Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler | Book Review

Pages: 352

Genre: young adult fantasy, lgbt; bi morally-gray protagonist, f/f relationships, a lot of queer characters, pirates


In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there’s money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire—an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty’s service—she’s sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit. 

My thoughts

Rating out of five: two stars

I read the book “Ship of Smoke and Steel” by Django Wexler right after this one and I would very much recommend it if you’ve already read & liked this book, because it’s pretty similar in the style of the protagonist’s voice, but I also found them both lacking in the same areas.

The world-building isn’t great, but it truly is interesting as it is pretty much powered by magic, and you get to slowly learn the mechanisms behind the ship and the world as the plot unfolds. It’s obvious the author has experience writing fantasy books and I think it’s more of a choice considering the YA targeting. There is also the constant questioning of which characters to trust and not, while none of them ever claim to truly be ‘the good ones’, there’s just different degrees of selfishness among them. The whole crew of the ship were tributes with magical abilities trapped there forever, meaning Isoka is no longer that special, but at the same time she does seem to have abilities to do things the other never could, so it does feel like there’s some short-cuts taken there.

I don’t care about everyone. Maybe that makes me a monster, but I’ve always known that. o save Tori, to save Meroe, to save my own skin, I’d kill every crew on the ship if I had to. But— There’s more to saving Meroe than just keeping her alive. If I take her with me, and we live when everyone else dies, then she’d never forgive herself. The goodness in her, the part that makes her care, might be snuffed out forever. Then she’d be a monster, too. And I can’t accept that.

– Isoka in Ship of Smoke and Steel

There’s certainly some heart-warming elements to the book as well, they even highlight some of the unreliable narration as there’s a split between how she views herself and her actions; like how Isoka claims that she cares about little other than her sister, but at the same time she’s finding herself saving strangers and wanting other things. Meroe is also an interesting character, having skills that isn’t revealed right away and a good backstory to back them up, but for the most part they’re pretty shallow and stereotypical.

The queer parts (were kind of bad)

I could tell this book is written by a man through the writing of some characters. It’s not as bad as it sometimes can be and there was (thankfully) no explicit scenes, even if it’s obvious when people have sex. There’s a lot of queer characters, so a clap for that I guess. The f/f romance between Isoka & Meroe is nice, their gender has little to do with it in many ways though. It’s a nice touch from the start how Isoka is always thinking about what Meroe might think if she were to kill someone, in a way that social pressure becomes her conscience, not to mention a bit of jealousy.

There’s no book or plot reason Isoka is a girl really in this book at all. I’ll explain – there’s a few extra sentences put in here about both experiencing exchanging sex for favours or power of some sort (which does happen for also the male characters) and being threatened extra for being female, but overall there’s nothing characteristicly making her female. Which I would maybe even have truly liked, weren’t it for the sexist world built up around them and how it never seems to affect Isoka, which is truly weird. Isoka is afraid of certain things, like the fate of her sister, but never for herself. When she’s in a position where she has sex with a guy to get access as part of a plan, she talks herself into how she wants it in a very strange and not empowering way, to be honest.

Being female never holds her back, but the world built up around her should at least bring her to have more thoughts around it, if not feel the consequences directly. For fuck’s sake, she talks about how if she were found to be unwilling to cooperate back in the city, as someone with magical abilities, they would’ve just kidnapped her and bred her. It’s basically mentioned as a one-off comment. There’s also the fact that Isoka is all of a sudden constantly distracted by Meroe & her body, as she’s fighting for her life, in a very fanfic way that does not match her character. Fantasy worlds doesn’t inheritely have to be sexist; either naturally have it affect a female character or just don’t make a sexist world??? They’re very much not a joy to read for your female readers??? At least make a point if you are to create them. The more I think about this, the angrier I get at how it colors this book for me.

I haven’t even mentioned the “beast” of a woman that is a tyrannical leader, somehow to make the woman also evil in this book, without any reason other than pride/humiliation of course as the other leaders gets more complex ones.

For someone truly excited about queer relationships, Jack and Thora (both female) is where it already started to feel sketchy. They’re both kind of one-dimensional characters, which doesn’t help as every time they’re in the room together Jack is all over Thora, who sometimes even reads as if she’s uncomfortable. There’s the fact that Isoka deals with some internalized homophobia in the beginning, before realizing she likes girls as well, that might draw the relationship worse than it is. But it does at times contribute to the feeling that the author wanted to write a good fantasy where the YA parts and the female protagonist, as well as the queer characters, became more of a selling-point than truly a part of the story.

The plot was predictable, but interesting. I went into this book looking for a badass morally-gray protagonist and a cool fantasy world. I finished it being both a bit confused about my feelings around it, a bit excited by the action, very let down about the predictability of plot and lack of explanation about the world. But most of all with the sense that the wrong person wrote the story for all its highlighting of a kickass-female-character & queer cast.

I REPEAT: Fantasy worlds doesn’t inheritely have to be sexist; either naturally have it affect a female character or just don’t make a sexist world???

Pirates & Sirens: To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo | Book Review

Genre: young adult fantasy, mermaids/sirens

Pages: 340


Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy? 

My thoughts

Rating out of five: three stars

I’m still not quite cold enough for the ocean that birthed me.

For a the little mermaid retelling with lots of pirates of the caribbean vibes mixed in, this was a good story. It was not as dark as it promised, however. Some parts are truly taken out of the little mermaid and the evil Ursula. I felt the story could’ve gone way deeper than it did on the abuse Lira goes through, for example it shows in a superficial, but at the same time well-placed way, why her cousin is the only siren left that Lira cares about. At the same time her beliefs, moral or confidence is never a question, the way you would’ve thought under that type of abuse. I recently read “The Midnight Lie” by Marie Rutkoski and I think that book deserved an extra star just from the mind-twisting that results from the similiar abuse the main characters had to endure there. It’s great to have a fierce female main character, who is truly deadly, but I really think a book should just go full out and not soften her, whether it’s because the plot requires it or fear of making her unlikable.

So what’s left is action and a bit of (unecessary honestly) romance, and a genuinely cool story with pirates, royals and mermaid-like sirens and horror-like mermaids. It all builds up towards this big endgame and destroying the enemy by using one item, which I was really worried about, but this standalone managed to finish it off with a good finale. Not that it wasn’t boring, but it felt epic enough. I genuinely liked the characters, and it was those who carried the story through.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, but it’s missing a layer somehow. Both the characters, the plot and the writing is very straight-forward, which makes it an easy read, but also predictable. Definitely some enemies-to-lovers vibes going on as well, which I’ve truly realized is a trope I’m loving recently. In this book I would’ve been very happy if they’d just stayed soulmates though, and never introduced romance into it. It just didn’t really fit.

Pirate Cover | Friday Face Off

This is a weekly thing created by Books by Proxy, but currently run by Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme: “I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request.” – A cover featuring Pirates

My pick: Demons of the Ocean (Vampirates #1) by Justin Somper

Yeah you heard right – vampirates – vampire pirates!!!

Ebook (2008) Little, Brown Books – Ebook (2010) by Simon & Schuster UK  – Italian (2006) by Arnoldo Mondadori

Hardcover (2006) by Litte Brown and Company – Swedish (2010) by B Wahlströms – Slovak (2008) by Slovart

My favourite

The italian one looks extremely italian somehow. The one I read once upon a time was the first one, so it has a place in my heart as the ultimate pirate book cover. But the winner is truly this detailed one –

The Unbinding of Mary Reade | Review

by Miriam McNamara

Pages: 340

Genre: historical fiction, lgbt




A romantic novel based on the true story of a girl who disguised herself as a boy to sail with the infamous pirates Anne Bonny and Calico Jack—and fell in love with Anne Bonny.

There’s two parallell stories told, the first in 1717 of Mary Reade trying to please her wealthy grandma, dressing up as a boy to have a claim to be her heir. Her childhood friend and love is Nat. In 1719 we meet her again as she’s on a merchant ship, still passing as a boy, until it’s raided by pirates and she manages to join them. She joins after seeing Anne Bonny, the girl of the captain Jack, and becomes fascinated with this female pirate, with a sword and a gun in her hands. Sailing with a crew on the verge of another mutiny, she has to decide if she wants to reunite with Nat, side with the captain or risk everything by going for Anne.


My thoughts

Rating out of five: three stars


This book is a romance, with little action. It has grime and darkness, but it feels like it’s put here obligatory to meet some minimum requirement of being a pirate novel. That said, one thing I found interesting about this book is Anne and Mary returning to Anne’s home, a settlement of religious people where her the husband she escaped from has gathered a lot of influence. Nat – Mary’s childhood crush – also have settled there and the two girls struggle under the mysogynistic principles and ideas of what a woman should be (definitely not a pirate and unmarried). They’re fighting for their independence, realizing they have little to stand up with and that they’re trapped. The hopelessness was so strong in these scenes and broke through the apathy I’d weirdly felt for the characters until that point.

 the characters

Well, I didn’t feel anything for the characters except Anne. Mary first describes her as a independent and fierce girl standing on the deck with a sword and pistol in hand, being the only woman on her crew. She comes soon to realize she’s only there because of Jack’s permission, everyone on the crew apparantly dislikes her for being a woman. Anne doesn’t feel very thought-through as a character, she’s very girly and whiny, it’s like being relatively free on the ship after being beaten by her husband in the town hasn’t changed her at all. There’s no development, she’s uncomplex and flat like many of the other characters. I feel the author adressed this at one point, having Mary notice how Anne was manipulating Jack by being sweet and kissy when Mary was in danger from him.

It’s this weird battle through the book of Anne wanting to be free and independent, not tied to any man, at the same time as she haven’t gathered any skills to make it on her own. Mary is sewing dresses, struggling as the town is considering her an unmarried whore who they need to reform. I so wish Anne had been written as girly, yes, but also a woman of skills and personality. If she was “broken” by her circumstances, make that something that lasts more than a couple paragraphs.


the romance

If you want your sapphic Mary and Anne pirate romance, my opinion is that the chemistry is barely there. Sure, it’s a lot of back and forth, proclaiming their love to each other, but I did not feel the romance. Protectiveness sure, towards the end.


their struggles

I’m seeing reviews that expected Mary to be trans, which I do not think was the intent of the book. She certainly struggles with her identity, trying to figure out what parts of her was acting. If you should expect anything from that part of the book, it is that Mary feels like something in between a woman and a man. Both she and Anne faces so much discrimination and little freedom, in different ways and I think the fact that they didn’t understand each other struggles were one of the more realistic things. One is claiming the other have it easier, until they realize they need to both escape.


The feeling this book gave me: it got an extra star for the fact that it made me shed a tear (it was 3 am and that’s my excuse) when it showed the hopelessness of the situation of Anne and Mary trying to be “correct” women and still being beaten for it. other than that i was bored much of the way through, considering to dnf it several times.


Thanks to the publisher for receiving this copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller | Review

Pages: 320

Genre: fantasy, pirates



There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.


My thoughts

Rating out of five: four 


This is a fun and enjoyable book. It’s fantastic to have girls who kick ass in fantasy, especially when it’s someone as cunning and dangerous as Alosa. I was hesitant to pick this book up because I noticed how it seemed to be talked about like “this princess isn’t sitting around in her ballgown, she cares about her clothes and appearance AND is a pirate captain who kills a lot of men”. I read this book fast, it was entertaining, but I am certainly a bit worried about why and how people are praising it. There’s not a lot of deeper world-building or truths, for a lack of a better phrase, in this book. It’s pirates, and it’s bloody and it’s fun – and better than a lot of similiar books I’ve read.

the main character Alosa

Alosa seems too overconfident at times as she tells herself over and over that she could get out of the captivity of the other pirate ship anytime, she just needs to get the map first. I mean, she was still in the middle of the fucking ocean. And then there was a revelation that made all of it make sense, she had a plan out, and I was impressed. I saw it coming a couple pages before the reveal, but it still was done in a really clever way. Alosa is the definition of cold, she reminded me of the character Katsa in “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore. Katsa also had an king relative who basically tortured her and gifts that enhanced that coldness. Also she’s one of my all time favs, so of course I would like Alosa.

plot and romance

The plot of this book is simple, but it’s well executed. Alosa is captive to find a map, she’s faced with challenges, both in searching creative hiding spaces, trying to not hook up with Riden and trying not to be tortured by the captain Daxen. The romance with Riden is what it seems, he’s her nicer-than-most guard after she escapes for the hundreth time, a lot of banting and suddenly they’re sharing stories and making out. It wasn’t as exciting as other parts of the book, but it’s obvious that they both have ulterior motives and know what they’re getting themselves into so.

What I was feeling reading this book: entertained and a bit concerned for everyone in Alosa’s path. Also I was laughing when Alosa ended up trashing a particular room and was found drawing octopuses on the maps.


a mini rant

I don’t like the reviews saying how “feminist” or girl-empowering this book is. There’s little in this book that I find feminist??? It’s set in a world with very clear patriarchy and where Alosa has carved out her mainly female crew, but we barely see them all book and don’t interact much with them, as she’s held capture on another ship because she’s the daughter of a pirate king. The fact that Alosa has certain skills, and that her father trained her to use them, does not overwin the fact that she has to avoid getting raped throughout this book and is constantly underestimated because she’s a girl, to the point where it’s almost comical because they know she’s the damn pirate princess. Alosa killed three guys without flinching to get her dresses when she was captured, she does not have much of a conscience. And that’s fine, especially as we learn more about her and what she’s been through, but she’s not the good person in this book. None of them are, Alosa and Riden discussed so at one point. They are pirates for a reason. I do think Alosa’s treatment is choices made deliberately by the author, and I don’t have a problem with that, just the way this book seemed to be discussed.