Book Review – ‘The Thousand Eyes’ by A.K. Larkwood

TITLE: The Thousand Eyes
AUTHOR: A.K. Larkwood
GENRE: Fantasy, LGBT+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 385 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Macmillan Publishers on February 15th, 2022
RRP$39.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

The sequel to A. K. Larkwood’s stunning debut fantasy, The Unspoken NameThe Thousand Eyes continues The Serpent Gates series–perfect for fans of Jenn Lyons, Joe Abercrombie, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Two years ago, Csorwe and Shuthmili defied the wizard Belthandros Sethennai and stole his gauntlets. The gauntlets have made Shuthmili extraordinarily powerful, but they’re beginning to take a sinister toll on her. She and Csorwe travel to a distant world to discover how to use the gauntlets safely, but when an old enemy arrives on the scene, Shuthmili finds herself torn between clinging to her humanity and embracing eldritch power.

Meanwhile, Tal Charossa returns to Tlaanthothe to find that Sethennai has gone missing. As well as being a wizard of unimaginable power, Sethennai is Tal’s old boss and former lover, and Tal wants nothing to do with him. When a magical catastrophe befalls the city, Tal tries to run rather than face his past, but soon learns that something even worse may lurk in the future. Throughout the worlds of the Echo Maze, fragments of an undead goddess begin to awaken, and not all confrontations can be put off forever…

The Unspoken Name was a delightfully mesmerising 2020 debut that combined epic fantasy and space opera to offer an outstanding and original tale focused on an Orc priestess-turned-mercenary who is taken under the wing of a powerful sorcerer. It’s a densely packed tome of action-adventure, complex mythology and murky politics with ever-shifting dynamics as characters alternately ally with and betray one another. You won’t be able to pick up The Thousand Eyes without having read the first book!

While you might benefit from a re-read before delving into the sequel, I didn’t find it a hindrance to jump in unprepared—these beloved characters basically walk off the page with the familiarity of old friends and you’ll find yourself effortlessly sinking back into the lives of Csorwe, Shuthmili and Tal like the last two years passed in a mere instant. It really is an absolute joy to start the story off with the trio living together in peace and harmony—well, Csorwe and Shuthmili are sappily blissful together, but Csorwe and Tal get on best when they’re bickering and getting on each other’s nerves, which provides no end of entertainment. Of course this can’t last forever and after we’re caught up with the status quo, it’s not long before they’re getting into trouble and way in over their heads once more.

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ARC Review – ‘Vespertine’ by Margaret Rogerson

TITLE: Vespertine
AUTHOR: Margaret Rogerson
GENRE: YA Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 400 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by on October 5th, 2021

Blurb from Goodreads:

The dead of Loraille do not rest.

Artemisia is training to be a Gray Sister, a nun who cleanses the bodies of the deceased so that their souls can pass on; otherwise, they will rise as spirits with a ravenous hunger for the living. She would rather deal with the dead than the living, who trade whispers about her scarred hands and troubled past.

When her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia defends it by awakening an ancient spirit bound to a saint’s relic. It is a revenant, a malevolent being that threatens to possess her the moment she drops her guard. Wielding its extraordinary power almost consumes her—but death has come to Loraille, and only a vespertine, a priestess trained to wield a high relic, has any chance of stopping it. With all knowledge of vespertines lost to time, Artemisia turns to the last remaining expert for help: the revenant itself.

As she unravels a sinister mystery of saints, secrets, and dark magic, her bond with the revenant grows. And when a hidden evil begins to surface, she discovers that facing this enemy might require her to betray everything she has been taught to believe—if the revenant doesn’t betray her first.

I absolutely adored Vespertine, it’s a must-read for fantasy lovers! This is the first in a series and I’m so thrilled that we have more to come in this universe because I’m in love with the characters, world-building, plot and EVERYTHING ABOUT IT TBH.

Artemisia is a very unusual nun, having been the victim of a traumatic prolonged possession by a malevolent spirit throughout her childhood and growing up without any social skills as her frightened family locks her up out of human contact for their safety. This could have created a tragic, self-pitying main character, but instead Artemisia out of self-preservation regards her upbringing as nothing out of the ordinary and represses all notion that what happened to her is something to brood over and her matter-of-fact attitude about quite horrific suffering infuses the book with a great deal of black humor.

It also leads to funny moments where she has absolutely no idea of how to make small talk and is more afraid of socializing than mortal danger or when she recalls trying to make friends with a fellow nun by throwing a spider at her to help her stop being afraid of them! It made sense at the time…just like lurking under the bed as though she were a demonic entity when she first encountered her roommate…

When Artemesia winds up becoming host to a revenant in a desperate attempt to protect her convent from attack, it leads to the most delightful dynamic I’ve ever read in the history of fantasy. The revenant is typically bloodthirsty and intent on causing chaos and destruction, but it’s also hilariously snarky, grouchily protective and reluctantly allies itself with Artemisia in the hopes of wearing her down long enough to possess her completely. 

The bond that grows between them as they come to understand and care for each other is just so beautifully and believably written with a helping of angst and conflict over their differing motivations. Artemisia is utterly unheeding of her own personal safety and wellbeing, putting the revenant in the odd position of being a mother hen, nagging her to look after herself while insisting it doesn’t care at all, and then there are times when she will give it the respect and consideration that no other human would in her position, leaving it flustered and out of sorts. I loved their banter and their arguments and every moment of interaction is pure gold. The funniest thing is how the revenant is better at pretending to be human and relating to humans than Artemisia, which is such an unusual and intriguing dynamic to explore!

Although she has the best intentions and demonstrates this by protecting innocents around her with the newfound abilities granted by the revenant, her perceived possession leads to the Clerisy determining she is the number one most wanted on their list and pursue her at all costs. There is a breathless tension as Artemisia struggles to retain control of the revenant, save the lives of humans at risk from other deadly spirits and also protect herself from the relentless pursuit of those determined to capture and exorcise her.

This book will effortlessly transport you to a world of magic, wonder and danger with complex, amazingly written characters and intricate mythology, easily digestible fantasy politics and a thrilling race against time to avert a grave danger to the entire realm. It’s so good you will finish this and immediately want to re-read it!

Disclaimer: digital copy provided free from publisher via Netgalley for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Book Review – ‘Dark Rise’ by C.S. Pacat

TITLE: Dark Rise
AUTHOR: C.S. Pacat
GENRE: YA Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 464 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Allen & Unwin on September 28th, 2021
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

The ancient world of magic is no more. Its heroes are dead, its halls are ruins, and its great battles between Light and Dark are forgotten. Only the Stewards remember, and they keep their centuries-long vigil, sworn to protect humanity if the Dark King ever returns.

Sixteen-year-old dock boy Will is on the run, pursued by the men who killed his mother. When an old servant tells him of his destiny to fight beside the Stewards, Will is ushered into a world of magic, where he must train to play a vital role in the oncoming battle against the Dark.

As London is threatened by the Dark King’s return, the reborn heroes and villains of a long-forgotten war begin to draw battle lines. But as the young descendants of Light and Dark step into their destined roles, old allegiances, old enmities and old flames are awakened. Will must stand with the last heroes of the Light to prevent the fate that destroyed their world from returning to destroy his own. 

First in a new trilogy, DARK RISE is a phenomenal YA fantasy novel which proves to be effortlessly immersive and wholly addictive. 

The cold open sets us in the middle of a conflict we have no context for, but immediately grips the reader with the mystery of what the prisoner fears so much that he begs for death and what his relationship was with his tormentor before his betrayal. It fades into the background as the author introduces the protagonist, but this plot thread is woven throughout the story and sets up epic reveals which blew my mind! The genre savvy may predict a plot twist or two, but I believe it’s the journey that matters, not the destination, and we’re treated to a phenomenal voyage of excitement, heartbreak and nail-biting suspense.  

Our hero Will embodies the typical Chosen One stereotype and with a Dark King and clashes between the forces of Light and Dark, it sounds derivative and uninspired, but don’t be fooled! This standard fantasy set-up exists solely to be knocked down and our understanding of these characters and the nature of their struggle is reshaped and re-contextualized a number of times. The author skillfully subverts classic tropes and gives this gang of misfits so much heart and depth and nuance, it will overwhelm you with emotion. 

Will and Violet’s friendship was so beautifully unexpected when I thought they were poised to be enemies; while this is Will’s coming-of-age story, I loved how important Violet was and the care given to fleshing out her background and ambitions. It’s rare to see a ride-or-die platonic friendship between male and female characters, I was thrilled by that dynamic! For those hoping for on-page queer romance, I’m afraid it’s not present in this book, but slow-burn fans will love the glancing touches, unnecessarily close proximity and delicious tension. The last few pages will leave you SCREECHING. 

I can’t recommend this book highly enough! It features complex, well-written characters, cool mythology and fascinating world-building plus a bunch of genius twists that have me beyond excited for the next book. Read this and flail with me!

Disclaimer: physical copy provided free from the publisher for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Book Review – ‘Malice’ by Heather Walter

TITLE: Malice
AUTHOR: Heather Walter
GENRE: YA Fantasy, LGBT+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 480 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Penguin Random House on April 13th, 2021

Blurb from Goodreads:

A princess isn’t supposed to fall for an evil sorceress. But in this darkly magical retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” true love is more than a simple fairy tale.

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.

Utter nonsense.

Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.

Until I met her.

Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.

But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.

Nonsense again.

Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—

I am the villain.

MALICE is an incredible fantasy debut novel that ticks all the right boxes – compelling protagonist wrestling with her darker impulses, lovely sapphic romance and creative world-building that takes what we know from fairytales and gives it a unique twist. 

Alyce is reviled for her Vila heritage that gives her the ability to curse others in contrast to the Graces whose magic is used to enhance people’s beauty, wit and other qualities. Of course they still visit Alyce in secret to pay for her magic elixirs to cause harm to their enemies, even while they shun her in public. This leaves Alyce with an understandable grudge against the people of Briar – until she meets its princess Aurora who is nothing like what she expected.

I loved Aurora’s independence and determination to break the curse on her own terms instead of handing over rule of her land to whichever man bestows True Love’s Kiss upon her. The blithe way she befriended Alyce because of her differences instead of scorning her for them, and then her earnestness in pursuing her after Alyce pulls away won my heart. I understood Alyce’s hesitance given that a Vila ancestor of hers cursed Aurora’s bloodline and the royal family want her to keep away from Aurora, but the push & pull between them was SO GOOD, I held my breath hoping for them to fall together instead of apart, even with all the odds against them.

As someone who’s been waiting their whole life for a lesbian retelling of Sleeping Beauty, I’m definitely the target audience and this book absolutely thrilled me. But I’d also recommend it to fantasy lovers in general who are interested in retellings with a fierce feminist angle! Basically everyone should read this and flail at the cliffhanger ending with me until the sequel arrives.

Disclaimer: digital copy provided free from publisher via Netgalley for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Release Day Review – ‘A Dark and Hollow Star’ by Ashley Shuttleworth

TITLES: A Dark and Hollow Star
AUTHOR: Ashley Shuttleworth
GENRE: YA Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 512 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Hodder & Stoughton on February 25th, 2021

Choose your player.

The “ironborn” half-fae outcast of her royal fae family.
A tempestuous Fury, exiled to earth from the Immortal Realm and hellbent on revenge.
A dutiful fae prince, determined to earn his place on the throne.
The prince’s brooding guardian, burdened with a terrible secret.

For centuries, the Eight Courts of Folk have lived among us, concealed by magic and bound by law to do no harm to humans. This arrangement has long kept peace in the Courts—until a series of gruesome and ritualistic murders rocks the city of Toronto and threatens to expose faeries to the human world.

Four queer teens, each who hold a key piece of the truth behind these murders, must form a tenuous alliance in their effort to track down the mysterious killer behind these crimes. If they fail, they risk the destruction of the faerie and human worlds alike. If that’s not bad enough, there’s a war brewing between the Mortal and Immortal Realms, and one of these teens is destined to tip the scales. The only question is: which way?

Wish them luck. They’re going to need it.

In this ambitious debut by Ashley Shuttleworth, A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR injects magic into modern day Toronto with the existence of secret magical communities partitioned away from regular humans, but still nestled alongside them. That choice gives the book a unique feel as most stories about fae portray them in a separate world altogether, but keeping mundane mortals in the mix adds higher stakes, more complicated politics and a bunch of fun pop culture references.

My favorite part of this book is that all four main characters are queer. Normally I hope in vain that an author will have just ONE character with LGBT+ rep and my cup overrunneth with joy at the f/f and m/m ships we’re treated to here! 

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Book Review – ‘The Ever After’ by Amanda Hocking

TITLE: The Ever After
AUTHOR: Amanda Hocking
GENRE: YA Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 416 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Pan Macmillan Australia on January 12th, 2021
RRP: $17.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

New York Times bestselling author Amanda Hocking concludes the magical world of the Trylle with The Ever After, the final book in her last Trylle arc.

Nestled along the bluffs of the forested coast lies the secret kingdom of the Omte–a realm filled with wonder…and as many secrets.

The Ever After closes the last trilogy of the long-running Trylle series.

My mind is reeling from the thrilling conclusion to the Omte Origins trilogy, what a rollercoaster ride! The first book was a pretty cozy read that set the scene for new readers, gently ushering us into the Omte universe. Things cranked up a couple notches in book 2 and then all hell broke loose for the finale! The word ‘epic’ barely conveys the grand scale of adventure, disaster and frantic adrenaline that lies in store for you.

Some readers may find the plot slow at the start because the memories of our heroes have been wiped after the end of the previous book, but given that my recollection was hazy and I couldn’t remember what happened, it worked well for me to see Ulla piecing together her experience and filling in the gaps since we last saw these characters. It felt so creepy knowing that they went through a traumatic event which they couldn’t recall, then realizing there is a big threat coming but not knowing precisely what it is creates this riveting tension. I couldn’t turn the page fast enough to see what happened next!

This is a fast-paced action-packed story that combines surprising revelations about character backgrounds and sheds new light on the history of the troll kingdoms with grim and gritty battle scenes, creative expansions on the world-building and bittersweet love and loss. A great wrap-up to a trilogy that has much to offer long-time Trylle fans while functioning as a good entry point to this world for new readers.

Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Blog Tour: Cute Mutants Vol 1: Mutant Pride by SJ Whitby

MTMC Tour Banner - Cute Mutants

Today I’m excited to participate in the Bookstagram & Creative Tour for Cute Mutants Vol 1: Mutant Pride by SJ Whitby! In this YA Superhero novel, a teenager X-Men superfan gets powers and discovers she’s not the only one. Now she’s part of a group of queer superheroes struggling to control their powers, defeat the villain and, most difficult of all, make friends. Cute Mutants Vol 1 & 2 are out now, and Vol 3 releases on December 8th, 2020!

TITLE: Cute Mutants (Vol 1: Mutant Pride)
AUTHOR: SJ Whitby
GENRE: YA, superheroes, LGBT+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 416 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by SJ Whitby on August 1st, 2020
PURCHASE FROM: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | Book Depository | Blackwell’s

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Blurb from Goodreads:

My name is Dylan Taylor, human incarnation of the burning dumpster gif, and this is my life.

I always wanted to be an X-Man. Except people and me never got along, and apparently you need social skills to run a successful team. Cue Emma Hall’s party. One hot make out session with the host herself, and I can talk to objects like my pillow (who’s far too invested in my love life) and my baseball bat (who was a pacifist before I got hold of him). Now there’s a whole group of us with strange abilities, including super hot ice queen Dani Kim who doesn’t approve of how reckless I can be. The bigger problem is a mysterious mutant causing unnatural disasters, and we’re the ones who have to stop him. Except trying to make a difference makes things blow up in my face and the team’s on the verge of falling apart. Can I bring them back together in time to stop the villain from taking revenge? Have I mentioned I’m not a people person? Magneto help us.

This book made my nerdy fangirl heart so happy! I’ve been wanting to find a story where someone wakes up with powers and is PSYCHED because of all the pop culture they’ve obsessed over instead of angsting about having paranormal abilities, so it’s like this book was written for me! Dylan is a huge X-men fan so finding out she and a bunch of her peers have powers is basically her dream come true.

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Release Day Review – ‘Piranesi’ by Susanna Clarke

TITLE: Piranesi
AUTHOR: Susanna Clarke
GENRE: Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 160 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Bloomsbury Australia on September 15th, 2020
RRP: $27.99 AUD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality.

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s CircePiranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Piranesi is a stunning, dreamy tale that’s rich with atmosphere and mystery. The protagonist seems content living in solitude in a splendidly impossible House with an infinite number of rooms containing all kinds of strange and surreal sights, with tides moving through the lower Halls and clouds reigning in the upper Halls. He resides in the middle Halls and spends his time cataloguing what surrounds him, like the pattern of the tides or the position, size and subject of the multitudes of statues. 

While Piranesi is happy to devote his entire life to appreciating the beauty of the House, it’s clear to the reader that there is something dreadfully wrong. The mystery slowly unfolds from the off-hand observation that Piranesi isn’t his name (although he cannot remember what it used to be) to the missing pages in his otherwise meticulously maintained journals to the shifty manner of The Other, whose comments and possession of a ‘shiny device’ hints at greater knowledge of Piranesi’s plight than he’s letting on. Piranesi is so innocent and easily trusting that he believes in every word from The Other when we readers can see how suspicious his behavior is, creating a simmering tension and dread in the background.

To say that this book is magical would be an understatement. Reading this is like entering the wardrobe to Narnia or stepping through the barrier onto Platform Nine and Three Quarters. It transports you to another world of beauty and danger and stark isolation with an endearing sweet and simple protagonist whose entire existence is a mystery. Following him on the journey to self-realization as he unravels the clues to his past is rewarding, enchanting and a little heartbreaking. This is a uniquely creative, spell-binding story told with an effortless charm – if you’re looking to escape this mundane world, open up Piranesi and disappear into the endless Halls of this hypnotic, majestic House.

Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

ARC Review – ‘Blood & Honey’ by Shelby Mahurin

TITLE: Blood & Honey
AUTHOR: Shelby Mahurin
GENRE: YA Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 432 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Harper Collins Australia on September 1st, 2020
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Dames Blanches, Lou, Reid, Coco, and Ansel are on the run from coven, kingdom, and church—fugitives with nowhere to hide.

To elude the scores of witches and throngs of chasseurs at their heels, Lou and Reid need allies. Strong ones. But protection comes at a price, and the group is forced to embark on separate quests to build their forces. As Lou and Reid try to close the widening rift between them, the dastardly Morgane baits them in a lethal game of cat and mouse that threatens to destroy something worth more than any coven.

The hotly anticipated sequel to the New York Times and IndieBound bestseller Serpent & Dove—packed with even steamier romance and darker magic—is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas.

In case you missed the news, 𝘚𝘦𝘳𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘵 & 𝘋𝘰𝘷𝘦 was originally a duology and has been extended to a trilogy, so note that there is still another book to come after 𝘉𝘭𝘰𝘰𝘥 & 𝘏𝘰𝘯𝘦𝘺 and the story isn’t fully resolved in this instalment!

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ARC Review – ‘The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker’ by Lauren James

TITLE: The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker
AUTHOR: Lauren James
GENRE: YA Paranormal Fantasy/Horror
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 432 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Walker Books Australia on September 2nd, 2020
RRP: $18.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

“Congratulations, new kid. Welcome to the afterlife.”

What if death is only the beginning?

When Harriet Stoker dies after falling from a balcony in a long-abandoned building, she discovers a group of ghosts, each with a special power.

Felix, Kasper, Rima and Leah welcome Harriet into their world, eager to make friends with the new arrival after decades alone. Yet Harriet is more interested in unleashing her own power, even if it means destroying everyone around her. But when all of eternity is at stake, the afterlife can be a dangerous place to make an enemy.

Lauren James is an author better known for her YA sci-fi novels, but with The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, she ventures into a new YA genre of paranormal fantasy with light horror elements. Pitched as a ‘horror-rom com’, this book features a villain protagonist with Harriet Stoker creating havoc in the previously quiet and relatively uneventful premises of Mulcture Hall. Despite being long abandoned and fallen into dangerous disrepair, Harriet disregards all the warning signs and breaks in to take photos for her class, little knowing that she would never walk out alive.

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