Short Fantasy Reviews: queens, heists & folklore

Spoiler-alert; they were all kind of let downs in different ways.

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

I was promised a “cunning, villainous queen” who wanted to take the reign from the king with magical shadowy powers & secrets, even though I suspected she would fall in love with him instead. What I got was a lot of whining and unpreparedness after she’d shown considerable ambition. The writing falls into the hole of telling you how dangerous certain people are without truly following through, there seems to be little consequences. Like you might call both the main characters cold-blooded murderers, but it’s just based in a lack of reaction to murders happening around them or those they commit in some kind of self-defense. There’s very little of the expected morally-gray aspects here. Also imagine me shaking my fist at how the main character manages to get noticed by the king because she’s not a follower like all the other girls at court. It feels like a worse version of Holly Black’s ‘The Cruel Prince’ in every way, as this MC lacks a lot in comparison, like the true viciousness or skill. This book started out good, which was the reason I finished it, but in total it was a let down. Read it for the romance, I guess, but it’s pretty plain and straight forward. 2/5 stars.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

A young adult fantasy that I was excited for because of the heist, found family, dark vibes and the morally gray & diverse characters which a lot of other bloggers seems to have fallen for as I’ve seen a lot of five stars reviews. Not to forget the bisexual character & autistic scientist. Still, I DNF’ed at 32% as I tried to give it a fair chance. The first thing that didn’t match with me was simply the writing, then nothing else about the characters, plot or world-building caught my interest. It’s been three weeks since I read it and there’s nothing remarkable I remember at all unfortunately. For the record, I absolutely loved Six of Crows, which it has been compared to a lot.

Silver in the Wood (Greenhollow Duology #1) by Emily Tesh

You ever have those books that you enjoyed the experience of reading, but looking back it wasn’t all that much? I feel so mixed about this book, because I liked the cottagecore aesthetic of the Wild Man of Greenhollow and the secret-folklorist that comes upon him. In 112 pages this novella manages to deliver on the fairytale-ish forest, magical realism vibes in the writing, but plot-wise, character-wise, etc. it does come up short to me. The m/m relationship and yearning could’ve been so much better than it was. I don’t quite understand the idea of giving out a second novella either, instead of having used that time setting up the story to fulfill its potential. It seems strange. Definitely an interesting debut author to watch, but I think I’ll pass on that sequel for now. 2/5 stars.

Exciting New Book Releases Autumn 2020 (part two)

I made a weird summer/autumn mix of new releases last time, so I’ll call it a part one.

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

Release date: September 15th 2020

Why I want to read it: Ghosts, a beautiful remote farm, trauma & loneliness. Same author as a lot of other amazing books; like “We Are Okay” and “Everything Leads To You“.

Burning Roses by S. L. Huang

Release date: September 29th 2020

Why I want to read it: A queer girls retelling of Red Riding Hood and the Chinese mythological archer Hou Yi (which I’ve not read about before), along with a few others mixed into this mashup. Same author as the badass Cas Russell series!

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Release date: October 6th 2020

Why I want to read it: The title was what drew me in tbh. Then I realized it was the same author as another book I want to read; “The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle”. Not to forget the synopsis’ promise of: “A murder on the high seas. A detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.”

What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump

Release date: October 15th 2020

Why I want to read it: I first found it because Ocean Vuong is one of many writers in this anthology. I think a lot of poems of empathy & outrage from diverse voices is very much what I need right now.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Release date: October 20th 2020

Why I want to read it: same author as “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”. It promises horror, boarding all-girls school and most importantly sapphic (or lesbian) dark academia

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Release date: October 27th 2020

Why I want to read it: sicilian twin witches, set in 1800s. Murder, vengeance, a sarcastic bad-boy demon princes and dark magic. And I’ve seen people enjoy it so far.

A Court of Silver Flames (ACOTAR #4) by Sarah J. Maas

Release date: October 27th 2020

Why I want to read it: I’ve gotten so far into the series that I want to get through with it, tbh. I’ve mainly given up on still liking this author, it’s like her writing & choices plot and character-wise have declined the last books, probably because of popularity and publishing quicker.

Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett

Release date: November 10th 2020

Why I want to read it: dark academia set in college, lonelines, cults, manipulation and at least one death.

Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive #4) by Brandon Sanderon

Release date: November 17th 2020

Why I want to read it: IT’S THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE, IF IT’S ANY BOOK I EVER HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR IT IS THIS ONE! so excited.

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Release date: November 24th 2020

Why I want to read it: It’s a somewhat short story from the Folk of the Air series, so it’s more to complete it than anything else. I’ve always liked Jude better than Cardan since The Cruel Prince.

Ruinsong

Release date: November 24th 2020

Why I want to read it: I’m kind of on the fence for this one, because, while I truly wanted to, I never got into The Seafarer’s Kiss by the same author because personally the writing didn’t fit me. But this one has enemies to lover vibes and promises sapphic (lesbian) characters, not to mention underground rebellion, so I’m willing to give it another try.

 

Witchy Reads for this Autumn (part two)

Here’s part one! It just became a truly too long post.

Books I recommend

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness & the rest of the All Souls Trilogy for the historian protagonist that explores a supernatural world riddled with old artifacts, powerful witches and immortal vampires, featuring time travel and a lot of romance. It’s also got a tv series which is fun, but as these things often do, gives no explanation or coherent plot like the books does. It’s been a while since I read this, and would love to reread it.

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling (full review) for the YA with fun, dramatic moments, a city of witches & their families, covens arguing and lots of lesbian/bi girls.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik (full review) for the fairytale vibes with wizard (more so than witches) who takes a girl from the village every ten years for mystical reasons, a fierce protagonist that never makes it boring as she creates hell for the wizard and great friendships. It’s more so on the fantasy side, but it has a lot of the village, dark forest and fairytale elements that I look for in the books I put on this list.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman should be a book everyone has heard of, but among the angel, demon, antichrist and a coming apocalypse, there’s also the full title “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” and Agne’s many-great granddaughter Anathema (Practical Occultist and Professional Descendant) who really brings out the essence of this book; there’s a lot of chaos, including being hit by a car, but it all plays into this cosmic order in some way.

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo (full review) for the breath-taking illustrations and short stories that is fairytale-inspired. It’s more fantasy than a lot others on this list, but at the same time truly delivers on its promise of “midnight tales and dangerous magic”.

Other Witchy Books on my TBR

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik for its school of magically gifted where failure means certain death and you’re not allowed to leave. Also a grumpy loner of a protagonist who has a powerful dark magic that might be strong enough to beat the system, but not without its risks. The promise of dark avademia, magic and monsters, with a lot of bloodshed & slytherin vibes is truly alluring. BTW: since I wrote this post I’ve seen a lot of questions brought up around if this book has racist elements. Of course, I don’t feel qualified to discuss that further. The author has apologized for one of the things pointed out around using a racist stereotype of dreadlocks being dirty, but if it is as bad of a – well in best case it’s a mishap – as it seems, it truly is strange how it got through the editing process of such a famous author.

Enchantée by Gita Trelease for the Paris 1789 setting, smallpox, a witch going from petty theft to trying to rob Marie Antoinette to support her family.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden for its Russian wilderness winter and arctic fairytale-inspired fantasy where the protagonist has special abilities like her mother, but her new stepmother forbids her from practicing and evil starts to seep in. Some focus on the conflict between christianity and older religions. A lot of trigger warnings!

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas for its gay trans boy that tries to prove himself as a brujo to his family by summoning a ghost, but then is stuck with the school’s former handsome bad-boy as he has unfinished business. If he’s not in love with this ghost by the end of it, I’m screeching.

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron for the fantasy inspired by West African mythology with a non-magical protagonist born into a family of witchdoctors trying to defeat her powerful sister. Also the love interest is of course of the enemy family. It’s dark and has enough trigger warnings that I’ll give a reminder to search for them before reading it.

Books I disliked, but you might like

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova for the ones who want a powerful latina bi protagonist who don’t want to be a witch (review). She is the most powerful bruja in a long time and also hates magic. Not to mention the responsibility put on her by her family. I didn’t finish the book because I thought the writing was lacking and nothing out of the ordinary, but she’s got an attitude that made me smile. It’s a story about a girl trying to save her family, but in a way that felt very ‘let’s go on an adventure’ and predictable.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore for the trans mc, flowery young adult magical realism, also literary flowery with roses growing from skin (review). It’s another book I didn’t finish, but only because I’ve found out that I don’t match with the authors way of writing (after multiple attempts at other books), which I truly find sad as they use such interesting plots and cast of characters. I mean – the synopsis is so good! And it’s a romance between a Latina girl and Italian-Pakistani trans boy. It focuses on finding yourself, it’s vulnerable and the author is queer, latinx & nonbinary married to a trans man.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina vol. 1 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for the graphic novels lovers (review). I didn’t really like this at all as I felt the charm and interesting aspects to Sabrina the teenage witch was completely removed. Would much rather recommend the tv series, as it’s roughly the same story, but with more fun elements as well as dark ones. It’s definitely a teenage soap tv series, but an interesting one. I want to still read Season of the Witch by Sarah Rees Brennan, which is a Sabrian novel published last year, but I only have hopes for it because I like that author already. It might be that both of these things were published to create more interest around the tv series, which I find disappointing if they all tell the same story.

Honorary Mentions

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is the book series I look back on having read a long time ago, being like “it was good, but basic”, but if you’re looking for a quick read I wouldn’t be above rereading it.

Kiki’s Delivery Service, the ghibli movie, is something I wanted to watch for a long time, but finally did this summer. It’s so perfectly adorable & worth it!!

Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers by Taisia Kitaiskaia is a illustrated book on my TBR, more about the magic of literature than witches, but it’s supposed to draw connection between witches & visionary writers, which I’m just guessing means connection between treatment of visionary women (like writers) who tend towards feminism. If anything I want to own it for the gothic art. “Pick a shelf” has a really good review of this unusual book!

Graphic Novels: dark fairytale, dystopian & fluffy gay romance | Short Reviews

I’m having a bit of a hard time reading as I’m busy with studying (2nd year physics student) as well as ill at the moment (no worries, thankfully not corona, I’ve been tested twice). So it’s the perfect time to again read as many graphic novels that I could get my hands on! Here’s some of my other graphic novels reviews.

Through the Woods by Emily Carrol

As I begun reading I was sceptical because the illustrations were breath-taking from the start, giving all the dark fairytale vibes, but I didn’t know how much of a substance the plots would have. A few pages in it truly got much better, as the fairytale twists got mysterious, exciting and dark. It’s made up from several different “short stories”, some more red riding hood inspired and some that reminded me some of Coraline and some of the podcast The Magnus Archive. Reading this felt like playing a game where you know every decision is a bad one. I also immediately ordered the author’s other graphic novel «When I arrived at the castle»! 5/5 stars.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina vol. 1

Plus points for being dark, but that’s the only positive in my eyes. I was excited for this as I truly liked the new TV series made from Sabrina the teenage witch. But this graphic novel drains any personality Sabrina is known for out of the character. I get that setting up somewhat the same plot as the TV series does in multiple episodes is difficult in one volume, but it just isn’t done with any charm at all. I won’t be reading the rest of the series as I felt it has little potential. 2/5 stars.

Paper Girls vol. 1 & 2

First impression of volume 1 was that I liked the retro apocalyptic stranger things vibe featuring a teen girl squad. It didn’t really get further into the plot or explanation than unexplained aliens, but it was also a lot to set up. It’s about a group of girls out delivering newspapers when they get caught up in this mystery of disappearing people and frightening strangers hunting after them. 3/5 stars.

Volume 2 had a higher chance of keeping the suspense up without as much of the confusion, which made the time-travel, sci-fi aspects much more enjoyable as well as delving into an interesting cast. Not to forget how monster tardigrades was a thing I didn’t know I needed in my life before now. I yelped out loud from surprise and happiness – I can’t explain it either. It’s just a good mix of chaos & the unexpected. Like the looming, flying ships that came into the picture suddenly. The color scheme is also truly lovely.

If I would criticize something it’s the ‘feminism’ branding push that seems a bit ‘off’, not that I’ve looked further into reasons behind it. It’s a similar feeling that lingers as from the casual homophobia that makes an appearance in volume 1, as if that was something that just belongs with the retro vibes. It was called out by other characters, so I just mentally noted it down as strange for now and makes me second-guess the future dynamic of the friendgroup somewhat. 4/5 stars.

Heartstopper vol. 2 & 3 by Alice Oseman

Review of vol. 1! To sum up I really like the author’s writing in general and that it was a truly cute, important gay coming of age story. And I love the illustration style. And this is true for the second and third volume as well. My only critique is a somewhat big one; a lot doesn’t happen in each volume. It feels like the story told could’ve been cut down in some ways, but at the same time I realize it’s aimed at a younger audience for the most part and I’m so happy it just exists. 3/5 stars for both.

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Pages: 280

Genre: fantasy, fairytales

fire

“The beast might shout and snarl, and he might well devour her, but he’d at least been interested enough to listen to her speak.”

A new collection of short fairytale-inspired fantasy stories, some set in the grisha universe. I’ve never seen illustrations that fits the stories so well, and it’s a treat as the picture becomes more complete each time you turn the page.

I have a long and bumpy history with fairytale retellings, mostly irritated by them not modernizing or putting a twist on traditional fairytales, or doing so and forgetting to be a complete and good book as well. The stories in this book definitely mantained the magic and mysterious feeling of fairytales, while having more depth and interesting characters, not to mention the great endings. In some stories it’s clear right away where the inspiration is from, personally I seem to like the stories that were most unlike the original. While I like Bardugo’s writing, I feel it can sometimes become too focused on being clever and unexpected than actually keeping a reader attentive to the story itself. I’ve felt it in books like “crooked kingdom” before, and it seem to be more of a problem when the fairytale behind the story was obvious. It’s tricky, because the cleverness is arguably what makes her stand out as an author as well.

I have two favourite stories that I would recommend this book for alone. “When water sang fire” is the last story and I got pulled in to the relationship between Ulla and Signy and how it would play out. Also I love mermaids. “Ayama and the thorn wood a strong second “ is a close second for me, just the spirit of that girl and how she overcomes her circumstances is lovely to read.

*spoiler below*

An example of the lovely drawings, that spoils some of the plot of one story, but included as a reason you need to get this book in physical form.

Continue reading

Ash by Malinda Lo

Pages: 291

Genre: fantasy – fairytales, young adult, lgbtq

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Synopsis

Cinderella retold…

In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

My thoughts

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“Ash” is an okay book, with an okay main character and that’s it. Normally I like fairy tales retellings, especially if you have to guess which fairytale it is based on. In this book, however, you pretty much know straight away that it is a Cinderella story. The name of the book – and the main character – is literally Ash, as in the ash and soot Cinderella is always covered in. At the beginning, the setting sounded so promising, the fairy and fantasy-element in it so strong. Unfortunately that feeling died with her father, when she was forced away from her home and had to play it out like any other Cinderella story.

But what is a Cinderella story without a romance and a happily ever after? I was looking forward to the f/f relationship I had read all about. I am still searching for a relationship in these pages, because it never seems to start. I don’t think I can say more without spoiling the whole thing, but just know – if you want to read this book because of the lesbian/lgbtq tag/genre solely – you might want to reconsider. Unless you expect something children under twelve might call a romance, because in any relationship (friendly or romantic or sisterly), this fairytale never does anything else than skim the surface. That might be the problem for the rest of the magic elements too, we only hear about them, not actually witness them most of the time.

While this book has its magical moments, as a whole it is a bit too weak and dull. I think I’ll do as Ash and get my joy straight from the real fairytales, because this version contains too few twists or new elements to be better than the originals. Perhaps if the f/f relationship had been stronger, or maybe the plot had some original twists. But perhaps I just know too many versions of Cinderella too well, for those who only know of the Disney version, this book might be ejoyable. “Ash” had potential, but it ended there. The cover is beautiful, though.

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

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Don’t be fooled by the beautiful cover or the fact that “it’s based on Swan Lake and Robin Hood”, this book is horribly boring. 

*some spoilers, but it’s so predicable nothing should be considered spoilers*

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Odette, the huntress and supposedly female version of Robin Hood, is the orphaned niece of a merchant and pouching from the margrave’s forest to feed the poor. She’s early Katniss Everdeen, only she’s less snarky, less brave, less of a personality and will never go hungry herself again. Jorgen is the new forester who will do anything to catch the poucher, not knowing it’s the girl he’s fallen in love with. It’s forbidden romance – of course it will happen, no secret there. But there’s also this third wealthy guy I can’t remember the name of who wants to marry Odette and so he does anything to split them up. At least he’s honest about what a douche he is.

What bothered me most about this book was how predictable it is. I wasn’t wrong about guesses a single time, and I couldn’t even feel good about it because I was so bored. This book made every other book seem like an original masterwork.

The only thing that works is the straight-forward (at best) writing. Unless you’re – like me – annoyed at the use of the word “Ja”, which means Yes in both norwegian and this supposedly german language. This book makes me want to never say the word again. Or see Robin Hood. Or read another “historical novel” in a long time. Have women be oppressed, throw in some misplaced Bible learning in this fantasy-ish story and claim it’s placed in the Holy Roman Empire. That’s how you get into that historical novel genre and not “get it at the convencience store near you – romance”. That’s also a word in norwegian – kiosknovelle – but I don’t know how to translate it, which still beats the author not translating fucking “Ja”.

It has a fucking masquerade ball. I laughed out loud. The perfect example of an over-used element. What happens at masquerade balls (in books)? People are mistaken for other people, causing drama. It’s so good at being predictable you almost have to applaud it. Also if you haven’t already figured out the plot a few chapters in, the author so graciously sums it all up in big speeches, often in big chuncks at the end of the last chapters. Below the cut there’s examples, all spoilers. To sum up this book was a big miss for me, with nothing but cliches and info dumps.

Continue reading

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

3

Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

My thoughts

fem

what a believable fairytale

This book is a dream of a fairytale from start to finish, except for the slow beginning. I had to frequently remind myself that this was not a fairytale handed down through generations from one mouth to another until someone came around and collected it – that’s how well-written it is. It’s a new book, but have that authentic fairytale feeling; with despair, loss and surely a message somewhere. The friendships of this book is fantastic and believable, you can relate with it and the language is near perfection, except for that slowness I mentioned. I’ve read so many bad cases of mixing fairytales and novel, somehow the formats usually doesn’t fit well together. You can read ten pages of things happening three times over, but not hundreds on hundreds. Also there’s trying to achieve the same things as Grimm’s fairytales which has been worked on for decades, everything uneccessary cut down or more added until we have the versions we know today. Still, I won’t say no to an extended version of that same magic, as this book is.

well-written relationships & persons

The characters, both the main girl Agnieszka (sorry I call you Agnes in my head), her best friend and the Dragon magician-of-the-tower is also incredibly believable. More so is the people of the village she comes from and their reaction to her, to how she acts and the development she has through the book. I can’t say I love Agniesza – she’s the type where you go NO, DON’T YOU DARE… shit TOO LATE. She has clear faults as a person and aren’t a very considering type, especially when it comes to consequences, but she’s herself. And I respect that. I wish you could see me reading this book, sitting in the corner like Dragon cursing this girl out, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with him either. His mood through it all is “wtf did I get myself into”, it’s hilarious.

the lovely & strange world

What I’ve seen people love the most about this book is the world, it’s very cozy and well-developed, while staying within what I would call normal fantasy. it has elements of those fantasy-villages and the mentality that comes with it, as well as more fairytale-ish areas (the wood is so interesting) and just fierceness. In many ways Agnieszka reminds me of Kvothe from the Kingkiller chronicles, just where she comes from, her values and reactions, not that they are the same or the stories are similiar.

don’t worry…

While I say it is a fairytale kind of book, I don’t believe it’s a version or an adaption of one well-known. I hate those books, where everything is predictable because you’ve grown up with the stories, what’s the fun in reading a book you have heard before? No, Uprooted has some elements (the tower, the beauty and the beast scenario, the village), but mainly it just got the origins and feeling right. In the acknowledgments, Naomi Novik says “ag-NYESH-kah (pronounciation) comes from a fairytale called Agnieszka Skrawek Neiba”, which I found as interesting additional information, and I might check it out sometime. But right now I’m over myself in joy of having read such a beautiful book as Uprooted. We need more of them – and Naomi Novik’s writing – in the world. Her Temeraire series is definitely different from this one, filled with dragons, but nonetheless as amazing.

Go check out this book if you haven’t already, it’s definitely something else. I will say it’s not your typical ya fantasy read, even if it has that strong female, but I didn’t expect it to be either as Novik has written the amazing “Temperaire” series as well. Extra points for the villains, I liked how that played out.

 

favourite quotes (minor spoilers)

“And I wasn’t old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.”

“If you don’t want a man dead, don’t bludgeon him over the head repeatedly.” aka best life advice ever

“truth didn’t mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn’t come and listen.”