The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten

In this lush, romantic epic fantasy series from a New York Times bestselling author, a young woman’s secret power to raise the dead plunges her into the dangerous and glamorous world of the Sainted King’s royal court.
When Lore was thirteen, she escaped a cult in the catacombs beneath the city of Dellaire. And in the ten years since, she’s lived by one rule: don’t let them find you. Easier said than done, when her death magic ties her to the city.
 
Mortem, the magic born from death, is a high-priced and illicit commodity in Dellaire, and Lore’s job running poisons keeps her in food, shelter, and relative security. But when a run goes wrong and Lore’s power is revealed, she’s taken by the Presque Mort, a group of warrior-monks sanctioned to use Mortem working for the Sainted King. Lore fully expects a pyre, but King August has a different plan. Entire villages on the outskirts of the country have been dying overnight, seemingly at random. Lore can either use her magic to find out what’s happening and who in the King’s court is responsible, or die.
 
Lore is thrust into the Sainted King’s glittering court, where no one can be believed and even fewer can be trusted. Guarded by Gabriel, a duke-turned-monk, and continually running up against Bastian, August’s ne’er-do-well heir, Lore tangles in politics, religion, and forbidden romance as she attempts to navigate a debauched and opulent society.
But the life she left behind in the catacombs is catching up with her. And even as Lore makes her way through the Sainted court above, they might be drawing closer than she thinks.

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Foxglove King will be available on March seventh, 2023.

I’m sorry, The Foxglove King, it’s not you. It’s me. Well, it’s a little bit you. There were things you did well that were rather intriguing. Unfortunately, these aspects were never fully realized. Now, there is a distinct possibility that you’ll get it together and will become an excellent series. In a year or so, I’ll realize that I gave up too soon, that I should have made a commitment and stayed in for the long haul. In fact, that is most likely the case. Hannah Whitten is a skilled author who obviously has a well-thought-out plan as far as the direction of the series. At this time, though, we need to go our separate ways.

You do have some desirable qualities, several in fact. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, The Foxglove King, how you respect the reader’s intelligence and jump straight into the story without the dreaded info dump. You were willing to put yourself out there in that way, which is always awesome. You reveal more of yourself as you go along, and there’s a lot to you. Your magic, Mortem, which is the power to raise the dead, was intriguing. The way that it was controlled by the Church (no separation of Church and state here) and utilized in ways that are suspect at best is fascinating and makes for great tension. I’m a fan of tension. That being said, I’m a little unsure about why having this ability would make Lore (your main character) a good spy.

Your use of modern language, while taking me out of the world and story at times, was nonetheless a bold choice and one that made you instantly accessible. There were no misunderstandings. You moved at a good pace, not rushing things that are important but also taking storytelling risks. Your author, Hannah Whitten, writes confidently. Reading this, it might be tough to tell where our relationship went wrong. So I’ll just hop right into the crux of it: you cheated.

You have a love triangle. I think this is a matter of miscommunication. You see, I thought based on your description, that “forbidden romance” meant one relationship. Not a confused muddle between three people. Also, it seemed a little yucky to me that Gabriel was a part of Lore’s original abduction (albeit an unwilling member) yet they are somehow attracted to each other. I also don’t understand how everyone involved can feel an instant attraction, an “I know you” toward one other. You might explain this in more detail later on, but it just doesn’t work for me. I’m starting to think I’m emotionally unavailable. That’s unfair to you, The Foxglove King.

You deserve readers who appreciate a little bit of romantic tension and a fair bit of angst. Trust me, you’re going to get them in droves. You have so many qualities that attract readers: a fast pace, an intriguing plot, and even the relationship drama that you bring with you will appeal to many. I’m the wrong reader. So, I guess at the end of the day, it really is me and not you. I wish you the best of luck, The Foxglove King, and I know I’ll see you around, on bestseller lists and recommended shelves.

And Put Away Childish Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky

All roads lead to Underhill, where it’s always winter, and never nice.
Harry Bodie has a famous grandmother, who wrote beloved children’s books set in the delightful world of Underhill. Harry himself is a failing kids’ TV presenter whose every attempt to advance his career ends in self-sabotage. His family history seems to be nothing but an impediment.
An impediment… or worse. What if Underhill is real? What if it has been waiting decades for a promised child to visit? What if it isn’t delightful at all? And what if its denizens have run out of patience and are taking matters into their own hands? (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Rebellion Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. And Put Away Childish Things will be available on March 28th, 2023.

Have you ever had a dream that slowly shifted into a nightmare? You wake up, heart pounding, sweat on your brow but you can’t remember the exact moment when your dream became something dark and sinister. That’s And Put Away Childish Things: a dream that becomes a nightmare, one that leaves you unsettled yet engrossed.

As is always the case with Adrian Tchaikovsky, the writing is astounding. He creates, not just a world, but a feeling. Harry Brodie’s discontent with his life becomes the reader’s discontent, his feeling of being trapped, the reader’s. The book begins with a very unhappy Harry working on a kid’s TV show (I immediately pictured Death to Smoochy). He decides to go on one of those interview shows to hopefully remind people he exists and get better acting gigs. Unfortunately for him, the host did her homework and came up with some new information about Harry’s grandmother: the author of the children’s Underhill book series. That information (left unsaid here to avoid spoilers) sends Harry into a tailspin, which gets a whole lot worse when he starts seeing his grandmother’s fantasy creatures hanging out on his doorstep.

This might be where the shift starts. See, these aren’t your usual children’s book creatures. They aren’t even the villains from those worlds. These are horribly, horribly wrong. The author describes them in great detail, bringing life to dilapidated, decaying creatures. My gut reaction was one of horror (and yes, pity) which, of course, seems to be what he was going for. The reader gets taken on a trip both physically and emotionally as Harry (and some companions) enter a world he never believed in, but has always believed in him. And it’s been waiting.

The writing is fantastic, not overly flowery but detailed enough to paint vivid pictures. Interestingly, Harry’s personality is defined just enough to show a desire to feel important, but not much else is explained. This would normally irritate me (I like extremely nuanced characters) but he is more of a thought experiment, a “what if?” than your average character. What if you missed your chance at magic as a child? What if disillusionment and broken expectations with adulthood transfer over to a world where the magic has also broken down and become something less than expected? What if knowledge makes a simple thing simultaneously uglier yet more important?

The ending felt tentative and uncertain, which I thought was perfect for this book. I do wish that it had been a little longer because certain parts felt a little rushed. That being said, And Put Away Childish Things is fascinating, a book that begs to be discussed, reread, and savored.

The Art of the Dragon: The Definitive Collection of Contemporary Dragon Paintings Edited by Patrick Wilshire, J. David Spurlock & Julie Bell

I love dragons. I love the way they look, I love the lore behind them, I love that almost every culture has a dragon myth of some kind, and I love the myriad ways they’ve been represented throughout the history of fantasy books. This beautiful book was given to me for my birthday by my youngest son (he also gave me a stuffed dragon because he is convinced that I don’t have enough stuffed animals and it’s been his mission to fix that serious problem).

The Art of the Dragon is different than some of my other dragon books (I have quite a few). It doesn’t discuss the “anatomy” of the dragon, or what breath weapon each color dragon has (because only having fire is so passé). Instead, it has paintings of dragons from some of the preeminent dragon artists as well as explanations from them regarding their inspiration and process.

Credit: Lars Grant-West

And, good gravy, this book features an amazing group of artists! From John Howe to Michael Whelan, Clyde “Make it Sexy” Caldwell (yes, my husband and I have given him a nickname) to Julie Bell, The Art of the Dragon includes a broad range of styles and several years’ worth of contributions to the fantasy genre. I was especially pleased to see Larry Elmore, since his art is synonymous with the series that made me a lifelong fantasy lover.

Credit: Larry Elmore

The thoughts each artist gave about their art and the reasons why they paint them the way they do is what pushed this book over the edge from beautiful to epic for me. Little explanations, like how one artist thinks about the “behavior” of each dragon he is painting, to Elmore’s thoughts on how his contemporaries paint their dragons (“I painted my dragons one way, and Keith [Parkinson] painted his pretty similar to me, and Clyde [Caldwell] did his more serpentine and Jeff [Easley] did his more as a pit bull”), each feature made me understand and appreciate each artist even more.

Something else that makes The Art of the Dragon stand out is the sheer number of paintings in the book. Some dragon art books only have a few paintings or only feature paintings that are incredibly popular and have already been added to many books. While there are some of those ubiquitous pieces in here, there are several that I haven’t seen before or haven’t seen in years. That’s quite the feat, what with how many dragon books I own.

The Art of the Dragon is a gorgeous book, perfect for anyone who loves dragons or appreciates fantasy art.

Credit: Michael Whelan

The Flaws of Gravity by Stephanie Caye

Faeries lie.
That’s what the Consilium told Jude when they recruited her into a supernatural cold war against the Court. It’s what her friend Aubrie said too, convincing her to search for illicit magic under their noses.
But he’s half-Faerie like her. And since honesty’s never exactly been Jude’s strong suit either, she probably should have listened. Might have saved her the pain of his betrayal, not to mention a trip to the ICU.
When a shady group of Faeries co-opts her to help them stop Aubrie from taking control of both the human and Faerie worlds, Jude’s tentatively game. Ruining the man who double-crossed her sounds good in theory. Problem is, joining up with these alleged otherworldly allies could condemn humanity to life under a curly-toed boot instead.
Everybody wants to rule the world. Jude just wants some premium tequila shots on a warm, sandy beach in the vicinity of “The Hell Away from This Mess.”
That’s a lie—she’d settle for the cheap stuff. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Flaws of Gravity is available now.

At the beginning of the book, Jude is stabbed in the back by one of her few friends. She already has trust issues, and things like that probably justify her paranoia a little bit. Despite her desire to drop off the grid and stay injury-free for a while, she finds herself joining a group of fairies in an attempt to stop her ex-friend from taking over the Faerie world (and the human one). Of course, now she has a new problem: are her new allies any more trustworthy?

The Flaws of Gravity starts off with a shocking (and rather violent) rush and keeps a fast pace all the way through. Far from giving a slower build-up, there is never more than a pause for breath before Jude finds herself in the next action-packed situation. A start like this is definitely attention-grabbing.

I was a little confused at times, especially toward the beginning, simply because information was doled out sparingly. While I loved the lack of the dreaded info dump, the world seemed so intriguing that I wanted to learn a little more about it early on. I also feel that Aubrie’s betrayal would have been even more emotionally impactful if there had been more background information (or possibly a flashback). That being said, I quickly became invested in the book and was able to infer what wasn’t explained.

The characters were interesting, each of them serving a different purpose and driving the plot forward in new and unexpected ways. Jude was fantastic; a little bit prickly and a large bit snarky. She was also morally ambiguous, a tough balancing act that I love to see written well. Author Stephanie Caye nailed it, making Jude a blast to read. She has quickly become one of my favorite main characters in urban fantasy.

The way the faeries’ powers were written was incredibly creative. I loved Jude’s ability to crawl on walls and ceilings, something I’ve never seen in a book involving fae. It was so cool to read about new and creative faerie abilities. It added to the fun and allowed for some seriously awesome situations.

This book is a blast. The Flaws of Gravity is a must-read for anyone looking for an action-packed adventure.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party—or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, muddle Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones—the most elusive of all faeries—lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all—her own heart. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Del Rey for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is available now.

This book is absolutely delightful! If the premise wasn’t enough to interest me (it was), the many glowing reviews I’ve come across would have done the trick. I find myself in the difficult position of trying to find new ways to describe the wonder of Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries. I don’t know how well I’ll do, but let me crack my knuckles and give it a go.

Emily is a headstrong, socially awkward introvert who is single-mindedly focused on her encyclopaedia. Hers is a little different from the usual book of knowledge: it focuses on faeries. She travels to the small close-knit town of Hrafnsvik in an effort to find information on the Hidden Ones, the last bit of her book. Unfortunately, her lack of people skills leaves her somewhat at odds with the villagers and she struggles to get the information she will need for her study. Equally unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, but she’d never admit it), Emily’s frustrating colleague Wendell Bambleby pops up to irritate- and possibly help- Emily. Soon, Emily’s scholarly distance from all things fae fails her, and she finds herself caught up in faerie mischief, Wendell joining in. Faerie mischief often turns dangerous and such is the case here. The ensuing adventure is enthralling.

Emily is my favorite kind of character! Her flaws are believable and understandable. Her stubbornness comes from a lifetime spent alone and the necessity of being self-sufficient. She isn’t used to friendship or even friendly acquaintances which shows in her awkward and uncomfortable interactions with the villagers. She truly wants to win their trust but it’s a struggle for her. As an introvert myself, I completely understood her tendency to come across as prickly or standoffish. This unintentional defense mechanism was also balanced by something that can happen with introverts: she is fiercely loyal and protective of those who let her in despite her social awkwardness.

Wendell is a different story. He’s lazy yet ridiculously charismatic. He can talk people into all kinds of nonsense, although Emily has become immune (close proximity can do that, I suppose). He is the only one she feels at ease with since they have been colleagues for so long and they happily bicker. This relationship is what elevated the book from fun and unique to fantastic. As much as I love a good adventure, it’s the character dynamics that sell me on a story. Their relationship is never stagnant; instead, it shifts as they spend more time together and understand each other a little better.

The story itself is fantastic, of course. I’m always intrigued by books that contain faeries (I blame the artist Brian Froud for my fascination) and they are written incredibly well here. I would happily stand in line for the encyclopaedia that Emily works on throughout the book. Changelings, brownies, a faery high court, even the trees drip with magic and that lovely combination of real-life legend and fantasy book creation.

The danger of being drawn into a glittering faery world isn’t confined to the characters in the book. I was also sucked in. Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries trapped me with otherworldly ease, leaving me desperate to see what happens next. This book is magic.

Two reviewers who made me rush to pick up the book:

The Irresponsible Reader

Tessa Talks Books

Cover Reveal: Mystic Reborn by Jeffrey Speight

I am thrilled to take part in a cover reveal for Mystic Reborn, book 2 in the Archives of Eveilum series, by Jeffrey Speight. I loved the first book, Paladin Unbound (review here) and Mystic Reborn looks equally amazing. Not only that, the cover is absolutely astounding!

Mystic Reborn is the continuation of Paladin Unbound, the award-winning start of the Archives of Evelium. After embracing his destiny as the last of the Paladins, Umhra the Peacebreaker is granted ancient powers by the gods. When he returns to the ruins of Antiikin to fulfill a promise, he embarks on a journey that will push the limits of his abilities. As the Grey Queen’s arrival heralds the fulfillment of a prophecy that could mean the end of humanity, the kingdom of Eveilum desperately needs a hero. Can Umhra once more rise to the challenge and save mankind from annihilation?

Check out this gorgeous cover!

Credit for this epic cover goes to Omer Burak Onal. I have been waiting impatiently to travel back into Evelium, and this cover has me almost salivating. Don’t forget to add Mystic Reborn to your “to be read” list and pick up Paladin Unbound if you haven’t already.

Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.

Website: https://www.jeffreyspeight.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffspeight

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeffsp8/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeffreyspeightauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21486809.Jeffrey_Speight

Where to find Paladin Unbound:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58022890-paladin-unbound

Literary Wanderlust: https://www.literarywanderlust.com/product-page/paladin-unbound

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1942856768

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/paladin-unbound-jeffrey-speight/1139410896

The Giant’s Echo (The Barclan series #2) by C.M. Kerley

Starvation has gripped the kingdom. The King is nowhere to be found. War has come to Barclan, and death is coming from the mountains. Using sword and sorcery, murder and the machine of war the King must find a way to fight back the evil that has infected his kingdom.
In Kraner, An’eris the druid queen must rule over a land already in ruins, forcing her people to survive the horrors of war before so much as a battle cry splits the quiet morning.
Brennan and Cotta are searching for answers, lying and cheating their way past everyone who would see them fail, looking for answers to questions hidden in dark corners.
And across the kingdom, to save the kingdom, Calem must face the truth of his magic and decide, for the fate of everyone, is he man or is he monster. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Giant’s Echo is available now.

Reminiscent of “old school” fantasy, yet also treading into unfamiliar territory, The Giant’s Echo is a master class in storytelling. I was blown away by the creation myth in The Hummingbird’s Tear (book 1); the fantastic mythology and epic worldbuilding continue here as the stakes become higher.

In The Giant’s Echo, we have a small group trying to stem a darkness that is not only coming- it has already arrived on their doorstep. This book sees our characters fracture even more, with Brennan and Cotta looking for answers they don’t have. Their quest, for lack of a better word, shows their characters in a closer light and allows the reader to understand the desperation behind each decision. In fact, desperation and the things it can lead a person to do are overarching themes, lending an air of believability to everything. I love the way fantasy allows a skilled author to explore all facets of personality, and C.M. Kerly is an incredibly skilled author.

Calem, meanwhile, is on a different sort of quest: that of self-discovery. He needs to come to grips with who or what he is. Holy crow, his character development is amazing! I loved him so, so much. I’m zipping my lips so as not to give spoilers, but I could rave about him and his story arc pretty much all day.

New characters are added and others get extra attention, expanding an already well-developed world even more. While I wouldn’t call The Giant’s Echo grimdark, it does take on a darker tone as things become direr. Having an extra sense of urgency and danger made the characters and their inability to give up stand out all the more. I also enjoyed seeing morally complicated characters take center stage. I’m a big fan of murky morality in books, so I was thrilled.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy books with excellent mythologies and engrossing characters. I was happily sucked into The Giant’s Echo.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal. Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it . . . that is, unless she has no other choice. (Taken from Amazon)

A Deadly Education is one of those books that’s been on my radar for ages, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I kept hearing great things about it, but I was a little burned out on the whole magic school thing. Well, I finally picked it up and am now a bit confused (although I got three and a half hours of sleep last night, so that’s just my state of being at the moment).

El Higgins goes to a strange school. There are no adults anywhere. The students learn from the school itself (I promise, it makes sense) while trying to live long enough to graduate. The magic of the school seems to actively hate them, with all sorts of magical ickiness constantly trying to kill them. The graduation rate is low: most students don’t survive. It’s in this hostile environment that we meet El and Co.

El isn’t popular; far from it. She is seen as odd, antisocial, and powerless. Only two of those things are true. She’s incredibly powerful, but her power isn’t the kind that people trust or want to be around. Because of this, she lets people think she has nothing to offer. Her few friends think the same thing but like her anyway.

Meanwhile, there’s Orion. He’s your stereotypical hero, with a penchant for saving people. He’s well-liked (aka “worshipped”), capable, and gives off major boyscout vibes. He bursts into El’s room to save her and that’s when their odd relationship is born. They end up needing to work together to make an already deadly situation a little bit more manageable.

This is what happens when I muse on a book for a while before writing a review: the “but’s” come out. I enjoyed A Deadly Education immensely. El is a fun character who made me laugh. Her complete cluelessness when it came to Orion’s crush on her was hilarious (and relatable. I could never pick up on the signs either). I liked that her power is so destructive. She wants a cleaning spell but somehow learns to conjure walls of flame instead. This is a common occurrence for her and there’s really no harmless or positive way to spin it. Her power is flat-out violent. I loved it.

Orion is a bit of a meathead but in an endearing way. I kept expecting him to say, “Aw, shucks”. I was kind of disappointed that he never did. His power is flashy and he has no problem throwing it around, he’s just not great at the whole strategy thing. The two of them together were loads of fun and the situations the author threw her characters into were creative and interesting.

So, what are my “but’s”? Well, I couldn’t get past the fact that no parent in their right mind would just chuck their kid into a teacherless school, especially if that school is actively trying to maim, kill, or eat their offspring. It was just strange. Also, in order to explain how things work, the main character would often go off on narrative tangents. It kept me from being lost but it also interrupted the flow of the book a little.

That being said, it wasn’t enough of an issue to keep me from having a great time reading A Deadly Education, especially since the next two books probably won’t have pockets of info dumping. The way the magic works has now been explained enough that the reader can just infer from here on out.

I’m curious to see where things go in the series and am definitely planning to continue it if only to see El and Orion continue to be entertainingly awkward around each other. I love socially awkward characters, and Naomi Novik more than delivered on that front. This is a fun, quick read.

The Scarlet Circus by Jane Yolen

A rakish fairy meets the real Juliet behind Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. A jewelry artist travels to the past to meet a successful silver-smith. The addled crew of a ship at sea discovers a mysterious merman. More than one ignored princess finds her match in the most unlikely men.

From ecstasy to tragedy, with love blossoming shyly, love at first sight, and even love borne of practical necessity―beloved fantasist Jane Yolen’s newest collection celebrates romance in all its glory. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Tachyon Publications for providing me this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Scarlet Circus will be available on February 14th.

Jane Yolen is a name that most readers know. Not only has she written an extensive list of fantasy books, but children’s books, historical fiction, and poetry are among the genres of books she has penned. I have loved many of her books and was thrilled to have the opportunity to read an early copy of The Scarlet Circus.

The Scarlet Circus is the third in Jane Yolen’s “Circus” series, but you don’t need to read the others to read this one. This particular short story collection is all about love in its many forms. Now, this might seem like an odd read for me seeing as, when it comes to books, I have the romantic sensibilities of a chewed-up piece of gum. That being said, I am a big fan of stories with fairy tale vibes (whether the more lighthearted kind or the darker ones) and I knew that’s what this collection would bring.

Smart, heartwarming, funny, and at times a little dark, The Scarlet Circus has a wide variety of tales. There are no descriptions of sex, which I vastly appreciate (sex scenes are not my thing). Instead, these take on the cadence of stories told around a fire to an appreciative audience. While they all feature love in some shape or form, each story is unique and adds something new to the collection.

I loved the entire book, but a couple stories stood out to me for various reasons. I’m a sucker for Arthurian tales so of course The Sword in the Stone was a favorite. It’s an alternate idea of how that pesky sword was originally yanked out of the stone and by whom. I loved the cleverness of it and how just a few tweaks turned that whole legend on its head. Merlinnus was delightful, a cunning wise man who played the long game, but could still be taken by surprise (his reaction to the word “cushion” made me laugh).

Dragonfield follows Tansy, a misfit who is in the wrong place at the right time (or the right place at the wrong time) and finds herself embroiled in a battle to defeat a dragon. Unfortunately, the hero who is supposed to slay the dragon isn’t quite a hero. He’s something better: a roguish coward with more muscles than scruples. I absolutely adored the characters in this story, and the amount of growth they did in so few words just goes to show what a great writer Yolen is. I did feel a bit sorry for the dragon, though.

Oddly enough, what really elevated this collection from great to amazing to me were the story notes and poems found at the back of the book. They shone a spotlight on the creativity and brilliance of The Scarlet Circus while adding extra details and revelations about the author herself. The poems often had a darker slant which I loved, especially compared to the happily ever beginnings found in several of the stories. The Girl Speaks to the Mage had me laughing out loud and cheering a little. An Old Story About the Mer was chilling with its sudden gruesome ending staying with me.

The Scarlet Circus is another fantastic collection by a master storyteller, one that should be added to every fantasy lover’s library. Turning the pages gave the sense of wonder and adventure that first drew me to fairytales as a child, making this a book to treasure.

Adjacent Monsters by Luke Tarzian

BOOK 1: THE WORLD MAKER PARABLE
Guilt will always call you back…
Rhona is a faithful servant of the country Jémoon and a woman in love. Everything changes when her beloved sets the ravenous Vulture goddess loose upon the land. Forced to execute the woman she loves for committing treason, Rhona discovers a profound correlation between morality and truth. A connection that might save her people or annihilate them all.

You are a lie…
Varésh Lúm-talé is many things, most of all a genocidal liar. A falsity searching for the Phoenix goddess whom he believes can help him rectify his atrocities. Such an undertaking is an arduous one for a man with missing memories and a conscience set on rending him from inside out. A man whose journey leads to Hang-Dead Forest and a meeting with a Vulture goddess who is not entirely as she seems.

BOOK 2: THE WORLD BREAKER REQUIEM
Prince of Woe…
Avaria Norrith is the adopted heir to the Ariathan throne. But that means little to a man who, for the better part of fifteen years, has sought and failed to earn his mother’s love. Fueled by pride and envy, Avaria seeks the means to prove himself and cast away his mental chains. When he’s tasked with the recreation of The Raven’s Rage he sees his chance, for with the infamous blade he can rewrite history and start anew.

Daughter of the Mountain…
Erath has not felt sunlight for a century. Not since Ariath condemned her people to a life of darkness with their misuse of The Raven’s Rage. But when an old friend comes seeking the remnants of the ancient sword, Erath cannot contain her curiosity and resolves to lend her aid. Is it true-can history be revised? Can her people be reclaimed?

Toll the Hounds…
They are hungry-and they are here.

Thank you to the author for providing me with these books in exchange for my honest opinion. The Adjacent Monsters duology is available now.

Some authors guide you into their book, gently holding your hand and providing a safe space from which to explore their world. That is far from the case with Luke Tarzian. Readers will instead find themselves lost in a twisted landscape of beautiful, raw writing, so full of emotion and truth that it sometimes hurts. It’s glorious.

Adjacent Monsters takes trust. Trust on the part of the author, who bared his soul to strangers, writing honestly and unflinchingly about themes that are obviously very personal to him. And trust from the reader, to follow dark and winding paths, believing that it will pay off. And wow, does it pay off!

I first fell in love with Luke Tarzian’s writing when reading Vultures. I can honestly say that I have never read anything similar to the absolute distortion of reality that I experience in his writing. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll end up completely lost. His writing is easy to pay attention to, though. It’s pulling yourself out of the story that you’ll find difficult.

Themes of grief, guilt, and regret lace through this duology and the characters make difficult choices while questioning the very decisions they must make. It is sad and rather relatable (although I have yet to be in the position of leading a loved one to their own execution). Who hasn’t felt guilt or regret? A word of warning: Don’t read Adjacent Monsters if you are in a difficult headspace: Luke Tarzian’s writing is superb, but it is also difficult to read if you are struggling emotionally.

It’s hard to have a “favorite character” in books such as these. I was drawn to the inner torment of each character and the way it is explored in their actions. It’s almost as though you’re watching them go through the stages of grief that we’re always told about. Rhona and Varésh sucked me into The World Maker Parable (the first in the duology). Despite being very different characters with separate motivations, they were linked in the deep feeling they provoked in me.

As much as I loved The World Maker Parable, The World Breaker Requiem left me stunned. It’s gorgeous in a heartbreaking, surreal way. The characters seem so much more than what they are: questers looking for a legendary sword. At times they are in fact overshadowed by the writing itself which is both stark and beautiful.

Reading Adjacent Monsters is like being in a fever dream: uncomfortable, disorienting, and utterly engrossing. I loved it.