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.

 

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.

ARC Review: FELIX EVER AFTER by Kacen Callender (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult LGBT+ Contemporary
Year Release: May 2020
Source: Edelweiss eARC

Read an ARC granted through Edelweiss

This book captures so many energies and experiences into one beautiful narrative about a Black queer trans teen’s first love, which includes a mystery of who would go so far as to publish Felix’s dead name and pictures of him pre-transition.

What really stuck out to me is just how much care had been taken to depict a group of queer kids of various identities and sexualities, especially those who are still questioning. Identity is not a static thing, and the way Felix has the space to explore his on page felt authentic and brutally honest. What came as a welcome surprse was the way the book also addressed bigotry and prejudices within the LGBT+ Community, especially around Pride when the novel takes place. While there is a clear villain, there were opportunities for characters to make mistakes, take ownership, and work together to move forward. That space for forgiveness made my heart swell, even as I rode with Felix from the lowest lows to the highest highs.

In addition, Callender beautifully captures the atmosphere and energy of a summer in New York City, in boroughs other than Manhattan. The little details sprinkled throughout felt really immersive, from the “show time” guys to the descriptions of outfits that hipsters wear in the city.

Felix Ever After tugs at the heartstrings in all the best ways, a perfect read for summer and for any queer person who wants to feel reassured of their beauty and sense of belonging just as they are.

April 2020 Reading Recap

April2020RR

Good-bye April, the shortest month this year. I have gone through a lot of sudden changes, but there are always more books to read. I even discovered two new favorites this month, which feels exciting.

This month, I also interviewed Aleksandra Ross to celebrate the release of her debut novel, Don’t Call the Wolf and I had outlined a plan to improve my craft. I will be saving the craft reads for their own post.

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Author to Author with Aleksandra Ross (#DCTW)

AtoA_Ross

I am beyond excited to celebrate and talk to Aleksandra Ross, debut author of Don’t Call the Wolf. Inspired by the “Glass Mountain,” this young adult fantasy draws on Polish folklore and features dragons, shape-shifting lynx queens, and a soldier wanting to bring his brothers home. In this interview, Ross touches on her favorite scenes, the myths that didn’t make it onto the page, and books she’s looking forward to.
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ARC Review: DON’T CALL THE WOLF by Aleksandra Ross (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: April 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Content and trigger warnings include: Death of siblings, death of friends, light body horror

With so much secondary-world young adult fantasy taking place in a vaguely-Russian and vaguely-Eastern-European-inspired aesthetic, I was beyond excited for a book that went into specific folktales from my home country of Poland. Largely inspired by “The Glass Mountain,” this dual-POV story tells of a Wolf-lord trying to discover what happened to his brothers as they went back to the Moving Mountains and a forest queen trying to save her kingdom from new devils.

I really enjoyed the world-building in this one. The story takes place in a more technology-advanced world with firearms alongside swords, where magic is something studied in schools, and there’s a whole society of Unnaturalists. In addition to the fantastic mix of monsters, these details made the world feel lived in. My skin crawled at every mention of the strzygi, but even more so at the ways the village people deal with them. It all felt familiar, but awfully specific, which is a great balance when approaching retellings.

Family both found and given presents strongly in this work as well. It features on a variety of levels, but most of those veer into spoiler-territory. I particularly enjoyed Ren’s arc because the pay-off on destiny vs. work is just so good. The pacing is just right from start to finish. The way Ross peppers in details about Lukasz’s brothers also weave so naturally into the narrative, without having to be so explicit about what took place in the past vs. the present.

A whimsical fairy tale from start to finish featuring fearsome dragons, brave hunters, headstrong princesses, and wild magic based on Polish folklore.