High Fantasy

Review: The Golden Yarn

Cover of "The Golden Yarn," featuring a golden tree branch that forms the silhouette of a face on a blue background
Image from Cornelia Funke

Title: The Golden Yarn

Series: Mirrorworld #3

Author: Cornelia Funke

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, sex mentions, mild body horror

Spoiler Warning: This book is third in a series, so this review may contain spoilers of the previous books.

Back Cover:

Jacob Reckless continues to travel the portal in his father’s abandoned study. His name has continued to be famous on the other side of the mirror, as a finder of enchanted items and buried secrets. His family and friends, from his brother, Will to the shape-shifting vixen, Fox, are on a collision course as the two worlds become connected. Who is driving these two worlds together, and why is he always a step ahead?

This new force isn’t limiting its influence to just Jacob’s efforts – it has broadened the horizon within MirrorWorld. Jacob, Will and Fox travel east and into the Russian folklore, to the land of the Baba Yaga, pursued by a new type of being that knows our world all too well.

Review:

This is a book best read in quick succession with Reckless and Fearless, because it picks up right after Fearless leaves off and it does a disservice to this book to be trying to piece together things you don’t remember while reading it. Although it has been five years since I read Fearless, so it’s probably my own fault for not rereading the first two books before this one.

And since it’s been five years, I can’t really compare the characters to how they were in the previous books. And The Golden Yarn follows a LOT of them. Jacob and Fox, Nerron the Goyl treasure hunter, Will, the antagonist, the Dark Fairy, Kami’en the Goyl king, Jacob’s father …. There’s a lot of storylines woven through this book. (This is a book best read without distractions, otherwise it’s easy to get confused.)

The only characters I’m really going to touch on are Jacob and Fox, since they are the main protagonists and the bulk of the story focuses on them. And most of the other characters’ stories were more about plot than character, anyway.

Jacob’s theme for this book was “love.” His love for Will (and his desire to protect him) drove most of his actions, and his love for Fox drove most of his emotional arc. You still get some of his awesome treasure hunter-ness, but not as much. Fox took a bit of a back seat and ended up caught in a love triangle (which didn’t annoy me like love triangles usually do, but still).

The characters (even the minor ones) are all solid, but you really read a Mirrorworld book for the world – and the plot, which often ties in with the world. The world is enchanting and vivid and woven full of myths and magic. You get a lot in the previous books, but you get even more in this one – the characters cross multiple countries and the diversity of the magic and legends reflects that.

I want to say so much more about this book, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. This entire book is amazing. All of the subplots are fascinating and engrossing, the world is wonderful … it’s everything you want out of a Mirrorworld book. And I haven’t found anything about a sequel, but the ending of The Golden Yarn is too open-ended for this to be the last book. And besides, I want more.

The Mirrorworld series:

  1. Reckless
  2. Fearless
  3. The Golden Yarn
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Did Not Finish, Fantasy

Review: Otherbound

Cover of "Otherbound," Featuring pink and purple text in front of two faces, mostly in darkness, facing opposite directions
Image from Corinne Duyvis

Title: Otherbound

Author: Corinne Duyvis

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Verbal abuse, physical abuse, blood/injury, character death

Back Cover:

Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

Read To: Page 268

Review:

I wanted to love this book. I really did. The concept was awesome (person in our world is connected to someone in a fantasy world to the point where he literally sees through her eyes), lots of other people have good things to say about it, and the female lead is bisexual. I got about two thirds of the way through it because I wanted to love it. But I finally realized that I just didn’t care enough to finish it.

My main problem was Nolan. I didn’t like his parts of the story at all. He wasn’t a very active character – everything that happened to him seemed to happen by accident, and when he eventually discovers he can affect something in Amara’s world, he uses that power to have conversations with Amara – and compared to what was happening with Amara, his world was really boring. It was kind of hard to care about Nolan’s relationship with his sister when Amara is running for her life.

I was much more invested in Amara’s story. Amara was a solid character, with a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings that gave her a lot of depth. She also had a crush on Cilla (the princess), which was a fun subplot and added some more complicated feelings to the mix. Her world was interesting – a pretty basic high fantasy world, but with interesting takes on mages and magic, and her situation was interesting. Difficult and seemingly hopeless, yes, but at least interesting.

Around where I stopped reading, though, even Amara’s world lost the plot a little bit. In the beginning, Amara and Cilla are running from their lives from mages who want to kill Cilla, but the man “protecting” them is also horribly abusive. It’s a life-or-death (or physical pain) high-stakes situation. But it kind of loses that – not that there isn’t danger, but it’s dialed down in exchange for some conspiracies. Which, to be fair, were interesting in their own right, but still felt like a step back from the danger of the previous parts.

If the story had been only about Amara, I might have finished it. Even though it lost the plot a bit, I might have pushed through to see how the conspiracies worked out. But I didn’t have the patience to read through Nolan’s parts, and I didn’t care enough about Amara’s story to push through his for hers.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. It just couldn’t make me care enough.

Fantasy

Review: Ice Massacre

Book cover trigger warning: Blood

Cover of "Ice Massacre," featuring an underwater image of a mermaid's tail with blood billowing off the fins.
Image from Tiana Warner

Title: Ice Massacre

Series: Mermaids of Eriana Kwai #1

Author: Tiana Warner

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Blood, violence, character death

Back Cover:

A mermaid’s supernatural beauty serves one purpose: to lure a sailor to his death.

The Massacre is supposed to bring peace to Eriana Kwai. Every year, the island sends its warriors to battle these hostile sea demons. Every year, the warriors fail to return. Desperate for survival, the island must decide on a new strategy. Now, the fate of Eriana Kwai lies in the hands of twenty battle-trained girls and their resistance to a mermaid’s allure.

Eighteen-year-old Meela has already lost her brother to the Massacre, and she has lived with a secret that’s haunted her since childhood. For any hope of survival, she must overcome the demons of her past and become a ruthless mermaid killer.

For the first time, Eriana Kwai’s Massacre warriors are female, and Meela must fight for her people’s freedom on the Pacific Ocean’s deadliest battleground.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it was one of the most engaging books I’ve read in a while. On the other, it was kind of like a gory mess that I couldn’t look away from.

I got a free copy of Ice Massacre … somewhere. I don’t even remember where at this point. But I read it in three days, which is very fast for me lately. It’s definitely an engaging read, the kind that draws you in and makes you have to know how it ends.

Which is interesting, since I didn’t really get much of a feel for Meela, even though she was a narrator. There was an extended flashback at the beginning that gave some insight into her past and actually a pretty good understanding of her as a 10-year-old. But 18-year-old Meela is not a very robust character – character took a back seat to all the drama happening. That’s not to say I didn’t like her, because I did, and I was rooting for her. She just wasn’t a character with a lot of depth.

What really kept me so into the book was all the action and drama. The majority of the book takes place on the mermaid-hunting ship, so there’s a lot of mermaid attacks (which somehow managed to feel unique even though they were basically the same thing every time). There was also a remarkable amount of drama as mean girl/popular asshole Dani grows more and more unhinged.

Dani was actually my biggest problem with the book. And it’s not that she’s a bad character – on the contrary, she made a great antagonist. Characters like her, though – the one that’s absolutely horrible to the main character (and others) but always gets away with it – get under my skin. I hated her. Which, I suppose, is the point. But even though characters like her make for good reading, they bother me, and that was a strike against the book for me. You may have a different reaction.

Also, this is a very violent book. A lot of blood, a lot of gory injuries and gorier deaths. I normally don’t mind violent books, and this was almost too much for me (although to be fair, I haven’t read a super violent book in a while). So be warned – if you don’t have a stomach for gore and death, this is not the book for you.

Overall, this was a good book. Not fantastic, but definitely better than average, and an extremely engaging and absorbing read. I rooted for the protagonists and wanted to see how it ended. But I wasn’t really invested enough to read the rest of the series. If they fall into my lap like Ice Massacre did, I’ll definitely give them a shot, but I’m not going to go out of my way for book two.

The Mermaids of Eriana Kwai series:

  1. Ice Massacre
  2. Ice Crypt
  3. Ice Kingdom
Fantasy

Review: Eelgrass

Cover of "Eelgrass," featuring a thin white girl in a white dress with the wind blowing her hair and dress. There is water that looks like the ocean in the background.
Image from Tori Curtis

Title: Eelgrass

Author: Tori Curtis

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Kidnapping, forced marriage, blood/gore

Back Cover:

In Irish folklore, a selkie is a seal who can take off her sealskin like a coat and become a woman, seducing fishermen anywhere she goes. If he steals her sealskin, she is bound to his home, marrying him and mothering his children – unless she can find it and escape, leaving her family on shore forever.

In this lesbian reimagining of tales about women and the sea, Efa is having too much fun to worry about stories. Too young to have earned respect in her village, she spends her days roving with her beautiful and vivacious best friend, Bettan — until the night Bettan disappears into a rainstorm, and Efa can’t shake the certainty that she’s been taken.

Desperate to rescue her friend, Efa seeks out the fishwives, half-human fish who dwell under the tides and kill sailors with their sharp teeth and alluring songs. She doesn’t expect to find Ninka, an outrageous young woman who makes her feel giddy and who might be the key to unlocking her own courage.

Review:

I wasn’t honestly super excited about this book, but I got a free ebook copy through the Sapphic Book Club and had it on my phone so I could read it in waiting rooms and stuff. And overall, I was underwhelmed.

Let’s start with one of the two major positives in the book: Efa. She wasn’t one of the kick-ass leader-type characters that I usually like to read about, but I liked her because I related to her. Like her, I’m usually the quiet sidekick to a more energetic, boisterous, sociable friend; like her, I get overwhelmed and my emotions get mixed up when I need to do something important but don’t know how to go about it. She was one of the most relatable characters I’ve read in a while, to be honest.

Now, probably the biggest negative in the book: the romance. It fell flat for me. Part of this is because Ninka doesn’t have a lot of personality. It’s heavily emphasized that she does what she wants when she wants … and that’s about it. Which was disappointing, because I think with some development she could have been an awesome character.

Another reason the romance fell flat was there wasn’t a lot of feeling about it from Efa. I understand most of her emotional bandwidth was taken up by worry about Bettan, but there was next to nothing about romantic feelings towards Ninka. And the romance-hinting moments were few and far between (and they mostly consisted of Ninka kissing Efa and that’s it). So any time the romance angle came up it fell flat. Which was really disappointing, because this sort of opposites-attract romance between a fiercely independent fishwife and a restrained selkie homebody could have been amazing.

Which brings me to the other major positive thing in the book: the mythology. I’ve never read (or honestly heard of) a book about selkies before, and the fishwives were a cool take on siren/mermaid myths. I loved the idea of there being selkie villages that lived near human towns and selkies and humans interacted normally, and I liked how tight-knit the selkie community was and how it adapted to the people being sometimes seal and sometimes human. I wish you learned more of the community aspect with the fishwives.

The biggest problem with this book was that it needed more. It was too short. There wasn’t enough time to develop Efa’s feelings for Ninka, there wasn’t enough time to develop Ninka as a character or the fishwives as a species and a community – even though Efa spends about a month in the deep sea with Ninka, it’s glossed over in a handful of pages and not used to develop their relationship. The plot of rescuing Bettan was done really well, but the book wasn’t nearly long enough to cover the other subplots it tried to include.

Eelgrass was disappointing. I wanted to like it. I loved the concept. There just wasn’t enough of it to be as great as it could have been.

Science Fantasy

Review: Nimona

Cover of "Nimona," featuring three characters on a green background - a male knight with long blond hair, a male knight with black hair, a goatee, and one robotic arm, and in front of them a girl with mostly-shaved red hair and dragon wings
Image from Noelle Stevenson

Title: Nimona

Author: Noelle Stevenson

Genre: Science Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, death

Back Cover:

Lord Ballister Blackheart has a point to make, and his point is that the good guys aren’t as good as they seem. He makes a comfortable living as a supervillain, but never really seems to accomplish much – until he takes on a new sidekick, Nimona, a shapeshifter with her own ideas of how things should be done. Unfortunately, most of those ideas involve blowing things up. Now Ballister must teach his young protégé some restraint and try to keep her from destroying everything, while simultaneously attempting to expose the dark dealings of those who claim to be the protectors of the kingdom – including his former best friend turned nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin.

Review:

I first heard of Nimona as a webcomic on Tumblr and I devoured the first three chapters. It was creative, unique, and hilarious. But by the time I got to it, only the first three chapters were available online – it had been published as a book, so Noelle had taken the rest of it down. So I put the book of my list of things to read.

This was a year ago. Now that I’ve finally started the task of working through my list of books I want to read (as opposed to my former method of just grabbing whatever looked interesting off the library shelf), I got around to reserving this at the library.

This is actually more like a graphic novel than a book, but I’m going to review it like I would a book.

Nimona is the title character – she’s the one in the middle on the cover. She’s a shapeshifter who just shows up at the secret lair of Ballister Blackheart, asking to be his sidekick in villainy. She’s overenthusiastic about violence and mayhem and making a mess of proper society. But she also has some trauma from her past that explains a lot about who she is once you find out about it. Overall, she’s just a super fun character to read about – especially with Ballister Blackheart to bounce off of.

Ballister, the “actual villain,” is not nearly as destruction-minded as Nimona. In fact, when the story starts, he’s trying to reveal the evil plot of the Institution, which proclaims to be protecting the citizens but Ballister discovers they’re really conducting experiments that will endanger everyone. He’s very much a rule-follower and tries to minimize Nimona’s death toll. He’s a nuanced character with a fascinating backstory and an interesting motive for being a villain (including a friendship with the antagonist Ambrosius Goldenloin), and I liked him a lot.

The apparent plot is Ballister and Nimona (reluctantly in the case of the latter) trying to stop the Institution from hurting people and the Institution trying to stop them. But really it’s more character-oriented. A lot of the beginning focuses on Ballister and Nimona’s relationship, with Ballister trying to rein her in. Then as it goes on, it focuses a lot on Ballister’s character, Goldenloin’s character, and their relationship in the past and Ballister’s story of becoming a villain. Nimona’s backstory also gets worked in and it culminates in a fiery, action-packed, dramatic climax.

Nimona has a lot of science fiction and fantasy tropes – there’s magic and shapeshifters and knights and kings, but there’s also mad science and mechanical limbs and an Institute conducting experiments involving electricity and stuff. It’s an awesome and creative blend of the two.

Also, the art is really cool. It’s very stylistic, and not exactly what I’d call beautiful, but it’s interesting and engaging and perfectly melds the science fiction and fantasy elements of the story. And it somehow fits the tone – dark topics, but still lighthearted. It’s creative and just overall fun to look at.

This is one of the more unique stories I’ve read in a while. It’s a fantastic blend of science fiction and fantasy, manages to be lighthearted and fun for most of it (and extremely emotional at the end), and develop fascinating, multi-layered characters that play around with tropes. It was great, and I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

And the best part:

You can read the first three chapters online for free here!

Did Not Finish, Fairy Tale

Review: A World Without Princes

Cover of "A World Without Princes," featuring a blond girl and a black-haired girl on either side of a blond boy whose face is in profile. Below them is a crest with two swans, one black and one white, on either side and the title of the book on a scroll across the crest.
Image from The School for Good and Evil

Title: A World Without Princes

Series: The School for Good and Evil #2

Author: Soman Chainani

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Kidnapping, attempted violence

Spoiler Warning: This book is a sequel, so it will have spoilers for The School for Good and Evil.

Back Cover:

In the New York Times bestselling sequel to Soman Chainani’s debut, The School for Good and Evil, Sophie and Agatha are back in Gavaldon, living out their Happily Ever After, but life isn’t quite the fairy tale they expected.

Witches and princesses reside at the School for Girls, where they’ve been inspired to live a life without princes, while Tedros and the boys are camping in Evil’s old towers. A war is brewing between the schools, but can Agatha and Sophie restore the peace? Can Sophie stay good with Tedros on the hunt? And whose heart does Agatha’s belong to—her best friend or her prince?

Read to: Page 76

Review:

Immediately after finishing The School for Good and Evil, I reserved this book at the library. The School for Good and Evil was fantastic, and I wanted to read more and find out how the story turned out.

I’m not really sure how to put into words how I feel about this book. In many ways, it was a letdown. (Obviously, since I didn’t finish it.) But it could have been great and I’m really disappointed in some of the choices made for this book.

Warning: long review ahead – I have a lot of Feelings about this one. Scroll to the bottom for the tl;dr version.

Agatha and Sophie bothered me a tiny bit – not in the sense that I didn’t like them, because I still loved them, but in the sense that they weren’t the same people they were at the end of book one and it felt like a little of the character development from the first book had been undone (although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why). Overall, it was a minor problem that I probably could look past, especially if they developed in this book as much as they did in the first one.

I loved the world. I loved it in the first book and I loved it here. There were some changes to the school (which I didn’t get fully introduced to before I stopped reading), but I think I would have enjoyed those, too. The entire concept of the world is amazing and I love it.

My main problem is the entire concept of this book – at the end of book one, Agatha chose Sophie over everything else, and now she’s regretting her choice and wishing she had chosen Prince Tedros instead. I hated that. It didn’t fit with Agatha’s character and it was a horrible, forced straight romance angle when if there had to be a romance, a romance between Agatha and Sophie would fit so much better.

And it’s not just because I like gay romances better than straight ones (although I will admit I do). There really is a lot more potential for a romance between Agatha and Sophie than between Agatha and Tedros. Agatha obviously cares for Sophie a lot (protecting/helping Sophie was 99% of her motivation in the first book), and Sophie seems to also care, if not as deeply.  Book one ends with a very emotional, touching moment where Agatha chooses Sophie above everyone else. Even at the beginning of this book, they still care a lot about each other and stick together through everything.

On the other hand, Agatha barely interacted with Tedros at all in the previous book (except for trying to help Sophie catch is interest). She recognized him as handsome, like everyone, but instantly flagged him as unattainable and, to the best of my memory, never even considered liking him romantically. He’s hardly even a major character – he barely got any page time in book one, as the focus was more on Agatha and Sophie. Any feelings Agatha has for him can only be motivated by his status (son of King Arthur) or his dashing good looks, which is incredibly shallow and not something I think Agatha would do.

As my fiance pointed out, the concept of a character making an important choice and then regretting it later on is an interesting one, and I will admit that. It’s unique and interesting. But there’s no reason for Agatha to regret her choice except for Soman trying to force a romance where one won’t work. All through the first book, Agatha chose Sophie. She always chose Sophie over everything, even her own Happily Ever After. A romance growing out of their deep friendship would make perfect sense. Even a plot without a romance at all would be fine. But whatever attraction exists between Agatha and Tedros is based on looks or status, which is shallow and sad. (And honestly I love Agatha and want better than that for her.)

Okay, I’m going to stop now because this review is getting long. But I have a lot of feelings about this book. It could have been great with an Agatha+Sophie romance (or even no romance at all). But what’s actually going on in A World Without Princes … it’s disappointing and out of character.

And who knows, maybe it would have gotten better if I’d continued the book. But it seemed like the entire premise would be Agatha trying to redo her choice between Sophie and Tedros, and I honestly didn’t want to read about that, no matter how much I loved the characters in book one.

tl;dr

Any feelings Agatha had for Tedros were based on his looks and/or his status and (in my opinion) forced by the author. In book one, Agatha always chose Sophie over everything else, and there’s no reason for her to stop that now. If the concept was different and we returned to the School for Good and Evil for different reasons, with Agatha staying in character and continuing to choose Sophie – or at least getting to know Tedros enough that having to choose made sense – I would have loved this book. (And I would have loved it even more if Agatha and Sophie fell in love.) But as it is, I was disappointed and upset that this book wasn’t the sequel I wanted.

Definitely read The School for Good and Evil, it’s totally worth it. And give this one a shot. I admit I can be really picky about certain things, and maybe if you keep going it gets better. It wasn’t necessarily a bad book – it just wasn’t the one that I wanted. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did.

The School for Good and Evil series:

  1. The School for Good and Evil
  2. A World Without Princes
  3. The Last Ever After
  4. Quests for Glory
Fairy Tale

Review: The School for Good and Evil

Cover of "The School for Good and Evil," featuring the title on a banner in front of a crest with a black swan on one side and a white swan on the other; above it are two girls, one with short dark hair and one with long blond hair, standing back-to-back
Image from The School for Good and Evil

Title: The School for Good and Evil

Series: The School for Good and Evil #1

Author: Soman Chainani

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, death, fatphobia

Back Cover:

At the School for Good and Evil, failing your fairy tale is not an option.

With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good, while Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good. But what if the mistake is the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

The School for Good and Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.

Review:

I picked this up because the cover was pretty cool and the concept – a school that trained fairy tale heroes and villains – was pretty darn awesome.

To start with, this book was a lot thicker than I expected. I was expecting a thin little paperback, not a nearly-500-page epic. And I definitely wasn’t expecting all of the twists, turns, betrayals, character growth, and, well, everything.

The book starts by immediately throwing you into a world where every year, the mysterious School Master kidnaps two village kids and every kid is afraid of being taken except Sophie, who is super excited to be taken from the boring village and sent to the School for Good, where she can focus on her beauty and win a handsome prince.

Except it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that Sophie isn’t as good as she thinks she is. Her “good works” are donating face wash to the orphanage, hanging mirrors in public restrooms, and spending time with Agatha, the frumpy, ugly, unfriendly girl who lives in the house in the graveyard (who she doesn’t particularly like, mind you, but sees as a good charity case).

The story is told in alternating perspectives between Sophie and Agatha, so you get to see what Agatha is thinking, too. Agatha actually cares about Sophie – she doesn’t necessarily consider them friends (she’s aware she’s just a charity case), but she cares anyway. A lot of her motivation during the first part of the book is to rescue Sophie from the School of Evil and get her home.

I really want to say more about these girls, but it’s hard because they change and grow so much throughout the book. Part of it is learning why they got put in the schools they did, part of it is leveraging their own unique strengths. (Sophie’s skills and interest in fashion and beauty are never played as a bad thing and are actually shown as a strength.) I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but they change a lot and it’s amazing.

It’s hard to say much about the plot. It starts off with Agatha wanting to keep Sophie from getting kidnapped, but that goes out the window pretty quick and then it’s Sophie wanting to get to the School for Good and Agatha wanting to get them both out of there and back to their village. And that’s the gist of it – but there’s so much more. Class rankings. Surviving things. Extra special magic powers. And I can’t say too much because spoilers.

The school itself is absolutely amazing. You get both Sophie and Agatha’s perspectives, so you get to see both schools, and it’s fantastic. They’re exactly what you would expect from schools for fairy-tale Good and fairy-tale Evil, but it’s all the little details (like the existence of beauty spas in the Good school and a classroom made of ice with a torture chamber beneath it in the Evil school) that makes it absolutely amazing.

I almost said the school was the best part of the book for me, but it’s hard to really say that. All of it was fantastic. Each element blended with the rest of them to create a fascinating world, an enthralling plot, and masterfully-written characters that made me devour the book in one day. (Yes, I read all 500 pages in one day. It was that good.)

There were only two downsides to this book. One was fatphobia, which was mild and mostly stemming from Sophie’s vain perspective. The other was the ending – not that it was bad, but it had the opportunity to be gay and wasn’t.

I don’t have enough positive adjectives to say about this book. I was expecting a fairy tale and I got so much more. So much more. I didn’t know this was a series when I picked this up, but I’m so glad it is because I want more. I want more of these characters and I want more of this world.

I’m trying not to ramble, so just … read the book.

(And if you’re a fan, the School for Good and Evil website is really awesome.)

The School for Good and Evil series:

  1. The School for Good and Evil
  2. A World Without Princes
  3. The Last Ever After
  4. Quests for Glory
Urban Fantasy

Review: Labyrinth Lost

Cover of "Labyrinth Lost," featuring gold text on a dark background above the head (from the nose up) of a brown-haired girl in sugar skull makeup
Image from Zoraida Córdova

Title: Labyrinth Lost

Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Blood

Back Cover:

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone. 

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Review:

I put this on my to-read list because there was magic and I’d heard it was gay. That’s about it. I picked it randomly when reserving books at the library, and when my fiance saw it sitting on the dresser I couldn’t even tell him what it was about. That’s how little expectations I had for this book.

The good news is, this is a great book.

It really was. The magic was amazing, Alex was a strong character with good development and growth, the plot seems straightforward but throws some twists in at the end, Los Lagos is an amazing setting (just as dark and twice as strange as you’d expect, but with a definite Wonderland vibe), and the layers of magic are revealed slowly and wonderfully.

It’s just … a beautiful book, really. It’s the kind of story that if you saw it visually, it would be elegant and graceful and eerie, rendered in dark purples and blacks and silvers. The writing and the mood is gorgeous, and it made me want to go out and practice magic and cast some powerful spells.

I only really had two problems:

  1. It’s never really explained why Alex is afraid of her magic. All you get is something about the family cat being possessed, and her magic kills it? And somehow that made her father leave? It’s not clear.
  2. It wasn’t gay. I was told it was, and I kept expecting a romance between Alex and her friend Rishi. (Maybe there will be in the next book, but there wasn’t here.) But on the bright side, there also wasn’t any romance with Angsty Brooding Hero Nova, either.

I feel like breaking it down and analyzing the components of it will ruin the magic. It was just … fascinating and absolutely gorgeous. And it ended on a twist. I’m totally looking forward to the next book (next year …).

The Brooklyn Brujas series:

  1. Labyrinth Lost
  2. Circle Unbroken (April 2018)
High Fantasy

Review: Of Fire and Stars

Cover of "Of Fire and Stars," featuring silhouettes of two princesses on a blue background with gold calligraphy text
Image from Audrey Coulthurst

Title: Of Fire and Stars

Author: Audrey Coulthurst

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, burning alive, torture mention

Back Cover:

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile nations. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire–a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses–and her teacher is the person who intimidates her the most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine–called Mare–the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms–and each other.

Review:

I never used to be into books about court drama, but Of Fire and Stars completely changed my opinion.

Honestly, I wasn’t super excited about this book–yeah, it was queer and it looked good, but it wasn’t at the top of my list. I ended up picking it up because I needed another book and this one was easy to locate at the library. And it totally blew me away.

First, there was Denna. She was brilliant. She’d done a lot of studying in her preparation to become queen of Mynaria, but she was still “I’ve looked at this map twice and now I have it memorized” brilliant. I can’t find the words for what else I want to say about her–besides brilliant, there weren’t a lot of characteristics that stood out–but she was an absolutely fantastic character and the kind of person I’d hope to be if I were a princess.

Mare was, as it says on the back cover, an unconventional princess. She would rather wear riding breeches than ball gowns and valued independence above all else … and she also did quite a bit of sneaking out of the castle to gather information from spies, which was awesome. In retrospect, she was the kind of stereotypical tomboyish don’t-want-to-be-a-princess princess, but she didn’t feel like that while reading.

The cool part is the story is told in alternating perspectives, so you get both sides and the inner thoughts and feelings of both girls. And the romance between them is built slowly but the chemistry is undeniable.

It’s been a long, long time since I read a court drama book–which is a lot of what this is. Yeah, there’s some sneaking out of the castle and some “who’s behind this assassination?” but there’s also a lot of social niceties (and trying to do non-princess-y stuff without betraying all of the social niceties) and arguing with the council and “you have to do your duty because you’re a princess” stuff. And it was honestly fantastic.

Also, you know the trope of “main character is so much more powerful than other magic users”? This book uses that trope. But differently. It kinda turns the trope on its head and I love it.

I don’t have enough good things to say about this book. The characters were great, the plot was awesome, and even the setting, though a pretty standard high fantasy setting, was cool. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And though the ending wrapped things up nicely and a sequel isn’t necessary, I would enjoy one.

Did Not Finish, Fantasy

Review: The Young Elites

Cover of "The Young Elites," featuring the title on a background of storm clouds. The "T" in the word "Elites" is replaced with a sword.
Image from Marie Lu

Title: The Young Elites

Author: Marie Lu

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Parental abuse (physical and emotional)

Back Cover: 

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

Read to: CD 6 of 8 (I “read” this as an audiobook)

Review:

I really enjoyed Marie Lu’s Legend, and The Young Elites has been on my reading list for a while. I finally picked it up because I was looking for audiobooks to listen to on my commute to work and it was part of my library’s small selection. And also because special abilities + vengeance = a dark fantasy that should be right up my alley.

As you might have guessed, I wasn’t the hugest fan. But there were really a lot of good things about this book, and what made me give up on it was actually relatively minor. So let’s start with what was good about it.

  • The world was fantastic. It felt like a fantasy southern Europe (like Spain or Italy) with Renaissance elements, and it was just plain beautiful.
  • The minor characters were pretty cool. Each was unique and had their own personalities and quirks, and there were those great characters you love to hate. (And there was even a bisexual male sex worker who was a major member of the Dagger Society and no one looked down on him for his sex work, which I thought was the coolest thing.)
  • The plot is barely touched on in the back cover, but it was not at all what I expected and it was great. (I’m not giving away any spoilers.)

All the main elements were solid and I enjoyed them. But like I said, it was minor details that I took issue with. Such as the fact that Teren is mentioned in the back cover like he’s going to be a major character and he’s really glossed over. I think he got three (very short) chapters in the entirety of what I read, and there were some interesting things going on with him, but the book doesn’t spend enough time with him to flesh it out and make it anything more than a confusing distraction from Adelina.

The romance was another minor detail that bothered me. It started off slow enough that I could look past it, but it was starting to pick up when I stopped. It was just so aggressively … trope-y? I’m not really sure how to describe it, but there was a bit of a love triangle even though it was obvious which guy was the “real” love interest and it had the whole we-both-like-each-other-but-we’re-not-going-to-say-anything-and-pretend-nothing-is-happening-even-though-it’s-obvious thing going on

The beginning is also very flashback-heavy with Adelina remembering life with her abusive father, and that was … it was hard. It was hard to read and hard to think about, and if you’ve experienced any sort of abuse it’s probably not going to be good for you.

There was one main issue that finally made me stop, though. Adelina is put in a position where she has to choose between the Dagger Society and her sister (it’s more complicated, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers). And there’s a huge running theme of her moral dilemma – should she tell the Daggers and ask for their help or just betray them? Several times she gets close to telling Enzo and chickens out. But then she’s presented with a perfect opportunity where they wouldn’t even suspect she’s been dealing with this for a while and she STILL DOESN’T TAKE IT. And that’s where I stopped. Being put in a bad position is one thing, actively making your situation worse because you don’t take the opportunities that smack you over the head is a completely different (and endlessly frustrating) thing.

I looked at the Goodreads reviews for this book, and there’s a lot of them that have nothing but good things to say about The Young Elites. And I can see why. There’s a lot of good things in here. It’s dark and poetic and has a solid world and a great plot. It just wasn’t the book for me.

The Young Elites series:

  1. The Young Elites
  2. The Rose Society
  3. The Midnight Star