The Lost Village by Camilla Sten – Review

Published: March 23, 2021

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Horror

Pages: 352 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar in this brilliantly disturbing thriller from Camilla Sten, an electrifying new voice in suspense.

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened.

But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice:

They are not alone.

They’re looking for the truth…
But what if it finds them first?


Every so often a creepy-sounding book will catch my eye and I’ve just got to read it. I’m a total wuss and I don’t do scary movies or video games, but the lack of actual visuals in a book means it’s way less scary. I like Scandinavian crime/mystery books so I figured I’d go in for a little Scandi-horror and try it out. It was pretty creepy and the characters were interesting for sure! 

Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the so-called Lost Village ever since her grandmother told her of it. Her grandmother grew up there and still had her parents and younger sister there when the residents suddenly disappeared. They simply vanished, aside from a woman who was stoned to death in the town square and a squalling baby discovered by the police. The baby’s origins were just as much a mystery as the whereabouts of the town’s residents. 

Alice and her group of filmmakers set off to the village, many miles from the nearest town or even gas station. They arrive and begin to explore, though it feels as if they aren’t alone in the ghost town – they hear noises, the walkie-talkies malfunction, and they think they’ve seen someone. Shortly after arriving, Tone (Alice’s friend and photographer) severely injures her ankle and is laid up on pain meds. This is the first in a series of bad decisions and occurrences, all of which help to give this story the sense of creeping dread it possesses. 

One of the big things that should be mentioned is that this story has dual timelines. Obviously there’s the current day timeline following Alice and her crew, but there’s also a flashback timeline that follows Alice’s grandmother’s family in the town and shows the events leading up to the disappearance. This gives the reader a fantastic insider perspective as to what life was like in this small mining town prior to it’s infamy. The mine is shutting down, tensions are high, and a new church pastor has come to town… You can see where the comparisons to Midsommar might begin to come into play. 

The Lost Village was not entirely unpredictable and some aspects I guessed quite early on. With that being said, it was fun (and still creepy!) to see how everything would unfold in both past and present. The ending of the book was quite tense, but I wasn’t really all that surprised or worried for the characters – not bad, but not mind blowing. I was disappointed that there wasn’t actually that much documentary making going on since Tone got hurt so early on and then they mostly just lurked around the buildings taking pictures. This also wasn’t terrifying, just quite unsettling for most of the book. Overall, I liked it and will more than likely pick up future books from this author if the synopsis sounds good.

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

Published: January 12, 2021

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Series: Warrior Witch #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Synopsis:

A princess with a powerful and dangerous secret must find a way to save her country from ruthless invaders in this exciting debut fantasy, the first novel in a thrilling duology packed with heroism, treachery, magic, and war.

Askia became heir to the Frozen Crown of Seravesh because of her devotion to her people. But her realm is facing a threat she cannot defeat by sheer will alone. The mad emperor of the Roven Empire has unleashed a horde of invading soldiers to enslave her lands. For months, her warriors have waged a valiant, stealth battle, yet they cannot stop the enemy’s advancement. Running out of time, she sets sail for sun-drenched Vishir, the neighboring land to the south, to seek help from its ruler, Emperor Armaan.

A young woman raised in army camps, Askia is ill-equipped to navigate Vishir’s labyrinthine political games. Her every move sinks her deeper into court intrigues which bewilder and repel her, leaving her vulnerable not only to enemies gathering at Vishir’s gates, but to those behind the palace walls. 

And in this glittering court, where secrets are worth more than gold, Askia fears that one false step will expose her true nature. For Askia is a witch gifted with magical abilities—knowledge that could destroy not only her life but her people. As her adversaries draw closer, Askia is forced to make an impossible choice—and no matter what she decides, it may not be enough to prevent Seravesh’s fall.


This was one of my most anticipated releases of early 2021 and I’m SOOO HAPPY it lived up to my expectations! At first it came off as a little young adult and I wasn’t so sure about it, but the book quickly found its stride and I fell in love. The Frozen Crown is an awesome political-centric fantasy and has seriously whetted my appetite for more books focused on statecraft and the nuanced maneuverings of those involved.

Princess Askia is heir to a crown she does not possess. Her kingdom has been taken by a treacherous cousin on behalf of the sorcerer king of Roven and she is on the run with her fiercely loyal armsmen. Her quest to retake her kingdom leads her across the sea to the Empire of Vishir, where she spent many years of her childhood… until her parents were murdered by religious zealots and she was tortured on the suspicion of being a witch. By returning to Vishir she must face not only the most powerful man in the world and beg for help, but also the people who were responsible for the most traumatic events in her life. The political game is on and Askia is floundering, sinking, but she must save her people at all costs.

This book was absolutely brilliant. I was on the edge of my seat and was finding any excuse or task to keep listening to it. Let’s just say my house was pretty clean that week! This has to be one of the first books I’ve come across where the main character was practical enough to push her heart aside and actually consider marriage to someone for an alliance. What a relief – a character can’t say they would do anything to save their people and then not actually take advantage of a marriage alliance! Oh, and I can’t forget that she actually beheaded her friend who tried to assassinate her. It was terrible, but he tried to kill her for Roven to save his own kin. Askia was awesome – a skilled warrior, an elegant figure, and a death witch. Yes, a death witch, meaning she can see and speak to the dead. Or at least that’s all she knew how to do at the beginning of the book. 

The Frozen Crown may end up being one of my favorite books of the year even though it’s only February. Only time shall tell, but my level of excitement for the next book is like wayyyy up there. The political aspect of this book was well done – Askia was obviously out of her depth, but she learns and begins to play the game. She deals with her enemies for the sake of saving her people, tamping down her own feelings for the sake of those she loves. The ending was quite the cliffhanger, so I’m really going to need the next book ASAP!

Siege of Rage and Ruin by Django Wexler – Review

Published: January 5, 2021

Publisher: Tor Teen

Series: The Wells of Sorcery #3

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Pages: 304 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Siege of Rage and Ruin is the explosive final adventure in Django Wexler’s The Wells of Sorcery trilogy, an action-packed epic fantasy saga.

Isoka has done the impossible–she’s captured the ghost ship Soliton.

With her crew of mages, including the love of her life Princess Meroe, Isoka returns to the empire that sent her on her deadly mission. She’s ready to hand over the ghost ship as ransom for her sister Tori’s life, but arrives to find her home city under siege. And Tori at the helm of a rebellion.

Neither Isoka’s mastery of combat magic, nor Tori’s proficiency with mind control, could have prepared them for the feelings their reunion surfaces. But they’re soon drawn back into the rebels’ fight to free the city that almost killed them.


CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS BOOKS

I realized as I began to write up this review that I don’t have too much to say about this book that hasn’t been said in my reviews of the previous installments. We shall instead jump right to the point.

At long last, the Soliton returns to Isoka’s home city, and at her command no less. She’s determined to save her innocent little sister, but Isoka is clearly not up to date on current events. Tori helped to start a rebellion and is now leading it – clearly she’s not the delicate flower that Isoka imagined her to be and this initially creates a bit of tension between the sisters. How dare Isoka come in and treat Tori as a child? Tori is a formidable power in her own right, and though Isoka is still important she’s become somewhat less so now that the rebellion is the biggest threat to the city. Acquiring Soliton just isn’t as important when there are hordes of people wanting to burn down a city and pull the nobility down with them.

Isoka and Tori spend a decent chunk (maybe a quarter?) of the story trying to reunite with one another. Now, this isn’t exactly a long book and there’s a lot of action crammed in those 300 pages. I feel that there should have been a little more content and a slower build up to the grand finale, as this did wrap up very, very quickly and neatly. An epilogue teasing the continued journey of our characters would have been quite welcome too! These are probably my only quibbles about the story.

I thought this to be an enjoyable series overall and Siege of Rage and Ruin was a pretty good way to wrap up such an adventurous quest. I do think the split to two POVs (Tori and Isoka) was a good move, but more time needed to be dedicated to each in this installment to slow down the rapid pace of the story. Sometimes there can be too much too quickly and it makes big events seem run of the mill rather than as emotionally impactful as they might be. I enjoyed the romantic aspects of the story and thought both were well done, though Tori’s isn’t quite as serious or in depth as Isoka’s.

The Black Coast by Mike Brooks – Review

Published: February 16, 2021

Publisher: Solaris

Series: The God-King Chronicles #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 670 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Epic world-building at its finest, in an upcoming author’s fantasy debut. The Black Coast is the start of an unmissable series filled with war-dragons, armoured knights, sea-faring raiders, dangerous magic and crowd-pleasing battle scenes.

When the citizens of Black Keep see ships on the horizon, terror takes them, for they know who is coming: for generations, Black Keep has been raided by the fearsome clanspeople of Iwernia. Saddling their war dragons, the Naridans rush to defend their home only to discover that the clanspeople have not come to pillage at all. Driven from their own homeland by the rise of a daemonic despot who prophesies the end of the world, they have come in search of a new home. Meanwhile the wider continent of Narida is lurching toward war. Black Keep is about to be caught in the cross-fire of the coming war for the world – if only its new mismatched society can survive.


VIKINGS BABY! Well, sort of. The Black Coast is largely focused on the Black Coast area, which is often attacked by raiders that cross the sea (a viking-esque people). Recently however, they’ve undergone some nasty political upheaval (a creepy draugr overlord) and one of the clans has decided to find themselves a new home. The clan leader Saana decided to risk parlaying with the Naridans in hopes they will allow her people to settle and begin a new life. The Naridans of the Black Keep are horrified to see a massive host of Iwernian ships sailing toward their shores. And then a white flag is raised.

On the flip side, there’s lots of interesting stuff going on elsewhere in the world. Tila, the sister to the God King is set on assassinating a splinter group of their family line that lives across the sea. This splinter group lives in secrecy and no one knows what they look like or what alias they are living under. The main POV in this area is a pickpocket named Jeya who ends up befriending the son of the splinter king. There are sooo many POVs within this story that I won’t attempt to touch on all of them because we’d be here all day. The Naridans at the Black Keep, Saana’s clan, the agent of the Golden (the draugr overlord), Tila, and Jeya all have their chapters. It really does help to flesh out the world quickly and pretty thoroughly as you read along. It also lends an epic scope to the story that would have been difficult if focusing solely on any one of the characters.

This is an action packed, fascinating world that I think has something for everyone. Political intrigue, assassination attempts, dragons, a criminal underworld, and even some sexual tension. I won’t call it romance, as it’s uh… a bit of a weird love triangle that might be kind of one sided(won’t spoil that one further). There is SO MUCH going on in this book but it’s deftly executed and trust me, not all of the characters are likable and especially not good. On many occasions, they choose what they think is the lesser of two evils and those choices don’t make everyone happy. 

Simply said, I loved this book. It was the perfect mix of action and political intrigue with cool countries and cultures that I can’t wait to see in further detail.

The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec – Review

Published: February 9, 2021

Publisher: Ace Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 368 (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 banished witch falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki, she risks the wrath of the gods in this moving, subversive debut novel that reimagines Norse mythology.

Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.


I was totally unable to resist a book where Loki falls in love with a powerful witch named Angrboda. Loki is a mythological figure that just about everyone is familiar with – the trickster god, shapechanger, and mischief maker. Angrboda on the other hand, is mentioned only once in mythology (the Prose Edda) where she is described as the mate of Loki and mother of monsters. 

This particular re-telling or interpretation begins when Angrboda goes by another, older name and falls afoul of Odin because she refuses to teach him any more of her magic. She is burned at the stake three times and her heart is torn from her chest. Because she is an ancient and magical being, she survives this horror and flees to a dead wood. Loki returns her heart to her and she places it back inside her own chest. Thus begins the unusual love story of Angrboda and Loki. While she recovers in her cave, Angrboda befriends the huntress Skadi and they remain close and each a source of comfort for the other. Angrboda bears three children over the course of many years – Hel who is half dead, Fenrir the wolf, and Jormungand the world serpent. They are part of a prophecy that brings about Ragnarok.

Honestly, the book doesn’t focus a great deal on the prophesied Ragnarok until quite late in the book. Up until that point, it’s just Angroboda living her quiet life, waiting on Loki to show up to visit, and each time he leaves another child is on the way. Skadi doesn’t know who this mystery man is for many years, though she holds quite the grudge against both mystery man and Loki. Loki is my least favorite character in the book and it’s not entirely because he’s an absent father figure and not great husband material. He just doesn’t feel quite right in the context of the story even though he is the trickster. Loki just doesn’t seem to mesh with the style and tone of the book (in some instances worse than others) – it almost feels like forced comic relief that utterly fails at being humorous. 

Overall, I found this to be a pretty good story that had surprisingly emotional moments. I actually teared up a bit at one point! The love of a mother is well illustrated even if certain other elements fell a bit flat. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I loved the deep lore and mythology of the book as well. I am entirely a sucker for Norse or Viking inspired fantasy books and it was great to get one where the main character isn’t one of the well known gods or goddesses.

The Absinthe Earl by Sharon Lynn Fisher – Review

Published: October 15, 2019

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing

Series: The Faerie Rehistory #1

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Pages: 288 (Paperback)

My Rating: 2.5/5.0

Synopsis:

They crossed centuries to find each other. Their love will shatter worlds.

Miss Ada Quicksilver, a student of London’s Lovelace Academy for Promising Young Women, is spending her holiday in Ireland to pursue her anthropological study of fairies. She visits Dublin’s absinthe bars to investigate a supposed association between the bittersweet spirit and fairy sightings.

One night a handsome Irishman approaches her, introducing himself as Edward Donoghue. Edward takes absinthe to relieve his sleepwalking, and she is eager to hear whether he has experience with fairies. Instead, she discovers that he’s the earl of Meath, and that he will soon visit a mysterious ruin at Newgrange on the orders of his cousin, the beautiful, half-mad Queen Isolde. On learning about Ada’s area of study, he invites her to accompany him.

Ada is torn between a sensible fear of becoming entangled with the clearly troubled gentleman and her compelling desire to ease his suffering. Finally she accepts his invitation, and they arrive in time for the winter solstice. That night, the secret of Edward’s affliction is revealed: he is, in fact, a lord in two worlds and can no longer suppress his shadow self.

Little does either of them realize that their blossoming friendship and slowly kindling passion will lead to discoveries that wrench open a door sealed for centuries, throwing them into a war that will change Ireland forever.


If you’re looking for a book heavy on Irish mythology and sexual tension then this is probably the book for you. I ran out of Audible credits and desperately needed something to listen to and picked this up. I vaguely recalled seeing some positive reviews for it from fellow bloggers and figured I’d give it a shot. It wasn’t a terrible book, it just wasn’t quite my cup of tea though it had so many individual elements that I usually enjoy.

Ada Quicksilver is in Ireland searching out evidence of faeries for her thesis when she meets the dark and handsome Edward Donoghue, Earl of Meathe. The earl is enchanted by her aethereal appearance, but he also happens to be on his way to inspect some ruins on his cousin the queen’s orders. Edward has a dark secret – he often sleepwalks if he doesn’t drink absinthe and will awaken dirtied and covered in blood with no memory of the events. He fears for Ada’s safety even as he is drawn to her.

This seems like standard romance with a touch of fantasy at first and then WHAM, FAERIES EVERYWHERE. I mean, there are fae appearances and it’s clear from early on that Edward Donaghue may become possessed by one of the fae when he sleepwalks but then they get transported off to Faerieland. And then suddenly they’re fighting for Ireland, uniting the disparate supernatural groups against the Formorians who want to begin the Irish potato famine. Not to mention that Ada is also the distant relative of a fae woman who was loved by the fae that possesses Edward. I’ve totally brainfarted on their names, but it’s not that important and I probably couldn’t spell them correclty anyway.

This was an entertaining read, though as it progressed further I found myself waiting for the end to arrive. It seemed to drag out a bit and I began to lose interest despite all the action. This wasn’t quite the faerie-filled fantasy for me.

The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White – Review

Published: November 10, 2020

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Series: Camelot Rising #2

Pages: 400 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

The second book in a new fantasy trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White, exploring the nature of self, the inevitable cost of progress, and, of course, magic and romance and betrayal so epic Queen Guinevere remains the most famous queen who never lived.

EVERYTHING IS AS IT SHOULD BE IN CAMELOT: King Arthur is expanding his kingdom’s influence with Queen Guinevere at his side. Yet every night, dreams of darkness and unknowable power plague her.

Guinevere might have accepted her role, but she still cannot find a place for herself in all of it. The closer she gets to Brangien, pining for her lost love Isolde, Lancelot, fighting to prove her worth as Queen’s knight, and Arthur, everything to everyone and thus never quite enough for Guinevere–the more she realizes how empty she is. She has no sense of who she truly was before she was Guinevere. The more she tries to claim herself as queen, the more she wonders if Mordred was right: she doesn’t belong. She never will.

When a rescue goes awry and results in the death of something precious, a devastated Guinevere returns to Camelot to find the greatest threat yet has arrived. Not in the form of the Dark Queen or an invading army, but in the form of the real Guinevere’s younger sister. Is her deception at an end? And who is she really deceiving–Camelot, or herself?


The Camelot Betrayal is another book from November that I was totally behind in reading. While I enjoyed The Guinevere Deception I wasn’t overawed by it and hadn’t entirely committed myself to continuing the series. Well, I’m a sucker for a pretty cover and this one is just gorgeous so I figured I’d read it. I’m very glad I did because I liked it as much or more than the first book. 

We are now familiar with Guinevere who is not Guinevere (or is she?). She’s caring and strong, but still remains unsettled by how little she knows herself. Her past is a mystery and she doesn’t know if Merlin lied about her origins and the fact that he is her father. This is exacerbated when her (the real Guinevere’s) sister Guinevach arrives unannounced in Camelot and claims to recognize her. Is this seemingly innocent girl an agent of the dark queen? On top of this, someone is invading her dreams and she keeps running into Mordred out in the world. Simply put, she’s pretty stressed out and Arthur keeps himself at a distance.

Many people have described this book as filler and I totally get where they’re coming from. It feels like the plot wasn’t advanced in a meaningful way in regard to the Dark Queen and the fight against her magic. And, it wasn’t all that much. Instead, this book focused largely on Guinevere and her relationships with Lancelot, Brangien, and Arthur and how she deals with her murky past. It was surprisingly compelling and certainly didn’t lack for action and daring rescues but I think it wasn’t what many people expected (or perhaps even wanted).  I, on the other hand, really liked it much more than I expected.

This was a solid book and gave much more depth to not only Guinevere, but her dear companions Brangien and Lancelot as well. It’s setting up some big moments in the next book though I’ll leave to read it for yourself so you can make your own conclusions! I’m officially on the bandwagon for this series and can’t wait for the next book!

The Bright and Breaking Sea by Chloe Neill

Published: November 17, 2020

Publisher: Berkley Books

Series: Captain Kit Brightling #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 368 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Chloe Neill brings her trademark wit and wild sense of adventure to a stunning seafaring fantasy starring a dauntless heroine in a world of magic and treachery.

Kit Brightling, rescued as a foundling and raised in a home for talented girls, has worked hard to rise through the ranks of the Isles’ Crown Command and become one of the few female captains in Queen Charlotte’s fleet. Her ship is small, but she’s fast–in part because of Kit’s magical affinity to the sea. But the waters become perilous when the queen sends Kit on a special mission with a partner she never asked for.

Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, may be a veteran of the Continental war, but Kit doesn’t know him or his motives–and she’s dealt with one too many members of the Beau Monde. But Kit has her orders, and the queen has commanded they journey to a dangerous pirate quay and rescue a spy who’s been gathering intelligence on the exiled emperor of Gallia.

Kit can lead her ship and clever crew on her own, but with the fate of queen and country at stake, Kit and Rian must learn to trust each other, or else the Isles will fall….


Once again, what’s up with all the sea captain/naval/pirate themed fantasy books lately? I am definitely not complaining because it turns out I adore this strangely prevalent sub-genre, but it’s kind of odd! The Bright and Breaking Sea is another book I’m sad I waited so long to read because it definitely deserved release-day hype. It was so good and so charming!

Kit Brightling has become a successful ship’s captain in Her Royal Majesty’s navy, though most think she’s nothing more than a courier. Kit is in fact vitally important and does special missions on behalf of the queen, ofttimes involving espionage. When a spy must be recovered from enemy hands, Kit is paired with Rian Grant, the Viscount Queenscliffe. They don’t take an immediate liking to one another but over the course of the book they find they have a great deal of respect for one another and perhaps even a bit more. Yes, there is a well executed and delightful budding relationship in this book too! Don’t let that spook you if you’re not a romance fan – it’s not a big part of the story. 

Kit Brightling is such an awesome main character!! I just loved her! She was adopted at a young age and has a number of adoptive sisters at the Brightling house, all of whom are quite different. One makes pocket sized explosives for Kit to take on missions and another has her eyes set on marrying a nobleman, while others are still but young girls. Rian Grant is an admirable (if sometimes prickly) former soldier who recently inherited his family estate and the burden of their debt. He’s handsome of course, but most importantly he actually learns to respect a female ship captain in her domain. 

The setting is heavily inspired by the Napoleonic Wars and the ‘bad guy’ has been exiled to his remote island but is recruiting sympathizers to make a comeback. I love alt-historical fantasy and this was a compelling tale. Gerard Rousseau (our Napoleonic bad guy) has people manipulating the magical currents to further his own designs. Kit, Rian, and crew must stop him before he can disrupt the magic further and cause untold devastation.

The Bright and Breaking Sea was a fine adventure, with the perfect amount of romance, action, and intrigue. I will most definitely be continuing on with this series (with much enthusiasm!) and I have a new author to add to my potential favorites list.

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout – Review

Published: March 30, 2020

Publisher: Blue Box Press

Series: Blood and Ash #1

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Pages: 625 (Paperback)

My Rating: 2.5/5.0

Synopsis:

A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.


This was a purely for fun book that I did not have super high expectations for… but wow. It was certainly entertaining but it was so, so predictable and had the cringiest romance. Here we go!

Poppy is “the Maiden”, which means she is somehow essential to the “Ascension” where select people become immortal. It’s quite unclear why she is special or chosen or even what the Ascension is exactly. She’s just doing what she’s told. Being the Maiden is quite the bore – she is forbidden from interacting with most people and must wear a veil any time she leaves her rooms so none may see her face. So really, it’s no surprise that she’s inclined to sneak out of the palace and visit forbidden places like, say, the local bar/brothel where she encounters one of the handsome young palace guards named Hawke. *swoon* It’s also no surprise that when Hawke becomes one of her guards and actively pays attention to her and obviously flirts with her that she falls head over heels. 

A good chunk of this book is dedicated to Poppy worrying that Hawke may recognize her from her disguised foray into the brothel where they first met and spill the beans to the Duke. Next she spends a great deal of time fawning over him, followed by the last teeny bit where she feels utterly betrayed by him. It’s such an emotional rollercoaster, but I was SO NOT SURPRISED by the big reveal at the end. It literally makes me want to burst into crazed laughter thinking about it because it was really quite ridiculous. Like, my reaction to this book makes absolutely no sense, but it makes me laugh! 

Did I mention that along with the ooey-gooey first love theme, there are also vampires and werewolves? But of course, they aren’t called as such. The werewolves are wolven and the vampires are called Atlantians because that’s supposedly the city/country they originate from. There’s also this whole propaganda thing that the Ascended promote that basically helps to keep the people in line and convinces them to give up their third born child to serve the gods, etc. Turns out, they’re actually the bad guys and the Atlantians aren’t exactly good but they definitely aren’t evil! The actual political elements could have actually been very interesting, but this is a fantasy-romance with heavy emphasis on romance and cheesiness. 

I just have such mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it was SO LAME but I also want to read the next book because the ending (while predictable) left me so curious as to what would happen next. To be fair, there were some fantastic elements to the story, but the romance was so heavy handed that it was easy to forget about those parts. Poppy’s friendship with her only companion and her found-family thing with her long time guard were lovely. She was also a very strong character, dealing with those who abused their power over her and her own lack of control of her life. So, definite positives and negatives. This book won’t be for everyone and if you don’t like a book with a romantic bent, this won’t be for you. I do enjoy them from time to time, and I expect them to be this cheesy!

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick – Review

Published: January 19, 2021

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Rook & Rose #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 672 (Paperback)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

The Mask of Mirrors is the unmissable start to the Rook & Rose trilogy, a dazzling and darkly magical fantasy adventure by Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, writing together as M. A. Carrick.

Fortune favors the bold. Magic favors the liars.

Ren is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadežra with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house, securing her fortune and her sister’s future.

But as she’s drawn into the elite world of House Traementis, she realizes her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the City of Dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled…with Ren at their heart.


I have long been pining for a story that came even close to The Lies of Locke Lamora and while this wasn’t quite on that same level it’s the closest a book has come in sooo long. I live for clever con-artist stories and The Mask of Mirrors is exactly that. I feel like it was also one very elaborate set up for future books, but more on that later. 

Ren and her sister (adoptive sister) have just moved back to Nadežra after many years away and they are planning quite the con. Ren is pretending to be Renata Viraudax, daughter of the estranged Letilia Traementis so that she may worm her way into the Traementis household. Her motives aren’t what I’d call evil by any stretch – Ren just wants the name and hopefully enough money to provide for herself and Tess. The con is helped by the fact that Ren and Tess were actually servants of Letilia’s so they knew much of her history and even swiped some family jewels on the way out. Little does Ren know that House Traementis might have a respected name, but that’s about all that’s left since Donaia’s deceased husband racked up gambling debts. 

Ren’s attempt to become part of this household leads to many unforeseen circumstances as she is drawn into the political, criminal and even magical side of Nadežra. Derossi Vargo, crime lord,  becomes quite central to matters. He’s an interesting character with a mysterious air about him and unusual skill in the arcane. On the opposite side of things is Grey Serrado, a captain in the Vigil (police) who is also a family friend of the Traementis. His investigations into Ren almost ruin her plans and he continues to throw a wrench into things from time to time. The cast of characters is honestly quite large, though I will briefly mention Leato and Giuna, son and daughter of Donaia Traementis. Leato is a handsome man who isn’t quite as superficial as he first appears. Giuna is the sheltered younger sister who I took quite a liking to as the story progressed – more than meets the eye there as well!

In addition to Ren’s con, the political intrigue is executed so well and is just as (if not more) fascinating than all the action bits. And then you throw in Vargo, with his dark looks and his weird spider and things really start heating up! OH, AND THE ROOK!!! The mysterious Robin Hood type figure that shows up to humiliate assholes from time to time. It’s a mystery as to who may be lurking under that hood, but trust me when you find out… WOW! 

Overall, this book really swept me away. I love the world building, the different types of magic mentioned, the characters… so much! And this whole book seemed to be the set up for the Rook and the Rose actually being a duo and I am so here for that! I loved it and it was a fantastic way to wrap up 2020.