Lately, one of the ways I’ve been finding new Fantasy Romance books is by mining the literary awards database for all the past winners of the RITA for Paranormal Romance. I came across the book Rebel, book 3 in The Blades of the Rose series, and was intrigued so I added it to my TBR, not really sure which square I’d use it for. I was about to dig into the series, when unexpectedly a Historical Romance writer (Eva Leigh) who I’ve read in the past and follow on Twitter posted about this exact series and that she had written it under the penname Zoe Archer. I had no idea! It seemed as though the fates aligned to encourage me to read this series, and so I decided to dive in.
This review was originally written as part of a personal project to complete an all Fantasy Romance card for r/fantasy’s 2022 Book Bingo. You can read an introduction to my project here. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 01/01/2010
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
It didn’t take me long to figure out which square was best for this series – Historical Fantasy. Why? Because this series reads and feels like a Historical Romance. The writing, the structure, the tone – you can tell it is written by a prominent Historical Romance author. I think one of the things I found unique about this series was the fact that it’s an accurate Historial Romance first and Fantasy second – the magic system and world-building were layered atop of the accurate historical setting. In some respects, the Fantasy plot is suppoting!
The series takes during the late Victorian era. The main characters are all British and are fighting a war for the posession of magical Sources. The Blades of the Rose are a secret society of English men and women who are protecting ancient artifacts – Sources – from falling into the wrong hands. The Heirs of Albion are another secret society in opposition to the Blades; the Heirs are Imperialists, their goal is to acquire as many Sources as possible with the intent of using their powerful magic to promote the expansion of the British Empire and establish England as the center of the world. These books have a strong anti-colonialism theme.
This world is our world – it is an accurate historical representation. Magic is simply layered on top. Magical Sources are artifacts pulled from various traditions and myths. In other words, the magic is that these myths are real and are sources of incredible power. For example, in the first book we learn that many historical battles were actually won due to an army in possession of one of the Sources.
What’s great about this series is that although the main characters are all English, they are traveling around the world to find and protect the Sources. The first book takes place in Mongolia and the second in Greece. This really ups the ante in terms of history, because not only is English history being referenced, but the reader also becomes immersed in some of the culture and history of the location where the Blades and the Heirs are hunting for the Source.
I picked the second book in this series to review – Scoundrel – because it blew me away. I’d been in a reading slump, and this book pulled me right out of it. It had so many of the romance tropes I love all tied together nicely in a neat little package. For me, this one was all about the character and relationship arc and how beautifully Archer developed both.
I absolutely loved the dynamic between Bennett and London. This is a true enemies-to-lovers story, because London is the daughter of one of the Heirs and Bennett is a Blade. They are sworn enemies, and the path they take to become allies is so well-constructed and natural, it was a pleasure to read. London’s character arc as Bennett encourages and supports her to grow into her personal power after being sheltered and held back by her father is magnificent.
One of my pet peeves in HR is when the rake really isn’t a rake. When the title of the book and characters referring to him as a rake are the only things that tell me that the MMC is a scoundrel, I take issue. But that is not the case here and I absolutely loved it. Bennett is set up as the quintessential rake, the opening scene showing him being chased through the streets by an angry husband. Heck! He even slept with the other woman in their group of allies! Even after he and London come together, he admits to her he can’t bind himself to one woman or love her the way she wants. The transformation of Bennett’s character given his love for London is perfection. This is one of the best “reformed rake” stories I’ve ever read.
And the steam – whew! The tension between these two characters is palpable and their encounters absolutely delicious. In particular, the scene between them on the ruins was incredibly erotic. I knew Archer could write wonderfully explicit and erotic sex scenes from her HR novels, and she does not disappoint here!
The adventure was just as compelling as the romance. This book has strong Indiana Jones / The Mummy vibes – a true treasure hunt filled with riddles, hidden maps, traps, all to uncover the location of the hidden magical treasure. They were truly a team working together to find the lost artifact and defeat their enemies. Archer also really stepped up the magic in this second installment. Unlike the first, this book also had powerful sorcery, wielding both by a powerful witch Blade named Athena and an evil Heir Chernock as well as magical creatures. The pacing and balance between the fantastical and historical was perfectly achieved.
Leigh/Archer’s prose is delicious without being overwrought. She’s such an amazing writer, and her prose is consistent across the various genres in which she writes.
You don’t have to read the first book in order to enjoy the second. There is some backstory presented in the first, but the majority of it is covered in the second book, so the only thing you’d miss out on is references to the plot of the first. That being said, the first book is still an enjoyable read. I will read on in this series. It’s a total of four books and the last two take us to the wilds of northern Canada and then to Chicago. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I’m enjoying it!
Welcome to St. Hell: A Trans Teen Misadventure by Lewis Hancox is part autobiography, part memoir and part guide to figuring out gender as a trans teen. It is an invaluable resource, and I hope one that many questioning teens get their hands on.
Huge thanks to Scholastic for sending me a review copy, all opinions my own as always.
RELEASE DATE: 02/06/2022
SUMMARY: Lewis has a few things to say to his younger teen self. He knows she hates her body. He knows she’s confused about who to snog. He knows she’s really a he and will ultimately realize this… But she’s going to go through a whole lot of mess (some of it funny, some of it not funny at all) to get to that point. Lewis is trying to tell her this … but she’s refusing to listen. In Welcome to St Hell, author-illustrator Lewis Hancox takes readers on the hilarious, heartbreaking and healing path he took to make it past trauma, confusion, hurt and dubious fashion choices in order to become the man he was meant to be. (from Scholastic)
OPINIONS: Telling creator Lewis Hancox’s own story of discovering his trans identity, this touching graphic novel is a great resource for teens questioning their own gender identity. It isn’t a straightforward or easy story, and shows that being queer is not a sudden choice for most. It is a slow process, and one that often includes a lot of denial and internalised prejudice and fear.
Autobiographical and benefitting from the perspective of adult Lewis, the author self-inserts his adult persona into the story throughout, interacting with his younger self and the people around him, both to give reassurance and to have sometimes uncomfortable conversations about how especially his initial coming out went and how it affected their feelings. And that is something I found interesting to see – the acceptance of others struggling with the change, not because they struggled with Lewis being a guy but because it is a major change and comes with fears of their relationship changing and insecurity. Lewis comes across as wise, and it is great to see his insight into people’s thoughts and behaviour, even if it is clear that the journey to get there wasn’t easy.
I think this graphic novel is a valuable resource and I am incredibly glad it exists. It is nuanced and informative, and I think it will help many teens. While the specific humour didn’t always fully click with me, I think ultimately, the messages and content are far more important. This is an essential book to have in every school library and I hope one that is made accessible to the teens that need it. Add Welcome to St. Hell to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
A very long time ago, in a different world, Susan Dennard spent nearly six months entertaining Book Twitter with a create-your-own-adventure story based on an idea she never sold. We got invested in the daily polls about our chaotic heroine Winnie Wednesday, love interest Ugh Jay and best friend Erica, and regularly killed off our characters because we had no sense as a hivemind. And now, Susan wrote the book, edited it and sold it. And it’s coming out in November. Welcome to The Luminaries.
Huge thanks to Tor Teen for sending me an eARC via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 08/11/2022
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.
Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.
Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.
But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.
Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark. (from Tor Teen)
OPINIONS: This book was everything I hoped for and more. While it is a very different story than what I remember from the #TheLuminaries Twitter thread, it carries the same energy forward into a compelling YA fantasy. We still have our favourite stubborn but charming Winnie, Ugh Jay and Erica, though in this version, Winnie and Erica aren’t currently as close anymore because reasons. But we also meet so many new characters who round out the story. Where the create-your-own-adventure was fairly basic, this is a true novel, complex and full of nuanced backstory.
There is plenty of fan service – such as the iconic boop moment straight from the Twitter thread. And believe me when I say I squeed out loud when I got to it. We also get answers to a lot of things that remained open questions, especially around the locket, so central to the story. I did wish there was more Diana action, as I found the organisation fascinating and I was disappointed that the shed didn’t find its way into this version. But then I think about the fact that this is billed as book one and gleefully think about how Susan will go on to torture us next and get VERY excited.
The Luminaries is both an exciting, action-packed YA fantasy for those new to the universe and a lovely comfort read for those who have been following the story’s journey since Summer 2019. Susan has done it again, and I for one am a fan – I’ve already ordered my copy from the US because I can’t wait for the UK edition.
I’ve been on a bit of an escapist thriller binge recently, so when Ollie from Hodder emailed about this psychological thriller with gothic elements, I was all ears. It’s a compelling story where things are not as they first seem – a great book to take along on holiday this summer!
Many thanks to Ollie at Hodder for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 26/05/2022
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: You can run from your past, but you can’t hide forever…
Rebecca Bray has moved on from a childhood she desperately wants to forget.
She has everything she’s ever wanted – the perfect fiancé, a loving stepdaughter, a career she’s proud of, and now the house of her dreams.
But when the family move to the Cornish village where Rebecca grew up, everything she wanted to bury from those years starts to claw at the surface.
Then, when her stepdaughter goes missing at a New Year’s Eve party, Rebecca must finally face the ghosts of her past – or Ava might never come home safely… (from Hodder)
OPINIONS: I’m not sure why, but when my brain is tired these days, crime and thriller novels work great as quick reads that help me relax and regain energy. I spent a long time not really reading much in the genre, and have only really gotten back into it in the last year or so, and I’m really happy that I’m getting the opportunity to read a bunch for review at the moment. Return to Blackwater House by Vicki Patis is an atmospheric psychological thriller that keeps the reader guessing for a very long time. It is dark, even messed up at times, and it is most definitely twisty. But most of all, it is a fun and compelling read.
And it has interesting characters. Every single character has depth and a backstory that comes through in layers, from Rebecca, the stepmother, to Ava, the missing daughter, to the dad, the detective, and everyone else involved. Nothing is as it seems in those first few chapters of exposition and the story slowly unravels to show past and present, weaving in strands of mental illness struggles blending hallucinations with reality to keep the reader on their toes.
Vicki Patis is an author to look out for, and I’m curious to see what she comes up with next. I’m hoping more delightfully psychological thrillers with gothic elements like this!
I finally managed to provide you with some Monday Mini fodder again. All slightly whimsical, legend/folk tale inspired fantasy, but with very different approaches and styles today. I hope you find something that intrigues you among this selection. Many thanks to the respective publishers for providing me with eARCs via NetGalley, all opinions are entirely my own.
A Mirror Mended is the second novella in Alix E. Harrow’s Fractured Fairytales series. It follows on from A Spindle Splintered, though is set a few years in the future from that first book. Unfortunately, the things that didn’t click for me with the first novella seemed to be coming out in even stronger force in this second installment. Zinnia is now spending most of her time helping fairy tale characters trapped in their stories to escape tropes, to the detriment of her relationships with the people close to her. This felt far too short for the content that Harrow tried to discuss within the confines of the novella, leaving topics addressed but not properly discussed to their conclusion, with unsatisfying resolutions, relationships that read very superficial even if that clearly wasn’t the intention. I kept longing for more space, for more depth. While I adore Harrow’s full-length work and her short fiction, these novellas are her weakest writing to date and left me wanting more.
The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones is a Welsh-inspired, mythology-based YA fantasy. It tells a heist story as a framing device to retell a part of Welsh mythology that gives an origin story to the landscape – which is absolute catnip to me, having studied similar narratives in my past life as an academic. I devoured this fantasy, and found much to love. Mer, the main character, is openly bisexual – there is a femme ex love interest and a masc current love interest on page – and it is simply accepted in this medieval-ish society. Such heart-eyes, such love from my side. It isn’t the type of highly researched fantasy like Spear, this is more on the lighthearted and entertaining side, but it is exactly what I needed this weekend. The characters were great – Mer, Ifanna, the thief who betrayed her in the past, Mer’s mentor who she was never quite sure how she felt towards him and Fane, the love interest with fae connections. A great YA.
Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah is another YA fantasy. This one inspired by the author’s South Asian background, featuring a large-scale race in which the elite compete for glory. Koral, the main character, is very much not part of this elite, but circumstances have her sneak her way into the competition and stand against those who have been training their entire lives for this. In some ways, this is reminiscent of a better, more timely version of The Hunger Games – in a good way. I found this an enjoyable read, though I thought that perhaps the ending was a bit too convenient in the last couple of pages. I don’t think this is a standout read of 2022 for me, but it is a solid YA fantasy debut I recommend picking up if you like the sound of it.
I’ve heard great things about Olivia Atwater’s Regency Faerie Tales for years, which means I was thrilled when I found out that her self-published work was so successful that the lovely folks over at Orbit decided to pick them up for re-release. I’ve never read them before – and reading them now, I’m finding them magical and lovely and am kicking myself for missing out for so long. And now my flatmate is stealing them as soon as I finish…
Huge thanks to Nazia at Orbit for sending me review copies of both these books. All opinions are my own.
Half a Soul
RELEASE DATE: 30/06/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
Half a Soul tells the story of Theodora, a young woman in dire need of a husband to settle her family’s finances. But as it is wont to do, life has other ideas. And she gets pulled into a world of fae and magic. A lovely romance with wonderful characters that introduces the world of Olivia Atwater’s Regency Faerie Tales. Dora finds out that she was part of a bargain her late mother had made with the faerie Lord Hollowvale – and has to contend with a copy of herself, retaining her autonomy and ensuring her and her family’s future. And of course there’s also a good dash of romance. I devoured this book and immediately went on to read the second in the series of standalones – I highly recommend these wonderful stories as light, comforting reads, especially for vacations and times when you want to relax. Order a copy of the Orbit edition via Bookshop here. (affiliate link)
Ten Thousand Stitches
RELEASE DATE: 21/07/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
Ten Thousand Stitches is the second book in this series of standalones in a shared world. This one is loosely based on the story of Cinderella, taking elements from the fairy tale but making it its own story. I adored this one even more than Half a Soul. I loved the chaos of maid Effie trying to muddle through life, to achieve dreams that were outside of the social boundaries, and I loved Lord Blackthorn’s attempt at being a fairy godfather. While the trope of the fairy godmother is an ubiquitous one, I’ve never seen a male twist on it before, and this one really worked well – in D&D terms, he’d have a chaotic good alignment, trying his best, but outside the codex of laws and regulations of society and therefore causing havoc. There is romance, there are shenanigans and there is a socialist revolt and proto-unionising. An absolute delight of a comfort read. Order a copy of the Orbit edition via Bookshop here. (affiliate link).
SUMMARY: Thora and Santi are strangers in a foreign city when a chance encounter intertwines their fates. At once, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit—someone who shares their insatiable curiosity, who is longing for more in life than the cards they’ve been dealt. Only days later, though, a tragic accident cuts their story short.
But this is only one of the many connections they share. Like satellites trapped in orbit around each other, Thora and Santi are destined to meet again: as a teacher and prodigy student; a caretaker and dying patient; a cynic and a believer. In numerous lives they become friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies. But as blurred memories and strange patterns compound, Thora and Santi come to a shocking revelation—they must discover the truth of their mysterious attachment before their many lives come to one, final end
OPINION: The time traveller’s wife is one of my favourite books, and one I come to time and time again. So when I saw that “Meet Me in Another Life” was comped to it I was very excited. Additionally, questions of determinism and to what extent events in our lives shape our core selves are like catnip to me. However to assume its another version of TTW is to do both of them a disservice, I love that MMiAL isn’t a romance – that a variety of ways Thora and Santi interact and relate to each other occur and very rarely are the two of them as a romantic couple a possibility.
When I first started reading this for SCKA, I was bemused though. It had been nominated for the science fiction category but I felt like it was much more literary than SF, however as the story progresses it becomes much more clear and to say anymore would be a spoiler. However for those who like a very strong sci-fi element they may be slightly disappointed, it is relevant to the story, but many of the tropes of sci-fi are missing here.
We get to see both sides of Thora and Santi. While Thora is initially presented as the difficult prickly one, and Santi the more calm, patient one this evolves and changes throughout the book and different lives, with Thora learning different ways of behaving, and Santi having his faith and sense of surety shaken through some of the iterations. However the book makes it clear that that Santi’s acceptance doesn’t have its own issues and that it’s not smoothing out Thora’s sharp edges, or changing her too far away from her core self – one that remains not easy to cooperate with. I really enjoyed this element as we ask a lot of our women characters, and it’s nice to see one that wasn’t the perfect team player at the end of the book.
To conclude this is definitely a character driven book, one with speculative elements but not necessarily in the guise or format expected for a sci-fi book. It definitely leans on the more literary approach even if it doesn’t suffer from some of the frustrations lit fic can sometimes have for me.
If I were to pick one word to describe The Quarter Storm it would be atmospheric. This mystery steeped in Vodou magic immerses you in the communities, environment, and day-to-day life of a post-Katrina New Orleans so effectively it’s as if you’ve been transported there, feeling the humidity on your skin as you walk down the streets of the Quater and witnessing the events of the book yourself. In some respects, The Quarter Storm reads like a slice-of-life fantasy. As the mystery unfolds, the reader experiences the mundane: preparing gumbo, walking into a neighborhood bar and grill, or bringing a meal to less fortunate friends. Yet these events are interwoven with the plot elements so as to play an important role in unraveling the mystery. If you enjoy atmospheric, slice-of-life fantasy that is steeped in the culture and traditions of a specific urban center, then you’ll like The Quarter Storm. It is quite the nod to New Orleans and a satisfying read. I received an ARC of this book from 47North. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 01/03/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
A practitioner of Vodou must test the boundaries of her powers to solve a ritual murder in New Orleans and protect everything she holds sacred.
Haitian-American Vodou priestess Mambo Reina Dumond runs a healing practice from her New Orleans home. Gifted with water magic since she was a child, Reina is devoted to the benevolent traditions of her ancestors.
After a ritual slaying in the French Quarter, police arrest a fellow vodouisant. Detective Roman Frost, Reina’s ex-boyfriend—a fierce nonbeliever—is eager to tie the crime, and half a dozen others, to the Vodou practitioners of New Orleans. Reina resolves to find the real killer and defend the Vodou practice and customs, but the motives behind the murder are deeper and darker than she imagines.
As Reina delves into the city’s shadows, she untangles more than just the truth behind a devious crime. It’s a conspiracy. As a killer wields dangerous magic to thwart Reina’s investigation, she must tap into the strength of her own power and faith to solve a mystery that threatens to destroy her entire way of life.
There are several aspects of The Quarter Storm that stood out to me, the first of which was the characterzation. I thought Henry did a phenomenal job here. The characters felt real with all their faults, and oh do they have faults. From the high-spirited, eager-to-fight Tyka, to the righteous and Vodou-wary Roman, to the haughty and self-serving Lucien, Henry’s characters have a depth that you can only achieve through vice and virtue. These characters do not always make the right decisions, and in fact sometimes take morally ambiguous action. But that’s what makes them so compelling. That’s real life.
Reina, the MC, is especially human, and I found myself invested in her life. She is three-dimensional, having powerful magical capabilities through her lwa, while at the same time struggling to pay her bills. She makes her livelihood through practicing her religion, but never at the cost of authenticity – no commercial exploitation of her beliefs just for a quick buck here! Despite multiple warnings, she devotes herself to uncovering the truth of the grisly murder pegged on one of their own, protecting her religion against the dangerous stereotypes and assumptions that would make it an easy scapegoat.
But the depth of character doesn’t stop there. Reina is a terrible cook, trying unsuccessfully to make meals for her friends using all the wrong ingredients. She grieves the loss of her mother, unable to let go years later – had her mother abandonded New Orleans, or had she been swept away by the waters of Katrina? Reina is in love with the wrong man, in and out of a relationship with Roman despite the fact that he rejects and despises her religion. Love is like that sometimes, coming unwanted and pulling you toward someone you have no business being with. These aspects of her character combine to make Reina so human and so relatable.
The use of Haitian Creole thoughout the story as well as the in-depth history and lore of Vodou lent further authenticity to the characters and the world. I found myself googling translations and reading Wikipedia to learn more. To me, that’s a sign that an author has done a great job at urban world-building – her sprinkling of language and lore throughout the story hooked me into wanting to learn even more about these people and their culture.
The most profound and surprising aspect of this book was its treatment of Katrina. Katrina’s presence is felt; it loomed in the background almost as if it was its own character, but it was never the centerpiece of the story, and I thought that was masterfully done. The setting is a post-Katrina New Orleans, and the author’s treatment of that fact cannot be overlooked despite the fact she doesn’t beat the reader over the head with it! The real message here is that life goes on. Yes, Katrina was a defining moment in history that changed things irrevocably in New Orleans, and yet life goes on, however changed. And although Katrina did shape many of the events in the story and the mystery, it was woven into the fabric of the atmosphere and plot so subtly and naturally that it didn’t overshadow the other aspets of the story. Henry’s treatment of Katrina deserves applause. Bravo!
I’ll admit that the elements of the mystery did feel somewhat thin. The various encounters Reina had to find clues left me wanting more insight. It often felt like she instigated investigative conversations and then walked away with no more information than when she entered the encounter. I overlooked that though, because she wasn’t a detective, and that really didn’t feel like the focus of the story to me. The focus was Reina’s life as a Vodouisant in New Orleans and the mystery was a means by which Henry explores that.
Henry’s prose was lovely, and her use of colloquial dialogue struck the right balance, especially considering the strong and varied dialects of that particular region. It wasn’t overdone and never pulled me out of the story.
I would recommend The Quarter Storm to anyone interested in a “witchy” vibe, in an urban fantasy where the setting is almost as imporant as the story itself. It would also be perfect for someone craving a trip to New Orleans, who wants to be transported to that city through the fantastical exploration of Vodou magic and murder mystery.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I adore short fiction, especially in the form of YA anthologies. And one of the books that sparked that love was Saundra Mitchell’s anthology All Out. So of course I jumped at the opportunity to read the last anthology in this series of three, Out There: Into the Queer New Yonder, featuring future-set stories about queer teens from a wide range of identities and authors. However, I think while the concept is amazing, this one is the weakest link in the series.
Many thanks to Harper360YA for sending me an ARC for review. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 07/07/2022
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Explore new and familiar worlds where the human consciousness can be uploaded into a body on Mars…an alien helps a girl decide if she should tell her best friend how she feels…two teens get stuck in a time loop at a space station…people are forced to travel to the past or the future to escape the dying planet…only a nonbinary person can translate the binary code of a machine that predicts the future…everyone in the world vanishes except for two teen girls who are in love.
This essential and beautifully written collection immerses and surprises with each turn of the page.
With original stories from:
Ugochi M. Agoawike
Emma K. Ohland
Mato J. Steger
(from Inkyard Press)
OPINIONS: I loved All Out, Saundra Mitchell’s first anthology about queer teens, featuring a range of the best YA authors writing about their takes on historical queerness. This winning streak continued with Out Now, featuring contemporary stories and now, Out There, which reaches for a queer future. Many of the stories in this anthology are science fiction, some are merely set in a contemporary future, but all of them continue the theme: featuring queer teens living their lives, showcased by some of the best YA talent publishing right now. I did find that this third anthology had less standout stories than the first two – for me personally, All Out was full of them, Out Now had a fair amount and the standouts in Out There were only a handful.
But the quality of the anthology throughout is solid – and just because not every story worked for me personally doesn’t mean it should not be told and doesn’t have an audience. Because to me, that’s the beauty of these anthologies: they feature such a wide range of identities and perspectives that there is something that will click with every reader, whether they are trying to find their identity or looking for representation, or even just exploring what the world has to offer.
Among the stories that really touched me was Kalynn Bayron’s “The Department of Homegoing Affairs” which was a heartwarming sapphic story with a dark side, dealing with death and loss as well as queerness. I love her writing and this was no exception. I found it magical and compelling. I also adored “Concerto” by Abdi Nazemian, though again this had a lot of bittersweet elements to it – it seems that I need a good dose of darkness with my comfort these days! There were other stories that I really enjoyed too, but these two were my favourites in the anthology and the ones that stuck with me for a while after reading.
While I do think that Out There is the weakest entry into this trilogy of anthologies, it is a strong weakest link and I think this concept is more valuable than potential flaws in its execution for the individual reader. I hope you pick one of these anthologies up for yourself or a young person in your life and it gives you joy.
Welcome back to another round of Monday Minis – I’m sorry these have become a bit more sporadic as life has been increasingly manic these last few weeks! But here’s a solid selection of books for the week – something for every sort of reader, really. Many thanks to the respective publicists for giving me access to eARCs via NetGalley, all opinions are my own as always.
A Prayer for the Crown-Shy is the follow-up to Becky Chambers’ Hugo- (and Subjective Chaos) nominated A Psalm for the Wild-Built. And this one may be even better than the first book. It keeps following Sibling Dex and Mosscap on their journey, and it gets more personal this time. A major plot element is Mosscap getting “injured” and having a part that needs replacing – along with all of the philosophical considerations that come with it. In A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, Dex and Mosscap interact more with others, and it really feels like the series is coming into its own. I loved how Mosscap’s personality as a curious observer dominated his interactions with the people they met on their travels, and Dex got to see their family again. It is a wonderful quick comfort read, and I desperately want more.
I can’t quite believe that The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner was first published in 1996. It has only now come over to this side of the Atlantic thanks to the good work of the lovely folk over at Hodderscape – and reads like a newly published book. A timeless YA classic, really. The Thief is a compelling, fast read centred around a thief, Eugenides, called Gen and a massive heist, politics and a misfit gang. In short, lots of things still on trend in YA and with good reason. I had the pleasure to listen to Megan chat about the book and her journey as a writer last week, and I have been assured that the second book in the series is even better than this first one by my lovely flatmate who has read them all growing up. Definitely a wonderful series to get your teeth into and read as they’re now published in the UK in quick succession with stunning covers!
Peter V. Brett’s The Desert Prince is an epic fantasy set in a somewhat Middle Eastern/North African feeling setting. It is the first book in a new series, though set in the same world as his earlier books – fifteen years on. This was my first Brett book, and I did notice a lack of context at times, though it largely stands on its own merit and knowledge of the earlier books is not necessary to follow the story. It just gives an added dimension to it, and I imagine makes it easier for readers to pick up on cultural references between characters that I likely missed. What makes The Desert Prince stand out from other epic fantasy is that Olive, the main character, is intersex. Always aware of the unique body they were born with, Olive was socialised as a girl and over the course of the story struggles with the confines of that identity. But it did feel like this was often simplified, and I would have loved to see Olive really find a non-binary identity and communicate that, rather than letting themselves be boxed into places that don’t entirely fit by others. All in all, The Desert Prince was an entertaining book – in many ways traditional epic fantasy battling demons, betrayal and politics with chosen ones at its centre, but a fun twist on it. I may well pick up the sequel.