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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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*

Tokyo Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko JeanIzumi Tanaka is used to not quite fitting into her small, mostly white, town in northern California. She goes by Izzy because it’s “easier,” she’s grateful to be best friends with the only other non-white girls at school. And she’s always been close to her single mother.

At least she thought she was.

After Izumi finds out the truth about her father’s identity, she isn’t sure what to think of her mother or her own life anymore.

Turns out Izumi’s never-in-the-picture father is the Crown Prince of Japan. In other words: Izumi is suddenly a princess!

In a whirlwind of preparation and dodging paparazzi, Izumi travels to Japan to meet her father and learn more about this side of her family. But it turns out being a princess isn’t as easy as putting on a new tiara. Izumi is woefully unprepared for the rigid royal protocols, Japanese culture shock, and the media attention. Worse, she might be “too American” for Japan after years of being “too Japanese” in her hometown.

Add to the mix even more press, a cute bodyguard who might hate Izumi (or not?!), and plenty of scheming cousins and Izumi is in for a trip she–and the rest of Japan–won’t soon forget in Tokyo Ever After (2021) by Emiko Jean.

Find it on Bookshop.

Tokyo Ever After is tailor made for anyone who loves a royal romantic comedy (or royal gossip) complete with near misses, embarrassing shenanigans, and opposites attracting.

Izumi is an irreverent and authentic protagonist. She makes a few mistakes along the way (notably: not reading up on protocol on her flight) but she’s also quick to acknowledge her flaws and admit her mistakes. Jean brings Japan to life for readers as Izumi explores and learns more about her royal heritage.

Tokyo Ever After is a breezy, exuberant story with a winning heroine (and brooding male lead) you can’t help but cheer on. A must read for fans of romantic comedies–and tiaras, of course.

Possible Pairings: Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, This Time Will be Different by Misa Sugiura

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

Ever Cursed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ever Cursed by Corey Ann HayduEveryone loves a lost girl, no one more so than the kingdom of Ever. The kingdom still mourns the Princess Who Was Lost decades ago, still demands justice for her.

Ever is slower to save the princess who still have a chance of being rescued.

Five years ago, a young witch named Reagan cursed all of Ever’s princesses with the Spell of Without. Jane has not been able to eat anything since that day. Her sister’s curses all began on their thirteenth birthdays. Nora can’t love, Alice cannot sleep, Grace can’t remember and soon, on her birthday, Eden will be without hope.

Ever is as it always was with the royals on their side of the mote and their subjects at a safe distance, their queen trapped in a glass box, and their princesses suffering. When Reagan forces the girls out of the castle for their one chance to break the Spell of Without, Jane begins to wonder if the way things are is really the way things have to be–for either the princesses or their subjects.

A princess without a curse on her is an ordinary girl. And no one cares about an ordinary girl. A witch without her spells is just a girl alone in the woods. And no one wants to be a girl alone in the woods. But as Jane and Reagan come closer to unraveling the spell before it becomes True, both girls will realize there is much more to Ever, its secrets, and themselves than either of them realized in Ever Cursed (2020) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Ever Cursed is a standalone fantasy. Despite the relatively short length, there’s a lot to unpack with this one particularly in the context of the political climate (post 2016 US election) that may have helped to inspire it. Alternating chapters focus on Jane and Reagan’s first person narrations. It’s not a spoiler to say that something is rotten in Ever and Haydu, throughout the story, confronts the deep-seated misogyny and rape culture in the kingdom including discussions of sexual assault and a scene of attempted assault.

Jane’s narration is, appropriately, very focused on her mortality. The Spell of Without has carved her down to nothing and, should the spell become True, will have fatal consequences for herself and for Alice who is physically incapable of sleep. Readers with a history of disordered eating should pick this one up with caution and read the content warning Haydu includes at the beginning of the book before proceeding.

Ever Cursed is an interesting examination of what it means to be an ally and to be complicit. Both Jane and Reagan have to unpack the privilege they’ve had in being able to look away from the day-to-day problems in Ever while focusing on their own (more personally pressing) problems of being royals and witches. Jane in particular unpacks what it means to benefit from years of her family being in power and abusing that power even when she herself is not complicit.

These conversations about privilege are important ones to have while dismantling white supremacy and male privilege however combining them with a fantasy setting where the consequences are very real instead of allegorical doesn’t always lead to ideal handling of the material. Because of how the Spell of Without works, the idea of complicit privilege distills to children being punished in a very literal way for their father’s transgressions. That another young girl (Reagan) is the one meting out this punishment in order to see the king suffer in retaliation for her own mother’s pain adds even more complexity to this conversation and exposes the deeply internalized misogyny at Ever’s center.

As a feminist allegory disguised as a fairy tale, Ever Cursed is very successful. As a feminist fairy tale it is less so. The world building is thinly sketched and sometimes haphazard with fantastic imagery (witches wearing cumbersome skirts for ever spell they cast so that they always carry the consequences) that doesn’t hold up to any internal logic.

Ever Cursed has the bones of a truly sensational story that ultimately would have benefited from a bit more length to give proper space to both the world building and its characters; a fascinating if sometimes underdeveloped picture. Recommended for readers with an equal interest in feminism (or feminist theory) and fairy tales.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

American Royals: A Review

American Royals by Katharine McGeeEveryone knows the story of the American Revolution and the birth of the American monarchy. How could anyone forget Colonel Lewis Nicola’s plea after the Battle of Yorktown asking George Washington to become the country’s first king?

Two and a half centuries later, the country is still ruled by Washingtons and Princess Beatrice is poised to become America’s first queen regnant. Beatrice has spent her entire life preparing for this role. But no matter how much she knows about diplomacy and protocol, she is unprepared when her parents start urging her to start looking at potential suitors to become the first king consort and rule beside her.

Twins Samantha and Jefferson are used to being overlooked as younger siblings to the beloved heir. While Jefferson enjoys all the adoration and privilege of being the only boy, Samantha has spent years leaning in to her reputation as a thoughtless party girl. At least until one boy might finally see the version of herself that Samantha has spent so long hiding. Too bad he’s totally off-limits.

Nina has been Princess Samantha’s best friend for six years. But that doesn’t make it any easier to get over Jeff or forget what happened on their graduation night last year. In fact, it makes it all harder when Samantha draws Nina back into the royal family’s orbit.

Everyone wants to get close to the royal family. But Beatrice, Samantha, and Jeff will all have to figure out the difference between those seeking political favor and those trying to win their hearts in American Royals (2019) by Katharine McGee.

Find it on Bookshop.

McGee’s latest splashy contemporary is filled with romance and intrigue which plays out against the luxurious backdrop of a re-imagined America and its uninterrupted monarchy. Chapters alternate between closed third person perspectives following Beatrice, Samantha, Nina, and Jeff’s ex-girlfriend Daphne.

The deceptively simple premise–what if America had a royal family?–opens the door for interesting world building. Unfortunately, most of that alternate history is ignored to instead focus on the romantic entanglements of the royal children leaving readers to wonder how this country’s history–especially its bloodier moments like the Civil War or Manifest Destiny–may have changed with a ruling monarchy at the helm.

Detailed settings and well-drawn characters leave ample space for secret plots and star-crossed love to play out with reveals that will be satisfying if predictable to habitual romance readers. While Nina is Latinx and has two moms, most of the cast is white and conversations about succession with the royal family remain largely heteronormative.

American Royals is a frothy, often elegant diversion if you are willing to go along with the conceit of an American royal family. Recommended for readers looking for a story filled with forbidden romance, salacious gossip, and lots of drama.

Possible Pairings: The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright, The Selection by Kiera Cass, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Stain: A Review

In the wake of a war that literally separated night from day, Lyra is born once upon a nightmare in the kingdom of Eldoria where it is perpetually day filled with beauty, warmth, and light. Night still reigns in Nerezeth, an underground kingdom filled with darkness, cold, and creatures drawn to both.

Painfully pale and too sensitive to light to ever step outside, Lyra is able to soothe or entrance with her voice although she is unable to form words. When her aunt, who is as ruthless as she is ambitious, moves to steal the throne a witch saves Lyra and secretly raises her disguised as a boy called Stain.

To save her kingdom and the prince of night, Lyra will have to reclaim her identity and make herself known without her voice in Stain (2019) by A. G. Howard.

Find it on Bookshop.

In this standalone version of “The Princess and the Pea” instead of being too delicate to sleep on a pea under a tower of mattresses, Lyra must prove herself equal to the violence and brutality that the prince of night routinely faces.

Within the framework of “The Princess and the Pea” Howard adds myriad fairy tale elements including the aforementioned wicked aunt, evil cousins (Lustacia, Wrathalyne, and Avaricette), a stolen voice and impersonation plot reminiscent of “The Little Mermaid,” and more making for a unique if crowded cast of characters and a sometimes convoluted plot. Vivid writing and vibrant descriptions bring Lyra’s world, particularly Nerezeth, to life in all of its monstrous glory.

Stain is a sensuous retelling set in a distinctly gothic world perfect for fans of the author and readers seeking darker retellings.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly, A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, Gilded by Marissa Meyer, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Beyond the Black Door by A. M. Strickland, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West

*A more condensed version of this review was published in the Winter 2018 issue of School Library Journal*

Girls Made of Snow and Glass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“If you’re delicate, it means no one has tried to break you.”

Mina is sixteen years old when she comes to Whitespring. Her mother is dead and she sees few options for a future. When Mina learns that her father, a dangerous magician, has replaced her own weak heart with one made of glass she realizes that even the prospect of love is impossible. What Mina does have is beauty. And a secret. She hopes to be able to use both to stay clear of her father and win the king. For if the king and his kingdom fall for her beauty, surely they will be able to love her even if her glass heart makes her incapable of returning the feeling.

Lynet has always looked like her mother–a resemblance that is even more striking now that her sixteenth birthday is approaching–but her personality could not be more different. Lynet does not want to be beautiful or delicate like her dead mother. She wants to be strong and fearless like her stepmother Mina. When Lynet learns the truth, that a magician made her out of snow in her mother’s image, it feels like her destiny will never be hers to control.

When the king names Lynet queen of the southern territories instead of Mina, a rivalry forms between them. As previously unbreakable bonds are tested and friends threaten to become enemies both Mina and Lynet will have to decide if they are capable of transcending their beginnings to forge a new future in Girls Made of Snow and Glass (2017) by Melissa Bashardoust.

Find it on Bookshop.

In her debut novel Bashardoust offers a feminist retelling of the fairy tale of Snow White with a focus, of course, on the relationship between daughter and step-daughter. The novel alternates between close third person chapters detailing Lynet’s present struggles to claim her own fate as her birthday approaches with Mina’s past and her early days in Whitespring.

Bashardoust’s writing is methodical with a slow start to draw readers into the story and introduce both Lynet and Mina. Instead of relying on familiar tropes and stereotypes, both Lynet and Mina are well-developed characters with complicated motivations and conflicting feelings. Both women are ambitious and see the crown as a way to take control of their own lives. But what does that ambition mean compared to years spent as a family? After all, there can only be one queen.

This fledgling rivalry forms the majority of the plot while explorations of magic, their own strange beginnings, and what it means to love help to flesh out the story. Lynet’s infatuation and eventual relationship with the new palace surgeon–a woman named Nadia–adds another dimension to the story.

While the characters and plot are handled well, the overall world building is lackluster. While readers see much of the palace, the rest of Whitespring is unexplored within the text. The magic system is poorly explained with only vague explanations for how Mina and Lynet can live. The curse that shrouds Whitespring in winter year round is equally vague.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a thoughtful and thoroughly feminist fairy tale. Recommended for fans of retellings and readers who prefer character-driven novels.

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, A Season of Sinister Dreams by Tracy Banghart, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly, Rule by Ellen Goodlett, A Spindled Splintered by Alix E. Harrow, Stain by A. G. Howard, Ash by Malinda Lo, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West, Maleficent

Journey Across the Hidden Islands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Twins Li-Jin and Seika are the princesses of the Hundred Islands of Himitsu. Li-Jin has been training at the Temple of the Sun to become an imperial guard and be able to protect her sister Seika who remains at the imperial palace studying under their father, the Emperor.

Li-Jin is thrilled when she completes her training and is able to go home so that she and Seika can spend their twelfth birthday together. But when Li-Jin and Alejan, her winged lion companion, arrive there isn’t much time for a reunion.

Instead the girls soon find themselves embarking on the Emperor’s Journey to travel across the islands of Himitsu to pay respect to the kingdom’s dragon guardian and renew their dragon’s bargain to protect the Hundred Islands.

Nothing on the journey goes right as Li-Jin and Seika encounter earthquakes, foreigners, and monstrous creatures during their travels. Despite their inexperience and doubts, both girls know that Himitsu is relying on them. As they get closer to finding the dragon they will have to rely on each other and trust their instincts to keep their people safe in Journey Across the Hidden Islands (2017) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Durst’s latest middle grade novel is a standalone fantasy set in a richly imagined world filled with magical creatures and unexpected dangers.

Li-Jin and Seika are strong heroines who know their potential even if they sometimes fear too much responsibility has been set on their shoulders. The sisters have a rock solid bond and both bring numerous strengths to their adventure in Journey Across the Hidden Islands.

The Hundred Islands of Himitsu are vividly described both from the ground and above thanks to Li-Jin’s travels on the back of Alejan when he is flying. This story is imbued with Japanese-inspired culture along with inventive world building including magical creatures, ancient tales, and dramatic buildings.

Li-Jin and Seika’s relationship as sisters forms the center of this story as the girls work together to protect, and potentially forever change, their kingdom. Journey Across the Hidden Islands is a fast-paced adventure with not one but two engaging and clever heroines. Recommended for fans of girl power fantasies, inventive worlds, and journey stories.

Possible Pairings: The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, The Keeper Of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

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

You can also check out my interview with Sarah about this book.

The Swan Riders: A Review

*The Swan Riders is the sequel/companion to The Scorpion Rules. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one.*

The Swan Riders by Erin BowGreta Gustafson Stuart, former princess of the Pan Polar Confederation, is a newly minted Artificial Intelligence. In agreeing to become an AI, Greta has saved herself and fellow hostage Elián Palnik while avoiding the wrath of Talis–the all-powerful AI who rules the world with the judicious use of satellite weaponry, carefully chosen hostages, and his Swan Riders who act as part army and part cult for Talis and the other AIs.

Greta is the first new AI in more than a century. Haunted by memories of her time as a hostage growing up at Precepture Four–including torture, friendship, and Xie, the future queen and the lover Greta had to leave behind–Greta struggles to cling to what is left of her humanity while learning her capabilities as an AI. With the future of the world hanging in the balance, Greta will have to use everything she knows about being AI and human to bring her two dramatically different worlds together in The Swan Riders (2016) by Erin Bow.

Find it on Bookshop.

This sequel picks up shortly after the conclusion of The Scorpion Rules. Quick recaps and Greta’s own memories bring readers up to speed in this fast-paced sci-fi novel although knowledge of the first book is ideal.

Bow dramatically expands the world here by introducing more of the landscape as Talis, Greta, and two Swan Riders travel across Saskatchewan toward the AI home base near Montana. Interludes from Talis’ point of view–both in his present form as an all-powerful AI and in flashbacks to his time as the idealistic Michael Talis who wanted to save the world–add another dimension to this disturbingly likable character who is both hero and villain.The Swan Riders themselves also play a significant role in this story that is as much about what it means to be human as it is about what it means to rule, and maybe save, the world.

Weighty subject matter and heavy questions about what is best versus what is right are tempered with humor and Greta’s wry first-person narration. Complex characters further enhance the introspective nature of this story as Greta tries to figure out who she is when so much of her past is now irrelevant to her future. Like its predecessor The Swan Riders again has a thoughtfully diverse cast of characters with familiar faces and newer additions including Francis Xavier, a stoic dark-skinned Swan Rider born with one hand.

The Swan Riders is a fascinating follow-up and stunning story from an author at the top of her game. A must-read for fans of The Scorpion Rules.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson,  Fire by Kristin Cashore, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Winterspell by Claire LeGrand, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, Skyhunter by Marie Lu, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, Clariel by Garth Nix, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in School Library Journal’s August 2016 Issue as a Starred Review from which it can be seen on various sites online*