• Something Special

    Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards 2021 – The Finalists

    We’ve been reading. We’ve been deliberating. And we have made some tough but necessary decisions – whittling it down to the finalists in all the categories. Without further ado, here are the 2021 SKCA finalists!

    Best Fantasy

    The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk

    The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow

    Best Science Fiction

    The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson

    Goldilocks, Laura Lam

    Best Debut

    Legendborn, Tracy Deonn

    Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas

    The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson

    Best Blurred Boundaries

    The Bone Shard Daughter, Andrea Stewart

    Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

    Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu

    Best Novella

    The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo

    Ring Shout, P. Djeli Clark

    Best Short Fiction

    “You Perfect, Broken Thing”, C.L. Clark, Uncanny Magazine 32, available here

    “Yellow and the Perception of Reality”, Maureen McHugh, Tor.com, available here

    Best Series

    The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang

    Dominion of the Fallen, Aliette de Bodard

  • 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.

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    It’s Monday Minis time again! This one is a bit of a collab effort between me and Kat, as she’s graciously agreed to contribute this week – most things I’ve read recently need to get their own full length post. It’s been a good reading week, to be honest. As always, all opinions are our own.

    Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes is a fun sci-fi romp through space, featuring psychic cats. The story is led by Captain Eva Innocente of La Sirena Negra, who has to compromise herself and her morals in order to save her estranged sister. It is an easy read, fast paced and rather compelling – although the aforementioned psychic cats, which are a major selling point of the book (they are mentioned on the cover!) really would need to play a bigger role in the story for my taste. They only pop up a few times and it is really Eva’s story and not theirs. And that is definitely a large part of why it has taken me so long to finish this – I’ve started it probably three times on kindle until a friend passing on a physical copy gave me the kick up the ass to finally finish it. I think I’m intrigued enough to read book two for the heck of it, just because it’s good space opera escapism, but they are not books I think I will be going around and hugely recommending to anyone as standout favourites.

    If you’re looking to start an adult Paranormal Romance series, but are yearning for something a bit out of the ordinary, then Heart of Fire by Bec McMaster might be for you! Unlike traditional, urban PNR settings, the Legends of the Storm series takes place in 1880s Iceland, is steeped in Nordic culture and mythology, and has a heroic fantasy aesthetic. Layer on a hefty dollop of dragon (or dreki, as the case may be) lore and shifting, and you have the unique and unexpected spin on classic PNR tropes that makes Heart of Fire such an intriguing read. The characters, especially the couple featured in this book, are well-developed and balanced; although Rurik exudes the classic alpha-male vibes, the FMC is equally strong and driven, creating quite the power couple. There’s definitely insta-lust, and the couple is quick to act on it, but that’s somewhat expected as part of the fated mates trope. The romance is steamy, the plot is peppered with tension and action, and a solid foundation is laid for a PNR series with staying potential. Enjoy!

    I was very excited for Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan – I’ve been looking forward to this since it was first supposed to be released in 2019, but sadly, the ARC failed to live up to the potential in my head. This is the story of Ahn, a girl raised as a peasant, who finds out that she carries ancient magic, and Altan, a boy who was supposed to become Emperor but has lost his position. It is a xianxia novel, so set within existing traditions of Chinese storytelling, which is pretty cool. My favourite aspect of Jade Fire Gold was probably the world building, which was rich and epic, and carried through some of the other weaknesses – I did read through the whole story fairly quickly despite being disappointed with it as a whole. Apart from the setting, it read like a fairly typical YA fantasy novel, which is great if that’s what you’re looking for, but these days I feel like we’ve been spoiled with so many outstanding books that that isn’t enough for me to really enjoy a story. The pacing was quite inconsistent, with large stretches feeling like nothing much is happening and then a big chunk of the story being packed into the last twenty percent or so. Ahn and Altan are both very passive characters, and it feels like the story is happening to them, rather than that they are propelling their own fortunes forward. I also struggled to see the chemistry happening between them, which made their eventual relationship feel more like box ticking than a natural development. It is still a decent and entertaining read, but not one that I will go out of my way to reread.

  • Blog Tours

    Blog Tour: The Winter Garden – Alexandra Bell

    Sometimes books surprise you. And The Winter Garden was one of those in the very best ways. I fell for this wonderful story within just a few pages, and devoured it so quickly. Think of this as Lady Trent mixed with fairy tale vibes and featuring an aromantic heroine. This is just such a delightful, cosy book that I want to shove into everyone’s hands.

    Massive thanks to Del Rey for sending me an ARC and having me join the blog tour. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 02/09/2021

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.

    Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.

    Now all she has to do is win. (from Del Rey)

    OPINIONS: I love Beatrice. She is such an amazing leading character – not without flaws and struggles, but determined and real. She reminds me a lot of Isabella, Lady Trent from Marie Brennan’s The Natural History of Dragons – except instead of being motivated by dragons, Beatrice is motivated by her search for a magical garden full of wonders – the titular Winter Garden. She is explicitly written as aromantic and asexual – though far from cold or frigid. She loves her friends dearly and is determined to make her own way in the world. Rosa, the other PoV character in the story, is just as interesting and complex. She initially gets everything she dreams of – but soon learns that this might not be exactly what she thought it be like. A brilliant inventor of clockwork creatures, she finds herself in a loveless marriage with only her mechanical birds for protection. And she too is determined to carve out her own path.

    Enter the Winter Garden. While Beatrice had been hunting for it since childhood, Rosa only heard about it through Beatrice. But as both women settle into adulthood and their own struggles, they are invited to participate in a competition for a wish and have to decide how far they are willing to go for the ultimate prize. All in all, this is such a delightful and wholesome book – the perfect comfort read as the days are getting shorter and it is time to curl up under a blanket with a hot drink and a good book. I haven’t fallen so hard for a book in ages – and been so positively surprised. I’d gone into reading this with no expectations, as I asked for it forever ago and didn’t even read the blurb before I dove in last weekend and then just fell for it within a few pages and started recommending it to everyone who would listen. I even considered staying up very late to read it in a single sitting (I ended up managing half).

    So, very highly recommend this delightful book if you’re looking for some escapism, and like some whimsy in your stories. Add The Winter Garden to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • 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.

  • Hype!

    September Hype Post!

    Better late than never, right? I usually do these in the middle-ish of the month looking out but oops, it’s already the second of September and I’ve been remiss in getting this out to you all… I’m going to blame this on *gestures at world*. So without further ado, some books to look out for in September – it’s going to be a short one and an all adult one this month.

    Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo, out from Tordotcom on the 28th. Think of this as the gay answer to Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House and Victoria Lee’s A Lesson In Vengeance, two books I absolutely adored. Not that they aren’t plenty queer themselves, but Summer Sons features THE best disaster gay boy ever: Andrew. Mr. why-of-course-I-am-straight-why-ever-would-you-ask. The book coasts by on vibes, excellent writing and some of the best characters and character tension I have ever read. Oh, and of course there is creepy ghostly goings on, dark academia and drag racing. And a hot drug dealer. If you haven’t hit pre-order by now, I don’t know what to tell you, this is just such a brilliant book – my review will be up over at Grimdark Magazine soon, and you can grab your copy via Blackwell’s here.

    I am quite salty that I haven’t managed to get my hands on an ARC of Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. Out from Tor on the 28th as well, I’ve got a bunch of friends who have had the privilege of reading and reviewing this one already and every single one of them has absolutely raved about this book. From the blurb: “Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six. When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.” This just sounds like such a delightful book and I know I will absolutely fall for it when I finally get it. Order a copy from Blackwell’s here.

    The third book on this list is Zoraida Córdova’s The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, published by Atria on the 7th. Zoraida’s basically got me convinced to read anything she writes these days so I wanted to read this before I read the blurb (and damn, if the cover alone isn’t reason to pick this up) – but the blurb also sounds fantastic. It’s a generational story set in around a family used to a life filled with small magic that they never ask many questions about. But when Orquidea, the Matriarch, invites the family to her funeral, they hope for answers, only to be faced with more questions. And as time passes and their gifts manifest in different ways it becomes more and more pressing to find those answers… It sounds like a magical story to fall in love with. Pre-order it from Blackwell’s 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.

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    Finally getting to write a bit again – though bear with me, I’ve been very migraney, so it’ll be rather short and sweet today I think. Good thing it’s Monday Minis anyway! I’ve got three very different books for you today – a YA anthology of romantic stories, a YA fantasy about fae and a YA creepy historical/horror. Thanks to all of the publishers for providing me with eARCs via NetGalley, as usual, all opinions are my own.

    Fools in Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales, edited by Rebecca Podos and Ashley Herring Blake, is full of short stories with twists on romantic YA tropes by some of the most popular authors working in YA right now. You’ve got everything from fake dating to missed connections to love triangles and enemies to lovers, usually with a brilliant twist. And pretty much all of these stories are queer or diverse in another way – no straight white cis stories centred here, no ma’am – and my, how happy that makes me. I read this book spread over a couple weeks, reading just one or two stories to cheer myself up as all of them are just really lovely and delightful and positive. This is the kind of feel-good book that will make you feel better about yourself and the world and just kind of has the same effect as a hug or a cup of hot tea. While none of the stories were especially brilliant in a standout-favourite sort of way for me personally, none of them stood out as weak either – a solid anthology without clear weak spots. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something to cheer you up!

    These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan is a YA fae fantasy romance. At its centre is Brie, a girl with a hate for the fae. But when her sister is sold to the Unseelie Court, she will do anything to get her back. Including bargaining with the Unseelie King to steal relics from the Seelie Court, flinging herself head-first into both courts and their machinations. I was quite ambiguous about this book – it is entertaining and a very quick read, but there isn’t anything very special about it for me. There is the expected love triangle, hinted at already in the blurb, and really nothing that makes it stand out from the many fae YA books out there. Originally I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to read These Hollow Vows, then was sucked in by the hype, and it was perfect for a train read, but not more than that if it makes sense. If fae are more your thing, or if you’re a lover of books like The Cruel Prince, this is probably more your cup of tea than it is mine!

    What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo was one I was very excited for. A creepy family mansion, clan secrets and a girl returning from boarding school to uncover it all? Sounds like the gothic book of my dreams. Add in some magic and wolf shifters and I’m bound to love it. However, I actually ended up dnf’ing this at about 40%. I tried reading it as an eARC, and when I struggled to get into it, I switched to audio (as I had it available on my Scribd). And while there are quite a few reasons that influenced my decision to abandon the book, the main one was that Eleanor, the main character, A TEEN, as well as her sister and cousin, both teens too, are weirdly obsessed with this middle aged man who seems to be grooming them – and I’m just not here for that. It might well be that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that later on in the story that I just haven’t reached, but the behaviour as depicted in the story up to where I reached just made me feel so uncomfortable as a reader that I could not keep reading. Thus, this is a book I will not be recommending.