Spotlight on the Backlist: The Relic Guild Trilogy

Welcome to the first post in my new occasional series! Well, it’s intended to be a series, but the last one I started didn’t fare too well, so we’ll see how this one goes quite frankly.

The idea behind these posts is to give older titles a bit of love. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding that I’m always attracted to new shinies instead of giving older books a bit of attention, particularly on the blog when you have a pile of review copies which need to be read and reviewed. So this series will highlight some of my old favourites, as well as books that have been around for a while that I haven’t read.

We’re going to start with a series that falls into the latter category. When I started going to conventions more regularly, in 2014, there was a lot of chatter about The Relic Guild by Edward Cox. Ed was actually a participant at some of these conventions, and I remember listening to him talk about his book, which was his debut, and thinking ‘oh, I need to read that’, and then I didn’t. Because I’m a terrible person whose TBR pile was already a mountain. I did buy it on kindle, but see above re new shinies taking priority. So when I got an email from Gollancz (in August. I’m so sorry this is so late!) offering the chance to read and review the entire trilogy, just as I was thinking of starting this series of posts, well, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. I’m very glad I did jump at the chance!

(The Relic Guild Trilogy was gifted to me for free by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review)

Magic caused the war. Magic is forbidden. Magic will save us.

It was said the Labyrinth had once been the great meeting place, a sprawling city at the heart of an endless maze where a million humans hosted the Houses of the Aelfir. The Aelfir who had brought trade and riches, and a future full of promise. But when the Thaumaturgists, overlords of human and Aelfir alike, went to war, everything was ruined and the Labyrinth became an abandoned forbidden zone, where humans were trapped behind boundary walls a hundred feet high.

Now the Aelfir are a distant memory and the Thaumaturgists have faded into myth. Young Clara struggles to survive in a dangerous and dysfunctional city, where eyes are keen, nights are long, and the use of magic is punishable by death. She hides in the shadows, fearful that someone will discover she is touched by magic. She knows her days are numbered. But when a strange man named Fabian Moor returns to the Labyrinth, Clara learns that magic serves a higher purpose and that some myths are much more deadly in the flesh.

The only people Clara can trust are the Relic Guild, a secret band of magickers sworn to protect the Labyrinth. But the Relic Guild are now too few. To truly defeat their old nemesis Moor, mightier help will be required. To save the Labyrinth – and the lives of one million humans – Clara and the Relic Guild must find a way to contact the worlds beyond their walls.

People, the lack of love for this series is criminal! It’s so good! I’m not sure in which subsection of fantasy it should be classified – probably epic, but that doesn’t feel quite right as Labrys Town is dark and dirty – but however you want to class it, if you’re a fantasy fan, this series should be on your TBR. I raced through all three books and loved the characters and the settings. I especially loved seeing the younger versions of the Guild back in the last days of the war and realising how decisions made 40 years earlier had affected the present.

Labrys Town is a really interesting setting. Although The Cathedral of Known Things and The Watcher of Dead Time open things out somewhat, Labrys Town is always the centre of the story, and it’s a fascinating place. Cut off from all outside influences, surrounded by demons, and essentially reliant on one man for 40 years, it’s exactly the town you would imagine would develop under those circumstances. While it’s not somewhere I would like to live, it’s definitely the sort of place I like to read about! I also found the effect that living in a place like that had had on our heroes was interesting – the present day versions are much harder and tougher, not to mention more bitter and cynical, than the people we meet in the earlier story, and while I think this happens to everyone with age, to some extent, it was clear the circumstances of the last 40 years, and of course the losses they’d experienced during the war, had had a huge impact.

The story was well paced over the three books, and the two different chronologies worked very effectively in building the world and emphasising the terror engendered by the villains. There were many points in the plot where I couldn’t see a way out, and obviously that heightened the tension to almost unbearable levels. I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty good at seeing where a book is going, but this series had some twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting at all, and I love it when that happens!

I’m so glad Gollancz offered me the chance to read The Relic Guild trilogy. It gave me the kick up the backside I needed to read the series. I’m not sure I’d have ever got around to it otherwise, and I would definitely be missing out – as are you if you haven’t picked it up yet either!

4/5

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Book Review: The Ruin of Kings

A free copy of this book was gifted to me by Tor UK/Pan Macmillan and Jamie Lee Nardone in exchange for an honest review.

Oh, The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons is a difficult book to review. The basic storyline and the characterisation are excellent, but kind of hamstrung by the execution. I started reading an e-ARC from Netgalley and ended up having to beg for a physical copy of the book, because I just couldn’t keep track of what was happening on my kindle. Fortunately, the experience of reading it did improve with a physical copy, and I enjoyed the book very much, but I am hoping the next book in the series is written in a different format!

ruin of kings

What if you weren’t the hero?

Kihrin grew up on tales of long-lost princes and grand quests – despite being raised in a brothel, making money as a musician and street thief. One day he overreaches by targeting an absent noble’s mansion, hunting for jewels. There he witnesses a prince performing a terrifying dark-magic ritual. Kihrin flees but he’s marked by a demon and his life will never be the same again.

That night also leads to him being claimed as a lost son of that prince’s royal house. But far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family’s power plays and ambitions. He must also discover why his murderous father finds Kihrin more valuable alive than dead. Soon Kihrin attempts to escape his relative’s dangerous schemes, but finds himself in far deeper waters.

He becomes tangled in a plot to kill the Emperor, rob the Imperial Vaults, claim a god-slaying sword and free bound demons to wreak havoc across the land. Kihrin also discovers the old tales lied about many things: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love – and the hero always winning. But maybe Kihrin isn’t fated to save the empire. He’s destined to destroy it.

That synopsis makes it all seem so straightforward, doesn’t it? It’s not. It is, as I said above, a cracking story but it’s told from two different points of view, on different timelines, in alternating chapters. Yeah. It also has footnotes. Now I love a good footnote, but combined with the alternating viewpoints, these just made everything confusing. Partly this was my own fault – there’d been a gap between me starting it on my kindle and carrying on in paperback and I’d forgotten who was writing the footnotes. But I do also think it was inherently confusing anyway, especially as the storyline involves multiple instances of body swapping. One of the alternating viewpoints is Talon, a mimic who eats people and absorbs their memories, personality and the ability to look like them. She’s using her stolen memories to tell the early part of Kihrin’s story, while he tells the more recent story. (His part of the story also involves people swapping bodies, which actually confused me more than Talon’s tale!)

It’s certainly a different style of storytelling, but I’m not sure it served the story terribly well. Which is a shame. Once I’d mostly got my head around the different chronologies (which did start to make sense, especially in hindisght) and who was who, I really enjoyed The Ruin of Kings. It has a full, vibrant cast of characters and excellent worldbuilding, to the extent that three days after finishing it, my brain is still partly in that world. I loved Teraeth, the Black Brotherhood and Kihrin’s time on the island in particular. Once I was into it it was difficult to put down, as most chapters left on a cliffhanger and I needed to know what happened next. I still need to know what happens next and I will be reading the next book as soon as it comes out!

So The Ruin of Kings is epic fantasy as epic as it comes I suppose. Despite my difficulties with the format, I don’t want to put anyone off reading it, because it is a great story, which is why I rated it as highly as I did. It’s definitely worth picking up, but I would recommend a physical copy if it’s possible for you – kindles and foototes don’t mix!

4/5

 

Top Ten Tuesday: The Ten Most Recent Additions to my TBR

top ten tuesday

I wasn’t planning on doing a Top Ten Tuesday post this week, but then I saw everyone else’s posts crossing my reader, and I couldn’t resist the theme. Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and this week’s theme is the ten most recent additions to my TBR. I’ve decided to do the ten most recent (physical) books I’ve acquired, because yep, there have been more than ten of them in January. I don’t think I’ve got the hang of reducing the TBR pile!

1. King of Scars

Bought today. Well, technically bought a few weeks ago, because I pre-ordered this one, but I collected it today. I’d say I can’t wait to read it, but I need to finish the Grisha trilogy first!

2 . The Curses

3. Oh My Gods

4. Fierce Fragile Hearts

5. Shadowscent

All bought on Sunday after the Waterstones Deansgate bloggers meet-up (more of which in another post soon)

6. Women: Our History

7. The Feminism Book

Kindly gifted to me by DK Books, as they sponsored the aforementioned bloggers meet-up.

8. This Is What Happy Looks Like

9. Afterworlds

10. The Monsters We Deserve

All gifted to me by other bloggers on Sunday as part of our unofficial book swap.

Oh my goodness. I’ve acquired ten books in the last three days! I didn’t even get far enough back to include the books I picked up at the Headline New Voices event last Wednesday. Oh my goodness. This is why I have huge book piles in front of my bookcase!

So, ignoring my unfortunate book habit, anything on my list also on yours? Have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments!

(I’m just going to go and cry in a corner while I try to figure out where I’m going to put all these books!)

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant To Read in 2018 But Didn’t Get To

top ten tuesday

I was determined to finally write a blog post in 2019, and I was trying to decide which of my extremely overdue reviews I was going to type up, when I realised that Top Ten Tuesday would be the perfect kick up the backside I needed. When I toddled off to That Artsy Reader Girl to see what this week’s topic was, I was overjoyed to find it was books I meant to read in 2018. It will surprise absolutely no-one to know that there are a lot of books which fall into this category for me!

1. Vengeful

I have been looking forward to this book for years. Actual years. And now it’s out, and I still haven’t read it. Sort yourself out Donna.

2. Dread Nation

This book looks so interesting and it’s had amazing reviews. I had it on my wishlist for ages and no-one bought it for me, but now I have a copy from the library, so hopefully it won’t be too long before I read it!

3. The Dark Days Pact

Yeah, so this book was also on my 2017 books I should have read list. I still haven’t read it, and the third book in the series is out now. I should probably get round to it.

4. Our Dark Duet

The second V E Schwab book that I really should have read by now. One day!

5. Competence

I am a HUGE fan of Gail Carriger and her Parasol Protectorate series and spin offs, so why haven’t I read her latest book yet? (Because it’s on my kindle and I get too distracted by shiny physical books, is the answer, if you’re wondering.)

6. Witchsign

I was desperate to read this before it came out. I bought it on release day. It’s still sitting in the TBR pile.

7. The Bitter Twins

From one co-founder of the SRFC to the other. I adored The Ninth Rain, the first book in this series, but The Bitter Twins is huge and intimidating, which is the main reason I haven’t read it yet. I need to soon, because the third book will be out this year!

8. The Malice

And The Seven come to that. Had them both for a while. Still not read them, although I have read Pete Newman’s latest book, The Deathless. I’m not the best at prioritising.

9. Before Mars

Well, having mentioned Pete Newman, it would be rude not to mention Emma, right? Oh god, these last three entries are three of my favourite authors – how have I not managed to read these yet?!

10. The Girl in the Tower

I adored The Bear and the Nightingale. I was overjoyed when I got The Girl in the Tower before the UK release date in a book box in December 2017. Still haven’t read it, and The Winter of the Witch is out now. I really need to catch up!

So there you have my top ten books I meant to read in 2018 but didn’t. Maybe I’ll get round to them this year?

Do you have any of these books on your list? Let me know in the comments!

Netgalley Reviews Catch-Up Part 2

My last Netgalley reviews catch up was books I’d read mostly around the time of release, but never got round to reviewing. This post is the books I’ve read more recently – and yes, most of them came out months and months ago. Sometimes life happens.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

midnight bookstore cover

I have to admit, this book was not what I expected at all, but I enjoyed it a lot once I got into it properly. That did take a significant portion of the book, but there was a moment when it all just suddenly clicked and I didn’t want to put the book down. Set primarily in the bookstore of the title, our lead character is Lydia, one of the booksellers. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is something of a haven for people who don’t quite fit in, or are acing hard times, and one night, as she’s closing up, Lydia comes across the body of one of these people after he’s hanged himself. This prompts Lydia to find out what would lead Joey, her favourite ‘bookfrog’ to do such a thing, but it leads into her own past in ways she could never have imagined. Matthew Sullivan is brilliant at drip-feeding bits of information throughout the story, and although I did guess some of the conclusion slightly before the end, I was utterly gripped by the mysteries unfolding in front of me. I highly recommend it, just be aware that it’s slow to get into, and parts of it are quite explicitly gory.

4/5

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

eleanor oliphant cover

To be fair to myself, I will point out that I didn’t get this one until a few months after its original release, so I’m not quite as late as I look. I wish I’d read it sooner, because it really is as good as everyone says it is. It’s a really hard book to try and review, because I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but it’s a proper life-affirming story. Eleanor is prickly and yes, a little bit strange, and she has no idea how to navigate social situations (for reasons that become very clear during the course of the book), but she’s a brilliant character with so much to love and she’s so relatable in many ways. To see her start venturing out of her comfort zone, even though it’s for slightly dubious reasons, feels like I imagine watching your child take their first steps does. There is a plot, but really this book is absolutely character driven, and it’s utterly wonderful. Read it.

5/5

Paris For One and Other Stories

paris for one

I’ve never read a Jojo Moyes book before, so I thought short stories might be a good way to start, but unfortunately I didn’t really connect with any of the stories. I suspect this is more me than Moyes, since I know short stories often aren’t enough for me, but I also think that romance stories aren’t a good fit for me in general. Although I will say that romance in these stories is very much a subjective thing. The ones I liked most were the two longer stories – the title one, and Honeymoon in Paris (which is apparently a prequel of sorts to one of Moyes’ novels). I don’t think there’s really a lot else I can say about about this book though. It was an enjoyable enough read for 90 minutes, but I’m probably not going to search out the author’s other books.

3/5

Book Review: Spinning Silver

I actually can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to get round to reviewing Spinning Silver. I loved Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, so I was very much looking forward to Spinning Silver and it did not disappoint. I think I might even have liked it more than Uprooted. I certainly fell for the characters in a much deeper way.

spinning silver cover

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

First of all, can we talk about that amazing cover?! I love it so much, and it is, in my opinion, so much better than the US cover. Everything you need to know about Spinning Silver is right there on the cover. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but you totally could here.

Anyway, to the actual book. The story is very loosely based on Rumpelstiltskin, but Novik twists it to become the story of Miryem, Irina and Wanda, three very different young women whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways. It’s clearly Eastern European inspired, and it’s clearly a fairytale, but it’s very much also based in reality. I was horrified at the way the other villagers treated Miryem and her family, just because they were Jewish, but it’s a matter of historical record that this was happening all over Europe during the period the book is set. Irina and Wanda, too, have stories that ring historically true – the daughter of a duke, forced to marry a monster in order to raise her father’s stature, and the daughter of a drunk abuser, forced to scrabble in the earth for anything she can find so she and her brothers can survive. I loved the way these stories intersected, especially how Miryem claiming what she was owed gave Wanda hope and love.

I loved all three women with all of my heart. They were fantastically well-written, and I honestly felt bereft after I finished the book because I had no more time to spend with them. When I was reading Spinning Silver, I was so totally engrossed that it was a surprise to raise my head and find myself still in the office at lunchtime. I was utterly transported. I also loved the way Novik changed my opinions of the Staryk king and Mirnatius, the tsar Irina is forced to marry. They’re not good people, but they have their reasons and they can change. It was really interesting to get point of view chapters from both of them, considering they were the villains of the piece.

The writing is beautiful too. The settings are vividly evoked, to the extent that even now, months after I read it, I can still picture some scenes in my head. It reads like a true fairytale, and I didn’t want it to end. Obviously it did though, and although I know some people who did’t like the ending, I thought it was perfect for the story that had been told.

In short, what I’m trying to tell you is that you need to read this book. It’s definitely up there as one of my favourites of the year (and it’s had some stiff competition) and if you like books that sweep you away to somewhere new, Spinning Silver is definitely for you.

5/5

A copy of the book was sent to me by Jamie at Pan Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Jamie!

Book Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So picture books aren’t normally my thing. I can appreciate the artwork, but they’re not something I usually review, because they’re not something I read. But when I was offered the chance to read this picture book, well I couldn’t resist! Buffy the Vampire Slayer is incredibly important to me as a show – I was roughly the same age as Buffy when it was airing, and for all that I wasn’t fighting monsters every night (or living in California), she was a very relatable character. I watched every episode, bought most of the merchandise and just generally basked in the awesome that was Buffy and her friends. So of course I had to read Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the picture book!

buffy cover

The cult classic ’90s TV show is now a charming book for the youngest fans in the Buffyverse!

In this new picture book story brought to life with enchanting, colorful illustrations, kid readers can learn about what the world’s strongest vampire slayer was like when she was a kid! What’s that strange sound coming from inside the closet? Join little Buffy, Xander, and Willow as they investigate bumps in the night, seek advice from their school librarian Giles, and encounter all your favorite Buffyverse monsters. Complete with gorgeous illustrations by Pop Classics artist Kim Smith, this sweet, silly, and not-so-scary book makes a perfect bedtime story.

Just look how cute it is! The illustrations are great throughout, and it’s a charming little story about what might be hiding in 8 year old Buffy’s closet. Personally, as a fan of the show, I had issues with the chronology and continuity of the show being messed about with, but no child is going to care about that. Just be aware if you’re an adult reading it to your children that you might feel a little frustrated.

I don’t have kids myself, but I know someone who does, so I took Buffy the Vampire Slayer round to read to little A, who is almost four. She wouldn’t admit it, but I think she did find it a bit scary, despite what the blurb says above. Even though she was scared though, she still loved the book and wanted to read it again, which I think is the ultimate seal of approval! I’ve read books to A before and she’s always got a little bored, but she was completely engaged with Buffy for the whole story and started trying to read it herself. She was also completely ready to fight any monsters she might find!

I gave Buffy the Vampire Slayer 3/5, mostly because of the continuity issues I mentioned above, which is probably slightly unfair, but I couldn’t get past them. However, from a child’s point of view, I’d say it’s probably at least a 4/5 – it’s fun and a little bit scary, with a good message about being kind to others and asking for help if you need it. Kids will love it!

3/5

A copy of the book was sent to me by Jamie at Quirk Books in exchange for an honest review – thanks Jamie!

Netgalley Review Catch-Up Part 1

It will surprise none of you to learn that I’m very behind on my Netgalley reviews. Well, all reviews actually (also not a surprise I suspect). I was determined to make an effort to read more of my netgalley shelf this month, and I don’t think I’m doing too badly. That does mean I need to get some reviews actually written though, so time for a mini review catch up I think!

Clean

clean cover

I have a confession to make: Clean is the book that sent me into a massive blogging slump months ago. I just couldn’t figure out how to review it, and I felt guilty for not writing a review of a book I very much enjoyed, by an author I like a lotSo I just ended up not writing anything at all, apart from blog tour commitments. I’m not sure anything has changed really. I still have no idea how to review it! Clean is the story of Lexi, the daughter of a London-based Russian oligarch, who’s been left to her own devices for most of her life. Aged 17, she accidentally overdoses on heroin and her brother decides enough is enough and packs her off to a very exclusive rehab. There, she tries to put her life back together and meets a group of people who all have their own demons to fght. It’s an excellent book, which doesn’t pull any of its punches when it comes to the effects of addiction – any addiction, although the focus is obviously on Lexi. I definitely recommend it, but it’s a hard book in many ways, and if you’re going to pick it up, I’d absolutely recommend a bit of research into its contents to make sure you’re ok with it.

4/5

Unveiling Venus

unveiling venus cover

Unveiling Venus is the sequel to Following Ophelia, which I’d really enjoyed last year. Both books follow Mary Adams and her transformation into the mysterious Persephone Lavelle, the toast of London’s artistic circles. Unveiling Venus sees Persephone travel to Venice with her friend Kitty, where things don’t go as expected. I must admit it’s been a long time since I read the book now, and I don’t remember that much about it. I know I didn’t enjoy it as much as Following Ophelia, I think because I missed a lot of the supporting characters back in London, but also because Mary/Persephone doesn’t always act very sensibly. And of course she doesn’t – she wouldn’t have ended up as Persephone if she always took the sensible route! But it did seem like she was almost a different person to the one we’d previously met. However, the author did bring the setting alive, and I still very much enjoyed Unveiling Venus.

3.5/5

The Wren Hunt

wren hunt cover

I loved The Wren Hunt when I read it earlier this year. It’s full of magic and mystery, a sweet romance and family dynamics, and it’s beautifully written too, so it feels magical. Wren is an Augur, a group of people who used to have powerful magic. Their magic is fading because their enemies, the Judges, now control the sources of it in a bid to destroy the Augurs themselves, and it’s up to Wren to find the information her family needs to stop the Judges. The only way she can do this is to take on an internship with the important Judge Cassa Harkness. When she does so though, Wren finds that things are not always as they seem. The Wren Hunt is a great book which gripped me from the beginning and then didn’t really let go. There’s a real sense of the danger Wren is in duing her internship, and I really felt for her as she tried to reconcile the information she’d found with what she already knew. Highly recommended!

4/5

The Smoke Thieves

smoke thieves cover

I have another confession: I’m not a huge fan of Sally Green’s work. I only made it halfway through Half Bad, which I know so many people love, and I felt bad about it because she’s kind of local. But The Smoke Thieves seemed much more my kind of thing, so I was excited to give it a go. And it was pretty good. There is some problematic stuff in there, but generally it’s solid epic fantasy, with a bunch of ragtag misfits slowly coming together to fight evil rulers. It was nothing special or different though, and parts of it were quite slow. As with any book featuring multiple points of view too, there were characters I wanted to get back to and characters I couldn’t wait to get away from. I’d have liked a book with more focus on Catherine in particular, as she had the most interesting story in my opinion, but I’m sure there are people who hated her and prefered another character instead. In short, I’m glad I got to read it, but I’m not sure I’ll be desperate to read the sequel.

3.5/5

Almost Love

almost love

Some of you will know that I’m a huge Louise O’Neill fan. Asking For It and  Only Ever Yours are stunning books, so I was really looking forward to reading her first adult novel, Almost Love. Sadly, I didn’t like it as much as her YA novels, but it’s still an excellent portrayal of a kind of love we don’t really get to see much in fiction (or I don’t anyway). Almost Love is the story of Sarah, and it switches between Sarah as a 24 year old, in an obsessive relatonship with an older man, and Sarah in the present, about 5 years later, in a different relationship. Sarah is very much not likeable. She makes appalling decisions, and her obsessiveness over Matthew, the older man she met at 24, is incredibly annoying, especially as it’s still affecting her life five years after they split up. But that’s because we see it from the outside. It’s perfectly clear to us that Matthew doesn’t love Sarah, or even want to be in a relationship with her, he just wants to use her. To Sarah, that means he wants her, and she’ll do anything to be wanted. I thought it was a compelling book, and it’s definitely worth a read.

4/5

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these! What did you think of them?

All books featured in this post were provided by the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Caged Queen

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I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Caged Queen today! If you read my review of the first book in the series, The Last Namsara on Wednesday, you’ll know how much I loved that and how much I was looking forward to The Caged Queen. Fortunately, my copy of The Caged Queen arrived on the same day that I finished the previous book, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed in it.

the caged queen cover

Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. When they were angry, mirrors shattered, and when they were happy, flowers bloomed. It was a magic they cherished – until the day a terrible accident took Essie’s life and trapped her soul in this world.

Dax – the heir to Firgaard’s throne – was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa’s people had suffered. Roa made him a deal: she’d give him the army he needed if he made her queen.

Together with Dax and his sister, Asha, Roa and her people waged war and deposed a tyrant. But now Asha is on the run, hiding from the price on her head. And Roa is an outlander queen, far from home and married to her enemy. Worst of all: Dax’s promises go unfulfilled. Roa’s people continue to suffer.

Then a chance to right every wrong arises – an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king.

In theory, you don’t need to have read The Last Namsara in order to read The Caged Queen. It’s not a direct sequel, in that it doesn’t continue to follow Asha (although she appears), but it does start not long after the events of the first book, and will spoil that book slightly. Personally, I’m glad I read The Last Namsara first, as it gave me a deeper understanding of the world and characters, but you probably don’t need that to enjoy The Caged Queen on its own merits.

And what merits they are! I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure of it at first. It took me longer to warm to Roa than it did to Asha, especially as she seemed determined to be mean to Dax, who I’d loved in the first book. However, as we learn more of Roa’s story, we come to see why life in Firgaard’s palace is so frustrating for her, and it becomes clear that she faces an uphill struggle to be accepted as queen. There’s also the tragedy of her sister’s death for her to come to terms with – something she hasn’t been able to do for eight years – and by the end of the book I loved her. Not as much as I loved Dax probably, who continued to be adorable and sneaky and secretive, but still a lot.

The Caged Queen is much more about political intrigue than The Last Namsara and I loved it for it. This is what happens after the revolution, and it makes it clear that you can’t just kill the prevous king and your job is done. You have to work for acceptance, make some dirty compromises to get things done, and wait for the right time to implement drastic changes. Dax gets this. Roa doesn’t, and it was fascinating to see how her very different upbringing affected her world view and brought her into conflict with her husband. In the scrublands, where Roa is from, things are decided based on what’s best for the community, not one particular person, and once a decision is made, it’s actioned. The idea of essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul makes no sense to her, and I really enjoyed seeing her start to work out how Firgaard functions and use it to her advantage.

I enjoyed the storyline with Roa’s sister less than the political intrigue, but it was still interesting, and I particularly liked how it eventually tied in. Ciccarelli is very good at laying the groundwork for eventual revelations throughout the book and I love it when you get that “aha!” moment. And the conclusion of this subplot was…well, I can’t say, because it would completely spoil the book, but it was good and right and it made me cry (that’s not a spoiler, because I cry at almost everything these days, happy or sad!). In fact the same could be said of the end of the whole book. I had a little moment of hugging it to myself when I finished, with that satisfied feeling of knowing you’ve read something excellent.

We get to see more of the wider world this time, particularly Roa’s homeland, for obvious reasons, and mostly through backstory inserts. This really added to the sense of place, and I loved seeing some of the events we missed while following Asha in the last book. Roa’s history was also interesting and I liked seeing what brought her to the point where she was willing to marry someone she hated. The fairytale/myths chapters were back too, and I loved them as much as I’d loved them last time.

I read The Caged Queen in a couple of hours on a Saturday morning when I had a long list of other things I was supposed to be doing. I just couldn’t put it down for long enough to do any of them! It is not a choice I regret making though. Like The Last Namsara before it, The Caged Queen is the sort of book you want to be able to immerse yourself in, without any distractions from the real world. Go and find yourself a copy, make sure you have a free morning or afternoon, and settle in for a fantastic story. You won’t regret it!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

4.5/5

ARC provided by Stevie Finegan at Gollancz in return for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

Book Review: The Last Namsara

Last year at YALC I was given a proof of Kristen Ciccarelli’s The Last Namsara by another blogger. Everyone had been raving about it, so I was really excited to read it and I was thrilled to hae an early copy. Obviously it then sat on the TBR pile for 15 months because I’m a terrible, terrible person. However, I was offered the opportunity to review the second book in the series, The Caged Queen, and it seemed the perfect time to finally pick up The Last Namsara. I’m very, very glad I did, because I loved every minute of it, and raced through it over a couple of evenings.

last namsara cover

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

I loved Asha. Properly and truly loved her. Right from the start of the book we see how fiercely protective she is of those she loves, even when society dictates that she shouldn’t be – to the extent that she steps in front of a fire-breathing dragon to protect her cousin, even though she’s not wearing her fireproof gloves. This continues throughout the book – Asha would kill for her brother and cousin, a protection that is slowly extended to a number of other characters, although not always successfully – and it’s a trait that the villains know to exploit.

Asha’s not completely sympathetic. She’s very naive in some ways, and it takes her a long time to work out who the bad guy is. She also thinks nothing of the fact that her people have enslaved another race, until she accidentally gets to know one of the slaves her fiance keeps and she starts to question her treatment of them, and why there are slaves at all.  Given that her cousin is technically classed as a skral (the child of a forbidden love affair between Asha’s uncle and his mother’s slave) and Asha manages to see past that, this attitude did jar a little bit, but she does learn, and tries to be better. In fact, in numerous ways, Asha grows throughout the story, and is a very different person by the time we leave her to the one we first met, as she should be.

The Last Namsara is full of interesting characters. I loved Torwin and Dax with their secrets, and Safire who returns Asha’s loyalty in kind. Even the baddies are interesting. Jarek and the king are horrible people, but I did enjoy the anticipation of wondering what they were going to do next!

My favourite parts of the book, though, were the dragons and the stories. I love getting background through fairytale-like stories, and it worked really well in The Last Namsara. I don’t know if there was an extra frisson because the stories were forbidden within the book’s world, but I really enjoyed them. I also very much enjoyed the dragons in this book. I won’t say more than that, because spoilers, but I really liked them.

All in all, I think Ciccarelli has done a fantastic job in building a world I loved to visit. I mean, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want to actually live there, but visiting it in the pages of a book is definitely something I’m interested in doing multiple times. Which is handy, since there are at least three books in the Iskari series, although only two are out so far. I definitely recommend that you pick up The Last Namsara if you enjoy well-written fantasy with dragons, because you won’t regret it!

Come back on Friday to read my review of The Caged Queen as part of the blog tour!

4.5/5

ARC received as a gift from @ladyjulianne