Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Review

Cover- Ninth House

Published: October 8, 2019

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Series: Alex Stern #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 458 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.


Darlington is the angstier, adult version of Richard Campbell Gansey III but without the bee allergy and Alex Stern is like Blue Sargent but with slightly more magic and possibly a death wish. FIGHT ME. Darlington is also the most interesting part of the book for the first 75% but then Alex gets way cool and the STAKES ARE RAISED, NOW WHERE IS THE SEQUEL. 

That could be the entire review, but I feel like that would be cheating you guys, you know? Like, how fair is that? So vague, yet so intriguing.

First of all, I’d like to say the audiobook is quite stellar and worthwhile, especially since there’s a cool little interview with Leigh Bardugo where she reveals an interesting fact that is related to the story. This is a book where the narration really brings it to life and perhaps make what would have been a good-ish book into a pretty cool book that I’ll definitely be reading the sequel to.

I think I summed up the characters pretty well in the first paragraph, but I’ll give some background on them now. Alex Stern can see grays, which are spirits of the deceased, aka ghosts. This gift brought her to the attention of Important People at Yale University, who offered her admission and a full scholarship if she would just join their secret society. This is all in spite of the fact that she was the lone survivor of a multiple homicide, is/was a drug addict, and most royally screwed up her life. What a second chance! Once at Yale she meets Daniel Arlington (Darlington) who is to be her mentor in the secret society, called Lethe House. Darlington (and now Alex) are meant to be the police for the eight other secret societies on Yale’s campus that produce the wealthy, the talented, and the ambitious people of the world. They each have their own unique brand of magic, some/most of which is disturbing. Like, borrowing people from mental wards to read the stock market trends in their viscera. *WHAT* *WHY* Lethe House is present at all events involving the other societies to ensure rules are followed, no more hobos are killed, and nothing goes wrong. Theoretically.

In theory, this book should be everything that could be interesting in a book. Magic in the modern world, secret societies, a collegiate setting, etc. It was interesting, but it did take awhile for me to really get into it and even then it took me awhile longer to find Alex Stern to be anything other than sort of bland. Darlington saved this book – his POV was interesting from the start and his absence was even more attention grabbing. He’s so totally not in Spain, but where is he? The mystery portion of this book (ie, who killed the girl and were the societies involved?) did keep me reading longer than I would have if the book solely relied on me liking Alex Stern. I did like her by the end and I will absolutely be picking up the sequel on release day. 

Overall, Ninth House was a win for me, with reservations. I felt the ending was a bit rushed and unexpected. Yes, it was a mystery/horror book but you know, clues are a thing and being able to smack your forehead and go “WHY DIDN’T I SEE THAT SOONER”  is how these things should go. It shouldn’t be me going “GOLLY, THAT WAS OUT OF THE BLUE, WHAT THE HECK”. Between this, and the blandness of the characters towards the beginning, this is only getting four stars from me. 

Capturing the Devil by Kerri Maniscalco – Review

Cover- Capturing the Devil

Published: September 10, 2019

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson

Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #4

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Pages: 453 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 2.0/5.0

Synopsis:

In the shocking finale to the bestselling series that began with Stalking Jack the Ripper, Audrey Rose and Thomas are on the hunt for the depraved, elusive killer known as the White City Devil. A deadly game of cat-and-mouse has them fighting to stay one step ahead of the brilliant serial killer—or see their fateful romance cut short by unspeakable tragedy.

Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell have landed in America, a bold, brash land unlike the genteel streets of London they knew. But like London, the city of Chicago hides its dark secrets well. When the two attend the spectacular World’s Fair, they find the once-in-a-lifetime event tainted with reports of missing people and unsolved murders.

Determined to help, Audrey Rose and Thomas begin their investigations, only to find themselves facing a serial killer unlike any they’ve heard of before. Identifying him is one thing, but capturing him—and getting dangerously lost in the infamous Murder Hotel he constructed as a terrifying torture device—is another.

Will Audrey Rose and Thomas see their last mystery to the end—together and in love—or will their fortunes finally run out when their most depraved adversary makes one final, devastating kill?


Okay, so this book made me UNREASONABLY angry. I actually had to pause the audiobook and vent about it to my husband, who was caught entirely unawares by this outburst. He was stunned and had no idea what to say. This review will have spoilers ahead because I can’t talk about what frustrated me so much without spoiling all the things.

This is the final installment in the Stalking Jack the Ripper series and I did begin this with some trepidation as the second book was a flop for me. Audrey Rose spent the entire book whinging about EVERYTHING and she was SO SET UPON BY HER ANGUISH. It irritated me endlessly. The gave the third book a chance and was pleasantly surprised by the turnaround in her character – finally she was starting to act like the intelligent, capable young woman we are told she is. And the fourth book unfortunately mirrors the second and WHINGING Audrey Rose returns with a vengeance. She stops being the clever girl she’s supposed to be and turns back into an emotional wreck. It’s not entirely without reason, but nonetheless instead of seeing that a solution could be found she sees only the problem. Girl, use that razor blade and slice the old goon that stands in the way of your Thomas! Thomas is equally bad in this book and turns into a moping sop and suddenly loses all his intelligence as well. Two mopey idiots.

Oh yeah, this is also supposed to be a murdery, crime-solving type book but that part is almost an afterthought and if you’ve done any research on H.H. Holmes, aka the White City Devil, you’ll know who the culprit is as soon as his alias is used for the first time. The book focuses almost entirely on the Wadsworth-Cresswell wedding and their relationship. You feel sort of sappy happy leading up to the wedding and then when the cheap, unnecessary drama of AN UNKNOWN PREVIOUS ENGAGEMENT shows up the book revolves around Audrey and Thomas crying into one another’s arms and eating cake. Their collective intellect takes far too long to rebound and focus on solving the problem and in the end they don’t even solve it! I was SO MAD. It was such a cheap plot device – I don’t usually get this opinionated about what an author should have done, but having them get married and then go off to Chicago as a honeymoon destination would have worked so much more smoothly and elegantly. They could have been on their own, solving a murder unchaperoned (EGAD!) and living their best lives, but NOOOOO. We had to throw in some money-grubbing broad and Thomas’s estranged turd of a father for cheap soap-opera drama.

I’m just gonna stop that here. This book was a tremendous disappointment and the entire series is quite average overall, so if it still sounds like your thing go for it! I’m a bit mad at myself that I wasted my own time, but I’m also glad to know how things ended. I didn’t hate the ending, I just think it could have been so much more – this could have been a magnificent triumph, however it was almost like the characters settled and were trying overly hard to be modern for the era. It’s just whatever.

The Throne of the Five Winds by S.C. Emmett – Review

Cover- The Throne of the Five Winds

Published: October 15, 2019

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Hostage of Empire #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 704 (Paperback)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Two queens, two concubines, six princes. Innumerable hidden agendas. Yala, lady-in-waiting to the princess of a vanquished kingdom, must navigate their captors’ treacherous imperial court.

The Emperor’s palace — full of ambitious royals, sly gossip, and unforeseen perils — is perhaps the most dangerous place in Zhaon. A hostage for her conquered people’s good behavior, the lady Komor Yala has only her wits and her hidden maiden’s blade to protect herself — and her childhood friend Princess Mahara, sacrificed in marriage to the enemy to secure a tenuous peace.

But the Emperor is aging, and the Khir princess and her lady-in-waiting soon find themselves pawns in the six princes’ deadly schemes for the throne — and a single spark could ignite fresh rebellion in Khir.

And then, the Emperor falls ill, and a far bloodier game begins…

The Throne of the Five Winds is the first installment of the Hostage of Empire series, an intricate and ruthless East Asia-inspired epic fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin, Ken Liu, Kate Elliott, and K. Arsenault Rivera.


Could this book have been any better? Probably not! The Throne of the Five Winds truly just struck all the right chords for me and ended up being this lovely, enticing, and somewhat saddening beginning to what I think will be a tremendous fantasy series. This book could fittingly have been titled “A Game of Thrones” as well – almost the entire book focuses on the political machinations of the six princes, two queens, two concubines, and countless others that surround the throne of Zhaon. It was far more fascinating than I would have initially anticipated – I expected dense and possibly a dragging pace but that wasn’t the case.

Lady Komor Yala (called Yala, as her family name is listed first) was chosen to accompany her childhood friend, Princess Mahara, to Zhaon when she was to be married to the eldest prince to secure peace. Yala is intelligent and deadly, having been raised in the traditional Khir fashion whereas Mahara was raised to be a silent figurehead meant to bear children. I loved both Yala and Mahara for their bravery, friendship, and Yala’s dedication to her role as protector and lady. The other women of power in the palace (aside from the second concubine) were dreadful – scheming, cruel things out for their own gain. The princes and princesses were a mixed bag, with some being wonderful and others just as conniving as their mothers and twice as cruel. It was unavoidable that some of the princes found Yala appealing, as she was alluring if not traditionally beautiful, and that was honestly one of my favorite parts of the story. 

Ah yes, the story – it’s one of politics on a grand scale. With the Khir beaten and peace secured, the Zhaon have returned focus to their inner political battles though it may not be as peaceful as they thought. Mahara’s illegitimate brother has become heir and he doesn’t hold the same views on peace that perhaps his father does and he begins his own scheming. The Zhaon prince are either warriors or snakes (and sometimes both) and are trying to outmaneuver one another and it only escalates when it becomes apparent the Emperor is dying. The throne will soon be vacant and one of them will have the opportunity to fill it. There are numerous assassination attempts on multiple characters and there’s enough violence to sate the bloodthirsty reader. No full scale battles perhaps, but the action is certainly there. Though I love a good battle, the truly fascinating parts featured Yala and Mahara (good, since they’re the main characters). Yala is the quiet strength behind her princess and fills so many roles – secret guardian, spy, the fall guy (or girl in this case), companion, and so much more. She’s demure and intelligent and it’s made even better because she could also knife you with her hidden blade faster than you could imagine. 

I can’t fit all my feels for this book into words. It was just SO, SO GOOD and I was taken by surprise at how much I loved it! It saddens me that I have to wait for the next book which will hopefully be released in 2020 because this book ended on such a sad note with so many loose strings. I’m unsure where this will go next and what Yala’s next moves will be and I just want to know if she will be a magnificent and avenging angel. GEEZ.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – Review

Cover- The Haunting of Hill House

Published: October 3, 2013 (orig. Oct 16, 1959)

Publisher: Penguin Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Horror

Pages: 235 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 2.0/5.0

Synopsis:

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.


UGH. I was really looking forward to reading this during the Halloween season – classic ghosty, spooky tale, you know – and I was just so disappointed! It was promising at first, introducing us to the situation, the characters, and even the house but I quickly realized that it was going to be mediocre at best. 

The characters were fine if a little dull. We have Eleanor, Theodora, Luke, and Dr. Montague who are all at Hill House to record any supernatural phenomena they encounter for Dr. Montague’s research. Eleanor is the most interesting of the lot simply because we get to learn the most about her past and motives for accepting the invite to Hill House. The others are flat, one dimensional characters with Theodora being the most interesting of them. She and Eleanor both are kind of dramatic.

I went into this thinking the synopsis sounded ominous, but I was left so underwhelmed. Perhaps the shorter length of the book left me wanting for substance or maybe it really was just as boring as I thought it was.  It took me THREE DAYS to read this even though it’s only just over 200 pages because it wasn’t enjoyable or even scary! The characters spend most of their time at Hill House dilly-dallying and talking about how they weren’t properly afraid of the haunty bits after they had occurred. The scariest part of the book was Mrs. Dudley the housekeeper.

I should’ve just watched the show, which is apparently much scarier and much different than the book.

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang – Review

Cover- The Dragon Republic

Published: August 8, 2019

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Series: The Poppy War #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 560 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

The searing follow-up to 2018’s most celebrated fantasy debut – THE POPPY WAR.

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.


The Dragon Republic was another one of my more highly anticipated sequels of the year and while it was a good story, it just didn’t rock my socks the way the first book did. The Poppy War kind of checked all my “boxes” – it had a school setting, a coming of age/growing into your own theme, plenty of action and magic, and dang, it went full on grimdark in the latter half. In short, I loved it. The Dragon Republic picks up not long after those events and Rin is really struggling with the death of Altan, her new role as leader of the Cike, and a crippling opium addiction. Oh yeah, she’s also an enemy of the state and the Empress would love to have her head on a pike. 

Rin is honestly a bit of a deplorable character this time around. She has so many weaknesses, she won’t step up to the plate and truly lead the Cike, and they’re just sort of adrift with a vague suicide mission in mind. I do appreciate the fact that the author went a different direction than many others and gave Rin these weaknesses she has to deal with rather than being a total awesome-at-everything Mary Sue. Rin isn’t really a likable character either and she’s trying to drive wedges into every relationship she has and spends most of the book trying to find someone who will tell her what to do and take responsibility for the brunt of her actions. In this respect it’s pretty unique in the fantasy genre. Surprisingly, despite all this her friends are still there for her and are trying to drag her out of the mire of her own making.

The plot this time around was still good, though it didn’t capture me the way The Poppy War did. As I mentioned, so much of the story focuses on Rin getting her act together (a semblance of togetherness anyway) and finding a new person to tell her what to do. This leads her to the Dragon Warlord Vaisra who has designs on creating democracy (OR DOES HE??) but he’s forged a perilous alliance with the Hesperians to accomplish his goals. Things remain quite dark in this installment, as the provinces are now at war amongst themselves and against the Mughanese soldiers that still wander about. There are some really fantastic battle scenes with lots of main characters in peril! SO THRILLING.

Overall, like, I know deep down on an intellectual level this was a really good book – well written, a poignant examination of Rin’s inner turmoil and all that, but I still didn’t love it, hence my rating. I would recommend the audiobook version because the performance was excellent, though it did take me a little longer to get through the book than it would have if I had read the physical copy since I can only grab an hour here and there to listen.

*Apologies for any misspellings! I’ve been cobbling the names together from other reviews I’ve read since I listened to the audiobook.

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin – Review

Cover- Serpent and Dove

Published: September 3, 2019

Publisher: HarperTeen

Series: Serpent & Dove #1

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Pages: 528 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.


What could be more appealing than a book where a witch is forced to marry a witch hunter who doesn’t know she’s a witch? I mean, what could possibly go wrong, RIGHT? It’s a YA fantasy, so it’s almost a given that they will fall madly in love, overcome their differences, and live happily ever after but in this case it’s more the journey rather than the destination.

Louise le Blanc is the aforementioned witch and she’d rather not have anything to do with her heritage since it’s done far more harm than good. And also, she now lives in a city where witches (all female)  are actively hunted and burned by the Chasseurs (all male). They can’t abide a witch to live until poor, handsome Reid Diggory (no kin to Cedric) sees Louise in a crowd and then in the midst of a theft. He just can’t leave well enough alone and events transpire so that they end up married – not a spoiler, just the plot outlined in the synopsis. He and the other Chasseurs obviously don’t know what she is when she goes to live in their intimidating tower otherwise she’d be a crisp. Did I mention that Lou’s mother is the high queen witch? Yeah, she is so that would be even more of a problem if anyone found out.

I really liked the characters in this book, despite the previous paragraphs sounding a bit snarky. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up on my own, but it came in one of the book boxes I’m trying out and decided to give a whirl since I paid for it and all. I (much to my surprise) read it in a single very long sitting, wherein I migrated from couch to chair to bed and back again over the course of several hours. This is like a 500 page book that managed to completely hold my attention in that horridly addictive way that YA books tend to do UNTIL I WAS FINISHED. Lou is irreverent, a criminal, and loves to have a good time while Reid is entirely the opposite of that. He’s wholly dedicated to his order and thinks they are absolutely right in what they’re doing. Of course, it was fun to watch them slowly… scratch that, quickly fall for one another and reevaluate all their core values for a fine specimen of the opposite sex. 

Overall, this was a really fun read with side characters that were as likable as the main characters. This is a fairly standard YA plot with YA tropes, but it was fun nonetheless and I read it precisely when I was in the mood for such a book. There are some parts that are totally ridiculous and make me roll my eyes nearly to the back of their sockets, but I EXPECTED IT AND EMBRACED IT AND THEREFORE ENJOYED IT. I like the sort of French atmosphere, the descriptions of food, and all the emotion. This book didn’t have incredible world building and I couldn’t have told you what city it was set in if it wasn’t in the synopsis or even how the city was supposed to look. I just know there were numerous eateries, a blacksmith shop, a theater, and obviously some rich people to steal things from. It was definitely character driven, though I did expect that and probably always will from this type of novel and will be pleasantly surprised if it were to prove otherwise.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – Review

Cover- The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Published: September 10, 2019

Publisher: Redhook

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic.


Hands down, The Ten Thousand Doors of January has been one of the most anticipated debut fantasy novels of 2019 and for good reason. It’s a beautiful portal fantasy set in the early 20th century that has certainly lived up to the hype – lovely both inside and out.

January Scaller doesn’t quite fit in anywhere in society – people are unsure of her race, her place in society, and even her guardian can’t seem to figure out what to do with a child. Her father is abroad more often than not searching out unique treasures for his employer (and January’s guardian) Mr. Locke while January is left in the manor that’s full of treasure and devoid of human companionship. January and her father grow more distant throughout the years as he misses birthday and holidays and eventually the postcards stop and he’s assumed dead. January, aware of the portals that exist and having come into possession of a certain book telling the story of a boy from another world named Yule Ian Scholar and a Missouri girl named Ade, she doesn’t believe he’s dead. A series of events leads her to flee Mr. Locke with her dog with the idea of finding out whether or not her father was dead and possibly foiling a plot to destroy the doors between worlds.

This was such an interesting book, though it only had a bare touch of adventure. January herself is fairly reserved, after having molded herself to appear a proper lady to appease Mr. Locke. She just sort of exists and shows up to society events, though when her father sends a striking warrior woman named Jane to be her companion she begins to show a little more of the sprightliness she showed as a child. It was delightful to see her grow and embrace her hidden bravery as she faced struggles both mundane and otherwise. I do wish that we got to explore more of the doors more thoroughly as most were the merest intriguing description of icy worlds, jungle worlds etc.

Overall, The Ten Thousand Doors of January was a magical (though not overly so) story that I certainly enjoyed, though not as vehemently as the majority of the reviews I’ve read thus far. It was interesting, though not particularly thrilling up until the latter third of the book and then things got quite intense rather suddenly. I feel that this book is only a step above magical realism in terms of the fantastical elements included. So much of it is mundane (not in a bad way) and the magic is not as in your face as in many other fantasy books. Yes, there are doors to other worlds, but those who enter and exit aren’t all that fantastical – at least during the time the story is set. There are mentions of magical artifacts that were brought through to be used by those in January’s world and how people of the doorways can have interesting powers but it’s still pretty low key. This isn’t a smash em bash em fantasy where flames and lightning are being hurled, but one where people can be swayed by someone’s willpower and words can be shaped into new meanings. This was a lovely book with a bit of romance, a bit of adventure, and also ended up being somewhat of a coming of age tale as well.

Dark Forge by Miles Cameron – Review

Cover- Dark Forge

Published: September 17, 2019

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Masters & Mages #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 432 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Only fools think war is simple.
Or glorious.

Some are warriors, some captains; others tend to the fallen or feed the living.

But on the magic-drenched battlefield, information is the lifeblood of victory, and Aranthur is about to discover that carrying messages, scouting the enemy, keeping his nerve, and passing on orders is more dangerous, and more essential, then an inexperienced soldier could imagine . . . especially when everything starts to go wrong.

Battle has been joined – on the field, in the magical sphere, and in the ever-shifting political arena . . .


Dark Forge was a mighty fine sequel. I could honestly leave it at that, but I should really explain to you how fine of a sequel it was and why you should read it too. First of all though, I’d suggest starting with Cold Iron and then maybe just waiting until December when the last book is released and just binge read everything at once.

I loved this book but I’ll be real honest, I wish I had the patience to wait for the final book to come out. Then I could have re-read the first book and followed up with the next two in short order because I forgot about 50% of the plot and it took me awhile to catch back up on the subtleties. Aside from this (and honestly, it’s just me) this was a great middle book with plenty of action, heartfelt character moments, and intensely bad juju. I could hardly ask for more. 

Aranthur is really coming into his own as a mage and soldier and he always finds himself in fortuitous locations. This kid has superb timing in so many things. Events are further heating up plot-wise, what with the baddies performing rituals to release evil into the world and all and they’ve essentially salted and burned much of the land. 

This was a pretty stellar sequel, lacking any signs of middle-book syndrome and I found it to be quite enjoyable. This series is definitely not as dense as the Traitor Son Cycle books, though they are written with the same evident care. 

Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan – Review

Cover- Turning Darkness to Light

Published: August 20, 2019

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 416 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

TURNING DARKNESS INTO LIGHT is a delightful fantasy of manners, the heir to the award-winning Natural History of Dragons series, a perfect stepping stone into an alternate Victorian-esque fantasy landscape.


As someone who rather enjoyed The Memoirs of Lady Trent series (what I’ve read anyway) I was quite excited to see that wouldn’t be the last of the books set in this lovely world of dragons. The main character of this series is Lady Trent’s granddaughter, Audrey Camherst who is a brilliant young lady who’s already made an impact on the scholarly world. She is offered the chance to translate a set of tablets supposedly discovered in the Akhian desert and it’s quite possible this will be the opportunity of her life. Things are somewhat more complicated than that (obviously, otherwise it’d be a dull story) and Audrey proves to be just as brash as her grandmother at times.

Much of the plot is centered around Audrey and her Draconian friend Kudshayn’s translation of the tablets, which appear to be an as of yet unheard creation story. The political climate is hot – there is a debate over the sovereignty of the Draconians, plus a good deal of racism towards what some perceive as a race that deals in human sacrifice. The tablets could easily provide leverage for either side of the debate depending on what they say. It’s really quite interesting in theory, though the intense parts of the book are scattered about and there aren’t many.

While the subject matter was interesting and not quite as adventurous as that of the Lady Trent series, I did like the characters quite a bit. Audrey is an intelligent, independent young lady who’s decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and make her own path. As I mentioned, she’s already quite the scholar at her young age and has already encountered some bad eggs in the scholarly world that continue to haunt her. Audrey is honestly at her best when she’s doing something a bit mad, like confronting angry mobs and running into burning buildings. Kudshayn is a more steady presence and is primarily a talking point in society because he’s a Draconean. He has wings for goodness sake! He’s sort of a representative of the Sanctuary of Wings and takes his job quite seriously. We get to see his doubts and struggles as he writes missives home much as we get to see Audrey’s inner thoughts in her diary excerpts.

Turning Darkness Into Light was a good book, however it didn’t have the same adventurous charm as The Memoirs of Lady Trent. This is far more scholarly in nature, with a good portion of the book being the translations of the tablets and there were so many little footnotes! They were at times helpful, though I began to ignore them because they were more distracting. I’ll more than likely read any other forthcoming books, though at this point it appears to be a standalone at this time.

Quill by A.C. Cobble – Review

Cover- Quill

Published: June 1, 2019

Publisher: Cobble Publishing, LLC

Series: The Cartographer #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 539 (Kindle Edition)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Synopsis

The fate of empire is to crumble from within.

A heinous murder in a small village reveals a terrible truth. Sorcery, once thought dead in Enhover, is not. Evidence of an occult ritual and human sacrifice proves that dark power has been called upon again. Twisting threads of clues lead across the known world to the end of a vast empire, and then, the trail returns home.

Duke Oliver Wellesley, son of the king, cartographer, and adventurer, has better things to do than investigate a murder in a sleepy fishing hamlet. For Crown and Company, though, he goes where he’s told. As the investigation leads to deeper and darker places, he’ll be forced to confront the horrific spectres rising from the shadows of his past. When faced with the truth, will he sacrifice what is necessary to survive?

Samantha serves a Church that claims to no longer need her skills. She’s apprenticed to a priest-assassin that no one knows. Driven by a mad prophecy, her mentor has prepared her for a battle with ultimate darkness, except, sorcery is dead. When all is at stake, can she call upon an arcane craft the rest of the world has forgotten?

AC Cobble, the author of the fan-favorite Benjamin Ashwood series, crafts worlds of stunning-depth and breath-taking adventure. In Quill: The Cartographer Book 1, a pair of unlikely investigators walk a deadly path into the past, uncovering secrets best left alone.

The fate of empire is to crumble from within. Do not ask when, ask who.


This is one of the first books that I’ve picked up in FOREVER where I knew nothing about it at all aside from the synopsis. I had seen no other blog reviews, no hype, no snazzy shots on Instagram – basically I was living on the edge or in the moment or whatever. It was a great choice because once I started this book I spent every free moment listening to this audiobook and I ended up playing way too much Stardew Valley and got quite a bit of cleaning done that weekend. Also, did I mention that the one and only Simon Vance narrates this? Well, he does and as always does a marvelous job bringing the characters to life.

Quill is the first book in the Cartographer series and I would classify it a mystery set in a fantasy world. I was watching Carnival Row during the same time period and it reminded me somewhat of that (which I thought was a pretty good show, btw). Duke Oliver Wellesley is essentially the spare son of the king without his own duchy to preside over so he became a cartographer for what amounts to this world’s version of the East India Company. This has led him on a number of dangerous expeditions that have also made him one of the wealthiest bachelors in the kingdom. He’s also a bit of a cad, but you’ll figure that out soon enough if you read the book. Oliver isn’t you’re typically snooty duke and is actually a really fantastic character – absolutely loved him. Then there’s Samantha, trainee of a priest-assassin of the Church whose job is to root out magic users and kill them before they can gain a foothold in the kingdom. She’s a bit of a drunk, and she’s also quite dangerous and immediately warmed to me when she didn’t fall madly in love with Oliver (who she just calls Duke like it’s his name) upon meeting him. You go girl – you’re strong and independent and don’t need… oh wait, you do need money for this investigation and a way to travel… Anyway, the pair make fantastic co-workers, treat each other like equals, and have fantastic banter. 

Now, THE PLOT! Like I said, fantasy-mystery hybrid. A murder occurs in a backwoods fishing town and said murder is clearly occult in nature, despite the fact that it’s said to be  impossible to do magic within the kingdom of Enhover. Oliver is sent to investigate by his brother and Sam is sent as a representative of the church to accompany him. The investigation leads the pair on quite the journey, encountering pirates, more occult magic stuff, more murders, and a heck of a finale. It was a continuous adventure and like I said, I really loathed to put this book down because I just had to find out what happened next. Lucky for me, the next book will be out in December 2019  in ebook format. If I can hold out, I’d like to listen to it in audio format as well. Who could say no to more of Simon Vance’s lovely voice?

Overall, I was quite surprised that Quill ended up being such an amazing read! I’ve stumbled across some real gems in the self-published world and need to take that risk a little more often that I currently do. Did I mention that there are airships powered by magical floating rocks? Who could say no to that, much less the magical murder mystery plot?