Apprentice (Rachel E Carter)

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5 stars

So, if you were feeling a little ambivalent at the end of ‘First Year’, I’ll let you in on a little secret…’Apprentice’ is incredible.

I’m not usually the sort of person that writes gushing, overexcited reviews, but this book deserves one. So, we left Ryiah in emotional turmoil at the end of book one, ecstatically happy in one breath and desperately unhappy in another. She has gained both her heart’s desire and lost it.

‘Apprentice’ opens in the training ring, with Ryiah studying increasingly difficult combat spells and attempting to gain more control over her pain-casting. That in itself would be complicated enough did she not have to juggle interpersonal strife and her status as an apprentice battle mage in a country on the verge of war.

‘Apprentice’ covers the entire span of Ryiah’s training, through her every up and down, every failure and triumph. You follow her as she grows and matures, weaves and unravels friendships, and tries to work out exactly what it is that she wants out of life. She’s as bolshy and stubborn as ever, but there’s something about her particular journey in this book that meant I couldn’t put it down until I knew exactly what happened to her.

Her relationship with Darren is tumultuous, hot and cold, on and off, absolutely excruciating and yet, somehow, addictive. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book where I’ve been so invested in the relationship between two characters, so terrified and yet excited to turn the page and find out what happens next. There’s pain, and joy, and more pain, a rising crescendo of it right up to the last few pages.

‘Apprentice’ does have a love triangle, but not in the traditional sense. I actually thought it was really well handled, showing the more painful aspects of young love, how it can be unrequited, and the pain of one party realizing that they just do not love their partner in the way they feel they should.

I felt that Apprentice was tighter and more emotional for having fewer central characters. The ending of ‘First Year’, the choosing of the apprentices, fed into an environment where every character is competing but also having to support one another, because in many situations, if one loses then they all do. It meant you learned a lot more about character motivation and saw relationships building between characters that you only saw the very hints of in the first book. Every character is vulnerable in their own way, even those who are ostensibly strong.

This book hurts, and, for a book set in a magical world, it feels very real. For all that they’re axe and lightning wielding combat mages, they’re also teenagers crossing the border into adulthood. They fall in love with those they shouldn’t, fall out of love with themselves and struggle to find their place in the world. They’re endearing, troubled and torn and you just can’t help but find yourself rooting for each and every one of them.

Many thanks to Rachel E Carter for a copy in return for an honest review.

The Bear and the Nightingale (Katherine Arden)

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“In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, the father hides the gift away and his daughter, Vasya, grows up a wild, willfull girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.” (Random House)

5* stars

There are some books that are just meant to be read with the cold wind whistling down the chimney and a spiced cup of tea. This is one of them.

I’ve always been a big fan of Russian classics, reading wide-eyed into the night from tomes larger than my head, imagining Princes and Princesses fur bundled in sledges against the driving snow, or farmer’s daughters dancing around the kitchen bread ovens. I was unsure as to whether a modern author would ever be able to capture the wild, hard beauty of Russian history quite like a writer who had lived through it. But this book proved me wrong.

Rich, heady, and yet unyielding in its honesty, embracing the juxtaposition that is the beauty and bleakness of life in a rural northern Russian village far from Moscow. The breaking of bread fresh from the oven, the frail snowdrops raising their heads against the ice, the dull blue lips of a child who froze in the dark winter night.

I fell in love with the wildness of Vasya, our protagonist, and how she felt like a creature of the woods herself. Wilful, clever and obstinate, she was a character after my own heart.

Arden brings to life the elemental superstitions of Russian folklore, from the timid house spirits to the powerful godlike figure of Morozko, Father of the Frost and the Winter Wind. Even if you are not familiar with Russian folklore, Arden manages to gently explain mythological origins in text without the reader ever feeling overwhelmed. I was also impressed with how easily she managed to convey the increasing discord between the old ways and Christianity in the rural hamlets, where farmer’s left offerings to the house spirits to protect them and yet simultaneously felt guilt for looking beyond the church for help. It’s a fascinating time in history that Arden has managed to mould into the most beautiful story.

I feel I could probably ramble about how much I love this book for a good while. I can still remember curling up to read it on my kindle in the dark and just feeling as if I had stepped into another time entirely.

Rich, vibrant, and utterly scintillating; I recommend this book to anyone who is drawn to the winds of the winter, to the warmth of the open fire or the cavernous depth of the night sky. I recommend it to anyone with a soul.

Many thanks to Random House Books for an advance copy in return for an honest review.

A song for reading: Anuna- Noel Nouvelet 

Way Down Dark ( J P Smythe)

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4.75 Stars

“Imagine a nightmare from which there is no escape. Seventeen-year-old Chan’s ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

This is a hell where no one can hide. The only life that Chan’s ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

This is a ship of death, of murderers and cults and gangs. But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness – a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

This is Australia. Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery – a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.” (Hodder Books)

 

When I think about this book, I’m reminded of the front cover, or, more specifically, of a less stylized central well of the huge ship Australia. The protagonist looks up into the darkness, at the layer up on layer of decks, crumbling down around her, at the stained and rusted metal of the hulk that she calls home. I have a lot of feelings about this book. Touching on science fiction and horror with a gothic vibe, think dystopia but in space.

Story: 4.5 /5

  • The premise caught my attention immediately. I am a huge sci fi fan, anything that takes me into the dark decaying outer reaches of space automatically ticks a massive box for me. This story focuses on the society that has been created by the environment of the ship; how people have changed how they live their lives, abandoning many of our social values to survive. It’s brutal, in many places quite gory, and touches on some dark themes but I do think that’s part of the appeal. I really enjoyed the direction that the story took and can’t wait to see how it continues.

Character: 3.5/5

  • The characters seem pretty uncomplicated, the book doesn’t delve any great depths in Chan’s soul. I felt that if we had replaced Chan, nothing much really would have changed. A bit like Darrow from Red Rising, Chan felt like a figurehead the story rode upon, rather than the central personality of the story itself. Not that I think that’s a problem, some books are character driven, others are world driven and this book just happens to be one of the latter.
  • That being said, I did care about the protagonist and those that she met on her way. This book wouldn’t have worked if you didn’t genuinely feel upset about the idea of Chan or those around her dying. Probably my favourite character of the lot was Jonah, a young man raised in one of the strange cults found at the very apex of the ship. Interestingly, there was no romance between Chan and Jonah, simply what could be counted as friendship in the increasingly uncertain environ of the ship.

Worldbuilding: 5/5

  • Smythe creates a brutal world filled with humans returning to primeval states and end of day cults. Every moments of the characters lives are spent eking out survival on the dying hulk of the Australia. You have those who have reverted to a base state of violence, those who desperately try to keep the old systems of the ship alive for future generations, and those who believe their suffering has some kind of higher meaning.
  • I ended up having a really vivid view of the ‘Australia’ in my head, a sad semi-abandoned infinity-bound ship, whose inhabitants were many many generations removed from the first that had called it home. They had little choices in their life, with options growing ever and ever smaller as the ship begins to fail.

Ending: 4.5/5

  • Ok, I admit, the twist wasn’t all that shocking. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’ve watched too many sci fi movies, but regardless, I found I didn’t really care that it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I wanted to grab a copy of the second book immediately after reading it, partly because it ended on a strange pseudo cliffhanger and, partly just because I love Smythe’s writing style.

The Nitty Gritty: 5/5

  • Did I mention that I love Smythe’s writing style? It somehow manages to be stark, creepy and yet, at the same time, imbued with a dreamlike quality. Pacing was, likewise, impeccable. ‘Way Down Dark’ isn’t a fast book by any definitions but it never felt as if it was dragging, every moment felt tense and necessary.

Conclusion: A dark and gripping ode to survival in a world where what makes us human seems less and less clear cut. One to begin because you enjoy the old sci fi classics, and one to finish because you’ve fallen for it entirely on its own merits. Definitely a book I will be recommending to the sci fi inclined teenagers and adults that I know.

For readers who enjoyed: Red Rising (Pierce Brown), Illuminae (Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff), Battlestar Galactica (2004 remake)

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder Books for a copy in return for an honest review.

Timekeeper (Tara Sim)

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It’s pretty rare with my current study/ life balance to be able to sit down and read a book in a day. It’s definitely testament to just how good this book is that I managed to devour it in one go on a train the morning after an A&E nightshift. So good that I almost missed my connection…oops…


Danny is a young clock mechanic in an alternate London where the only thing keeping time flowing are enormous clock towers spread throughout the land. The failure of a tower causes time to grind to a halt, forming a bubble of stopped time which no one can pass into. It is effectively a death sentence, caught forever more in a stuttering loop of time only a few seconds in length. In the not too distant past Danny lost his father, himself also a mechanic, to a ‘stopped’ town. More recently still Danny was in a clock accident where he was almost caught in a loop of his own.

Anxious and afraid, but trying to build himself back to working on the clocks he loves, Danny is sent to fix a clock in a rural market town outside of London. There he meets Brandon Summers, his new clock apprentice, a young man with a smile that makes his heart stutter. Barely a handful of days later Danny is brought back to the rural tower to investigate potentially willful damage against the clock. Here he meets another young man who also claims to be Brandon Summers…utterly oblivious to who is standing behind him, with a grin like morning sunshine.  The young man that made Danny so swoon only days before.  With an injury to his body that curiously mirrors the damage to the clock face…

Danny knows now that he is in serious trouble…


 

This story is deathly cute. The romance is gorgeous. There are parts that will genuinely make your heart skip a beat. For me, it’s immediately become a book that I want to foist on any and all who will listen because I just want you all to feel the warm fuzziness (and periodic sheer terror) that this story brought me. It is the book equivalent of a warm morning with lazy sunbeams, though in places my heart decided it liked to sit in my throat. The ending is very, very tense I warn you.

The book is set in a 19th Century Britain which is a little more technologically advanced than our own was in the same time period, with the invention of air ships and early steam powered automobiles making the world a lot more open. Think steampunk-lite, but with more flowers and village greens. Sim actually has written a little history of her world and the things she decided to change from our world at the back of the book. I love hearing her thought process for designing her world.

Now, onto our two protagonists. One thing that really struck me, and that I really enjoyed, is that Danny knows that he is gay before he meets Colton, the love interest. Speaking as a bisexual reader, It was really refreshing to not have another romance overly preoccupied on the protagonist ‘coming to terms’ with being queer. I mean, those books have their own purpose but not every queer love story needs sexuality angst running throughout it. Heterosexual love stories can focus solely on the joy of falling in love, it’s really nice to see a LGBT romance being allowed to do the same.  Sim also makes the decision to place the love story in a world where being queer was never met with the same levels of puritanical hatred and violence as in our own. I do think that was an important decision, as an LGBT person, it can be wearing to read books where people like you are constantly subjected to derision or danger. We deserve a little escapism too.

Here we have a romance that is wonderfully tender and gentle, it truly is a young love story. Warm and deeply emotionally satisfying, every intimate scene between them is filled with sunshine and light. Just thinking about it makes me smile. As with the rest of the book, their story is filled with a fairy tale quality perfect for dim autumn days with short hours of sunlight and a warm cup of tea. It brings the glow even when there is no light around it.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that I can’t wait for you all to read this. It’s a quick gentle read, doesn’t require a tonne of effort or a certain emotional state. In fact I’d say it’s the perfect book to read if you’re sick and feeling some of the less enjoyable effects of autumn. I just loved it and can’t wait for you all to get a hold of a copy for yourselves!

Thank you so much to Skyhorse Publishing and Netgalley for a copy in return for an honest Review. Timekeeper is available to preorder at Amazon and will be released on the 8th of November.

The Alchemists of Loom (Elise Kova)

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Her vengeance. His vision.

Ari lost everything she once loved when the Five Guilds’ resistance fell to the Dragon King. Now, she uses her unparalleled gift for clockwork machinery in tandem with notoriously unscrupulous morals to contribute to a thriving underground organ market. There isn’t a place on Loom that is secure from the engineer-turned-thief, and her magical talents are sold to the highest bidder as long as the job defies their Dragon oppressors.

Cvareh would do anything to see his sister usurp the Dragon King and sit on the throne. His family’s house has endured the shame of being the lowest rung in the Dragons’ society for far too long. The Alchemist Guild, down on Loom, may just hold the key to putting his kin in power, if Cvareh can get to them before the Dragon King’s assassins. 

When Ari stumbles upon a wounded Cvareh, she sees an opportunity to slaughter an enemy and make a profit off his corpse. But the Dragon sees an opportunity to navigate Loom with the best person to get him where he wants to go.

He offers her the one thing Ari can’t refuse: A wish of her greatest desire, if she brings him to the Alchemists of Loom.


 

☆☆☆☆☆

This is my first foray into Kova’s writing and the first thing I  will say is that I was not expecting the world of Loom to be SO big. The world of the Fenthri (Loom) and the world of the Dragons (Nova) lie one atop the other, only separated by a treacherous cloud bank. The Fenthri of Loom do not know the touch of the moon, the Dragons of Nova are a people so redolent with magic that they did not see the point in developing technology for centuries. The people of Loom live in Guilds, each continent and people specializing in a specific task, enforced by their Dragon overlords, whilst the Dragons of Nova stagnate in their strict, hierarchical and violent society, their magical strength alone letting them keep control of Loom with ease. But the Fenthri of Loom have their own methods of gaining magical strength. Through harvesting and transplanting Dragon organs, the source of their power, they create strange Fenthri/Dragon hybrids called Chimaera.

Our protagonist, Ari, is one such of these Chimaera, a shadowy figure intent on protecting her young apprentice and enacting revenge on the Dragon society that ripped her life from her. I immediately fell in love with Ari as a character, she’s unapologetically harsh, her every instinct centered on survival and the care of the one person she has left. (See also: canonically bisexual!!) I feel like she’s a fresh female equivalent of the male grimdark antihero trope.  (She also has a really cool harness transport system that I want in a video game STAT.)

Kova’s writing of women in this book is so strong. Other than Cvareh, pretty much every important character in this book is a lady, and a fascinating, multi-faceted lady at that. Florence, Ari’s young apprentice, is a tiny gunsmith and demolitions expert with a rather snazzy tophat; the Dragon King’s right hand ‘man’ is a brutal and utterly relentless woman who will stop at nothing to keep order and ranking within her world. There are also some really important moments of true female friendship and protectiveness, something I found really refreshing in a genre where connections between women are often lacking and not given enough page time.

The action is cinematic, I couldn’t help but think just how good it would look on a screen hooked up to my Xbox, with a mana bar and a wheel choice system of different gun canisters. If any of you are gamers, think a world reminiscent of Dishonored or Thief, full of crumbling quarters and sinister lighthouse prisons. The character designs are more adventurous than most, in fact, neither of the protagonists could be called human, one grey, the other blue skinned. Cultural and hierarchical differences are noted and shown through clothing and status symbols, such as the forelock of a dragon rider, threaded with a bead for every dragon defeated and heart consumed. It’s just so rich and wonderful, I felt thoroughly immersed.

I’m not entirely sure whether I would call this book young adult. Ari is in her twenties and has a very adult view of the world. I suppose I would slot it into the same age bracket as ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ (Schwab), not inappropriate for young adult readers, but not necessarily fitting smoothly into the young adult genre. Likewise, I wouldn’t say it was sexually explicit but, as in ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ (Maas), the main protagonist has a more adult view of intimacy and knows very much what she wants.

So, after much rambling, I will try to keep the recommendation short. I can see this book being much beloved by fans of the Mistborn series (Sanderson), ADSOM and Six of Crows (Bardugo). If you like incredible world building, small ladies with enormous guns and brutal action sequences (with plenty of heart eating), this is the book for you!

Many thanks to Keymaster Press for an ARC in return for an honest review!

Gilded Cage (Vic James)

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☆☆☆☆☆

I have a bit of a thing for dark and despicable books.

You only have to look at my favourites shelf to know that much. From the pseudo Roman, genetically-augmented Golds of Pierce Brown’s ‘Red Rising’; the sin and smoke devoured pages of Dan Vyleta’s ‘Smoke’; to the wicked and wasteful young Aristocrat of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, there is a bit of a trend. So the moment I opened the first pages of ‘Gilded Cage’ and met a moonlit night and a young woman fleeing across a dark country estate, I knew I was onto something good.


NOT ALL ARE FREE.

NOT ALL ARE EQUAL.

NOT ALL WILL BE SAVED. 

 

Our world belongs to the Equalsaristocrats with magical giftsand all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world. 

 

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

 

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price? 

 

A boy dreams of revolution.

 

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution. 

 

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

 

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberateor destroy?”

 

(Del Rey)


 

If someone forced me to put my feelings for this book into two words I’d probably go with ‘contemporary Dickens’. Despite its modern setting you really do get the sense of smog and chimney sweeps. Indeed, we have children as young as ten put to work and a smug parliament filled with extortionately wealthy families all jostling for power.


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(‘Scene of Huddersfield’ by LS Lowry)


The factory towns put me in mind of LS Lowry’s landscapes, the great belching chimneys and faceless, stick figure workers. Juxtaposed with the joyless lives of the indentured worker are the cold, elegant, horrible, and yet strangely fascinating overclass of aristocrats who wield the ‘Skill’. Chapters alternate between workers surviving day by day on the factory line and the gleaming, manicured world of the ‘Equals’, toxic with nepotism, narcissism and family secrets.


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(Chatsworth House, the closest I could find to how I imagined the great House of Kyneston)


‘Gilded Cage’ has broad swathes of that wild British darkness that I’ve come to love so much. Think of the iron sharp, back stabbing society of Bronte and Thackeray, but left to grow obese and wasteful on its own power. An upperclass that has begun to take its place in society for granted, a once strong muscle that has not had to work and has grown atrophied, leaving space for dissension and discontent.

Then add onto that the glittering, scintillating imagery of the skill, the strange ‘post Revolutionary’ glass buildings that seem to show shadows of another world.

It is utterly breathtaking, I can’t really say more than that. I adored it. It has taken me a good few weeks to mull and decide what exactly I want to write because, for a while, my thoughts were meandering all over the shop. How to decide whether to focus on character, world building, environment, the political wrangling, eugh…almost impossible. I loved it all.

So my one piece of advice would be to pick up a copy as quick as you possible can. The UK Paperback edition comes out on the 26th of January 2017, but the Kindle version comes out on the 1st of December this year…I will allow you to mull over that one.

 (I received an ARC from the Author and Pan Macmillan in exchange for an honest review)

The Edge of Everything (Jeff Giles)

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☆☆☆☆☆

I started ‘The Edge of Everything’ in a bit of a book slump. I’d set aside two books in the days beforehand and was generally looking for a novel with that special something to pique my interest once more.

The book opens in the midst of a snow storm with our protagonist Zoe venturing out to search for her little brother and their two dogs who have gone missing in the wild weather. Zoe has had a terrible year, losing her father in an accident and her elderly next door neighbours in mysterious and violent circumstances. The last place she wants to be is ploughing through the snow, looking for a little brother that she is petrified could be dead.

She finds her brother, freezing cold but alive in the snow, and they seek refuge in the abandoned house of their dead neighbours. You believe the worst has come, that the shelter they find will save them, that they will be allowed to wait the storm out in warmth and peace. But when is anything ever that easy?

A mystery assailant puts Zoe and her little brother in desperate danger. Terrified and alone she begins to wonder whether there is truly any way out of this situation. But she’s not expecting the entry of a nameless stranger with weird powers and a body marked with bizarre tattoos. She’s certainly not expecting him to go straight for her assailant’s soul…

What happens in the moments after changes everything for Zoe and the nameless stranger. Rules are broken, orders disobeyed and everything Zoe thinks she knows about the world begins to start crumbling around her…

This was a wonderful book, tight and dense and filled to the brim with fresh ideas. It’s a book that you read in a daze, utterly immersed in the bleak and lonely world that Giles has created. It raises questions about family relations, grief and what it means to sin.

Without spoiling too much, I loved Giles description of the Lowlands, the mysterious ‘underworld’ that our heroic stranger, X, hails from. The rules, the hierarchy, the bleak Norse melancholy. The ending leaves it wide open for a sequel and I can not wait to hear more about this particular part of the story.

Giles creates a great sense of place. Whether it be Zoe’s lonely mountainside home, the wide flats of the Lowlands or the remote inhospitality of a Canadian shoreline, you feel the atmosphere of each place spreading its tendrils through every scene.

The decision to limit the active cast of characters was also a great idea, it made the interactions between those who were present all the more vivid. The dynamic of Zoe’s family, grieving and fatherless, and the insertion of X into the mix creates some hilarious and heartfelt moments, especially those between our nameless stranger and Zoe’s lonely little brother.

My one qualm is the ‘ending’, it felt rather like it existed solely to make way for book two. The true ending of the book comes a little while before the final page in a twist that’ll make your heart suddenly a rather uncomfortable presence in your throat.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely! I can imagine curling up under a blanket with it howling a gale beyond the window pane, book in hand.  It also doesn’t hurt that the front cover is gorgeous, I can’t wait to get a physical copy for pride of place on my shelf. A sequel couldn’t come soon enough!

‘The Edge of Everything’ is released on the 31st of January 2017 through Bloomsbury. Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for the review copy in return for an honest review.

Six of Crows (Leigh Bardugo)

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☆☆☆☆☆

I give this book 4 MILLION KRUGE *cough* stars…

It took me way too long to get around to reading this book. I hadn’t actually finished the Grisha trilogy until a month or so ago and I wanted to save SOC for my summer reading. I’m very very glad I did.

Six of Crows is a book to be savored, to be devoured and thought about to the exclusion of all else. I read it on a balcony overlooking Lake Garda in the searing summer heat with a flute of cold Prosecco but I would have adored it even if I had been sitting in my room in wet, humid old Britain.

I will be honest and say that the concept of a heist, when I first read the blurb, didn’t entirely interest me that much. I was drawn in more by the beautiful graphics I’d seen on tumblr and the rabid praise of my friends. If you, like me, aren’t entirely drawn in by the Ocean’s Eleven style premise, I do suggest you put aside your prejudices and pick it up regardless. To me this book was more about characters and the relationships between them, which is EVERYTHING I am interested in as a reader. That and humour that is sharp as a whip crack.

We are introduced to a ragtag band of criminals and residents of the less than salubrious Ketterdam district of ‘The Barrel’. The amoral dagger sharp gang lieutenant Kaz, card loose, gun touting Jesper, and our ‘whisper on the wind’ assassin Inej of the ‘Dregs’. From there the plot thickens, involving some rather nasty experimentation with captive Grisha, a sketchy Merchant Lord and a prudish Witch Hunter who pretty much despises everything that makes up the ‘Dregs’ (and yet finds himself rather uncomfortably beholden to them). See also, our runaway, cake loving Ravkan Nina and the wispy haired demolitions man (*cough* boy) Wylan.

The characters in this book are everything. I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I spent with my brother laughing at the idea of each of them in different situations. They’re so real, so rich and utterly hilarious. Of course, this wouldn’t be one of my favourite books of all time if they weren’t also all nursing deeply traumatic backstories.

This book will grab you by the scruff of the neck and leave you hostage to the need to just keep turning the pages. There are three sections that I call the ‘chapters of unmentionable pain’ and, I warn you, they are very much as horrific as they sound.

You do not have to have read the Grisha trilogy to read and enjoy this. My brother was my test subject in regards to this and he seemed to love it every single bit as much as I did regardless of having not been familiar with the world beforehand.

I utterly adored this book, I’m sure there are ten thousands things I could have talked about in this review that I’ve managed to miss (like the fact I literally ship everything and everyone, amazingly diverse characters and a disabled protagonist!!!) but I would rather just tell you it was bloodydamn amazing and that you should go and read it and then come back and yell at me in excitement!!

Ariah (B.R. Sanders)

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“When you’re very young and you’re different, you begin to believe that no one has ever been as different as you and that no one has ever felt that difference as keenly as you.”

When I sit down to write I review I usually make a list of likes and dislikes. It should tell you something about how much I like this book that the list, in its entirety looked like this:

“Likes: everything about this book

-Genuinely, everything”

The book begins with Ariah, a young elf, journeying far from his familial home to study with a mentor who will help him control his rather unusual gifts. He lives in a world where elves are looked down upon by their human compatriots. Ariah is part Semadran, an ethnic variant of elves with strict and conservative family values, and part Red Elf, a wilder, more carefree people who don’t hold with the same traditions as the Semadrans. Ariah is a mimic, a gift that allows him to learn language and the nuances of voice with ease, but he is also something more dangerous, something he tries very hard to play down and hide. He is part shaper, very in-tune with others’ emotions, able to manipulate the emotions of others and can find himself losing all sense of who he is the great sweep of others minds. It is a gift that is heavily regulated in the empire and is viewed with great mistrust.

He begins his training with Dirva, his mentor, but familial problems lead to Ariah travelling beyond the borders of the empire alongside him. There he meets Dirva’s younger brother, Sorcha, and comes face to face with the realization that he does not know himself at all.


This is a wonderful, beautiful book. I don’t think I’ve read a book that’s lingered with me after reading the last page quite like this in a long time. I want to read it again even though it’s only been a handful of hours since I put it down. I can’t tell you how long I have been looking for a book like this. Beautiful, beautiful fantasy world building with diverse incredibly written characters and relationships that are delightfully non-heteronormative. As a bisexual fantasy lover this was a dream come true.

‘Ariah’ is very much a character as opposed to plot driven book. That’s not to say that nothing happens because by the end of the book you feel as if you’ve been on an odyssey with the main character, but if you’re looking for page after page of action then you might be disappointed. In my humble opinion, this is honestly some of the best character writing I have ever come across. You feel as if you could reach out and actually touch the characters they are painted so vividly. I love Ariah, I love Sorcha, I love Shayat and Dirva, I’m having a very hard time putting into words just why and how. They are all imperfect people, you embrace every inch of them through Ariah’s eyes, every feature and flaw, every moment of affection or miscommunication. It is very intense and strangely comforting.

“For some of us, the places we come from are not the places we belong, and never were, and never will be.”


Sanders touches on some very important issues in this book, most notably the idea of ‘difference’ and what it means to be ‘different’. I adored the way they handled Ariah’s internalised homophobia due to his strict upbringing and the effect that has on his sense of self after he develops intense feelings for Sorcha. The fact that Ariah has very little sense of self to begin with, that he ‘loses himself’, molds himself to the wants and whims of others, damaging himself in the process, becoming whatever he feels the other needs. The book ponders the different types of love, the different types of need, and the different possibly configurations of personal relationships. It talks about gender, attraction, identity and race all smoothly bound within the narrative. It is an incredible rich book and I had a tear in my eye and a tight feeling in my throat for a lot of it. 

Sanders has incredible prose, it lulls you along, so smooth and rich, it honestly does not feel as if you’ve lost an entire afternoon in reading. I read part of this book on a train and I was very shocked when I realized I was at my destination and two hours had passed.  I may also have had a handful of very groggy mornings due to late night reading sessions…

(Also, have you seen that cover art?? Gods of cover art have truly blessed Sanders. I’ve been a huge fan and follower of C. Bedford ( @c-bedford)  for the last couple of years, so it was a match made in heaven to find their art on the front cover of my new favourite book.)


I can’t recommend this book enough. I already have plans to order a hard copy because I can’t wait to read it again, this time with the pages physically in my hands. Seriously, if you’re looking for a wonderfully written fantasy with diverse protagonists and sublime character development go and get a copy, I repeat, go and get yourself a copy now.

☆☆☆☆☆

(Thanks to Zharmae Publishing and Netgalley for a copy in return for an honest review.)

A City Dreaming

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‘A powerful magician returns to New York City and reluctantly finds himself in the middle of a war between the city’s two most powerful witches.

“It would help if you did not think of it as magic. M certainly had long ceased to do so.” 

M is an ageless drifter with a sharp tongue, few scruples, and the ability to bend reality to his will, ever so slightly. He’s come back to New York City after a long absence, and though he’d much rather spend his days drinking artisanal beer in his favorite local bar, his old friendsand his enemieshave other plans for him. One night M might find himself squaring off against the pirates who cruise the Gowanus Canal; another night sees him at a fashionable uptown charity auction where the waitstaff are all zombies. A subway ride through the inner circles of hell? In M’s world, that’s practically a pleasant diversion.

Before too long, M realizes he’s landed in the middle of a power struggle between Celise, the elegant White Queen of Manhattan, and Abilene, Brooklyn’s hip, free-spirited Red Queen, a rivalry that threatens to make New York go the way of Atlantis. To stop it, M will have to call in every favor, waste every charm, and blow every spell he’s ever acquiredhe might even have to get out of bed before noon.

Enter a world of Wall Street wolves, slumming scenesters, desperate artists, drug-induced divinities, pocket steampunk universes, and demonic coffee shops. M’s New York, the infinite nexus of the universe, really is a city that never sleepsbut is always dreaming.’

This is a really strange, not so little book. Structurally, it resembles most closely a set of short stories which roll inexorably on from one to the next. I honestly had no idea what the endgame was until 94%, and that would usually drive me into a frenzy, but, do you know what?

I loved it.

‘It was around two in the afternoon on a hot August Saturday when M realised the rest of the people at the beach house were planning on using him as a human sacrifice.’

Oh, it’s weird and the prose reads like silk, it truly does. I admit, the first few chapters, maybe even the first 25% I found myself railing against everything I eventually came to love. Probably because I was expecting a linear story and I very much did not get one.

I adored the main character. M is the definition of neutral when it comes to alignment. He rolls with the tide, lets the sweep of New York’s power draw him from chess matches to drug dens, coffee shops and backstreet orgies. Most of the book he underplays himself, moving in circles in a way that makes you feel he’s an underdog, not honestly one of the most powerful magic users in the city, an ageless being travelling with the ebb and flow of civilisation.

The side characters are painted in broad, electric strokes, overlaid with M’s sometimes snarky, sometimes apathetic commentary. Every one of them could be a character in a graphic novel he brings them to life so vividly.

Plotwise, I’m not entirely sure what to say to you. The plot is a subtle little thing, twisting sinuously through each of M’s escapades, more like a background concern than an overwhelming worry. Initially, I found myself annoyed and searching for the plot, once I sat back and let the weirdness flow, I found it was something that no longer concerned me. This book’s a bit like a fever dream. If you try to grab at anything, it’ll just flutter away.

It’s urban fantasy to a backdrop of microbreweries and artisanal moustache wax and it’s horrible and beautiful to read. It’s very self aware, cattily funny and sometimes bordering on inappropriate.  I loved it.

Many thanks to Regan Arts and Netgalley for an ARC in return for an honest review!