When Night Breaks (Kingdom of Cards 2) by Janella Angeles

The competition has come to a disastrous end, and Daron Demarco’s fall from grace is front-page news. But little matters to him beyond Kallia, the contestant he fell for who is now missing and in the hands of a dangerous magician. Daron is willing to do whatever it takes to find her. Even if it means unearthing secrets that lead him on a treacherous journey, risking more than his life and with no promise of return.

After falling through the mirror, Kallia has never felt more lost, mourning everything she left behind and the boy she can’t seem to forget. Only Jack, the magician who has all the answers but can’t be trusted, remains at her side. Together, they must navigate a dazzling world where mirrors show memories and illusions shadow every corner, ruled by a powerful showman who’s been waiting for Kallia to finally cross his stage. But beneath the glamour of dueling headliners and never-ending revelry, a sinister force falls like night over everyone, with the dark promise of more―more power beyond Kallia’s wildest imagination, and at a devastating cost.

The truth will come out, a kingdom must fall, hearts will collide.

And the show must finally come to an end. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. When Night Breaks is available now. This is the second book in the duology. You can find my review for book one, Where Dreams Descend, here.

When Night Breaks was not the exciting ending to the Kingdom of Cards duology that I was hoping for. It continues on right where book one leaves off, which should have made the story easy to fall into, but instead it felt a little lackluster. There was more magic, more twists, more glitter…but there didn’t seem to really be purpose or reason to it.

Kallia finds herself in a situation that is dangerous and darker than we see in book one, which should have led to some character development. I’ll be honest: I didn’t love her in Where Dreams Descend, but she was prickly in an interesting way. Unfortunately, she seemed to have lost her self-confidence, instead retreating into herself in a way that wasn’t just counter to who she was in the previous installment, but also a little uninteresting. I appreciated her independent nature in book one and was a little bummed to see less of that. However, there was more of Jack who continued to be fascinating and dynamic. I’m a big fan of morally complex characters and he definitely fit the bill.

The other characters that I enjoyed in Where Dreams Descend didn’t really keep me enthralled this time around. It could be that they all worked better when they were able to interact with each other. Or maybe the situations they were in didn’t play to their flaws or strengths in a way that kept them interesting. I am not sure, but something just didn’t click for me. That being said, there were a couple of additions that I really enjoyed.

The world was cool, and I enjoyed seeing more of its hazy debauchery. Everything was overtly glamorous, with a hint of something off underneath, which was fantastic. I loved the feelings and images that were brought out in the world descriptions. That was the strength of this book. Sometimes a book’s worldbuilding suffers in the second installment, but here it continued to grow and amaze. At the end of the day, though, When Night Breaks felt a little disorganized. The author is obviously talented, but this book just didn’t quite pan out for me.

The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games ended with a bombshell, and now heiress Avery Grambs has to pick up the pieces and find the man who might hold the answers to all of her questions—including why Tobias Hawthorne left his entire fortune to Avery, a virtual stranger, rather than to his own daughters or grandsons. 

Thanks to a DNA test, Avery knows that she’s not a Hawthorne by blood, but clues pile up hinting at a deeper connection to the family than she had ever imagined. As the mystery grows and the plot thickens, Grayson and Jameson, two of the enigmatic and magnetic Hawthorne grandsons, continue to pull Avery in different directions. And there are threats lurking around every corner, as adversaries emerge who will stop at nothing to see Avery out of the picture—by any means necessary. (taken from Amazon)

The Hawthorne Legacy is a sequel to The Inheritance Games ( you can find my review of that book here) and there are some unavoidable spoilers to book one below. You have been warned!

Ah, where to start with this book? After finding The Inheritance Games to be a rollicking good treasure hunt complete with riddles and double-crossing, The Hawthorne Legacy was left with some pretty big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat for me.

While the spirit of the series was alive and kicking, a good chunk of the book seemed a little disorganized. After solving the riddles and thwarting the plots in book one, Avery is left trying to navigate the newfound “responsibilities” that come with her fortune, while at the same time trying to find Tobias Hawthorne. He seems to have vanished into thin air, leaving very little in the way of how to find him. Meanwhile, there’s a new mystery involving Avery’s mom, and then Avery’s dad shows up…see what I mean about it being a little disorganized? Some of the threads end up tying together while others seem to fade into the background without there ever really being a resolution.

The mystery was not particularly compelling to me, simply because the reveals were often found in letters etc, as opposed to being cleverly puzzled out. The reader wasn’t given all the clues needed to solve the puzzles along with the characters, which was a bummer for me. I love getting the solution and having a “Why didn’t I see that?” moment. I didn’t really get the chance for that here.

That’s not to say The Hawthorne Legacy didn’t have its fun moments. It most definitely did. Avery’s best friend became a larger part of the storyline, which I loved. Her spunk and individuality were a breath of lighthearted fresh air and her interactions with Xander in particular were a lot of fun. She also gave us a window into the thoughts of the other characters, as she would demand details that wouldn’t otherwise have been given. She pushed the story along when it seemed to start to falter.

The relationship complications became more of an issue, which is most definitely not my jam. The love triangle might actually appeal to a lot of readers because it was done in a pretty classy way, considering. It’s just not my thing.

So, what did I think of the mystery? I felt that, while it was creative and led to lots of tense moments, the way it was done changed this book from a mysterious puzzler to a thriller. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it was unexpected. The Inheritance Games had a bit of a Knives Out vibe in my opinion. The Hawthorne Legacy went in a much different direction.

While it ended up not quite being my thing, the book is still well written and the characters are still interesting enigmas. Avery’s best friend Max stole the show, but there were plenty of great moments with the other characters too. We are shown more of the relationship dynamic between the brothers, particularly between Jameson and Grayson, which I thought was fantastic. Even though they are extremely competitive and often work at cross purposes, it was clear they care about each other.

The Inheritance Games is a blast to read and I still recommend it. The Hawthorne Legacy was a bit of a letdown, but I might be in the minority in my final takeaway. I suggest you give it a go yourself and tell me why my opinion is wrong.

Have you read it? What did you think?

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

A dark, twisty modern fairytale where three sisters discover they are not exactly all that they seem and evil things really do go bump in the night.

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home. (taken from Amazon)

House of Hollow is one of those rare books that actually managed to creep me out a little. Oddly enough, it’s technically not a horror novel. Or is it? There are definitely elements of horror and it has a fairy tale feel- and really, what are the original fairy tales if not a little bit horrific?

The book follows three sisters: Grey, Vivi, and Iris (I’m not going to lie: I found their names to be a little bit much). When they were young, they disappeared without a trace, only to be found weeks later with no memories of where they were or what happened to them. That’s scary enough on its own. Add to that the fact that they were changed and the hints of creepiness start to sneak in. Ten years later the unthinkable happens, and one of the sisters disappears again, leaving the other two- Vivi and Iris- to try to figure out where she is and how she got there. To do that, they will need to figure out what really happened to them all those years ago.

Interestingly, House of Hollow starts out seeming like an unsolved mystery that will turn into a thriller. However, what came next completely surprised me. Suddenly, I was thrown into an incredibly eerie story, one that was unsettling and disorienting. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. They threw me off balance and left me wondering whether to cheer them on or hope they failed in their search. This is the sort of book that made me wonder if the main characters were actually the villains. It was delightful.

The descriptions added to the creepy atmosphere of the book and some of the details were seriously messed up. The fact that I didn’t expect the book to go in that direction when I picked it up definitely added to the dark atmosphere.

I didn’t particularly care for the add-on to the ending, mainly because it didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story the author was telling. The rest of House of Hollow was a spooktastic blast, though. This would be a great late-night October read, if you go for unearthly books around Halloween.

The Ascension Machine by Rob Edwards

Welcome to the Justice Academy – the galaxy’s best superhero college! Teen grifter Grey arrives at the school carrying a lie: he isn’t really tech heir Mirabor Gravane. At the first opportunity Grey plans to leave the Academy. That is until he makes the mistake of starting to like his fellow students. The Justice Academy promises to “equip you with the skills to be the hero the galaxy needs” and Grey is beginning to believe the hype. But as he takes more risks to protect his secret, events spiral out of his control. When the real Gravane is kidnapped, Grey and his new friends must come together to mount a rescue and defend a city from an attack by hostile super-powered aliens. If he is to succeed, or even survive, Grey must decide who he is, and does he want to be a superhero? (taken from Amazon)

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

Found family? Check. A unique world? Check. A main character who is incredibly likable? Double check. The Ascension Machine is a fun, creative adventure with surprises galore.

Grey (what is his real name?) is a con-man. Well, a con-teen, anyway. He flits from planet to planet, making it on what he can steal or cheat from others. He’s directionless and lonely, although he won’t admit it. He’s also short on funds. So when he’s approached with a high paying offer- impersonate a wealthy teen named Mirabor Gravane- he doesn’t hesitate. Imagine Grey’s surprise when his mistaken identity lands him in a school for superheroes.

One thing that I really appreciated about Grey was that, deep down, he was a genuinely good kid. Sure, he conned an entire school full of people (and aliens) into believing he’s someone he’s not, but he never intended to hurt anyone and he took advantage of every opportunity he had to be helpful, even at risk to his life expectancy. I loved his story arc. It was never stagnant, and he was never demoted to plot device. Instead, he grew and changed in a way that made perfect sense for his personality and the story.

A book like this needs a great supporting cast, and we’ve got one. While there are several side characters, each very important to the plot, I have two favorites. Gadget Dude had the interesting superpower of being great at creating all kinds of gadgetry-but he sometimes seemed a bit unclear as to what he was creating, or how it actually worked. For me, though, Seventhirtyfour stole the show. His size (and four arms) were only eclipsed by his giant heart and his loyalty. He was always enthusiastic and threw himself wholeheartedly into whatever he was doing, whether it be schoolwork, or taking on a mob racket. I absolutely loved him.

The hijinks the characters got up to were a lot of fun. While the final confrontation was fantastic, I loved the inventive problem-solving involved in earlier escapades. Grey’s talents weren’t necessarily what most people think of when they hear “superhero”, which made him that much more interesting. Plus, they came in very handy on multiple occasions.

There was a bit of a mystery as part of the plotline, which was a lot of fun. I know my oldest will have a great time solving the puzzle alongside the characters. There was also action and adventure aplenty. The action was well-described, and the stakes were high without the book being too gory for its intended audience. The Ascension Machine is intended for the middle-grade/teen age range, I believe, but it’s a ton of fun for any age group. I fully enjoyed reading it and am hopeful that a sequel will be coming.

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli -The Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour

Thank you to the Write Reads for allowing me to take part in the book tour for Kate in Waiting. This book is available now.

What the book is about:

From bestselling YA rom-com queen Becky Albertalli (author of Love, Simon) comes a new novel about daring to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight in love, life and theatre.

[PRINCIPAL CAST LIST]

Kate Garfield
Anderson Walker

Best friends, and contrary to popular belief, not co-dependent. Examples:

Carpooling to and from theatre rehearsals? Environmentally sound and efficient.
Consulting each other on every single life decision? Basic good judgment.
Pining for the same guys from afar? Shared crushes are more fun anyway.

But when Kate and Andy’s latest long-distance crush shows up at their school, everything goes off-script.

Enter Stage Left: Matt Olsson

He is talented and sweet, and Kate likes him. She really likes him. The only problem? So does Anderson.

Turns out, communal crushes aren’t so fun when real feelings are involved. This one might even bring the curtains down on Kate and Anderson’s friendship…

About the author:

Becky Albertalli is the author of the acclaimed novels Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (film: Love, Simon), The Upside of Unrequited, and Leah on the Offbeat. She is also the co-author of What If It’s Us with Adam Silvera. A former clinical psychologist who specialized in working with children and teens, Becky lives with her family in Atlanta. You can visit her online at www.beckyalbertalli.com.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat- Books Set In or Around Water (that I actually like)

I’ve never been a big fan of books that take place in or around water. Books such as Treasure Island, or even The Voyage of the Dawn Treader have never appealed to me. It’s just not my thing. So when I read a book with a watery setting that I actually really enjoy, it sticks with me. Here are a few boatish books that I’ve really liked.

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker (The Tide Child Book One)

A brilliantly imagined saga of honor, glory, and warfare, The Bone Ships is the epic launch of a new series from British Fantasy Award winner, RJ Barker.

*British Fantasy Award for Best Fantasy Novel, winner
 
Two nations at war. One prize beyond compare.
 
For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war.
 
The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.
 
Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favor. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory but the war. (taken from Amazon)

I think my concern with books involving ships is that they will feel small. The opposite is the case with this series. The setting allows for a greater view and understanding of author RJ Barker’s world, which is magnificently developed. Plus, the characters are awesome.

Review of The Bone Ships (The Tide Child Book One)

Review of Call of the Bone Ships (The Tide Child Book Two)

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all.
But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy.
If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. (taken from Amazon)

It’s been a while since I’ve read The Girl From Everywhere, but I remember being impressed by the writing. At what point do you let go of a past sorrow to embrace a present happiness? The choices that Nix has to make encompass themes of family, loss, grief, and acceptance. Oh, and the settings are both familiar and mysterious. It’s quite the balancing act between adventure and the heavier storyline, but author Heidi Heilig managed it beautifully.

The One Kingdom (The Swans’ War Book One) by Sean Russell

The cataclysm began more than a century earlier, when the King of Ayr died before naming an heir to the throne, and damned his realm to chaos. The cold-blooded conspiracies of the Renne and the Wills—each family desirous of the prize of rule—would sunder the one kingdom, and spawn generations of hatred and discord.
Now Toren Renne, leader of his great and troubled house, dreams of peace—a valiant desire that has spawned hostility among his kinsmen, and vicious internal plots against his life. In the opposing domain, Elise Wills’s desire for freedom is to be crushed, as an unwanted marriage to an ambitious and sinister lord looms large. As always, these machinations of nobles are affecting the everyday lives of the common folk—and feeding a bonfire of animosity that has now trapped an unsuspecting young Valeman Tam and two fortune-hunting friends from the North in its high, killing flames.
But the closer Toren comes to achieving his great goal of uniting two enemy houses, the more treachery flowers. Nobles and mystics alike conspire to keep the realm divided, knowing that only in times of strife can their power grow.
And perhaps the source of an unending misery lies before an old king’s passing, beyond the scope of history, somewhere lost in a fog of myth and magic roiling about an ancient enchanter named Wyrr—who bequeathed to his children terrible gifts that would poison their lives…and their deaths. It is a cursed past and malevolent sorcery that truly hold the land, its people, and its would-be rulers bound. And before the already savaged kingdom can become one again, all Ayr will drown in a sea of blood. (taken from Amazon)

A decent chunk of this epic fantasy involves travel on a mysterious river (yep, it’s a river that’s mysterious. It’s a thing, I promise). The things found both in and along the river tugged on my imagination, painting a vivid picture of a unique and creative world. The mythology behind the enchanter Wyrr is flat-out amazing. The Swans’ War is one of my favorite fantasy trilogies, despite (or maybe because of) the water-travel.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

A murder on the high seas. A remarkable detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.
It’s 1634, and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Traveling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent. Among the other guests is Sara Wessel, a noblewoman with a secret.
But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock dies in the night.
And then the passengers hear a terrible voice, whispering to them in the darkness, promising three unholy miracles, followed by a slaughter. First an impossible pursuit. Second an impossible theft. And third an impossible murder.
Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?
With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board. (taken from Amazon)

At this point, I’m pretty sure Stuart Turton could write a novel about cardboard boxes and I would love it. His writing is outstanding and the mystery of The Devil and the Dark Water kept me riveted from beginning to end.

Review of The Devil and the Dark Water

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One) by Andrea Stewart

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people. (taken from Amazon)

I would have to admit that I am sort of cheating on this one, except that this is my post and my rules. So there. Jovis’ storyline, in particular, has a lot to do with ships and such whatnot and he was my favorite character, so it counts. Right? Either way, I’m looking forward to the next part in this interesting series.

Review of The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One)

What about you? How do you feel about books that involve boats or water travel? What are some books that fit the bill that I should read?

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Okay, okay, I admit: I grabbed this book mainly for the cover. It promised mythical, mysterious tales. Plus, it has the pretty illustrations! This book takes place in the world of The Cruel Prince. Reviews for the series: The Cruel Prince/The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing.

Unfortunately, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (referred from here on out to King of Elhame because the full title is bit long) didn’t quite butter my biscuit. Holly Black is a talented author and I think I expected more than what I got.

First of all, it felt a little thrown together. Several of the short stories seemed a bit like scenes that were edited out of the original books. While they were interesting, they didn’t quite seem like full stories to me. Also, any scene involving the sexening and Carden made me dissolve into giggles. He has a tail for crying out loud! Hmm…that might say more about my maturity level than about the book itself. Luckily, I tend to skip sex scenes anyway.

Something that I found interesting (and a little bit of a bummer) was that the stories that were supposed to take place during The Cruel Prince felt a little revisionist. It was really odd because Holly Black wrote with such confidence that I did not expect her to feel the need to change anything. She is a very good writer and I truly hope she knows that.

That being said, I did really enjoy the three stories involving the troll woman. In two of them, she told Carden a different version of the same fairy tale. I liked that they changed based on both Carden’s age and what had been happening in the original series at the time. It showcased Carden’s character development. I won’t ruin anything by talking about the third of the troll woman’s stories. I will just say that I thought it was extremely clever.

The final verdict for me was: the book was not horrible, but it felt unnecessary. However, I am sure that my opinion isn’t the popular one and I would love to hear what you loved about The King of Elfhame and why. Tell me what I missed!

BBNYA Book Blog Tour: The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

In the last city on Earth,
death is just a step into the trees.

In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well.
 
Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside.

But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained.

Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight.

One way or another, the walls of the Blue are going to come down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.(taken from Amazon)

I received The Gilded King to read and review as part of the BBNYA 2020 competition organized by @The_WriteReads. As always, all opinions are my own and honest.

BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors.

If you are an indie author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website (bbnya.com) or our Twitter account, @BBNYA_Official, to learn more. If you would like to sign up to enter your book, you can find the BBNYA 2021 Author Sign Up Form here. Please be sure to read the terms and conditions before entering.

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (with the most gorgeous book editions that I’ve had the pleasure to drool over) and The Write Reads.

The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey did extremely well in BBNYA 2020, and I can see why! Vampires in a post-apocalyptic setting with zombies added in for spice? Definitely new and original.

The Gilded King is told from multiple points of view. Julia happens to be my favorite character. She’s clever, resilient, and doesn’t just accept the status quo. I also thought the way the characters’ relationships grew and developed was interesting.

The vampires were different than many I’ve read. I’m a bit on the fence about them, but I can’t deny the author’s creativity.

The Gilded King would be perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, and readers who like a bit of romance along with their fantasy.

About the author:
Josie is the author of nine self-published novels plus short stories. She is currently working on a range of fantasy and historical fiction projects (both adult and YA), for which she is seeking representation. Ultimately, she hopes to be a hybrid author, both traditionally- and self-published.

After finishing her degree in Literae Humaniores (Classics) at the University of Oxford, Josie wasn’t sure what to do with her life.

She slogged through a brief stint working for an investment bank in London during the 2008 credit crunch, then converted to law and qualified as a solicitor specialising in intellectual property. She worked at a law firm for five years before moving to a UK-based international publisher in 2016. Whilst she loved law, in the end she didn’t love it quite as much as writing, which she now does almost full time.

Josie lives in Oxford with her husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for Josie to wear black, which is largely why she gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, she still misses her old wardrobe.

Find Josie here:
Josie Jaffrey | Author

Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives. (taken from Amazon)

The funny thing about The Hazel Wood (and its sequel) by Melissa Albert is that, for me, the best parts weren’t the main storyline. Nope. The best parts were the undeniably eerie fairy tales come-to-life that bled through into the pages of the books. I told my husband that if a collection of Hinterland tales was every published, I’d be super excited to read it. So, of course I had to snag a copy of Tales from the Hinterland!

These completely original fairy tales were about characters that crossed over from the fictional world into the real one in The Hazel Wood books. And they were as creepy as it gets without descending into full-on horror. Let’s just say that the majority of them did not end well for the “hero”. In fact, most of them didn’t have a hero per se. What they did have was a ton of creativity and a darker tone that sent shivers down the spine.

One thing that stood out to me was that the main characters were all female. There were naïve females, clever ones, even evil ones. But males were always in a supporting role. It was an interesting choice. It didn’t change my enjoyment of the book, either positively or negatively; it was just something I noticed.

Another thing that I really liked was that not a single tale seemed even remotely like an existing fairy tale. There were no Beauty and the Beast retellings, and Little Red Riding Hood didn’t make an appearance. The stories were 100% original. It was refreshing to see entirely new ideas (not that I mind a good fairy tale reimagining).

There wasn’t a single story that felt lesser than or out of place. My main complaint, in fact, is that the tone was similar in several tales. I am not even sure if that should be a complaint: that the stories fit well together. Hmm…something to think about.

There were three stories that stood out to me. One was The Door that Wasn’t There, which was equal parts creepy and sad. It’s about two sisters who were locked in a room to starve and what one of them does to survive (no, there’s no cannibalism. Ew!). The feeling that Melissa Albert created in this story was a little bit gothic and a whole lot of unearthly.

The second story that kept me enthralled was The Mother and the Dagger. This felt like your usual tale told to scare kids into coming home before dark- but with a twist that was uncanny and creeptastic. The way this one was written, like someone is talking to you, stood out from the other stories and drew me in. I loved the ending, which had an abrupt finality to it.

Finally, was Twice-Killed Katherine. That character was one of the bits of fairy tales that showed up in The Hazel Wood, and the one that I found the most intriguing. While the story didn’t go the way I expected, it was nonetheless fascinating and really cool to see the backstory the author had for her. That one also felt different in that what was left unsaid could have been stretched and expanded on to create an entirely separate novel in its own right.

Tales from the Hinterland was by far my favorite book that takes place in the Hazel Wood universe (so to speak), even though it’s not a straight-through narrative. It was eerie and intelligent, and definitely not a book to read alone at night. I wouldn’t necessarily call it horror- maybe horror-adjacent. Either way, it was really stinking good.

A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books – Bards and Magic Users

I thought it would be fun to talk about “classes” in Dungeons and Dragons (and other roleplaying games) and their counterparts in books. A “class” is kind of a set group of skills that is generally used by a specific profession. For example, “fighter class”-boiled down- consists of excelling at some sort of combat.

I put out a call for contributions from the writing community. Both book bloggers and authors answered in a huge way! This post is one of a series because everyone’s contributions were so detailed and genius. You can also check out the posts on fighters and barbarians; paladins, clerics, and druids; and rangers and rogues. Today, I’m digging into the subject of bards and magic users!

Bard: Bards use music and song to either help or hinder. They are often puckish. While they tend to stay more on the sidelines, they are more than capable of holding their own in battle. They do sometimes have some magic spells, but they tend to be illusory as opposed to destructive, and the main focus is on their art.

The Cyberbard shares his thoughts on bards: “Why be the best at everything when you can simply make everyone THINK you are? That seems to be the core of Kvothe, the protagonist of Patrick Rothfuss’s “Kingkiller Chronicles”. A story wrapped in legend, then bespeckled in enigma and mystery… yes, I do believe we have entered Bard country. Kvothe, as a narrator, has been established to be somewhat… unreliable. He embellishes and diminishes in equal parts, all to maximize the artistic value of his tale to the reader. Why let facts get in the way of a ripping tale? The art of story-telling is most certainly the purview of a Bard, and Kvothe is no exception: he is the architect of his own legend. What else defines a classic Bard? Music, for one thing, and Rothfuss (as expressed through Kvothe and other characters) repeatedly reminds the reader that Kvothe is considered one of the great performers/songwriters of his time. Just like a D&D Bard, Kvothe can do just about anything: he can integrate himself convincingly into politics, charm a lock, create masterful artifice, expertly forge documents, and gain mastery over the very elements by speaking their True Names. Importantly, while he can do all these things, there is often someone else who surpasses him in talent for each individual skill. He is a jack of all trades! Did I mention he is also a Monk?
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Yes, Kvothe is a MULTICLASS character! At one point in his career, Kvothe The Arcane sought the teachings of the Adem and earned his place among them (albeit as an outsider). There, he became versed in the way of the Lethani, the path of correct action. While his wild nature clashed with their teachings, he learned much from their disciplined way and became a passable combatant (both open-handed and with a sword). If you are a reader looking to play as Kvothe in your first D&D game, start as a (Variant) Human Bard, and take “Alert” as the feat you have for your race. Max out your Charisma and Dexterity scores, and keep average scores for your Strength and Constitution. Keep your Wisdom on the lower side, no more than average… Kvothe is not known for his decision-making skills. Your intelligence should also be fairly high for his various Knowledge skills! Later, as you gain levels, I suggest taking no more than 2 levels of Monk; Kvothe was an initiate, at best. For those veteran D&D players out there: if you’re a fan of Bards and their shenanigans, give the “Kingkiller Chronicles” a try (starting with “The Name of the Wind”). They’re big books, but you’ll want to take your time with them anyhow to appreciate the beautiful prose.”

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”– Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub has words of her own: I was fortunate to recently read a book with an excellent bard who also so happens to be the narrator of the story. I’m talking about Heloise from The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson. She is in the middle of things (which makes her the perfect one to tell the tale, right?), full of sass, and has a rather high opinion of herself. She’s also a blast to read about and is a perfect example of a bard in a more lighthearted setting.

[Referring to Heloise] “…if not the most well-known bard in Erithea (yet), arguably the most talented, and unarguably the cleverest”– Sean Gibson, The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True

There are a few different types of magic users in Dungeons and Dragons (warlocks, sorcerers, and wizards). While there are distinctions, they can be a little hard to explain. So I’ve decided to refer to magic users here as “traditional” and “non-traditional”. Any annoyance that causes is my fault, and not the fault of any of the contributors. Sorry in advance.

Traditional Magic User: This would be where magic schools, patrons, and spell books lay. Time, effort, and a fair amount of patience are what set traditional magic users apart. These would generally fall in the wizard category. The study and acquisition of magic is constant and demanding, but the payoff can be huge. Think fireballs and lightning bolts.

Behind the Pages has excellent examples of a traditional magic user: “Weak and bullied as a child, Raistlin Majere [from the Dragonlance series] risked his life to claim magic as his own. He spends countless hours memorizing spells from his books, and thirsts for power. Magic is everything to him. Even his own brother’s life does not compare to the need to discover new spells. His body is frail, but his mind is sharp. With a few simple gestures and a handful of components, he can obliterate his foes.”

“I can kill with a single word. I can hurl a ball of fire into the midst of my enemies. I rule a squadron of skeletal warriors, who can destroy by touch alone. I can raise a wall of ice to protect those I serve. The invisible is discernible to my eyes. Ordinary magic spells crumble in my presence.” – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Time of the Twins

“Camellia Beauregard from The Belles series by Dhonielle Clayton. As a Belle Camellia can use her magic to manipulate and form a person into the most beautiful being. The limits of power stem from what her clients can endure, and if she pushes too far she will break them. Trained from birth Camellia knows her limits. But then she begins to dig into the past of the Belles. Where the knowledge of dark deeds lays hidden. And with that knowledge comes power and sacrifice.”

“Don’t be fools. You can’t have both. Who wants love when one can be powerful?”-Dhonielle Clayton, The Belles

Ricardo Victoria weighs in: ” I think that for a modern take on Wizards, Harry Dresden would be the best option. He is smart, resourceful, not a squishy wizard but neither a physical fighter (that’s what Murphy or the Knights of the Cross are for). He would have a wide array of spells, ranging from fireballs to necromancy (remember the T-Rex). He also possesses a large collection of items to store or channel magic, from his staff to his ring, passing by his duster and his blasting rod. As A White Knight of the Sidhe, his Con [constitution] stats get a boost. Due to his high Int [intelligence] and Char [charisma] stats, he has managed to accrued a series of allies, and deal with supernatural beings to help deal with those difficult high-level quests. He also has pickpocketing and lock picking skills, proper of an illusionist as part of his cover.

“The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”-Jim Butcher, Blood Rites (Dresden Files #6)

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub’s thoughts on the matter: I had two examples, but thanks to Behind the Pages’ excellent paragraph on Raistlin, I am left without one (grr!). However, my second example is also a marvelous wizard. I’m talking about Aravia from The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart. Technically, she is a wizard’s apprentice, not a full-blown wizard, but one wouldn’t know it from her skill level. She’s intelligent, dedicated to her magic, and a talented magic user. She gets Horn’s Company out of many a scrape (and into a few of them too).

“Knowledge and its accumulation were the most important things in her life. Knowing that she shared a house with seventy-nine spellbooks that she was forbidden to read was like working in a bakery and being denied the bread.”– Dorian Hart, The Ventifact Colossus

Non-traditional Magic Users: These would be the magic users that literally have magic in the blood. Dragonborn, half-demons, etc. fall smack into this category. So, too, do characters who have made a bargain of some sort to receive their powers. Think: magic users who take shortcuts.

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub weighs in: “Magnus Bane, the delightful self-styled High Warlock of Brooklyn from Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series, is the perfect example of a warlock. He comes by his power through his blood-he’s a half demon. He also has a snarky attitude, and has somehow found himself surrounded by a gaggle of demon-hunting teenagers. Awkward.

“’There’s no need to clarify my finger snap,” said Magnus. “The implication was clear in the snap itself.’”– Cassandra Clare, City of Ashes

Meet the Contributors:

The Cyberbard is a talented blogger who reviews beer and books with equal skill and authority. Check out his blog for the latest on good reads, particularly science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Behind the Pages is an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.