YEAR OF THE REAPER by Makiia Lucier

From the writer whose stories have been called “brilliant” (Booklist), “masterful” (Horn Book), and “breathtaking” (School Library Journal), comes a romantic new standalone fantasy.

The past never forgets . . .

Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer’s apprenticeon a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over theland, leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas’title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a mercilesssickness.

Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what heremembers. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And theyhave brought their enemies with them.

When an assassin targetsthose closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for akiller…one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliantyoung historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terriblesecret–one that could threaten the kingdom’s newfound peace and plungeit back into war.


Title : Year of the Reaper
Author : Makiia Lucier
Format : Hardback
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Hodderscape
Release Date : November 9, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Standalone goodness
A gripper
Twists

I got on board with Year of the Reaper in a handful of pages. This story in the context of a waning plague didn’t jar me at all from a COVID perspective. So, I want to say that if you have that worry, this isn’t pandemic-y. This was a historical fantasy with great depth, all encapsulated in a standalone. I romped through the pages, not wanting to put it down.

Cas was a young man battling with the psychological scars of captivity and returning home after a long absence. He returned to a home and city recovering from the plague, there were new incomers to his home, old allegiances and plenty of secrets to unravel. Those secrets, the shocking events that occured and the twists in the plot were fantastic.

Buddy reading this was a great idea (thanks for your company, Steph) because we could chat through the things that happened. The pacing was fast but also very well metered out. There was a smattering of romantic connection but it was in the background and I was satisfied with how that was pitched. I would have liked just a little more about Cas’ special ability.

This book has everthing you want, a standalone, twists, great characters that have depth and a story you don’t want to put down. I’m excited to read more by Makiia Lucier.

Thank you to Hodderscape for the review copy.

CRACKED by Eliza Crewe

Meet Meda. She eats people.

Well, technically, she eats their soul. But she totally promises to only go for people who deserve it. She’s special. It’s not her fault she enjoys it. She can’t help being a bad guy. Besides, what else can she do? Her mother was killed and it’s not like there are any other “soul-eaters” around to show her how to be different. That is, until the three men in suits show up.

They can do what she can do. They’re like her. Meda might finally have a chance to figure out what she is. The problem? They kind of want to kill her. Before they get the chance Meda is rescued by crusaders, members of an elite group dedicated to wiping out Meda’s kind. This is her chance! Play along with the “good guys” and she’ll finally figure out what, exactly, her ‘kind’ is.

Be careful what you wish for. Playing capture the flag with her mortal enemies, babysitting a teenage boy with a hero complex, and trying to keep one step ahead of a too-clever girl are bad enough. But the Hunger is gaining on her.

The more she learns, the worse it gets. And when Meda uncovers a shocking secret about her mother, her past, and her destiny… she may finally give into it.


Title : Cracked
Author : Eliza Crewe
Series : Soul Eaters (book one)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 327
Genre : YA paranormal fantasy
Publisher : Strange Chemistry
Release Date : November 5, 2013

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★  


Hollis’ 4 star review

This unexpected gem has been sitting on my TBR since.. (checks notes) 2015. We hate to see it. But love that I finally had a reason to pick it up.

While in some ways this follows a lot of typical storytelling beats — girl is on her own, gets caught between two warring sides or factions, has unique or dangerous origins that are discovered, discovers she’s a bit of a snowflake, etc — this story instead comes at it from a different angle.

Her voice is calm but now I see her eyes blaze in a holy hazel fire. She doesn’t want to die, but she will, for what she believes in. I need new friends.

Meda, instead of a young innocent, is actually the soul-eating demon. She obfuscates and manipulates her rescue for the purpose of gaining intel on not just her own heritage but also those who would hunt her down. Discovers the truth of how she came to be and some of her history. Becomes said snowflake. And chooses a side you might not expect.

I guess [they] figured their kids were the good guys, so how much supervision did they really need? Idiots. A good teenager is like a good demon — a contradiction in terms.

Despite those unique choices, not to mention the snarky and often silly tongue-in-cheek and very different inner voice from her outer voice, this didn’t remake the wheel but.. it was a lot of fun? And I’m honestly baffled that this seems to be such a dark horse in the YA world. It is old, yes, but released during a time when I would’ve expected this to be a smash hit. But maybe it was just dark enough and snarky enough — not to mention the fact that Meda is one slip away from being an all out villain and even without said slip she’s definitely not on Team Good — to be too ahead of it’s time?

It’s all horrifyingly healthy fare, omelettes heavy on the veggies, mixed fruit, and Canadian “bacon”. Ha, it is as much bacon as I am human. We are both liars, but I feel it committed the greater offence.

I could muse over my befuddlement for the lack of success it seems this series had but perhaps the next books don’t do as well? I don’t know. Time to find out.

OUT OF THE BLUE by P. Dangelico

A small-town romance about letting go of the past and learning to live in the moment.

Blue Baldwin takes no horse crap from anybody. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. She does take horse crap. Piles of it. The real kind that is––not the metaphorical one. It kind of goes with the job description when you run a large animal rescue. What she does not take, however, is crap from an entitled movie star who needs to reform his rotten image.

Unfortunately, the farm she manages is in trouble and if she doesn’t raise the cash to save it she’ll be homeless along with the precious animals who depend on her. So she’ll grin and bear the King of Hollywood Screw Ups, and the assistant, and the overprotective brother he brings along. I mean, she takes care of large animals for a living. Isn’t that basically the same thing?


Title : Out of the Blue
Author : P. Dangelico
Format : eARC
Page Count : 291
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Self Published
Release Date : October 26, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Animals were the stars
Misunderstandings
Fun vibes

If you’re the kind of reader like me that is enchanted by animals in the background of a book, then Out of the Blue delivers with an endearing set of rescued animals. The main character, Blue is a bit of a rescue case herself but she’s dedicated her life to this sanctuary, off the beaten track. Side entrance, a community service Hollywood star and his entourage. Now this plot wasn’t as obvious as it seemed at first glance.

I really liked Blue but I feel like I didn’t really get to know her as well as I’d hoped. Shane and Blue were a good potential pairing but they didn’t connect outside of the chemistry for me; I wanted a bit more.

Out of the Blue was a perfectly pleasant read and a bit of escapism but it didn’t grip me or give me the feels. It’s a story that starts with some meat and depth to the story but I felt that the depth I saw initally, petered away. I knew these characters on the surface but I didn’t really know them, nor did I connect with them.

All this said, this is the kind of book that I crave for low concentration and it was easy to read and turn the pages.

Thank you to netgalley for the early review copy.

GILDED by Marissa Meyer

All magic comes at a price, but love was never part of the bargain . . .

The look he was giving her. Serilda had never been looked at like that before . . . The intensity.
The heat. The raw astonishment. He was going to kiss her.

Cursed by the god of lies, a miller’s daughter has developed a talent for storytelling – but are all of her tales as false as they appear?

When one of Serilda’s stories draws the attention of the devastating Erlking, she finds herself swept away into a world of enchantment, where ghouls prowl the earth, and ravens track her every move. The king locks Serilda in a castle dungeon and orders her to spin straw into gold, or be killed for lying. In despair, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious young man to her aid. And he agrees to help her, for a price. But love wasn’t meant to be part of the bargain.

A compulsive read, and as bewitchingly good as you’d expect from a YA bestselling author. You will stay up all night reading this.


Title : Gilded
Author : Marissa Meyer
Format : eARC
Page Count : 435
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Faber & Faber
Release Date : November 2, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
This is a series…
Plot is golden
Story is long

I have mixed feelings coming out of Gilded and some of it is applause-worthy but other bits pulled this rating down. Firstly, the over-arching story and plot in this book are excellent. This was a Rumplestiltskin/Goblin King hybrid retelling with lots of woodland fable and magic thrown in. It was also incredibly raw narrative with gore and moments that seem to edge onto horror but retreat back quickly. I’d say this was older YA read because of some brief themes/triggers that emerge.

The characterisation in Gilded was also brilliant. Serilda was a morally grey heroine, prone to fabrication, occasional theft and somewhat unreliable as a friend and family member but in reality, she was just living out her legacy and god-given talents. She was incredibly likeable and moreso as the plot evolved. Erlking was not a nice character but he was so captivating to read about. He was evil to the core, lacking in any empathy and cruel. His court was also fascinating.

The other main character, I’m not going give a thing away about. Suffice it to say, I really liked this character, I like the connections made and I wanted more of this character. It ends in such a way that I’m dying to know what happens.

Now to my rating…why 3.5 stars? This book was incredibly long, it felt long, I had to push at times through long, descriptive narrative to get to the next plot theme. The pacing felt off and while I loved the story, the dragging of the narrative kept pulling me out of it. I wanted to be spun away like the gold bobbins on the tails of escapism but I wasn’t.

I will definitely be reading on, in fact, I am quite a bundle of anticipation for what comes next in this complex, twisty plot. I do hope it’s paced a little better.

If you want info on triggers, I’m happy to supply on DM.

Thank you to Faber & Faber for the review copy.

THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by N.K. Jemisin

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.


Title : The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Author : N.K. Jemisin
Series : Inheritance Trilogy (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 417
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : Orbit
Release Date : February 25, 2010

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★  


Hollis’ 4 star review

So this was a reread for me but only in the loosest of terms because I didn’t remember a thing about it. But not only did tackling this series satisfy my completionism, even though I hadn’t added this to my Series to Finish list, it was also recently pushed high on my TBR after having read her Broken Earth trilogy last year. I had previously slapped this instalment with a three on GR but not reviewed it; past-me’s thoughts? Who knows.

And hoo boy. I think I actually loved this more than the opening of her other series? And to discover it was actually her debut? Mind blown.

It is blasphemy to separate oneself from the earth and look down on it like a god. It is more than blasphemy; it is dangerous. We can never be gods, after all — but we can become something less than human with frightening ease.

This is definitely a series that, so far, is much more accessible than the Broken Earth trilogy; for all that I love and respected that series, I do think the more it went on, the more I lost the thread. It was just too big, maybe (probably) too smart for me. This one is great but it is, in some ways, more typically what we expect from fantasy. And this is not an insult.

This library must hold all the knowledge of the world.”
A few millennia worth, from a few pockets of humanity, nothing more. And that picked and sorted, trimmed and twisted to suit the tastes of those in power.
There’s truth even in tainted knowledge, if one reads carefully.”
Only if one knows the knowledge is tainted in the first place.”

The story itself isn’t unlike the narration of Jemisin’s other series wherein there is something telling us a story, or reliving it themselves, and so there is some jumping around, little hints, warnings, to come. And then also conversations outside the story itself. I love this kind of storytelling because it compels and cajoles and, at least in my case, causes me to devour the book. Case in point, this was a two sitting read for me.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms deals with loss, betrayals, and traumas; in this world there was once Three, only for one to commit murder and then — for simplicity’s sake — punish the other by confining him, and their offspring, into mortal bodies, leaving only One. We meet Yeine, who is mourning her mother’s death, enroute to the main city, the seat of the ruling class of people; of which she is directly descended and now one of three heirs to the throne. Of course, nothing is easy, and as she’s from what is referred to as a barbarian country, she is unprepared to be thrown into a political minefield she might not survive.

On the surface, it sounds more or less the standard fantasy format, right? Yes. Sure. But still.. what Jemisin does, what we experience, what her characters are put through, and the secrets they are hiding, are just.. so well done. This is definitely less emotionally devastating than her other series but this was so well paced, so well told, and I fell in love with these gods, monstrous and otherwise, and also Yeine.

With the story having ended the way it did, it makes me very more curious to see how the next books tie into the series on the whole, but having seen what Jemisin’s done in the past (though, technically, her writing future) I have no doubt it’ll all make sense in the end.

Highly recommend, and yes, diving right into book two.

SEER OF SEVENWATERS by Juliet Marillier – double review!

The young seer Sibeal is visiting an island of elite warriors, prior to making her final pledge as a druid. It’s there she finds Felix, a survivor of a Viking shipwreck, who’s lost his memory. The scholarly Felix and Sibeal form a natural bond. He could even be her soul mate, but Sibeal’s vocation is her true calling, and her heart must answer. 

As Felix fully regains his memory, Sibeal has a runic divination showing her that Felix must go on a perilous mission-and that she will join him. The rough waters and the sea creatures they will face are no match for Sibeal’s own inner turmoil. She must choose between the two things that tug at her soul-her spirituality and a chance at love… 


Title : Seer of Sevenwaters
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Sevenwaters (book five)
Format : physical
Page Count : 432
Genre : fantasy / historical fiction / retellings
Publisher : Roc
Release Date : December 7, 2010

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5 / ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Couple connection
Sea monsters
Slow pacing

Overall Seer of Sevenwaters was a solid installment in the series but there are a bunch of reasons why I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of the others. Sibeal was a likeable and intriguing main character but I didn’t love her. She did have great character growth later on, though. The strongest thing about this book was the connection between this ‘couple’, Sibeal and Felix but oh, I needed more expression/communication of the strong feelings they had. It was all inner feeling.

“…we’re like wind and rain, like leaf and flower..”

I enjoyed the context of sea monsters even if I found that plotline somewhat predictable from the off. However, the execution of the culmination of that plot was so slow moving and detailed in execution, I wanted to press the 1.5 speed button.

Getting to see life on Inis Eala after hearing much about it on previous books was a welcome insight. I liked spending time with Gull and Johnny again. Fans of the previous book will be glad to hear we got plenty of Clodagh and Cathal too.

While this wasn’t my favourite of the series, it was likeable and at least I didn’t hate any characters as per book three. I’m hoping for a strong finish when we tackle the final book next month.


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Let’s face it. Nothing can surpass the excellence of the main Sevenwaters trilogy. I knew that I had liked, but not loved, these follow-up companions but I was also so far removed from them, having only read through them one time, plus being so in love with the world, the family, and Marillier’s magic and writing, I was biased to like them regardless. But while there’s still a lot of greatness to be found in these additions, they don’t quite measure up.

That said, there were two parts to Seer of the Sevenwaters; one, the romance. And two, the mystery of the week, as it were. This one takes something of a break from the over-arcing concern introduced in book four, though it’s mentioned in dialogue and worried over, and instead there’s a wrong to be set right, a memory to recover, and lies to be revealed. And despite there being a really unlikeable character twisted up in the plot, it might’ve been my favourite part of this book.

Is this reserve something they teach you, your Ciarán and his fellows? Always to hold back, always to keep control, never to show the world your true self, a living, breathing woman? Is this what your gods require of you?

Having said that, though, Marillier did a great job of offering us a romance that was believable from an emotional and intellectual aspect. This is one of the first she’s provided that didn’t rely on an opposites-attract or hate-to-love or even just reluctant-allies-to-more dynamic. And it’s perfectly fitting for Sibeal; nothing else would’ve worked. So I definitely appreciated it, and the journey that she goes on, as her happily ever after is true to every part of her, without too much compromise. Additionally, the ending of this one gives us a bit of a break in the formula and offers an interesting circumstance to the romance; no spoilers. But did I love them as a pair? Not really. I did, however, love the dual POV; which, due to the nature of Felix’s situation, was necessary for the story.

If my life had taken a different path, and I’d wanted a sweetheart, I wouldn’t be choosing a warrior, no matter how impressive his fighting skills.

What adds extra delight to this instalment was that it takes place away from Sevenwaters and we get to see, live, and breathe amongst all sorts of colourful characters who have been sprinkled into the last two books. And I love this whole cast and crew with my whole heart.

I’ll admit, though, there were two brief moments that Marillier did get me, she caught me in my feels. They weren’t the usual devastations and I was spared any sobbing sessions but even in a story that I didn’t love, this author still has the power to get to the heart of me.

I’m really looking forward to the final book which, though I’m a broken record at this point, I also don’t remember much of — having only read it, like both previous spinoffs, once before. As we’ve seen with the finale of her original trilogy, I’m sure there are some twists and turns to endure on the way to the resolution. And I’m really looking forward to some potential heartbreak. Also the Marillier magic. Can’t wait.

Thanks go to, as always, the Sevenwaters Squad for another great buddy read.

SUMMER SONS by Lee Mandelo

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.


Title : Summer Sons
Author : Lee Mandelo
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ horror/thriller
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Imagine the dynamic from Sakavic’s All For The Game mashed up with a certain dreamer and car-loving scoundrel from Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys but set in the American south and transplanted into an academia-focused horror.

That’s basically Summer Sons.

This was a hard one to sink into because when the story opens up you aren’t quite sure how things were between the main character, Andrew, and the man he’s grieving. Brother? Best friend? Lover? The intensity of his focus, his drive, to prove that Eddie was murdered, that he didn’t commit suicide, is.. well it’s intense. And in some ways it’s uncomfortable because the grief is so big, these feelings so intangible (and many unprocessed), and then of course he’s also being haunted, possessed, stalked, by a presence that he thinks — knows — is Eddie.

Thrown into Eddie’s world, his home, with his roommate, and a new group of friends, as well as new school and a graduate program all hand-picked for him, Andrew is suspicious of everything, and everyone, and trying to recreate Eddie’s last days, weeks, months, in the time they were separated. And it all harkens back to what happened to them as children; a mystery that is slow to be revealed.

The ultimate big baddie reveal isn’t quite a surprise but I guess.. I understood the reasons but not the rationale? Maybe there wasn’t one.

This group of characters are an odd mix of destructive, queer, diverse, and with a splash (or four) of recklessness. But somehow you do sorta fall in love with them. I didn’t like them at first, which I think is purposeful given how off balance Andrew is to be there among them and why, and how they tested him back, but I was compelled by them and then, eventually, well. Yeah, I got it. But on the whole it’s a strange mix of themes, vibes, plots, and aesthetics.

The real delight is the road Andrew travels to look back at his relationship with Eddie and how that shaped so much of him, and how it also held him back. There are two distinct ways he gets to relive some key moments and they are both pretty powerful.

While some of the plot dragged, and we endured some repetition, and to be honest the academia stuff didn’t really interest me as a driving force, it was the characters that kept me glued to the page. And while I did enjoy the atmosphere, and the horror elements, it was their character work that is the main draw for me and why I’ll definitely pick up another read by this author.

THE BRONZED BEASTS by Roshani Chokshi

In love they breathed. In destiny they believed. In the end, will divinity be their demise?

After Séverin’s seeming betrayal, the crew is fractured. Armed with only a handful of hints, Enrique, Laila, Hypnos and Zofia must find their way through the snarled, haunted waterways of Venice, Italy to locate Séverin. 

Meanwhile, Séverin must balance the deranged whims of the Patriarch of the Fallen House and discover the location of a temple beneath a plague island where the Divine Lyre can be played and all that he desires will come to pass. 

With only ten days until Laila expires, the crew will face plague pits and deadly masquerades, unearthly songs and the shining steps of a temple whose powers might offer divinity itself… but at a price they may not be willing to pay.


Title : The Silvered Serpents
Author : Roshani Chokshi
Series : The Gilded Wolves (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA historical fiction / fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : September 21, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

So the end of this series is here and maybe, after loving book two so much, I should’ve tempered my expectations — after all, book one just wasn’t quite it for me — but honestly I’ve come out the end of this one just.. not knowing really how to feel.

This National Treasure-esque fantasy historical series has always leaned into “too smart for me” territory but I’ve enjoyed, even if I struggled to comprehend, the historical tie-ins, the history, the nuance, and thankfully this one maybe feel less stupid. But my intelligence or lack thereof aside, the series has always been balanced out by the delightful dynamic of the cast of characters (we love an ensemble, she continues to say, ad nauseum!) and after the events of book two, the dynamic sours and takes a turn. I wasn’t mad about it, and it was still enjoyable in its new configuration, but.. I don’t know, something was missing.

Likewise, the big conflict, the thing we’ve been leading towards, the main event if you will.. did I even really understand it? Nope. Could I visualize it? A little. Is that partially my problem? Probably! I plan to read some reviews and see if this just went wrong for everyone or, more likely, it was just me.

Additionally, the ending. How to describe it. Unexpected? Bittersweet? Lovely? It definitely went in a direction I didn’t see coming (hence the unexpectedness) and was a nice resolution to one of the other romances (hence the loveliness), but.. for how it finally did end, that last line, after all the time, all the loss..? Well, yeah, hence the bittersweetness. I also just wonder why. I don’t quite understand. Another thing I’ll be looking for clarity on in some reviews.

So, overall, this was a strange reading experience. But I’m not mad about pushing on to keep reading because the richness of this world, the diversity of the characters, the mystery of it all, the delightful ensemble banter.. there was a lot to enjoy. Would that I had ended up a higher note with it all but at least it’s not a low note! I’ll take the win.

PORTRAIT OF A SCOTSMAN by Evie Dunmore

London banking heiress Hattie Greenfield wanted “just” three things in life:

1. Acclaim as an artist.
2. A noble cause.
3. Marriage to a young lord who puts the gentle in gentleman.

Why then does this Oxford scholar find herself at the altar with the darkly attractive financier Lucian Blackstone, whose murky past and ruthless business practices strike fear in the hearts of Britain’s peerage? Trust Hattie to take an invigorating little adventure too far. Now she’s stuck with a churlish Scot who just might be the end of her ambitions….

When the daughter of his business rival all but falls into his lap, Lucian sees opportunity. As a self-made man, he has vast wealth but holds little power, and Hattie might be the key to finally setting long-harbored political plans in motion. Driven by an old revenge, he has no room for his new wife’s apprehensions or romantic notions, bewitching as he finds her.

But a sudden journey to Scotland paints everything in a different light. Hattie slowly sees the real Lucian and realizes she could win everything—as long as she is prepared to lose her heart.

Going toe-to-toe with a brooding Scotsman is rather bold for a respectable suffragist, but when he happens to be one’s unexpected husband, what else is an unwilling bride to do?


Title : Portrait of a Scotsman
Author : Evie Dunmore
Series : A League of Extraordinary Women (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 448
Genre : historical romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : September 7, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

For a historical romance, this was oddly light on romance. Plenty of sexytimes, when we eventually got to that point, but Dunmore spends a lot of the word count on many of the societal issues of the time (some of which are relevant today) — yes, a women’s right to vote has been the guiding star of this whole series, and all that is twisted up with that right, but this instalments shifts to the conditions of the working class, specifically miners, unions, and the wage disparity between the genders of said working class.

You can’t tell me Dunmore doesn’t know her shit or, at the very least, puts in a hell of a lot of hours on research. Much of it was interesting, though perhaps not always compelling, but I appreciated the debates between the two main characters who took to these subjects through the lens of their very different upbringings, perspectives, and privileges.

Where this story was less interesting was the romance. However, this more or less followed the format of Beauty and the Beast or Hades and Persephone so if that dynamic is your catnip, you’ll definitely be hooked — at least by the beginning.

Hattie is definitely something of a departure from the leading ladies of the other books who were, categorically, more radical and easier to identify with because they felt more modern. Whereas Hattie, despite attending Oxford, despite supporting the suffragists movement, faces the very real realization that though she supported the cause for a woman to not be property and possessed by her husband, it takes her own marriage for her to actually understand the fight. She is very much a representation of the women of the time — granted, a certain woman — where she is soft, monied, and comfortable, having been afforded everything in her life up until this point. Which makes her exposure to self-made and rough Lucian, to the small community in the Lowlands and their working conditions, everything, a shift. She is very much the spoiled rich girl getting a wake up call. She’s not ever cruel or terrible with her attitudes — she is, at heart, a good person — but Dunmore does occasionally make her lean into her bratty petulance and she has some less gracious reactions.

Whereas Lucian.. granted, he definitely starts off a villain, he has villainous ways, but the way he starts to lean in (get it!), curve himself around Hattie, even as he unbends; his whole backstory, really, was great. The problem, however, is I didn’t feel Dunmore gave it as much time to breathe. We get a lot of time to unpack much of Lucian along the way as he unravels parts of himself in tribute to Hattie and trying to find equal footing as a result of their less than honest beginnings and yet the big moment, the big confession, doesn’t come from him. Which makes sense but somehow you lose that emotional punch. Which I feel is kind of true for most of this book. There is much to be felt in the bones of this story, the causes, the conditions, the casual cruelty of the culture, but somehow the meat, the emotions, weren’t really present. Add to that fact that the romance only felt charged in the bedroom.. and it feels unbalanced.

Particularly when it came to the a conflict/plotline near the end which, honestly, comes out of nowhere and didn’t fit with the rest. Which then leads into this whole other conflict that just.. I didn’t like. You can see it coming a mile away due to foreshadowing, and it fits in with the formula this story is based around, but. But I would’ve been fine had the formula been altered.

All this long rambling review to say : I really respect and enjoy Dunmore’s commitment to her historical setting. The research, the atmosphere, the subject matter, the critical unpacking of a woman’s lack of agency during this time, everything. Thankfully, unlike book two, this one didn’t stray into grey areas or trip itself up, it’s just in the romance that I felt some of this was lacking. So I’m pleased to say I am going into the possibility of a book four (Catriona?) with higher hopes, more in line with what I expected after book one, and look forward to where Dunmore goes next.

WINTER’S ORBIT by Everina Maxwell

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other. 


Title : Winter’s Orbit
Author : Everina Maxwell
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 429
Genre : Sci-Fi/LGBTQIAP+
Publisher : Orbit Books
Release Date : February 2, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Arranged marriage
Politics-heavy
Misunderstandings on misunderstandings
Pacey

Winter’s Orbit by rights should have been the kind of book I loved, sci-fi, arranged marriage but unfortunately, I could only find like for this book by the end. This story was based around a rushed diplomatic marriage and a heavy political plot unfurled quickly, alongside the two MCs Kiem and Jaidan trying to find a way to co-exist.

The strengths of this plot lay in the growth of friendship and more between Jaidan and Kiem but this theme was peppered with frustration for me as their constant misunderstandings added up and added up. It took a long time for them to really communicate clearly and openly with one another. Now there were reasons for that, but the pacing was off for me.

The theme of abuse in this story was handled well and that’s probably my favourite thing about the plot, not the actions themselves but how it was portrayed. I also eventually liked the MCs connection with one another but we had to wait a long time to see it.

The espionage, politics and political characters in this story sadly turned me off from rating higher. It was hard to plow through at times.

I’m glad I read this, I would read the author again but I would have expectations for a more coherent plot pace. I live in hope!

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