Masquerade, by Laura Lam [Micah Grey #3]

TITLE: Masquerade (Micah Grey #3)
AUTHOR: Laura Lam
PUBLISHER: Pan Macmillan
RELEASE DATE: 9th March 2017
RATING: ★★★★

23279496It’s been a long wait between Shadowplay and Masquerade, and there were times when it seemed it would never come, short of Laura Lam electing to self-pub and/or kickstart the third and final Micah Grey novel. Thankfully, Lam’s publisher, also responsible for publishing the fantastic futuristic sci-fi thriller False Hearts swooped in and seized the entire trilogy, meaning that Micah was coming home.

 

And what a homecoming. Masquerade is a fast-paced and exciting story, full of mystery and heart, from the second we’re taken back to Ellada.

 

I was worried about the amount of time that had passed, having expected to forget absolutely everything, and since I do not have the ability to re-read books, it was a genuine concern that part of my enjoyment might be diminished by “what is happening? Who are these people?” and “I have no memory of this place!”. There were things I’d partially forgotten, but the way Lam both opened Masquerade and weaved the story, any of those gaps were very easily filled, with my memory being jogged where relevant and not once did I feel I was reading something I only half connected with, in spite of the huge gap and subsequent gaps in what I remembered. It felt every bit the same as having waited a year or so between books, with no clumsy dumps of exposition or info.

 

And the wait was worth it.

 

After the circus and then the magic contest with the Masque of Magic, things seem to be looking up for Micah. Except that at the close of Shadowplay, to sour the success, Micah fell suddenly ill and it seemed related to his burgeoning abilities as a chimera. Luckily, soon Micah is well (but for how long?), but at the cost of trusting someone he never wanted to see again. The Royal Physician is someone Micah would rather steer clear from, and with good reason, following the man’s employment of a Shadow to report their actions and whereabouts during the magic contest, even sending someone to get close to Masque in order to glean all the info he could. Yet Micah doesn’t have much choice and his treatment at the hands of the Royal Physician becomes regular affair–one he remains deeply mistrustful of.

 

Yet ridiculously, allowing Pozzi to treat him is soon the lesser of Micah’s worries, as tension grows within the city due to both the rumours of chimera and the politicking of the Foresters. The problem is: they have a point. For too many centuries, the noble families and the royal family have had much of the power and all of the privilege, whilst many in the country go hungry or find themselves in poverty. This dissent will not be eased without change, and yet when a particularly violent arm of the Foresters, calling themselves the Kashura in reference to the old histories and tales of the chimera and the Elder race, rises up and makes themselves known, the people of Ellada are caught between the need for change and the dislike for violence and bloodshed.

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Things will come to a head eventually and civil war may well be on the cards.

 

Meanwhile, Micah’s abilities seem to strengthen thanks to the treatment rendered by Pozzi and soon he is experiencing strange dreams that seem to show him the actions of another person as they go about their business in shadow. That business is body snatching. But without any notion of who is behind the actions or why, Micah and his friends are working blind. They’re not in this alone, aided by the mysterious Anisa, the Damselfly apparition from the Aleph who knows more than she says and who sometimes appears only to help them when it suits her best. None of them are entirely willing to trust her, but with their secrets held tightly to their chests, there are few around them who know the full truth and they must take whatever help they can get.

 

Matters become more complicated when hands behind the scenes begin to play their cards and Micah, Drystan and Cyan are pulled into things far more complicated and delicate than they could have imagined–and with the Foresters poised for action and change (one way or another) it looks as though things may come to a head sooner than anyone hoped.

 

One of the things that I’d been hoping for most with Masquerade was Micah’s confrontation with his parents, one way or another. I felt that given the storyline that led him from the noble house in the first place, there needed to be some manner of resolution given that Micah had returned to Imachara with a mind to stay and settle into his new life. This happened, in a way, and although there were elements of what I wanted to see, I felt disappointed in how Micah ultimately handled the situation. Which, really, is to say, I was disappointed in how easily Micah was able to set aside his anger and hurt regarding what his parents wanted for the daughter they believed they had. I think that any narrative from Micah suggesting that he understands what his parents were trying to do, and that he knew it came from a place of love, possibly suggests that Lam maybe hasn’t experienced strained relations with parents regarding queerness and acceptance. Micah loses his anger at his mother, understanding her “reasons” for wanting to fixing (or at least this was how it read to me) and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that. Micah’s mother does not really, really, truly admit fault and she does not truly accept Micah–and therefore she deserved no quarter, no acknowledgement and no further consideration from Micah. It felt like Micah gave too much for the sake of resolution and that just didn’t sit well with me, considering how his mother both was and wasn’t–and how she’d been earlier in the trilogy.

 

Overall, Masquerade was just as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, jumping effortlessly back into the same world we’d been forced to leave behind for so long. Every bit as exciting and compelling as its predecessors, Masquerade was a delight and being given such diverse characters with a q u e e r  r o m a n c e  as casually as any other never, ever, ever, ever gets old and it means every bit as much as it ever did. I very desperately want more of Micah and Drystan and still hold out hope for further Micah Grey novels that see him older, wiser and more established with his place in the world.

 

A wonderful end to the trilogy and almost everything I’d anticipated it would be.

The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco [The Bone Witch #1]

TITLE: The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1)
AUTHOR: Rin Chupeco
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks Fire
RELEASE DATE:  7th March 2017
RATING: ★★★★★

30095464The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco, the first of a new YA fantasy series, has been likened to The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. Usually I take these things with a pinch of salt and decry “advertising!” instead of walking into the book expecting to be given just this. But in this case, the echo of style and verve truly is there—and that’s one of the things that made me love this book so very, very much.  There’s a kind of slow, soft poetry to a story told through the eyes of a single character as they recall the (however distant or recent) past; as if we’re being told a story within a story. We’re told the story by Tea as she recounts it herself and we not only learn about her in snatches and glimpses, but that’s the way we’re invited to see the world of The Bone Witch as well, which is immensely rich and satisfying, as well as tantalisingly slow. The way in which Tea tells her story allows you to curl up and savour every word, simultaneously eager to spend time in the past through her recollection and race back to present day in order to follow the unravelling story wherever it is headed.

Tea is a bone witch, which she discovers when raising her dead brother from the grave, ultimately making him her familiar; in this way he is something resembling alive, though he remains very, truly dead. When a bone witch creates a familiar, the once-more-living creature retains their personality and memories and becomes linked to the witch who raised them. Which is why, when Tea is found by Lady Mikaela, a bone witch on her travels, raising and slaying the monstrous daeva as a bone witch is tasked to do, her brother is forced to remain with her. Neither sibling seems to mind this new and strange turn of events, however, and although Tea is apprehensive about leaving her sisters and family to become an asha-in-training, she is pleased enough to have raised her brother and be headed away from her tiny, insignificant village.

But it won’t be smooth sailing. Perhaps if Tea was any other kind of witch, then perhaps. Only Tea is a Dark asha, a bone witch who can only draw the Dark runes; runes for raising the dead and other darker, murkier things. And the raising and slaying of daeva. Only bone witches can kill the terrible creatures who rise up and bring death wherever they tread and though Tea has just arrived in the city with her new teacher, she already knows that this will be her fate.

As Tea struggles to manage her powers and undergo all the necessary training to become a fully-fledged asha, she finds that being the new girl is hard—let alone when you’re a bone witch. For all the bone witches are essential, they are treated with suspicion and often open hatred by many people and on the whole, they are merely tolerated as a presence among other asha. Not all of the asha think this way about their bone witch sisters, but Tea finds that for the most part she will make no easy friends among the other asha and asha apprentices.

Tea soon discovers that she is very capable, surpassing the expectations of her tutors in many areas. But life remains difficult under the strict rule of the asha-ka’s matron and there are times that Tea wishes she’d never left her little village. But she’ll never take back having raised Fox.

As Tea continues her story, we begin to see the tension mounting and are given the tiniest glimpses that might reveal what her plans will come to be. Through her eyes we see her past and through the observant narrative of the bard who sought her out, we’re told the story of Tea now, where she hides in exile from the rest of the asha as her plan begins to unfold. Much like Kvothe in The Name of the Wind, we are constantly held within inches of learning more about Tea, both in the present day and in her past, and the result is a compelling, lyrical story that lures you in and keeps your interest through its delectably slow unfolding and merging of past and present, with the smallest hint of what the future might hold.

The Bone Witch takes places in a diversely populated world where the asha take centre stage. In subsequent books I would be thrilled to see the male would-be-asha be afforded a place among the asha, instead of the ranks of the Heartseekers, where boys who can draw the runes usually go. I would love to see a boy join the ranks of the asha in the exact same way that Tea did: with the pretty clothes and enchanted jewellery, instead of keeping the genders separate with soldiers and witches, or by further feminising him in order to make him fit. I want Kai to be a male asha still partaking in all the traditional things that the asha do, without needing to surrender his gender somehow to do so. For me, that would mess with the gender boundaries of what is ‘masculine’ and what is ‘feminine’ in a way that feels relevant to me and more powerful given the typically feminine education and training of the asha apprentices. Basically Kai can be asha, regardless of his gender, doing all the things a girl would. That’s what I want. It’s what I’m hoping for. In addition, since there seemed to be (what I perceived as, at least) the implication of at least an attraction, if not romance, between two of the asha, I’m happy that at least some manner of queer representation was included, though I will be hoping for more in future.

I absolutely loved The Bone Witch, finding it completely enchanting and compelling: the slow, careful pace of the book is what makes it shine, with every detail lovingly rendered on the page, weaving a tapestry which becomes the backdrop to Tea’s journey. This trilogy is going to be fantastic, I have no doubt.

The Ninth Rain, [The Winnowing Flame #1] by Jen Williams

Title: The Ninth Rain (The Winnowing Flame #1)
Author: Jen Williams
Publisher: Headline
Release date: 23rd February 2017
Rating: ★★★★★

29758013The thing about Jen Williams is that she gets it. In the same way that any artist needs to know all the rules of their art intimately, in order to then bend or break those rules, Williams is so intimate with the genre of true, classic fantasy that she likely meets it in the pub for Sunday lunch and sends a card at the holidays. She knows exactly what she’s doing when she crafts these incredibly familiar worlds with almost-but-not quite familiar characters, only to then turn everything on its head and throw all expectation out the window. And she’s very good at it.

Another thing about Williams is that she writes in worlds that really ought to appear so cliché and dated that the words hang off the page in tatters and dust puffs up with every turn. In fact, the worlds she crafts are both gloriously familiar and excitingly fresh, clean and new: we’re never re-reading old “golden age” fantasy ground with Williams—even if, for a moment, we would be forgiven for thinking we are. The thing about this is that we get that cosy hot-chocolate-by-the-fire feeling that’s almost nostalgia for all the classic kinds of fantasy we thought had since been usurped by newer, reimagined fare, yet without any of the dowdy old tropes and generally completely of date nonsense we put up with without knowing there was an alternative. There won’t be any wailing damsels and certainly no chainmail bikinis or armour that is as ineffective as it is silly. Instead we have intelligent, queer (!) black women tromping around the woods, going about the business of being scholars and adventurers. Even the cliché of the womanizing rogue is bashed soundly on the head and left back in the decade from whence it came, and in its place, we have an updated elf-like almost-warrior who’s just enough of a dandy to know how the hell to dress (and to care about his appearance), but lacking in the other cliché of the useless fop who contributes very little outside of someone to laugh at for his lack of Traditional Masculinity.

After the stunning finale to the Copper Cat trilogy, which both tied everything up nicely as if with a ribbon, at the same time as leaving the vast stage open for our heroes to continue on thereafter, I was excited to delve into a whole different world and meet the new denizens of William’s very vivid—and very fun—imagination. The Ninth Rain does not disappoint.

We’re whisked away to a world we see in glimpses, where war stretches back through its long, bloody history and although the level of civilization and resulting technology is on its way to impressive, much of this is contained to walled cities and safe spaces upon which the overgown and worm-touched Wild does not encroach. Those who choose to live out in the Wild do so at great risk and most elect for the safety of cities and towns—anywhere the Wild hasn’t yet spread. But the Wild is spreading, slowly but surely, and this is what (among other things) prompts our wine-making scholar, Vintage, to set off from her family’s very wealthy vineyards in search of answers. What she doesn’t count on is getting entangled with a runaway witch from the infamous Winnowry, who might hold part of the answer Vintage has been looking for.

As for Tormalin the Oathless, even traipsing around the Wild with Vintage has got to be better that what he left behind at home: sickness and the slow and dusty decay of his people. No thanks—Tor would rather leave Ebora and keep on walking, and he has very little intention of looking back. Except Tor isn’t as good at pretending he’s done with Ebora as he thinks and whether he likes it or not, Ebora isn’t done with him. In fact, what he and Vinatge find out in the Wild might just change everything for the home he left behind. Tor isn’t the rogue some readers might expect, and neither is he the brooding, manly man-man warrior of total manliness who mans about doing his man thing. Even with his experience at the House of the Long Night, he absolutely is not That Guy; that wine-and-women dude. He’s more–so much more. And of course he is: because it’s Williams who wrote him and she nails him every bit as much as she nailed Frith and Sebastian.

The Ninth Rain fair sings off the page when reading and even the unusual and, let’s be fair, generally yuck and ick details of worm people and wandering, rampaging ghost plants, are conveyed clear as crystal and in with such an expert hand that, not for one moment, does the notion of said wandering ghost plants sound even a little silly.

Everything about The Ninth Rain cries classic fantasy, from the questing heroes to the fate of the world hanging in the balance. We even have an elfy, ethereal race gifted with longevity and beauty. Cue the forbidden magic that’s little understood, inextricably attached to a dodgy cult and the dutiful runaway with the dark past and we have precisely what’s needed to get very comfortable in that sepia-tinted Good Old Fantasy that brought us here in the first place.

But because this is Jen Williams The Ninth Rain is old fantasy all dressed up new and shiny and with only the good things left in, with all the dated and dodgy tropes drop-kicked into space. As usual, we’re invited to a diversely populated fantasy world that is engaging, exciting and written with complete abandon and no self-consciousness to be seen.

In others words, The Ninth Rain is peak Williams and if we learned anything from The Copper Cat it’s that from here, the bar is only going to get higher and higher. I have no doubt that when it does, Williams will step up her game and vault over it again and again.

Basically Williams’ The Ninth Rain is a shining example of just what modern fantasy can be and do. You need this book.

Fairy Loot Unboxing: May [High fantasy theme]

What is Fairy Loot
Well, it’s probably one of the most awesome and amazing things I’ve discovered recently. It is a book loot subscription box that focuses entirely on YA Fantasy. Which is, needless to say, absolutely perfect for me. (And my brother, with whom I share books and general fanboying about said books.)

fairylootmay#1It’s taken me forever to actually get around to doing this. Mostly because I’ve been stupid busy and pushing myself way, way too hard–but that’s pretty much what my life is made of and it’s not about to change. So… that’s a thing.

I saw that Fairy Loot was a thing by complete chance not that long ago (on Twitter, of course…) and we (my bookish brother and I, who share all things books) were too late to get the April box, so waited and snatched one as soon as we could in May. We were a little hesitant, knowing that most of the people who buy the Fairy Loot boxes are girls. I’m definitely not the most masculine of guys, but I was a little ummy and ahhhy about whether or not the subscription box was for me. I decided, “hey, so what if there are a few really feminine things in it? Give it a shot!” And so we split the box and went ahead with our first one in May. I was particularly into the High Fantasy theme and that was a big incentive.

I’m super glad we went for it, because it’s so good. Okay, there was like, a single thing that we didn’t want (not didn’t like, because it’s cool and all, it just doesn’t fit my brother’s wrist and it’s a bit… faffy and dainty for me, but hey, it looks nice enough and it’s easy enough to just customise it myself, so that’s fine) but that was literally it. Literally.

It was well worth getting the box and I’m ridiculously excited for June’s box, with the theme of Classic TwistNeedless to say, we’ve already split the sub for July–which has the incredible theme of Pirates and Power

fairylootmay2Plus, the boxes themselves are gorgeous. So, what exactly did I get in May’s High Fantasy Fairy Loot box?

  • Ruined, by Amy Tintera (which wasn’t actually released until 2nd June in the UK, so it was an ARC! It’s also hardcover and came with a signed bookplate to stick in, and a bookmark as swag as well as some gorgeous art from the book)
  • A cool abstracty art thing of Legolas, which is green and white and already hanging in the book nook space in the study
  • A random mini figurine from Game of Thones (I got Brienne, which is great, because she is awesome. Even though I don’t like GoT, the figures are cute so I didn’t mind at all.)
  • An exclusive dragon bracelet from My Clockwork Castle
  • A happy fanart chibi of Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition, which is really, really cool, by Sparks Reactor (findable on Etsy and other places!)
  • A cute dragon mirror thing, from MelissaNettleshipwhich is stupidly useful for getting up close and applying eyeliner when you’re actually pretty terrible at applying even the simplest of gothy eye makeup as well as being able to apply concealer to hide awful spoonie fatigue, so hey, cute mirror!
  • fairylootmay4A really great letter from the author that made me super happy because she even mentioned boys who don’t mind being saved by princesses and that’s totally me OK so that was good

I loved the Fairy Loot box for May so much. I’m excited to receive the one for June shortly. And then July…

I’ve not read the book yet, but I can’t wait to start on it. I also can’t wait to amass a collection of Fairy Loot boxes, because they’re pretty awesome.

fairylootmay3I meant to do this unboxing post a gazillion years ago, but hey, better late than never. Hopefully for the next box, my brother and I will be starting our joint book vlog, so there’ll be a video unboxing as well. Hopefully.

The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

Title: The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1)
Author: Evelyn Skye
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Publication date: 17th May 2016 (US) 30th June 2016 (UK)
Rating: ★★★★★

CrownsGame hc cThe Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye, is another Truthwitch (by Susan Dennard). Not that they have anything at all in common—which they don’t, as it happens—but rather that this book is so hyped it’s unreal. And yet, as with Truthwitch: the hype is real.

There’s always a certain glee at reading a book that everyone is telling you you’re going to love, and then you actually do love. A tiny wee part of me was braced for disappointment. Not because anything about the book or the hype had put me off, but for two reasons: a) I’d rather be ready for the disappointment of a hyped book not quite hitting the spot and b) I always enter into books with a structured conflict (such as Vika and Nikolai’s duel to the death) with a thin veil of detachment, so I can figure out if it’s worth investing myself, when we’re pretty much told from the offset that someone is going to lose.

That veil did not last long.

Because this book is wonderful.

We’re introduced to an alternate Imperial Russia where magic is secret but real, and the time has come for Russia to once again appoint an Imperial Enchanter. Ordinarily, this is a simple task, with there being a single enchanter at any given time. Unfortunately for both Vika and Nikolai, who have been training their whole lives in preparation for being Imperial Enchanter to the Tsar, this time, things are a little different.

When there are two enchanters, the Crown’s Game must begin.

Vika has been raised on an island with her father, Sergei, and she knows nothing of the other enchanter out there. One day, she will be Imperial Enchanter and she will serve Russia, making her father proud. Nikolai, on the other hand, an orphan from the Kazakh Steppe who was bought from his village for a handful of livestock, has been raised and trained to be the best. Galina, Sergei’s sister, has been a ruthless mentor, giving nothing in the way of love or a comfortable life outside of dressing him for show and parading him as her dear little charity case.

Whilst Nikolai has been studying and mastering his magic through craft, engineering and more scientific ventures, Vika’s magic is all the wildness of natural energies and the very world around her. They are unalike in every way.

But it is time for the tsesarevich’s birthday, and to coincide with the beginning of the Game, both Vika and Nikolai are commanded to make their moves part of his birthday festivities. With no other guidelines given, the two enchanters are set against one another from the offset. And with their mentors whisked away to Siberia, they are left alone to participate in the Game.

Perhaps Nikolai stands a better chance of knowing how to make an impression, since he is best friends with the tsesarevich. But Pavel Alexandrovich Romanov knows nothing of his friend’s magic, or the Game, so even though they are close, things won’t be as simple as he might have hoped. In turn, Vika soon realises that she has caught the attention of Pasha, but with the tension of the Game and the growing fear for her life with each and every move of the Game, she might be too caught up in the magic to know how to use this to her advantage.

But in the end, it is the Tsar who will declare a winner, and he is stony and resolute. The Game will be played and an Imperial Enchanter will be appointed.

The Crown’s Game isn’t what it seems. It isn’t a bloodthirsty battle or a contest of egos or even wills. It’s, instead, a subtle and deep game that revolves entirely around the small cast and their feelings and relationships with one another. There are secrets and twists and revelations that, even if you cotton on a single page before the reveal, will make you go wide-eyed in surprise or clap about like a mad thing with glee (guilty—there might have been book-waggling/hugging). This book is a glorious feast for the senses, with delightful and extraordinary magic that exceeds both expectation and belief at every turn, making the reading of The Crown’s Game almost as exhilarating and wondrous as the Game played by Vika and Nikolai themselves.

The Crown’s Game is a stunning book with such heart and such strong characters, each in their own way. Vika is a fiery thing, whilst Nikolai has brooding, thoughtful edges. Pasha was a constant delight, even as he struggles to face up to the fact that one day he will be Tsar—and the realisation that his heart might be too soft for the role.

From the depth of the friendship between Pasha and Nikolai and the warmth of the relationship between Vika and Ludmila, this book is a pleasure to be immersed in, if only for the interactions between the characters and the way they shape and form the story. Yes, this is about magic and enchantments to make you beam with delight and gape with awe. Yes, this is about a deadly Game and a battle of wills. But it’s also so much more than that. The Crown’s Game is a story about discovery and about pushing the limits of who you are and how far you will go. It’s about finding just what it is that makes you, you, and a little bit of exploring the consequences of letting others make your decisions and sway your heart.

JBI 5 star chibiThis book isn’t just set in historic Russia—it takes you there. You feel it in the streets, in the palaces, in the people who populate the world. From the mounting tensions of the lower and working classes, to the discomfort of those in the nobility who see the dangerous ground upon which the Tsardom treads, this is a book that really feels authentic. Which, given Skye’s love for Russia, isn’t a surprise at all. She nailed it.

At the end of the day, The Crown’s Game is about imagination and finding those little pieces of yourself in order to move one step closer to completing the puzzle of just who you are. It’s gorgeous, it’s exciting and it’s thrilling. It’s pure, pure magic.

 

 

False Hearts, by Laura Lam

Title: False Hearts
Author: Laura Lam
Publisher: Macmillan
Publication date: 16th June 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

False-Hearts-UK-Cover (2)False Hearts, by Laura Lam, is an exciting sci-fi thriller that explores the ideas of brain-hacking, lucid dreaming and the deep, dark world of organised crime and corruption in a city that is perfect on the outside. Where flesh parlours are a five-minute ticket to a new appearance and neural implants allow for quick downloading of information directly to the brain, muscular implants regulate body mass and size, and everything from synthetic, hangover free alcohol to fully-prepared meals can be ordered from a replicator in your kitchen, San Francisco seems to be the perfect city, full of perfect people.

Since the introduction of Zeal lounges, allowing the user to plug directly into their own vast fantasies and participate as they play out, the crime rate has plummeted and the city has become a peaceful haven of happy people with sculpted smiles.

But not everyone gets the same kick out of Zeal; for some, the dreaming process of acting out hidden fantasies doesn’t produce the same effect. For formerly conjoined twins, Taema and Tila, raised outside of society in a secluded cult, Zeal does nothing. Maybe it’s because they were raised so differently, taught the word of Mana-Ma, the conduit for the Good Book and God’s word. But maybe it’s the fact that they can already both lucid dream thanks to their training in the cult of Mana’s Hearth and the fact that their brains simply work differently, lowering the pleasure of Zeal for both of them.

However, this fact makes Taema and Tila somewhat unique and very useful for those seeking to use Zeal for a darker purpose. Everyone knows about the Zealots; those who plug into Zeal and live out such dark fantasies that they are driven away from the monitored feeds in the legal, safe Zeal lounges and into the shady, grimy parlours of the city’s underbelly. Addicted to Zeal, unable to feel a connection with life outside their fantasies, they plug in for hours and hours at a time, eventually wasting away, their lives crumbling around them as they act out their darker sides away from the prying eyes of the rest of the city.

Taema has always been the sensible twin, the reserved twin. An engineer with a good job and bright future, she plays by all the rules. That is, until her sister comes home covered in blood, accused of a murder Taema knows her sister can’t possibly be capable of.

Or could she? The deeper Taema delves into her sister’s life, the more she realises that, since they left Mana’s Hearth, she barely knows her sister anymore. So many secrets and lies hang between them now and Taema is left in the dark. With her sister’s trial pending and the first murder in the city in decades being covered up, Taema is given a choice: become Tila and find out the truth or leave her sister to die.

Soon she finds herself undercover and in deep water as she tries to step into her sister’s very different shoes. With a partner to help her learn the ropes of being undercover, Taema brainloads new info every day, learning everything from the hierarchy of the city’s dark and dangerous mafia to martial combat techniques. As she slips further down the rabbit hole, losing herself more with each day spent pretending to be Tila, she discovers a deeper, darker truth at the heart of it all.

Whatever her sister was caught up in, it goes far further than she could ever have imagined, and in the end, it might feel as though they never really escaped the Hearth after all.

This book was thrilling in every sense of the word; exciting and vibrant and bursting with what felt like a genuine and accurate possible aesthetic of a future San Francisco. So many earthbound science fiction narratives can read far too much like our very own here and now, rendering the setting somewhat redundant as a supposed science fiction. False Hearts does not suffer from this at all, instead depicting a very visible future with all the usual instalments of such a setting, with thoughtful details that make a world feel less like a structure confined to the page, and more a living, real thing. Essentially the world that Lam creates in lieu of our own feels possible, as if we’re glimpsing the future instead of reading about an entirely fictional world. This, for me, is something of an essential part of a good futuristic earth.

False Hearts is a superbly-written and gripping thriller that plays out with almost startling movie-like clarity. It would translate to film like a dream come true. As is to be expected from Lam, the world she presents is not only racially diverse, but also sexually. Lo and behold and let the angels sing for a bisexual main character who neither coyly dances around the subject nor is revealed as not heterosexual outside of the actual story and by the author. No Dumbledore treatment here. Taema is bi and definitely interested in the possibility of dating women when the suggestion is presented. We even have a disabled boy. Heck, Taema and Tila themselves are formerly conjoined twins. And, as I’ve also come to expect from Lam, their status as such is not a part of the plot. It simply is. Just as Micah’s intersex biology was not a part of her Dark Circus series; it simply was just how Micah was.

It’s ludicrously refreshing to have an author remember that bisexuality, race and disability are a thing. As said, I’d expect nothing less with Lam. She’s a bright star in a sky dotted with samey science fiction that tries too hard to be edgy, potentially using both race and LGBT characters more as set-dressing than as characters who feature very prominently in the story.

I knew about False Hearts long before I read it, dating back to a handful of DMs where we both lamented the fact that her publisher (then, Strange Chemistry) would not be picking up the third Micah Grey book. She’d recently finished a draft of what became False Hearts, which her agent loved and we both crossed our fingers hoping it would be a breakout novel for her (and that her backlist would be picked up as well).

These things happened, and now, after years of anticipation, waiting whilst “Bonkers Book” was finished and edited and eventually sold, I got to read the novel the pitch of which made me giddy with excitement.

I wasn’t disappointed. False Hearts is a stunningly clever thriller that is sure to keep you reading well into the night. I can’t reiterate how much I love this book. Lam is a stellar author and with False Hearts she has stepped up her game. I can’t imagine how I’ll possibly wait patiently for the second book. I miss Taema already.

The Vanishing Throne, by Elizabeth May [The Falconer #2]

  • Title: The Vanishing Throne (The Falconer #2)
  • Author: Elizabeth May
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Publication date: 19th November 2015 (UK) 7th June 2016 (USA – Chronicle)
  • Rating: ★★★★★

51z1+okqIeL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_I loved The Falconer, the first of the trilogy of the same name, by Elizabeth May. We’re talking big, big love. Faeries are my thing. Give me faeries. I’m also somewhat partial to incredibly kickass girls who hunt and kill fae by night to avenge their mothers and fight against the gnawing grief and PTSD, apparently. When you add in everything else that made The Falconer amazing—war and ancient feuds and secrets and good fae versus bad, and also romance and swords and that sort of thing—it’s no surprise that the bar for The Vanishing Throne was set very, very high.

Things were very tense for Lady Aileana Kameron at the end of The Falconer and The Vanishing Throne sees her pulled through into a world she has no business being in. She failed, and now Scotland—and beyond—will pay the price, letting the fae and the Wild Hunt free in the human realm after centuries trapped and hungry. The fae are bent on destruction, and now Aileana isn’t there to fight them. And even if she were, what use is she? She might be a Falconer, but she was powerless before. They lost.

Now she’s trapped by Lonnrach—and nobody is coming for her. She’s alone and breaking, prisoner of both her own mind and Lonnrach’s sadistic interrogations as he rifles through even her most mundane and private of memories in search of something he’s certain she has. Aileana is strong, but she’s been through too much, and the pain and fear of what Lonnrach does to her sends her into a spiral of her own mind.

But she’s not been forgotten, and soon, help arrives. And just in time: there’s only so long someone can remain strong for, and this time Aileana might just have been about to break. Before long, aided by possibly the strangest faery she’s ever met, and she has met (and killed) a few.

Soon she is on her way back to her own world, back to Edinburgh, and she can only guess at what awaits her. The fact that the faery sent to aid her won’t tell her anything of the people she left behind? Not reassuring. Not reassuring at all.

After managing to flee Lonnrach and return to Edinburgh, she realises more than she could have imagined has changed—and it’s all her fault. But some things remain the same, and in spite of everything that has happened, everything she has been through, Kiaran is still there and they might just have a future together. Possibly.

If they survive everything, that is. Which seems less and less likely with the odds that keep mounting. Still, with steadfast allies and the threads of a way to foil Lonnrach coming together within reach, they press on together and seek to do whatever they can to save what’s left of the world they barely recognise any longer.

But as things progress, secrets about the past are revealed and however deep Aileana thought the truth might run, however twisted and buried the secrets might be, she could never have guessed at the truth that lies at the heart of things.

It is an unimaginable truth—one that changes everything.

With so much lost already, Aileana will fight to the last for everything that remains. And she won’t do it alone.

The Vanishing Throne is a gorgeously-written and gripping adventure that took the story of The Falconer and turned everything up to eleven. The stakes are massive and game-changing and the Aileana we know and love is more fragile than she’s ever been, but in that fragility there’s a strength even she can’t see half the time. That’s what makes her so much moremoremore in this absolutely stunning sequel. May’s writing has evolved to a completely new level of wow and I couldn’t love this book more. I was barely three pages in when I had to stop and send a garbled email about just how much I loved this book.

That’s how much I loved this book.

The friendship, the romance, the sheer raw violence and grief and everythingness is so astoundingly stellar that it’s hard to believe that the book is over and now I need to wait for the third. I don’t quite know what it is about May’s prose, but there’s something that makes it sing off the page to me. Reading The Vanishing Throne was a pure joy and occasionally I had to stop to just hug my Kindle and then hug my beautiful hardcover of the book.

I love big things in books, where writers aren’t afraid to really, really do something huge and epic and wow. May gave me precisely this for the finale of The Vanishing Throne, upping the tension and stakes even higher than I’d thought possible (and I usually dream pretty big).

Everything is gorgeous and powerful and saturated with yesness. It is a magical, exciting adventure of war and loss and fighting and never giving up, all interwoven with beautiful and delightful friendships that feel real and are so utterly right that they shine off the page, every bit as important and glorious as the romance (which also shines very brightly, as it happens).

JBI 5 star chibiThe Vanishing Throne is one of those books that couldn’t possibly be allowed to end, because then it would be over. Whatever it is about May’s writing that draws me in and keeps me gripped, keeps me enchanted, it’s here in double measures in the second book of this trilogy. I’m addicted and don’t even care.

Let’s just say that I really, really, really need book three.