Book Review: Seafire

seafireSeafire
by Natalie C. Parker
Young Adult/Fantasy
374 pages
Published August 2018

First, Caledonia Styx is an AMAZING name, and the Mors Navis is another fantastic name. I had to google it – it basically translates to Death Ship. Possibly Ship of the Dead. Something to that effect.

Seafire is the first book in a trilogy, and it’s very well done. The main goal in the first book was achieved, but we can definitely see the story arc that they’ve set themselves on for the trilogy.

The world of Seafire is post-apocalyptic, though so far post-apocalypse that the old world has faded into myths and stories, and all that’s left is a mish-mash of old technology, like solar power and electricity, used on more primitive objects, like boats and rope-and-pulley lifts. Most ships are equipped with sun sails – sails covered in tiny solar panel scales to provide energy to the ship’s propulsion engines. If you’re limited to wind power, you can’t hope to escape or fight the powered ships. Instead of grappling hooks for latching onto an enemy ship, there are giant magnets. It’s an interesting mix of old and new tech, but a believable one in this context.

The geography is also fascinating; there’s a sea of constant storm bordering the known lands, and the known lands are mostly sea themselves. Caledonia and her crew are women and girls she’s rescued from the grasp of Aric Athair, the warlord who controls pretty much all of the seas. He does this by forcing boys to serve him and getting them addicted to a substance called Silt, which encourages loyalty. The threat of going through withdrawals from Silt also encourages loyalty! We never actually see Aric on-page in this book, but I have no doubt he’ll show up in the sequels, which I am anxiously awaiting. Aric is ruthless, killing those who defy him as Caledonia’s parents did. She only survived because she was off-ship gathering food when the attack came.

I realize this review is a little disjointed, but the book is a bit hard to explain. The world-building is complex but makes perfect sense, and the plot is fast-moving. The blurb compares it to Mad Max: Fury Road, and I definitely get that vibe from it. I can’t wait to see where the next two books take us, but they don’t even have titles or publication dates yet!!

There is a little bit of LGBT content in the book as well, with relationships forming between girls in Caledonia’s crew.

From the cover of Seafire:

The first in a heart-stopping trilogy that recalls the undeniable feminine power of Wonder Woman and the powder-keg action of Mad Max: Fury Road, Seafire follows the captain of an all-female ship intent on taking down a vicious warlord’s powerful fleet.

After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, who have lost their families and homes because of Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet.

But when Caledonia’s best friend and second-in-command barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all . . . or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

Book Review: Toil & Trouble

toil & troubleToil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft
Edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe
YA Anthology/Fantasy
405 pages
Published August 2018

Toil & Trouble was a much-hyped anthology of YA stories, and I think it lived up to that hype. I really enjoyed almost every story in this book – only one or two of them were less than awesome. And they still weren’t bad! Anthologies like this keep introducing me to yet more authors that I want to read, and just keep growing my TBR list! Some of the authors in this book I was familiar with; while I hadn’t read her work yet, I met Zoraida Córdova at the Baltimore Book Festival, and she was amazing. I’m familiar with Brandy Colbert’s work, and have not yet read Anna-Marie McLemore but desperately want to, and her story in this work (Love Spell) only increases that need.

I read this book just before Halloween, and it was a perfect choice. I’m not a fan of actual horror novels, which seem to be what everyone else is reading this time of year. Give me my strong witchy women! The stories in this book are all young women – teens to early adulthood – learning to rely on themselves. They embrace what family traditions mean to them, or break free of them entirely if they’re the wrong path. They break social taboos and fall in love where they will. They FIGHT for what they want.

I think my favorite story in this book involved a woman whose powers had been bound by her coven until she was old enough to use them wisely, but had to watch her father die in an accident when she could have healed him if she’d had access to her magic. She went to an ancient place of power in the mountains and broke the binding, horrifying her coven. The story is actually about her defying them further in refusing her destined soul mate for the girl she’s been in love with since she was a child, and Fate’s punishment for that. The two girls fighting for each other and for their own magic was amazing. (The Heart in Her Hands, Tess Sharpe.) Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s part of a larger story, I was hoping for more in that world!

As far as I can tell, only one of the stories is part of something larger – I’m pretty sure Zoraida Córdova’s story is part of her Brooklyn Brujas world. Other than that, they all appear to be standalones, which is a little sad as I’d like to see more of many of these worlds!

Toil & Trouble is an outstanding anthology of magical women, and I loved it.

From the cover of Toil & Trouble:

SCORN THE WITCH.
FEAR THE WITCH.
BURN THE WITCH.

History is filled with stories of women accused of witchcraft, of fearsome girls with arcane knowledge. Toil & Trouble features fifteen stories of girls embracing their power, reclaiming their destinies and using their magic to create, to curse, to cure – and to kill.

A young witch uses social media to connect with her astrology clients – and with a NASA-loving girl as cute as she is skeptical. A priestess of death investigates a ritualized murder. A bruja who cures lovesickness might need the remedy herself when she falls in love with an altar boy. A theater production is turned upside down by a visiting churel. In Reconstruction-era Texas, a water witch uses her magic to survive the soldiers who have invaded her desert oasis. And in the near future, a group of girls accused of witchcraft must find their collective power in order to destroy their captors.

This collection reveals a universal truth: there’s nothing more powerful than a teenage girl who believes in herself.

Book Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

to all the boys i've loved beforeTo All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
by Jenny Han
Young Adult
355 pages
Published 2014

I picked this up mostly because the trailer for the Netflix adaptation looked AMAZING. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and I really want to read the other two now! Lara Jean is the middle daughter in a house of three daughters, being raised by their widower father. The relationships between the four of them play a large part in the book, as they are all adjusting to the eldest daughter being away at college. Everyone’s roles are changing, and in the middle of that, Lara Jean’s private love letters get mailed to the boys she wrote them to, throwing her love life into chaos as well.

I loved almost every character in this book – even Lara’s troublemaking best friend has a good heart. I definitely need to watch the Netflix show now, because I really want to see how Chris – aforementioned best friend – is represented!

The family scenes around Christmas really tugged at my heart – Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and the author absolutely NAILED the nostalgic, slightly dreamy, loving holiday atmosphere.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was a cute, sweet read, and really my only negative thing to say about it is the ending left me hanging! Which is part of why I really need to read the other two books, so I suppose it was a good strategy. But man I hate cliffhangers!

From the cover of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before:

Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her, these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved – five in all. When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control. 

TTT – Top Ten Books about Witchy Ladies!

the bone witchTop Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and this week, because Halloween is tomorrow, the theme is Halloween freebie! So I’m doing my top ten on awesome witchy ladies. These are strong-willed women who have magic and use it with intent. They know what they want and they use the tools at their disposal to get it.

My first recommendation here is one that I’ve been recommending left and right since I read it – Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch. The second book, The Heart Forger, is also out, and the third book (The Shadow Glass) comes out in March! The main character in these books is Tea, and she’s a necromancer, and she is AMAZING.

poppy warSecond is The Poppy War, which is being followed by The Dragon Republic in May. Rin is a shaman, chosen by an extremely powerful god, and she’s about to just burn it ALL down to make things right. Excellent military fantasy.

toil & troubleOne I just finished reading (Review up soon, I promise!) is Toil & Trouble – 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft. It’s a YA anthology about witches and it is fantastic. It includes stories by authors I’ve previously read, authors I’ve heard of, and one author I’ve actually met! These women are badass.

girl who drank the moonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon isn’t exactly badass, but it is an amazing book about witches, and how perceptions and traditions don’t always get things right. It could probably pass for a middle-grade read, but it’s still involved enough to be enjoyable for adults.

trail of lightningNow Trail of Lightning is badass! Maggie Hoskie is a Native American monster hunter, and Coyote himself has taken an interest in her. This book is part dystopia, as it takes place after an apocalypse, in which magical walls rose around the reservation to protect it. It’s chock-full of Native American legends and language and traditions and it’s absolutely amazing.

CirceIn a list of powerful, knowing witches, I certainly can’t leave out Circe. This was a Book of the Month several months ago, and a follow up to Song of Achilles. I still haven’t read Song of Achilles, though it’s on my Kindle. Circe, however, blew me away and sent me into a reading slump because what could possibly follow that?!

forest1kForest of a Thousand Lanterns is a re-imagining of Snow White, but in an Asian-inspired world, and it’s the story of the evil queen instead of Snow White. The sequel, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, is out November 6th and follows the evil queen’s stepdaughter. I can’t wait!

crown's fateIt’s got more of a Christmas/winter feel to it than a Halloween feel, but Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate is a duology on Russian magicians duking it out to become the Tsar’s Magician. Along the way, they discover they shouldn’t be fighting each other but are in too deep to stop. It’s a heartbreaker but it’s gorgeous.

fallenBack in the realm of necromancer ladies, we have Reign of the Fallen, built on the odd premise of a country where necromancers constantly resurrect people – so no one truly dies, but if resurrected people are exposed at all (they were voluminous shrouds all the time) they devolve into mindless monsters. Of course, this starts happening a lot, and the main character has to track down the cause. Looks like Reign of the Fallen is getting a sequel in January called Song of the Dead.

thepowerI’m going to end this list with a book that isn’t necessarily about witches, but is about women wielding a magical power – The Power, by Naomi Alderman, is a dystopia wherein women have evolved an electrical shock that they can shove into people by touch. This results in an overturning of the world order, where women are the physically more capable gender. I wish the book wasn’t quite so intent on the gender binary, but other than that, it was a really amazing book.

 

 

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.

Book Review: Heart of Thorns

heart of thornsHeart of Thorns
by Bree Barton
Fantasy
438 pages
Published July 2018

I almost bailed on this book. It’s not bad, exactly, it’s just – mediocre. Mia discovers that she is the thing she’s been taught to hate, discovers that maybe they’re not all bad, that what she’s been taught is probably wrong, but, y’know, maybe not entirely wrong – it’s just one trope after another. It was rather predictable.

And there’s this problem with the world. If every woman is suspected of being a witch, (sorry, Gwyrach) and they work their magic through touch – how is anyone having kids? Sure, women are required to wear gloves in public, but – the touch-magic doesn’t keep men from abusing women. Not like in The Power, where men start getting actually scared to touch women for fear of what could happen.

The only character in this book that I actually LIKED was Prince Quin. And maybe Dom, the flirtatious gay boy. Mia was rather thoroughly unlikable. First she blindly accepts that she should hate and kill Gwyrach, then is appalled to find out she (and her mother) are/were Gwyrach, and refuses to accept that because of course she can’t possibly be one of those reviled women. She refuses to take Quin into her confidence, despite him showing blind trust in her for most of the book. What does he have to do to prove himself to you, woman?

I’ve read much better feminist dystopias. This is oppressed-women-finding-their-hidden-powers-and-fighting-back clothed in a fantasy instead of a dystopia, and it’s not nearly as good as it could be. Despite ending on a cliffhanger, I don’t care enough about these characters to read the next book.

From the cover of Heart of Thorns:

Mia Rose wants only one thing: revenge against the Gwyrach who killed her mother.

In a world where only women can possess magic – and every woman is suspected of having it – the half-girl, half-god Gwyrach are feared, reviled, and hunted. After training under her father and his infamous Hunters, Mia is determined to scour the four kingdoms and enact the Hunters’ Creed: Heart for a heart, life for a life.

But then her father announces a quite different future: She will marry Prince Quin, heir to the throne. Just like that, smart, headstrong Mia is thrust into the last role she ever wanted: pretty, wifely bauble to the future king.

So on the eve of her wedding, Mia plots a daring escape, only to discover the unimaginable: She has magic. She may be a Huntress, but she’s also a Gwyrach.

As the truth comes to light, Mia must untangle the secrets of her own past. Friends darken into foes and logic begins to fray – as do the rules she has always played by. If Mia wants to survive, she must learn to trust her heart . . . even if it kills her.