This year is really blessing us with the folklore-inspired fantasy novels. And The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid is ready to compete with the best of them. I also really enjoyed The Second Bell by Gabriela Houston, and am super excited about For the Wolf by Hannah Witten. Forest-y, folklore-y fantasy galore, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.
Many thanks to Del Rey and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 08/06/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.
But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman – he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.
As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all. (from Del Rey)
OPINIONS: This is simply a wonderful story. It is not an easy read – it addresses trauma, both personal and that of social groups – but as a whole, it packages them in a story that is a delight. Ava Reid’s debut is lyrical, compelling, heart-breaking at times and like with many of the great books that I’ve been able to read and review this year, I already have a finished copy organised and I am looking forward to re-reading it in its finished form.
I devoured The Wolf and the Woodsman – I think I read it in a little more than a single sitting. It is an addictive story with strong worldbuilding that draws the reader in. And I loved Évike as a main character. She is stubborn and gives few shits about what others want for her. She stands up for herself, her family and her people. And Gáspár is a soft boi hiding behind a tough shell – I don’t read a lot of m/f romantic stories these days, but this was one that I found worked really well for me. I definitely need more of Ava Reid’s writing and nuanced approach to trauma and social issues.
The story has a strong Jewish element – and with that I mean both in terms of Évike finding her father and his community, finding a place to belong, but also a community that struggles against prejudice, against prosecution. But ultimately, the book’s message is one of hope. And that is, I think, a large part of why it deals so well with difficult themes. I highly recommend this one.
Hello and welcome on another blog tour! Today, I’m featuring the fun and exciting The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman, out tomorrow from Gollancz. This is the rare unicorn – a Grimdark book that isn’t grim at all. It has a fantastic voice that pulls it all together and made me really enjoy it! As a friend put it: the voice is great, reminiscent of K.J. Parker and has echoes of Terry Pratchett… And if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is. Also, go check out some of the other wonderful bloggers that they recruited for this tour, that’s a stellar lineup!
Big thank you to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for having me on the tour and sending me a copy for review.
RELEASE DATE: 27/05/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.
But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.
Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.
Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: This book was SO MUCH FUN! I loved my reading experience – I really did not expect this to have a voice this distinctive and entertaining going in. This has all of the elements of Grimdark but is not actually grim to read – you have the hallmark morally shady characters, unhospitable world and political issues that don’t really end well for anyone, but you’ll have a blast while reading about them. I cannot emphasize this enough.
The Blacktongue Thief is a fast-paced story full of interesting lore, weird magic and lots and lots of tattoos. I already want to start rereading it for all the things I might have missed on my first read. And I mean, the book starts with the lines “I was about to die. Worse, I was about to die with bastards.” Kinch is a great narrator, self-aware, sarcastic and dry-witted. (Though he is the only first person narrator, so this will not work for r/fantasy bingo hard more, I’m afraid. But it has chapter titles!) Honestly, it seems like most pages have some sort of quote that stands out. I am looking forward to people making art with all the fun quotes! Also blind cat <3
Basically, think the wit of Pratchett (though of course no one can live up to the master) combined with Mike Shackle’s dark and murky morality and compelling characters. Really, just a delight, and one I know I will be rereading again – and I have already started throwing it at friends. Add The Blacktongue Thief to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
TJ Klune has been publishing for a while, but he only really showed up on my radar with The House in the Cerulean Sea (one of our Subjective Kind of Chaos nominees!). And while I loved that one, I’d say that he levelled up with Under the Whispering Door. It takes the cosy atmosphere of Cerulean Sea, and adds further depth to it by discussing death and the afterlive(s). I should say at this point, Under the Whispering Door comes with a massive trigger warning of death, self-harm and suicide. If those are topics that cause you discomfort or might trigger distress, please avoid reading.
Massive thanks to Tor and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 21/09/2021
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.
And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.
But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days. (from Tor)
OPINIONS: If the trigger warnings I mentioned above don’t put you off this, please, please pick this up. It is amazing and beautiful and it talks about tea so much – and tea is the second best thing when you need to feel better (the best thing being a good book). Hugo is the most adorable cinnamon roll character and I love him to bits. Its not his story, first and foremost, but he is what made me fall for it. Because Wallace is a DICK. A huge self-centred dumbass. And that is his main story arc. Coming to terms with who he is and growing into someone bigger and better than himself. He’s the kind of person who fires an employee because they made a tiny mistake after twenty years at the company with no second thought.
But all that changes after Wallace dies and meets Hugo. Accompanied by a charming cast of side characters, he undergoes a massive character development arc in a sort of halfway-house between life and death, where Hugo acts as a ferryman. Under the Whispering Door brings back all the charm that made people fall for The House in the Cerulean Sea, except that it’s deeper, expanding the comfy vibes to philosophising about life and death and how to make the most of the time we have with the people we love.
This is a delightful book, with fantastic quirky characters, a cute queer romance and feelgood vibes, while still addressing deeper themes and trauma. I highly recommend it. Add Under the Whispering Door to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Portal Bookshop here.
Welcome to a new feature. I’m going to try and put up mini-reviews every Monday (or, indeed, most Mondays as I suspect will be closer to reality). These will be books I feel like I don’t have much to say about, backlog reviews I’m catching up on reading and writing, and perhaps even the odd book that I read for myself and decide to write a little bit on. So basically a sort of catch-all for my chaotic brain – which doesn’t mean that these books don’t deserve your attention! I’ve just noticed that I’m struggling to write lately, and mini-reviews help me get some thoughts on the page, and so I’m trying to save my energy for the books I have a lot to say about.
The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould is a queer supernatural YA thriller mystery. It’s a complete genre mashup, and that aspect of it worked really well. It follows Logan, whose TV-paranormal-inspector dads have just brought her back to their hometown, only to find teens going missing. In this tiny town – think a high school senior class of ten students – Logan and her family aren’t welcomed back with open arms, but suspicion, both due to the recent disappearances and the lack of tolerance for queer couples. Eventually, Logan teams up with local teen Ashley, whose boyfriend is one of the missing kids, to try and solve the mysteries of the town before it’s too late. And honestly, the concept is pretty great and I loved the bi rep. But the execution kept frustrating me to no end. It is one of those books that rely on characters not actually communicating, and that is one of my biggest pet peeves in stories. There were also quite a few moments where I felt that plot/character arcs didn’t progress naturally but in a rather stilted way. I think I’m curious to pick up another book by the same author to see how she grows, but the flaws that this one had keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending it.
Fire With Fire by Destiny Soria has dragons. And dragon hunters. So there’s a great concept hook there that made me devour the book immediately. Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else. Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned. Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. However, my enthusiasm for dragons and the bond they can establish with humans – and the unlikely one between a hunter and a dragon that is at the centre of the story wasn’t enough to keep me enthusiastic about this. I thought the concept and the world building was great, but ultimately the plot and characters left me feeling disappointed. I was expecting to love this one much more than I did, especially as I really liked the beginning of the story. I just noticed my emotional investment slipping more and more as I got further into it. I might pick up a sequel, we’ll see. But it’s definitely entertaining, so if you like dragons and are looking to fill an evening with light fantasy, go for it.
Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer confirms her as the Queen of Queer once again. This light YA rom-com features Larissa Bogdan, a bisexual high school student who is coming to terms with her sexuality with the help of a summer spent with Jasmine and a long-term crush on Chase, the school’s most popular football player. It is a fun and lighthearted romp, with a lot of pop-culture references thrown in and much love to books and nerdy culture. It is very much YA aimed at a teen demographic – which meant that I wasn’t as in love with it as I hoped to be, but teen me very much would have. And one of my favourite details of the book was that quite early on, when Larissa was asked about her sexuality, whether she was into boys, girls, or both, the asker immediately added that ace and aro was just as valid and welcome. Dahlia Adler, Queen of Queer, we stan.
Fairy stories. In all versions. They’re like catnip. And The Cottingley Cuckoo combines fairies with psychological suspense, with history, and an unreliable narrator. The reader does not know what is happening until the very end, and it is such an interesting story. AND look at the stunning cover. That gold foil is just so pretty!
Massive thanks to Sarah Mather and Titan Books for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 14/04/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Captivated by books and stories, Rose dreams of a life away from the confines of the Sunnyside Care Home she works in, until elderly resident Charlotte Favell offers an unexpected glimpse of enchantment. She keeps an aged stack of letters about the Cottingley Fairies, the photographs made famous by Arthur Conan Doyle, but later dismissed as a hoax. The letters insist there is proof that the fairies existed. Rose is eager to learn more, but Charlotte allows her to read only a piece at a time, drawing Rose into her web.
As the letters’ content grows more menacing, Rose discovers she is unexpectedly pregnant, and feels another door to the future has slammed. Her obsession with what really happened in Cottingley all those years ago spirals; as inexplicable events occur inside her home, she begins to entertain dark thoughts about her baby and its origins. (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: This is a very interesting book. It is not necessarily one that will make huge splashes, but it is definitely one that I enjoyed. In The Cottingley Cuckoo, the reader doesn’t really know whether what the main character, Rose, is experiencing is real or not until the very end – and even then, it is largely left to the reader to interpret. It is a story about madness and fairies, about reality and shifting perceptions. Interspersed with this are letters about the Cottingley Fairies, from the environs of Arthur Conan Doyle.
This is the kind of slow-burn horror novel that I enjoy – no jump scares, no gore, but simply a lot of creepy and a lot of uncertainty. Neither the reader nor the protagonists know what is happening to them, packaged in a compellingly written narrative. Rose is a great main character. She isn’t special – she is your average person, thrown into a situation that overwhelms her, and had to adjust to this world that she didn’t know how to deal with – and doesn’t that sound familiar.
The Cottingley Cuckoo is the sort of novel that stradles the line between literary fiction and genre writing, that experiments while also using a lot of elements that feel familiarly uncomfortable. It is a solid book and a good read. Add The Cottingley Cuckoo to Goodreads here, or order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
June is going to be another epic month of great books – I once again send you to my huge 2021 post where I talk about some great books that I’m very excited about (find it here) to avoid using this space to repeat myself. It talks about The Nature of Witches, Daughter of Sparta and The Jasmine Throne (review here) among others. There are some more, like The Wolf and the Woodsman and For the Wolf, which I’m expecting to review in the next couple of weeks, so I’m not going to talk about them at length here.
The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag is a YA graphic novel that will be released on the first of June. It sounds incredibly cute: Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl. That is, until she is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. They soon become close and Morgan finds life on the island not as confining anymore… But Keltie has secrets of her own, and their secrets will find their way out into the open whether they are ready or not. Honestly, just inject it into my veins now. I’ve developed a hankering for adorable queer graphic novels, and it looks like this one fits the bill perfectly. Order a copy from Portal Bookshop here.
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sanbury is a YA fantasy out on the 15th of June. After years of waiting for her Calling – a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers – the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees, and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic. But there’s just a tiny problem. She hasn’t been in love with anyone yet. So she sets out to find a match, caught between morality and duty to her bloodline, all the while trying to master her witchcraft. This sounds like such a fun light fantasy – and the cover is absolutely stunning. I’m a sucker for a good witch and Voya sounds like a wonderful leading lady. Order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link) – though be warned, it looks like UK release is later!
Star Eater by Kerstin Hall is the last book on my list for this month. It will be released on the 22nd of June and is very much aimed at the adult end of the SFF readership. This sounds like a delightfully weird science-fantasy of cannibalistic nuns in space. And if that doesn’t persuade you that you need to check this book out, I’m not sure what will. From the blurb: Elfreda Raughn will avoid pregnancy if it kills her, and one way or another, it will kill her. Though she’s able to stomach her gruesome day-to-day duties, the reality of preserving the Sisterhood of Aytrium’s magical bloodline horrifies her. She wants out, whatever the cost. This is a story of sacrifices, of hard choices and of how far women are willing to go when they don’t see a choice. This sounds dark and morally murky and right up my alley. Order yourself a copy from Blackwell’s here.
Welcome to another fancy blog tour! This time for The Coronation by Justin Newland. This historical fantasy novel was published in 2019 by Matador and they’re giving it another push with a massive blog tour spanning a month hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours – click HERE for the full schedule (and check out some of my wonderful co-hosts posts too!). If this review has made you think that this is a book you might enjoy, there’s a giveaway for two physical copies for readers in the US as part of the tour which you can find HERE.
Many thanks to HFVBT for having me and for sending me a copy of the book for review. All opinions are my own.
SUMMARY: It is 1761. Prussia is at war with Russia and Austria. As the Russian army occupies East Prussia, King Frederick the Great and his men fight hard to win back their homeland.
In Ludwigshain, a Junker estate in East Prussia, Countess Marion von Adler celebrates an exceptional harvest. But this is soon requisitioned by Russian troops. When Marion tries to stop them, a Russian Captain strikes her. His Lieutenant, Ian Fermor, defends Marion’s honour, but is stabbed for his insubordination. Abandoned by the Russians, Fermor becomes a divisive figure on the estate.
Close to death, Fermor dreams of the Adler, a numinous eagle entity, whose territory extends across the lands of Northern Europe and which is mysteriously connected to the Enlightenment. What happens next will change the course of human history…
OPINIONS: Set during the Englightenment in a war-torn German Reich, The Coronation is an interesting (and rather weird) historical fantasy. It is told through the perspectives of mainly Marion von Adler and Ian Fermor, though others are sprinkled in. It is a compelling tale, and the three hundred pages of it fly by rather quickly. It deals with war and the consequences thereof on the society that stays back, combining it with the Adler, a mysterious supernatural entity that seems to shape the character’s destinies.
I’m not sure I fully understood the significance of the Adler when reading. Nevertheless, I did enjoy The Coronation, and especially its setting in the Enlightenment era. I liked how it didn’t discount female characters, which would have been easy to do in that period, but gave them agency – though the ones featured were very privileged in terms of social standing.
This is not a perfect book. But it is one that might be worth having a look at if you’re interested in historical fantasy, unusual entities or suchlike. Add it to Goodreads here, or order a copy from Amazon here.
These are three mini reviews for books that were perfectly ok, but just didn’t stand out to me really. I didn’t fall in love with any of them, but they do all have things that speak for them. I received eARCs from the publishers for all three, but all opinions are entirely my own.
Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft had a very promising set-up but did not manage to actually follow through on it in execution. It is half gothic mystery in a mansion, half epic fantasy, and I could not have cared less for the epic parts of it. I wish that the story had actually focused on the gothic mystery and explored those elements in depth, rather than trying to do too much and not doing any of it properly. This story has an explicitly bisexual lead – but is there much done with that? Nope. Just like so much of the story, it is another missed opportunity. Part of me hopes that the eARC I read was actually still a major edit away from the finished version, because this has SO MUCH potential. I really wanted to like it, but instead I felt it was very mediocre in terms of plot, characters and worldbuilding.
All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace is the follow-up to last year’s All the Stars and Teeth. While I felt a bit ambivalent about the first book, I thought that book two did a lot of things better. Through blood and sacrifice, Amora Montara has conquered a rebellion and taken her rightful place as queen of Visidia. Now, with the islands in turmoil and the people questioning her authority, Amora cannot allow anyone to see her weaknesses. After the first book centering on reforming the world, this second installment focuses on how to figure out whether the way Amora sees the world going is the way that is best for society, or whether it needs much deeper change. It is a sequel that isn’t afraid to ask bigger questions and doubt itself. And all this is packaged in a compelling YA fantasy that if not outstanding is certainly solid and entertaining. If you liked book one, I recommend book two, and I generally think this is a duology worth reading if you’re looking to pass the time.
The Bright & The Pale by Jessica Rubinkowski is a Russian inspired epic fantasy story about a frozen world, a heroine, a long lost, believed-dead friend and a looming threat. It is also incredibly forgettable – I don’t think a single thing that happened or any of the characters have left any sort of lasting impression on me in the days since I finished reading this. The cover for this is so pretty that I really wanted to love it, but I just couldn’t. I struggled getting into it and I think because of the lack of character depth (and maybe my general mental state) I just kind of skimmed over it? I do think that it will find its readership, but that reader is not me.
I am very lucky with the books I get to read this year – I have had the opportunity to read and review most of my most anticipated books so far, and they don’t disappoint. 2021 is the year of diverse sapphic books and I’m all here for it. Black Water Sister is going to be playing in the highest leagues, and it’s a delicious story (it’s not just beautifully written, there’s also a lot of food mentioned).
Massive thanks to Macmillan and NetGalley for the eARC, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 10/06/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: As Jessamyn packs for Malaysia, it’s not a good time to start hearing a bossy voice in her head. Broke, jobless and just graduated, she’s abandoning America to return ‘home’. But she last saw Malaysia as a toddler – and is completely unprepared for its ghosts, gods and her eccentric family’s shenanigans.
Jess soon learns her ‘voice’ belongs to Ah Ma, her late grandmother. She worshipped the Black Water Sister, a local deity. And when a business magnate dared to offend her goddess, Ah Ma swore revenge. Now she’s decided Jess will help, whether she wants to or not.
As Ah Ma blackmails Jess into compliance, Jess fights to retain control. But her irrepressible relative isn’t going to let a little thing like death stop her, when she can simply borrow Jess’s body to make mischief. As Jess is drawn ever deeper into a world of peril and family secrets, getting a job becomes the least of her worries. (from Macmillan)
OPINIONS: Black Water Sister is one of those magical novels that just captivate you and suck you into their world and teach you about our world in the process. Deeply rooted in Malaysian Chinese society, but told through the lens of Jess, raised in America and returning to Malaysia as an adult, this is a story of family, grief, and, yes, religion. Shortly after she arrives in Malaysia, the spirit of her grandmother starts possessing Jess and she gets pulled into a world of spirits, gangsters and gods.
Jess’s life is dominated by her family and trying to fit into the narrow confines of the expectations she believes her parents have for her. She is not straight, but she will also not ever admit to being gay – which means that she is keeping her girlfriend a massive secret from everyone in her life. This causes huge issues between them and Jess needs to figure out not only who she is and what she wants but also how far she is willing to risk her family’s approval to get it. And while I can’t speak to how well this was portrayed in terms of the culture it is set in – which is the one Zen Cho is from – I thought that Jess’s struggles were well done and relatable. She was a great leading character, a woman in her twenties, trying to juggle figuring out where she wants her life to go with her family’s expectations.
I generally felt that Black Water Sister managed to balance all its parts well. The characters were fleshed out, not just Jess, but also Ah Ma, her grandmother’s ghost, and many of the other minor and major players. The world was plastic, and the plot was consistently paced with high tension throughout. I can’t wait to re-read it and dive back into its world. This is a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it.
It is no secret that I love me some good middle grade. And macabre middle grade playing with black humour and accompanied by adorable illustrations? YES PLEASE! This is the perfect kind of book for those reluctant readers that are just about to enter middle grade territory.
Massive thanks to Little Tiger for sending me a review copy! All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 04/03/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: On Brutalia violence is a way of life. Ravenous ravens circle overhead, monstrous grot bears cause chaos and the streets are bulging with brawls. But Mort isn’t like the other islanders – he’s determined to live peacefully. His struggle is made even tougher when the cruel queen appoints Mort as Royal Executioner. No one has challenged the royals and lived to tell the tale. Can Mort keep his head and outwit the queen? (from Little Tiger)
OPINIONS: This is such an adorable story. I really loved Mort as a main character. The way the story was written and played with black humour added a lot of appeal to it and I think this will be great for reluctant readers at the lower end of the middle grade spectrum. George Ermos’ illustrations give the story another dimension and I found them sweet and playfully macabre at the same time.
Personally, I felt like the wordplay was occasionally a bit too much and the humour too on the nose, but that is my impression as an adult reader – Mort the Meek might cause the occasional eyeroll from adult supervisors, but it will be taken up enthusiastically by its young audience. I can just imagine children trying to imitate scenes from the book! Kid me would most definitely have loved this, and adult me is kind of sad that the kids in my life are just a bit too young for it. but in a few years…