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.

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.