ARC Review – ‘Belladonna’ by Adalyn Grace

TITLE: Belladonna
AUTHOR: Adalyn Grace
GENRE: YA Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 416 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Little Brown and Company on August 30th, 2022
RRP$28.56 AUD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace brings to life a highly romantic, Gothic-infused world of wealth, desire, and betrayal.

Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.

However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine. 

Belladonna is the first in a new series by New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace, who is well-known for her duology All the Stars and Teeth. Her previous series was set in a fantasy world with intricate magic, mermaids, and pirates, but Belladonna positions itself in a more down-to-earth Victorian-inspired setting. However don’t make the mistake of picturing Bridgerton as this Gothic-inspired murder mystery with paranormal romantic fantasy elements is more along the lines of Crimson Peak meets Stalking Jack The Ripper.

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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 – ‘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.

Book Review – ‘House of Dragons’ by Jessica Cluess

TITLE: House of Dragons
AUTHOR: Jessica Cluess
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 448 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Penguin Australia on June 16th, 2020
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win?

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year, these five outcasts will answer the call….

THE LIAR: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

THE SOLDIER: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

THE SERVANT: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

THE THIEF: Ajax knows that nothing is free–he must take what he wants.

THE MURDERER: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.

There is no way anyone can look at that cover with the five swords and stylized dragons and NOT be intrigued. The title sounded very promising and I went in with high hopes for a decent amount of dragon scenes, crossing my fingers it wasn’t a switch-and-bait…and WOW. If you love dragons, you need to read this.

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Book Review – ‘So This Is Love’ by Elizabeth Lim

TITLE: So This Is Love
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Lim
GENRE: Fantasy, fairytale retelling
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 384 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Scholastic Australia on May 1st, 2020
RRP: $16.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

What if Cinderella never tried on the glass slipper? Unable to prove that she’s the missing princess, and unable to bear life under Lady Tremaine any longer, Cinderella attempts a fresh start, looking for work at the palace as a seamstress. But when the Grand Duke appoints her to serve under the king’s visiting sister, Cinderella becomes witness to a grand conspiracy to take the king-and the prince-out of power, as well as a longstanding prejudice against fairies, including Cinderella’s own Fairy Godmother. Faced with questions of love and loyalty to the kingdom, Cinderella must find a way to stop the villains of past and present . . . before it’s too late.

This is a fantastic read both for fans for the Disney tale and newcomers to the story of Cinderella! Each book in the Twisted Tale series has a ‘what if’ moment which spins off the narrative into a whole new original story and it’s such a delight to see the author’s take on what might have happened instead.

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ARC Review – ‘Dangerous Remedy’ by Kat Duunn

TITLE: Dangerous Remedy
AUTHOR: Kat Dunn
GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy, LGBT
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 432 pages
PUBLISHER: by Head of Zeus
RELEASE DATE: ebook available from May 7th, 2020 | hardcover to be released August 6th, 2020

Dangerous Remedy

Blurb from Goodreads:

Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

Kat Dunn’s debut novel Dangerous Remedy is a fast-paced historical fantasy romp set in the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror. Left an orphan after her parents were executed, our protagonist Camille leads her battalion in a courageous and noble effort to rescue other prisoners headed for the guillotine and reunite them with their loved ones.

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ARC Review – ‘The Dark Tide’ by Alicia Jasinska

TITLE: The Dark Tide
AUTHOR: Alicia Jasinska
GENRE: YA Fantasy, LGBT
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 304 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Sourcebooks Fire on June 2nd, 2020
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

The Wicked Deep meets A Curse So Dark and Lonely in this gripping, dark fairy-tale fantasy about two girls who must choose between saving themselves, each other, or their sinking island city.

Every year on St. Walpurga’s Eve, Caldella’s Witch Queen lures a boy back to her palace. An innocent life to be sacrificed on the full moon to keep the island city from sinking.

Lina Kirk is convinced her brother is going to be taken this year. To save him, she enlists the help of Thomas Lin, the boy she secretly loves, and the only person to ever escape from the palace. But they draw the queen’s attention, and Thomas is chosen as the sacrifice.

Queen Eva watched her sister die to save the boy she loved. Now as queen, she won’t make the same mistake. She’s willing to sacrifice anyone if it means saving herself and her city.

When Lina offers herself to the queen in exchange for Thomas’s freedom, the two girls await the full moon together. But Lina is not at all what Eva expected, and the queen is nothing like Lina envisioned. Against their will, they find themselves falling for each other. As water floods Caldella’s streets and the dark tide demands its sacrifice, they must choose who to save: themselves, each other, or the island city relying on them both.

The Dark Tide is a stunning fantasy YA debut from Australian author Alicia Jasinska and first in the self-titled series set on the moody atmospheric island city of Caldella.

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Book Review – ‘The Midnight Lie’ by Marie Rutkoski

TITLE: The Midnight Lie
AUTHOR: Marie Rutkoski
GENRE: YA Fantasy, LGBT
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 400 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Hachette Australia on March 10th, 2020
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.

Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.

But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.

Set in the world of the New York Times–bestselling Winner’s Trilogy, beloved author Marie Rutkoski returns with an epic LGBTQ romantic fantasy about learning to free ourselves from the lies others tell us—and the lies we tell ourselves.

Although Marie Rutkoski is a well-established author, I haven’t read any of her prior books and had no idea what I was in for when I started this. Now that I’ve finished The Midnight Lie, I’ve been converted to the status of new fan!

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