Empress of a Thousand Skies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda BellezaRhiannon Ta’an is the last surviving heir to the Kalusian dynasty. On the eve of her coronation as a puppet monarch, Rhee is ready to get revenge against the man who killed her family and reclaim everything he has tried to steal from her.

But then everything goes wrong.

Aloysha is a Wraetan refugee. He is also one of the stars of a popular reality DroneVision show about his ship’s exploits as soldiers of the fleet. But that deosn’t make people any less suspicious of Aly thanks to anti-Wraetan prejudices. Still, if he can stay on the straight and narrow and keep the show popular, it might be enough.

Except everything goes wrong.

Rhee and Aly are pushed onto the same unavoidable path when Aly is framed for an attack that supposedly leaves Rhee dead. Now Rhee is on the run, with even less hope of reclaiming her throne than she had before while Aly is forced to flee while he tries to clear his name in Empress of a Thousand Skies (2017) by Rhoda Belleza.

Empress of a Thousand Skies is Belleza’s debut novel and the first book in a duology which concludes in Blood of a Thousand Stars. The story alternates between Rhee and Aly’s perspectives.

Belleza’s story is populated with unique characters in a carefully detailed world. Epigraphs accompany each section of the story to help further expand the world and situate Rhee’s bid for the throne within this larger context. Aly’s position as a glorified reality TV star is also a fun twist on the idea of space pirates.

Unfortunately the structure of the novel detracts from what should be a plot filled with action and urgency by splitting the story in half between Rhee and Aly who, although their paths are connected, do not actually meet for most of the novel.

Empress of a Thousand Skies is an exciting read filled with action and intrigue. Recommended for readers in search of another space opera to devour.

Possible Pairings: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Warcross by Marie Lu, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston

The Forbidden Wish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“If you’re not free to love, you’re not free at all.”

cover art for The Forbidden Wish by Jessica KhouryZahra is one of the last shaitan, the most powerful of the jinn able to command all of the elements. Her power as a conjurer is unparalleled. But even that isn’t enough to save the queen who dared to befriend her. Instead her city is destroyed leaving Zahra trapped inside her lamp among the ruins she helped create.

Five hundred years pass until Aladdin finds her lamp and brings Zahra into a world where magic is forbidden and jinn are feared above all else.

When the King of the Jinn offers Zahra a chance to win freedom from her lamp, she draws Aladdin into a dangerous web of court politics and brewing rebellion to try and accomplish her task.

As Zahra comes closer to winning her freedom, she realizes that she has also grown closer to Aladdin. A human and a jinni can have no future together—not when their love is forbidden—but still Zahra cannot change her heart. In a world where every wish has a price, Zahra will have to decide if her freedom is worth the steep cost of her heart in The Forbidden Wish (2018) by Jessica Khoury.

The Forbidden Wish is a thoughtful and inventive retelling of a story you may think you already know inside and out.

Zahra’s narration is powerful and enthralling as she struggles to reconcile her position as a jinn with her own wants and desires. She holds no illusions about Aladdin. She has seen a thousand and one masters in her time and she expects Aladdin to be no better. But instead of a master and his jinni, Zahra is surprised to realize that Aladdin treats her as an equal–a shocking dynamic that plays out against a backdrop of political unrest and brewing rebellion as both Zahra and Aladdin are drawn into a princess’s fight to claim her throne.

When their dangerous friendship becomes something even stronger, Zahra has to confront the painful reality that her freedom might come at the cost of losing Aladdin forever. Zahra’s narrative is imbued with powerful feminist themes as she begins to understand that she has everything she needs to save herself without any bargains or rescue.

The Forbidden Wish is a lush and vibrant story that is as romantic as it is empowering. A must-read for fans of fairy tale retellings and nuance fantasy. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, Ella, Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Beasts Made of Night: A Review

“Sin-beasts are shadows, beasts made of night. And an aki is like a ray of sunlight that comes down from the sky and shatters the sin, kills the shadows.”

Taj is the most talented sin-eater in the walled city of Kos where aki–sin-eaters–can vanquish a person’s sins for a price. Reviled by society and at the mercy of mages who control them, aki have a precarious existence within Kos society.

Taj is cocky and desperate to support his family. He knows it’s only a matter of time before he runs out of skin to cover in sin beasts he has killed–physical tattoos that manifest on his skin and transfer the guilt of the sin to the sin-eater–but Taj has no other options to support himself or survive.

When Taj is hired to eat a royal sin he is drawn into a web of intrigue and danger where the future of the entire city–and every sin-eater in Kos–is at stake in Beasts Made of Night (2017) by Tochi Onyebuchi.

Beasts Made of Night is Onyebuchi’s debut novel and inspired by Nigerian culture and folklore.

This book is wonderfully written and set in a fantastically evocative and well-realized world where sins can be summoned as physical beasts and danger is everywhere. Taj is a fast-talking character with a lot of charm, wit, and not enough caution.

Erratic pacing and a meandering plot make this a richly detailed but sometimes unsatisfying novel. While the city of Kos is detailed enough to be a character itself some of the internal logic for the magic in the novel–especially as it pertains to sin eating–is vague and poorly explained. Taj’s honest narration and winning personality, however, will quickly eclipse any gaps in the story’s world building.

Beasts Made of Night is a great story filled with action, memorable characters, and a fascinating world. While most of Taj’s story is resolved in this volume, fans will hope that this book is the start of a series.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Nocturna by Maya Motayne, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*

The Library of Fates: A Review

Sikander, the emperor of Macedon, arrives in peaceful Shalingar after conquering Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Bactria, and Persia. Sikander asks Princess Amrita to become his bride as part of a peaceful treaty between the two nations but the negotiations soon end in bloodshed and force Amrita to flee.

Haunted by the loss of her kingdom and everyone she loves Amrita helps Thala, an enslaved oracle, escape imprisonment. Together Thala is certain that she and Amrita can find the Library of All Things and convince the Keeper of the library to allow them to change their own fates.

As Amrita and Thala come closer to changing their fates, Amrita has to come to terms with the fact that her old life may be impossible to reclaim and a new life can only be found through sacrifice in The Library of Fates (2017) by Aditi Khorana.

Khorana’s sophomore novel is a standalone fantasy imbued with elements from Indian folklore and Hindu mythology combined with elements of the author’s own invention including a giant magical spider that allows characters to travel through time and space.

This story is hampered by anachronistic phrases and details that fail to coalesce into a coherent world or logical magic system. Basically all of background suggests that this story is set around 300BC which fits with the inclusion of Macedon and other countries that are mentioned. In spite of that Amrita and her friends continuously use words and phrases that have origins in the 1800s. Because of this the dialogue feels especially English/American which makes sense given the author being American but also rings untrue as the characters themselves are not (and in fact are probably speaking the fictitious Shalingarsh language throughout). Of course, The Library of Fates would always be read in English by English readers but the offhand linguistic choices often serve to draw readers out of the story.

As a narrator Amrita is an uneasy blend of naive and impetuous while also being seemingly the only character in the novel unaware of her true connection to a mythical goddess called Maya the Diviner. Every character Amrita knows in the palace has been aware of this connection since her birth and kept it from her. Literally. Every. Character.

Despite the inherent tension of an early love triangle, relationships remain underdeveloped save for the endearing if abrupt friendship between Amrita and Thala. As Amrita ponders her odious marriage arrangement with Sikander, she suddenly and completely falls for Arjun, her best friend since childhood. This forbidden love is dropped when Amrita is forced to leave Shalingar without him. A new love interest is introduced for a dramatic star-crossed love story that is largely toothless because the second love interest appears in about ten pages total of the entire book–and that only after the story hits the halfway mark.

Interesting concepts including the Library of All Things itself are bright spots in this otherwise unfocused story where many of the most exciting moments are related in asides or flashbacks. A serviceable if not well-realized fantasy that will appeal to fans of The Wrath and the Dawn and The Star-Touched Queen.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in the June 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*