Murder For the Modern Girl: A Review

Murder for the Modern Girl by Kendall KulperChicago, 1927 is a positutely marvelous place to find parties if you’re a flapper like Ruby. It’s also a city rampant with crime, corruption, and murder.

But Ruby can explain every single one of her murders. Honest.

In a time and place where women are always vulnerable, Ruby has found an unlikely niche for herself doling out vigilante justice between parties with a variety of poisons that have left a trail of unsolved crimes in her wake. She isn’t particularly worried about being caught. Not when her father, the state’s attorney, is the only one with a good head on his shoulders in Chicago’s law enforcement.

Which is why it’s not entirely surprising when someone targets Ruby and her father.

Luckily, Ruby isn’t just a pretty face or a vigilante. She’s her father’s protege as much as anything with her own keen eye for the law. One she’s ready to use to find whoever hurt her father. Unluckily, Ruby realizes that her brand of justice isn’t quite as anonymous as she thought after an encounter with a bland morgue technician in an alley.

Guy hasn’t used his real name–or his real face–for a long time. How can he when he’s working so hard to hide from his shameful past? Working in the morgue might be the break Guy needs to understand his strange shapeshifting ability. Until an exuberant flapper upends his careful plans.

Together this unlikely duo will have their hands full trying to fight corruption, find the would-be assassin, and keep themselves out of prison in Murder for the Modern Girl (2022) by Kendall Kulper.

Find it on Bookshop.

Murder for the Modern Girl alternates between Ruby and Guy’s first person narrations. All characters are assumed white.

Kulper delivers jazz age vibes and surprising fantasy elements in this story where Ruby uses her ability as a mind reader to deliver justice while Guy struggles to understand his own strange power–elements that are never fully explained or integrated into the story although they are key to the plot. Readers dive right into the fast-paced story with minimal backstory for either protagonist as the action keeps coming. Readers questioning Ruby’s motives may have a hard time getting on board with her status as a vigilante and, essentially, a serial killer but it is an arc that’s fully explored throughout the novel and does end with Ruby turning her back on her life of crime to fight for justice through more conventional means.

Filled with slang, speakeasies, and fabulous dresses, Murder for the Modern Girl is an inventive mystery filled feminist justice and more adventure than you can shake a stick at.

Possible Pairings: Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, Born of Illusions by Teri A, Brown, A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson, Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz, Spectacle by Jodie Lynn Zdrok

The Luminaries: A Review

The Luminaries by Susan DennardWinnie Wednesday used to dream of becoming a Luminary hunter. But now, several years into her family’s shunning after her father’s outing as a traitorous witch, the most Winnie can hope for is helping with Corpse Duty after Wednesday hunting shifts in the forest.

It isn’t enough. It will never be enough.

Everyone in Hemlock Falls can try to complete the Luminary hunter trials on their sixteenth birthday. Most prepare with rigorous training and study to survive the forest and fight its literal nightmares. Winnie no longer has access to any of that thanks to her father’s crimes and her family’s subsequent disgrace. But even years deep into a decade-long punishment, Winnie can still compete in the trials. She can, she hopes, still succeed and restore her family’s status in the Wednesday clan.

Grit got Winnie to compete but it won’t make up for the years of missed training or the horrifying reality of facing a nightmare in the flesh. What she needs is help from an actual hunter. Like her oldest friend and the one who was quickest to stop talking to her: Jay Friday.

The more time Winnie spends in the forest, with Jay, the more she knows it’s exactly where she’s meant to be. But dangers are lurking outside Hemlock Falls–including a new monster that only Winnie has seen. After years of being ignored and dismissed, Winnie hopes that becoming a hunter will be enough to be heard. But first she has to survive all three trials in The Luminaries (2022) by Susan Dennard.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Luminaries is the first book in a new series. Winnie and her family are white but there is diversity among the cast thanks to the international nature of the Luminary clans. This book started as an interactive story that Dennard launched on Twitter (more on that in her acknowledgements at the end of the book) but readers don’t need to have any familiarity with its origins to enjoy this iteration. Caitlin Davies provides an excellently narrated audiobook version.

Dennard once again delivers an action-packed plot and carefully developed world building in this series starter. Winnie knows that entering the hunter trials with her limited training is a risk that could have deadly consequences. She also knows it’s the only way to redeem her family and bring her mother, older brother, and herself back into the Wednesday fold–a hypocrisy that is not lost on Winnie as the Luminaries quickly change face after her first trial. Although Winnie’s doubts and insecurities loom large throughout the novel, her actions display Winnie’s abilities and commitment as she perseveres and works to prove herself both to the Luminary families and to herself.

The Luminaries is very much an introduction exploring the world of Hemlock Falls and the Luminary clans before a jaw-dropping conclusion that will leave readers eager to see what happens next. Starting The Luminaries is like stepping into another world; one filled with magical nightmares, dangerous witches, and a heroine trying to distinguish herself in a clan that has already dismissed her. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Lightlark by Alex Aster, A Season of Sinister Dreams by Tracy Banghart, The Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah, The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, Small Favors by Erin A. Craig, Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh, All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

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

The Other Merlin: A Review

In the great kingdom of Camelot, Arthur is reluctant to take up his roles as prince and future king ever after pulling the sword from the stone. He was drunk, it was a joke! How can an old sword mean he’s destined to be a great hero when he would much rather be a botanist who spends all his time in the library?

Lancelot is happy to flirt with almost anyone who crosses his path. Except the last time he picked very badly and everything went very wrong leaving him demoted to a castle guard instead of following his dreams of becoming a knight who will faithfully serve Arthur.

Emry Merlin’s future has never been as certain as her twin brother’s. It’s always been clear that Emmett would be the child to follow in their father’s footsteps serving as Camelot’s court wizard. Never mind that Emry works harder and better when it comes to all things magic. Instead, Emry has to settle for using her magic to create alarmingly realistic stage effects.

At least, she used to.

With the sword out of the stone, things are changing in Camelot and Emmett is summoned to court to take up his role as court wizard. Except he can’t go. Which the current king, Uther, is not going to appreciate. At. All.

It seems simpler–and safer–for everyone if Emry go instead. It’s not hard to disguise herself as Emmett. It will only be a week. Except the longer Emry spends at court the more she’s caught up in the court’s intrigues and scandals, more drawn into Arthur’s inner circle, and even his longtime enemies like Lord Gawain. The more time Emry spends at court the more she learns about her magic. The more she finds herself drawn to Arthur.

When secrets are revealed and alliances threatened, Emry will have to choose between her own ambition and the prince she’s come to love in The Other Merlin (2021) by Robyn Schneider.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Other Merlin is the first book in Schneider’s Arthurian duology which continues in The Future King. Most characters are cued as white with characters falling across the LGBT spectrum notably including our narrator Emry who is bisexual.

With irreverent banter, anachronisms, and a healthy dose of teen spirit The Other Merlin is a fresh a take on familiar source material. Emry breathes new life into Camelot as she contemplates how privilege (especially in the form of wealth) and gender identity offer different characters wildly different opportunities. Emry knows she is as deserving, possibly more deserving, than her brother to act as court wizard. Whether the rest of Camelot will be able to see that beyond her gender remains to be seen in this first installment.

Multi-faceted characters, numerous side plots, and lots of action and humor make The Other Merlin a page-turning adventure. Readers faithful to the Arthurian canon may be flummoxed by Schneider’s numerous changes but those looking for an original retelling will appreciate her interpretations and updates.

Possible Pairings: Once & Future by AR Capetta and Cory McCarthy, Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Salt Magic: A Graphic Novel Review

Salt Magic by Hope Larson and Rebecca MockVonceil is ecstatic when her older brother, Elber, comes home after serving on the front in the Great War. But the brother who comes back isn’t the one the Vonceil remembers. Wartime has made him serious and responsible–ready, even, to marry the girl he left behind–when Vonceil thought they’d have more time to play and get to know each other again.

Things get stranger when a sophisticated and mysterious woman arrives at their Oklahoma farm dressed all in white. She blames Elber for leaving her behind in France. She wants him to join her now.

When Elber refuses, she curses the family well and turns the entire town’s fresh water supply into saltwater.

To save her town and try to rescue her brother, Vonceil will have to travel far from everything she’s ever known into a world filled with magic, shapeshifting animals, and witches including a fickle Sugar Witch and the lady in white herself–a Salt Witch in Salt Magic (2021) by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock.

Find it on Bookshop.

Salt Magic is the latest standalone graphic novel from Larson and Mock. All characters are presented as white.

Vonceil’s adventure blends historical fiction set at the end of World War I with larger than life fairytale magic–a contrast that mirrors Vonceil’s own mixed feelings about getting older and growing up. Mock’s artwork is sophisticated and layered as she captures both the vast emptiness of the midwest and the lush, decadent magical world Vonceil discovers. Detailed and vibrantly colored artwork fully capitalizes on the full color page design and perfectly conveys the lush magic of the story–especially the Sugar Witch’s confections.

A well-paced plot and nuanced characters elevate this story filled with action, adventure, and magic.

Possible Pairings: A House Divided by Haiko Hornig, Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, Pony by R.J. Palacio, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Oyster War by Ben Towle

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

The King Will Kill You: A Review

The King Will Kill You by Sarah HenningPrincess Amarande is finally poised to have everything she wants. After a brutal trek across the Torrent and back she is reunited with her love Luca, a lost prince himself raised in hiding as a stable boy. Having fended off invaders, rivals, and her own mother Amarande is about to become queen in her own right–no need to marry except if she chooses–while Luca works to gather his own allies and begin rebuilding Torrance.

Flush with hope and dreams of new beginnings, Amarande and Luca and their allies are eager for the opportunity to rebuild the kingdoms of the Sand and Sky into something new as the continent puts the recent regicides and threat of war behind them.

But even as one queen and king hope to rebuild, there are others just as eager to burn everything to the ground if it means holding onto their own power.

No woman has ever ruled outright in the thousand year history of the Sand and Sky. If the patriarchal establishment has its way, no woman ever will. As obstacles old and new stand in Amarande’s way, she will have to rally all of her forces to stand against her enemies once again in The King Will Kill You (2022) by Sarah Henning.

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The Kill Will Kill You is the final book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy. Start at the beginning with The Princess Will Save You and The Queen Will Betray You to avoid spoilers and get the most out of the series. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

Every book in this series builds upon the last expanding both the world and the feminist themes that underpin the entire plot. Having laid the groundwork for this strong cast in book one and set up the political landscape in book two, The King WIll Kill You is positioned as both the best and the strongest book in this series.

Throughout this series Amarande, and readers, have seen characters strive for various goals–most notably power for the various monarchs–only to have the sweetness of success turn to ash upon achieving their goals. Henning reworks that conceit here one more time as Amarande’s supposed happy ending is torn away leaving her and Luca once again scrambling to find safety.

Shifting viewpoints give a wide view of this story that spans multiple kingdoms and a well-utilized ensemble cast. After dispatching many of their enemies both Amarande and Luca hope to be able to work within the system to reform the Sand and Sky into something better not just for the kingdoms and their ruling class but for every person on the continent–something that other rulers attempt to thwart at every turn. After the intense action of previous installments, this shift to political maneuvering offers an interesting but no less engrossing change of pace as the action and intrigue of this series moves to a different stage. (Don’t worry there are still quite a few sweeping battles and sword fights to be had here.)

While Amarande still faces some very real enemies and brutal gaslighting while trying to claim her power once and for all, the real enemy in The King Will Kill You turns out to be the establishment that has worked so long to help those in power and no one else. Faced with trying to operate within a system that was never meant to help anyone like her–despite her own father’s successes as king–Amarande has to confront the fact that sometimes the best way to rebuild is to tear down everything that came before.

The King Will Kill You is an ambitious and ultimately satisfying conclusion to a fundamentally feminist series where action and adventure are tempered well with political intrigue and moral questions. After all, what can be more feminist than a book that literally tears down the patriarchy?

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Queen Will Betray You: A Review

The Queen Will Betray You by Sarah HenningAfter racing through the Torrent to save her love Luca and escaping a forced marriage to the calculating Pyrenee prince Renard, Princess Amarande is one step closer to claiming her throne as the rightful heir to Ardenia and helping Luca restore Torrence to power after the territory’s instability under the brutal Warlord. But there are still forces throughout the Sand and Sky determined to make sure Amarande doesn’t succeed–including some within her own kingdom.

Instead of a triumphant return to Ardenia and her throne, Amarande is greeted in secret and spirited away. Her council and, worse, her wayward mother have their own ideas of what will best serve Ardenia–plans that include crowning Amarande’s long-lost brother Ferdinand in her place. Desperate for stability, the council is willing to hide Amarande away to give truth to their lies about her death leaving her unable to take power or to rally forces to help Luca.

Meanwhile, with the entire continent still reeling after King Sendoa’s death, it seems every kingdom–and every monarch–is vying to expand their power. While Myrcell and Basilica try to strengthen their own kingdoms, the dowager queen of Pyrenee has plans of her own. With Renard dead, Ines has one less threat to her own claim to the crown leaving only her scheming younger son Taillefer to deal with as she consolidates her forces in a daring bid for power that will change the realm forever.

Desperate enemies can often make the best allies as Amarande reluctantly works with Taillefer to escape her kingdom and get back to Luca. But with Amarande and Luca both displaced as heirs they have few people they can trust and fewer resources as they once again work to reclaim everything they have lost in The Queen Will Betray You (2021) by Sarah Henning.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Queen Will Betray You is the second book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy which continues in The King Will Kill You. Start with the first book, The Princess Will Save You, to avoid spoilers and get the most out of the series. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

The Queen Will Betray You sets up an interesting dichotomy between Queen Ines or Pyrenee and Geneva, Amarande’s mother and the former Runaway Queen of Ardenia, on one side with Amarande opposing both. Both Ines and Geneva were raised to strive for power, to be calculating, and to be tools for men with their own goals and ambitions. After years of surviving in this impossible circumstances both women are fierce and ruthless–determined to do whatever it takes to carve a place for themselves in the continent’s cutthroat patriarchy no matter the cost. Amarande, meanwhile, once again refuses to operate within a system that no longer serves her instead trying to find workarounds to avoid bloodshed whenever possible. This contrast sets the groundwork for the conclusion of this series while also raising questions about morality in the face of ambition and the cost of both complicity and passive ignorance.

After introducing Amarande, Luca, and the Sand and Sky in book one, Henning dramatically expands the world in this second installment. With Amarande and Luca both vying to reclaim lost power readers will see more of their allies including Ula and Urtzi as well as new characters like Ferdinand. With the return of Amarande’s mother Geneva more of the secrets of how the kingdom of Torrance was overthrown and became a lawless territory are revealed.

The Queen Will Betray You is twist after twist from the breathless opening chapters to the shocking final page. Henning’s richly imagined fantasy continues to be a must read for both high action and high intrigue.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Princess Will Save You: A Review

The Princess Will Save You by Sarah HenningIn the kingdoms of the Sand and Sky every good warrior knows you need to beware or be dead. Unfortunately, even vigilance offers little protection against assassination.

King Sendoa’s sudden death threatens to throw not just the kingdom of Ardenia but the entire continent into chaos as every kingdom scrambles for power. Political alliances are nothing new among royalty but Princess Amarande is horrified to learn that in order to rule she will have to marry first.

Amarande’s attempts to buy time and find a way to keep her crown and her heart are thwarted when Luca, the stable boy she has always loved, is kidnapped. Marrying the right suitor could save Luca but the kidnappers forget that Amarande isn’t just a princess. She’s also the Warrior King’s daughter.

Rather than wait for Luca’s return, Amarande is ready to make the first mark and rescue him–and her kingdom in The Princess Will Save You (2020) by Sarah Henning.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Princess Will Save You is the first book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy which continues in The Queen Will Betray You and The King Will Kill You. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

Henning lays the groundwork for a complex world or reluctant allies, rival kingdoms, and sweeping political schemes. This eye for detail can make for a slow start but the story quickly gains momentum as Amarande embarks on her rescue mission. With a heroine who was raised to be a warrior, it will be no surprise that this book is filled with action and numerous battle and chase scenes. Although the specter of violence hangs over this story, the narrative avoids presenting gore for gore’s sake (be aware that there is a seen of torture in the final act of the book but that also avoids explicit or lengthy description).

Amarande is a smart but often reckless character who is tempered by the gentler (and more circumspect) Luca. Together, these two are a formidable team who demonstrate real partnership at every turn–even discussing the unequal power dynamics they have to work within because of Amarande’s royal status. Along the way both protagonists meet additional allies (and enemies) readers can expect to meet in later volumes. While she works to rescue Luca, the threat of the patriarchal status quo looms as the question of whether Amarande will truly be able to rule in her own right remains combined with a cliffhanger ending that will leave readers eager for the next installment.

The Princess Will Save You is a dynamic start to a fantasy series that strikes the perfect balance between political maneuvering and high action. Perfect for fans looking for a feminist story that strikes a balance between the iconic adventure of The Princess Bride and the complex but brutal Game of Thrones.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Only a Monster: A Review

Only a Monster by Vanessa LenSixteen-year-old Joan Chang-Hunt has a lot to look forward to this summer. She is once again staying with her mother’s eclectic family in London but this year is even better. Not only does she have a dream job at the historic Holland House–she gets to work alongside fellow nerd and crush Nick.

Going on a date with Nick is truly a dream come true. Or at least it should be. Unfortunately, the day of the date does not go as planned.

Instead of the start of a perfect summer, Joan finds herself in a nightmare as she learns more about her family–and their secrets.

Joan comes from a long line of monsters. Actual monsters with horrifying powers. Powers Joan might have herself.

Monsters are the least of Joan’s problems when she realizes that Nick is a hero–a monster hunter from the stuff of legend whose only goal is destroying monsters like Joan. And her family.

Desperate to protect her loved ones, Joan is willing to do anything even if it means working with a snobby stranger who happens to be the equivalent of monster royalty. Aaron Oliver is insufferable but he also knows how to navigate a world of actual monsters and heroes and maybe, just maybe, how to help Joan survive it too.

Joan is a monster. Nick is a hero. Everyone knows how that story ends. But Joan also knows that if she wants to keep her family safe it’s time for a rewrite in Only a Monster (2022) by Vanessa Len.

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Only a Monster is Len’s debut novel and the start of a trilogy. Joan is biracial (her mother is white and her father Chinese Malaysian) with other main characters assumed white although there is diversity among the monster families and secondary characters.

Distinct world building including a sprawling network of monster families and magical powers ranging from perfect memory to time travel create a rich landscape for Joan’s adventures as she struggles against enemies and even time itself to try to save her family. Ethical questions of what separates so-called heroes and villains inform Joan’s character arc. These moral questions also lend nuance to male leads Aaron and Nick as as their own backgrounds and development factor into the plot.

Readers will appreciate Len’s eye for detail as she brings both present and 1993 London to life while also expanding Joan’s knowledge of the monster world. In a community where everything from clothes to mannerisms carry loaded meaning Joan is doubly aware of her status as a biracial teen and–more dangerously in her current circumstances–as a half-human, half-monster girl in a world that usually sticks to strict binaries.

Only a Monster is a fascinating urban fantasy where nothing is as it seems. Well-drawn characters, action, and numerous surprises make Only a Monster an unforgettable read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: In Every Generation by Kendare Blake, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Dreams Lie Beneath: A Review

Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca RossAt every new moon, the realm of Azenor is overrun by tangible nightmares that stalk the streets wreaking havoc in their wake.

In this world where your worst dreams can, and do, come to life magicians are uniquely positioned to protect innocent dreamers from these monsters of their own making.

Clementine Madigan has grown up watching her father work as a warden and, more recently, assisting him to catalog and destroy the dream creatures that hunt each new moon. Clem’s hopes of inheriting her father’s title are dashed when two upstart magicians–brothers Lennox and Phelan Vesper–challenge him for his title. And win.

Enraged by the loss of everything she’s ever known, Clem is determined to get her revenge–even if it comes at a great personal cost.

But the harder Clem works to expose the Vespers’ misdeeds, the closer she grows to Phelan and the dangerous secrets that bind their families to each other and to the curse that has plagued Azenor for centuries in Dreams Lie Beneath (2021) by Rebecca Ross.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dreams Lie Beneath is a standalone fantasy narrated by Clem. Main characters are white with some diversity among the supporting cast.

Dreams Lie Beneath starts strong with a promising magic system and a heroine who if not entirely sympathetic is singular in pursuit of her goals. Unfortunately these pieces fail to gel into a cohesive story before a plot twist midway shifts the entire story into new territory. This plot change essentially renders everything that came before moot as both the stakes and the rewards for Clem and other main characters abruptly change. Clem’s behavior changes almost as abruptly as the plot with jumps to conclusions and shifting loyalties that have little support within the framework of the novel.

Paper thin motivations and fantasy elements that don’t move far beyond aesthetic value start as promising pieces but, again, never result in a fully realized and well-developed story.

Dreams Lie Beneath is a fun and fast-paced story with a lot of style. Readers looking for more complexity to characters and world building would be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Caraval by Stephanie Garber Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The Drowned Woods: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-JonesEighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is the last living water diviner in Wales. Taken from her parents when she is was eight-years-old by Prince Garanhir, she is one of the most powerful tools in the royal arsenal. Until the prince goes too far.

Unwilling to become a weapon used against innocents ever again, Mer has been on the run for the last four years. Trained by the king’s own spymaster, Renfrew, Mer is well-equipped to hide but even she doesn’t have the resources to disappear–especially not from her own mentor.

After years of acting on the prince’s behalf, Renfrew’s loyalties have shifted. And, as every spy knows, a person with a knife and a cause can topple kingdoms. Which is exactly what Renfrew has in mind. If Mer uses her powers one last time to help destroy the magical well that protects Garanhir’s lands–and his power–the prince’s reign will be over and Mer will finally be free.

It won’t be an easy mission. But anything is achievable with the proper resources.

Fane, a fighter with prodigious strength to kill anyone who strikes him, has his own reasons for joining Renfrew’s cause. After his years as an iron fetch, Fane is left with few illusions about his own place in the world or the grief-stricken bargain he trapped himself in years ago. Accompanied by Trefor, a Corgi who may or may not be a spy for the fae, Fane is used to keeping his own counsel and wary when it becomes clear that both his loyalties and his pacifism will be tested on this journey.

With help from the rest of Renfrew’s crew including Ifanna, the Princess of Thieves and a figure from Mer’s past, they should have everything they need. More importantly, Mer should be positioned to get everything she wants as long as she remembers the most important rule a spy ever learns: always plan two escape routes–especially when magic is involved in The Drowned Woods (2022) by Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Drowned Woods is set in the same world as Lloyd-Jones’ previous novel The Bone Houses. Although the stories tie together, both can be read on their own. Characters are assumed white; Mer is bisexual. The narrative shifts viewpoints–primarily focusing on Mer and Fane while flashbacks highlight key aspects of Mer and Fane’s character and reveal key details about other characters, especially the mysterious Ifanna.

With a daring heist, spies, and thieves, it’s no surprise that The Drowned Woods is filled with numerous twists and turns as the story shifts and shifts again in satisfyingly unexpected ways. As more of Mer’s backstory is revealed the complicated relationships between the crew add dimension to the plot and depth to the characters.

Lyrical prose emphasizes the fairy tale elements of Lloyd-Jones’ world building while deliberate plot management ensures quick pacing, lots of action, and plenty of humor from Trefor. Mer–a seasoned spy born with magic and trained to be ruthless–and Fane–a seasoned fighter who bargained for magic and learned his own limits the hard way–are interesting foils and allies throughout the story. Their obvious chemistry comes across in subtle interactions and well-drawn dialog as their loyalties are tested throughout the novel.

The Drowned Woods combines the best pieces of fantasy and adventure to create a gripping story filled with magic and an ensemble cast you won’t soon forget.

Possible Pairings: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh, Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Want to know more? Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Emily!

*An advance listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm for review consideration*