REVIEW #81 | CEMETERY BOYS by Aiden Thomas

Cemetery Boys is a YA urban fantasy book about Yadriel, a trans Latinx boy who is trying to find a way to be his authentic self as a brujo, even when his family is struggling to understand. He has the chance to prove himself when cousin Miguel is killed — a brujo has the ability to summon spirits and, if need be, force them to cross from the living to the dead. Yadriel and his friend Maritza work to summon his cousin’s spirit, and it works! Sort of. Not really. Instead of Miguel, Yadriel summoned one of his classmates that was killed the same night as Miguel — Julian, the resident “bad boy.” Now not only does Yadriel have to figure out what happened to his cousin, but he also has to help Julian find out what happened to him. And…start to fall for him? Uh oh.

Has anyone recommend this to me? More like who hasn’t recommended Cemetery Boys, lol. This book has exploded over the past year — especially during lockdown last year, damn — and if I’m being honest? It is 100% deserved! My expectations going in were already pretty high, but they were blown out of the water. I think I’d go so far as to say that Aiden Thomas may be a new favorite author of mine. He just has an amazing way of writing characters, their complexities, and their relationships with one another. It’s simply amazing!

The writing is — how do you say? — *chef’s kiss*.

Seriously, though, I thought it’s was great. It was quick and tight, which helped the story move along. It never really seemed to drag on all that much, and even though it did seem to be a bit on the nose at times, I still thought it was strong overall.

Let me be clear, though: while it was fast-paced, it was not rushed. While there were some plot points that probably could’ve been developed more (the murder mystery aspect is stuck on the back burner for a good share of the last half, let’s be honest), I thought that it did a great job at giving time to develop the characters and the relationships between them all.

Very specifically, the party scene with Julian and Yadriel at the beach party? It was simply phenomenal. I could feel what they were feeling, thinking, doing. It gave me chills. I truly loved that scene, and I thought it really showcased Thomas’ skill.

And honestly? It made me cry (or at least, as close as I wanted to get to crying while at work, lol). And we all know any book that can make me cry has an A+ story in my book. So there’s that, lol.

Like I said before, Cemetery Boys is about Yadriel, a trans brujo trying to prove himself to his family, as he and his friend Maritza try to figure out how his cousin Miguel was killed…along with Julian, resident high school bad boy, because they accidentally summoned the wrong spirit.

I thought, overall, it was a wonderful story. It wasn’t super slow, but it wasn’t rushed, either. While it did seem to tip more towards Yadriel and Julian’s budding relationship, especially in the second half, I still thought the murder mystery aspect was still a lot of fun!

The murder mystery conflict — both for Miguel and Julian — was interesting in its own right. It seemed to have a bit of slow start and took a back seat for a bit to give Yadriel and Julian time to connect, but it was still intriguing, especially near the end.

Speaking of, that climax? Holy shit, y’all, it was freaking amazing. The twist in and of itself wasn’t surprising for me — I figured out pretty early on that a particular character was going to do something — but oof, the emotion that went into it? That’s what had me in tears near the end. It was so, so good, and I absolutely love Yadriel, Maritza, and Julian.

Overall, I thought the plot was a lot of fun. I loved the focus on Yadriel and Julian’s relationship (the shift from full names to nicknames in the narrative had me screaming, omg), but the mystery plot was nicely done, too.

Is it appropriate to just leave a screaming gif and leave it at that? Probably not, but that’s how I feel, lol. I loved everything about the characters (except for, well, maybe one, but I’ll get a bit into that later).

I’m going to start with my two sons, Yadriel and Julian. Can fictional characters be your children if they’re only six or seven years younger than you? My younger siblings, then. Or maybe we just forgo the weird “let’s make these fictional beings appear real” thing that we all seem to do in bookish spaces, and I’ll say I love their characters so, so much.

Yadriel is a young trans boy that wants his family to accept who he is and actively embrace him as a brujo. He’s driven to solve Miguel’s murder and, along the way, help Julian find out who his murderer was, too. I found his Mexican and Cuban culture(s) interwoven throughout the story refreshing, and though I probably missed some nuance, I thought it was wonderful to read about.

On top of that, I didn’t realize how anxious he was as a person until about halfway through, when he had to bring Julian with him to school. Can I just say that anxious Character A and off-the-walls Character B is one of my favorite pairings, so when I found it here, I did a lil happy dance as I was reading.

I also just…really love the complicated feelings he has towards his family. He loves them unconditionally, on the one hand, but on the other hand, he is So Tired of having to claw out any sort of validation or respect for him and his trans identity. It’s not that his family members are being purposely transphobic in trying to push him out of the duties of a brujo, but it stings just the same.

And then we have Julian. The literal ride-or-die friend, his dedication to and love for his friends — his found family — is immense and amazing. He is such a good friend to everyone he lets in close, and I loved seeing him trying to care for them even when he was a spirit.

This includes Yadriel, too. The little things Julian would do or say to truly support Yadriel when he was struggling with his family and being trans almost made me start crying with how genuine he is as a character. The way he urges Yadriel to inch outside his comfort zone and try things out while respecting who he is in his totality was amazing. And oh, I don’t want to spoil it (and I won’t!), but there’s a bit during the climax where he says something to Yadriel, and I just start crying in the club (library).

Let’s not forget his sillier side, too. This boy is off the walls goofy, and I absolutely love him for it. He has little to no impulse control, just does whatever he thinks of in the moment and goes from there. Pair this with Yadriel, who may or may not have some Anxiety Issues, and you get perfection.

I also just really enjoyed all the side characters, too. I thought Maritza was interesting, and I loved seeing her and Yadriel interact (wish I saw more of it!). Now that I think about it, I think she may be one of the few vegan characters I know, which is pretty cool. Julian’s whole friend group were a delight, and seeing them stick together no matter what was great. Yadriel’s family, though they made me wince now and again, were still a major part of Yadriel, and I liked seeing the complexities between him and them. Just, overall, I loved all the characters in Cemetery Boys — I think Aiden did a wonderful job in fleshing them out and developing them over the course of the story.

Cemetery Boys takes place in East Los Angeles, where Yadriel lives with his family in a family-owned cemetery. The magic system — and the commentary behind it — was pretty interesting, and I wished I could see more of it throughout the story. From what I understand, it’s a gender-based magic system, where brujos are able to summon spirits and send them to the other side (voluntarily or otherwise) and brujas are able to heal wounds. When each kid in the family comes of age, they partake in a special ceremony where Lady Death gives them their abilities. Yadriel wasn’t allowed to partake in the brujo ceremony because his family believed that Lady Death wouldn’t see him as his gender.

It was interesting to see him try and navigate this gendered system throughout the book, and it made me wonder what would happen with non-binary folks who were neither men/boys or women/girls. Would it just be whatever the non-binary person was “closest” to? If so, wouldn’t that be inherently antagonistic towards non-binary people who don’t coincide with either binary gender? I found myself thinking about it a bit throughout the story, and I don’t remember it ever being touched on. It’s an interesting thought exercise nonetheless.

I will say, though, the mythology surrounding Lady Death and other mythological figures within the story was really intriguing. I loved learning about them, and I thought they were a great addition to really round-out the world-building.

There was so much good stuff shoved in this delight of a book, I loved it. One of the themes that really popped out to me was this notion of proving oneself. Throughout the book, Yadriel struggles with proving he’s a man to his family, that he deserves the title of brujo, because being seen as a man by his family is one of the most important things to him. He doesn’t want to sacrifice his family or himself, he wants to confidently have both.

However, there are multiple times that Julian tries to push against this, against proving one’s own intrinsic worth. If I remember correctly, he asks Yadriel a variation of “prove yourself to whom and why?” and tries to get him to see that he doesn’t need external validation from his family, and he shouldn’t have to try so hard if there are certain people in his life who are unwilling to rise up to the plate.

It’s a conflicting spot to be in for Yadriel, though. On the one hand, he hates having to “prove” who he is, that his family can’t simply accept and support him. He hates having this doubt that Lady Death would reject him as a brujo. But on the other, he loves his family and his culture. He wants to create a space for himself and others like him, and he wants his family’s love and acceptance. It’s not as simple as “drop them and leave” when he truly wants a place within his family that he can be proud of. This conflict is threaded throughout the story, and I love the way it ends up. No spoilers, but it’s definitely not a “everything is happiness and rainbows and absolutely perfect” ending.

On top of that, I’m always down for a good ol’ found family theme, and Julian and his friends really make it good. The relationships between one another, looking out for each other, everything. I absolutely loved meeting them, and I wish that if, for whatever reason, Aiden Thomas decides to make a sequel, we can see more of them.

I was also pleasantly surprised at Julian’s brother — their relationship is complicated, but I was so happy to see him look out for Julian and his friends, no matter what. He’s just trying his best to be a dad to a bunch of teenagers, and I love it. He gets a 10/10 from me.

In short, I had an amazing reading experience with Cemetery Boys. While the plot was engaging enough, I think it really shines with the characters and their relationships with one another (especially Yadriel and Julian, but the entire cast was intriguing in their own way). If you want a fun slow-burn supernatural romance with a dash of murder mystery on the side, I would definitely recommend Cemetery Boys!

✨✨✨

Shoutout to CW and the Pond for their blog post full of different book review prompts — it was the basis for this here review structure! If you want, shoot over to their Ko-fi to give a tip!

  • Transphobia, including deadnaming (the act of it; the deadname itself isn’t used) and misgendering
  • Classism
  • Xenophobia
  • Blood
  • Violence
  • Character death
  • Mexican-Cuban gay trans boy MC
  • Colombian achillean LI
  • Trans and queer side characters
  • Side characters of color

Title: Cemetery Boys

Author: Aiden Thomas

Pub. Date: 1 September 2020

Genre: Paranormal; Urban Fantasy

About (via StoryGraph):

A trans boy determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas’s New York Times-bestselling paranormal YA debut Cemetery Boys, described by Entertainment Weekly as groundbreaking.

“Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him. When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

“However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.”

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REVIEW #80 | WHAT WE DEVOUR by Linsey Miller (ARC)

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

What We Devour is a YA dark fantasy standalone that follows Lorena, a young girl who holds a secret close to her heart. When she makes a deal with the Crown Prince to help him in researching a special Door that just barely holds back murderous gods known as Viles in exchange for human sacrifices, she will be stretched to her limits. Not only does she have to help with the Crown Prince Alistair’s research, but she is also tasked with finding information to prove Will’s (her partner Julian’s father) innocence when he is arrested for treason. However, the further Lorena goes with either task, the more she learns that neither is what they appear to be.

I’ve been following Linsey Miller ever since her first book, Mask of Shadows, came out, and I’ve been floored with her work every time. Requesting an ARC for her most recent book seemed the logical next step, and I was ecstatic when I saw it come in the mail. My whole time spent reading it was a thrill, and I was simultaneously heartbroken and blown away when I finished reading it. It’s been days, and I’m still in a bit of a bookish hangover.

I’d like to say that I try not to have any preconceived notions going in, but I’d be lying. What We Devour was one of my most anticipated reads for this year, and it absolutely destroyed the (admittedly, quite high) expectations I held for it. The commentary surrounding asexuality and capitalism was superb, and it truly was one of the book’s strengths. The characters? *chef’s kiss* I loved seeing everyone’s interactions with one another, especially Lorena and Alistair. Everything just clicked into place for me, and it was an absolutely amazing experience.

This is also coming from someone who doesn’t read a ton (if any?) dark fantasy! I didn’t think I was going to like that aspect so much just because the genre never seemed to be something that I would be interested in. I’m very glad that Linsey proved me wrong. ☺️

Just. This whole reading experience was me screaming about…basically everything? The writing really set the tone; the plot (while it seemed to be placed on the back burner at times) was exciting; the characters??? are everything I could ever ask for and more???; the world-building needed a bit of thought and was absolutely captivating; and the THEMES, oh my goodness. The themes (and the characters, tbh) is where this book really shines.

To put it simply, the writing was all around very good. It did a wonderful time setting (and keeping) the tone of the book — it was dark and tense and it had me flying through the pages as fast as possible. To me, the gore wasn’t all that bad (YMMV, however — it is a dark fantasy novel based partially around sacrifice, after all), but the writing really shines with character’s emotions, especially Lorena’s since we’re in her headspace for the whole novel.

I thought the 1st person POV did a great job of centering in on how Lorena starts off in the beginning of the book as a girl who already knows of the horrors the world and those in power can bring and then shifting to the morally grey protagonist we see at the end. Not only that, but the reader gets to see firsthand her dilemmas regarding her feelings toward both Alistair and Julian, as well as Will. Seeing her struggle with how she feels about the three of them was very intriguing to read through, and there are no easy answers.

Throughout the book, there’s a constant stream of darkness. It’s bleak, all the cards are stacked against Lorena and the others, nothing seems like it will work out. But through it all, there always seems to be this undercurrent of hope, no matter how weak. The characters are constantly up against roadblocks, but there’s always this feeling that at the end of it all, our dear protagonist and her friends will come out on top, even if it isn’t exactly the way we want them to. And this bit did a wonderful job at making me root for not only Lorena, but the side characters such as Basil and Mac (and yes, even Carlow). There is always this feeling of, “The world can be — and needs to be — different. And we’ll help get it there.” and it made the story not as dark as it could have been, which I personally enjoyed.

In terms of the more technical aspects, I found it very easy to read. While the world-building was a bit much at first — requiring me to sit with a few sections and think on them sometimes — it didn’t make for anything particularly rigorous, and in fact, I had a bit of fun with it. There are some time-jumps that, to me, seem to come out of nowhere and a few awkwardly-ending chapters, but that didn’t take away from my personal enjoyment whatsoever. I also wish we had more time with the world-building — it seemed a bit crunched in at times — but I’ll get to that later on in the review.

Overall, I thought that the writing made for a dark and tense reading experience, which I very much enjoyed. It drove the plot along, and it made me anxious to see what would happen next.

Like I said earlier, What We Devour follows Lorena when she, as a deal to prove her partner’s father’s innocence, agrees to help the Crown Prince Alistair with his research that involves the Door, the entry to the world beyond that holds powerful gods known as the Vile (those who destroy) and the Noble (those who create). However, she has her own secret: she is a dualwrought. Being dualwrought means having both a vilewright (the ability to destroy in exchange for sacrifices) and a noblewright (the ability to create in exchange for sacrifices). Dualwroughts are extremely rare — the only other known dualwrought is the queen of Cynlira, Alistair’s mother.

Not only does Lorena have to worry about the Door, as it needs an increasing amount of human sacrifices to stay closed recently, but she also has to find a way to prove Will’s innocence when he is charged with treason. Both of these, however, become more and more challenging because nothing is as it seems. Lorena will have to not only work with her newfound allies to find a solution, but also with Alistair, the symbol of everything Lorena hates in Cynlira.

I fucking loved this story, y’all. Like I said earlier, it seemed to take the back burner at times in order for us to connect with the characters, but it was still magnificent in the way that it circles back around to encompass said characters. Whether it’s the moral questions surrounding the Door or the questions surrounding Will, Lorena, and what family means, I thought the plot gives the reader a good foundation to explore the themes that pop up throughout the book. If you’re into stories about anti-capitalists attempting to take down the systems that oppress them, I think you’d really vibe with What We Devour.

I will say that it seems to take a bit for the ball to start rolling in the beginning, but when it does…be ready. When it picks up, it picks up quickly, but it didn’t feel rushed to me. The ending and resolution could seem a bit too open-ended for some, but I thought it was a perfect ending for the story: very rarely do things end with a neat bow on top, and it can be messy and complex — all you can do sometimes is weather it.

I have so many favorite scenes, but I’m adamant in keeping this review spoiler free. In the meantime, just know that I was on the edge of my seat for the last third or so of the book — there were so many memorable scenes and character development (regression?) that had me doing a lil excited dance in my chair (or bed, depending on where I was reading, lol).

I will say, though, that while I enjoyed the plot immensely, the characters are what really sold me on What We Devour. Let me tell you…Linsey Miller knows how to create some real interesting characters.

…Where do I even start with the characters, y’all? Lorena was simply amazing. Starting right out of the gate, she is a brave and outspoken girl who isn’t afraid to point out other characters’ bullshit. She is manipulative, and lying is her safeguard. Her relationships with the other characters were so interesting to get into (especially Alistair! omg!), but what really intrigued me was her relationship with her wrights. I don’t want to go into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but compared to other noblewrought and vilewrought, she treats her wrights in a much different way. I loved seeing the dichotomy between how Lorena communicates with her wrights and how Alistair does. It was very interesting to see, and I think it gives just a bit more depth to who they both are as people.

I really liked seeing Lorena’s development (regression?) throughout the novel. She isn’t afraid of doing what she thinks she must in order to protect Cynlira as a whole, which usually means doing some pretty gruesome things. At the end of the day, though, I still rooted for her. For years, the nobility class sat back and ignored the anguish and break-backing labor the lower class has put in for the hopes of scraps because, simply, they think they can have their cake and eat it. They force the masses into grueling work so they can reap the benefits for themselves and throw people away when they become just a bit too loud in their protests. I suppose Lorena isn’t a likable character in the traditional sense, but I loved her regardless.

And Alistair…just. My goodness. He respects Lorena and the other wroughts that are working with him, and he isn’t afraid of being corrected by them, which is miles better than how many of the noble people treat “regular” folks throughout Cynlira. It was charming to see.

However, it still had a bittersweet bite to it: he respects Lorena and the others as far as he sees their use and value. He likes them because they’re as invested in the research about the Door as he is, but beyond that…he is still the vilewrought Prince. If they were just regular joe blow on the street, he wouldn’t think twice about them. He is still a bloodthirsty person who won’t stop to get what he wants. To see Lorena struggle with this side-by-side with her budding feelings (platonic, romantic, or otherwise) had me eating this book up.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget the side characters! They were all delightful; I just wish we could see them more. Creek and Carlow — a noblewrought and a vilewrought who have also been cursed by a Noble and Vile respectively — were fun to read, especially when they were together. Basil was adorable, and I would protect them with my life, no questions asked. The three of them working for/with Alistair on the Door was an interesting dynamic I wish we got to see more of, honestly. Let’s be real, though, these characters could be reading the back of a cereal box, and I would lap it up because I simply love them that much.

Julian, Lorena’s friend, and his father Will were characters that I just loved to hate. They’re the kinds of people that we all know, the ones who make it seem like they care about everyone, when they truly only care about themselves and maybe closest to them. In truth, they would let the whole burn if they were able to live, even if they have to do exactly what their oppressors have done to them.

All of the characters really shined (yes, even the characters the reader is supposed to hate — they shined in being the most annoying characters ever), but I think what really intrigued me was the world-building.

What We Devour takes place in a country called Cynlira, where the rich thrive and everyone else is left to the wolves. Or, in this case, the Door, the gate between the mortal world and the world in which Vile and Noble exist. The Door must be given human sacrifices in order to satiate it. Otherwise, it risks opening and thrusting the Noble and Vile upon the nation. Recently, the Door has become increasingly insatiable, needing more and more sacrifices more frequently to stay closed.

There are people throughout Cynlira known as noblewrought and vilewrought — people who can do certain types of magic thanks to having parts of the Noble and Vile gods. Some folks also have the ability to be both, a dualwrought. However, many of them do not have the freedom they wish for — most wrought are found and forced over to the Crown in order to be bound to some nobleman so they can do their dirty work magic and nothing else.

I will be straightforward in saying that the world-building can be A Lot when first starting out. It can be confusing, and I had to re-read passages sometimes in order to fully understand what was being conveyed. However, I will also say that this may be the first book where I was excited to learn more about the world. I was actively looking forward to when the characters discuss more about the Door and the Vile/Noble. The noblewrights, vilewrights, noblewroughts, and vilewroughts. Dualwroughts.

Outside of the characters, this is why I wish there was a sequel planned. Or, better yet, that it was going to be part of a 12-book series where I could get lost in the world and characters. I always had this craving for more. If someone had to twist my arm and ask what I thought the weakest part of the book is, it probably would be the world-building simply because I never felt like I got the full picture. Functionally, yes, I did get enough that I understood what was going on, but damn, I wish I could’ve gotten a whole encyclopedia to pick through. A whole Cynlira: A History to read. That would’ve really topped the cake and make this book a step above the “absolutely phenomenal” it already was.

In all honesty, even though I just said the world-building is probably the weakest thing about What We Devour, it was still plenty enjoyable for me, and it kept me captivated throughout my whole reading experience. And ya know what? You wanna know what really made this book shoot up to my top 3 favs of the year? Ya ready for this? It’s the themes. The themes, oh my goodness, y’all. You’re not ready for the themes.

Let me just say that if I still have any brain cells left after I’m finished with grad school, the first thing I’m doing is writing an academic-level essay on the themes in this here book, y’all. I just. What We Devour has it all: the harsh realities of capitalism! asexuality and how many ace folks constantly have to “prove” ourselves! the moral dilemma of how far is too far if you’re trying to tear down the existing system and build something new! and more!

Excuse me as I scream because the way these were all executed throughout the book was…so good. The anti-capitalism themes were immediately apparent throughout every strand of the story. The exploration of asexuality and acephobia through Lorena and her relationship with Julian was very validating to read and absorb. Seeing an ace character so damn confident in their identity right off the bat was something I didn’t know I needed until I saw it in action, and it was amazing to see.

The discussion surrounding how far is “too far” when creating a new society was interesting for me because I’m constantly thinking about what we could do in our current society, how we could tear shit down to create something better. Is there a limit to what we should or should not do in order to create a just world? Are there needed sacrifices, or are all sacrifices unjustified? Who gets to choose these things? It was compelling to think about, at the very least.

So, yeah, if you couldn’t tell already, I really enjoyed What We Devour. If you’re into dark fantasy, anti-capitalist themes, ace girls who will stop at nothing to save the proletariat and watch the rich suffer, monster gods….well, you’re in for a treat with this one. While the plot can be subtle and the world-building a bit confusing, I feel like the characters and themes definitely make up for it. I just can’t put into words how much I love this book, y’all.

I can’t exactly end this review by saying “be ace, do crimes, eat the rich”….except I totally can, it’s my review.

Be ace, do crimes, eat the rich.

✨✨✨

SO. This is set up a lot different than my previous reviews, huh? I have CW and the Quiet Pond to blame for that (except not really blame because it helped a lot!). They have a blog post chock-full of review prompts that have really helped me flesh this review out! Here is the post in question, and this is their Ko-fi page if, like me, you’ve found this post super, super helpful. I just wanted to give credit where credit is due!

(Also, lemme know how you like the new set-up, please? I think I’m gonna tweak a few things going forward, but I’m always open to hearing new ideas!)

  • Death
  • Mention of cannibalism
  • Blood and gore
  • Self-harm for magical purposes
  • Human sacrifice
  • Acephobia (moderate amount)
  • Ace girl MC
  • Wlw SCs
  • Non-binary SC
  • Side characters of color

Title: What We Devour

Author: Linsey Miller

Pub. Date: 6 July 2021

Genre: Dark Fantasy

About (via StoryGraph):

“Undertaker Lorena is comfortable in her quiet life. She knows what her future holds, anonymity and a marriage to her best friend Julian. But when the notorious Crown Prince Alistair arrives at her doorstep with an arrest warrant for Julian’s father, her life changes in an instant.

“The Prince immediately recognizes that Lorena is powerful and whisks her away to the capital in exchange for Julian’s father’s freedom. With Alistair she learns more about her power, as well as the danger facing the entire country.

“As a rebellion between the rich and powerful and the poor and downtrodden erupts, Lorena becomes less sure of her loyalties. Should she trust the boy she thought she loved and the world she thought she knew? Or should her faith lie with the boy she barely knows who has everything to lose?”

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REVIEW #79 | A DOWRY OF BLOOD by S.T. Gibson (eARC)

Review: "A Dowry of Blood" by S.T. Gibson
Review: “A Dowry of Blood” by S.T. Gibson
A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson
A Dowry of Blood – S.T. Gibson

Title: A Dowry of Blood

Author: S.T. Gibson

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Pub. Date: 31 January 2021

Synopsis (via StoryGraph):

A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation.

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets.

With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • fantasy/supernatural violence
  • blood
  • gore
  • incest (mention)
  • emotional and psychological abuse
  • physical abuse (minor)
  • character death
  • self-harm
  • depressive symptoms

Representation:

  • bisexual MCs
  • m/f/f/m relationship (but let’s be real…the f/f/m relationship is better)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

*I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review*

This is my second gothic horror novel — and my first S.T. Gibson book — and let me tell you, it won’t be my last for either of those things!

A Dowry of Blood follows a young woman renamed Constanta, who is turned into a vampire by an unnamed man (but who the reader understands to be Dracula), throughout centuries as she lives and travels with said sire. The story is told as a series of letters/diary entries written by Constanta to the lord who created her after the events have occurred.

So I’ve never read a Dracula re-telling (or anything related to Dracula, tbh), mostly because I wasn’t a huge fan of Dracula when I first read it. However, when I saw that A Dowry of Blood was a polyam book centered around the vampire partners of Dracula, I decided that I had to request an ARC from the publisher. And uhh I loved it. It was so good, omg.

The characters! Are amazing! Constanta is a wonderful narrator, and it was really interesting to see her development throughout the story. Her relationship with the other partners, Magdalena and Alexi, was amazing, and I loved seeing the subtle differences in how Constanta interacts with the two of them and vice versa.

At this point, I do want to point out that while the relationship between Constanta, Magdalena, and Alexi isn’t abusive, their relationship with Dracula is. Amongst other things, A Dowry of Blood is a study of an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship (at some points, it is physically abusive, but it isn’t graphic or often). It starts from the moment Constanta is turned and it doesn’t stop until the (very tense, very “grips you and never lets go”) climax. I thought the exploration was done wonderfully, with extra care given since the subject matter is sensitive. But if the depiction of an abusive relationship can be triggering for you, it’d probably be a good idea to keep that in mind if you make the decision to read this.

With that being said, though, the writing was gorgeous. It’s dark and loving and amazing all at the same time, and I know that seems overwhelming to some people but I swear it makes sense when you read it, lol. It’s just…so pretty. So good. It was very easy to read, especially once Magdalena and Alexi get introduced. And that climax? I know I mentioned it before, but that was probably one of the best climaxes (and build up to said climax) I’ve ever read. I even had to put the book down for a time because I was getting so worried over the trio.

I just had such a wonderful reading experience with this book, and if it sounds like something you’d be interested in (even if it’s outside your reading comfort zone, like it was for me!), I would highly recommend it. I can’t wait to see what S.T. Gibson does next!

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REVIEW #78 | MORNINGS IN JENIN by Susan Abulhawa

Review: "Mornings in Jenin" by Susan Abulhawa
“Mornings in Jenin” review
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa

Title: Mornings in Jenin

Author: Susan Abulhawa

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Pub. Date: March 2006

Synopsis (via StoryGraph):

Forcibly removed from the ancient village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejas are moved into the Jenin refugee camp. There, exiled from his beloved olive groves, the family patriarch languishes of a broken heart, his eldest son fathers a family and falls victim to an Israeli bullet, and his grandchildren struggle against tragedy toward freedom, peace, and home. This is the Palestinian story, told as never before, through four generations of a single family.

The very precariousness of existence in the camps quickens life itself. Amal, the patriarch’s bright granddaughter, feels this with certainty when she discovers the joys of young friendship and first love and especially when she loses her adored father, who read to her daily as a young girl in the quiet of the early dawn. Through Amal we get the stories of her twin brothers, one who is kidnapped by an Israeli soldier and raised Jewish; the other who sacrifices everything for the Palestinian cause. Amal’s own dramatic story threads between the major Palestinian-Israeli clashes of three decades; it is one of love and loss, of childhood, marriage, and parenthood, and finally of the need to share her history with her daughter, to preserve the greatest love she has.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • child abuse
  • war
  • bombing
  • kidnapping
  • death (both human and animal)
  • child sexual assault/rape (inferred)
  • execution
  • trauma (and the effects of it)
  • torture
  • sexual content
  • ableism (including internalized ableism)
  • genocide

Representation:

  • Palestinian cast (MCs and SCs)
  • Jewish SC/MC

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

Everyone go thank Jia for rec’ing this book for as long as I’ve known her. She’s the entire reason I even knew about this book’s existence. And because of that, she’s also the reason I’ve cried so much within the past two weeks (for book-related reasons, obviously, lol).

Mornings in Jenin follows four generations of a Palestinian family, from the time of Al Nakba to after 9/11. Center stage through most of is Amal and her older brother Yousef as they grow up in a refugee camp in Jenin, as well as beyond, and deal with the trauma thrust upon them from such a life.

So, I want to be super upfront about this book: it doesn’t pull any punches. While there are happy moments throughout the book, it’s meant to pull at your heartstrings, and it’s an extremely emotional read. Please take care to read the trigger/content warnings, especially if war, genocide, trauma, and the effects of such things could potentially trigger you.

With that being said, however, I loved this book. It is very much character-focused: while Abdulhama uses the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a backdrop, the story centers around Amal and her family as they live through this tumultuous and traumatic time. The reader is thrust into their lives and experience what they experience alongside them. The writing very much helps with this — the purple prose is both beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time, especially when it comes to the tragedies that befall the characters. The reader connects with them quickly, and just as quickly it seems that something happens to them that break’s their heart.

Along with that, the narrative switches between the past and the present. This might put some readers off from reading Mornings in Jenin because it could be confusing for some folks, but I thought it worked very well. I liked how it flowed between the different times and characters. I’m not sure if I can put into words how it worked, only that it did. If that makes sense?

I also want to point out that even though tragedy and trauma are a constant in this book, I don’t think the book would be considered trauma porn. What happens to the characters isn’t purely for the emotional effect it has on the reader, but instead, it has a purpose. It’s supposed to show the atrocities of war and occupation, very particularly when it concerns the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the subsequent attempt of pushing Palestinians out of their own country. The book is supposed to humanize a community that has been simultaneously dehumanized and ignored for so long, to show that in the face of oppression, loving one’s family, one’s culture, one’s country is an act of resistance when the oppressors want to eradicate you and pretend you don’t exist for their own gain.

If you’re into sad books, but still aren’t convinced enough to try this one out (assuming the reasons are outside any triggering content, of course)? Let me just say that this book made me cry within the first fifteen pages, and it is now the book that has made me cried the most while reading it. I wasn’t really keeping track, but it was at least five, lol.

So yeah, if you want a book that has the potential to make you super emotional and pull at your heartstrings — especially when you think about how many of the events throughout the book are based on events that actually happened (or described exactly events that happened) — and one that encompasses a family story four generations in the making, I’d give Mornings in Jenin a shot. It may become a new favorite like it did with me!

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REVIEW #76 | WHO DO YOU SERVE, WHO DO YOU PROTECT? ed. by Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? edited by Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price
Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?
Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States by Joe Macaré, Alana Yu-Lan Price, Alicia Garza, Maya Schenwar
Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? — Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price

Title: Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States

Editors: Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price

Pub. Date: 10 May 2016

Synopsis (via StoryGraph):

What is the reality of policing in the United States? Do the police keep anyone safe and secure other than the very wealthy? How do recent police killings of young black people in the United States fit into the historical and global context of anti-blackness?

This collection of reports and essays (the first collaboration between Truthout and Haymarket Books) explores police violence against black, brown, indigenous and other marginalized communities, miscarriages of justice, and failures of token accountability and reform measures. It also makes a compelling and provocative argument against calling the police.

Contributions cover a broad range of issues including the killing by police of black men and women, police violence against Latino and indigenous communities, law enforcement’s treatment of pregnant people and those with mental illness, and the impact of racist police violence on parenting, as well as specific stories such as a Detroit police conspiracy to slap murder convictions on young black men using police informant and the failure of Chicago’s much-touted Independent Police Review Authority, the body supposedly responsible for investigating police misconduct. The title Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?is no mere provocation: the book also explores alternatives for keeping communities safe.

Contributors include William C. Anderson, Candice Bernd, Aaron Cantú, Thandi Chimurenga, Ejeris Dixon, Adam Hudson, Victoria Law, Mike Ludwig, Sarah Macaraeg, and Roberto Rodriguez.

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • police brutality
  • mentions of torture/torture devices (both historically and currently)
  • racism (anti-Black, anti-Brown, and anti-Indigenous)
  • medical abuse/neglect

Representation:

  • a collection of essays about police brutality that centers Black women, LGBTQ+ folks, pregnant folks, indigenous folks, and migrants

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

I was able to get an e-copy for free through the publisher Haymarket Books because they offered it for no charge sometime last May. As of the day this review is being written (7 January 2021), the eBook is still free! Here is the link to snag it (even if it isn’t free, I would still recommend buying it regardless!). Anyway, it was something I was interested in, and who doesn’t like free books? So here I am.

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? is a collection of essays surrounding police brutality, its impact against marginalized communities (especially Black folks), its connections to imperialism, and how to combat it and be less dependent upon police. While most of what was written I already knew about or wasn’t a surprise to me personally, I know that it’ll help educate and inform many other readers who may be in a different place in their learning. I could tell, throughout every single essay, how angry these writers were about police brutality and the system it upholds. But I could also tell how much these contributors love and care for their communities and wish to see them thrive. I can only hope that this book can motivate and/or radicalize folks in order to make that happen.

There was an essay that did bring up some new ideas for me, and that was the one that focused on pregnant people in prison/under arrest: “Your Pregnancy May Subject You to Even More Law Enforcement Violence” by Victoria Law. While none of what was written was particularly surprising — I’m not shocked that prison guards often ignore pregnant people’s concerns until it’s too late, for instance — it brought a new lens to my understanding of police brutality. While theoretically, it makes sense that pregnant people would be at risk of violence, I didn’t consciously think about it until I read that essay. And it isn’t only pregnant folks — anyone who needs regular medical attention or medicine is often looked over by guards and cops. It just adds another layer to one’s understanding of how heinous police brutality and the prison system are.

On top of that, I really appreciated the second half of the book, which focuses on helping one’s community without police input. I thought many of those essays were enlightening, especially one that delved into how community members and EMS could serve the community better without the police butting in and escalating things like they often do. I found myself feeling hopeful for the future, knowing that there is a history of becoming less dependent upon police. I’ll be excited to see what community organizers can do on this front in the future.

Overall, I thought Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? is a wonderful, knowledgeable book and everyone should pick it up if they’re at all interested in learning about police brutality and what we can do to minimize our dependence on the cops. Again, here is the link so you can get a free e-copy (if they still offer it for free by the time you get around to reading this review, lol).

To end this review, here is something new I want to try with reviews from now on: a few quotes that I like from the book! I know a lot of reviewers splash them throughout the review, but I’m way too indecisive for that, so y’all get a block at the end, lol. Enjoy, and I hope you liked this review! Let me know your thoughts by commenting below 😊

(also, quick note, there’s only three quotes because this new thing was a split-second decision made right before I scheduled this post, lmao. but expect more in other reviews in the future!)

Fav Quotes ✨

When cops bully them, scare them, fuck with them, it’s because our children aren’t seen as part of the future. Our children are disposable.

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?

If we seek to dismantle the police state, we must also dismantle the military.

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?

Self-preservation of the state is the primary priority.

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?
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REVIEW #72 | CIEL by Sophie Labelle (eARC)

Title: Ciel

Author: Sophie Labelle

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Pub. Date: 15 September 2020

Synopsis:

Ciel is excited to start high school. A gender non-conforming trans kid, Ciel has a YouTube channel and dreams of getting a better camera to really make a mark. Ciel can always rely on their best friend, Stephie, a trans girl who also happens to be a huge nerd, but their friendship begins to feel distant when Stephie makes it clear she wants the fact that she’s trans to be more invisible in high school. While navigating this new friendship dynamic, Ciel is also trying to make a long-distance relationship work with their boyfriend Eirikur, who just moved back to Iceland. When Ciel befriends Liam, a new trans boy at school, things become more complicated by the minute.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • transphobia
  • misgendering
  • xenophobia
  • homophobia (slurs)
  • parent death (mentioned)

Representation:

  • Brazilian-Canadian non-binary trans MC
  • multiple side characters of color (I don’t have the exact races because I somehow lost all my notes, I’m sorry 😭)
  • trans boy side character
  • bi trans girl side character
  • multiple queer/LGBTQ+ side characters (identities not specified)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

*I received an eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

So I normally don’t read Middle Grade books — not because I’m disinterested, but because I usually completely forget about them — but I’m so, so glad I was able to snag this up on NetGalley! It was unbelievably cute, and we need all the happy, uplifting trans/non-binary books for younger readers.

Ciel is about this young non-binary trans kid, Ciel, who is just starting high school. They’re also a small YouTuber, making videos about their day, family, friends, etc. The book follows them and their friends as they come to terms with high school life and the up’s and down’s that come with it.

Lemme be upfront with all y’all and say that not a lot happens in terms of plot: the whole book spans only the first two weeks of high school for Ciel, and it isn’t even 300 pages long. If you’re much more action-oriented, this book may not be for you.

However, this is part of the reason why I fell in love with it: it was basically just a slice-of-life story that focused on Ciel and their issues with their new friend group, their boyfriend, and how to express themself and their gender at a new school. I finished it within about three or four hours, and it was everything I wish I had when I was younger, even though I didn’t know I was genderqueer until much later in life.

Ciel spoke to me as a main character, in more ways than one. I completely empathized with their issue regarding what to wear as a non-binary person, especially because they didn’t want to stand out too much at first. While I usually don’t wear too many overtly feminine things (I’m AFAB), I still have a look where if you saw me on the street, you would probably code me as a woman. However, I wish wish wish I could dress more overtly masculine, maybe even bind. But where I live right now, I don’t want to stand out like that, mostly because I’m not out to barely anyone IRL. So Ciel’s issue? I totally understood them.

And their anxiety regarding friends! Going into high school was so scary for me because I didn’t know a lot of people, even though I was in stuff like band and cross country. I kinda just lumped together with folks from band, and called it a day, even though I felt they were just putting up with me and not because they wanted to be my friend. Seeing that paralleled with Ciel’s experience validated my experiences from so long ago, in my first year of high school.

Oh! And the fact that Ciel wasn’t the only trans person in the book! Their best friend Stephie is a trans girl who, upon entering high school, doesn’t want to make it known that she’s a trans girl, which causes a bit of friction between her and Ciel. There’s also a trans boy character as well, Liam. I just really enjoyed seeing the three of them interact with each other because of how different they come at their trans/non-binary identity. It’s different for each of them, and seeing that variety should make it clear that there’s no specific “right” or “wrong” way to be trans, which I think will be awesome for both trans and non-trans kids alike.

The only thing I wish we got more of was more of the side characters. Understandably, you can only fit so much into a middle grade novel, but damn, I would have loved to see this book spread out over the course of the year, seeing the side characters and how they developed throughout the course of it. That would’ve honestly made it a 10/5 star read for me, really.

I think Ciel is a perfect book for non-trans kids who want to learn more about trans/non-binary experiences, and (first and foremost) for the trans/non-binary kids who are either questioning if they’re “trans enough” or who want a happy, hopeful representation of kids like them. Because that’s what Ciel is: even though it has instances of transphobia and homophobia, it is ultimately a hopeful, positive book about trans kids and their lives. I hope when a trans kid reads it, they see themselves in it, like I did.

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REVIEW #71 | LAIR OF DREAMS by Libba Bray (The Diviners #2) (Mini Review)

Lair of Dreams (The Diviners, #2)

Title: Lair of Dreams

Author: Libba Bray

Series or Standalone?: The Diviners #2

Pub. Date: 5 September 2017

Synopsis:

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. Now that the world knows of her ability to “read” objects, and therefore, read the past, she has become a media darling, earning the title, “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners’ abilities…

Meanwhile, mysterious deaths have been turning up in the city, victims of an unknown sleeping sickness. Can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld and catch a killer?

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • homophobia
  • xenophobia
  • racism
  • ableism
  • character death
  • sex trafficking

Representation:

  • gay MC
  • Black MCs
  • mixed (Chinese and Irish) disabled (childhood paralysis; uses crutches) ace lesbian MC
  • (Note: it isn’t declared on-page that the MC is an ace lesbian until the next book, Before the Devil Breaks You)
  • Jewish MCs

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

  • after the events of The Diviners, New York has something else to fend against: a mysterious “sleeping sickness” that’s killing citizens; Evie and the other Diviners have to figure it out before it’s too late
  • I don’t really know what to say outside of….it was great!
  • Ling! Ling! Ling! Ling! I love her so much, and I’m so glad she’s a Diviner
  • her relationship with Henry is amazing, and I enjoyed seeing it develop throughout the novel. I love seeing platonic m/f relationships!
  • Evie was getting on my nerves at times, but her behavior is understandable when you think about what she’s been through
  • I thought the ending was a bit anti-climatic, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book; it really starts to set things up for the later books while also being interesting in its own right

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REVIEW #66 | LABYRINTH LOST by Zoraida Córdova (Brooklyn Brujas #1)

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)

Title: Labyrinth Lost

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Series or Standalone?: Brookly Brujas #1

Publishing Date: 1 August 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

“I was chosen by the Deos. Even gods make mistakes.

“Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.”

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • blood/gore
  • genre-typical violence
  • kidnapped family
  • [Note: there’s probably more, but I didn’t write down the list as I was reading, and…it’s been a couple months]

Representation:

  • bi Afro-Latinx girl MC
  • Latinx side character
  • sapphic Indian side character
  • [Note: …look back to the first note, lmao]

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

All you need to know about this book is that, outside of Rashani Chokshi, Zoraida Córdova is the only author I found so far that can make a real good love triangle. Anyways, that means I love it.

Labyrinth Lost is the first book in a YA urban fantasy/supernatural series about a young Afro-Latinx girl, Alex, who is also a bruja (a witch). Alex doesn’t see the good in magic, and perceives it as something inherently bad.

So, on her Deathday (where her friends and family come together to celebrate her emerging powers), she attempts a spell in order to get rid of her powers. But instead, her family disappears.

In order to find them, Alex must team up with her friend Rishi and Nova, another brujo. Cue the epic adventure!

I said this at the beginning of the review, but holy fucking shit, this love triangle, y’all. It didn’t feel forced, it didn’t feel like the two love interests are competing for Alex as if she were simply a “prize.” It just felt…good. Depending on how the rest of the books go, I can definitely see myself shipping these characters as a polyam trio. Please, Mx. Córdova, give us the polyam trio we deserve. 😌

Also, I just really love these characters! Alex is such an interesting protagonist for me: she loves her family to bits, but she also hates her magic, which is so important to her family — how can she reconcile these two things? It was really interesting for me to see her struggle with this internally throughout the novel, and I can’t wait to see how this continues throughout the series.

And Rishi and Nova?? They are perfect, too, and they can do no wrong. Seriously, Rishi is such a good friend to Alex, and Nova made me like the “bad boy” trope, which is a feat. I usually hate that trope. Look at what Zoraida is doing, she’s making me like tropes I normally hate. That right there? Pure, unadulterated skill. We love to see it.

Honestly, though, this was such a fun book for me to read! The focus on family was amazing, the love triangle was *chef’s kiss*, Alex’s character development is so good, and! This is just a little thing, but any non-English words that pop up? Aren’t italicized! It’s small, but it makes me smile. So, yeah, overall? This was a wonderful urban fantasy/supernatural book, and I can’t wait to pick up the series when I get a chance!

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REVIEW #64 | PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE by Samantha Shannon

Title: The Priory of the Orange Tree

Author: Samantha Shannon

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Publishing Date: 26 February 2019

Synopsis (Goodreads):

“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 to be a dragonrider since she was a child, 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.”

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • executions
  • character deaths
  • gore and blood
  • violence
  • miscarriage/death of a newborn

Representation:

  • f/f relationship
  • m/m side relationship (prior to the events of the book)
  • characters coded as people of color
  • a woman character dealing with depression and anxiety

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

So I think I’m Samantha Shannon trash now? I now have a desperate need to read the rest of her books. As someone who is just dipping their toes into adult high fantasy, The Priory of the Orange Tree was absolutely amazing.

The Priory of the Orange Tree is a political high fantasy novel that follows several characters in different parts of the world as the dreaded Nameless One (the evil dragon baddie, if there ever was one) begins to rise from its slumber to destroy the world.

First, there’s Ead, who is one of the helpers for Sabran, Queen of Inys. She is actually part of a secret mage society but is working undercover to keep the Sabran safe from harm. Then we have Loth, a Lord from Inys and one of Sabran’s closest friends. He and his friend Kit are sent to another country, where both a plague and support for the evil wyverns are rampant. However, not everything is as it seems. Niclays lives in the East, having been banished from Inys years before. When he helps a stranger hide, his sheltered life begins to crumble. Tane is a young woman who has been training her whole life to be a dragon rider, someone that protects the East with the help of the mythical god-like creatures. Things start to go awry, though, when she helps to hide a castaway she meets on the beach.

As the story unfolds, these four characters are instrumental to what happens, either making decisions that help move the world toward destruction, or further away from it. The four of them have such rich backstories — along with the other characters — and I loved learning about them. They each have their own distinct desires and motives, and they’re not all black and white. For those of you who’ve known me for a while, you know how much I love books that focus on its characters, and this is definitely one of them! Oh, and you know what’s even better? When all of these seemingly separate stories become interconnected —- it’s simply *chef’s kiss*.

Along with that, I truly believe that the writing is such a strong aspect of this book. The language used is beautiful and easy to understand. I didn’t have to strain to find out what was going on and, on top of that, the language could be very pretty and/or moving. It was accessible, and sometimes that can be hard to find in adult high fantasy.

I will say that the ending is a bit rushed for my liking, but in the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t bothered by it. The climatic battle didn’t feel all that climatic, but at the end, I still felt like The Priory of the Orange Tree is its own contained story. I think it does well as a standalone, but of course, I will always be happy with a sequel (or even a prequel!). It was a very fun world to visit, and I can’t wait to see what Shannon does next.

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REVIEW #62 | THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth #1)

Title: The Fifth Season

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Series or Standalone?: The Broken Earth #1

Publishing Date: 4 August 2015

Synopsis (Goodreads):

“This is the way the world ends. Again.

“Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

“Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.”

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • child slavery
  • physical child abuse
  • death of children
  • character death
  • rape (in the sense that the two characters are ordered to have sex by their commander(s), not one character forcing themselves onto another)
  • blood/gore
  • violence

Representation:

  • an all-Black (or nearly all Black) cast of characters
  • a polyamorous trio
  • multiple transgender characters

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

I didn’t think I was going to fall absolutely in love with this, but uhhh, here we are. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I am.

I can’t really explain the plot of The Fifth Season without spoiling a lot of the novel, so I’m going to try my best. The book is set in a world where there are people called orogenes: people who can control the Earth (including the rock, lava, crust, etc.). Oftentimes, these people are feared by those around them and are usually looked down upon. Sometimes they are taken to a place called the Fulcrum, where they are trained to control their powers.

The Fifth Season follows three people and their journeys. First, we have Essun. She is a middle-age orogene mother who is trying to find her daughter who recently disappeared. Then we have Syenite, who is an Imperial orogene who must go on a quest/mission with a stronger orogene. And finally, there is Damaya: a young orogene girl who is sent to the Fulcrum to train, after her family comes to the decision that she is too dangerous.

I loved all three of their perspectives! Sometimes, with books that have more than one POV, I like one over the others, but I honestly couldn’t wait to get to all three of them. The three of them all had engaging stories, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see what happened next.

On top of that? Let’s talk about the diversity! If I remember correctly, all or nearly all of the cast of characters we have are Black. One may be considered white, but…well, you’ll figure it out if you read the book why I’m not sure, lol. And also??? We have casual polyamory, which is so cool. I think this may be the first book I’ve read with polyamory, and I thought the trio was amazing! On top of that, we also have a trans woman character and (if I remember correctly, sorry, my memory is jacked up) a trans man character. I just really enjoyed the diversity in this book, and I can’t wait to see what the next two books bring.

As for the writing itself: it is SO GOOD. Seriously, I have nothing but good things to say about it. The story itself kind thrusts you into the middle without preamble and you’re left to blunder a little bit until you understand the world. But, if you do get a bit too lost, there are a couple appendices at the end of the novel that can give you a bit more context. I…didn’t realize that until the end, lol. But! As someone who is new to Adult fantasy (as well as science fantasy specifically), I was able to piece together the world-building within the context of what was going on. I didn’t personally find it difficult to get through once I read through a chunk of the book.

I also have to say that this novel definitely sold me on second person point of view. Before reading The Fifth Season, I had no idea it could even be used in fiction outside of seeing it a bit in fanfic, but wow, was I surprised to see that Essun’s chapters were in 2nd person. I thought I fit the story really well, and I’m happy I was able to experience it for the first time with Jemisin’s novel.

But also, if you don’t know this, you will now: this is not a happy read. There are happy moments, yes. Moments that will make you let your guard down and think, “Wow, everyone’s so content!” Moments that will let you have the slightest glimmer of hope. And then you know what happens to those moments? They’re crushed. Obliterated. Turned to dust. But like dust, the hope is still there all around you, lingering. It never really goes away, it’s always settling somewhere. Basically, all of this to say that this is not a happy book, but to me, it’s a hopeful one. I’m hoping, at the end of the trilogy, no matter what happens, the characters end up with some sort of ending that fits them. It probably won’t be the happiest ending in the world, but I feel like it’ll be enough that the characters would say, “The journey was worth it.” at the end.

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