One Dark Throne: A Review

One Dark Throne by Kendare BlakeTriplets Katherine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe are in the thick of their Ascension Year, the time when all three have to fight until only one is left alive to claim the title of queen and rule Fennbirn Island.

After the disastrous events of the Quickening, Katherine is stronger than ever–far from the sickly, weak Poisoner everyone expected at the start of the year. But what really happened on top of the Breccia Domain? And will it be enough to help her get both the crown and revenge?

Arsinoe never expected to survive the Ascension Year, not as a Naturalist with no powers to speak of and no familiar. That was before Arsinoe steeped herself in low magic and understood the secret of her true power. But will one secret be enough to change her fate?

Mirabella is arguably still the strongest sister. The temple supports her, her Elemental powers give her control over all elements. She could beat her sisters and claim the crown. But she’s no longer sure that is the future she wants.

Once again it all comes down to three sisters and, most importantly, one crown in One Dark Throne (2017) by Kendare Blake.

One Dark Throne is the second book in Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series which begins with Three Dark Crowns. The book follows sisters Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe in close third person narration with additional chapters focusing on those closest to them.

Blake continues to expand the world of Fennbirn Island as the fight for the crown escalates. The expected in-fighting, betrayals, and suspense make One Dark Throne a page turner despite its length.

The fast pace is an interesting contrast to a closer focus on the sisters’ motivations as they all struggle to make it through the Ascension Year. While Arsinoe and Mirabella are drawn together, reluctant to fight their sisters, Katherine is set further apart after her return from the Breccia Domain. This incident also highlights the pointed difference between the triplets’ upbringing where Arsinoe and Mirabella had the advantage and support of actual friends and family growing up while Katharine had poison.

One Dark Throne is an intense, action-packed installment. Higher stakes, bigger consequences, and more twists make this book a must read for fans of the series.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Rule by Ellen Goodlett, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Gravemaidens: A Review

Gravemaidens by Kelly CoonKammani dreams of becoming an accomplished healer–the position her father held before he failed to heal the lugal’s son and his family was cast down from the privileged class as punishment.

While her father drowns the shame of his disgrace and grief over his wife’s recent death with drink, Kammani manages the day to day work of treating patients. Her hopes of securing a better life for herself and her sister Nanaea are shattered when Nanaea is chosen for the dubious honor of becoming one of three sacred maidens who will accompany the ailing lugal into death.

While her sister only sees the opportunity to live briefly in luxury, Kammani knows becoming a sacred maiden is a death sentence. Determined to save her sister at any cost, Kammani embarks on a dangerous mission to sneak into the palace and try to heal the lugal before it’s too late in Gravemaidens (2019) by Kelly Coon.

Gravemaidens is Coon’s debut novel. It is the first book in a fantasy duology set in a non-western world with piecemeal nods to ancient Sumer, Rome, and possibly Egypt with human sacrifice and a powerful god known as the Boatman.

Clunky prose and world building that falls short in terms of explanations about the ritual of the sacred maidens or other cultural norms drag down this otherwise interesting premise. Anachronistic phrases and over-the-top similes further detract from the novel’s potential. Kammani’s first person narration is filled with strangely sexualized descriptions of other female characters, including her own younger sister, with numerous mentions of full and shiny hair, straight teeth, and “womanly curves.” Throughout the novel this sexualization is equated with the preternatural beauty that distinguishes each sacred maiden.

Secondary characters who stay true to stereotype for most of the novel gain more depth near the end suggesting fans may find more to appreciate in book two.

Gravemaidens is a problematic but intriguing story. Make of that what you will.

Popular Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

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

Spinning Silver: A Review

“There’s always trouble where there’s money owed, sooner or later.”

Spinning Silver by Naomi NovikMiryem comes from a long line of moneylenders. It’s easy to become a moneylender but it’s hard to be a good one because to be a good moneylender means being cruel. Her father isn’t a good one; he finds it far easier to loan out money than collect payments thus leaving his own family destitute.

Eager to change their circumstances, Miryem takes over inuring herself to pleas for clemency in lieu of actual payments. As the family business finally begins to thrive, Miryem builds a reputation for herself borrowing silver from her grandfather and bringing back gold in return.

When an idle boast attracts the attention of the Staryk–wintry folk known for their cold hearts and brutal magic–Miryem finds herself in the center of a world where striking the right bargain could mean unimaginable wealth and the wrong one could leave her lost forever.

With high stakes and high magic everywhere, Miryem will have to rely on her wits and her nerve when payment for her bargains come due and she has to prove to the Staryk that she is as formidable as the growing rumors about her would claim in Spinning Silver (2018) by Naomi Novik.

This standalone fantasy is a loose retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale set in a well-realized world steeped in Jewish culture and tradition. Miryem is a shrewd and capable heroine. She is well aware of the dangers the world for a young woman of means–especially a Jewish one who lends money.

What Miryem fails to realize is that those dangers extend beyond her far town and deep into the strange, cold lands of the Staryk. As Miryem learns more about the Staryk she begins to realize that greater forces are at play in both her own world and the Staryk’s–forces that may need more than her considerable smarts to conquer.

Intertwining stories and multiple points of view extend the world and explore multiple facets of both feminism and womanhood in a world that is quick to dismiss both. Nuanced and complex characterization slowly explore the varied motivations and goals of all of the characters as they work to exert influence over their spheres and fully capitalize on their own agency.

Spinning Silver is a familiar tale masterfully reimagined; a singular retelling that is as crisp and exhilirating as the first chill of winter. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwell, Roses and Rot by Kat Howard, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Hunted by Meagan Spooner

The Guinevere Deception: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Stories are not nails to be driven home. They are tapestries to be woven.”

“Sometimes we have to hide from what others see in order to be what we know we are.”

Guinevere comes to Camelot as a stranger–a princess who will marry the young king who has banished magic and his mentor, the wizard Merlin, from his kingdom as he tries to bring order to the chaos threatening to destroy everything he has worked so hard to build.

Except Guinevere died before she ever came to Camelot. No one knows the real identity of the girl who was sent to replace Guinevere–her name is a secret, her past a mystery. All that matters is that Merlin sent her to Camelot to protect Arthur.

Threats abound in Camelot as Guinevere investigates scheming nobles, mysterious new arrivals drawn by the kingdom’s promise, and magic fighting to get past her own rudimentary protections.

Magic is chaos–a natural force always waiting to reclaim what Arthur and Camelot stole away–a fact Guinevere knows better than most. With danger circling and secrets everywhere, Guinevere will have to rely on her own cunning as she decides who to trust and what to fight for in The Guinevere Deception (2019) by Kiersten White.

The Guinevere Deception is the first book in White’s Camelot Rising trilogy.

White brings inventive world building and a feminist lens to her Arthurian retelling that centers a decidedly unique Guinevere. This historical fantasy breathes new life into the familiar source material with layers of intrigue and suspense as Guinevere tries to uncover both the hidden threats to Camelot and the secrets of her own past with Merlin.

The push and pull between the order of newly built Camelot and the chaos of primordial magic that previously ruled drive the plot forward as Guinevere comes closer to understanding Arthur’s greatest threat. This tension is mirrored by Guinevere’s struggle to be the protector she needs to be while also molding herself into the queen Arthur needs to rule beside him.

The Guinevere Deception is a fast-paced adventure filled with intrigue, magic, and the barest hints of romance and enduring friendship as Guinevere begins to make a place for herself in a kingdom she never could have imagined when Merlin plucked her out of the forest. A must reads for fans of Arthurian legend and readers looking for a fantasy with feminism and heroism in equal measure–with just a touch of existential dread to keep things interesting. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West

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, Pandora’s Legacy by Kara Leopard, illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews, 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, The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco, 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, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, 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*

The City of Brass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The City of Brass by S. A. ChakrabortyNahri doesn’t believe in magic. She has fooled too many marks with her palm readings, zars, and healings on the streets of 18th century Cairo to put any real stock in the supposed power behind them–especially when she knows the research and tricks she puts in beforehand.

Everything Nahri believes, or doesn’t believe, about magic is thrown into question when one of her rituals works. Well, technically it all goes horribly wrong.

But the magic Nahri is pretending to perform is suddenly, shockingly real and summons a djinn warrior to her. Along with Dara, the fearsome Afhsin warrior, Nahri summons a world of trouble as she attracts the attention of a djinn world she never thought to imagine let alone believe in.

Torn away from everything she’s ever known, Nahri and Dara travel across the desert to find Daevabad, the mythical city of brass that holds answers about Nahri’s past and might be the only place that can offer her safety.

Inside the city Nahri finds unrest among the six djinn tribes and political intrigue on all sides. With no one to trust and nothing familiar, Nahri will have to tread carefully as she tries to find her way in a world where it seems everyone is eager to use her so long as she doesn’t learn any of her new lessons too quickly or too well in The City of Brass (2017) by S. A. Chakraborty.

The City of Brass is the first book in Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy. The story continues in The Kingdom of Copper.

The City of Brass is a wild ride. The high action and breakneck pacing of the opening scenes contrast interestingly with Chakraborty’s prose which is dense and heavy but also unbelievably evocative and steeped in carefully researched and beautifully reimagined djinn lore. The plot slows considerably once Nahri and Dara arrive in Daevabad allowing readers to instead focus on the large and varied cast of characters including Ali Qahtani, the young and often naive prince of the city’s current ruler.

Given the long life of djinn and the rich history of their city, it’s no surprise that The City of Brass is populated by a multi-faceted cast of characters. While Ali is eager to see the world in black and white, he soon realizes as political unrest grows that Daevabad operates in areas of gray. Chakraborty embraces this fact and uses it well to balance characters’ flaws alongside their positives and, in some cases, their charisma. It is a testament to Chakraborty’s characterization that Dara’s past is soaked in blood but he remains my absolute favorite character (aside from Nahri, of course).

The City of Brass is a lush, unforgettable story filled with determined characters who are all certain they’ll be the heroes of this tale even as history proves again and again that someone always has to be framed as the villain. Ideal for readers looking for non-western fantasies, charming con artists, and adventure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury, The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Marad and Jared Shurin, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala, Enchantée by Gita Trelease, The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson