The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell – Review

Published: August 18, 2020

Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 496 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

When a country is held in thrall to a vicious, despotic king, it’s up to one woman to take him down.

Long ago, Queen Mirantha vanished. King Karolje claimed it was an assassination by a neighboring king, but everyone knew it was a lie. He had Disappeared her himself.

But after finding the missing queen’s diary, Anza—impassioned by her father’s unjust execution and inspired by Mirantha’s words—joins the resistance group to overthrow the king. When an encounter with Prince Esvar thrusts her into a dangerous game of court politics, one misstep could lead to a fate worse than death.

Esvar is the second son to an evil king. Trapped under his thumb and desperate for a way out, a chance meeting with Anza gives him the opportunity to join the resistance. Together, they might have the leverage to move against the king—but if they fail, their deaths could mean a total loss of freedom for generations to follow.


My interest was piqued when I read the synopsis for The Vanished Queen, but I was genuinely surprised when I enjoyed it as much as I did. The book was such that it could have either become a total bore or quite the adventure and fortunately it landed on the adventurous path. Now admittedly, there’s quite a lot of politicking and talking so if that’s not your cup of tea then you may not enjoy this as much.

The two main (current) POVs in this book are Anza and Prince Esvar. Anza is a talented archer and collegium graduate who has gotten involved with the rebellion against the cruel King Karolje. Her father was highly ranked in the King’s guard but was executed just prior to the events of the book, spurring Anza’s choice to join the rebels. Prince Esvar is not fond of his father either, after his mother Queen Mirantha was Disappeared so many years before. He supports his elder brother Tevin and they hope to make a play for the throne soon, but they lack support from the lords. Esvar is much less remarkable than Anza, who is by far the more interesting POV. The prince is somewhat frustrating because he bends so easily to his father who is ailing. He could simply stick a sword in him on a few occasions and he just… doesn’t. It’s quite frustrating, really. The reader also gets bits of Queen Mirantha’s POV, but hers is obviously leading up when she is supposedly killed by Karolje. I like that we get her story as well – it makes her disappearance much more impactful and gives the reader more sympathy towards her children Esvar and Tevin.

As I mentioned, there’s a great deal of politicking and dialogue in this book, but there are some intense little bits of action here and there. Typically, I prefer books that lean a little more towards action-packed, but The Vanished Queen worked out surprisingly well for me. The subterfuge, tension, and all that other good stuff makes up for it! Overall, this was a surprisingly engaging read though I can certainly see that it won’t appeal to every fantasy reader.

Demon in White by Christopher Ruocchio – Review

Published: July 28, 2020

Publisher: DAW Books

Series: Sun Eater #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 784 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

The third novel of the galaxy-spanning Sun Eater series merges the best of space opera and epic fantasy, as Hadrian Marlowe continues down a path that can only end in fire.

Hadrian has been serving the Empire in military engagements against the Cielcin, the vicious alien civilization bent on humanity’s destruction. After Hadrian and his Red Company achieve a great victory, a cult-like fervor builds around him. However, pressures within the Imperial government scared of his rise to prominence result in an assassination attempt, luckily thwarted.

With the Empire too dangerous to stay, Hadrian and his crew leave for a massive library on a distant world. There, he finds the next key to unlocking the secrets of the Quiet: a set of coordinates for their origin planet, unnamed and now lifeless. Hadrian’s true purpose in serving in the military was to aid his search of a rumored connection between the first Emperor and the Quiet, the ancient, seemingly long-dead race linked to so many of Hadrian’s extraordinary experiences.

Will this mysterious lost planet have the answers?


Demon in White has firmly cemented the Sun Eater series into place as on of the best series I’ve read in ages. It’s epic and on such a grand scale (and over such a large time span) that it cannot help but to be memorable. Hundreds of years have passed since the events of the first book and much has changed.

Hadrian is older, wiser, and a much vaunted Knight Victorian. Some would say that he is perhaps too successful and others think he vies for the Solar Throne. This is further compounded when the Emperor sends one of his many sons with Hadrian as a squire. To be charged with the protection and training of the emperor’s own blood? A high honor indeed. And when Hadrian and his now massive Red Company return successful from a mission that was intended to be a failure, he garners the eye of even more enemies.

Hadrian grows tremendously in this installment, and the reader can see how he may become a man that burns worlds. His deeds have made him an icon of the enlisted men and the moniker “Half Mortal” is known across the systems. He’s no longer the young idealist that sought peace with the Cielcin – the Half Mortal is a soldier in truth now.

While Hadrian is obviously the focal point, as he is telling his life story, the care shown in developing the entire cast of characters is quite special. Valka Onderra is brilliant and I can’t help but to adore her. She’s tough as nails, witty, and independent. Her relationship with Hadrian doesn’t diminish her character to merely a love interest, but rather makes her even more central to the story. Hadrian’s other companions, Polino, Ellara, Captain Corvo, and the many others I’m forgetting to name are all integral to the legendary deeds that take place within these pages.

I won’t go into further detail of the plot, as I think I’ve given enough away already. Demon in White builds beautifully on the previous two installments and I’ve been assured that the next installment will destroy me. If you haven’t picked this series up yet, let me assure you this- YOU ARE MISSING OUT ON SOMETHING SPECIAL. I can wax poetic for paragraphs more, detailing how much I love the care put into the world building, the rich history that could almost match that of Malazan, the epic battles that remind me of what I loved from Red Rising, and the epic recounting of a life reminiscent of Kvothe’s tale  from The Name of the Wind. It is like those, but this story doesn’t mimic them- it just happens to remind me of some of my favorite stories.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini – Audiobook Review

Published: September 15, 2020

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Science Fiction

Length: 32 hr 29 min

My Rating: DNF @ 58%

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a brand new epic novel from New York Times bestselling author Christopher Paolini.

Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds.

Now she’s awakened a nightmare.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .”


I had such high hopes for this book. Alas, it was not to work in my favor. Having read nearly 60% of this book I feel that I can give a proper review and share my likes and dislikes.

Starting off, this book was intriguing and had a constant sense of discovery. Or should I say, believable, somewhat scientific discovery. I enjoyed it for the first 30% and despite not loving any of the characters, I thought it would be a solid enough book. But oh, I did not realize how tedious this story would become.

The thrill of alien discovery was short lived. Kira Navarez is bonded with a mysterious xenobyte while surveying the planet Adrasteia. The xeno forms a protective skinsuit of sorts, but it can also be used as a weapon on purpose or even if the inexperienced host becomes upset. This results in the death of her fiance, and several other team members. She undergoes a battery of tests by the military so that they might determine whether the xeno is infectious and she’s kept in quarantine. Until tentacled aliens they call “jellies” attack. And then the jellies attack other human settled planets. It’s pretty bad and gets worse when another alien species called Nightmares start attacking humans AND jellies.Thus begins the interspecies war. 

It’s bad, but I’m even bored typing up the most basic plot summary. This should have been an exciting, action packed book that I adored but it so was not. It was tedious and mind numbing and after a particularly boring card game between Kira and Captain Falconi, I decided I’d had enough. For goodness sake, even the dialogue was dull and Lord knows there was far too much of it. Ceaseless droning and I didn’t care about ANY of the characters despite the authors efforts to flesh them out and make them likable. 

This book just did not work for me and I’m tremendously disappointed because I’ve spent a year looking forward to it. The characters never had more than surface level interaction and emotion, leaving me feeling underwhelmed even after what should have been impacting events. The death of Kira’s fiance Alan left me(and apparently Kira) feeling nothing. I quit before I had to suffer through another lengthy space journey where Kira couldn’t be cryogenically frozen and spent hours listening to Bach and being hungry. I’ll be honest, I’m glad I don’t have a physical copy of this book because then I’d have to find someone to give it away to. I was not excited to spend another 10+ hours on this audiobook and now here we are.

I will also note, since this is an audiobook review, that the narration was fine. It wasn’t spectacular and it wasn’t terrible – solidly middle of the pack.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart – Review

Published: September 8, 2020

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Drowning Empire #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 448 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne. The Bone Shard Daughter marks the debut of a major new voice in epic fantasy.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.


This was exactly as amazing as I hoped it would be!! The Bone Shard Daughter has been one of my most anticipated debuts of the year and I’m so excited! I’ve come across too many books that have been hyped up (or that I’ve been hyped for) that have been tremendous let downs. This however…has such awesome characters, the world is awesome, the magic is awesome, and may I just say I love animal companions?

The synopsis introduces us to Lin, daughter of the Emperor, who is secretly learning her father’s bone shard magic. She competes with Bayan (a boy her father has fostered) to earn his favor, but it seems that Bayan is winning for he is being instructed in the bone shard magic while she is endlessly quizzed about her memory. Lin begins to sneak about and steal keys to enter forbidden areas of the palace while trying to avoid the spy constructs her father has created.

Another main POV is Jovis, a smuggler, who is just trying to outrun this world’s equivalent of the mafia and find his wife who went missing seven years ago. He’s chasing down a little boat with blue sails that was seen sailing away after she went missing. During his journeys he begins helping children escape the ceremony where shards of their skulls are taken for the emperor’s collection and he becomes a bit of a hero to the people. He also picks up Mephi, a weird little creature that reminded me of a magical mink or otter when described. Mephi quickly became one of my favorite parts of this book. I just LOVE animal companions! 

There’s also Phalue, who is the daughter to the governor of one of the islands. Phalue’s lover Ranami is mixed up with the resistance soon Phalue is too. Well, not that soon because it takes quite a bit of convincing and effort for Phalue to come around to the idea. Phalue took awhile to grow on me as she isn’t as immediately likable as Jovis and Lin but I ended up liking her fairly well. 

Lastly, there’s Sand, who is a bit of a mystery. She’s on an island with a group of others who cannot remember ever living anywhere else. They have certain tasks they complete and sort of mindlessly go about their lives… until Sand falls out of a tree and begins to question everything.

The characters are the biggest part of what makes The Bone Shard Daughter a delight to read, but the world building is pretty fantastic as well. The magic is way cool and well thought out, the islands seem to move about the sea and the weather changes between dry and wet years. One of the islands also sinks into the sea pretty early on, which is kind of terrifying and makes you wonder what could be in store for later books. There’s also some mysterious beings that the Emperor is supposedly protecting his people from by using his life draining bone magic.On top of all this, the rebels are trying to find ways to destabilize the island governors and the emperor.

If all of this somehow doesn’t totally sell this book to you, I guess nothing will. It’s absolutely fantastic and I was honestly a little skeptical prior to starting it. I thought it would be like so many other things I’ve read this year (and in previous years) but it has memorable content and characters. This really, truly deserves the sense of hype and anticipation it’s gotten leading up to it’s release this week! I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series because, WOW THAT ENDING!!!!

The Last Uncharted Sky by Curtis Craddock – Review

Published: August 11, 2020

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: The Risen Kingdoms #3

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 448 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

The Three Musketeers meets Jules Verne in Curtis Craddock’s concluding novel in the critically-acclaimed high fantasy Risen Kingdoms series, an engrossing tale of courtly intrigue and breathtaking magic.

Isabelle and Jean-Claude undertake an airship expedition to recover a fabled treasure and claim a hitherto undiscovered craton for l’Empire Celeste. But Isabelle, as a result from a previous attack that tried to subsume her body and soul, suffers from increasingly disturbing and disruptive hallucinations. Disasters are compounded when the ship is sabotaged by an enemy agent, and Jean-Claude is separated from the expedition.

In a race against time, Isabelle must figure out how to ward off her ailment before it destroys her and reunite with Jean-Claude to seek the fabled treasure as ancient secrets and a royal conspiracy threaten to undo the entire realm.


This has been a tremendously fun and underrated series. If you want interesting magic, exploration, politics, and a hefty dose of Three Musketeers vibes you should check this out. It has all this in spades and a dozen other things you didn’t know you wanted in a book until you read it.

Isabelle, Marie, Jean-Claude, and the delightful Major Bitterlich are setting off to discover a new craton (floating continent) for la reine. Of course nothing is ever easy and they’re set upon by pirates, Jean-Claude is captured, and Isabelle is dealing with too much mental strain. After the events of the previous book she’s left frayed and it’s beginning to show and affect her judgement. Bitterlich is struggling with some decisions of his own and the tension between he and Isabelle runs quite high at times. Throw in a feisty new cabin girl (Rebecca) and Isabelle’s ship is basically constrained chaos.

The characters are an utter delight – the main characters are each quite unique and I love their stories. The villains are nefarious, but this is an overall positive book, so they don’t drag it into too dark of territory. I love the sense of discovery, the new locals, cultures, just everything! This was a great conclusion to a trilogy that surprised me in it’s execution. It was leagues better than books/series that have gotten 10x more hype and marketing.

If you haven’t decided whether or not to read this by now, let me encourage you once more! It has strong, intelligent female characters, found families, and epic adventures galore. Also, the covers are so lovely for all three that I don’t know how anyone has not picked them up on that alone.

The Damned by Renee Ahdieh – Review

Published: July 7, 2020

Publisher: G.P Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Series: The Beautiful #2

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Pages: 456 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 1.5/5.0

Synopsis:
Following the events of The Beautiful, Sébastien Saint Germain is now cursed and forever changed. The treaty between the Fallen and the Brotherhood has been broken, and war between the immortals seems imminent. The price of loving Celine was costly. But Celine has also paid a high price for loving Bastien.

Still recovering from injuries sustained during a night she can’t quite remember, her dreams are troubled. And she doesn’t know she has inadvertently set into motion a chain of events that could lead to her demise and unveil a truth about herself she’s not quite ready to learn.

Forces hiding in the shadows have been patiently waiting for this moment for centuries. And just as Bastien and Celine begin to uncover the danger around them, they learn their love could tear them apart.


Can I just unread this book? Because it was awful. It genuinely changed in tone so much from the first book that it’s like it wasn’t the same series anymore!

Starting off, I was hopeful. Bastien was turned into a vampire and is not coping well with his transition. Celine isn’t coping quite well either, since she gave up her memories of Bastien in order to save him. It seemed like it would be a great throwback to angsty teen romance.

And then it changed so much and it was out of nowhere and frankly, the quality instantly declined. I speculate that this is largely due to this going from an intended duology to a four book series. It needed more filler to extend the series. It turned into the cheesiest of stories – Celine becomes special due to her parentage and not just because she’s mentally tough, and then we take a trip into fairyland. Fairyland was mentioned in the first book, but honestly I could have done without exploring it in this instance. 

This was a book I probably should have DNF’d, but I continued to hope that it would end okay. I can say for certainty that this is a series I won’t be continuing. 

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer – Review

Published: August 4, 2020

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Series: The Twilight Saga #5

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Pages: 662 (Hardcover)

Rating: YOU CAN’T RATE NOSTALGIA

Synopsis:

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?


Like so many countless others, I was a total Twilight fangirl during highschool. I mean, what girl didn’t have a Twilight book in hand around 2007-2008? I actually read the leaked portion of this book way back when and was dying to get my hands on the tale from Edward’s perspective. Of course, it was called off (perhaps due to the leak) and I thought it would never happen. I lost interest over the years, especially after the atrocious movie adaptations and never thought to pick up a sparkly vampire book ever again. HOW WRONG I WAS.

I pre-ordered Midnight Sun for a number of reasons, but mostly because I wanted that sweet flashback to my teenage years. I mean, paranormal teen romances were done with a certain tacky panache and depth of angst that is sorely missing from YA nowadays. This was the story we all knew and loved over a decade ago – and yes, I am aware that not everyone actually loved it. Looking back with my much more discerning eye there are numerous problems with content and even the writing and Midnight Sun only serves to highlight those issues and bring them to the forefront.

First and foremost of these issues is the relationship dynamic between Edward and Bella. Edward is a total creep and Midnight Sun literally just shoves this into your face, just in case it wasn’t apparent before. There are far too many pages where Edward is sitting in a tree outside Bella’s window and then the perv just climbs in through her window and sits in the dark corner watching her sleep!!! I mean, it’s so absurd that I laughed out loud. Teenage me was so young and naive to have thought this romantic! And he so almost rips her jugular because of her delectable floral aroma SO MANY TIMES. I AM ROLLING WITH LAUGHTER thinking about how ridiculous some of these things are. But at the same time I just love it, corny writing and all.

This was in all honesty, exactly what I expected from this book and that makes me really happy. Like I said, I mostly picked this up for fun nostalgia vibes and because this is the book I dreamed would be released after the excerpt leaked way back. Now, the part near the end where the other vampire coven shows up and the one creep decides he’s gonna suck Bella dry like a Capri-Sun is my least favorite part. I hated that part in the original and I hated it a decade later too. It was sudden and yanked me out of my immersion. I did like seeing the behind the scenes from Edward – that was pretty legit this time around, so I’m glad I didn’t skim through it like I planned. The part I hated the most was when Edward decided he wasn’t going to let Bella turn into a vampire. I am still furious – he could have let her turn and she could have rampaged Forks. This could have been a very different series, but NO, BELLA CAN’T HAVE ANY AGENCY HERE.  Dang, if he loved her so much he could have had a real conversation about turning her – make an agreement – when you graduate high school or college or something. What an idiot.

Anyhoo – if you loved OG Twilight, check this out. It was great fun and it’s coming up on cozy fall weather and leaves and sweaters so it’ll be a great atmospheric read! If you hated Twilight I guess you could hate read this, but why would you bother?

How to Rule and Empire and Get Away With It by K.J. Parker – Review

Published: August 18, 2020

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Siege #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 400 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

This is the story of how the City was saved, by Notker the professional liar, written down because eventually the truth always seeps through.

The City may be under siege, but everyone still has to make a living. Take Notker, the acclaimed playwright, actor and impresario. Nobody works harder, even when he’s not working. Thankfully, the good citizens of Classis appreciate an evening at the theatre even when there are large rocks falling out of the sky.

But Notker is a man of many talents, and all the world is, apparently, a stage. It seems that the Empire needs him – or someone who looks a lot like him – for a role that will call for the performance of a lifetime. At least it will guarantee fame, fortune and immortality. If it doesn’t kill him first.

This is the story of Notker, an occasionally good man and a terrible liar. With razor-sharp wit, K.J. Parker has created one of fantasy’s greatest heroes, and he might even get away with it.


This is the much anticipated (though unexpected) sequel to Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City and boy-o, was I excited to read this little nugget! It takes place some unknown amount of time after the events of Sixteen Ways – maybe you know how long, I was unsure – and follows Notker. Notker is an actor and playwright of dubious success and he happens to be known for his impersonations of famous people. One of his best is that of Lysimachus, hero of the people who was recently crushed under a rock at a house party Notker was running late to.

Notker is convinced somewhat forcefully to play the role of Lysimachus in perpetuity to keep up the morale of the city. I mean, the big hero of the people can’t just die! Notker turns out to be somewhat clever, makes some good decisions, and gee whiz! He ends up becoming emperor! Obviously there’s far more to it than that, but I can’t give away the whole plot in the review.

Notker is a likable character and the humor is present, though it’s not in your face hilarious. I personally found Sixteen Ways to be far funnier (likely due to Orhan being the main character) and loved it just a little more. That being said, How to Rule and Empire and Get Away With It maintained the status quo and proved to be a delightfully refreshing addition to the fantasy genre.

I’d definitely recommend this series to anyone with a penchant for military fantasy, though I think it will appeal to most folks who read fantasy as a whole. You don’t necessarily have to read the first book, though I would highly recommend starting there. Without that, you have no background, no context for the goings on in this installment. 

Chaos Vector by Megan E. O’Keefe – Review

Published: July 28, 2020

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Protectorate #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 546 (Paperback)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Dazzling space battles, intergalactic politics, and rogue AI collide in the second book in this epic space opera by award-winning author Megan O’Keefe.
Sanda and Tomas are fleeing for their lives after letting the most dangerous smartship in the universe run free. Now, unsure of who to trust, Sanda knows only one thing for certain — to be able to save herself from becoming a pawn of greater powers, she needs to discover the secret of the coordinates hidden in her skull.
But getting to those coordinates is a problem she can’t solve alone. They exist beyond a dead gate — a Casimir gate that opened up into a dead-end system without resources worth colonizing, and was sealed off. To get through the dead gate, she needs the help of the enemy Nazca. But some Nazca are only interested in the chip in her head — and they’ll crack her open to get to it.


The first book in this series was thrilling with so many amazing twists that I never saw coming. It was like being repeatedly and unexpectedly slapped. This book carries on with the non-stop greatness, but it didn’t have quite as many incredible twists. That’s not to say that there were none at all… there were a few!

In retrospect, I don’t have much to say about Chaos Vector. It was a great story and the majority of the characters are quite likable. I did like that the two storylines from Velocity Weapon come together and make the story feel more cohesive. Jules and Sanda in the same place/timeline was pretty exciting. 

This installment went stronger on characterization than plot which was good in a way, but I missed those jaw dropping surprises! I think that’s partially why this book didn’t rank quite as highly as the first. I thought the plot advancements were fab – Casimir gates, potential war, rogue Nazca – it had all the stuff I liked, but without as much pizzaz. 

Overall I think it is a solidly written series and I am definitely looking forward to getting my hands on the next installment. For me, this had the “sophomore slump”. Yeah, there were big events, big changes, but GOSH it just didn’t wow me like Velocity Weapon.