The Crown’s Game

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye is the first book in a young adult fantasy series full of magic, Russian royals and more.

Vika Andreyev and Nikolai Karimov are very different people with one extraordinary thing in common… magic. Since they were little Nikolai and Vika have been training for one job, to become the imperial enchanter to the Tsar of Russia. But there can only be one enchanter, so the Tsar enacts The Crown’s Game.

The Crown’s Game is a secret, ancient duel of magical skill, pitting enchanter against enchanter until a winner has been declared. And for the loser? Death. But circumstance and conscience get the best of Vika and Nikolai and neither know if they will be able to finish this brutal game. Who will win and at what cost?

Hmm, I have mixed feelings about this one. Ever since I’ve read The Night Circus, I’ve loved a good magical duel/love story and this definitely was that. Vika and Nikolai are connected in so many ways and yet one of them must die. I just wish I liked the characters more. I wasn’t really impressed by any of our characters. I didn’t find them terribly unique and couldn’t find myself rooting for one over the other. I did warm to all three of our main characters (Pasha, Vika & Nikolai) toward the end, which is why I will have to read the next book in the series. The book did get more interesting in the end.

The game itself didn’t really feel like much of a game to me. There was no real audience, even the Tsar, who is running the game, doesn’t witness any of the magics. I don’t know, it’s a magical duel and the first turn is to paint all of the buildings on a street in St. Petersburg. Really? I just wish there was more magic and more of an actual duel.

Did this book keep me entertained while it lasted? Yes. Would I read it again? Probably not. I am sure there are a ton of people who would really like this book but there are others out there that have pulled me in more.

Not bad but not my favorite. This one gets a grudging three stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Black Witch

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest is the first book in a new young adult fantasy series that deals with prejudices, inequality and more.

Elloren Gardner has lived a sheltered life with her two brothers and her uncle on the edge of Gardneria. She grows herbs, plays the violin and wants nothing more than to be their small town’s apothecary. She has no magic whatsoever, even though her grandmother was the most powerful witch in all of Earthea.

When Elloren’s aunt shows up insisting that her 17 year old niece wand fast–a marriage ritual that bonds couples together with magic–Elloren’s uncle sends her to Verpax University to become a real apothecary. But university isn’t what she thought it would be.

Elves room with Gardnerians, Lupine and even the foul Icarals attend classes together and naive Elloren is unprepared for this world. She is also extremely unprepared for the prejudices she faces–Elloren is the spitting image of her grandmother and although that makes her a hero in the Gardnerian eyes, all the other races scorn and ridicule her.

Can Elloren survive in a school that doesn’t seem to want her? Can she resist her aunt’s terrible brand of persuasion? And what side will she choose when evil rears its head?

I should start this review by saying, read the reviews before you pick up this one. Know what you are getting yourself into because there seems to be a lot of competing views and controversy about this one.

The Black Witch is rife with controversy. Themes of racism, brutality, slavery, extreme prejudices, gender inequality, political upheaval… you name it and this book probably addresses it in some way. Even our main characters are extremely prejudice and do some really awful things before they realize what they are doing and how it makes others feel.

The first quarter, maybe even the first half of this book has many many cringe worthy moments. You will cringe. You will not feel good about reading what you are reading. But isn’t that the mark of a good book, when it gets you thinking and feeling to that extent? If you are looking for a light read, this one is not for you. I don’t know if the author meant to do this but I could see many parallels to today’s society and the social upheaval occurring in the book.

I actually really enjoyed this one. There is something about magical universities that I can’t resist. The characters felts like a group of misfits who were out to change the world–the best kind of misfits. Elloren wasn’t my favorite, especially with her wishy washy beginning but she does grow on you. You sort of know that she has to be the black witch, so you are waiting and waiting to see something that proves it… but I guess that is for another book.

No word on when the next book is going to be out, which is kind of a bummer. But it looks like there is a prequel if you are interested. This book makes you think, which is why I am going to give it 4 stars. Yes, it can be a harsh read but I think it was meant to be that way.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire is a Wayward Children novel that tells the story of the Jack and Jill we meet in McGuire’s first book Every Heart a Doorway.

There was once twin girls, Jacqueline and Jillian, born into a house of sterotypes and strict rules. Jacqueline, never Jack, was raised to be the perfect daughter, raised to be a prim, proper little girl full of frills and finery. Jillian, never Jill, was raised to be her father’s tomboy, the rough and tumbled son he never had. And so identical twins, who should be closer than any siblings can be, drifted along their own paths.

When boredom brings them back together at twelve, the girls follow an impossible path down an impossible stairway and discover a world filled with magic, mayhem, a mad scientist and the possibility of life beyond death. Jack and Jill fall down a hill and what they find at the bottom will change them forever.

“Some adventures begin easily. It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porrous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole. Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.
Other adventures must be committed to before they have even properly begun. How else will they know the worthy from the unworthy, if they do not require a certain amount of effort on the part of the ones who would undertake them? Some adventures are cruel, because it is the only way they know to be kind.”

McGuire is just fantastic! I love these dark little fairy tales. There is something so gritty and yet honest about them. We get familiar elements of the fairy tales we grew up with but we get to re-imagine them in totally different ways.

I just love this idea of doorways and that the worlds find the children who need them, but they aren’t always meant to stay.

Gender roles and stereotypes are enforced and then reversed. In fact I’d say this book abolishes them completely and attempts to focus on the individual over gender roles–to define our own roles because there is no one way to… be.

Although, we get to see characters we are familiar with, we see them in a whole new light. This book can easily be read as a standalone and acts as more of a mini prequel to the Jack and Jill we see in Every Heart a Doorway. This is a short read, longer then a novella but not quite a novel, that you can devour in less then a weekend.

I really enjoyed this one and am happy to add it to my collection. Keep writing McGuire! This one gets 5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh is a young adult fantasy that takes place in Japan. Mariko is the only daughter of a respected samurai and as a daughter, Mariko knows her lot in life is to marry. Mariko is odd for a girl; she is smart, cunning and questions everything.

At seventeen Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to marry a man she has never met. On the way her caravan is attacked by bandits who are intent on taking her life. Narrowly escaping with her life, Mariko hides in the woods where she hatches a plan to uncover her would-be murderers. Dressed as a boy, Mariko tracks down the Black Clan, a notorious group of thieves, and attempts to infiltrate their ranks.

But infiltrating this den of misfits isn’t what she thought. For once in her life, Mariko is appreciated for her wit and inventiveness. She even finds herself drawn to the boys and men of this group, protective of them and falling for one in particular.

What will Mariko do when loyalty to her family comes in direct conflict with her newfound loyalty to the clan?

I really enjoyed this one. It had a little bit of everything. Mythology, mystery and magic, a band of misfit boys with a girl undercover within their ranks, just the right amount of romance, action and surprises. Ahdieh is just a great writer. She gets what the reader wants and she gives it to them in just the right ways.

Mariko has this practical spontaneity that I just love. She is impulsive and yet she still thinks things through before she acts. I also love how she comes full circle, from the promised daughter, to boy bandit and finally finding herself as a girl and a person. We see her journey and we are promised oh so much more.

Other than Mariko, this book was very boy heavy and I loved the majority of them. Mariko’s brother, Kenshin, I’m still up in the air about but the black clan reminded me of the lost boys in such a good way. Oh and don’t even get me started on Ōkami and Ranmaru–I loved these best friends, their dynamic is great and they play off each other well. And boy is Ōkami darkly yummy.

I also really hope we get more of the mystical aspects like blood-sucking trees and magical abilities. There was this mystical feel to the book even though we only get glimpses of the magic going on behind the scenes.

I cannot wait for the sequel to this one! You can just tell that this was a book to get you hooked on the characters before the real story breaks through and I was totally okay with that. This one gets a high 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Uprooted

Hi Guys,

Uprooted by Naomi Novik is one of my newer favorite fantasy standalone novels. I’ve read it once and listened to it on audio. This week, I was between audiobooks and didn’t want to start another when I have several on hold at the library, so of course I went back to a favorite.

Uprooted is a fantasy novel with witches, wizards, courts and villages, spells and magic and evil corruption. Agnieszka knows she will never be taken because everyone knows the Dragon only takes the most special girls and Angieszka is a smudged, wild, plain girl while Kasia is talented in every way.

Once every ten years the Dragon, a powerful sorcerer and lord of the Valley, leaves his high tower to choose a seventeen year old village girl to serve in his castle. In return, the Dragon protects his people from the Woods. The Woods surrounding the valley are corrupt and all sorts of terrible and strange creatures live within. Every year the Wood takes more and more of the valley and all anyone can do is hold back the storm–the Wood cannot be beaten.

Angieszka fears for her friend Kasia as the choosing approaches, but she should fear for herself. For something powerful lies within Angieszka, which might just make her the most special of them all.

What will Angieszka do when she is chosen? Will she allow fear to manage her or will she find the strength within to fight the coming storm?

The narration of Uprooted is so interesting. The narrator has a Russian accent, but you get the feeling that the book is written out of time and place. The first time I listened to this book, I started out being a little skeptical of the accent but now I can’t imagine the audiobook without it.

There is just so much depth to this book and things are tied together so well, that you don’t even notice until the end or on a second read through. So much happens in this 430+ page book and yet it doesn’t feel too long and there really weren’t any parts that bored me.

The magic in this book is unique; the spells, the way it is used, is done in a way I haven’t seen before. I also love how Angieszka’s powers go against what is known and believed. Her powers seem to stem from the Wood and she doesn’t go against her nature even to meet with the approval of her teacher and the King’s court. I also love how she embraces the dishevelment and no one can make her be anything other than herself.

This book is just special. It is unique. A story that I’ve never heard of before and one that was very hard for me to put down, even when it was over. On a third read, this one still gets 5 stars from me!

That’s all for now!

-M-

Spindle Fire

Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer is a YA re-imagining of sleeping beauty and is the first book in a new series. Half sisters Aurora and Isabelle are best friends and total opposites. Aurora is beautiful, sweet, heir to the Deluce throne and unable to speak or feel; Isabelle is the kings illegitimate daughter, head strong and without sight. They are closer than anyone and would do anything for each other.

One day a terrible curse separates the sisters and leaves Deluce at the mercy of an evil fairy with unimaginable powers. Aurora falls into a deep sleep and awakens in a magical world with a terrible mystery and a boy she feels a deep connection to. Isabelle is in a race against time to save her sister by finding her true love and true loves kiss, but Isabelle is unexpectedly drawn to Aurora’s arranged husband and the path they travel is dangerous.

Now Isabelle and Aurora must find their way back to each other and save their kingdom. Can they battle a sleeping curse and solve a mystery decades in the making? Can the bonds of sisterhood survive this separation and the changes bound to occur?

OK, so this book had a really interesting premise. I was really into this idea of half-sisters paralleling twin fairy sisters and having to sort out their story in order to save their own. There was magic and mystery and it was totally up my ally. But I just wasn’t wowed by the tale. I didn’t have to read it. It was interesting and unique but it was missing something that I can’t quite put my finger on.

One thing I did really like about Spindle Fire was the fairy tithes. This isn’t anything new with fairy stories but the way the tithes worked was really intriguing. I like how each of the fairies had their own specialized tithes and how it played into their characters. I also think these fairy tithes are going to play into the series moving forward and if so, I like the way it’s heading.

Holy abrupt ending batman! Seriously, here I am listening along and all of a sudden I hear Fiona Hardingham say that this has been a audio production by… Wahhh! That’s one way to get someone to read the sequel, even if they weren’t really into it.

Overall, this one gets three stars from me. I think the sequel might have more potential but this was was just OK for me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

A Crown of Wishes

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Ghokshi is the “sequel” to The Star-Touched Queen. Every hundred years the otherworld throws the Tournament of Wishes, an ancient tournament full of terror and wonder, where the risks are real and the prize is a wish of unlimited possibilities.

This year two contestants from different kingdoms must work together to stay alive and save their homes. Princess Gauri has been banned from her home by her brother, a twisted ruler whose thirst for power overshadows the good of his people. Prince Vikram is at the mercy of his council and will only ever be a puppet king while his legitimacy is in question.

Gauri and Vikram must come together despite their differences to beat the odds and survive a world of monsters and dreams. Can they solve these death defying riddles before time runs out? And what happens when reluctant allies become more?

Ghokshi does it again, all but a little differently. Where The Star-Touched Queen was a magical journey to find oneself and to rescue true love, A Crown of Wishes is a magical race against time and a journey toward self discovery and fate. These sound the same but the two books felt pretty different. There is an urgency to The Star-Touched Queen that we don’t really get in this one. This isn’t a bad thing but it does change the feel of the narrative just a bit.

A Crown of Wishes focuses more on the characters and the character development than the magic and mystery of it’s predecessor. Where The Star-Touched Queen only really develops Maya’s character, we get three fully developed narratives in this one. Gauri and Vikram play off each other really well. Gauri is serious and tactical with her warrior mind, whereas Vikram is sure of himself, intelligent and sly. It makes for an interesting dynamic and pairing.

I just love this world Ghokshi created; it’s magical and real and it feels unique. Ghokshi tells us in this one that the otherworld will soon be closed off from the real world and I wonder if there will be one more book about this. I hope so and I hope we see more of Maya her beau and Gauri and Vikram working in tandem. That’d be awesome!

Overall, this one gets 4 stars from me. It was a good read but I didn’t fall in love with the romantic relationship as much as I did with Maya’s. Still worth a shot.

That’s all for now!

-M-