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!

Kait | sixcrowsbooks
Kait | sixcrowsbooks

Feel free to connect with me!

Twitter

StoryGraph

Wanna tip me? Here’s how!

Ko-fi

Venmo: xxksedxx

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!

Kait | sixcrowsbooks

Feel free to connect with me!

Twitter

StoryGraph

Wanna tip me? Here’s how!

Ko-fi

Venmo: xxksedxx

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?
Kait | sixcrowsbooks
Kait | sixcrowsbooks

Feel free to follow me!

Twitter

StoryGraph

Want to support me? Here’s how!

Ko-fi

Venmo: xxksedxx

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.

Feel free to follow me!

Twitter

StoryGraph

BookSloth: Kait | sixcrowsbooks

Want to support me? Here’s how!

Ko-fi

Venmo: xxksedxx

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

Feel free to follow me!

Twitter

Goodreads

Want to support me? Here’s how!

Ko-fi

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!

Feel free to follow me!

Twitter

Goodreads

Want to leave a tip? Here’s how!

Ko-fi

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.

Feel free to follow me!

Twitter

Goodreads

Want to support me? Here’s how!

Ko-fi

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.

Feel free to follow me!

Twitter

Goodreads

Want to support me or leave a tip? Here’s how!

Patreon

Ko-fi

REVIEW #59 | BELLE REVOLTE by Linsey Miller (eARC)

Title: Belle Revolte

Author: Linsey Miller

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Publishing Date: 4 February 2020

Synopsis (Goodreads):

“Emilie des Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work.

“Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts.

“Emilie and Annette swap lives—Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician’s assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives.

“But when their nation instigates a frivolous war, Emilie and Annette must work together to help the rebellion end a war that is based on lies.”

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • gore
  • character death
  • family death (a character’s brother)

Representation:

  • biromantic asexual girl MC
  • multiple f/f relationships and lesbian (or otherwise sapphic) characters
  • trans man side character

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

*I received a copy of the novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

I read this book within a day or two, and I loved every second of it.

Belle Révolte follows two girls: Emilie, a noble girl who wants to study the noonday arts and become a physician instead of the midnight arts, and Annette, a peasant girl from a family who doesn’t want her and who wants to study the midnight arts. They end up meeting one another and, on a whim, decide to switch places. Annette pretends to Emilie and studies the midnight arts while Emilie admits herself to a school for the noonday arts. However, tension and action start to stack up quickly as the country is thrust into a war/revolution, and the girls are thrust into it as well.

First off, this magic system? Is simply amazing. It is split into a binary: the midnight arts (divination, scrying, etc.), which are traditionally used by women, and the noonday arts (divided between surgery/medicine and fighting/warfare) are traditionally used by men.

I love that Emilie is fighting tooth and nail to become a physician and prove everyone wrong with what she can do. The magic system is believed to be entirely binary: women weren’t considered strong enough to use the noonday arts, and men believed the midnight arts to be below them. However, Emilie proves throughout the novel that women can actually prove to be just as competent in the noonday arts (shocker, I know), and there is a debate that touches on both arts actually being the same side of the coin, not opposites. This magic system and the discussion about it within the novel were very intriguing, and I love this aspect.

Now, the characters… While I can’t remember names (not the novel’s fault, I am incredibly bad with keeping up with who’s who, especially when they don’t have their own POV chapter), I do remember that I loved all of the characters. I felt like I knew them, and following Annette and Emilie was a joyride in and of itself. The reader just gets to know the both of them so well, including how they don’t feel like, a lot of the time, they can’t be who they truly are in public. They are constantly fighting to be themselves in a world that doesn’t care for them, and I love that. I don’t love that they have to, but I feel connected to both of them. I understand that struggle.

On top of that??? The side characters??? I love. They are honestly so, so amazing, and that representation? *chef’s kiss* We got multiple f/f relationships, a trans man side character, and an MC who’s asexual and biromantic. I just loved how everyone was super casual about it, and the best part? While this book was gruesome and bloody and violent, none of the violence was queer antagonistic/transphobic/homophobic/etc. in nature. It was just refreshing to see.

There were a couple parts of the novel that, if I didn’t already absolutely love this book, I would probably take a half-star or two off. One was a plot twist with one of the side characters. I thought it was a bit goofy and allowed everything to wrap up nicely, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. The second part was the ending: at first, I wasn’t a huge fan of it because I thought it was very rushed. However, the more I thought on it, the more my mind began to change: revolutions can often take suddent turns toward the end, and that’s just what happens with the end of Belle Revolte. I think it fit the overall narrative.

But yeah, please please please pre-order/order this book or request it for your library, y’all. This was a wonderful, quick read, and I’m so glad I was able to snag it when it was under the “read now” tab on NetGalley!

Feel free to follow me!

Twitter

Goodreads

Want to support me or leave a tip? Here’s how!

Patreon

Ko-fi

REVIEW #57 | THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Publishing Date: 13 September 2011

Synopsis (Goodreads):

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

“But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

“True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

“Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.”

Trigger/content warnings:

  • character death
  • abusive/toxic family relationship (I viewed it that way, but you may not)
  • blood

Representation:

  • sapphic side character

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

This book makes me want to scream, but in the good way. Seriously, no one told me that I was going to fall in love with this atmospheric, gorgeous piece of art.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern follows two people — Celia and Marco — from when they are children up through when they’re young adults in their 20s. They have been instructed by their guardians that they are part of a competition where they must use their magical abilities against one another in order to win. Most of the competition takes place in a circus that travels all around the world and performs at night. However, even though they both know little of the rules — or even the competition itself — they break one of the few rules: they begin to fall in love. The question, though, is who is going to win, and who is going to lose.

I’ll start the review off by saying this: what the f u c k, Erin Morgenstern, whose soul did you sell in order to write so dang beautifully? What the hell, y’all. I’m usually not one for heavy description (and The Night Circus has plenty), but not once did I feel like I was being dragged out of the story because of it. The writing was just that good: I found myself vividly imagining what everything looked, sounded, and tasted like in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. It was incredibly atmospheric, and I appreciate the craft and hard work that went into all of it. The language was simply amazing.

Going along with the writing, I thought that the plot (or lack thereof) is just….some good stuff. The reader gets sucked into the world and the characters’ minds, and it makes me so happy. As someone who adores character-focused stories/novels, The Night Circus is perfect for me. By the end, I felt like I really knew the characters, and I rooted for most (if not all) of them at one point or another. I enjoyed being on their journey, and honestly? I can’t wait to re-read it so I can experience it again. But yeah, if you’re expecting a huge action-oriented plot, this probably isn’t the book for you.

And now my favorite part of this entire book: the characters. For one, Celia and Marco are the only valid allocishet couple. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. On a more serious note, I truly didn’t think I was going to like them as a couple; it just seemed like yet another insta-love story. But I’m so glad I was proven wrong. While the relationship was a bit insta-love, it was executed in such a way that, at the end, it didn’t feel like that. I know that may not make a ton of sense, but like. Believe me. As someone who doesn’t like insta-love, their relationship throughout the novel was truly beautiful.

I mentioned this before, but the other characters were so fleshed out, and I absolutely loved that. They all had their own motivations and personality.

The only thing that may be considered a downside is that you never really find out why the competition happens outside of the two men, Alexander and Celia’s father, continuously going at it throughout the centuries. Or, at the very least, I didn’t grasp it as I was reading. However, the more I thought about it, the more I’m convinced that maybe not knowing their motivations is the point. Maybe the reader is supposed to grasp that they’re both so old that they don’t even remember why they partake in these competitions. Just something to think about, and I think I’ll keep it in mind the next time I read this book.

Anyway, that was just a small personal gripe I had out of the whole novel. Outside of that? This book is phenomenal, and I really do recommend it to anyone who loves character-driven stories.

Feel free to follow me!

Twitter

Goodreads

Want to support me or leave a tip? Here’s how!

Patreon

Ko-fi