FOURTH WING - Rebecca Yarros
Yarros had the AUDACITY to put all of my favorite things in one book?? *fans self* Dragons, fights to the death, enemies to lovers, and a perfectly accessible writing style have made this an addictive series to watch.
This book really said, "Let's combine everything that worked in a bunch of fantasy books before and mash them into something awesome." And it worked.
Fourth Wing has been all over the book community this spring. If you've somehow not heard of it yet, you will, and if you haven't broken under the hype train and tried this story out, then you are an insanely strong personality and I fear you.
I had no desire to avoid this hype train—I've been eagerly awaiting it since this book popped up on my Amazon "you might be interested in..." window in late 2022.
Dragon riders. A college segmented into quadrants. A quashed rebellion with lingering consequences. A longstanding war. Magic powers. A girl caught in the middle, tugged on by Fate.
I know, I know. We've heard those things before, right? That's like Eragon + Divergent + Deadly Education + Red Queen + [insert blockbuster series here].
But Y'ALL. When I tell you that I couldn't put this book DOWN, I mean that I literally took it into the bathroom with me so that I could keep reading it. (Outing myself here, but you need to hear me right when I talk about this level of obsession.)
I ignored texts for this book. I ignored meal times. Like I've already said, I took this book with me for calls of nature. Fourth Wing couldn't be stopped, and I was obsessed beyond reason.
Addictive is the only word I can use to describe this reading experience and the subsequent fandom hype that happens after you finish. Unlike some popular reads out there—where let's be honest, once you gain some distance you realize flaws and your passion fades—I don't see this happening with Fourth Wing. I'm days out from my first read and I'm still wishing I could dive back into this world.
This is so clearly a reaction review that I don't think I want to talk about anything specific in this story. The blurb pretty much covers it.
My only caveat for Fourth Wing is related to its fanfiction-like status as a remix of the greatest trope hits: Listen, I know this book isn't a unique snowflake. But I literally don't care.
There's something to be said for the talent required in taking an established set of ingredients and still baking something tasty that feels like a handmade treat tailored to you, you know?
Ride the wave, y'all. It's so much fun.
Thanks to the author for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
What a cool, demonic sapphic noir! C.L. Polk always knows how to write the most intriguing worlds and yet keep them accessible to the casual speculative reader.
First off, I must say that the Tordotcom publishing house has become unstoppable with their cover design and title choices recently. This cover + this title? It was screaming to be read.
Helena Brandt is a magical woman living in Chicago in the mid-1900s. In this alternate-yet-similar America, magic and demons are all too real. And there are "good" magic users and "bad" magic users.
Ten guesses as to what side Helena's been labeled... Yep, you were right: a "bad" magic user, or warlock in this world.
Helena made one life-altering decision nearly 10 years ago, and the Brotherhood of good magicians cast her out for her sins. Ever since that fateful day, Helena's turned to a life of magical detective work and crime photography.
But life isn't all roses and daisies for a female detective in 1940s Chicago. Especially for a queer one who doesn't stay in her lane. With enemies closing in, the law a constant threat, and an internal clock ticking ominously down to a very final end, the LAST thing Helena needs is to encounter the worst case of her detective career.
She'd walk away from that job in a hot minute, but her boss offers her a deal that she just can't refuse...
And now it's up to Helena to catch a killer before the deadly trap closes around her.
Even Though I Knew the End was C.L. Polk at their finest. Complicated concepts done simply with accessible character development and dialogue. A fantastical world with the codes and dark sides of our real-world reality. And some very intriguing twists that feel simple and predictable...until they're not.
I recommend this novella to anyone who enjoys historical noir, queer stories, demonic thrillers, and perfectly packaged short fiction. This was a fun ride!
GILD - Raven Kennedy
Intriguing concept. This entire first book felt like it could have easily been a condensed prologue instead of a drawn-out novel…. But I am seeing the glimmer of a cool plot here for the later books in the series.
Disclaimer: This is a reaction review. If you are interested in the book's plot, please see the book description!
As someone with a pulse and access to the online book community over the past few years, I'd heard of this book. It's hard to be in this community and somehow avoid seeing the Plated Prisoner series somewhere. For a while there, it felt like it have the ubiquitous staying power of Sarah J Maas—it was everywhere!
I went from interest, to zero interest, to extreme interest over the years. Fantasy romance with a lot of TikTok hype? I don't know... It's about King Midas and involves toxic relationship vibes and trigger warnings? Absolutely zero interest. But wait, it's actually got [soft spoiler] in there and involves some strong character redirections? Okay, never mind, sign me up.
It's been a journey. So I finally sat down and picked it up!
Gild is one of those books that I feel like I will never read again. Let me explain. Similarly to Maas' Throne of Glass novel (as in, the actual first book in the series and not the series itself), there are some introductory books out there that exist as barely-there prologues that are necessary evils for "first books" and then are immediately improved upon with later books in the series. Sometimes SO dramatically improved, that when you pick up the series later for a reread you don't even bother with that dull first book. (While I reread Throne of Glass as a series every year, I never actually go back to book one, I skip right to book 3 and onward.)
This was a similar reading experience. Gild had a really cool hook: Auren, a woman with literal gold skin/body parts, is kept in a gilded cage by King Midas. It's a toxic, well-worn love between Midas and Auren involving her pining for him and excusing his toxicity and Midas keeping her as his ultimate prize and allowing Auren just enough affection that she stays docile. As the Midas mythos goes, this was a very unique place to start. And it had enough world building to really intrigue me as a reader.
But then... this novel stalled out for me in a major way.
Auren's situation is the definition of two-dimensionally flat. She's essentially an enslaved sexual object in this scenario, and she both acknowledges that fact and simultaneously thinks she's more than that. And for the entirety of this novel--
MILD SPOILERS, STOP HERE IF VAGUE SPOILERS BOTHER YOU
—every single interaction between Auren and any male character was stripped down to this. She's lusted upon, constantly threatened with sexual assault, and then occasionally treated nicely for the purposes of showing the reader why Auren hasn't completely revolted in her cage by now. This dichotomy of an abusive relationship between Auren vs. Everyone was seemingly endless and, after a point, useless as a plot device.
And, problematic reliance on sexual assault as a plot device and lack of conversations around enslaved sex workers aside, this led to an extremely uninteresting and depressing narrative. I kept questioning why people enjoyed this series if this was all there was. Regardless of your opinions on dark topics in your fiction, this wasn't a well-told story!
But I kept going, because I'd been softly spoiled for some of the later elements in the books and I wondered if this series would follow another of Maas' books, A Court of Thorns and Roses, with its unique bait-and-switch structure to that series.
Let's just say that things got much more interesting in the last 10% of this story. So interesting, in fact, that I downloaded the second book IMMEDIATELY and thought to myself, "here we go, finally" and got to reading. More POVs, a new character has arrived, and the chess board has changed... I'm ready for the real plot. Let's go!
NOTE: Not recommended for sensitive readers. Trigger warnings for sexual assault, graphic sexual situations with murky consent, toxic relationships, emotionally abusive relationships, death, internalized mental health struggles.
I went to from super hyped about this concept last year...to a lukewarm reading experience....and then a few days later to the realization that—despite my love for Roshani Chokshi—I just did not like this at all. I think this has a certain readership, and I'm sad I'm not one of them.
Sense of uniqueness: ★★
Investment into the characters: ★
Once upon a time, a man who believed in fairy tales married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. He was a scholar of myths. She was heiress to a fortune. They exchanged gifts and stories and believed they would live happily ever after—and in exchange for her love, Indigo extracted a promise: that her bridegroom would never pry into her past.
Indigo is the beautiful and enigmatic muse woman of everyone's dreams. She's too flawless, clearly a bit dangerous, and so beautiful that you can't look away. The Bridegroom certainly can't. He loves his wife more than life itself and is willing to follow her into the dark.
One day, Indigo receives a message that her aunt is dying in her childhood home, the House of Dreams. Taking her bridegroom with her—this man is never named, so apologies for using "bridegroom" over and over again, it's a part of the dream-style repetition in this novel—they arrive at the surreal and darkly Other house.
It's while we're exploring this elaborate house filled with the echoes of secrets that we meet our second POV: Azur.
Azur's timeline is during Indigo's childhood, and she was Indigo's everything. A childhood spent surrounded by magic and twin ties and secrets and oaths, Azur and Indigo were two sides of the same coin. It was going to be Indigo and Azur, forever and ever.
But there's no Azur here with Indigo and the bridegroom.
As the bridegroom explores the House of Dreams, Azur's tale unfolds in the chapters in between. The House of Dreams has witnessed a lot of secrets, and it has some secrets of its own.
Will the bridegroom be able to keep his promise?
Or will he look back into the dark and find out the truth about Indigo's past?
Alright. So I'm not going to dissect the plot or anything here. I think this is a story that is intentionally like a fable, and more importantly, intentionally like the echoes of a story arc that some of us readers have likely read before. It's also a story that cares more for its ominous atmosphere and sense of lyrical flow than its concrete plot.
There's nothing wrong with any of that. But I will say that I wish this book had brought some more things to the table. For how drawn out it felt, for the amount of actual plot that happened in its pages, I needed more as a reader. I wanted something surprising, I wanted this very familiar arc to bring something fresh as a payoff for its very slow pacing. I needed to feel closer to these characters that felt, emotionally, like they were separated from me by layers and layers of glass. I just needed... more.
So, if you're like me and the above items bother you, I'd skip this one. But if you like the concept and don't mind that kind of thing, I do still recommend this one.
Books like these are why I adore fantasy with all of my heart. A pirate queen cajoled out of retirement for one last payout. A deadly sea with supernatural consequences. And a myth in the making.
Narrative voice: ★★★★★
The Adventures of Amina Al-Sarafi reads like one of those great myths that creep up on your slowly. As your parents, schoolmates, books, and media tell it to you—it's almost like it's always been there, a fictional story existing outside of your own lived existence and yet wholly real somehow, grounded in historical fact and cultural relevancy.
To put it even more simply: Mention the concept of "greek gods" to almost anyone on the street these days and they have the story already. They know the strokes, or they know at least several small details that have made it into their brain via cultural osmosis.
When I read Amina's tale for the first time, I felt that stirring. That behemoth feeling in the deep that this is a tale that's more real than fiction, more muchness than just a fable told to mimic the 1100s Indian Ocean tales for a 2020s audience.
Like the best fantasy tales of new and old—Amina Al-Sarafi is here now, and she's always been here and always will be here. Her tale is too rich to ignore.
Combining elements of seafaring adventure, heists, monsters, and more, The Adventures of Amina Al-Sarafi struck me most in its unique and unputdownable voice. Amina's no-nonsense, middle-aged motherhood persona was a treat in its (unfortunate) uniqueness in today's fantasy market and also a hilarious narrator in her endless dry wit and "let me tell you how bad things went to shit" attitude.
There is nothing I did not like about this story. It stands proudly in the canon besides Chakraborty's already titanic City of Brass trilogy, and other fantasy legacies such as R.F. Kuang, Fonda Lee, Jacqueline Carey, Jenn Lyons, and more.
Oh, and there's the swashbuckling, seafaring, mythologically induced adventures with all of the plot points you could possibly want rolled into the most attractive package to any fantasy fan. I enjoyed the hell out of myself. I think others will too.
I knew this book was going to be an all-time favorite by the first few chapters. Calling all fans of the Fair Folk, journal entry narration, and truly fun banter...
Emily Wilde is an intrepid and fearless Fae scholar. Documenting and studying the fairy folk throughout the world is a singular profession. While the folk have been proven in multiple cases, it's a dangerous pursuit and the academia surrounding it is wreathed in disappearances, contradictions, and gray areas.
Emily Wilde has no time for that nonsense. It's her calling, her obsession—and she's damn good at it.
She's assembling an encyclopedia of the world's different types of Fair Folk, and she's nearly done. All she needs is confirmation on the elusive folk of the northern Arctic community of Ljosland, Scandinavia.
Armed with her huge dog companion, Shadow, and her notes, Emily arrives in the rural community.
She quickly finds herself on the wrong foot. (Did we forget to mention that, while scholastically brilliant, Emily is terrible at human interaction and emotions? She managed to offend the entire community on her first day onsite. Whoops.)
It's good thing that her coworker—okay, the beautiful bane of her existence and scholarly nemesis--surprises her by arriving in town within the week.
Wendell Bambleby is universally loved, overwhelmingly lazy, and the most stunning man Emily has ever laid eyes on. They have neighboring offices at Cambridge and have a collegiate petty rivalry that they both get perverse enjoyment out of enacting.
With winter quickly settling in, the community on edge, and a history of missing children quickly becoming a present-day concern, Emily and Wendell are in for more than they bargained for...
Aghhhhhhhhhhh I loved this story so much, y'all. I have ZERO complaints. I don't even have small, annoying critiques. All I have is love and a newfound obsession for female characters who are hopelessly, utterly oblivious to social cues.
Emily might be brilliant, but she's also unbelievably obtuse. I couldn't get enough of the situational humor and delight surrounding a main character who was both ruthlessly brilliant in each scene AND somehow comedically dumb when it came to her social interactions. That combo was flawless, and I will gladly read Emily's journal entries forevermore.
I loved the journal entry narrative style. I loved the banter between Wendell and Emily. I loved Shadow, the lovable-yet-terrifyingly huge black dog. I loved the footnotes and endless references to other scholars documenting the Fair Folk and having adventures throughout the world. (Could we get a spin-off series on Grey?? She sounds epic!) I loved the fae plot and the historical lean—it's refreshingly new in today's fae/folk story canon that has traditionally lived in the modern-day urban and high fantasy spaces.
My only complaint is that now we must wait for the sequel. I hope this series is long and fruitful—given that this book opened us up to entire world of scholarly pursuit of different types of fae across the globe, I see no reason that Emily and Wendell couldn't globetrot us from adventure to adventure for books to come.
Classic K.J. Parker flair and wit! Not my favorite in his canon, but still a fun ride.
I think it's no surprise that I'm a huge fan of K.J. Parker. Both Inside Man and Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City are some of my favorite books of all time--I can't seem to get enough of his wit and no-holds-barred sense of "you better keep up, because I'm not slowing down" energy.
Pulling the Wings Off Angels had that classic wit and barreling-freight-train energy.
What would you do if you found yourself caught in a theological paradox? Think chicken and the egg, but instead of farm animals we graduated right to the big guns: the existence and willpower of God.
A clerical student grew up with the truth and lies surrounding his family name. If you believe the myth, he says, then you believe his grandfather trapped an Angel and thwarted the will of God.
Despite being a supposed clerical student, our main character has always assumed that this was the myth, not the fact. Angels and God aren't actually real, right?
Wrong. Said clerical student finds out the hard way that the unbelievable is possible, and the barometer of believability is much more suggestible and fragile than he imagined.
Enter into the vortex with K.J. Parker and find yourself questioning everything and nothing at the same time... No matter what, you're always in for an experience.
Like all of Parker's works, I find his unique writing voice and sharp wit truly one-of-a-kind. There really isn't another narrative voice out there that matches him. It's a dash of Pratchett, a splash of something sharper than Gaiman, and a heavy dose of... Parker.
Pulling the Wings Off Angels was a truly fun ride. I will admit, I think it's one of my least favorites, but that's not saying much as I still enjoyed it. My personal lower rating is more to do with the subject matter and how heavy-handed the religious theme was in this novella more than anything else. (I can only handle so much theology and philosophical whirlpools.)
K.J. Parker fans are already onto this novella, so my pitch here is for the newbies. If you like irreverent takes on religious, smart humor, and quick stories: pick this one up.
Thank you to Tordotcom publishing for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
PACK OF SECRETS - Amara Mae
This is a super solid opener--the mix of urban fantasy with high fantasy, the shifters, the artifacts... What a fun time. Some annoying elements in this opener kept me from loving it more, but I am eagerly looking forward to the sequels.
Character relationships: ★★
Grace's life is strange. The daughter of the local werewolf pack's Alpha, Grace's inability to shift into her wolf makes her a pariah and an unwelcome member of the dog-eat-dog harsh world of the pack. She's the omega, the bottom feeder, the unwanted one. And so she gets to do the dirty work.
This werewolf pack isn't like your typical one--there's something post-apocalyptic happening here. But more on that later.
Grace's family lives on the Trepari side of the dividing line in Seattle, Washington, in a version of our world that is rebuilding itself slowly from the ravages of a human (Mondeine) vs. nonhuman (Trepari) war that occurred before Grace was born. The "cloaking"—which had previously hid all shifters, magical species, and Other from the eyes of humans—disappeared. Mass chaos and warfare ensued between the two groups. Walls were erected, cities bisected, supplies and spoils ruthlessly taken by the humans and left in dregs for the magical sides of the line. The magical beings grabbed what they could and turned into small, insulated clans that isolated themselves from all magic and non-magic alike.
When we meet Grace, she's on a dangerous heist to steal a unique artifact for her Alpha father and the pack. She's been told this item will help her free her inner wolf, and she's eager to please the pack and bring home this treasure. It's a dangerous mission for any thief, but Grace has had a lot of practice.
However, she doesn't expect this artifact to have a guardian. More specifically, a freaking DRAGON guardian...
Atrioch has lived for a long, long time. And his life has not been a pleasant one. Cursed from his father's familial line, bound to be within narrow reach of this mysterious artifact he is tasked to protect at all costs, and betrayed over and over again by those closest to him... Yeah. This dragon shifter has a serious chip on his shoulder and a pretty abrasive personality. (I would to, if I was dealt his hand.)
But then Atrioch's artifact is stolen—by Grace, a "broken" beast who can't shift and yet can get under Atrioch's skin and deal him unseen emotional blows.
It looks like Grace's life is about to get much more interesting... and Atrioch's cursed existence might just be in for some adjustments too.
Hooooo boy. What an interesting setup for series!
Firstly, let me commend this author for her inventive take on the shifter concept. While many authors in the urban fantasy scene have taken shifters and integrated them into the "real" world—I'm thinking of Patricia Briggs, Laurell K Hamilton, etc.--I have not read any novels that take the concept of a shifter pack and place them in our world but with a heavy dose of post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged modern day. That element was new here, and it was interesting.
This series is already slated to be 6 books, and I think that definitely factored in to the pacing and structure of this first book. This is a slowwww burn. A prequel, of sorts, if you really asked me to nail it down.
Romance fans will be disappointed at the lack of pairing and romantic interactions in this installment—spoiler alert, there aren't ANY—and urban fantasy/high fantasy fans might be disappointed at the sheer lack of action here too.
This is a building block for a much larger series arc, and it definitely feels like it. I think it could have included more momentum for me, personally, to keep me engaged in the flow of the story—but at the end of the day, I still devoured this book in just a few sittings so the character- and world-driven story arc in Pack of Secrets clearly worked for me on some level.
Speaking specifically on the characters, I liked Grace a lot. I liked the intricate and messed up pack dynamics. I found Atrioch to be very two-dimensional compared to Grace, but he also did not receive a lot of POV "screen" time so that might have been a casualty of how this book was framed.
I did NOT like the naive plotline between Grace and her feelings for her father. Without getting into spoiler territory, let's just say that it's a painfully obvious dynamic and watching Grace delude herself for this entire book was such a drain. It rendered her beautifully complex character into a two-dimensional being at times, and I think that is one of the main reasons why I'm rating this 3 stars instead of 4 stars. It was a thread that continued throughout the entire book and was utterly transparent to the reader and yet never resolved, deepened, or enhanced in Grace's character situation. In a very strong book, this weak element kept shining through in an annoying way.
However, all that being said, I am very excited to read book two.
This was too good to rate less than 5 stars, even though I have to admit the pacing was rough. Very lush, heady, and romantic—a debut that every fantasy reader should have on their radar.
Xingyin is the daughter of Chang'e, the Moon Goddess. Hidden from the rest of the Celestial Kingdom and their fellow immortals, Xingyin is her mother's secret. An immortal born from a newly immortal moon goddess and the mortal, Houyi—the best archer who ever lived—Xingyin's life was fated for destiny.
To save her from discovery, Chang'e sends her daughter away from the moon to seek safety in the Southern Sea. Xingyin does not make the journey. Instead, she finds herself unmoored and on her own in the Celestial Kingdom. It's time to make her own destiny and, while she's at it, save her mother from her imprisonment on the moon. All while hiding the fact that she's the daughter of the moon goddess—the one mortal-turned-immortal who disobeyed the rules of the all-powerful Celestial Emperor.
What will happen to Xingyin? Curl up with her as her story unfolds and she tells you all about it...
Daughter of the Moon Goddess is one of those reads that reminds you just how good descriptive lyrical fantasies can be. That's a bold statement, I know, but I stand by it.
Whether you prefer your fantasy epic, urban, romantic, grimdark, gothic, young adult, or other—fantasy is, at its core, an exploration of realms and concepts that exist outside of our mundane reality.
Some of our earliest fantasies sprung from early storytelling and oral histories. Cultural touchstones of mythology, faith, origins of peoples, fairytales. Stories that persist and adapt with our cultures.
I'm waxing poetic about storytelling because Daughter of the Moon Goddess feels like a continuation of that conversation. It's rooted in Chinese mythology and yet linking new threads and telling its own story. It's lush. It's descriptive. It's extremely heady in its romanticism. It highlights life lessons and morals. It's its own modern (ancient?) fable. It's one of those tales that unfolds in its own time and in its own way. It is the definition of "unhurried."
That, I think, was this story's only weakness—its pacing. As someone who is used to our modern fantasies, I found Daughter of the Moon Goddess frustrating for the first several chapters in its use of extremely slow pacing mixed with time jump intervals. This might be common in Chinese stories, I'll admit ignorance in this field, but it was present to me as a Western reader so I'll caution my other Western readers to persevere. If you can get into the groove with this story and its unique sense of plodding pace, it is truly spectacular.
*I receive a small commission from Libro.fm if you use my link above.
A RESTLESS TRUTH - Freya Marske
A ship traveling from America to England. A deadly game of find-that-magical-item. A fantastic sapphic romance. Oh and also? More of a truly engaging magical world. I love this series!
Maud Blyth is on a mission. She's helping her brother, Robin, with his quest to save the magical community of Great Britain from some truly deadly stakes that we discovered in A Marvellous Light, the first book in the series. She's on her way back to Britain via steamship.
It's not Maud's fault that her charge, an elderly woman holding a secret magical artifact, dies on the first day of their voyage. And it's not Maud's fault that said elderly lady never actually told her what item in her possession was the all-important magical artifact.
Oof. Things aren't going to be so easy, after all.
Good thing Maud Blyth is the best person to have in your corner when you're trapped and in need of assistance.
Enter Violet Debenham from stage right, the beautiful and enigmatic heiress-to-be with a reputation she keeps in purposeful tatters and way too much personality and charm for any one room. She's a gravitational pull, and Maud finds herself helpless to resist—and discovering that even she could, she may not want to escape Violet's embrace.
And from stage left, the broody and constantly irritated Lord Hawthorne enters the scene as well with his anger, lack of magical ability, and tortured past. He's a reluctant player in Maud's play of Christie-like whodunit, but he's present and more helpful than nothing so Maud takes him into her stride too.
With magicians, murder, and mayhem... We're in for a bumpy voyage. All aboard!!
I am so pleased to report that A Restless Truth proved to be just as delightful as its first book, A Marvellous Light.
I was initially bummed to find out that this book abandoned the characters from the first book (Robin and Edwin), but quickly found myself getting over it in the absolutely perfect character in Maud. Maud was everything. I loved her. (Don't get me wrong, I found Violet to be a ton of fun too in different ways, but MAUD!)
There's just something about this quaint historical fantasy series that pushes all of my buttons. It's intriguing, yet not pulse-pounding. It's quaint and quiet, yet grips me. It has a dense and interesting magic structure and yet at no point do I feel lost or overburdened by complexity. It's "just right," and continues to be.
My only quibble with this installment was its limited setting... I am not a fan of boat-centered content. Or any other limited-setting story that traps our characters into a very small geographic range. Outside of certain mystery books with extreme action, this type of limited setting leads to me as the reader feeling trapped and pent-up in the mental reading space. It's hard for the plot to feel like it's moving along when our characters can only go from A to B... and back... and repeat. I wish this story had taken place somewhere else and given Maud, Violet, and the crew more room to breathe and explore. But, that in mind, I still greatly enjoyed this read.
Eagerly awaiting book three!!
Many thanks to Tordotcom for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.