Thank you NetGalley and Delacorte Press for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
SYNOPSIS: The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It's losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.
As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn's--her brother's--magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.
Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong--the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it's too late--for her and for her entire kingdom. (AMAZON)
Now and again I enjoy a book despite the flaws that I see. Shielded is, in general, a passable read, but there's not a lot of depth to it. If you're looking for a novel with riveting characters, an absorbing story and immense growth throughout, then this is not the one for you. Most, if not all, remains at surface level.
The book's lead, Jennesara, is likable enough. I'm not sure why, exactly, her court in Hálendi had such a problem with her and found her to be so odd for a princess other than her penchant for doing her hair as simple as possible to hide her abilities (maybe because not a lot of time is spent in Hálendi before the story moves on), but this outright explanation for setting her apart from the “norm” of other girls, fell short. She can wield a sword well enough, and has been doing so since a young age, so that was fairly believable. She certainly gets knocked around and wounded enough times that I never thought her to be the Mary Sue of the brave fantasy female swashbuckler. But she certainly picks up fast on how to use a magic that's remained fairly sedate her whole life (magic, which, is a bit murky on its workings), and develops a few tricks along the way that come out of nowhere. She can be amusing, she's warm and brave, fairly intelligent, but at the end of the day she exhibits the typical signs of a character that can do almost anything put before her with minimal struggle or learning.
As we follow Jennesara along the world of Shielded after the initial incident in the novel that sets her life upside down, the setting began to evolve nicely. I was glad to see more of her surroundings, enjoyed getting to know the Wild and how it worked. Unfortunately, once Jennesara arrives in Turia—the land where her betrothed hails from, and the kingdom of the people supposedly causing war against Hálendi—she's shut up in the palace and other than the basic rooms that she visits, I never got to know more of the land. Whatever exploration the reader was lucky enough to embark upon, was abruptly cut off.
Her life in the palace moves from a suspicious outsider to a trusted guard in fast and less than credible circumstances. That's a theme, however. The ease with which people trust in this book baffles me. To the point where we're supposed to believe that the king of Turia—who we are told from the moment we meet him, is keen, and intelligent, and sees through lies—would allow someone from a nearby kingdom with whom relations are shaky, to meet with people plotting an obvious downfall in Turia, simply to not cause offense. That makes absolute sense. Let's allow people to plot right under our noses just so that we don't anger them, even though they're going to try to kill us anyway.
The romance featured was sweet, warm and at least did not develop so fast that it was instant. I am not a fan of romances that come to pass at the speed of light, but that's a very personal preference. Sometimes, I admit, it works in a story. Regardless, Teren/Enzo is what I would expect from a Prince Charming personality in a romantic relationship. He's brave, handsome, funny, strong and dependable, and from the moment that Jennesara sets eyes on him she's practically swept off her feet. You can't help but notice that this is the man that she will fall in love with, because the girl is absolutely smitten before we even know his name. It's “nice,” but it never set the pages aflame nor is it an epic tale to write home about.
That's the thing about the book as a whole: it's okay. There are evil mages who want to take over this world, and they go on a rampage of murder and hatred wherever they are, but there was no excitement to it. And though we're given quite a bit of background on how these mages came to be—sometimes background that became muddy and slightly confusing—the mages themselves, aside from the evil genius Graymere, are one-dimensional. Even Graymere remains outside of his core personality, aside from being the one to lead the others and thus have the obvious stronger role. That aside, the story is adequate, but it won't be a memorable read for me this year.
Thank you NetGalley and Delacorte Press for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Ever since Margot was born, it's been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot's questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.
But that's not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it's not what she bargained for.
Margot's mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what's still there?
The only thing Margot knows for sure is there's poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she's there, she might never escape. (Amazon)
A book lover often has a difficult time reading the books that they're interested in. Just when the opportunity arrives to finally dive into that story you've been wanting to read for months, about five other books release and you once again fall behind. That's why, despite the popularity of Wilder Girls last year, I never had the chance to enjoy it. Seeing a new and upcoming release from Rory Power seemed like the perfect opportunity to become acquainted with her imagination.
The writing itself is very good. There are no hiccups, no floundering about, and it flows smoothly. Rory Power gets to the point that she wants to make without beating around the bush. I really wanted to enjoy this story, however, and sometimes we want something so strongly that it slips away.
While the writing is straightforward, the pace was not. The novel took so long getting to the meat of the plot that I got slightly bored along the way. I didn't really connect with any characters except our lead, something that is at times the case often when a book is written in first-person. I felt for Margot and her plight. That's one thing that can be said for this book: you feel the desperation, frustration, and need coming off this young woman to have the love and family that she has wanted her whole life. It screams out through the pages.
Was the true horror and mystery of it all worth it when it finally arrived, however? Yes, it absolutely was. There is something sickening, twisted and disturbing about the history behind the horror of Margot's family. And for that, this book is well worth the read. That something so seemingly small would make me feel as uncomfortable as it did, speaks well for the way that the author unfolds it into the rest of the writing. But it arrived quite late, and developed far too fast for me to properly enjoy.
Burn Our Bodies Down has a Stephen King-esque vibe that hit me more than once, and I've noticed that other readers have felt the same. It's this nagging little thing at the back of your head that you notice here and there and can't let go of. I appreciated it, even if the whole of it fell a little more off the mark than I'd hoped. There's merit to this novel, I just wish that more of those daunting details which pop up near the end and made me uneasy—while making everything charged and fraught with terrible possibility—had been delivered a little more starkly from the start.
Thank you to Ana Huang for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: One year, two opposites, and a love that will blindside and, ultimately, shatter them.
She’s an aspiring interior designer who dreams of falling in love.
He’s an ex-football star who thinks love is a con.
She’s a virgin, and he doesn’t do virgins.
He’s cocky, infuriating, and not her type.
She wants the fairytale.
He wants freedom.
Blake and Farrah shouldn’t have fallen for each other the way they did: totally, completely, and irrevocably.
Because they’re studying abroad in Shanghai, and they only have one year.
Because forces at home threaten to rip them apart, even if they don’t know it yet.
And because, eventually, they must face the most heartbreaking lesson they’ll ever learn: sometimes, even the greatest love can’t conquer all. (Amazon)
If We Ever Meet Again is the story of what happens when life surprises us and we open ourselves up to something different from what we thought we wanted.
This story was sweet and heartwarming, with two very likable characters. Though I found Farrah and Blake's first meeting a little fast in happening and ever so slightly hurried, it was still charming. Their quick zings and ability to take each other lightly despite their attraction for one another was very relatable and drew me in as a reader. If nothing else, they made me smile. Though their story does not come to a (temporary) close in the best of terms, it's bittersweet, and does hold hope.
One of my favorite parts about the book were the rich descriptions of its setting. The scene between our two leads at the Great Wall of China was breathtaking, and though it had to do about their connection more so than the place, it was so easy to picture them there with history surrounding them. That scene, by the way, was the first time that this novel made me feel truly emotional—it was great to see two people who, up to this point were mostly bickering and bantering with one another, show vulnerability.
Between Farrah and Blake's friends, the cozy bond that they all have formed together, and the adventures that they take, If We Ever Meet Again was endearing. It's very much about not just the romantic relationships, but those in general.
It's the perfect time to do this Book Tag, and I wasn't expecting how some of these turned out, but that is one of the reasons why I enjoy these types of posts so much. I borrowed these questions from BookswithEmilyFox's YouTube video >HERE< and enjoyed learning her own answers as much as I did discovering mine.
Best book you’ve read so far in 2020. Maggie Stiefvater's Call Down the Hawk. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2020, it did not disappoint, and I am eager to get my hands on the second book. I need more Ronan and Adam in my life!
Best sequel you've read so far in 2020. One of Us Is Next by Karen McManus. Karen McManus writes books that, to me, feel like comfort reads from the moment that I pick them up until the second that I finish. That's a treasured sensation to experience in relation to a story.
New release you haven't read yet, but want to. Most of the books that I still desperately want to still read in 2020 haven't released yet. However, more and more, I find myself intrigued to read The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin. There's one to look forward to.
Most anticipated release for the second half of the year. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. I found out about this book when the year had already begun, which is different from my other eagerly awaited books of 2020 since I knew about those since last year. But the moment that I learned about it, I knew it was a story for me.
Biggest disappointment. The Sisters Grimm by Menna Van Praag. The premise for this book promised everything that I would usually enjoy in a retelling, especially since it dealt with fairytales. But it was dull and lengthier than it needed to be, lacking the magic I hoped it'd have.
Biggest surprise. The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant. The audience seems divided on this one, but I absolutely adored it. Kester Grant took me on a dark and deep tunnel along the tale of Les Miserables all the while shaping the world that she'd created around this classic. To say that I am curious to find out how she continues from where this first book in the series left off is an understatement.
Favourite new author. (Debut or new to you) This is a difficult one to answer, because I've enjoyed quite a few books by new authors for me this year. But, among them, Kate McLaughlin stands out with her debut of What Unbreakable Looks Like. This emotional, heartbreaking story is written in such a simple yet powerful way that it can't help but stick with you. Even months after I read it, I still think about it from time to time.
Newest fictional crush. Declan from Stiefvater's Call Down the Hawk did something to me this year. Which shocked me, because he's such a sanctimonious ass in previous books from this world. But the true crush came in the form of Sarah J. Maas' Hunt from House of Earth and Blood. That was certainly a tasty morsel, even if I get the beginnings of anxiety thinking of what might potentially happen to him.
Newest favourite character. I'm tempted to name Stevie Bell, even though I met her previous to this year from the Truly Devious trilogy. However, though the book is not as well known (yet), I adored Anne Bonny from Meg Caddy's Devil's Ballast. Yes, I know she was a real person and not a fictional character, but she was fictionalized in order to be part of this novel. So, she'll do. That is one strong woman I would've looked up to, pirate or not.
Book that made you cry. Again, Kate McLaughlin's What Unbreakable Looks Like. The tears flowed silently but truthfully.
Book that made you happy. You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle. I don't usually read romances lately unless there's a side-story to them (or unless the romance is the side-story), but this book was a delight to read. It brought more smiles and laughs to me than most other novels have lately.
Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year (or received) The UK tour edition of Sarah J. Maas' House of Earth and Blood. Which, infuriatingly, never made it to me. My delivery service canceled the order and returned the book to Waterstones because they couldn't “find my residence.” So, I had the pleasure of buying the book, but never had it in my hands. It still stings.
What books do you need to read by the end of the year? Sooooo many that it makes me want to hide under the bed and not come out unless food beckons. Honestly, I have over 20 ARCs waiting to be read, more are on the way, and I'm not even taking into account the other many books that I wait to see released. That's the joy of reading, though: you never run out of material to explore.
Thank you Edelweiss and HarperTeen for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.
Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.
But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.
In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing. (Amazon)
I came across Ghost Wood Song and I was soon lost. I am absolutely and easily smitten by a pretty cover, it will turn my head every single time, and this is one gorgeous cover. How could I resist finding out more about the book?
But then... Wait now, this is a Gothic story with a Southern twist? Well, I'm sold.
Only a few chapters into this novel, and I was hooked. At the center of this tale is Shady Grove (a name I adored from the get-go), whose father has died a few years prior; she now seeks his special fiddle after her brother gets into enough trouble to warrant her need to become involved. This fiddle, she believes, holds the answer to helping her older sibling, especially since it raised ghosts for her daddy until the day he himself passed from this world.
That alone should be interesting, but what I most loved about this book—and what drew me in time and time again—was how well Erica Waters allows the reader to become lost in the haunting and rural setting. With its surrounding forests, lakes and old houses, creeping vegetation and nearby whispers, you see ghosts at every corner. It was so easy to sink into the story and follow along with Shady and her friends while she raised ghosts and fought to keep herself alive.
Unfortunately, I think it's those same characters who made my love at first sight falter a few times. It's not that they're a weak cast. They're charming. Shady is smart and kind, protective and easy of manner unless you speak ill or go after someone she loves. But the rest kept mostly to the surface. It was as if, lest they were needed to make a point to the story, they were tucked away in the background. Even during scenes in which there were more than two characters present, it was not rare to notice that besides the two who were mainly in conversation, the others would be forgotten in narrative. It's not a huge detriment to the story, and alongside Shady, Frank and Jesse are intriguing because they're part of the big mystery behind everything going on. But I wanted the others to have a pull from me as well.
The pacing is fast, and you don't have much time to become bored with any goings on. There were some scenes that lacked the nostalgia and eerie notes that echoed throughout, which pulled away from total immersion on and off. Don't get me wrong, not every single instance needed to be full of spirits, and cold spots, and scary footsteps in the middle of the night. Yet, now and again, the dreary atmosphere with which the novel began, would slip before catching itself right before going over completely. Once that happened, it wasn't difficult to get sucked back in.
Ghost Wood Song is a charming story despite the sadness of its premise. The family bond portrayed is strong, and hopeful—it's inspiring. There are a few darkly atmospheric moments that are no less meaningful for being expected, and the inclusion of music added a layer that was as gripping as I expected it to be. It certainly prompted me to learn some new music that I likely wouldn't have come across on my own.
That's always a great day: when a book offers you a novel thing to enjoy in life.
Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury YA for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: It's 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl's display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella's mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all--and in the process, they learn that there's more to Cinderella's story than they ever knew . . .
This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they've been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them. (Amazon)
I've never been a fan of the Cinderella fairytale. It's a lovely fairytale, don't get me wrong. And I certainly appreciate it. But it's not one of my favorites. “Why then would you read this book?” I too would ask. Well, it's a retelling, right? Retellings build upon the skeleton of the original and from there, the writer can go anywhere, do anything—create something new on that foundation. It's why I enjoy reading retellings. Cinderella Is Dead went past the early stages of the story we all know, and gave us a picture of the setting 200 years after Cinderella dies.
My biggest disappointment with this novel is how shallow it is as far as development. There is not enough depth to the world-building, or to characters, or to their actions. We know the bare minimum so that we can follow along with the storytelling. After Cinderella dies, Prince Charming angrily decides that women will stop having any rights because Cinderella did not love him as he saw fit, men will control them, and he gets his pick of the lot whenever he wants. These rules follow every king hereafter. In short, he's a spoiled brat and that's his drive. And by his decrees (because in this world it seems that most men are shaped with the same cloth that shaped Prince Charming) almost every male that our lead comes across (with the exception of just three of them) are all horrible human beings who just want to inflict pain on women, use them, and discard them as they see fit.
That line never sits right with me whenever an author uses it in a story.
Sophia, our lead... Well, I still don't know her. I know that she doesn't want to marry a man just because her king demands it (which is valid) and that she wants to get out of this situation. She's headstrong, and stubborn, and most of the time does whatever she wants without regard for anyone else, or much thought to her actions. That's all that I know about her. I neither liked her, nor disliked her, except to find her instant lust/love towards Constance to be one-dimensional and unbelievable. Sophia swears that she's in love with Erin, her sweetheart, and yet after just one night in Constance's presence, she starts thinking to herself
Her body, backlit by the flames, is like a vision. She is tall and strong. She's got her sleeves pushed up; a wide, jagged scar runs over the muscles of her upper arm. They flex as she stokes the flames. I imagine how they might feel wrapped around me, and I wonder if she can tell how enthralled I am with her.
You just met this girl. How can you be enthralled by someone that you know nothing about? Sophia's feelings towards Constance's and Constance's immediate reciprocation and constant flirting (see what I did there?) was hammered into me from their first meeting. And during moments when I wanted to be focused on the story, it would rear its awkward head up again and detract from the bit of plot that I wanted to follow.
It felt forced.
After a few chapters that dragged, and some planning by the characters to figure out how to beat the backwards system in the world of this novel, we finally come to the end of the story. It involved a lot of Sophia (who has run away from the “kingdom” so that she's not killed) waltzing right back into the palace, without any guard recognizing that this is the girl they're chasing after. Once that's done, and the king most obviously sees her among the other girls, the two engage in fairly poor comebacks against each other until she gets locked in a pantry-sized room to await his evil deeds against her.
I wanted to like the ending, because it was to be the saving grace at this point. But it was as bland as I found most of the rest of the story and ended in a predicable manner. King Manford doesn't really have a reason to be the way that he is, there's no point to his villainous nature, and I felt like the author kept pulling twists and turns and reveals from her sleeve at random to help make sense of things but they didn't add up. Sure, Sophia and Constance get what they want at the close, but we expect it. Nothing that came before it left a lasting impression.
Despite everything that I didn't enjoy, the twist given to Amina's role—our “fairy godmother”—was great. No, she does not have much development either, but I'm glad that her character was different from what we expected. I like that it drew from a darker source and gave her a slightly more sinister veneer. Who she is to Manford came out of nowhere, but I suppose it works. And while the king's history before Cinderella is flimsy at best, the way that he keeps himself going was intriguing, and definitely fits his role of antagonist, even if it's something that has been done many times past.
The writing touched the mere surface of the story and a lot more life could have been imbued into every aspect of it. It unfortunately fell very short from my expectations.
Thank you to Rachel Emma Shaw for this book. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: There's nothing Sarilla hates more than stealing memories, but the king forces her to do, just so he can keep his subjects in line. She wants to escape to where nobody knows what she is or what she can do, but her plans go awry when she runs into someone she would much rather forget.
Falon has a six-month void in his memories that he's desperate to restore. He doesn't know why they were taken or what they contained, nor why the man he loves is acting so cagily about what happened during that time. He hopes to use Sarilla to get back what was stolen from him and isn't interested in why she's so desperate to escape. She will help him get back what he's lost, whether she wants to or not.
Join Sarilla and Falon in this twisted tale about how sometimes good intentions aren't enough to keep the darkness at bay. (Amazon)
The idea of someone being able to steal memories is a fascinating one. The power that it would entail would not just make that person valuable, but potentially dangerous. Enter our lead Sarilla.
This story had a lot of promise.
The protagonist, Sarilla has been kept by the King of this realm and used for her abilities to take memories from his enemies. She escapes with her brother, whose own powers are similar to her own, and carries the marks of the tasks she did at her liege's hand on her skin. Alongside them is Falon with his band of friends, who come across Sarilla, and after finding out “what” she is, he decides to use her so that she can unlock his own lost/stolen memories.
There's a gloomy atmosphere to the story that I always fall in love with, and I was glad to see that a force such as the one that Sarilla has, has consequences, and is not something that she can simply use without it affecting her. That's the price that magic should exact on its practitioners—at least ideally, and as a preference for me, especially in a fantasy. Getting to know the Memoria and their ways, as well as seeing how they've been twisted by those who use them, made them more realistic.
But I had trouble forming an attachment to the characters—they sadly did not resonate with me as much as I'd hoped. And at the start, part of that had to do with how abruptly we're thrown into the midst of the novel without knowing which way is left or right. A little more direction, background, some easing into the action would have worked a lot more smoothly.
As soon as I noticed that these characters were bound to be on the road, I was delighted. Blame it on my love of The Lord of the Rings, but I like to follow characters on quest-like adventures of any sort. Sadly, a lot of it played out dully, with a lack of clear direction along the way.
It's the first in the duology, and Scars of Cereba might neaten the writing and cast a lot more by the time this is done. There are prospects to a strongly entertaining story here, but, unfortunately it lacked chemistry with me.
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Thank you NetGalley and Tor Books for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: He has been too many things to count. He has been a dragon with a boy on his back. He has been a scholar, a warrior, a lover, and a thief. He has been dream and dreamer. He has been a god.
But “he” is in fact nothing more than a spark of idea, a character in the mind of Sylvia Harrison, 73, award-winning author of thirty novels over forty years. He has played a part in most of those novels, and in the recesses of her mind, Sylvia has conversed with him for years.
But Sylvia won't live forever, any more than any human does. And he's trapped inside her cave of bone, her hollow of skull. When she dies, so will he.
Now Sylvia is starting a new novel, a fantasy for adult readers, set in Thalia, the Florence-resembling imaginary city that was the setting for a successful YA trilogy she published decades before. Of course he's got a part in it. But he also has a notion. He thinks he knows how he and Sylvia can step off the wheel of mortality altogether. All he has to do is convince her. (Amazon)
When you read the work of a new author, you're about to step into a new and different world. You have no idea what you're in store for, not matter how interesting the synopsis of the story may seem. I find myself feeling both excited and wary, but with as open a mind as I can keep in all situations (which is rather open, I'm always pleasantly surprised to realize).
Before I read Or What You Will, I did not know what metafiction was. It could be that throughout my years as a reader I came across a story that had meta components, but I wasn't aware of it, or didn't look into it further enough to find out. I've always loved that about books, however: you're going to learn something new in each one, about the book or about yourself, even if it's the fact that you've discovered an author whose imagination you now enjoy. And regardless of any other factors, you're going to appreciate the book for that alone.
I certainly do.
I now know that I'm not a fan of metafiction. It's not my cup of tea and I accept that. Despite this, this book is worth the read. Not only is the writing itself fantastic, but the way that you are drawn into the story happens seamlessly. Yes, you're given a lot of information that is mingled in with the narrative—most of it historical details of Florence, which tie in with the rest of the book—and it can be quite a lot to take in. But as history stands, they're fascinating facts that will just make your life richer for knowing, especially if you're a fan of art and European culture; it's intriguing, and it does help in becoming further immersed.
It took me some time to go deep into the novel, but once I did, I did not want to come back up until I'd finished it.
Or What You Will won't be for everyone, but there's a special kind of magic that makes it irresistible to read. After all, as a reader, who doesn't want to explore a story about a fictional character coming to life?
Thank you NetGalley and Text Publishing for this book. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Anne Bonny was eighteen when she ran away from her violent husband, James, into the arms of pirate captain Calico Jack Rackham. Now she’s ensconced aboard Jack’s ship Ranger, passing as a cabin boy and playing her ruthless part in a crew that is raining down mayhem and murder on the ships of the Caribbean. But James Bonny is willing to pay to get his ‘property’ back. And pirate-hunter Captain Barnet is happy to take his money. The Ranger’s a fast ship: Anne might just be able to outrun Barnet. But can she outrun the consequences of her relationship with Calico Jack? (Amazon)
Anne Bonny is considered “one of the most famous female pirates of all time”, which in and of itself, would have been scandalous even in that group. While I've heard her name mentioned a couple of times, and seen her featured in TV shows like Black Sails, I didn't know a lot about her life. Readers may take historical fiction in different ways, but for me it opens a door through which I want to learn more about a time, place, or people once I've finished the novel.
Though taken with a grain of salt—because as Meg Caddy states in the Author's Note at the end of the book, “when it comes to Anne Bonny and her lads there is some difficulty sorting the historical from the fiction.”--Devil's Ballast was a pleasure to read. Not only is it an adventure ride from the moment that you start to read with Bonny on the deck of her Calico Jack's the Ranger about to take over the Kingston, but you can't help yourself from liking Bonny. She's sassy, she's whip-smart, she's got a mouth that won't shut up and gets her into more trouble than she knows what to do with sometimes. But she's also a woman who has suffered a lot of physical and mental affront in her past and is trying to build a new life for herself.
She's impossible to root against; the woman had tenacious strength, and I doubt that she would've been much different in reality considering that she managed to survive eighty-five years on this Earth. I imagine that that wasn't an easy feat for a person who partook in the lifestyle of a pirate.
Is the story of Devil's Ballast a romanticized version of piracy? I would say so. You're on the side of these hooligans from start to finish. At least I now I was! I'm well aware that they committed terrible acts of violence in their time, and there was a valid reason why those against them worked so hard to get rid of their kind. But as this novel stands, the characters are a delight. Bonny aside, I was so glad to see “Martin” Read featured and play such a strong—and crucial—role in the plot. His scene with Bonny below-decks on the schooner en route to Nassau, letting the vulnerability slip free on himself, was one of the best. In the midst of all the fast-paced action, the moments of strong emotion were all the more appreciated.
Despite knowing a thing or two on how history truly wrote itself, the ending to the novel was incredibly satisfying. I've never been one to root for the “good guys” all the time. It depends on the story, and it depends on the roles being played out. And in times like these, with a story such as the one written on these pages, that pays off. If there's one complaint that I have is that the book ended too quickly. For all the struggle that Bonny went through, for all the times that she had to fight tooth and nail through sweat and blood and tears, she made it worth the read. This woman was a badass in her time, and this here novel is a little treasure for fans of one such as her.
Thank you NetGalley and Bookouture for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Like deep dark water, it pulls them down. The faint fire of magic within them flickers and dies. Their eyes turn black as night. They are nightborn now.
Grace Marchant has been many things: streetwise orphan, rebellious servant, and now beloved companion of Prince Bastien, heir to the throne of Larelwynn. But their sunlit happiness is not destined to last. The golden magic which brought them together in purest passion is threatened by strange and ancient forces. Innocent people are becoming nightborn – cruel, deadly, unrecognisable to their loved ones – and these two young lovers are the only ones with power enough to stop it.
In times of peace, striking a deal with their closest enemy would be unthinkable, but now their only hope is to ally with the neighbouring Valenti royal family: manipulative, cunning, and always with an eye on the Larelwynn throne. The partnership comes at a devastating price… if Grace wants to defeat the nightborn, she must watch Bastien marry a Valenti princess.
Grace knows she must make this heart-wrenching sacrifice for the good of the whole kingdom – but she also fears the magic in her veins, usually so warm and bright, is turning cold as deepest midnight. A beguiling darkness whispers to her from within. Is Grace herself becoming nightborn?
Time is running out. With Bastien promised to another, and a stony distance growing between them, will Grace find the source of the nightborn curse before every last soul is consumed by the darkness? (Amazon)
I liked Mageborn, it was a good story. But my attention and enjoyment of it wavered throughout the novel. With Nightborn, however, I was gripped from start to finish. I was thriving along that high tension.
In Nightborn, we pick up months after the end of Mageborn alongside Bastien, Grace, and the gang as they move into the Valenti Islands in hopes of an alliance against Rathlynn. One of the things that made me anxious about the synopsis of Nightborn was the premise that a love triangle might be found in the midst of this second installment. As a personal preference, I am not a fan of love triangles. They are cliché, they've been done a million times, and if I do read one, I hope and pray that it will be done in a way that will allow me to still enjoy the story while I attempt to manage my anxiety levels. I commend Jessica Thorne. Not only did she deliver on this fervent hope of mine, but she didn't give us the typical love triangle that I would expect in this scenario. The fact that she still gave the allusion of it, and then threw in a twist, made me like this book even more because I admire and appreciate an author who thinks outside the box. With just a little tweak of the characters and their personalities, the cliché was averted.
The plot of Nightborn was fascinating. We are given a hint as to what a nightborn is from the first novel—they are the reason that mageborn paid homage to Bastien. But without Bastien around, and with the Deep Dark disturbed after Grace's death and return in Mageborn, the nightborn now run rampant. Their magic is twisted, broken, and they are out to maim and kill and destroy. In mind of this, if you expect chaos, death, bloodshed and fear, you are not going to be disappointed. Nightborn more than delivers on this while the main cast of the novel runs for their lives in an attempt to not just solve this problem, but to find a solution for the way that the Deep Dark is affecting Grace.
If she played a strong role before, Grace steals the show in this book, and I am delighted by that. This is a case of me liking a character at first, but then really appreciating them the more that I get to know them. Grace is headstrong without being overconfident, and she is not immune from feeling the obvious fear that someone might feel when there is an ancient and powerfully magical force taking over you. She's more than willing to sacrifice herself for those she loves, but it's not a blind sacrifice. She wants to find a way to end what is potentially going to ruin an entire group of people, rather than blindly throw herself to the mercy of whatever god might make this happen and hope for the best. She was very human in her weaknesses and strengths, and her love for Bastien—and their relationship, in general—is not just stronger, but more deeply felt, and I couldn't help but connect with it.
There are going to be some surprises, many coming from the antagonists of this cast. Asher Kane is a delight to hate, and he almost overwhelms Aurelie in “bad guy” persona. Where Aurelie is hatred borne of pride and an ego the size of the entire kingdom of Rathlynn, Asher is smart. He uses that intelligence to his advantage. He certainly uses it a time or two here.
If there was anything that made me draw back in doubt about Nightborn, it was likely Kane and company's easy capture of Bastien and coercion into him going along with their plans near the novel's start. On one hand, I am not surprised. Bastien has been used before. But the ease with which it was done, while he still retained his powers at full strength and could defend himself, was unbelievable to me, rubbed me the wrong way, and left me dissatisfied. I'm still not wholly convinced, and in part feel that it was done so that the marriage with Rynn could happen. Besides, you would think that Bastien, who has lived in a nest of vipers for years, would know better than to go into another one, on his own, to reason with them.
You're lovely, Bastien, and I adore you, but that was never going to work out and you must have known it.
Book three must be coming next if the second's end is anything to judge by, and I want my hands all over it already. The ending to Nightborn was slightly weakened for me by Grace's neat salvation—again. It happened far too easily, although I'm sure that the Hollow King had/has a plan, and that we may (I hope) later find out about it. But I am eager, now that I find myself well and truly hooked into this story, to continue following its path.