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: 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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YA Review: On The Edge (Dwelling Hunter #1)

Title: On The Edge (Dwelling Hunter #1)
Author: MJ Glenn
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Ebony Wick is a highwaywoman. She grew up in a cruel orphanage in the Dwellings, escaping to join the city’s street gangs at the age of ten. Now she lives alone in the forest, raiding carts and coaches for goods she can sell to survive. With the help of a friend who drives the carts, and the fairies who visit her campsite, she makes a living and evades capture by the Snatchers, whose job it is to send her back to the orphanage until she comes of age.

There’s a legend about the Shadow, a demon who lives in the woods, and Ebony uses the story to frighten the victims of her raids. She enjoys her reputation as the Shadow, and the effect it has on the people she robs. She is determined to survive alone, and avoid the orphanage, but when a stranger arrives at her hidden campsite, the life she has built is threatened.

On The Edge is an exciting YA fantasy with a strong, independent female lead. Ebony is an intriguing protagonist. She knows nothing about her past beyond the orphanage and the sadistic man in charge. She is clever, resourceful, and strong, and it is easy to sympathise when her carefully guarded life is challenged by an intruder.

From the first nail-biting page to the last, Ebony’s story twists and turns through friendship, loss, acceptance and betrayal. As she learns more about her past, she must decide who she can trust to protect her from the Snatchers, and whether she is willing to give up her independence in exchange for the protection of another gang. Working in a group might offer safety, but she will need to learn to work as part of a team. If she stays alone, she might lose the opportunity for revenge on the man who runs the orphanage. It’s an agonising decision – is Ebony ready to choose?

Book two in the series is coming soon, and I can’t wait to read it!

Have you read On The Edge? What did you think of Ebony’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: King of Scars

Title: King of Scars
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

More Grishaverse! More Nikolai! More Zoya! More Nina!

I was so excited to read another Grishaverse novel that I accidentally picked this one up before the sequel is available in paperback, and now I’m counting the days until its publication. The story picks up pace as the book progresses, and the ending brings everything together to set up the second book. I can’t believe I have to wait so long to continue the story!

Nikolai Lantsov, King of Ravka, has a secret. Before the dramatic events at the end of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, Nikolai was cursed – and the curse is growing stronger. As the General of Ravka’s Grisha army, it is up to Zoya Nazyalenski to ensure the king’s safety, and the safety of everyone around him. As Zoya’s task becomes more and more difficult, she and Nikolai agree to search for a cure, however dangerous it might prove to be.

Zoya’s challenge could not have come at a more inconvenient time. There are rumours of planned invasions from Fjerda in the north, and Shu Han to the south, and Nikolai is in need of supporters to strengthen Ravka’s political and military position. A politically significant marriage offers the perfect solution, and arrangements are underway for a grand party where the King will be able to meet the eligible daughters of his potential allies. His absence would be a disaster, but so would any failure to conceal the curse. Zoya must put her own feelings for Nikolai aside as they travel in secret to discover the truth about an ancient ritual that might hold the key to his fate.

Meanwhile Nina is working undercover in Fjerda, smuggling persecuted Grisha to safety in Ravka. As a powerful Grisha herself, Nina must avoid detection and capture while seeking out and rescuing as many Fjerdan witches as she can. When she convinces her team to visit a town where the river is rumoured to be poisoned, and girls have begun to disappear, she finds more persecuted people, and nightmares she wasn’t expecting.

King of Scars is the setup for whatever will happen in the second book. The narrative jumps between three plotlines – Zoya and Nikolai, the Ravkan court, and Nina’s mission – building each to a climax and a cliffhanger ending, ready for Rule of Wolves to complete the story and tie up the loose ends. It’s not a satisfying story in itself, but as half of a Grishaverse duology it is gripping and exciting with unpredictable plot twists and plenty of peril for the characters.

Nikolai is probably my favourite Grishaverse character, and even subdued by the curse and the mounting threats to Ravka, his personality shines through. He is always quick with a witty remark and positive even in the face of a dangerous curse, while remaining aware of the reality of his position. He understands his place in the world, and the necessity for sacrifice as well as charm and charisma. I adored him in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and King of Scars adds depth to his already wonderful portrayal. (Yes, he’s my Book Boyfriend. Definitely not sorry.)

Zoya has grown and evolved since her adventures in the earlier trilogy, and she makes a highly competent General. Her friendship with Nikolai makes the dangerous parts of the story hard to read, as it is evident to the reader how much she is suffering in her quest to protect the King, even if no-one else can see it.

Nina is still a wonderful character, only just coming to terms with her unique powers, and determined to protect as many Grisha as she can from experiencing her persecution it the hands of the Fjerdan government. While her story does not connect with Nikolai or the Ravkan court in this book, the ending places her in a very interesting position for the start of Rule of Wolves.

I cannot wait for publication day!

Have you read King of Scars? What did you think of the story? Did this return to the Grishaverse live up to your expectations? 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: Vulture (Isles of Storm and Sorrow #3)

Title: Vulture (Isles of Storm and Sorrow #3)
Author: Bex Hogan
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

I’ve been waiting for the final book in the Isles of Storm and Sorrow series for a year, and after the extreme cliffhanger at the end of Book Two I couldn’t wait to get started!

Viper (Book One) sets up Marianne’s story and introduces us to the politics and magic of the Eastern Isles. Venom (Book Two) explores the consequences of Marianne’s actions, and sends her into danger as she travels across the Western Isles. In Vulture, familiar characters from East and West are brought together as Marianne seeks to protect the Twelve Isles from a dark magical threat.

It’s a breathtaking story. The action is non-stop as Marianne discovers the limits of her abilities, and the temptations of the magic she has learned on her journeys. This isn’t a black-and-white finale to the series, but an exploration of power, and how too much power brings temptation, corruption, and destruction. The first-person narration gives the reader a clear insight into the battle Marianne must fight within herself to control her hard-won abilities. It is refreshing and exhilerating to follow her story as she is repeatedly tempted towards revenge instead of justice. It is wonderful to see how much she has grown throughout the series, and how the strength she discovered in Viper has developed into the ability to change the world. How she uses that ability, and the changes she chooses to make, are always in question, keeping the reader and the supporting characters constantly on edge, right until the final pages.

It is wonderful to see characters from the previous books coming together to save the Twelve Isles and support Marianne – although some characters are more welcome than others. The author doesn’t give anyone an easy ride – there are twists, shocks, and surprises that test the strongest of Marianne’s companions, and tempt her to lose control of herself and her abilities. As in the previous books, no characters are safe from pain and tragedy, and everyone faces mortal danger. Be prepared for heartbreak – Bex Hogan doesn’t take prisoners!

This is an exciting, exhilarating, and thoughtful conclusion to the series, which highlights the strong relationships between the wide cast of characters, and gives Marianne the chance to grow and find her place in the world of the Twelve Isles. If you haven’t read the series yet, what are you waiting for?

Have you read Vulture? What did you think of the Isles of Storm and Sorrow series? 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: A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers #3)

Title: A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers #3)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

I’ve been waiting for the third book in Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker trilogy, and A Vow So Bold and Deadly did not disappoint. Following the story of Harper and Prince Rhen in the first book (reviewed here), and the story of Grey and Lia Mara in the second book (reviewed here), the third instalment pieced together chapters from all four characters to narrate the climax of the series.

War is coming to Emberfall and Syhl Shallow, with Rhen and Grey on opposite sides. The prize is the crown of Emberfall, and while both sides are willing to fight, everyone is looking for a peaceful solution. The story follows the leaders of both countries as they try and fail to make peace – between Rhen and Grey, and within their borders. Shifting loyalties, civil unrest, and futile attempts at diplomacy keep the characters and the reader guessing right to the end. It’s an exciting, engaging story, revisiting the people and relationships of the previous books, and pushing them towards a war no one wants to fight.

I don’t want to give away spoilers, but I enjoyed this exciting and fitting end to the trilogy. If you haven’t read the series, what are you waiting for? Start with A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and introduce yourself to Rhen, Grey, and Harper, and the curse they must break to survive.

Have you read the Cursebreakers series? What did you think of the final book? 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: Ruin and Rising

Title: Ruin and Rising
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Shadow and Bone, Book One of the trilogy, is reviewed here, and Siege and Storm, Book Two, is reviewed here.

After the cliffhanger at the end of Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising begins with Alina and her allies taking the chance to stop, breathe, and regroup. The future of Ravka is far from settled, and several factions are fighting for power – and looking for Alina.

This is another big story, and another gripping adventure in the beautifully drawn landscape of Ravka. Alina and the Darkling have unfinished business, but ending the fight for the future of their country will take sacrifice, and Alina’s choices will determine what happens to everyone within its borders. There are dangerous quests, surprise plot twists, punishment, pain, and deception – alongside the teamwork, loyalty, and friendship of Alina and her supporters. The trilogy ends with several unexpected twists, but the conclusion is dramatic and hard-won.

This is a satisfying final instalment in an exciting series, and I’m thrilled that the author has written more books in the Grishaverse. The King of Scars, Rule of Wolves, The Language of Thorns and The Lives of Saints are all on my TBR!

Have you read Ruin and Rising? What did you think of the story? What about the 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: Siege and Storm

Title: Siege and Storm
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Shadow and Bone, Book One of the trilogy, is reviewed here.

The second book in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy picks up the story from the end of Book One, and quickly drops the characters back into trouble, and back into action.

Mal and Alina have escaped from the Darkling, the Grisha, and the Second Army, but they soon learn that they can’t stay hidden. The Darkling has plans for Alina, and allies to help him achieve his goal. To survive, Alina must find allies of her own.

This is a big story, with dangerous sea voyages, mystical creatures, lavish parties, glittering palaces, and a threat to the throne of Ravka. The world building is gorgeous – Ravka’s forests and mountains feel entirely real, alongside perilous ocean journeys and a visit to the far side of the True Sea. Alina’s character develops throughout the story as she begins to embrace her new life, but as she starts to accept her importance the barriers to her happiness become more overwhelming, and the danger she faces becomes harder to ignore.

This is an exciting story with a fast-paced and shocking conclusion. Alina’s choices become more difficult as she discovers the importance of her role in shaping the future of Ravka, and her relationship with Mal is tested by the changes in her status. She remains a relatable character, and a reluctant protagonist in her own story, but she doesn’t shy away from hard choices and painful decisions. There’s a great second-book-of-a-trilogy cliffhanger, and I’m glad I have Book Three on my shelf!

Have you read Siege and Storm? What did you think of the 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: Shadow and Bone

Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

We chose this novel to read at YA Book Club because the Netflix adaptation is coming to our screens in April, and we wanted to read the book before watching the series. This is the first of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, and having read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom last year, I was eager to go back and see how the story began.

The Six of Crows duology felt more grown-up than Shadow and Bone. Where Six of Crows features members of a criminal gang, the main characters in Shadow and Bone are younger and much more innocent. Alina, the narrator, and Mal, her best friend, are orphans. They grew up together under the care of a duke and his family, and both joined the army as young adults – Alina as a map maker, and Mal as a tracker. In the first chapter, we discover that there are two levels of military service. The First Army employs ordinary people like Alina and Mal, and the Second Army is made up of the Grisha – people with magical powers who can manipulate matter, summon the elements, and heal or harm the people around them. While Alina and Mal live as ordinary soldiers, the Grisha live like royalty, even while marching with the First Army.

A deadly encounter with dark magic brings Alina and Mal to the attention of the Darkling, a powerful Grisha and commander of the Second Army. As Alina learns more about herself, and about Grisha powers, she must decide where her loyalties lie. With Mal, the Darkling, and the Grisha she meets all competing for her attention and affection, she has to learn quickly how to navigate her new life without losing herself.

There’s plenty of excitement, danger, and political intrigue in the story, which provides a colourful introduction to the Grishaverse. The system of magic is consistent and interesting, with practitioners perfecting their skills in a single discipline, and working together to accomplish larger tasks. There’s a price for pushing the limits of Grisha powers, and for using power for personal gain. The settings for the story are well drawn and believeable – the cities feel busy and real, and as the characters travel the roads and mountains of Ravka the reader can feel the ground under their feet and appreciate the scenery around them.

Alina is an interesting narrator. She thinks of herself as plain and ordinary – she’s not even a particularly good map-maker. She was tested for Grisha power as a child and rejected, so she knows she is not worthy to be part of the Second Army. Her insecurity follows her through the story, and she constantly rejects any suggestion that she might be valuable or special – a belief that brings her into conflict with the people around her. It’s frustrating at times, but her ever-present imposter syndrome also makes her easy to relate to. Her relationship with Mal develops through the book as they discover more about their feelings for each other, but their history and the events of the story throw up constant obstacles to their happiness. Both characters feel real and complex, and it is easy to care about what happens to them.

This is an exciting introduction to the Grishaverse, and an interesting setup for the rest of the series. I’m glad I have the second book on my shelf!

Have you read Shadow and Bone? What did you think of the 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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