ARC Review: THE UNCONQUERED CITY (Chronicles of Ghadid #3) by K.A. Doore (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult LGBT+ Fantasy
Year Release: June 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read an ARC granted through NetGalley

The Chronicles of Ghadid comes to a close with an epic story of community mourning, healing, and recovery as Illi is tasked with going away to Hathage get rid of the sajaami which is preventing all other restless spirits from passing on. There’s an f/enby romance, the lesbians are back, and all that assassination goodness we’ve come to love.

The guul continue to be the absolutely scariest things, but I really loved how Doore gave everyone–from cousin to captain to guard to marab–the agency and ability to face them. The fear was still there but it wasn’t insurmountable, especially as the threat takes over all those living in the Wastes.

Though this book introduces a third narrator, there are so many call-backs to the first book and dealing with the consequences of The Impossible Contract that make those necessary reads. The reader leans about the terrifying creatures at the same pace the characters do. Such a slow burn of conveying information is hard to pull off, and yet Doore has mastered it.

The romance between Illi and Canthem was such a delight. There was only one caravan! Their flirtations were so on point (who doesn’t love throwing knives and training sequences as a vehicle for chemistry). More over, I really liked how that relationship and others (namely between Illi and Heru) played a major role in the finale and the emotional arc of The Chronicles of Ghadid as a whole. No person is an island and the theme of community coming together for mutually assured survival was so good throughout.

A fabulous end to a wonderful queernorm trilogy about found family and community coming together to solve a major undead problem.

Review: SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik (2018)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning for physical abuse and descriptions of antisemitism

Part Rumpelstiltskin, part Persephone and Hades, all Eastern Europe fantasy with its world-building, characterizations, and societies, Spinning Silver is an enchantment from start to finish. We have Miryem who takes her family’s money-lending business from her father, Wanda her assistant, dukes’s daughter Irina, and the cursed prince Minatius.

The way Novik nimbly balances so many POVs throughout needs to be witnessed. Each one had enough voice and their own unique motifs and struggles to be distinct, but all worked together towards a common goal which doesn’t become salient until past the book’s middle. Otherwise, we are fully steeped in their interconnected, but separate struggles, and I found myself interested in how it all comes together as much as I had been interested in the outcomes.

In addition, the world-building and placement is so specific. There are attitudes, biases, etc. that can only be placed in Eastern Europe. The cross-cultural misunderstandings between humans and other-worldly beings were also carefully crafted. Throughout, there necessarily wasn’t a “right” and a “wrong,” only difference and the morality stemmed from reactions to those differences. It was great to read a European fantasy from the perspective of Jewish characters that focused on joys and traditions, rather than oppression (though it isn’t ignored in the text).

If you love resilient female characters, fairy tales, and non-Christian fantasies, definitely pick up Spinning Silver.

 

Review: SILVER IN THE WOOD by Emily Tesh (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: My own hard copy

This romance between a four-hundred-year-old forest being and the twenty-three-year-old proprietor is as lush as a primordial forest. The imagery was lovely, as soft as moss. There isn’t too much more I can say without giving away the whole story, but if you also want revenants and evil ex-boyfriends, Greenhollow is the place for you.

This book also features a formidable mom, a very good cat, and an angry dryad.

Review: BLOOD COUNTESS by Lana Popović (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: torture, gore, vomiting, abuse

Blood Countess is a young adult historical horror which reimagines the crimes of Elizabeth Bathory through the eyes of a midwife apprentice who becomes her chambermaid.

This book is short, but what a wild ride of lust, murder, and redemption, all in that order. Anna’s voice is wonderful. She’s brave in her compassion and proves a formidable adversary to the cruel and cunning Elizabeth. Their chemistry hums on the page, and I do appreciate the effort Popović put in making a version of 1500s Hungary where the crime wasn’t that they were two girls in a relationship, as twisted as it was.

Gothic, gory, and full of tension, definitely a must-read for readers with a villain-romance-shaped hole in their hearts.

 

Review: LADY HOTSPUR by Tessa Gratton (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

I very quickly returned to Tessa Gratton’s Shakespeare retellings with this queer take on Henry IV (which of course, I have not read). In this companion to Queens of Innis Lear, we follow the exploits of Lady Hotspur, Prince Hal, and Banna Mora as they seek to bring political peace to Eremoria and reunite with the magic of Innis Lear.

This book is so deeply character-driven. No political decision had been made without the influence of any of the characters, which made the love story between Lady Hotspur and Prince Hal that much more compelling. I love how authentically messy and ambitious all the POV characters were. They didn’t feel like pawns to destiny, and instead had their own loves and conflicts. The familial relations especially in Prince Hal’s story line really resonated with me.

With regards to the political world-building, the tension between tradition in an otherwise queernorm world soaked through the pages. The examination was so fascinating, and in many places, made the book un-put-down-able because it didn’t have to end in a way defined by bloody history. Figures from Queens of Innis Lear do return in the form of flashbacks, but there is absolutely no requirement to read that book to understand this one.

If you want a book full of disaster queers, including sword lesbians and bisexual wizards, magic, and destiny, definitely pick up Lady Hotspur.

 

ARC Review: THE MERMAID, THE WITCH, AND THE SEA by Maggie Tokuda-Hall (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult LGBT+ Fantasy
Year Release: May 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC

Read an ARC granted through NetGalley

A noble escaping an arranged marriage, a rogue pirate finding family, an opportunistic witch, and the Sea itself being a main character, this stand-alone fantasy has all the trappings of a sea-faring adventure.

I enjoyed the sweet romance and devotion between Flora/Florian and Evelyn. Though they had come from opposite sides of the class spectrum, they had good chemistry and a common tenacity which made them perfect for each other. Personally, I would have enjoyed a bit more of a slow burn, but the pacing fit the plot so well.  In addition, it was such a relief that Flora/Florian’s gender went beyond presentation and clothing. By the end of the book, her/his gender identity is not stated, and that’s okay. That implication of further exploration during the happily-ever-after provides a different perspective.

The magic system also felt unique, with telling stories and truths being the vehicle for spell-casting. Flora spends much time with Xenobia, the witch, in which stories are exchanged. Some are folklore, others are true. They all add to the richness of the world Tokuda-Hall built, which already felt quite lived in, between the Imperials and their colonies, the pirates and their factions.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is a must-read for fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise who wants more commentary on colonialism and imperialism, magic, and a whole lot of queer norm.

Review: WE HUNT THE FLAME by Hafsah Faizal (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

In a world cover in snow, a young woman disguising herself as a hunter to provide for her family and an assassin prince tries to make his father, the sultan proud. Both are sent on a mission to retrieve a book containing lost magic.

The atmosphere of Arawiya is just so good. The world feels lived in, and each of the different cultures had enough time on page for full exploration. Nothing in terms of the politics is black and white, which lends really well to the enemies-to-lovers dynamic happening between Nasir and Zafira. Both are extremely skilled at what they do, but part of the journey is them discovering how much more they are than their roles. Their is so much vulnerability. The rest of the Zumra were fantastic, my personal favorite being Kifah. Their dynamic proved an uneasy alliance with excellent banter. When things got bad towards the end, the emotions were there.

The adventure feels dangerous, with secrets and ifrit posing a threat every step of the way. The plotting is tight, with enough space for further exploration of the world in the sequel. In particular, I really liked how character-driven the world problem was. Each character had their own stakes and arcs, even though the story is told through two POVs. It makes for excellent tension and palpable danger.

A lush fantasy about returning magic to the world, found family, and overcoming destiny. I’m really excited and scared for the Zumra.