Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Mini-Review: The Rise and Reign of the Mammals by Steve Brusatte


The Rise and Reign of the Mammals by Steve Brusatte
Mariner Books
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Hardcover. 528 pages.

About The Rise and Reign of the Mammals:

"A sweeping and revelatory new history of mammals, illuminating the lost story of the extraordinary family tree that led to us

Though humans claim to rule the Earth, we are the inheritors of a dynasty that has reigned over the planet for nearly 66 million years, through fiery cataclysm and ice ages: the mammals. Our lineage includes saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths, armadillos the size of a car, cave bears three times the weight of a grizzly, clever scurriers that outlasted Tyrannosaurus rex, and even other types of humans, like Neanderthals. Indeed humankind and many of the beloved fellow mammals we share the planet with today--lions, whales, dogs--represent only the few survivors of a sprawling and astonishing family tree that has been pruned by time and mass extinctions. How did we get here?

In his acclaimed bestseller The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, American paleontologist Steve Brusatte enchanted readers with his definitive his - tory of the dinosaurs. Now, picking up the narrative in the ashes of the extinction event that doomed T-rex and its kind, Brusatte explores the remarkable story of the family of animals that inherited the Earth--mammals-- and brilliantly reveals that their story is every bit as fascinating and complex as that of the dinosaurs.

Beginning with the earliest days of our lineage some 325 million years ago, Brusatte charts how mammals survived the asteroid that claimed the dinosaurs and made the world their own, becoming the astonishingly diverse range of animals that dominate today's Earth. Brusatte also brings alive the lost worlds mammals inhabited through time, from ice ages to volcanic catastrophes. Entwined in this story is the detective work he and other scientists have done to piece together our understanding using fossil clues and cutting-edge technology."

I had a blast with Steven Brusatte's The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs, so when The Rise and Reign of the Mammals was announced I knew it was going to be a well-researched and fascinating read. How often to do any of really stop and think about mammals as a whole and their development and role in the world's development? I know I don't, so I was that this book proved to be a bounty of information on the subject.

What I liked: Brusatte does an excellent job of incorporating immense amounts of fascinating and useful information into a very readable and accessible-size book. 500 pages is a considerable size, but this has the information of probably a whole series of books and manages to condense it in a way that was still wholly informative and also helped me follow along easily with the timeline, since there is so much to keep track of. I think Brusatte categorizes information well and conveys it in a way that is approachable and makes sense for the average reader. I loved learning about the evolution of mammals from the beginning until now, and I think Brusatte led readers along perfectly in their timeline. He tackles everything from mammalian origins we've never thought about to saber toothed tigers and woolly mammoths (spoiler: these two species weren't even enemies and probably didn't even interact much! We can still enjoy Ice Age, though) to the gradual development of man as it is today.

What I didn't like: It feels a bit silly to complain about info-dumping in a book like this, but there were a few times throughout where I feel like Brusatte just gets a little carried away with listing off a lot of scientific names/etc. in sequence that makes it hard to maintain attention and understanding. I listened to this on audiobook and I didn't particular care for the narrator, either, but that's a purely personal opinion because he did a great job otherwise! Other than that, I have no real dislikes about this book. 

Overall, it's four stars from me! If you're at all interested in the origins of mammals, their evolutions, how things changed from dinosaurs dominating to mammals, and so on, then this is something you have to check out. 

*I received a copy of The Rise and Reign of Mammals courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Review: The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson

The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson
Tor Books
Publication Date: June 13th, 2023
Hardcover. 352 pages.

About The First Bright Thing:

"If you knew how dark tomorrow would be, what would you do with today?

Ringmaster — Rin, to those who know her best — can jump to different moments in time as easily as her wife, Odette, soars from bar to bar on the trapeze. And the circus they lead is a rare home and safe haven for magical misfits and outcasts, known as Sparks.

With the world still reeling from World War I, Rin and her troupe — the Circus of the Fantasticals — travel the midwest, offering a single night of enchantment and respite to all who step into their Big Top.

But threats come at Rin from all sides. The future holds an impending war that the Sparks can see barrelling toward their show and everyone in it. And Rin's past creeps closer every day, a malevolent shadow she can’t fully escape.

It takes the form of another circus, with tents as black as midnight and a ringmaster who rules over his troupe with a dangerous power. Rin's circus has something he wants, and he won't stop until it's his."

The First Bright Thing is a dazzling story of magic, misfits, and found family, as well as a thoughtful story of war, trauma, and finding one's place, meaning, and purpose in this world. This book was a very mixed bag for me, and many things worked well for me, while some things didn't work quite as well. 

The story follows Rin and her circus troupe of misfits, who are comprised of individuals gifted with unknown magic that have made them targets for those who fear their new magical gifts, as they travel as the Circus of the Fantasticals and bring joy and hope to every place they travel. It takes place in a post WWI setting where people are still struggling to overcome the trauma from that event, only to slowly realize that tensions are once again rising and there are new impending wars on the horizon. In addition, Rin is continuously on the run from a figure from her past who wants to bring ruin to her own circus. 

I loved how this story incorporated so many beautiful elements to make it into inclusive and magical tale. You can find queer and Jewish rep within this found family of unique individuals that all work together to celebrate one another's talents and backgrounds. I found The First Bright Thing to be a much more melancholy and darker story than it is perhaps it may seem, and I liked how Dawson captured this atmosphere and turned it into a story with many layers to explore and incorporated just enough hope and promise for a better future to give it some strong impact. 

The characters in The First Bright Thing are all developed well and have unique and compelling backstories that help to bring them alive. Rin, our protagonist, is an incredible complex person who struggles everyday to move forward with her past and memories hanging onto her with every step she takes. I honestly didn't connect with Rin as much as I had expected to, and there were many things about her that I felt frustrated with. Despite this, I still very much enjoyed her journey and learning more about her Jewish culture and how that has impacted her life, as well as how she has managed to created such a safe and loving home for a myriad of different people who need it. 

I'm not a big time travel fan in general, but I don't mind stories that explore it and occasionally I can really enjoy it. I'm honestly still not entirely sure where I've landed on my feelings for the time travel in this book. I appreciated that the women made some general rules about how it would work and in what ways they would allow themselves to alter things, but at the same time it felt as though those rules were very hazy and only existed when it fit the story. That being said, I did enjoy getting to explore some of these different eras through the eyes of our central characters and hearing the different ways in which they attempted to help people by traveling through time. 

Some books hinge heavily on the magic where the details really matter, but The First Bright Thing is what I would describe more leaning into magical realism where I don't think you're really meant to dwell too heavily on the 'why' and 'how' of things. The magic that exists just is, and if you can accept that and simply live within the magical world that has been created, then it should all work out just fine. 

The pacing is probably where I struggled the most, as I found it rather clunky at times and containing many highs and lows of intensity that didn't always work for me. It often felt as though the progress of the story was either repetitive or stalled at times as we dove back into a flashback, and then upon returning to the present it felt as though the story spent too long rehashing something that it felt like we'd already explored at times. The flashbacks were helpful, but sometimes felt too long or as if they weren't all as needed. The pacing is also impacted by the plotting, which at times felt very thin. 

Despite inconsistent pacing, Dawson's prose is gorgeous, and I think it is her prose that really allowed me to push through any pacing or plotting issues and simply enjoy the story and the way it is told. The writing is really what makes this story feel so magical and dazzling despite the often heavy subject matter it explores and heavily focuses on. It is a style of writing that really highlight the beauty and hope that exists within the characters' world, as well as in our own world. 

Lastly, I really appreciated Dawson's exploration of trauma and the many ways in which it can affect people. This is very intermingled with the magic gifts that some characters have, and I think it was really expertly interwoven into the story in a way that felt natural and thoughtful. We see a lot of this exploration of trauma and its effects with Rin in particular, which was present in many of her struggles and actions, though we also see it with many of the supporting characters as well. 

Overall, I've given The First Bright Thing 3.75 stars!

*I received a copy of The First Bright Thing courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Review: The Will of the Many by James Islington

The Will of the Many (Hierarchy #1) by James Islington
Gallery/Saga Press
Publication Date: May 23rd, 2023
Hardcover. 630 pages.

About The Will of the Many:


The Catenan Republic – the Hierarchy – may rule the world now, but they do not know everything.

I tell them my name is Vis Telimus.

I tell them I was orphaned after a tragic accident three years ago, and that good fortune alone has led to my acceptance into their most prestigious school. I tell them that once I graduate, I will gladly join the rest of civilised society in allowing my strength, my drive and my focus – what they call Will – to be leeched away and added to the power of those above me, as millions already do. As all must eventually do. I tell them that I belong, and they believe me.

But the truth is that I have been sent to the Academy to find answers. To solve a murder. To search for an ancient weapon. To uncover secrets that may tear the Republic apart.

And that I will never, ever cede my Will to the empire that executed my family.

To survive, though, I will still have to rise through the Academy’s ranks. I will have to smile, and make friends, and pretend to be one of them and win. Because if I cannot, then those who want to control me, who know my real name, will no longer have any use for me.

And if the Hierarchy finds out who I truly am, they will kill me."

The Licanius Trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies, and I'd been anxiously awaiting something new from James Islington ever since finishing the The Light of All that Falls that could fill that void of having finished one of the best series. And fortunately, The Will of the Many more than delivered. This book blew my mind in all of the best possible ways, and I still can't believe some of the things that happened. I genuinely still think about this book almost daily and have the worst book hangover ever trying to find something else to read after. 

The Will of the Many follows Vis Telimus, an orphaned young man who is currently working at a prison when we first meet him, regularly fights in tournaments on the side for extra money, and vows to never let the empire take his Will from him to power their Hierarchy (don't worry, I'll explain what this is later in the review!). Vis' entire family was killed by the Hierarchy and now he is set upon a path to uncover truths of the Catenan Republic, and along the way he is forced into a variety of different paths to undertake and additional mysteries to uncover, all of which make for a story that has something new to discover on nearly every page. 

Vis has to be one of my new favorite protagonists. I feel like so many fantasy stories that follow young adults portray them as reckless, naïve, or otherwise just not quite as mature as they are implied to be and I end up very frustrated with them. Not so in The Will of the Many! Vis is my dream come true. Vis is angry, determined, and ridiculously sharp. He knows that there is no room for mistakes at just about any step of the way towards his goals. He is not shy and is not afraid to put himself out there when necessary to make a mark or achieve what he knows is needed. Even when Vis does make mistakes, there is a calculated coolness to him that is so captivating and admirable to watch. While reading The Will of the Many, I quite literally kept remarking to my husband at various intervals how much I loved Vis. He's almost ruthless in a way that I love, but still very much has strong convictions and a moral compass that I found admirable in how he did his best to never step over the boundaries he set up for himself. 

There are a lot of moral quandaries and issues that pop up in this book, from the rebels to his own struggles at school, and I appreciated the way Islington shared his inner monologue and the frustrations he went through in his thought process to decide what was the next best step in his journey. I could see where Vis maybe seems "too good" at times at everything he does, but I think I would disagree only because it's very clear he has trained and worked hard to be as good as he is. From his youth until this point, he has constantly pushed himself and studied to be where he is, which makes things fit for me--not to mention that he does make some costly mistakes at times. Vis is a wonderfully complex and multidimensional character that I cannot wait to meet up with again in the sequel.

There are also a variety of supporting characters that were just as multi-faceted and well-developed, such as Ulcisor, a mysterious man who completely derails Vis' plans and subsequently sets Vis on a new path; and Callidus and Eidhin, two friends Vis acquires along the way. I loved Callidus and Eidhin about as much as I loved Vis, and I thought the two brought so much balance to Vis' own personality, as well as added much-needed color and interest to his journey. Both Callidus and Eidhin come from very unique backgrounds compared to each other and to Vis, and I really appreciated getting to learn about their own experiences and how they have been shaped into who they are today, and how those experiences also influence their current actions. Also, they were both hilarious in their own ways with their personalities and how they all interacted with one another and it brought so much joy to my reading of this book. Ulcisor is much more enigmatic and I still genuinely cannot decide if I trust him or not, but I appreciate his consistency and ability to really focus on getting done what he needs to get done. 

The magic system is both very simple and a little bit confusing, but I'll do my best to explain it as accurately and succinctly as possible. The Catenan Republic is ruled and ordered by the Hierarchy, a powerful group who control the Republic via pyramidal systems of power. People have what is known as Will, which is essentially like a life force consisting of your energy and abilities, and Will can be ceded to more powerful figures in society to in turn make them more powerful. There is an entire system based on this that starts with the lowest ranking, Octavus, which is where most civilians stand. An Octavus cedes half of their Will to a Septimus, who receives will from eight people at Octavus ranking, and so on and so forth all the way up to the Princeps, who receives will from a total of over forty thousand people and is considered the most powerful. It's still taking my brain a little bit of work to really ground myself in how this all works, but I have no doubt that future books will play with this system much more and we as readers will really have a chance to dive deeper into this magic system to learn more about it and all of its implications for how it works. There are a lot of aspects of the Will and the magic system to explore and that I could talk about in more depth, but for the sake of brevity in this review (brevity which I'm sure has already been surpassed, sorry!), I'll hold off an let you explore it for yourself when you read this book. 

The setting of the Will of the Many is fascinating. It takes place in a post-Cataclysm world where the people seem to still somewhat be picking up the pieces form the previous age and have yet to attain the levels of advancement and technology that previously existed. As you can probably tell from many of the terms in this book, this is a very Roman-inspired setting that shares many similarities, and just as many dissimilarities. There are so many details provided for this world, many of which probably have meaning we don't even understand yet, and others that serve to cement the world-building in order to successful create a grounded, fully-realized world. We get a lot of hints of other influences as well, such as with Eidhin and Vis' ethnicities and cultures hinted at being less common at the Academy compared to the rest, and I'm very curious to find out more about how all of that will continue to be interwoven into future installments.

We don't travel to too many different locations in this book, but of the places that we do get to travel to with Vis I found there to be a lot of variety and potential for future books to explore more. Every time the story did take a turn into a different location, I found myself craving to learn more about that location or what it's history was and it's current status within the Hierarchy. I am assuming the future installments will explore much more of this world and I can't wait for that because of how rich the world feels, as well as the fact that I feel like there are so many secrets and mysteries to uncover. And that's truly one of the most exciting things about this book–I know there are endless ancient mysteries lurking and the foreshadowing and hints of things to come that we get in this first book having me dying to keep uncovering more. 

Although a good amount of time is spent in locations other than the Catenan Academy, the majority of the time is spent at this Academy on the isolated island of Solivagus, and I really enjoyed our time spent there. As much as I've loved school settings in the past, I have admittedly found myself get a little fatigued of them and the consistent tropes (the bully, the gruff teacher who ends up aiding the student, the mean teacher, etc.), and I was so thrilled when I found that this book didn't really follow those tropes in the ways I'm used to! Sure, there are always school elements that are going to be present, but this school has such a unique setup for the levels of students within it that nothing really felt like any other book I'd read, and I loved that so much.

The pacing of this book is genuinely, in my opinion, as close to perfect as you can get. There's a near-perfect balance of action, character development, world-building, and dialogue sprinkled throughout. I had a hard time putting this book down when I had to do other things in my life, and I was almost constantly counting down until when I got to pick it up again. That being said, it was also one of those books that I think I inadvertently read extra slowly because I wanted it to last as long as possible, and even doing that I never felt that the book moved too slowly or rushed in any place. I really think there's a little something for everyone: a magic systems that has a lot of different ideas and concepts to unpack, strong, careful characterization and development, world-building that tied into the narrative effortlessly and did not feel like excessive info-dumping, and high-intensity moments that included both action-packed events and moments that weren't necessarily high action, but still very intense. All of these together created such a consistent flow of movement along the narrative that it felt like a truly distinctive read that I was utterly engrossed in

Lastly, I just have to say that this does end on a bit of a cliffhanger. It's not like literally hanging off a cliff style, but it's enough that I'm chomping at the bit to get more. It's absolutely worth it though because the way it leaves us is one of those places where it'll lend itself to so much fun discussion and theorizing in the interim period between now and getting our hands on the sequel. 

The Will of the Many is a resounding success in the fantasy genre and is sure to become a classic. I would love to rave about this book more, but rather than continuing to read my words about it, I would highly suggest you go pick up a copy of The Will of the Many and read those words about it instead! Overall, it's an easy five stars from me!

*I received a copy of The Will of the Many courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Review: Maeve Fly by C.J. Leede


Maeve Fly by C.J. Leede
Publication Date: June 6th, 2023
Hardcover. 288 pages.

About Maeve Fly:

"By day, Maeve Fly works at the happiest place in the world as every child’s favorite ice princess.

By the neon night glow of the Sunset Strip, Maeve haunts the dive bars with a drink in one hand and a book in the other, imitating her misanthropic literary heroes.

But when Gideon Green - her best friend’s brother - moves to town, he awakens something dangerous within her, and the world she knows suddenly shifts beneath her feet.

Untethered, Maeve ditches her discontented act and tries on a new persona. A bolder, bloodier one, inspired by the pages of American Psycho. Step aside Patrick Bateman, it’s Maeve’s turn with the knife."

Maeve Fly is not for the fainthearted, and I really mean that. Stephen Graham Jones blurbed this as "gory and brutal and beautiful and painful and terrifying and a pure delight," and I couldn't agree more with that. This is horror that is centered around its characters, but that does not mean it is without plenty of gore, violence, and other things that the squeamish would probably prefer to avoid. There is a relentlessness to the sex and violence portrayed in this book and the perverse nature of it is certainly not going to be for everyone. That being said, if you are able to stick with it, it's going to be one ride that you are not going to be forgetting any time soon, and I would even go as far to say that you'll end up as riveted by it as I was.

Maeve Fly follows Maeve, a somewhat unsympathetic character who has recently moved in with her grandmother in Los Angeles and works as a meet-and-greet princess at a popular theme park nearby (yes, it's most likely what you're thinking of) with her fellow princess friend, Kate. There's not all that much in the way of hard plot going on outside of following Maeve in her new life and observing her adaptation, exploration, and descent of her own life, but it is this character exploration that really carries the story. Her grandmother is currently on her deathbed, unresponsive due to a recent medical event, and as Maeve struggles to come to terms with this development she instead spends her time at work and partaking in a variety of unique (and, uh, slightly concerning?) personal activities. Maeve cares deeply for Kate, and soon develops much stronger feelings for a man named Gideon who shows up in her life as well, which leads her down some difficult paths as she tries to make sense of her feelings. 

Maeve has a penchant for what most people would describe as 'dark things,' and this is hallmarked by her love for Halloween and Halloween music (which I'll agree is pretty fun), among other things. Maeve has a difficult personality to connect with and a somewhat stilted worldview, which makes her a fascinating character who brings something new to the table. She is very much someone who seems to be attempting to find herself and sort of throws herself into a variety of different things to do so, many of which are very questionable and seem to her left her with a somewhat misanthropic worldview at times, and she almost seems to treat the entire world as her own experiment (some of her free time is spent attempting to get random people 'cancelled' online and to ruin their lives, for example). I found Maeve absolutely fascinating, and I was so impressed by how well C.J. Leede was able to craft her narrative voice. She has an incredibly strong voice that I found utterly compelling, and as I listened to the audiobook I found myself nearly on the edge of my seating just waiting to hear what our protagonist would say next.

As mentioned, Maeve Fly takes place largely in LA and surrounding areas, and I really think Leede captured aspects of it incredibly well. I saw one blurb describe this as "a blood-soaked love letter to Los Angeles," and that's exactly what it is. It's hard to describe, but it almost felt as though as it was a bit of a blend of satire, commentary, honestly, and a hint of fantasy in its tone when describing LA. I grew up in the greater LA areas and currently live in the middle of LA and I found myself utterly entertained by Maeve's consistent narration of the city and its people. She really hits the nail on the head at times while also maintaining an extra layer of almost stereotypical perceptions that I think made this that much more fun.

The atmosphere is deliciously dark, at times almost nihilistic, and has a strong sense of morbid curiosity that is present throughout the entire story. Maeve Fly is a hard book to nail down succinctly, but I would say the tone often alternately shifts between being rather manic and unhinged and being contemplative and reflective. I loved the morbidity in this book and how Maeve (and therefore author) didn't really seem to find any topic off limits. Maeve wasn't afraid to try out the darkest and most unhinged thoughts that crossed her mind, and she explored the depths of depravity to her heart's content. Although this is not behavior that should be replicated, of course, I found a strange sense of awe watching her navigate her current life. 

This is a book that really draws on the idea of a gradual descent from dark longings and occasional questionable missteps to what eventually become sudden shifts from sanity to absurdity. It's that idea of having dark thoughts, tentatively acting some out, then one big things happens out of necessity, and after that it's almost a deluge of events that make it harder and harder to maintain a grasp on reality.

The ending of Maeve Fly was one of the most brutally tragic and heartbreaking for so many different reasons, and its one that readers can almost see coming, but you still have to wait and find out along with Maeve how it's going to pan out anyway. This book is not afraid to test boundaries and to make a mark, and I think it absolutely succeeded in both of those. It's weird sometimes to say that I loved a book like this because of how fucked up it is, but I did. This book spoke to me on a weird level and I had a hell of a time on this adventure. 

If you're ready for heavily graphic scenes and open discussion of dark topics, then I would absolutely recommend this one. It was ultimately a rewarding and unforgettable experience and sure to be one I'll re-read. I read the audiobook version and it was perfect. Sosie Bacon did an excellent job and I would highly recommend the audio version if you like audiobooks. Overall, I've given Maeve Fly 4.5 stars!

*I received a copy of Maeve Fly courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Review: Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling


Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling
Publication Date: April 4th, 2023
Hardcover. 304 pages.

About Camp Zero:

"In the far north of Canada sits Camp Zero, an American building project hiding many secrets.

Desperate to help her climate-displaced Korean immigrant mother, Rose agrees to travel to Camp Zero and spy on its architect in exchange for housing. She arrives at the same time as another newcomer, a college professor named Grant who is determined to flee his wealthy family’s dark legacy. Gradually, they realize that there is more to the architect than previously thought, and a disturbing mystery lurks beneath the surface of the camp. At the same time, rumors abound of an elite group of women soldiers living and working at a nearby Cold War-era climate research station. What are they doing there? And who is leading them?

An electrifying page-turner where nothing is as it seems, Camp Zero cleverly explores how the intersection of gender, class, and migration will impact who and what will survive in a warming world."

Camp Zero takes place in a near-future world in which climate change has altered the state of the world forced the displacement of many populations of people and required them to find new ways to survive in this harsh new climate. Many people move north to areas that are cold due to the extreme heating of other parts of the earth, and there now exists a new city known as the Floating City which acts as a protective hub for the wealthy and those who are lucky enough to work there. Fortunately for our protagonist Rose, she attains a job in the Floating City and after working there for a while is given the opportunity to become a spy in the far north of Canada at a remote site known as Camp Zero. Camp Zero is a mysterious building project where Rose joins a group of women known as "Blossoms" act as escorts to many of the important men involved in the project. Rose is instructed to spy on Myer, the man behind the project with big visions for the future, and in return she will receive guaranteed housing for herself and her struggling mother in the Floating City.

women as they survive and try to decide whether or not to desert the station, what they want their futures to be, etc. it's unclear at first how this group of women intertwines with the rest of the story, but it's fascinating to watch them learn how to survive and really come into themselves. Lastly, we also follow a young man named Grant who is fresh out of a prestigious college known as Walden college and takes a position in the north at Camp Zero as a tutor in English. he is doing this as an attempt to get out from under his wealthy father's influence, and i appreciated that he was really wanting to work hard for himself and do something new.

Our main protagonist is introduced to us as Rose, though we soon learn that that is not her real name, and rather one she is given at her new job as a Blossom. Her name is something very personal to her, and she does not share it with just anyone. Rose is an intelligent, quiet, and astute woman who is willing to whatever she needs to in order to create a better life both for herself and especially for her mother. She feels a deep desire and obligation to take care of her mother who immigrated from Korea to make a better life for her and her daughter. Since Rose is our main POV, we spend the most amount of time with her and I really enjoyed seeing her progress throughout the story and are slowly given glimpses into her life before becoming a Blossom, from her childhood to her time working in the Floating City until now. This really helped to develop her character and give readers a better understanding of who she is, what her motivations are, and just how much strength and determination she has. She is someone who follows what she wants while working within the confines of the situations she is placed in, and will occasionally work outside of it when necessary.

We also follow a couple other POVs, one of which features a mysterious group known as White Alice. We follow the POV of one unnamed woman who seems to speak for the entire group and relay their happenings as a group of women stationed out in the remote north. We follow these women as they survive on their own, try to decide whether or not to desert the station, and attempt to figure out what their futures could look like as more and more obstacles pop up. It's unclear for a good portion of the book just how this plotline featuring White Alice will intertwine with the rest of the story, but things are eventually unveiled and I really appreciated just how the author brought everything together. 

The second POV we follow is that of a young man named Grant who is fresh out of the prestigious Walden college and is now on his way to take a position at Camp Zero as an English instructor. He doesn't realize exactly who he'll be teaching until he gets there, and that surprise is only the start of many more revelations he will make while in the north. Grant wants nothing more than to be out from under his wealthy father's influence, and I appreciated watching him attempt to work hard for himself to do something new. 

I loved the concept of the worldbuiling in Camp Zero, but I found the execution a little lackluster at times. The dystopia-like setting in a cold, remote region was captivating, but unfortunately there really wasn't all that much outside of that, and that setting itself wasn't overly developed, either. I liked learning about how the world had evolved since the more drastic fallouts of climate change were occurring, but I do wish there had been just a bit more world-building and background given about it. I feel like we were only given snippets and basics about the world, and not quite enough to totally satisfy my curiosity about this world. It was a little underwhelming compared to what I expected from the description of the book, but at the same time the novel itself has a scarcer style to it, so it did somewhat fit, if that makes any sense, even if I didn't love it.

This story has a fairly consistent slow pace to it that fit well with the general setting and characters. As much as this story does have a plot to follow and plenty of events to keep things moving, it's also a bit of a character study in seeing how all of these different characters adapt to this world they find themselves in and manage to survive in their own ways. There were a few moments that felt slightly too slow pacing-wise, and some sections could've either been shortened or had more details and plot points added to them to keeps things a bit more engaging, but overall I felt it was fairly consistent with pacing. 

Camp Zero has a fairly bleak overall atmosphere that keeps this book from feeling too hopeful or positive overall, which could bother some people, but that I think worked well for the story. The ending will also be a little hit or miss for different readers, I think, due it not providing answers to everything that people might want answered and leaving quite a bit unsaid, but if you don't mind that type of ending then it might just be as satisfying for you as it was for me. 

Overall, I've given Camp Zero four stars! Despite the slightly lacking worldbuilding, I found myself intrigued by Rose's story, the world after major climate changes, and seeing how all these different characters existed in this world. Recommended for anyone who loves the sound of a remote setting and a careful look at characters. 

*I received a copy of Camp Zero courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Mini-Review: Wildblood by Lauren Blackwood


Wildblood by Lauren Blackwood
Wednesday Books
Publication Date: February 7th, 2023
Hardcover. 336 pages.

About Wildblood:

"Eighteen-year-old Victoria is a Wildblood. Kidnapped at the age of six and manipulated by the Exotic Lands Touring Company, she’s worked as a tour guide ever since with a team of fellow Wildbloods who take turns using their magic to protect travelers in a Jamaican jungle teeming with ghostly monsters.

When the boss denies Victoria an earned promotion to team leader in favor of Dean, her backstabbing ex, she’s determined to prove herself. Her magic may be the most powerful on the team, but she’s not the image the boss wants to send their new client, Thorn, a renowned goldminer determined to reach an untouched gold supply deep in the jungle.

Thorn is everything Victoria isn't - confident, impossibly kind, and so handsome he leaves her speechless. And when he entrusts the mission to her, kindness turns to mutual respect, turns to affection, turns to love. But the jungle is treacherous, and between hypnotic river spirits, soul-devouring women that shed their skin like snakes, and her ex out for revenge, Victoria has to decide - is promotion at a corrupt company really what she wants?

Wildblood is an emotional and story set in an imaginative and captivating world. There are some content warnings for sexual assault, violence, and more, so do be cautious when diving into this one if you are sensitive to any of those topics. I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book and although I wanted to love it a lot more than I did, I still really enjoyed exploring this unique jungle setting filled with magic a bit of chaos.

What I liked: The setting of Wildblood in the Jamaican jungle is what initially drew me to this book, and I loved that the author's love and respect for this setting is so clearly reflected in her writing. I liked seeing the Victoria's connection with the jungle and getting to appreciate it's beauty, and I also loved the darker elements of the jungle-this would be the perfect alternate setting for anyone who loves a creepy forest. I also felt that Wildblood handled some incredibly difficult and intense topics in some really thoughtful ways. Our main character has to deal with a lot of personal traumas-both in the past and ongoing-throughout this story and it felt very realistic and difficult watching her navigate these issues. I appreciated the author's sensitivity in tackling these issues, along with other difficult traumas that other characters are struggling with as well.

What I didn't like: Despite the complexity of Victoria's characterization, I was disappointed that a number of others were a bit more one-dimensional and felt more like cardboard cut outs. For instance, a younger boy that Victoria cares for and is such a huge part of her life is barely around and it felt like he was mostly sleeping (??) the entire story and wasn't really around. There was also a huge dose of insta-love between Victoria and another character that did not work for me at all and left me feeling genuinely confused at times. And despite the intriguing and beautiful jungle setting, we really didn't get to explore nearly as much of it as we could have, and everything that we do learn about felt underdeveloped. We got maybe a small scene or a line or two about some of the things in the jungle that happen, and that would be it-it really left me wanting more. I also felt that the magic system was severely underdeveloped and so poorly explained that I'm still not entirely sure how it precisely works, which was frustrating. These are all things that left me feeling a little underwhelmed with this story and wishing for more. Blackwood has a beautiful prose style and has potential to be an amazing storyteller, I wish her abilities had been utilized in better ways in this story.

Overall, this is a strong three stars from me! If you're looking for a book in a unique setting with some strong emotional elements, then I'd say this one is worth it to check out and see for yourself how you like it. 

*I received a copy of Wildblood courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Monday, May 8, 2023

Review: The Sword Defiant (Lands of the Firstborn #1) by Gareth Hanrahan


The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan
Publication Date: May 2nd, 2023
Paperback. 608 pages.

About The Sword Defiant:

"Set in a world of dark myth and dangerous prophecy, this thrilling fantasy launches an epic tale of daring warriors, living weapons, and bloodthirsty vengeance.​

Many years ago, Sir Aelfric and his nine companions saved the world, seizing the Dark Lord's cursed weapons, along with his dread city of Necrad. That was the easy part.

Now, when Aelfric - keeper of the cursed sword Spellbreaker - learns of a new and terrifying threat, he seeks the nine heroes once again. But they are wandering adventurers no longer. Yesterday's eager heroes are today's weary leaders - and some have turned to the darkness, becoming monsters themselves.

If there's one thing Aelfric knows, it's slaying monsters. Even if they used to be his friends.

The Sword Defiant is a memorable start to a new fantasy story from Gareth Hanrahan, author of the incredible The Black Iron Legacy trilogy, brimming with a richly detailed world and complex characters. It's grittiness and magic really makes it stand out from other books in the genre and I was so excited to have a new Hanrahan book in my hands again. 

The Sword Defiant centers around Sir Aelfric, part of the famed Nine who once saved the world from the Dark Lord Bone. Now, the Nine are spread out throughout the world doing their own things while also maintaining threats of evil and the city of Necrad from any new threats that may pop up. Alf is dragged back into things when he is told of a new prophecy that hints at a new darkness rising up and he is forced to return to Necrad to find out what's going on.

This book is filled to the brim with intricate, immersive world-building that seemed to have endless opportunities for expansion in future books. This world has so many different sides to it, from the dark city of Necrad to the more countryside-like areas of Mulladale to the beautiful lands of the elves. I really loved how gritty and almost creepy this world felt on the whole, and I think Hanrahan really excelled in building up this world that is bold and interesting while maintaining a strong, ever-present sense of dread and disturbances in the air. Let's just say that 'necromiasma' exists in the air of Necrad and leave it there. I also really loved spending some time in the land with the elves and seeing what their life was like–fantasy books always make me want to just live with the elves in their beautiful lands. 

I really liked our main POV characters of Alf and Olva and how real they felt. Alf is like any hero of the past who sort of just wants a quieter life away from those who worship him for his deeds in the past, but he also doesn't really know how to do that and still wants to be fairly useful dealing with threats. Olva is also just like any mom who is desperate to find her child who has embarked upon some ill-advised journey and now is nowhere to be found. And let's not forget the cursed demon sword Spellbreaker who, dare I say, almost stole the show in every scene in which it was present (for me, anyway). Spellbreaker can speak to Alf and is somewhat half the epitome of evil and also half the snarkiest sidekick you'll ever meet who has no problem causing trouble or calling trouble to you so that you can kill it–with no remorse. Spellbreaker added an extra layer of intrigue to the story. 

The pacing is a little up and down throughout the book, but overall I'd consider it a little on the slower paced side and a bit of a slow burn with regard to uncovering new plot points and following along after our characters as they discover things. I will admit that the latter middle half of the story did feel like it lagged ever so slightly and there didn't seem to be quite as much going on. There was a perceived sense of urgency in relation to some new, rather large and immediate threats, but the characters seemed to be getting distracted and having long conversations and explorations that made me question just how urgent things were. I didn't necessarily mind them as someone who prefers a slower pace to rushed action, but it did sort of feel at odds with the general pacing and plotting at times.

The magic is definitely on the softer side because I didn't really notice too much in the way of consistency and rules just yet, but I do think that there is a lot more to learn about the magic in this world. I do have the sense that future books will dive deeper in the magic due to one of the characters in this book's desire to actually study magic. Still, I loved the magical elements, from the dark magical creatures that existed to the healing cordials to the curses and everything in between. I can't wait to see more of this world and the magic that exists within it. 

One thing that I really loved about Hanrahan's previous trilogy and that holds true in this one is his sort of casual yet epic prose style. This one's a bit hard to explain, so bear with me. The Sword Defiant feels like an epic fantasy in scope. There's a huge world with tons of world-building, legendary characters and evils, and so much more, yet the story doesn't feel like it takes itself too seriously. Our characters are not necessarily all noble heroes with perfectly epic battles and events, but rather are all fairly messy people with messy lives and battles and obstacles. Much in the way that the world itself is gritty, the general writing and atmosphere feels gritty and here to be honest, and I really love that about Hanrahan's writing. 

Overall, I've given The Sword Defiant 4.75 stars!

*I received a copy of The Sword Defiant courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Review: The Tyranny of Faith (Empire of the Wolf #2) by Richard Swan


The Tyranny of Faith (Empire of the Wolf #2) by Richard Swan
Publication Date: February 14th, 2023
Hardcover. 560 pages.

About The Tyranny of Faith:

"A Justice’s work is never done.

The Battle of Galen’s Vale is over, but the war for the Empire’s future has just begun. Concerned by rumous that the Magistratum’s authority is waning, Sir Konrad Vonvalt returns to Sova to find the capital city gripped by intrigue and whispers of rebellion. In the Senate, patricians speak openly against the Emperor, while fanatics preach holy vengeance on the streets.

Yet facing down these threats to the throne will have to wait, for the Emperor’s grandson has been kidnapped - and Vonvalt is charged with rescuing the missing prince. His quest will lead him – and his allies Helena, Bressinger and Sir Radomir – to the southern frontier, where they will once again face the puritanical fury of Bartholomew Claver and his templar knights – and a dark power far more terrifying than they could have imagined."

The Tyranny of Faith is an absorbing sequel in a distinct and compulsive fantasy trilogy that is quickly becoming a favorite. This book was exactly what I needed to read at the time I read it, and I was entirely riveted the entire time. There is a extensive recap for the first book provided on Richard Swan's website (and I genuinely cannot thank him enough) and it was exactly what I needed to refresh my memory on important events and details from the first book. 

The Tyranny of Faith picks up pretty much right after the events of The Justice of Kings. The crew–Sir Konrad Vonvalt, Helena, Bressinger, and Sir Radomir–are on their way back to the capital city of Sova after the Battle of Galen's Vale, where they find that things are rather tenuous in the city and it is not the same at it was when Sir Konrad left it several years ago. Things only continue to heat up as Sir Konrad returns and resumes his position, only for him to be met with some rather shocking surprises and new duties. 

I loved reentering this world. Helena is the perfect narrator for this story, and her voice captures the atmosphere of this series perfectly. She remains just as sharp, witty, astute, and unfailingly real in her display of emotions and reactions to the many different situations she finds herself in, including some incredibly intense events that would surely shake anyone's foundation. Helena's journey from the first book through this sequel has been transfixing, and I've thoroughly enjoyed watching her transformation even over this course of time. She has gone from general protégé of Vonvalt to having to deal with things that are far more complex, difficult, and leagues darker than most justices even have to deal with. She goes through many ups and downs while trying to figure everything out, and I've liked following her along on this tumultuous journey immensely.

Vonvalt has a very rough time in this book and it was interesting to see him in different lights and circumstances, especially while watching him deal with things that could potentially take his life. Vonvalt hits some low points I never really expected to see him hit, and I think this really struck home just how serious some fo the things happening in this book were. Watching a strong leader such as Vonvalt struggle to the point that those supporting him have to take on roles they never should have had to made for an intense and riveting storyline that I couldn't look away from.

I was a little disappointed that Bressinger seemed be in such bad spirits and circumstances in this book because I feel like we missed out on seeing some other aspects of his personality that we saw in the first book that I loved, but I wouldn't really complain about this because his actions in this book were much more fitting with what was going on. Bressinger has a lot of struggles in the present, but also has undergone some tough times in the past and still has to deal with these past traumas that are only exacerbated by many things that have happened more recently. His characterization felt incredibly authentic and I think Swan captured him really well in these two books. 

The Justice of Kings was already a book with plenty of political intrigue, but the political intrigue stakes and scope have majorly upped the ante in The Tyranny of Faith. There is so much complexity to the politics of this world and all the different factions that exist and are allied or pitted against one another. There's a constant sense of not knowing who you can trust, and because of that nothing ever really feels safe or certain–we can only rely on the gut instincts of our main characters. In particular, I felt as though there was a lot of grey area at play with some of the politics and especially with a set of rather horrific tasks that Vonvalt undertakes in the first half of the book. Some of it even felt a bit difficult or shocking to reading, especially when, as a reader, you aren't sure if he's even doing the "right" thing. Swan captured all this complexity and uncertainty excellently through his thoughtful prose and ability to create a strong atmosphere and convey characters' actions and thoughts throughout.

If you enjoyed any of the magical elements in the first book, such as Vonvalt's use of the Voice, his necromancy, or really anything else, then you will be thrilled to find out that the magic becomes even more developed in this book. We explore much more in relation to necromancy and other 'worlds' associated with said necromancy (think 'dreamwalking' of sorts), and I found myself re-reading different parts with these elements over and over to try to make sure I fully understood it, as it's really a very clever and intricate system that requires many explanations and a simultaneous awareness of unknowns that exist. There's something incredibly unnerving and creepy about much of what happens to Helena and Vonvalt in this book as well, and I loved the near-constant sense of dread and despair that permeated the story. 

There's plenty of action, but at the same time it's not an overly action-heavy story, and I appreciated the steadier pace of having our characters go about to different places and do some investigating and discussing. Because of the slower paced nature of The Tyranny of Faith, I really appreciated how thoughtful the story is about themes and ideas and honestly I feel everything that comes up has good thought and nuance put into it. The characterizations are involved, complex, and I feel like all of these characters are truly fleshed out to the point that I can easily I find myself fully invested in all of them. I would also say that this is a rather dark book. Much of the time our characters feel almost nothing but dread and despair–as previously mentioned–and a severe lack of hope, but they do keep trying and have a great determination to figure out everything that's going on, which is something I found incredibly commendable and equally gripping to watch. It's that sort of gritted teeth gusto that keeps you going in times when you feel like you might fall apart if you don't keep going, and I found it very relatable and compelling.

Overall, I've given The Tyranny of Faith 4.75 stars! I will be very eagerly awaiting the final installment to this series because I have a feeling it's going to be amazing and intense. 

*I received a copy of Tyranny of Faith courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Mini-Review: In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune


In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune
Tor Books
Publication Date: April 25th, 2023
Hardcover. 432 pages.

About In the Lives of Puppets:

"In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots--fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They're a family, hidden and safe.

The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled "HAP," he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio-a past spent hunting humans.

When Hap unwittingly alerts robots from Gio's former life to their whereabouts, the family is no longer hidden and safe. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City of Electric Dreams. So together, the rest of Vic's assembled family must journey across an unforgiving and otherworldly country to rescue Gio from decommission, or worse, reprogramming.

Along the way to save Gio, amid conflicted feelings of betrayal and affection for Hap, Vic must decide for himself: Can he accept love with strings attached?"

In the Lives of Puppets is TJ Klune's latest heartwarming release and is sure to be a new favorite for many people. It's loosely inspired by Pinocchio and follows a cast of rather unconventional characters as they embark on a quest to save one of their own in a fascinating future world. 

What I liked: I don't tend to see a lot of stories inspired by Pinocchio, so I really enjoyed seeing how Klune took some general framework and bones from the original story and molded it into something new and exciting. I would advise you not to go into this thinking it's a Pinocchio retelling because it really isn't, but I still enjoyed the small references and ideas placed into this story, as well as references to many other works of literature (I know I saw a little Wizard of Oz in there, and we can't forget about Nurse Ratchet!). I liked learning about this future world and how it developed to the point it is now where Victor is the only actual human around. I also really liked getting to know this eccentric cast of characters and how they made up such a wholly odd and yet perfect family. It was fun to be back in a world full of warm and loving characters and I enjoyed seeing the different adventures they got into. 

What I didn't like: Unfortunately, In the Lives of Puppets did not end up working for me as I'd hoped it would and I found myself really struggling to connect with much of the story. One area that almost became annoying to me was a lot of the dialogue as it often felt overdone, cliche, and a little boring, as well as the fact that there often just seemed to be too much of it. I found many of the jokes and banter–especially between Rambo and Nurse Ratchet–entirely unamusing and simply not to my personal taste, which often left me feeling sightly annoyed and bored because it didn't feel like it added much to the story. I also felt that the plot itself was exceptionally thin in this book and I couldn't really bring myself to care that much about it or the characters. I loved the coziness of The House in the Cerulean Sea and even Under the Whispering Door, but for some reason in this book it just felt forced and almost overly soapbox-y at times–and also maybe a bit too wholesome, if that makes sense. I'm not sure exactly what it was about this book, but it just ended up feeling a bit flat for me overall. 

Overall, I've given In the Lives of Puppets 2.75 stars. I'm sure plenty of people will love this book, but it unfortunately just wasn't for me. 

*I received a copy of In the Lives of Puppets courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Monday, April 24, 2023

Review: Paradise-1 by David Wellington


Paradise-1 by David Wellington
Publication Date: April 4th, 2023
Paperback. 688 pages.

About Paradise-1:

"When Special Agent Petrov and Dr. Lei Zhang are woken up from cryogenic sleep, dragged freezing and dripping wet out of their pods with the ship's alarms blaring in the background, they know something is very wrong. Warned by the Captain that they're under attack, they have no choice but to investigate.

It doesn't take much time to learn that they've been met by another vessel—a vessel from Paradis-One, Earth's first deep-space colony, and their final destination.

Worse still, the vessel is empty. And it carries with it the message that all communications from the 150,000 souls inhabiting the Paradis-One has completely ceased.

Petrov and Zhang must board the empty ship and delve further into deep space to discover the truth of the colony's disappearance—but the further they go, the more dangers loom."

Paradise-1 is an action-packed sci-fi horror/thriller that throws you almost immediately into the action and never really lets up. I read David Wellington's The Last Astronaut a couple years ago and since I had such a great time with his brand of sci-fi horror/thriller, I was thrilled that a brand new 700 page sci-fi from Wellington was in my hands. 

Special Agent Petrov and Dr. Lei Zhang are sent on a mission to visit the deep-space colony of Paradise-1–which is also, coincidentally, the colony in which Petrov's mother has been retired to–and check on its status and the people living there and things don't end up going quite as they should. Not too long into their cryogenic sleep, Petrov and Zhang are awoken early only to discover that things have started going terribly wrong on their ship, which seems to have been attacked by something in space, and to find that their ship's AI has gone offline. The only other beings on the ship include Sam Parker, the pilot, and Rapscallion, the ship's robot who is meant to take care of general duties around the ship while its passengers are sleeping. From the moment Petrov and Zhang wake up, the action begins and does not stop for pretty much the entire rest of the book.

Petrov and Zhang make for a very odd team, as Petrov is a Firewatch agent with a bold and determined personality, whereas Zhang is a much quieter and more troubled character who doesn't really seem to care for much human company. Petrov was not a character that I found myself very connected to, and some of this is because of some exceptionally poor choices she makes in the beginning of the story, but she grew on me more as the story progressed. I found Zhang compelling from the start because he has what seems to be a very complex backstory that is slowly unveiled as the story progresses. Both of these character showcase a lot of resilience given the fact that they are pummeled almost constantly with obstacle after obstacle for 700 pages. I also enjoyed getting to know Rapscallion and found him to be a great source of comic relief throughout the book.

One of my favorite aspects of Paradise-1 is Wellington's exploration of deep space, future technology, and alien life. With regard to alien life, I appreciated the thoughtfulness that was put into considering the different ways in which alien life form may manifest itself, something that plays a vital role in this book. Wellington really touches on the fact that an alien life form could be so completely different from humanity that we might not even be able to fully understand their motivations or means for survival (or are they even trying to find survival?), all of which may be drastically different from our own motivations or even so different that we can't even fully fathom what they are. I really loved getting to explore these ideas and it always make me excited both for the future of space exploration in general, and of course for future books that may explore these ideas even further. As mentioned, I also liked Wellington's use of future technology, including the AIs and robots on the ships as well as the usage of holograms to explore some news ways in which they could be used. These were all done extremely well in this book. 

The action-packed, fast-paced nature of the book has both positives and negatives to it. On the one hand, it made this very long book fly by and it didn't take me nearly as long as I expected to read it. In addition, the chapters are all fairly short, which really makes you feel as if you're making good progress through the story and makes things feel like they're moving even faster than they are, which in turn makes it easy to just keep flipping the pages to find out what's going to happen next. On the other hand, I think this book probably could have used a little bit of downtime at the expense of some of the other more repetitive action. It's undoubtedly clear that Wellington can write a strong story with scenes that are fully gripping, and because of this I almost think that there were too many scenes where out characters stumble onto something shocking or have to quickly get out of a bind to where I almost felt a little bit of fatigue by the end of the book. I get it, because if I were an editor it'd be hard for me to decide what to cut since it all felt so exciting and hard to look away from, but something in the latter portion of the novel just dragged ever so slightly because of this. 

There are a lot of general plot points in this book that are relatively commonly done in sci-fi horror/thrillers and can end up seeming overdone, such as the idea of a unknown "virus" affecting crew members and passengers, but I think Wellington brings enough spice and intrigue to these ideas to really make them his own and still feel exciting and like you don't really know what's going to happen. There were moments in this book that felt a little too convenient or had an exceptionally high level of suspended disbelief required, but I also understand that that's sort of necessary in a sci-fi thriller, so I wasn't too mad about it.  

Lastly, I will warn you all that this has a pretty extreme cliffhanger. If you do not like cliffhangers or if they really bother you, I would just keep that in mind so you aren't surprised by the ending. But if you don't mind waiting, or maybe if you just don't mind a very open ending until we get the sequel, then I would absolutely recommend Paradise-1

Overall, I've given Paradise-1 four stars! Wellington clearly knows how to write an incredible sci-fi novel and I cannot wait for the sequel–and it's also apparent to me that I need to check out some of his other work as well, now so I can get more of his captivating stories. 

*I received a copy of Paradise-1 courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Monday, April 10, 2023

Review: The Bone Shard War (The Drowning Empire #3) by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard War (The Drowning Empire #3) by Andrea Stewart
Publication Date: April 20th, 2023
Hardcover. 624 pages.

About The Bone Shard War:

"The Bone Shard Daughter was hailed as "one of the best debut fantasy novels of the year" (BuzzFeed News). Now, Andrea Stewart brings us the final book in this unmissable, action-packed, magic-laced epic fantasy trilogy, The Bone Shard War.

Lin Sukai has won her first victory as Emperor, but the future of the Phoenix Empire hangs in the balance – and Lin is dangerously short of allies.

As her own governors plot treason, the Shardless Few renew hostilities. Worse still, Lin discovers her old nemesis Nisong has joined forces with the rogue Alanga, Ragan. Both seek her death.

Yet hopes lies in history. Legend tells of seven mythic swords, forged in centuries past. If Lin can find them before her enemies, she may yet be able to turn the tide.

If she fails, the Sukai dynasty – and the entire empire – will fall.

There will not be any spoilers for The Bone Shard War in this review, but there may be minor spoilers for the previous two books. You can find my reviews for those two at the following links:
The Bone Shard Daughter (#1)
The Bone Shard Emperor (#2) 

I realized after starting The Bone Shard War that I desperately needed a recap for this book because there isn't much guidance provided, so admittedly I was a little confused at times during the first couple chapters, but eventually I found my way again. We pick up about two years post events from The Bone Shard Emperor, which is partially what caused me to take a little time to regain my grips in the world as we slowly learned that status of each character and what had happened int he interim time between The Bone Shard Emperor and this book.

I loved getting to revisit Lin, Thrana, Jovis, and Mephi the most, largely because I just love the relationships between them and their "animal" companions. Thrana and Mephi are the real stars of this show, as I'm sure we can all agree. I've enjoyed seeing Lin evolve over the course of these books from someone relatively naive in the first books to an emperor who is now ready and capable of ruling an empire (well, for the most part). There's been a lot for her to learn and I think we really see it all come together in this book, particularly her growing maturity and ability to see the grander picture and make decisions that are the best for the most people. Similarly, Jovis has really evolved from a smuggler trying to make his way and save tithed children to an imperial guard to now a prisoner, but who internally has grown so much and has much more strength than ever before. Both Lin and Jovis have really been given opportunities to learn more about who they are, what their desires and motivations are, and much more. I was never an overly huge fan of Phalue or Ranami's storylines, but I do think Stewart did them justice in this book and continued their storylines in a strong way that really kept me engaged in their roles. It's been a continuous source of intrigue to see how they interact with Lin and one another in order to work together while still maintaining their own goals and motivations.

This book also deals with a lot of different types of grief, from different types of death to loss of ideas or dreams to loss of memories and everything in between. Stewart does an excellent job at creating complex characters, and that has been apparent throughout this entire trilogy, especially when dealing with these different forms of grief. All of the characters, from the 'good' to the 'bad' are so very human and struggle with a variety of different issues. We really get a sense that these characters have to work through difficult things and do grow from them in different ways. Morals are put to the test and everyone has to figure out where they stand and what they are willing to do to maintain their choices, and dealing with the outcomes of each and every choice.

One discussion that I really liked seeing explored in this trilogy, and especially in this book, was around having an empire and emperor in rule versus having a different form of governance such as council or something with less power concentrated in one place. Lin really wanted control of the empire to, in her opinion, make it strong, generous, and be able to responsibly and kindly take care of its inhabitants. Her opponents, however, didn't want any type of singular ruler at all–no matter how "good" they may be–because they don't believe power should ever rest with one person, and that subsequent rulers after Lin could be just as bad as previous times, if not worse. I really liked seeing this struggle play out and getting to see the arguments from both sides. I also appreciated getting to see Lin come to terms with how she feels about the empire and what she wants and/or is willing to do for the betterment of everything. I think Stewart handled this rather enormous topic really well, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey to where we end up when the story concludes (which I'll leave spoiler free!).

I've seen a few people mention that this book was a little repetitive, and unfortunately I have to agree with that. The pacing was very hit and miss for me due to this, and I felt like there were a number of scenes that were added almost more as filler than were actually necessary to the story, or that the information gleaned from them could have been obtained in another way or another scene. There were a lot of scenes of one of our main characters running into Ragan, Dione, Nisong–basically, any one of the antagonists–have some sort of (often violent) interaction, and then part ways without actually attempting to kill one another or with promises to "meet again." It felt a little silly to me at times and made me think of movies or books when they leave the bad guy (or good guy) alive, which only ends up being a problem later as well. It was almost as if the stakes overall felt lower, because it got to the point where they'd meet with an antagonist and I didn't feel worried because I figured they'd just meet again some other time. Maybe this latter part is just something that bothered me, but I did feel like quite a few of these fights were rather pointless because of this.

We do finally get a lot of answers regarding bone shard magic and more of the intricacies of the magic system itself, though I'll admit there were still areas that left me feeling slightly confused or that I didn't fully understand how some things worked. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout, however, that keeps things interesting and this really helped to keep the pacing up from other times when it slowed more.

Overall, I found The Bone Shard War to be a very satisfying conclusion to this trilogy, and I look forward to seeing what Andrea Stewart will be writing next! For me, this was not as good as The Bone Shard Emperor, but still much better than The Bone Shard Daughter and I'd definitely recommend this trilogy as a whole to any fantasy fan. I've given The Bone Shard War four stars. 

*I received a copy of The Bone Shard War courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |