Queen of Ruin: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Women like Serina and Nomi have never had power in Viridia. At least, that’s what both girls had always been taught as their country’s history and their own legacy in it.

The sisters know better now.

After accidentally helping to stage an assassination and a coup, Nomi’s life is in shambles. Viridia’s Superior is dead, the rightful Heir Malachi might be dying, and Asa–Nomi’s betrayer–has taken the throne for himself and is determined to keep it at any cost.

After accidentally inciting a rebellion on Mount Ruin, Serina has become the unlikely leader of the women prisoners trapped there. No longer cowed by the prison guards who forced them to fight each other to survive, the former prisoners dare to imagine different lives for themselves. But how can any of them hope for change when their country is still fundamentally broken?

In their efforts to try and rescue each other Serina and Nomi soon discover that they may be the only ones who can ever hope to bring change to Viridia in Queen of Ruin (2019) by Tracy Banghart.

Queen of Ruin is the sequel to Banghart’s debut novel Grace and Fury and concludes the duology series.

Like its predecessor, Queen of Ruin often suffers from flat characterization and uneven pacing. Most of the novel builds toward a dramatic confrontation that is ultimately brief and surprisingly anticlimactic.

Serina and Nomi form the backbone of this story with character arcs that, particularly in this installment, demonstrate how dramatically both sisters have transformed from the start of the series. Moments of romance and suspense temper what would otherwise have become an exercise in prolonged feminist rage. Discussions of agency and power dynamics fit in well with the plot as both sisters are forced to consider how best to once again give women equal space in a country that has worked so hard to erase them.

Queen of Ruin is a high action, plot driven story and the conclusion this series deserves. Recommended for angry feminists everywhere.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, For A Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Everless by Sara Holland, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg, Ash Princess by Laura K. Sebastian

We Rule the Night: A Review

“No right choice, no way to win.”

cover art for We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza BartlettRevna is a factory worker helping to create war machines out of living metal for the Union of the North. She is always careful to keep a low profile, careful to do what is expected–it’s the only way to make sure her family doesn’t fall even lower than they have in the wake of her father’s arrest as a traitor. When she is caught using illegal magic Revna is certain she’ll join her father in prison, leaving her mother and younger sister to fend for themselves and possibly destitute.

Linné is loyal member of the Union. In fact, her desire to fight for her country is so great that she defies her general father and disguises herself as a boy to fight on the front lines. No one can dispute her war record, her skill with spark magic, or her heroism. But none of that matters when her greatest secret is discovered.

Instead of the punishment they expect, both girls are given the chance to join a new military unit. The One Hundred Forty-Sixth Night Raiders regiment is comprised entirely of women–unlikely soldiers with the unique ability to manipulate the same magic their enemy has been using to attack them from the air.

The Night Raiders will take on dangerous flights under the cover of darkness, when the enemy least expects it. Success could give Linné the notoriety and recognition she craves while it will guarantee safety and security for Revna and her family. But if the girls want to fly together they’ll first have to survive their training. And each other in We Rule the Night (2019) by Claire Eliza Bartlett.

We Rule the Night is Bartlett’s debut novel. This fantasy adventure was partly inspired by the Night Witches–the actual airwomen who flew night flights for the Soviet Union during World War II. The novel alternates between close third person chapters following Revna and Linné.

We Rule the Night is at its best when it focuses on the girls as they try to make it through their training while constantly pushing against the limits placed on them as women in a patriarchal society run by a dangerous regime. Linné comes from a relative position of privilege as the daughter of an esteemed general, while Revna is part of the Union’s lowest social strata. Because of her precarious position she is also forced to tolerate numerous slights as people assume she is less capable because of her prosthetic legs–something she is keen to prove false even if it means taking on dangerous missions with her new regiment.

With so much riding on the regiment’s success, the sense of urgency and tension is palpable as both girls struggle through their training and early missions. The depth of Bartlett’s characters and stark prose nearly make up for a comparable lack of world building that relies heavily on the book’s inspiration to situate the Union both in the world and the war that started with a rival nation trying to protect sacred godplaces on Union land.

We Rule the Night is a fierce tale of reluctant friendship, war, and what it means to be a hero–especially when you live in a world that refuses to acknowledge the least of what you can achieve. Recommended for anyone who loved Code Name Verity but wanted more battles and fantasy readers who need more feminism and less world building.

Possible Pairings: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Witch Born by Nicolas Bowling, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II by Elizabeth Wein, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

In An Absent Dream: A Review

“You can be happy here or you wouldn’t be here. But ‘happy’ doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you.”

cover art for In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuireKatherine Lundy has always known the value of rules and, perhaps even more importantly, loopholes. Lundy would much rather spend her time reading and studying than prepare for a future as a proper housewife. But as a girl in the 1960s it’s hard for anyone to imagine that future as a real possibility for her–even her own family.

When Lundy finds a magic door, it leads to a world filled with logic, riddles, and a brutal kind of sense. The rules are simple: ask for nothing; remember that names have power; always give fair value; take what is offered and be grateful; and most importantly of all: remember the curfew.

Lundy is used to following rules and she revels in finding her way through these new ones. But even as she imagines a home for herself in the Goblin Market, her old life keeps calling her back. As the time for choosing draws near, Lundy will learn that finding a loophole doesn’t always mean you should use it in In an Absent Dream (2019) by Seanan McGuire.

In an Absent Dream is the fourth installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas which begins with Every Heart a Doorway and continues in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Beneath the Sugar Sky.

This novella acts as a prequel following Lundy before she makes her way to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Knowing the way things end for Lundy in other books make this a bitter volume, but it also can be an interesting entry point into the series.

McGuire once again uses an omniscient narrator to excellent effect to create prose that is filled with ominous foreshadow and warnings you can’t help but wish our heroine would heed.

In an Absent Dream is another fine addition to a series that only gets better with time. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy portal fantasies, adventure, and horror in equal measure.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Kingdom: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Kingdom by Jess RothenbergThe Kingdom™ is more than a theme park. Filled with rides, augmented reality shows, and much more, The Kingdom™ is a completely immersive experience where visitors dreams come true.

Ana is one of seven fantasists. Like the formerly extinct species that roam The Kingdom™’s parks, Ana is genetically engineered–partly biological and part machine. She and the other fantasists reign over the park as imagined princesses greeting visitors, performing, and helping park visitors’ dreams come true.

Fantasists can understand and identify emotions. But they aren’t supposed to experience them. Except Ana is fairly certain she feels something when she befriends Owen Chen, one of the park’s employees.

Ana isn’t the only thing malfunctioning in the park. Engineered animals keep dying, her sisters are scared. Then there are the nightmares. When Ana is accused of murdering Owen, she knows she is innocent. But it’s all too easy for the public to believe the worst.

After spending her whole life catering to the whims of others, Ana will have to learn to speak for herself if she wants to survive in The Kingdom (2019) by Jess Rothenberg.

The Kingdom is a sleek blend of mystery and sci-fi elements in a dystopian world where resources are limited and escapism is worth any price. Ana’s story unfolds in a non-linear narrative including Ana’s first person narration, trial transcripts, and interviews.

While the non-linear narrative lends an element of suspense to this story, it never builds tension instead making for slow pacing and the sense that Ana is deliberately withholding information.

Questions of sentience, humanity, and mercy are interrogated throughout the narrative as Ana and her sisters are dehumanized and subjugated as part of their lives as Fantasists. Gory scenes with animal deaths further emphasize the theme park’s grim inner workings.

The Kingdom is a stark story set in an eerily plausible world. Recommended for readers who like their speculative fiction, and their heroines, to have a little grit.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton, The Similars by Rebecca Hanover, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

The Boneless Mercies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They called us the Mercies, or sometimes the Boneless Mercies. They said we were shadows, ghosts, and if you touched our skin, we dissolved into smoke.”

“Only fools want to be great only fools seek glory.”

cover art for The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve TucholkeEveryone knows about the Mercies and their dark but necessary work. Frey and her band of girls travel the land. They are hired to complete mercy killings. Their work is meant to be quick and quiet. No one speaks of them with respect. No one sings of their glories.

Frey has bigger dreams for herself.

Fate comes in the form of rumors of a fierce monster in a nearby town. Killing a beast like that would guarantee fortune and, more importantly, fame. Victory will be hard won but if the girls succeed, it could change everything in The Boneless Mercies (2018) by April Genevieve Tucholke.

The Boneless Mercies is Tucholke’s gender-swapped, standalone, retelling of the epic poem Beowulf.

Tucholke’s writing is evocative with a lilting cadence that immediately brings to mind the oral tradition used to impart our oldest stories and myths. The story centers Frey and her insatiable ambition among a cast of well-realized and multi-faceted characters.

The Boneless Mercies is an evocative and feminist fantasy for fans of mythology, stories filled with ichor, and girls seeking glory.

Possible Pairings: Zenith by Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg, The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton, The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Seafire by Natalie C. Parker, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

The Poet X: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Poet X by Elizabeth AcevedoXiomara Batista may not know exactly who she is, but she knows who she isn’t. She isn’t the devout, proper girl her traditional Dominican mother expects her to be. She isn’t the genius like her twin brother. She isn’t the quiet girl that her teachers would probably before. And she definitely isn’t whatever it is that the boys and men who catcall her expect either.

Xiomara is tough. She is a fighter. She is unapologetic. She may not believe in god–or at least not enough to complete her communion classes the way her mother wants. She might be falling for a boy for the first time. And, after discovering slam poetry in her English class, she is starting to realize that she is a poet in The Poet X (2018) by Elizabeth Acevedo.

The Poet X is Acevedo’s powerful debut (verse) novel. It is also a National Book Award and Printz award winner.

Individual poems come together to tell Xiomara’s story as she journals her way through a tumultuous year in high school as she tries to reconcile expectations placed upon her with the person she wants to become.

Familial conflict is tempered with a sweet romance and Xiomara’s journey from quiet observer to a poet ready to take center stage. Questions of faith and what it means to be devout are also constantly on Xiomara’s mind as she tries (and fails) to be the kind of Catholic girl her mother expects.

The Poet X is a fierce, engaging, feminist story that explores what it means to create and live on your own terms. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Damsel: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“For so it had been throughout his people’s memory, that a dragon and a damsel made a king.”

cover art for Damsel by Elana K. ArnoldWhen Ama awakens she has no clothes, no memories. She is wrapped in a blanket, being carried by a man she doesn’t recognize. Even her name will come later—a gift from the man who saved her.

Emory is quick to tell Ama about his bravery and cunning when he conquered the dragon. He is eager to describe her beauty and the way their destinies are now tied together. He cannot, or will not, help Ama understand her life before the dragon and her rescue.

Coming to the kingdom of Harding is supposed to be the end of the story. But as Ama begins to explore this new kingdom and poke at the old legends of the damsels and the dragons, she begins to realize that her rescue is only the beginning of this tale in Damsel (2018) by Elana K. Arnold.

Arnold’s latest standalone novel is part fantasy and part feminist manifesto. Most of the story plays out in the kingdom of Harding–a grim little world filled with casual violence and brutality including graphic hunting scenes as well as a rape scene that leaves nothing to the imagination. The sense of danger is only further amplified by Arnold’s carefully restrained prose.

Damsel‘s plot is not always subtle as Ama tries to understand her past as well as her future. Her agency is systematically stripped away throughout the novel until it feels to readers, and to Ama herself, as if there is nothing left to lose.

Ama’s limited point of view and flat world building reminiscent of a fairy tale create a stark backdrop for this exploration of female agency and toxic masculinity. Damsel is a sparse, character-driven story with a very firm focus on its heroine. Arnold’s prose is deliberate as the novel works toward a logical if abrupt conclusion.

Damsel is not for the faint of heart. Recommended for readers who sympathize more with the dragon than the knight.

Possible Pairings: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson