To Kill a Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

37541225.jpgPrincess Lira is siren royalty, feared and revered throughout the ocean but living in the terrifying shadow of her mother, the Sea Queen. Prince Elain is heir to the golden throne of Midas, dedicating himself to hunting down the elusive Prince’s Bane – a siren known for stealing the hearts of princes all over the world. The pair’s paths cross when the Sea Queen curses Lira with humanity, banishing her from life in the sea until she returns with the heart of the great siren hunter.

To Kill a Kingdom is inspired by The Little Mermaid, which I didn’t realise until I started reading and picked up on all the similarities. The story is very different, but some aspects are clearly taken from The Little Mermaid (Lira’s red hair, the Sea Queen’s tentacles, Lira being turned human and losing her ‘song’, etc). This was actually a really exciting feature for me because, although fairy-tale inspired books are common, The Little Mermaid is quite a rare one.

The book is generally well-written, but I did struggle to picture one or two aspects. I found it really difficult to visualise the difference between sirens, mermaids and mermen, but I’m not too sure why. I’m not going to blame the author’s descriptions, because it could simply be that the image of mer-people is one so ingrained in my brain that I can’t visualise an alternative. However, this didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the story.

There are a lot of great characters. Lira and Elain are both decent enough protagonists, but the side characters really stole the show. Elain crew, especially Madrid and Kye, are fantastic and entertaining while even much smaller characters like Khalia play important roles within the plot.

It’s not perfect, but the excessive sassy banter that fills this book really makes up for it’s flaws. The flaws are minor and difficult to pick out; there’s just something about this book that stops it being a work of genius, but it’s a good read.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

36678391.jpgOn the night of the winter solstice in a pub on the Thames, the regulars are telling stories as they do most nights, when a stranger bursts through the door carrying the dead body of a little girl. A few hours later, the girl wakes up. Nobody knows who she is and, when multiple families come forward to claim the child as their own, nobody knows who to believe.

Once Upon a River is a magical fairy tale, but it has a very long-winded plot. There’s a lot of build up to “something’s about to happen”, ending in comparatively little actual climax. The book isn’t actually especially long, but it took me ages to read and I would have found it impossible to read in one sitting. It just didn’t flow particularly well and was quite hard work to get through.

There are loads of different characters, to the extent that we don’t really get to know most of them properly. The only ones I got to know well enough to particularly like were Rita and Daunt, because they appear in multiple threads of the story. Most of the other characters were very forgettable (in fact, as I sit here writing this, I can’t remember the names of any others).

I liked the way the story was told, from the point-of-view of a narrator who was not part of the plot but felt like an integral participant in the book. It is written in a way that feels as though the narrator is telling you the story, but without ever explicitly inserting themselves in the narrative. This has the effect of drawing the reader in and, had the story been more engaging, would have been a wonderful style.

Once Upon a River had a lot of potential to be a great book but, unfortunately, didn’t quite live up to it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Beast’s Heart – Leife Shallcross

36273241In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the focus is on the Beast’s side of the story. A lonely beast, cursed and isolated, has a chance encounter with a lost traveller. In return for saving the man’s life, the Beast gains the company of his daughter, Isabeau, for a year, during which he finds both love and his humanity.

For the first half of this book, I felt a bit cheated. It wasn’t so much a retelling, but rather an almost identical version of the Beauty and the Beast story we’re all familiar with, from the point of view of the beast. To me, this felt like a bit of a cop-out and was a little disappointing. Fortunately, the second half of the book and the details of Isabeau’s sisters did take the story in a new direction.

The magical elements are enchanting. The book is very descriptive and beautifully written with a flowing plot and complex characters. Plus, how stunning is that cover, right?

It’s a classic story, and very well-written, if a little unoriginal. I enjoyed it a lot.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Girl in the Tower – Katherine Arden

34731459This is Book #2 of one of my favourite books of last year (The Bear and the Nightingale), so I was beyond excited to be offered the opportunity to read an advance copy. I had verrrrrrry high expectations, and I was not disappointed. Vasya, facing the choice between marriage or life in a convent, decides instead to run away and travel. Her adventures soon take her to Moscow, where she finds herself having to defend the city and the Grand Prince from something awful.

Katherine Arden’s writing is fantastic. She weaves clear and enchanting images, and no part of the story is boring. Every single word was a joy to read. There really aren’t many books I’ve come across that are quite as magically well-written. That being said, there was, sadly, a bit less magic in the book than in the first, but there was still just enough to keep it special.

Vasya and Morozko are two of my favourite characters to ever exist. Vasya is strong and determined – and nothing like the usual fantasy heroines – while Morozko is a powerful and compassionate… What a babe. I just love him. And I can’t not mention Solovey: I’m not usually a fan of horses in general, but his connection to Vasya throughout the story is so lovely.

My one and only criticism of this book is the ending. It was abrupt and kind of unsatisfying, I was completely unprepared for it to end when it did (and not just because I enjoyed the book so much I didn’t want it to end). There seemed to be a lot of only partially resolved threads, and the ending just felt very sudden. It was quite a jarring and unsatisfying end to my reading experience.

However, the abrupt ending does not take anything away from the magnificence of the rest of the story. I cannot wait for the next book. 10/10. 5 stars. Full marks.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Last Days of Magic – Mark Tompkins

30849999Bringing together aspects from history, myth, fairy tales and biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic tells the story of a time when magical beings and humans co-existed. Set mainly in Ireland and England, we meet men, witches, goddesses, kings, exorcists and an array of other magical creatures, fighting together and against each other for control.

Honestly, the synopsis of this book makes it sound better than it is. Although it’s based on some good ideas, the story is over-complicated and difficult to read. And, most importantly, boring. So let’s get into it…

Firstly, the book is too long, with confusing time-jumps (flashbacks and time-skips) and far too many characters. A nice idea, very poorly executed. I did like the inclusion of historical detail – it gave the book a bit more depth – but, again, there was too much of it. A lot of the detail felt completely irrelevant and just added length to the book, making it drag.

I did enjoy a couple of the story threads (namely, Aisling and Jordan’s) but there was so much going on and so many different parts, making the majority really hard to get into. Large portions of the book really just seemed to be characters standing around discussing battle plans and strategies which was, frankly, dull.

The amount of research that the author must have done in order to write this book is impressive, and I do applaud that, but it didn’t translate well into the story and, basically, it was a chore to read. Sorry to be so negative but I was really disappointed by this book. The premise sounded fantastic and the actual content of the book was a real let down. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

25489134A beautiful, intriguing story about a young girl living on the edge of the Russian wilderness. The winters are long and harsh, but Vasilisa and her siblings get by listening to old fairy tales about demons and spirits. But after her mother dies and her father brings back a new wife from Moscow, Vasilisa starts to realise the importance of the old traditions honouring the spirits of the house, and that fairy tales are based on truth. As the villagers begin to let go of the old ways, danger creeps closer and Vasilisa must defy the ones she loves to protect them all from a terrible evil.

Despite reading multiple reviews before starting this book, it took me by surprise. It reads exactly like a fairy tale, but is deeply detailed and imaginative. The story is truly beautiful. There is no wild, grand adventure, but rather a slow burn of constant magic and mystery of Russian folklore, and Vasilisa’s relationship with the spirits that protect her village. I don’t know how authentic the Russian or the folklore is, but it certainly felt authentic. The writing is perfect. The style flows and is unbelievably easy to read considering the number of unfamiliar words and names. I was well and truly sucked in.

Every character is comprehendible, even the ones who do bad things. Pyotr is driven by love of his family and that can be seen in every decision, even the ones I didn’t agree with. Father Konstantin is devoted to God and genuinely believes he is doing God’s bidding, though even he can admit that he is driven by temptation and greed. Anna is the only character that I truly disliked, but she lived her entire life in fear and it drove her insane. I liked that these characters were all fully developed, with understandable reasons behind their madness and hate.

The Bear and the Nightingale is dark and engaging, and truly impressive as a debut novel.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Stealing Snow – Daniella Paige

28260524I LOVED this book. From what I’ve seen, a lot of people haven’t enjoyed it, but who cares what they think, right?

Snow and Bale both live in Whittaker, a psychiatric hospital. Bale is obsessed with fire, and Snow seems to have something weird going on with ice. One night, Bale disappears from Whittaker and Snow finds herself following a boy from her dreams into another world in order to get Bale back. Oh and guess what? It turns out Snow is a princess in this other world and has magical snow powers. So far so good.

The only thing that bothered me was that literally every boy Snow meets seems to be in love with her (but what I really hate is love-triangles and this technically is more of a love-square… So I can’t really complain). I guess Stealing Snow is kind of a retelling of The Snow Queen, but I’m not very familiar with that so any similarities in the story didn’t bother me. The fairy-tale aspects worked for me, and I enjoyed all the characters (definitely a tiny bit in love with Jagger). The plot was pretty eventful and well written, and I liked the premise of a girl in an insane asylum escaping into another world (my favourite film is Sucker Punch – go figure).

So basically, ignore the hate. I thought it was fab. Actually gutted when I finished the book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Reflections of Queen Snow White – David Meredith

18780192What happens when “happily ever after” has come and gone? Well not a huge amount apparently. With Prince Charming deceased, Queen Snow White feels she has little to live for. That is until she finds her wicked stepmother’s magic mirror abandoned in her old chambers. The mirror forces Snow White to look into the reflections of her past to find her inner strength and learn to live without her beloved prince.

Almost the entire story takes place in Snow’s memories, which is an interesting idea. I found Snow herself to be weak and irritating, but I suppose that was kind of the point of the story. The writing style was interesting – a lot of speech and description – and some sections were very graphic (the sex scene between Snow and Charming was particularly… vivid). The ending did redeem the story a little. Every fairy tale deserves a happy ending, even the darker ones.

Overall, The Reflections of Queen Snow White is an intriguing concept – one I’ve not come across before. However, it didn’t quite do it for me.