March of the Sequels: A Kingdom for a Stage by Heidi Heilig

Jetta is a wanted criminal. The army wants her for treason against the crown, for the sabotage of Hell’s Court temple, and for the murder of General Legarde. They also want her for the power in her blood―the magic that captures wandering spirits to give life to puppets, to rocks, to paper . . . to weapons. They’re willing to trade the elixir that treats Jetta’s madness for the use of her blood. The rebels want her, too, to help them reclaim their country. Jetta may be the one who can tip the scales in this war.
But Jetta fears using her power will make her too much like Le Trépas, the terrifying and tyrannical necromancer who once held all Chakrana under his thumb―and who is Jetta’s biological father. She’s already raised her brother from the dead, after all. And scared off Leo, the only person who saw her as she truly is. With Le Trépas at large and a clash between the army and the rebels becoming inevitable, Jetta will have to decide if saving her country is worth sacrificing her soul. (Taken from Amazon)

There are spoilers for For a Muse of Fire (first in the series) below. You can find my review for that book here.

**Here Be Spoilers**

       Oh man, I loved this book! From the plot-line to the characters, everything was done well. It was a worthy sequel to For a Muse of Fire.

Jetta is a great character. She’s tough without being cold and emotionless. In fact, her emotions are a big part of what makes her so tough. She has an illness that is most definitely bipolar (as confirmed by the author). I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but books that feature mental illness with consideration and respect automatically get extra points from me. This one in particular means a lot, since I also have bipolar. It is a mental illness that is rarely represented in YA, and even more rarely mentioned in the fantasy genre. Heidi Heilig’s choice to not only feature it in a fantasy, but to show both the positive and negative aspects of it is pretty stinking cool. But I digress.

In this book, Jetta has been offered a medication that will help with her illness, in exchange for the use of her blood by the crown. Whoever uses the blood can bind souls to inanimate objects, essentially animating-and controlling-them. The crown wants to use her power as a weapon against the rebels, who Jetta sympathizes with.

The rebels also want to use Jetta. Meanwhile, she’s afraid to use her power at all, worrying that it will make her like her biological father. He’s a monstrous necromancer, and everyone is afraid of what would happen if he- or another like him- came to power.

Of course, there’s also ye random romantic entanglement with Leo, another rebel. I’m not a huge fan of their relationship because it often came across as an unnecessary distraction from the rest of the plot, but I admittedly don’t like most dramatic bookish relationships.

I liked that Heilig didn’t pull punches. I was justifiably concerned about what would happen to some of the characters in the book. I like when an author gives things a sense of urgency, and she does that very well. I raced through this book, enjoying every moment of it.

I feel like this series is very underrated and deserves way more hype. It’s well-written and fast-paced, with memorable characters and an interesting plot. The mental illness representation just pushes it even higher in my esteem. I highly recommend this book.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

March of the Sequels: The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

During March we are enjoying March of the Sequels, a monthlong challenge issued by Sue’s Musings. Basically, the challenge is to read (and review, if you’re a reviewer) more sequels.

Filled with political intrigue, violent magic, and malevolent spirits, the mesmerizing second book in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia epic fantasy trilogy that started with the award-winning The Queen of Blood.
Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.
Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.
Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.
But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.
Sarah Beth Durst established a place of dark wonder in The Queen of Blood, and now the stakes are even higher as the threat to the Queen and her people grows both from within and beyond the borders of Aratay in this riveting second novel of the Queens of Renthia series. (taken from Amazon)

The Reluctant Queen is available now. It is the sequel to The Queen of Blood, so there will be some slight spoilers for book one which I’ll try to keep as minimal as possible. You can find my review for Queen of Blood here.

The Reluctant Queen is an engrossing addition to the Queens of Renthia trilogy. The story continues in a way that I did not expect, but which makes perfect sense. Daleina has some disturbing news: she’s dying. As queen, she alone has the power to command the spirits that inhabit the land, to keep them from destroying everyone in Renthia. Without a queen, the lives of each human are forfeit. Daleina sends her champions (think King Arthur’s knights) to hopefully find and train an heir-because time is running out.

Here’s where things get complicated: Ven, the champion that trained Daleina, does find a candidate- one who is more powerful than anyone he’s ever seen. Naelin, who hides this power, is a mother focused on raising two healthy, happy children. She has no interest in traipsing off to be trained to use her power, and she definitely doesn’t want to become a queen. However, she might not have a choice: other candidates are mysteriously dying and things aren’t necessarily what they seem.

Being a mom myself, I loved Naelin. She knew where her priorities were and she made no bones about it. I felt horrible for her when she realized that the only way to protect her kids was to learn to protect everyone. Naelin’s kids were her whole world, and it was gut-wrenching when they were in danger as a direct result of her power.

This book moved a little more slowly during the first half, but it was never boring. The character development was fantastic. I loved getting to know more about Champion Ven, who grew in leaps and bounds between book one and the end of book two. There was an entirely new facet of his character revealed that added an extra layer of humanity to the plotline.

Sometimes in fantasy books, child characters are either incredibly annoying, or incredibly one dimensional. Neither of those things happened here. The children were fully developed characters, and they definitely contributed to the story.

The second half of the book ramped up until it became a breath-taking confrontation. I honestly didn’t know how things would end up and I loved every nail-biting moment. Once again, author Sarah Beth Durst showed incredible creativity in both her spirits and how they interacted and fought. Add in political intrigue, an epic battle, and some major backstabbing, and it’s safe to say that The Reluctant Queen has become one of my new favorite fantasies. This is a fantastic series for both fantasy veterans, and those who are just dipping their toes into this wonderful genre. I highly recommend it.

Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell

A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this “twisty, atmospheric story that grips readers like a siren song” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike. (taken from Amazon)

Have you ever found a book nestled on your shelf, almost hiding, that you have no memory of acquiring? This recently happened with Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell. I was looking for a palate cleanser after reading a heavy (but extremely good) book.

The book follows Moira, who lives in a quiet little island town that also happens to be the gathering place of sirens. Everyone knows they’re dangerous, and have been known to kill people, but Moira has a fascination with them.

When a boy is found mangled and dead, and the sirens blamed, Moira is suspicious and thinks that maybe they are not to blame. She and her childhood friend, Jude, decide to try to find and stop a killer- if there is one.

There were some things about Songs from the Deep that didn’t quite work for me, but there were also some things that I thought were well done. First of all, the inclusion of sirens in a book is always intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed here. Ostensibly about whether they were involved in the murder or not, they were nonetheless not the main focus of the plot. I really liked that they were a backdrop surrounding the characters of Moira and Jude. I also enjoyed the combination of the fantastical with the ordinary. It reminded me of Twin Peaks in that the bizarre butted right up against the everyday, and everyone was just sort of fine with it. Although, this has nothing on Twin Peaks’ bizarre-o-meter.

While I liked that the sirens were a background to the relationships between the characters, I struggled to buy that relationship. Everything felt a little jilted and rushed to me. Even at the beginning, when Moira has a bitter assumption about her mom not caring, I couldn’t understand why she would think that. And the way a “secret” was hinted at from the beginning, instead of piquing my interest, just annoyed me. I felt like the mentions of it every couple of pages (toward the beginning) were rather shoehorned in. I think these issues were all just a product of Songs from the Deep being Powell’s debut novel.

It is clear that she is a talented writer, and I am sure that both the pacing and how things are revealed will become less of an issue in subsequent books. At the end of the day, Songs from the Deep wasn’t for me, but will be enjoyed by many people.

All of Us Villains by Amana Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.

Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death.

The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world―one thought long depleted.

But this year a salacious tell-all book has exposed the tournament and thrust the seven new champions into the worldwide spotlight. The book also granted them valuable information previous champions never had―insight into the other families’ strategies, secrets, and weaknesses. And most important, it gave them a choice: accept their fate or rewrite their legacy.

Either way, this is a story that must be penned in blood. (taken from Amazon)

All of Us Villains is The Hunger Games for goths, with a hint of Needful Things thrown in for good measure. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was definitely not expecting the sometimes brutal exploration of what humans are willing to do to survive.

I have read and enjoyed Christine Lynne Herman’s The Devouring Gray, and I am a fan of books that twist norms, so All of Us Villains intrigued me from the get-go. In a world where magick exists, the book follows seven teens who are thrown into a competition where there will be only one survivor (the Hunger Games vibes are strong here). However, these seven will be fighting for their family’s control over powerful magick.

The concept of a battle to the death over control of a powerful magic source is an interesting one, and the book is just different enough to distinguish itself from The Hunger Games. Another difference between the two books are the multiple points of view that add different layers to the book. The characters all added something new which really helped flesh out the world.

Briony considered herself the perfect champion, and is one of the few characters who actually wanted to be in the competition. She isn’t necessarily blood-thirsty, she is just supremely confident in her ability to win. Of course, there’s a hiccup (no spoilers given, I promise) that changes things completely, leaving her with different choices to make, and many questions that need answering.

There’s Isobel, who didn’t want to be in the competition and is understandably terrified. She is also rather annoying. I can’t put my finger on why she bothered me, but she did. Possibly because she felt a little less fully developed than some of the other characters. Or maybe it’s that her whole budding romance with another champion seemed really odd (Now? While you’re all busy trying not to die?) What do I know, though? I’ve never been in a battle to the death; maybe that’s the best time to go looking for romance. However, she was an odd combination of ruthlessness and selflessness, which was definitely fascinating.

Gavin was easily the “villain” of the villains. He has something to prove and will do just about anything to prove it. I liked that his desperation led to an interaction that allowed one of my favorite characters to develop a little. The fallout from some of his choices also caused things to change in unexpected ways, which I really enjoyed.

Then there’s Alistair, one of my two favorite characters. He’s the one expected to win; powerful, with a dark reputation, he was so much fun to read about! Instead of being a stereotypical villain, he is actually unsure of himself and trying to protect himself by becoming the monster everyone claims he is.

My favorite character by far was Reid McTavish. Not a champion, he actually owns a magic shop which helps several champions with exactly what they need- but what is the price? He reminded me a little of Leland Gaunt from Stephen King’s Needful Things, and I was loving the reminder. I could never quite figure him out, which was brilliant. I know he has an angle, probably one which is deliciously diabolical, and I can’t wait for it to be revealed.

That last sentence brings me to an important point: this ends on a cliffhanger. I know that is not everyone’s thing, so I figure it bears mentioning. I do believe it worked well in this case, as any sort of finalized ending would make book two start in a very odd way.

All of Us Villains was a fun, quick read. While I wouldn’t necessarily say it shattered expectations or was incredible, it was extremely entertaining. At the end of the day, books like that have their place too. I recommend this book to fans of The Hunger Games, readers who like their characters to be morally conflicted, or those who want something diverting and fast-paced.

The Lost Book of the White (The Eldest Curses Book 2) by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

Life is good for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood. They’re living together in a fabulous loft, their warlock son, Max, has started learning to walk, and the streets of New York are peaceful and quiet—as peaceful and quiet as they ever are, anyway.

Until the night that two old acquaintances break into Magnus’s apartment and steal the powerful Book of the White. Now Magnus and Alec will have to drop everything to get it back. They need to follow the thieves to Shanghai, they need to call some backup to accompany them, and they need a babysitter.

Also, someone has stabbed Magnus with a strange magical weapon and the wound is glowing, so they have that to worry about too.

Fortunately, their backup consists of Clary, Jace, Isabelle, and newly minted Shadowhunter Simon. In Shanghai, they learn that a much darker threat awaits them. Magnus’s magic is growing unstable, and if they can’t stop the demons flooding into the city, they might have to follow them all the way back to the source—the realm of the dead. Can they stop the threat to the world? Will they make it back home before their kid completely wears out Alec’s mom? (taken from Amazon)

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times, the Shadowhunter world (I’m a big fan of demons in literature) and Magnus Bane are the reasons I enjoy Cassandra Clare’s books. So, of course a series focusing on Magnus would immediately interest me. What’s not to love about the High Warlock of Brooklyn?

This book follows a quest of sorts: Magnus and Company need to find and retrieve a spellbook that would be very bad news if it’s in the wrong hands. The hands that have stolen it are most definitely the wrong ones and a sense of urgency is added to the mission in the form of nasty, glowing wounds that Magnus suddenly has.

Cassandra Clare has teamed up with author Wesley Chu for this series. He wrote The Lives of Tao, an interesting and unique book. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the series evolves with his contribution. So far, I’m liking the changes. First of all, there’s a distinct lack of love triangles. A while ago I wrote a blog post about tropes. There’s the tried and true, the cool and the ew! For me, love triangles are firmly on the “ew” list, so I’m loving the lack of them.

The book’s main character is Magnus, immediately elevating it in my mind. He’s such a fun character and there’s so much that can be done with him. Since he’s been around forever, he can easily be inserted into different points in history which adds a creative perspective on modern doings. Also, his experience sometimes gives him a long-suffering attitude when dealing with the angst that some of the other characters involve themselves in. That always makes me laugh. Honestly though, what I loved most about him in The Lost Book of the White was his fear and his joy about being a parent. It felt so natural and made his character feel more three-dimensional. It was a fantastic direction for his character to go in, and brand new territory for the authors to explore. It’s been touched on a bit in other books, but it plays a bigger role both in the storyline here, and how Magnus reacts to things.

The problems themselves were a blast to read. Magnus and Company (I’m totally going to trademark this phrase) had to work together and actually communicate to fix the mess that they were in. Alec is worried sick about Magnus (even in the Shadowhunter world, glowing wounds aren’t normal), Simon is feeling very unsure about his career path, and Isabelle has an unfortunate run-in with a hell dimension. A ton is packed into the book and there’s never a dull moment.

The action is well-written and there’s a lot of it. I was definitely on board for that. A good demon fight is always fun to read. Basically, what I’m saying at length is the The Lost Book of the White had much more of what I enjoy in the Shadowhunter books, and much less of what I’m not a huge fan of. I’m jazzed about what’s happening in the series so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. Bring on the Magnus!

The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab

Amazon.com: The Near Witch (9781789091144): V. E. Schwab: Books

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children. 

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company. 

There are no strangers in the town of Near. 

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life. 

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true. 

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. 

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy. (taken from Amazon)

I’d been planning on reading The Near Witch for the longest time, but it took me ages to actually get to it. I blame the less-than-memorable cover. I’m glad I finally got to the book: it’s a blast.

The tale takes place in a puritanical setting and follows Lexi. She is a teen who chafes at the restrictions put upon her gender and age. Her family lives in a very small town where everyone knows everyone. When a strangers shows up and children start disappearing immediately after, the townspeople decide the stranger is to blame. Lexi decides to learn, beyond a doubt, what’s happening and if the stranger is involved.

This book has a fun campfire story feel to it. It’s just eerie enough to raise the hair on your arms, while never crossing over into being full-fledged horror. Schwab was easily able to craft a compelling tale out of superstition, focusing just as much on the atmosphere as she does on the characters, to great effect.

One of the things I appreciated was that I could relate to both Lexi and her superstitious uncle. He meant well, but he was constrained by his position as town protector, as well as his fear. Lexi was spunky and headstrong. Her character didn’t grow all that much, instead being the constant in the story. However, it allowed other characters to evolve and develop in interesting ways.

This book was a quick read and I recommend this book to readers who are already fans of this author, as well as to anyone who enjoys a good spooky story.

Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

Image result for chain of goldCordelia Carstairs is a Shadowhunter, a warrior trained since childhood to battle demons. When her father is accused of a terrible crime, she and her brother travel to London in hopes of preventing the family’s ruin. Cordelia’s mother wants to marry her off, but Cordelia is determined to be a hero rather than a bride. Soon Cordelia encounters childhood friends James and Lucie Herondale and is drawn into their world of glittering ballrooms, secret assignations, and supernatural salons, where vampires and warlocks mingle with mermaids and magicians. All the while, she must hide her secret love for James, who is sworn to marry someone else.

But Cordelia’s new life is blown apart when a shocking series of demon attacks devastate London. These monsters are nothing like those Shadowhunters have fought before—these demons walk in daylight, strike down the unwary with incurable poison, and seem impossible to kill. London is immediately quarantined. Trapped in the city, Cordelia and her friends discover that their own connection to a dark legacy has gifted them with incredible powers—and forced a brutal choice that will reveal the true cruel price of being a hero. (taken from Amazon)

Here’s the weird thing: the Shadowhunter books have everything I hate in a book. Annoying love triangles (or octagons)? Check. Constant clothing descriptions? Check. Angst coming out of the wazoo? Double check. So, why on earth are these books my guilty pleasure (except for Queen of Air and Darkness. That was an unmitigated disaster)? Two reasons: the universe Cassandra Clare has created, and Magnus Bane. Now that we’ve gotten that figured out, let’s move on to my actual review, shall we?

I was incredibly nervous about this book after reading Queen of Air and Darkness. Thankfully, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Cassandra was back in form for this book, and it worked very very well. There wasn’t anything earth shattering in terms of plot: there’s still angst, misunderstood and unrequited love, and brooding galore, but the sense of fun in previous books was back. There were many more fight scenes, which I loved. I enjoyed seeing the creativity used to describe some of the demons, and the seraph blades were in use again, which was something I’d been missing lately.

The characters were all a blast, although two stood out to me: Lucie, a spunky Shadowhunter who writes truly terrible fiction in her spare time; and Matthew, a ne’er do well with a sardonic sense of humor and hidden depth. The book centers around Cordelia, who has traveled from Idris with her mom and brother, in an attempt to ingratiate herself into London Society, the end goal being to help her dad who has been accused of a grievous crime. Of course, all chaos breaks loose, and the next thing you know, demons are running amok. There’s also a mysterious illness that is striking down Shadowhunters.

Cordelia, Lucie, and Matthew are joined by their friends, jokingly known as the Merry Thieves, as they try to do what the Clave can’t: save their friends. The storyline was a lot of fun because there was a bit of a mystery thrown in. I also enjoyed the Merry Thieves and their camaraderie. It felt very genuine. The James-Cordelia- Grace love triangle annoyed me, as love triangles always do. It wasn’t as bad as it’s been in the last few books, however; there was more to the book than just angst, which was fabulous.

Magnus made a short appearance, which I loved. The book is fast-paced, and once again the world itself is a load of fun. For those of you who haven’t read any of Cassandra Clare’s books, think Buffy with tattoos, and you’re close. I always enjoy seeing the vampires, fae, warlocks, Silent Brothers, and more that show up.

There were some things that I didn’t love, aside from the angst I’ve already talked about. Anna, for example. I wanted to love her, but the author had her constantly winking. It was weird. In every single one of her scenes, she “dropped a wink.” I ended up imagining a constant eye twitch. It made what could have been an awesome character fall a little flat.

I also didn’t love Tatiana, mainly because I wanted a more three dimensional character than what was written. There’s still time for development for her, though, so we’ll see.

All in all, I found Chain of Gold to be a blast to read. I’m looking forward to Cassandra Clare’s next book, something I wasn’t sure would happen again. Yay!