• Reviews

    The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches – Sangu Mandanna

    YOU NEED THIS BOOK. This may be my favourite book I’ve read this year (Spear doesn’t count, while it came out this year, I read it last…) So, without further ado, read the review and then run to your preferred retailer.

    Huge thanks to the lovely Kate at Hodder for sending me an ARC and making me a very happy Fab. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 23/08/2022

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon has lived her life by three rules: hide your magic, keep your head down, and stay away from other witches. An orphan raised by strangers from a young age, Mika is good at being alone, and she doesn’t mind it … mostly.

    But then an unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches, and Mika jumps at the chance for a different life.

    Nowhere House is nothing like she expects, and she’s quickly tangled up in the lives and secrets of its quirky, caring inhabitants … and Jamie, the handsome, prickly librarian who would do anything to protect his charges, and who sees Mika’s arrival as a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

    As Mika finds her feet, the thought of belonging somewhere starts to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and soon Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect the found family she didn’t know she was looking for… (from Hodderscape)

    OPINIONS: This is a near perfect book. The best way to describe it is likely as a combination of Mary Poppins, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, The House in the Cerulean Sea and a good dose of comfort. It follows Mika Moon, a young witch who finds herself as a tutor to three young witches on a remote estate – complete with a gruff but loveable groundskeeper, a charming elderly gay couple looking after house and children and a missing guardian. It is the sort of book that makes you smile from the first page to the last, as the book’s UK editor described it to me.

    I saved reading this for a day where I needed a comfort read and I was so glad I did. It is really the perfect book for those moments, and one I see myself rereading again and again when I need that sort of feeling – I hope there will be a myriad of beautiful special editions to add to my collection! My flatmate stole it after I read it and breezed through it – and I’m thrilled that I’ve managed to sell multiple friends on it before even writing this review.

    It is a lovely story, not too relaxed but also not too fast-paced and full of tension. There is constantly something to focus your attention on and ensure the reader does not get bored, without raising anxiety levels. It is a character and vibe driven story, with relationships of various kinds at its centre. I found the development of those relationships delightful, tender and utterly realistic. While the central plot elements feel big to the people in the story, they are not in the grand scale of things, and it feels refreshing to read a book that is concerned with the small, with the fate of the immediate future of a group of children for the next few years, rather than saving the world.

    In short. Get this book, you’ll love it. And it’s almost out, so there’s not even long to wait. Add The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    I should preface my review of The Phantom of the Opera by Cavan Scott and José María Beroy with the fact that I’ve never seen The Phantom of the Opera as a stage show. So I didn’t really know what to expect going into this graphic novel adaptation – only having vague awareness of some of the most famous songs. And I was surprised at how the story differed from how I imagined things – I’d somehow imagined it as this great Gothic romance between Christine and the Phantom, but it really, really isn’t. It went in very different directions to how I thought it would – and some that I am still not clear on if they were red herrings or not. And that is probably my biggest issue with this as a graphic novel. I don’t know if this is due to the source material or a problem of the adaptation itself, but it felt like an incomplete story. Thoughts were expressed, but not finished, and the ending was extremely abrupt. As a whole, it felt rather like a collection of ideas than a complete story. And accomplished comics storytelling and great art, unfortunately, couldn’t fully compensate for that.

    I am more of a fantasy reader than a science fiction one, in general. But Kate Dylan’s debut, Mindwalker gripped me so much I breezed through the audiobook in a single day – which, were this a paper book wouldn’t be that unusual, but audio takes about five times as long! Sil Sarrah is a brilliant leading character and the world Kate Dylan creates is both harrowing and compelling. I loved how the story went in unexpected directions and got extremely twisty – not leaving the reader time to breathe and relax. It is a fast-paced, high-octane thriller, a cute romance and a disturbing vision of the future rolled all into one. A great YA, in short. As I listened to the audiobook via NetGalley I would be remiss not to praise Stephanie Cannon’s narration, perfectly translating Kate Dylan’s text to the aural format.

    High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson is a Tor.com novella about fairies, politics and bureaucracy. It has the vibes of the UK Houses of Parliament crossed with a good dose of magic and supernatural threat – though it often feels like the fantasy elements thinly veil the author’s contempt at contemporary politics. While I very much agree with the sentiment, I’m not sure it makes for a great reading experience, especially for someone caught in the middle of the futile squabbling of a largely incompetent government. Lana is a scribe, brought to the Low Parliament by circumstance and thrown into these political machinations with little warning. Her allies are only two – a fairy named Bugbite and a human politician called Eloquentia – and those both have their own agendas. As a whole, this novella feels more like a satire with fantasy elements than the fantasy story I was expecting – and I think my lack of enjoyment was more due to timing and circumstance than the quality of the writing or the story.

  • Reviews

    Daughter of Darkness – Katharine and Elizabeth Corr

    Greek mythology? YA? Wonderful, immersive writing? Yes please. Add a gorgeous Micaela Alcaino cover to the mix and I’m well and truly suckered in. And Daughter of Darkness doesn’t disappoint. It’s less a retelling than a story rooted in the world of Greek mythology, doing its own thing, which is pretty cool – I’m really looking forward to seeing more reactions as I can see this being really popular, hitting on a lot of current YA trends.

    Many thanks to Hot Key Books for sending me an ARC, as always, all opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 04/08/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Deina is trapped. As one of the Soul Severers serving the god Hades on Earth, her future is tied to the task of shepherding the dying on from the mortal world – unless she can earn or steal enough to buy her way out.

    Then the tyrant ruler Orpheus offers both fortune and freedom to whoever can retrieve his dead wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld. Deina jumps at the change. But to win, she must enter and uneasy alliance with a group of fellow Severers she neither likes nor trusts.

    So begins their perilious journey into the realm of Hades… The prize of freedom is before her – but what will it take to reach it?

    OPINIONS: This was a really fun read – it hit my mythology obsession perfectly, and the Corr sisters know how to write a story that grips the reader and compels you to finish the book in a single sitting. In short, the story is as tempting as that beautiful cover is. While this is deeply grounded in Greek mythology, this is entirely a new story, using the known stories as a foundation, but creating a new narrative rather than retelling something familiar. In some ways, this reminded me a bit of some of the books I read during the 2010s YA boom, but in a good way.

    I don’t think this is going to go onto my favourites shelf, but I did really enjoy reading it, and I am very much looking forward to the second book in the series. The Corr sisters clearly know how to tell a story and how to get their readers invested in their characters. Because I’m me, I obviously kept wishing this was queer, because that would have made me love it just that bit more, but really, it’s very solid as it is. Deina is an interesting main character, and I enjoyed reading her story. It’s not a super deep book, but a good read, and I’ll likely reread it soon.

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

  • Reviews

    Mia and the Lightcasters – Janelle McCurdy

    I have a complete soft spot for middle grade! On a sad day, there’s nothing better than devouring a book written for kids – they are usually incredibly immersive and captivating, and provide great escapism, so are wonderful for taking a mini-break from our own problems. And Mia and the Lightcasters is an exciting debut from a new voice that I’m sure we’ll hear much more from – I loved the world of the Umbra and I can’t wait for you all to read this wonderful book too.

    Many thanks to Bethany at Faber for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 04/08/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Mia always dreamed of being an umbra tamer until she met the wild creature on the Nightmare Plains. Since that day, she prefers to stay safe within the walls of Nubis. Safe, that is, until a surprise attack. With her parents captured, Mia’s only hope is to travel to the City of Light to find help. But with only her little brother, two friends and one solitary tamed umbra, the journey feels impossible. Mia not only has to overcome her fears, she also has to learn to harness her umbra taming abilities if they are to complete the quest in time. (from Faber)

    OPINIONS: This was such a fun read! Maybe it’s because I’m currently immersed in kids books all day, but I’m on such a children’s fiction roll. And a promising new middle grade series that doesn’t only come with cute creatures, but also interior illustrations? Count me in. Yes, I’m a sucker for pictures in books. For all ages. For the record, if it were up to me, every single book would have at least one piece of interior black and white art. Anyway. Mia and the Lightcasters. Janelle McCurdy has given us an impeccable debut, one that wouldn’t go amiss among the likes of Rick Riordan Presents. It is compelling, fast paced, and full of great characters and a world that the reader just wants to get stuck into.

    The stars of the show in Mia and the Lightcasters are the Umbra. Beasts that can be tamed, but which can evolve between different forms – reminiscent of Pokémon in that respect – but very, very real to Mia and her world. Mia’s always dreamed of being a real-life Umbra tamer, but her first encounter one was quite different from what she imagined. And then Mia doesn’t have too much of a choice in facing her fears…

    I loved seeing not just Mia, but also Jada, the older tamer, as Black girls who just did their thing and weren’t used as a narrative device, which unfortunately is something that isn’t too common in UK kidlit yet. This makes Mia and the Lightcasters an especially important book for the UK industry – it shows Faber’s commitment to diversity in actions, rather than just words, and I am thrilled for the kids for whom this is a milestone in representation – though I wish it was standard rather than something to single out… Initially I was sad that there wouldn’t be a pretty hardcover of the book, but the more I think about it, the happier I am that it is indeed a paperback original – making it all the more accessible to the children who need this book. More books like this please, publishing industry, put your money where your mouth is.

    Add Mia and the Lightcasters to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here.

  • Something Special

    Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards 2022 – The Finalists

    Hello all! We’ve been hard at work reading all of the Subjective Chaos nominees for 2022 and we’ve reached consensus on a brilliant shortlist of finalists across categories. It’s been a very hard choice for many categories, but without further ado, this year’s finalists are, in no particular order:

    Best Fantasy

    The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

    The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova

    She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan

    Best Science Fiction

    Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

    A Desolation of Peace by Arkady Martine

    Blurred Boundaries

    A Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

    The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu

    Best Debut

    This is Our Undoing by Lorraine Wilson

    Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

    Best YA

    The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

    The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

    Best Novella

    & This Is How To Stay Alive by Shingai Njeri Kagunda

    Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard

    These Lifeless Things by Premee Mohamed

    The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

    Best Graphic Novel

    The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox-Ostertag

    Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto & Ann Xu

    Best Series

    The Kingston Cycle by C.L. Polk

    The Expanse by James SA Corey

    Best Short Fiction

    The Amazing Exploding Women of the 20th Century by A.C. Wise

    Homecoming Is Just Another Word For The Sublimation Of The Self by Isabel J. Kim

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    Welcome back to a new round of Monday Minis. Two YA novels and an adult historical this week – many thanks to the respective publishers for providing me with eARCs via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    Melissa Grey’s Valiant Ladies is based on two real-life vigilantes. Eustaquia “Kiki” de Sonza and Ana Lezama de Urinza were known as the Valiant Ladies of Potosi in seventeenth-century Peru, taking up arms and living a life of vigilante justice while being lovers. This novel sets in earlier in their lives though, when they may already have been headstrong, but still fairly sheltered. The story’s core mystery is the murder of Kiki’s brother Alejandro – catapulting the two girls into a dangerous investigation and a life that is more interesting that they perhaps imagined for themselves. It also focuses on Kiki and Ana falling in love and figuring out how to navigate society’s expectations with their own desires. It is a compelling story with strong characters, though expect to read something that is far more reminiscent of a fantasy novel than historically grounded. It may be inspired by historical figures, but it is not historical fiction in terms of how it reads. A fun read if you like stabby girls!

    Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott is set in post-Roman Britain. Isla and Blue are the daughters of the Great Smith, exiled for purported use of magic in smithing his swords. They have been living free lives, learning trades forbidden to women, and when their father suddenly dies, they need to run into an abandoned Londinium to escape enslavement. They find community and kinship, but also danger in this story full of myth and folklore. It is beautifully written and compelling, a feminist story grounded in an image of the past that isn’t quite what we expect, using the period as a vehicle to create strong characters. It is thoroughly enjoyable, though I found that there wasn’t much that truly stood out to me, especially when comparing it to some of my other favourites set in the period. Certainly not a mistake to pick this one up, in any case.

    The Blood Traitor by Lynette Noni is the satisfying conclusion to The Prison Healer trilogy. I was lucky enough to get to read eARCs of all three books in the trilogy early, and they are entertaining, quick YA fantasy reads. The story revolves around Kiva, the daughter of the rebel queen Tilda Corentine, who has spent most of her life in Zalindov prison. In the first book, Kiva undergoes a trial by ordeal, and falls for a prince in disguise, in the second book, they leave Zalindov behind and Kiva has to navigate loyalty to her rebel family with her growing feelings for Jaren. In this third volume, the gang is separated through betrayal, and the story enters a much grander scale than before. It is no longer just about a handful of characters, but about continental politics, about long-term loyalty and a huge quest. These books aren’t the deepest or the best-written, but they are certainly fun and solid reads. And now you can binge the whole series in one go.

  • Reviews

    How to Kill Your Best Friend – Lexie Elliot

    There seems to be an upswing in casual crime novels about killing people you’re supposed to care about – last year brought us Bella Mackie’s awesome How to Kill Your Family, and now Lexie Elliot comes in with How to Kill Your Best Friend. Fitting that I was reading this while visiting one of my best friends… Though, unfortunately, not on a lovely beach, but in a city heatwave.

    Many thanks to Amber and Hannah at Midas PR for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 02/09/2022

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Georgie, Lissa and Bronwyn have been best friends since they met on their college swimming team. Now Lissa is dead – drowned off the coast of the remote island where her second husband owns a luxury resort. But could a star open-water swimmer really have drowned? Or is something more sinister going on?

    Brought together for Lissa’s memorial, Georgie, Bron, Lissa’s grieving husband and their friends find themselves questioning the circumstances around Lissa’s death – and each other. As the weather turns ominous, trapping the guests on the island, it slowly dawns on them that Lissa’s death was only the beginning. Nobody knows who they can trust. Or if they’ll make it off the island alive… (from Corvus)

    OPINIONS: I was drawn into this by the title and cover, to be entirely honest. I have been on a bit of a mystery binge for comfort reading, and it intrigued me – especially as someone who adores water and would like nothing more than to be able to go for a daily open-water swim. But I found this an odd read. The most jarring element, to me, was that not a single one of the characters, of this supposed friend group, seemed to actually like each other. And yes, it may have been one of those situations where you become friends, and then stay friends out of habit, but it was still strange. There just wasn’t any true affection between any of them, and at various points of the story I thought any one of them had reason to commit the inciting murder.

    I did really like the atmosphere, the backdrop of an isolated island together with a crumbling world of luxury. And I do have to give this one to Lexie Elliot, despite the characters frustrating me to no end, they were all complex and multi-layered, interesting people. But ultimately the pacing of the story felt off, with too much happening at once, and then not for a long time, and then pivoting in a completely different direction. It was a fun read, and I breezed through it rather quickly. But in the end, it didn’t feel as satisfying as I was hoping it would, and I was left slightly disappointed with the book as a whole.

    If you’re intrigued, you can add How to Kill Your Best Friend to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here.

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    It’s been crazy over here. So a true catch-up Monday minis post this week – three books I’ve read (slightly late, to my shame), and where I feel like I don’t have all that much to say about them but want to showcase the books all the same. Huge thanks to the lovely publicists for sending me these books for review – and as always, opinions are entirely my own.

    Something Certain, Maybe by Sara Barnard is not quite my usual fare. It is a contemporary YA novel with a good dose of romance, set around Rosie who is going off to university to study pharmacy. Rosie has her life planned out – uni, career, everything. But uni isn’t quite what she expected – and the girl she falls for, Jade, is pretty much the only thing she loves about the experience. And then her mum develops health issues too. Something Certain, Maybe is an ode to not knowing, to the insecurity that moving away to university brings with it. It is a book that shows that you don’t need to know all of the answers, and that it is fine to flounder a bit. And for me, personally, it hit on a lot of things I was feeling in that first few months of going away from home, of realising I was doing the wrong course, of struggling with my own choices. But, at the same time, as a book, this didn’t quite work for me. I found it a bit too slow, a bit too evasive. Perhaps that is because I have grown up since then, but it didn’t grip me – I found myself putting it down again and again, taking breaks – or truly make me care about the characters as more than concepts. It is a solid book, but one that I think I wouldn’t re-read.

    Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik is a fun space opera romp. The first in a new series, this features Octavia, the captain of a space ship and her crew, and rival frenemy Torran Fletcher who hires them for a job. It is twisty, though not entirely unpredictable. The characters are solid, and it is very entertaining. I enjoyed my read, even if I’m not sure if I did so enough to continue on to the next in the series. It is a bit too superficial and will-they-won’t-they for my tastes, but I can see this working really well for a lot of readers who are more interested in straight romance elements than I personally am. It is more character focused than on the space opera elements, and it’s definitely not the right book if you’re looking for hard science fiction – in terms of storytelling it is closer to paranormal romance set in space than it is to traditional science fiction, which I think caught me out a bit.

    For the Throne by Hannah Whitten is the sequel to last year’s For the Wolf. It concludes the duology, and it is just as compelling and delicious as the first book. It goes into more detail about the characters introduced in For the Wolf, though this second instalment focuses on Neve, Red’s older sister, who has taken on the throne – though for most of the story, she is lost in the Shadowlands. This is a dark fairytale, and where For the Wolf was Beauty and the Beast for those who never wanted the Beast to turn into a sleek prince, this is self-determination, rejection of fate and accident of birth. Best read in quick succession, this is a duology I’d recommend for fun escapism and folklore-inspired fantasy fans. It has grown-up fairy tale vibes, but far less wholesome, and it is completely up my street. These aren’t perfect books, and I don’t think I’d go as far as consider them favourites, but I’ve reread the first one, and I’ll probably reread the second one too. They’re the sort of lovely comforting books with an edge that just work for me.

  • Reviews

    The Peacekeeper – B.L. Blanchard

    The world-building shines as the star of B.L. Blanchard’s debut novel, The Peacekeeper, a murder mystery set in an alt-history version of the Great Lakes region of North America. By far the most compelling aspect of the book, the world-building centers around the premise that North America was never colonized and that Native American society has solidified into the Ojibwe nation around the Great Lakes. It asks the question, what does that look like? How would cities like Chicago have evolved? How would the police and judicial system operate? What about economics? Blanchard answers these questions and more throughout the course of unwinding the mystery, which in many ways fades to the back as this intriguing world-building concept takes the front seat. I received an ARC of this book from 47North. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 01/06/2022

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶


    Against the backdrop of a never-colonized North America, a broken Ojibwe detective embarks on an emotional and twisting journey toward solving two murders, rediscovering family, and finding himself.

    North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.

    Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known.

    The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family—and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie. 


    The earth is sacred and “the Good Life” – sharing what you have with others, a close equivalent to the concept of karma, the author explains in the glossary – are two of the guiding principles that form the foundation of world-building in The Peacekeeper. Buildings are living, trees and plants literally grow out of the skyscrapers, bringing the earth into their towering structures to meet the people that live and work there. Nature is omnipresent. Justice focuses on making victims whole, guided by “the Good Life” rather than punitive approaches to restitution. In smaller towns, like Baawitigong, money is rarely used, everyone in the village ensures that the needs of the townspeople are met through shared resources and redistribution of possessions. These are just a few of examples of how the author paints a very different picture of what the world might look like had Native Americans held on to the land and the nation grew under their precepts instead of the colonists. 

    However, human nature cannot be escaped, and to me this was probably the most powerful message of the book. Poverty and inequality still exist as shown by the state of Sakima’s housing and the homelessness in the streets of Shikaakwa. Cheating, murder, and drugs are still present, and their evils have dire consequences. The justice system, although fundamentally different, still fails people. This book tells us that no matter how benevolent the society, how good its intentions, human nature is constant.

    The language and the prose structure complimented the world-building nicely by using Native American terms and names as well as providing a Native American voice. Note to readers: there is a glossary in the back of the book that is extremely helpful!

    Unfortunately, the characters and mystery fell flat for me, which is why I rated the book merely average. Chibenashi is not a sympathetic character. He is frustrating at best and annoying at worst. The trouble is that we are only given his viewpoint. There are limited forays into other viewpoints, but not enough to let us know that Chibenashi is in fact an unreliable narrator. Had we known that earlier in the book through others’ viewpoints, I think his character would have been more sympathetic, and that tactic would also have added dimension to the murder mystery. We do find out why he is an unreliable narrator at the end of the book as part of the mystery reveal, but knowing that in hindsight doesn’t make his character easier to read for the first 80% of the book.

    The book intends there to be an awakening for Chibenashi. He is meant to experience and drive toward re-creation in the endless cycle of life. And although his character arc ends with him starting completely fresh and anew – literally the last two pages of the book – the revelations and transformation that led to those final pages felt rushed, especially considering the amount of time the reader spends with the unlikeable character.

    There were problems with continuity in action versus reaction. The consequences and emotional implications of Chibenashi stealing the file, for example, were completely disproportionate when compared to the consequences and impacts of “sins” committed by other characters, e.g. Sakima lying about his whereabouts or Peezhickee withholding key information or, most notably, botching the initial investigation. The lack of continuity pulled me out of the story as I was unable to reconcile this hitch in the world-building and characterization.

    The mystery is straight-forward, but again, this book’s world-building is the draw, not the mystery itself. The Scooby Doo ending, where everyone arrives at the same time for the big reveal, coupled with the Bond-villain-esque pages of monologue from the antagonist revealing the entire how and why was over-the-top. This type of reveal didn’t match the methodical pacing of the rest of the story and I think the mystery would have been better served had it been resolved more organically.

    Overall, I’m glad I read this book. It came at a time when I was desperately seeking something different, and it most definitely delivered on that front. I’d recommend it to someone who enjoys inventive, alt-history world-building and a light mystery. I doubt I will read on in the series, though. This first book did not grip me enough such that I feel compelled to return for the next installment.


  • Reviews

    Dark Court Rising – Bec McMaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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