SHINIGAMI by Xia Xia Lake

A coming-of-age love story between an orphan and the heir of the richest family in the Land of Yamato. The human world meets the yōkai in a power struggle for the fate of Fujiwara no Hirotsugu. 

While he battles to find his own path, Hirotsugu finds solace in a boy who will become his secret friend, then his salvation, and then as they become adults together, the love of his life.


Title : Shinigami
Author : Xia Xia Lake
Series : Takamagahara Monogatari (book two)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 352
Genre : LGBTQIA+ historical fiction/fantasy
Publisher : indie
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3.75 (rounded up) star review

I’m going to be honest. I have very different feelings for the first half of this book vs the latter half. The first half details the life and experiences of Hirotsugu as he grows up as the heir to one of the wealthiest, and respected, families. In contrast to those around him, particularly his family, he’s very aware, and almost ashamed, of the divide that separates him from the poor, and this is reinforced by a chance encounter with a young beggar. A chance encounter that happens not just a second time, but a third, thus sparking a friendship that would turn into a great love.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first half of this journey is very heavy on the historical elements, the traditions, the myths; if you love world-building, if you love losing yourself in cultural descriptions, you will be overjoyed with the author’s research and attention to detail. I’ll admit that while I did follow along (and had a handy glossary, along with chapter header definitions to help out), I wasn’t as engrossed by the history as I was the characters. So while I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t fully immersed or on the edge of my seat in the early chapters. It was easy to put down, even with the magical elements and the mystery surrounding this presence that ran parallel to the narrative.

Also I made the mistake of speculating a theory or two to a friend who had read this already and boy was I wrong. But hey, I’m owning up to it. I recommend you try and throw some guesses around, too! Ahem, anyway..

And then the second half of the story happened and it was sweet and lovely and all of a sudden I was punched in the gut with feels and this time I was putting down the book so I could finish crying. Which I did.. twice. I definitely felt the strength of these characters near the end, the events felt more high stakes, with the added element of some melodrama to really get those emotions flowing. As a bonus, much is revealed that is only teased throughout, and while some subsequent actions felt rushed or maybe a little unrealistic, you still feel it. It still hurts. And you’re still blown away.

Readers who pick up the book one, KOGITSUNE, might be surprised, and confused, when they follow it up with SHINIGAMI only to realize it isn’t a direct continuation. And does, in fact, happen long after the events of book two. But by the time you get to the end of this book, you’ll understand why it’s important, and necessary, to read first. So go do that now.

Overall, this is an experience unlike one I’ve read before. It’s detailed, rich in history, magic and myth and folklore, it’s about a forever love between two young men, and so much more. And it’s not over! There’s more to come. I cannot wait to see how these stories progress in book three.

KOGITSUNE by Xia Xia Lake

A coming of age story set in medieval Japan. A friendship between a young fox god and his human childhood friend is built on deception, but grows stronger and purer as it’s driven by common purpose. However, the vast differences of the worlds they live in can’t be ignored, as their relationship is frowned upon by both humans and spirits.

As Kogitsune’s feelings for his human friend turn from friendship to something deeper, he will learn that love can be all consuming and heartbreaking. 

‘Kogitsune’ is a retelling of the famous Noh theater play ‘Kokaji’, a story about a swordsmith who requests the help of the Inari god to build a sword for emperor Ichijo (980-1011).


Title : Kogitsune
Author : Xia Xia Lake
Series : Takamagahara Monogatari (book 1)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 62
Genre : LGBTQIA+ historical fiction/fantasy
Publisher : indie
Release Date : September 10, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3.5 (rounded up) star review

This is such a sweet, magical, little story of the birth, and early years, of a kitsune; a fox god. As he discovers the world around him, he also meets a human boy, and they develop a sweet friendship that, over time and after reuniting after a separation where they each grow into their own, becomes a romance.

Despite how short this story is, Lake nonetheless manages to perfectly set the scene, delving into Japanese folklore and myth, all through the eyes of a curious and adorable protagonist, who is both naive and wise and, like mortals, just as susceptible to heartbreak, remorse, and love.

This is the first in a series and I can’t wait to read on.

THE MERCIES by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Magnusdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Arctic town of Vardø must fend for themselves.

Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God, and flooded with a mighty evil.

As Maren and Ursa are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them, with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.

Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1621 witch trials, The Mercies is a story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization. 


Title : The Mercies
Author : Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Format :
Page Count : 352
Genre : Historical Fiction
Publisher : Pan Macmillan
Release Date : February 6, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

THE MERCIES was all dark atmosphere, engaging story, conspiracies and foreboding. It required my total engagement from the first page and I gave it willingly. The writing was sublime and something special that it could take such a bleak context and turn it into such an exciting read.

Narrated from the POV of two very different young women, THE MERCIES told the story of a remote fishing village at the remotest tip of Norway. It started in the midst of a storm that wiped out the men on their boats, leaving the women of the village bereft, grieving and with a need to sustain themselves. The slow revealing of characters in the village was a strength to the storytelling, which was very much about trust and mistrust. Maren was a strong and vital young woman, caring for her family and village. They were Lutheran (I think) but they also kept some Sami traditions and rituals.

Time passed and with it, it brought a man tothe village. His purpose was to herald structure and Christian godliness back in the village, with him came his wife, Ursa, the second protagonist. She was weak and unused to hardship but she had character growth that was a great part of the story.

Remember the mistrust? What started as a rumble, became a full blown witch hunt in literal terms. The patriachy was in full throttle and the pack behaviour of some of the women had me wanting to disassociate myself with my gender. That said, I had all sorts of feelings and inner monologue about women knowing only patriarchy and how that affected them when all the men had gone. It was a mess, it was unsettling and then it was hideous.

Suffice it to say that this read gave me all the feelings, some good, many not. Some of the best reads are unsettling, make you feel extreme emotions and drop you at the end. I felt winded and rewarded. What a read, what a writer Kiran Millwood Hargrave is and please can I devour all her books now?

THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.


Title : The Book Thief
Author : Markus Zusak
Format : ebook
Page Count : 564
Genre : Historical Fiction
Publisher : Transworld Digital
Release Date : September 1, 2005

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Has anyone got a mop and bucket for my tears? I sure could use one right now. What a read and what a last part to the book, I don’t think I drew breath. This will be a short review so that I don’t spoil and because my heart is mush right now.

In terms of writing style and narrative, I think this is one of the quirkiest books I’ve ever read. Death was the narrator and Leisel was the protagonist. Each chapter was only a few pages and the saddest story in history was often told with an air of amusement in the background.

Leisel’s story was both ordinary and profound, her childhood before coming to live with her adoptive parents was brutal but she was resilient and kept some innocence about her. I adored her papa, Hans, just as Leisel clearly did. Their bond and connection was beautiful to read. Her mama and papa took steps to support the Jews and this formed a significant part of the story.

Trust was accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength of the man’s gentleness, his thereness.

This story transported me to the context of a Germany under Nazi rule. More importantly, it transports the reader to an average Joe perspective, village life and an example of good German people just trying to survive the hideousness of war and the regime they were under. Told over decades, this was both a light-hearted and heavy and emotionally-laden tale.

This isn’t a 5 star read for me because the writing style was strange, I won’t say that I ever got on with it, but I rubbed along with it because of the great story and characters. I am left feeling very affected by the reading experience and that I may be a bit too emotionally raw to discuss this at bookclub tomorrow. Oops!

WICKED BY DESIGN by Katy Moran

1819. Jack ‘Crow’ Crowlas, the charismatic and troubled hero of K.J. Whittaker’s first novel, FALSE LIGHTS, has married his feisty love, Hester and with their baby daughter, settled down to enjoy their new life as Lord and Lady Lamorna of Nansmornow in Cornwall.

But for Crow, trouble is never far away and as Cornwall seethes with rebellion, he is arrested for treason. Spared execution on condition that he undertakes a highly dubious mission to St Petersburg, he finds himself tangled in a snare of treachery and illicit passion, violence and sexual deceit, where not only his love for Hester, but also his relationship with his only brother, serving with the British army in Russia, will be tested to the limit and beyond.


Title : Wicked By Design
Author : Katy Moran
Format : Hardback
Page Count : 464
Genre : Historical Fiction
Publisher : Head of Zeus
Release Date : September 5, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

I feel all the things on finishing this book, so many emotions. I didn’t expect such an angsty ride but it worked so well and I’m feeling a bit wrung out from the journey.

This was an epic historical novel, epic in that it spanned continents and the storytelling was vast and deep. There is a previous book about these characters (FALSE LIGHTS) but this book isn’t marketed as a series and it stands alone perfectly. WICKED BY DESIGN was a book with two main characters but it was so much about a family and the side characters were crucial to the story. The book was written in the era of the Napoleonic wars, where France was at war with England and the Cornish people were a separate country as such. I did some quick history brushing-up through my read of this book but I kept up with things well.

Lord John ‘Crow’ Lamora was a respected figure in the recent wars and was married to Hester, a black woman, daughter of a sea captain. Their marriage seemed to have begrudging acceptance in society but Hester was not truly accepted, only tolerated for the sake of her husband and his rank. The power dynamic between Hester and Crow was everything funny, heartbreaking and empowering. What these character went through in this book can only be described as hellish but I was glued to the page.

I went from really liking Crow to absolutely detesting his behaviour whilst understanding some of it. It was so hard to watch what happened to this man, to witness it and to feel it; and feel it I did. Not only for Crow but for Hester too, talk about putting my heart through the grater! Crow’s brother Kitto was a key character who I really liked. He was a bit young and impetuous but I found myself having a soft spot for him. The dynamic between Crow and Kitto however, was a difficult one. There needs be a little mention of Nadia’s character, she was superb in her gender role. Eventually, the story took these characters from Cornwall to St Petersburg. The description was rich but not heavy and it transported me to the sights, sounds and smells.

Katy Moran took me from page one and battered emotions out of me all along the way, right up until that last line. I felt dangled on a string, I wanted to lash out at the characters sometimes but all I can say is that her writing, her story made me feel. This is a historical fiction with some romance but more historical fiction than anything, I highly recommend it.

Thank you to Head of Zeus for this finished copy to review (the hardback is beautiful).

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

England, late 1930s, and Alice Wright — restless, stifled — makes an impulsive decision to marry wealthy American Bennett Van Cleve and leave her home and family behind.

But stuffy, disapproving Baileyville, Kentucky, where her husband favours work over his wife and is dominated by his overbearing father, is not the adventure — or the escape — that she hoped for.

That is, until she meets Margery O’Hare, a troublesome woman — and daughter of a notorious felon — the town wishes to forget.

Margery’s on a mission to spread the wonder of books and reading to the poor and lost — and she needs Alice’s help.

Trekking alone under big open skies, through wild mountain forests, Alice, Margery and their fellow sisters of the trail discover freedom, friendship — and a life to call their own.

But when the town turns against them, will their belief in one another — and the power of the written word — be enough to save them?

Inspired by a remarkable true story, The Giver of Stars features five incredible women who will prove to be every bit as beloved as Lou Clark, the unforgettable heroine of Me Before You


Title : The Giver of Stars
Author : Jojo Moyes
Format : Hardback
Page Count : 448
Genre : Women’s Fiction
Publisher : Michael Joseph, Penguin Books
Release Date : October 3, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

I should know…know that when I read a Jojo Moyes book that it’s going to pack an emotional punch but with this blurb, I just didn’t see it coming. THE GIVER OF STARS had me invested quickly and feeling like a family member to the librarian sisterhood, so that when things happened, I felt devastated and scared to read on. The themes of misogyny, racism and feminism made this both emotional and empowering.

The context of reading, teaching poor and downtrodden women, children and men to read through the distrubution of books was in the background but it also powerful to observe. These women on their riding rounds also comforted the sick, grieving and took on the role of friends, confidentes and substitute mother figures.

I didn’t expect this book to be unputdownable, but it was as Moyes made the mundane work of Alice, Margery, Izzy and Beth’s lives totally readable and absorbing. Alice was the main protagonist, an English newly-wed, a little prissy but a genuinely sweet woman. The life she found in Kentucky was not at all what she expected and I tore my hair out over her and Bennett’s relationship. There were some revolting men in this book but then there were also some fantastic characters in Fred and Sven, they were the light in my reading and this book.

There was a second supporting protagonist in Margery and she really captured my heart. I loved her rebelliousness, her unconventional ways and willingness to be different. Her later storyline had me distraught, sad and prone to weeping. I just did not know where this book was going to end, there were so many possibilities.

I have come away from this read inspired. Jojo Moyes took me on a journey with this story and I am all the richer for it. This is historical women’s fiction at it’s best and I will remember this book for years, I am sure.

Thank you to Michael Joseph for the review copy.

THE ART OF THEFT by Sherry Thomas

As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.
 
But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.
 
Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia’s admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake…


Title : The Art of Theft
Author : Sherry Thomas
Series : Lady Sherlock (book four)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 303
Genre : historical fiction/mystery
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : October 15, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I think I expected way too much from this book. And that’s a me problem.

I’ve had a pretty up and down experience with this series but it had all really started to turn around by book three. However I should’ve known that the things I wanted from this series, particular after that last installment, wouldn’t happen so soon. Or the way I wanted.

I didn’t mind the mystery of the week, and there was both an appropriate amount of character growth and/or realization, as well as reluctance, both of things I can’t really disclose this far into the series, but I guess I still expected things to come to a head? Which they almost did? Just to get foiled at the very last paragraph.. literally. That said, the way the conflict tied into the bigger picture, even though it meant reuniting us with certain characters I would’ve preferred not to see again, was pretty clever.

Also, I’m happy that the rest of this plucky ensemble Scooby Doo cast gets more and more spotlight each book. It isn’t just the Charlotte/Sherlock show. Even if their own storylines didn’t get quite the HEA wrap-up that they deserved. But there’s still more (how many?) books to go, so. Maybe.

I will continue to read on but I’m sad this didn’t overtake my love for book three. I guess here’s hoping, once again, for book five.

** I received a ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE BONE HOUSES by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Seventeen-year-old Aderyn (“Ryn”) only cares about two things: her family, and her family’s graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don’t always stay dead.

The risen corpses are known as “bone houses,” and legend says that they’re the result of a decades-old curse. When Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past, arrives in town, the bone houses attack with new ferocity. What is it about Ellis that draws them near? And more importantly, how can they be stopped for good?

Together, Ellis and Ryn embark on a journey that will take them deep into the heart of the mountains, where they will have to face both the curse and the long-hidden truths about themselves.


Title : The Bone Houses
Author : Emily Lloyd-Jones
Format : ARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA historical fiction fantasy
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
Release Date : September 24, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

It might seem obvious, or maybe not, but the overwhelming theme of THE BONE HOUSES, a story of a curse, magic, and reanimated dead, is grief. Of letting go of the past, whether that be from a loss or from a hurt or from an unknown beginning, and moving forward. Living. 

She knew how things died. And in her darkest moments, she feared she did not know how to live.

My interpretation of the setting of this story is Wales, or a Wales-like place, because the mythology and folklore reference beings similar to the fae, to the Tuath Dé Dannan, and also the character names feel Welsh. Once there were magical beings in the world, and magic, but a battle saw it ended and, as time passed, the legends have become stories or morality tales. But in Ryn’s village, the magic isn’t all gone; the dead, or bone houses, still walk the forest. Though with few people brave enough to venture into the dark, few believe that even that much magic still lingers. It isn’t until years later, her father lost, her mother dead, and at seventeen, working as a gravedigger, doing all she can to keep her siblings fed and with a roof over their heads, that something has changed. The bone houses are leaving the forest.

This was the problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren. Nothing stayed buried forever.

When the village is attacked, Ryn teams up with a recent arrival, a mapmaker, to journey to the mountains where the legend of the cauldron of rebirth was said to be last seen. If they destroy the cauldron, maybe it’ll end the bone houses and break the curse.

I’m a mapmaker.
Why aren’t you spending the night in the village?
I–I meant to.”
You’re lost.
I am not.”
You’re a mapmaker who cannot find a village.”
I was using someone else’s map.”

Lloyd-Jones’ story is lush, magical, and eerie. Beyond the mystical, it deals with grief, pain — both emotion and physical — and family; and not just the two legged variety. For all the horror and violence of the walking dead, Ryn is careful in dealing with them, respectful, even as she’s forced to fight for her life against them. She struggles with the concept of what she has to do, with how it makes her a terrible person, and though we don’t suffer through endless agonies I thought enough time was spent — or maybe it was just genuine enough — to make it a good argument. Even if there was really nothing else she could do.

She was a half-wild creature that loved a graveyard, the first taste of misty night air, and the heft of a shovel.

There’s a romance, a slowburn of one, and though you see it coming early on, it nonetheless still wows you as it unfolds. Gently, carefully, and sweetly. These characters were both very aware of themselves and each other; this felt real and believable. Infact, the whole story did. The family connections, the stillness and peace of the forest, the horror of what hides in the dark, the desperate things people will do when facing the death of a loved one.. it might have been wrapped up in the fantastical but it was all very real. Also I would die for the goat.

I grew up thinking monsters could be slain.”
And I grew up thinking people were the monsters.

This isn’t my first read by this author (a fact I just realized while grabbing info for this review!) but it’s definitely the first one that will follow me into my dreams. This one is going to stick with me for sure. And I can’t wait to see what she writes next. 

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY by Alix E. Harrow

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic.


Title : The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Author : Alix E. Harrow
Format : ARC
Page Count : 385
Genre : historical fiction fantasy
Publisher : Redhook
Release Date : September 10, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

This was nothing that I expected it to be while also being exactly what I thought it would. Go figure that one out because I’m not sure I do!

Doors [..] are change, and change is a dangerous necessity. Doors are revolutions and upheavals, uncertanties and mysteries, axis points around which entire worlds can be turned. They are the beginnings and ending of every true story, the passages between that lead to adventures and madness and even love.

THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY is portal fantasy and historical fiction but, mostly, is about lost parents, absent parents, adoptive controlling parents, good people who make poor choices, bad people who care, the love of a dog, and the ones who stick around through good times and bad. Words have power, doors do more than just open to the next room, and there really are monsters that go bump in the night. 

There’s only one way to run away from your own story, and that’s to sneak into someone else’s.

For all the magic and wonder and strangeness of this world, and the ten thousand others we visit, it had a very strong backbone that felt relatable to the reader, whilst still being utterly magical, too. I loved how this story connected, though none of it was a surprise to me, and how each piece was slotted together. I loved the ending, too. There are some things I wish had been better explained but I suppose that would spoil some of the whimsy and wonder and, really, overall it doesn’t take away any of my enjoyment. It’s a small wish.

It’s a profoundly strange feeling, to stumble across someone whose desires are shaped so closely to your own, like reaching toward your reflection in a mirror and finding warm flesh under your fingertips. If you should ever be lucky enough to find that magical, fearful symmetry, I hope you’re brave enough to grab it with both hands and not let go.

I would absolutely read more by this author because if this is her debut, which is hard to believe, I can only imagine what is to come from her. 
If you’re looking for a lyrical, dreamy, diverse read, with plenty of historical foundation and all sorts of creative fantastical elements, you’ll want to pick this one up.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE GIRL THE SEA GAVE BACK by Adrienne Young – double review!

For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.


Title : The Girl The Sea Gave Back
Author : Adrienne Young
Series : Sky In The Deep (book two)
Format : ARC/Finished Copy
Page Count : 336
Genre : historical YA fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books / Titan Books
Release Date : September 3, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I feel like everything that kept me from loving SKY IN THE DEEP, was missing in THE GIRL THE SEA GAVE BACK. This makes me very very happy.

I was sure this was going to be an easy three star read; lots to like but not quite getting me all the way there which, I mean, would’ve been a better result than book one. So colour me surprised by this rating.

This story takes place ten years after the events of SKY IN THE DEEP and, once again, we have warring clans. The characters we knew from book one have known peace and a time of rebuilding, rebirth, as a united people but now another group, the Svell, are stirring up trouble. Made worse by the fact that the Svell people are, themselves, divided. Additionally, they feel they are cursed by the existence of an outsider who lives among them, who washed up on their shores, and yet they also rely on her for her gifts at reading the runes, and predicting the future, as she is a Truthtongue. 

It’s Tova’s prediction that sparks tragedy for Halvard’s people and we watch as they are on opposites sides of a war neither of them want. Halvard loses people he loves and Tova is blamed for things beyond her control as the fragile trust she has with the man who has raised her.. frays. Betrayal abounds with the Svell people and she’s tossed amongst them, lost, confused, and resigned.

Tova doesn’t know who she is, Halvard is bound so strongly with his family, both blood and found, and I actually really enjoyed bouncing back between their perspectives and the glimpses we got from their past. Their connection isn’t much, either, but yet feels.. present. There’s almost no romance here and yet we see possibility, potential, and that’s honestly where this book became more than I thought it would be.

I found the pacing to be pretty much perfect and I loved where the book, and our characters, ended up. This is a stronger book and the events, the loss and brutality, felt more real. The stakes somehow higher. The surprises (of which maybe there was only one but it was a good one) more surprising. I definitely have a question or two about how some things played out but those niggles are buried pretty far underneath my general contentment over the story.

If SKY IN THE DEEP wasn’t a book you were able to get on with, I would definitely recommend you pick up this sophomore offering. And if you loved SKY IN THE DEEP, I think you’ll be just as satisfied, if not more, by this follow-up in the author’s viking world.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 3 star review

This was my first read by Adrienne Young and I was informed by a few that it stands alone as a book and reading book one wasn’t vital. I made the mistake of jumping straight into THE GIRL THE SEA GAVE BACK and I think that I missed out on some world building that would have helped me so much with this read. There wasn’t much space given to any world-building in this book and felt like I was playing catch up with the different tribes, their names, their belief systems and allegiences.

After about 20% of the book I felt that I had some context to understand the story that was playing out with two characters having alternate POVs – Tova and Halvard. These were two characters that were mystically connected but geographically separated. Halvard was a reluctant heir to leading his people and Tova was a virtual prisoner of her adopted people. This story is told over just a number of days with battle, strategy and mysticism at the core.

I enjoyed the mystical part of this story, the fate ruled by runes, spinners and the All Seer. I liked the concept of Tova and her race. There were however, a lot of characters to dislike in this book. So many prejudiced people with cruelty being part of life. The back and forth of past and present was written a little confusingly to me.

Ultimately, I felt unsatisfied with the story overall and this was just an okay read for me. I felt that the connection between Tova and Halvard was pointless in the end but I appreciated the how the different races were at war or peace at different times.

Thank you to Titan Books for the early finished copy for review.