Beyond the Empire

The Best Golden Trio – a review of Beyond the Empire by K.B. Wagers

This was the final series I was able to finish in 2022, and it’s quite wholesome with the values this series holds. This is the first non-dystopian sci fi series I’ve ever liked and I’m so glad I found this on a reading list somewhere and scored the first book second hand. We’ll talk more about the whole series in a bit, but first we half to talk about the book that closed it all.

Empress Hail Bristol now has her sights sets on killing Wilson, the man responsible for the death of everyone in her family. When he knows everything about her and her every move, this proves a difficult task. Even more so when she still has to return home and thwart the forces keeping her away. Hail has to put faith in her allies despite the pain of losing them in order to work out more about Wilson, any weakness he may have, and kill him before she gets to her beloved. Then her.

Hail, Zin and Emmory continue to be highlights as the three main characters. Still their vibes are so good and undeniable, feeling like they’ve known each other for years when Hail was only a part of this for months. Every single time these characters and their interpersonal conflicts, though on the resolution end of their arcs, always feel the realest and Wagers has a clear passion for these guys.

Other characters are still lacking in comparison to the main three. They blend together a little too easily where some of their deaths don’t make the impact they do as I struggle to remember who they are. This may be a product of me not binging the series all at once, but it still got problems nonetheless. Big casts are hard to manage after all, for author and reader alike.

The third act was the clear highlight of the novel. It really showcased the power of the villain, Wilson, unlike other times in the novel. He was previously a very passive villain who claimed to have every other villain on puppet strings. But the third act was all Wilson and it truly showed how cunning he was. It made his reputation finally be worth his name to see what Hail and her allies had to go through simply to get a single hit on him.

I will admit the end felt both hollow and not. I think that was the point. This isn’t the first ending that works but isn’t satisfying that I have come across, but I saw the point of this one clearer than previous ones. I will say it does lessen my view of the series, being a person that hinges on endings making or breaking stories so much. This just makes one very passable. I guess others would feel differently, but it wasn’t exactly a big whoop for me. I won’t complain.

Beyond the Empire gets a score of 4/5. The best golden trio is in this book.

Now that the series is over, we gotta review it as a whole.

Behind the Throne – 5/5, the book that finally got me into sci fi with rich worldbuilding galore.

After the Crown – 4/5, all goes to Hell in the best way possible.

Beyond the Empire – 4/5, a golden trio and a villain who truly get their chances to shine.

I’d recommend this series as an ideal gateway for fantasy readers looking to get into sci fi. The rich worldbuilding and easy to understand tech implements sci fi is known for make this a very engaging read from the world alone. Pair that with a brilliant written protagonist with the best bodyguards by her side. I wish that more background characters garnered more attention and personality, but with a trio like that and so many highs, who can complain?

The Indranan War gets a score of 4/5. This series is a keeper.

Yours in writing

Amy

Rebel

Mundane, Not Magical – a review of Rebel by RJ Anderson

Trust your younger self. That is the lesson I got after reading this novel – and trying to read it – for the second time.

Oh, I didn’t get that lesson from the actual book itself. In fact, when I first tried to read the sequel to the cozy and pure urban fantasy Knife I did not finish it because it lost my interest. I thought that was a product of my age. It wasn’t. I should’ve taken that as a warning to never try book 2 in this series again.

Timothy doesn’t know that his older cousin and his wife are protecting a fairy’s home. Not until he runs away with one desperately needing his help. With the magic from the oak where she resides fading away, Linden seeks Timothy’s help to find anything to restore the magic in London or beyond. But new histories of fairies meet Linden’s ears as she learns the true story of her people, and now she has more than she own home to save.

The plot kept fluctuating between interesting and dull. Well, more so dull. Because when I thought it could be interesting the direction taken was such a bad and predictable cliche that made this novel’s plotline feel like a copy of every existing novel ever, even outside of the genre. It was left with such disappointment on this emotional rollercoaster.

All the character and magic that the first book had was lost. And I don’t even mean that in terms of plot! The predecessor had such rich worldbuilding in such a small location with such a great fairy aesthetic that felt super raw. This one felt like every generic fish out of water object quest I have ever seen in the media. I do not know how all of the character from the previous novel got so drastically drained from what was once magical! And the irony is there were buttloads more magics in the sequel.

As for the characters themselves, they lost their personality the longer the novel went on. That was such a shame for lead character Tim because he had such a promising start as a lead – prone to fights, music lover, struggling with his faith and fitting in after moving from South Africa… all that was lost the minute a bland ass do-gooder fairy named Linden (clear Mary Sue material against all but the BBEG) entered his life.

I’ll just say read Knife as a standalone. You don’t need to know about the rest of the world at all. The bigger the world gets, the duller it becomes.

Rebel gets a score of 1.5//5. Not the lowest rated, but easily the most disappointing read in a very long time.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Everything’s Split – a review of Fractured by Teri Terry

Slated was one of my favourite books last year and high up there as one of my favourite sci fi stories of all time. Granted I haven’t consumed many. But I was thrilled to get into the sequel now that questions have been answered. And more rose throughout.

Kyla now knows about the other half of her, the one that wasn’t erased by the government. And she has found an old mentor who has been hinting about it all this time and ushering her to join the freedom-fighting FreeUK. When Kyla finally has the faith to seek him out she must decide whether his instructions are faithful or not as more flashbacks contradict his words. Does she want to live in ignorance with the happy, normal life she was reprogrammed to have? Or has she the guts and the power to take down the government, whatever it takes?

I wished there was more worldbuilding exploration like in the last book. While it was subversive to stay in the same town, the locations didn’t feel fresh or further explored. This was very much a character and interpersonal centred exploration hinging around FreeUK and their goals. It doesn’t make me too mad, but it made me disappointed. With how much the world hooked me last time it failed to do so this time around. Luckily there were other things to keep it going strong.

Kyla’s character weakened ever so slightly but her arc strengthened. I’m guessing the weakness being how she flipped and flopped between decisions was understandable considering she had two personalities present in her for most of this book, but her struggle with that and with which side to play to was exemplary. It really makes her an everywoman. The struggles she faced felt very real and relatable this whole time, along with her reactions and the things she got put through.

Another character worth noting was Nico. The more you read about him, the more engaging his character gets and you really experience certain emotions about him. I won’t say what specifically due to spoilers, but him and Kyla are arguably the strongest out of a weak bunch of characters. Their interactions run the whole show and it was always entertaining when they were in scenes together.

The plot was very tense and kept me on the edge of my seat a lot. Being character driven, it always came down to how someone would react and what someone was planning, and to see that through the sometimes naive and sometimes keen perceptions that Kyla held as the first person narrator was tense. Getting in her brain during those moments were fantastic.

But with the events that came out of the end of this book, I’m keen to see how all this changes when Kyla becomes her own person in the final installment. Stay tuned for that review later this year.

Fractured gets a score of 4/5. Unlike Kyla, I’m not split on this one.

Yours in writing

Amy

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It’s Not the End! – a review of The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon

It feels like a relief to review a third book in a series and have it not be the final installment. Aren’t you sick of the number of trilogies on shelves lately? Thank goodness Samantha Shannon exists and decided to make a seven book series (to my knowledge). We’re almost halfway through and it ain’t even fully published yet, but here we go reviewing book three!

Clairvoyants are under threat as SCION rolls out technology to detect lower classes of clairvoyants, making them easier to kill on sight. And this is just the start. As the Clairvoyants of London go underground, Mime Queen Paige Mahoney steps up. She seeks out the locations they’re building these devices to work out the root of the problem and destroy it. All the while she meets a new enemy who knows everything about her, and she’s always one step ahead of Paige as she races against one of the coldest human minds in the world.

This had the strongest plot, and by far my most favourite, out of the series thus far. You know what you’re getting from the start, and it delivers like we wish delivery companies wish they would. The goals are clear, the consequences of failure are equally clear and it makes for a very tight plotline. It made for the best pacing in the series yet as each problem Scion’s technology created was solved to the best of the character’s ability.

It was good to see the world built out across the UK and Ireland. As I’ve mentioned again and again, worldbuilding is a strong point of Shannon’s work. And you can tell it with each city Paige and her Mime Order visits. Each had uniqueness and character to distinguish them from each other while still being under the same government and control systems. From the polluted streets of Manchester to the militant Edinburgh and the cultural influences both had. It really brings a lot more character to this dystopia that other novels fail to do or differentiate to a comedic degree. Shannon knows what she’s doing.

Character was starting to fall flat a little bit however. While I like how Paige’s main arc surrounds her newfound leadership position and the decisions she makes surrounding it at times of crisis, it felt underutilised. It disappeared after the first act. Combine that with some other weird decisions she makes to have conflict for the sake of it which winds up being redundant in the end, and you get Paige’s odd arc. Side characters blended together too and were more recognised for their roles than their personalities.

In spite of characters falling flat their relationships were very well grounded and explored. That was where Paige and the other characters shone – with each other. How they each helped with their arcs, betrayed each other, made decisions. That was really engaging. It wound up being very gripping in the climax for spoilery reasons.

All in all, three books in I’m glad I gave this series a chance. Here’s to reading book four in a couple of months!

The Song Rising gets a score of 4/5. We’re continuing very happily with this series.

Yours in writing

Amy

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It’s Fine – a review of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

There’s been a trend so far with me picking up BookTok favourites. I say that but this is only the second one I’ve picked up. BookTok books just aren’t for me.

Once a soldier, now the key to saving her kingdom. Alina reveals a radiant magic hidden within her in a life or death moment. This captures the attention of the crown prince, also renowned for his magic, who whisks Alina away to a life of both luxury and vigorous training. Alina must find her purpose in court, her magic she struggles to unlock and the solution to quelling the dark magic that has split the land in two. But the problem may be bigger than what she’s been told.

The main character was an interesting case. I cannot tell you a thing about her personality because it was either so generic or changed so much. Alina was passive one moment and snappy the next, willing to fight the villain and then surrender the next. You couldn’t tell much about her personality beyond how she saw herself and other people. But she wasn’t annoying. And thank god she wasn’t defined by her career or hobbies which just added small details to her. Her decisions still makes sense, and she’s far from the sassy stereotype most heroes follow in YA fantasy. So while she does the job, Alina doesn’t quite feel compelling for me.

The worldbuilding and cultural inspirations intrigued me. While I usually roll eyes or ignore European inspired worldbuilding found in most fantasies, the Slavic inspirations in Shadow and Bones felt evident and refreshing. Especially the time periods they took on where firearms are used and introduced – early to mid 1800s I think? It works excellently with the theme, with the cold wintery vibes and environments linking to the dark period of history the world has succumbed to. This made the world feel refreshing as a fantasy world.

That being said, the plot felt generic, superficial and predictable. While the world had character above and beyond, the story did not. I’m wondering if this is something that fantasy classics have made us misinterpret about the fantasy genre – that the worldbuilding makes the story. It didn’t here. Even stuff framed as a plot twist or something climactic felt doable or obvious and it just made me disappointed. An ‘Oh, of course!’ filtered in every couple of chapters, y’know? Maybe the way tropes paired up gave me that perspective.

But the writing style was a huge plus. It made many great descriptions and helped visualise that world very well. I wouldn’t feel the way I did about the world and characters and the plot for the most part if it weren’t for the narrative voice. That was the most solid and consistent throughout and made the experience all in all ethereal in spite of a lot of common tropes paired together.

All in all, this is again a book that will be good for somebody else. But that someone isn’t really me. I’m not calling anyone boring for liking this, because this is just fine. And just fine is not something I’m willing to attach myself to.

Shadow and Bone gets a score of 3.5/5. I’m just fine. So is this book.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Good Glamour – a review of The Heart of the Ritz by Luke Devenish

World War II fiction. I’ve ready plenty that take place in Germany, Poland and Britain, but this novel delves into a country I didn’t realise was so greatly affected until I read it.

We’re going to France folks!

Polly Hartford moves from Australia to France after her father’s untimely suicide to live in the glamour of Paris with her prestigious aunt. However, when she also dies she is left in the company of her three best friends. An American expat, a silent film actress and a Comtesse. The four stay in their second home, The Ritz hotel, and teach Polly about the finer things in life. But she doesn’t have rose coloured glasses on when the Second World War inches ever closer, and eventually hits, Paris. As Wermacht soldiers make The Ritz their home, she’s not the only one with secrets to keep. And definitely not the only one with the courage or cunning to get rid of them.

Characters were great in this novel, especially when you learn about the historical people who inspired them. Many of these characters come from the same, if not similar, walks of life. Not a single one of them felt the same in spite of it. Each so well rounded with their fears, their secrets and the actions they took to further personal and selfless agendas. This was only improved in the afterword when Devenish explained his inspirations for each character. A lot of care was definitely put into each of them.

I will say that the pacing made this novel fall flat in places. A lot of it felt very slow and between POVs monotonous. That made more than one moment not hit as hard as it would have. Some of these moments I even doubted, knowing the multitude of secrets these characters were keeping anyway. For instance, when certain characters died it never quite hit me hard enough. To this day I doubt their deaths. Um, spoiler alert?

This book felt less like a narrative and more like a representation of history, however I didn’t mind. This was due to character arcs being the focus over grandier narratives, making the external events of the Nazi invasion a backdrop to character growth. I mean, that’s how life is, isn’t it? I liked how real it made the novel feel. A history buff may prefer reading this to a novel with a more typical arc.

Heart of the Ritz gets a score of 3.5/5. Characters pull forth the brunt of this novel… with style.

Yours in writing

Amy

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It’s Corn! – a review of Renegades by Marissa Meyer

One of my friends might hate me for this. She recommended this book to me and I’m about to put it to shame. Sorryyyyyyyy.

Those born with superpowers walk either the line of the hero or the villain, and in the age where the Renegades govern and protect their people the line draws finer. Nova, an Anarchist whose hatred for the Renegades stems from them not coming to save her family, seeks to take them down and for humanity to lose their apathy within a crisis. Meanwhile Adrian poses as a vigilante alongside his Renegade position, taking the steps and measures the Renegades don’t have the guts to due to a corrupt code. These two keep their secrets tight when their paths cross, each preventing a terrible fate to their respective allies as plans unfold.

Worldbuilding served well in this novel. It became very clear the way this world worked from the get go, and exploring various hierarchies and law within the Renegades who govern it was very clear a lot of thought was put into this. The psychology and social studies of a world run by heroes was very clear and very well done, seeing regular humans gain apathy and putting blind faith into superheros who may not deserve the powers they hold.

While the characters had good motivations, I couldn’t pinpoint personality for a lot of them. The good guys acted the same, the bad guys acted the same. A lot of their personalities hinged around their powers, some of them in great ways and others in bizarre ways. It was a very mixed bag altogether, making these characters feel like a cartoon you’d catch on Saturday morning in the nineties.

This didn’t help with how corny this is. It felt Meyer was getting a lawsuit if she didn’t mention superheroes or villains every chapter. Or mention good and evil. Have characters contemplate or deny what side they stood on. God, it felt like I was being talked down to. The superhero genre saturates modern media enough for me to get the points she’s making with this novel and I kept wishing the story would move along and get to action like in the actual blockbusters showing in the cinemas right now.

Yes, you heard me. The plot was so freaking slow. It took forever to get into the second act of the novel because the lead female was too scared. Not to mention how many decisions the two characters made based on random affection for each other that was only there to move the plot along it felt like. Said affection, which I should add, had no payoff. And then not enough change happen to warrant this book as a fully fledged three act structure. My god, did the ending feel off and pessimistic.

I just realised that the longer I write this review the more mad I get about this book. Better stop writing before I rate it once star because a smidgen of good was in this.

Renegades gets a score of 2/5. Say superhero one more time. I dare you.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Largest Hidden Gem – a review of Bad Faith by Jon Hollins

Finishing a series is much like tossing a coin. It will ruin the series for you or make it. It would be simple to just say that this final installment in the Dragon Lords trilogy had what the other books did and more. But you want details, so I must oblige.

The world is taken over by a single god whom outlaws order and embraces anarchy. Death and neglect spreads across the land under his guidance, or lack thereof. A rebellion dwindles in attempts to take him down, lead by a sorcerer balancing vengeance and the greater good. She will need help from first, the tyrants who once ruled the land wanting to take it back again, and second, allies that helped her free Kondorra for at least a year. The only problem is those allies are trying to escape the afterlife with enough power to kill a god again.

We gotta talk about how dark this novel was compared to the previous ones. Starting the series you would have never expected it to end like this, but it works so damn well I cannot express it enough. The cliffhanger the final book left you on was only the door to this darkness, which hit so hard even with the absurdity of so much more. What made you laugh before felt nearly sarcastic and maddening in this novel. Oh my god, was it entrancing.

Morality, greater good and power were central to this novel. And that was central to everyone’s character arc. Ethical frameworks was a favourite paper for me to study in university, and to see it in a fantasy world was like chocolate without the guilt. I was indulging in everyone’s arc and how they coped and battled with their morals. I love stories where people follow the same arc in different ways.

Lastly we need to talk full circles. This plot created a full circle moment in events, in characters and so many more moments. The entire plot was just plain brilliant. So much fell into place and made sense from the get go, combining with characters so cunning that the line between plot driven story and character driven story is blurred beyond recognition. This is a magnum opus of storytelling.

Such a magnum opus that I don’t know why it isn’t more popular. But more on that when we get to the series review.

Bad Faith gets a score of 5/5. That is how you finish a fucking series.

So now let’s into the series rating. Man, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. The last one was Arc of a Scythe which I completed back in January.

Fool’s Gold – 5/5, a D&D inspired wild ride of chaos and coin.

False Idols – 5/5, a perfect sequel and continuation of the motley crew’s lives as things get serious.

Bad Faith – 5/5/, going full circle in darkness and grit.

If five stars across the board didn’t convince you to pick up the series right now, maybe my anger that this series isn’t talked about more will. Not only does it have some of the most popular fantasy tropes right now (found family and dragons) but this series is totally unafraid and unfiltered. It makes you laugh until you piss yourself, shake your hands in fear and drop the book in shock. This will be my number one fantasy recommendation for literally any fan of the genre – Tolkein fans, those looking for a high fantasy gateway, D&D nerds… the list goes on and on. I will fight to get this the most talked about series in the world and knock Sarah J. Maas off her throne.

The Dragon Lords gets a score of 5/5. This is prized on my bookshelf.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Close the Door on this Open Ending- a review of There There by Tommy Orange

Upon expanding the representation of BIPOC on my bookshelves, I got drawn to Native American culture. This was one that came highly rated upon searching for this criteria with a premise that allowed meto give it a go.

Urban Native Americans, ones in touch with a culture they will never truly see. The Big Oakland Powwow brings many Native Americans together. Some seek to find their families again, others to connect with family slowly drifting away from them. Some are so in touch with their cultures and others wish to be part of that culture again, just to observe the events or to actually come to run and take part in it. There There follows twelve of them coming to the Powwow for celebration… And some come with more sinister intentions in the midst of crime and drug dealerships. Regardless, these twelve all have something to overcome and discover.

Each character in this novel was so well developed and each so unique. With the characters and their unique stories alone, this feels like the Native American interpretation of In The Heights minus the optimism and musical numbers. There was such a diversity of goals, as with any group of characters, but seeing cultural connections tie them together added a lot of meaning to the ensemble. Especially when their narratives brought them together and wove them into this blanket collection of stories. The characters by far made this story what it is and it the pure core of it.

One thing still confuses me – why were the POVs in different personages, even for specific characters? At first I thought the first person perspectives were of the survivors and the third the ones who would die, but then individual POVs changed from first to third in different chapters too. And then one was randomly in second person. This really dragged me out of the story as I failed to find significance in this. and I’m now convinced it was some kind of editing error. I mean, there probably was some kind of meaning behind it, but I can’t see it even now to save my life. This will genuinely haunt me for years.

Another thing I was unsure of is the ending. It made me confused as to what the point of this story was at the end. It was an open ending, yes, but that’s not always something I’m mad about. But an open ending that leaves you confused is not a good open ending. I pity the fate of the characters and found that good, but a lot of the arcs of characters felt unfulfilled. And there was a lot of them with POVs. And ending can make or break a story for me, and let’s just say it broke this one after a very strong beginning with very strong characters.

I should finish by respecting the intention of this novel and the things I learned about modern Native American culture while reading this. I’m happy to take that as a giveaway with a story I didn’t wound up enjoying enough.

There There gets a score of 3/5. An opening ending that doesn’t appeal.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Everybody’s Sad- a review of After the Crown by K.B. Wagers

I was excited to dive back into sci fi again when this book crept up my TBR. My last read was mediocre after the epicness of Behind the Throne got me into the genre proper. This was a read I looked forward to immensely.

This didn’t disappoint, but it didn’t enamour me either.

Hail, now the empress of the Indranan Empire, now holds full control of ensuring her and her people’s safety. Or so she thought. It’s no doubt that people still want her dead, and she’s taking steps to evoke fear in her enemy’s hearts and captivating the hearts of people she wants on her side. And as things take turns for the worse, Hail will have to hope that her gunrunner allies still side with her. It is after all becoming difficult to work out who in the Empire is really on her side.

Character is where Wagers shines in this novel. Grief hinged on a lot of characters this installment, and it was great to see people within the same arc overcome it in different ways. Interpret it in different ways. Deaths from the first book and this one brought a lot of sadness to mellow out action scenes and explore characters. And then to come together the way that they did, there ain’t nothing better than characters breaking down together.

The politics took an all new level in this, but at times it was hard to follow. You were able to get the bigger picture, but details wound up lost on me. It was getting difficult to remember who had what title and whom sided with whom. But that mainly mattered in the first half. The stakes were absolutely amped come the midpoint! The story A was very different to the story B but still flowed so well and lead to fantastic plot as the politics turned red. Very red. Though to go back to the negative, the climax was tech heavy, kind of confusing and way less intense than the midpoint in my opinion.

The world, or worlds, were built up and explored in a very intriguing way. I was a huge fan of the bits and pieces of cultural inspiration in each world. The Indranan Empire takes inspiration from Asia, creating futuristic interpretations of cultures straight out of Cyberpunk and Mad Max. Planet based sci fi never felt so colourful and vibrant to me before with this interpretation. It makes the visuals of Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy look vanilla next to Neapolitan. This is fresh, people.

That leaves one book left in the series with an empire to save. After this book, I still expect epicness. Don’t disappoint me, Wagers.

After the Crown gets a score of 4/5. Drama, Bloodshed, visual art coming to life in your mind. What more could you ask?

Yours in writing

Amy

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We Live In Dystopia – a review of Slated by Teri Terry

Do you know how hard it has been to find an enjoyable dystopian novel? I’ve DNFed or discarded six or so dystopian books in a row for multiple reasons, some of which you many have seen me slander in my reviews.

Today we’re changing things up. This is a dystopian novel I am now praising.

After having her memory wiped by the British government, Kyla has to settle into life with her new family, in her new school and with new friends who have been Slated just like her. For most this is a pleasant journey of learning about themselves and self discovery, but not for Kyla. She’s been getting nightmares of what she soon discovers is her past – before her memory was wiped. And she’s noticed things that others haven’t – people who get taken away and why, ways that her body and mind work differently, motivations of government terrorists. And she fears she was once one of them.

This dystopia felt very contemporary at the same time and I loved the world and messages that made. It felt perhaps thirty years ahead of life today, opening the possibility of our very own societies being dystopian to foreign eyes. I love worlds like that. Combined with the contemporary view of relationships, fitting in while not fitting in and a life that’s a distorted reflection of our own, this made the world of Slated feel more real than ever.

With this being our first time in this world, I liked how personal and small the plot was this instance. This made for a very easy plot to follow, clear stakes and goals, and a main character who felt very grounded in the world. Individuals being at stake rather than an entire population was a great trajectory for this first novel rather than straight away going into rebellion like in other dystopias I’ve read.

Kyla’s character shone like a supernova. For being a literal blank slate character she had so much personality and depth and continued to do so in the process of finding herself. I kid you not, she had more personality than many other YA protagonists who didn’t have their personalities completely wiped from them. We learn so much about how Kyla’s brain is wired and how that relates to the way she is made to think. I love how in depth we can see her brain ticking.

The other characters were great too. They were very easy to identify in a room based on mannerisms and body language, easy to spot in dialogue based on speech and each of them different breeds in subtle ways. What more was how genuine these relationships and connections felt between Kyla’s closets friends and the revelations she learns about each of them. This felt believable, giving purity to the darker edges of a dystopian world.

A world which I look forward to diving back into at that.

Slated gets a score of 4.5/5. Reality through a distorted mirror is something we all should learn from.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Fairy Grit – a review of Knife by R.J. Anderson

It’s yet another pre-teen throwback! This was the first in the trilogy that I never wound up reading all of. I’m not entirely sure why. It might have been due to my library rental period running out? Ah well, at least as an adult I can get the book for myself again.

I found myself loving this book for reasons my younger self didn’t see prior.

Bryony is a fairy living in the great oak who longs for adventure in spite of the dangers outside, one such longing that lead to her encountering a human. Her years of punishment and ostracization over it come to a close when she become the apprentice hunter for the clan. However, her outside discoveries leave more questions than answers as she comes across question after question – why do fairies look so similar to humans? Why don’t they have magic anymore? Why does she feel depressed every day she’s away from her newfound human companion?

The premise of this book hinges on not being like other fairy stories. When I was younger this wound up perfect for me having read a hundred fairy related books when I was under 10 and was starting to get into grittier middle grade fantasy books. This book served as the perfect way for me to continue reading about fairies without “childish embarrassment”. It serves very well for that even today. I haven’t read a book with a pixie or fairy in it for ages and it felt so good to again with this mature take. I love a fairy that isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

Character is a strong suit of Anderson’s, if not her strongest. It is very easy to get motivations of a character when you learn about them, which is by far the most important part of a character. She nails that like nothing. Those motivations become the building blocks for every character in this novel, from Bryony’s want to live a life unprotected by her queen to Paul wanting his life to have purpose again.

It was also fascinating for a world so small to be built out so much. To built out the scope for you, a majority of this novel took place in a house and backyard. But my god does this house and backyard have such a history built on so little! I don’t want to spoil a single detail. But as the series does suggest, this is no ordinary fairytale. It is never what you would expect, so I’m giving you no expectations but to expect that. This single tree that all of fairykind lives in, pun intended, has deep roots.

This novel had so many different kinds of plots in it to entertain you. Fantasy romance? You got it. Political mystery? Hell yes. Woodland mushroom fantasies? Metric buttloads. This is without a doubt the perfect bite sized book to get people into contemporary fantasy. Lore that’s easy to memorise and take in, a romance that’s easy to root for, an easily explained magic system and of course wacky hijinks. Who doesn’t love wacky hijinks?

So childhood me was right with book one. Now I have the remainder of a trilogy to complete for the first time…

Knife gets a score of 4.5/5.I’m so glad my childhood love of fairies made me pick up this book.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Feminazi Agenda – a review of The Merciless Ones by Namina Forna

I have never been in a position where I have waited for the next book in a series to come out so desperately until I read The Gilded Ones. And was I ever so glad to pick up the next book in the Deathless series after waiting for over a year since I read book one.

Was it worth the wait? Hell and back again, yes.

Deka awakening the Gilded Ones in a bid to free females from the patriarchy was meant to solve all problems, not bring more war and death to her kind. Still, as the Nuru it is her and her friends’ duty to fight for it. However, after rescuing another divine figure from oppression she discovers that the oppressors may have something more powerful than the goddesses she follows. It is now her duty to find out more about these potential weapons and priests to stop them. However, more about the world gets brought to her eyes the deeper she searches, and lies about all she knew come to light.

The action in this was phenomenal and always had me on the edge of my seat! What really captivated me this time was how in these action scenes there was always so much more to focus on than just the task at hand. Forna knows how to emphasise stakes and dive into a character’s mind during battle, be it fear or curiosity, and to shape the battle to recite a character’s mindset.

Character was another strong suit in this novel. Trauma was a common adversary amongst Deka and her allies, which was fascinating to explore amongst all of them. And even then each had their own arcs to follow. Deka and Britta were favourites of mine for their friendship alone. I want a best friend like what they’ve got going on. Minus the whole bloodshed and warrior lifestyle maybe.

Worldbuilding was expanded upon so well. So much was culturally and politically shared during this is made my heart sing to see the world expanded. The world was clearly reacting to the events of the previous book in the series and it impacted the plot so well. No single decision or repercussion was ignored. And the mythos of this world too! Such a great mythos and exploration of magic along the way.

All in all, in the way the plot and themes were developed this book is a perfect sequel. It all made great sense in developing the discussion of feminism and non-male rights. I haven’t read a book, or a series, that talked about this topic so well, so insightfully and so un-campy. Which makes sense considering Forna’s educational background. It is a blessing for her to bring her studies and her own insights into this book for people to read. Minus the triggers, I think anyone should be reading this for the valuable insights it contains about feminism and not feminazis.

The Merciless Ones gets a score of 5/5. A perfect score for a perfect sequel that left an impact on my feminist viewpoints.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Humans are Pop Culture – a review of The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow

The Ilori have taken over the Earth and are shaping it to their vision, and forms of self expression are made illegal to minimise the spread of rebellion. But two beings have found ways to fight against it. First is Ellie, a human providing salvation to her peers through a small library of books she hid. Second is Morris, a lab made Ilori and human sympathiser in love with pop music. When their paths cross, they band together in order to find ways to save each other from getting caught by the Ilori and to find a way to save the world from being turned into lifeless hosts waiting to be possessed.

What drew me to this book was the asexual representation in it. Both main characters Ellie and Morris identify on this spectrum. While it was nice to see them, it wasn’t as revolutionary as other novels with ace leads. And that’s not always a bad thing! We need more stories like this where it is explored but not taking over the whole plot. And I respect the novel for doing that in ways that I strive to. I guess I kind of expected something revolutionary when people recommended this to me as a book with ace rep.

But that didn’t make me like the characters. Even the ones who weren’t ace I found immensely unrelatable. It’s hard to explain – they were both too generic and too untouchable at the same time. I will credit the motivations the characters had were solid, but for some of them that plus their hobbies wound up defining their entire personality. That’s a major character pet peeve for me! If I can’t define a character in three traits like in the Sims, I don’t consider them fully developed. And those traits don’t relate to their goals of freedom or their love of books.

But enough mediocrity and disappointment, let’s talk the best part of this novel – worldbuilding. It feels very rooted in it’s near futureness, that even with the take on aliens it felt like something that could actually happen. Protests, climate change and more make the prologue of this novel, and the alien race of Illori has come to monitor humanity and fix the issues on the planet. Albeit to their vision, it is still a very interesting take to start. It makes for a good hook to start this novel.

Sadly the relationship, plot and worldbuilding was cast into shadow by pop culture. I’m not hating on it, just the way that it is used. Books, bands and clothing references were found on every page. It’s like the author was getting paid by every single company who owned these pop culture pieces to reference them, and each time she did she earned ten dollars. It’s not seriously that big today, right?

If that’s what the author thinks humanity is, I may have lost my faith in it. There’s more to us than the songs we sing.

The Sound of Stars gets a score of 2/5. Humanity isn’t so shallow.

Yours in writing

Amy

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I Like Math Now – a review of The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

I find it ironic now, looking back on my past and my ever vague connections to this book. I was pushed ahead a year for maths in High School, though my marks weren’t exactly spectacular. I learnt imaginary numbers and calculus when I didn’t need it for my degree, especially when all my others subjects sans one was writing based.

And this book is where those two worlds of mine, in a sense, collided.

Katherine is a half-chinese mathematician looking to pave her way forward in the field and tackle the unsolvable. And her greatest struggle in her career was never the problems she had to solve. In a career field dominated by males, everyone around her has given her nothing but doubt. Even those she trusted had stopped her from becoming known, stolen her credit and gone against her career morals. But that still isn’t her greatest struggle. It is discovering the full truth behind her past, one she previously never doubted to be anything but true.

Going into this novel I expected to be bombarded with math terms I had to quickly adapt to, but I got none of that at all. It wound up being a very different story with more depth and insight than the study of. maths itself. It created a very interesting backdrop, similar to stories like Hidden Figures and The Imitation Game but without the focus on the goals they pursue. It feels organic and ordinary in comparison, just going into the story of someone with a passion.

That someone is the protagonist, Katherine. Katherine’s voice and character made for a very beautiful way to tell the story, through insights, anecdotes and very beautiful imagery. It breaks the stereotype of cold and hard calculations coming from scientific minds on every matter they come across. Katherine is very sensitive and perceptive in the way she sees her world, which is reflected in her voice and Chung’s writing style. This was a style I very much enjoyed, encouraging me to read more of her works in the future.

One thing I really enjoyed about this was a refreshing take on feminism as a theme in this story. I’ll admit that I’m tired of seeing stale feminist stories about overthrowing patriarchies or breaking rules being set by men. The Tenth Muse features a new take, where Katherine being the first female to study in her field is not caring for the fact that she’s a female and doing it. It became a very refreshing perspective, for someone wanting to be recognised for their talent and worth and not their gender in the field. A very equitable look on feminism that I’m inclined to agree with after reading it. While it is good for someone of a minority to make pursuits or huge strides in a field they’re not normally a part of, it is not glorious. Glory is earned, as is Katherine’s pursuits and how she wants to succeed in her goals.

This is a book that opened my mind. This is a book that anyone could love. Even if you’re not female identifying, this overs fantastic perspectives into so much in life. And it’s very easy to read. This will become a go-to recommendation for me.

The Tenth Muse gets a score of 5/5. Books about math can be good guys!

Yours in writing

Amy