I think this might be a record, two blog tours on the same day! But both of these books are excellent and worth reading about. The Trouble With Peace is the second book in Joe Abercrombie’s The Age of Madness trilogy, following up on 2019’s A Little Hatred. A true work of Grimdark fantasy, this trilogy is set in a world more inspired by the eighteenth century than the Middle Ages, which makes it rather unique. There is technology, but no less war and manipulation, and fans of the genre will devour it.
Thank you to Patricia Deveer and Gollancz for including me in this blog tour and sending me a copy of The Trouble With Peace! I highly recommend you also head over and check out some of the posts of my wonderful co-hosts.
RELEASE DATE: 15/09/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Conspiracy. Betrayal. Rebellion.
Peace is just another kind of battlefield . . .
Savine dan Glokta, once Adua’s most powerful investor, finds her judgement, fortune and reputation in tatters. But she still has all her ambitions, and no scruple will be permitted to stand in her way.
For heroes like Leo dan Brock and Stour Nightfall, only happy with swords drawn, peace is an ordeal to end as soon as possible. But grievances must be nursed, power seized and allies gathered first, while Rikke must master the power of the Long Eye . . . before it kills her.
Unrest worms into every layer of society. The Breakers still lurk in the shadows, plotting to free the common man from his shackles, while noblemen bicker for their own advantage. Orso struggles to find a safe path through the maze of knives that is politics, only for his enemies, and his debts, to multiply.
The old ways are swept aside, and the old leaders with them, but those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace, lasts forever. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: While it took me a very long time to get settled with A Little Hatred, I enjoyed The Trouble With Peace far more from the start and found it extremely compelling – I ended up reading the five hundred page novel in two installments over a couple days (while I was already tired from working on my dissertation, so good job, Mr. Abercrombie, don’t let it get to your head!). These books are very addictive once you get into them and sort out the different strands in your head. Pro-tip: there is a list of characters at the end which helps a lot, consult that throughout, not just at the end! The ending of The Trouble With Peace is both very satisfying and an evil cliffhanger making you want more immediately, so I’m very glad that there is more to come – the third volume in the trilogy will be published next year and I can’t wait to read and review it too!
I think my favourite part of the series so far is that the women are the ones with the brains, pulling the strings, and manipulating, whereas the male of the species tend to be brawny – and to an extent, naive. Believing themselves to be one thing when they are not, only to be led in a different direction by the women close to them is wonderful to see. It is no wonder that my favourite characters in the series are Rikke and Savine. Fiercely independent women set to have their own way no matter the cost to themselves and others. That is not to say that they are portrayed as positive characters – as is befitting a Grimdark novel, they, as are the remaining characters, are multi-layered and morally murky, selfish and power-hungry.
The world-building is also excellent, as is the writing, sprinkled in with humour. Never boring, the Age of Madness trilogy is a must-read for any fan of Grimdark fantasy! Add it on Goodreads here, and order yourself a (signed) copy of The Trouble With Peace via Waterstones here.
Very fittingly, this review is going up on a D&D day! Even If We Break is a locked-house thriller set around an RPG weekend in which a group of teenagers try to salvage their friendship… or do they? Featuring amazing queer and disability rep, as well as my favourite thing, RPGs, Marieke Nijkamp has managed to craft a unique contribution to the YA canon that will make a lot of young people feel seen!
Thank you to Midas PR, Amber Choudhary and Sourcebooks Fire for including me in this blog tour and sending me an ARC of Even If We Break! I highly recommend you also head over and check out some of the posts of my wonderful co-hosts.
RELEASE DATE: 15/09/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
FIVE friends go to a cabin.
FOUR of them are hiding secrets.
THREE years of history bind them.
TWO are doomed from the start.
ONE person wants to end this.
NO ONE IS SAFE.
For five friends, this was supposed to be one last getaway before going their separate ways—a chance to say goodbye to each other, and to the game they’ve been playing for the past three years. But they’re all dealing with their own demons, and they’re all hiding secrets.
Finn doesn’t trust anyone since he was attacked a few months ago. Popular girl Liva saw it happen and did nothing to stop it. Maddy was in an accident that destroyed her sports career. Carter is drowning under the weight of his family’s expectations. Ever wants to keep the game going for as long as they can, at all costs.
When the lines between game and reality start to blend with deadly consequences, it’s a race against time before it’s game over—forever.
Are you ready to play? (from Sourcebooks Fire)
OPINIONS: Please please, dear authors, write more books featuring nerd-catnip like RPGs! I absolutely devoured Even If We Break over the span of a few hours last week and I think this unique twist was my favourite part about it. On top of that, the book featured a very diverse cast of protagonists in terms of gender and disability, and addressed a host of issues faced by young people growing up in today’s society.
As the author themselves is gender non-conforming, autistic and has EDS, all represented in the book, these portrayals are well-crafted and nuanced rather than being there merely for show or harmful. Finn is a trans boy with EDS (not explicit on the page but confirmed by Marieke on Twitter), Maddy is autistic, and Ever is non-binary. While the group is ethnically not as diverse, they actually poke fun at that fact themselves in the story. (Prescription) drug abuse and social class are further issues addressed in Even If We Break, making it a multi-layered story past the surface plot.
And that is where the book’s great value lies in my opinion. There are amazingly crafted characters with aims, dreams and elaborate backstories that only shimmer through in the book itself. There is a world behind the story that will help many teens feel seen, and that is incredible. For me, that more than makes up for the fact that the mystery itself in Even If We Break was quite transparent, and I figured out what was going on relatively early on. Nevertheless, the story was well-written, and the inclusion of the RPG cleverly done.
Today is my stop on the Iron Heart tour run by Caffeine Book Tours! Click here to see the full schedule and to support this awesome book and my hard-working co-hosts. Iron Heart is the sequel to Crier’s War and concludes the duology about a human and an android falling in love and it’s beautiful and emotional and amazing.
I am incredibly grateful to Shealea and Caffeine Book Tours for choosing me to be part of this tour and letting me read Iron Heart early, and a massive thanks to HarperTeen for providing me with an eARC!
RELEASE DATE: 08/09/20
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: For too long the cruel, beautiful Automae have lorded over the kingdom of Rabu, oppressing the humans who live there. But the human revolution is on the rise, and at its heart is Ayla. Once handmaiden, now fugitive, Ayla escaped the palace of Lady Crier, the girl Ayla had planned to kill . . . but instead fell in love with. Now Ayla has pledged her allegiance to Queen Junn, whom she believes can accomplish the ultimate goal of the human rebellion: destroy the Iron Heart. Without it, the Automae will be weakened to the point of extinction.
But playing at Ayla’s memory are the powerful feelings she developed for Crier. And unbeknownst to her, Crier has also fled the palace, taking up among travelling rebels, determined to find and protect Ayla.
As their paths collide, neither are prepared for the dark secret underlying the Iron Heart. (from HarperTeen)
OPINIONS: Crier’s War was good, but Iron Heart is even better – you can tell that Nina Varela is really coming into her own as a writer, becoming more confident and escaping the dreaded second-book-syndrome. Iron Heart is grippingly written, I tried to space out reading it in bits over the course of a day, but every time I tried to take a break, I was back at it within a couple of minutes. And I have really been struggling to stay focused on my reading. So congrats Nina, great job!
And oh, the tension, the longing, the buildup between Crier and Ayla. It really is an epic love story. It is only really hinted at in Crier’s War, but the sequel picks up right after the end of the first book and the relationship keeps developing organically. Even though the two girls spend large chunks of the story apart, they remain connected in so many ways, which is wonderful. They also both grow so much over the course of the story – from idealistic kids to women part of leading a rebellion.
Seriously, I need more of this kind of writing – well-written sapphics with real character growth, alchemy, rebellion, history and the all-important question of what it means to be human and alive. Nina, please keep writing and supplying us with wonderful queer YA for many years to come!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays, short fiction, poetry, and novels. In May 2017, she graduated magna cum laude from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with a BFA in Writing for Screen & Television. Crier’s War was her debut, and this is the sequel. She is originally from Durham, North Carolina, where she grew up on a hippie commune in the middle of the woods. She now lives in Los Angeles.
Author website — https://www.ninavarela.com/
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/ninavarelas_/
Twitter — http://twitter.com/ninavarelas
Fabienne’s summer of Arthuriana continues! I’ve been lucky enough to get to read an eARC of the wonderful Legendborn a few weeks ago and I can assure you that it is worth every ounce of hype that it is getting! A thoroughly modern reimagining of the Arthurian legends meets Black girl magic featuring a set of amazing characters – I loved it and I cannot wait to read more! My finished copy is on its way and I will be rereading it as soon as I can.
Massive thanks to Netgalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for my honest thoughts.
RELEASE DATE: 15/09/20
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.
The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.
She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight. (from Margaret K. McElderry Books)
OPINIONS: As I’m in the process of writing my MA dissertation on modern reinterpretations of medieval mythology and legends, I have read an awful lot of them over the course of the last few months, so please trust me when I tell you that Legendborn truly is one of the very best. It is diverse, it is feminist, and it is a fantastic YA fantasy on top of exhibiting a deep understanding of the Arthurian corpus and making it its own. It is not merely a retelling of the classic King Arthur story, but it twists it in a way that is surprising and refreshing, mixing it up and turning it into something unique.
Not only that, but it mixes Arthuriana with Black girl magic, of which this world always needs more – Bree is a wonderful heroine, and the way Tracy Deonn manages to weave colonialism and slavery into the story and the Arthurian tradition is truly masterful. It makes Legendborn multi-faceted and layered – yes, it is a story that can just be read and enjoyed, but there was so much in the various timelines that a history nerd like me saw and got excited about and at the same time many things that people like me, who grew up white in Europe, often tend to forget and overlook because we are not personally confronted with them.
Another thing I absolutely loved about Legendborn is the fact that Bree is a very smart girl. The story is set on a college campus, and she has just entered early college. As someone who graduated High School early and went off to Uni at 16, I am always very excited when I get to read about characters I can identify with in that way – something that is incredibly rare. I’m not talking about characters that are constantly studying and great at doing homework, but naturally clever, and have a personality that truly enjoys learning and research. Thank you, Tracy, for giving me a book that makes me feel seen and combines it with my passion for medieval legends!
P.S. Legendborn also features two hot boys. There’s Nick, straight-laced cute boy, and Selwyn, resident slightly gothy bad boy… I recommend you add Legendborn on Goodreads ASAP and pre-order yourself a copy so you can decide whose team you’re on! You can get the UK edition via Waterstones here, and the US edition via Book Depository here.
Many thanks to Will O’Mullane and Orion Books for sending me a review copy of this wonderful genre-bending historical novel in exchange for my honest thoughts! A unique high-concept story blending the French Revolution with the Prague Spring and even the future, this was a joy to read and get lost in.
RELEASE DATE: 06/08/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: On the day the comet came, a girl named Heloise was born. She would live a fine life, and inherit a fortune, but would meet a cruel, untimely death.
Years later, strange dreams plague Katya Nemcová, a teenager burdened with a rare and curious gift. Memories come to Katya in her dreams – images and stories from a past that isn’t her own. Are these ghosts real? And what of the memory she seems to have of Heloise’s treasures, two centuries old? (from Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
OPINIONS: Following a line of strong women able to see memories of their ancestors back to Heloise, with whom the line started, this story is unique and haunting. Full of tragedy, but never losing hope. Heloise, Katya, and all the women in between endure hardship, and have to fight to make their way in the world, but don’t let it break their spirit. They are determined to be their own person without fail.
The Many Lives of Heloise Starchild is excellently written, gripping and pulls the reader into its world. It forces you to suspend disbelief, and accept the story at face value, as really, it is not about the individual events, which are often hard to believe if taken by themselves, but about the women and their determination. The stories should be considered illustrations for the characters, as which they function very well, making this a book about family, love, and ambition.
More literary than speculative fiction, The Many Lives of Heloise Starchild is mostly a historical novel set in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, although part of it takes place in the future. While there are supernatural elements, I do think that this will appeal to readers of literary fiction more than the traditional readers of SFF due to its writing style. It is a relatively slow, character-driven story, with many interwoven plot strands, featuring lyrical prose. Also, look at the beautiful cover!!!
A tale of necromancy, vampires and shenanigans, reminiscent of Terry Pratchett writing for the modern woman, Alice James’ Grave Secrets is a delight of a paranormal romance. I’ve hyped this up so much that my partner’s mum has just taken the ARC off me to read herself, so I guess that speaks for itself!
Many thanks to Rebellion Publishing and Hanna Waigh for sending me an ARC and including me on this blog tour!
RELEASE DATE: 03/09/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent. All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. It’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies – oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires. It can’t be the best decision she’s ever made, but he’s so pretty. Really, what’s a girl meant to do? (from Solaris)
OPINIONS: Grave Secrets is one of the most hilarious books I have read in a long time. I was chuckling the whole time I was reading Toni’s story and at times even laughing out loud – my poor partner who was trying to write their dissertation at the same time! Toni is a wonderful heroine, flawed and complex, spunky and independent. She knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it, all the while being a kick-ass necromancer and adorkable at the same time.
Her menagerie of men is just as fun and exciting – there is a three-hundred year dead zombie named Bredon who loves to eat, the handsome vampire Oscar, dashing doctor Peter, who happens to be human, and what about the rakishly dangerous vampire Benedict Toni loves to hate? While this first volume of the story is quite clear on her loyalties, it leaves a lot of speculation for the future as Toni’s chemistry with all of these men is high and she might have to re-evaluate her options after everything that happens in Grave Secrets….
Grave Secrets is well-written, funny, sexy, and highly addictive – I need more as soon as I can get it. I cannot wait for the second volume of the Lavington Windsor Mysteries to be released so I can get my fix of this wonderful paranormal romance series and decide on which ship to stan. Add Grave Secrets on Goodreads and order a copy via Waterstones or your book dealer of choice!
As you have probably heard (because I’ve been telling everyone I’ve met), I co-founded a blog tour company, Phoenix Fire Tours a little while ago, and we are currently running our very first tour! Bright Raven Skies by Kristina Pérez was published on the 25th of August and is the conclusion to her Sweet Black Waves trilogy based on the legend of Tristan and Eseult, and centers the character of Branwen.
For the full tour schedule and links to all posts, check out the Phoenix Fire blog here! We are also running a giveaway for a finished copy of the book for a lucky winner with a US or UK shipping address: CLICK HERE TO ENTER
I loved this third installment just as much as the first two – the same wonderfully complex characters, unashamed bodily autonomy and determination that make the series such a treat dominate Bright Raven Skies as well. It is thrilling, fast-paced and will keep the reader enthralled from start to finish. Full of twists that you don’t see coming, Branwen will have to choose between her light and dark sides once and for all in this satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
Now, I said I would be writing about the food featured in this book today. I think that came up more often in the earlier volumes, as I paid full attention this time and there were barely any instances of meals that the characters eat! I was hoping for a nice feast that I could choose something from to recreate and treat you all to a recipe for – I love medieval cookery, which is full of the combination of sweet and savoury, with dishes like meat pies spiced with honey and raisins.
The main thing that Branwen and Essie consume in Bright Raven Skies is not food, but rather drink: Blackberry Wine. This sweet concoction is their drink of choice throughout their stay in Kernyv. I wish I was able to recreate this myself, but I don’t trust myself to brew alcohol (yet) – though I do have some friends back in Switzerland who know how to brew mead! I do imagine this Blackberry Wine as a sort of mead cut with blackberry juice, low in alcoholic percentage, sweet and utterly drinkable. I’m not sure how available these things are here in the UK, but in Switzerland where I grew up, me and my friends actually drank mead laced with cherry juice as our beverage of choice growing up, so I feel quite nostalgic about the idea of Blackberry Wine.
I don’t want to encourage anyone to drink, but if you do drink and have the chance to pick up something along those lines at a medieval fair or a castle or somewhere similar, I do recommend it!
My summer of medieval retellings has led me to reading lots of Arthuriana and a fair bit of Robin Hood-inspired stories, but surprisingly little about Joan of Arc. So I was very keen to give Jaime Lee Moyer’s Divine Heretic a go, especially given that her Brightfall, a Robin Hood retelling crossed with the Fae, was one of my favourite takes on that source material.
Many thanks to Jo Fletcher Books and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of Divine Heretic in exchange for an honest review.
—– Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault —–
RELEASE DATE: 20/08/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Jeanne d’Arc was only five when three angels and saints first came to her. Shrouded by a halo of heavenly light, she believed their claim to be holy. The Archangel Michael and Saint Margaret told her she was the foretold Warrior Maid of Lorraine, fated to free France and put a king upon his throne.
Saint Catherine made her promise to obey their commands and embrace her destiny; the three saints would guide her every step. Jeanne bound herself to these creatures without knowing what she’d done. As she got older, Jeanne grew to mistrust and fear the voices, and they didn’t hesitate to punish her cruelly for disobedience. She quickly learned that their cherished prophecy was more important than the girl expected to make it come true.
Jeanne is only a shepherd’s daughter, not the Warrior Maid of the prophecy, but she is stubborn and rebellious, and finds ways to avoid doing – and being – what these creatures want. Resistance has a terrifying price, but Jeanne is determined to fight for the life she wants.
But when the cost grows too high, Jeanne will risk everything to save her brother, her one true friend and the man she loves. (from Jo Fletcher Books)
OPINIONS: This is Joan of Arc as you have not read her before. A girl with a mind of her own, agency, and doubting the voices in her head as she lives her life. Full of surprising twists and subversion of the legend as it is traditionally told, Jaime Lee Moyer manages to make the story truly her own with Divine Heretic. You might think you know the plot, but trust me, this is a different story, using characters and elements, but weaving it into a new tapestry worth discovering for itself.
Jeanne is a nuanced character, full of life in a well-crafted world. Ethan, Pierre and Sarah, the other main characters are just as interesting and it is refreshing that religion is only important in the more abstract sense. Yes, Jeanne hears voices, but she is not a zealot. And that is probably the most important thing to know going into Divine Heretic. It is not a novel about a religious warrior. It is a book about a young woman figuring out who she is and what her place in the world and the war going on is. She just happens to hear voices, and these voices claim to be saints and an archangel.
Libri Draconis wouldn’t be a very good bookish dragon site if it didn’t talk about dragon books every once in a while. And Brian Naslund’s series starting with Blood of an Exile, and continuing with the recently released Sorcery of a Queen are excellent dragon books. And if you look closely, it even features a quote from my colleagues at Grimdark Magazine endorsing it, so another reason to pick up the books!
Many thanks to Jamie-Lee Nardone and Stephen Haskins for sending me a copy of Sorcery of a Queen in exchange for a honest review!
RELEASE DATE: 06/08/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: The dragonslayer Bershad and Queen Ashlyn are facing the greatest challenge of their lives.
Branded the Witch Queen and driven from her kingdom, Ashlyn flees to her mother’s people. Yet she won’t be beaten, resolving to master magical feats long thought impossible. But this could have unforeseen consequences. Meanwhile, Bershad has learnt why he seems invincible – and that he’s living on borrowed time. However, he remains determined to help Ashlyn regain her throne.
They will face a foreign emperor, commanding an army equipped with terrifying new weaponry. This aggressor will do anything to crush Ashlyn’s land, and claim its prized dragons. So to save her kingdom, both queen and dragonslayer must attempt the impossible to prevail. (from UK Tor)
OPINIONS: To me, the central conflict in Sorcery of a Queen is between the factions of Ashlyn and Kira, two sisters at war with each other, which is pretty refreshing for epic Grimdark fantasy. Neither is exactly morally good, or very queenly, but both are ambitious, complex and power-hungry, which makes for very interesting reading material. One of my favourite aspects of the series is the way sorcery is set up, as a sort of learned alchemy that is not inherent but rather macabre in itself and attained through experimentation and study.
The dragons are more set dressing that characters themselves, as the series is more concerned with the concept of dragons existing in the world and the implication that has for the story at large than the impact of individual dragons. Bershad, another of the main characters, is a famous dragonslayer, sorcery is partially based on dragon’s body parts and ingredients found in their lairs and Kira’s airships are built out of dragon’s carcasses.
The story itself is well-written and compelling, and just like the two titular queens, the remaining characters are morally conflicting, following their individual aims over any clear moral alignment. Sorcery of a Queen doesn’t suffer from second-book syndrome, in fact, due to its slower nature and focus on the discovery of sorcery I might have enjoyed this one even more than Blood of an Exile!
In any case, I am very much looking forward to the final installment of the Dragons of Terra trilogy. Add Sorcery of a Queen to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Waterstones or any bookseller of your choice!
Body Talk is a very special collection of short essays and stories, discussing all aspects of the human body from the perspective of a variety of authors and writers, accompanied by little FAQs and info blocks about the things you might not have known about beforehand. Spanning from period issues to dealing with cancer or being LGBTQIA+, most things that teenagers might encountered are included in this wonderful book.
Many thanks to Amanda Dissinger and Algonquin Young Readers for sending me an eARC of Body Talk in exchange for an honest review.
RELEASE DATE: 18/08/20
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: We all experience the world in a body, but we don’t usually take the time to explore what it really means to have and live within one. Just as every person has a unique personality, every person has a unique body, and every body tells its own story.
In Body Talk, thirty-seven writers, models, actors, musicians, and artists share essays, lists, comics, and illustrations—about everything from size and shape to scoliosis, from eating disorders to cancer, from sexuality and gender identity to the use of makeup as armor. Together, they contribute a broad variety of perspectives on what it’s like to live in their particular bodies—and how their bodies have helped to inform who they are and how they move through the world. (from Algonquin Young Readers)
OPINIONS: I wish I had Body Talk back when I was a teenager. It is the kind of book I would love to get into the hands of every insecure kid out there – and all the ones who project outward confidence for that matter – to give them perspective on themselves and the world around them. Understanding for what other people might be experiencing, helping to build empathy.
All of us have insecurities, especially when it comes to our bodies. Reading the very personal contributions from these writers, from names as big as Tyra Banks or Roshani Chokshi, or any of the thirty-five other contributors makes one realise that not a single one of us is free of these worries. And that is why Body Talk is such an important book.
Kelly Jensen has done a fantastic job compiling the voices featured in Body Talk, and enhancing the contributions through clever explanations of some topics that are commonly misconceived or FAQs that teens might have about certain issues. This makes the collection invaluable for young people and a fantastic resource for parents and schools to have on hand. Please get copies of this book and distribute them to the young people in your life so they can grow up feeling validated and reassured!