Caster: A Review

Magic killed Aza Wu’s sister. Shire had more experience and more innate talent as a caster than Aza. She was able to work in secret, completing illegal full magic spells for customers to help keep Wu Teas open and pay their required tributes to Saint Willow–the gang leader overseeing their sector of Lotusland.

Shire has been dead for almost a year and Aza is no closer to fully controlling her own abilities as a caster or paying back her family’s mounting debts.

Desperate and just a little reckless, Aza’s efforts to investigate Shire’s death leads her to an underground casting tournament. Winning could be solve most of Aza’s problems. But losing could leave her dead in Caster (2019) by Elsie Chapman.

Caster is a gritty urban fantasy set in a world where magic–that is, full magic–taps into the earth’s energy and is slowly destroying it. Desperate to stave off further disasters, full casting has been declared illegal. But that doesn’t change that some people still have the ability to cast–or the fact that it’s the only option Aza sees for keeping her family afloat.

Stark prose, restrained world building, and suspense immediately draw readers into Aza’s world and the web of intrigue surrounding her sister’s death. High action and detailed fight scenes bring the casting tournament to life.

Caster seamlessly blends mystery and fantasy elements in this story where organized crime and full magic go hand in hand. Based on the ending, readers can only hope that this is but the first of Aza’s adventures.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, White Cat by Holly Black, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, Devil’s Pocket by John Dixon, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan, Unwind by Neal Shusterman

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

Empress of a Thousand Skies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda BellezaRhiannon Ta’an is the last surviving heir to the Kalusian dynasty. On the eve of her coronation as a puppet monarch, Rhee is ready to get revenge against the man who killed her family and reclaim everything he has tried to steal from her.

But then everything goes wrong.

Aloysha is a Wraetan refugee. He is also one of the stars of a popular reality DroneVision show about his ship’s exploits as soldiers of the fleet. But that deosn’t make people any less suspicious of Aly thanks to anti-Wraetan prejudices. Still, if he can stay on the straight and narrow and keep the show popular, it might be enough.

Except everything goes wrong.

Rhee and Aly are pushed onto the same unavoidable path when Aly is framed for an attack that supposedly leaves Rhee dead. Now Rhee is on the run, with even less hope of reclaiming her throne than she had before while Aly is forced to flee while he tries to clear his name in Empress of a Thousand Skies (2017) by Rhoda Belleza.

Empress of a Thousand Skies is Belleza’s debut novel and the first book in a duology which concludes in Blood of a Thousand Stars. The story alternates between Rhee and Aly’s perspectives.

Belleza’s story is populated with unique characters in a carefully detailed world. Epigraphs accompany each section of the story to help further expand the world and situate Rhee’s bid for the throne within this larger context. Aly’s position as a glorified reality TV star is also a fun twist on the idea of space pirates.

Unfortunately the structure of the novel detracts from what should be a plot filled with action and urgency by splitting the story in half between Rhee and Aly who, although their paths are connected, do not actually meet for most of the novel.

Empress of a Thousand Skies is an exciting read filled with action and intrigue. Recommended for readers in search of another space opera to devour.

Possible Pairings: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Warcross by Marie Lu, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston

Estranged: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Estranged by Ethan M. AldridgeWhen he was born, two fairies left their baby to be raised by humans while taking a human child down below–not to raise as their own but to show off at court.

Now, Edmund struggles to hide his changeling status in the World Above especially from his parents and his older sister Alexis. But that’s not easy with fae magic that he hasn’t learned to control. The Childe lives in the World Below where he will never quite belong; his only friend is a wax golem called Whick.

When a sorceress named Hawthorne stages a coup to claim the throne down below, Childe knows that there is only one person who can help: the rightful heir who has been living in the human world.

Childe longs to turn his back on the fae world but he can’t. Edmund wishes he could be a normal human but that’s impossible. These unlikely allies will have to work together to try and reclaim the throne before Hawthorne’s bid for power threatens both of their worlds in Estranged (2018) by Ethan M. Aldridge.

Estranged is Aldridge’s debut graphic novel.

This full-color graphic novel is visually stunning with finely detailed illustrations and a singular vision of the fairy world. While some of the art is static with little movement in the panels, the story itself is dynamic enough to balance that out as the action shifts between the fairy and human worlds. (The gutters between panels are cleverly changed to black when the scenes are down below while traditional white gutters are used in the human world.)

While Childe and Edmund’s story will continue in The Changeling King, this installment has a lot of closure as both boys find their place in the world and learn how to make peace with it.

Estranged is filled with action and adventure as Childe and Edmund reluctantly team up to stop Hawthorne. A powerful story about family–both found and otherwise–and the complicated ties that bind people to each other. Recommended for readers looking for a story with swashbuckling and heart in equal measure.

Possible Pairings: The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerrlizzi,  Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G., Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson

Bloodwitch: A Review

cover art for Bloodwitch by Susan DennardAs a Bloodwitch and a Carawen monk, Aeduan is uniquely suited to earning coin for his father the Raider King’s cause to end tyranny across the Witchlands. Two weeks ago that was enough for him. Now Aeduan and the enigmatic Threadwitch Iseult are desperate to reunite Owl, a young and powerful Earthwitch, with her family even as it draws Aeduan away from his father’s cause.

Across the Witchlands, Safi begins to understand the consequences of her Truthwitchery and her bargain to help Vaness, the Marstoki empress, clear her royal court of corruption. Meanwhile in Nubrevna, Vivia struggles to be the queen her country needs rather than the ineffectual ruler her ailing father and royal council expect.

After balancing for so long on the edge of Lady Fate’s knife, Aeduan must choose: continue as a tool for his father or commit to a different sort of life with different loyalties in Bloodwitch (2019) by Susan Dennard.

Unrest brews across the Witchlands in this third installment in Dennard’s popular fantasy series which begins with Truthwitch before continuing in Windwitch and the novella Sightwitch.

Cinematic prose and high action propel this story and its characters inexorably forward pushing them to their limits, and sometimes beyond, as the Witchlands move closer to a war where every character will have their own role to play.

Readers learn more about Aeduan and his complicated past as this installment  makes good on hints from previous volumes and confirms theories about the Cahr Awen, the ancient twelve Paladins, and especially Aeduan’s own role in the conflict to come.

Dramatic battles and suspense are countered with evolving character relationships as old friends are reunited and enemies make uneasy bargains while Iseult and Aeduan get the relationship arc they have always deserved.

Bloodwitch is a solid continuation in a series that gets better with each installment. Recommended for readers looking for solid friendships, the slowest of slow burn romance, and lots of adventure.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

*A more condensed version of this review was published in an issue of School Library Journal*

Sightwitch: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“History might easily be rewritten, but someone somewhere always remembers what truly happened.”

cover art for Sightwitch by Susan DennardRyber Fortiza is a Sightwitch Sister living in a convent hidden within a mountain. Ryber waits for the day she’ll be summoned into the mountain’s depths to receive the Sight from her goddess like all the other Sisters before her.

But Ryber is never called.

Years pass. Soon, more and more Sisters are called into the mountain leaving Ryber behind until she is the only Sister left.

Uncertain of what she will find, Ryber ventures deeper into the mountain to find her Sisters before it’s too late. With no one to turn to except for an odd bird called The Rook and a stranger with no memory of his past or how he arrived inside the convent, Ryber will have to learn to trust herself and her own gifts if she wants to save the other Sisters in Sightwitch (2018) by Susan Dennard.

Sightwitch is a companion novella in Dennard’s popular fantasy series which begins with Truthwitch and Windwitch. The novella is meant to be read between Windwitch and Bloodwitch and provides crucial set up for Bloodwitch so plan your reading accordingly.

Unlike the other books in this series Sightwitch is an epistolary novel written as Ryber’s journal about her time as a Sightwitch including illustrations and other marginalia. Readers familiar with the series will recognize Ryber and her amnesiac stranger Kullen from their crucial roles in Truthwitch and appreciate this prequel that offers more of their respective histories.

Sightwitch does a lot of the heavy lifting for this series by setting up the world and explaining the backstory both for Ryber and the overarching plot of the series. Basic tenets of how magic works in the Witchlands can also be found here from Ryber’s observations when she first becomes a Sightwitch Sister.

The depth and intricacy of this story goes a long way to make up for the messiness of relying on a companion novella to explain key details that should have been present much earlier in the series. It also helps ease the blow of not having Ryber as a point of view character in any of the other novels (so far).

Ryber is an entertaining heroine in a suspenseful story with a palpable sense of urgency. It’s easy to appreciate her tenacity and determination as she tries to save her Sisters despite lacking the Sight to navigate the mountain’s deepest chambers. Although this is a contained story it contains several surprising twists that will leave readers eager for the next installment. A must-read for Witchlanders everywhere.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Windwitch: A Review

cover art for Windwitch by Susan DennardTwo weeks ago Safi bartered away her freedom and use of her Truthwitchery to try and bring food to a starving Nubrevna but her sacrifice may be for nothing when the Marstoki Empress Vaness’ ship is attacked. Stranded in a land filled with pirates and enemies, Safi and Vaness will have to forge an uneasy alliance if they want to survive.

When his ship is destroyed, everyone believes that the Nubrevnan Prince Merik Nihar is dead. In a way, they are right because the young man who comes out of the wreckage is someone else entirely. Covered in burns that will take time to heal and fueled by insatiable rage, Merik refashions himself into the vigilante he imagines his city needs modeled on Nubreva’s disfigured demigod who fights for the poor and ailing.

Desperate to reunite Safi, Iseult makes the mercenary Bloodwittch an offer he can’t refuse. She will return his stolen money in exchange for his help finding Safi. As their search brings them across the Witchlands will grudging respect and a tenuous deal be enough to stave off betrayal?

With competing loyalties and lies at every turn, it soon becomes clear to all that revenge is rarely the same as justice. But even that may not be enough to justify sacrifices for the greater good in Windwitch (2017) by Susan Dennard.

Windwitch is the second book in Dennard’s Witchlands series which begins with Truthwitch. Be sure to start at the beginning to make sense of the sprawling series and inter-connected character arcs.

Windwitch capitalizes on the urgency and drama found in the start of this series as each character is forced to make difficult choices while trying to protect everything they hold dear. Isolated and injured, Merik realizes that framing his life in terms of that which he has lost of been denied serves no one, least of all himself, in a powerful redemption arc as he tries to make up for past mistakes.

Dennard delves deeper into Safi and Iseult’s friendship as Iseult especially gets more page time. Safi’s physicality in this volume contrasts sharply against Iseult’s introspection and highlights how they balance each other while underscoring their potential to be the fated Cahr Awen. Because of his close proximity to Iseult, readers also see more of Aeduan who remains a bit of a cipher despite tantalizing new hints about his backstory which are almost as intriguing as the gradual shift in his opinion of Iseult.

Windwitch is filled with complex family relationships, brittle alliances, and ever-expanding world building–all of which position this series as one to watch. Recommended for readers looking for intricate plotting, fierce friendships, and characters willing to lean in to their moral ambiguity.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Truthwitch: A (Reread) Review

Truthwitch by Susan DennardFirst things first, here’s my booktalk for Truthwitch that I wrote when I first read the book back in 2016 near its release:

Magic is as common as breathing in the Witchlands. But not all witcheries are created equal as two Thread Sisters know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch able to use her magic to tell when someone is lying to her while Iseult is a Threadwitch able to see the threads that bind everyone together–except for her own.

Together, they have spent years keeping Safi’s witchery a secret, knowing that it could be seen as a valuable tool or a dangerous weapon. Safi and Iseult are used to getting into trouble as they prepare for the life they’d like to lead together free of societal obligations and pressures.

When a Bloodwitch catches Safi’s scent, both girls are forced into hiding as fugitives. With the help of their witcheries and unlikely allies including a Nubrevnan captain (and Windwitch) named Merik, Safi and Iseult might be able to survive the storm that is coming. But only if they can manage to stay together in Truthwitch (2016) by Susan Dennard.

Truthwitch is the start of Dennard’s Witchlands series. While I was excited about this book based on the premise and the hype, I was underwhelmed by the execution as I mention in my original review. In fact, I didn’t have any plans to come back to the series until last year when I wound up reviewing the fourth novel professionally which led to a deep dive as I binged the other books in the series to catch up. (I tried to the audio version which I would not recommend as every character has a terrible fake vaguely nordic accent.)

This book was an interesting reread because although a lot of it still frustrated me, I was able to appreciate more of the logic Dennard was going for with the choices she made. While I doubt Safi will lever be my favorite book character, I understood her impulsiveness as I remembered the way the story centers her physicality and tactile learning.

Reading this book also reminded me of a lot of dangling plot threads and it’s been interesting to see how they are all starting to tie together as the series moves forward in what’s turning out to be a very intricate series plot.

Have you read this one? Are you keeping up with the series?

I’ll be reviewing the rest of the books over the next few days so be sure to watch for this (first read) reviews.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser