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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, 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

And I Darken: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

And I Darken by Kiersten WhiteLada Dragwlya has always known that being ruthless in a brutal world is the key to survival–especially for a princess whose only perceived worth is in the man she marries. Lada would much prefer to be measured by her own strength and intellect. To that end, she is determined to prove herself stronger and fiercer than any man.

Radu, Lada’s younger brother, is known for his charm and good looks. But those traits do little to counter his naivete and kind nature. As the third, and obviously weakest, son of a prince it seems easier for everyone to ignore Radu. But he knows how much can be heard once people forget he is listening. In a world that values action and might, Radu quickly learns to capitalize on his appearance and his social graces while hiding his own cunning spy-craft.

Lada is livid when she and Radu become hostages of the Ottoman Empire to ensure their father’s loyalty. She rails against the Ottomans and dreams of the day she will be able to escape and return to her beloved Wallachia to restore her homeland to its proper glory and reclaim everything she has been denied.

Radu, meanwhile, welcomes the new beginning these surroundings offer and throws himself into the Ottoman culture including their soothing religion, Islam. He hopes that with time he might finally find the safety and peace he’s craved for most of his young life.

When Lada and Radu meet Mehmed, the sultan’s lonely son, they find an unlikely ally. Radu sees a friend in Mehmed and the promise of being understood for the first time in his life while Lada recognizes her own ambition in Mehmed’s plans for his future and feels a kinship with him that she never thought possible.

In a world where power is a tenuous thing Lada, Radu, and Mehmed will have to weigh their bonds to each other against their desire for control over their own fates in And I Darken (2016) by Kiersten White.

Find it on Bookshop.

And I Darken is the first book in White’s Conquerors trilogy which presents an alternate history imagining Vlad the Impaler as a girl. Both Radu and Mehmed are also based on real historical figures. A map, family trees, and an author’s note help to explain where fact and fiction diverge.

This book begins in 1435 with Lada’s birth and follows the formative years of her childhood and adolescence before it ends in 1451 with Lada poised, in many ways, to become the infamous Vlad the Impaler of legend.

And I Darken alternates close third person point of view between Lada and Radu. Being the kinder and gentler Dragwlya, Radu’s perspective is often a much-needed break from Lada’s vitriol-fueled outlook. Giving them equal prominence in the narrative also helps to highlight how often Lada and Radu’s distinct skills and proclivities compliment each other. This structure also, of course, positions them as obvious foils to one another.

White’s novel is well-researched and evocative–particularly as she brings the Ottoman Empire to life. Through Lada readers can see the violence and fear that the current sultan uses to maintain order. Alternately, Radu’s view of his new home shows the tranquility and comfort that can be found in a new culture and religion (Islam in this case).

Although Lada is often reckless, everything about And I Darken is thoughtful from the plotting to the characterization. The epic scope of this series starter demands a slower pace that will reward patient readers. Lada, Radu, and Mehmed’s story arcs mirror each other as they all strive in various ways (and with varied results) to achieve some level of agency and autonomy in their own lives.

And I Darken is a nuanced story about power, passion, and where the two can intersect. A sweeping and completely captivating start to a promising series. Highly recommended for readers looking for strong historical fiction/historical fantasy with a plot that plays out on a grand stage.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Nemesis by Anna Banks, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, And I Darken by Kiersten White

Illusions of Fate: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten WhiteAlbion is dank and cold; a dreary, grey thing far removed from Jessamin Olea’s tropical island home of Melei. Even the people of Albion are different with their harsh, staid manners and so many of them obsessed with wealth or status.

With her dark hair and skin, Jessa never stood a chance of blending in here–even if she wanted to do such a thing.

No matter the hardships, Jessa knows moving to Albion will be worthwhile once her fancy Alben education is complete and she can use all of her new knowledge to help Melei and its people.

If Jessa hadn’t tried to walk down an alley on her way home from class, that might have been the end of the story. Instead, after a chance encounter with a strange and charming man named Finn Ackerly, Jessa’s life becomes something very different.

Soon Jessa is drawn into a magical power struggle between Finn and the sinister Lord Downpike. Weeks ago Jessa’s biggest concerns were keeping warm and trying to afford her textbooks while staying at the top of her class. Now, as enemies circle, Jessa will have to decide whether to stay on the path that will bring her home to Melei or bind herself further to Finn in Illusions of Fate (2014) by Kiersten White.

Find it on Bookshop.

White offers a clever and original story here that is a fine historial-esque fantasy set in a well-realized world. With wit and humor aplenty, Illusions of Fate also features a nuanced commentary on what it means to feel and be seen as “other” along with the power that comes from claiming one’s heritage and identity.

Ideas surrounding feminism and imperialism are also handled as thoughtfully as race here. Jessa is a fierce heroine who knows exactly who she is and refuses to compromise that sense of self for anyone. Unapologetic, smart, and more than capable of saving herself, Jessa is sure to appeal to readers of all ages. Finn is her perfect foil as these unlikely allies bring out the best in each other with chemistry that is evident in every banter-filled exchange.

Illusions of Fate is a delightful blend of fantasy and romance with an action-packed plot with more than a few twists. The story builds slowly to reveal a story that is both engaging and thoughtful as Jessa tries to navigate the murky waters of Alben society. Although the ending is rushed in places, readers will finish this book with all of the pieces they need to imagine what other adventures might be in store for this truly wonderful heroine.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Sabriel by Garth Nix, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Enchantée by Gita Trelease, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

Paranormalcy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Paranormalcy by Kiersten WhiteEvie is pretty normal as far as teenagers go: She wears a lot of pink. Easton Heights is her favorite television show. She likes to gossip and hang out with her best friend Alisha.

Every normal girl has a shiny pink taser strapped to her belt, right?

Sure, Evie’s being harassed by a really persistent (and beautiful) faerie.

Then there’s the fact that she’s been working full-time since she was eight.

For the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA).

Okay, so maybe Evie isn’t really that normal what with the whole seeing-through-the-glamours-of-paranormal-creatures thing.

But when a mysterious Paranormal infiltrates IPCA and the faeries start to get shifty it’s a sure sign that things are going to get pretty bleeping weird–even by Evie’s standards in Paranormalcy (2010) by Kiersten White.

Find it on Bookshop.

Paranormalcy is White’s debut novel.

It’s also a lot of fun. Evie’s narration blends candor and a contemporary voice in a way that is authentic and enjoyable. Even though the book is an obvious fantasy, Evie really does sound like a normal girl and her everyday hopes and concerns add a lot to a storyline that is anything but ordinary.

This is a fun read for anyone looking for a new tough girl with a touch of glitter running through her veins. Paranormalcy is going to be a thrill for a lot of readers looking for a new story that can blend humor, action, adventure, and romance all while being witty, endearing and just a little bit campy.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Ghost Huntress by Marley Gibson, Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Greta and the Goblin King by Chloe Jacobs, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Alias (TV Series) Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Series)

Exclusive Bonus Content: As soon as I saw the cover and heard the story, I was really, really excited about this book. Even with that enthusiasm, Paranormalcy fell short of the mark for me. Despite the quality writing, charming heroine, and original world White has created I kept thinking the book was missing something. I’m not mentioning it in the body of the review because I honestly see the appeal of this book and liked a lot of it. Aside from not meeting my expectations, Paranormalcy’s main fault was not being the book I wanted it to be (partly because of what I saw as a Love Triangle Bait and Switch which was explained earlier this month)–and that isn’t always a fair thing to hold against a book. I guess you could say I wanted more from the book than it had to give. Much like Plain Kate, this is one book that I wanted to love it but wound up only liking it instead.