The Queen of Blood

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

There are six different types of spirits in Aratay (wood, earth, water, ice, fire, and air), and they have murderous feelings towards the land’s residents. However, the people’s queen is responsible for keeping them in check. Because of this, Aratay goes to great lengths to train new heirs. Any girl can be an heir, so young girls who show promise with controlling and communicating with spirits are enrolled in a school that trains both their powers and their demeanors. Trained young women are useful in protecting the land, even if they do not becoming queen. So, after Daleina’s hometown was attacked by rogue spirits when she was young, she made a promise to hone her powers and use them to protect others. What the people of Aratay do not know is that these rogue spirit attacks may not be rare incidents and that their queen may be faltering.

Overall, I quite liked this YA novel, which is something that I haven’t been able to say for a while, partly because I haven’t read much YA lately, and partly because there have been so many run-of-the-mill YA fantasy novels in the past few years that just don’t stand out. I would say that this book has unique aspects and doesn’t really fall into many tired YA tropes. For example, the main character is fallible and is even quite unskilled with her control of her powers. She’s not the typical female protagonist that rises to the top because she’s just that good naturally. And unlike some recent YA fantasy novels, Daleina’s plain yet somehow beautiful looks aren’t constantly described, and she doesn’t get caught up in a romance that dominates the plot. (There’s some romance, but it isn’t like some novels that are romances masquerading as a fantasy story.) Some of the other main or second tier characters were written well enough, but many side characters were rather forgettable. For example, I wish there had been a little more time with Daleina and her friends in the academy, and you may feel the same if you really enjoy magical school settings with a large, developed cast. I didn’t feel very connected to the other students, and I can’t really remember their names or descriptions either. Since this is a series, I imagine that several characters will get more expansion in the rest of the books though.

I would say that the plot and world building are the main draws in this series. As I talked about a little already, the magic is interesting, but since it is element-based it’s nothing too ground breaking. I loved the forest setting though. I enjoyed how the tree dwellings and wooden bridges between homes were described. How the characters traveled through the forests and made their lives within the trees was inventive and often cozy to read about. I also think that the fact that the people live snuggly within a forest filled with killer spirits is an intriguing dynamic. Getting back to the plot, it has some neat reveals, and some of the mysteries kept me turning the pages, but I didn’t always like the pacing. At one point it felt like a chapter ended with Daleina completing her first day at the academy and the next chapter was two years into her schooling. There’s a lot of plot packed into this fairly short first book, but I wouldn’t have minded some smoother transitions and further building of the characters in between everything else that happened.

I’d give The Queen of Blood three and a half our of five stars. There were areas that I felt were lacking, but it stands out a bit in a sea of subpar YA fantasy novels produced in the last decade. I do wish that the title was more unique since we all know that there are many, many similar sounding YA titles out there. But since I own the rest of the series, I may continue it because it was an easy, enjoyable, and quick read.

A Phoenix First Must Burn

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A while ago I made a list of fantasy books by people of color, primarily women of color, that I wanted to focus on. This blog doesn’t have a huge audience, but I felt that I should do my part (however small) to spread the word about books that aren’t as mainstream and/or books by people of color. And of course I’m always looking for new and unique voices for my own personal reading enjoyment. It’s been a while since I’ve read a collection of short stories, but in general I find them to be one of the best ways to introduce yourself to new authors. With all of these considerations in mind, I chose to read A Phoenix First Must Burn, and I was very happy that I did.

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump for most of this year, and one of my favorite ways to get out of one is to read books that are lighter or to read a book that I can dip in and out of over time, so a YA short story collection was perfect. But despite this collection being YA fantasy, I wouldn’t say that every story was particularly light. I believe every story has a black or brown female main character, and several stories feature LGBTQ+ main characters as well. Common themes and topics in the stories include, love (romantic and familial), slavery, sexism, racism, homophobia, and many stories reference black myths, folklore, and history. Some of the stories hit hard, but there is a good mix of writing styles and thematic tones throughout the collection.

For example, one of my favorite lighter, more humorous stories was “Melie” by Justina Ireland. This one was in your typical fantasy setting. It has a black female protagonist who wants to become a magician but is discriminated against because of who she is as well as her body size. I enjoyed this story’s fun dialogue and the small twists. Melie is smart and resourceful and goes on a grand adventure where she confronts mermaids, dragons, and betrayal with wit and grace.

Another favorite was “Letting the Right One In” by Patrice Caldwell. I would call this one an urban fantasy set in modern day Louisiana. It is a sweet love story between a bookish girl with depression and a female vampire. Both main characters are black (Yes, a black vampire!). I liked the parallel between feeling like an outcast and being a vampire and how race, class, and history tied into the story. The romance was a little too quick for my taste, but it is a short story. Despite that I loved how the sweet budding romance formed, the characters, and I really wished it had been longer so that I knew what happened to them! After reading this story and a few others in this collection, I think I really like sweet female/female romance.

I also enjoyed some of the more serious and hard-hitting stories, like “Gilded” by Elizabeth Acevedo. I would classify this as a historical magical realism story, and the plot involves a slave uprising. The main character struggles between the chance of buying her freedom through working hard for her master or by helping her friends and taking freedom for herself.

I could go on, but hopefully you can see the range of different stories within this collection. There is likely something for everyone here if you like fantasy, magical realism, or sci-fi. I didn’t love every story, but the collection as a whole is very strong, so I gave it four out of five stars.

Woven in Moonlight

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Okay, okay. It’s fantasy again, but this time it is Bolivian mythological and historical fantasy…

Ximena has been a decoy for the real Condessa, Catalina, for 10 years. When the Illustrians’ home was taken over by the conqueror Atoc and his magical relic, Ximena’s people fled the city to seek refuge in the hills. Knowing that the conqueror would not rest until the Condessa of the Illustrians was killed, Ximena was raised to be the real Condessa’s decoy. When Ximena is forcibly taken to be Atoc’s new wife, she must find a way to save herself and her people from inside the enemy’s walls. Can she trust anyone– including the masked vigilante whose motives for disrupting Atoc’s plans are still unclear?

I wanted to fall in love with this, but it just fell short in a few areas. My biggest complaint is that there just wasn’t enough to the story. My copy was a small-sized hardback with not quite 400 pages. I liked many aspects, but, in my opinion, they weren’t utilized to their fullest. Here are a few examples.

There is magic, even moon magic, but magic doesn’t play much of a role in the entire novel. We know that several characters have magic, but besides the main protagonist and the main antagonist, we rarely see or hear of anyone else doing magic. And even the main magic users’ powers aren’t fleshed out enough to know how they work or the extent of what they can do. Some characters get tired after using magic, but then others don’t seem to? I wanted the magic to play a bigger role or be explained a little more clearly. There is a lot that could have been done with all of the different magic the side characters possess too.

The main character is a decoy in enemy territory, and she has trained her whole life to be and act like the Condessa. Yet, she slips up often and lets her true self show or gives things away unintentionally. She also warms up to the enemy faction rather quickly, often having flirty/silly banter with them. There’s a romance that also heats up a little too quickly for me to be invested in. I liked the main character’s fierceness and heart, though. The other characters were interesting, but they (and their magic!) could have played a bigger role. A couple of characters were killed off so quickly, and even though we are told how important they were to the main character, I wasn’t attached enough to feel much loss.

I was a little bored around the midpoint of the novel. I expected more complex political maneuvering, but most of the novel is spent with Ximena in her small room as she worries about what to do. She sneaks out a few times rather easily, which I also didn’t think was realistic. She did some spying around, but I felt like a lot more could have been done with her being in enemy territory. She felt rather passive in general when I felt that she should have been doing more planning and plotting, especially since she was a trained decoy.

So, what’s there to like? I liked the writing. It is descriptive and pretty, especially the colors, flavors, and smells of the setting, but it doesn’t go overboard with lyrical prose. I liked that we were in Ximena’s head a lot because it was intriguing to see how she felt and why. She struggled with her own identity versus being a decoy, which made sense. I really liked the magic, but as I said before, I wish it had been used more throughout the novel or played a bigger role in the plot. The whole setting was interesting as was the political plot and revolution aspect, but the plot wasn’t particularly complex. It was fairly easy to see where things were going. However, I really appreciated reading something new in YA fantasy. I’ve certainly never read a fantasy inspired by Bolivian history and myth, so I was happy to expand my love of fantasy by reading this novel.

If you’re new to YA fantasy, or looking for something light in tone and depth but unique, I would recommend this novel. I gave it three solid stars out of five.

 

Crown of Feathers

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I know I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately, but with the state of the U.S. (and honestly the whole world) right now I’ve been craving a lot of escapism. I do try to switch up my reading genres so that my reviews are more diverse, but right now bear with me! At least I’ve been finding some great hidden gems and getting back into lighter, Young Adult novels. Speaking of which, Crown of Feathers!

Veronyka and her sister Val are animages, people who can communicate and bond with animals. This, however, is frowned upon because the Phoenix Riders who once ruled the land were also animages, and now the kingdom is ruled by the anti-magic empire. Veronyka and her sister were raised on the tales of the legendary Phoenix Riders, and they spend their time hiding their animal magic and looking for hidden phoenix eggs in hopes of reigniting their empire’s past themselves. After Val betrays her sister, Veronyka hunts for hidden eggs and Riders on her own, eventually leading her to have to disguise herself as a boy. Veronyka becomes tangled in the uprising against the empire and is entwined in a long history of secrets.

I adored the Dragonriders of Pern series when I was a teen (but I recognize it has some problematic aspects), and Crown of Feathers definitely made me nostalgic for that series. To quickly compare them, Pern involved real-world science and certainly had a more adult writing style. Crown of Feathers is more fantasy than sci-fi but has a well developed world history of its own. It is lighter but also more inclusive and fun. Also, there are phoenixes instead of dragons, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of too many books with a major focus on phoenix mythology (Feel free to recommend some if you know of any though!).

Anyway, back to this book itself. The characters, plot, world building, and writing were all very good. Veronyka is our main character. She realistically grows a lot during this first book, and I look forward to her development in the subsequent novels. She has to make tough decisions, and even if I didn’t always agree with her choices, they felt valid based on her feelings and the situation at hand. Other major characters, like Tristan, Sev, and Val, were also well written. They had distinct voices (with chapters in their perspectives) and realistic character progression. Overall, the writing felt more mature than some of the recent YA I’ve read, but it was still quite light and not overly flowery in language or trope-filled.

My major critique would be how the world building was integrated into the plot. The author has developed a fairly complex world with magic, political intrigue, and mythology. I really enjoyed learning about the world and its history. However, at times the plot would be interrupted with large paragraphs that “info dump” the world building onto the reader. Especially early on I disliked how frequent these paragraphs were because I wanted to know what was happening in the novel presently and was not invested enough yet to care as much for the world’s history. Once I became more attached to the characters and the story, then I welcomed more of the world building-heavy sections. In between chapters there are sometimes letters or historical documents that give even more context to the world’s past, which I thought was a good way to include even more about the world while not interrupting the flow of the plot.

So, yeah, five stars to Crown of Feathers! I found this to be a refreshingly unique and well-crafted young adult novel. I’ll admit that my feelings may be partially based on nostalgia for the Dragonriders of Pern, but I do think that Crown of Feathers deserves more attention than it seems to be getting online.

Kingdom of Souls

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Arrah’s parents are both powerful witch doctors, but year after year her magic does not come. There are other ways to possess magic in this world, like trading your years for it, but such things are frowned upon. When Arrah’s grandmother sees strange visions about green-eyed serpents and children begin disappearing from her city, Arrah does what she must to figure out what is going on. This leads her and her close friends on a wild adventure that pits her against her family and makes Arrah question who she really is.

To begin with, when was the last time you read a book about witch doctors? I never have, and it was one of the main reasons I gave this novel a try. So, I guess we’ll start by talking about the magic system. It isn’t very concrete, nothing like a Brandon Sanderson magic system, but it has some specifics. You can develop the ability to call magic to you naturally, and magic seems to be all around the characters, even if they cannot see it. There are also some rituals that can be done that involve herbs, blood magic, and chanting, but again the magic isn’t explained in heavy detail, if that is what you enjoy.

The characters were one of the stronger parts of the novel, but not all of them were developed as much as I would have liked. I enjoyed Arrah the most. She’s brave, strong willed, and has a lot of perseverance, but she also has a big heart for those she loves. Arrah goes through a lot in this book and loses people close to her. Despite that she remains true to herself and fights for what she believes is right. Arrah’s love interest and her friends are less developed than her, but since the book is in first person, that is probably to be expected. We are away from her friends and in her head for a large amounts of time. I just wish we had gotten to know a few of them better so that their close friendships to Arrah would be more believable. Arrah’s parents are also important, and they had a good amount of depth too. One very interesting thing about this novel is the relationship between Arrah and her mother. Her mother is very powerful, both politically and magically, and Arrah has always wanted to impress her, but unfortunately, their relationship is very volatile and hostile.

I have to also mention the worldbuilding. I liked it a lot, but I simply wanted more of it. In this world we have witch doctors, gods, demons, magic in the air, rituals, unique tribes, and a political hierarchy. There was a lot of action and drama in this book, but I just wish it would have slowed down a little so that I could get into the world more, get to know the characters, and have more time to digest some of the major events. Sometimes it felt like there wasn’t enough time for Arrah to recover (both physically and mentally) and plan her next moves after something tragic happened. And the book gets pretty dark for a YA novel!

So, yes, the pacing was my main issue. A lot happens in this first book of a planned trilogy. In my opinion, too much happens in this first book, but I also don’t know what the author has in mind for the second and third installments. There are a lot of characters, it is hard to know who to trust, and there’s a lot of magical, god-related back story that plays a big role in the plot. With such a complex world and plot, I wanted more time to flesh out the world and characters and a little less action. I know some readers would feel differently, so if you love action and having everything thrown at you quickly, this book would be just what you’re looking for.

I found Kingdom of Souls to be a refreshing young adult novel. If you are looking for an action-packed, unique, and exciting new series, I would definitely give this a try. Also, I have to mention the book’s awesome website that includes an interactive map, a guide for the terms in the book, and even some cute quizzes to see what tribe you’re in (Tribe Zu here!) or what character you are. I gave Kingdom of Souls four out of five stars.

Every Heart a Doorway

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This book was everywhere a few years ago. Since then there has been about one new book in the series per year. If you know me, you know I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Inkheart trilogy, or anything where a kid finds himself/herself somehow in another world. “Portal fantasy” appears to be the term thrown around to describe these novels and Every Heart a Doorway, so we will go with that. Every Heart a Doorway is a portal fantasy with a boarding school setting, a murder mystery, a diverse cast, and some hints at romances to come. On paper, it sounds great. In reality, it was a bit of a disappointment to me.

Nancy arrives at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Nancy is under the impression that this is simply a boarding school her parents have sent her to because they do not believe that she has traveled into another world. However, the school is specifically for children who have traveled to other worlds. Their parents think that their children have ran away, been kidnapped, or abused, while the children all know that their experiences in various fantasy worlds were real. The Home for Wayward Children helps kids who have returned from their portal world either find their way back to their doors or come to terms with their lives in the “real world.” Nancy meets the proprietor, Ms. West, as well many of the other children staying at the school. While Nancy went to a world very much like the underworld, many others went to candy lands, nonsense worlds, rhyming worlds and worlds with vampires, goblins, insect queens, and the list goes on. Just as Nancy starts to understand her peers and the school, brutal murders begin happening, endangering all of the students. Nancy and her newfound friends must figure out what is going on in order to save their school from possibly closing down, which would leave all of the children without a place to call home.

The characters were probably the strongest part. Nancy and her friends were all good characters. Some of their banter was entertaining, and the cast was diverse with asexual and trans characters. I praise the representation, but some of the conversations about sex felt slightly forced. Especially when the book as a whole is so short, it feels odd to have characters take so much time to talk about sex, sexuality, and masturbation in a fantasy novel. Is it cool that we talk frankly about sex in a YA novel? Definitely! Is it cool that it takes up more time than other aspects of the plot and characters? Maybe not. Again, I truly appreciate that the author spends time on these topics (the author also writes about sexuality/gender issues very beautifully and with respect), but give me all of that in addition to more of the fantasy, magical, creepy school goodness I was promised in the blurb.

This is a novella-sized story that tries to fit in a lot in a short number of pages, and it does not work perfectly. The pacing feels odd. We start with Nancy arriving at the school, we get to know her, she gets to know a few students, then all of the sudden MURDER. The murder mystery consumes the plot from then on. I was looking forward to getting to know the fantasy aspect of how these portals or doors to other worlds work. I was looking forward to exploring the school building (What huge mansions and expansive grounds in a fantasy novel do not have secrets?), the classes, the students, the teachers, and the various worlds more, but there just wasn’t time to develop anything fully. Now, I know that there are several more books in the series, and you cannot expect everything to be explained in the first book of a series, but there was so little here that I do not feel inclined to pick up the next book. The ending also felt abrupt. The murder mystery is rather quickly and easily dealt with at the end. The author drops some hints about how the magic/doors work in the final scenes, but it is too late in the plot to get any actual answers.

I liked a lot of what Every Heart a Doorway had to offer, but it just needed more— more descriptions, more details about the plot/mystery, more character development, more information about the school, magic system, etc. Is this an incentive to read more of the books? Maybe. I am curious about the rest of the series, but I am not sure if I will read them all. If you’ve read any more of the series, let me know your thoughts in the comments. Am I complaining about things that get better in the next books? Tell me! As of now, I gave Every Heart a Doorway a rating of three out of five stars.

 

Odd and the Frost Gaints

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What would 2019 be without some Neil Gaiman? The edition I chose to read is illustrated by Chris Riddell, who sometimes provides illustrations for Gaiman’s works as well as writes and illustrates his own books. He and Gaiman have worked together on editions of Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, The Sleeper and the Spindle, and Fortunately, the Milk… I absolutely love Gaiman’s fun, fantastical stories being accompanied by Riddell’s fairy tale-esque, full-of-personality illustrations.

Odd and the Frost Giants follows a boy named Odd. Odd’s father died in a Viking raid, and his mother married another man she was not in love with. Odd, unhappy with his new living situation, leaves his village to stay in his father’s woodcutting hut. He meets three strange animals in the forest who are much more than they appear to be. It is up to Odd to help the animals reclaim their true forms and their homeland.

In case you don’t already know, Odd and the Frost Giants is a short, lighthearted story about the Norse gods Odin, Thor, and Loki. Picture it as Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology-lite. It is a simple adventure story that would be appropriate for both young and older readers, but the language is not overly simplistic. If you have some knowledge of Norse mythology, you will find a few Easter eggs and nods to other Norse myths in Odd, but having little to no knowledge will not hinder your enjoyment of the tale at all.

I would recommend Odd and the Frost Giants to anyone who enjoys an adventure story, Norse mythology in a more lighthearted structure, and fans of Gaiman’s other writing. Odd and the Frost Giants is a quick and enjoyable read, but it is not necessarily the deepest of Gaiman’s work, if that is what you are looking for.

The Wildings

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Did anyone else go through a phase of reading books with anthropomorphic animal characters? I’m talking about things like Redwall, Watership Down, The Warriors Series, or The Sight. I used to love any book, TV show, or movie in the same vein. Once in a while I become nostalgic and read something similar. That is how I picked up The Wildings (well, that and I loved the cover). Although I enjoyed this novel, I can’t help but think I would have enjoyed it more if I were younger.

The novel takes place in Delhi, India and follows a clan of wild cats. The clan is comprised of Miao, the elder siamese; Katar, the co-leader of the clan; Hulo, a male warrior; Beraal, a female warrior; and Southpaw, a troublesome orphaned kitten. The cat clans of Delhi live in relative peace with one another and the other animals they share the city with, but one day a Sender named Mara arrives and everything changes. A Sender is a special cat who can communicate long distances with other cats and who can communicate with and befriend other species (except perhaps humans).  The problem is that the clan’s new Sender is an indoor cat, while they are all outdoor cats. With the threat of some feral cats escaping into the city to cause havoc with the established order between clans, the fact that the Sender will not leave her humans’ home, and the other everyday trouble associated with life in the city, the cat clans of Delhi have a lot to contend with.

I have seen The Wildings marketed as YA fantasy, and I would agree with this classification. There is a good bit of violence and cat fighting, but I did not feel it was too graphic. Mating is mentioned, but again, nothing is graphic. In fact, nothing much is said about mating besides the fact that it is a thing that happens and that kittens are the result of it. There are many chapters where the cats are just being cats. The kitty antics will definitely remind you of your own pet cats at home. This is very fun and cute, but the cats are respectable and honorable hunters as well. The writing is also quite descriptive. The sights, sounds, and smells of Delhi are immersive. It also helps that the cat protagonists are so sensory driven. Sometimes animal protagonists can feel too humanized. The cats in this novel felt like cats and behaved realistically, but they were still emotionally relatable.

However, as a cat lover and owner, I was a little troubled by how the plot revolved around indoor cats going crazy or becoming evil. Outdoor cats are portrayed as the natural and preferred way to be a cat or any other animal. This is a debatable topic for humans of course, but making a cat point-of-view novel take a rigid side on the topic felt odd since we do not know what cats are thinking about the indoor/outdoor debate. (I feel like I know cats who would passionately argue both sides!) The outdoor cats are distrustful and prejudiced against indoor cats. I expected that the lesson learned would be that the outdoor cats should not judge others so harshly, just as we humans should not judge others. But no. By the end, the consensus was still that all cats should be outdoors, otherwise they will become warped and evil. There are some parallels between house cats and tigers in a zoo the novel, but I don’t think that is a fair comparison to make. I understand that part of the point was that when indoor cats go outside, they can and often do kill wildlife without eating it. And, according to the novel, outdoor cats develop a respect for wildlife and only kill when they are hungry. But, as a human reader with two very spoiled, healthy cats, I felt uncomfortable with the underlying message that all cats should be outside. Still, there are some good messages about respecting nature and wildlife, and as we all know, humans can be terrible to both.

OK, OK, ranting aside, I still had fun with this novel. My main literary criticism is just that the author could have taken everything a bit further. A cat POV novel has a lot of potential, especially when you bring in other fantasy elements. The cats communicate through a form of wifi-like whisker maneuvers, which is cool. The cats can project thoughts and images over distances, but the mechanics of this ability and the role of Senders are not explained much (this system is expanded on in the sequel at least). There is also a multi-species battle that could have been expanded upon more. It did not feel nearly as epic as it was built up to be. The plot in general felt a little one-dimensional. There were bad cats, good cats with very little morally gray area in between. The indoor/outdoor debate and the prejudice against different cats could have been utilized more to explore the depth of the characters’ personalities and beliefs as well as leave more open-ended questions for readers to ponder over.

Initially, I rated The Wildings 4 out of 5 stars, but I think it is more a of 3 or 3.5 for me. My younger self would very likely rate it 4 or even 5 though. So, if this sounds like something you or a young reader you know would like, give it a shot. It is a cute, fun, fairly unique little story. I am currently reading the sequel, The Hundred Names of Darkness, and I will probably rate it about the same as The Wildings for many of the same reasons I have discussed in this review.

Fire & Heist

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My relationship with recent YA titles has not been great. YA Fantasy was my go-to genre when I was younger, but everything I read lately is trope-filled and uninspired. I am happy to say that Fire & Heist deviates from this rut.

Sky Hawkins and her family are wyverns (or as she likes to call herself, a were-dragon), dragon/human hybrids who can breathe fire, covet anything gold, and used to be able to shape-shift into actual dragons. Wyverns and humans live together fairly amiably, but humans often distrust or fear wyverns. Most wyverns, in an attempt to satiate their lust for gold, become thieves. Sky’s mother was on a heist, but she was caught doing something the council disliked. She disappeared, leaving Sky, her father, and her three brothers disgraced by her actions. The details of Sky’s mother’s disappearance and the reasons for her exile are murky. Sky decides to do some investigating of her own. She finds out that her mother was stealing something from Sky’s boyfriend’s family vault. Is her mother alive? Why was she stealing from the vault? What was she exiled for?

As intriguing as the whole “were-dragons in the human world” thing is, I was skeptical. The idea sounds like it could be cheesy or feel like a teen fan-fiction. Thankfully, it works in Fire & Heist. Sky is a spunky character who likes to test her boundaries. She’s funny and fun to read from. Her brothers and father are also delightfully sarcastic and intelligent characters. The banter between Sky and her family members was actually really funny, to me at least. There is a sizable focus on Sky’s relationship with her boyfriend, but it does not distract too much from the rest of the plot because their relationship has a lot to do with her mother being missing. So, if like me, you dislike romance heavy YA Fantasy, I would say you might like this title. It is just simply fun. It feels fresh and unique. It reads a little like a mix between middle grade and YA, but as an adult, I still really enjoyed it.

The bad news is that this book does not come out until December 4, 2018. The good news is that it looks very promising, and I would recommend following it as it approaches publication. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Crown Books for Young Readers, for giving me the opportunity to review this title.

A Darker Shade of Magic

ADSoMbyVESAs you can probably tell from my recent posts, I’ve been really enjoying a lot of what I have been reading lately. Unfortunately, I seem to be in a bit of a reading slump now. Have I unknowingly raised my reading standards? Is it me or is it the books I have been trying to read? Whatever the case I did not enjoy A Darker Shade of Magic nearly as much as I wanted to.

There are four different Londons. There is Grey London without magic, Red London with some magic, White London where magic is addictive and controlling, and Black London where magic got so out of hand that no one goes there any more. Kell hails from Red London, and he is one of the few people able to travel between all of the Londons. Kell is a message-runner and sometimes a smuggler. His smuggling gets him into some trouble when he gets his hands on an artifact from Black London. Along the way he meets Lila Bard, a thief who robs him, saves him, and convinces him to take her to on an adventure to the others Londons.

This series has a good bit of hype around it, and it just sounds really unique and interesting. And it was, for the most part. It just did not click with me. The premise sounds great, but the execution did not quite work. It all seemed a bit shallow to me. From my understanding, the author writes both young adult and adult books. Her YA novels are usually under the name Victoria Schwab while her adult novels are published under V.E. Schwab. However, A Darker Shade of Magic felt very YA to me. I am not sure if the series gets “more adult” later, but the first book felt like a rather shallow YA novel. I did not connect with Kell or Lila, and the side characters were dull. The villains did not feel very developed. The were evil, power hungry, and that was about it. The setting, which was what drew me in, felt underdeveloped. I am sure there will be more world building later in the series, but since I disliked most other aspects of the first novel, I doubt I will continue the series. The book as a whole felt like lost potential.

After seeing so many people rave about the series, I feel like I jread a completely different book. This is likely a “it’s not you, it’s me” moment, but if your tastes are similar to mine, you might also be disappointed by this fantasy title.