A Time of Dread by John Gwynne – Review

Cover- A Time of Dread

Published: February 20, 2018

Publisher: Orbit Books

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Of Blood and Bone #1

Pages: 512 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

The Ben-Elim, a fierce race of warrior-angels, burst into the Banished Lands over a hundred and thirty years ago. They were in pursuit of their eternal enemy, the Kadoshim demon-horde. On that day a great battle was fought, the Ben-Elim and Kadoshim joined by allies from the races of both men and giants, and a great victory was won.

Now much of the Banished Lands is ruled by the Ben-Elim, who have made this world their home, extending their influence and power as they swallow ancient kingdoms into the protective grasp of their ever-extending borders. But peace is fragile within the realm and the Kadoshim that remain are now amassing on the edges of the empire….

Threats long in the shadows are about to strike.


Once again John Gwynne has managed to capture the imagination and attention of his readers! If anything I may end up liking this series more than his first, though I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on why exactly. I think it’s a combination of things.  If you’re new to Gwynne’s work, I would like to point out that this series is new, but is a continuation of his The Faithful and the Fallen series. I definitely think it can be read and enjoyed without having read the preceding series, but those who’ve read those books also will probably get maximum enjoyment.

A Time of Dread is set over a hundred years after the events of The Faithful and the Fallen series detailing the battle between Corban the Bright Star and the Kadoshim and their dark lord Asroth. We have a largely new cast of characters, though some of the long-lived giants are familiar faces. The new characters are refreshing and they all seem to have really fantastic plot arcs thus far. As a matter of fact, each of the POVs is equally interesting to me which is kind of a rare occurrence! I don’t have strong favorite yet, but I’m definitely thinking that Drem and Riv are going to be really important, especially after the conclusion of this book! Man, that was a stunner!

If you’re looking for some good vs. evil that isn’t entirely clear-cut, plus an entirely satisfying amount action this might just be the book for you. There are bear attacks, twisted hybrid monsters, clearly evil bad guys, not so benevolent good guys, fisticuffs, and sword fights. What more could a girl ask for in a fantasy book? Not much. I think I actually like the plot better in this book – maybe it’s because I love beginnings, but I also like that the evil is already present and that the Ben-Elim aren’t turning out to be as good as they were once portrayed. They’re actually a controlling, big-brother ruling class who insist on imposing their rules on the world for the greater good. Things aren’t all cohesive amongst them though, as we come to find out… chaos makes for some interesting chapters.

A Time of Dread has managed a perfect balance of well-written new and old characters, an engaging plot, and a wonderfully apt title. This is set in a time when people are leaving their homes in hopes of gaining a semblance of freedom, there are unspeakable terrors happening on the very doorstep of those who seek to prevent them, and anyone may be an agent of the Kadoshim. I have high hopes for this series and am greatly looking forward to the sequel.

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Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins – Review

Cover- Daughters of the Storm

Published: March 6, 2018

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Blood and Gold #1

Pages: 448 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Five very different sisters team up against their stepbrother to save their kingdom in this Norse-flavored fantasy epic–the start of a new series in the tradition of Naomi Novik, Peter V. Brett, and Robin Hobb.

FIVE ROYAL SISTERS. ONE CROWN.

They are the daughters of a king. Though they share the same royal blood, they could not be more different. Bluebell is a proud warrior, stronger than any man and with an ironclad heart to match. Rose’s heart is all too passionate: She is the queen of a neighboring kingdom, who is risking everything for a forbidden love. The twins: vain Ivy, who lives for admiration, and zealous Willow, who lives for the gods. And Ash, who is discovering a dangerous talent for magic that might be a gift–or a curse.

But when their father is stricken by a mysterious ailment, they must come together on a desperate journey to save him and prevent their treacherous stepbrother from seizing the throne. Their mission: find the powerful witch who can cure the king. But to succeed on their quest, they must overcome their differences, and hope that the secrets they hide from one another and the world are never brought to light. Because if this royal family breaks, it could destroy the kingdom.


Daughters of the Storm was a book I’d never heard of prior to being contacted about reviewing it by the publisher. The synopsis was promising – I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of sisters united against an evil stepbrother who’s stolen the throne? Well, that’s technically what this story is about, but it wasn’t as thrilling as I had expected.

This book definitely has some action, but it’s really more of a family drama with swords and kingdoms. The eldest sister and heir to the throne, Bluebell, is fierce, battle hardened, and practical. I liked her quite a bit as she seemed to be the only sister that could keep her wits about her at all times and not be an idiot. Ash was also likable and much less irritating than the others. She’s also a powerful, untrained undermagician who can control the elements. The other sisters are a riot of bad decisions. Rose is wife to the King of a neighboring kingdom and ally, but… let’s just say she thinks with her loins and not her brain. She’s had an affair with the nephew of the king, putting the alliance at risk if it were ever found out and she just can’t make that mistake once. She was definitely my least favorite of the sisters because she’s a prime example of someone who makes selfish decisions and then tries to justify them as love. The twins Ivy and Willow each have their own flaws. Ivy’s a teenage hoe who thinks she’s far smarter and more desirable than she really is. Willow has turned to an unwelcome religion that is contrary to the beliefs of her kinsman, but her biggest flaw is naivety. Their stepbrother is pretty bad, mostly for killing one particular character, but he didn’t seem particularly evil. He just wanted to protect his mother and he wasn’t well loved by his stepsisters.

The whole plot of the story is that their father is dying and the sisters suspect foul play (they’re right) and they need to find someone who can heal him. They sneak off with him so perhaps he can shake the magical enchantment that’s made him fall into unconsciousness and so he’ll be in their safe keeping. The stepbrother knows who did and he’s trying to kill Bluebell before she finds out and kills him. It’s not actually a large scale drama, which I was appreciative of as there are too many “save the entire world” stories out there.

Overall, this book was okay. I didn’t love and it took me a really long time to read it because I just wasn’t super into the storyline or the characters. 3 out of the 5 sisters were irritating and I just didn’t love any of the characters enough to really care about what happened to them. I think I’ll probably hold off on reading future books in this series until I see some redeeming reviews for the sequel.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black – Review

Cover- The Cruel Prince

Published: January 2, 2018

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: The Folk of the Air #1

Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.0/5.0

Synopsis:

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.


The Cruel Prince is one of those books that I’ve been looking forward to since its announcement and as such I had high expectations. It has an awesome cover and synopsis, plus I loved Holly Black’s A Modern Faerietale series that came out back in 2002. This didn’t end up being as mind blowingly awesome as I had hoped, but it was good nonetheless for several reasons.

There were quite a few things I really liked about this book. First of all, Holly Black writes a faerie story that isn’t roses and sunshine – it’s darker and the faeries are cruel, cunning immortals. I don’t want faeries that are kind because in the original tales they weren’t. They were terrifying and would steal your children, spoil your milk, and perhaps even trick you into Faerie and make you dance until you died of exhaustion… Another aspect of The Cruel Prince that I like was how the characters were strong, or at least dealing with their issues all in different ways. Jude is traditionally strong at first glance – she has the heart and talents of a warrior, but as you get to know her, you realize she’s constantly afraid because she’s an outsider in a land that wants to kill her. Her sister Taryn is equally strong but is playing her cards differently – she’s fitting herself into faerie society and trying to find a fae husband to secure her place. Even cruel Cardan is strong in a subtler way than the fact that he’s the prince. This book is about more than the obvious power of a blade or a crown. I also liked that there wasn’t a terrible love triangle or predictable romance. Too many books suffer from that tragedy of plot and The Cruel Prince was not one of them.

There were also a few things that kept me from loving this book from the start. The biggest was that it was so slow to build up to the actual meat of the plot. Far too many pages were spent with Jude and Cardan engaging in classroom bullying x10. I considered DNF’ing it during the early stages but didn’t have anything better to listen to so I stuck it out. I’m glad I did because about halfway through the book things started to get much, much better and by the end I was pretty well hooked. It also took me most of the book to begin to like Jude which is kind of bad because she’s the main character. She just so intentionally contrary and she’s obviously going out of her way to cause more trouble amongst her peers. It was frustrating but fortunately she gets better toward the end.

I’m extremely excited to read the next book despite my initial lukewarm feelings towards The Cruel Prince. I have to say, having also read the A Modern Faerie Tale series, I fangirled just a bit when Kaye and Roiben showed up at the coronation feast. Not gonna lie, it was pretty exciting to find out that both series are set in the same world. All in all, this was a good book and my less than stellar opinion of it is in the minority, so if it sounds awesome to you then check it out!

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown – Review

cover-iron-gold

Published: January 16, 2018

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Red Rising Saga #4

Pages: 600 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Synopsis:

They call him father, liberator, warlord, Reaper. But he feels a boy as he falls toward the pale blue planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy. It is the tenth year of war and the thirty-second of his life.

A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe, and Iron Goldis the story of the creation of a new one. Witness the beginning of a stunning new saga of tragedy and triumph from masterly New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown.


“And tongues, loose from those same commercial spirits and delights, cry out, shouting my name, or cursing it. Not the name my mother gave me, but the name my deeds have built. The name the fallen Peerless Scarred now whisper as a curse. “Reaper, Reaper, Reaper,” they cry, not in unison, but in frenzy. The clamor suffocates, squeezing with a billion-fingered hand: all the hopes, all the dreams, all the pain constricting around me.”
― Pierce BrownIron Gold

This is the book I needed in my life. I SO needed more Darrow, more Sevro, more Virginia, and I NEEDED to know what happened after the end of Morningstar. My gushing doesn’t mean this book was perfect, but it was supremely satisfying, fairly traumatizing, and it ended on kind of a cliffhanger. Good thing the next book, Dark Age, will be out in September 2018. *YAY*

First of all, I listened to the audio version of this and it was fantastic! There are different narrators for each of the four POV’s and as usual, Tim Gerard Reynolds is reading Darrow’s chapters. Each narrator sounds very different so you’ll have no trouble keeping characters straight. I would mention that it took me a little while to get used to Lyria’s chapters because the accent is a bit heavy.

I really loved the broad spectrum of characters we have here – just the main 4 POVs include Darrow, Lysander (an exiled Gold), Lyria (a Red), and Ephraim (a Grey). They each lead very different lives and Pierce Brown makes you feel so much for each of them despite their flaws and shortcoming. In no way does he paint them as the image of perfection, especially Darrow who’s basically this warmonger that neglects his family for the “good of all”. There was this really great scene where he and Sevro argue and Sevro calls him out on being in love with his own heroic image and that’s why he can’t hand off the title of Arch Imperator or think of peace. He’d rather die in an iron rain than go quietly into the void. Darrow is now a relic from an age gone by – a warlord in a time of democracy. I do wonder if Pierce Brown will continue with the historical theme of Rome and bring down the Republic with the rise of a new empire.

Lysander’s chapters were some of my favorites to get to, especially since that meant we get to see what our ol’ buddy Cassius au Bellona is up to in his exile. Cassius has been raising Lysander to be a competent swordsman and generally decent human being, but Lysander still retains the teachings of his grandmother, the Sovereign Octavia au Lune – who Cassius helped to murder. I won’t give away much, but Lysander meets the Moon Lords and things get interesting. Ephraim was also pretty interesting, as he is a former member of the Sons of Ares turned thief of luxury items, heirlooms, and historically significant artifacts. He’s got a skilled team, a chip on his shoulder, and a job unlike any he’d done before at the behest of some very powerful, very influential people. Lyria’s story was emotionally moving, but it took me a long time to warm up to her character. She’s so full of rage, and it’s pretty justifiable, but she also gives the impression that she thinks the government should think of her as an individual and cater to her needs, which simply isn’t logical. She’s very passionate, very alone, and very naïve as to who the world works because she’s been in the mines of Mars for almost her entire life. I warmed up to her as the story progressed and I think she evolved SO much during this first book. Darrow’s chapters are harrowing and stressful and sometimes I’d love to slap some sense into him. He’s a majestic and powerful idiot sometimes. See my previous paragraph spiel.

I was a little disappointed at Virginia’s role here. She seemed so distant and untouchable, even during Darrow’s chapters and she’s lost much of the power she radiated in books 1-3. She was an embodiment of her role as Sovereign in this book rather than carrying the presence that she did before. I hope in the next installment she’ll regain her former awesomeness and become once again a warrior-queen instead of a politician.

Overall, this was a stellar book and I loved it for so many reasons. It was a delight to see how the characters have changed and embraced (or not) their new roles as parents, founders of the Republic, and even renegade do-gooders. I can’t begin to describe how happy I am that Dark Age will be released later this year so I won’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next! Also, I need more Howler merch to represent my love for this series. Like a coffee mug or something, but I haven’t found any designs that I LOVE. If you have recommendations for Howler merch, send them my way. I know Illumicrate has an awesome box containing Iron Gold and some awesome gear for sale so I may check that out!

The Green Unknown: Travels in the Khasi Hills by Patrick Rogers – Review

Cover- Into the Green Unknown

Published: September 18, 2017

Publisher: Westland

Genre: Travel

Series: Stand alone

Pages: 140 (Kindle)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

The Green Unknown is about walking, without a map or a plan, across the Khasi Hills in the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya—a place of jungle canyons and thousand-foot waterfalls, where it rains more than any other inhabited place in the world, where each village has its own dialect or even its own language, and where the people grow living bridges from the roots of trees. The book is an attempt to express what it’s like trying to explore, mile by mile, village by village, valley by valley, a place that’s beautiful, complex, and fascinating, but most of all, unique.


So obviously this isn’t what I usually review here on Powder & Page, but sometimes an opportunity comes along and you just have to take it. I was contacted by Patrick Rogers about reviewing his latest book, The Green Unknown. This is a travelogue style book recounting the author’s travels in the north-eastern Indian province of Meghalaya, which is one of the wettest places in the world. I honestly knew nothing of this place when I went into it aside from a few basics acquired from a quick Google.

This was incredibly interesting and educational and I thought the author’s writing was engaging – so much so that I actually read this book in a single lazy Sunday afternoon. The Green Unknown doesn’t go into overwhelming detail about any of the topics within, but rather gives an engaging overview of many aspects of life in Meghalaya. The whole book is basically the author relaying his experiences – good, bad, and even a bit scary – while weaving in information. For me, this makes it easier to remember the facts because I have a story to associate with them. I enjoy this type of non-fiction and this book has made me realize that I should make an effort to read books like this more often.

If you’re interested in learning about new places or are fond of travelogues, I’d definitely recommend this book! If nothing else, at least check out the living root bridges the region is famous for – I could easily see these being used in a fantasy novel and it would be fantastic (and quite an undertaking) to see them in person.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken – Review

Cover- The Darkest Minds

Published: December 18, 2012

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian

Series: The Darkest Minds #1

Pages: 488 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that had killed most of America’s children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She is on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who have escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at having a life worth living.


Wowww I can see why they picked this book series to turn into a movie! The plot in a nutshell – kids start dying, but the ones that don’t develop abilities ranging from increased intelligence to setting things on fire with their minds. The government freaks out and takes the survivors to camps where they’re treated terribly under the guise of eventual rehabilitation to society. Wider society is crumbling and there are different organizations working against the government camps, the main one being the Children’s League all the while there are kids on the run from authorities.

The Darkest Minds is told from the perspective of Ruby, a girl taken to the worst camp around the age of 10. She’s survived by hiding her true gifts – she is an orange, or manipulator of the mind, but has masqueraded as a green (increased intelligence) since her genesis at the camp. The yellows, oranges, and reds at her camp were hauled off years ago, never to be seen again. Probably dead or being experimented on by the lab coats. Long story short, Ruby escapes with help from the Children’s League and then runs off with some other kids who’ve been on the run for a few weeks and they become friends.

Green – increased intelligence

Blue – telekinesis

Yellow – manipulate electricity

Orange – manipulate the mind

Red – manipulate fire

Ruby and her compatriots were very likable characters and didn’t feel overly mature or immature for their age group. It was a good balance and they handled most situations with a maturity that comes from having to grow up quickly, but they still had moments of childish petulance and even some moments of enjoyment. I like getting to know each of them – silent Zu and her yellow gloves, Liam and his charisma, Chubs and his dreams of going to college… it really made me feel so much more for each of these characters.

All in all, I was really impressed with the quality of this book – much better than a lot of YA novels and I can see why it garnered enough attention to be picked up for a movie deal. I’ll definitely be seeing that movie when it’s released in September 2018 just to see if I like it as much as the book (I am skeptical of this). I’d like to continue on with the series at some point – for those of you who’ve read this series already, is it worth it? Should I keep reading?

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft – Review

Cover- Senlin Ascends

Published: January 16, 2018

Publisher: Orbit Books

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Books of Babel #1

Pages: 448 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.


This may be a weird way to start a review, but I’m really happy for Josiah Bancroft – he started out as a self-published author, but through the efforts of he and his readers he’s now been picked up by Orbit! That’s a big deal!!! I initially heard about Senlin Ascends when it was going through the rounds of SPFBO – I was curious but just didn’t have the time to pick it up. I wasn’t cool enough to check it out before it was mainstream, but now that it is….

Thomas Senlin is a schoolteacher – a quiet man in a world of his own, until he marries Marya. Marya is a bright young girl who’s basically the exact opposite of Tom Senlin. The unlikely couple marries (somewhat scandalizing their neighbors) and goes to honeymoon at the Tower of Babel, a marvel of construction, with each level of the tower being a kingdom (or Ringdom) unto itself. The tower sounds like a nightmare to a solitude loving introvert like myself. Too many people, thievery, filth, noise, and lurking evil. Or open evil. It depends on the ringdom. Anyway, Tom loses Marya about 32 seconds after exiting the train and spends the next 400 pages trying to find her. She is well and truly lost it seems, but Tom Senlin continues to search for her, going to greater and more extreme measures with each floor of the tower he ascends.

This book had an interesting but slow beginning. It wasn’t plodding, but merely going at its own steady pace and I enjoyed it. As the book goes along, things pick up and Tom gets bolder and more streetwise. At the beginning he’s basically a walking target for any criminal in proximity and is taken advantage of and gets in so many traumatizing situations that I occasionally had to pause and collect myself. I was practically chewing my nails off because I was like, stressed out for this fictional character. And then I was horrified by the corruption and the treatment of people. The floor with the plays was one of the most disturbing, mostly because of how infractions to the rules were dealt with. Ohmygosh. I shudder thinking about it.

I would definitely recommend Senlin Ascends if you’re looking for a book that’s practically its own genre. It’s so creative and I can only imagine how much thought was put into creating this soaring tower of debauchery and delight. I was fond of the element of redemption presented throughout the story. Many of Senlin’s enemies or aggressors become his close companions, though I hesitate to trust they have entirely honorable intentions and won’t betray him. I really enjoyed this book overall, but didn’t passionately love it enough to grant it 5 stars. I’ll absolutely be checking out The Arm of the Sphinx as soon as it’s available!

Blackwing by Ed McDonald – Review

Cover- Blackwing

Published: October 3, 2017

Publisher: Ace Books

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Ravens’ Mark #1

Pages: 360 (Paperback)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Set on the ragged edge of a postapocalyptic frontier, Blackwing is a gritty fantasy debut about a man’s desperate battle to survive his own dark destiny…

Nothing in the Misery lasts…

Under a cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, created when the Engine, the most powerful weapon in the world, was unleashed against the immortal Deep Kings. Across the wasteland, teeming with corrupted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies are still watching—and still waiting.

Ryhalt Galharrow is no stranger to the Misery. The bounty hunter journeys to a remote outpost, armed for killing both men and monsters, and searching for a mysterious noblewoman. He finds himself in the middle of a shocking attack by the Deep Kings, one that should not be possible. Only a fearsome show of power from the very woman he is seeking saves him.

Once, long ago, he knew the woman well, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to unmake everything they hold dear and end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled and the gods he’s supposed to serve…


Blackwing is another book that I wanted to read when it actually came out in October, but yet again that was a really busy time in my life. I ended up getting the audio version so I could fit it in my life! Once again I’m glad I did because it was an excellent book, just as the critics (aka reviewers) have claimed.

One thing that really stood out to me was the writing style – I felt as if I was in the midst of the action scenes, caught up with Ryhalt Galharrow in the battles, burglaries, and general crisis type situations. I loved it. I also loved the mysterious nature of both the Deep Kings, their minions, and the Nameless. The lack of detail lent to this air of mystery and let me create my own image of them – you know they say that it’s the not knowing that’s really scary. The setting of this book was also pretty cool. The Misery is a vast wasteland created by the Nameless when they unleashed Nall’s Engine against the Deep Kings many years prior. It’s full of creepy monsters that repeat nonsensical phrases and eat you while you soundly sleep, dust that makes you a bit nutty, and other delightful horrors. Most people don’t go there, but Ryhalt Galharrow makes it his business to chase down traitors and sympathizers and ofttimes they go to the Misery.

Ryhalt was such a dark and brooding character! The story hints at his past and the deeds that haunt him, but most of that information isn’t given until much later in the book when a figure from his past reappears. Ezabeth Tanza is a powerful spinner who’s garnered Crowfoot’s interest, so he’s sent Ryhalt to escort her back to the city of Valengrad. Good thing too, because as soon as Ryhalt shows up a Darling shows up with some minions and attacks the outpost she’s arrived at. By the way, Darlings are the sinister child-like mages of the Deep Kings. Ezabeth and Ryhalt have a past, so there’s much tension between the two and I spent most of the book wishing they’d just get on with it. SPILL THE BEANS PEOPLE. SAY WHAT YOU MEAN.

That aside, I really like both characters as well as the secondaries, the plot, and the setting. It was solid grimdark fantasy and I felt kind of morbidly hopeful at the end. Maybe they won’t be bits of dust blowing across the Misery after all. I’m looking to the sequel when it’s released later this year and have plans to actually read that one when it comes out rather than several months later. If you’re looking for some good action packed fantasy that it’s fluffy and heroic, but rather darkly heroic and somewhat nihilistic this might be the book for you.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert – Audiobook Review

Cover- The Hazel Wood

Published: January 30, 2018

Publisher: MacMillan Audio

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Hazel Wood #1

Length: 10 hr 30 min

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.


Somehow I just knew this was going to be an outstanding book. Maybe it was the cover. Or maybe it was the synopsis. Or maybe it was just my book-dar picking up a winner. Whatever it was, when I got a surprise audiobook download from MacMillan in the mail I knew I was in for a treat. They also sent me an awesome gold sharpie so I can vandalize things in glam metallics… or you know, color the promo poster they sent.

The Hazel Wood may be one of the best creepy, dark fairytales ever. From the very beginning and the mentions of the persistent bad luck, leaving in the middle of the night, and Alice’s odd kidnapping that this isn’t going to be a Disney fairytale, but rather something more akin to the originals told by the brothers Grimm. Alice has lived an unusual life, with virtually no connections aside from her mother, and a secret obsession for the grandmother she’s never met. Althea Proserpine was an author of a book of dark fairy tale stories called Tales from the Hinterland, which is rare, scary, and maybe based on a place Althea actually disappeared to for two years.

Alice is showcased as a girl alone amongst her peers who also has anger management struggles. She often snaps at people and frequently uses her mother’s zen breathing techniques to not throat punch people who irritate her. When they most recently settle in New York City she does her usual not making friends thing until one Ellery Finch waits out storm Alice and sort of becomes a friend. Ellery’s major drawback is that he is a huge fan of Tales from the Hinterland and Alice has always tried to avoid fans… that is, until her mother goes missing and she needs someone that has actually read the book her grandmother wrote. Ellery plays that role and the two set off on a journey to find the Hazel Wood and hopefully Alice’s mother.

The whole story was a disturbing delight to read and I will absolutely be keeping an eye out for more books by Melissa Albert. Not everything was as it seemed, many secrets were unveiled, and there was a fair bit of trauma to be had. The Hazel Wood sated my hunger for a slightly twisted tale and has left me with a desire to find more stories of this sort (recommendations are welcome). I would definitely recommend this for fans of fairy tale retellings, dark, whimsical stories, and solidly strong female characters who break the mold.

Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk – Review

Cover- Blood and Sand

Published: January 16, 2018

Publisher: Tor Teen

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Series: Blood and Sand #1

Pages: 320 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

FORGED IN BATTLE…
FROM THE DUST OF THE ARENA…
A LEGEND WILL RISE

The action-packed tale of a 17-year-old warrior princess and a handsome gladiator who dared take on the Roman Republic―and gave rise to the legend of Spartacus…

For teens who love strong female protagonists in their fantasy and historical fiction, Blood and Sand is a stirring, yet poignant tale of two slaves who dared take on an empire by talented debut author C. V. Wyk.

Roma Victrix. The Republic of Rome is on a relentless march to create an empire―an empire built on the backs of the conquered, brought back to Rome as slaves.

Attia was once destined to rule as the queen and swordmaiden of Thrace, the greatest warrior kingdom the world had seen since Sparta. Now she is a slave, given to Xanthus, the Champion of Rome, as a sign of his master’s favor. Enslaved as a child, Xanthus is the preeminent gladiator of his generation.

Against all odds, Attia and Xanthus form a tentative bond. A bond that will spark a rebellion. A rebellion that threatens to bring the Roman Republic to its end―and gives rise to the legend of Spartacus…


As I read more and more books I’ve become somewhat wary of the YA genre and I think part of that is due to the incredible hype surrounding so many of the new releases. Bookstagrammers incessantly promote upcoming releases with their elegantly posed shots of coveted ARCs, cover reveals, snazzy portrayals of previous books and gushing posts about their love for the authors. Merely scrolling through these pictures and their accompanying blurbs has misled me into buying (or requesting) some genuinely awful books. Pretty covers and media hype can lie very easily which has made me try to be more discerning when requesting or accepting ARCs of not only YA, but adult SFF as well. This is one case where I’m really glad I jumped on the blog tour train when Tor Teen reached out to me with the offer of a Blood and Sand ARC.

It seems as if gladiators are having an upswing in literary popularity lately – they featured prominently in Godsgrave, The Valiant was a book about a female gladiator, and now Blood and Sand has joined the fun. The main character Attia isn’t a gladiator herself, but rather the now enslaved Maedi warrior princess who was given to the Champion of Rome as a gift. Xanthus (the Champion) is himself a slave, though because he brings glory and status to his owner, he has earned some luxuries not afforded to others. He’s surprisingly humble for one with such renown and I liked him almost instantly. I also liked Attia, though I thought she seemed a little too free to wander about and do whatever she liked to be a convincing slave. Though I’ve read that Roman household slaves often had the best living conditions of all Roman slaves, I feel as though the author still rounded off some of the harsh edges in this book. Perhaps it’s because it’s geared towards a YA audience?

I was actually really impressed with the storyline of Blood and Sand and would have to say it’s one of the better YA books I’ve read this year. When a book starts off with breaking legs, flying punches, and doomed flight through Rome, you know it’s going to be good. After this sudden and violent beginning, things slow down just a bit but in a good way. Attia and Xanthus are thrust together, neither wanting to be in the situation they’re in and after a while they come to terms with their situation and become friends. There was no insta-love, and while Attia was excellent in combat, she didn’t pick up the skills in 48 hours or less as seems to happen in many YA books. Hers were earned and she’s given a history to back this up – her people were warriors and she was to be their warrior queen.

Overall, Blood and Sand really impressed me with its quality of both characters and plot. It definitely retains some of the common YA tropes, but they aren’t so painfully obvious and are executed with a defter hand than many other authors seem to possess. Congrats to C.V. Wyk for writing a book that I would actually consider recommending to friends that don’t read young adult fantasy. Without a doubt, I’ll be looking forward to more information about the sequel and can’t wait to see where that journey takes us readers!