Blackwing – Ed McDonald

36402955.jpgThe republic faces total annihilation at the hands of the Deep Kings. With Nall’s Engine failing, the only thing standing between the people of the Range and certain death is an unpredictable no-man’s land called the Misery. Tasked with the protection of a powerful spinner named Ezabeth Tanza, Captain Ryhalt Galharrow finds himself wrapped up in a world of conspiracy, secrets and treason.

Blackwing is a piece of truly excellent fantasy fiction. It has everything you could possibly want (magic, adventure, epic battles), without any of the usual tropes or clichés. The plot is multi-layered, with the surface story of Galharrow and Ezabeth and the overarching fight between the Deep Kings and the Nameless. This two-tiered style of story-telling was excellently pulled off, without one overshadowing the other.

Galharrow is a brilliant lead character. He’s grumpy, gritty and determined; battle-hardened and flawed, in no way irritating or infuriating. I also really liked his mismatched team of soldiers, especially Nenn.

I liked the fast-paced and gritty nature of Blackwing. There is a romantic element in the book which, in my opinion, didn’t add much to the story but didn’t take anything away either. It is, frankly, shockingly good for a debut novel and an absolute must-read for fans of fantasy and adventure.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

Advertisements

Blog Tour: Star-Touched Stories – Roshani Chokshi

36396341.jpgStar-Touched Stories is three magical stories set in the world of The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes. You don’t need to have read either book to enjoy this one, but it would help in order to understand some of the characters. Roshani Chokshi’s writing is pure magic. I don’t think I’ve ever read any books quite as magical as hers (and I read a lot of fantasy).

All three stories are special in their own way, but my favourite was the first one: Death and Night. The Lord of Death and the Goddess of Night meet by chance and, contrary to their natures, fall in love. As their romance blossoms, both begin to question if they could be made for more than they’ve believed. Death and Night are both completely brilliant characters, and the setting of this story is just the best (especially the Night Bazaar). I loved the romance between these two, and all of the supporting characters were great as well.

Poison and Gold was my least favourite of the three (although, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it). In this one, Aasha is sent to train to become the kingdom’s new Spy Mistress. However, she has lost control over her power to kill and can’t understand why. That particular aspect of the story really got on my nerves, because it was SO OBVIOUS why she’d lost her control. She’s not a stupid character, so why dumb her down so much in this story? I also didn’t really like the romance between Aasha and the Spy Mistress (whose name I can’t even remember). It just came across as too forced and unnecessary.

Rose and Sword was a nice addition to the book. Vikram falls ill and is on the brink of death, so Guari travels to the land of the dead to retrieve his last breath and save his life. I was so happy to read more about Guari and Vikram (mainly Guari) that almost anything could have happened in this story and I would have enjoyed it. Just to make things even better, Kamala – the lovable demon horse – is back and as brilliant as ever. It was a lovely ending to Guari and Vikram’s story.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

Balam, Spring – Travis M. Riddle

38322372.jpgIn the quiet town of Balam, people are dying. Following the loss of the town’s resident white mage, Aava – fresh from the mage academy – is sent to find the cause of the unknown illness and create a cure before the rest of the town becomes infected. When strange insectoid creatures start invading the town, seemingly attracted by the bodies of the illness’ victims, Aava seeks help from ex-mercenary Ryckert to get to the bottom of the mystery, before there is nobody left alive in Balam.

The story is a little bit slow. It’s a kind of cross between a cosy mystery story and a fantasy adventure. Overall, not that much actually happens, but it’s a good read nonetheless. The characters are likeable, and we get to know them quite well. There are a couple of lesbian/gay/bisexual characters, and these relationships are treated very casually and as not at all unusual in this world, which was nice to see.

My very favourite thing about Travis’ writing is that he invents his own new fantasy worlds and creatures. Balam, Spring is fully immersive and filled with fantasy beings, but not ‘common’ things like elves, dragons, and the other usual creatures. Instead, we meet Rocyans and Jeornish, and other original critters. Because of the immersive nature of the writing, the characters and settings are easy to picture, without ever being over-described or explained in excessive detail.

It’s a good, solid, fantasy/mystery about a small town filled with well-developed and lovable characters.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton

37759491.jpgIn Orleans, beauty is valued above all else. People are born grey and plain, and only a Belle can make them beautiful. Camellia has always wanted to be the Favourite; chosen to tend to the royal family and their courtiers. But once at court, she quickly learns that everything is not as she has been told.

The Belles didn’t have as much depth as it could have. The kingdom is clearly unhappy with the prospect of Princess Sophie becoming queen (understandable – she is a piece of work) and poisonings are mentioned, but we get no insight at all into political matters or any attempts to stop her becoming queen. Instead its all about beauty and the belles. I get that the entire concept is kind of shallow, but the book didn’t have to be too.

The other big thing I didn’t enjoy was the pacing, which is rather slow. The plot isn’t particularly complex or detailed so I’m not entirely sure what all those pages were actually used for.

However, there were a couple of good things as well. I especially liked that, despite being all about beauty, there are no set ideas about what is beautiful. The people of Orleans change their hair, skin, body shapes and everything in all different ways without one being considered prettier than the other (outside of trending periods).

I’m not entirely sure if I liked it enough to pick up the next book. On the one hand, I found it pretty boring on the whole. On the other hand, the ending was EXCITING and I do want to know what’s going to happen next.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

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.

Goodreads | Amazon

Starborn – Lucy Hounsom

34114570.jpgOn the day she comes of age, Kyndra accidentally destroys an ancient tradition and gets the blame for an unnatural storm that targets hers town. Two strangers with powers fuelled by the sun and moon rescue her and take her to the hidden citadel of Naris. Once there, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions, brutal tests, and meets both fanatics and rebels all trying to use her for their own cause.

I really expected to love this book, but actually, it didn’t have a lot of the things I look for in a YA fantasy. Yes, this means it avoided most of the usual tropes and clichés, and managed not to be just the same as every other YA fantasy story, but it also made it kind of boring. Honestly, not that much actually happened, and it’s not a short book.

I wasn’t a big fan of Kyndra, and not liking the lead character is always problematic. She wasn’t too annoying or sassy, instead she was just kinda bland. She was obsessed with getting back to her family even though she knew that, realistically, she couldn’t return to her village (they did try to kill her, after all) and that was pretty much her only drive. Also, there wasn’t even a hint of romance to the story, which I do like at least a little bit of.

I did like Bregenne and Nediah. I could have happily read an adult fantasy book about them. Same world, some of the same characters, but an adult target market and less of the irritating and argumentative teenager.

Goodreads | Amazon

Truthwitch – Susan Dennard

29588505.jpgAfter an unfortunate run-in with a dangerous Bloodwitch, young witches Safiya and Iseult are forced to flee their home and hide. When things take a turn for the worse, the girls have no choice but to accept the help of Prince Merik of Nubrevna, a Windwitch. Together, they sail to Nubrevna to escape the Bloodwitch, the emperor, and anyone who would use Safiya’s Truthwitchery for their own gain.

This story is exciting and action-packed. It’s a true YA fantasy adventure, with witches, magic and a lot of fighting. It all sounds pretty awesome, but was sort of, not.

For starters, the writing style was very repetitive. This is a weird complaint, but the author used the girls’ names too often in the narrative. It stopped the story from flowing smoothly and was just kind of irritating.

I loved the focus of the story being on a female friendship. There are romance elements within the story, but it is in no way the main feature. It was nice to read about girls sticking together instead of falling out and taking each other down. However, the characters were just alright. Safiya and Iseult both had potential to be kick-ass and awesome, but they were both a bit hot-headed and lacking. And far too reliant on each other. My favourite by far was Aeduan, just because he’s pretty cool, but on the whole I didn’t care much for the other characters.

I did enjoy Truthwitch, but it seemed to take a really long time to read (and it’s not that long a book). When I love a book, I get through it really fast. This was just not one of those. It was good, but it dragged. I didn’t love it. I will be giving Book #2 a go, because I already own a copy. If I didn’t have one already, I’m not sure if I’d bother.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell

34527740.jpgThe Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of twelve magical, mysterious and unusual short stories, featuring a coffin hotel, spirits in jars, and replacement hearts.

Now, I liked this book. I’ve never read a book of short stories before (and to be honest, I’m not really sure it’s my thing) but this was a good first experience. ‘Short stories’ felt like a bit of a stretch; the twelves in this book are actually more like snippets – short chapters of something bigger. The open-ended nature of the stories added to this, because they felt sort of unfinished. In some cases this was frustrating, but in all cases it made me want to read more.

Each story was weird and whimsical, with a dark and slightly sinister vibe. I enjoyed some more than others, (my favourites were Jacob and Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel) but they were all good.

Interesting, snappy, and thought-provoking, I would definitely recommend this one.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

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.

Goodreads | Amazon

Frostblood – Elly Blake

32618150Forced to hide her Fireblood abilities from the Frostblood ruling class, Ruby has never had the opportunity to practise or develop her skills. When Frostblood soldiers destroy her village and murder her mother, she is suddenly thrown into a battle she has little time to prepare for. Her mission: kill the Frost King.

Frostblood is a classic, fantastic YA fantasy adventure. By far the best I’ve read in a long time. It is very well-written, with all the predictable but vital components of the genre: a feisty teen heroine, a rocky but passionate romance, and an epic battle between good and evil.

Ruby is a strong, volatile character. She has some serious anger-management issues and the tendency to jump to conclusions, but it’s all essential to her Fireblood personality which stops her from tipping over the edge into annoying (like so many YA heroines do). The rest of the characters, including love-interest Arcus, are also likeable and well-developed. I especially loved brother Thistle – what a babe.

The plot is really, really good. It’s super eventful and unpredictable. There were good amounts of plot development, character and world building in equal measure. The book was at no point boring, but also didn’t speed along too quickly or become too action-packed. Plus there were one or two plot-twists that genuinely took me by surprise.

Frostblood is a must-read for fans of fantasy and magic. I will be buying book #2, immediately.

Goodreads | Amazon