Book Review: The Kingdom of Copper

kingdom of copperThe Kingdom of Copper
by S. A. Chakraborty
Fantasy
620 pages
Published January 2019

I….may have an unpopular opinion on this book. First, I LOVED the first book of this trilogy, The City of Brass. Absolutely loved it. It was one of my favorite books of that year. I like this one significantly less. I think that probably wouldn’t be the case if I had read this in quick succession, but I read City of Brass when it came out, and had to wait a year for this one, in which time I read around 200 more books.

I expected a certain amount of backstory explanation in Kingdom of Copper – and it wasn’t there. I think the book assumes you remember everything that happened in City of Brass – and I most certainly did not. I don’t remember why we have the division between the djinn and the daeva, or really which is which. I know the shafit are part human, part…djinn? Daeva? See that’s the problem. These are very politicky books and forgetting key parts of the political drama makes this book VERY hard to follow. I don’t know WHY there’s conflict between certain people, and I don’t recognize missteps when characters make them because I’ve forgotten who has which opinions.

All the worldbuilding explanations are in the first book, and they aren’t revisited in this one. Had I KNOWN that, I might have re-read City of Brass before this came out, as much as I dislike re-reading anything.

All of that aside, and despite my confusion, I mostly enjoyed this continuation of Nahri’s story. We delved a little more into murky bloodlines, the more recent past of Daevabad, and the more ancient past of Nahri’s healer ancestors, the Nahids.

I still love Nahri, I like Ali a little more, and I like Dara a little less. I am curious to see where the third book leads, especially after the cliffhanger ending of this one. I just might have to re-read both City of Brass and this one before reading the trilogy’s conclusion.

From the cover of The Kingdom of Copper:

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked away from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad – and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there. 

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family – and one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins and adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he must rely on the frightening abilities the marid – the unpredictable water spirits – have gifted him. But in doing so, he risks unearthing a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for a great celebration, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior caught between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

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Book Review: Empress Of All Seasons

empress of all seasonsEmpress Of All Seasons
by Emiko Jean
Young Adult/Fantasy
375 pages
Published November 2018

I am so torn on this book. I’m really tired of the trope of “batch of girls competing to win a dude” that seems to be so popular lately. But this is an Asian take on the trope, so I don’t want to come down too hard on it for that. I attended a panel at the last Baltimore Book Festival about old tropes being resurrected by minority authors, and I agree that just because a trope might seem old and played out, putting a new spin on it with minority characters and themes deserves its own time. That is definitely valid. But they were talking about tropes like vampires and zombies and retold classics like Pride and Prejudice and Alice in Wonderland. I’m not sure the trope of “girls competing to win a dude” deserves more time in any form. (To be fair, I kind of equally hate guys competing to win the hand of the princess. No one should be obligated to marry someone just because they won an arbitrary competition. There are all kinds of consent issues there.)

Despite that, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the characters, the variety of yõkai, the bits of myth interspersed throughout the book. I do question Akira being trained to be a master of shuriken in a matter of days – like, really? And I wish instead of summarizing a ton in the epilogue, she’d just written a sequel, because I think there’s enough material to do it. You’d think, with so much I didn’t like about the book, that my overall opinion would be negative – but it’s not. Even with all of those bad points, this book was enthralling and kept me reading right to the end.

Empress of all Seasons is a great Japanese-inspired fantasy that relies a little too much on old tropes. Set your inner critic to the side and just enjoy the ride, because the story is fantastic.

Empress of all Seasons also hits the “trope” theme for Year of the Asian’s February challenge!

From the cover of Empress Of All Seasons:

IN A PALACE OF ILLUSIONS, NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS.

Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete – all except yõkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.

Mari has spent her life training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yõkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yõkai outcast. Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat fantasy.

Book Review: The Brilliant Death

the brilliant deathThe Brilliant Death
by Amy Rose Capetta
Young Adult/Fantasy
330 pages
Published October 2018

It’s not often that I like a relationship more than I like the separate parts of it, but that’s the case with The Brilliant Death. I love Teo and Cielo together. As a couple they are amazing. I like them individually, but together they are something unique and lovely. By the end of the book, they can both switch genders at will, and they love each other for who they are, not what bodies they happen to be wearing.

This book plays with the gender binary, giving us two characters who dance from boy to girl and back again when it’s convenient for them. Teo uses this ability to masquerade as her brother, going to the capital city when summoned by the ruler of her country after the assassination of her father.

If Teo’s name and the use of the word “strega” hadn’t given it away, the book is very Italian-inspired. The family ties, the landscape, the names, the atmosphere is unmistakably Italian. While that’s still a Western European culture, it’s not one we actually see in fantasy that often, which makes this book more enthralling.

While Teo juggles loyalties to family, country, and friends, Cielo is on a mission to find out what happened to their mother. Falling in love isn’t in the plan for either of them, but when is it, really?

I loved the magic, the characters, and the setting of this one, and I really hope there’s going to be a sequel. The plot was definitely left open enough to allow for one, though I could be happy with this as a standalone, too.

From the cover of The Brilliant Death:

Teodora Di Sangro is used to hiding her magical ability to transform enemies into music boxes and mirrors. Nobody knows she’s a strega – and she aims to keep it that way.

Then she meets Cielo – and everything changes.

A strega who can effortlessly swap back and forth between female and male, human and animal, Cielo shows Teodora what her life could be like if she masters her powers – and how much more she’s capable of. And not a moment too soon: the ruler of Vinalia has poisoned the patriarchs of the country’s five controlling families, including Teodora’s father, and demands that each family send a son to the palace. If she wants to save her family, Teodora must travel to the capital – not disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.

But the road to the capital, and to bridling her evolving powers, is full of enemies and complications, including the one she least expects: falling in love.

Book Review: Damsel

damselDamsel
by Elana K. Arnold
Fantasy/Young Adult?!
309 pages
Published October 2018

Before I even get into this review.

CONTENT WARNING. DOMESTIC ABUSE. SEXUAL ASSAULT. ANIMAL ABUSE. GASLIGHTING. 

For all that, though, I loved this book. The protagonist suffers through all of that and perseveres. But it’s important to expect those things going into this book, because the central plot of the book is our protagonist being severely gaslit, with the rest of the abuse being in support of that. I agree with other Goodreads reviewers that it’s surprising it’s being marketed as a Young Adult book because these themes are VERY adult.

So. With those caveats, this book was outstanding. The book opens on Prince Emory riding his horse towards the castle of the dragon, intending to slay it and rescue his future wife, as his tradition in his kingdom. Emory seems to be your typical prince, accomplished, at ease with his sword, his horse, and himself, yet there is the occasional part of his inner narration that comes off…oddly. He enters the dragon’s castle, defeats the dragon, and leaves with his prize, a damsel who can remember nothing about herself or her past. A blank slate. Perfect for a queen-to-be.

But as Ama, so named by Emory, learns more about her new kingdom and future husband, and what her place will be, she realizes this is not what she wants. The more Emory tries to convince her that it IS what she wants, the more we get into the abuse factor of the book.

It’s very well done. It’s a dark fairy tale, it’s a consistent metaphor for – well, humanity’s treatment of women, really. Sit down, shut up, look pretty, and birth the next generation. You are important because only you can do that, but don’t let it give you uppity ideas. All that kind of patronizing misogyny.

I really loved this book, but it’s definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and the triggers might be too much for some of the people who WOULD otherwise like it. So know that going in.

From the cover of Damsel:

THE RITE HAS EXISTED FOR AS LONG AS ANYONE CAN REMEMBER

When the king dies, his son the prince must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon or what horrors she faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome young man, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny of sitting on a throne beside him. It’s all like a dream, like something from a fairy tale.

As Ama follows Emory to the kingdom of Harding, however, she discovers that not all is as it seems. There is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows, and the greatest threats may not be behind her but around her, now, and closing in.

Elana K. Arnold, author of the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, has written a twisted and unforgettable fairy tale, one that is set at the incendiary point where power, oppression, and choice meet.

Book Review: Of Fire and Stars

of fire and starsOf Fire And Stars
by Audrey Coulthurst
Young Adult/Fantasy
389 pages
Published 2016

Having read the prequel to this book already, I can see why a lot of people complained about the lack of worldbuilding. Even though the prequel is based in a neighboring country, there’s a lot in this book that I understood based on events in Inkmistress. I definitely recommend reading that one first.

That said, I enjoyed this book a lot. I think Inkmistress is better, but that happens often with new authors. I think the sequel, Of Ice and Shadows, due out this summer, will probably be even better, and should bring the events of the previous two books together.

Like Inkmistress, bisexuality seems to be absolutely normal in Denna’s country, with Denna not expressing a preference, Mare having had male and female lovers, and one of Denna’s ladies having a female lover. (There is a brief mention of a gay couple as well.) I do wish nonbinary people would make an appearance, but it’s something, at least.

There are a lot of twists and turns to the plot in this book, so while Inkmistress was fairly straightforward, this one took me by surprise multiple times. It also makes it much harder to talk about the plot without giving anything away!

I wish we’d discovered more about the King’s council – several members of it seemed to have ulterior motives but we never got to see what those were. If we knew their motivations, some things might make a lot more sense and be a lot more satisfying.

Read Inkmistress. If you like the world, go ahead and read this book, because the events of this will be necessary to understand the third book, which takes us back to the country featured in Inkmistress. And I want to know more about that country!

From the cover of Of Fire And Stars:

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile nations. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire – a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses – and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine – called Mare – the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms – and each other.

Book Review: Grace and Fury

grace and furyGrace and Fury
by Tracy Banhart
Young Adult
311 pages
Published July 2018

I didn’t actually have high hopes for this book – the description hits a lot of standard YA tropes. Sisterhood, switched roles, Royal/pauper juxtaposition…but WOW. No, this book blew me away.

In Serina and Nomi’s world, women are second-class citizens, forbidden to read, have romantic relationships with each other, or have careers of their own. Serina plans to be a Grace, effectively a concubine to the Prince, with her sister as her handmaiden. But it is Nomi who catches the Prince’s eye when she stumbles into him in a hallway, and Nomi that he picks. In a moment of weakness, Nomi’s secret is discovered and thought to be Serina’s, and rather than jeopardize Nomi’s new position, Serina capitulates and takes the fall. She’s sent to a volcanic island prison while Nomi struggles to tame her own rebellious nature long enough to gain enough influence to free her sister.

The book is about oppression and sisterhood, whether it be with those that share your blood or not. Along the way, we discover a different history of the nation than what is normally taught, and find a few men who sympathize with the women’s plight. (And eventually step up to take action alongside the women.)

It’s a quick read – the action starts on page one and never stops. Chapters alternate between Nomi in the palace and Serina on her island prison fighting for food, and both girls learn that what they saw as weakness in each other can be strengths in different circumstances.

The only downside to this book is that it ends with things unfinished. Not a cliffhanger, exactly, but the story is most definitely not done, and the sequel doesn’t come out until July of 2019! I will be snapping that up as soon as it releases because I NEED to know how these two sisters overcome their trials.

From the cover of Grace and Fury:

BOLD
BRUTAL
BEAUTIFUL

Serina Tessaro has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace – someone to stand by the Heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. It’s her chance to secure a better life for her family, and to keep her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, out of trouble. But when Nomi catches the Heir’s eye instead, Serina is the one who takes the fall for the dangerous secret her sister has been hiding.

Trapped in a life she never wanted, Nomi has only one option: surrender to her role as a Grace until she can use her position to save Serina. But this is easier said than done . . . . A traitor walks the halls of the palazzo, and deception lurks in every corner.

Meanwhile, Serina is running out of time. Imprisoned on an island where she must fight to the death to survive, surrounded by women stronger than she is, one wrong move could cost her everything. There is no room for weakness on Mount Ruin, especially weaknesses of the heart.

Thrilling and captivating, Grace and Fury is a story of fierce sisterhood, and of survival in a world that’s determined to break you.