Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I’ve read some powerful fantasy this year & Ava Reid’s The Wolf & the Woodsman is one of them, telling a story that hits like a bag of bricks. This book wrestles with questions of magic & faith & left me with a hopeful feeling, even if it is slightly tempered by what this romance reader would call a somewhat precarious HFN.
Unlike others in her village Évike can’t do magic. Every year her community must sacrifice one of their own to the Woodsmen on Woodsman Day & this year, it’s Évike, who’s sent in someone else’s place & against her will.
Despite the fact that she doesn’t quite fit in with the people in her community, like them she’s considered pagan & referred to as wolf-girl by the woodsmen.
But on their journey Évike wonders if there’s more to the enemy Captain who’s taken her & who leads their group than the sternness & eyepatch that first drew her attention. He blushes; he’s not a warrior despite his position as leader; he shows his feelings of guilt when his actions conflict with his religious beliefs.
But that’s the thing—no matter how drawn Évike & the Captain are to the other, he & his people believe that “faith”—in actuality, magic—is accessed most through bodily sacrifice. Thus his missing eye. & he holds himself to a set of impossible faith-based standards, which he himself struggles with because they don’t always match what seems morally best.
& she’s trying to determine her own path forward, as someone who doesn’t share his beliefs or his preoccupation with “perfection” & as someone who’s both tied to her village & ostracized within it. As someone who, as she says earlier in the book, wasn’t gifted with what everyone else around her was.
As the blurb says, TWATW is “inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology” & it’s full of stunning similes that make me see the world in a fresh way; it’s gory & often dark; it’s emotional; it’s colorful. Not to mention, it walks that line between hopeful & unsettling that makes books memorable.
4.5 ⭐️. Out today!
Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: what percentage of your reading would you characterize as fantasy?
I knew from the first pages of Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, as a pyre was lit for women to be sacrificed on & one woman refused it, that I had stepped into an engrossing & also unsettling book.
Featuring complicated women walking the line between personal survival & wants & what will be best for their people, who are looking to the future even as they feel the weight of their fiery pasts, The Jasmine Throne has a lot to offer readers of fantasy.
In Ahiranyi, an imperial city state of the Parijatdvipa empire, many of the Ahiranyi suffer from poverty & a rot that affects the body. Tensions remain high between Ahiranyi & Parijatdvipa & as the characters are aware, the fact that the Emperor sends his sister, the princess, to be imprisoned there likely won’t help matters.
A maidservant, Priya, is assigned to help the princess Malini. But what Priya doesn’t know is that while the princess is at the mercy of her brother & his whims to some degree, to his fanatic obsession with female purity, Malini is also a master of emotional manipulation. It’s how she’s survived.
& what Malini doesn’t know about her new maidservant is the details of Priya’s past in their prison, where she once lived with Elders & brothers & sisters. What she’s capable of & will be capable of in the future.
Told from many different perspectives, TJT shows how people can be motivated by different reasons for the same things or even just be comfortable working together for different ends. The political machinations are fascinating, & it’s captivating & disturbing to see how far Malini in particular is willing to go.
The portrayal of women is hard-hitting & what it says about women & purpose & desires is particularly moving.
Weighty in page numbers & tone, this read will stay with me for a while & defies my attempt to succinctly describe it in a book review.
4.5 ⭐️. Release date: 06/08.
Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
An intoxicating slow burn fantasy w/ romantic elements set in a forest that’s grasping & hungry, Hannah Whitten’s For the Wolf, book 1 in a trilogy, put stars in my eyes.
Redarys, or Red, is the second daughter of the Valleydan queen. As such, soon after turning 19 a mark will appear on her skin & she’ll be dispensed to the Wilderwood—a place where the monsters & five kings are held—as a human sacrifice.
Maybe the sacrifice will free the kings, maybe not. Either way, this long established custom of sending second daughters of the queen has held Valleydan and its neighboring countries together & fulfilled the initial terms set by the Wilderwood forest & a couple—the Wolf & the first Second Daughter—long ago.
Red will be delivered to the Wolf because of who she is.
But what her beloved twin sister & others don’t know is that Red is ultimately okay with going. That she possesses a violent power she lives in fear of, given to her by the Wilderwood.
What does that mean for the Wolf?
Watching the relationships change in this book—seeing the characters change—is captivating. The fierceness of them, the uncertainty, the hope. The terrifying slide of one major secondary character into her worst nature—a slide that initially starts out of love. The rapturous tension between the two leads as they fall, despite the forest’s waiting eyes & limbs.
& speaking of the forest. The imagery in For the Wolf has a power, a punch that propelled me through the pages. A sinister quality that’s complicated by Red’s growing awareness of what the forest is & what it wants.
A beauty & the beast retelling that entrances, For the Wolf is a 5 ⭐️ read for me.
5⭐️. Release date: 06/01.
Q: what’s a much hyped book that’s been on your TBR for a long time?
I’ve seen so many people describe TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea as a warm hug (or an equivalent) & tell me I should read it. Well I finished it yesterday & YOU WERE RIGHT, this book is so special & it made me feel HAPPY & HOPEFUL.
It’s a gentle fantasy with a light, slow burn (kissing only!) that also manages to tackle weighty topics like discrimination & how it’s codified & perpetuated in bureaucratic Rules & Regulations. THitCS is also about the power of “soft” people who get things done & it was so funny that I giggled out loud at least twice.
Linus Baker is a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s sent to investigate living conditions at the Marsyas Orphanage for magical youth—a case designated at level 4, the highest—& to assess the leadership of Arthur Parnassus, who runs it.
The children there form an intimidating, vicious-sounding group & they include amongst their numbers Lucifer “Lucy,” the Antichrist. But they’re hilarious & loyal & sometimes kind & sometimes mischievous & Linus finds himself starting to ignore his department dictates & fall under their spell.
& Arthur isn’t what Linus expects either: he’s a splendid man who makes Linus feel things & who guides his charges wisely & w/ a sense of humor.
But Linus is supposed to return home, back to the day to day work of achieving his Department’s objectives...which don’t happen to be entirely compatible with Arthur’s views.
This book is luminous & sparkling & irreverent & bold & it’s no exaggeration to say that I loved every chapter. Both leads won me over & I adore the idea that anyone has the potential to do the right thing, to, as the book says, help re-make the world into a place that’s safe for everyone. To find a home & keep it.
5 ⭐️ from me. What a read!
️Q: what’s the most unusual shifter romance you’ve read? Mine is this series--it has centaurs!
G. A. Aiken/aka Shelly Laurenston is all too willing to go there. The books I’ve read of hers are bananas, w/ ferocious “unlikable” likable heroines, crass language, & bold storylines, & it’s an altogether entertaining free for all.
The Princess Knight is the second book in The Scarred Earth Saga, this one focusing on Gemma Smythe, a necromancer war monk & sister of the blacksmith queen Keeley.
Gemma’s a brave & sometimes reckless warrior who frequently gets into shouting (& physical) matches with her sister/queen & kinda hates Amachi warrior Quinn, a centaur whom everyone else is alternately charmed & irritated by.
I did want more physical chemistry between Gemma & Quinn *throughout* the novel but this is another thrilling/fun to read/visceral explosion of a fantasy with romantic elements that I recommend to anyone wanting something unforgettable.
4 ⭐️. If this enemies to lovers sounds good to you definitely start with the first in the series: The Blacksmith Queen. The Princess Knight is out 11/24. Thanks to Kensington Press & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: what’s been one of your fave non-house places to read? I love reading in cars, planes, & trains.
Book 1 in the Tales of the Blackbone Witches, A Curse of Ash & Embers is the story of a young woman’s entree into a world far away from her former constrictive family life & into one of magic & monsters.
16 year old Elodie “Dee” is unexpectedly sent away from her home to be a servant for someone she’s never met. Her mother offers no explanation & before she reaches her new home Dee learns how poorly the villagers regard her new employer, a witch named Aleida Blackbone.
Aleida has replaced Gyssha, a very cruel witch who was her “mother” & teacher, & whose legacy continues to haunt the landscape through the monsters she fashioned.
& then a warlock comes to their door, & Dee & Aleida must do what they can to get rid of the threat. If they can.
A Curse of Ash & Embers feels very much like a coming of age story, as Dee travels to the cottage on her own & must decide who she trusts & if she can trust in herself.
The world is inventive & the magic descriptions are visceral (sometimes disturbing) & engrossing. Add to this a writing style that feels personable & ACoA&E offers a story that I think many fantasy-lovers could enjoy.
There’s promise in this series but I did miss some depth, both emotionally & in characterization. I want to know more about the characters & this, coupled with the fact that the action takes place only over a matter of a few days, gives the book a slight superficial air.
But I really enjoyed what Jo Spurrier does here, & she’s a writer that I’d like to read more from.
3.5 ⭐️. A Curse of Ash & Embers is available now. Thanks to Harper Voyager for the complimentary finished copy. All opinions provided are my own.
A feminist sorceress fantasy with romantic elements, C. L. Polk’s The Midnight Bargain offers a compelling, timely tale of women who are forced to choose between their ability & family/social obligations, & two young women who forge a friendship & resolve to beat the aforementioned system that seeks to imprison them.
In the world of TMB, sorceresses go through a Bargaining Season wherein they are courted. On their wedding day, these women are adorned with a warding collar that suppresses their magic until after they’re done bearing children.
If women aren’t given the collar, male mages argue, spirits will be able to take over any babies they carry in the womb & be born into the material world they crave so much.
Beatrice Clayborn, a merchant’s daughter, wants to keep her magic more than anything.
She learns that she isn’t alone with this hope when she meets Ysbeta, a wealthy woman visiting Chasland with her handsome brother, Ianthe Lavan, a nearly inconceivable catch.
Ianthe comes to want Beatrice for his wife & there’s part of her that wants him too. But both of them know that accepting him, accepting him as her husband, would mean losing her magic & having it under someone else’s control.
While the romance is a nice touch & is even inspiring in some big ways, it also feels superficial in others. It’s not really the highlight of this book for me.
Instead, it’s the world-building & the premise, which feels both creative & original *&* also based on some real-world gender dynamics. After all, the tension set up for women in this book—that of pursuing self or family—doesn’t feel entirely imaginary for most women IRL, & neither does the patriarchal notion that men are entitled to have control over women’s bodies. (Haven’t we seen & heard that before?? ).
Overall, while I didn’t get entirely lost in this story, I did love its trenchant critique of patriarchy & how Polk crafts two young women—& a young man—who are willing to do what it takes to bring it all down.
4 ⭐️. The Midnight Bargain is out today. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I didn’t know what to expect pretty much throughout my reading of Rachel Givney’s Jane in Love. Unpredictable, fun, funny, & yet sad at moments too, Jane in Love offers compelling observations about our time & the social conditions Jane Austen might have faced as a woman who wanted to write in her own time—but in terms of execution it doesn’t always work for me.
In 1803 Jane Austen is a spinster who loves to write but can’t share her efforts with her embarrassed family. After she’s rejected by a promising suitor, she seeks help from a witch & tells her she wants love. As a result she’s sent to the 21st century.
Straight to a film set where they’re adapting one of her novels.
Jane immediately meets spoiled & yet likable actress Sophia & soon after, Sophia’s brother Fred Wentworth, who irritates Jane immensely.
Initially believing that Jane is an actress in a candid camera situation, Sophia is eventually won over to believe Jane's time travel tale—with some funny scenes along the way.
Sophia's going to assist Jane in her efforts to return to her own time, but of course complicating everything are Jane’s growing feelings for Fred & her awareness that her lingering time in the 21st century is slowly making her published books disappear.
Givney clearly sketches out the dilemma facing Jane: what she stands to lose & gain no matter what decision she makes.
A standout for me in this book is the sense of voice. Givney writes voice in such a way that I felt as if I knew the characters; they're unique & memorable.
Filled with dry humor, the scenes in which Jane encounters the world of the 21st century & nearly every scene with Sophia are particularly fine. Though it’s not a humorous scene, the pep talk moment between the two women—when Jane coaches Sophia how to act—is written with sensitivity & quite lovely.
But the love story between Jane & Fred lacks subtlety at moments & feels rushed. I want to warn my romance-loving friends that this is not a romance. Setting aside that for a moment, the ending overall also feels hurried to me.
There are moments of Jane in Love that shine, & those moments focus on Jane as a writer & how that relates to social expectations for women, her sense of personhood, & her relationship with Sophia. I was less convinced & enamored with the “in love” part.
3⭐️. Jane in Love is out on 10/27. Thanks to HarperCollins Publishers and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I don’t even quite know what to make of Samantha Cohoe’s A Golden Fury. I think I started with certain plot & character expectations & the book kept blowing them up. This made for a reading experience that was both captivating & somewhat disorienting & I didn’t feel like I had quite found my footing until the end.
Beginning in Normandy in 1792, A Golden Fury tells a story centered around alchemy.
Thea has long worked for & with her famous alchemist-mother Marguerite. They’re very close to creating the White Elixir & then hopefully the Philosopher’s Stone when her mother cuts her out of the process & kicks her out of their lab.
Thea has never looked to her mom for kindness but this last betrayal is huge.
On the same night that Thea discovers that her mother has figured out how to create the Elixir & the Stone, her mother seems to have gone mad & tries to murder her.
Out of other options Thea travels to meet the father she’s never met before but not before grabbing some of the White Elixir. She will make the Stone on her & cement her reputation as the foremost alchemist.
But things never go as one hopes...
Inventively plotted & featuring complex characters, A Golden Fury is intriguing. I love the focus on female alchemists, how Thea constantly rises above the narrow expectations men have for her & forges her own way again & again.
This critique likely reveals my own biases, but while I loved that Thea is often unlikeable, there are times that I find her unadmirable & hard to connect to as well. Ditto for most of the other characters, who rarely do “good” things & who live in a world that mostly feels dark & unsettling until the end--which feels a little too hopeful to be entirely believable to me.
(Just to be clear: I don’t have to like and/or admire characters to love a book but in this one the individual characters seem portrayed unevenly & I had a difficult time emotionally connecting to them & to the book itself.)
On balance, I appreciated how unpredictable this book is, how it took me for a thrilling ride that wasn’t afraid to venture into dark territory, but I also didn’t feel overly invested in any of the characters or their fates, & that's a bit of a disappointment to me.
3⭐️. A Golden Fury is available on 10/13. Thanks to Wednesday Books and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: what’s some of your fave YA fantasy lit.? Drop them below and help a woman out!
Wow. I’m going to start with some of the typical words I see in fantasy reviews but honestly, Adrienne Young’s Fable *is immersive. I did feel transported. And a little awed, tbh.
Like the other books of Young’s I’ve read, Fable features a strong young woman (major understatement) who has to fight for herself. Her food. Her shelter. Her life.
Years before, after her mother died, the man that no one knows is Fable’s father dropped her off on a thieves’s island & never came back. Now she’s a dredger, someone who dives underwater & finds pyre that she can sell to traders. Every block she brings back to the surface is working toward her ticket off the island & back to her father.
When things go pear-shaped Fable makes an earlier exit than she planned—on the ship of West, a helmsman who regularly purchased her pyre & the closest thing she has to someone she can trust (but that’s still a long way off). He & his crew want nothing to do with Fable. But they’re all drawn together in ways they probably don’t want to be.
Some fantasy books have the worldbuilding down beautifully but they lack the emotional component that makes a book really stick for me. But Fable has both & her story grabbed at my heart.
I love love love that Fable is a female character who makes her own way, even as my heartstrings were pulled at what she’s gone through & how visceral those images are. Her life’s been all about strategy & survival since her father left her but she’s still soft in some ways. Still able to be shocked. Still able to care.
The only aspect of this book that feels a little thin to me is her relationship with West. I watched it develop rapaciously & gobbled up every little sign but I’d love to see more emotional intimacy between them. Hopefully that will come in the second book!
Fable is far from a lighthearted read. It’s sometimes violent & sad & scary, but it also made my heart happy.
Fable is out on 09/01. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and Netgalley for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Give me that HEA, please.
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