YA Review: Her Dark Wings

Title: Her Dark Wings
Author: Melinda Salisbury
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

YA Review - Her Dark Wings - Paperback cover image

This wonderful YA retelling of the Persephone myth grabbed me from the first page and kept me reading right to the end. I loved the setting, the characters, the gorgeous writing style, and all the twists and turns of the story.

Seventeen-year-old Corey lives on an island, somewhere off the coast of the UK, in a world where the Greek gods still rule. The calendar is based around their festivals, and it is a temple, not a church, at the heart of island life. There are rumours that an entrance to the underworld can be seen just offshore if you look for it from the right spot, but no one has ever proved its existence.

Corey is recovering from a devastating double betrayal. Her best friend Bree has stolen her boyfriend Ali, and on her small island it is impossible to avoid them and try to forget what happened. At the Autumn festival, she attempts to move on, but when Bree arrives with Ali she can’t help wishing her friend dead. When Bree drowns after Corey kisses a stranger, Corey can’t stop blaming herself.

As she looks for a way to bring Bree back, Corey experiences her own brush with death, the underworld, and the gods. Searching for answers, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery – and finds herself impossibly far from home.

Her Dark Wings is an empowered, modern take on the Persephone myth. Corey is far from being a helpless victim, and as she discovers more about herself she begins to understand her own powers and calling. The female relationships are perfectly described, from the Corey-and-Bree friendship and betrayal, through Corey’s heartwarming relationship with her stepmother, and the women she meets on her journey. It’s a coming-of-age story that doesn’t follow a predictable path, and I enjoyed every page.

Have you read Her Dark Wings? What did you think of Corey’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Agency For Scandal

Title: The Agency For Scandal
Author: Laura Wood
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

Mystery, intrigue, danger, romance, and secret 19th century feminism come together in this gripping new book from Laura Wood. I’m not normally a romance reader (YA or otherwise), but I’ve loved every Laura Wood book I’ve picked up, and this one once again makes the grade.

Izzy is a self-confessed wallflower with a complicated life. Following the death of her father and the loss of his income she is battling to keep the family home and pay her brother’s school fees. Her bed-ridden mother has no idea that most of the servants have been laid off, and almost all the furniture sold. Izzy works hard to maintain the illusion of wealth and status for her family, keeping their secret from everyone – even her best friend.

But Izzy has another secret. Trained by her father before he died, she is an expert lock picker. No one her father worked for will hire a woman in his place, but her skills have caught the eye of a very secretive organisation. Izzy is an undercover agent for a group of exceptional women, whose mission is to defend other women, and put right the injustices of a system where wives are the property of their husbands, and women are not seen as equal to men.

The women are hired, Sherlock Holmes style, to investigate a puzzling case, and Izzy finds herself working with the Duke of Roxton – a man on whom she has a crush, but can only hope to admire from a distance. He’s a Duke, and she can barely support her family. As they work more closely together, Izzy finds herself falling for the Duke, but knows she can’t afford to develop feelings that cannot be reciprocated.

I loved this book. I loved the glittering parties and the dangerous exploits, and Izzy’s relationships with the people around her. I loved the undercover investigations, and the teams of women hiding in plain sight as they worked to right the wrongs of their society. I loved all the strong, capable women – especially Izzy, whose sensible approach to her feelings is balanced with a refreshingly bold attitude to the risks of her job. It’s an engaging story with a colourful cast of characters, and a highly sympathetic narrator. Come for the Bridgerton-style society intrigue, stay for the all-action feminist spycraft, and swoon over the wonderful romantic leads.

Have you read The Agency For Scandal? What did you think of Izzy’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

The Agency for Scandal will be published on January 5th 2023.

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Young Eagle Rising

Title: Young Eagle Rising
Author: Ellie Joyce
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

We’re thrilled to be taking part in the Young Eagle Rising Blog Tour! Thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources for including our review.

William Baxter is thirteen when he leaves Ireland with his family to begin a new life in the colonies of North America. He doesn’t want to go – in 1735, leaving on a ship means saying goodbye to everyone you leave behind, and he doesn’t want to leave his grandmother or his aunt.

The three-month voyage sees him learning new skills, making new friends among the passengers and crew, and deciding that he much prefers life on dry land. By the time the boat reaches Philadelphia, he is excited to begin his new adventure, and the family sets out in search of land to claim.

As their second winter approaches, the family is settled in their new life, harvesting crops and preparing for the cold weather. But a tragic misunderstanding with a native tribe leaves William alone, and determined to return to the life he knew in Ireland.

His journey back to Philadelphia is full of adventure, culture shocks, and the engaging characters he turns to for help. His experiences teach him more about the New World as he comes into contact with settlers, explorers, slaves, cruel slave owners, native tribes, and the deceitful leaders of the Pennsylvania Colony.

William is an engaging and intelligent narrator with a distinctive voice, drawing the reader into the story with his vivid descriptions of people and events. The relationships he builds as he travels feel warm and respectful, reflecting his own personality. His confidence, resourcefulness, and willingness to learn allow him to overcome the difficulties he faces, and it is a joy to follow him on his journey.

Young Eagle Rising is an exciting story in the style of a classic boys’ adventure tale. There’s no romance, but plenty of genuine friendship, and most of the important characters are male. It reads like a YA Treasure Island, with the narrator piecing together the reality of his new home as he travels through it. While William’s initial contact with native people is violent, reflecting the racist and simplistic ‘Cowboys and Indians’ attitudes of the early settlers, the author is careful to present an alternative view through William’s experiences with the peaceful Lenape Nation later in the book.

As someone who has studied First Nation (Native American) experiences in North America, I appreciated this depiction. However, the story also features local tribes who are violent towards the Lenape, and their conflict is presented in very black-and-white terms. I found this surprising and uncomfortable in the context of William’s developing understanding, and I can’t help but think that this depiction might feel significantly racist to present-day members of the ‘enemy’ tribe.

It’s a small complaint, and overall the author is very careful to emphasise the complexity of life in the New World. History is often simplified and sanitised, but through his story William – and the reader – experience some of the subtleties, tragedies, and misunderstandings inherent in the aggressive colonisation of already occupied land. Reading this book in a class or book club would be an inspiring way to begin a conversation about colonialism, racism, slavery, and the way history is taught.

Four stars: recommended. A great friendship-based adventure story, but I can’t overlook the problematic depiction of some of the First Nation characters.

Have you read Young Eagle Rising? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts!


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Check out the other reviews, appearing over the next few days.

What’s it about?
Ireland 1735. Thirteen-year-old William Baxter has a grandmother with peculiar powers – so peculiar he believes she must be a witch. Taking this secret with him, he reluctantly sails with his family to the New World and the promise of a better life.

But Pennsylvania proves to be a savage, unforgiving place rife with warring tribes, slavery and dangerous animals. When William’s life suddenly takes a terrifying turn, he is thrust headlong into a battle for survival. Consumed with hatred for those responsible, he desperately wants to return to Ireland, but the coast is one hundred miles away and the trail runs through native territory. Alone and frightened, he sets out on what becomes the journey of a lifetime, determined to survive and have his revenge.

Young Eagle Rising is a coming-of-age story, a mix of fantasy, history, adventure and the enduring love of an old Irish witch.

Who is the author?
Ellie Joyce was born and raised in Belfast. She holds an A.L.A.M. (Dip. Acting) from The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She and her husband have four children and live in Leicestershire. Young Eagle Rising is her debut novel. See more at elliejoyceauthor.com.

You can order your copy from Waterstones, Book Guild, Foyles, Bookshop.org, Amazon, WHSmith and Book Depository.

YA Review: Thorn

Title: Thorn
Author: Intisar Khanani
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Reluctant princess Alyrra is on her way to an arranged marriage in a neighbouring kingdom when she is given an unexpected chance to escape. Her mother expects her to involve herself in the politics and intrigues of her new home, and to happily marry a man she’s never met. Everything she’s heard about life in the foreign court leads her to believe that her safety there may not be guaranteed. When her identity is stolen by sorcery, she seizes the chance to disappear and live as one of the servants. She is given the job of helping to take care of the geese, and finds friends among the other servants.

But she makes enemies as well, and the woman who stole her identity is making the most of her new royal status. While Alyrra would be content to remain a goose girl, and make a home with her found family, her duties as the true princess weigh on her mind. When the imposter realises she needs Alyrra’s help to survive in her new role, the goose girl must decide which life she is willing to live, and what she is willing to give up to help her friends.

I first came across Intisar Khanani and her books at the #AtHomeYALC online event in 2021. She gave a talk entitled ‘Three Tips for Writing Mighty Girls’ (which you can find on the YALC YouTube page), and introduced me to the concept of the Heroine’s Journey as a structure for storytelling. This book follows that structure, instead of the more recognisable Hero’s Journey, and I really enjoyed the differences in pace and theme.

Alyrra is a ‘mighty girl’, but not because she’s a kick-ass protagonist or a solo heroine. Her strength lies in her moral compass, and in the connections she makes with the people around her. Before long in her role as goose girl, she has surrounded herself with friends among the servants, but also in the wider community. She defends herself from people who threaten her, but she also negotiates co-operation between characters who would otherwise draw their weapons on sight. It’s a powerful characterisation, and the author explores the story of this more emotional, co-operative protagonist while making sure there is plenty of action, peril, and heartache to keep the pages turning.

And the pages do keep turning. From the initial setup to the conclusion, the author keeps us guessing. What will Alyrra do? How will she react to danger and threats – to herself and her friends, and to her family and kingdom? You won’t find the beats of the standard Hero’s Journey here, but you will find an alternative way to tell a story, to empathise with a heroine, and to bring all the threads together at the end.

Full marks to Hot Key Books, whose back-cover summing up of the story in four words reads ‘Betrayal, Injustice, Sorcery, Geese’. They’re not wrong, but I’d add ‘A Mighty Girl’ to the list. Definitely worth a read.

Have you read Thorn? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the heroine’s journey structure? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Rule of Wolves

Title: Rule of Wolves
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Even more Grishaverse! Even more Nikolai! Even more Zoya! Even more Nina!

I’m so happy that the paperback edition of ‘Rule of Wolves’ has finally arrived, and I’m thrilled to have had the chance to read the end of the story that began in ‘King of Scars’.

The poison of The Fold is spreading, throughout Ravka and beyond. No one can predict where the blight will strike, leaving cursed dust in its shadow and wiping out crops, towns, and people. The Fjerdan army is massing on the northern border, and the queen of Shu Han is plotting her own moves against Ravka. Threats to the King and his people are growing, and Nikolai has few places to turn for support.

This book follows the fallout from the events of ‘King of Scars’. Nikolai and Zoya are constantly on the move, calming unrest in Ravka, directing troops on the front lines, and seeking diplomatic solutions to their disastrous situation. A mission to Shu Han attempts to minimise the threat from the queen, and Nina’s undercover work in Fjerda becomes more dangerous as she finds herself entangled with the Crown Prince and the inner workings of the Ice Court.

Where the first book developed each character’s story, focusing on Nikolai’s attempts to keep his curse concealed, and to forge a political partnership to protect Ravka, ‘Rule of Wolves’ is a much more strategic book. Reading it is like watching a very clever game of chess, as each country and player seeks to out-manoeuvre their neighbours, and find a way to increase their power and influence in the world. It’s a nail-biting plot, with constant twists and surprises – including a moment when I couldn’t decide whether to cry or throw the book at the wall, and a moment of air-punching brilliance near the end.

I loved the relationship between Nikolai and Zoya, struggling to keep their feelings hidden for the sake of Ravka, and each other. The roles of King and General ask so much from the characters, and their bravery and constant self-denial was heartbreaking to read. Yes, Nikolai is still my book boyfriend. I adore him – his quick wit, his refusal to give up hope, his acceptance of his role, and his sincere but impossible feelings for Zoya. He’s a wonderful character, and I hope we see more of him in future Grishaverse books.

While the plot is shaped by political decisons, there are plenty of fantastic action sequences, and several heart-stopping events that keep the pages turning. I loved the story (in spite of the book-throwing and tears), and the ending, while unexpected, is big enough and bold enough to complete the duology – while setting up for a new story, which I can’t wait to read!

I have adored all the Grishaverse novels, and I’m already wondering what happens next.

Have you read Rule of Wolves? What did you think of the story? And what about that ending? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Escape From B-Movie Hell

Title: Escape From B-Movie Hell
Author: MT McGuire
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Cover art for 'Escape From B-Movie Hell'

What do you do when your best friend tells you he’s an alien, proves it, and then disappears? Student Andi Turbot heads to her next lecture, then home to heat up some leftovers for dinner. She doesn’t expect to meet more aliens in her kitchen, or to find herself transported to their ship, abducted, and subjected to a telepathic interrogation. Finding out about the impending destruction of the earth is not what she had in mind for the evening – and neither is discovering she’s a powerful telepath.

On the plus side, she is reunited with her friend – only now he looks a bit like a lobster with seven long eye stalks and a coating of slimy goo. His human form was a telepathic projection, and his Gamalian form will take a bit of getting used to. As will the task ahead – escaping from the brig of a Gamalian ship, avoiding capture, and saving the world.

I read this book in one sitting. Once I’d started, I couldn’t put it down. Everything I love about MT McGuire’s writing is here – humour, action, brilliant and imaginative world-building, and an absolutely compassionate approach to the question of what it means to be human, and what it takes to do the right thing. It’s a beautiful balance of laughter, friendship, loyalty and bravery, and recognising that no one is all bad, and no one is all good. There are bad guys and good guys, but plenty of shades of grey, and the author has a keen eye for the comedic moments when two cultures – and two species – meet. The action scenes are vivid and immersive, and the tension towards the climax of the story had me absolutely on the edge of my seat.

Andi is a refreshing character. She’s studying Art Restoration and Museum Studies, but in her spare time she’s a stand-up comedian. Her take on the events of the book is always coloured with humour and compassion, alongside a genuine fear for the safety of the Earth. Her friend Eric is the kind of being you’d want to go on an adventure with. Reliable, brave, and always willing to listen to Andi’s suggestions, he’s both a companion and protector, and her guide to the weirder aspects of Gamalian culture. I particularly enjoyed the character development of Doge Sneeb, a really interesting alien bad guy whose backstory develops in unexpected ways over the course of the book.

This is a proper B-movie romp with giant aliens, a constantly twisting plot, and a very satisfying conclusion. Great fun to read, and a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon in the garden.

Escape From B-Movie Hell is published as adult SciFi, but is suitable for a YA audience.

Have you read Escape From B-Movie Hell ? What did you think of Andi’s story? Who was your favourite character? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Double Cross

Title: Double Cross
Author: Bruce A Hanson
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

This was a fun read. Three Canadian teenagers on a winter break discover a valuable historical artefact on a snowmobile outing. Excited by their find, the friends soon discover that they are not the only people interested in its history – or its value. Their investigations lead them into unexpected danger as they are forced to decide who they can trust, and who might be hiding a deadly secret.

Double Cross might be a short book, but I was hooked from the first page. The teenage characters are beautifully written – I knew within a couple of pages who they were and what to expect from each of them. As the story progressed, and the three of them faced fear and danger, their personalities shone through. I loved their friendly banter, and the way they could joke with each other even when they found themselves in mortal danger.

The adult characters are similarly well crafted. I particularly loved Aunt Irene, fearless investigative reporter and host to the friends on their holiday. She came alive on the page, providing both energetic adventures and a grown-up grounding – making sure everyone remembered to eat, and asking the right questions at the right times.

As a Brit who has worked and studied in Canada, I enjoyed the specifically Canadian details. The descriptions of the winter landscape were gorgeous, showcasing the cold, crisp beauty of winter woods in snow. The snowmobile sequences and details of the Hudson’s Bay blanket made me smile, along with the historical references in the story.

It’s a quick read, but with its sparkling characters and exciting plot, Double Cross will drag you in, heart pounding, and keep you guessing until the end.

Double Cross will be published on July 29th.

Have you read Double Cross? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Stranded

Title: The Stranded
Author: Sarah Daniels
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

Refugees from a war-ravaged Europe have been stuck at sea for more than forty years, confined to the cruise ships that were supposed to bring them to safety. A fractured US refuses permission for them to come ashore, fearful of the weaponised virus that might lie dormant in the bloodstream of everyone on board. On the Arcadia, desperate passengers live their lives in the ruins of ballrooms, crew areas, restaurants, and empty swimming pools. Rival gangs maintain a fragile truce, overseen by a sadistic administrator from the Federated States, and the current captain of the ship. Passengers fall in love, start families, and educate their children within sight of the shore, with no hope of reaching land. It’s a brilliant dystopian premise, and a gripping read.

The story follows Esther and Alex, teenage passengers who were born on the Arcadia, as they train to be medics. The top students in their class will be allowed to go ashore to complete their training and begin new lives. Esther and Alex are planning to marry on board and leave together, finally completing their families’ journeys across the Atlantic.

Esther’s older sister, May, is working towards her own escape, as a member of the military cadets. If she keeps out of trouble, she will be recruited into the on-shore military, and given the chance to make her own new life on land. But her friend Nik is part of the resistance, and while May tries hard to protect her family, it is only a matter of time until Esther and Alex find themselves tangled in gang rivalries and rebel plots – everything they need to avoid if they are going to make it off the boat.

Narration is shared between Esther, Nik, and Hadley – the deliciously nasty administrator who is desperate to impress his superiors enough to earn a placement on land. As Esther’s experiences develop her understanding of the politics of the Arcadia, the reader learns along with her, and the complexity and fragility of her position in shipboard society become dangerously clear.

As the story progresses and the plot twists kick in, we follow the narrators through acts of friendship and bravery, heartbreak, betrayal, and adventure. The action sequences are tightly written and exciting, and there are no guarantees of safety for any of the characters. Esther and Alex are respected for their medical knowledge, and it doesn’t take long for their skills to be in demand.

I loved everything about this book – the excellent dystopian premise, the characters and their relationships, and their adventures as they try to make sense of the events of the story. Hadley’s narration is deliciously nasty, Esther struggles with the path she must follow in order to leave ship life behind, and Nik is doing his best to maintain his precarious position on board while protecting the people he loves. The ending is a cliffhanger, and I’m looking forward to the next book. I’m hooked!

The Stranded will be published on July 21st.

Have you read The Stranded? What did you think of the dystopian setting? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Four (Divergent #4)

Title: Four (Divergent #4)
Author: Veronica Roth
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

It’s been ages since I read the Divergent Trilogy – devoured it, in fact – but I never got round to reading Four. Following a recommendation from my YA-reading niece (thank you!), I finally completed the series – and I’m very pleased I did!

The final Divergent book contains four short stories, along with three pivotal scenes from the trilogy, all narrated by Four/Tobias. It’s a great insight into a favourite character’s perspective, feelings, and back story.

In ‘The Transfer’, Four tells the story of his Choosing Ceremony, and the home life that led him to transfer from Abnegation to Dauntless. His journey deliberately shadows Tris’s transfer in ‘Divergent’, but gives another perspective on why someone might leave their community to start a new life in another faction. It adds depth to his background and motivations, and provides new glimpses into the politics and dangers of life in Dauntless.

‘The Initiate’ develops the political insights as Four works to impress his instructors, hide his responses to the simulations, and find his place in his new faction. It’s another story that shadows Tris’s journey, while introducing political elements from her trilogy. Definitely a page-turner.

‘The Son’ explores Four’s inner conflicts as he navigates life in Dauntless while coming to terms with his own background. Turning away from his father, the leader of Abnegation, has consequences he hadn’t expected as Four repeatedly finds his loyalties challenged.

In ‘The Traitor’, Four’s experiences of the politics of Dauntless come together with his doubts about his loyalty and personal safety. We see his side of the developing relationship between Four and Tris, and witness the agonising choices he must make to protect the people he cares about.

In the three bonus scenes, it is a joy to see events from Divergent through Four’s eyes, and to read about his first impressions of Tris when she arrives in Dauntless to begin her training.

I’m so glad I read this book. Jumping back into the world of the Divergent trilogy was like meeting up with old friends, and the new perspective only added to the wonderful worldbuilding, and my sympathy and understanding of the characters.

Have you read Four? What did you think of Four’s side of the Divergent story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)

Title: The Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)
Author: Josie Jaffrey
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Inspired by the legend of Atlantis, The Wolf and the Water is the exciting first instalment in Josie Jaffrey’s first non-vampire fantasy series.

Kepos is an isolated city, surrounded by impassable cliffs and the Eastern Sea, and protected by a high wall at the head of the valley. The Priests maintain the wall – the barrier, they say, between the valley of the living and the souls of the dead. Kepos is ruled by the Dekocracy, ten aristocratic families who share control of the wealth, power, and politics, from the respected Tauros clan to the tenth-level Glauks. Their children are expected to marry into other aristocratic families, and raise their status if they can.

Kala has two disadvantages in Kepos. She’s a Glauks – the lowest of the Dekocratic families – and her damaged leg means that she walks with a cane. The other Dekocrats would have disowned her, but her father refused. Instead, he taught her to read, and recognised her intelligence and humanity. Everyone agrees that she will never be able to marry. As a disabled girl from Glauks, she knows that none of the other families would allow the match. She spends her time in her father’s library, or escaping to swim in secret, sustained by her relationship with Melissa, one of the Glauks slaves.

When Kala’s father is killed, everything changes. As his only child, she is the Glauks heir, and a possible marriage partner for the younger son of another family. Her mother’s remarriage casts doubt on her status, and brings a cruel stepfather into her house – along with a new step brother and sister who both embrace Kala as a full member of their family.

But Kala is preoccupied with solving the mystery of her father’s death. She suspects the priests, and her questions bring her closer to the wall that protects everything she knows. Is it really holding back the souls of the dead, or is there something more dangerous behind it? Discovering more about her own family only raises more questions about Kepos, its place in the world, and the threat building behind the wall.

It’s a complex story, with plenty of effective worldbuilding and character development. Kala is a sympathetic protagonist, and following her journey from rejected child to Glauks heir and beyond is an emotional experience. Her relationships – with Melissa, with her mother, and with the new members of her family – are vividly drawn and entirely engrossing. She faces constant danger from the other Dekocrats, and constant uncertainty about her own status and safety, but her determination to survive matches her determination to find a place for herself in Kepos in spite of her disability.

The action and the tension build throughout the book, coming to a heart-stopping climax as Kala puts the pieces of her story together. The books ends on a spectacular cliffhanger, opening up enticing possibilities for the rest of the series. I can’t wait for book two!

Have you read The Wolf and The Water? What did you think of Kala’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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