This pretty, gorgeous, absolutely irresistible package of a book is so much fun to hold and to have on your shelves. I bought it for the hype and I am 100% satisfied with my purchase. As a book collector, this will live on my shelf forever and look beautiful.
But did I love it??
...No. Sadly. I tried so, so hard to love this novel—but at the end of the day, when you strip the marketing, the blacked out pages, and the mysteriousness of the blurb from consideration... the story itself didn't do much for me.
I've been sitting on this all day, what to say for this review. Because after reading so many other reviews on Goodreads, Instagram, TikTok, you name it.. it seems like it's just me in this corner of hey, it was cool, but it wasn't amazing? I was bored, frankly. And I thought the plot struggled to make itself known between the choppy descriptions of really cool things and the goobledygook name pronunciations.
Not much... happens. I mean, in a very literal sense, the characters move from space to space quite frequently and talk, a LOT, to a lot of people in various settings. But my overall feeling for 80% of this 500 page "prologue" was one of looking at the metaphorical clock, going hey... I'd love for the story to start soon, thanks, and then... at the very, very last page, it felt like we were finally getting somewhere. (I hold a large candle of hope that due to the ending's takeoff, this "prologue" was meant to feel this way and the next volume will not have this issue.)
Reig and Trad are two twins who live in a different realm/reality within an organization known as the Octunnumi. Like a fantastical version of the Men in Black concept ( I am really, REALLY reducing the complexity of this book's premise with this comparison, and I know that, but this is a good likeness if you strip away the excess), the Octunnumi exists but the world of Earth doesn't know they exist. They pop in and out of these portal doors and affect/change/manipulate things in our world and we never, ever know they're there. They interface with magical beings and influence humans' opinions on art, culture, design, and technology.. all from behind the unseen curtain.
In the realm of the Octunnumi, Reig and Trad travel from fantastical section of the realm to fantastical section of the realm like an interdimensional train station/antique store/urban market hybrid that would make an AMAZING visual cornucopia of a movie. The descriptions are lush and the areas of the realm sound awesome. A playground for the imagination in every sense of the word.
But what are Reig and Trad doing, exactly, and what happens in this prologue?
Well, while still avoiding spoilers, let me just say... not much.
There's a plot thread of children, presumed dead from a failed rescue operation ages past, who have been identified as alive. This is the "core" plot of sorts, as Reig and Trad were on the rescue team and never got over this loss - so to find out these children are alive, yet still missing, has spurred the two boys into action to relocate them. The core plot, as much as it can be called such, is the twins moving around the realm talking to people and gathering people/ideas/things together loosely to work toward finding these missing children.
There's also a plot thread of Reig and Trad's old friend, Nicolas, who was forcefully ejected from the Octunnumi around the time of the failed rescue operation and condemned to a life on Earth due to his forbidden love with a girl outside his race. This comes back to bite the Octunnumi organization in the butt when Nicolas arrives on their doorstep many regenerations later (oh, did I mention all of these operatives endlessly regenerate/reincarnate instead of die? Yes, they do. It is unnecessarily confusing) with a mystery of his own and ulterior motives.
And, of course, there are Reig and Trad themselves. They were the most interesting to me at the start, as there was a fair amount of foreshadowing involved regarding a meta Narrator who interacts with the boys directly (the author of this book, self-inserted as their Narrator), some allusions to the some Things that will Happen Soon and other such nuggets. I was intrigued at their history and their future. However, like many other things about this novel, my fascination soon turned to boredom and eventually shifted into flat out exasperation as hundreds of pages flew by and Reig and Trad remained exactly the same. No character development or growth, no insights into their motivations and/or feelings of attachment, and ultimately no sense of what they cared about and/or wanted to happen. Unlike most novels, the main characters you get on page one are the exact same as the ones on the last page.
As you can see from my extremely scattered thoughts and reactions, this was an ultimately polarizing read. I liked elements, I disliked other elements, and ultimately I didn't love it. But am I intrigued enough to see if my dislikes are solved in volume two? Heck yes.
We'll see what happens next.
A different book from the rest of the series, and one that is sure to upset some with its pacing and plot. This is a slow burn, a fast burn, and a character-driven exploration all at the same time. And yet. For those of us who have been waiting...this was a healing.
(I have a LOT to say, so strap in!)
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Character decisions: ★★★★
Disclaimer: This is the 11th book in the Black Jewels world and the direct sequel to The Queen's Bargain. While I do not spoil anything for this particular book, there ARE spoilers for the other books in the world and for The Queen's Bargain. Please do not read if you do not want to be spoiled for previous books.
This is not an entry point novel for the series.
I really don't know where to start. For those of us who have been with Anne Bishop since Daughter of the Blood, we've been through some things. In particular, Twilight's Dawn imparted some shocking new developments for the plot and its characters and then left us to hang with that for several years—i.e., discovering that Daemon and Surreal decide to get married and have a daughter named Jaenelle Saetien. (There's other stuff too, obviously, but that was the mic drop.)
Then the The Queen's Bargain entered the scene in 2020 when we followed Lucivar Yaslana and Daemon Sadi as they embarked on the new frontier: parenthood. In particular, we got to watch Jaenelle Saetien grow up and Daemon's internal chalice crumble once again as his true nature as the Sadist fell apart with Surreal's fear and distrust. It was a painful journey, there's no mistaking that. But it ended on a hopeful tendril: Witch intervened.
Following the events of The Queen's Bargain, Lucivar and Daemon are now older, wiser, and soothed by the fact that their one true Queen, Witch, is not as lost to them as they had previously assumed. She's not back—not really—but her core remains sentient and she can speak with them in the Keep of Ebon Askavi. And for the two sides of the triangle, that is enough. For the Sadist, who needed the oversight and the acceptance, that is enough.
And for Daemonar, who is now old enough to be considered a young man, that is enough. His Auntie J is raising Daemonar to be the new third side to the triangle with his Uncle Daemon and his father. And a new storm is brewing in Kaleer. Before long, Daemonar will be needed. The queen will have need of her weapons.
For the long-lived races, several hundred years is not enough to forget the memory of Witch and the sacrifices made for the Blood of the realms. But for the shorter-lived races, that lesson has become a distant memory. When history becomes a distant memory, some decide to conveniently forget its teachings...
A new taint is darkening the pages. And Daemon, Lucivar, and Daemonar need to be ready.
This was... a journey. First off, I have to admit that the pacing of this book was difficult. The first 100 pages were a lot of recap and character interactions that I enjoyed as a Black Jewels mega-fan but did become tedious, even for me. So the plot itself took its sweet time to arrive.
But when it did, it really kicked off. To avoid spoilers, let's just say that while Kaleer might have forgotten that Saetan's sons have claws... the sons themselves have not. If peace isn't an option, they're happy to pick the other road. Whew boy, the boys are BACK.
The Queen's Weapons follows quite a few points of view. Daemonar is one of the main ones, along with Daemon and Lucivar. But we're also along for the ride with Surreal—who finally finds her backbone that was mysteriously absent for all of The Queen's Bargain—and with Jaenelle Saetien. (And a few others, but those are the main ones.)
Let's talk about Jaenelle Saetien. I mean, I really can't due to spoilers, but I want to. Desperately. This was an intense novel that Jaenelle Saetien made much more difficult to get through for us readers. But the pain and agony of dealing with her—there's no other way to put it, it felt like a chore to experience her behavior—was made worth it by the climax of the novel.
Anne Bishop doesn't need to keep outdoing herself with masterful writing and emotionally complex characters, but man does it feel like she outdoes herself with each new book. This was another masterclass from the queen of dark fantasy. I know I'm the last person to provide an unbiased review, and y'all can call me out on that I don't even care, but I loved this. It's always a joy to walk the roads in the Realms with our favorite people.
And Witch, I'm glad you're with us again.
If you were upset with Twilight's Dawn, then let me promise you that this book is a healing. It's a painful, joyous ride—but the ending made me cry from happiness. We made it. The light at the end of the tunnel is glorious, and now I am unreservedly excited for whatever happens next.
Thank you to ACE/Berkley for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
A brutal slice of life into the world of Rafael's rodere—I really enjoyed this entry into the series. Given the usual length of Anita Blake books, this was basically a novella! But a very important one with the seeds of bigger plots to come...
Plot/Pacing: ★★★★ 1/2
Character development: ★★★★
New ideas: ★★★★
Let's get a housekeeping note out of the way. Yes, I love this series. Yes, I know that they are not everyone's cup of tea. I'm also aware that they tend to be a bit long-winded, overly invested in the relationship drama, and sometimes get tediously caught up in dialogue. That's just part of what this series is about - and I, for one, have loved them for years. So please note my deep affection for this series and take that into account for my reviews.
Rafael is latest entry into the world of Anita Blake, a version of the U.S. where vampires, were-animals, and the undead all exist in our modern society with interesting—and often bloody—results. This is not an entry point novel for the series.
In this latest installment, we finally(!) get a window in the world of the rat king, Rafael. The wererats have been a powerful were-animal faction in St. Louis for some time in the Anita Blake novels and are known for their fighting ability, their pack's strength, and the fact that their national king, Rafael, has been an ally to Anita Blake for years.
It's time to peel back the curtain on what goes on in the kingdom...
Rafael is in trouble. His ties to Anita—and therefore his perceived ties to Jean Claude and the other weres in Anita's sphere--have made him appear weak to the rest of the wererats across the country. They think it's time for a new king. And the way the rats determine their ruler is by blood. Specifically, a fight to the death. So Rafael's been fighting in the pits now, defending his crown and title, for some time.
The only way to become the new rat king is to kill the old one...
Anita Blake wasn't aware of just how bad Rafael's standing has gotten. When he asks her to attend this latest pit fight against the best challenger yet, Anita knows something must be different about this fight. For the first time, Rafael doesn't know if he's going to win. When Anita shows up, to her horror she realizes that a) there's someone familiar pulling the challenger's strings and b) her relationship to Rafael is about to get tested, and brutally. Can she fight her way to the top of the rat pile and assert her place while protecting Rafael from this latest deadly threat?
We know she can, she's Anita Blake, but what exactly will she learn along the way? There's a different kind of magic amongst the rodere that they've kept hidden for some time...
I thought this was one of the strongest entries into the Anita Blake series that we've seen in quite some time. Part of that was due to its subject—Rafael's world has never been fully described, so the newness was appealing to me—and the other part was its sheer short length. We didn't have time to get overly drawn into the relationship dramas (even though the characters did their best to do so anyway!) and therefore a lot of the usual "not this again!" feelings weren't present.
I am also extremely intrigued at what the author alluded to with the addition of the wererats' magic systems... it bodes well for Anita Blake's character arc and opens the door for more books to come featuring this new thing.
Don't skip this one in the series, folks! It's a good one and not the usual spin-off fare.
Thank you to Berkley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
What do you have when you add Salem Witch Trials, plagues, cursed witches, polygamy, oppression of women, fantasy settings, racial commentaries, and religious allegories together? This book.
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. A biracial girl in a town of only white people, her very existence brings shame to her family as it reminds the settlement of her dead mother's sins—and witchcraft.
The Prophet is a man (I bet you guessed) and the town of Bethel exists as a small, settlement-type town in the middle of Nowhere, Nowhere. Their town is surrounded by the Darkwood, and the Prophet's religious teachings warn of the wood's dangers and temptations. Lilith and her coven of witches live in the Darkwood and they live in sin, and if you let them tempt you you'll be lost forever.
Or at least, that's what the man says.
Like so many tales of oppressive male-dominated religious regimes, The Year of the Witching is highlighting issues of gender, power, and control—and how many of those bindings go hand in hand with some extreme conservative religions. The Prophet may be in charge and he may call himself holy, but his many many underage sister wives tell a different story by the bruises on their skin.
Combining issues of female agency and power, race and poverty, and a heavy dose of critical notes on religion, this tale was extremely representative and often sacrificed world building and plot for the sake of allegory. I'm not saying that it wasn't done well, but I definitely want to highlight that fact for other readers.
At the end of the day, I thought this was a solid debut. As someone who likes fantasy/horror speculative novels that go there and push the reader, I thought this fell short. The messaging was fantastic, but the plot itself stopped its own progress by keeping it from going to that extra level. Things felt predictable—with the heart of the novel focused on the lofty concepts it was harder for the characters to authentically reach their goals.
Without spoiling this particular novel, a good example of this would be like a book to movie adaptation. It's hard to be surprised when you go the theater to view an adapted movie from a book that you've read. You know the main plot points, you've read the book, so it's really a matter of relying on the adaptation to still surprise you with something new within the framework of something that you already know.
The Year of the Witching didn't have that extra oomph for me, but I think it did for other readers.
Thank you to Ace - Berkley via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Stellar. I went in with no expectations and was blown away with its brief perfection.
Now HERE'S what I'm talking about - this is why I read Tor.com novellas.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune is, simply put, the perfect speculative/fantasy novella. This review will be extremely short and sweet, as to be honest I'd rather you read the novella than read my poor retelling of it here. Go read it!
This story is really two layered stories in one. On the surface layer is a traveling cleric named Chih, whose job it is to remember their nation's histories and to observe their present surroundings for the purpose of recording it for the histories. Clerics in this world are essentially history keepers, and they are aided in their quest by magical bird companions with observation and memory skills.
Chih and their magical bird companion, Almost Brilliant, come across an elderly woman in a dwelling on their way to a different location. The elder's name is Rabbit, and she has a story to tell.
The story within the story is Rabbit's tale, which includes the story of an empress and her secrets.
As history keepers, Chih and Almost Brilliant are immediately drawn to this woman and her tale. But all is not what it seems, and some histories are buried for a reason...
Keeping it brief: perfection.
A note on the best way to read: This novella is best read, not listened to, as the narrative transitions are made more explicit with the breaking of paragraphs on the page and are not noted within the text itself at all.
This is one of those examples where not reading the blurb is the right way to go - knocked my socks off!
World building: ★★★★★
This review is going to be SUPER short because to be honest, this novella is so brief that if I write a few paragraphs there will be nothing left for the story!
Binti is the first of her race to leave their planet. She's a mathematical genius from a family of Harmonizers, and she's received shocking news: her test results are in, and she has been accepted to a prestigious intergalactic university. She's the first of her people to be accepted.
Against her family's wishes, Binti goes.
Her family didn't want her to go because their people don't leave Earth. It's just not done—the world isn't as accepting of their culture, and it's a dangerous universe out there.
Best not to tell them then about the hostile takeover on Binti's ship en route to university.
Who said leaving home would be easy, again?
This novella is the first in a trilogy, and THANK GOD for that—after the first one, I need to know more of Binti's story. It was too brief! I need more! Can we get a full novel, please?
A circus, an intersex main character, an alternate world with bits of Victorian and steampunk, and extremely catchy writing.
Main character: ★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ (there is a split timeline, and I didn't love that)
Pantomime was a book that I randomly added to a Book Outlet haul a few weeks ago because it had a gorgeous cover and was blurbed by Leigh Bardugo. Enough said, right? Also, it was about a circus so I was ON IT.
It's about an intersex main character named Micah Grey who escapes their home one night when their family tries to "fix" them without their consent. Micah doesn't need to be fixed, they are happy with who they are. So they run away to the circus.
This is a tale with found family elements, magical elements, steampunk elements, and the gritty thread of the circus running throughout. Micah's adventure to find themselves as a teenager, a person, and an aerialist for the circus was a classic coming of age tale with some obvious twists. But, the world itself kept Pantomime from falling into the cracks of other circus stories. The world of Pantomime is weirdly Victorian, but also post-apocalyptic as there used to be a society of Alders who ruled the land. The Alders are long gone, and the only remnants of their society remain as "Vestiges," which are mechanical devices that are much more technologically advanced than the current society.
While this book in the trilogy focused on the world though the lens of the circus, it's clear that books two and three will be exploring more magic and more of the world--Micah's discovering that they might not be who they thought they were...and it's time to find out why.
I didn't expect this level of over-detail and I didn't expect this level of world-building complexity. This was one dense, richly-developed world...in one (arguably) too long book. In honor of how freaking long this book was, my review is literally massive.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Climax: ★★★★★ million freaking stars
Character development: ★★★★
Enjoyment: literally both ★★ and ★★★★★
(Read the blurb if you want to know the basics, this is a reaction review!)
So I've read and obsessed over Maas' other two series. I was primed to love this. I was ready for the angst and the drama. House of Earth and Blood was so not what I was expecting—in a really refreshing way, even if I didn't like parts of it.
It's really clear that this book was trying to distinguish itself from the author's previous works. The focus on drugs, sex as an outlet, trauma, death, and depression is on the immediate surface, and the insistence on character strengths felt like direct comparisons (or, honestly, "anti" comparisons) to other Maas characters.
This is a story that takes its time, and it doesn't give one crap about how you feel about it.
Was it too long? ...WOW, yes. This tome could have easily been a shorter novel. Scenes dragged, story arcs stagnated in the middle with filler content, and some things that were clearly meant to be character development felt like wasted space because it was just. too. much. A girl can only take so many hundred pages of investigation and undercover angst. (I'm sorry, Maas, I love you, but that needs to be said.)
The level of detail was oddly necessary. This world is SO complex, SO detailed, and obviously part of a larger concept. The new terms and sense of hierarchy alone were extremely confusing at the beginning, so I was happy to receive the paragraphs of detail. To be honest, if there had been more PLOT in the first half I would have said, hey, why didn't we hack this into two separate books? Easier doses, easier tomes to hold in your hand. (My wrists hurt now, this was so heavy!)
Ok, on to the world. I loved this universe. It feels like the perfect blend of paranormal, urban, high-fantasy, and noir. We've got levels of power, a crooked ruling class, angels, demons, oracles, Fae, lesser fae, sphyinx, mermaids, werewolves, shifters, vampires, undead, witches, humans, sharpshooters, wraiths, murders, side plots, fallen heroes, undercover drug operations, modern technology, burgers and fries, encrypted flash drives...
Overwhelmed? Yeah, same. (But it was awesome.)
So the two main characters. Bryce, the demi-Fae/human woman with no powers of her own but a LOT of rage. Hunt, the fallen angel with lightning abilities sold into slavery to the ruling Archangels.
I loved Bryce. I understood her, was interested in her motivations, and really enjoyed watching her character grow and morph through what felt like years of my life (god, such a long book. I can't say that enough.)
But Hunt... not so much. This was definitely a "me" problem, but I didn't really care about him. As he's half of the POV and meant to be the dreamy love interest, this sucked. I wanted to be swept away by a new version of a Maas male character—with hopefully less problematic pieces, but still—and instead I got an angel that I didn't know what to do with and didn't feel any draw towards. I just...didn't find him interesting. And so Bryce's fascination with him was boring. Etc. There is one VERY memorable turnaround for Hunt near the end, but I'm not sure I can forgive 75% of the story for extremely bland crap just because the last 25% made Hunt worth caring about. Is that just me?
But, despite all of the above that makes it sound like I didn't love this...I loved this. The last 100 pages made me gasp, ugly-cry, rage, gape, scream, weep softly, and ultimately toss the book to the side and go "damn" softly to myself. It was AMAZING. It was EPIC. It set us up perfectly for the NEXT ONE. It was absolutely worth the wait and made me forget the book's earlier frustrations. This kind of ending is just too fun to read to rate less than 5 stars. (At least for me.)
Just...maybe not so long next time? Please.
This was not at all what I expected. A lot more swearing, a lot more body humor, and a LOT more swamp-lifestyle dialect and bizarre POVs than I was prepared to read. It was good? But not for me?
Concept: super original
Writing: really polarizing
Overall impression: not for me, but probably a great book for its audience
Highfire comes out on January 28, 2020!
Highfire is the first adult fantasy novel from the acclaimed author of the Artemis Fowl series. I read Artemis Fowl ages ago, and I vaguely remember liking it.
Don't get it twisted—this book feels like a completely different species.
Vern is the last dragon on Earth. Except he's not really the visual of a dragon that we're used to. He's a 7-foot-tall, tusk-y, scaly interpretation of a dragon that honestly feels like a gargoyle. But that's not the main point—the main point is that Vern is sentient, old as hell, and is wasting away his twilight years as the vodka-drinking king of the alligator swamps of rural Louisiana.
Everett "Squib" Moreau is a kid born out of the swamp, with a rough-and-tumble upbringing filled with swearing, hard times, and a bit too much dynamite for the average kid—he's now down to 9 fingers. He's struggling to avoid the attention of the local cop, and he's definitely not prepared to meet Vern.
Regence Hooke is the crooked law of Squib's small town, and he's not exactly a well-adjusted man. Alright, let's admit he's a full on clinical psychopath. He's got a plan to make the swamp his illegal kingdom, and he's got it in for Squib, not the least of which because Squib's mom is on Hooke's "to-do" list. (Yeah, there isn't a more pleasant way to say that. Hooke is nasty, and being in his head makes you want to shower afterwards.)
I can be honest and say that I've never, ever read a book like this. Highfire is so breathtakingly original that I think all fantasy fans should give the first chapter a try, just to see what the author has done with the writing style and concept.
I like my fantasy with more, well, fantasy? I'm also not a fan of body humor (pee jokes, bodily fluid jokes, etc.), and I'm definitely not a fan of Hooke's POV and rape-y overtones, so 1/3 of the story was an automatic fail. Without Hooke's POV, this story might have been 4 stars.
I'd say if you're a fan of extremely dialect-driven narration, body humor, and/or unique fantasies, try this out!
Trigger warnings: Suicide attempt depicted, and graphic rescue scene. Dialogue about suicide. Internal rape dialogue. Extreme violence.
Thank you to HarperCollins for this giveaway ARC!
This is the kind of story that I love. It’s lingering, it’s mythic, and it leaves you on the edge of a conclusion. The story of traveling to the afterlife with a guide, but with such an interesting edge.
Concept: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Execution: ★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Pacing: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
The Border Keeper opens with a landscape. A tiny house lies on the horizon of a desolate, completely empty desert. There is a low fence stretching across the world behind the house—it extends beyond all eyesight in either direction, and it leaves no shadow. The border.
A man walks up to this spot on the horizon. He’s traveled beyond his means to reach this house, and he needs to speak to the being inside: the border keeper.
The border keeper has been the border keeper for all time. She’s lived many lives, traveled many realms, and holds a bone-deep power. She is what stands between the realm and the other, the afterlife. And she’s not interested in attracting company.
But the man needs to go across the border, and he’s here to petition his case.
So begins The Border Keeper. With this impressive and visually gripping opener, the author had me hooked on the plot. I love underworld/afterlife stories and renditions, and this one was so incredibly singular, and perfect for its novella size. I wanted more, but I feel like I didn’t need more—it would have cheapened the questioning nature of the world and the mysteries of the border keeper herself.
However, the pacing bothered me. When you have limited pages, each page should have a specific purpose and carefully execute each plot point with the right amount of give and take. I found certain scenes to be rushed, leaving me confused, and other scenes to be completely, utterly unnecessary.
Honestly, give this one a go. It might surprise you! And if the plot doesn’t hook you, read it for the surprising humor and stunning visuals.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.