Bookish Adventure Tag!

Umairah @ Sereadipity celebrated reaching 100 followers with a special Bookish Adventure Tag. This is my first tag and I had such a lot of fun!

Here are the rules:

Write about one place mentioned in a book you wish you could visit and why.

  • List 3-5 things that you would do there.
  • Mention which souvenirs, if any, you would bring back with you.
  • Then tag some more literary explorers and please link back to the creator

To be honest I had to condense it loads as I could ramble on forever about my Dream Bookish Destination! Here goes…

Dream Bookish Destination:

When someone says ‘Ultimate Bookish Destination’, Middle Earth is the first thing that pops into my head. I know it’s not exactly one destination but I can’t thing of a single place that I’d love to visit more. There’s just something so magical and unforgettable about Tolkien’s world. Trouble is, if I ever got to visit, I don’t think I’d ever want to leave!

Things I would do:

  • Rent a room at the Prancing Pony and drink pints with hobbits.
  • Attend one of Gandalf’s famous firework parties in the Shire then eat breakfast, second breakfast and elevenses the morning after.
  • Sit and read books by the waterfall in Rivendell.
  • Go horse riding with the Rohirrim across Rohan.
  • Visit the Lonely Mountain and try and steal a bit of Smaug’s treasure.
  • Have tea with Radagast the Brown and his amazing menagerie of animals.
  • Wander through the streets of Gondor and see the famous White Tree.
  • Steer well clear of Minas Morgul and the creepy spider lair.
  • Go on a walk with the Ents.

Souvenirs:

  • The Light of Eärendil – because it would be way cooler than using my phone as a torch…
  • If I couldn’t bring back a horse from Rohan, I’d make do with a Rohan flag that I could use as a throw-cover or something.
  • A piece of treasure from the Lonely Mountain; just to say that I, like Bilbo, could pass for a thief and because I like shiny things! 😂

Tag! You’re it! Feel free to have a go at your own Dream Bookish Destination.

Thanks again to Umairah for creating the Bookish Adventure Tag. I had a blast!

T xx

5 Biblioshelf Musings about ‘The Wicked King’

After reading and loving The Cruel Prince, Holly Black’s sequel, The Wicked King,was immediately added to my TBR and I was thrilled to be lucky enough to win a copy from Hot Key Books through Readers First back in January. Now that I’ve finally got around to finish reading it here’s five things (as spoiler-free as possible!) I loved about The Wicked King.

1. We need to talk about Cardan… future-hero or long-time villain?

Back in The Cruel Prince, I found Cardan to be a very self-absorbed character which I wasn’t that interested in…but now, in The Wicked King, I’m completely fascinated by him. And what’s more, I can’t work out whether he really is a long-time villain and is just as cruel and wicked as the titles of Holly’s stories suggests OR whether Cardan’s nastiness is all just a ruse before he swoops in to save the day. The way he plays back and forth with Jude was mirrored with the way I felt about his character. I’m secretly hoping that he’s some kind of flawed-hero who will come good in the end. I guess we’ll have to wait until The Queen of Nothing to find out!

 2. Who’s that Jude?

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by Jude and her growth of character in this sequel. In the first book I wasn’t terribly keen on her and I can’t actually put my finger on why. But it seems that her role as the seneschal of King Cardan has given her a new dimension. She is much more ruthless and calculating whilst at the same time battling against her feeling of being out of place in Elfhame. I like the way Holly Black explores that sense of not-belonging in the role/world you find yourself in and how she has Jude with this in the story.

“Once upon a time, there was a human girl stolen away by faeries, and because of that, she swore to destroy them.”

3. Diving into the Undersea

Sounds strange, but in a previous life I definitely believe I lived in the ocean…I think that’s why I am drawn to any stories about pirates, mermaids, sea adventures and underwater worlds. I was so happy that we got to see what The Undersea is like in The Wicked King; I liked the way the world is shaped from reef coral and sea kelp and how the Mer Folk go about on their turtles. I hope we get more of it in the finale.

4. Deception, Lies and Secrecy

The twists and turns in this book come in thick and fast. I really enjoyed the political intrigue and second-guessing which ran through the story. There are so many different court factions who all have their own loyalties and priorities which make for a fascinating narrative. I wound up constantly changing my mind about which characters were good and which were bad. Whilst I’d love to say that I figured out which character had betrayed Jude, I still wasn’t 100% certain until I read it in black and white. Add to that the mystery of good-guy/bad-guy King Cardan then The Wicked Kingcertainly kept me on my toes.

“Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.”

5. THAT ending…!

It’s fair to say that Holly Black has mastered the cliff-hanger ending. Just when we were thinking that all was well – BAM – there goes the rug, pulled right out from under your feet and you’re questioning all you thought you knew about how this tale was going to turn out… It’s hard to describe without giving away loads of spoilers but it’s safe to say that I didn’t see it coming and, as alluded to before in my feelings about Cardan, I’m not entirely sure whether Cardan is protecting Jude and being the “hero in disguise” or whether he really has managed to get his own back after what Jude did to him at the end of The Cruel Prince.

“And the single last thing in my head: that I like him better than I’ve ever liked anyone and that of all the things he’s ever done to me, making me like him so much is by far the worst.”

Needless to say, the only way I will find out the answers to the many, many questions buzzing through my head is with the final instalment in this trilogy, The Queen of Nothing, set for release in 2020. I thoroughly enjoyed returning to Elfhame to see what lay in store for Jude, Cardan and the rest of the characters in this series. Again, thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read The Wicked King? If anyone wants to chat Book 3 or Cardan theories then feel free to drop me a comment below!

[Book Review] To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

I have a heart for every year I’ve been alive.
There are seventeen hidden in the sand of my bedroom. Every so often, I claw through the shingle, just to check they’re still there. Buried deep and bloody. I count each of them, so I can be sure none were stolen in the night. It’s not such an odd fear to have. Hearts are power, and if there’s one thing my kind craves more than the ocean, it’s power.

If this book were a portal to the world it’s set in then I would immediately dive straight into it right now!

I’ve always been a major fan of any stories set by seas and oceans or involving pirates, mermaids and the like. I’ve read stories of sirens in mythology but nothing contemporary has ever hit the mark…that is until To Kill A Kingdom came along.
I knew I had to read it straightaway and couldn’t resist the lure of it when it came up as part of the Readers First draw. Readers First is a website that releases first looks on upcoming releases from a wide range of genres. If you write a first impression of the first look then you get entered into a prize draw to win a copy of the book pre-publication in exchange for a review. This was my first time actually entering for anything and I jumped for joy when I had the email telling me that I had won a copy and it was already on its way in the mail to me.

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.
The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy? [Synopsis from Goodreads]IMG_7774

Admittedly, from the blurb alone, my expectations were incredibly high and thankfully Alexandra Christo pulled it out of the bag with this brilliant debut. It’s clear from the first few pages that storytelling is a massive strength within this novel. Christo has such a lyrical way of writing that the story is almost like a siren song transcending off the pages straight into your mind.

Under the sea, it’s never so serene. There’s always screaming and crashing and tearing. There’s always the ocean, constantly moving and evolving into something new. Never still and never the same.

From the outset, the world building in this book is far from watery (pun intended)!  The rich vocabulary and exquisite descriptions immerse you headfirst into the world Christo has created. Seriously, I would happily hop on the first pirate ship I see on a quest to find the Diávolos Sea. I love descriptive books which is why I think this appealed to me so much but if you’re not into all of that then there’s plenty of swashbuckling action and entertaining banter to counteract it.

And the ocean, calling out to us both. A song of freedom and longing.

The story is written in alternating chapters following Lira – a siren princess known as the Princes’ Bane due to her passion for targeting and murdering princes, and Elian – a Midasan prince known as the siren-killer because of his commitment to sailing the seas and ridding humanity of the threat of siren monsters. When Lira’s callous and cruel mother, the Sea Queen, sends Lira on a quest to kill Elian the paths of the two main characters merges and takes them on an adventure which neither one was truly expecting.

Could it really be such a bad thing, to become a story whispered to children in the dead of night?

Raised by brutality, Lira is one true bad-ass. She’s witty, determined and filled with sass to the brim. A fantastic protagonist who conveys her story and her conflicting feelings effortlessly. I really liked the fact that she dared to be different to the other sirens, even if it meant going against someone as powerful as her mother. As for the prince…well, give me Elian over Eric any day! The balance between both him and Lira made for a brilliantly believable pairing despite their initial differences.

Although To Kill A Kingdom comes across as a retelling, it really is an original tale in its own right. I enjoyed the influences of Greek myths as well as spotting the various nods to both the traditional and Disney versions of the The Little Mermaid – the Sea Queen throws some serious shade on Disney’s Ursula; Lira’s transition from siren to human echoes both Ariel’s and the Anderson mermaid’s fates; and of course the subtle romance between prince and princess reiterates themes from both versions of the tale.

The storyline itself, deviates drastically from the well-known fairy tales. Christo has created an interesting narrative which weaves myth, fairy tale and fantasy together. The characters embark on a fairly simple retrieval quest which then branches out into variously wicked twists and turns to keep you on your toes, finally culminating in an epic battle of mankind and monsters to determine the fate of their world. I enjoyed the way that the action was interspersed with different settings and dialogues between the characters. Refreshingly, as a standalone fantasy novel, the plot is neatly wrapped up at the end of the story but there’s the snag…I wanted more! At times during reading I found myself doubting that this was actually a standalone. I couldn’t quite believe that the whole story could be wrapped up as I crept closer and closer to the end of the book. Whilst I wasn’t left with any burning questions which felt as though they hadn’t been answered, I do feel that the ending came about rather quickly compared to the level of build-up that there was to get there. I really hope Christo revisits this world that she has created, not necessarily to continue the stories of Elian and Lira, but just to see more of it come to life on the page.

If you’re looking for a stunningly enchanting standalone to absolutely lose yourself in, then this is the book for you. To Kill a Kingdom had everything I wanted in a YA fantasy novel – adventure, mysticism, humour, magic, a touch of romance and a kingdom that I actually wished was a real place. This novel will definitely stick in my mind for a long time to come and I can’t wait to see what Christo writes next.

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Published: 6th March 2018
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9781471407390
Rating: 5/5 Princes’ Hearts

[Book Review] Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Pages: 372
Publisher: Arrow Books 2012
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 5/5 Easter Eggs

Synopsis from Goodreads:

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

I am not a video-gamer. I am not an 80s superfan.

But…

I am hugely in love with Ready Player One.

I began reading this purely out of the hype which has gradually been building during the run up to its movie release in March this year. As I said, I’m not really a massive gamer purely for the fact that I am so bad at them and end up getting angry, grumpy and not much fun to be around! I grew up in the 90s so knowledge of 80s culture is through what has been passed to me rather than experienced first hand from living through that decade.  I’m also not very up to speed with the whole virtual reality/artificial intelligence thing either, so I did not really go into this book thinking that I would like it but knew that I definitely wanted to read it before seeing the film. Having only read the Goodreads synopsis, I delved straight in…after the first page, I honestly could not put this book down! So much so that I went to bed one night and stayed up til gone 1AM just to reach the end. I’ve been raving about it and recommending it ever since to anyone who’ll listen, even to the friends who have already read it before me!

“Whenever I saw the sun, I reminded myself that I was looking at a star. One of over a hundred billion in our galaxy. A galaxy that was just one of billions of other galaxies in the observable universe. This helped me keep things in perspective.”

What I loved about this book:

·      The Quest – I absolutely love treasure hunts and the mission to find things which are hidden. Ready Player One has this in abundance! Cline has absolutely nailed it with his plot. Every detail is superbly laid out and intrinsically thought about. It really is a master class in how to lay a trail of clues and hide them within the narrative. You don’t need to know much about video games or 80s pop culture as you are given an expert tour by the main character Wade. There is a fair amount of detail imparted to the reader and normally I’m not a huge fan of info-dumping but what Cline does is spread this out into short chunks which are revealed only when necessary, when they have something to contribute to the plot. Cline really has written an ode to the 80s. Movies, music, games and novels are all very well represented. Check out this article on the Shmoop website to see the vast, mind-blowing array of little treasures that are featured or referenced to throughout!

·      The story keeps on giving – now whilst some elements of the plot were easy enough for me to predict or guess, there were other parts which took me by surprise and kept me flipping the pages just to keep on going. The suspension and pace kept on building all of the way through and as the stakes got higher, my anticipation went along with it too and I was thoroughly gripped.

·      The characters – Wade is such a likeable character. He has qualities and traits which are relatable to a wide range of readers. As someone who has lost both of his parents and doesn’t really feel like he fits in with the rest of his family or the real world at all, he seeks solace in the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, basically a virtual reality world where people can create avatars and live their life). He is a walking encyclopedia of all things to do with retro arcade games and James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS and the Easter Egg contest which poses as the main focus of the novel. He believes in a world which is not overrun with corruption or corporationalism from the evil IOI Company and he uses the refuge of the virtual world in order to express a representation of his true self, which can also be said for many of the other central characters. Art3mis and Aech (pronounced ‘aitch’ not ‘ike’ as I finally discovered on p.320!) also do a stellar job at matching up to Wade and providing some great rivalry, dialogue and humour throughout the story.

·      The villain – Whilst the main villain of Ready Player One is Sorrento, for me the actual villain of the story is the meaning behind Sorrento’s character. Working for the IOI which wants to win the contest in order to control the whole OASIS, Sorrento represents the modern day idea of globalisation and big corporate companies dictating the way in which the entire world is run. Wade and the other gunters, who are on a mission to prevent this from happening, parody this by bringing the good side to balance the evil. They see the importance of friendship and working together as the main way they will be able to counteract the threat of the IOI and these themes are central within the plot, giving the whole novel quite a meaningful message.

What I didn’t love about this book:

·      That it had to end!

·      I can honestly think of no other reasons than that! The ending was slightly twee, and I’m not sure that one part of it was entirely needed as it felt a little cliché, but I think that’s just my own cynicism!

·      Apparently, a sequel is in the works; I do not know where the next novel could possibly go. Without using a whole load of spoilers, I’m not really sure that a sequel is necessary after such an amazing story like Ready Player One was.


All in all, Ready Player One blew me away. The quirkiness and attention to detail was sublime; Cline really knew his themes and plot inside out and the sense that this was his passion project just leapt off every page. I know without a doubt that this will be one of my favourite reads of 2018 already. USA Today accurately described it as ‘Willy Wonka meets The Matrix’ and this is such an accurate assessment. If you have a love for retro gaming or reliving your 80s youth, if you love plots intricately laid with subtle references to pop culture, if you love a story with a real-world message then hopefully you’d find something to love in Ready Player One.

Pinnacle – Book Review

•   Published 6th February 2018 by Astraea Press (Paperback)

•   298 pages

•   ISBN-13:978-1621357339

•   Rated: 4/5 Magical Attributes

“Identifying her parents was the hardest thing ever, until Kaya learned she was the killer’s next target. Moving had thrown the ancient predator off her trail temporarily but with magical abilities manifesting, Kaya’s scent grows stronger and the attempts on her life become constant. Narrowly surviving each encounter, Kaya is desperate to stop her potential assassin, but it’s hard to kill a creature that changes its appearance and disappears without a trace. Kaya finds the support she needs to succeed in her small group of friends and her boyfriend Kenneth. Like so many things, they’re more than what they seem and with the killer having unsettling similarities to Kenneth and his family…Kaya can’t help but wonder if there’s a connection.”

Pinnacle is a brilliant debut from Lynn Veevers and really brings Lycanthropy into the spotlight. The novel has a wide-ranging cast of characters and gives the reader an in-depth look at the powers and heritage of the people within Kaya’s world. There is a lot of character-building which really immerses you into the plot.

At the beginning, I felt like there was a fair bit of info-dumping explaining all of the attributes and qualities of both the Natural and Afflicted Lycans and the Natural Mystics to bring the reader up to speed and into the story. As the descriptions were often quite lengthy and took place during conversations with numerous characters (some of which had been freshly introduced), I found myself having to pay close attention to what was happening to get my head around it all. With a little bit of perseverance, I came to understand more about the complexities of the various character traits. Afflicted Lycans = bad, they’re basically like the Terminators of the Lycan world; Natural Lycans are the good guys and have more than one form and Natural Mystics are like humans but with a specific skill or attribute.

Now Kaya is like the ultimate of the Natural Mystics and the plot revolves around her being the destined Pinnacle. Because of her heritage she has quite a range of different abilities which make her different from other Natural Mystics. She shows a lot of determination and adapts to her powers really well and quite speedily, especially when a new one will pop up out of the blue and show itself suddenly. At times, her relationship with Kenneth was a little cheesy for my personal taste, but I was pleased that the tone of the novel didn’t come across as an angsty teenage romance.

Although there were a lot of characters, you quickly felt like you got to know them as a fair amount of the text was centered around their interactions and conversations with each other. I don’t tend to read many books with werewolf or lycan themes but the likeability of the characters that Veevers created drew me into following their story through until the end.

My highlight of the book is where they journey to a cave in an attempt to track down and discover Senka, the main villain. This part of the novel was able to merge the world-building of the setting whilst also giving the characters a chance to demonstrate their skills in a battle-type situation. It gave the story a little more action and pace. I also felt that this was the part of the story where all of the main components came together and gave the story its link into the second novel Eximius.

Overall I really enjoyed Pinnacle, it was thrilling to read a book which had little complexities layered throughout its narrative. It really made me pay attention to the storyline and what was happening. For a debut, this is an ambitious and valiant attempt into the foray of paranormal YA fiction. I would definitely recommend this to older, more mature readers due to the exploration of relationships involved and some scenes which include violence and a character death. If you liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight and The Mortal Instruments for their werewolf elements and prefer books which focus heavily on character development and interactions then you would probably enjoy reading Pinnacle.

I would like to thank Lynn for giving me the opportunity to read Pinnacle before its release date and cannot wait to see what happens next in the forthcoming sequel Eximius.

Everless – book review

  • Everless by Sara Holland
  • Published 4th January 2018 by Orchard Books
  • 368 pages
  • Rated: 5/5 Blood-irons

“Time is a prison. She is the key.”
This book felt like it bled me dry – pun definitely intended! I binge read it in a couple of days and am waiting on tenterhooks for book 2! I received this book in the December Oh So Regal box from FairyLoot.

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Everless is the debut novel by Sara Holland and is the first in a so far untitled series.
“In the land of Sempera, the rich control everything – even time. Ever since the age of alchemy and sorcery, hours, days and years have been extracted from blood and bound to iron coins. The rich live for centuries; the poor bleed themselves dry.
Jules and her father are behind on their rent and low on hours. To stop him from draining himself to clear their debts, Jules takes a job at Everless, the grand estate of the cruel Gerling family.
There, Jules encounters danger and temptation in the guise of the Gerling heir, Roan, who is soon to be married. But the web of secrets at Everless stretches beyond her desire, and the truths Jules must uncover will change her life for ever … and possibly the future of time itself.”

The concept of ‘time is money’ has been around since the Ancient Greek times and has slowly trickled its way through history when it was, albeit mistakenly attributed to Benjamin Franklin who’d used it in his 1748 essay Advice to a Young Tradesman. In the world of Everless, time literally is money; citizens go to have their blood bled, diminishing their life span, which gets melted down into blood-irons, the currency of Sempera. Those blood-irons are used for paying rent to the time collectors (read tax collectors) on behalf of the rich people who own all of the land and villages.
For me, Holland has struck gold (pun again intended, sorry not sorry) by weaving elements of our own realities into this fantasy environment. I’m not sure if she did this intentionally but Everless smacks of that old Robin Hood story of the rich stealing from the poor, something which can still be prevalent in many countries today. The idea of the elite and the 1% owning everything whilst we peasants have to ask permission or apply for licences just to be able to do simple things like drive, pay taxes on the wages and incomes we spent our own hours of life earning just to be able to afford a living, be registered at birth, have a National Insurance number, pay VAT on goods we buy in shops, who really does own the ground we actually walk upon…? The list is everless! I could go on forever with this! So as you can see, Holland really hit my nerve with her Semperean world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, purely for the parallels that I read in it of our own lives on planet Earth.

Jules in the opening scene reminded me so much of Katniss Everdeen and Feyre Archeron, the way she hunts through the woods trying in earnest to find food to trade or sell. She has no self pity and enough sass to make her a believable and strong lead character, although at times, just a few, I feel that I’m more invested in her story and what is happening to her, rather than being concerned with the person that is Jules herself…if that makes sense?! Mostly, everything she does, whether out of naivety or her own admitted selfishness is for her Papa and the good of her friends and family. She has a determination and grit which desires to see a little bit of justice in the world, someone who is not afraid to stand up and fight for what they believe in whilst still retaining humility and nervousness about how she can accomplish what she needs to. Her story throughout the novel really intrigued me as it begun to unravel and although I guessed or had my suspicions of some elements within the plot, others pulled the rug out from under my feet and were so unexpected that I would actually gasp aloud whilst reading and immediately Snapchat my friend who was reading the book at the same time as me! Some of those moments…that is what I live for in a book! Fair play Sara Holland, you kept me on my toes!

The Sorceress and the Alchemist were great plot devices and well laid out. I loved how they merged with the characters within the story and it gave the book that traditional fairy/folktale feeling. It’s got me wondering whether theirs is an old tale which inspired Holland to write Everless or whether she’s just taken two well known character tropes and devised their narratives from that. Either way, I really enjoyed the dynamic that it brought to the story.

If you love a good ending which leaves you dangling off the precipice of the White Cliffs of Dover then Everless should satisfy that need. Towards the ending, the story increasingly quickens in pace, just as the world around Jules starts to unravel yet knit together at the same time! And then…bam! In the space of a few pages, again drop-jaw moment, something happens from out of the blue and you end up shouting, “I knew it!” out loud in front of your family and doing 😱 face multiple times as the book finishes in front of your very eyes! Ok, there are unanswered questions to do with minor characters which I’m not sure will be revealed in the second book as I don’t know how they would link to the main plot. Shoving that aside, if I had enough blood-irons I could spend eons raving about what I love in this story and I only hope that I’m not waiting lightyears for the next instalment!

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress Book 1)
Author: Julie C. Dao
Publisher: Philomel Books
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling
Release Date: 10th October 2017
Pages: 363

Wow! Forest of a Thousand Lanterns truly swept me up into an intriguing East Asian wonderland of politics, romance, betrayal and bloodshed. An exhilarating ride of the tussle between being true to yourself and following your destiny whether for good or for evil, ‘For that is the way of the world, Guma’s voice echoed. Some are given a rope to the moon, and others claw up the sky.’

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is the debut novel from Julie C. Dao which follows the story of beautiful village peasant Xifeng (pronounced SHE-fung) on her journey through the empire of Feng Lu. Her majestic quest consists of fulfilling her regal destiny to become the Empress of Feng Lu, bestowed upon her by a set of mysterious card readings performed by her cruel aunt Guma; there’s just one problem – the current Empress of Feng Lu is not only still alive, but she is also the descendent of an ancient line of Dragon Lords who have ruled over the empire for many years. To add to this, the Emperor has numerous concubines including the formidable Lady Sun who has already provided the Emperor with a male heir. As Xifeng traverses from village peasant to member of Empress Lihua’s Court, she must wrestle not only with her life’s prophecy as told by Guma’s cards, but the very own desires of her heart, asking herself of the lengths she will go to and the sacrifices she will make in order to achieve her destiny.

 

From the Great Forest with its Tengaru inhabitants and hidden glades, to the Imperial Palace with its opulent elegance, to the hidden caves and tunnels buried beneath the Palace’s compound, Dao’s fantasy empire is magically brought to life through her exquisite world building and description. The presence of mythology and destiny is intricately woven throughout the narrative and heightens the aspects of magic within the story. The characters within the novel are equally well developed. A helpful glossary at the beginning of the book gives helpful pronunciation tips and provides a useful reference to all of the roles within the story.

‘“I am the moon and the darkness around it,” Xiifeng hissed in that ancient, ageless voice. “I am the Wind and rain and the ceaseless sea. I am time itself, and yours is running out.”’
Xifeng is a strong female character who has almost two separate halves; the ambitious yet familial village girl compared to the ruthless evil spirit which lingers deep down in her soul. Whether Xifeng is an anti-hero or an anti-villain depends entirely upon the reader’s depiction of her as a character. Her thought processes and actions are well-mapped by Dao and I found myself both supporting her and then vilifying her within a matter of paragraphs! Likewise, her relationship with Wey equally has you championing their union and then backing her whenever she decides that she needs to go it alone. At the Imperial Palace, the initial relationship between Xifeng and Empress Lihua appears at odds to the relationship between Xifeng and the formidable Lady Sun. Dao strikes the balance between Xifeng’s need to make alliances simply because she wants to make friends, as well as those unions which will enable her to further her own quest to make herself the Empress.

 

‘“I believe our lives have already been decided, and it is our purpose to make the choices that lead us to that fate.”’ Fate and the idea of Good vs Evil are two of the main themes which are prevalent through the contrasting elements and relationships within this story. Each aspect or event has its own flipside which keeps you on your toes and turning page after page to uncover the truths of the narrative. The tenderness and nobility of the Tengaru and their Forest deeply contrasts with Guma’s prophecies, the evil spirits and the disconcerting voices within Xifeng’s head. Dao also spins a web of political plots and subplots which leave you questioning who the real villains are and whether they are hiding in plain sight or disguised from view.

‘There are no coincidences, Guma always said. Everything that happens is meant to.’ And this book was definitely meant to fall into my lap. This Evil Queen retelling certainly keeps you on your toes and for me Dao has written a superb Yin and Yang type of book. For every good thing which happens, there’s almost always something else which happens to tip the scale and flip it onto its head, and it’s usually to do with Xifeng and the decisions she makes within the story. Just like in the story, I devoured the heart and lifeblood of this superb novel! A fabulous protagonist, beautiful East Asian setting, magic, evil, destiny all lyrically spun into a rich narrative; I cannot wait for Rise of the Empress #2!

Beauty of the Wildfire

Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović
Published: August 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
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‘Wicked Like a Wildfire’ was beautiful both inside and out. From the moment it revealed itself from my black Fairyloot bag as part of the Otherworlds box, my hopes and expectations were sky high and for me – it did not disappoint!

The story follows two sisters, Iris and Malina, who have to hide their ancestral, ‘gleaming’ magical abilities from the other residents of their coastal Montenegrin village, Cattaro. Iris has the ability to fractalise (I think I made that word up!) flowers and turn them into intricate glassworks whereas Lina is able to read or create moods and emotions through music, epitomising the idea of mood music. When their mother is mysteriously attacked and disappears, the two sisters must work together to discover the truth behind their powers and heritage along with the strange curse which haunts their family line.

Familial relationships are at the heart and soul of this book. Whilst I don’t have any sisters to relate Iris and Lina’s bond to, Popović did a brilliant job of conveying the deep meaning of sisterhood between different generations of characters within the book. This makes the lengths and sacrifices characters must face all the more believable. One relationship which did resonate with me was the one between Iris and her mother. Now whilst I wasn’t quite following the traits of Iris in my teenage years, the friction between the pair definitely brought about a sense of nostalgia for my own relationship with my mother. The battle between trying to be yourself yet match up to another’s expectation brought back quite a lot of feelings from my own childhood and instantly allowed me to connect with Iris.

Other relationships in the book are equally well developed and explored. The romance is not overdone or overshadowing of the main plot whilst still allowing the characters to move forward within the story. The diverse sexualities of characters are written with a subtle innocence which enables the sisters to be honest and true to themselves as well as giving them the courage to stand up for what they believe in and desire most.
One warning – keep a track of the names of the characters. Without giving any spoilers away, the character names are used as a brilliant plot device within the novel and I did have to make a conscious effort to try and keep up with which one was which!

To say this book is a feast for all the senses is a bit of an understatement. Now Wicked Like a Wildfire does have a kind of marmite feeling about it; if you absolutely devour description and world building then you should be enchanted by what Popović has written. The themes of magic and beauty which run throughout this whole narrative are enriched by the pure levels of sensory description which leap off every page. From every sight, to every taste, to every smell, Lana’s world really does come alive in your mind and completely encompassed me, so much so that I felt like I was there with them on their journey. Although set in the modern day, I imagine Iris and Malina’s world as something out of a pre-Raphaelite painting. The symbolism and descriptions from when they ‘eat the moon’ or gleam their magic is so kaleidoscopic and detailed that it becomes emblazoned in the back of your mind and the lightness of it drastically balances out the evil and darkness coming from the curse and villainous elements of the story.

I was thrilled when I found out that Cattaro is actually a real-life place and is known as Kotor in Montenegro. When reading books set in actual places I often Google some of the main landmarks and the setting, just to get a better picture of the character’s world. Appealing to my love of history and architecture, Popović has given stunning representations of locations such as the old town of Kotor as well as the religious buildings Our Lady of the Rocks and the Abbey of St. George on islets near Perast. Before reading Wicked Like a Wildfire, Montenegro was not really a place where I felt compelled to visit, however after Popović has so expertly brought the place to life on the page it has definitely been added to my travel bucket list.

Yes, the pace and detailed, descriptive nature of this book may not suit every reader, but there are many many things which I love about this story and the way it all comes together. I enjoyed the pace and the length of time spent building this magical world and the deep relationships between the characters; I enjoyed that I could explore the historical Montenegrin settings through the experiences of Malina and Iris, and writing which made it pop right off the page; I enjoyed the aspects of magic and the way it was intrinsically linked with beauty and nature; I enjoyed the fairytale-like qualities of the story and the elements of Balkan folklore which become prevalent towards the end; I enjoy that I have questions which are left unanswered at the end, but moreover, above anything else, I adored the sense of escape and wonder that this book allowed me to feel.

Roll on Fierce Like a Firestorm. If it’s anywhere near as good as Wicked Like a Wildfire, then I’m sure it will be one compelling ride!

Wicked Wicked to the core…

A Daughter of the Burning City review

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody
Published by Harlequin Teen
Hardcover edition, 384 pages

This book was featured in the July Tricksters box from Fairyloot and is the debut novel from Amanda Foody.

 

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My July Fairyloot Tricksters unboxing

Cover
I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, however the look of a book is often one of the first things I’m drawn to whilst browsing a shelf or a webpage. The cover of DOTBC did not disappoint! I like the smoky, burning effects on the title lettering and the purple hues which provide a palette backdrop for the city and descriptions within the novel, from the setting of Gomorrah to the clothing and foods that feature throughout. Additionally, the pearlescent paper of the dust-jacket adds that little bit of extra shimmer to the overall presentation of the book.

The Plot
The story follows 16-year-old Sorina who is the adopted daughter of the festival proprietor. She has spent most of her life living in the travelling carnival city of Gomorrah which identifies itself with debauchery, magic, sin and burning desires. Sorina has a rare talent for creating illusions which come to life and with these characters she runs a Freak Show which horrifies and astounds visitors and guests. Although she has physically has no eyes, her magic enables her to see and it is through Sorina’s viewpoint that the story is told. Sorina’s world gets sent into turmoil when her (real-but-make-believe) illusions, which supposedly cannot die, start being murdered. As the city of Gomorrah itself begins to unravel when it visits new cities and finds itself unwelcome, Sorina must balance her investigation into tracking down the murderer of her family members with the lessons she needs to learn about proprietorship of the city and the political battles occurring in the world outside Gomorrah’s gates.

Thoughts
Foody’s world is truly like no other. From the outset of this book, you are told that Gomorrah is a dark place, it is ‘wicked, wicked to the core’ and the likening of the city to the biblical place of Gomorrah intrigued me and added to the visualisation of the city in my mind. But it is here that I reach my first ‘want’ that the book did not provide – I am a sucker for maps! Gomorrah travels around different cities in the Up-Mountains. Gomorrah itself has different locational parts to it: The Menagerie, Uphill, Downhill, Skull Gates, the Skull Market; there are so many parts to this world that I could not fully get invested into because I kept wanting to flip to a map which was not there. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by maps in ACOTAR, TOG, Caraval and Roar; perhaps having one would have helped me to build the city of burning desires and the world it exists in inside my mind a little more…What I did like was the blueprint images of the illusions and the scrawling annotations from the killer etched over them. I struggled with the concept of the illusions being corporeal beings and the images really helped me to see them as living characters within the plot of the novel.

I would love to be able to say that I sussed out who the killer was fromthe very beginning, but I didn’t. I think I just went down the route of assuming that everybody was the killer! I started to guess what might be happening at Chapter 8, then as the story progressed and little hints and clues were divulged there became two suspects in my head of who the killer could be. The suspense really kept me going until the end and all was finally revealed.

As strange as this sounds, I’m not sure if it was the tense of the book that prevented me from becoming compulsively gripped or then again it may just have been Sorina’s voice. There seemed to be lots of elements to the story where I would have welcomed a little more depth. I kept wanting more knowledge about the Trade Wars andthe different cities that Gomorrah visited. The gimmick of the Lucky Coins was brilliant and I’d have loved more background into the former proprietors of the city whose faces adorned the coins.

Daughter of the Burning City is no carnival fairytale and would be perfect for those who like their fantasy a little more on the dark side. The unique characteristics of the illusions and the way they are interspersed with the characters was truly different to any other circus/carnival-esque tale I have read. The killer’s identity kept me clinging on until the end.  The strangnesses and peculiarities through Foody’s narrative left me craving for more descriptions and details of the world she had made. Although the plot of the story is resolved, I hope that Foody revisits her worldin the near future, until then I’m off to find some liquorice cherries to munch on!

Have you read DOTBC? I’d love to know your thoughts and discuss your ideas!
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