"I wish my love was more beautiful."
Just take my heart, rip it out, grind it into shards of ice, and burn it. This sequel was spectacular but I CANNOT FORGIVE IT for doing what it did. What a beautiful, terrible, heartrending piece of fiction. Everyone should read it.
Character development: ★★★★ 1/2
This book is a sequel, and so my review will have SPOILERS for the first book in the series. Please don't read if you don't want SPOILERS for The Gilded Wolves. You can read my review of The Gilded Wolves here.
...Are they gone? Good!
Alright, so let's just dive right in. First off, how dare she—the author has done us dirty, folks. Roshani Chokshi has written such a beautiful world with wonderful characters, and she keeps hurting them! And now we have to wait a whole year for the next book. Brutal.
The Silvered Serpents picks up shortly after the events of The Gilded Wolves. The team is fractured beyond repair following the surprise death of Tristan, one of their own, and all of them are (not) coping.
Severin has decided that the best way to not fail his friends again is by... failing them every day with a numb, cold caricature of himself. Laila is quickly approaching her birthday and knows that her days are numbered—she needs to find the book that can keep her alive. Zofia, Enrique, and Hypnos are caught in Severin and Laila's crossfire and it's not looking pretty—and they all have dramas of their own.
And then the group gets a lead on the Fallen House's Sleeping Palace, which seems to hold the answer to all of their problems. It has The Divine Lyrics, the book Laila desperately needs. Severin is also newly interested in the book, but for different (darker) reasons. And the rest of the team just hopes that this quest will lead to a happy ending.
But the night gets darkest before the dawn...
Filled with heists, drama, intrigue, stunningly lush descriptions, and shocking betrayals—this sequel has it ALL. I could not believe the amount of character development and plot development that Chokshi was able to cram into this novel. It doesn't even feel forced—it's that well written.
Like in The Gilded Wolves, this series' focus on the grim underbelly of colonialism and Western "might is right" politics was a cutting commentary, and that increases with this novel too. I love the diverse backgrounds of the crew and how their backstories unfolded to reveal more secrets and some interesting tie-ins to the discussion of race, class, and politics.
My favorite aspects of this series continue to be its world building, the setting descriptions, and the nuanced relationships between all of the characters. (And the angsty romances? SO WELL DONE.) Each of the POVs adds an extra layer of secrets, intrigue, and motives... and in this installment in particular, it was fascinating to see the pieces of the pie assemble into the final conclusion.
Which, without giving away any spoilers..... that conclusion gutted me. And was extremely surprising. If you thought the ending of The Gilded Wolves was big, strap in. This one is bigger.
I can't wait to see what Chokshi brings us next.
Thank you so much to St. Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Filled with whimsy, adult-worthy dialogue, and the magic at the heart of the best types of middle grade. Fantastic book.
Concepts/World building: ★★★★★
The Trials of Morrigan Crow is one of those extremely rare middle grade novels: it's just as fun for us adults, too.
I think it's the MOST fun for those of us who grew up with Harry Potter, because this has something similar going for it. It's new, it's exciting, and the plot is too good to put down. I loved every aspect of this book, except for the fact that it ended. (Good thing it's a series.)
Morrigan Crow was born cursed. Because she's "cursed," everything that ever happens in her small town is blamed on her—from someone's pimple to a death to a surprise hail storm—and she's been told that she's going to die on her 11th birthday. Yep. Her life is...not the best.
But at the stroke of midnight on her 11th birthday, a strange man appears and says that Morrigan has a choice: run with him now, fast, and escape her fate. He says there's more out there, and Morrigan believes him because...well, anything is better than dying, right?
Just a hop, skip, and jump into another dimension and whole new world... Nevermoor.
So from my 5 stars, you should be able to tell that I loved this. I don't have negative thoughts, or "meh" thoughts. Just good ones. It's rare for me to read something and not have at least one thing to critique, or wish was more "my" taste, but this one did it. I loved it all.
If you like any of the following, pick this up immediately: portal fantasy, girl protagonists, magical hotels, endless rooms of whimsy, shadows, umbrellas, competitions, boarding schools, magical schools, colorful settings, cats, friendship plots, morbid humor, adventure, chosen one trope.
Knocked my socks off. Argentinian lore, werewolves and witches, football (soccer), concepts of gender roles, identity, belonging, Other, and the plight of the undocumented.... this was wonderful.
First 50 pages: ★★
Manu is an undocumented Argentinian immigrant living in secret in Miami with her mother. Manu's life is a double-edged sword of secrets—on the one hand, Manu and her mother are in the USA and in hiding from the government, and on the other hand, Manu is also forced into hiding by her own mother because of her unique eyes and an unknown threat from Argentina—the real reason they're living off the government grid.
Manu has golden, luminous eyes with a starburst pattern of silver in the center.
Manu's eyes have made her life a living cage. Her mother won't let her go anywhere, she can't make friends, and everywhere she goes it has to be daylight so that she can wear her mirrored sunglasses. Manu's father had dangerous friends, her mother always said, and they've never stopped looking for Manu and her mother. With her father's eyes, Manu has no choice.
Then Manu's mother is captured by the ICE, America's immigration unit. In the rush of capture, her mother screams at her to flee, to stay in hiding.
Running away from the city on the back of a mysterious pick up truck, she takes an unexpected trip into the wilds of the Everglades and happens upon something she literally can't believe: there's a secret community in a magical mangrove forest, and ALL of the people in it have Manu's luminous eyes.
What's a girl to do, but join them? Manu has no idea what she's in for. (Hint: werewolves and witches and other dimensions, oh MY!)
AMAZING. I think it's safe to say that this is one of my favorite YA fantasy reads of 2020. This was fresh—and filled with so many unique spins on fantasy tropes that I was shooketh. I loved learning more about Argentinan and Latin American culture, especially as it related to their myths, and I LOVED where the author's imagination took us. (We always need more alternate dimensions in our fantasy.)
Now, to address a mild elephant in the room: some other reviews of this book mention that it's filled with traditional YA tropes and is predictable. I'd like to (politely) disagree, and here's why:
-This is an Argentinian/Latinx/immigrant narrative. Our diverse stories did NOT get a chance to get in on the YA action at the start of the genre in the 2000s and 2010s—so for many of our diverse reads, they're playing with some of these tropes for the first time, and they're writing them for an audience that never saw themselves in Harry Potter, Kiss of Deception, Hunger Games, etc etc etc. YES this story has the magical school trope. So what? I still found enough unique identifiers to set it apart from the rest. YES this story has similar plot devices to other YA fantasies. So what? (No shade, just honest questions. I think our community is sometimes quite hard on YA fantasies.)
-Yes, there's a love interest identified quite early on in the story. So what? While the initial interaction might seem to be instalove or trope-filled, the author immediately back pedals and allows the story to take over. Again, I thought this was well done and deviated enough from the tropes to be relevant.
I could go on, but those are two of the main points. In short, I thought this story was beautiful, extremely relevant to modern American and Latin American concerns (immigration, ICE, etc.), and a fantastic series opener with a great take on werewolves, or the Argentinian lobizones. Also, the quoteable portions of this book - gah. So great.
Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
I was primed to love this because I love creepy woods, magic, goblins, and fairy tales... but this still surprised me anyway.
Changeling was such a fun middle grade read. Obviously I'm not the target audience, but this story entranced me and stuck out regardless. Good writing is good writing.
We all know the changeling story: in the dead of the night, a magical creature steals your baby and replaces it with an identical copy—the changeling. You then raise the being as your own. You never see your own human baby again.
But what if the goblin in charge of the switch messed up?
Kull the goblin stole his goblin horde's last changeling and is determined to do it himself. Golbin magic is fading, and Kull knows he must perform the historic ritual of stealing a human baby to set magic's balance in order again.
But as Kull places the changeling in the crib, the human baby's mother wakes up and interrupts him, forcing Kull to leave BOTH babies behind. Uh oh.
Tinn and Cole grow up as twins, knowing that one of them isn't the "real" boy. It doesn't bother them much. Annie Burton, their mother, is amazing--a boy is a boy, and she loves both of her troublesome boys equally. So what if she only gave birth to one? Now she has two.
But Kull hasn't forgotten. He spends 12 years watching, waiting, and trying to figure out which of the boys is his boy, the goblin. And he's running out of time... when the changeling turns 13 years old, he NEEDS to be back home in the magical world or he'll be in a lot of trouble—deadly trouble.
But how is a goblin to convince two wayward boys to come to the goblin horde?
It's time to draw them into the Wild Wood. With a map, they'll make it through just fine. The woods are only dangerous if you don't know where you're going. But these are two 12 year old boys...
...and they've just lost the map.
Wow. I loved this. My favorite aspect was easily Annie Burton, the boys' mother. The author's description of her determined to find her wayward boys is surprisingly both heartfelt and hilarious. This is not fairy tale where the mother finds the note that her children are missing and spends it wailing - she's their mother, darn it, and she's going to find them and bring them home. The theme of resilient motherhood is extremely strong in this novel.
I also LOVED the humor. Like the best of the middle grade genre, this novel has humor for both kids and parents alike - the adult asides are funny for adults, and yet the jokes and antics are funny for the kids too. It's a delicate balance to strike, but the author does this really well as I spent a lot of time laughing.
Overall, a fantastic read. Looking forward to the next installment!
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
So this is apparently an odd opinion... but this really, really worked for me. (I think half of that reasoning is because of the teeth.)
Twist on YA tropes: ★★★★★
Surprise factor: ★★★★
A mini rant: It's times like these where I really, really wish Six of Crows wasn't such a YA titan that is universally—and sometimes violently—loved. I don't mean ANY disrespect for fans of the duology as I am a fan myself, but I think that The Merciful Crow was prematurely dismissed by some in the YA community for its title, and the mere fact that it had to do with a caste of people called "Crows." Which is nuts, as this book was not even the same thing, at all.
Fie is a Crow, a chief-in-training, and she travels with other Crows from town to town. They are the lepers, the bottom caste, the forced nomads, the ones that everyone else can use and abuse. But the Crows have one thing that the other bird castes of the land do not—they are the only ones who are immune from the Plague. When someone gets the plague, the smoke is lit, and the Crows come calling.
They take care of the sick and dying and they honor the dead. The land may mock them, hurt them, and execute them, but when the people become ill it is the Crows to whom they beg. And the Crows always come, and they always show mercy.
The world of The Merciful Crow is divided into several bird castes. This is not a shape shifting novel—there are no actual birds involved. But each caste of bird is a different social class, and each caste has their own Birthright magic, which displays in some of their castes' witches. It's an intriguing finesse of some standard fantasy decisions, and if that was the only twist on this story's magic, I would have been disappointed. But it wasn't—there are also the teeth.
Fie and the other Crow chiefs have a special way with teeth and bones. But specifically, teeth. When Fie touches a tooth, she knows the life of its owner and can call on the innate Birthright magic of the tooth for her own use. So, in essence, if Fie is holding the right tooth.... she can use any of the realm's powers at her disposal. The Crows are ignored by everyone else, so this power goes relatively unnoticed by the other castes...at their own peril. [Example: The Sparrow caste witches are able to direct or deflect attention, so if Fie is hiding from someone all she needs is to wake up the magic of a Sparrow tooth to hide herself from view.]
Fie's life changes forever when one day, her chief decides to save the royal Phoenix son of the crown. The prince and his bodyguard are on the run from the prince's stepmother, the Queen, who's out to kill him and take the throne for her own. The Crows are trapped—if they don't help the prince, then the Queen will punish and kill the Crows for their involvement. If they help the prince, then its up to the Crows to avoid the punishment of the Queen while also trying to get the prince to his allies... and once they've finished their usefulness, they are forced back to their life of abuse and uncertainty. It's a lose-lose situation for the Crows, and they know it.
But Fie refuses to accept the terms, and she draws an oath from the prince: if the Crows do this, they deserve a seat at the table. They want to protected and respected. No more murders, no more abuse. To her surprise, the prince and his bodyguard agree.
Now they just need to get him to safety.
Things I loved:
The focus on the plague. I'm a morbid historian at heart, and this focus was great—it has its roots in the Black Death's plague doctors (complete with their masks, etc.) but there are also other elements in there too. I also loved (wrong word choice given the negative connotations...) the parallels between what happens to the Crows on the road with the dark American history of the KKK raids in the South—the parallels are intentional, and well done. Also, THE TEETH. Great magical element, thoroughly enjoyed its integration and how it was used consistently throughout the novel. Really nice, really unique, made it memorable.
Things I didn't love:
How short this was. I would have gladly read a novel twice this length.
Considering the fact that I hated the beginning of this, no one is more shocked than me that this is a damn good book.
First 100 pages: ★
Character development: ★★★★★
This is the second book in a series, so if you don't want to be spoiled for Wicked Saints, please check out that book first! (My review of it here.)
Wicked Saints was a surprisingly polarizing read in 2019, and I think Ruthless Gods will be similar—if not for the same reasons. Ruthless Gods, in my opinion, is LEAGUES better than the first novel, but only if you can pass through the first 100 pages of extremely vague writing, frustrating lack of explanation, and several wham-bam 180 degree flips that completely switch many things up.
THIS REVIEW WILL, OUT OF NECESSITY, SPOIL WICKED SAINTS.
I'M SERIOUS, PLEASE STOP IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED.
Nadya, Malachiasz, and Serefin are all having a bad time at the beginning of this book as the end of Wicked Saints left us with a LOT to unpack. Nadya's gods have left her and she's broken many of her homeland's laws to save the enemy. Malachiasz's last-minute betrayals left him with the powers of a god, but no way to keep his sanity and control them. Serefin was literally murdered and brought back to life, and now a god is whispering bad things in his ear.
Oh, and the gods we thought were scary in the first novel aren't even the ones we need to worry about.
Now, like I said above, the first 100 pages of this novel were ROUGH. We're talking, I was so frustrated I thought someone else had wrote this, rough. Considering it takes places very close to the ending of Wicked Saints, I was surprised to find the first bit of this book lagged. It seemed like an odd form of a holding pattern, as not much happened and yet lots was happening, and we were still primarily doing odd character-building scenes that also altered previous facts. I think all of the alterations were positive and made the plot stronger...but wish that they had been either included in the first book or brought to us later, because I was making audible frustrated gripes when the witch, Poletga (spelling is butchered, sorry) gave us these vague nothings over and over with each of our characters.
But, as you can see from my 5 star rating, this was a damn good book. I loved that it kept me on my toes, and the additions to the plot were exciting and made the story more original than I gave it credit for in Wicked Saints. In particular, I hope we see more of the Akolan politics in the third book, as it did give this fantasy world a fresh burst of diversity. AND I hope we continue to keep up the pace with this incredibly dark, mythic approach to old gods that really cemented itself in this installment.
It's unflinchingly bloody, twisted, darkly sensual, unrepentant, and surprising. I loved it.
Thank you to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This review is going to be such a bummer, because I was so freaking pumped for this and love this author's previous books.
This is a reaction review. Given my conflicting and confused thoughts on this novel, I highly recommend checking out the official listings for a more concise summary. Normally I do those myself for these reviews, but I don't think I could do it justice here given my confusion.
Teeth in the Mist was a book that I was very excited to read. We've got 3 different timelines of women all tied to this ancient mill house in the remote UK (England? Scotland? Unclear.) There's a demonic angle, and in amazing Kurtagich style there were a bunch of documents and stylistic text choices throughout.
For example, the modern girl's narrative takes place almost exclusively through journal entries and camera transcripts. The 1800s timeline takes place in traditional 3rd person narration, and the oldest timeline takes place as very small diary entries.
But this was a mess for me.
For the first third, I was completely, utterly, 100% confused. And that was okay! I kept going, because I trusted that the story would become more clear as we went on.
It did, and it didn't.
Aside from complete confusion for the entire reading experience—and not the good kind, the frustrating "why are you giving me nothing" kind—I was also continually frustrated with the way that these three timelines were portrayed, and the lack of world building and character development used in each of them. This was a HUGE case of telling, not showing, and what we were told varied by the minute and was almost useless in most cases.
I just can't emphasize enough how much this book relied on telling, not showing. In particular, there is one element of the story that is obvious from the start (which wasn't a problem!) and then in the context of plot progression that trope completely goes off the rails. Please see my Goodreads review to view that spoiler.
On top of the spoiler above, it was just... why? The entire time I was reading the second half of this book—when it became clear where we were going with the three plot lines—I kept thinking, there must be more. Otherwise, why? Where is the payoff? Where is the satisfying "Ah, this is why I slogged through this" ending? It just... didn't satisfy. And it wasn't necessary to have three timelines, so I was frustrated by that element as well.
As you can tell, I'm pretty heated on the topic. Please take my opinions as their own, and not a reflection on anyone else's reading experience. This was a 400 page book of ?!?!?!, and it ended that way. But I still love this author, and I stand by Dead House, her previous book. Looking forward to the next one.
Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart.
Magical elements: ★★★
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Emotional resonance: ★★★★
Everyone knows of Mozart. The brother, that is. How many of us know the history of Mozart's talented older sister, Nannerl?
The Kingdom of Back is a soft, fantastical portrait of the historical lives of Nannerl and Amadeus during their childhood in Austria. Following Nannerl, it imagines the childhood of a girl—one given amazing musical talents, and yet born during a time when women were not given agency over their creativity, their name, or their destiny.
Nannerl's childhood tours with her younger brother, "the" Mozart, are the main backbone of this story. But as this is a fantasy take, we're taken on a journey that deviates from the original: Welcome to the Kingdom of Back, where everything is backwards, blue, and desperately empty save for a mystical princeling.
This mystical princeling seems to know Nannerl's deepest wish: to be remembered. He promises her that he can make it happen. She just needs to accomplish some tasks first.
But as the game gets darker and her younger brother seems to flounder, Nannerl begins to wonder what the princeling deems a proper cost.
What would you do to be remembered?
What I liked:
I loved the concept. Focusing on music? Fantastic. Focusing on the female Mozart? Brilliant. I loved highlighting Nannerl, especially as we were giving voice to a woman who has been largely forgotten by history. The strength in this novel lies in its poignant and heartbreaking focus on what it meant to be a girl in that time period, and the terrible boundaries and lost hope that lay at the end of every story.
What I didn't like:
Without getting into spoiler territory, I felt the magical elements were weak. I was really excited to read about the faerie-goblin, music-vibe, fantastical other world, and found myself really disappointed at the lack of time we spent there. I also found the events that occurred in the Kingdom of Back were unsatisfying for me. I think in part because of these issues, I had a hard time with the novel's pacing. It took too long for us to reach interesting plot points, and not enough occurred chapter to chapter to keep me engaged. I kept fighting the urge to put this down.
However, despite what sounds like a lukewarm response, I do think this is a memorable historical fiction novel—with a dose of the fantastic—and is worth reading for anyone interested in the blurb. I hope others enjoy it more than I did!
5 theatrical stars
I would read this over and over. A gritty traveling circus, the angel v. the devil, romantic tension to CUT a KNIFE, tattoos, diverse orientations, and again for the people in the back romantic tension on POINT.
Romance elements: literally the best in YA, it is FRESH
Imagery: ★★★★★ *chef's kiss*
So I don't care what's on your TBR for this month. Make room for Ink in the Blood.
If you loved the Night Circus for its iconic imagery and archetypal romance figures that were players on a stage as well as flesh and blood love interests, you'll love this.
If you liked the gritty, broken shards of Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows, just wait until you meet the plague doctor, a man who never takes off his sharp-edged mask because he's already died once and he's too much for your eyes. He's the ringmaster of the troupe, the reminder that death is always waiting, and he'll tempt you to the devil if you'll let him.
But he's not the devil—its Celia, our protagonist, who dons the horns and lies and smoke to hide from herself and her Divine. She believes she can coat herself in enough lies to save herself from her fate. But can she run from the ink in her blood?
Ink in the Blood is all of the above, plus a one-of-a-kind religious system based on tattoos, the Divine, Diavala (the devil), and a matriarchal plot line that feels like the perfect amount of grit, soul, and lying diamonds.
I know the blurb mentions a lot of things, and some of them are what I've said and some of them just allude to things to come. Please don't be disillusioned by the first few chapters. I was, and I thought this was going to be a very different book. But, I promise, it's not. Get to the circus. It is perfection from there.
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.