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.

[Review] Timekeeper, by Tara Sim [Timekeeper #1]

Title: Timekeeper (Timekeeper #1)
Author: Tara Sim
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 8th November 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

25760792Timekeeper, by Tara Sim, is a clockworky, period fantasy-mystery-romance-everything that mixes an investigative ‘whodunit’ element with that of myth, magic and mayhem, with the added exploration of everything from parental relationships to what, exactly, being human might mean.

Set in an alternate Victorian England (yay) where time is quite literally a force of power and must be harnessed through clock towers in order to function correctly and keep life flowing and moving as it must, Sim’s debut novel is a brilliant example of making myth and mystery merge with the burgeoning industry associated with steam/clockpunk to create a story that is completely addictive and rich.

Time was once controlled by Chronos, but after his death, time needed new, mortal guardians to ensure that all flowed and ebbed according to its natural order: The Mechanics. They can sense time, touch it and feel its strands and fibres as if it were fabric. They are its guardians, attending to the maintenance of the clocks across the world.

Danny Hart is one such mechanic—the best in his class and a natural prodigy; the youngest mechanic in the union—like his father before him. But Danny is particularly gifted, able to not only repair the towers with ease and a delicate, careful hand, but to feel and touch the very fabric of time itself in a way far deeper than his peers. Danny understands time.

Which is why, when an accident traps his father in a Stopped town, now for three years and counting, Danny is certain that if he could just be a part of the controversial construction of the new tower in Malden, that he’ll be able to save his father.

But with fears that Danny might not be up to the task, following on accident that could have cost him his life, Danny’s requests to work on the tower are gently refused by the Lead Mechanic. Before the accident, before he drew the sympathetic stares of his colleagues, there would have been no question as to whether he was fit for the job or not. In order to get the assignment to Maldon, Danny needs to repair his reputation and prove that he’s fine after the accident.

So what if he has nightmares, still, and the presence of so much of the clockwork that exploded and scarred him makes him break out in sweats? He can handle it—he has to. With this in mind, Danny sets himself to any assignment he’s given with determination, desperate to help his father.

Things begin to change, however, when Danny takes a job in Enfield.

Clock spirits don’t exist—not really. Every mechanic knows the stories, but they’re a myth, a fiction. Only, Danny might be forced to change that assertion when he meets Colton, the clock spirit of the Enfield tower. Filled with deep loneliness, Enfield’s clock spirit begins finding any way he can to draw the mechanics—to draw Danny—to the town. So much for Danny’s focus on work and saving his father… Before long, the two are drawn together and Danny’s visits to the tower have less to do with the clock and more the boy who powers it.

But when a similar incident to the one that almost killed Danny occurs and there’s no visible culprit or motive, things begin to take a sinister turn. With clock towers being attacked, maybe it’s only a matter of time before another town is Stopped. And perhaps Danny won’t be so lucky a second time.

It soon becomes clear that Danny must solve the mystery before something unthinkable happens and before long, there’s more at stake than just Danny’s father. With the help of Colton, a rival mechanic, and his best friend, Danny delves headlong into untangling the distorted threads to find the truth about what really happened to him—and to his father.

Timekeeper is an expertly-written debut that is both thrilling and enchanting. Sim has a talent for crafting real, feeling characters and capturing the subtle and nuanced realities of every emotion from loneliness to grief, as well as weaving realistic and deep relationships between the characters. This is always something I hone in on immediately: parental relationships. Sim writes a seamless strained relationship between Danny and his mother, as well as his absent father. Parents suck sometimes—whatever the reason—and Danny’s mother is no different.

Obviously, Timekeeper features a m/m romance. Sound all the bells and alarms for a realistically-written gay romance, because by gods, they’re rare enough and rarer still written well, without essentially resembling the shounen-ai/yaoi fanfics written by teenage girls after binging Junjou Romantica for three weeks. This isn’t a gay romance written for girls (as so many are: fight me, go on, do it), it’s just a boy-meets-boy kind of story that gets it right, not agonising over any ridiculous notions such as how do I write a gay romance?! (spoiler: the same way you write any goddamn romance).

Additionally, this isn’t a story about Danny being gay—it’s a story where Danny just so happens to be into boy-shaped people. This fact alone would likely made me give the book five million stars and recommend it, even if I hadn’t personally liked it. When we have queer SFF on the regular that just so happens to feature queer characters without being a story that centres entirely on their queerness, then I’ll shut up about it. Until then, I’ll say: I do not want queer fiction; I want fiction that happens to be queer.

And that’s precisely what Timekeeper is.

Timekeeper is also a brilliant story that makes Sim look like she’s been published for years, not, in fact, her debut novel. The world is richly-plotted and expertly conveyed, mixing her unique magic and myth effortlessly with the more modern setting of a Victorian England only slightly different from our own. Her prose is deep and magical, adding a touch of wonder to the manner of setting that would usually present as eithleo-stickerset4er high-society propriety or the nitty-gritty of the streets. Timekeeper is enthralling and delightful and in one book, Sim managed to both write a story that finds a natural end, at the same time as setting the stage for subsequent books to follow.
Needless to say I am highly anticipating more from Sim—both in the Timekeeper world and in whichever additional worlds Sim decides to explore. This book was bloody brilliant. Buy it.

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.

 

 

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.

The Fallen Prince, by Amalie Howard [The Riven Chronicles #2]

  • Title: The Fallen Prince (The Riven Chronicles #2)
  • Author: Amalie Howard
  • Publisher: Sky Pony Press
  • Publication date: April 5th 2016
  • Rating: ★★★★★


25898456The Fallen Prince
is the long-awaited sequel to Amalie Howard’s The Almost Girl. I was thrilled to receive an ARC, because I absolutely adored the first book and couldn’t wait to dive back in with Riven and Caden. Most of my reading tends to err towards pure fantasy or urban/historical-urban fantasy, so when I get something that is science-fiction, I get a little excited. With the promise of even more sci-fi with Riven and Caden’s return to their own world, I was super hyped for this book.

After the betrayal of Caden’s clone, Cale, and the death of Riven’s sister, Shae, things have been chaotic for both of them. Add to that the fact that Riven won’t stop hunting her father and creator, Danton. She’s been chasing him through the Otherworld, desperate for revenge and/or justice; bent on bringing him back to Neospes to answer for what he’s done.

She’s made her peace with the revelation of what she is, the almost-girl that her father engineered. Caden’s support and acceptance helped. Still, there are times where Riven feels like little more than General Riven: soldier, monster, killer. She will always be a warrior, always lead and always strive to protect those she loves.

Only now that’s proving to be more difficult, as a new and unimaginable foe emerges from the shadows. But that’s not all and before long Riven will find herself torn between what she wants for herself and what is best for Neospes. Perhaps reverting to her old self, the cool and aloof general, is the best thing for everyone. Of course, it’s difficult to distance yourself from your heart, when the boy you love isn’t buying the act. Caden is, as always, there to remind Riven that she isn’t the heartless soldier she wishes she could be, thinks she still could be.

A lot changed in the Otherworld and it changed Riven forever. They’ve come a long way from her task to take Cade out.

Unfortunately, things are set to get harder from here. With the fate of Neospes hanging in the balance, threatened by the aggressions of an enemy that shouldn’t exist, the Lord King of Neospes might be called upon in a capacity neither he nor Riven has ever considered. Still, Cade will do what he must for his city and his people, even if that mean making tough decisions.

As Riven and Caden enter into tangled web of danger and new political relations, both begin to realise that there seems to be no right answer. With the appearance of new allies and the revelation of a secret so large it could change everything, the fight to get Caden back on the throne is soon going to seem like it was a walk in the park.

Everyone has an agenda and diplomacy and people-skills have never been at the top of Riven’s resume. But when things take a turn for the strange and she begins to doubt her own mind, her own monstrousness, it seems that even Riven might falter when things get hard.

Except that if she does, it could spell out the doom for everyone in Neospes—and that’s not something she’s willing to let happen. One way or another, she will find a way to defeat their new enemy, even if it costs her absolutely everything. Even if it costs Riven her life.

The Fallen Prince is precisely what I was expecting from the sequel to The Almost Girl: an exciting and gripping adventure in a truly post-apocalyptic setting that stands apart from other dystopian landscapes by virtue of its original and thoughtful details. From peculiar flora and fauna to unusual technology leftover from the brutal war, and the immersive attention to detail with scorching temperatures and the necessary biotechnology to survive them, The Fallen Prince feels like an authentic and vibrant ride through a gritty scorched-earth style adventure.

Add in the dynamic between Riven and Caden, which doesn’t suffer from any second-book syndrome of should we/shouldn’t we in spite of their new and awkward situation, and we have a winning formula for a very successful sequel that was well worth the wait.

The Fallen Prince feels like the natural continuation of the story, with a seamless transition from what became an urban sci-fi adventure in The Almost Girl to the pure dystopian sci fi of the second book in the sequence.

Howard’s prose feels slick and sharp and completely on point in expressing the next part of Riven and Caden’s story. This was always going to be a different book from The Almost Girl, owning to the drastic change of setting and a busier cast—and the result is an exciting and vivid exploration of the world outside of Neospes.

There’s a lot tucked between the lines in this book; from commentaries on parental relationships to what power means and how to use it. In the end, Riven remains a kickass force of nature who is here to get the job done, whatever that means. Meanwhile, nothing of Caden’s rise to Lord King has changed who is and we’re still presented with the nerdy, long-haired boy we met in the Otherworld. Though Caden can hold his own when needed, it is definitely Riven who fulfils the role of protector. She will protect her Lord King, whether he wants her to or not.

JBI 5 star chibiHoward writes the science so casually that it feels like tasting little nuggets of hard sci-fi without the twenty page long descriptions of spaceship engines and how a forcefield works. This book feels bigger and better and generally more than The Almost Girl. It feels like the next step in a dark, clever and thrilling scorched-earth, world-hopping adventure. Which is precisely what it is.

The Fallen Prince was definitely worth the wait.