Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone

childrenChildren of Blood and Bone
Tomi Adeyemi
Fantasy
600 pages
Release date March 6, 2018

Have you ever reached the end of a book and yelled “NOOOOO!!!”? Because I just did. Children of Blood and Bone ends on a HUGE cliffhanger, and I’m even more upset about that than I would be normally – I got this book as an advanced reader’s copy through Goodreads. So not only do I have to wait for the sequel to come out, THIS BOOK ISN’T EVEN OUT YET. *screams internally*

That massive frustration aside, I LOVED THIS BOOK. African-inspired fantasy novels are starting to crop up, along with other non-European based fantasy, and I’m loving it. (You can find Russian inspired fantasy that I’ve read previously here and here, and Jewish/Arab fantasy here.) Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American author, and this is her debut novel. It definitely shows some hallmarks of a debut novel – the dialogue is a bit stilted in places, and it’s a little bit formulaic – but the world building is excellent.

Children of Blood and Bone is a story of oppression, and the sparks of a rebellion. I assume the rest of the trilogy will deal with the actual rebellion, but given the cliffhanger it ends on, I’m not actually sure of that. When Zélie, the main character, was very young, magic failed, and the king, who was afraid of maji, took the opportunity to kill every maji in his kingdom before they could find a way to regain their powers. Since then, every person who could have become a maji as they grew (they’re marked by their white hair) has been treated as a second-class citizen. They’re forced into slums, used as slave labor, kicked around by nobility and guards, made to pay higher taxes, and forbidden to breed with the other classes. They don’t have magic – and they have no way to get it – but they’re treated as trash by the king that hates them, and accordingly by the rest of his subjects.

At the beginning of the book, a magical artifact resurfaces that restores magic to any diviner (potential maji) that touches it. This, of course, is not okay with the king, and most of the book is about the race to use the magical artifact while being chased by the king’s son and his guards who are trying to destroy it. The conflicted prince has secrets of his own, though, and as the book weaves through jungles, mountains, and seas, he wavers in his mission.

It’s always difficult to review books without giving too much away about the plot, so I won’t say much more about the events. I really enjoyed that they rode giant cats – leopanaires. Zélie and her allies ride a lion leopanaire, which is apparently somewhat unusual. Most of the guards ride leopards or cheetahs, while the royal family rides snow leopanaires. The magic is unique, the gods and religion are beautifully fleshed out, and overall I just really loved this world, and I’m very sad it will be so long before I can dive back into it.

This is also my “Book published in 2018” for the Popsugar Reading Challenge.

From the cover of Children of Blood and Bone:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leopanaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers – and her growing feelings for an enemy.

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Book Review: The Rules of Magic

rulesofmagicThe Rules of Magic
Alice Hoffman
Contemporary Fantasy
385 pages
Published 2017

So I actually didn’t know that Practical Magic the movie was based on a book. But when I saw The Rules of Magic billed as the prequel to a movie I had loved, I knew I had to read it. And I’m so glad I did. The Rules of Magic is, well, magical. Magical and nostalgic and spell-binding. Most book worlds feel different than their respective movie-worlds, but this felt like a logical prequel. (It may be because I haven’t seen the movie in some time – I intend to remedy that soon, and I might just have to read the book as well.)

Practical Magic, the well known movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, centers around the two girls and their elderly aunts. The Rules of Magic is the aunts’ story. And what a story. It begins in New York, as the older of the two aunts is turning 17. On an Owens’ girl’s seventeenth birthday, they receive an invitation to spend the summer at the Owens home in Massachusetts. Frances, the older of the two girls, receives the invitation, and her two siblings won’t let her go alone, so all three of them (yes, three, the movie doesn’t mention their brother that I recall, though I suppose Bullock and Kidman’s characters had to come from somewhere!) pack up and head to Massachusetts, where they meet their Aunt Isabelle. Over the course of the summer, they learn their family history, and get verification that they are indeed witches. (They’d had certain powers throughout childhood, though their mother tried to deny it.)

It was Vincent’s storyline that intrigued me, since I knew where Frances and Jet ended up. There was an unexpected curveball that I won’t spoil here, but I enjoyed it. It was Jet and Frances’ storylines that had me crying at the end of the book, though. Not the very last chapter – it ended on a hopeful note – but the few chapters preceding it had me in tears. (It was midnight, and everyone else was asleep, so I had myself a good cry over my book, and then had to try to sleep on a wet pillow.)

If you enjoyed Practical Magic the movie, you should read this book. It’s a perfect prequel.

From the cover of The Rules of Magic:

Find your magic.

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

thebearThe Bear and the Nightingale
Katherine Arden
Fairy-tale Retelling
330 pages
Published 2017

So I finally got around to reading this one – people have been raving about it all year long. And honestly – I don’t see what the fuss is about. It’s good, sure. But it’s not Girls Made of Snow and Glass, or The Crown’s Game, or Uprooted. It’s not The Golem and the Jinni. I enjoyed it, but I think the hype is a little undeserved. I am, however, always a sucker for Russian-themed fairytales. (Probably why I liked The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate so much.) And I am looking forward to the sequel, The Girl in the Tower, which just came out. (I have a hold requested on it from my library.) The third book in the Winternight Trilogy appears to be The Winter of the Witch, and is scheduled to be published in August.

The Bear and the Nightingale is set in Rus – a Russia-like country, but with magic, of course. Vasilisa/Vasya is a granddaughter of a witch, and has some abilities herself. Mostly just the ability to see things that other can’t, and to talk to them. Through the course of the book, she avoids an arranged marriage, saves a priest, fights a priest, and tries like hell to save her village from the demons of winter. I loved her tenacity, and her love for the old spirits. The description of The Winter King and his home was absolutely enchanting. Overall a good book, but a bit overhyped.

From the cover of The Bear and the Nightingale:

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.
 
Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village. 
 
But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Book Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

forest1kForest of a Thousand Lanterns
by Julie C. Dao
Fairy Tale Retelling
363 pages
Published 2017

You know I love my Fairy Tales! Especially re-imagining the villains. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an Asian take on the evil queen from Snow White. The author is a Vietnamese American, and this is her debut novel. She has quite skillfully woven a new origin story for the wicked stepmother in a fantasy land heavily influenced by East Asian mythology and culture. I don’t know enough about the individual countries’ mythologies to tell you if the influences come specifically from Vietnam, or more generically from the area. I know that their beliefs can vary pretty wildly by locale.

That said, this is another superb debut novel. I’m eager to read the sequel – it’s billed as “A Rise of the Empress novel” so I’m sure there will be one or more. Xifeng is a pretty complex character – she is somewhat single-minded in what she wants, but conflicted in what to do to get it. (It being the position of Empress.) I was intrigued by who was chosen to fill the roles of the traditional tale; Xifeng, of course, would be the wicked stepmother. The Fool is Xifeng’s version of Snow White, and Xifeng thought for some time that she knew who The Fool was. The reader, of course, knows the Fool must be Snow White, and so not the people who Xifeng suspected. The one that surprised me was the identity of The Huntsman. I won’t spoil anything – but he was unexpected.

There’s also more going on than just the Snow White plot. There are gods and goddesses and spirits and an underlying war. I am quite eager to see how those play out.

There is a slow spot in the middle – I set the book down for a couple of days before picking it up again, and that’s always a sign I’m not as absorbed in the book as I could be. But I did pick it up again and read straight through to the end, so it’s not too bad!

If you like Fairy Tales and Asian mythology, this is definitely a neat blend of the two. I really liked it.

From the cover of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns:

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. 

Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high? Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins – sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

Book Review: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom

six of crowsSix of Crows (479 pages)
Crooked Kingdom (561 pages)
by Leigh Bardugo
Fantasy
Published 2015/2016

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are a duology set in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Grisha being the magic users in her world. I haven’t read the rest of the Grishaverse (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising) – but I will definitely be doing so, because Crows and Crooked Kingdom are AMAZING. I’m also looking forward even more to Bardugo’s Wonder Woman novel, Warbringer.

I was pretty surprised – normally books rotating between several viewpoints are confusing, but Bardugo handles the transitions seamlessly and unmistakably. I was never unsure of what character I was reading – each one really had their own unique voice. I also loved that she worked in an LGBT romance without it being in any way odd. No one in the novel found non-heterosexuality weird at all. It was treated just as matter of factly as opposite-sex romances, and I loved that.

Six of Crows opens on a gang being blackmailed into a job they don’t want to do. I can totally see the gang has a D&D group – and the books definitely feel a bit like a D&D campaign, albeit one with a mostly experienced group and a very experienced DM. crookedkingdom

You’ve got Kaz, the ringleader, who’s an all-around great thief but a superb tactician.

Inej, the acrobat assassin.

Jesper, the marksman hiding his magic ability.

Wylan, the rich merchant’s son on the outs with his father and fallen in with a bad crowd, and talented with demolitions.

Nina, the sexpot who wields magic, and has a love/hate relationship with Mathias, the barbarian who’s spent his life hunting magic users but is irresistibly attracted to Nina. (I can see the DM telling these two to hash out a background that will let them co-exist, which they obviously did.)

Each character has a complex back story that influences most of their actions, and different relationships with other members of the gang that also affects how they react. Their back stories don’t just explain their actions in the books, people and events from their backgrounds also show up to complicate matters in the present. The wheels-within-wheels of the plotline is EXACTLY what I love about good political fantasies. The world-building is superb, and Bardugo has given just as much thought to the seedy underbelly of her world as she has the magic and politics.

I really, really loved this duology, and I see now why people rave about this universe. It is VERY well deserved.

From the cover of Six of Crows:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.

Series Review: The Changeling Chronicles

Faerie1Faerie Blood
Faerie Magic
Faerie Realm
Faerie Wrath
Faerie Curse
Faerie Hunt
Faerie War
Emma L. Adams
Urban Fantasy
Around 400 pages each
Published 2016-17

Oh my. This is a seven-book series, only available on Kindle, as far as I can tell, and they’re very good. (The whole series is free via Kindle Unlimited.) There were a few grammatical hiccups in the first book, and one or two spelling errors in the series, but overall, very well done writing. (Although calling them piskies instead of pixies was annoying after a while.)

So this series centers on Ivy Lane, a girl who was taken to faerie at age 13 when the faeries invaded our world and wrecked it. Seriously wrecked it. Supernaturals were faerie2revealed, whole swaths of cities destroyed, large numbers of people killed. I do mean wrecked. She spends 3 years in faerie, as the slave of an evil Sidhe, before escaping and making it back to Earth, where she finds that ten years have passed.

Like most urban fantasy series, each book sees Ivy fighting a world-ending threat. One slight difference here is that the world-ending threat in each one isn’t exactly different. As the series goes on, we discover the plot behind the initial invasion, how it was fought off, and how it ties into the current threat.

I wish Ivy’s best friend, Isabel, had been fleshed out more – even some of Ivy’s enemies and other side characters got more personality and character development that Ivy’s supposed best friend did, and that bugged me a bit. But the world-building and magic is pretty fascinating, and the romance is sweet. I was also pleased to see a couple of nods to non-traditional relationships, though I wish they’d not been in the same book, been a bit more explicit, and been more spread out in the series. (A faerie talking about her girlfriend, and a two lady mages who were….a bit more concerned about each other’s safety that most people expected.)

For all the tropes I’ve mentioned, though, I REALLY REALLY liked this series. She’s written a few other books in the same world – Earth wrecked by faerie invasion – a trilogy about a dragon shifter, and one book (so far) about a half-Sidhe girl. I’ll probably faerie 3read those next, after I get through some of the library books on my stack. (…I may have been hiding from the nonfiction by burying my face in urban fantasy – oops.) If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted romp through Faerie to distract you from the real world, this is a great way to do it.

From the cover of Faerie Blood:

I’m Ivy Lane, and if I never see another faerie again, it’ll be too soon.

Twenty years after the faeries came and destroyed the world as we knew it, I use my specialist skills to keep rogue faeries in line and ensure humans and their magically gifted neighbours can coexist (relatively) peacefully.

Nobody knows those skills came from the darkest corner of Faerie itself.

When a human child disappears, replaced with a faerie changeling, I have to choose between taking the safe road or exposing my own history with the faeries to the seductively dangerous head of the Mage Lords. He’s the exact kind of distraction I don’t need, but it’s work with him or lose my chance to save the victims. It’ll take all my skills to catch the kidnappers and stop Faerie’s dark denizens overrunning the city — but if the faerie lords find out about the magic I stole last time I went into their realm, running won’t save me this time…