• Reviews

    XX – Rian Hughes

    This is something quite different from my usual review fare. I had to ask myself, ‘almost 1000 pages. Are you sure?’ and just like that I knew I’d relish the challenge. And I was not disappointed!

    Many thanks to Black Crow PR for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 20/08/2020 (HB) / 19/08/2021 (PB)

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: At Jodrell Bank a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin has been detected. Artificial intelligence expert Jack Fenwick thinks he can decode it. But when he and his associates at Hoxton tech startup Intelligencia find a way to step into the alien realm the signal encodes, they discover that it’s already occupied – by ghostly entities that may come from our own past. Have these ‘DMEn’ (Digital Memetic Entities) been created by persons unknown for just such an eventuality? Are they our first line of defence in a coming war, not for territory, but for our minds? XX presents a compelling vision of humanity’s unique place in the universe, and of what might happen in the wake of the biggest scientific discovery in human history. As compelling as it is visually striking, Rian Hughes’ first novel incorporates NASA transcripts, newspaper and magazine articles, fictitious Wikipedia pages, undeciphered alphabets, and ‘Ascension’, a forgotten novelette by 1960s counterculture guru Herschel Teague that mysteriously foreshadows events. The battle for your mind has already begun. (from Pan Macmillan)

    OPINIONS: Weighing in at just under 1.2 kg, this book is not one to approach lightly. And not just because it’s a doorstop of a volume. Like it’s subject matter – a mysterious signal from space – it is an artefact, a palimpsest of words, fonts, and layouts. The narrative follows Jack Fenwick, who describes himself as being on the autistic spectrum and having ‘a propensity for spotting patterns, repetitions, a knack for seeing through large volumes of raw data to the underlying equations.’ The book itself seems to be a glimpse into his world: a place of signs and archived web-pages worth any conspiracy buff’s cork board. A topography of the mind.

    Rian Hughes’ XX is unlike anything I have ever read. Even the word ‘reading’ doesn’t seem to fully encompass what passed between me and this book. It has such a presence in the room! It is part concrete poetry, part algorithm, raising the ever-present questions: where does consciousness arise? and what forms can it take?

    I certainly did not find it a light read (in both senses of the word), but a very stimulating one. It tackles the possibility of consciousness that is profoundly inhuman in a compelling a varied way. And I hesitate to even comment on the storyline’s development, because, like the signs that permeate the book, it feels open to interpretation. If you feel inclined to tackle the big questions – this one’s a must!

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

  • Reviews

    The Hollow Heart – Marie Rutkoski

    Marie Rutkoski’s The Midnight Lie was one of my favourite YA fantasy reads of 2020 (see my review here), so of course I jumped into reading this sequel – which actually released in the UK today! So happy book birthday, The Hollow Heart. This is a very different book to the first one. I feel like it might be aimed more at readers of Rutkoski’s earlier series (The Winner’s Curse trilogy) rather than being solely a sequel to The Midnight Lie, which stood wholly separate from the earlier books – and this made for a somewhat odd reading experience as someone who hasn’t read them. But read on to find out my full thoughts on this.

    Massive thanks to Kate Keehan and Hodder for sending me an eARC through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 09/09/2021

    STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Nirrim’s heart is lost, traded to the god of thieves in order to restore her people’s memories of their city’s history. Meanwhile, Sid, the person she once loved most, has returned to Herran to take up her duty to the crown.

    But frightening rumours are growing in the Herrani court: of a new threat rising across the sea, of magic unleashed upon the world, and of a cruel, black-haired queen who can push false memories into your mind, so that you believe your dearest friends to be your enemies.

    Sid doesn’t know that this queen is Nirrim, seeking revenge against a world that has wronged her. Can Sid save Nirrim from herself? And does Nirrim even want to be saved?

    As blood is shed and war begins, Sid and Nirrim find that it might not matter what they want… for the gods have their own plans. (from Hodder & Stoughton)

    OPINIONS: This book hasn’t helped my major crush on Sid at all. Nope. Still there and going strong. I’ve got a soft spot for princesses who might not be entirely cis but certainly gay and badass. However, her storyline is where I had most of my issues with the book. While it is a compelling story – I stayed up late one evening and finished it in one sitting, it is compulsively readable – it relies on a lot of previous knowledge that is not present in The Midnight Lie, but refers back to Marie Rutkoski’s earlier trilogy. It is revealed that Sid’s parents are in fact the main characters of that series, and so much of Sid’s storyline while in Herran is based on backstory that readers of that will be familiar with but that isn’t sufficiently introduced (or necessarily relevant for the story of this duology at all) for readers who have come to this author with The Midnight Lie, the start of a new series. And that is something that I find quite frustrating. Adding in some easter eggs for fans of previous books – sure, that’s perfectly fine and fun, but having a large chunk of the book be about something that isn’t driving the story forward or properly contextualised? I’d rather have seen that portion used for more character development.

    Meanwhile, Nirrim, who was more of a passive vehicle in the first book has taken on more of an active role. Having bargained away her heart, she has taken over her city, and rules it with an iron fist. She becomes a really interesting character, as she acts in a capacity where she truly believes she is doing the right thing and is protecting the people she cognitively knows she cared about – but because she is not capable of feeling these emotions any longer, she hurts them more than she helps.

    I really liked that the book dared to separate the couple from the first book – and keep them apart. And even once they were physically in the same place, things were not peachy. Sid and Nirrim both changed that that impacted their relationship deeply – even without considering that Nirrim traded away her heart. Add in meddling deities and tricky bargains, and you have a very interesting story. So all in all, this was a pretty good duology, which I will probably be rereading quite a few times. Great characters, fleshed out setting and I think I can look past the weaknesses in Sid’s plotline (and maybe eventually catch up with that old series… but then we all know the state of my TBR…)

    Add The Hollow Heart to your Goodreads here, or order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Come With Me – Ronald Malfi

    I’ve been in such a suspense and thriller mood recently, so Come With Me has been a perfect treat. This is the kind of book that will keep you up late reading because you just need to know how the story ends and how all the pieces fit together. A true standout of the genre.

    Massive thanks to Sarah Mather and Titan for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 20/07/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Aaron Decker’s life changes one December morning when his wife Allison is killed. Haunted by her absence—and her ghost—Aaron goes through her belongings, where he finds a receipt for a motel room in another part of the country. Piloted by grief and an increasing sense of curiosity, Aaron embarks on a journey to discover what Allison had been doing in the weeks prior to her death.

    Yet Aaron is unprepared to discover the dark secrets Allison kept, the death and horror that make up the tapestry of her hidden life. And with each dark secret revealed, Aaron becomes more and more consumed by his obsession to learn the terrifying truth about the woman who had been his wife, even if it puts his own life at risk. (from Titan Books)

    OPINIONS: This book surprised me in all the best ways. This is definitely the kind of story that will keep you reading until the very end as you just need to know how the story ends as Allison’s secrets slowly unravel as Aaron follows in her footsteps. It is a murky investigative mystery that drags you into a world of unspoken pasts and murdered girls, and one man’s search for the truth about his wife. Aaron’s grief is palpable as he is trying to figure out what Allison was working on before her sudden death at the hands of a mall shooter, and how the seemingly random dots connect together.

    Especially as police procedurals often make me feel uneasy these days – and I think I’m not alone in a general malaise with law enforcement – it is refreshing to read a thriller that is mostly divorced from these elements. Allison was a journalist, and Aaron is a literary translator following in her footsteps. That he ends up investigating what he believes to be a serial killer is – to him – purely coincidence. This is not a book that will have you guessing the resolution early on – and I’m very excited that the film rights have already sold, as I think this will translate brilliantly to screen.

    It is compelling, the tension is kept high throughout and Aaron is a charming fucker of a man. Maybe I like him so much because he is a literary translator, so basically a bonafide nerd, one of us creative weirdos. But generally it’s not a pretty story, it’s one that has some grit to it. If you like gripping mysteries, you need this one.

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

  • Reviews

    Scales and Sensibility – Stephanie Burgis

    Stephanie Burgis does it again, authoring another whimsical and comforting historical romantic fantasy. Scales and Sensibility delivers on everything you’d expect from a Fantasy-of-Manners romp through Regency-era England – gentlemen and ladies, country estates and balls, delightfully quirky characters, and a touch of magic. What a soothing and wholesome read! I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 04/10/2020

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    56919261. sy475

    SUMMARY:

    Sensible, practical Elinor Tregarth really did plan to be the model poor relation when she moved into Hathergill Hall. She certainly never meant to kidnap her awful cousin Penelope’s pet dragon. She never expected to fall in love with the shameless – but surprisingly sweet – fortune hunter who came to court Penelope And she never dreamed that she would have to enter into an outrageous magical charade to save her younger sisters’ futures.

    However, even the most brilliant scholars of 1817 England still haven’t ferreted out all the lurking secrets of rediscovered dragonkind…and even the most sensible of heroines can still make a reckless wish or two when she’s pushed. Now Elinor will have to find out just how rash and resourceful she can be when she sets aside all common sense. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be impractical enough to win her own true love and a happily ever after…with the unpredictable and dangerous “help” of the magical creature who has adopted her.

    OPINIONS:

    With a single breath of fire from Elinor’s magical pet dragon, Sir Jessamyn, Elinor is veiled in an illusion and the stage is set for this delightful Regency-era romantic comedy complete with society scheming, blackmail, stunning character and plot reveals, and a wholesome HEA.

    The plot is driven by Elinor’s attempts to hide her illusion while servants and house guests begin to guess her secret and use it against her. Blackmail abounds, striking Elinor from all angles; she is forced into a balancing act of lies and scheming to ensure her secret stays in tact to protect those she loves. Conflict also arises from the strong feelings Elinor develops for Benedict Hawkins. She begrudgingly supports his attempts to woo her awful cousin Penelope for the dowry that will save his family and estate, even as she falls more and more in love with him. While all of this transpires, Elinor is also dealing with the revelation that dragons are magical creatures! Will she ever be able to reverse the effects of Sir Jessamyn’s magic?

    These elements all weave together to form a truly compelling and satisfying Fantasy-of-Manners plot that will have you quickly paging through the last third of the book! The relationship between Elinor and Benedict is heart-warming and sweet, and although not the focus of the story, is adeptly formed to contribute just the right amount of romance to the plot.

    My favorite part of the book was the cast of delightfully plucky characters. Burgis’ characterization is magnificent; she creates an ensemble cast where each character is uniquely distinct. From Sir Jessamyn’s gross little burps and diarrhea, to Mr. Aubrey’s eccentric, scholarly obsession with dragons, to Lady Hathergill’s brutally hilarious honesty after Elinor makes her second wish, the cast of characters are the shining star of this book. The antagonists are equally well-written, and you will love to hate Penelope, Lord Hathergill, and the suspicious Mr. and Miss Armitage.

    Highest of recommendations for this lovely and satisfying read! If I’ve tempted you, add it on Goodreads here, and pre-order it via Amazon here.

  • Reviews

    Legacy of Flame – Rebecca Bapaye

    Legacy of Flame is a fantasy of politics and intrigue that relies heavily on dialogue and exposition to guide the reader through the world and history of Queen Elia and Prince Syllian of the Ice Realm. The book is not action-packed, and yet it did manage to hold my attention. I’ll attempt to unpack why herein. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 13/05/2020

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶

    57583443. sy475

    SUMMARY:

    A winter queen and prince of flame, bound together by fate.

    Following a deadly attack on a druid grove, twenty-five-year-old Elia Kolenikova, queen of the Ice Realm, is the first and only monarch to take a stand against the fire priest order, a reclusive band of sorcerers with unlimited power. Determined to find a way to protect druids from further violence, Elia turns to the annals of history, tracing her knowledge of fire priests back to a time when a previous Ice Queen was intimately tied to the rise of the order. There’s just one problem: what Elia reads in those accounts may not be true.

    To unravel the mystery, Elia needs more than an ally—she needs a fire priest. An immortal Ice Realm prince who’s been missing from the history books for centuries.

    Syllian, like his father before him, sacrificed his mortal body to be born again in flames. Two thousand years later, he’s hunted at every turn by fire priests seeking revenge for his betrayal of the order. The threat means little until a rumor reaches him: Queen Elia Kolenikova is asking questions. About fire priests, about druids, and most dangerously of all, about the truth.

    Emerging from the shadows could cost Syllian his life. But if he doesn’t, the lies and propaganda of the fire priest order will cost Elia hers first.

    OPINIONS:

    The main highlight of this book is its world-building, which is rich with developed races, kingdoms, politics, and magic. I especially appreciated the presentation of the various factions that draw their magic from different sources, the Druids relying heavily upon tying themselves to nature in a harmonious manner to draw out their abilities. 

    I found the literary structure of Part 1 of this book intriguing. The author switches between Queen Elia’s present-day POV and excerpts from a novel she is reading about the Queen and King of the Ice Realm and the emergence of the Fire Priests 2000 years ago. Although I found it a bit confusing at first, this structure was an effective way to set up the plot, because it helped lay the foundation of the main theme – honesty in history and politics. The approach was novel and a compelling device to use given that the theme centered around the truth of the novel Queen Elia is reading.

    With Part 2, the book transitions out of the previous structure into the present day, focusing heavily on dialogue and exposition. Prince Syllian takes the stage, and the history of the Ice Realm, the battle between mages and Fire Priests, and the truth behind the two books written about his parents are exposed through long conversations between himself, Elia, and a third character whose reveal is quite surprising. While I found the intricacies and truth of the history interesting – it did hold my attention – it is a bit of an “info-dump.” If this type of plot device, i.e. exposition through dialogue, doesn’t work for you, you may not find the plot compelling enough to hold your attention. 

    In terms of character development, Syllian has the most dramatic character arc. Through his explanations of the true history of the Ice Realm and the Fire Priests to Elia, he comes to realize his own contributions to the current state of affairs with the Druids. In some respects, he has repeated the “sins of the father,” emulating Casimir’s manipulation of history and reserving certain truth to serve his purposes. Granted, Syllian’s rationale for doing so was noble, but therein lies the major theme of this book – regardless of altruistic motivations, changing or massaging history lays a minefield of potential evils, ultimately resulting in situations as bad as those they were meant to avoid. Through their dialogue, Syllian is brought to this new understanding and works to rectify his sins by explaining the truth to the Druids. Unfortunately, the characters’ reactions to these realizations were difficult to believe. The realizations and their acceptance came far too easily without tension or conflict, resolving themselves simply through additional dialogue, which detracted from the authenticity of the characterization and plot.

    It should be noted that, in some circles, this book was presented as a Fantasy-Romance, but it is not a Romance. This book does contain a romantic subplot that starts about two-thirds in, but it is not central to the plot, nor is it developed to a point where it significantly contributes to either character’s development.

    Finally, I had a minor issue with the prose. At times the language felt “elevated,” the dialogue being “court-like.” But then it would abruptly switch to using modern colloquialisms such as “hey” or calling someone a “prick” or an “asshole,” which took me out of the world. Aside from that, I found the prose to be readable and pleasant.

    If you are interested, you can add Legacy of Flame to your Goodreads here, and purchase a copy from Amazon here.

  • Reviews

    Lady Vago’s Malediction – A.K.M. Beach

    What a compelling and well-written book. Truly. Bravo! I haven’t read a tragic, Gothic novel in quite some time, and I must say that this was quite the satisfying read, scratching an itch I didn’t realize I had. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 03/10/2020

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    55824025. sy475

    SUMMARY:

    In the blackened heart of a cursed forest, a banshee haunts her crumbling castle with lethal screams.

    Lady Vago is trapped in this place. She cannot fulfill her purpose as a banshee: to warn her loved ones of their deaths and watch over them while they pass. To solve the mystery of her imprisonment, she must sift through the rubble and ruin that surrounds her. By communing with old paintings, broken furniture, and even the stones themselves, she rediscovers who she was in life.

    Before she was Lady Vago, she was Rovena Stoddard, a sharp-witted horse merchant’s daughter that caught the eye of a charming baron. Lord Kalsten Vago’s life as a wandering knight was over, but it inspired visions of a better life for his most vulnerable subjects. Rovena was far less afraid of bold change than his staunch and loyal steward, who saw her presence as a threat to Lord Kalsten’s success. Love and shared dreams alone wouldn’t overcome the controversy of the couple’s hasty and unequal union, as well as the trials of governing a fledgling barony—Rovena knew that. What she failed to recognize was the deeper darkness taking root in Vago lands and hearts…

    Every memory of what Rovena loved is a reminder of what she lost, but she cannot let grief halt her search. Devoted spectres of ash are begging their lady for an end to their torment, and she will not let their agony–or her own–go unanswered anymore.

    OPINIONS:

    The novel starts out with a frame narrative; the reader is introduced to a banshee, haunting the insides of a castle’s ruins, burned and destroyed centuries ago. The banshee searches the rooms, halls, and revenants for clues to her past, trying to understand her pain and why she is tied to the castle. Through her explorations, the reader is transported back in time to the events that lead to the banshee’s existence. She is Rovena, the Lady Vago, and the book tells the love story between her and Lord Kalsten and the eventual downfall of their lives and their barony at the hands of jealous and prejudiced attendants and a wicked villain. The use of the frame narrative here is quite clever, because the overall tone for the book is set from the beginning; there is a frame of tragic sadness if you will, such that when we learn the details of our heroes’ demise, the sadness is that much more profound.

    There were so many things I thoroughly enjoyed about this book; a few of the highlights include subtle aspects of the world-building that made for a less traditional setting (e.g. a complete lack of gender norms, prejudices focused on class as opposed to gender or race, etc.), character building (especially Rovena), and the frame narrative. I was also struck by the prose. To me, the prose in this book is beautiful. It hits the sweet spot for me (a reader that prefers literary prose) of being “elevated” without coming off as pretentious. I truly enjoyed this writing.

    Tragic character archetypes are superbly developed and employed. Kalsten is set up as the archetypical tragic victim; he is honest, open, fair, and madly and unconditionally in love with Rovena for who she was as a person and not simply her beauty, his only character flaw a complete (albeit naïve) trust in everyone around him. The construction of his character was so adeptly done to serve the story and tragedy as the true, undeserving victim of the entire affair.

    Rovena is presented as the archetypical tragic hero whose fatal flaw contributes to the traditional (Shakespearean) piling of bodies on the stage at the end of the final act. She reacts too quickly. She is rash. She has a bit of a chip on her shoulder that amplifies her belief that she knows better than others and that she sees the entire picture, even when she doesn’t. That little bit of hubris combined with her rush to judgement and action, drove her to making these two decisions, which ultimately contributed to her demise. But that’s what’s so great about a tragedy, right? You love the hero, and the hero is most definitely wronged. But the hero is also fundamentally flawed, a contributor to their own downfall, and that factor makes that downfall all the more tragic. Chef’s Kiss

    Finally, there is Dugan, Lord Vago’s steward. His jealously and prejudice were significant contributors to not only the deaths of Lord and Lady Vago, but also the fall of the barony. Although he was not the ultimate villain, he was the hapless antihero that paved the way for the true villain to seize his power through wretched means. For whatever reason, these characters always trigger my disdain more than the villains themselves!

    It should be noted that the tone and foreshadowing of the frame narrative still do not prepare you for just how jarring the tragic events actually are. This book definitely needs content warnings (especially with respect to infant mortality), because of the graphic nature of some of the final scenes. There were a couple of times I thought – how could this get any worse for Rovena? And then it does. But, the scenes were purposeful and effective; I did not find them gratuitous.

    I will read on in this series. In fact, I am champing at the bit for book two! I absolutely have to know what happens next and whether the noble, female knight will be able to wrest justice from the architects of Lord and Lady Vago’s demise. Well done! Looking forward to more!

    If you are interested, you can add Lady Vago’s Malediction to your Goodreads here, and order a copy or read with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited here.

  • Reviews

    The Rookery – Deborah Hewitt

    Please welcome Anna to Libri Draconis with her very first review!


    I was ready to return into Deborah Hewitt’s alternative London, full of mystery and flocking with soul-birds. But the second instalment of The Nightjar duology left me wanting something more.

    Many thanks to Jamie-Lee Nardone and Stephen Haskins of Black Crow PR for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 05/08/2021

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: After being plunged into the world of mysterious soul-birds and magical legacies in the first instalment of The Nightjar duology, Alice Wyndham returns to confront her powers and her past in The Rookery. Having discovered she is a daughter of Death, Alice goes back to the Rookery, an alternative magical London, to learn more about what ties her to the city. But the discovery of secrets is never a comfortable business, as Alice realises not only her life, but the very foundations of the Rookery are at risk. Adversaries turn into allies, and friends – into foes, while Alice struggles to reconcile her magical gifts and her heart.

    OPINIONS:

    I had a mixed experience with this one. Returning to the world of the Rookery was an excellent chance to explore the world in more detail. But, unusually, I found myself wishing that it were smaller. In The Rookery, Alice tries to build a life for her newly-discovered magical self while still struggling with her identity as the daughter of Death. She is aided by the allies introduced in the preceding novel, The Nightjar, and a whole host of new characters, which both lent the world a whirlwind richness and made it more difficult for me to form strong attachments to anyone beyond Alice and her romantic interest, Crowley.

    The tension between Alice and Crowley, as she both yearns for him and struggles to forgive his deceit, is expertly executed. It also bolsters the overall theme of Alice’s free will versus the circumstances outside her control that pervades the narrative. Echoes of it are found in Alice choosing the Rookery over her life in ordinary London, and her deliberation over joining House Mielikki, whose legacy she possesses. Unfortunately, I found the theme of free choice and chosen family undermined by how much emphasis is placed on Alice’s biological heredity. I think this could have been done differently.

    Hewitt’s choice to infuse her world with magic inspired by Finnish mythology lends it a striking uniqueness. However, barring some names and allusions, there isn’t much that actively situates the magic system as Finnish. Which is a great shame; I’d read the heck out of a book set in magical Helsinki. The elemental and spiritual magics also feel ill at ease in a city cobbled together out of forgotten bits of London. A deep dive into London’s abandoned byways could have made The Rookery a very different novel, but that is not what we have here. The cosiest place, and the one I imagined in most detail, is Goring University, Alice’s workplace, and I found myself hoping more of the city was treated in the same manner.

    The Rookery reads like many excellent ideas contained in too restrictive a narrative. I’d have loved to read about all of them in separate books, but maybe not together. You can decide for yourself by adding it to Goodreads here or picking up a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Fireborn – Aisling Fowler

    I love me a good Middle Grade fantasy. And while it took me a while to get into Fireborn, once I got stuck in, I could not put it down! I adored Twelve and her quest to do the right thing and her desire to save her friends. This is a true Middle Grade gem, and I hope it finds its way into every (school) library and into the hands of as many children as possible.

    Many thanks to Tina Mories and Harper Collins for the ARC, all opinions are my own as usual.

    RELEASE DATE: 30/09/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Twelve has spoken the Pledge and now she is a Huntling. She has given up her name to train in the art of fighting monsters and keeping the peace, and she won’t get to choose a new one until she has earned it.

    But when the Lodge’s walls are breached for the first time, and a little girl is taken, Twelve is the only one interested in going after a child…

    Teaming up with Dog, the Stone Guardian of the Lodge, Twelve ends up on an epic adventure that will change her life, her name – and her entire world. (from Harper Collins)

    OPINIONS: Fireborn is a wonderful, complex, Middle Grade fantasy adventure. It takes a while to get going, and I think it took me about half the book to truly fall in love with the story (though that may well be because of my mood), but once I got stuck in properly, I couldn’t tear myself away from it. The story itself is fairly straight forward, though it addresses many complicated issues in a nuanced way – there are queer characters, the young characters deal with rejection, they have to overcome prejudices and deal with grief and loss. This makes Fireborn a suitable story for the entire range of Middle Grade readers – it is fine for younger readers, who can easily follow what is happening, but there is enough meat on those bones that older readers who are on the brink of switching to YA will still get a lot out of the story.

    Harper Collins are marketing this as one of their lead titles for Autumn 2021 and with good reason. I can see the appeal of this series for a wide audience – and personally, I am very excited to read on and see where Twelve’s story and that of the Hunting Lodge continues. I adored Twelve, and found her to be a great main character. She underwent a huge growth arc over the course of the story, which I found wonderful to see – I love a good character development!

    So, compelling story, great character development, and discussing deeper issues in an age-appropriate way. What more do you want from a Middle Grade fantasy? I especially appreciate that there is an openly queer character, which is often hard to add into a book for this age group! Highly recommended for both yourself and the kids in your life.

    If you’re intrigued, you can add Fireborn to your Goodreads here, or pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Little Thieves – Margaret Owen

    You probably know by now that this is the kind of book that I’ll jump on without hesitation. Especially because the author has been teasing us with her own art of the main characters and Vanja basically looks exactly like me. Even more reason to hype the shit out of this book!

    A character image of a red-haired girl with braids smirking, with descriptive text.
    Margaret Owen’s character art of Vanja

    Many thanks to Kate Keehan and Hodder for sending me an ARC of this wonderful fantasy novel. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 05/10/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back… by stealing Gisele’s life for herself.

    The real Gisele is left a penniless nobody while Vanja uses an enchanted string of pearls to take her place. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed.

    Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life. (from Hodder & Stoughton)

    OPINIONS: This is delightful. Vanja made me crack up so much – she is such a fantastic character. One of my favourite scenes is early in the book where she has a conversation with another character over breakfast and uses her breakfast sausage to make him uncomfortable (the story is set in a pseudo-Germany, so the cuisine is very sausage based). Pleeease give me more magic thieves! The dynamics between her and Emric are wonderful, and it’s such a great enemies-to-something more relationship. I could read about them bickering forever. And while the main pairing is m/f, there is a sapphic side-relationship going on that I love.

    Really, all of the characters are great. Gisele, the cheated princess isn’t just a boring pastiche but a fully formed character with her own dreams (and not even necessarily all that upset about no longer having to be princess), Death and Fortune, Vanja’s Godmothers, are deliciously wicked. And Ragne, the demon girl sent to keep an eye on her is the most adorable of them all in her chaotic glory. They’ve all got such fairy tale energy while being brilliant characters of their own.

    The story is funny and compelling, and I really enjoyed my reading experience. The one thing that did grate on me a bit is the use of a not-quite-German – words that were spelled just that tiny bit different to how I expected them to be written. As a native German speaker, that kept throwing me off, even though I was aware that it was likely intentional (and I’ve since been told that this is actually something that was worked on between ARCs and finished copies). But to end this review on a positive note, Little Thieves has the most brilliant content warning note that I have ever seen. Margaret Owen manages to be considerate and compassionate in just a few words and I love it so much:

    If you like fairytale remixes and feisty heroines as much as I do, you can add Little Thieves to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Iron Widow – Xiran Jay Zhao

    Some books you can tell immediately that you will love them. Iron Widow was one of those for me. Within a couple of chapters I was so engrossed in the beautiful writing and in love with the characters that I knew that I would love the book – and I was right. This is a book that will capture your heart. I know quite a few (reviewer) friends who have read it and all of them feel similarly – so do give this one a try!

    Many thanks to Penguin Teen and NetGalley for the eARC, all opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 07/09/2021 (UK) / 21/09/2021 (US/CAN)

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
     
    When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​
     
    To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed. (from Penguin Teen)

    OPINIONS: Friends, this is SO GOOD. Everything just fits together so damn well. It is a brilliant book in every way – I started telling everyone around me to read this because I was sure I was going to love it as soon as I was just a few chapters in. Zetian is such a badass bitch who doesn’t take no shit from anyone. And silly me was originally not even going to pick up Iron Widow because I thought, eww, mechas, not for me. But I would have missed out. I’m so glad that I had friends who were raving about it and made me want to read it.

    Think of this as anime vibes in smart and compelling book format. And with the most gorgeous cover art. Iron Widow plays with so many YA tropes and just turns them upside down and it’s glorious. Zetian goes out, seeking revenge. Gets revenge, and instead of being punished, she proves herself invaluable. Oops. A love triangle starts blossoming. Oops, a poly triad forms instead. It is one of the best YA novels I have ever read. And it’s a DEBUT. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next and I can assure you that I will be getting myself a shiny hardcover or special edition the moment it is available.

    Seriously, this is so good that I don’t even know how to coherently write about it. Just, get it for yourself. It’s brilliant and you need it. If you’re intrigued, you can add Iron Widow to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).