Book Review: Cruel Beauty

cruel beautyCruel Beauty
by Rosamund Hodge
Fairy-tale Retelling
342 pages
Published 2014

After reading Bright Smoke, Cold Fire I knew I HAD to find more Rosamund Hodge. She has a fantastic flair for taking fairy tales (or Shakespeare!) and twisting them into something darker but more realistic. Cruel Beauty is a twist on Beauty and the Beast, but this is no Stockholm Syndrome-suffering Beauty. She is resentful, and bitter, and angry at her father for subjecting her to this. She has trained her entire life to go to the Beast and destroy him, even if it means destroying herself too. What she find at the castle is nothing like what she expected, though, and neither is she what Hodge’s Beast expects. Watching these two bitter, mocking characters dance around each other to get to the bottom of the curse and what actually happened to their world is engrossing and beautiful.

I couldn’t put this book down once I started it, and I’ve already started Crimson Bound (Little Red Riding Hood), the next book in the same world. There’s also a novella, Gilded Ashes (Cinderella), that I should snag a copy of.

The world is lovely and evocative, with gods and Forest Lords and Demons who actively participate in the world and grant wishes and make deals. It’s a little bit Rumpelstiltskin, a little Fairy Godmother, a little Greek mythology, and all Rosamund Hodge. She’s got talent, and writes my favorite micro-genre SO WELL.

If you like dark fairy tales, read this and then everything else Rosamund Hodge has written. It’s excellent!

From the cover of Cruel Beauty:

The romance of Beauty and the Beast meets the adventure of Graceling in this dazzling fantasy novel about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Perfect for fans of bestselling An Ember in the Ashes and A Court of Thorns and Roses, this gorgeously written debut infuses the classic fairy tale with glittering magic, a feisty heroine, and a romance sure to take your breath away.

Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known that her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny. But on her seventeenth birthday when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom’s mountaintop, nothing is what she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband. Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can’t resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who’s gotten in her way by stealing her heart.

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Book Review: Beasts Made of Night

beasts made of nightBeasts Made of Night
by Tochi Onyebuchi
Fantasy
296 pages
Published October 2017

So this Nigerian-influenced fantasy made enough of a splash when it was released in October that I JUST got it in my hands from the library. That long wait….was not actually justified, sadly. The cover is GORGEOUS and the concept is really, really cool – the execution is lacking. I can tell that the author had the world pretty fleshed out in his mind, from the geography to the vocabulary – but he didn’t actually pass that knowledge on to the reader. Kos is a walled city, but I’m not sure whether the Palace is within the walls or not? In one scene our protagonist LEAPS out of the castle and runs back the city – but in another scene he mentions that looking out the castle wall, Kos fits behind his fingernail. Kos is made up of several neighborhood plus a market – it’s not small. So either his fingernail is HUGE or Kos is a pretty decent distance away. But it’s written as if it only takes him about ten minutes to run there? Not to mention that he cracked a rib in the room that he leaped from (which is never mentioned again).

Oh and he winds up landing in an ivy maze out of nowhere – he couldn’t see it from the palace? Let’s see….the King regularly bombards neighborhoods with catapults in what’s called a “baptism” but the people haven’t revolted against this, for some reason. They talk about something called a “kanselo” but never define it. I -think- it’s like an organized group or coalition, but I’m really not entirely sure.

The male protagonist treats every woman his age as a potential love interest, debating whether to give them his heart-stone, or whether people will think he’s already given one girl or another his heart-stone – but never stops to ask if the girls are interested in HIM that way. Because of COURSE they would be, right? He’s the Sky-Fist! The Lightbringer! The one whose tattoos never fade! (Eating sin-beasts causes a black tattoo to appear on your skin – on most sin-eaters these fade eventually.) Also he’s just DUMB. He recalls that the sin-eater who ate his mother’s sin had a certain tattoo, and when he runs across her years later, it takes him three or four encounters before realizing it’s the same sin-eater. (The tattoo is a spider. Covering her FACE. It hasn’t faded.) He makes stupid decisions – after nightmares of one love-interest being attacked by sin-beasts, he LEAVES HER SURROUNDED BY THEM to go run out into the city. He has at least FIVE love interests in this book. And only ONE of them seems interested in him in return.

I really wanted to like this book. The concept of sin-eating is great. But the main character and all the one-dimensional characters that surrounded him, along with the confusing geography, just turned me off. And I’m not even getting into the “ending.” Yeah. Definitely throwing quotes on that because that was not an ending. The book just stops.

Skip this. It was a terrible book wrapped in a deceptively pretty package.

It does tick off my “time of day in the title” prompt for the PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge, though.

From the cover of Beasts Made of Night:

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts—lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt. Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family. 

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a member of the royal family, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves—and his own life. 

Debut author Tochi Onyebuchi delivers an unforgettable series opener that powerfully explores the true meaning of justice and guilt. Packed with dark magic and thrilling action, Beasts Made of Night is a gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy perfect for fans of Paolo Bacigalupi and Nnedi Okorafor.

Book Review: Dividing Eden

dividing edenDividing Eden
by Joelle Charbonneau
YA Fantasy
336 pages
Published June 2017

Dividing Eden is a little trite – it’s the typical teens must compete for the throne kind of fantasy, but this time it’s twins who are both guarding each other’s terrible secrets. You don’t LEARN their terrible secrets until almost 100 pages in, which was frustrating because they were alluded to multiple times before finally revealed to the reader. I almost stopped reading, I was so frustrated at the mention – AGAIN – of Andreus’ DARK SECRET THAT NO ONE MUST EVER KNOW. Seriously. Don’t do that to your readers.

The fact that they were protecting each other’s secret while competing against each other for the throne was rather unique, and while I don’t like Andreus much, I did enjoy Carys and her friends enough that I’ll probably pick up the sequel when it comes out this June.

Everything happened very quickly, but that tends to be the case in YA. Adult fantasy seems to take its time and develop its characters more fully, which I enjoy.

The windmills and electricity was surprising, and I’d really like to know more about their religion of Virtues, and the Wind and Seeing Magic. I wish she had described her forest monsters a little earlier; they were only referred to by name for most of the book and I was left wondering if they were monsters or human raiders of some sort!

Verdict is – it’s typical YA fantasy. If you’re looking for a quick read, you might enjoy it.

This also fills my PopSugar Reading Prompt for “a book with characters who are twins.”

From the cover of Dividing Eden:

Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter

tempests and slaughterTempests and Slaughter
Tamora Pierce
Fantasy
455 pages
Published February 2018

(No Top Ten List today. I could only find one example of a character I liked in a book that I didn’t!)

A new Tamora Pierce book! About the origins of Numair! YES! I waited SO ANXIOUSLY for this book to make its way through the line of holds at my library and get in my grabby hands, and I was rewarded. Tempests is classic Tamora Pierce. It’s set in Carthak, not Tortall, but the themes and feel are exactly what I was expecting. I love diving back into my favorite fantasy worlds, and Tortall ranks right near the top. (It might be the top, I haven’t sat down and attempted to rank them – that would probably be a futile effort!)

My only issue with the book, really, is that it feels like an introduction. I know it’s the first part of a trilogy, but the rest isn’t OUT YET! So I feel like I’ve read the first third of a story and now I have to wait. Tempests introduces a LOT of story threads, and resolves exactly none of them. It managed to do so without leaving us on a cliffhanger, though, so there’s that, at least. I’m probably going to go re-read the books around Numair’s adult life to tide me over until the rest of this trilogy comes out!

I think my favorite character overall was Enzi – he was hilarious and obstinate and I’m looking forward to the rest of his storyline.

I was surprised but pleased to see a gay couple as side characters – and that it wasn’t mentioned the character was gay until his husband arrived on the scene. It wasn’t a defining point of his character, his spouse just happened to be male. I’ve said it before, but I love seeing the change in fantasy – it’s gone from “that’s strange or scandalous” to “absolutely no big deal, people have differently-gendered partners.” It will be even lovelier once real society reaches that point!

I was also surprised to see I have missed a Tortall book! Tortall: A Spy’s Guide came out in October of 2017, so that’s now waiting at the library for me. I can’t wait to read more about George Cooper, even if it isn’t really a novel as such. I’ve previously reviewed Pierce’s Beka Cooper trilogy, the Lioness quartet, and her short story collection – like I said, one of my favorite worlds!

Final verdict: Tempests and Slaughter was an excellent addition to Tortall, but if you like books that resolve their storylines, you might want to wait until the rest of the trilogy is published. If you can’t wait, just expect that you won’t get many answers from this first book!

Tempests and Slaughter is my pick for “weather element in the title” for the 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge.

From the cover of Tempests and Slaughter:

Arram Draper is on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting trouble. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram realizes that one day–soon–he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie. 

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

Book Review: Reign of the Fallen

fallenReign of the Fallen
by Sarah Glenn Marsh
YA Fantasy
379 pages
Published January 2018

One of my book-centered social networks, Litsy, does an occasional “24 in 48” where the goal is to spend 24 hours out of 48 hours reading. I’m almost never able to participate in these because my weekends are pretty busy – and I don’t want to ignore my husband for an entire weekend! However, he went out of town for one of the last weekends in February, and I was able to spend it doing my own personal 24 in 48. Reign of the Fallen is the first of many books I read that weekend!

Reign of the Fallen has a pretty interesting premise – there are a few different school of magic in this world, and our main character is a necromancer. (One of the side characters is a Beast Master, and another is a Healer. We also see Weather Mages.) Necromancers, far from being the mysterious evil mages we see in most fantasy, are revered and noble in this world; they bring souls back from the Deadlands, when they can, so they can continue “living” in the real world. “Living” is a loose term – they must make sure they are completely covered at all times – if a living person sees any of their flesh, they turn – immediately – into terrifying monsters that hunt and kill both the living and the Dead. And the more they kill, the more powerful they become. Thankfully, people are very, very careful, and so Shades are very rare! …..or they were. Now that someone has started to purposefully make them, shit’s hitting the fan.

Odessa and her friends – three other Necromancers, a Healer, a Beast Master, and a Princess – set out to solve this mystery and take out the shades wreaking havoc on the kingdom. Entwined in that plot is the near-breaking of Odessa’s spirit when one of her friends dies, and the recovery from that, as well as romances with people of both genders. Yay for bisexual representation! (One of her Necromancer friends is also in a homosexual relationship with the Healer, and it’s all perfectly normal. I love seeing so many fantasy YA books these days not treating that as something special or other. Yay for culture changing! Maybe someday it won’t even be so out-of-the-ordinary that I’ll feel the need to point it out!)

The book had a few technical problems – a few scenes where I was confused how a character had gotten someplace when I thought they were somewhere else, some confusion in how a scene was described – but those could be overlooked with how wonderful the rest of the book was.

The plot was wrapped up very nicely by the end of the book, so I don’t know if there will be a sequel or not, but I really enjoyed the world and would definitely read one if she writes it!

As a bonus, the author lives in Richmond, Virginia, so I’m counting this as a book by a local author for the PopSugar 2018 Challenge!

From the cover of Reign of the Fallen:

Without the dead, she’d be no one.

Odessa is one of Karthia’s master necromancers, catering to the kingdom’s ruling Dead. Whenever a noble dies, it’s Odessa’s job to raise them by retrieving their soul from a dreamy and dangerous shadow world called the Deadlands. But there is a cost to being raised: the Dead must remain shrouded. If even a hint of flesh is exposed, a grotesque transformation begins, turning the Dead into terrifying, bloodthirsty Shades.

A dramatic uptick in Shade attacks raises suspicions and fears around the kingdom. Soon, a crushing loss of one of her closest companions leaves Odessa shattered, and reveals a disturbing conspiracy in Karthia: Someone is intentionally creating Shades by tearing shrouds from the Dead–and training them to attack. Odessa is forced to contemplate a terrifying question: What if her magic is the weapon that brings the kingdom to its knees? 

Fighting alongside her fellow mages–and a powerful girl as enthralling as she is infuriating–Odessa must untangle the gruesome plot to destroy Karthia before the Shades take everything she loves.

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.