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.

Summary29938354

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!

A Conjuring of Light

by V.E. Schwab
Reviewed by S.A. 

There is so much I want to say about this book, yet so little that I can without giving it away. It’s safe to assume that if you’re looking to read it, it’s likely that you’re enjoyed (or, dare I say, devoured) the previous installments of the Darker Shade of Magic trilogy. Followers of my instagram and tumblr have been hearing me rant and rave about how excited I was for it to finally come out, and now that I’ve read it, I desperately wish for someone I can blabber on about it with.

* Review spoiler free for A Conjuring of Light, but if you haven’t read the rest of the series you might want to stop here*

Summary29939230

Witness the fate of beloved heroes – and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

Musings

I could not have asked for a more fitting and beautiful ending to this stunning series. The book is as fast paced as the first novel, maybe even more so: it’s the end of the world, in simple terms, and our beloved Kell, Lila, Alucard and Rhy are trying to hold it together. All with the help of one surprising ally: Holland. Together, they have to find a way to trap Osaron and put everything back in place.

With the major discovery at the end of A Gathering of Shadows pertaining to Lila’s magic, the world is really turned upside down. And she has got to learn to master her skills fast, since there’s no time to train her properly. She, Kell and Holland are the world’s best bet to win against Osaron.

We learn a whole lot more about the nature of this villain, his motivations and powers. But he’s not the only one in trying to take London: Rhy has to deal with some political adversaries trying to take advantage of the situation so as to overrun his kingdom. Not an easy thing to manage when walking outside could potentially turn you into the puppet of an evil being.

Schwab also delivers on some promises of hers: we get more of Lila being a badass pirate (favorite lady of fiction, right there) and a certain relationship we’ve been shipping finally… well, I did promise no spoilers, right?

The ending was beautiful, but honestly, I’m still dying for more. The author closes off the series quite nicely, but still leaves us with a few questions. I hope our beloved characters come back: the world she’s crafted is too fantastic to leave!

fullsizeoutput_a206

Note from Sarah: you might be wondering why, if I’ve been raving about this book so much, I’ve taken so dang long to read it. Well, it’s because I really didn’t want the series to end. I both wanted to know what happens next and didn’t want to bring myself closer to the end! First book this has happened to me in a while.

The Masked City

By Genevieve Cogman

Well this is embarrassing! I read this book on the plane a few months back and completely forgot to review it, even though I loved it. So I reread it yesterday to give it the attention it deserves, right before I read the third book and share it with you. Oops!

Librarian Spies. Alternate realities. Dragons, Fae, and high technology. Heck yes, I absolutely love the universe Cogman has created in the Invisible Library series. We reviewed the first one not too long ago and I admit, I could not shut up about it (and still can’t!).  So, needless to say, I was excited to return to it as fast as I could. She did not disappoint: The Masked City – a direct sequel to The Invisible Library – was fun and exciting, a fast read I could not put down.

Summary28186364

Librarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he’s been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds.

Kai’s dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people – and the forces of order and chaos themselves.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.

Musings

We return to the beloved characters of Irene and Kai, as they continue their work in the slightly Chaotic London. Irene, as Librarian in residence, has a lot of responsibility, but has begun making friends, and continues to train Kai as her apprentice, keeping his Dragon heritage a secret. I was afraid we would be ‘stuck’ in this universe, since Irene was assigned to it, and wondered how the author could make it exciting, but trust me, we do not stay there long. That London has already told its story, and we’re going on a thrill ride threw new and exciting alternates, ramping up the excitement from the last book.

Kai’s been kidnapped, and it’s up to Irene to find him before the Dragons declare war on the chaotic worlds, or the Fae declare war on the dragons – whichever comes first. With the balance of the universe at stake, Irene has very little time, and very little help. While she continues with the support of both Kai’s uncle, Ao Shun, a powerful noble dragon, and of the library, she’s still alone and running head first into a chaotic universe. There’s going to be danger.

It’s so evident this novel was written by a book lover. While in the first novel we were introduced to the Library, an institution that collects and stores the most important works across all alternate universes, the sequel delves into the world of Fae, who feed off the drama they create amongst humans. Their lives revolve around story: how exciting is theirs? Irene is dragged in and out of the stories of so many Fae, making it near impossible to save Kai, though exciting to say the least. The care and importance Cogman gives to the love of Narrative really shows in her own work as well as the lives of the characters she creates. It’s a clever way of putting stories within stories.

And I just adore the locations. The Venice Irene visits is a perfect version of the place, like the stories you hear from friends: it’s always carnival, everyone’s in beautiful masks and riding gondolas around the city from expensive palace to cozy taverns. The High tech home of Kai, and the sudden trip to Marseille (mah home!) made me giddy and excited. And the Train… oh my gosh, the Train deserves its own book.

One thing I still don’t really like (same as in the first book) is just how much talk there is. Just in the sense that Irene has to talk out all of her ideas with others, going through every possible question and answering them. “Why did you do this?” “Why wouldn’t you do that?” etc gets tedious, and you wonder why she won’t just get on with it. As a reader, I can determine a lot for myself, and sometimes, it’s just better to move on. It’s just a stylistic choice I don’t really like, but it doesn’t make the book any less enjoyable.

But gosh, this is a fun series. The ending is a sharp cliffhanger and I’m so excited to read the next one ASAP. I love this universe, and I can’t believe more people aren’t talking about it!

The Bear and the Nightingale

by Katherine Arden

You know how some books can really put you under their spell? Make you unable to put them down, fully dragging you into the narrative, so deep you forget to come up for air? The Bear and the Nightingale has that kind of pure, raw magic to it. Before I was even halfway through this book, I knew I needed the hardcover.

Summary25489134

A young woman’s family is threatened by forces both real and fantastical in this debut novel inspired by Russian fairy tales.

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

Musings

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made me love this book so much. I think, first of all, the storytelling quality it has to it. The style has that folktale feel to it, even though it’s much more complex than the kind of story you would be told around the fire on a cold winter’s night. The fact that it manages to tell tales while being a tale itself really made me enjoy it even more.

Maybe that’s why it was so engrossing. The way I could be pulled into the stories inside the story. The way it made me feel the snow and the cold, to wish there was a fire beside me. The way it shared Russian mythology with me, while turning these folk characters into ‘real’ people, with complex problems and motivations.

Vasya is a firecracker. She grows up playing in the woods, befriending the spirits there. She learns to speak with the horses, and they teach her to ride. She gives up her food and her own blood to those who protect her, and she protects in return. But this kind of action has her labeled as a witch, a wild child who will never be able to hold down a husband. She is very much a modern girl in this tale, even though she is the only one to believe the old stories as everyone else moves on. She bold, strong, and caring, and overall fiercely loyal, all without coming off as annoying. A brilliant character whom I loved.

Overlaying this on a landscape and a time period where the only options for a woman are matrimony or the convent, Vasya struggles to find her place. Well, I should say, other have a hard time placing Vasya: Vasya knows what she wants.

The major theme here at play seems to be the first of old tales versus new beliefs. As christianity is brought – or, I should say, enforced – into the small villages, the old beliefs are swept aside, and the spirits are fading. No wonder people think Vasya is a witch. The priest, Konstantin, sees he child as the enemy, someone trying to undo gods work, trying to tempt him. The fight of old versus new grows, as an old threat returns. Pretty bad timing for a priest.

A few minor things ticked me off, like how Vasya’s growth into a woman was handled – some of the comparisons were a little creepy, as well as the looks of men. That, and I’m not quite sure about the Nightingale in the title, since it only shows up towards the end. I assumed Vasya would be the nightingale: maybe it’s a metaphor that flew over my head (pun not intended.)

Another little detail – that’s mainly my own problem! – was that, to respect the Russian culture and spelling, a lot of the character has multiple names. Their first names, nicknames, nicknames built off nicknames… a little confusing as there were so many. Again, my own issue.

All in all, this is a fantastic, beautiful book. It reminds me of Uprooted, by Naomi Novik,  which I also adored this year, but with some of the themes Neil Gaiman loves to write. So if you love either of them, you’re going to devour the Bear and the Nightingale. Out January 10th.

 

Iron Cast

by Destiny Soria
Reviewed by SA

One look. That’s all it took. One look at the cover, and it was love at first sight. I picked up this book and devoured it excitedly. Oh, my gosh. It’s so good. Not only is it diverse, but it has an iron tight female friendship, beautiful prose, and it combines all the best genres. It’s at the same time YA, Historical Fiction, and Fantasy, with mad scientists, secret clubs, gangs, and superpowers. All of that on the eve of prohibition. What’s not to love?

Summary28818313

It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

Ada and Corinne are hemopaths, able to manipulate people with their dangerous abilities. Ada charms your emotions to her will through her violin. Corinne can weave illusions with poetry. Together, they work for the Cast Iron, a nightclub which secretly holds illegal hemopath performances… and is the front for Jonny Dervish to run his hemopath cons from. After one con gets too big and goes bad, Ada is imprisoned in Haversham Asylum, a place designed to ‘rehabilitate’ hemopaths, and it’s up to Corinne to get her out.

I feel like the summary doesn’t do this book justice, because that’s where we actually start the novel: with a daring escape in the dead of night. Ada and Corinne make it back to the Cast Iron, their safe haven, only to learn that everything is now falling apart. More heists going wrong, fears of a mole, and now Jonny’s missing  and Ada’s still a wanted prisoner. And, to make matters worse, Corinne’s rich brother is marrying the daughter of the man who owns the hemopath institution she just broke Ada out of.

I absolutely loves Ada and Corinne. Their friendship was #ladygoals. They’re so close, able to tell each other everything and push each other to be better. They love each other in a way that makes you love them even more. And it’s not just them: all the secondary characters, the hemopaths and bodyguards working in the Cast Iron, all seem to form their own little family. They support each other through thick and thin, and it’s cool to see these complex characters working together.

Not only that, but the description of their abilities in use is just… lyrical. It’s beautiful. The author weaves together beautiful prose to tell just how the two women grip their audience. And they grip us, too, in the process. At the same time, we feel their fear of Iron. Hemopaths basically are allergic to it, repulsed by it: it burns their skin, and just being near it can make them feel ill. As a reader, we get both ends of hemopathy: the beautiful illusions and the awful pain.

The pacing of the novel is a little off. It starts out strong, with the break out, but then is a lot more easy going for a while. There’s a lot of mystery going on: there’s this feeling of cold, as everyone is trying to keep on running their own lives as things go south around them. But I almost, almost put this book down halfway through. I’m so glad I stuck through, because that’s when things really hit the fan and it’s gets crazy fast and exciting. So if you’re thinking of putting this book down, don’t! It has one of the most brilliant endings I have ever read!

You’re definitely going to want to read this book, when it comes out on October 11th. Thank you NetGalley and Amulet books for letting me read this amazing novel.

Looking for some Urban Fantasy? My novel Inside Out is available for free – no signup or anything required – for a limited time only. If you like the X-files, you’re going to like this! While supplies last. 

Dream Stalker

by Amy Hopkins
Reviewed by SA

It’s Saturday! Which means I’m going to share with you a fantastic self published book and give you your next favorite binge read. This week, we all need a little more magic in out lives, so I’m going to tell you about a series I adore: Talented, by Amy Hopkins. The first installment, Dream Stalker, perfectly blends a murder mystery with a divided magical world.

Summarydreamstalkernewblack

All Emma wanted was to sell her enchanted teas in peace; instead, she’s caught up in the chase for a killer who’s stalking the streets of London. He’s targeting half-bloods, people with limited magical ability. People just like Emma. The police are baffled by the long string of deaths, but they’re not willing to put in the legwork to make an arrest. After all, magic users can take care of themselves, right? Except, those with real power don’t give a damn about half-bloods. So, when Emma wakes from a strange dream that nearly gets her killed in the waking world, she knows she has to deal with it herself. With only her boggart shop-assistant and the two strange men who have offered to help, can she thwart the killer and make the city safe again?

In universe of Talented is just like ours, only with one small change: some people have magic. Oh, and there are the Fae. There are those with magic – the eponymous Talented – those without – mere mortals like us – and finally, the half-bloods, or half talents. With one magical parent, they have enough magic in their system to be considered above the mortals, but are shunned by the elitist Talented society. Caught in the middle, it’s hard to make do.

Emma is a fantastic character who captures this divide in society. She integrates herself in the community by fashioning magical teas, which she sells to mortals, fae, and talented alike. She’s got her trusty dog by her side, as well as Gibble, a boggart indentured to her family. So when she’s almost murdered in her sleep, she takes it upon herself to find who’s been trying to kill half-bloods before it’s too late.

What I love about her is just how darn relatable she is. At moments I felt like I was looking in a mirror. She’s kind, but a bit of a badass when she has to be brave. She loves her dog more than anything and is ruthless when it comes to finding the truth. Even when the secrets she needs to uncover have something to do with her…

The mystery is really fascinating and gripping. You really get pulled along for a wild ride, spanning across the city and another universe as well! Like a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, you can put the pieces together yourself if you’re paying close attention, and yet the ending and the reveal still manage to surprise you.

Hopkins has really managed to create a universe which feels real and plausible while at the same time capturing that little sense of wonder that made Harry Potter so much fun to read as a kid (and even now). A world in which Magic and Mortals walk side by side, but maybe not always with such enthusiasm. A world in which people born into both belong in none.

This is a strong start to what I feel is going to be a fantastic series. A lot of questions are answered but many are not, relationships are formed and may grow stronger, secrets are revealed that makes you wonder what’s going to happen next.

All books are available online, starting with the first one, right here!

 

The Devourers

by Indra Das
Reviewed by SA

The second I read “werewolf” on the first page, I was ready to put this down. Thank god I kept on reading, because this is NOT a werewolf story: no, this novel is something much more. It’s incredible, unique, unforgettable in so many ways. If you’re a fan of indian folklore, and aren’t afraid of some pretty hard topics, then you’re going to need this book right away.

CW/TW: Sexual Assault, Rape. 

Summary27245999

For readers of Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, China Mieville, and David Mitchell comes a striking debut novel by a storyteller of keen insight and captivating imagination.

On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

Shifting dreamlike between present and past with intoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel.

It is the story of Alok, a lonely professor in India, who is approached by a stranger who wants him to type up an old manuscript. It’s the story of Fenrir, the story of Cyrah, the story of the stranger, and the story of Alok, all at once, each one flowing into the other effortlessly.

It was interesting to see the trope of werewolves in such a way. Only they’re not werewolves, they’re shape shifters, but it’s complicated. Their race has a culture, has a history, has rules and dogmas. And it’s so vastly complex it’ll make you rethink any story you’ve heard of them, ever. For it to be set in India only makes it more interesting.

What marked me most about this novel was really how it did deal with rape. Not once is it defined as anything but. The way the novel deals with monsters and man intertwines with this, and heck I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say this marked me and will probably be a passage I will never forget.

This novel is complex. Unique. It really is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. The last chapter left me shaking. If you’re looking for something incredible to read, well, you’ve got it.

Comes out today from Random House.