High Fantasy

Review: Climbing the Date Palm

Cover of "Climbing the Date Palm," featuring two dark-skinned girls in dresses riding on the back of a giant swanTitle: Climbing the Date Palm: A Labor Rights Love Story

Series: Mangoverse #2

Author: Shira Glassman

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Threat of death, sexual content (implied or lightly described), homophobia

Spoiler Warnings: This book is second in a series, so this review will probably contain spoilers of the first book, The Second Mango.

Back Cover:

Prince Kaveh, the youngest son of the king of the City of Red Clay, is bisexual, and completely besotted with Farzin, the engineer his father hired to oversee the improvements to the city’s roads and bridges. However, the king doesn’t share his positive feelings. After Farzin ends up at the head of the protest that ensues when the workers are only paid a third of their promised wages, he’s thrown in prison and is scheduled to be executed.

Queen Shulamit, who rules over the neighboring nation of Perach, is eager to assist the desperate prince. She, too, loves justice and has a same-sex partner. She’s also hoping Kaveh, with his royal blood, is willing to give her and her sweetheart a legitimate heir in exchange. But can she find a peaceful solution that will pacify the king next door, get his workers fairly paid, and free Farzin? Or will she and her dragon-riding bodyguard Rivka have to go to war?

Review:

This story was very similar to the first book in the series, The Second Mango – in feel, that is, not in plot. Like the first book, Climbing the Date Palm was a fun, entertaining, not-very-deep story. However, it did go a bit darker than the first book.

Climbing the Date Palm introduces a whole new set of characters in a whole new kingdom, the main one being the bisexual Prince Kaveh, whose main personality trait seemed to be “being head-over-heels for this one guy.” Although, considering the circumstances of this one guy being sentenced to death, that can be forgiven. He kind of had that weak, wimpy younger prince trope going on, but overall I didn’t mind him.

I loved Shulamit again in this book. She’s brave, kind, and getting better at wielding her queenly power for the good of others. She feels scared and uncertain, and then she does what’s right anyway, and I admire her. The other major characters from The Second Mango, namely Rivka, Isaac, and Aviva, also play important roles, and they’re still great. Isaac gets a bigger part in this book, and he’s clever and fun to read about. Rivka is still awesome. And Aviva gets a bigger role and she’s sweet and supportive and a great complement to intellectual Shulamit.

As far as plot goes, this book mostly fixed the problem I had with book one – namely, that the problems didn’t have very high stakes. The stakes in this book involved a man’s life, war (if Shulamit and company can’t find a peaceful way to save Farzin) and the fate of an entire country (Perach if Shulamit doesn’t get a legitimate heir somehow). While it is pretty straightforward without any real twists, it was enough to keep me interested and thoroughly entertained.

There’s still not a whole lot about the setting in this book, but again, what you do get is great, and I love how Perach’s culture is based on Judiasm. Since this is the second book with not a lot of setting details, I don’t have super high hopes for getting more in future books, but I can dream.

I only have one real problem, and it’s kind of nitpicky – the subtitle. I appreciate what Shira Glassman was trying to do with the whole pro-union message, but the banding together of the workers against the king didn’t actually work. That was the whole plot, that the king just ignored the workers’ attempts to unionize, imprisoned the person he felt was responsible, and Shulamit had to step in.

Overall, while it did have its problems, Climbing the Date Palm was fun, mostly lighthearted, entertaining, and just a great light read when you want something simple but enjoyable. I’m excited for book three.

The Mangoverse Series:

  1. The Second Mango
  2. Climbing the Date Palm: A Labor Rights Love Story
  3. A Harvest of Ripe Figs
  4. The Olive Conspiracy
  5. Tales from Perach
Advertisements
Fantasy

Review: The Star-Touched Queen

Cover of "The Star-Touched Queen," featuring the image of a person with long dark hair wearing a red cloak and holding a lantern on a dark background
Image from Roshani Chokshi

Title: The Star-Touched Queen

Series: The Star-Touched Queen #1

Author: Roshani Chokshi

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Blood, death, fire

Back Cover:

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most … including herself.

Review:

I sometimes like to distill my thoughts about books into a single adjective. Sometimes that adjective is “good” or “mediocre”; some books get more positive ones like “enthralling” or “fascinating” or occasionally “amazing.” But I think the best word to describe The Star-Touched Queen is “beautiful.”

The whole story is just gorgeous. A princess born with a terrible horoscope, suddenly becoming the wife of a mysterious man and trying to piece together the mysteries of her new husband, her new home, and her own life. A rich, gorgeous setting dripping with Indian mythology like a queen’s necklace drips with jewels. A plot that started small and then built layer by layer into something complex and beautiful. Some of the most rich, gorgeous writing I’ve ever encountered.

There is a tapestry in this book that is important to the story, and in a lot of ways, this book itself is like a tapestry. Strands of light and dark blend together, different colors and elements and characters all woven into a rich warp and weft of Indian mythology and folklore to form a darkly beautiful image. I loved Maya, she was strong and compelling and relatable. I loved how the stakes of the story built from the unpleasant idea of marriage to the fate of the world (but without ever feeling as heavy and serious as a save-the-world story). I loved the romance and how it grew and changed slowly, letting the feelings build and burn naturally and drawing me into the emotion. I loved how personal it was, focusing on Maya’s inner life and her search for power and completeness within herself, even when she didn’t know what she was searching for. I loved the ending, dark but happy and full of love.

This story is dark and rich and full and great and beautiful, the kind of story that if you put it into an image would be all dark silk and velvet and scattered jewels and rich dark wood and the feeling of something old and elegant but at the same time heavy and powerful. It was beautiful, it was gorgeous, I loved the story.

When researching this book for this review, I discovered that there’s actually a sequel, sort of – the second book, A Crown of Wishes, follows a minor character from this book in her own story, and I don’t think Maya is involved at all. Which I’m honestly okay with, because the ending of The Star-Touched Queen was perfect and I feel like more with Maya would undercut how good The Star-Touched Queen really was. Will I read it? Maybe. I don’t feel as much of an attachment to the minor character as I do to Maya. But if I ever get a craving for rich, gorgeous writing, I know where to find it.

The Star-Touched Queen series:

  1. The Star-Touched Queen
  2. A Crown of Wishes
Fairy Tale

Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Cover of "Girls Made of Snow and Glass," featuring a black background with spikes of ice or glass sticking up from the bottom and the title in white text
Image from Melissa Bashardoust

Title: Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Author: Melissa Bashardoust

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, emotional abuse, mild body horror

Back Cover:

At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone – has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do and who to be to win back the only mother she’s ever known, or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything, unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

Review:

This may be the best fairytale retelling I’ve ever read. Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a retelling of Snow White, told from both “snow white” and the stepmother’s points of view, and it is fantastic.

First, there’s Lynet. The Snow White character in the story, she feels stifled by her overprotective father and would rather climb trees and scale the castle walls than be quiet and demure like her mother, the way her father wants her to be. She loves her father, but she also wants to be her own person, free from the shadow of the dead queen. She has an internal struggle between who she wants to be and who other people want her to be (which I found very relatable), and in the end she’s strong and courageous enough to make her own way in the world. I loved her.

Then there’s Mina, who, despite being the stepmother of the story, is far from evil. She was actually a very sympathetic character who knows she’s broken because she can’t love (and, she thinks, can’t be loved). I honestly didn’t root for Lynet to beat Mina because I cared about Mina, too. I wanted them both to win somehow.

If there’s a villain in this story at all, it’s Mina’s father, the magician Gregory. He’s cruel and cunning and selfish, and he has dark plans for Lynet that don’t get revealed until towards the end. He’s not even in most of the book, but his shadow hovers over Mina and she’s (rightfully) afraid of him.

The story alternates perspectives between Lynet and Mina. You get to see how Mina came to marry Lynet’s father and how having a glass heart incapable of love affected her life. You also get Lynet’s struggle between her love for her father and wanting to be who he wants her to be, and her desire to be her own independent person. Then circumstances cause the two women to clash. And while ostensibly the plot is about this clash between Mina and Lynet, with a little bit of politics and magic, it’s really more about the characters. How they’re feeling, how they think, how they react. Mina and Lynet are excellently written, and reading about their emotional journeys was fantastic.

And probably the best part – it has a happy ending!

Of course, the book isn’t perfect. Mainly when it came to the romance. I can’t even say that Lynet falls in love with someone, because the romance doesn’t get enough time or attention for that to really be shown. She likes this person and they kiss towards the end, so there’s definitely some romance going forward after the end of the book, but it was really sidelined during the main story and the love interest isn’t even in most of the book. I liked the romance, it was cute and I think it was a good way of showing Lynet growing up, but removing it would hardly have affected the story at all.

This book is amazing. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and probably one of the best fairytale retellings I’ve ever read. I loved how it was character-driven while still being a fantasy story and not neglecting either element. I enthusiastically recommend this book.

Fantasy

Review: Ruin of Stars

Cover of "Ruin of Stars," featuring an ornate golden brooch with two arrows crossed in front of it
Image from Linsey Miller

Title: Ruin of Stars

Series: Mask of Shadows #2

Author: Linsey Miller

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/gore, mentions of war, child abuse, fire

Spoiler Warning: This book is second in a series, so this review contains spoilers of the first book, Mask of Shadows.

Back Cover

As one of the Queen’s elite assassins, Sal finally has the power, prestige, and permission to hunt down the lords who killed their family. But Sal still has to figure out who the culprits are. They must enlist the help of some old friends and enemies while ignoring a growing distaste for the queen and that the charming Elise is being held prisoner by her father.

But there’s something terribly wrong in the north. Talk of the return of shadows, missing children, and magic abounds. As Sal takes out the people responsible for their ruined homeland, they learn secrets and truths that can’t be forgotten.

Review

This book was excellent. I absolutely loved the first book in the series, and Ruin of Stars was the perfect follow-up.

Let’s start with Sal. Sal is having an identity crisis – Erlend pushes a strict gender binary that they don’t fit into at all, and also how Nacean are they if they lost their home so young and don’t remember much of it? And they’re wrestling with the guilt of having killed so many people. They’re the same determined, angry, full-of-complicated-emotions Sal from Mask of Shadows, just with a lot more of the complicated emotions part. And even though they’re dealing with so much darkness, you just root for them.

Other people have said Sal’s talking about their gender identity gets boring, and I can see how it could, but as a nonbinary person I loved it because I have a lot of the same feelings.

You also get a lot more of some of the great minor characters in this book. Rath comes back, Maud gets a bigger role and so does Elise. All have distinct personalities and are generally fun to read (especially Maud’s boldness and smart mouth). The downside is you get almost nothing of the other Left Hand.

There is a lot more to the plot than you get from the back cover. North Star and Winter have retreated to Erlend and are working hard to not only reestablish Erlend, but take over Igna too. And they’re using some dark and brutal stuff to do that. Sal’s job is to stop them. And that’s really all I can say without spoilers. There’s a lot that happens. Political stuff takes a back burner as Sal’s solutions usually involve murder. (Which, admittedly, is probably the best way to solve these things because the Erlenians are perfectly fine with killing excessively to get what they want.) And there’s some huge twists at the end …

… which are actually my only real problem with the book. All of Sal’s motivation has been revenge for Nacea being destroyed, and in the last quarter of the book Sal learns some surprising things about Nacea. And then the book takes a sharp left turn. It goes from focusing on stopping a war/the evil magic the Erlenians are using and getting revenge to focusing on new information Sal’s learning about Nacea. On one hand, it makes sense, since grief for their country and a desire to avenge it are their main motivation. On the other hand, it’s done abruptly, and so much information is thrown at you at once that it’s hard to process it all – I found it harder to care about all the new stuff.

Besides that, though, the book was great, and it actually had a reasonably happy ending. It’s dark, definitely – I’d even say darker than the first book – but I tend to enjoy those kinds of books, and if you can handle darkness and murder I highly recommend you give both of these books a read.

The Mask of Shadows duology:

  1. Mask of Shadows
  2. Ruin of Stars
Urban Fantasy

Review: Bruja Born

Cover of "Bruja Born," featuring a line drawing of a golden moth on a dark background
Image from Zoraida Córdova

Title: Bruja Born

Series: Brooklyn Brujas #2

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, traumatic injury, car crash, cannibalism, fire

Spoiler Warning: This book is second in a series, so this review may contain spoilers of the first book, Labyrinth Lost.

Back Cover:

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…

Review:

This book is intense. The emotions and the drama and the atmosphere and everything grab you from the second paragraph and none of it slows down until the epilogue. I actually had to take a break after the first two chapters because I was not expecting that many feelings (and that intense of feelings) at the very beginning.

This is Lula’s story. I thought before I picked it up that it was going to be a continuation of Alex’s story from Labyrinth Lost, but it actually follows Alex’s older sister Lula. It happens after the events of Labyrinth Lost and continues the story of the Mortiz sisters through a different set of eyes.

I didn’t expect to like it as much because I was already invested in Alex from the last book, but that really wasn’t an issue. I didn’t necessarily love Lula in the usual sense of “loving” characters, but I felt her pain and her emotional conflict and I got really invested in her. She’s a tragic heroine who tried to fix something bad and made things much worse, and I was rooting for her the whole way.

This book is dark and there’s a lot going on. I can’t even touch on the plot because the true state of things slowly gets revealed as Lula and her sisters discover things and they don’t even find out the sheer magnitude of what’s happening until near the end. The story is full of difficult decisions and emotional pain and it was thoroughly absorbing.

There’s also a lot more of the bruja world – there’s more than just brujas dealing with magical things, and this book reveals more of a complex and fascinating world hiding under the world we know. And the end hints that we might get more of it in the future.

Also, despite being such a dark book, it has a mostly happy ending.

I thought going in that the Brooklyn Brujas series was only two books, but I’m glad I was wrong. There’s a third book coming out in 2019. My guess is it’s going to be about Rose, the youngest Mortiz sister, but I’m okay with that. If it’s anything like the previous two books, I’m sure I’ll love it.

The Brooklyn Brujas series:

  1. Labyrinth Lost
  2. Bruja Born
  3. Currently Untitled (2019)
Fantasy

Review: Mask of Shadows

Cover of "Mask of Shadows," featuring two knives crossed in front of a circular metal crest
Image from Linsey Miller

Title: Mask of Shadows

Series: Mask of Shadows #1

Author: Linsey Miller

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger warnings: Death, blood, mentions of abuse and war – for more details, read this

Back Cover:

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

Review:

This is the book I’ve been looking for.

You may have noticed I haven’t been reading a lot of novels lately. The reason is that I haven’t been able to find a novel that engaged me enough that I actually wanted to read more. (I’m honestly not sure if that’s more a reflection on the books or on me.) But this book – this book was absorbing and I loved it.

Let’s start with Sal. Sal is genderfluid, but it’s not a Big Thing – everyone just accepts it. They’re driven by revenge against the nobles who let their people die, and they have no preparation for being an assassin other than having been a thief and getting in street fights. They were just so determined to succeed, and I love reading about characters that are unprepared but do well through pure determination.

I love books about assassins, but despite Sal being in a competition to become an assassin, there wasn’t a lot of assassin-ing. It was more about competition-ing. Sure, there was some killing of other competitors, but the story was more about the training and learning, the dynamics between characters, and Sal adjusting to their new life and not getting caught while working toward vengeance.

I tried to come up with a “basic plot” for this book, but it’s hard because the two major plots combine so thoroughly. Sal wants to kill the nobles who let her people die, and they are using the audition competition as a means to that end. Some of it is trying to scheme and find which nobles are at fault, a lot of it is trying to survive (and win) the audition. It’s all fantastic and sucks you into the story. There’s a lot of violence, quite a bit of assassin skills (both learning and used), and some great characters in the form of the three members of the Left Hand and in Sal’s maid.

Really though, even the characters the book doesn’t spend a lot of time with are well done. There isn’t much court intrigue but what there is is great, Sal’s love interest is adorable and sweet (although their relationship does develop a little quickly), and the competition is fantastic.

I don’t have enough good things to say about this book. If you can stomach some blood and violence, I highly recommend it, especially if you need something to get yourself out of a reading slump.

The Mask of Shadows duology:

  1. Mask of Shadows
  2. Ruin of Stars
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
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.