The Guinevere deception, by Kiersten White

The Guinevere deception is the first book of Kiersten White’s Camelot Rising trilogy, which came out in November 2019.

I bought it as a gift from myself, to myself, for Christmas (if you want it done well, do it yourself!) and… have been sitting on this review ever since. There’s no specific reason why – I enjoyed reading this book, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get the next one as soon as it comes out too, so there’s really no logic to this except me just forgetting to write this post every week since January.

Synopsis

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

What I liked

I loved the characters! Guinevere was terribly cute and tried her best to make herself useful in a strange place, alone and uncertain of her place in the world. Arthur was kind and just, and trying his best to do right by his new wife, and all the secondary characters had interesting backstories. (Also, no spoilers, but : Lancelot is the best.) There’s also some LGBTQ+ representation, which is always a nice thing to have.

The system of magic seemed very original to me – I always think of magic in Arthurian retellings as elemental magic, like Merlin’s, or very complex spells and potions, but knot magic was a refreshing take on this and helped bring novelty to the story.

Merlin and Arthur’s complex relationship, as seen through Guinevere’s eyes, was interesting and made me want to see it more developed in the next part of this series, The Camelot betrayal, coming out in November 2020.

And one last point : Mordred. Mordred was excellent. I don’t want to spoil anything – if it is even possible to spoil Arthurian mythology – so I’ll stay super vague, but Mordred stole my heart in a couple of pages and then broke it. Damn you Mordred.

What I didn’t like

The pacing of the story was a little strange – it was very slow for the first half / two thirds of the book, then accelerated exponentially until the end. Personally, it didn’t bother me too much, but I can see why it might feel too slow to some reviewers.

At times, Guinevere’s decisions seemed hasty and not well thought-out, even though she was supposed to be in dangerous territory with the goal to defend her king at all costs – but I guess that could be blamed on the character’s age and naïveté : after all, she’s supposed to only be 16 when the story starts, and her backstory strongly suggests she hasn’t met a lot of other people before being sent by Merlin on this top-secret mission to Camelot.

Conclusion

This was a very fun read for me, I enjoyed it a lot and will most definitely try to preorder the next one when it comes out!

The never tilting world, by Rin Chupeco

I read this book as part of the January read-along for the Books and tea bookclub, and it was my first-ever book by Rin Chupeco, also author of the acclaimed series The bone witch – which I have added to my TBR, after hearing so much good about it on book twitter over the last few weeks, by the way.

Synopsis

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by an unrelenting sun.

While one sister rules Aranth—a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wracked sea —her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.

But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses —along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and a mouthy desert scavenger —set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands

I’ve got some conflicting opinions about this book, so I’ll try my best to express them intelligibly – it’s past midnight when I’m writing this and I haven’t slept well in a few days, though, so I can’t promise anything. (Please do warn me in the comments if something I wrote didn’t make any sense, and I’ll try to fix it if possible!)

What I liked

First of all : the cover is ridiculously good. It makes you want to pick up this book immediately. I absolutely love it.

Secondly, I really liked the concept of this story : a world that has been broken in half and has stopped spinning on itself, damaging the climate in the process – it sounded super interesting when I read the synopsis.

This was a very character-driven story, with both goddesses traveling all the way from their respective home cities to the breach in the middle of the world, to try and repair it to the best of their abilities. It made for a lot of character development, and you can really see the changes in both girls, from the beginning of their journey to its end.

A third thing I liked was the romance – I’m not usually a fan of romance in books when I’m expecting adventure or saving-the-world shenanigans, but this one had love interests that were actually likeable, made sense, and it was overall adorable.

Finally, on the topic of LGBT representation, this novel does have a lesbian main character and an f/f ship at the center of the story. The topic of PTSD was also mentioned via Lan, Odessa’s bodyguard, and it seemed tactfully written to me (although I’m not an expert on the subject, so if there’s something I’ve missed, feel free to notify me!)

An honorable mention : the sand dolphins were the cutest things ever. Best fantasy animal of the year so far.

What I didn’t like

I think this is the first this year – I wasn’t a fan of the system of magic in this book. It just never seemed to make sense to me, and I didn’t find it as engaging as the other parts of the worldbuilding. The overall mythology and legends were interesting, but I didn’t manage to grasp the actual rules of the magic in this world, and it might have diminished my enjoyment of the ending a bit. (Also, I’d like to know what exactly makes Odessa and Haidee goddesses? I mean, they’re clearly different form other people, but what distinguishes a goddess from, say, a really strong sorceress?)

The 4 narrative points of view were also a bit too much for me, as I felt like the story kept switching to another character’s perspective right when things became interesting in the current chapter, and so on. Even with all the character development and the drama going on in their respective sides of the story, the changing POV made it difficult to get attached to the goddesses.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t put this book in my all-time favorites list, but it was a solid fantasy novel and it did leave me wanting to read more. Hopefully, since the second part of this duology is expected to come out in 2020, I’ll be happily surprised by the ending of the story!

Even if I haven’t been blown away by this book, I still intend to read the next one – maybe I’ll change my opinion once the full story is complete!

Have you read other works by Rin Chupeco? If I wasn’t a fan of The never tilting world, do you think I should read The bone witch nonetheless?

An Enchantment of Ravens, by Margaret Rogerson

I read this book a while ago as part of the March 2020 read-along of the books and tea book club, and even if it wasn’t something I might have found on my own, I had fun reading it !

An Enchantment of Ravens is YA author Margaret Rogerson‘s first novel, published in 2017 – you might also know her from her second YA fantasy novel, Sorcery of thorns, published last summer.

Synopsis

With a flick of her paintbrush, Isobel creates stunning portraits for a dangerous set of clients: the fair folk. These immortal creatures cannot bake bread or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and they trade valuable enchantments for Isobel’s paintings. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—Isobel makes a deadly mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes, a weakness that could cost him his throne, and even his life.

Furious, Rook spirits Isobel away to his kingdom to stand trial for her crime. But something is seriously amiss in his world, and they are attacked from every side. With Isobel and Rook depending upon each other for survival, their alliance blossoms into trust, perhaps even love… a forbidden emotion that would violate the fair folks’ ruthless laws, rendering both their lives forfeit.

What I liked

The magic system in this book felt very new to me, but it might be because I haven’t been reading a lot of YA fantasy lately – if you’ve read books with the same kind of magic system, please feel free to recommend it in the comments !

In Rogerson’s world, the Fair Folk are physically unable to use any sort of creative ability – what they call Craft, and what they so desperately crave from humans. The village the MC comes from specializes in providing such Craft, in exchange for enchantments given from the Fair Folk – but all magic comes at a price, and the Fair Folk’s magic is especially tricky. If you don’t make a specific, clear, and loophole-free demand, the enchantment you asked for will be turned against you, and could lead to serious harm – or even death.

I loved the sharp wit of the main character at the beginning of the book, and the way she managed to exercise her Craft and sell it to the Fair Folk without falling into any of these possibly deadly loopholes that could be used against her and her family. (And her little sisters were the cutest). We so often see characters who take up the offer of immortality as soon as it appears, without a second thought or a “hey, could I regret this in the future?” that her determination to hold on to her ideals and her stubborn refusal of immortality, even if it might mean death for her, were refreshing to see.

The portrayal of the Fae as more cruel, alien-ish beings than in most other fantasy stories where Fae are just, well… very beautiful and immortal humans, also felt original and added a lot to the overall atmosphere of the story. I liked discovering their inhuman characteristics,the way they looked lie under their glamour or the depth – or absence – of their actual emotions.

I don’t want to give out any spoilers, but I enjoyed the plot twists a lot, and the ending surprised me without being disappointing in a Game of thrones level of subverting-your-expectations (Ugh. Let’s never talk about that again.)

What I didn’t like

I wasn’t such a fan of the romance at the center of the story, to be honest – but that’s probably because I’m not easily sold on romances in action-heavy books. This one wasn’t an insta-love romance, but I still found it a little too fast for me, which made it a little difficult to believe in : as soon as the prince appears on the page, you can see where the story is headed.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the context in which this love develops – for all intents and purposes, Isobel is essentially captured by the prince to be condemned in his kingdom, and something about falling in love with your captor while running for your life and hoping he doesn’t led you to your untimely death is… a bit icky to me.

Conclusion

With a great worldbuilding and lore, and a plot that always keeps you on your toes (except for the romance part), this book is a very fun YA fantasy suited for anyone who likes Fae stories and journey-centric novels, sprinkled with a little add-on of cheesy romance on top.

Related posts : Self-isolation library eBook haul

Tess of the road, by Rachel Hartman

This book was… an experience.

I mean. Look at this cover. It’s gorgeous.

I got it on a whim, as an ebook from my local library a few weeks ago, because I liked the cover art. Without reading the synopsis on the back. In my defense, the cover has a dragon on it, and I love anything and everything with dragons.

It has since come to my attention that it isn’t, technically, the first book in a series, even though it was advertised this way on my library’s website. It is in fact a companion book set in the world of another series by the same author, the Southlands series. On Goodreads, a reader asked the author if it was necessary to read the other novels set in the same universe first, to which she answered :

It’s not strictly necessary, especially if you’re the kind of reader who likes to hit the ground running (I am, so I know we exist!). My husband recommends reading SERAPHINA first, at least, to get an idea how the world works.

Rachel Hartman

Since I am part of the group of readers who like to hit the ground running, it didn’t bother me that much to not have all the information at the beginning, but if you like to be a little more informed, I would still recommend you don’t start with this one.  

Synopsis

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can’t make a scene at your sister’s wedding and break a relative’s nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.

Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it’s a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl—a subspecies of dragon—who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she’s tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.

What I liked

It’s not easy to write such a slow, coming-of-age, character-driven story, and Rachel Hartman does it extremely well. Tess of the road is a love letter to girls growing up – normal girls, flawed girls, loud girls – whoever you are, there is something for you in this book. Tess’s journey around the world is also a spectacular journey of self-discovery, and the complex world in which she grows feels extremely real – yes, even with the dragons. 

The road was possibility, the kind she’d thought her life would never hold again, and Tess herself was motion. Motion had no past, only future. Any direction you walked was forward, and that was as must be.

Tess of the road, Rachel Hartman

This story touches on some pretty heavy topics, like sexual assault, abuse, grooming, miscarriages, death and grief, alzheimer’s disease, and religious extremism – if you are sensible to those topics, you might want to be aware of that. But Hartman’s writing never feels voyeuristic or awkward. Instead, she talks about the struggles of her main character’s life with tact, and gives you an unlikeable, angry, bitter heroine who you nevertheless end up loving and hoping for the best possible outcome.

I also appreciated a lot the inclusion of neutral pronouns, and the in-world explanation given for it. I found it very thoughtful and interesting, and would like to see more of that in future fantasy books !

What I didn’t like

Not much. Even though the pace was extremely slow, I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it. I don’t usually read extremely raw stories, but this one was absolutely excellent. I’m not that convinced about the Young Adult qualification, though – based on the heaviness of the story, I would have put this in the New Adult range, at least.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, but if you aren’t bothered by the themes it covers and like character-driven stories ? Go for it. It’s extremely well written, and it will make you feel like you want to put on your boots and travel the world. (Although, during this pandemic, it might be a little wiser to travel to your garden or your living room, just to be safe.)

Series review : an ember in the ashes

I’ve been planning to write this review for weeks now, and I just didn’t seem to be able to find the right time -with the pandemic going on, and everything being so uncertain and changing around me, I haven’t been in the right head space to write. But I’m trying to get back to it, so here’s a short series review !

An ember in the ashes is a quartet of books written by author Sabaa Tahir, and the fourth installment of this series, A sky beyond the storm, is coming out on December 1st, 2020.

First book synopsis 

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I’m not sure where to start. I’ve read all three of those books in the span of a few days, because my library holds finally came in and I was able to get all of them at roughly the same time, and… I wish I’d borrowed them in physical copies, because it  would definitely have made it easier to organize my thoughts on this. 

What I liked 

These novels are written with alternating POVs, and while I’m not normally the biggest fan of those, I have to admit that they’re extremely well done in this case. Each new POV adds a layer of complexity and humanity to the characters, and with a story as axed on tension and suspense as this one, it’s incredibly useful.

The world-building is excellent. Politics, intrigue, war and magic all work together to create a lot of tension and suspense. The plot itself is complex, with multiple side-stories all coming together one after another, and it makes for a very entertaining read.

What I didn’t like

I was a bit confused at times in the third book, in which the characters seemed to move a lot between places without letting me understand properly where they were, and what they were doing there.

Some parts were a bit too dark for me, but it’s mostly because I’m not used to violence or cruelty in books – I don’t read horror or thrillers because of it, so it’s not a surprise that themes of torture or slavery come off as a bit too much for my taste.

Conclusion

I’m definitely hyped for the next installment in this series. I greatly enjoyed the first 3, and the ending promises to be as entertaining as the rest of it ! For readers who’d like to get even more of Tahir’s universe, a graphic novel is coming out this summer, and it features our two heroes, Elias and Helene, as young students at the blackwood academy ! 

The Deep, by Rivers Solomon

This is going to be a short review, for a short book – but an excellent one ! 

The Deep is a novella (less than 200 pages) written by Rivers Solomon, and published in 2019. It’s shelved in adult science-fiction and fantasy on Goodreads, but I didn’t know anything about the plot when I borrowed it from the library : I just saw the cover, thought it looked nice, and decided to give it a chance. This was completely different from anything else I’ve read this year so far, and I definitely don’t regret it.

Synopsis 

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

And now for the review part :

I can’t use my usual review template for this one, because I usually split them in two parts : the points I liked, the ones I didn’t, and why – but for this book, well… I don’t have anything to put in the “disliked” category. And I really tried.

This novella is very slow-paced, and character-driven – in terms of actual story, over the nearly 200 pages of the book, there isn’t a lot of action. But that’s not a bad thing at all : it allows for more room and character development. And there’s a lot of it. 

I felt a lot for the main character, Yetu, whose development throughout the story is spectacular. A critique that’s been made is that her personality feels a bit empty in the beginning, which has been a reason to DNF the novella for some readers, but I personally think that critique is unfounded : when we see Yetu finally free of the burden of her duty to her people, she just doesn’t know who she is anymore

She’s been the historian for a long time, and it has stripped her of her identity, her own memories and experiences, and replaced it with the collective memories of her people. It makes sense, then, that she would feel “empty” – she has to work to build herself back from the beginning, and to figure out who she is and who she wants to be, apart from what she’s been told she should be all those years. It’s a slow rebuilding of her identity, step by step. 

Yetu’s escape and her subsequent journey is extremely touching, and is put into perspective with the story of her people’s origins. The authors use this opportunity to ask the difficult questions : Who are we without the knowledge of our history ? What place should memories have in our lives, in our identity as individuals and as a group ?

The writing itself is beautiful, and makes the sea floor ambience feel cold and heavy, and as terribly vast and beautiful as it actually is. The development of the lore and world-building is excellent, and blends well within the story.

When I finished this book and thought about what to develop in a review, I checked what others were saying on Goodreads and… someone pegged this book as “thinly veiled gender fluidity propaganda”. Which : 1) isn’t true (although there is intersex representation, in the fact that all members of Yetu’s species are described as intersex), and 2) wouldn’t be terribly bad if it was.

In conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this novella. If you’re in the mood for a thought-provoking, slow-paced, character-driven novella about lesbian mermaids (yes!), this is the book for you.

If you have good recommendations for books with a lesbian love interest and good character development, feel free to link them below ! I’d love to read a couple of novels with good LGBT+ representation in them.

Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I wasn’t 100% sure what I was doing when I picked up this book – I’d heard both good and bad reviews of it but didn’t want to go into the details so I could make my own opinion. So when my library hold came through last week, I hesitated a bit before finally picking it up on Friday on my way to university. 

Surprisingly – or not ? – the book ended up being a 4 stars for me ! I enjoyed reading it a lot, and even though some parts of the narrative really bugged me, they weren’t bad enough to make me DNF it on the spot. 

Synopsis

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm

A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates

A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder

An alien warrior with anger management issues

A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

What I liked

This book is entertaining, pretty fast paced, and it has space elves. Space. Elves. Do I really need to say more ?

Alright, so you also have space stations, space monsters, super cool spaceships, and even a space masquerade ball on a space station, covering up a space heist. Seriously. This book has everything I could ever ask for. I really liked the different alien species and their specific traits, although I would have liked a better display of the diversity of species that are mentioned in the beginning. 

Another point I really appreciated is the subversion of popular tropes. For those of you who haven’t read the book yet, I won’t go into too much detail, but if you did, or aren’t afraid of spoilers, the next paragraph is for you – it’s written in white, so it should show up when you select the text to see it ! Otherwise, you can just skip to the next one, which should be spoiler-free.

I thought the way the “member of the team betrays the others to the bad guys for a price” trope was used was brilliant ! I 100% believed in the treason up until the moment of the big reveal, and I loved the way the internal POVs were used to deceive you until the very end ! Those points of view are difficult to use well when you want to hide plot points from your readers, and I thought this one was brilliantly executed.

The reveal of the identity of the bad guys at the end was exactly the right amount of drama for me, and I liked the way the stakes kept getting higher and picked up the pace in the second half of the story. I got attached pretty quickly to the characters, and loved getting insight on their lives before the initiating event – and the LOTR references were a nice bonus !

What I didn’t like

There is, at some point in the book, mention of a “mating bond”. Now, I’m not fully against the idea in itself, but I thought the way in which the characters talked about it wasn’t really appropriate for the situation, and that there was an uncomfortable imbalance in the relationship that made the bond situation a bit… icky.

A second point that many other reviewers mentioned is that some of the character’s voices sounded a bit too close to each other, at times. I had to go back to the beginning of a couple of chapters to see whose point of view I was supposed to be reading. 

But the main thing that stuck out, for me, is the “sociopath” thing. You know which one. 

In the synopsis for this novel, the authors describe Zila, a young scientist and member of the team, as “A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates”. I disagree with the use of that term, and find it highly inappropriate in this situation

The sociopath etiquette is used as an excuse for the underdevelopment of the character and her use as a comic relief of sorts; even though the very few lines of her POV allude to extensive childhood trauma and complex emotions, both of which are mentioned but never discussed further in the book. As far as sociopaths go, she doesn’t exhibit much of their alleged traits, and it seems like the authors thought it’d just be a fun quirk to add to their character for a little bit more edginess. And frankly, it didn’t work at all for me.

Conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this book, and I would give it 5 stars if it weren’t for the few aforementioned flaws. As it is, I’m giving it a solid 4 stars and I’m hoping the next instalment in this series will fix some of those problems – maybe by giving us more character development for Zila, for example, or by making a little more sense of that mating bond bit ?

Did you get a copy of this book ? What did you think of it ? What’s your opinion on the mating bond trope in sci-fi novels ?

ARC Review : Mooncakes, by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Mooncakes is a 2019 Graphic Novel written by Suzanne Walker and illustrated by Wendy Xu. Its release date is today, October 15th, which made it a perfect topic for this blogtober post !

Synopsis
mooncakes

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

What I liked
  • The art was really beautiful – I got this ARC from NetGalley so the last few pages weren’t in full color, but the rest of the book was, and it really made me appreciate the artist’s work ! The use of the colors in the story is captivating and helps understand a lot of details.
  • This is a very diverse book, but it never feels “forced” or badly done – the characters feel pretty authentic and it was easy to relate to them while reading, and understand their motivations.
What I didn’t like
  • I felt like it was lacking a bit in the plot department. For a book marketed towards Teens and YA, I was expecting a little more complexity in the intrigue. It stays enjoyable, of course, but feels a bit too simple for the themes it tries to talk about.
  • As you well know if you’ve read any of my posts about fantasy books, I love anything and everything magic. I would have liked to get to know more about the promising magic system that Mooncakes’s cover let me hope for, but it is mostly left unexplored through the course of the book, the author focusing more on the rest of her story than on explaining her world-building to the readers.
Conclusion

I’d give this book a solid 3 stars – not bad at all ! I overall enjoyed reading this and took my time to appreciate the art. I would maybe suggest it to an audience a little younget than the one currently reading YA, though, as the story itself isn’t one of the most complex there is.

Still, I’d definitely recommend this book if you have teenagers, or for something like the new acquisitions display of a school library !

The priory of the orange tree, by Samantha Shannon

The priory of the orange tree, by Samantha Shannon, is a standalone 848-pages novel published in February 2019, and hyped everywhere from booktube to bookstagram, including book blogs and book twitter, for months on end. So, of course, when my local library obtained a copy – and by that I mean when I asked them to loan it from another library at the other side of the province –  I had to read it immediately.

IMG_1314

Synopsis

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

What I liked

  • The cover is gorgeous.

You know the “don’t judge a book by its cover” saying, that everybody ignores because a good cover is often the first thing that attracts someone to a book in a bookstore ? It’s especially true with bookstagram – I find I tend to bookmark books on there because of a gorgeous cover, then when I’m at the library or the bookstore I check their Goodreads rating and synopsis and decide whether or not they’re worth my time. This one looked incredible, and the various recommendations I saw on all book-related platforms convinced me to put it immediatly on my TBR.

  • The characters

I got attached to Sabran, Ead and Tané really quickly, and loved the way each one had the time to evolve and grow during the course of the book. They’re not perfect, they all have their flaws – some more obvious than others – but they learn from their mistakes and adapt to their environment pretty fast.

I also would like to note the fact that this book has several well-written same-sex relationships, and that’s something I haven’t found that easily in fantasy or in YA without it being the main plot point. I really appreciate that kind of representation.

By the way, for those of you who have read the book (or aren’t afraid of spoilers) : here’s some very nice fanart ! (And a meme – also a spoiler !)

  • The magic system and the overall plot

I found the first very original (and I’m always a hoe for original systems of magic), and the second just complicated the way I like. It’s been compared to Game of Thrones a few times, and while I can’t say whether or not it’s an apt comparison since I haven’t read all Game of Thrones books, it is filled with political intrigues and will keep you on your toes until the very last pages.

  • The extremely rich world-building & the length

With 800+ pages, you have all the time you need to build your world and show it to your readers in as much detail as you want – and Samantha Shannon did that well.

I read this book on a very long work day, where my job was to sit behind a desk and wait until people came up to me with problems to solve, while keeping an eye on the company’s Facebook page – not the busiest day ever.

Where, for some people, the length and all that world-building felt heavy and unnecessary (I read a review from someone saying it took the 6 weeks to get through all of it because of that), I personally loved it and would like to see more of this type of novel in my TBR.

What I didn’t like

Not much. I would have liked to learn a bit more about the dragons, though, and the draconic plague felt a bit under-developed. My least favorite character was Niclays Roos, the exile desperate to return to his home and ready to do anything it took to do so, but I think that’s only because I read him as a mix between protagonist and antagonist, and found it a bit confusing.

Conclusion

You know how, when you put a review up on NetGalley, they ask you if you’d be willing to meet the author or to buy this book for a friend ? I’d 100% do both. In fact, I’m buying this book for my boyfriend’s birthday in a month, and if I ever get the chance (if she comes close enough to my city for me to go !), I’m getting it signed by the author.

If you’ve been wondering whether or not you should read this ? You definitely should.

If you’ve read this book and have a different opinion, or liked something I didn’t – or didn’t mention – feel free to comment !

Spin the dawn (The blood of stars, #1), by Elizabeth Lim

I’m in love.

I preordered this book on my birthday, June 10th, without really knowing what I was getting into – I’d seen the cover a couple of times, and followed the author on Twitter, and it seemed like a nice and fun book for the summer. I wasn’t disappointed : it arrived at my local Chapters on Thursday (I skipped my lunch break to bike to the store in 40°C weather to go get that book before it closed for the day) and I just couldn’t put it down once I started reading.

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Synopsis

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

On Goodreads, this book is described as “Project runway meets Mulan“, but I’d like to offer a different comparaison – Mulan meets the tailor’s version of Donkeyskin. If you don’t know what Donkeyskin is, there’s some information in English on its Wikipedia page, but the most important part is this :

She  (the princess) went to her fairy godmother who advised her to make impossible demands as a condition of her consent: a dress as bright as the sun, a dress the colors of the moon, a dress all the colors of the sky, and finally, the hide of his marvelous donkey (which produced gold, and thus was the source of his kingdom’s wealth). Such was the king’s desire to marry her that he granted all of them.

In the classic french tale, the king’s tailors work day and night to satisfy the princess’s demands – even though she doesn’t actually want them to succeed. Maia, for the most part of the book, does her best to obey her emperor’s commands, and sew the three magic gowns (three, like in Donkeyskin ! … sorry, I just really love that fairytale) he has asked from her.

What I liked

The writing is really smooth, and once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down anymore. The romance felt natural, and was very well done – I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-friends-to-lovers trope…and some fake dating on top of that !

I got attached really easily to Maia and her desire to protect and support her family, and Edan’s backstory was very original and really interesting. The pretending-to-be-a-boy part was quite stressful, but had some pretty funny moments too (like Maia being the only one able to walk easily in her glass slippers, while all her male competitors struggled to take a few steps…), and I’m excited to see what will happen next !

The world-building is very well done, and I especially appreciated learning about the rules of magic in A’landi, and the mythology behind the story of the three dresses of Amara.

What I didn’t like

Almost nothing. I wish we would have gotten to see more of the Lady Sarnai, who seems like a really complex and interesting character, but I’m guessing we’ll get all of that in the next book in the series, so it’s not a big negative point. Some plot points were left unresolved, but again – this isn’t a standalone, so I didn’t read it as one, and won’t judge it as one.

Conclusion

Definitely one of my top 3 books of the year so far, 10/10 would recommend. If you like fairytales, brave women who fight for what they believe in, and creative magic, you absolutely need to get your hands on a copy of this book.

Did you get a copy of this book ? What character did you like the most ?