Fragmented

Untamed, Book 2
By Madeline Dyer

Those of you following my Instagram might have seen my middle-of-the-night post, where an exhausted me at 2 am finished reading the last page of Fragmented and found myself in a whirlwind of emotions. I hadn’t even realized how late it was, I simply could not put the book down. I’ve been so excited I could barely wait until today to tell you about it. Well, it’s Self Published Saturday, and I’m here to tell you about Fragmented!

Summary33804767

After the terrible battle against the Enhanced Ones, Seven and Corin find themselves on the run. With the Enhanced closing in, Seven knows they need to find other people on their side. So, when the opportunity arises to join the Zharat, one of the last surviving Untamed tribes, it seems like the perfect solution.

But the Zharat lifestyle is a far cry from what Seven’s used to. With their customs dictating that she must marry into their tribe, and her relationship with Corin breaking down, Seven knows she has to do something before it’s too late. But that’s easier said than done in a tribe where going against the rules automatically results in death.

And, with the Enhanced still out there, nowhere is truly safe for the Untamed–least of all for the most powerful Seer in the world…and Seven soon discovers how far people will go in order to ensure she’s on their side in the War of Humanity.

Battling against the emerging web of lies, manipulation, and danger, Seven must remember who she was meant to be. Her life has never been more at stake. Nor has humanity itself.

Musings

Many series suffer from a weak second novel. But Fragmented is the Empire Strikes Back here, and is even stronger than the first book.

I was captivated by the world that Dyer created in Untamed: a future where most of humanity live with chemical ‘augmenters’, and those who refuse the drugs are hunted down. Unlike most dystopias I know, there’s this incredible spiritual element: Seven, the protagonist is a seer capable of speaking with them through dreams. The spirits have a massive, sometimes physical effect on the land, able to change it or roam it at will. All in all, this is astounding worldbuilding which made me desperate to read Fragmented.

Fragmented has a much faster pace because of the short timeframe. While Untamed took place over weeks, months, Fragmented is the course of just a few days. Seven, Corin and Esther are all that is left, and decide for their safety to band with a massive tribe called the Zharat. But just because they’re Untamed does not make them good people.

The Zharat are an incredibly patriarchal society, and part of what I loved about Fragmented was how on edge I was the entire time. To put it simply: these guys are absolute creeps. To keep humanity going, their only weapon is their babymaking. Women are nothing but a tool in this regard. Seven’s strength and abilities are put to the test when the Zharat community refuses to treat her as a real person. I was cringing the entire time they were with them.

The character growth is also pretty incredible here. Seven is not only trying to make her voice heard in this new community, but also trying to keep her relationship with Corin alive and healthy. Not to mention that her Seer dreams are strangely stopped now that she’s with the Zharat, and she can’t mention that fact to anyone, because Zharat culture sees Women-Seers as demons. Not to mention the guilt she feels from the last battle…

We also learn more about the place of the Spirits and Gods within not only this culture, but the war itself. At the climax of the book, I was gripping the page as things became clear and the mysteries unraveled. I wanted to scream at the book.

This book has honestly been very difficult for me to review with a level head, because I’m still shattered from the ending. I just cannot wait to get my hands on Divided, the next book in the series!

You can pick up a copy right here!

Waking Gods

The Themis Files, book 2
by Silvain Neuvel
Reviewed by SA
I absolutely devoured Sleeping Giants last year: a brilliant scifi novel that really gave me everything I wanted. Mystery, giant alien robots, and amazing characters… I was hooked instantly. I have been so looking forward to this sequel, and avoided all spoilers. It did not disappoint!

Summary30134847

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

Musings

Nine years after the events of Sleeping Giants, the Themis team doesn’t have much to do except show up and look pretty. Kara and Vincent have talked about marriage, but it really hasn’t happened yet.  Dr. Rose is terrified of what she is, wondering if she is even human anymore. But it’s all UN ambassador missions, nothing life or death anymore. That is, of course, until the day another giant robot appears in London, and sets off a chain of events that could have humanity at its knees.

It’s quite possibly the end of the world, and the stakes have never been higher. Gigantic, alien robots with firepower and toxic gases the likes we’re never seen before. People doing whatever they can just to survive. Our nameless friend is dashing from one country to another, trying to keep everyone together. Can can he keep himself together?

Just as in Sleeping Giants, Neuvel manages to create an incredibly gripping narrative and relatable characters even through his unusual format. As a matter of fact, his format seems to optimise the reading process, making the story flow quickly and impossible to put down.

The one thing I was not expecting was for so many of our beloved characters to die. I’m not going to spoil them, but they were incredibly unexpected and heartbreaking – and unexpectedly heartbreaking. But new characters are introduced that will get you excited about the future… if there’s going to be a future.

Old enemies. New threats. And finally, some gosh darn answers. It’s the end of the world, and the only people who can save it are severely outmatched.

I won’t even mention the ending yet! Only to say that I desperately need the next book NOW!

I Still Have a Soul

by Kelly Blanchard
Reviewed by SA

Happy self published Saturday! Today, I bring you the sequel to an exciting fantasy epic which I reviewed about a month ago: I Still Have a Soul, the immediate sequel to Someday I’ll Be Redeemed, in the Chronicles of Lorrek (see the first review here).  If you haven’t read the first book – spoiler warning!

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[Goodreads] Stripped of his memories and told he is a criminal of the worst kind, sorcerer Lorrek must commit one last dark deed to earn back his memories. However, he has no idea his target is family or that he is about to step into a war between advanced technology and ancient magic.

[Back of the Book] They said his memories were taken as punishment for the crimes he committed. They said the only way he can regain his memories is by killing a target assigned by them. Lorrek doesn’t know what is true or what he had done, but he decides to take the lead they gave him. He would find her, even if that means following her into the battlefield between advanced technology and ancient magic as two neighboring kingdoms clash. He will find answers. He will restore his memory, and he will kill any who stands in his way. 

Quick refresher: where we last left off, Lorrek had just given up his memories… after revealing to the reader what really happened those ten years ago, in the event that left the world thinking he was dead. He now awakens knowing none of this, at the complete mercy of king Roskelem. The king has one mission for Lorrek: to kill the assassin named Vixen.

Meanwhile, the kingdoms are at war. The tensions between Jechoram and Cuskelom have risen too far, and now it’s technology versus magic in the battle of a lifetime. Countess Veddra is still occupying the nation of Nirrorm, and it seems she has bigger, loftier goals in mind. And Vixen has gotten herself involved with a plot which may restore the very humanity of some non-citizens of Jechoram…

As tensions come to a boil, an epic battle looms on the horizon.

As with the last book, I was much more entranced by the events that took place in Jechoram than the rest of the continent. The storyline with the guardians could have been an entire book, in its own right. It’s brilliant: so creatively crafted and woven into the larger plot, it let the reader ponder what it truly is to be human.  This plot line borders on science-fantasy, a growing genre which combines technology and fantasy into one brilliant story.

There are so many different plots going on at once, it might get tricky to keep track of! But this means every reader will find a story they like – or many – and fall in love with the characters. But here’s a fair warning – don’t get too attached. It’s a war, after all, and wars have fatalities. So you have been warned!

I found that Lorrek was a bit of a… jerk, to put it mildly, without his memories. I mean, it’s understandable, seeing as how he can’t remember who’s friend or foe, who he can trust and who needs to be killed. But the result was that he wasn’t as relatable as he was in the first novel. No matter, because with everyone else, there’s so many other characters to relate to. I still hold Vixen as being one of the best female assassins I’ve ever read, and I desperately need to know what happens to her next.

The worldbuilding in this series remains phenomenal. The carefully crafted political tension between kingdoms, making the reader keenly aware of the motivations of their respective leaders, is just further evidence of the author’s skill at creating a complex narrative. The author’s strength really lies in the creation of these realms.

It is an exciting sequel, so if you like Someday I’ll be Redeemed, you’ll love I Still Have a Soul. It’s a must read for fans of Lorrek Vixen! The ending leaves me excited for more, as I can’t wait to see what direction the series will go.

 

A Crown of Wishes

by Roshani Chokshi
Reviewed by SA

I have been waiting for this novel to be realsed for ages. Ever since I read the outstanding novel The Star Touched Queen, last year, I was enamored with the amazingly magical universe Roshani Chokshi creates. The style, the imagery, everything was so evocative I was drawn in from the start. And A Crown of Wishes carries that magic as well, and definitely did not disappoint.

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Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes—a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels.

Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

Like The Star Touched Queen before it, this novel reads like a vivid dream. Your mind is filled with rich colors and deep smells, and you are tugged from one magical place to another, yet never stopped by thick exposition: the author walks the fine line of ‘telling too much’ and ‘showing too little’, making it the perfect amount needed for master world building. She honestly could have had her characters wander without a plot through these worlds and I would still have read it – it’s like staring at a painting.

But it has a plot, and an exciting one at that! While it is the sequel of The Star Touched Queen, it’s more like a spin off. The events that take place in A Crown of Wishes follow Gauri, the adorable little sister of Maya who grew up to be a badass warrior. But when Gauri gets banished from Bharata, she knows she needs to go back, overthrow her brother and save her friends. But to do that, she has to win the Tournament of Wishes, a magical competition in which victory grants you a wish. At her side is the handsome and cunning Vikram, the not-exactly-prince of a neighboring (enemy) kingdom, whose smarts perfectly match Gauri’s skill in battle. Together, they make an impressive pair.

I love, love, love Gauri. She’s someone I wish I could be – bold, strong, but smart. A little stubborn, maybe, but she seems to make more rational decisions than her older sister. Vikram, I took a little while to warm up to, but I think that was purposeful from the author: Gauri doesn’t trust him from the start, and neither do we, even if he is a POV character and we know he’s honest with her. The romance between them was slow and worked, though I’m never a fan of romances in this kind of novel – I always wish for them to just remain badass partners in crime.

This book is, in a word, magical. If you loved The Star Touched Queen as much as I did, you’re going to love its somewhat-sequel. Follow Gauri through realms of magic where the laws of the mortal world do not apply, and where a story may be worth more than a life. Sign me up for everything Roshani Chokshi writes!

Out today from St Martin’s Press.

Me, Currently

by Chelsea Buyce
Reviewed by SA

I’m quite easy to please when it comes to poetry: it takes just one good poem, one that speaks to me and stops me in my tracks, to really win me over. And this book was full of them.

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“I am falling apart daily Somehow, I continue to be Held together only by dreams.” Everyone deals with the Heat of romance, the Pressure of life, and the Madness of mental health. Me, Currently provides an insight into some of those moments and feelings verbalized as the author has dealt with, witnessed or fantasized them. This collection of poetry is written by an unfinished woman who has felt like a bit of an outcast throughout her life. Her poems prove that we are all more alike than we know. For the author, these poems are an escape and more importantly, they are a release. For some readers, these poems can connect them to a world they may never have otherwise entered. For others, may these poems serve as a hatch from which they can unleash their love, hurt, and hopes.

Musings

I struggle to write reviews of poems: my experience with poetry tends to be in the I like it/I don’t realm, though years of english class with brilliant teachers means I can probably ramble on about a single poem for a while. So here I’m aiming for something in the middle: a comprehensive review of my thoughts on this collection.

The collection is split into three parts: Heat (love, romance, relationships), Pressure (life, stress), and Madness (mental health, anxiety, depression). The title, “Me, Currently,” is a direct reference to the poet’s current state in her life.

Heat was quite beautiful. The poems on the loss of love packed a punch, while the poems on love itself were a little cute. “Earned Grin” was short and sweet: Your Smile/Holds/A secret/ That the rest/ of the world/ aches to learn. I really connected with that one, and many others. Of the three parts, this one might have been the weakest, simply because I’m not sure about the flow of their collection here.

Pressure was insanely relatable. “Moments” was a fantastic poem, and “Motivation” is going on my wall. It’s always a little unsettling for me (in a good way) when a poet puts into words something that’s in my head, and there’s the realization that I’m not alone in thinking that way. A few of the poems seemed like they were meant for the first part of the book, but I trust the order the poet picked.

Madness was beautiful, relatable, and a bit scary. I think this was by far the poet’s strongest part. I want “She was Poetry” etched on my tombstone, please. “Big Plans” has me written all over it. This section slowly becomes darker and darker, until the very last poem, which I think can be read either way: the poet speaks of freedom, weightlessness, though the poem is entitled “Drained” and it ends with “feinting, feinting.” I don’t know if the author has found freedom through her work, or has fallen into deeper despair. It makes me want to check up on the poet, to see if she’s ok.

Overall, the poet has shown herself incredibly talented and insightful at capturing human nature. I do feel that some poems were a little forced, not in content, but in how they might have searched a little too hard for a rhyming scheme that maybe wasn’t necessary. The ones that stood out to me generally had a more free flowing form, which the poet excels at.

All in all, this is a beautiful and evocative collection. It puts into words the thoughts and feelings that need to be talked about.

 

Dragon Springs Road

By Janie Chang
Reviewed by SA

A few months ago, I jot the January Muse Monthly box, and the French postal system was having nothing of it. The box made a few loops around the world before this book landed at my doorstep, at which point I was far too excited about the book within and dying to drink the tea.

Faithful readers of this blog might notice that this is not a genre I usually read – I’m more of a scifi, fantasy type of gal – but I have a fascination with any historical fiction novel set outside of Europe. Double points if the main character is a girl. Triple points if she’s also biracial. And if you throw in some magic, I’m not going to be disappointed. And Dragon Springs Road is all of the above.

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That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own, when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return . . .

In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she’s led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.

Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.

Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love … Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it.

Twenty years in the life of a young biracial girl in China, at the turn of the century. A country in political turmoil, with old ways fading into new. An orphaned girl trying to make a way for herself in a world that will not accept her, aided by a fox spirit who knows more than she lets on.

This novel was simply captivating. It drew me in with lyrical prose, beautiful description, astounding storytelling. At times, it unfolds like a fairy tail, while in others it reads like a dickens novel. We follow Jialing, the daughter of a prostitute, as she grows from girl to young woman, her word expanding, just as the country itself starts shifting its customs. Still, not enough to make life easy for an orphaned “zazhong” (cruel name for mixed race). The characters are complex and have depth, many interconnected in ways you don’t realize until later.

While many events seem improbable, too coincidentally perfect to make sense, the author washes away those worries by putting the blame on Fox, a spirit who cares for young Jialing. The fact that yangs take her in, or how the missionary ladies want to make sure she can go to school and get an education, could only happen if there was a push from our caring friend.

Fox might have been the most fascinating of them all, and now I sort of wish there was a novel about her very long life. She waits at Dragon Springs Road for a door to the immortal realm, where she was finally be reunited with the humans she loves. The burdens of immortality. She was such a fascinating character: at times, I wondered if she was just a figment of Jialing’s imagination, but the world was much more magical with her in it.

While the ending felt a little melodramatic, as if the author wanted us to have more conflict in such a short amount of time, I quite loved this book. I mean, how can I not? It’s just so beautiful!

Brimstone

by Cherie Priest
Reviewed by S.A.
I did not expect to love this book as much as I did, and once the plot got rolling, I really devoured it. The novel was truly spellbinding, and I would myself sucked into the pages, feeling the heavy Florida heat and smelling fire all around me.

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In the trenches of Europe during the Great War, Tomas Cordero operated a weapon more devastating than any gun: a flame projector that doused the enemy in liquid fire. Having left the battlefield a shattered man, he comes home to find yet more tragedy for in his absence, his wife has died of the flu. Haunted by memories of the woman he loved and the atrocities he perpetrated, Tomas dreams of fire and finds himself setting match to flame when awake….

Alice Dartle is a talented clairvoyant living among others who share her gifts in the community of Cassadaga, Florida. She too dreams of fire, knowing her nightmares are connected to the shell-shocked war veteran and widower. And she believes she can bring peace to him and his wife s spirit.

But the inferno that threatens to consume Tomas and Alice was set ablaze centuries ago by someone whose hatred transcended death itself….

Musings

We’re in 1920s Florida. It’s hot. The radio doesn’t reach everywhere yet. Electricity in homes is relatively new. Prohibition is on, but this is Florida, and Rum overflows. The Great War is over, taking many in its wake; Spanish Influenza has scoured the country, taking even more. It’s here that our story takes place: in the small town of Cassadaga, a home for Spirtalists that still exists to this day.

The novel alternates viewpoints between Alice Dartle, a seventeen year old girl from Virginia, and Tomàs Cordero, a cuban-american who’s just returned from war. At first, I thought I wasn’t going to like Alice: she breaks into tears too easily, sometimes acting more like an impetuous twelve year old than a smart young woman. But soon, I realized that her sensitive side didn’t stop her from being strong and brilliant all the same. Her insatiable love for bourbon, her huge heart, her adorable nervousness; she’s a fun character whom I would love to hang out with. Not to mention that she’s got some interesting skills she wants to develop: talking to spirits, predicting the outcomes of bets, her need to learn has brought her to Cassadaga, in hopes of honing her abilities.

And then, there’s Tomàs. A bit of a tragic character: he returned from the war, but it was his wife who stayed home who passed away. His dear Evelyn died of Influenza. He’s getting his tailoring business up and running again, trying to get things back in order, but for some reason, small fires seem to be following him around. Well, they were small at first. Now, they’re growing. They’re taking more in their wake, but they’re leaving things behind. Things, signs maybe, that make Tomàs think it could be Evelyn, trying to reach to him from beyond, trapped as a spirit. Could it be so? As the novel progresses, he seems more determined than ever, while the reader… less so.

Alice and Tomàs’s lives are connected through her talents. She sees his dreams, sees the man who’s always surrounded by fire. She knows there’s a presence there. When the fires devour more than they should dare, Tomàs makes his way to Cassadaga to beg for help. This isn’t going to be easy.

There was so much to love about this book: the style the author uses flows almost effortlessly, beautifully. The city of Cassadaga which is so beautifully evoked, with the small town feel or Turn of the Century USA while at the same time being a spiritualist camp. I ended up googling Cassadaga, and it still exists! The added sense of realism that comes from an author doing an insane amount of research was very much worth it.

I have to say, my favorite character was Felipe, the chihuahua. Good doggy. But there are so many other great people to meet.

Priest also managed to make a fantastic study of the brutality of war. So many soldiers came back from the front with PTSD, while here Tomàs comes back with something a little more… physical. The horror of the new technology of death used – the invention of the flamethrower, for example – takes a real shape here. Pure evil walks the battlefields.

I have never read a book like this before. It’s very different from what I expected, but I really loved it. The ending was beautiful, touching in a way I didn’t see coming. All in all, we have fantastic characters, fascinating setting, and a talented author to craft this all together. Well worth the read, I highly recommend it.

I received an advance copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Ace Books! Expected publication, April 4th.