Self-published Fantasy Authors: An Interview with Nicole Mainardi

A Curse of Thorns by Nicole Mainardi

Continuing on with Self-published Fantasy Month, today I get to chat with Nicole Mainardi, author of A Curse of Thorns. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about A Curse of Thorns?

“I’m so bad at summarizing my own book, so I’ll just pull from the summary on Goodreads that I worked super hard on!

In order to repay her father’s debt to the Regime and save her sisters from a terrible fate, Belle Fairfax—an eighteen-year-old girl with a love for forbidden books and the thrill of the hunt—must risk everything to find the reclusive Beast and steal the ring that cursed him. But the Beast is not what she expects. A young king cursed by a witch and forgotten by his village, all Bastian wants is to win the heart of the forest girl with the silver scars. But he’s a hideous Beast that abandoned his people for the sake of vanity, and he knows it won’t be easy to earn her affection. But there’s more to the girl than he thought. Belle only has one purpose once she makes it to the Beast’s castle: find the ring, take it, and leave the Beast to rot. But as she comes to know about the Beast, she realizes that she has more to fight for than just her family. Bastian knows he’s left his people in the hands of the corrupt Regime, and the guilt of their suffering gnaws at him. The more time he spends with Belle, though, the less he hates what he’s become. With Briar on the brink of falling completely under the control of the Regime, Belle and Bastian find that, together, they may be the key to freeing their home from the reaching grasp of the tyrannical Emperor. In short, it’s a Young Adult Beauty and the Beast retelling with some faerie magic, a cursed ring, sisterly love, a badass heroine and cinnamon roll boi beast, and a love story that’s as old as time!”

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

“I’ve always had story ideas floating around in my head, for as long as I can remember anyway. I used to write terrible, angsty teen poetry, and even finished a book when I was twelve that will NEVER see the light of day (seriously, never). I worked on A Curse of Thorns when I needed a break from my still-current WIP, so that I could take a breath in a story I loved with my whole heart. What drew me to write fantasy specifically is getting to make my own rules. It’s literally the best! I have another idea right now that will involve A LOT of historical research and adhering to actual rules and timelines and real people, and I think that’s the part I’m least looking forward to.”

When working on a book, what comes first for you-the characters or the plot?

“Definitely plot. That’s where I get most of my character development, and if I feel like a scene needs someone else involved, then I create another character who might just take control of the narrative for a bit, or pop up somewhere else. Most main characters are plotted out though with certain tipping points, but those could change depending on where the story takes me!”

Do you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?

“I think it would be naïve to say that authors don’t put a little of themselves into every character, especially if you’re writing from their POV. Sometimes, it’s a character we wish we were more like, or a character with our biggest flaw. Everything comes from something else; it’s almost impossible to pluck a character out of thin air without having at least experienced similar traits before.”

What was the hardest character or part to write?

“For A Curse of Thorns, the quiet moments were hard for me to write. I’m very much about action, and even though I think I’m pretty great at dialogue, I can’t have too many quiet moments, otherwise I get bored. Which definitely means my readers are getting bored. But I knew I needed the quiet moments between Belle and Bastian, and I also know that there could’ve been more of them.”

A Curse of Thorns draws inspiration from Beauty and the Beast. What drew you to that story? What are some challenges and advantages to writing fairy tale re-imaginings?

“I’ve always loved fairytale retellings, and that undoubtedly stems from my love for Disney movies really early on in life. The animated Beauty and the Beast is still one of my favorite movies to this day, and is one of the bigger inspirations for this book. But I also wanted to pull things from the original story too, because even though it’s not the worst of the fairytales, it certainly has its moments. I wanted to keep the whimsy and romance of the Disney version, but inject some of the grit and hopelessness of the original story.”

Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?

“Oh, hero, FOR SURE. And these days, I feel like this is an unpopular answer. I grew up loving the unexpected heroes forced into the job: Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, Geralt of Rivia, etc. I actually don’t like writing villains, though I know I have to give them substance and purpose, otherwise it’s not as satisfying when the hero defeats them. Call me old-fashioned, but I love the complicated hero journey far more than the fall from or rise to villainy.”

What do you do to “get in the zone”?

“I go into another room, put on headphones, and listen to appropriate music, which is usually movie scores. For A Curse of Thorns, I listened a little to the soundtrack from Pride & Prejudice (2003), the song where the Beast transforms into Prince Adam on repeat, and some of the orchestral songs from the live-action BatB when it came out. For my current WIP, I listen to the Lord of the Rings trilogy soundtrack on repeat. And for a shiny new idea I have, I’ve been listening to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Mummy Returns.”

Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)

“Okay, I AM going to be super lame and say my current WIP (tentatively titled The Darkling Sea), because I’ve worked on it really hard this year and I think it’s finally ready for querying agents! I started researching for it when I was 18/19 (for reference, I’ll be 30 this coming January), and I think this might be the first time it has true potential to be traditionally published! Also, I have too many favorites to just pick one! But if I had to pick a favorite author of all time, it’d be Ray Bradbury.”

Thank you so much, Nicole! You can find her book on Amazon.

Author Bio:

I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, finding my passion for reading in the Harry Potter books, and then later my love for young adult in the Twilight saga and The Mortal Instruments series. My first novel, A Curse of Thorns, is a self-published YA Beauty and the Beast retelling that takes place in an alternate past of France. I have also had a couple of short stories published: the first, called “Of Scales and Sorrow”, was published as part of a showcase on an author’s website, and the second was selected by YA author Megan Shepherd to be published in a collection, the Beastie Tales (mine is called “Brother of the Monster”). I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in English, and live in Southern California with my husband and our dog Luna.

Prelude for Lost Souls by Helene Dunbar

In the town of St. Hilaire, most make their living by talking to the dead. In the summer, the town gates open to tourists seeking answers while all activity is controlled by The Guild, a sinister ruling body that sees everything.

Dec Hampton has lived there his entire life, but ever since his parents died, he’s been done with it. He knows he has to leave before anyone has a chance to stop him.

His best friend Russ won’t be surprised when Dec leaves-but he will be heartbroken. Russ is a good medium, maybe even a great one. He’s made sacrifices for his gift and will do whatever he can to gain entry to The Guild, even embracing dark forces and contacting the most elusive ghost in town.

But when the train of Annie Krylova, the paino prodigy whose music has been Dec’s main source of solace, breaks down outside of town, it sets off an unexpected chain of events. And in St. Hilaire, there are no such things as coincidences. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

I am not entirely sure why, but this book just wasn’t my bag. I just couldn’t get into it at all. It could be the way it’s told. It switches back and forth between multiple narrators, which normally doesn’t bother me all that much. In this case, though, I really didn’t care at all about two of the characters, so their chapters didn’t keep me engaged.

The idea of a town with sort of a cult feel to it has loads of potential. You could take it in a dark direction, or just keep it fun. However, despite being mentioned very early on, The Guild (which basically runs the town) didn’t really make its presence known in a way that lived up to the reputation the author had created for it. I was just expecting more.

I thought Russ was a fascinating character. The lengths he was willing to go to in order to be the best…zoinks, yo! I didn’t really understand his friendship with Dec, possibly because it was already falling apart when the book started. He and Dec wanted fundamentally different things, and they struggled to accept that. It was kind of a bummer, but it definitely added to the story.

Dec and Annie just weren’t all that interesting. Annie, unfortunately, didn’t seem to add all that much to the narrative. I really can’t put my finger on why I wasn’t a big fan of Dec. I should have liked him and I have no idea why I was less than thrilled by the chapters he narrated. That just happens sometimes.

As I write this, I realize this is a pretty negative review, so let me hasten to add: I didn’t hate the book. The plot is unique, there is a ton of potential for the continuing story, and Russ was a complicated character (I love complicated characters!). When it comes right down to it, this wasn’t the right book for me. Everything that felt a little off to me might be exactly what would make someone else absolutely love this book.



Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards, #1) by Janella Angeles

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available for purchase on August 25th.

I was interested in this book because a review said that fans of The Night Circus would love it. I must say, I have no idea why the review said that, since the two books are so incredibly different. However, I still found this book to be incredibly enjoyable.

Kallia is a very powerful magician. When the book opens, she works for the enigmatic Jack (also known as The Master) in a club known as Hell House. She lives on his estate, a pampered but lonely existence. Kallia dreams of leaving and travelling to the city of Glorian. When she sees a flyer advertising a competition for magicians she seizes her chance, despite Jack’s warnings against leaving.

Kallia is the only female in the competition, and it is clear from the beginning that she is not wanted. She expected that, though, and it doesn’t stop her. In fact, it makes her even more determined to make her mark. Strange doings start and what began as a competition turns into something far deadlier.

What makes this book stand out are the fantastic characters. On top of Kallia, there’s Canary, a fire eater; Aaros, a thief-turned-magician’s assistant; and Demarco, a judge from the competition who’s hiding something. And, of course, there’s Jack. I didn’t love Kallia because she’s so convinced that everyone is against her, even the people who are in her corner. She’s very prickly. However, it made her incredibly interesting. The other characters were all very well-developed. Jack is my favorite. He’s such a mystery. There’s obviously more to him than is revealed in this book, and I can’t wait to see where his story-line goes.

The magic itself was very interesting, kind of a combination between stage tricks and the real thing. Author Janella Angeles gave each character their own artistic flare, so things were constantly surprising and intriguing me.

This book ends on a cliff hanger, leaving me desperate to see what happens next. I loved it. The stakes were raised and there are loose ends waiting to be tied up. If the sequel continues in the vein of this book, it’s going to be a doozy.

This book was a blast. I highly recommend it.

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

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The task is simple: Don a disguise. Survive the labyrinth . . . Best the boys.

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port have received a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. The poorer residents look to see if their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women train in wifely duties and men pursue collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone is ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the deadly maze.

Welcome to the labyrinth. (taken from Amazon)

An ode to strong females (and cadavers), I loved this book more in concept than reality. I blame myself: it was probably not the best time to read a book involving a mysterious deadly illness. However, while there were some things that just didn’t work for me, there were several things that did.

Rhen was an interesting character. She was intelligent and strong-willed. I liked that she was knowledgeable in medical areas. She did have a “I’m smarter than you” attitude toward other people that I found annoying (even if it was true). Her inner dialogue also often felt like a political speech. Unfortunately, Rhen often seemed more like a viewpoint than a person. I loved her best friend, Seleni, though. Seleni was a well-rounded character. She liked all things feminine, looked forward to getting married and raising a family – and still kicked butt. A person can be both “domestic” and hardcore, and it was refreshing to see that in a book.

I have to mention that Rhen had two loving parents. Two! No Disney widow/widower nonsense, thank you very much. I really liked that as well. That’s not something often found in YA fantasy, so kudos to the author for that.

Of course, there was the romance angle. Blah. I was not a huge fan of the whole love-triangle thing between Rhen and her two fellas. I am old and crotchety and just don’t have much interest in any of that. Thankfully, while it was distracting, it was not the entirety of the book.

Something that surprised me about the book was how long the set up was. The story is supposed to follow the competition, but a good chunk of it took place before the labyrinth. By the time the competition part started, I had kind of forgotten the point. In fact, I was a little bit bummed over how mysterious it…wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the potential was there, it just didn’t quite deliver.

I was also a little confused as to why Rhen pretended to be male. The loophole that she discovered which allowed her to enter the competition made it so the deception was completely unnecessary. If someone can answer that one for me, please do because I feel like I just missed that part of the explanation.

Basically, this is my long winded way of saying that I liked the book but am not over the moon about it. What about you? Have you read it?

Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall- The Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour

EYibC4aWoAIlHxyMagic. Sailing. A murderer among heroes.Gravedigger Volke Savan wants nothing more than to be like his hero, the legendary magical swashbuckler, Gregory Ruma. First he needs to become an arcanist, someone capable of wielding magic, which requires bonding with a mythical creature. And he’ll take anything—a pegasus, a griffin, a ravenous hydra—maybe even a leviathan, like Ruma.So when Volke stumbles across a knightmare, a creature made of shadow and terror, he has no reservations. But the knightmare knows a terrible secret: Ruma is a murderer out to spread corrupted magic throughout their island nation. He’s already killed a population of phoenixes and he intends to kill even more.In order to protect his home, his adopted sister, and the girl he admires from afar, Volke will need to confront his hero, the Master Arcanist Gregory Ruma.A fast-paced fantasy with magical creatures for those who enjoy the Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera series) by Jim Butcher, Unsouled (Cradle Series) by Will Wight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Also, thank you to The Write Reads for allowing me to join the book tour. This book is available now.Every once in a while a book comes along that reminds me why I love the fantasy genre so much. I’m happy to say, this is one such book. So, brace yourself: I’m about to wax enthusiastic. Let me just roll up my sleeves, crack my knuckles, and…here we go!As many great stories do, this starts with a youth who wants more. Volke is a gravedigger, but he wants to become an arcanist, leave his small island home, and travel the world. He wants to be a hero. An arcanist is someone who has a magical bind with a fantastical creature which allows the arcanist magical powers that correspond to the creature’s magic.When Volke gets his dream, it doesn’t quite go as planned. It turns out that the person he’s looked up to his entire life might just be a murderer. And Volke needs to stop him.I found Volke to be an interesting character. On the one hand, I loved his determination and desire to be a hero. On the other, he could throw a rocking pity party. It made him extremely believable and, surprisingly, still likable. I have to say, though, my favorite character was a certain drunk mentor who stole every scene he was in.One thing I enjoy about the fantasy genre is the opportunity to be creative. There’s no limits to what is allowed when creating a fantasy world, and author Stovall took advantage of that. The world is remarkable. The sheer amount of thought put into the history and customs are astonishing.And the creatures! White harts, phoenixes, harpies, and more! You’d think having such a huge variety of creatures would feel like too much, but it’s quite the opposite. Each has its place and function in the story. I was a huge fan of the scenes involving the white hart in particular because it was such an original way of using that fantastical creature.The book never lagged, and no character was superfluous. I was able to sit back and enjoy the confidence with which Stovall wrote. I love being able to disappear into a fantasy world for a while!So? Who should read this book? Everyone. Enjoy!
Shami Stovall is a multi-award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction, with several best-selling novels under her belt. Before that, she taught history and criminal law at the college level, and loved every second. When she’s not reading fascinating articles and books about ancient China or the Byzantine Empire, Stovall can be found playing way too many video games, especially RPGs and tactics simulators.

If you want to contact her, you can do so at the following:Website: https//sastovallauthor.com
Twitter: https//twitter.com/GameOverStation/
Facebook: https//www.facebook.com/SAStovall/
Email: s.adelle.s@gmail.com

Venators: Promises Forged- The Write Reads Blog Tour

Venators Promises Forged

It has been mere days in the world of Eon, where Rune Jenkins, her twin brother Ryker, and their friend Grey have been trapped, fighting for their lives. After discovering the truth of their ancestry, the three are far from home, and far from anything resembling their mundane lives of the past.

While Ryker is still held captive by the eerily beautiful Zio and her goblins, Grey falls into the clutches of Feena, the Fae queen. She begins to drain his soul bit by bit to feed her dark underground garden, and Grey has no hope of escaping on his own.

It is now up to Rune to save Grey, as his precious time slips away inexorably. But the Council has denied her permission to embark on a rescue mission, until she can harness her Venator gifts and prove herself capable of venturing into the Fae queen’s territory. As Rune discovers that promises in Eon are forged with life-or-death consequences, she realizes that she must act quickly, or else be swallowed and Grey along with her by the dangers of Eon. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author and Dave at the Write Reads for a copy of this book and for including me in the blog tour. This book is available now.

This book is the sequel to Venators: Magic Unleashed. I’ve done my absolute best to keep this review spoiler-free.

This book is full of action, a sweeping fantasy world, and a surprising amount of character development. The author continues to make her world bigger, and more detailed as the series continues on. I’m used to seeing vampires and werewolves or dragons and warriors or fey creatures in a fantasy book: this series has all of them, and more. Author Devri Walls manages to make this enormous world unfold naturally. She has different cultures, mythologies, and histories all fully formed. It’s pretty cool.

The characters were a little confusing at times. Rune was often fun (and I can relate to getting hangry), but her relationship with Grey was just…odd. I couldn’t get a handle on Grey, but he was going through a lot emotionally, so maybe that’s why. The side characters were all interesting, especially Beltran.

I found this book to be enjoyable. If you like fast-moving fantasy with a slight hint of romance (slight enough that this romance-hating reader wasn’t annoyed), then this series is for you.

Have you read this? What did you think?

 

Catalyst by Tracy Richardson- The Write Reads Blog Tour

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Marcie Horton has a sixth sense. Not in the “I see dead people” way, but . . . well, maybe a little. She feels a sort of knowing about certain things that can’t be explained—an intuition that goes beyond the normal. Then there was that one summer four years ago, when she connected with a long-departed spirit . . . But nothing that incredible has happened to Marcie since. This summer, Marcie is spending time working at Angel Mounds, the archeological dig her mother heads, along with her brother, Eric, and his girlfriend, Renee. The dig is the site of an ancient indigenous civilization, and things immediately shift into the paranormal when Marcie and her teammates meet Lorraine and Zeke. The two mysterious dig assistants reveal their abilities to access the Universal Energy Field with their minds—something Marcie knows only vaguely that her brother has also had experience with. Marcie learns how our planet will disintegrate if action is not taken, and she and her team must decide if they are brave enough to help Lorraine and Zeke in their plan to save Mother Earth, her resources, and her history. It looks like the summer just got a lot more interesting. (taken from Amazon)

As always, a huge thank you to The Write Reads on Tour for allowing me to join in the reading fun. I was provided with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This book was different. Really, really different. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. This is a book written from a place of concern, and full of big ideas. It sent a strong message, never watering it down. It’s not what I expected in a fantasy book, but I respect the author for using this medium to tackle real life issues (well, with an added fantasy bent, of course).

There were some issues with the pacing for me. It felt like things moved too fast in some parts, but really slowly in others. I couldn’t ever feel a rhythm to the story, if that makes sense. Life happens in fits and bursts, but it made to awkward reading at times.

The characters were creative, and I can say with complete honesty that I have never read a book like this.

About the Author
TRACY RICHARDSON wasn’t always a writer, but she was always a reader. Her favorite book
growing up was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. In a weird way that book has even shaped
her life through odd synchronicities. She has a 20200529_213834
degree in biology like Mrs. Murry, and, without
realizing it, she named her children Alex and Katie
after Meg’s parents.
Tracy uses her science background in her writing
through her emphasis on environmental issues,
metaphysics, and science fiction. When she’s not
writing, you’ll find her doing any number of creative
activities — painting furniture, knitting sweaters, or
cooking something. She lives in Indianapolis, and,
in case you’re wondering, yes, she’s been to the
Indianapolis 500.

 

The Deck of Omens by Christine Lynn Herman

The Deck of Omens by Christine Lynn Herman

Though the Beast is seemingly subdued for now, a new threat lurks in Four Paths: a corruption seeping from the Gray into the forest. And with the other Founders preoccupied by their tangled alliances and fraying relationships, only May Hawthorne seems to realize the danger. But saving the town she loves means seeking aid from the person her family despises most — her father, Ezra Bishop.
May’s father isn’t the only newcomer in town–Isaac Sullivan’s older brother has also returned, seeking forgiveness for the role he played in Isaac’s troubled past. But Isaac isn’t ready to let go of his family’s history, especially when that history might hold the key that he and Violet Saunders need to destroy the Gray and the monster within it.
Harper Carlisle isn’t ready to forgive, either. Two devastating betrayals have left her isolated from her family and uncertain who to trust. As the corruption becomes impossible to ignore, Harper must learn to control her newfound powers in order to protect Four Paths. But the only people who can help her do that are the ones who have hurt her the most.

With the veil between the Gray and the town growing ever thinner, the Founder descendants must put their grievances with one another aside to stop the corruption and kill the Beast once and for all. But the monster they truly need to slay may never been the Beast…(taken from Amazon)
This is the sequel to The Devouring Gray, which means there might be some unintentional spoilers for that book in this review. If you haven’t read The Devouring Gray, you can find my review here.

After somehow managing to survive the events in The Devouring Gray, the four children of the founding families have splintered into separate factions. Too many betrayals have left them wondering who- if anyone- they can trust. But then May realizes that something is seriously, life- threateningly wrong with the Gray, and suddenly the teens are given a choice: die alone or work together to hopefully survive.
Take the Upside Down from Stranger Things, plunk it square in the middle of Riverdale, and you’ve got the setting for this book. I don’t know which part was more intriguing: the beast in the Gray, or the absolutely messed-up nepotism and privilege given to the descendants of the founding families. Just when you think all the skeletons in the closets have been found, something else jumps out.
I really enjoyed the tangles of storyline. There was a bit of a mystery surrounding the origin of the corruption escaping the Gray, which I really enjoyed. Watching as the teens picked apart the secrets surrounding their families to discover truths that had been thoroughly buried was fascinating.
The previous book focused a lot on Violet and Justin. While they were still a big part of this book, May and Isaac took center stage this time. I liked that the author took time to develop all of the characters, giving each one a specific and unique hurdle. Violet was the window into the town in the last book, so to speak. She was the impetus that brought the weird favoritism to light. May was the one tasked with ending things in this book. Once you read why, it makes perfect sense.
I loved the way the beast from the Gray was described, but it was the freaky trees that had human hair growing out of them that got my gag reflex working overtime. Odd fact about me: any hair not attached to my head grosses me out. Needless to say, those trees are definitely on my “nastiest creations found in literature” list. Blech! I can’t deny that the author’s descriptions were very effective.
This duology is a blast to read and I’ll be on the lookout for more by this author.

Women in Fantasy: the good, the bad, and the hardcore

Wyrd and Wonder - celebrate the fantastic

image credit: Sujono Sujono

I’m so excited to be participating in #WyrdandWonder this year! It’s a month-long celebration of fantasy, which of course I’m down for. While I appreciate and enjoy many different genres, fantasy will always be my favorite.

When people think of fantasy, they sometimes think of the “damsel in distress.” Luckily, there are many other women in fantasy: smart, capable, and epic. Here are some fabulous females in fantasy (how’s that for alliteration?):

The Good:
Echo from Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer-

This book is loosely based on the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Echo is an interesting character. She’s very brave, not only sacrificing her freedom for a wolf, but undertaking a harrowing journey to fix a (rather horrendous) mistake. She’s definitely flawed, but that makes her character utterly believable.

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf―the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: if she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books- turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever. (taken from Amazon)
Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons (The Enchanted Forest #1) by Patricia C. Wrede

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is the perfect series for younger readers who are just dipping their toes into fantasy. Cimorene is a no-nonsense princess who actually volunteers to be a dragon’s princess. She’s intelligent and resourceful. She also appreciates the many uses for soapy water. Who needs a sword to defeat the big bad?

Take one bored princess. Make her the seventh daughter in a very proper royal family. Have her run away.

Add one powerful, fascinating, dangerous dragon.

Princess Cimerone has never met anyone (or anything) like the dragon Kazul. But then, she’s never met a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird or a stone prince either.

Princess Cimerone ran away to find some excitement.

She’s found plenty. (taken from Amazon)
Marea from Feathertide by Beth Cartwright (book available in July)

This book doesn’t have magical battles or daring swordfights. It’s entirely character-driven and each person in the book is amazing! Marea is the most three-dimensional character I’ve read in a very long time. I felt everything she did, and watching her change and come into her own was a joy.

Born covered in the feathers of a bird, and kept hidden in a crumbling house full of secrets, Marea has always known she was different, but never known why. And so to find answers, she goes in search of the father she has never met.

The hunt leads her to the City of Murmurs, a place of mermaids and mystery, where jars of swirling mist are carried through the streets by the broken-hearted.

And Mara will never forget what she learns there. (taken from penguin.co)

The Bad (because everyone loves a good villain):
Kitiara from The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’re probably not even remotely surprised that I’ve included Dragonlance in my post. When I think of good (bad?) villains, Kitiara is one of the first to come to mind. She is strong, cunning, and ambitious. Commander of armies, rider of dragons, ally of death knights, Kitiara is the perfect adversary.

Lifelong friends, they went their separate ways. Now they are together again, though each holds secrets from the others in his heart. They speak of a world shadowed with rumors of war. They speak of tales of strange monsters, creatures of myth, creatures of legend. They do not speak of their secrets. Not then. Not until a chance encounter with a beautiful, sorrowful woman, who bears a magical crystal staff, draws the companions deeper into the shadows, forever changing their lives and shaping the fate of the world.

No one expected them to be heroes.

Least of all, them. (taken from Amazon)
Dolores Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling

Bellatrix Lestrange is a demented zealot, who is perfectly happy using violence to serve Lord Voldemort. There’s not a ton to her character (don’t hate me, Potter fans!), but she’s fun to read.
Dolores Umbridge is absolutely horrible. She’s worse than Voldemort, in my opinion. What makes her character so chilling to read is that most of us know (or know of) someone like her. Someone who is so convinced they’re right that they feel justified doing whatever they deem “necessary” to accomplish a goal.

Dark times have come to Hogwarts. After the Dementors’ attack on his cousin Dudley, Harry Potter knows that Voldemort will stop at nothing to find him. There are many who deny the Dark Lord’s return, but Harry is not alone: a secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to fight against the dark forces. Harry must allow Professor Snape to teach him how to protect himself from Voldemort’s savage assaults on his mind. But they are growing stronger by the day and Harry is running out of time….(taken from Amazon)
The White Witch from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis

By now it’s pretty much universally accepted that the White Witch is a representation of Satan. She’s utterly ruthless, even willing to kill children (spoiler alert: she fails at that). She’s C.S. Lewis’ version of the epitome of evil.

The Hardcore:
Cura from Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Cura is an inkwitch, meaning the monsters tattooed on her body come to life. She wields them as weapons, which is majorly hardcore. Many of her battles, however, are fought with her own past.

Live fast, die young.

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side. (taken from Amazon)
Katharine from the Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake:

Technically, any female from that series would easily fit in this category. They’re all strong in their own unique ways. Katharine, however, is majorly hardcore. She has no immunity to the poisons she’s supposed to be able to control, yet she uses them against herself over and over in an attempt to master them. She is betrayed by one she trusts, but she doesn’t let that break her. She’s been brought up knowing that she’ll probably be killed by one of her own sisters, but she’s not going down without a fight. Love her or hate her, no one can deny her inner strength.
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn 16, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown. (taken from Amazon)
Inej from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of the kick butt females in Six of Crows. Inej happens to be my favorite. She’s indomitable; she gets knocked around (Leigh Bardugo isn’t nice to her characters), but she never gives up. Plus, her acrobatic and spy skills allow her character to do some incredibly cool things.

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

A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first. (taken from Amazon)

What say you, fantasy readers? What are some of your favorite females?

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

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Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why. (taken from Amazon)

Here’s what I thought the book was going to be: an old, misunderstood woman rescues a boy and nurses him back to health. As she does so, she comes to care for him as a son, leading her to try to solve the mystery of what happened the night he went missing. I was WAY off. This is about two teens who have one of those “instant connections.” You know – the kind where they both think they’re destined to be together forever, despite not knowing anything about each other. Oh – and ignoring the fact that there’s a possibility that one of them is a murderer. So, you know. It’s your usual boy-meets-girl – meets weirdness story.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know this sort of book is not my thing. It’s on me; I completely misunderstood the plot when I bought this book. I’m going to do my best to proceed as though this is something I’d normally read, and review it accordingly. Please bear with me and wish me luck!

Firstly, let me say that Shea Ernshaw did an excellent job of describing not only the setting, but the feel of the story. It takes place in an isolated, snowed-in area, near a forest that’s known to be haunted. There’s a boys’ camp across the lake, but that’s it. It was very well communicated that if anything were to happen, the few people up there would have to fend for themselves. It’s an interesting way to raise the stakes and one that she put to good use here.

The characters, while not what I expected, were likable. Oliver, in particular, was a fascinating character. He started out with a spotty memory, which turned into secrets as he slowly began to piece things together. I liked that he was an unreliable character. He clearly couldn’t be trusted but the question is: are his secrets harmless?

The story itself was just okay. I knew each twist before it happened, and the ending was a bit of a letdown for me. I’m not a huge fan of the deus ex machina trope (is that a trope?), and it just didn’t work for me. However, I have a feeling that I’ll be in the minority on this opinion. If you like stories where something random happens to suddenly save the day, this one’ll be right up your alley.

Over all, if you’re into supernatural mysteries with more than a hint of romance, this book will be one for you. It’s not my thing, but it’s a skillfully told representative of that type of story.