Review: Queens of the Sea by Kim Wilkins

Series: Blood and Gold #3
Published by: Harlequin Enterprises
ASIN: 1489257748
ISBN 13: 9781489257758
Published: July 2019
Pages: 528
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Daughters of the Storm (Blood and Gold #1) | Sisters of the Fire (Blood and Gold #2)

It’s hard to review a book that’s several into a series without giving spoilers for the first books, so be warned. There won’t be spoilers for Queens of the Sea (to help with this I’m writing most of my review early on in my reading) but Daughters of the Storm and Sisters of the Fire are fair game.

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Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar; Max Gladstone

Published by: Quercus Books
ISBN: 1534431004
ISBN 13: 9781534431003
Published: July 2019
Pages: 208
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Amal’s Site
Site: Max’s Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Time travel! Two sides at war, and the exchanging of letters between an agent from each side. They’d be killed if discovered. Even if their letters were taunts only and contained zero information, even if they remained faithful to their cause and hated the other with every particle of their being… the very idea they’d exchanged letters means the trust has been broken, and so their lives would be forfeit.

They are Red and Blue. Red fights for Agency, and Blue for Garden.

The chapters alternate between brief snapshots of their lives, and the letters they leave for each other. The earlier letters are stilted, as they have never done such a thing before and only know what letters are like from having been told of them. To write themselves from scratch is another thing entirely, and Red writes out her structure to keep her on track. They grow from here though, and we see the inventive ways they ensure they are for their eyes only.

What I love about this book is it shows perfectly how when it comes to time travel there is a different type of plot entirely. There is still their own linear narration as they keep up with each other over their countless lives, but it shows how if you do something well, you can give readers a novel in any form or flavour you see fit. And El-Mohtar and Gladstone have done that perfectly here. This is a work of art, and perfection, and was a joy to read.

Some of the lines are just so brilliant. ‘A fugitive becomes a queen or a scientist or, worse, a poet’.

‘Eating’s gross, isn’t it? In the abstract, I mean. When you’re used to hyperspace recharging stations, to sunlight and cosmic rays, when most of the beauty you’ve known lies in a great machine’s heart, it’s hard to see the appeal of using bones that poke from spit-coated gums to mash things that grew in dirt into a paste that will fit down the wet tube connecting your mouth to the sack of acid under your heart.’

‘…succeeds beautifully, brutally.’

Can we please have another?

Review: The Eyes of Tamburah by Maria V. Snyder

Series: Archives of the Invisible Sword #1
Published by: HarperCollins
ISBN: 1489252819
ISBN 13: 9781489252814
Published: June 2019
Pages: 512
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Shyla was raised by monks after she was abandoned as a baby. All sun-kissed/cursed children are, but thankfully the monks don’t believe in such barbaric practices. They did however throw her out when she chose not to join their order, not being able to keep all their discoveries behind closed doors. Instead, she researches and translates old texts for anyone who’ll pay.

One of her main customers is Banqui, who, using her knowledge manages to find the fabled Eyes of Tamburah, jewels that grant magic – at very early into the novel we have the namesake! Woo! The only problem is that when he was bringing back the treasure (for the Eyes are made of diamonds, emeralds, onyx, and topaz) he’s attacked from behind and they’re stolen from him.

The main problem with this, is the Water Prince, the reigning sovereign, has of course decried that any and all things found are his property. And he knew Banqui was searching for them – he funds his digs, after all. And now he thinks Shyla herself, the only other person with the knowledge of what Banqui was doing, has stolen them for herself.

Soon they’re bundled away into the Water Prince’s ‘care’, and Shyla is tasked with retrieving the treasure. If she fails, the cruel threats the Prince is known for will be shown to her and Banqui first hand. Thus, she accepts the task (as if she had a choice).

The most interesting thing early on is the time ticking away to the hottest part of the day, by which, every person who wants to remain living has to go many levels below ground. This sense of urgency and interruption they all face each and every day is an interesting take. The world building was really quite interesting, and sadly, the characters didn’t match up. Shyla was a bit bland though the book was advertised as a Tomb Raider-esque adventure.

The romance was poorly handled.

The side characters were a bit stereotypical and didn’t feel fully formed, and I didn’t really care for how any of them turned out. In a way this felt like a draft product – pretty well there, but needed some further development of just a few tweaks and additions to make these characters feel real, and have a bit more depth to them.

The tone was a little off, too. the characters seemed to fluctuate between their moods from sentence to sentence, and it was just a bit… off. Somehow.

Still, the world building is strong and that kept me reading. And I did really like Shyla’s job and skills. We need more stories about researchers in the world.

Review: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Published by: Albert Whitman Company
ISBN: 0807515515
ISBN 13: 9780807515518
Published: April 2019
Pages: 400
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Princess Hesina is brought suddenly into power when her father, King Wen, is killed. The kingdom of Yan is unstable and edging closer and closer to war, and the balancing act of keeping the people in line is trickier as Hesina’s attention is divided; she’s convinced her father was murdered. This book is all about her journey to get justice or discover that the cost is simply too high – something that will probably break her, if she’s not able to properly honour her father’s memory.

Although the book starts off with a brief snapshot of the King and Princess, of him teaching her seemingly everything, Hesina is still somehow quite inexperienced with the politics of a royal court. Despite thinking her father has been murdered she still trusts people she hasn’t been given much reason/evidence to trust (and it’s in such a delicate time to – surely she understands that her kingdom could dissolve into war at any given moment if she’s not careful?). This makes the start of the book rather slow and, at times, frustrating. She was born a princess – surely if they had any respect for their family and their people her whole life would have been set around preparing her for this moment, even if it has come a little earlier than hoped?

It’s also confusing that there’s no additional security measures – where are the guards, or councils of scholars, or even an advisor? Moreover, where were the King’s (surely he had them), OR why didn’t he have them – or why weren’t they used to working with Hesina and where are they now?

This effects the world building, making it feel rather lacking and unrealistic. That, and the addition that the length of time between wars, persecution of certain groups of people, and the lack of people with high skills despite the years of education made little to no sense.

The first few chapters felt a bit chaotic and it wasn’t always clear what was happening (I think in a ‘trying to be mysterious’ way), but I wanted to follow Hesina’s journey for justice. At 400 pages though, with significant pacing problems, this simply didn’t work out. I’m behind in my reviews due to continued illness, and I have to get on with it.

Especially seeing as the less said about the love interest, Akira, the better.

I didn’t really feel much of a connection for any of the characters, but the relationship between Hesina and her siblings (both by blood, and adopted) were probably the best thing about this book, raising it to three stars. Some of the twists were delivered well, but you only care about twists if you’ve been drawn into the plot and care about the stakes. Sadly, I wasn’t.

Review: Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis

Series: The Harwood Spellbook #2
Published by: Five Fathoms Press
Published: February 2019
Pages: 186
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Spellswept – The Harwood Spellbook #0.5 | Snowspelled (The Harwood Spellbook #1)

We’re back with Cassandra and her supportive small family, with the new edition of her niece.

We rejoin them right on the cusp of the opening of the Thornfell College of Magic to see that she’s realised her dream and made it a reality. If Angland is still going to stick so firmly to tradition and expect women to run the world and the men to deal with magic then the Harwood family will break the ice themselves – with Cassandra’s brother being the first in the family to not study magic, and Cassandra being the first woman to not only attend the stuffy main college all men of good standing do, but then to also open her own, and train other women.

Only nothing is ever easy, especially when it comes to Cassandra. Several delegates from the Boudiccate arrive to follow each lesson and make note of whether the school is safe, and in amongst the delegates is a woman who bullied Cassandra when she was young and seems to be hellbent on ensuring no one in the Harwood family has any happiness. Including Amy, Cassandra’s older sister-in-law.

The themes throughout the novel continue to revolve around family, and bucking tradition, especially when tradition doesn’t suit as many people as it maybe did once long ago. It’s empowering that we see adults putting differences aside and being able to understand and forgive, whilst also supporting those who have to make tough decisions.

The fey feature again in this story, and I love how we get real descriptions of them – their hair, their fingers, all seeming made of the forest, and much better than the ‘more beautiful than anyone can stand’ line I’ve seen in novels I’ve read lately, which, while true is harder to picture.

We also have everyone’s least favourite weather-wizard back but like I said, nothing around Cassandra is ever easy. Let’s hope some woman taints him irreversibly sometime soon and he settles down to be a good house-husband somewhere soon.

My favourite line in the novel is sadly a spoiler so I won’t post it here, but I will say that it’s said by Wrexham and bucks expectation by gender yet again, as we can always rely upon when it comes to this series. I love it!

Most importantly is the friendship between Cassandra and Amy. You don’t often get to see good matches between sisters-in-law – they usually hate each other for some strange reason – but here we have two women who care deeply about each other, and I love that, too.