• Reviews

    Balanced on the Blade’s Edge – Lindsay Buroker

    Balanced on the Blade’s Edge is another book that’s been sitting on my TBR for some time, rec’ed to me (somewhere – I admit to not remembering at this point) in a request for adult Fantasy Romance. It’s the first book in Lindsay Buroker’s Dragon Blood series, which she admits on her website is far more of a foray into Romance for her than her other novels. That being said, this is not a Romance series – it is most definitely a Fantasy series in which there is a Romance in the first book, a Romance in the second book, and then – based on Goodreads blurbs, reviews, discussions with friends – falls squarely back into Fantasy, albeit with some romantic elements between the couples stretched out throughout the remainder of the series.

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

    RELEASE DATE: 24/03/2014

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶

    For me, I think the best word to describe my impression of this book is “thin” – I found the world-building thin, the character development thin, the relationship development thin, and the plot thin. To be fair, this is a short book, but honestly, I think I would have found it a more compelling read had it been twice as long and all these crucial elements fleshed out in greater detail. I wanted to like Sardelle, I really did, but she just fell so flat for me, because I didn’t have enough backstory or insight into her character to really care. Ridge was a little better, the consummate flyboy, but still, there wasn’t enough depth for me to feel connected to him or invested in his success. As always, I did love that the FMC and MMC were older – Ridge is over 40 and Sardelle in her mid-30s – yay for older protags!

    Honestly, perhaps the most compelling character and dynamic in the book was Jaxi – Sardelle’s soulblade. She is the soul of a sorceress bound to a sword and bonded with her wielder Sardelle, giving Sardelle even more power. Their banter was entertaining, and it reminded me a little of the banter between the FMC and the computer in Johanna Lindsay’s Warrior’s Woman. Their ongoing joke of giving people rashes to foil them without them realizing it was done by magic was entertaining.

    The bones of an interesting world were put in place, but they weren’t explored enough to have me really feel invested. We learn the reason for the series title – Dragon Blood – magic stems from the blood of dragons who are now extinct, but we don’t really understand why or how that works. There is an entire culture that was eliminated and buried under the mountain, but again, there’s a lot of missing information about why and who they were. I can only hope that as the series progresses, more of this world-building is fleshed out. Also, its definitely steampunk – airships and planes – but… that’s about it. I wish she would have leaned into the steampunk aesthetic more.

    The plot was also a bit lacking for me. There is a quest to retrieve Jaxi from the mountain, but the plot points surrounding that needed something more. For example, how Ridge ultimately finds out that Sardelle is a sorceress, for me, was anti-climactic. The author had an opportunity here to really develop these two characters and connect them through the reveal of Sardelle as a sorceress, e.g. Sardelle could have confided in him or she could have saved the books from burning in a rash display of magic. Instead, the big secret was simply revealed. I won’t give away the details, because spoilers, but suffice to say it wasn’t satisfying. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only instance of this. The final battle between Sardelle and the opposing sorceror was lackluster. It was brief, lacked detail, and was far too one-sided. I expected more from the “big final battle,” and unfortunately just didn’t get it.

    In terms of Romance, this is low heat. There is a single sex scene, and it is not explicit. The second time the couple comes together it’s fade-to-black. I do, however, LOVE a forced proximity scene, and that’s what leads to the first sex scene – definite bonus points for that trope! Ridge is not an Alpha at all, so this book will appeal to fans of a Cinnamon Roll (and also cocky flyboys!)

    Despite my words about the various thin elements of the book, the writing is solid. The prose flows nicely and never once pulled me out of the story.

    I won’t read on in this series, not because anything in particular put me off, but because nothing in particular hooked me such that I felt invested in the world and compelled to read the next book. It was a quick, easy read, and I’d recommend it to someone looking for a little light fantasy – a palate cleanser – that has a low-steam romance in a steampunk world.

  • Reviews

    A Curse of Queens – Amanda Bouchet

    A Curse of Queens is the first book in the continuation of Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles series, taking place after the events of the original trilogy. The first trilogy is a complete, self-contained story, but the seeds and possibility for follow-on books were definitely planted both from the perspective of burgeoning relationships and the sweeping world-building that was necessary for a tale of such epic proportions. The structure of A Curse of Queens shifts from the first trilogy, which focuses on Cat’s epic quest and a single-relationship arc across three books to a more traditional dual-POV focus on a single couple; this novel tells the story of Flynn and Jocasta, one of the couples set up to have their own story during the first trilogy. And while I was happy to read Flynn and Jocasta’s story, and I thought that the book was another fun installment in the Kingmaker Chronicles world, I was left wanting more in a couple of areas. I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 04/10/2022

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶


    The queen has been cursed, and no one knows who’s behind the plot to threaten the realm’s fragile peace. Desperate to help, Jocasta hatches a plan to find Circe’s Garden, a fabled island where she hopes to discover an antidote. But she can’t do it alone. She needs the strong arm and unflinching bravery of the warrior she’s loved since childhood—her brother’s right-hand-man and captain of the guard, Flynn of Sinta.

    Together they can do the impossible. Yet with treachery brewing on Mount Olympus, one thing is clear: Thalyria and its new royals are still pawns in an epic game of power—one that might end in a War of Gods.


    There are a lot of things to love about this series, the most compelling of which is the world-building. Thalyria is a world steeped in ancient Greek culture and mythology, and in this particular book, we get an experience reminiscent of the journey and trials of Odysseus. As Flynn, Jocasta, and their friends travel to the island of Circe to retrieve a potion to reverse the effects of the elixir that has the new Queen Cat in stasis, they must go through several trials, many of which are taken right from the Odysessy – Scylla and Charybdis, the Lotus Eaters, Circe herself – but they also face the Gorgons and the Minotaur. It is jam-packed with fun adventures that are truly enjoyable, especially for those who are fans of Greek mythology!

    With this book, you can tell that Bouchet is doing a lot of setup in order to continue the series in a more “traditional” Romance fashion – couples are starting to form (Carver and Bellanca, Kato and a mysterious blonde, Prometheus and Kaia) and the seeds are laid for another epic plot arc to provide the backbone for such a series. There is a “big bad” who has been orchestrating the events of the book to wage an Olympianomachy against Zeus and a portal room is discovered in which the other worlds – Attica, Atlantis, and the Underworld – can be reached. This book is very much a launching point to use the existing world-building for a continuing series.

    In terms of Romance, A Curse of Queens has two main romance tropes: brothers-best-friend and second-chance-romance. Brothers-best-friend is always a win for me, but second-chance-romance is generally hit or miss. For me, that particular trope has to be done in a way that reestablishes significant conflict and tension such that there is something meaty to resolve. Unfortunately, that fell a little flat for me here. The couple shared a passionate kiss six years ago, and Flynn panicked due to unresolved trauma around the deaths of his family members, which caused both him and Jocasta to awkwardly pull away from one another. But they never truly stopped wanting each other, and from page one the reader knows they love one another. So, the only conflict here was for Flynn to overcome his fear of losing Jocasta and the two of them reestablishing their communication. For me, that was not enough conflict to make the romantic arc compelling.

    The other part of the story that I struggled with was that although the relationship focus was on Jocasta and Flynn, the adventure itself focused on Cat. The characters all revered her and talked about her as if she was a goddess herself. And while I understand that she is meant to be the emobodiment of hope – Elpis – it did grate a little after a while. I would have liked to see the adventure focus more on transforming the main characters themselves and less on saving Cat – the quest felt too “outwardly” focused. Intertwining the beats and goals of the quest plot with the relationship plot in a Romance is always more satisfying, and I would have liked to see that here.

    I don’t think you can read this book without having read the first trilogy. There is just too much world-building, character history, and plot points integral to this story that will simply leave the reader confused and frustrated. That being said, I do think the first trilogy is worthwhile, find the world-building compelling, and believe there is an audience for these fun, adventure-packed Romances! I’m not sure I will read on in this series. To be honest, I was always disappointed with the third and final book in the original trilogy, and this book left me feeling a lot of the same. I do enjoy Amanda Bouchet as an author though and will keep an eye out for any additional works.

  • Reviews

    A Touch of Stone and Snow – Milla Vane

    Milla Vane’s Epic Fantasy series A Gathering of Dragons is probably best known for its first full-length novel A Heart of Blood and Ashes. And although that book is a phenomenal entry into the canon of Fantasy Romance, we’d be remiss not to consider the vast world Vane has created that sets the stage for an epic battle between good and evil spanning multiple books, including the second installment, A Touch of Stone and Snow. While this book expands upon the world-building and deepens the series plot arc around the second coming of the Destroyer, it is a solid book in and of itself, introducing new characters, its own plot arc, and presenting a decidedly different romantic tone.

    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: 21/07/2020

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

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    A Gathering of Dragons gives off strong Sword and Sorcery vibes, highly reminiscent of Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. The world is filled with loin-cloth wearing barbarians from the widely different lands that comprise this vast world. They come together to form various alliances (this is where the series title A Gathering of Dragons comes from, where Dragon refers to a cadre of protectors) to embark on the quest contained within that particular book. There are bloody battles with swords, their fists, and sorcerers’ and the gods’ (who are real!) magic. It is barbaric and ruthless, and fans of this genre will most definitely pick up on that vibe. One of the more unique aspects of this S&S world-building is that the barbaric setting is amplified with beasts – dinosaurs roam this world, and in this particular book we see a pet saber-toothed cat, a dragon, leatherwings (essentially pterodactyls), and woodstalkers (giant, white-haired, long-taloned apes) traipsing through jungles, burning plains, and snowy expanses. The world is so vast that one of the knocks I have on this series is that the books don’t contain a map. This series *needs* a map. Badly. There is one on her website, but, well, not the same.

    These books are very much Romances, and so they are perfect for folks that want to see that old Conan S&S vibe combined with full A-plot romance. These books are incredibly sexual, with graphically explicit descriptions of sex acts. I would say that A Touch of Stone and Snow is a tad less-so than A Heart of Blood and Ashes or The Beast of Blackmore, but it is still far more sexually charged and explicit than a lot of Romance.

    In terms of the plot, A Touch of Stone and Snow continues the epic thread that started in A Heart of Blood and Ashes. I highly recommend reading the novella, The Beast of Blackmore, in between books 1 and 2, because it provides essential context that is referenced in book 2. However, significant CW for that novella as there are depictions of rape on page and references to sexual abuses in the past. If these are triggers for you, you can skip the novella no problem and glean the necessary information from the context in book 2.

    The Destroyer is coming, and Yvenne (the FMC of book 1), the Queen and partner to the Ran of the Parsatheans has started to create an alliance – a Dragon – against his coming. The warriors that have been sent by Yvenne and Maddek meet with the bastard Prince of Koth, Aerax, our MMC, who is on a quest of his own to gain help for his island nation of Koth that has been besieged by bandits. Along the way, he comes back into contact with his betrothed and his love, Lizzan, banished from Koth, her name stricken from the book of names, for being the only warrior to survive a brutal attack against their people. She embarks on a quest of her own, to protect him and fight a battle to regain her name and protect her family. The two plots – the series-wide arc and the book 2 plot – are masterfully woven together contributing to and feeding off of one another. The seeds of book 3 are also planted, introducing the characters that will form that romance. I found this especially well done – it was not contrived at all and fell out naturally from the plot.

    This is a second-chance Romance. The FMC and MMC are still in love with one another when our book begins. But they must do some serious character and relationship work in order to achieve their happy ending. I personally am not a huge fan of the second-chance romance trope, but I must say it was really well done in this book. When we meet our heroine, she is a complete mess. Lizzan has become a full-blown alcoholic, depressed and haunted by the wraiths that attacked and decimated her army at the Hero’s Walk to Koth. She was banished from her home, her name never to be spoken or acknowledged by her people, and she believes her betrothed, her love, Aerax did nothing to stop it. Aerax had reasons, which come to light (no spoilers!) and they must navigate her trauma and recovery together. Aerax is completely devoted to and in love with Lizzan; if the “alphahole-ness” of Maddek put you off in book 1, know that this book does not lean into that archetype at all. Aerax is plagued by his own destiny and what he must do to protect his people, a people that treated him no better than a feral beast because he was a bastard. Together, Lizzan and Aerax must overcome their past hurts and embrace one another once again, fighting both of their battles with newfound strength as a couple. It is a romance about recovering lost love, and rebuilding it into something new and greater, and it is no less powerful for that.

    These books do have their quirks, which might be annoying to some, but I was able to look past them. Everyone talks like yoda. Everyone. All the time. The intent, I think, is to evoke an even greater “barbaric vibe,” to have the prose reflect the world-building, and I do actually think it achieves that goal, but I also see how that might grate on some readers, so know that going in.

    I will definitely be reading on in this series. Book 3, A Dance of Smoke and Steel, is set to come out within the next year sometime, and I will eagerly jump on the opportunity to read it when it does. This unique combination of Conan-esque, barbarian world-building, Epic Fantasy, and Romance is just too good to pass up!

  • Blog Tours,  Reviews

    Blog Tour: Hide – Kiersten White

    Looking for a compelling horror novel that reads like the fun slasher flicks of the early 2000s? Look no further. Hide is Kiersten White’s addictive and fun adult debut, with an intriguing concept and a lot of death. In short, it’s exactly what is needed for a fun read in the sun or cuddled up inside with a good drink right now.

    Huge thanks to Marie-Louise at Del Rey for inviting me on the Blog Tour and sending me an ARC of Hide. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 24/05/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: The challenge: spend a week hiding in an abandoned amusement park and don’t get caught.

    The prize: enough money to change everything.

    Even though everyone is desperate to win – to seize their dream futures or escape their haunting pasts – Mack feels sure that she can beat her competitors. All she has to do is hide, and she’s an expert at that.

    It’s the reason she’s alive, and her family isn’t.

    But as the people around her begin disappearing one by one, Mack realizes this competition is more sinister than even she imagined, and that together might be the only way to survive.

    Fourteen competitors. Seven days. Everywhere to hide, but nowhere to run.

    Come out, come out, wherever you are. (from Del Rey)

    OPINIONS: I had so much fun with this book! It is not the most structurally sound or logical novel out there – but it doesn’t have to be. It is compelling and entertaining and I read it in a single sitting, which makes it the perfect summer read. Whether you like to read in the sunshine in a park, on holiday or cosied up at home with a cold drink, this is the ideal sort of book to read as it’s warm outside – it’s spooky, it distracts you and it chills you down to the bone – but it’s not nightmare-inducing-fucked-up-scary.

    It’s got everything for a great read – mainly, a strong setting, interesting characters and a creepy mystery. I loved the setting in a derelict amusement park – having seen images from old parks that have been abandoned for decades, I can imagine the spooky atmosphere being there must evoke, so it’s the perfect setting for a horror novel. Having a hide-and-seek competition with little information as the hook is classic for the genre. It makes no logical sense that any of the characters would take the bait so easily, but that is the fun of it. You as the reader know from the start that there is something very fishy going on and it’s a train wreck about to happen – and you just can’t look away. You want to scream at the characters to get out of there as the tension rises, and then the first person dies, and you know that your gut instincts are right.

    But the compelling part is not that characters die, but figuring out why they disappear and what is behind these events. In classic horror flick fashion, the reader knows more than the characters as the story unravels, and you just can not look away. While this is a horror novel, it is also an entertaining book, think Final Destination rather than The Ring. So if you enjoy a little bit of a scare, do give this a read and join Mack and her friends in hiding…

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

  • Reviews

    Nettle & Bone – T. Kingfisher

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

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

    RELEASE DATE: 26/04/2022

    STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Cast Long Shadows – Cat Hellisen

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

    RELEASE DATE: 31/05/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5*


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


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

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

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

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

  • Reviews

    Elder Races – Thea Harrison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Blog Tours,  Reviews

    Blog Tour – The Collarbound – Rebecca Zahabi

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

    RELEASE DATE: 12/05/2022

    STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Reviews

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

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

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

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

    RELEASE DATE: 05/01/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

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    A Wynter Fyre by Darynda Jones – 5/5

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

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

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

    Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet – 4/5

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

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

    The King of Hel by Grace Draven – 4/5

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

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

    Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy – 3/5

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

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

  • Reviews

    The Demon’s Daughter – Emma Holly

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

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

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

    RELEASE DATE: 02/11/2004

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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