The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter – Review

Published: April 13, 2021

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: The Five Penalties #1

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Pages: 464 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power–the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city with a series of gruesome murders.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.


I’ve been looking forward to this fantasy/mystery hybrid for months now and somehow resisted the temptation to abandon my schedule and read it immediately. A synopsis that tells of a death mask imbued with the spirit of a heinous serial killer that is now loose on the world is quite frankly, irresistible. And the cover with a minimalist yet imposing figure on the front just made me even more curious!  The best part is, the actual contents are just as cool as I could have hoped.

De-Krona Hirvath is on guard duty at a lavish party where a collection of notorious magical artefacts including the death mask are on display. The last thing she could have expected was a varg attack and the subsequent (or more likely, simultaneous) theft of Louis Charbon’s death mask and an enchanted gem filled with despair. Her team is tasked with the recovery of the valuable and highly dangerous artefacts, but they are too late to stop the first murder. The victim is grotesquely carved up and displayed as if they are ghastly meat flowers – the signature style of Louis Charbon, the Blooming Butcher. Someone has put on his death mask and they are likely taken over by his spirit as the mask was ranked highly on the danger scale. The higher the ranking, the more likely the wearer will have to fight or be subsumed by the personality of the dead person infused within the mask.  The race is on to find the mask wielder so that another corpse bloom may be prevented and also so De-Lia Hirvath (our protagonist’s sister) is not censured for letting the mask be stolen in the first place, as she is the captain of their unit. 

In addition to De-Krona’s point of view, we also have that of two other characters, the first of which is Louis Charbon himself. It’s interesting that the author chose to give a deceased serial killer quite so many chapters, but they really help to flesh out the story and make it something truly great. This background helps the reader to understand what drove Louis Charbon from a scholarly family man to a deranged murderer and corpse mutilator. The other POV is that of Melanie, and her story begins ten years prior to the story’s current day. We meet her as she rent’s a particular healer’s mask so that she might gain the knowledge to cure her mother. At first Melanie’s POV doesn’t mesh particularly well with the rest of the story, and as we go further we begin to see how it does in fact blend in, though I won’t spoil it. 

This was a fascinating and dark tale, with super cool world building and magic. The story is far from a straight up murder mystery and pulls in the fascinating magic and even some of the five gods. The magic, as you may have gathered, is based on physical enchanted objects like masks (containing the essence of the dead), gems (containing emotions), and other physical objects. It’s quite fascinating and takes a bit of time to wrap your head around, but it just clicked for me and I think the system is awesome. The involvement of the gods is somewhat more subtle than the theft of an infamous death mask and involves spoilers. I will say that I look forward to seeing how future books in the series play out now that the influence of the gods has been revealed. 

The Helm of Midnight was a definite win for me. It took me a little while to click with some of the characters, but I never disliked them and until that point, the plot was strong enough to keep me heavily invested anyway. I’ll be thrilled to hear news of the sequel and to see what becomes of our characters as they move on and as the setting expands.

Waiting on Wednesday: Stalking Shadows by Cyla Panin

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!

Honestly, I almost didn’t click on this because I don’t love the cover, but it had such high early ratings! Stalking Shadows is the story of Marie, a small town perfumer trying to save up enough of a dowry for her younger sister to marry well. Sounds sweet and quaint, right? Until you find out she’s mixing a particular scent into some perfumes so that her sister unknowingly hunts down those who are targeted and kills them because apparently she’s a werewolf. It’s such an interesting combination of things that I can’t help but to be curious!! This will be released in September 2021.

Currently Reading: 4/5/21

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher
I picked this up after seeing a few glowing reviews around and I love it already! I’m only ~1 hour in to the audiobook but it’s already hilarious and refreshingly interesting!

The Queen of Izmoroz by Jon Skovron
I just can’t resist these books with their gorgeous covers! The story isn’t bad either, so that’s always a plus. I enjoyed the first book, but ultimately this will make or break the series for me – hope it’s a good one!

Stacking the Shelves: 4/3/21

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly (or in my case monthly) meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and it’s all about sharing the books you’ve added to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. You can include books you buy in a physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and of course ebooks!


Received for Review:

Many thanks to Orbit for the ARC of For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten and a finished copy of The Queen of Izmoroz by Jon Skovron. I’m greatly looking forward to both of these!

Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier
A rare standalone fantasy novel! I’ll be honest, I requested this because I loved the cover but the synopsis sounds sort of generically cool too. Thanks to HMH Books for Young Readers for the eARC.

What We Devour by Linsey Miller
This sounds like a fantastic and dark YA fantasy. A wicked crown prince forces the main character to help him when he discovers she holds the power of two gods. Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for the eARC.

The Justice in Revenge by Ryan van Loan
There will be less piracy but more politics and masquerade balls!! Buc and Eld are attempting to stop the assassination of the Doga (city ruler). Thanks to Tor for the eARC!

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley
MORE KETTRAL!!! Nesting grounds of the giant war hawks? An unknown race begins to stir? Many thanks to Tor for the eARC.

The Broken God by Gareth Hanrahan
I think this is the last book in the Black Iron Legacy series and I am very much looking forward to it. The Godswar has come to a peak and I am expecting much action and drama! Thanks to Orbit for the eARC.

My Purchases:

I picked up some excellent audiobooks since the last Stacking the Shelves post in March. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike, and The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman were all really phenomenal!

Waiting on Wednesday: All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!

Give it to meeee!!! All of Us Villains is one of several villainous fantasy novels coming out in 2021 and I am LOVING this trend! I want adventure, love, and world domination from the perspective of those perpetrating the world domination. From the synopsis, this will have a fabulous tournament to the death where the winner takes control of the city’s magic supply. I can’t wait for the drama to unfold!

Currently Reading: 3/29/21

Fortress of Magi by Mirah Bolender
YAY! Another trilogy is wrapping up and I can’t wait to see how the story plays out. I’m still holding out hope that a beloved character will somehow be resurrected to save the day now that the end of Amicae is nigh. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but a girl can dream…

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
A group of elderly folks in a retirement village end up trying to solve the mystery of a dead developer. I mean, it sounds both charming and dark so I’m all in for it! It doesn’t hurt that it has such fantastic reviews either – can’t wait to dig in during my long drives this week!

Waiting on Wednesday: The Godstone by Violette Malan

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!

The Godstone is the start of a new fantasy series where a healer is is drug into a mess of magic, politics, and secrets. The titular Godstone sounds very much like a Philosopher’s stone, but for mages instead of alchemists. The stakes are high, and our characters may end up saving the world at some point. I admit to being quite intrigued and I always love the possibility of finding a new favorite author! 

Odin’s Child by Siri Pettersen – Review

Published: March 23, 2021

Publisher: Arctis Books

Series: Ravneringene #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 519 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

An epic fantasy trilogy from Norway about thousand-year-old secrets, forbidden romance, and what happens to those who make a deal with the devil comes at last to the United States!

15-year-old Hirka has always been an outsider in the world of Ym: she’s the only person without a tail, and the only one unable to access the Might, a current of power that runs through the earth.

Her differences become more and more of a concern as the date approaches for the Rite—the ceremony where everyone is to be blessed by the all-knowing Seer and the Council of powerful families who rule in His name. With only a few weeks until the Rite, Hirka discovers the shocking secret behind why she is tailless and Mightless: she is not from this world. As an infant, she was brought through an ancient stone circle known as a Raven Ring, and as long as she’s in Ym, the passageway between worlds remains open inviting terrifying creatures called the blind to follow.

No one can know the truth of Hirka’s identity, especially
not Rime, her childhood friend who just might become something more. But is Rime is hiding secrets of his own?

The first in a trilogy, Odin’s Child is a thrilling modern fantasy epic.


Ever since I saw this series on one of my favorite Booktuber’s shelves, I wanted an English translation of this series. I didn’t even know what it was about – I just thought the covers were way cool and it was from a Norweigan author which was also cool. Much to my delight, this ended up being a pretty cool story!

Hirka is tailless and magic-less amongst a people where that simply does not happen. Her lack of a tail is easily explained – her father claims a wolf tore it off when she was just a babe – but the lack of the Might (magic) is simply unheard of. Among the Ym, when a child reaches the age of fifteen they attend the Rite, where they are tested for strength of magic and sort of choose a path for their lives. As the Rite draws near, her father reveals that he is not her true father and she is not from this world, but is truly a child of Odin. It’s unclear if this means she is merely human or some other race entirely, because the descriptions are somewhat vague. We know Hirka has hair red as flame and no tail, but beyond that there isn’t much detail. 

As one would expect, Hirka is distraught by this news. She had hoped her childhood friend Rime could help her through the Rite by sharing his Might, but the knowledge that she is not of this world haunts her. Not only does she not belong, but her presence keeps a gateway between worlds open, allowing monsters known as the Blind into Ym. Hirka’s journey is full of twists and turns and kept me on my toes!

Rime also gets plenty of POV chapters, which is fortunate because he was quite interesting! He was the sole heir to one of the Council seats, but rejected it to join the rank of Kolkagga assassins. His goal being to carry out the true will of the Seer, who the council claims to represent. He has torn obligations, desiring to help Hirka but he also must carry out the will of the Council and these two things are at odds with one another. 

There is yet another POV of one of the newly elected Council members. He’s a right bastard by all counts and has something seriously wrong with him. He ends up trying to hunt down Hirka as well. The key word here being “try” – she’s a tough one to hold on to! 

Odin’s Child is a fascinating story. I loved the setting and the Ym – it’s honestly quite rare to have truly unique non-human people in fantasy these days. Lots of humans, but few elves and dwarves, and even fewer that are something else entirely. It lent an air of additional mystery to the story, which had plenty of unexplained or vague things going on. I like being plunked down in an unfamiliar world, where everything is new and unexpected and you get to figure things out along with the characters. Overall, I found this to be a fresh, exciting story with plenty of action, politics, and some genuinely emotional scenes. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Currently Reading: 3/22/21

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter
YESSS ghosts of serial killers unleashed and killing from beyond the grave! This sounds amazing and terrifying and I can’t wait to start reading it! It’s one of my most anticipated spring releases and I’m trying to stay on top of reviews, so I’m reading it with plenty of time in advance.

Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike
I’ve been wanting to check this out for awhile and found out there was an audio version! (I mean, duh, why didn’t I check before??) The narration is great and so far it’s pretty funny – I might even learn something about economics if I do some Googling while I listen.

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell – Review

Published: March 23, 2021

Publisher: Saga Press

Series: The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 592 (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 Hollows is gripped in unrest and on the brink of civil war as an insurgency of anarchists rise, and brother and sister vie for the throne in the second novel in the critically hailed Legacy of the Mercenary King series which Brandon Sanderson called “excellent.”

Michael Kingman thought he was going to die by the executioner’s axe, forever labeled as a traitor. Still alive, and under the protection of the Orbis Mercenary company, Michael and his family and friends are deeply involved in the seemingly rival conspiracies that are tearing The Hollows apart. With the death of the King, both the Corrupt Prince and his sister Serena are vying for the throne, while the Rebel Emperor is spreading lies amongst the people, and all of them want Michael dead. This is a story of betrayal, murder, and rebellion, and in this direct sequel to the debut novel The Kingdom of Liars, also some hope for justice.

For readers who love the intrigue and widening scope of epic fantasy like Sanderson’s Mistborn and Week’s The Black Prism, you will find your next must-read fantasy series.


Another surprisingly good installment. Somehow, every time I thought I might be getting to a boring spot it would get super engaging again and I wouldn’t put it down. That was a little problem that could mostly be ignored, it just meant it took me a little while longer to finish the book! 

Michael Kingman may have escaped the axe, but he’s still shunned by the majority of the nobility and both the Prince and Princess have it out for him. The only thing protecting him is his new status as a mercenary-in-training and if he fails to be inducted he’ll no longer have that. Michael spends the vast majority of this book running around like a crazy person from one task to another, angering people, and being generally rude. I’ll be honest, I don’t actually like him that much but he is pretty interesting to read about. Gwen Kingman has also become even more interesting, sneaking around for her secret employer that we know nothing about. I had my suspicions about who it could be, but MAN was I wrong! Mama Kingman has returned to the world of the aware now that the spell on her mind has been removed. She spent much of the book restoring Kingman Keep, so not much exciting going on there. 

The big overarching plot in this installment is Michael and Dark of Orbis Company searching for the Heartbreak Serial Killer. This killer had struck once before many years prior and they murdered people and cut out their hearts, but there was also a sick game element to it where he would kidnap people and their loved one would try to save them. This either directly or tangentially affected many of the characters and now that the killer is back, it seems like they are coming to finish the job they started so many years before – killing those that survived the first time. I do love a mystery element to my fantasy books and this was well wefted into the other plot lines. 

While this book did feel like it had a smidge of that sophomore slump, it was still very well crafted. Nick Martell is a master of wrapping up plot threads while starting brand new ones that make you ravenous for the next installment. I mean, seriously – those final scenes with Gwen?? I think the next installment is really going to pick up the pace in an already crazy, epic tale of politics, revenge, magic, and madness. These books are unpredictable and I love it!