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.
The Guinevere Deception is a story about women's agency and their role in myth—and cleverly ties together known aspects of the Arthurian legends with some much needed LGBT+ and modern sensibilities.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
I'm so mad at this book because it does not put its best foot forward. The Guinevere Deception starts out so simplistic, so run-of-the-mill, that it's boring. Boring boring. Skim-worthy, even.
But then, we cross the hump. The second half of this book is gorgeous. It's lyrical, it's feminist, it's evocative of the Kiersten White that I remember from my long-ago read of And I Darken—where women had their own agency and commentary--that I put down my kindle and went what? Is this the same story?
The Guinevere Deception follows "Guinevere," the wife of the newly made King Arthur. Arthur has won Camelot, and now he rules in a realm where magic is pushed to the edges of his borders and everything is free from chaos and everything is wholesome and good. (Ha. Obviously, this is a disaster waiting to happen.) Enter Guinevere, except we, as the reader, know the Guinevere is not really the princess at all, but the daughter of Merlin, sent to be the last line of defense for King Arthur—she is supposed to keep the king safe from magic...by using the forbidden magic herself.
Such a good plan. No holes at all. (Right.)
Guinevere enters into the world of Camelot and starts exploring the city and its people in the most mundane ways possible. The dialogue is meh, the chapters go slowly, and I caught myself jumping ahead several times because we were so clearly treading water, waiting for something to happen.
Then, some things happen.
I won't spoil anything in the plot because I think most of the enjoyment comes from being surprised, but The Guinevere Deception has some significant tricks. Guinevere isn't as milk toast as she seems, Arthur isn't that stupid, Lancelot appears in THE MOST EPIC TWIST as a different take on the character, women support women, some LGBT+ rep enters as breath of fresh air in this traditional hetero tale, and I just really enjoyed the turn of events.
The entire time I was reading The Guinevere Deception, I kept saying to myself: man, I miss Kiersten White when she gets dark. Maybe this is too light for me, and I'll stick with her darker content. But I can see the hints of darkness in the set up for book two, and call me intrigued—I think White has more things up her sleeve.
Definitely pick this one up if you're a fan of legends, myths, retelling, feminism, LGBT+, and good old fashioned plot twist surprises. I think this one is worth enjoying if you can get over its own problematically dull beginnings.
Thank you to Delacorte Press for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Gods, demons, fluid time constructs, ruthless families, and more collide in this epic fantasy opener that deserves a seat at the table with the titans of YA fantasy.
World building: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Arrah is the daughter of two powerful magic users. Her father's ties to the rural tribes keep her with one foot in the old world, while her mother's political fist in the urban Kingdom keeps her with one foot in the new. This clash of cultures, magic, and sense of morality was amazing—and split along the dichotomy of father versus mother, which was also interesting.
Arrah isn't the "chosen one" in this fantasy—in fact, she's one of the few characters without a natural source for magic—and she finds herself in an epic conflict between gods and demons.
The orishas (gods) have ruled the land for all of living memory. The Demon King and his followers were vanquished long ago, and the orishas remain in power. But then... Arrah discovers that her world isn't all that she thought it was. Her mother has her own vendetta to accomplish, and Arrah finds herself on the front line of a godly conflict that she is definitely not prepared for.
But she's willing to do anything to win.
Things I loved:
Arrah's sense of self—her rock-solid personal identity was refreshing. The land of Kefu, where time is fluid?? So cool, so unique, it added to the myth-like feel to the story. THE WRITING—GORGEOUS. The love interest was supportive and not too involved with the plot. The sidebar chapters written from the orishas to...someone(s). Those sidebars make me want to reread this book immediately, to catch references that I missed on the first pass. The world. I loved it all, honestly. One quick spoiler favorite: (view spoiler)
Things I wished were better:
The pacing—given the sheer amount of plot and time progression that occurs, Kingdom of Souls feels like more than one book that was smashed together. I would have happily read one book on the events pre-Kefu, and then another book on the events that happened after. There was DEFINITELY enough plot for more than one installment. But really, is too much plot a negative??
Surprisingly elegant and atmospheric, but definitely rough around the edges. Zombies meets ancient Wales meets myth meets....traditional YA trappings.
Visual descriptions: ★★★★
Density: ★★ 1/2
The Bone Houses has one of the coolest concepts in YA--in a small town at the edge of the mystical mountainous woods, skeletons come alive at night and wander. They're called bone houses. That kind of an opener screams to be read.
Ryn is a gravedigger, and the tough-as-nails, chip-on-her-shoulder YA heroine that we've seen before. Her father was lost to the mountains, her uncle was lost to the wilderness, and her siblings are all she has left. The family scrapes it by on the edges of poverty in a very medieval-feeling way.
Enter Ellis, the mapmaker. Kind of strange that there seems to be an entire profession devoting to traveling mapmakers, but The Bone Houses runs with it. Ellis is an orphan boy trying to find his parents, and finds himself drawn to the woods where he was found.
Ryn and Ellis also find themselves drawn to each other and end up in the woods on a quest to a) learn more about the mountains for a map, b) learn more about Ellis' past, c) try to find out what happened to Ryn's dad, and finally d) to discover the heart of the woods and find a way to stop the bone houses from rising. (It's a complicated quest.)
There was potential for me to love The Bone Houses, but I never found myself crossing the divide between liking and loving. It was cool...but I wanted more of the magic, more of the bone houses, and wayyyyy less of the YA-standards: the romance, the tying everything up together in the end, the internal dialogues on identity that took up space that could have been used on plot, etc. Give me the weird and the unexplained magic and leave everything else behind—it just bogged the story down.
Dark, fast, witty, and unique.
Did it stand out?: ★★★★★
Taking place in what feels like historic Paris during the time of Church vs. Witchcraft, Serpent & Dove follows two POVs: Louise le Blanc, the daughter of the most powerful witch leader, and Reid Diggory, the head of the Church's military faction.
Louise (Lou) ran away from her mother's coven two years ago and she's never looked back. Being a witch isn't all its cracked up to be, and especially not in the city of Cesarine. Faced with the threat of being found by her mother, Lou takes to the streets and lives the life of a cross-dressing thief. All is going well in her cutthroat world until one day she meets her natural nemesis: Reid Diggory.
Reid Diggory was orphaned on the streets of Cesarine. Like other orphaned boys, he's sent to the Church, where the Archbishop decides to take Reid under his wing and groom him for the Church's military unit, the Chasseurs. Rising among the ranks to become the head of the Chasseurs, Reid's purpose in life is simple: kill all of the witches.
Lou and Reid's lives collide in a major way when during a chase, Reid and Lou find themselves in a compromising situation. To save Reid's reputation, the Archbishop declares they marry—effective immediately. (The logic is questionable, but is answered.)
Cue one of the best YA hate-to-love romances of the year. Reid's a stubborn stick in the mud with limited ideas. Lou's a free-wheeling sarcastic former thief with a secret to hide—one that could lead to her own death at the hand of her husband. Do the two of them have a chance at a real romance? (Ugh, I loved this so much. Enjoy the trope in this one, it's great.)
Serpent & Dove's strength lies in its ability to keep you engaged even when the plot lags. A large portion of this novel is static and takes place at the Chasseurs headquarters—with limited action—and yet the characters and subplots kept me riveted. I loved the final series of reveals, and can't wait to read the read in the second book.
Extremely atmospheric, haunting, and filled with historically tinged Gothic horror, this was something else.
World: ★★★★ 1/2
Plot Execution: ★★★ 1/2
Character Development: ★★★
Gothic Ocean Vibes: ★★★★★
Well hello, Gothic ocean-inspired fairy tale retelling! House of Salt and Sorrows was something I never knew I wanted until I read it. It's a full cast list of sisters and other residents of Highmoor Estate, located on one of several islands that are home to the People of the Salt. One by one, the sisters are succumbing to mysterious deaths. Something spooky and magical is AFOOT.
Annaleigh Thaumas is the second oldest of the surviving sisters. Annaleigh doesn't believe all of her sisters are dying accidentally. With a distinctively historical flair, Annaleigh embarks on a whodunit narrative to find out who killed the last one her sisters, Eulalie, and find out if the rumors about her family are true—is the Thaumas family cursed?
I loved Annaleigh. She was full of character, inquisitive but not aggressive, and felt grounded in her historical time period. Unlike other YA heroines who feel like modern characters plunked into historical settings, Annaleigh was very much grounded in her time.
In the midst of Annaleigh's quest to find her sisters' murderer, another plot is bubbling. The group of remaining sisters and Annaleigh find a "portal" of sorts on the grounds of their estate that leads them to anywhere they mentally desire. The sisters find ball after ball through the portal, dancing their nights away with strangers in glittering settings....but is there something sinister under the surface?
As the nights continue and the girls burn through their dancing shoes, Annaleigh begins to suspect that there is something wrong with the portal, Highmoor, and the people around her.
In a traditional YA move, we are also introduced to a love triangle. While I initially was bored and underwhelmed by its introduction to the plot, this love triangle quickly gained several layers and actually became incredibly spooky and (surprisingly?) terrifying.
I loved this dark story. House of Salt and Sorrows is equal parts murder mystery, ghost story, sweet dream/beautiful nightmare, and an extremely dark rendition of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale. It's a lot for one concept, but it works.
Thank you so much to Random House Children's via NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.