Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: The Fever King – Baby, You Burn My Brain Up Like a Fever

The Fever King Character Highlights & Giveaway

Title: The Fever King (Feverwake, #1)
Author: Victoria Lee
Publisher Skyscape
Release Date: March 1, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Paranormal, Dystopian
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Politics, Abuse
Page Count: 384

Rating: 6.5/10

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In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

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The Fever King has been getting 5 stars left and right, so before my rating scares you off, I’d to like say that 1) Anything I rate above a 5 is not bad, and 2) I don’t even know if 6.5 is the right rating for this because overall I think (??) I liked it, but I had some major issues with the execution, but at the same time I still recommend it. I haven’t been this conflicted about a book in a while (hence the review title).

This is gonna be a messy one, folks. Strap in. (We’re doing sections today. :D)

 

Some general things I really liked about the book:

♦ The story features very, very pointed themes of immigration policies, refugee crises, and fearmongering–ones that obviously parallel U.S’s political climate in the past handful of years. One could call it too on-the-nose, I suppose. I found it passionate and unapologetic. For me, the political message and scenes relating to it are the strongest aspects of this book.

♦ The integration of science with magic. Something I’ll never not love.

♦ The diversity. We have a protagonist who’s biracial, Jewish, and bisexual, and a queer brown love interest.

♦ Noam and Dara’s relationship, once it gets going, is about navigating the line between unbridled affection and respecting boundaries, which I thought was done very well. And the two are really sweet together.

♦ The last 1/4 of the book ramps up in pace and it’s one crazy event after another. Really entertaining stuff.

 

Onto more specific things:

Worldbuilding:

I love the setup of this world–this future dystopian North America that’s been ravaged by plague that can turn you into a magic user (“witching”). I would have loved to see more of it, but I feel like what I got in the end was a handful of blurry images.

And for such an elite training program, we see so little of Level 4 (the government’s witching school) and the people involved–students and instructors and all–so most of the time it feels like Noam, Lehrer, and Dara are interacting in their own little vacuum. That made things weirdly stifling.

 

Noam:

Noam. Noam. Noam. Noam. Noam.

I love his passion and his determination to fight for what’s right, I really do; he’s got a big heart and the anger that runs through it is utterly infectious. But some of the other aspects of his personality–his obliviousness, naivete, doing things without thinking–annoyed me to no end. Not because I have a problem with those character traits in general, but because they didn’t seem to really fit him.

Noam Alvaro’s background: hacker whiz; political activist; newly-made orphan; been to juvie; and knows first-hand the corruption of government and the sting of discrimination. He’s not some sheltered rich kid who’s ignorant about the ways of the world, and his life thus far has been a string of hardships underlined with tragedies.

So I had trouble reconciling all of that with someone who has the naivete of a storybook princess and the situational awareness of a brick wall. Someone who, among other things, breaks into a high-security government building with zero foreplanning and thinks, “I should just surrender. I’m sure they’ll understand” when he’s about to get caught. It just didn’t make sense.

 

Lehrer and Dara:

Lehrer reminds me quite a bit of Magneto from X-Men, which is probably why I find him the most interesting of the three. Going down the checklist, he’s: German-Jewish; survivor of experimentation and torture; wanted to create a utopia for witchings to live without discrimination; and has a moral compass that veers wildly from “manipulative SOB” to “caring leader.”

My problem with both Lehrer and Dara is that the book (or Noam, rather) keeps nudging me in the ribs and whispering, “Oh wow, aren’t these guys so contradictory and fascinating?” without really showing me that. While we get to see more of Lehrer’s past from the excerpts at the end of the chapters (which I did like), we don’t get much from him in the main story, and Dara is all evasiveness and cryptic “I can tell you things, but I won’t.” And while there’s a good reason for that, a more in-depth look into his character would have been great.

But Dara did grow on me in the last 1/3 of the book, and his story is one that’ll have you reaching for a pillow to hug.

 

Conclusion:

If it seems like I’ve just been ragging on the book, let me give you this:

My brain sometimes acts like an overly persistent, sporadically cantankerous dog that thinks it has something to prove to the world, so once it snags a particular issue, it doesn’t like letting go. And that kind of ends up setting the tone for the rest of the reading experience.

But there’s a a high chance your brain is a nice affable pup. An annoying squirrel throwing nuts at you from a tree? Who cares! Shake if off! (Literally!) The day is sunny and warm, the flowers are in bloom, and holy crap, there are miles and miles of sticks to chew on. Life is amazing.

So some of these issues I had you might be able to easily overlook. And if that’s the case, then I think your experience will be a much, much less conflicting one.

TL;DR. The Fever King was too uneven for me to fall headlong in love with it, but it’s got a good foundation, a heartfelt message, and an ending that just begs you to pick up the sequel (which I will be doing). 

 

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Favourite Quotes

 

Everything worth doing had its risks.
Sometimes you had to do the wrong thing to achieve something better.

“And I meant it when I said I wasn’t gay,” Noam said.
Ames looked disbelieving, but she didn’t pull away.
Noam smirked. “Bisexual isn’t gay.”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Victoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whisky.
Victoria writes early in the morning, then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work.
She is represented by Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary.

 

Giveaway (US Only):

Giveaway starts on March 19th and ends on the 30th. ENTER HERE.

 

Tour Schedule:

Check out the other tour stops HERE.

Mini Review: The Wolf and the Watchman – The Literary Equivalent of Repeatedly Punching a Wall (AKA Not fun)

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Title: The Wolf and the Watchman
Author: Niklas Natt och Dag
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: March 5th, 2019
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Subjects and Themes: Crime
Page Count: 384 (paperback)

Rating: 5.0/10

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It is 1793. Four years after the storming of the Bastille in France and more than a year after the death of King Gustav III of Sweden, paranoia and whispered conspiracies are Stockholm’s daily bread. A promise of violence crackles in the air as ordinary citizens feel increasingly vulnerable to the whims of those in power.

When Mickel Cardell, a crippled ex-solider and former night watchman, finds a mutilated body floating in the city’s malodorous lake, he feels compelled to give the unidentifiable man a proper burial. For Cecil Winge, a brilliant lawyer turned consulting detective to the Stockholm police, a body with no arms, legs, or eyes is a formidable puzzle and one last chance to set things right before he loses his battle to consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell scour Stockholm to discover the body’s identity, encountering the sordid underbelly of the city’s elite.

Meanwhile, Kristofer Blix—the handsome son of a farmer—leaves rural life for the alluring charms of the capital and ambitions of becoming a doctor. His letters to his sister chronicle his wild good times and terrible misfortunes, which lead him down a treacherous path.

In another corner of the city, a young woman—Anna-Stina—is consigned to the workhouse after she upsets her parish priest. Her unlikely escape plan takes on new urgency when a sadistic guard marks her as his next victim.

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This was definitely a case of “it’s not you, it’s me,” because if you break down the book’s individual elements–setting, character, plot–what you get isn’t anything bad. Far from it, really. Eighteenth century Stockholm was fascinating to read about, the characters were peripherally interesting, and while the mystery took some time to get going (part two especially makes things confusing) it kept my interest for the most part.

My problem lies with just how utterly grey, dour, and joyless the whole experience was. The two main characters are a well-written but unlikable bunch: Winge is the genius not-quite-detective who suffers from a case of consumption and a cold, manipulative personality, and Cardell is the embittered war-vet-turned-watchman who suffers from anger management issues. It’s reminiscent of True Detective S1–all the dour grimness and a slew of underlying thematic messages, but minus the chemistry between the lead characters which would have made the story more bearable.

If you’re craving a gritty and gruesome historical murder mystery and can stomach stark depictions of human depravity, then I’d recommend it. Not to be for me, sadly.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two? – In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Dream

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Title: Do You Dream of Terra-Two?
Author: Temi Oh
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Release Date: March 7th, 2019
Genre(s): Literature, Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: Space expedition
Page Count: 528 (hardback)

Rating: 8.5/10

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A century ago, scientists theorised that a habitable planet existed in a nearby solar system. Today, ten astronauts will leave a dying Earth to find it. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space-race. And six are teenagers, graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy, who’ve been in training for this mission for most of their lives.

It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years spent in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong. And something always goes wrong.

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So this is an odd, odd book to classify. It’s not a sweeping space adventure in the vein of Interstellar. Nor is it quite the thriller that Gravity is (though there are resemblances in the last 1/4 of the book). And if you ask me what happens in the course of 528 pages, I’d be inclined to answer, “Nothing much.”

But it’s kind of like spending an entire evening plus the early morning hours outside, staring up at the constellations and telling their stories in your head. And next day, when someone asks what you did the other night and you answer, “I did some star-gazing.” And they say, “Sooo, nothing much?”

And you say, “No. Everything. I did everything.”

That might only make sense to me, so a more straight-forward version: in terms of main plot, not much happens, but beneath that there’s a lifetime of stories that are playing out.

Temi Oh’s writing is absolutely beautiful. It’s the kind of prose that’s meant for traversing outer space and cataloguing stars, and it’s got depth to it that goes beyond sounding pretty–a feeling of awe that I think is so key for space-faring stories; a commanding sense of the moment so that even small, seemingly inconsequential scenes feel important in the grand scheme of things; and a melancholy and intimacy that makes it seem like you’ve been with these characters for years when it’s only been a handful of pages.

It’s the kind of prose that teeters between sad and hopeful, and just when you think it’s falling into sadness, hope yanks it back up again.

As for our characters, their stories range from relatable to heartbreaking:

Poppy, the gorgeous linguistics genius who so badly wants to escape the bleakness of her home. The linguistics genius who got into languages in the first place because it was a way to bridge gaps between herself and others–to travel distances with only a few words–and a way to be less lonely in this world (this is a detail I really, really loved).

Astrid and Juno, the Kenyan twins. The former an astrobiologist who signed up for the program because the thought of being the first to chart an unknown world was irresistible. The latter a chemist, more serious and pragmatic.

Ara, an Indian girl who delights in the delights of the world and delights the world in turn.

Eliot, the robotics genius. The only one of the group who was scouted by the Terra-Two project leaders.

Jesse, the dreamy boy who weaves broken shells into his hair. The boy who’s been told that he would leave this world on his twentieth birthday and is hoping that “leaving the world” literally means leaving the world. On a spaceship, to be exact.

Harry, the pilot and commander-in-training. There’s zero doubt in his mind that he was born for this role, and for someone whose life has revolved around being good and winning, this might be the biggest prize of them all.

For a story that’s about heading into the future and opening a new chapter for humanity, it’s a story that’s also about carrying the past. About sifting through the various events in these characters’ lives that led them to stand where they are, as who they are, and the hopes and fears that they carry with them. It reminded me a lot of LOST, in that sense.

As wonderful and interesting as the characters are, I did have one big problem with them. When they’re in their own heads, being all introspective, they brim with complexity and their personalities shine like starlight. When they’re outside of their heads, interacting with each other, they get somewhat less interesting and complex. Dialogues don’t quite fit together, some of the interactions are strangely jagged, and I had trouble differentiating one person’s voice from another.

The good news is that they spend most of the time in their heads. And when they do, it’s mesmerizing, absorbing stuff.

And for someone who’s never experienced a pioneering space mission (presumably), Oh’s depictions of dread and excitement and just the whole range of emotions associated with the process feels remarkably real. She draws out the initial pre-launch tensions beautifully for the first 1/4 of the book, and does the same with the last 1/4. Every part of the experience is detailed and organic.

All in all, Terra-Two is a magnificent debut. If you like happy endings and fast-paced space operas and storylines that are neatly wrapped up and handed on a silver platter, it might not be the book for you. But If you want a quiet and provocative character-driven story that muses on destiny and the nature of humans, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Top 5 Wednesday – Characters That Embody the Hufflepuff House

Happy Wednesday! I know I said I’d be back to a semi-normal schedule last week, but I’ve been suffering from a case of “Oh god, my reviews and posts are flaming piles of garbage” and “WHAT ARE WORDS????” which has had the added benefit of wreaking havoc on my reading pace.

Fun, fun times.

But more on that in my wrap up post! Because today’s a Wednesday which means it’s time for another rendition of Top 5 Wednesday! Or as I like to call it, “Top 5 Characters/Books/Things That I Can Actually Remember That Day Day.”

Today’s topic is: Characters that Embody Your Hogwarts House

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So Pottermore says that Hufflepuffs value hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play.” And that sounds kind of vague. And bland. And…side-kick-y. Which is probably why I’d spent most of my childhood and teenagehood hating on the Hufflepuff House.

But I think, for me, the crux of Hufflepuffs is their value of deep emotional connections (humans and nature both) through love and passion and caring. So that’s the definition that I’ve based this list on.

Also, I’m pretty sure this is the first Harry Potter/Sorting House related post I’ve done (an absolute sacrilege, I’m sure, considering I mostly do fantasy-related posts), so allow me to take the time to rant about the sheer messed-upness of shoving pre-adolescent kids into groups based around personality and telling them “This is where you’re going to be for the next seven years of your life.” Because I’m pretty sure the Sorting Hat isn’t prophetic, so it can’t possibly predict the trajectory of someone’s character development from childhood to adulthood.

And I’m also pretty sure there’s an echo chamber thing going on. If a Gryffindor kid does remain a Gryffindor kid for the rest of their childhood, is it because they embody Gryffindor traits to their core, or is it because everything around them is telling them that this is who they are–they’re so brave and daring and wow, look at Harry Potter always being so brave and daring, don’t they want to be just like Harry Potter?–that they end up molding themselves according to that image?

I would love to see someone in the HP world do an extensive psychological study comparing the development of Hogwarts kids verses the development of kids from other magic schools. And then make an exposé documentary out of it–part of a series called “The Sinister Goings-On at Hogwarts.” Episode 139.

But I digress.

On with the show!

 

FitzChivalry Farseer – Realm of the Elderlings

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No character, absolutely no character, in any other book goes through the amount of shit that Fitz goes through in the course of this series. Every horrible, tragic thing you can imagine happening to a person? You can bet he experienced them. Got T-shirts and all.

And yet.

Yet somehow, he never loses his ability to love and care and to just feel with every inch of his being. And while that leaves him vulnerable to so much pain, it also leaves him open to many, many incredible and beautiful connections. Connections that have shaped him–that he has allowed to shape him. And while he can never direct it towards himself, the love he has for others in his life can overflow thousands of oceans.

It’s literally impossible for me to write about him without crying and I’ll always be okay with that.

(Fun fact: adding Fitz to the list was what made me go, “Okay, fine, online quizzes. You’re right. I’m a Hufflepuff.” Because he’s pretty much me in character form.)

 

Auri – The Kingkiller Chronicles

Auri is one of the most beautiful, broken, egoless characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. While there’s still so much we don’t know about her, I think we know the most important bits. That she’s a kind and gentle soul who keeps her loved ones close (though there are very few of those in her life). And that she cares and comforts Kvothe in the rare moments when he’s unguarded.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things (Auri’s novella) is through and through a Hufflepuff book.

 

Samwise Gamgee – The Lord of the Rings

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Way back when, my friend said to me after binge-watching the movies for the first time, “Sam did all the work!” While that’s completely uncharitable to Frodo because being the ringbearer is a different kind of burden–an insidious, mostly invisible one–Sam is a force of love and hope and loyalty that stood toe-to-toe with evil and won. For that he deserves at least half the credit.

It’s getting late (why I’m writing this at 3 AM I cannot tell you), so I’ll just leave you with Frodo’s own words: “Frodo wouldn’t have gotten far without Sam.”

 

Gon Freecss – Hunter x Hunter

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I make no secret my love for HxH and this guy right here is what makes this masterpiece work. “You are light” is what another character says of Gon at one point, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. While Gon gains some super neat powers later on in the series, his greatest power is and always was his unwavering optimism and loyalty and the belief that good will prevail in the end. This kid will believe in you until you begin to believe in yourself and that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

And we see how that’s so cruelly turned against him in the Chimera Ant arc, demonstrating how your strongest traits can easily become your greatest weakness.

 

Jesse Pinkman – Breaking Bad

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Oh, Jesse. We first meet him as the drug dealer/meth cooker/comic relief punk that Walter White “enlists” to help make money for his family. Little did I know that he would become the heart and conscience of the series. Because Jesse cares. A lot. Too much, you could say, considering the line of work he’s in. For his friends. For the girls he dates. For the random people he meets out in the world. For, perhaps to his detriment, Walter White.

Jesse Pinkman is a character stuck in the wrong story and all I wanted was to pluck him out of this hellhole and into a sweet romantic road trip comedy.

 

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And that’s it! These are obviously not set in stone (except for Fitz. He’s 1000% a Hufflepuff and you can fight me on that), so holler at me below if you disagree/agree with any of my choices and we can have a good ol’ debate! 😀

Review: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery – AncestryDNA: Three Musketeers Edition

Hey, everyone! Sorry for being rather absent for the last week and a half. I’ve been super busy preparing for a neuroscience conference and it’s been kind of a mentally taxing endeavour. But I’ll be back on Monday to catch up on posts and comments! Meanwhile, enjoy this slightly overdue review!

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Title: A Labyrinth of Scions of Sorcery (The Risen Kingdoms 2)
Author: Curtis Craddock
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: January 22nd, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Steampunk
Subjects and Themes: Court Intrigue, Family Drama
Page Count: 416 (hardback)

Rating: 7.5/10

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Isabelle des Zephyrs has always been underestimated throughout her life, but after discovering the well of hidden magic within her, unveiling a centuries-long conspiracy, and stopping a war between rival nations, she has gained a newfound respect amongst the cutthroat court.

All that is quickly taken away when Isabelle is unfairly convicted of breaking the treaty she helped write and has her political rank and status taken away. Now bereft, she nevertheless finds herself drawn into mystery when her faithful musketeer Jean-Claude uncovers a series of gruesome murders by someone calling themselves the Harvest King.

As panic swells, the capital descends into chaos, when the emperor is usurped from the throne by a rival noble. Betrayed by their allies and hunted by assassins, Isabelle and Jean-Claude alone must thwart the coup, but not before it changes l’Empire forever.

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(Note: If it’s been over a year since you last read Book 1, you might benefit from a reread because holy hell, I couldn’t remember who 70% of the characters were.)

As the sequel to Craddock’s wholly underrated debut An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, which was one of my favourite reads of 2017, I had pretty high expectations for it. And while I can’t say the book met them, there’s still a lot to like about it. So let’s get the good bits first!

The worldbuilding is as delightful to read about as it was in Book 1. For those who are new to the series, the books take place in a steampunk fantasy version of Renaissance France and Spain (if Renaissance France and Spain had been floating sky nations, that is). We also get airships, sorcerers who can make use of shadows and mirrors, dashing musketeers, and feathered people-creatures who retain all the memories of their ancestors. It’s brilliantly imaginative and somewhat reminiscent of Jules Verne, and I’ve not found anything quite like it in fantasy.

So obviously the book will appeal to fantasy readers who are tired of medieval settings and want to see some sky high swashbuckling action, but I think it’ll also hold appeal to all you genealogy buffs out there because so much of the story is about tracing family history and heritable traits.

The writing also continues to delight. Craddock’s prose holds such an effortless charm that makes it an absolute joy to read, and it shines most brightly when it comes to Jean Claude, our protagonist’s bodyguard, who is one of the sassiest, most loyal protector one could wish for. And his protectee Isabelle is as clever and wonderfully independent as I remember.

My disappointment mainly comes from two things: plot and love interest.

As much as I liked exploring this world more, I wasn’t super invested in the main plot. It’s got a lot of intrigue and mystery revolving around family ancestry, which had also been present in the first book, but while book 1 had tension and a sense of immediacy that I found compelling, the storyline in Labyrinth is rather meandering and had me wondering what it was all leading up to or why it mattered.

The second point is what frustrates me the most because it’s a matter of squandered potential. The end of book 1 had more or less set up Prince Julio of Aragoth (fantasy Spain) to be Isabelle’s love interest in Labyrinth. And though we didn’t get an in-depth look at him then, I definitely liked what I saw and was very much looking forward to seeing how their relationship would develop in the sequel.

Instead, he gets shoved to the wayside in favour of a new love interest, a man called  Bitterlich, and he and Isabelle are…pleasant, sure, but bland and their romance too quickly developed.

And okay, yes, Julio is admittedly a little vanilla, especially compared to Bitterlich who’s a shapeshifter. He’s also very proper and reserved and tightly-wound and harbours a not insignificant hero worship for his dead father. And for some strange infuriating reason, fantasy characters with those traits usually get saddled with one of three roles: martyr, cannon fodder, or just plain chopped liver. Hardly ever long-term love interests.

But you know what would have been interesting to see? Julio and Isabelle actually interacting and figuring out how their personalities mesh when outside of life-threatening situations. We get none of that here and it ends up feeling like a waste of a perfectly set up character.

At the end of the day, though, this is the kind of book that I feel good about reading, even when the plot and characters don’t quite meet my expectations, and that has everything to do with the charm and the heart of Craddock’s writing. And that is really what makes this series stand out from others.

I’m very excited to see what adventures the author will take these characters next (hint: there will be airships).

Series Review: The Wode – THIS is How You Do a Robin Hood Retelling

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By J. Tullos Hennig
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

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The Robin Hood legend sat beside King Arthur as “stories I was obsessed with as a kid but am now sick to death of thanks to all the retellings that do the same things over and over” (except Robin Hood: Men in Tights. That one’s a masterpiece. Fight me).

And then The Wode came along.

Forget all the Assassin’s Creed-esque action flicks starring Robin Hood in machine-stitched jackets. All those dozens of stories telling you that this time, for sure, they’ve taken the classic in a fresh new direction? They have nothing on this series.

Because this is how a Robin Hood retelling should be done.

The most basic version of The Wode‘s premise is this: queer historical fantasy Robin Hood with a friends to lovers to enemies to lovers plot.

And the author could have taken that and made it into a one-shot 200-300 page romance. I’ve seen it done countless times with other classic retellings. And that’s fine. That’s wonderful.

But turns out Hennig is an overachiever after my own heart. She takes a premise that sounds like a fanfiction prompt and makes a saga out of it (and at four books in, it’s still not finished). And its complexity is astounding–characters built upon layers and layers and tripping over their own demons, pagan folklore woven into a 12th-century England, prose lush with passion and poetry.

It’s a textbook demonstration on what it means to take an original tale and transform it into something that’s wholly your own.

Let’s meet the cast!

Marion – Maiden, Consort, Catalyst

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We’ll start with our leading lady first because Marion plays an actual role in this story beyond trophy love interest. In this version, Marion and Robyn are siblings, and together they’re the mortal representations of the dual pagan deities, the Mother Goddess and her consort the Horned God (with the magic to match).

Marion is kind of the glue that holds our main characters together and her arc goes through the struggles of being a woman who’s not a fighter but who’s still determined to be treated with the same kind of respect given to her brother and not like damaged porcelain.

 

Robyn Hood (Or “Hode”) – Archer, Outlaw, Winterking

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Robyn is the earthly avatar of the Horned Lord, Cernunnos. He stands against the nobility, not only because of the atrocities committed against the peasants, but because their prosperity means the fall of the pagan faith. And he’s determined to stand as the last bulwark against Christianity. Or die trying.

Robyn represents the wild and the untamed, every bit the forest king. Giving little thought to the future, he lives moment to moment, wearing his heart on his sleeves. He rides his emotions to their keenest point–diving head-first into love and passion, welcoming every pain and sorrow and letting them shape him into a weapon to strike against his enemies. He revels in that space where danger and recklessness dance arm in arm which is a source of frustration for his loved ones, but also what makes him so irresistibly magnetic.

Not gonna lie. He’s my favourite incarnation of Robin Hood to date (and I’ve met a lot of them over the years). Not just because of how well-written he is, but also because he manages to be both Robin Hood and someone completely new at the same time.

 

GUY DE GISBORNE/Gamelyn – Templar, Crusader, Summerlord, One Very Confused Man

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The Sheriff of Nottingham would have been the obvious counterpart for Robyn to star in an enemies-to-lovers plot. He’s Robin Hood’s prime nemesis, after all–the villain you see in every retelling.

Instead Hennig chose a man by the name of Guy de Gisborne, this random guy (heh) who appears in one Robin Hood ballad as the mercenary hired to dispatch the outlaw. In the ballad, Gisbourne finds his mark but fails the whole assassination bit and gets beheaded for all his troubles. End of story. The curtain closes.

But what if…

What if Guy and Robyn knew each other from childhood, when they both went by different names? What if they had been two boys learning to navigate the murky waters of friendship and love together?

What if Fate has decreed that their lot in life is to be rivals, Summer and Winter, doomed to destroy one other?

What if they (or Robyn, at least) said, “Fuck that”?

Guy/Gamelyn is ice to Robyn’s fire. Whereas Robyn embraces his emotions, Gamelyn bottles them up, because he’s learned during his years in the Crusade that coldness is where he works best. It’s where he can think and do his job without old pains and doubt surfacing up and muddying things.

The irony of the gods anointing Robyn as “Winterking” and Gamelyn “Summerlord” isn’t lost on any of the characters, and the interplay between the two is utterly engrossing.

“This is one thing about you I’ve never kenned.”

Guy blinked, frowned. “What?”

“How Summer can be so bloody cold.”

 

Paganism and Christianity – Guy/Gamelyn’s Inner Conflict

So, all the previous things I mentioned? Love them. Love them all. But this here is what really sells the series for me. See, as much of a leading character Robyn is, he’s actually not the heart of the story.

That title belongs to Guy/Gamelyn and his push-and-pull conflict of identity.

Their consort, wearing the tabard of his father’s god, but in whom the old Saxon gods of his mother pounded through his veins with undeniable talent and the sap and salt of Summer’s coming….

What I love about Gamelyn’s attraction to the Templar Order is that it has less to do with his love for Christianity and more to do with the sense of belonging it gives him. With the Templars, things are simple. The higher-ups give him orders and he can just follow them without question. No complications of destiny and magic and old gods who would yank him around like a puppet. And for someone who feels he’s had so little control over his life, that means everything. That means a peace of mind and a purpose he can actually name (which is something I can seriously relate to).

And then in waltzes Robyn with his stupid hood and his stupid eyes that see right into him–the very definition of Complication–proclaiming that Gamelyn’s place is in the Wode at the siblings’ side.

Yeah, great. Thanks.

Who am I, here? Just tell me who I am.

Poor guy.

Templar or Summerlord? The Holy Cross or the Oak? This series is about him trying to figure out if it’s possible to exist in two (seemingly) different worlds at the same time, and the process is messy and brilliantly, endlessly fascinating.

 

Love, love, love — ALL kinds of love

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Paternal, platonic, sexual, romantic, and blurry lines between all of them–this has everything covered.

The love between Robyn and Gamelyn is like pouring gasoline in a car and lighting it up, and then throwing in a handful of firecrackers for good measure. It’s explosive. It’s electric. It’s bad news. But at the same time, no–it’s the best news you could hope for.

Gamelyn and Marian? More like a cool running creek. Gentle and soft and peaceful.

Robyn and Little John? Same thing.

It’s all rather open and poly (but NO INCEST) and Hennig shows so well how the strength of one kind of love doesn’t diminish the strength of another.

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This isn’t to say that the books are perfect. Pacing is the biggest issue I have with it; there are periodic lulls in the story where nothing really happens. And as much as I like Marion, I do wish she had more variety of things to do.

But.

The Wode hauls itself out from the box of Recyled Robin Hood Retellings and tries to cobble together something that’s new and unique and ambitious. And for the attempt alone I would have awarded it points.

But to largely succeed in that endeavour? Well, that deserves me banging pots and pans out on the balcony screaming, “GO READ THIS.” But after that last fiasco with the water balloons and the inflatable flamingo, I don’t think my neighbours will be all that impressed.

So this is me banging pots and pans right through your screen.

Go read this.

Blog Tour Spotlight + Giveaway: Smoke & Summons (Numina 1)

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This is a tiny bit late because I was squeezed into the tour at the last minute! Thank you to Fantastic Flying Books Club for the opportunity to participate!

 

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Title: Smoke and Summons (Numina Trilogy #1)
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Publisher: 47North
Release Date: February 1st 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

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SYNOPSIS 

A captivating world of monsters and magic from the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician Series.
As a human vessel for an ancient spirit, Sandis lives no ordinary life. At the command of her master, she can be transformed against her will into his weapon—a raging monster summoned to do his bidding. Unlike other vessels, Sandis can host extremely powerful spirits, but hosting such creatures can be fatal. To stay alive, she must run. And in a city fueled by smoke and corruption, she finds a surprising ally.
A cunning thief for hire, Rone owns a rare device that grants him immortality for one minute every day—a unique advantage that will come in handy in Sandis’s fight for freedom. But Sandis’s master knows how powerful she is. He’s determined to get her back, and he has the manpower to find her, wherever she runs.
Now, to outwit her pursuers, Sandis must put all her trust in Rone and his immortal device. For her master has summoned more than mere men to hunt her down…

 

Author Information

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Born in Salt Lake City, Charlie N. Holmberg was raised a Trekkie alongside three sisters who also have boy names. She is a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukulele, owns too many pairs of glasses, and finally adopted a dog. Her fantasy Paper Magician series, which includes The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician, and The Master Magician, has been optioned by the Walt Disney Company. Her stand-alone novel, Followed by Frost, was nominated for a 2016 RITA Award for Best Young Adult Romance, and her novel The Fifth Doll won the 2018 Whitney for Speculative Fiction. She is a board member for Deep Magic Ezine and currently lives with her family in Utah.
Visit her at www.charlienholmberg.com.

 

 

TOUR SCHEDULE

Check out the other stops on this tour HERE

 

GIVEAWAY

Giveaway is U.S. ONLY and you can win 1 of 2 finished copies of the book. ENTER HERE!

Top 5 Wednesday – Independent Ladies

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is: independent ladies!

Favorite leading ladies who aren’t distracted from getting shit done by their love interest (they can still have a romance subplot – this is going to be subjective based on what you think would be ~too much~)

Yup, this is a day late! But it’s been a bit of a busy week, and my brain insisted on complicating the prompt by asking questions like:

“What’s the difference between ‘independent female characters’ and ‘strong female characters’ and ‘well-written female characters’?”

And “If a female character is involved in a romantic subplot and still gets shit done, isn’t that also a testament to how supportive the love interest is?”

Anywho, on to the show! (I tried to go for a variety of genres/subgenres for this one)

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Vanessa Ives | Penny Dreadful

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“I am nothing. I am no more than a blade of grass. But I am. You think you know evil? Here it stands.”

AKA my favourite female character in all media (despite the “ending” they gave her). You see, Vanessa Ives doesn’t walk around seeking romantic subplots. The romantic subplots seek her out, begging for a crumb of attention, because she’s a planet of her own goddamn making and her law of gravity is the only one worth obeying. For 3 seasons she does her own thing–a mesmeric combination of fearlessness and vulnerability, of kindness and unbridled anger–and the would-be suitors trail behind her with flowers, crying, “Please notice me!”

Vanessa has forever redefined the idea of a strong female character and I will live and die on her altar ’till the end of my days.

 

Anne de Vernase | The Soul Mirror (Collegia Magica 2)

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Anne is given what has to be the worst hand of cards that could be dealt to a female protagonist in fantasy: her father has been accused of treason and kidnapping and is now on the run; her younger brother has been thrown in prison; her mother has succumbed to insanity; and now she’s received news that her younger sister has died in an “accident.” Oh, and on top of it all, she’s about to lose her family estate.

Yet she remains on her feet, head held high. With logic, empathy, and sheer determination at her disposal, she carves out a place at the royal court, uncovers a dark conspiracy, and saves the world. Brava, Damoselle. Brava.

 

Julie (“Queenie”) | Code Name Verity

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“I am a coward”

It’s kind of impossible to explain why she’s such an incredible character and why she belongs on this list without going into spoilers, so this is gonna be vague.

Julie is a WW2 British spy who gets captured by the Germans and is forced to write up a comprehensive confession detailing everything to do with the British war effort. Gorgeous, clever, and sophisticated, she’s always had the attention of boys. But it’s her best friend Maddie who’s had her heart. And it’s Maddie that she keeps in mind as she’s tortured and interrogated to a breaking point.

Julie’s choice isn’t an easy one, but it’s one she stands by…and there’s a lot to be said for that.

And “Kiss me, Hardy” remains three of the most devastating words I’ve ever read.

 

Flavia de Luce|Flavia de Luce Series

“I am often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet my brains, more often than not, are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death.”

Flavia de Luce–chemist extraordinaire, amateur sleuth, and precocious tween–has no time for your romance nonsense. Not when there are delicious murders to be solved and chemical experiments to conduct. I mean, she’s also 11 for most of the series (because the author seems to want to keep her as a preteen for the rest of her life) so romance isn’t really on the menu for her right now, but still. She has little patience for the foolishness of adults and since no adult in her life can seem to rub two brain cells together to solve a murder, it’s up to her to figure things out. Again.

 

Felicity Montague | Montague Siblings Series

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You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in this world of men.”

Felicity is one of the best female characters I’ve come across in the past couple of years and I absolutely adore the development she goes through in Lady’s Guide. This is a girl who knows she can go toe-to-toe with the men when it comes to medicine and science, and she will do what it takes to prove that–to herself and to others.

Review: Where Oblivion Lives (Los Nefilim) – A Nephil’s Quest for a Missing Violin

51m3taqn4-l._sy346_Title: Where Oblivion Lives (Los Nefilim)
Author: T. Frohock
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: February 19th, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Angels/Demons, European History, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 368 (paperback)

Rating: 7.5/10

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Born of daimon and angel, Diago Alvarez is a being unlike all others. The embodiment of dark and light, he has witnessed the good and the horror of this world and those beyond. In the supernatural war between angels and daimons that will determine humankind’s future, Diago has chosen Los Nefilim, the sons and daughters of angels who possess the power to harness music and light.

As the forces of evil gather, Diago must locate the Key, the special chord that will unite the nefilim’s voices, giving them the power to avert the coming civil war between the Republicans and Franco’s Nationalists. Finding the Key will save Spain from plunging into darkness.

And for Diago, it will resurrect the anguish caused by a tragedy he experienced in a past life.

But someone—or something—is determined to stop Diago in his quest and will use his history to destroy him and the nefilim. Hearing his stolen Stradivarius played through the night, Diago is tormented by nightmares about his past life. Each incarnation strengthens the ties shared by the nefilim, whether those bonds are of love or hate . . . or even betrayal.

To retrieve the violin, Diago must journey into enemy territory . . . and face an old nemesis and a fallen angel bent on revenge.

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For those who are new to the series, Los Nefilim presents an early 1930’s Europe in which nefilim, the children of angels and daimons, live hidden amidst mortal kind and serve the angels as earthly soldiers in the angel-daimon war. We follow the activity of the Spanish nephilim branch, Los Nefilim, particularly one Diago Alvarez–a half-angel, half-daimon being who’s recently been inducted into the organization.

While I’d enjoyed the novellas (the characters in particular), I did feel like I was getting held back on the worldbuilding and nefilim lore. This full-length novel firmly addresses those problems. So now we get the heart-tugging family dynamic of the novellas plus a deeper exploration into the nefilim’s magic and their history. The story also widens its field of view to include Germany, introducing a new kind of tension relating to growing Aryan supremacy and too-curious Nazi officers.

While we don’t see a lot of interaction between Diago and his companions (and thus not a lot of development), what we do see of the characters individually I really liked.

Diago’s existence continues to spit in the face of toxic masculinity. Besides being a badass half-angel, half-daimon being who can harness musical energy, he’s also a loving husband, doting father, and a battler of PTSD, full of insecurities and fears but also a willingness (however reluctant) to voice them, which frankly makes him all the more badass.

Rafael continues to be the best kid character I’ve encountered in adult fantasy in the past year. So sweet. So adorable. So authentically child-like–not an adult’s skewed vision of what a child should be. And so incredibly bad for my heart because it melts every time he shows up on page.

“Don’t come home beat up. Every time you go away without us, you come home beat up.”

Disappointingly, Diago’s husband Miquel takes a backseat in this story, but on the upside, we do see a lot of Guillermo, the leader of Los Nefilim, and through his eyes we get more deeply entrenched into the political side of the war which I wholly enjoyed.

The espionage section of the story is the really interesting bit. The blurb dresses it up in this flashy action-adventure garb, but the reality is something more intimate and ordinary and creepy:

One house, two brothers, strange happenings, and suspense threatening to spill through the edges.

When you lay out such a seemingly mundane setting and plop down a character who’s as powerful as Diago is and still manage to make the readers fearful for him, you’ll hear me applauding in the background because that’s such a hard thing to pull off.

While reading the novellas beforehand would be helpful, I don’t think it’s necessary for the enjoyment of the story. I heartily recommend this to anyone who likes angel/demon stories, music magic, fantasy mixing with pre-WW2 history, and male protagonists who embrace vulnerability.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss. All opinions are my own.

Review: White Stag – Pretty and Air-Headed

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Title: White Stag
Author: Kara Barbieri
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 8th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Goblins, Norse Mythology
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

Rating: 5.0/10

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As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.

Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling

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I’m keeping this one short(ish). Because turns out I have even less to say about the book than what the book has to say to me. And that’s a bit of an achievement.

I went into this expecting something similar to Labyrinth. A gritty norse-goblin story dressed ill-fittingly as YA and dripping berserker rage–minus elements that would actually make a gritty norse-goblin story with berserker rage interesting–wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

First of all, I don’t think this should have been labelled as YA. They don’t show anything, but there’s graphic talk of how the main villain had raped the protagonist insensate over three months and mutilated one of her breasts. And there’s no point to this detail aside from hammering home the fact that the villain is, indeed, truly villain-y.

Aside from that, “hazy” is the best word to describe this book. The overarching plot? Hazy. The worldbuilding? Hazy. Character development (aside from the MC)? Ha-zy.

The relationship between Soren and Jenneke starts out in a skin-crawling place, with Soren determined to turn her fully into one of the goblins because he knows what’s best for her and apparently what’s best for her is to have no say in whether or not she loses her humanity.

“You’re still human enough to think I’m doing this to hurt you,” he said softly. “But I’m not. This is because I care for you.”

Uh huh.

It gets better as the story goes on but not because of any real effort on Soren’s part. Really, any character becomes a saint when placed next to Soren’s uncle and Soren is no exception.

I think the worldbuilding is what frustrated me the most. The premise gives you such an interesting foundation to work with and yet the end result is like low-budget play that comes with only a handful of background scenery–wintery trees, generic stretch of land, generic castle/mansion interior, and a dark cavernous area. And when you point to the space beyond the trees and ask, “What’s over there?” the book shrugs and goes, “I don’t know.” And that’s never fun.

It’s not a badly written book, but with a world that’s sorely underdeveloped, secondary characters that are just merely present, and a plot that sits around twiddling its thumbs, White Stag made for a curiously hollow and stagnant reading experience.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.