out as much to me because it meshed with the world-building. The vampires speak an Old Language, and so it’s not only their names but also other proper nouns and rituals that have these odd spellings. In fact, there is a glossary of terms at the beginning of each book! I know, I know – ridiculous, right? And it really was at first. But by book 4, I didn’t even notice it. It just fit.

    What actually garnered more eye-rolling for me was the early-2000’s references to pop-culture. They’re driving around in Escalades listening to rap music (and referring to actual rappers and songs) and wearing designer suits (which are also called out specifically). That *did* start to grate, but at the same time was somewhat entertaining as it was like taking a time machine back to my graduate school days, a little window back in time. All this to say, just know, going in, these things exist and may pull you out of the story.

    Probably the most problematic part of these books is that they are *highly* gendered and the descriptions of LGBTQ+ characters are less than great. If the presence of these two things is a non-starter for you, I would not recommend this series.

    The Fated Mates podcast did an episode on BDB, and although I wished they had gone into some of the issues I’ve described above in greater detail, one of the things they did comment on that I thought hit the mark is that they called this series “propulsive.” This description is spot on. Despite the drawbacks I enumerated above, the plotting and its pacing *propel* you to keep reading. Even though the books were graphic and a lot to take at once, I could not stop reading. I read books 2 through 4 in 6 days!

    I will most likely read on in the series, specifically to reach the books that focus on the characters whose stories I’d like to see completed, but I am going to take a short break to recover a bit from this dark and brutal world. Who would I recommend this series to? Oof – that’s a tough call. Probably fans of Dark Fantasy or Grimdark that are looking for romance in their stories. This series is not for the faint of heart, and so I would make sure that anyone I recommend this to know what they’re getting into. Good luck – this series is a doozy!