Book Review: The Girl King

the girl kingThe Girl King
by Mimi Yu
Young Adult/Fantasy
488 pages
Published January 2019

This is one of those books that I realized, far too late, that it wasn’t a standalone novel. Far too few pages left for everything that still needs to be wrapped up, and yep. Only the first book. I’m not sure why I hadn’t realized it wasn’t a standalone. The second book, Empress of Flames, isn’t due out until early 2020, which is far too long to wait! I need to know what happens to these characters!

The Girl King is mainly the story of Lu, eldest daughter of the Emperor of the First Flame. She is expecting to be named heir, and when she isn’t and her cousin (and bully) Set is named instead, she decides not to placidly accept the injustice. She runs away from court, intending to find allies to help her retake the throne. Lu is single-minded and selfish. She doesn’t really pay attention to how her actions affect other people – she doesn’t think twice about leaving her younger, more timid sister to face the court, their mother, and Set on her own. I know that we’re supposed to be cheering for Lu in this book, but in D&D terms, she’s a paladin. She might be right. She’s not very likable. I had far more sympathy for Min, her sister.

Actually, thinking back on it, almost none of these characters did much thinking about how their actions affect other people. The leader of the refugee Gifted did, she had her people to think about. And the triad of rulers of the mythical city were looking out for their people. But Lu really only thinks of herself. Set definitely only thinks about himself. Min is set up to be more sympathetic but is stuck inside her own head. Nok is too consumed with his own private pity party to think much about other people. I love Nok, don’t get me wrong, he was probably my favorite character, but he doesn’t think much about other people other than his mentor.

I feel like it’s reasonable to have one or two self-obsessed characters, but when it’s everyone, I think that might be a writing issue. The story was still great, and I will definitely be reading the second book, but I’m hoping for some character growth and learning about empathy as the story progresses.

From the cover of The Girl King:

IN AN EMPIRE OF FLAMES, THEY MUST RISE FROM THE ASHES.

Sisters Lu and Min have always known their places as princesses of the Empire of the First Flame: assertive Lu will be named her father’s heir and become the dynasty’s first female ruler, while timid Min will lead a quiet life in Lu’s shadow. Until their father names a new heir – their male cousin, Set.

Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu goes in search of allies, leaving Min to face the volatile court alone. Lu soon crosses paths with Nokhai, the lone, unlikely survivor of a clan of nomadic wolf shapeshifters. Nok never learned to shift – or to trust the empire that killed his family – but working with Lu might be the only way to unlock his true power. 

As Lu and Nok form a tenuous alliance, Min’s own power awakens, a forbidden magic that could secure Set’s reign . . . or allow her to claim the throne herself. But there can be only one emperor, and each sister’s greatest enemy could very well be the other.

This sweeping fantasy set against a world of ancient magic and political intrigue weaves an unforgettable story of ambition, betrayal, and sacrifice. 

Advertisements

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.

Book Review: Slayer

slayerSlayer
by Kiersten White
Young Adult/Urban Fantasy
404 pages
Published January 2019

I am a Buffy fan. I’m not the biggest Buffy fan I know – that honor goes to a friend of mine, who I just gave a giant box of Buffy comic to, since we’re downsizing in preparation for the move to the new house. I haven’t seen anyone that happy in a while, and it made my day. (And hers, judging from the bouncing and squeeeeing and hugging!) But I am still a Buffy fan. I own DVDs of the entire show, plus Angel, plus the original movie. The box of comics I just gave away was Season 8 and some spin offs. Slayer takes place after all of that.

First I’m going to say, if you’re not a Buffy fan, seriously don’t bother with this book. You won’t understand a lot of what goes on, and while there are cursory explanations given in the book, it’s really not meant for people that haven’t watched/read the rest of the world. You’d be okay not knowing much about Angel, but you really do need to have watched the TV show of Buffy, especially that last season. While the book takes place after the comics, they’re not necessary to understand the plot as that, at least, is explained.

So, for the rest of us Buffy fans, this is a great continuation of the Buffy-verse. Nina is the daughter of Watchers – in fact the daughter of Buffy’s first watcher, the one before Giles. Given what befell the Watchers, the ones that are left are kind of antagonistic towards Slayers in general and Buffy in particular. So when Nina becomes a Slayer, her world goes sideways.

The world is mostly the same, but with a twist due to events in the comics. (It’s explained. You don’t need to have read them.) The book expands on how Slayer powers work, a bit, especially their dreams now that there’s more than one of them alive at a time. We do see mentions of familiar characters, with one notable scene where an old favorite appears briefly.

I really enjoyed the book, and I’m eager to read the second half of the duology when it comes out. I need to know how Nina’s story ends! The book ended on a subtle cliffhanger; the main conflict has been resolved, and the characters think it’s over, but we know it’s not. Similar to how many episodes of Buffy ended, actually.

So yeah. If you’re a Buffy fan, pick up this book, it’s pretty great. If you’re not – take a pass. Or start with the TV show and get yourself a new fandom if you’re feeling bored!

From the cover of Slayer:

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watchers Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers – girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watchers Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead, she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One – she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams . . .

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested – because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

Book Review: The Star-Touched Queen

the star-touched queenThe Star-Touched Queen
by Roshani Chokshi
Young Adult/Fantasy/Romance
342 pages
Published 2016

I’ve had this on my TBR shelf for quite a while, but only got around to reading it because the library finally really wants it back. Oops! And now I’m regretting not reading it sooner because it is OH MY GOD FANTASTIC. This is one of those books that’s going to be hard to talk about without giving things away about the plot, but I’m going to try. Maya is the main character, a princess with a horoscope full of doom for whoever marries her.

She’s in for a surprise when she does marry, though, as she is whisked away from her father’s kingdom to a palace full of hidden doors and a husband who is more than he seems. She’s quickly embroiled in a mystery to find out not only the secrets her husband’s kingdom is hiding, but the secrets behind her own history.

I absolutely love reading non-western fantasy because there are NEW fantasy elements to discover. This book makes heavy use of reincarnation, which is not a common trope in western fantasy. Not reincarnation as karma, anyway. There is fate, and horoscopes, and choosing your own destiny despite those things, and spirit worlds, and OH IT’S JUST SO GOOD.

The second book, about Maya’s sister, came out last March, so I need to read that too.  The same author has written another book set in Paris, The Gilded Wolves, which came out in January and immediately hit the bestseller list. I’m glad, this author is fantastic. I’m not sure I’ll read it though, as the description doesn’t really intrigue me. But The Star-Touched Queen and its sequel, A Crown of Wishes – these are just my cup of tea!

From the cover of The Star-Touched Queen:

FATE AND FORTUNE. POWER AND PASSION. WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE THE QUEEN OF A KINGDOM WHEN YOU’RE ONLY SEVENTEEN?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. While Maya is content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and her power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire . . .

But Akaran has its own secrets – thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most . . . including herself.

A lush and vivid story that is steeped in Indian folklore and mythology, The Star-Touched Queen is a novel that no reader will soon forget.

Book Review: Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix

kingdom of the blazing phoenixKingdom of the Blazing Phoenix
by Julie C. Dao
Young Adult/Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
356 pages
Published November 2018

This is the sequel to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and were Forest was about the rise of the Empress – or the evil stepmother from Snow White – this book is solidly about Snow White. Or Jade, in this case. I enjoyed Forest, but Kingdom is spectacular! It’s hard to like Xifeng in Forest, where she continually makes the decisions that drag her deeper into the evil god’s clutches. Jade, however, is sweet and determined and loyal and good. She is easy to love, and worthy of it. We see a few characters from the first book coming back to help Jade in her quest, and I loved seeing how they had grown in the intervening years.

I do feel like the romantic storyline was kind of shoehorned in. Jade falls in love with no real reason for it. We don’t see what’s so fantastic about her love interest, he isn’t shown as doing anything outstanding, he’s just kind of there and the first male person she’s spent time with. I get why he fell in love with Jade, Jade is amazing. He’s just so bland. So that felt a little odd.

I did enjoy the magic cloak and the quest and the final battle. The scene between Ming and Xifeng at the end was absolutely heartbreaking and made me love Ming even more. He might be my favorite character from both books.

Bottom line, this is an excellent sequel to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and I think it’s better than the first book. You could probably read it without reading Forest, but some of the reveals won’t mean nearly as much, and you’ll miss all the background that makes Xifeng so interesting.

From the cover of Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix:

Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery, while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as Empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress, and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn’t want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the Empress and set the world right.

Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?

This follow-up to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns brings to a close Xifeng’s dazzling saga and gives readers a satisfying ending to the story that gripped their hearts from its very beginning.

Book Review: A Blade So Black

a blade so blackA Blade So Black
by L. L. McKinney
Young Adult/Fantasy/Fairy-Tale Retelling
370 pages
Published September 2018

I’ve seen the point brought up that so many fantasy protagonists have really neglectful parents. Who lets their kid be gone for an unknown amount of time doing something “important” that their kid refuses to tell them about because it’s a “secret”? This book makes a point of how NOT neglectful Alice’s mother is. The blurb calls her overprotective, but really it’s just normal protective. Alice’s mom just wants to know her daughter hasn’t been shot by the police when she’s gone for 24 hours and not answering her phone, that seems normal to me! I actually enjoyed how that was different than a lot of fantasy YA, even if it’s really a small sideplot.

In the main plot, Alice is a Dreamwalker, wielding Figment Blades and her own Muchness to kill the Nightmares that try to cross from Wonderland to our world. Her mentor is Addison Hatta, an exile from Wonderland who’s been charged to guard his Gateway and train new Dreamwalkers. Along the way we meet two more Dreamwalkers, more exiled Wonderlanders, and learn a bit about the war in Wonderland and why they’re exiled but still charged with such an important mission as guiding the Gateways between our world and theirs.

About the only thing I didn’t like about this book was how it left so many questions unanswered at the end. We got a cliffhanger to lead us into the sequel, A Dream So Dark, but it isn’t due out until September! I’m also wondering where the Cheshire Cat is – he’s too instrumental a character to leave out, I would think – but I have a few possible idea about where the author is going with that, so I’m anxious for the sequel, to see if I’m right.

A Blade So Black is a very unique take on Wonderland by a POC author, starring a POC heroine. There’s also an adorable lesbian couple as side characters. With minority racial representation, a fairy tale base, and a splash of LGBT+ rep, this book checked a lot of the boxes I look for in my fantasy. It wasn’t the best YA fantasy that I’ve read in the last year, but it was definitely fun!

From the cover of A Blade So Black:

This isn’t the Wonderland you remember.

The first time a Nightmare came, Alice nearly lost her life. Now, with magic weapons and hard-core fighting skills, she battles these monstrous creatures in the dream realm known as Wonderland. Yet even warriors have curfews.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and school. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job.

When Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.