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.

Summary29939047

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.

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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!

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!

 

Labyrinth Lost

By Zoraida Córdova
Reviewed by SA

I just finished reading what must be the best YA novel I have read in ages – possibly, ever, but I know I say that I lot and I don’t want to diminish the amazingness of this novel – and I just could not wait another second to tell you about it. Mark your calendars for September 6th, because Labyrinth Lost is coming out and you have to read it right away.

Summary27969081

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Where to start with this novel? Alex is a young woman from Brooklyn who harbors incredible magic. But not only does she hate magic, she’s afraid of her own power, keeping it locked away for years until it bursts out in dangerous ways. While the rest of her family has incredible gifts which stem from love, Alex’s power seems raw and dangerous, and she knows she has to get rid of it. When she accidentally banishes her entire family to another dimension, her power might be the only thing that can get them back.

It’s a novel about family, about growth, about love. About how you don’t know how much you truly love something or someone until it’s gone. It’s a quest, an adventure, a modern day take on a story you would hear while sitting next to the fire, as your grandmother tells you about powerful young women and magic. It’s an instant classic.

The worldbuilding here is exquisite. The author does an incredible job of creating this universe and feeding us information without lugging us down with exposition. It’s a masterful example of “show, don’t tell” at work. She crafts a beautiful world of magic and a rich culture based on latin witch magic, with brujas and brujos, Deos and demons.

The characters themselves have such depth and complexity to them. Alex is not some whiny girl who doesn’t want her powers: she’s got valid reason to fear what she can do, and is able to grow into someone not to be trifled with. Nova is mysterious and intriguing, hiding secrets which slowly trickle out. And Rishi is just incredible, she’s a person I would love to have in my life. Not to mention Rose and Lula, Alex’s sisters, who are banished to Los Lagos: we learn so much about them int he first chapters that we feel attached, and we urge Alex to hurry up and rescue them already.

One of the best parts is something which might spoil a bit of the novel, so if you don’t want that, skip this paragraph. But something I noticed early on is how everyone was into Nova, and I realized that Alex wasn’t saying anything about his attractiveness or anything. It seemed logical for him to be the love interest, but I felt no chemistry and was getting worried about where we were headed. And then Rishi returns to the plot, and I start thinking just how great there are together. One thing leads to another, and now I’m sitting here gleefully giggling and happy. Heck yes!

All in all, I just want to say how great this novel is. I thought it was a standalone, the way the story wraps up nicely and felt so perfect, but I’m excited to see it’s marked as Book 1 on goodreads, which means there’s more to come! So if you want magic and adventure, make sure you read Labyrinth lost.

Our September 6th by Sourcebooks Fire.

LabyrinthLost

Untamed

by Madeline Dyer
Reviewed by SA

Sometimes a book comes along that catches you off guard. You finish reading it and just think: wow, wow… That book was fun, exciting, everything I wanted in a book. Can I get another? Well, Untamed was that book for me. It’s the perfect book to pull you out of a reading slump and remind you that a good plot can take you anywhere. And did I mention it’s exciting, and impossible to put down?

Summary25537679

As one of the last Untamed humans left in the world, Seven’s life has always been controlled by tight rules. Stay away from the Enhanced. Don’t question your leader. And, most importantly, never switch sides–because once you’re Enhanced there’s no going back. Even if you have become the perfect human being.

But after a disastrous raid on an Enhanced city, Seven soon finds herself in her enemy’s power. Realizing it’s only a matter of time before she too develops a taste for the chemical augmenters responsible for the erosion of humanity, Seven knows she must act quickly if she’s to escape and save her family from the same fate.

Yet, as one of the most powerful Seers that the Untamed and Enhanced have ever known, Seven quickly discovers that she alone holds the key to the survival of only one race. But things aren’t clear-cut anymore, and with Seven now questioning the very beliefs she was raised on, she knows she has an important choice to make. One that has two very different outcomes.

Seven must choose wisely whose side she joins, for the War of Humanity is underway, and Death never takes kindly to traitors.

The novel throws you right into the action, even from the first line. We follow Seven, a young woman who lives in this dark future where most of the population is addicted to mood enhancing drugs. The drugs, or Augmenters, can also make you more beautiful, stronger, faster, smarter… at the cost of your humanity. You feel no negative emotions, and your eyes glaze over with a mirror-like sheen. Those who are augmenter free live in constant fear of being converted, and are called Untamed.

After Seven is captured and then saved from the Enhanced, her life is constantly torn between the two camps. She’s addicted, to put it mildly. This makes her a fascinating character, as she tries to make the right decisions for her camp, while at the same time craving something she knows she mustn’t have.

The world that Dyer has created is just so dang fascinating. It’s a world in which not only we have these two opposing forces, but spirits are loose as well. Spirits that can influence Seven’s visions, or physically hinder the gang as they try to escape the clutches of the Enhanced. It’s pretty brilliant the way the author intertwines reality with these spirits, making you wonder just how they came into being and why they hold so much importance.

But I have to say what sol me on this novel was really the author’s effortless style. It’s perfect, making it easy to get sucked into the story and yet impossible to put down. I found myself eagerly turning the pages until I was outraged that there were none left to turn. The plot could easily have come off as being something seen before, but instead I felt like I was reading something entirely new, which plot twists I definitely did not see coming.

If you need a kick-butt story with amazing characters and outstanding world building, pick up a copy of Untamed. You deserve it.

Ink and Bone

by Rachel Caine
Reviewed by SA

I won a giveaway! I could not believe it when NovelReveries and BerkleyPub told me I won this awesome book I had been dying to read for ages. I mean, it had me at the premise alone: a world where the Library of Alexandria never burned down. What the world looks like, today, when the value of a book exceeds that of a person. And it sure did not disappoint.

Summary20643052

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…

There is just so much going on in this book. Jess is a young book smuggler who joins the latest class of librarians in Alexandria in hopes of one day working for the great library… and of being in the right place when his father needs him.  He lives in a world where no one owns original books, only copies that exist through the codex – a bit like a kindle/internet thing – which exists through the work of Obscurists. The later are able to transfer contents of books from one place to another and keep the library running… but at what cost to real, physical books?

The author wastes no time explaining to us how the world is different: she shows us, right off the bat. There’s no long winded exposition, and the story flows naturally. I loved the fact that we slowly gleamed tidbits of how different history was as the novel goes on, without her saying anything explicitly. The world both feels foreign and yet completely likely… and relatable. Most of the countries we know exist, but England and Wales are at war, and Austria is no longer anywhere.

Jess himself is a great protagonist, as he’s still learning the truth about the library and his place within in. His perspective on things mimics ours: our disgust at the ink-lickers (My jaw was hanging in this very early scene) or oven his shock at the Burners are exactly how the audience would feel. But his views on the value of a book are a little convoluted, a little warped by the world he lives in. Are books really worth more than human lives?

Perfect world building in this novel. And you all know how much I love books about libraries! Plus, alternate histories? Completely my jam. Plus, no weird love triangles! What a fantastic read. Gosh, I loved it.

So I have to thank Berkley Publishing and Novel Reveries for organizing the giveaway and allowing me to read this fantastic book. I can’t wait for the sequel!