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Not Quite My Boo – a review of The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

This is the first book that BookTok has convinced me to buy.

In an alternate near future, the Scion government rules over London in attempt to prosecute the illegal acts of clairvoyance and the communion of spirits. The most powerful clairvoyants are found in underground gangs amongst the many districts, including Irish immigrant Paige Mahoney. However, when she gets arrested she isn’t killed or brainwashed like she expects to be. She is taken to the off-grid city of Oxford where her kind is enslaved by otherworldly Rephaim to keep the world from destruction. Paige soon discovers that her particular branch of clairvoyance is very sought after, and she must both utilise it and hide it if she wishes to escape.

Fantasy Dystopia is a genre less talked about than other fantasies, and the worldbuilding of this book just goes to prove how good it is. In retrospect I realise it was a lot of information, but it was present and explained in ways that made perfect sense. I’m a huge fan of magic centric worldbuilding and seeing the implications of it. The abstract ways the aether and spirits worked to the will of clairvoyants was especially entertaining for me, especially from the perspective of Paige who was blind to them but could still sense them. Better still was the contrast of the urban and typical dystopia of London put against the archaic and rustic Oxford, very well captured introductions to these key locations which I hope to see more of in the future.

Flashbacks were used a lot in this novel, but for once it didn’t annoy me how often it was used. That’s because they added to the story, the main character and supporting characters who appear later in the plot. It also became a unique way to build out the world, with the flashbacks being in different locations to the present. I’ve read and reviewed other books where flashbacks have been pivotal yet ruined the experience, but this novel done it in a way that made so much sense and became very entertaining to get through. I was happy to come across another flashback as a result.

However, like many other novels this one suffers from the same issue – the lead romance feeling unearned! There were moments where I looked at it and saw it coming, but even when the kiss came to fruition I couldn’t help but wonder how things escalated so quickly. I’m not denying that they care for each other, but to a romantic kind of degree? I didn’t see any thoughts of it that way until the final chapters. It felt like the kiss was shoved in there at the end instead of later in the series to do service to some kind of audience – what kind? I’m not sure.

Moving onto characters and relationships, which was a mixed bag altogether. Few of the characters stood out in spite of clearly unique personalities, and while relationships were there and solid I felt like they could’ve been expanded upon more. This made the stronger characters, such as Jaxon and Nick, cast the rest of the cast in shadow and have the emotional stakes involving them get dampened.

Luckily there will be more books in the series to get to know the characters that are still sticking around. I am still very much looking forward to what the rest of the series holds.

The Bone Season gets a score of 3.5/5. What a wonderful world, but the characters constructively need more work.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Natural 20! – a review of Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

Have you ever read a book that gave off huge D&D vibes? I’m not sure how many of you have played it, but this book combines the greatest parts of D&D into a fantastic read.

We’re talking dragons, found family and the perfect plot I have ever read.

Dragons rule the land, as does their greed. The people are poor due to ever increasing taxes, one person among them being Will, who lost his family’s far due to their greed. He’d want anything to give the dragons a piece of their own medicine. But as Will meets some newfound allies, they suggest the impossible – stealing from a dragon. And Will may be the only one of the group with the knowledge to do something downright ridiculous to gain riches.

This novel was unafraid to be loud. I love novels of this caliber – where the characters are uncensored, both serious and comedic, and while they plot may be tense it is not afraid to be ridiculous. It takes those absurd moments in stride just as much as it did the dark ones, balancing and distributing the two with precision.

The characters were made excellently, especially the four pivotal characters; Will, Quirk, Balor and Lette. And even the occasional perspective from the antagonistic dragons! They shone as individuals with their own personal backstories, fears and things that made them tick. It was so hard to pick a favourite, but that didn’t matter. As the found family trope normally goes, they were at their best when working together as a team.

I had never read a novel structured to the degree of perfection that Fool’s Gold was. I need to read more novels with heist plotlines because this one was so good! Hollins masters the way he reveals plans, mishaps and characters doing their own things in a way that constantly keeps you on your toes. Even when I had these expectations in place for whether the heist would succeed or not – or what parts of it – I loved finding out how things went wrong and predicting how such things would be fixed. Altogether, very entertaining.

I will admit I’m not usually a fan of dragons. However, the way they were built into this world was so refreshing and pivotal to the way people lived. Dragons are pivotal to the culture of this series, unlike other fantasy stories I have read that feature dragons, and the power that they hold is very well explained and implemented. They rule the world to the point where even though they are powerful, they are lazy about certain things. This gave the dragons so much flavour and I loved them so much in this novel.

It’s easy to say that this novel is among my favourites now. I bought the rest of the series as soon as I finished this first book, and I can’t wait to read it all. I desperately need more people to fall in love with this novel too – so pick it up, damnit!

Fool’s Gold gets a score of 5/5. Perfect for fans of D&D and not fans of D&D – basically it’s amazing.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Inspired My Own Novels – a RE-view of Troubletwisters by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Welcome to our first RE-view! Where I take books I have read – but not reviewed – and return to them with a critical eye to see if they were really as good as I thought they were as a kid.

First off we’ve got a novel which, upon re-read, features the seeds to inspire my debut novel, Aster’s Coda: Exposure.

A bizarre incident that exploded their home forces twins Jack and Jaide Shield to meet and move in with their eccentric grandmother. Though the small town and even the house they live in provides many curiosities, none are greater for Jack and Jaide than Grandma X’s suspicious activity in the house – how the scent of hot chocolate affects their short term memory, her cat sometimes talks to Jack, and Jaide getting caught in the wind. And when they start to get attacked by animals with pure white eyes, they suspect she could be behind it.

Let’s start off with describing my attachment to this book and this series when I first read it. This was the first book series I read when I left primary school and it somewhat marked another step in me moving away from books about fairies. I loved it within the first chapter, with the dark fantasy twists on a middle grade book that even disturbed me now – ten years since this book came out. In retrospect, this novel features many tropes that wound up being favourites of mine. The way is uses magic, mind control villains, and contemporary fantasies. The magic is really what sucks you in the most.

Upon reading it again, however, I noticed the behaviour of the characters and the way they were described were a little bit shallow. The difference in the twins’ personalities were fairly minute at the start, their mum and dad had fairly typical parent behaviour, and the side characters were introduced with little impact. I would say that the only characters that didn’t seem flawed in that way were Grandma X and her cats. They were all very entertaining.

The magic system and the plot were still very strong. Simple, yes, but very strong. Simple plotlines or premises can end up making stronger stories in my eyes, and this is no exception. This made for moments to be described in engaging and disturbing ways. Nothing was taken away from this novel upon a reread in terms of a great experience and story.

So while my opinion of this novel may have gone down, it is still very good and very treasured to me.

Troubletwisters gets a score of 4/5. This novel walked so my own novel could run.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Just Here For The Ride I Guess… – a review of The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

I’ve spent a long time looking for a vintage fantasy story to appeal to me. This one appealed to me in concept and I spent a while looking forward to reading it.

Sadly, this ain’t it.

In a steampunk version of Victorian London, sorcerers possess magic and mentaths possess inhuman minds. However, mentaths are being killed for a plot that Prime Sorceress Emma Bannon suspects will put the crown at risk. She seeks out to protect mentath Archibald Clare while investigating this plot, one which Clare has natural interest in himself. And it appears this plot goes far deeper than either had hope, potentially involving the ancient dragons that grant Londonium’s power.

The plot did exist, but it was very difficult to follow. I’d blame the writing style personally. It was written like an investigation from Sherlock Holmes (which I haven’t read, so I don’t know if this was a copy of the same style), but things were very difficult to follow along with. It felt like a large amount of coincidences that the characters either knew or had connections to the next pieces of the puzzle. For it being a murder mystery, I never felt like I had the chance to solve anything. Even when things got explained – that’s a red flag.

I may have liked the magic system if it was ever explained. It had potential to be for sure – dark and light magic that had connections to dragons and was in an inner pool that reset every sunrise. But this system wasn’t clear until about half way and none of the technicalities were even explained. When people want to enter a fantasy world, they would typically want to be immersed in it. This system and world felt elite, like it was reserve for people with an IQ over 300. On the bright side, where spellcasting scenes or fights were involved the quality of the scenes increased a fair bit.

While the characters were distinguishable, the way they were was… controversial. It was by gender, race and accents. This was literally how I could describe the cast of protagonists in the climax: British Male, British Female, Queen of England, Insane British Male, Indian Male, Italian Male, German Male. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you anything about the personality of any of them except for Insane British Male. There’s indefinitely more to characters than that.

The Iron Wyrm Affair gets a score of 2/5. The book itself proclaims it is too good for me, and I don’t have the class for it.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Give ME Mercy – a review of I Am Mercy by Mandi Lynn

My plight to read more books by indie authors AND AuthorTubers continues. Historical fantasy is a genre I wanted to read more of, and this one was promising.

But do you know what’s worse than a promise being broken? When that promise comes from a book.

The Black Plague is ripping through Aida’s village. Death and hatred surround her as her near-white eyes brand her as a witch. To save her people, even when she is shunned, an actual witch promises her the power to do so – a trick. Aida is instead granted immortality and a slumber that leads has her wake up hundreds of years in the future in an unfamiliar town. Without the sense of touch to ground her to reality, she wanders the world in a pessimistic eternity.

Here’s the biggest problem with the book, and it isn’t even what’s written in it. It’s the blurb and the way it was marketed. I was promised a story about a girl becoming a witch and curing the Black Plague and I didn’t get that. I got a story about a girl becoming more or less a ghost and then coming to terms with it over the course of hundreds of years in hermitage. This is not the first time that a book blurb has fooled me, and I HATE when authors do this now. A blurb is meant to promise the readers that something will be happening, and the plague became completely irrelevant about 80 pages in. I was robbed of the story that hooked me in and that I wanted to read! That affects my opinion of it a lot in a negative way.

Now let’s move on to the actual content of the book.

The actual writing of the book was very nice, however. The writing style was very compelling and reflective, especially when considering the interesting lack of the sense of touch. That put a lot more attention on other senses that were absolutely beautiful when written out and described. It created a very visual experience. One filled with very beautiful language that draws you in and makes you keep reading.

But that thing to read was sketchy. Lynn clearly had no clue what the plot of this novel was going to be about. The main conflict felt like it changed every chapter and the book left more questions than answers – a literary sin! The premise of the black plague never being mentioned again is very obvious – but then there were characters that were never interacted with again, plot points left lose in the wind, and trajectories that were never once foreshadowed. While I recognise now that this was a prequel I didn’t read the original of prior, this is NOT how you write one.

One thing I’m always checking is how distinct characters are from each other. This was done very well. You could see it from characters who were there for a long time or just a chapter. They were each characterised very well, showed their purposes and flaunted them. Or… most of them. There wound up being a very large cast of characters towards the end that I wonder why they were given a name or introduced except to set up the original story this was a prequel of… I guess?

In summary, it once the betrayal of the focus on the Black Plague happened it was very difficult to discern was was worth remembering or not. I’m probably gonna forget about this book anyway, with pleasure.

Don’t break promises.

I Am Mercy gets a score of 2.5/5. If your novel is not about the Black Plague, then DO NOT say it is about the Black Plague. Simple.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Homewreckers, am I right? – a review of Queendom of Chaos by Megan Aldridge

It is genuinely interesting that my own novel – though it takes place over a hundred years in the future of this one, shares similarities with my own. I rarely see any other books with the same combination of tropes, mechanics and world building methods as my own, until I picked this book up.

And not only does this author have good taste, but she can tug your heartstrings like crazy.

I was given an Advanced Reader Copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you very much to the author for giving me this!

This story centres around interracial couple Sam and Annabelle as they leave their hometown, whom wish to keep them apart, and they head further North in early 20th century America to start their life anew. Then after a visit to a lake, Sam finds a mark of three roses on his arm and a nauseating pain in his body. Annabelle, desperate to save him, seeks out the bizarre thread of a nearby Oracle to help him. Little do they know what threatens to keep them apart and what world is falling deeper into the clutches of a tyrant.

This novel was very refreshing with its use of tropes. But the one I find most refreshing (minor spoiler I guess) is that the homewrecker is the villain. Typically at the start of a series when there is a couple in a relationship involving one or more main characters, you can predict that it won’t last. But Aldridge comes in with a very loyal and very sweet couple who fights to stay together – and thus far succeeds! The loyalty this couple held laced this story together and tied it off with a cute little bow.

The narrative structure was also new and refreshing. It’s a setup that makes much sense for the story and the introduction of the worlds involved, and one that didn’t feel too campy or stereotypical. Unorthodox narrative structures are hard to pull off, but Aldridge does it very well. I will however say that the third act didn’t feel completely third-act-y and it relieved tension I would have rather had (a phrase I thought I never would’ve said). I wasn’t quite on the edge of my seat and was waiting for a darkest moment that never came.

Speaking of dark, let’s talk about the world. While it featured largely a glimpse of a small section of Taegaia, that glimpse was very well established. A magic system well introduced and explained to plot relevancy combined with stunning visual descriptions of the world with strong vibe checks. The mood was extremely well set in this novel. Especially in Taegaia, the use of mood within environments and settings was incredible and added so much more to each scene.

These characters were fantastic, but I have to give special credit to the villain. For some reason, in many books I have read the villain is the weakest written character that falls into selfish stereotypes that fail to make an impact. Queendom of Chaos’s villain is anything but. They were introduced as a threat and retained that air constantly to the point where I was in awe of their power and sway. Most prominent was their charm – or anti-charm. They weren’t likeable from an interpersonal perspective, but they could intimidate just by walking. That’s a great villain.

But what definitely made me rate it so high is how this novel isn’t even out yet and I want the sequel. WHEN’S IT COMING OUT, MEGAN?

Queendom of Chaos gets a score of 4.5/5. Screw all those homewreckers.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Strong Vibe Check – a review of Blood of the Lily by S.D. Huston

When I was a child, I was subscribed to a kids magazine that fortnightly discussed different fairytales from various cultures through the lens of ballet icon Angelina Ballerina.

Among these tales was the one that this novel was based off of – Snow White and Rose Red. So I may have had a bias when reading this novel, along with this one:

I received a free copy of this novel in e-book format in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to S.D. Huston for providing me with one.

Sisters Lily and Rose encounter a leprechaun, only to have Rose get kidnapped by him upon their third encounter. This takes things even further out of proportion for quiet Lily, having watched her sister drown a year later only to responsible for Rose’s abduction and being unable to find a Greek tourist that visited their village. Lily uses her hunting prowess and her druidic ability to talk to land animals as her tool in the Otherworld to find where Rose has been taken. But she remains haunted by her sister’s death and fears to make that mistake again.

A fair amount of this novel was predictable, but that was a lot to do with me being familiar with the tale of Snow White and Rose Red. It wasn’t an exact replica of it, and that made it very interesting. The Irish and Greek cultures represented through a German fairytale retelling was a fantastic amalgamation of cultures which wound up pivotal to the narrative of not just this book, but the rest of the series. That left room for plot twists and elements never seen before in the interpretations of this tale. It didn’t make me mind the predictions much at all. Predictability isn’t always a hindrance for me as long as there’s still some captivating stuff and there was!

The characterisation in this novel was stellar! Both hero and villain felt severely human (even the gods) and the struggles and developments they each went through felt so unique. Lily was especially a favourite of mine. Few books I read have a lead character who is more soft spoken with agency still. Huston wrote her very well. She was by far the most relatable and the most well rounded – a clear favourite.

The way the novel was paced out worked very well too. It almost felt like another fairy tale solely from said pacing and the narrative beats. In fact, the whole vibe was very strong. The worldbuilding, the language, the characters all contributed to make a novel which very much felt like the essence of mythology. I don’t think any other novel I have read has captured this vibe, let along any, in such a great way.

However, where it falls short is the same with many YA fantasy novels that I read. Unearned romance. Rushed romance. Where two characters do in fact make a connection but not quite a strong enough once to where I would call it severe romantic and/or sexual attraction. In fact, the only relationships – even the platonic ones – I actually bought into were the ones already established, such as between Lily and Rose. The others, for the short amount of time they took place in, didn’t earn the results they got.

Even so, I can’t wait to get the paperback of this novel. And it’s sequel that came out last month. and I hear the final book in the trilogy is getting published soon too.

Blood of the Lily gets a score of 4/5. The same old story with a different kind of fairytale spin.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Forgettable, and I Have Proof! – a review of the Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy

I had a moment while reading this book. I read a line early on in the novel that I recognised, had me flashing back to a time where I read this book in high school for one period we had in the library. I didn’t realise I had read this book before when I picked it up prior. And it makes sense, because when I read it the second time I imagined it to be completely different to when I read it the first time.

When I read that line it should’ve been a sign to put the book down.

Heriot was known to have fits which his farming family concealed from all visitors, until the King’s Lord arrives after some mysterious events and rumours that conspired. He has the magical potential to be the Magician of Hoad, a fate that Heriot doesn’t want to take up. Yet he is forced into it, forced to become a shell and a toll for the king’s disposal, for entertainment and political affairs. As he grows he becomes further disconnected from himself, only finding connect with the King’s mad son Dysart through supernatural means.

And somehow he feels the magical essence of the kingdom of Hoad in trouble or something? I don’t know, it was written so bad I couldn’t connect anything together.

None of the characters had either a complete personality or a unique personality. The characters were either very distinguishable in terms of personality from the rest, but you couldn’t tell what their flaws were or if they even made any character development by the time the novel finished. Or they were carbon copies of lords and ladies. I was mostly the latter. My god, how can a cast of characters be so boring? I confused which of the royal men were talking so much that they almost melted together into an amorphous blob. Half the time I couldn’t even tell what motives all these characters had. There had never been such a band palette of characters set before me in my life.

Even a world so small was not built out. This is the number one thing you need to do in fantasy as you tell the story – build out the world. And for all that I described, this whole thing could’ve taken place in my backyard with all the characters shrunken down. There are authors who spend too much time on worldbuilding, but Mahy didn’t spend enough time on that. The canvas was barely painted. It was all aesthetics and no depth, if an aesthetic was even there to begin with. Nothing about this story’s world felt real except the confusing as to how everything worked.

One such aspect was Heriot’s magic, which was barely explored or explained. With the magic being the primary things that makes this story a fantasy story, it was next to never a part of it. It was heavily involved at the start, and then forgotten about until the end with no exploration as to how the powers worked, no explanations as to where this magic came from, and no limits or struggles shown as Heriot used it. Why even make him magical in the first place if it barely impacted the story?

The plot was the main way the story was told, but I could not tell what happened for what reasons. Whatever did try to connect this story was so boring and un-fantasy that, just like the first time I read a fraction of this novel, I’m going to forget it. Half the novel Heriot was moping around in an orchard hutt, then this chick called Linnet was doing nothing but observing random politics going on around her until she discovered she had feelings for the prince, and apparently three years went by after each section or something? But I couldn’t tell you much more.

Actually wait, I can. This book was a massive disappointment. Such a shame from a beloved New Zealand author.

The Magician of Hoad gets a score of 1/5. I forget this book once, I’m bound to forget it again.

Yours in writing

Amy

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This Isn’t The Start Of The Series – a review of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

This book had been on my TBR for over a year – I remember buying it in late 2020 during my lunch break at a Christmas job. And somehow it kept getting pushed back, further and further on my TBR shelf as more intriguing reads tempted me and more series yet to be finished were completed. What was probably an exact year after buying it, I finally decided to read it.

I think the fact it kept getting pushed back in my TBR was a sign.

Galadriel seeks to make an alliance in the Scholomance – the brutal wizarding school meant to protect all those with an arcane affinity but wounds up feeling just as deadly. Only with her being prophesied to become a dark sorceress, she is most weary about those she can trust, the biggest cynic in her junior year. So when the hero of the school, Orion, has continuously saved her from the monsters invading the school, she knows something is odd. Especially with the influx of them. Such a huge influx that could threaten the lives of thousands of students who dwell there.

I really liked El as a character, both conceptually and personality wise. She is a sassy cynic with her defences up who still wishes for deep human connection after depriving herself of it for the past two years. Her personality carries the whole novel very well, one that isn’t seen executed well in many novels from a main character. El is written expertly, without being annoying or contradictory.

That being said, her half-Indian ethnicity was treated very orientally. Before reading this book I heard there was some racist things towards Indian culture in this book, and I can see where it came from. I’m not sure if I would call it racism myself while having studied it for a semester in high school, but I can more strongly identify it as orientalism – the act of taking things from non-western cultures for face value. El’s Indian side took on stereotypes most often found in fiction but all without the spirituality and experiences of actually being Indian. It literally felt like El had a half Indian side so she wasn’t just another white protagonist. I’m not Indian myself, but I have many close friends who are. I understand second hand the experiences and expectations of being Indian, and what El went through wasn’t it. It was superficial.

It felt like there was a infodump every five pages. This was, unfortunately, framed by El’s masterful voice adding anecdotes and miniature history lessons in where the didn’t need to be. Literally in the middle of the final battle she spent a whole paragraph describing how some other student – not the one she had seen – died to a certain kind of monster. The whole worldbuilding relied on these things being told at inappropriate times. There were too many rules introduced too quick. Frankly, this would have been avoided if the story started sooner – there were enough flashbacks to make up at least one additional novel.

That also accounts for how this novel lacked a clear narrative. Said flashbacks created the main narrative in the first half in the middle of mundane magic academy activities, which disrupted the pacing and made me confused as to what the whole point of the story was. It literally wasn’t until the climax that I figured it out by filling in so many blanks that Novik created. It simply started in the wrong place and went downhill from there.

So I do admit that if this was book three or four in the Scholomance series, I may have rated it higher. But maybe Novik should’ve listened to the Sound of Music and started at the very beginning, “a very good place to start”.

A Deadly Education gets a score of 2/5. You simply don’t start a novel in the middle of an entire series.

Yours in writing

Amy

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An Expert Balancing Act – a review of All The King’s Traitors by Keylin Rivers

Being an indie author myself, it shocked me to realise that I hadn’t read a lot of books by other indie authors. I can count the number on one hand. Yikes. And so I set to read my fifth book by an indie author – one who I recently discovered is a fellow Authortuber!

And it’s a banger, you guys! What a book to review as my last one of 2021! (Happy New Years Eve, by the way).

Azanthea is ruled by a God-king, and in this novel we follow six people deemed his traitors. A young teen in recent possession of a Godstone, and a brother protecting him. An orphan fugitive seeking somewhere to be safe, and a soldier fighting between the safety of his wife and his daughter. An heir seeking to overthrow the God-King, and one forced to prove her loyalty to him to survive. These six seek not only the powers they hold, but that of the God-King. His political sway, his array of powers and what may ultimately defeat him. Each of these six may hold a key to defeat him.

Instantly, the magic system and worldbuilding hooked me in. Godstones are wielded by the first person to touch them, manipulating the elements around them. And they came about at the end of the first version of humanity. Firstly, this is one of my favourite kinds of fantasy, where magic is the primary function within the world. And Rivers creates such a unique take on the typical elemental-style casting. The rules surrounding the magic system and the world as a whole are perfectly written, without the need to reference any appendixes or look back and forth between pages. All of it is understandable and totally memorable.

Rivers is further an expert of her novel’s balancing act when it comes to her characters. Six characters with POVs are in this novel and each are explored expertly. In their arcs, in their relevances and in their depth she excels. Writing a large cast of POV characters, and in fact reading, intimidates me. There is too much to keep track of and too little time to understand these characters well. In contrast, this book was an ease to read, keep track of everyone and explore their minds. Each of their charms and motives were very easy to explore and there wasn’t a single character I wasn’t invested in.

Narrative was another aspect used very well. Tension and exploration was very well balanced, and in spite of the many characters everything was revealed with poise and at just the right time for the story to appear cohesive. Tense scenes bunched up together expertly. When characters’ paths converged, the perspectives were used so appropriately that it was uncanny. This book indeed feels perfectly written and I have no complaints whatsoever.

Actually I do have one; I wish book two was out already!

All the King’s Traitors gets a score of 5/5. Expect big things from this series.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Gretel is the Greatest – a review of Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

Finish this book left me with an odd feeling – a disturbance and a satisfaction.

And I loved it.

Raybould Marsh has travelled back in time to save the world from the all-powerful Eidolons, save his daughter from death, and save his marriage that went far too downhill in the future. He must go back to the days of Milkweed in 1939 and stop the secret service’s warlocks from making the one mistake that sent humanity to its doom. Teaming up with his worst enemy, the clairvoyant Gretel, he uses his knowledge from the future to orchestrate his plans from the inside, without revealing his identity to his present self, and to still ensure Great Britain wins the Second World War.

First we need to address the elephant in the room – the sudden inclusion of first person perspective in an entire series that used to be third person. I found it jarring the first time I read it, but I rolled with it. It made sense as to why it was needed – the past and the future version of Marsh had POVs in this novel. There was no way to distinguish the two better than to have the perspectives in such a way. And this wound up making me enjoy the novel a great deal more. I had a bias towards reading his POVs because of how smoothly they read and how deep we got into his mind. I would have loved to have seen this with more characters, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the other third person perspectives for what it’s worth.

Another part I loved was the occasional peak into Gretel’s mind – something I craved when I read the previous novel! We got a taste of it right from page one, her odd charm previously shown in the perspectives of Klaus, Marsh and Will now being seen from her own perspective. Her calculation comes with an ego, and the way her story ended was awfully poetic. In spite of being an exceedingly horrid person, her character is by far my favourite, one I was very thankful to see glances of in this novel. I really want to see more villains like her in future reads.

Having a novel so centred on orchestrated plots can otherwise be difficult to make, but this novel danced around it with such prowess. Granted, it has been years since I read the first book in the series so I have no idea how truly accurate it is, but the butterfly effect was in full swing and I was flying on it. To see the calculations, causes and effects through future Marsh’s perspective was particularly enlightening, while also seeing the results playing out like it did in history. The previous timeline was an alternate history, and it felt enlightening to see the true events play out in this book including the strategic things around Dunkirk.

I think what this book really did the best was the closing of character arcs. I’ve already hinted that Gretel’s character arc was masterfully done, but even both versions of Marsh, Will and Stephenson were done incredibly well. This was expertly done through exploring the themes of morality. No better way to end the series.

Necessary Evil gets a score of 5/5. There had never been a more satisfying ending.

And now it’s series ranking time! The last series I would have finished for 2021.

Bitter Seeds – 4/5, a promising start to a series unlike anything I had ever seen.

Coldest War – 4/5, so dark and yet so compelling.

Necessary Evil – 5/5, the perfect character arcs to end the series.

You will never read a series like the Milkweed Trip. World War Two war strategy, plus supernatural abilities, plus warlocks! The dark magic combining with the exploration of morality fits perfectly into the settings of World War II and the great depression. And the morally grey Gretel will be among the greats. Although this series is very strong and totally deserves a place on my bookshelf, I’m not sure if I ever want to read it again. It was quite dark and one that I wouldn’t recommend to many light hearted people.

The Milkweed Trilogy gets a score of 4.5/5. It’s staying proudly on my bookshelf.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Some Obvious Bias – a review of Dark Destiny by MJ Putney

I dug myself into a hole when I decided to read the third book in the Dark Mirror series. Since my review of the previous book and it being average as all nine hells, I opened this final installment wincing.

A book that should’ve taken me five days to read took me eight instead, PLUS an additional four days to get the guts to read these.

Back in the early 1940s Tori, Cynthia and her fellow mages have saved members of the Rainford family from death and has saved Dr Weiss and his family from Nazi imprisonment. But now these mages have to return to 1804 as the threat of Napoleon invading looms and they must now protect their own land and time. Meanwhile, Rebecca Weiss remains in the 1940s as a French Jew going to a British school, discovering her own magical potential. Such magic may be crucial in defeating Napoleon…

For this being the big battle and the way to conclude the series, it wound up fairly tame. The leads claimed to have found the situation stressful, with the only struggle faced being a broken ankle and them having many feasts and hospitable situations keep their head in the game. It didn’t feel right – more so how the magic system is soft to the point of it being malleable to solve any problem the mages may have. It barely felt like a struggle. Book one featured a greater struggle than in book three – that goes against all narrative logic! Too much was handed to them on a silver platter instead of in a rubbish bag.

As a sucker for World War II fiction, I enjoyed the perspectives from Rebecca and her being welcomed as a Jew in a British community. This part felt the most real and insightful out of anything. I would read the hell out of a novel that was just of Rebecca trying to find a new normal life with the British and the people around her recognising and celebrating her Jewish culture. If there is a story like this, can someone please tell me!

On the flip side, the 1804 society was in comparison completely glossed over. Most of the insights here were fictional due to the inclusion of magic in this world and how pivotal it was in nobility. To me that just screams a bias – at least while researching – towards World War Two. The writing itself showed that especially in this novel, with the world being far more developed in those scenes.

Furthermore, the main character Tori felt nearly useless in this novel. Her power was framed as something so huge, but she was next to never responsible for the story progressing. She was just there for every important moment to boost powers that knowing how bad this magic system is could have been achieved without her help. This is further emphasised by the one thing I hate the most in novels – when the main character doesn’t solve their own problems or achieve their goals. Other people do it for Tori. And that makes me furious at how happy an ending she got.

So in conclusion, I’m glad to finally finish the series, but not that it wasted my time.

Dark Passage gets a score of 2/5. The only parts I loved to death were short lived, like sunshowers in between thunderstorms.

I don’t think I need to do this whole series reviewing thing because you already know my thoughts, but I’ll go through it anyway as per tradition.

Dark Mirror3.5/5, the plot twist blew the whole story out of proportion, but it wound up being a very fun read nonetheless.

Dark Passage2.5/5, never mind, it’s not fun anymore. It’s a drag. So much talking and planning when there needs to be more actin and exploration.

Dark Destiny – 2/5, I just want a book about Rebecca Weiss now. I want that to be the only thing I remember from this series.

The one way to describe this series is never delivering on its promises. I thought this was going to be a series about a secret mage society protecting England to prove their magic to not make them worthless, and instead I got time travel with a warped magic system. This series had such a promising start in spite of the shock over it not being the story written on the blurb. I should’ve seen this as a sign that it was only going to go downhill. This is to the point where I would guess that somebody else may like it more than me – I’m not going to shit on the series any more than I already have. Undoubtedly, this is the most average book series in existence. It is definitely not for me. I hope I haven’t discouraged any potential readers too much.

The Dark Mirror Trilogy gets a score of 2.5/5 It’s going off the bookshelf.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Simply Epic – a review of The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

I recognise that I often read books that were released aeons ago due to most of my novels being thrifted. Now I’ve read a novel that was release in 2021 and I was looking forward to reading as soon as I saw a person of colour on the front cover and found out it was written by a black author. And just writing this blog post I found out she’s an Indie author too, like me!

She has undoubtedly deserved her Indie Bestseller status with this debut.

When Deka bleeds gold blood of demons, her village treats her as one. It is by luck that the Emperor is seeking girls like Deka, impure half-demons who are deemed impure. She is taken away to use her newfound demonic abilities as a new breed of warrior trained to fight the onslaught of Deathshrieks taking away young girls – a force of monsters who keep on growing. However, even amongst her fellow part demons Deka discovers that she is even more absurd than she thought.

I should first mention that this book is definitely not for everyone. It touches heavily on themes of abuse towards females. This may hit too close to home for some people.

Firstly, whenever a patriarchal plot is part of a story I typically feel a bit iffy towards it. Sometimes it hits too much on the nose as an exact reenactment of history, like it was plucked from our world and placed into theirs. The world of the Gilded Ones never felt like that. While some themes coincide with ones from history, it felt like its own history altogether and for that I was far more invested. It made the feminism story and themes feel a lot more genuine and made me root for Deka and her fellow warriors that much more.

Moving on to talk about them, these characters were incredibly real with all their various backgrounds. I really appreciated how diverse, ethnically and personality-wise, everyone was. This can often be the case when there is a large ensemble style cast, but not with this cast. Few characters felt generic, and when they did it wasn’t in a way that made me roll my eyes or gloss over a character totally. It was hard to pick a favourite because of how developed so many of these characters are.

I think I loved the world the most though. While it still had some high fantasy elements present, it heralded its own culture that brought upon an incomparable world. I am here for this! It’s not just how well the feminist aspects of this novel contribute to the world. The monsters, the cities, the people and their religion combined to make a world that I can guarantee is absolutely unique. I think it’s one of my favourite worlds in a book I’ve read so far.

My only complaint would be the second half of the novel felt rushed. Granted this was because a lot of time went by, but it only left me wanting more or wishing a certain aspect was explored further. Furthermore, with the way the novel concluded it didn’t feel like a conclusion suitable for the end of book one. This felt like at least a book two or three ending – it felt too epic for a first book.

Although that might mean that the following novels will end even more epically. For that, I can’t wait until the second book in the series comes out next year.

The Gilded Ones gets a score of 4.5/5. Epic fantasy to make a girl feel epic.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Legacy – a review of Blood and Tempest by Jon Skovron

I didn’t realise how strong of an attachment I had to the Empire of Storms series until I grew excited seeing this book come closer and closer to being next on my TBR list. Maybe it was the high that came from the end of the second book, Bane and Shadow, that made me want to read the final book in the series.

And yes, that means I’m rating the entire trilogy as a whole.

The biomancers and Vinchen are out to seek their so-called traitors threatening to bring them down; Bleak Hope, a secretly trained Vinchen and biomancer slayer seeking repent for her bloodlust, and Brigga Lin, a biomancer who broke the code and seeks vengeance on her mentors for shunning her actions. This comes as the biomancers seek to take further control over the empire, and Red has been recruited by the crown as a spy to help stop them. He must now seek to recruit Brigga Lin and his lost love Hope on his side, whom are deemed powerful allies in this fight.

The fight scenes and tensions were very well done. This was especially shown with how well Skovron writes each character’s perspectives and emphasises through each of them what is at stake. The plot also showed this perfectly as each character orchestrated their plans. Normally I find a large cast of characters weakens the plot, but this was not at all the case with Blood and Tempest. Every character’s purpose felt clear and their involvement was each significant in their own way, as unique as their personalities. As always I am a fan of Red – I may have a crush on him now – but I also love Merivale and Hope.

For this being the book in which Hope and Red finally united, there were very few scenes where they interacted together. Just the two of them, like they did in the first book. There were only two chapters where they significantly interacted, one of those being the final one. I was begging for scenes like this when they reunited, and I got none. It really bummed me out. Granted, most of the final third of the book happened within the same day, but it would have been nice to have more of that. This is personally peeving me and I’m trying not to make this bias rate the book lower because it was still good.

Furthermore, while the resolution was mostly done well – the two pivotal characters of the series were the two characters who didn’t earn their victory. They both literally just used their persuasive bargaining skills and their unique perspectives to fix the world in spite of both of them having fighting prowess. For everyone else, their work was very much merited and they struggled and used their cunning for it. Hope and Red, not so much. This is what takes down the quality of the novel the most for me. The ending always makes it a hit or miss for my opinion on the series.

And as always, fantastic worldbuilding. It was highlighted as so much about the entire world came together in its four demographics – peasant, nobility, biomancers and Vinchen. The political aspects of this novel showed those factions coming together not only for epic fights but to display the relationships and tensions between all the groups put to the test. And I think there was even a POV from a character from each faction. Having studied intercultural based papers, this was incredibly fascinating to see, especially as Hope and Red pulled these representatives together.

I think that’s what this book highlighted and why Hope and Red didn’t have an epic part, because they were the forces that brought everyone together. It was no longer about them, but the people in their lives. I really like that perspective and how it was shown in this novel. After pondering this and realising this in retrospective, I like this story a little bit more. I still wish that Hope and Red could’ve been a bit more romantic with each other though.

Blood and Tempest gets a score of 4/5. It’s no longer the story of Hope and Red, but more so their legacy.

Now it’s time for a series review!

Hope and Red – 3.5/5, though a slow start and with fight scenes glossed over, a very entertaining read.

Bane and Shadow 4/5, an entertaining array of characters and a tonne of tension.

Blood and Tempest – 4/5, an insightful way to end the book that truly shows the impact of the pivotal characters.

This series has it all – engaging characters, tension-filled plots, impeccable worldbuilding… and that’s not even touching the tropes! Dark and twisted magic meets pirates and urban environments in this series. Skovron writes a series with so much character that I look past the occasional flaws this series has, showing a core around themes of redemption, belonging and community. Much like Red I am swooned by the charm of this series, and have been given the same insights that Hope has. I think this series will stick with me for a while.

The Empire of Storms series gets a score of 4/5. This one is a keeper.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Hello Darkness – a review of The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

Two things. First, I have officially finished this year’s reading goals. Way too early, it’s September as I’m writing this.

Second, that was the darkest book I have ever read in my life. Bit timely, considering my last blog post about me not liking horror movies. This was kind of a horror book. Maybe I have a thing for horror literature?

Regardless, it’s appropriate for me to publish this so close to Halloween.

It’s the middle of the Cold War. The Soviet Union has taken technology previously in Nazi hold and their experiments, including siblings Gretel and Klaus. Gretel’s clairvoyance abilities lend her and her brother an escape from their facilities and into England, where the Warlocks that had previously helped in the Nazi’s defeat are now being assassinated. It will take the last remaining Warlock, Gretel and Klaus, and a retired member of the Milkweed Birtish Intelligence force to push their differences aside from the conflicts risen in World War II and dismantle the Soviet facility holding these superhuman experiments.

This was the sequel to Bitter Seeds, the first book in the Milkweed series. Both felt very much the same and yet very different at the same time. I was able to understand it more, for one thing, as after playing D&D I finally knew what warlocks actually were. It was two years since I read the first book in the series, so I was glad all the important points were summarised and I could get back into it remembering enough of what had happened. I don’t know if it was my age at the time, but I read through this novel far easier than its predecessor.

I think it was because it was less war and action focussed. The scenes that did have it were so good because I understood what was at stake better. But the political and strategic moments were at times boring, because what was being said or mentioned sometimes felt hardly at stake. That made me sometimes get less immersed in the story, but luckily the interpersonal conflict drew me back in again quickly. That part of it was absolutely the strongest.

What I loved the most out of this book was how deep into the perspective characters’ minds we got – Marsh, Klaus and Will. I looked over my review of Bitter Seeds that said I would’ve liked to have gone deeper into the perspective of the characters, and in Coldest War that is exactly what I got. I felt for and understood every one of the main characters perfectly and felt for them so much. Fear, the past and the future were very much at the forefront of each of these characters mind and I loved feeling these emotions in each of them. Will was a favourite of mine just for his varying stances on morality alone.

Gretel once again shone, however, as my favourite character. She was framed as the literal manifestation of the plot, and she literally is. In this book we see what sliver of humanity she shows the rest of the world and understand her motives without going into her head. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to, and it was wise for Tregillis to write her like that because it makes her so enjoyable. Her personality it just too intriguing from the outside.

Also, this novel was dark as the pits of hell. At some times this put me off because I had to sit back and process what was happening. This novel is absolutely not for the faint-hearted. I had a love hate relationship with how dark it got. Every chapter I read I felt disturbed in some form, but I really wanted there to be more breaks in it. There would have been so many more heartfelt moments to be achieved between characters – family relationships were a key part of this story which was not explored enough. I think I probably only felt calm for a third of a chapter. Must lend itself more to the horror genre then.

The Coldest War gets a score of 4/5. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, but those brave enough for it should absolutely read it.

Yours in writing

Amy