A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder (A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder #1)

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Book: A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder (A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder #1)

Author: Holly Jackson

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Pip, Lauren and Cara have a conversation at the beginning of the book which doesn’t revolve around boys.

Content Warnings: Animal death, mentions of sexual assault, drug dealing, drink spiking, mentions of suicide, kidnapping and imprisonment, racism, mentions of revenge porn, student/teacher relationship, past parental death, past car accident, violence

This is one of those books that definitely feels like it’s been everywhere since it’s release, heck even before, I remember it being super hyped up at YALC back in 2018 where they were giving away the proofs with the end pages ripped out. It was sitting on my shelf for over a year and I was always a little nervous of reading it because of the hype (and the fact that YA thrillers have a tendency to underwhelm me) but thankfully, this one ended up being really good! It’s going to be a super difficult one to review without heading into spoilery territory, but I’ll do my best.

The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it.

But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?

As I said before, I’ve had mixed luck with YA thrillers before, largely because I never seem to find them all that thrilling? I loved Dangerous Girls but ever since I read that one, I’ve not been able to find anything that surprised me as much! Thankfully, A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder was refreshing in terms of what I’ve come to expect from YA thrillers, it really surprised me, I didn’t work out who did it until right before the end and it was really well plotted and thought out. I had a suspect in mind from pretty early on and I was totally wrong!

The entire premise does require a little suspension of disbelief, given that if her supervisor had followed up with her AT ALL during the course of her project, she would have realised that she’d had contact with the families involved in the case (the conditions on which she was allowed to do the project strictly prohibited her from doing so) and her project would have been stopped. Also as someone who has had to do an ethics review for my Uni final project, I highly doubt that Pip’s topic would have made it through an ethics review given that it covers a fairly recent murder investigation. But then it wouldn’t be any fun if it was completely true to reality now would it?

I also want to note that as a journalist, Pip violates A LOT of ethical (and legal) boundaries in this book which is something I probably wouldn’t have noticed before my degree but after you’ve done a whole module on media law, it’s pretty difficult not to notice! Again, doesn’t really impact on the fun of the story, just something I wanted to note!

The use of multimedia throughout this book was really well done, I loved how she integrated Pip’s production logs and interviews, maps, diary pages, text messages, it really gave the story an extra layer and it was fun to follow all of Pip’s “workings out” along with the main body of the story.

I will however say that the switching between first and third person (first in Pip’s production logs and interviews, third in the main story) was a bit jarring and I would have preferred if Holly Jackson had kept to one kind of perspective throughout. Personally I felt the first person voice was stronger than the third person but then I do prefer first person narration anyway, so that might be my bias talking!

I enjoyed the main characters, I thought Ravi was really sweet and charming and funny. Pip was also a lot of fun, she’s smart and super determined and honestly I have no idea how she didn’t drop down of exhaustion because carrying out a murder investigation whilst getting all her schoolwork done seemed a near impossible task! She did frustrate me a lot at certain points in the book though, when she insisted on throwing herself into danger with no help!

The side characters could have done with a little more fleshing out though, I get it, there were a lot of characters, but it would have been nice if Pip’s friends and some of the murder suspects could have been fleshed out a little more.

I really enjoyed the platonic friendship between Ravi and Pip, it was so refreshing because it’s still annoyingly rare in YA books, so I’m not going to lie, I was a little miffed when it ended up turning romantic (sorry for the slight spoiler, but I need to rant about this) because their friendship was so lovely and NOT EVERY MALE/FEMALE PAIRING IN A BOOK NEEDS TO BE ROMANTIC. PLATONIC PARTNERS IN MURDER SOLVING IS GOOD TOO.

There were some discussions of prejudice and racism and how that played into the original murder investigation, I’m not really in a place to say how well this was done being a white woman (the author is also a white woman) so I’d recommend checking out reviews from POC, particularly Indian reviewers (Ravi is British-Indian) for their thoughts. As well as Ravi, Pip’s stepfather is Nigerian and her half-brother is biracial.

I liked that Pip actually had a present family in this, granted, she does keep them out of the loop in most of the stuff she does, but they are definitely around and there for her when she needs them.

The chapters were nice and short, and though it was a little slow to start (the opening chapters are mainly establishing Pip’s relationships/the murder suspects), once it got going it definitely didn’t let up!

I wanted to briefly bring up one scene that made me feel quite uncomfortable because I think it’s important to talk about: Pip is at a party (as part of the investigation) and she is interviewing a lead, who is super creepy towards her (honestly the whole time I was screaming at her to get out of the situation because it was so clearly off) and he ends up kissing her without her consent. The whole scene made me really uncomfortable and I don’t think it was really necessary to the book to have that happen to Pip.

Also unnecessary to the book? ANIMAL DEATH. NOPE. BIG NOPE. Honestly I very nearly did nope out at that point, because it’s just not something I can really deal with. I’m glad I did finish because it’s a good book, but just a pre-warning to other animal lovers out there.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the epilogue, it all felt kind of abrupt and unfinished and there were a few more loose ends than I would have liked, though I suppose there is a sequel, so hopefully some of those get resolved there!

Overall, this was a super fun, fast paced murder mystery and I’m looking forward to seeing what the author has in store for the next book!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of my latest Netgalley read, Queen of Volts, the final book in the Shadow Game trilogy by Amanda Foody.

Cinderella Is Dead Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Cinderella Is Dead

Author: Kalynn Bayron

Published By: Bloomsbury UK

Publication Date: 6th August (Yeah……)

Format: e-book

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Constance and Sophia talk about things other than men.

Content Warnings: Domestic abuse, sexism, murder, homophobia, violence, death of a loved one, necromancy, imprisonment, animal death

Thank you to Bloomsbury UK and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book, this in no way affected my opinion of it.

This book was one of the most talked about upcoming releases from a Black author on Twitter over the summer, so when I saw it was available on Netgalley, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m not usually a massive fan of Cinderella, but this one sounded like it could be a lot of fun. I’m so glad I did try it in the end, because I ended up really enjoying it, it definitely does something different to a lot of fairytale retellings I’ve read before. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

It’s 200 years since Cinderella found her prince, but the fairytale is over.

Sophia knows the story though, off by heart. Because every girl has to recite it daily, from when she’s tiny until the night she’s sent to the royal ball for choosing. And every girl knows that she has only one chance. For the lives of those not chosen by a man at the ball . are forfeit.

But Sophia doesn’t want to be chosen – she’s in love with her best friend, Erin, and hates the idea of being traded like cattle. And when Sophia’s night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s tomb. And there she meets someone who will show her that she has the power to remake her world.

Like I said at the top of the review, Cinderella is not one of my favourite fairytales, though granted, I’m more familiar with the Disney version than I am with the original Grimm tale. Having said that, I thought what the author did with it in this book was really creative, the Cinderella story in this is used as the basis for the King to subjugate all women as she is held up as the goal everyone should aspire to (i.e. a quiet, mild-mannered woman controlled by her husband). So often fairytale retellings feel like the author is simply telling the same story just with different characters, whereas here it was a totally different story, just with some elements from Cinderella drawn in.

It was also awesome to see a Black, lesbian lead as the main character in a fairytale, so often these kinds of stories are painfully white and straight so it was nice to see that not be the case here.

Having said that, I didn’t really LOVE the romance? Sophia (the MC) and her love interest have known each other all of five minutes before they’re falling all over each other and it just didn’t feel like it got much buildup? I liked both of the characters, but just didn’t feel massively invested in their relationship because it didn’t feel particularly well developed.

The world building was also a little lacking. The society is hugely misogynistic and though it’s explained that the Cinderella story has had an impact there, it’s not really clear why a society that presumably was okay with women, pre-Cinderella, suddenly went to forcing them into unwanted marriages? I mean I understand the King’s motivations but I guess I don’t really get why everyone else would go along with it? It didn’t make much sense that in 200 years, barely anyone had tried to rebel against the system.  It’s also kind of limited in scope, as we only really see the palace and the surrounding area, which I do get but I just would have liked everything to be a bit more fleshed out.

The characters probably could have been developed a little better? I liked both Sophia, and Constance but they didn’t feel massively fleshed out, it felt like we only really got to know the basics of their characters. I also honestly didn’t really understand why Sophia liked Erin (her original love interest) so much because she didn’t seem to be anything but awful to her!

The book is also maybe a little heavy handed in terms of its messaging? It’s very obvious that the author wrote this book to criticise misogyny and that’s totally fine, but it just felt like it could have been done with a bit more nuance. It would also have been nice if the female characters weren’t stuck to a binary of either fighting against the system or being complicit in it because reality is a lot more nuanced than that.

The writing style was pretty good though, it had a nice flow to it and the book was fairly fast paced so it was pretty quick to read.

There were some good twists and turns but for the most part, everything seemed relatively easy for Sophia, there weren’t all that many obstacles for her,

The ending was a bit abrupt, everything just kind of seemed to stop, it didn’t really come to a natural resolution and we didn’t really get to see how things turned out in all that much detail.

Overall, this was a really fun fairytale retelling that takes the Cinderella story and turns it into something new!

Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder, by Holly Jackson.

 

Not Even Bones (Market of Monsters #1) Review

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Book: Not Even Bones (Market of Monsters #1)

Author: Rebecca Schaeffer

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Mirella and Nita talk about the death market

Content Warnings: Blood/gore, human trafficking, cannibalism, imprisonment, torture, mentions of colonialism, human dissections, murder, sadism, mentions of suicide, mentions of prositution, emotionally abusive mother

I got this book a while ago, I think in the year it was released (2018) but it’s been sitting on my shelves untouched for ages, and so when it was chosen for me to read by my Goodreads book club as part of our monthly Pick-It-For-Me, I jumped at the chance to finally get around to it. I’m glad I did, it was just what I needed, a short, fast paced read with lots of wonderfully morally grey characters. A lot of books claim to be “dark” and then actually aren’t, this one definitely lives up to the description.

Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market — until she’s betrayed.

Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” Until her mom brings home a live specimen and Nita decides she wants out; dissecting a scared teenage boy is a step too far. But when she decides to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold in his place—because Nita herself isn’t exactly “human.” She has the ability to alter her biology, a talent that is priceless on the black market. Now on the other side of the bars, if she wants to escape, Nita must ask herself if she’s willing to become the worst kind of monster.

I have to start with what I enjoyed most about this book, which was the characters, at least the two main characters Nita and Kovit, especially Nita. I love it when female characters are allowed to be “unlikeable” and Nita is definitely that: she makes questionable decisions, she’s prickly and doesn’t really like people, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to survive no matter the cost and she finds dissecting people relaxing. It’s surprisingly easy to root for her though, she’s been put in this horrible position where her very survival is at stake, so it makes sense that she’s looking out for herself above all other things. Plus it was just super refreshing to read a book where the female character is allowed to just be completely messed up without having to soften it in any way. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with soft female characters, in fact I think they’re very necessary, but I love the ones that lean more towards the side of evil as well.

Also yay for female scientists, Nita wants to use her black market acquired skills for legal scientific research one day and I think that’s super cool, it’s great to see girls interested in science portrayed in fiction.

Kovit was also wonderfully dark, he’s a Zannie so he basically feeds on other people’s pain and takes much joy in doing so. He’s seriously messed up too and there’s no pretence or excuses offered as to why he’s like this, he just is which I loved.

The characters outside of Nita and Kovit could have used a little more fleshing out, by its nature the book is more of a character study of these two, which is fine but there were so many other characters in this book that had the potential to be really interesting (Nita’s mother, Reyes, Mirella) if they’d been explored more.

The world is super cool, there are lots of different supernatural creatures (Nita and her mother are able to both alter and heal their own bodies which is really cool), you have Zannies and vampires and unicorns etc but there’s no real explanation of how or why? It’s established that the book is set in our world, the place names are the same, Nita mentions pop culture stuff and technology like Skype but it’s just accepted that there are supernatural creatures? I’m assuming this is meant to be an alternate version of our world, but it would have been nice to receive some clarity on that. It was really great that this book was set in South America, because that’s a setting we don’t get to see very often but because it’s mostly set in the market, we don’t get to explore all that much of the outside world, it’s very insular, so I’d like to get to see more in future books.

Both of the main characters in the book are POC, Nita is biracial (her father is Chilean) and Kovit is Thai, which was great, it was very amusing when Nita referred to a white character as having mayonnaise white skin. It would have been nice if there were some LGBTQ+ characters too, but hopefully in future books.

I would have liked a little more dialogue, this book is a lot of internal monologue and though Nita’s mind is a very interesting place to be, a lot of large chunks of monologue broken up by very little dialogue is not what I prefer to read. The dialogue that was there was also a little stilted, though I suppose that did make sense for the characters as neither has particularly good social skills.

The pacing was pretty decent, the plot is relatively simple: Nita’s main goal through the entire book is to escape, so it’s a pretty singular aim but the short chapters kept things ticking over nicely.

I liked that there was no romance in this, there’s indications that there might be in future books but honestly I hope it doesn’t go down that route because I love Kovit and Nita as platonic partners in evil!

The writing was decent enough, though you could definitely tell it was a debut, there was some over-repetition of phrases at times (including the dreaded “breath she didn’t know she was holding”, seriously authors, I do know that this is a legit thing that can happen with anxiety but can we FIND SOME OTHER WAY TO PHRASE IT PLEASE!) and the aforementioned slightly clunky monologuing, but the author definitely has potential and I’m sure these things will have improved in the subsequent books. One thing she definitely did do well on the writing front was the gory descriptions of dissections, this book is definitely not for the faint of stomach!

I would have liked it if Nita hadn’t been quite so dismissive of Mirella, a fellow female prisoner in the market, not that women have to like every single other woman they come across, but it just would have been nice to see Nita have some positive female relationships in her life.

THAT ENDING. I did not see it coming at all and was thrown for a loop by some of the twists that Schaeffer introduced towards the end there! I’m really looking forward to seeing where things go in the next book after the way that this one ended.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of Cinderella is Dead, by Kalynn Bayron, which I’ve already read so it should be up tomorrow!

 

The Empire of Gold (Daevabad Trilogy #3) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Empire of Gold (Daevabad #3)

Author: S.A. Chakraborty

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Soneela Nankani

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Nahri and Hatset talk about Manizheh.

Content Warnings: Murder, war themes, mentions of torture and graphic injury, graphic surgery descriptions, slavery, blood, violence, racial supremacy (in a fictional context), mass terror/genocide, suicidal ideation/self-harm

SPOILER ALERT: This review will contain some unavoidable spoilers from all three Daevabad books. If you haven’t read the series already, stop reading now. 

The Daevabad trilogy has been one of my favourite discoveries of 2020, it’s such an immersive, complex fantasy world and the characters are brilliant. This finale of the trilogy had a lot to live up to, and it did….mostly. As an end to a series, the conclusion was satisfying, though it took a lot longer than it probably needed to get there! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The final chapter in the bestselling, critically acclaimed Daevabad Trilogy, in which a con-woman and an idealistic djinn prince join forces to save a magical kingdom from a devastating civil war.

Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.

But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.

As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved . . . and take a stand for those they once hurt.

As with all of the other books, this book suffers with its pacing. It takes a long time for the real action to start and it feels like much of the beginning of the book, up till Ali and Nahri get to Ta Ntry is largely treading water. It’s a VERY LONG book at almost 29 hours for the audio, and could probably have been trimmed a little without losing the essence of the story. Once again, some of the chapters were incredibly long, there was a chapter that was almost an hour and a half toward the end of the book.

Having said that the book doesn’t really pick up till Ali and Nahri get to Ta Ntry, I did appreciate that Nahri returned to Egypt in this final book, it felt right to revisit where she came from and it was lovely to see Ali so enthralled by the human world.

Okay, the Ali/Nahri romance, probably one of my biggest bugbears with this book. They had such a beautiful platonic friendship, and it really sucks that Chakraborty had to go down that road, especially when it felt super out of place them lusting all over each other when their city was on the brink of war. I appreciate that it ends in a place where they’re not married and simply working together as partners and exploring their relationship but I kind of wish she’d just left them as friends.

I’ve been very critical of Dara over my reviews of this series, and that doesn’t entirely change here, his POV works better than it did in Kingdom of Copper because he is our eyes into what’s happening in Daevabad here, but he still does some pretty heinous things over the course of this book. I felt a little cheated that Dara’s arc didn’t end in the way I thought it should, but the eventual resolution did work out well, with an ending that both fitted his character but didn’t give him undeserved redemption for his crimes.

There’s quite a bit of focus on both Nahri and Ali discovering their heritage in this book, which was really great. There’s a lot of similarities between them in this respect, they both straddle two distinct worlds (Ali with the Marid and the Djinn, Nahri with her human and Daeva heritage) so it was interesting to see them embracing the sides of their heritage that they’ve not necessarily ignored but been unable to explore fully up till this point. Nahri’s parentage has been a long running thread throughout the series, and it was resolved in a really satisfying way here.

The Daevabad trilogy up till this point has been largely confined to either Daevabad or Egypt, so it was pretty cool to get to see Ta Ntry in this book and discover more of the world Chakraborty has created here. Ta Ntry sounded amazing as well, I would love to live in a palace by the coast with an enormous library! I also really enjoyed Nahri and Hatset’s interactions in this book, they have a very interesting dynamic.

It was lovely to see Nahri and Jamshid bond even more in this book now that they know their true relationship to each other.

I wasn’t massively keen on the out of the blue return of the Peris in this book, I get that Chakraborty had introduced them in the first book and wanted to do something with them, but it seemed to come out of nowhere.

I still really enjoyed S.A. Chakraborty’s writing style, there’s something brilliant immersive about it.

I kind of missed Zaynab and Muntadhir in this book, they had a surprisingly small role here considering how important they were in the last book and I missed their sibling antics with Ali as they have such a great dynamic together.

It did feel like more of the main cast should have died? I don’t want to be too spoilery here, but for a book with a high body count generally, it seemed strange that more of the main characters didn’t end up dying.

Though it does take a while to get going, there are some really great action scenes later on in the book, the whole final battle against Manizheh is incredibly intense, and there are plenty of twists and turns especially towards the end of the book.

The ending was ultimately satisfying, without getting into spoilery territory, I appreciated that it fitted with the overall story and there was no everything gets wrapped up in a big neat bow, all the characters end in a good place but it’s clear that there is still a long way to go before Ali and Nahri’s vision for a united Daevabad comes to pass, which I felt was very realistic for this world, the tribes aren’t going to abandon their beliefs about the other tribes overnight.

Overall this was a really great series and I can’t wait to see what S.A. Chakraborty writes next!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer.

The Dead Queens Club Review

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Book: The Dead Queens Club

Author: Hannah Capin

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Numerous instances of conversations between women about topics other than men.

Content warnings: Gaslighting, physical violence, gun violence, partner abuse, slut shaming, implied previous statutory rape, murder

The Dead Queens Club was my August #RockMyTBR challenge book and I have to admit, I was a little nervous for it because although I love the Tudors and this book seemed right up my alley, I was very disappointed by Capin’s second novel, Foul Is Fair earlier this year. I’m glad to say though, that I really enjoyed this book! It’s super funny, very feminist and I loved how the author interwove Tudor history to a contemporary setting, it worked really well. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Mean Girls meets The Tudors in Hannah Capin’s The Dead Queens Club, a clever contemporary YA retelling of Henry VIII and his wives (or, in this case, his high school girlfriends). Told from the perspective of Annie Marck (“Cleves”), a 17-year-old aspiring journalist from Cleveland who meets Henry at summer camp, The Dead Queens Club is a fun, snarky read that provides great historical detail in an accessible way for teens while giving the infamous tale of Henry VIII its own unique spin.

What do a future ambassador, an overly ambitious Francophile, a hospital-volunteering Girl Scout, the new girl from Cleveland, the junior cheer captain, and the vice president of the debate club have in common? It sounds like the ridiculously long lead-up to an astoundingly absurd punchline, right? Except it’s not. Well, unless my life is the joke, which is kind of starting to look like a possibility given how beyond soap opera it’s been since I moved to Lancaster. But anyway, here’s your answer: we’ve all had the questionable privilege of going out with Lancaster High School’s de facto king. Otherwise known as my best friend. Otherwise known as the reason I’ve already helped steal a car, a jet ski, and one hundred spray-painted water bottles when it’s not even Christmas break yet. Otherwise known as Henry. Jersey number 8.

Meet Cleves. Girlfriend number four and the narrator of The Dead Queens Club, a young adult retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives. Cleves is the only girlfriend to come out of her relationship with Henry unscathed—but most breakups are messy, right? And sometimes tragic accidents happen…twice…

As I mentioned at the top of my review, I’m a massive Tudor history nerd. I’ve loved the Tudors ever since I was a kid, and I specifically chose to do the modern/early modern hybrid History A Level at my sixth form because it gave me the chance to study more of the Tudors. And this book is a Tudor nerd’s dream: there are so many little references to people and events from Henry VIII’s reign which made me so so happy! I won’t bore all of you with every single one because I know you guys might not be as into this time period as I am, but as an example of one of my favourite ones, Hans Holbein, who famously painted King Henry VIII’s portraits is reimagined here as the yearbook photographer. There are many others throughout the book, so if you like this period of history, it’s a veritable goldmine. I love it when authors writing books inspired by history have clearly done their research!

There was even quite a few things that I didn’t know about Tudor history that I learned from this book. I wasn’t familiar with Jane Parker for a start (here she’s Parker Rochford, head cheerleader) and her relationship with the Boleyn/Howards and I felt kind of bad about that because Parker in this book is pretty awesome. I also had no idea that Eustace Chapyus (here Chapman) who was a French diplomat, and essentially the court gossip was someone who existed!

I’m a big fan of funny books and this book definitely had that in spades! Cleves is a brilliant narrator (though she’s probably the least like her real Tudor counterpart, by all accounts Anne of Cleves was a fairly quiet, pious woman and definitely not as feisty as Cleves is depicted here), and though she can be quite indecisive and a little hypocritical, I liked that she wasn’t the perfect feminist and still showed some hypocrisy in her views, because hey, don’t we all?

The dialogue was a little cringey in places, but I mostly put that down to the fact that I’m not a teenager anymore and I reckon younger teenagers would enjoy it.

I do kind of wish she hadn’t gone down the “Cleves still has a thing for Henry route”. For the most part, their relationship was fairly platonic but there’s still an element of romantic interest, and I felt like it was a missed opportunity to show a completely platonic M/F relationship in a YA book because we need to see more of them. Also the real life Henry and Anne were completely platonic, he referred to her as “my beloved sister” and I don’t see why that couldn’t have been the case here. I feel like Cleves could still have felt betrayed by him as friend without adding the romantic component. Also it would have made their breakup make more sense, like, we tried but it was weird because we only really saw each other in a platonic way, is a much better reason for a breakup than the weird one Capin went with.

I loved how feminist this book was, and how it turned a lot of classic girl tropes from books (like the mean girl trope and the “slutty” girl trope) on their heads. I will say though that it could definitely have done with being more intersectional, and that the representation in this book was very lacking, with only Cleves and her sister being confirmed POC. Just because you’re working with a time in history when most of the people your story is about would have been white, doesn’t mean they have to be in your book!

In terms of the way the “Queens” were presented in this book, I generally really enjoyed it. I had a couple of quibbles, the first one being that Jane Seymour is presented as the “dull, forgettable one” and though that is somewhat made up for at the end of the book, it does seem a little reductive for a book so focused on feminism (though granted this does mainly come from Cleves’ perception of her, which she acknowledges may have been wrong). I think Jane being cast as the dull, forgettable one mostly comes from the fact that she died very early on in her marriage to Henry and so less is known about her than Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn (though obviously the time period means that everything is somewhat less well documented than it is nowadays). There probably is a middle ground to be found between the sweet Jane often depicted and a more calculating woman (she did marry Henry less than two weeks after Anne’s execution) but I think depicting her simply as dull forgettable lacks some nuance.

The second is Anne Boleyn (in the book known as Anna). We only really get to see her through everyone else’s view of her, as she is dead before the events of the book begins, so I feel like she is somewhat stereotyped as the “evil seductress who stole Henry” and although the book does try to tackle those stereotypes, again I feel like her portrayal lacked nuance because there’s so much more to the real Anne than the fact that she was one of the reasons behind Henry and Catherine’s marriage breakup, she was according to sources, well educated, passionate, interested in reform, quite charming and yes, probably quite ambitious too. She and Henry actually had a fair bit in common!  Anne’s portrayals do tend to fall very into the binary, and much like with Jane Seymour, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle (though we may never know because again information about her is still somewhat limited).

I did however love what she did with Katherine Howard (Katie here). Katheryn gets unfairly maligned as basically a naive “slut” because she was very young when she married Henry, and she did (as far as sources can tell us) have affairs. She was only around 16/17 when she married him and HE WAS 49, and both of the men she is claimed to have slept with were almost ten years or more older than she was. All of this to say, I really liked that this book took a more sympathetic view of her and showed her as a sweet and caring person, and didn’t judge her for the fact that she enjoyed sex. I also appreciated that this book shone a light on her as a victim of sexual abuse, because by modern standards, that’s accurate: she was a young girl who was groomed by much older men. I did feel like her death was kind of brushed over though, especially when Cleves and Parker both seemed very close to her.

The chapter titles were really awesome, the way that they’re all framed as newspaper headlines (Cleves is a reporter) is great.

Henry is 1000% the bad guy in this book and I loved it! Henry VIII was not a great person, he treated his wives (and his friends) awfully and no amount of charm can make up for that!

The whole Catherine of Aragon/Anne Boleyn thing does seem somewhat overdramatic when you place it in a modern high school context, because all the characters refer to Lina (Catherine, her birth name was Catalina, it was anglicised as Catherine) and Henry as having been together “forever” but in a high school context, that’s only two years!

I loved that she turned the whole girl hate thing between Cleves and Cat on its head (eventually) as it basically seemed like Cleves only really hated Cat because she wanted her stories to be more based in fact and less in gossip (which as a journalist seems like no bad thing to me). I also may be a little biased because I think Cat and I would get along quite well if she wasn’t fictional! In general though I thought it was really great that female friendships were at the centre of this novel, the girls’ romances with Henry are kind of coincidental and there’s far more emphasis on friendship which I loved.

The pacing was a little slow through the first half of the book, but it actually wasn’t a major problem for me, I was really hooked by Cleves narration, so I didn’t really mind that the plot took a little longer to get going. The ending was super intense though, I did not want to put the book down!

Overall, this was a brilliantly funny retelling of the wives of Henry VIII, centring them rather than him and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope Hannah Capin does more history inspired retellings, because this worked far better than the Shakespeare for me!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of my current audiobook, the final book in the Daevabad trilogy, The Empire of Gold, by S.A. Chakraborty.

The Court of Miracles Review (e-ARC)

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Book: The Court of Miracles

Author: Kester Grant

Published By: Harper Voyager

Publication Date: 4th June (whoops, sorry!)

Format: e-book

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Ettie and Nina talk about food.

Content Warnings: Violence, sex trafficking, prostitution, drug dependency, mentions of slavery, starvation, poverty

Thank you to Harper Voyager and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book, this in no way affected my opinion of it.

I was really excited for The Court of Miracles because it sounded so great, a diverse Les Mis/Jungle Book retelling? And an incredibly gorgeous cover? Yes please! However I ended up being massively disappointed in this book. The plot was confusing to follow, there were way too many historical inaccuracies, and it wasn’t really a fantasy at all, more alternate history which meant the story I got was very different to the story I expected. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A diverse fantasy reimagining of Les Misérables and The Jungle Book.

In the dark days following a failed French Revolution, in the violent jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, young cat-burglar Eponine (Nina) Thenardier goes head to head with merciless royalty, and the lords of the city’s criminal underworld to save the life of her adopted sister Cosette (Ettie).

Her vow will take her from the city’s dark underbelly, through a dawning revolution, to the very heart of the glittering court of Louis XVII, where she must make an impossible choice between guild, blood, betrayal and war. 

So I’ll start with my main issue with this book, it was confusing as hell! It seemed like the author was introducing new characters every other page, there were weird time skips throughout that were done pretty clumsily and made it hard to keep track of the timeline. I mean I read a lot of fantasy, I’m used to having to keep track of 10 billion characters, but here it was almost impossible and adding the confusing timeline, this was not an easy book to follow at all.

Also for a book that is advertised as fantasy? Yeah, there’s basically no fantasy to be found, it’s largely alternative history, which is absolutely fine, I enjoy alternative history as much as anyone, but it sets up wrong expectations for readers. The only real “fantasy” that there is, is a woman who is able to hypnotise people and it seems really out of place because the rest of the world is not set up as a fantastical one.

There’s also numerous historical errors. Whilst obviously, alternate history means that things will be slightly different, there are certain basic things that the author got wrong. The biggest and most glaring one: THE FABREGE EGGS. THEY ARE RUSSIAN, NOT FRENCH AND YOU CAN FIND THAT OUT FROM A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH. THEY ALSO DIDN’T EXIST THIS EARLY. There was no reason to include that detail and it made it look like the author hadn’t really done her research.

We also have the classic, Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake”, which has been pretty widely disputed by historians based on lack of evidence of famines during Louis XVI’s reign and that reports of the phrase being said did not line up with her arrival in France. It’s one of those myths that seems to have endured over the years, but is in all likelihood not true. It also would not have been widely known at the time this book was set given that the book which attributed the quote to her was not published till 1843, about ten years after the setting of this book. There’s also the problem that Louis XVII, who is meant to be the King in this book (according to the blurb, it’s not actually made clear in the text) died in 1795, of natural causes (not due to the revolution) so he would not have been alive during the timeline of this book.

Basically, it’s clear that the author didn’t really do her research for the history behind this book because if she had then some of these errors could have been avoided. You could still have had the monarchy in charge, if the revolution had failed, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette could easily have still be in charge in 1828 assuming that they lived into their 70s which would have been old for the time but not impossible. Either that, or Louis’s brother Charles would have been in charge (as Louis XVIII was dead at this point), or it would have been Marie-Therese and her husband. That’s really a very long winded way of saying that even without the French Revolution, Louis XVII would not have been in charge because he DIED in 1795.

The characters felt incredibly flat, none of them were particularly developed, even Nina, the main character here didn’t feel like she had much of a personality beyond being a good thief. Nina seems able to do just about anything as well, even things that are meant to be impossible which meant that the stakes never really felt that high because it was pretty clear Nina would be able to get out of pretty much any situation with limited difficulty.

I liked the idea of the Guilds and this whole underworld of Paris, but the world didn’t feel very fleshed out. We get a basic idea of what each Guild does but we don’t really get an in-depth look at any of them, even Nina’s. You don’t get a very good sense of time or place either, because nothing is really described that well (and that’s coming from me, who usually gets frustrated with lots of description! This book just went too far the other way). It’s also not immediately clear that this is France in an alternative French Revolution went wrong world, I didn’t realise till about halfway through the book!

I usually love sisterly relationships in books but it was super hard for me to invest in Ettie and Nina, Ettie is just kind of randomly introduced in the second part of the book, they’ve already known each other for years (Ettie was adopted by Nina’s father, I think, but I’m not actually sure how old Nina was when that happened as her age is never made totally clear) and it’s difficult to have the same investment in Ettie as a character as Nina does because we barely know her. I also felt like Ettie read as younger than she was meant to be, I’m guessing she was meant to be a teenager and she read as more like 9 or 10 to me. I also found it a bit strange given how much she supposedly loved Azelma (her other sister) that she seemed to be dropped pretty quickly.

Also EVERYONE IS IN LOVE WITH NINA. She has like three different potential love interests in this and we don’t really get to see the development of her relationships with anyone so again the investment is minimal. JUST PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING YA AUTHORS, IF YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO HAVE A LOVE INTEREST IN EVERY SINGLE BOOK, PLEASE, PLEASE, JUST PICK ONE AND DEVELOP THEM WELL.

A lot of this book felt very rushed? Everything happens at such “blink and you’ll miss it” pace that I found it very hard to settle into. Usually I’m complaining about books being too slow paced but I think in the case of this one, it actually would have helped if the author had slowed down a little. Also for a trilogy, it kind of seemed like this story was very self contained? It’s almost like the author threw all her ideas for the trilogy into this one book. It was all too complicated, I reckon if she had kept at one plot idea (like rescuing Azelma from the Tiger) and expanded it more, this book would have been a whole lot better.

The villain, The Tiger is meant to be this really threatening guy and whilst of course, trafficking women is horrendous, he didn’t really feel as threatening as I think he was meant to be because he’s hardly developed at all.

The Javert gender switch would have been cool but it felt like it was mainly done to avoid an LGBTQ+ pairing with Valjean which definitely felt a little iffy to me, it’s not like there were no gay people in the 1800s! It was also kind of irritating that a woman in 1800s France who is at a high level in her job (I think a Commander or something) couldn’t just be motivated by wanting to be good at her job rather than some romantic revenge.

I also feel like she didn’t really need to keep the names of all the Les Mis characters, like you can still reimagine the story without using the exact names of the original characters.

The writing style was a little odd, it felt like she was maybe trying too hard to be 19th century and it resulted in this slightly stilted, old fashioned writing style.

I appreciated that Grant made this world racially inclusive and diverse as 19th century France was definitely not as white as some period films would lead you to believe, and that made the avoidance of LGBTQ+ relationships even more glaring (because yes, you historical world can and should include both, especially because the two aren’t mutually exclusive!).

I did enjoy the little in-world stories at the beginning of each part.

Honestly I wish I had more nice stuff to say about this book, but overall I just didn’t really enjoy it. That’s not to say that others won’t, I’m sure there are plenty of people who will, it just wasn’t really for me.

My Rating: 2/5

My next review will be of my August #RockMyTBR book, The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin, which I’ve already finished, so I’m hoping to have my review up tomorrow.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Review

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Book: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Author: Suzanne Collins

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-By conceit of the novel, this book fails as it’s all told through Snow’s eyes.

Content Warnings: Violence, death, extreme poverty, mentions of cannabalism, substance abuse, animal experimentation, PTSD, mentions of war, allusions to sexual assault, bombing, snakes, mentions of suicide/suicidal thoughts, eating disorder, mentions of amputation, animal death

Being a massive Hunger Games fan back when it was all the rage (i.e. around 2012 when the first film came out), when I saw that Suzanne Collins was coming out with a prequel, I was both excited, and welll……surprised. It seemed like she was pretty happy leaving The Hunger Games where it was and the prequel announcement last year seemed to come out of nowhere. Then everyone was up in arms because it was about Snow, but I’ve always loved a villain origin story and trusted that Collins was unlikely to try and make Snow seem redeemable given the themes of the original Hunger Games. Well I was right, Snow definitely doesn’t come off looking like the hero in his own story, but if you’re going into Ballad, don’t be expecting the fast paced intensity of the original trilogy, Ballad is slower, longer and more introspective, often to its detriment. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Ambition will fuel him.
Competition will drive him.
But power has its price.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined—every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute . . . and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

So we’ll start with my biggest issue of this book which was once again: THE PACING. Surprise! I don’t know what it is with this year and slow books but I’ve been seriously having my run of them this year! Anyway, do not go in expecting something as intense as The Hunger Games, because this book is not it, it’s definitely a slow build and whilst there are exciting moments, it’s nothing like the original Hunger Games trilogy. The chapters are way too long (at around 20-30 odd pages) and the book itself is probably longer than it needed to be, given that the longest Hunger Games book is 472 pages and this is a good 45 pages longer than that.

I liked all the little nods to the original Hunger Games trilogy, the creation and origin of “The Hanging Tree”, various ancestors of characters from the original trilogy featured, little easter eggs to Katniss, if you liked the original trilogy (and I would assume most people reading this book would) then there’s plenty here for you.

Snow himself was….well basically as I expected him to be? Collins doesn’t try to excuse his actions or make him seem redeemable, he’s always been looking out for the top and doing whatever he had to do to get there it turns out. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting his relationship with Tigris (yes, that Tigris, she’s his cousin) because I never thought there was really anyone that Snow cared about, but I suppose even psychopaths have families! Anyway, it’s a little disconcerting being in Snow’s head, but I did appreciate the insight into how he became who he was in the trilogy and it’s quite clear that the makings of a mass murderer were already there even at 18.

It was really interesting to see the early days of The Hunger Games, which were well……a bit less polished than the ones we saw in the original trilogy. Essentially, the tributes were largely just stuffed into a makeshift arena that wasn’t really changed from year to year and neither the districts or the Capitol were that interested. It does seem very coincidental that pretty much all of the ideas that made it into the iteration of the Hunger Games that we know came from Snow, and it also seemed a bit strange that The Capitol kept the Hunger Games going for ten years even when no one was particularly interested? Like surely after that length of time you might come up with a different way to punish the districts? I get that she wanted to show that The Hunger Games weren’t always the spectacle that they were in Katniss’s time, but I think she perhaps went a little too far the other way!

The origins of the Hunger Games was also a pretty cool thing to find out about, I don’t want to spoil too much on that front, but it was not what I expected at all.

Snow’s mentor, Dr Gaul, was definitely a worthy predecessor to Snow, I can understand how Snow ended up the way he did with a woman like her influencing him, she put the Gamemakers in Katniss’ time to shame with her animal/human experimentations and the way she seemed to have absolutely no sympathy for human life whatsoever. If Suzanne Collins ever wanted to do a story about Gaul, I reckon I’d find it pretty intriguing!

There were a lot of characters to follow, and unlike the original Hunger Games, all the tributes, and their mentors are named in this one, so it was hard to keep track of who was who most of the time! The occasional updated character lists did help somewhat but I still struggled to know which mentor and tribute was which, especially when the Capitol kids had some really tricky names.

The characters also weren’t massively well developed, I mean Snow was, and Dr Gaul, and Sejanus but the tributes and other mentors seemed pretty one dimensional. Even Lucy Gray, who I did like, I wanted more from. We only see her through Snow’s eyes, so I feel like we didn’t get the full picture of what she was actually like, which was a shame because she seemed like she could have been really interesting if she was developed more.

The “romance”, such as it was, wasn’t really a romance. Snow is super obsessed with Lucy Gray, for no apparent reason, other than the fact that he likes her voice and it was never really that clear why Lucy Gray liked him other than the fact that he gave her food. You kind of get the feeling that much like Katniss, she was only pretending to have feelings for him in order to get him to help her, but without any genuine feelings ever developing. The fact that he basically treats her as a possession was also super uncomfortable.

I felt really bad for Sejanus, he really just wanted to make their world a better place and just couldn’t figure out the best way to do that. He truly considered Snow a friend and Snow basically does nothing to deserve that, even rescuing him from the arena wasn’t out of concern, it was all for his own gain. Sure, Sejanus was probably too naive for the Captiol but Snow basically just used him and his family for his own gain.

I did find it a bit strange that Snow’s connections to 12 were never mentioned in the book, but that’s always an issue with prequels, there’s always some detail that’s thought through later that doesn’t quite work. I suppose it could be chalked up to the fact that Katniss would have no reason to know that Snow was once a peacekeeper in 12, but it seems like the sort of thing that would be quite well known about a President of your country.

Dare I say it, but the actual games themselves were kind of……dull? I mean again I get it, she was trying to show that the Games weren’t always the way they were in the original trilogy but I was expecting something way more action packed and it was mostly just tributes hiding out until they either died of natural causes or were killed. The process of actually getting to The Hunger Games was a little drawn out as well, I kept wondering when the real action was going to start!

The writing in this was decent, but it was maybe a little overly wordy? It was definitely a very different style to The Hunger Games, which fitted Snow I guess, but I didn’t love it as much as the original Hunger Games books.

I would have liked to finally see more of the other districts, it actually would have been nice if Lucy Gray had come from another district, just so we could have seen a bit more other than The Capitol and District 12, both of which we saw a lot of in the original trilogy. I assume that Collins was trying to draw a link between Katniss and the Covey (various theories speculate that Lucy Gray or Maude Ivory respectively could be Katniss’ grandmother, which does make some sense given the link with the two songs from THG and the katniss plant).

I still don’t really understand why Snow hates the mockingjays so much. I definitely understand more now why he hated Katniss so much, she must have reminded him of Lucy Gray and the Covey but his initial revulsion of the mockingjays makes little sense to me.

She definitely leans harder into the philosophical discussions in this book than in the first book, which I found quite interesting.

Seeing the Capitol’s side of things in this book, it obviously doesn’t excuse how they treat the Districts at all, but it does make more sense why they were so determined to keep them poor and unable to fight back when you see how the war crippled the Capitol and its families. Katniss and Snow actually have more in common than I thought, they both lost family members at a young age, they were both poor (though arguably Katniss had it worse) and the way Snow was obsessed with food because he had never had enough definitely reminded me of Katniss in the first book.

The Capitol really did treat the tributes awfully in The Hunger Games originally and it did make me wonder when things changed, because even though The Hunger Games was awful, they didn’t throw Katniss and Peeta in a cage before their games and leave them to starve to death, I assume it was probably the Games after this one.

I liked the songs in this, I wasn’t expecting there to be so many, despite the title but they fitted well. I have to admit, they didn’t have much of an impact just reading the lyrics but I found a girl on YouTube called Maiah Wayne who put all of the songs to music and I definitely recommend listening to them because I imagine it would really add to the experience!

The ending was a little rushed, it felt like Snow did a complete 180 on Lucy Gray without all that much buildup and everything came to a resolution far too quickly given that the book was over 500 pages!

Overall, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was a decent read, but didn’t live up to the heights of the original trilogy. Still, if Suzanne Collins wanted to write more books in the world of Panem, I would definitely not be opposed to it!

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant.

King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1) Review

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Book: King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

BECHDEL TEST: Pass-Nina talks Hanne through her tailoring.

Content Warnings: Drug addiction, loss of a loved one, grief, captivity, slavery, implied past sexual assault, torture, bullying, fatphobic comments, mentions of previous stillbirths, attempted pedophilia, suicide and war themes, attempted child marriage

King of Scars was one of my most anticipated releases from last year but me being me, of course I didn’t get around to it, so I was really excited to finally read the first of Nikolai’s books this year. Sadly, I did find it kind of disappointing, it felt more like just set up for the second book in the duology rather than telling a great story in it’s own right, and Nina’s POV felt very disconnected from the other characters in the book, almost as if Leigh Bardugo had these two ideas for two different stories and had mashed them together because she really wanted Nina to be in this book. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal. 

I just want to say at the top of this review that though Leigh Bardugo has said she wrote this to be accessible to new readers, so that you can enter the Grishaverse at any point, I would definitely advise reading both the original Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows duology first as I think there’s a lot that probably won’t make sense if you haven’t.

So I already mentioned my biggest issue with this book at the top of the post, it’s SO DAMN SLOW. The entire book basically just feels like a book full of build up to the actually exciting stuff happening in the next book, and at 514 pages, it’s far longer than it probably needs to be. The often lengthy chapters also didn’t help matters.

The other main issue is Nina. Now I love Nina, she’s one of my favourite Grishaverse characters but she just doesn’t seem to really fit here. Zoya and Nikolai are both together in Ravka, working toward the same goal so it makes sense that they would both have a POV. Nina is in Fjerda doing something completely unrelated and as much as I enjoyed seeing her, her storyline doesn’t seem to fit here. I get the feeling Leigh had this idea of a story for Nina but there wasn’t really enough of it to make a whole book in its own right, so she attached it to Nikolai’s story, even though it seems kind of out of place.

Having said that, I did really enjoy Nina’s parts of this story. Her journey with grief after the end of Crooked Kingdom was really beautifully done, and I loved getting to see her use her new parem influenced powers more as she’s still really only just developing them in Crooked Kingdom. It’s also great to see her being confirmed as canonically bisexual!

I loved Zoya, we don’t really get to see her all that much in the original trilogy and after enjoying her in Ruin and Rising, I was really excited to see more of her in King of Scars. I’m happy to say that on this front, Bardugo really delivered, we get to learn so much more about Zoya in this book (her backstory is truly heartbreaking) and her character development was one of the standout aspects of this book.

I did find it kind of weird that all of the couples from Ruin and Rising were suddenly married here? I mean I know it’s been three years but they’re like 20 at the oldest!

For a book about Nikolai, Nikolai kind of……fades into the background here? I mean don’t get me wrong, I love that the girls in this are so awesome, but I was just expecting Nikolai to be a lot more prominent in his own book than he actually seemed to be.

I’m not sure how I feel about some of the big Grisha power developments in this book. I mean Leigh Bardugo seemed to have created a pretty solid magic system in the previous books, and basically everything that happened with the Saints in this book overturned what we already knew about the magic system and made the last few books of world-building seem kind of pointless? I do trust that Bardugo knows what she’s doing, but I’m just not really a fan of authors throwing out the established rules of their world, six books in!

Fjerda’s backwards views about women were really frustrating to read and honestly I’m kind of over it? Hanne’s whole thing is basically “girl rebelling against traditional societies values” which feels a little been there, done that.

I can’t say I felt massively interested in either potential romance? I did feel like Nikolai and Zoya was something I wanted to see explored in Ruin and Rising, but I don’t know, I kind of like them as friends and I’m not sure I really want them to go down the romance path. Nina and Hanne kind of just feel like a redo of Nina and Matthias, with Nina getting involved with another Fjerdan who feels like all Grisha are evil and it would be nice if for once, Nina could be romantically involved with someone who accepts and loves her for everything she is.

The dialogue and banter is still great in this one, especially between Nikolai and Zoya and there are a lot of little humourous moments, but the friendship dynamics that were so key in the Six of Crows duology did seem a little weak here.

Okay so I guess I have to end this with addressing the elephant in the room. The ending. Obviously I can’t say exactly what happened because MASSIVE SPOILERS but I’m not massively happy about it. It feels like the entirety of the original Grisha trilogy was rendered somewhat pointless by the end of this book, and there’s so much going on with Ravka already, what with the threat of invasion and its precarious political position, I really don’t feel like Leigh Bardugo needed to do what she did with the end of this book. I will reserve full judgement till I read the sequel, but I’m definitely proceeding with caution!

Overall, King of Scars was an okay addition to the Grishaverse, I enjoyed Zoya and Nina and there were some great moments, but it was somewhat more lacklustre than I was expecting and I’m not sure how to feel about the impact of some of the bigger curveballs on the series we already knew.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of the much anticipated Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins.

Girl Serpent Thorn Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Girl Serpent Thorn

Author: Melissa Bashardoust

Published By: Hodder and Stoughton

Publication Date: 7th July

Format: e-book

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Parvaneh and Soraya talk about her curse

Content Warnings: Death, violence, murder, bodily harm, blood/gore, imprisonment, mentions of past torture, abduction

Thank you to Hodder and Stoughton and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book, this in no way affected my opinion of it.

I read Melissa Bashardoust’s debut novel Girls Made of Snow and Glass last month, and was quite underwhelmed by it, so I went into Girl Serpent Thorn with a fair deal of trepidation. Thankfully I did enjoy it more than her previous book, although it did have some of the same issues with pacing and lack of character development. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

So I’ll start again with my biggest issue from the book: pacing. I feel like that’s an issue I’ve been having with basically everything I’ve been reading for the past few months and I honestly don’t know if it’s me and I’m just perceiving everything as being slower paced or if I’ve just been reading a lot of slow books! But anyway, this story was definitely very slow to build and it was only really in the very end that anything particularly exciting happened in the plot (and then it felt somewhat of a rush to the end). This was also a big issue for me in Girls Made of Snow and Glass, so I guess maybe it’s the author’s style to have really slow building plots? Either way, it doesn’t work all that well for me.

I really liked the author’s writing style, where in the first book I found it kind of simplistic, I really enjoyed it here, I think she has improved a lot in the two years since that book was published. The writing was actually what hooked me to this book, the prologue is just so beautifully done.

I loved the Persian mythology influences, I’m not all that familiar with Persian mythology but the author’s note was really helpful in explaining all the different things she brought in and I just thought it was really cool to read a story inspired by a culture that I’m not as familiar with. It was a really unique and creative idea for a fairytale and I thought that was so cool.

I don’t really know how to feel about Soraya. On the one hand, I did feel sorry for her not being able to touch the people she loved (and that one really hit differently in the pandemic than I imagine it would have previously!) but on the other hand, there was nothing that really made me feel connected to her. I don’t know, I would describe my feelings as kind of lukewarm which is not how you really want to feel about the main character in a novel.

Once again, as with Bashardoust’s first novel, the supporting characters felt kind of flat. I mean Soraya did too to a lesser extent, but at least I felt like I knew her and her motivations whereas the other characters, I felt like I only really knew the bare minimum about them. This was a shame because I felt like a lot of the secondary characters, like Tahmineh (Soraya’s mother) and Parvaneh had the potential to be really interesting, they just weren’t explored all that much.

I can’t say I was massively interested in the romance elements, though that wasn’t particularly a surprise. I just didn’t feel that either of Soraya’s romantic interests felt particularly well developed and so I didn’t find myself particularly invested in either of their relationships with Soraya. I did however appreciate how casually bisexual Soraya was!

I was kind of expecting Soraya to be more of a villain? I mean don’t get me wrong, she definitely does some questionable things throughout the book but I was expecting so much more than what we ended up getting.

The dynamics between Soraya and her mother and brother were pretty interesting given that she’s been largely separated from them through her life and I thought there was maybe a little more room to explore those dynamics than was actually done on the page.

Overall, Girl Serpent Thorn was a decent fairytale and very original but suffered from a lack of character development and a slow paced plot with an ultimately rushed conclusion.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of my July #RockMyTBR read, King of Scars, the next book in the Grishaverse by Leigh Bardugo.

The Kingdom of Copper (Daevabad Trilogy #2) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Kingdom of Copper (Daevabad #2)

Author: S.A. Chakraborty

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Soneela Nankani

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Razu teaches Nahri sleight of hand tricks.

Content Warnings: Violence, torture, death, murder, slavery, human trafficking, mentions of stillbirth, mentions of rape threats, war themes, racism (between fantasy races), alcoholism

I really enjoyed The City of Brass when I read it back in April and naturally was super excited to read the sequel as soon as I could. I did end up really enjoying it, though not as much as City of Brass, simply because it was slower and longer than I would have liked and it took me a bit to actually get into the story. Still I really loved the characters and the world, and the last few chapters…..WOAH. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in  The City of Brass conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe..

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

SPOILER ALERT: This review will contain some unavoidable spoilers from both The City of Brass & Kingdom of Copper. If you do not want to be spoiled, then stop reading now. 

So once again, my biggest issue with this book was the pacing, it’s an incredibly lengthy book (at 23 hours 14 minutes) and it doesn’t really pick up until the second half. I get that adult fantasy tends to be slower, but I just don’t want to wait till more than halfway through a book before the exciting stuff starts happening! Some of the chapters are also really overly long, I mean just the PROLOGUE was an hour!

Dara gets a POV in this book, and it just didn’t really fit with what was going on with Nahri and Ali’s storylines, it felt really disconnected. It wouldn’t really have impacted the storyline of this book one iota if he had stayed dead and Manizheh’s plan had gone ahead the same, though admittedly I may be biased because I still really hate him. But still, I did feel that Dara’s chapters contributed to my struggle to get into this as much as City of Brass, his chapters didn’t really push the story forward in the same way that Nahri and Ali’s did and I honestly think the book would have been better without them.

I loved that there was more focus on the women in this book, especially Nahri’s relationships with the different women in her life as that was one of my biggest problems with the last book. Here we get to see women play much more of a starring role, including getting to see more of Ali’s sister Zaynab which I loved. I particularly loved the inclusion of the shafit doctor, Subha, it was lovely to get to see Nahri have a female mentor who could teach her more about human methods of healing as well as Nisreen.

I wasn’t expecting the five year jump and it worked well in some respects, it was nice seeing the characters more settled in their lives but at the same time, I would have liked to see Nahri growing into her powers more. It also felt like there was no real reason for it, as I think the same storyline could have quite easily happened immediately following on from The City of Brass, though I understand that the author probably wanted Nahri and Ali to have spent a while away from each other.

I still really enjoyed S.A. Chakraborty’s writing style, she describes everything in such a beautiful way and the food descriptions made me feel so hungry, all the food sounded so delicious! Soneela Nankani did a great job with the narration as well.

The family dynamics in this are super interesting, particularly between Ali and Muntadhir, as the heir to the throne and his brother, there’s a lot of tension there and it was very interesting to see how that played out. It was also cool to see Ali and Zaynab’s mother in this book and how she changed things for them, and I liked how Nahri fitted into their whole family dynamic especially with Zaynab, after their rocky start in City of Brass. Familial relationships are at the forefront of this book which I loved as so often it is romance that is centred.

Speaking of romance, I was glad that took a backseat in this one, I’m even less on board with Dara and Nahri after the events of this book and to be honest, I don’t think Nahri is really in that place anymore either. I definitely think the swerve away from romance allowed all of the characters more space to develop individually, which I loved. It’s hinted that Ali has feelings for Nahri, but I really hope S.A. Chakraborty doesn’t go there, because I love their friendship and I really want to see a male/female friendship in a book that doesn’t end in romance!

Nahri and Jamshid’s newfound friendship was another highlight in this book, they had such a heartwarming friendship when it would have been easy for the author to go down the “you’re having sex with my husband so we’re enemies” route. It would have been nice if we’d got to see Nahri interact with Razu a bit more, as that seemed like it had the potential for a beautiful friendship.

I don’t love that S.A. Chakraborty keeps leaning very close to the “bury your gays” trope with Jamshid and Muntadhir, there have been a few too many fake outs there for my liking!

There are so many twists and turns towards the end of this book, which are very exciting but did feel a little rushed in places. Still they definitely set things up for a really exciting finish in the third book!

THE ENDING. S.A. Chakraborty seems to be really great at sticking the landing and once again this ended up in a place where I was really excited for the final book, and I can’t wait to see how things all end.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of one of my current Netgalley reads, Girl Serpent Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust.