Blog Blitz: Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson & 5 Reasons to Read

Coming to shelves this October is the newest YA Fantasy from NYT Bestselling author Margaret Rogerson titled VESPERTINE which follows a nun in training named Artemesia who cleanses the bodies of the deceased to allow their souls to pass on. If not, the spirits will rise and become a danger to the living. When her convent is attacked and death comes to Loraille, she will have to join forces with an ancient spirit and wield an ancient relic if she has any chance of stopping it.

Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson (Vespertine Trilogy #1)

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon Teen)

Release Date: October 5, 2021

Pages: 400

Summary: The dead of Loraille do not rest.

Artemisia is training to be a Gray Sister, a nun who cleanses the bodies of the deceased so that their souls can pass on; otherwise, they will rise as spirits with a ravenous hunger for the living. She would rather deal with the dead than the living, who trade whispers about her scarred hands and troubled past.

When her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia defends it by awakening an ancient spirit bound to a saint’s relic. It is a revenant, a malevolent being that threatens to possess her the moment she drops her guard. Wielding its extraordinary power almost consumes her—but death has come to Loraille, and only a vespertine, a priestess trained to wield a high relic, has any chance of stopping it. With all knowledge of vespertines lost to time, Artemisia turns to the last remaining expert for help: the revenant itself.

As she unravels a sinister mystery of saints, secrets, and dark magic, her bond with the revenant grows. And when a hidden evil begins to surface, she discovers that facing this enemy might require her to betray everything she has been taught to believe—if the revenant doesn’t betray her first.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while you would know that I’m such a big fan of Margaret’s books, I first fell in love with her magical worlds and how she pays homage to fantasy with her storytelling. It was her 2017 debut ‘An Enchantment Of Ravens’ that captivated me and from there, I would gladly read anything she writes. As part of the Blog Blitz for Rogerson’s upcoming novel, I wanted to share 5 Reasons To Read this upcoming fantasy or add it to your tbr if you haven’t already!

First Of A Fantasy Trilogy

Margaret Rogerson is known for her enchanting standalones, however Vespertine is her first foray into writing a series! I think many can agree that there’s many layers to the worlds she crafts and much to explore leaving readers yearning for more. Now with the world of Loraille expanding across three installments, we can learn more about the Gray Sisters, revenants, magic, and mysteries that Rogerson is setting up in this first book.

First-Person POV

Like Enchantment Of Ravens, Rogerson is returning to a first-person perspective as we follow Artemisia on her journey! I personally love first person in fantasy because it gives a personal look into a one-of-a-kind magical world. As a trilogy, I’m looking forward to seeing how the world, magic, etc. expand across each installment, in addition to seeing Artemisia grow as a character.

Delve into the Lore of Loraille

From the summary alone its clear there’s going to be a lot of different layers to explore in this new fantasy world. From the magic system, ancient spirits to the mysteries being uncovered, I’m eager to learn more about each of these elements and immerse myself in the setting, understanding all the details across each chapter.

A Paranormal and Fantastical World

As with Rogerson’s previous novels its clear she’s also familiar with melding fantasy plus hints of the paranormal. We see it more clearly in Sorcery Of Thorns when we learn about the grimoires, demon friend Silas and the overall atmosphere of the novel gave it a spooky vibe for sure! I’m so excited to see how Rogerson tackles that concept of the paranormal now focusing on the idea of spirits, Artemisia’s path throughout the story and seeing the fantasy & paranormal come together through the world building.

Fantastic Heroines

Rogerson’s novels present heroines who are established to have unique roles in their respective worlds and ultimately, they undergo journeys of self-discovery and adventure, which make them such a joy to dive into! Artemisia’s journey sounds like its one filled with danger + mystery, where I’m looking forward to learning more about her role as Gray Sister and ultimately her path to learning more about being a vespertine!

Are you looking forward to Rogerson’s newest YA Fantasy? What are you most eager in discovering with Vespertine? 🗡✨

*Thanks to Simon Teen for the opportunity to take part in this blogger blitz & You can expect my ARC review sometime next month!

Blog Essay: ‘Down Comes The Night’ and examining Gothic Literature

When one considers the term ‘Gothic Literature,’ notably specific images come to mind: abandoned castles or manors, crumbling architecture, flickering candlelight, and an eerily quiet, almost chilling atmosphere. In this essay, I set out to examine the gothic elements that Allison Saft’s Young Adult debut Down Comes The Night (2020) utilizes, that present it as a truly classic gothic tale.

An essential ingredient for any piece of gothic literature is setting. The locale is crucial because it is through the descriptive language, minute details and history that we see it slowly become almost its own character within the story. For DCTN, that is undoubtedly the secluded estate of Colwick Hall, where our heroine Wren Southerland travels to in order to heal a servant according to its eccentric owner, Alistair Lowry.

Saft’s novel takes place in a world where there are countries with long-standing histories, a centuries-long war leaving two magical countries (Danu and Vesria) reeling with unresolved conflict. In addition, an isolated territory known as Cernos, which possesses no magic so in this case, it has largely kept to itself. Using a medical science-based magic system, Saft’s choice of words from the description of the magical vein where the protagonist connects with her magic or the anatomy terminology describing bone, blood, tissue, etc. is used to further provide a particular ambience. In addition to the reliance on what can be presumed to align with the Victorian era plus 19th Century technology, there’s a blend of the macabre and magical that brings ‘Down Comes The Night’ to life.

Gothic literature also uses setting to establish a divide or isolation for the protagonist, making the reader feel a sense of unease, or even a fear at the uncertainty. 

Wren could make out the enormity of the hall, it’s startling emptiness…Everything outside the candelabra’s unsteady reach swam indistinctly, as if the house breathed and stirred the shadows like wind over still water…

(Ch. 8, 120)

Aligned with the setting is the atmosphere, and in this case Saft presents a deeply rooted winter backdrop seen through the various locations that Wren travels to throughout the novel from the abbey where all healers are trained, her journey to Colwick to even the estate itself. 

Weather, in this case the established winter season present throughout the novel, is a facet of atmosphere which provides another layer in which to explore even more vital elements of Gothic literature. Across the various locales, the mood of this story is made clear through character, setting, and a more obvious way to showcase the inner or undisclosed feelings of the cast.

Examples of this are heavily implied and stated throughout the text by associating the winter climate with words such as “cold,” “frost,” “chill,” among others. By using these types of descriptors Saft has not only directly presented the reader with an ambience of which to perceive this story, but it also serves as a function in which readers “decode the inner landscape of the protagonists…” according to Marquette Library’s Glossary Of The Gothic entry which provides a definition for the element of weather in this type of story.

Snow-smothered fields sprawled for miles…The wind whistled through the abbey’s towers. Cold bit through her cloak…if she stayed still too long, she feared she’d go brittle and crack…

(Ch. 6, 96)

Next, another important element of this sub-genre is emotion. Saft explores this overtly and rather brilliantly through the protagonist and heroine, Wren Southerland, healer in the Queen’s guard of Danu. Driving her decisions at every turn, whether it’s for the unresolved feelings she has for her commanding officer and best friend Una, the sense of duty she feels to seek out her missing comrade, the deep, complicated emotions she feels for the sworn enemy of her kingdom Hal Cavendish, even the opening scene where she can’t stand idly by while seeing a prisoner injured in the snow, the exploration of this is essential to her makeup and gives the novel in my opinion, a unique twist.

Throughout the plot, Wren is penalized and often seen as “foolish” for relying heavily on her emotions and empathy in response to situations she finds herself in. However, Saft never paints this a weakness for the heroine, but a strength she learns to accept about herself despite what she’s been taught.

Could that be true? After everything she’d endured because of her emotions, after everything Isabel and Una had told her, could she really believe that?

Yes, some buried part of her said. Isn’t that what makes us strong?

(Ch. 28, 430)

A more obvious example of this is when Wren, over the course of the story, learns to confide in Hal and their romance is a symbol for the “hope” of bringing peace to their lands. Wren learns to overcome her uneasiness around him as the ‘Reaper Of Vesria’ through compassion, empathy, and understanding. 

Even before the start of the novel, it’s clear Saft intentionally meant for this element of Wren’s character to be a monumental piece of her identity and for like-minded readers to admire going in at the start of the dedication: “For all the girls who feel too much.”

In perhaps a more subversive or allegorical way of presenting us with this component of a Gothic novel, Saft allows our heroine to clearly and genuinely wear her emotions on her sleeve.


Notes 📝🖊
1. Page numbers when referencing the text, corelate to a digital ebook, which may not reflect the accurate page numbers in a physical copy

What did you think about this literary DCTN essay? Did you pick up on these elements while reading Saft’s novel that clearly presented it as Gothic? What do you enjoy the most about these kinds of novels?

In recent months I noticed that I’ve become more interested in deep-dives (like video essays) or literary analysis of media and fiction. I don’t often see posts like this about books and thought this would be great starting point for new kind of content on the blog introducing literary-type essays. There was quite a bit of research I did for this post and genuinely I had a fantastic time bringing it all together. I’m hoping to deliver more posts like this about YA Books and would love your feedback on this first one! Thank you for reading! 📚💖

Oculta by Maya Motayne Review

Oculta by Maya Motayne (The Nocturna Trilogy #2)

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Epic Reads)

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Pages: 448

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: Mark van Leeuwen

Summary: After joining forces to save Castallan from an ancient magical evil, Alfie and Finn haven’t seen each other in months. Alfie is finally ready to take on the mantle of crown prince. His first task: preparing for the peace talks with Castallan’s former colonizers, the nation of Englass.

But when the summit coincides with the reemergence of Los Toros, the mysterious syndicate of assassins responsible for Alfie’s brother’s death, and Finn’s unexpected installation as one of the four Thief Lords of Castallan, the two must reunite to discover the hidden link between these events—before it’s too late. 

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

Oculta succeeds as a sequel in so many ways! Not only does it dive deep into the idea of legacy, but also balances it’s page-turning story among the politics and intrigue, while wasting no time to elaborate even more on the unique magic system. But the foundation of the story really is about Alfie and Finn’s own personal journeys, including their own relationship throughout this intense continuation.

If you didn’t know, Nocturna is such a special YA for me because its one of the first Latine epic fantasy series I’d ever read! Seeing Latinx (specifically Dominican) culture represented in this genre means so much to me, also as an aspiring writer myself. I fell in love with Alfie and Finn’s journey, which although ends on a bittersweet note I without a doubt, was eagerly awaiting their reunion. Now 2 years later, the sequel is finally here and wow are there a myriad of thoughts to share!

Set about 4 months after the end of Nocturna, Prince Alfie is taking on more responsibility as the future king and attempting to atone for his mistakes and the effects Sombra’s magic left on many of Castallan’s people. Feeling a guilt weigh heavy on him, he attempts to live up to his brother’ Dez’s legacy as he’s also grappling with his own dilemma: trying to reconnect with his magic again as it’s slowly begun to reject him.

On the other hand, Face-changing thief Finn has been traveling and spending time away from San Cristobal. But when a mysterious organization attacks her, she quickly finds her way back to Castallan to warn Alfie. She also finds herself with a new position as Thief Lord, bringing her both annoyance and help along the way when Los Toros resurface, threatening the international Peace Summit between Castallan and Englass. Soon, Alfie and Finn are once again reunited to solve the case before its too late, especially as Los Toros begin assassinating and instilling fear across San Cristobal!

This is a sequel that not only captivated me as it showed Motayne’s strength as a writer as she tied together so many elements to her fantasy world, but also showed how those layers build on each other in such impactful ways. One of those ways is how the Peace Summit allows for us to get an even deeper look into the setting we were just introduced to in book one. Not just the Dominican-inspired setting, but the magic system, the inner politics of the royals and Castallans’ people, each of these and much more are taken to new heights through the brilliant plotting and structure of the novel.

The plot is such a page-turner! As Alfie and Finn are attempting to piece together the mystery I loved how the story unfolded, how personal each POV felt and just being immersed in this magical world again! The writing shows the humor, secrecy, adventure, and intrigue that build across every chapter. This book is in one word: Cinematic. Not once did I ever feel pulled out of the story, each roadblock or question our trio encounters leads from one adventure to the next as they try to figure out why Los Toros are so preoccupied with the summit. It not delves into themes of legacy, family, but also destiny in a way and

Having followed Alfie and Finn on their journey through Nocturna to now seeing that they’ve spent time apart up until their reunion (which had me sobbing), we understand they are now cemented into the roles they’ve been growing into their whole lives. However, despite their duties pulling them in opposite directions, there’s something keeping them together and while I won’t spoil, the way Motayne establishes their dynamic (slowburn romance) and GROWTH is so exceptionally crafted. There’s a roughness to our witty thief Finn and she learns throughout this novel to confront her feelings, as does Alfie. Alfie and Finn deserve the biggest hugs after this book tbh…one of the highlights was seeing them face their vulnerabilities along the way.

The magic of Propios expands a bit as well, which is super fun and for me, was unexpected. I like how Motayne showed the magic system evolve overtime through the use of Finn’s face-changing abilities. Showing the evolution to her own powers, in a way, symbolized her struggle with trying to keep Ignacio’s ghost out of her head while attempting to avoid going down a similar path, the more her magic grew. Finn’s arc is truly about her overcoming trauma and yet she’s still her snarky, comedic self, I loved that being a thing at every moment of her journey.

Now we cannot forget Luka, Alfie’s cousin who is undergoing his own arc in this story as well. Feeling a deep sense of survivor’s guilt following Sombra’s attacks, he has his own secrets too, but despite it he and Alfie learn to build their dynamic even more, counting on each other to be by their side. The addition of his POV was such a brilliant move for this story! We already know so much about him, but I liked getting into the more hidden depths of his character.

Aside from characters, the other biggest strength of this novel lies in the worldbuilding. Because we are already familiar with the city’s rings, the various quests around San Cristobal cements you into the setting that much more because we as readers are transported to different pockets of the city, making it that much more immersive. With the Summit well underway as Alfie is balancing the various events throughout the week while also traveling across the city with Finn and Luka, there’s lots of opportunity for us to dig deeper into the setting and see it come to life. As Finn tries to find more clues as well when the Toros assassinations begin too, we see how both sides paint a clearer picture to the social divide between the city’s rings.

What Oculta also does which is unique for YA Fantasy is how it tackles conversation around colonization and the consequences of it since its established in the first book that Castallan was colonized in the past. With Castallan’s magic being influenced by language, it shows the important stakes of the summit since Englass still uses a caste system to block certain people from their magic based on status. The discussions around colonization, even systematic oppression are given a lot of focus, especially seen from Alfie’s POV as he and his family try to establish conversation with the Englass royals.

There’s also quite a few new characters too from the introduction of Rodrigo, Emeraude, and Elian, Thief Lords just like Finn. Including the Englass royals such as Prince Marsden, Princess Vesper and a servant named James who befriends Luka and the others along the way. There’s lots of new characters and *secrets along the way!

Some of my favorite scenes include the various events of the Summit (it was such a creative plot point), honestly any scene with Alfie and Finn together, the Alfie, Finn, and Luka trio, the adventures around the city, basically the whole plot. This sequel was SO FANTASTIC! Not only is it the world, but its our main characters, their vibrant personalities and meaningful journeys that make this book an impactful read from beginning to end. I fell in love with these characters even more, if that’s even possible?? The ending is just, WOW I need book 3 how will I wait??

The only reason I’m being so vague in this review is because its a sequel and I think its best to experience this amazing read for yourself. But let me just say this is a phenomenal continuation to the series, so if you love these characters and the world, the magic, and adventure, it gets even better here! It ends as a great sequel should, leaving you wanting to know what happens next.

Oculta succeeds as a political, character-driven sequel in the Nocturna trilogy! With its fantastic storytelling, further development to the world and magic system, in addition to the heart-wrenching journeys of our cast. Filled to the brim with intrigue, adventure, captivating plot threads that will leave you wanting to know more, this is a truly brilliant read!

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft Review

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Release Date: March 2, 2021

Pages: 388

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist (Jacket Design): Olga Grlic

Summary: He saw the darkness in her magic. She saw the magic in his darkness.

Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.

The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.

With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.

My Rating: ★★★

My Thoughts: Down Comes The Night is an atmospheric gothic YA debut that melds fantasy with a bit of horror and suspense! Through an intriguing world, science-based magic system, including an intriguing romance at its center, Saft delivers a solid standalone filled with twists, mystery, and an immersive world that comes to life!

While I’m not one to often gush about anticipated releases on the blog, DCTN was absolutely one of them! I luckily got an ARC early in the year and was captivated by the setting. The aesthetics of this novel build such a distinct atmosphere, world, and I just had to learn more about this intriguing cast of characters.

Wren Southerland is a healer of the Queen’s guard and from the very beginning of the story it’s made clear that her strength lies in her emotional, empathetic nature, which makes her journey as a protagonist not only relatable to me, but also quite interesting. She’s not on the best terms with her aunt, Queen Isabel and is on very thin ice after letting a possible suspect go early on in the novel, which could have been a clue to the whereabouts of her missing friend Jacob Byers.

After her dismissal, she receives a mysterious letter from a noble by the name of Alistair Lowry who’s in need of her skills to heal an ill servant of his. In exchange, he’ll offer Wren assistance in brokering peace between the warring kingdoms of Danu and Vesria, while also restoring her reputation. What Wren isn’t expecting is the servant “Henry” to be none other than, Hal Cavendish, “Reaper Of Vesria” and her kingdom’s sworn enemy.

As she stays in the eerie Colwick Hall to complete her work, she learns along the way that Hal is not all he appears to be and there’s something sinister about the desolate mansion. They are both eager to find comrades who’ve gone missing and perhaps together, they can find answers?

The worldbuilding has a unique set-up which is established in such a way where the setting feels lived in, expansive, and left me wanting to know more. Danu and Vesria are countries that rely heavily on magic, compared to the neutral region of Cernos which relies more heavily on technology-based innovations. There’s a clear dichotomy Saft explored through the magic system and politics, which add yet another interesting layer to the world. With a science-based magic system, the introduction to the fola, or the special vein that allows people such as Wren to tap into their magical abilities, is an integral part of the world that’s explored through both Wren and Hal.

In a world with magic, I appreciated how Saft also delved into this distinction between countries that either rely heavily on magic or 19th century technology. Through a 3rd person perspective the writing creates an atmospheric, dark. ominous tone with an equally cozy ambience. The imagery and Saft’s writing style deliver the aesthetic so well. In addition, the medical terminology adds even more to the atmosphere of the story, especially as it’s reflective of Wren’s skill as a healer.

As Wren makes herself at home within Colwick for the time being, she learns that the Reaper isn’t all he appears to be. The dynamic and chemistry between these two was my FAVORITE, despite being from opposing sides they are left on even ground with the crumbling mansion and wintery atmosphere, isolating them. This leads them to uncover more about each other, realizing there’s a lot they never really knew about one another or their countries. Wren / Hal each have their own goals, ambitions, and motivations, that propel them to grow throughout the novel.

Each character comes to life on the page and they have their own distinct personalities giving you a clear sense as to who they are. Una is Wren’s commanding officer, but also her friend and former love, there’s so much history, story, etc. between them that despite spending quite some time apart, their relationship really stood out to me. However at times certain characters can feel a bit static (in my opinion I felt this way with Queen Isabel), especially when their motivations don’t feel too fleshed out…but as a whole this is pretty well-developed cast. Wren’s dynamics with the cast overall were given enough interactions to the point where I knew them and enjoyed their arcs: Una, the Queen, Lowry, Sister Heloise, etc.

Throughout the novel, Wren is led to believe her emotions are what make her weaker, she is driven by them at every turn. However, I appreciate how Saft built this as her own personal strength. I’d say I’m a pretty emotional and the way Saft explored this as a constant through Wren’s character, presenting it as a core spirit to her character was satisfying to read about, especially in fantasy. Wren’s character arc to me felt incredibly well developed and satisfying, she grows along the way, but also stays true to her self, especially when it comes to her emotions. Una is driven by her loyalty to the kingdom, but underneath you can also tell she still worries for Wren, despite the obstacles along the way.

Interestingly despite being pitched as an enemies-to-lovers romance, I felt the execution didn’t work. Both Wren and Hal are given preconceptions about one another, their countries, etc. to the point where once they actually meet in person, there’s more of a hesitancy to their conversations than any solid antagonistic feelings between them. They do have meaningful conversations, challenge one another, and find that their love inspires growth within them, so with that said, I personally felt the enemies-to-lovers element wasn’t the best descriptor here, in my opinion.

Additionally, together the politics, magic system, mystery, character arcs, worldbuilding, and more combine so incredibly well, however looking back on each element on its own separately, it felt like more detail or development could have made them a bit stronger.

Overall there’s lots of elements woven throughout this book that I enjoyed and perhaps at a later date I hope to dive into them a bit more.

Down Comes The Night is a promising gothic fantasy debut that’s immersive, atmospheric, and packed with many different layers sure to keep you intrigued! Saft’s YA Fantasy is perfect for those who love a good fantasy with romance, and are looking for a solid standalone!

I’m shouting out fellow book blogger Cossette from Tea Time Lit and her review of this intriguing debut! In the short time I’ve known Cossette, I can tell you she is passionate about this novel, from the lush writing to Wren’s fantastic character arc, all of it! She loved this world, its characters and her review constantly reminds me of the stand out elements that Saft has weaved together. If you have yet to read this and need a motivator to pick it up, READ Cossette’s post!

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells Review

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells_Review

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells (Shatter The Sky #2)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: October 13, 2020

Pages: 368

Available through Bookshop & The Book Depository

Cover Artist: Chloë Foglia (Designer) and Olivier Ponsonnet (illustrator)

Summary: Let them burn.

Maren’s world was shattered when her girlfriend, Kaia, was abducted by the Aurati. After a daring rescue, they’ve finally been reunited, but Maren’s life is still in pieces: Kaia seems more like a stranger than the lover Maren knew back home; Naava, the mother of all dragons, has retreated into seclusion to recover from her wounds, leaving Maren at a loss on how to set the rest of the dragons free; and worst of all, her friend Sev has been captured by the emperor’s Talons.

As a prisoner of Zefed, Sev finds himself entangled in a treacherous game of court politics. With more people joining the rebellion, whispers of a rogue dragon mistress spreading, and escape seeming less likely with each passing day, Sev knows that it won’t be long before the emperor decides to make an example of him. If he’s to survive, he’ll have to strike first—or hope Maren reaches him in time.

With the final battle for Zefed looming, Maren must set aside her fears, draw upon all she’s learned about her dragon-touched abilities, and face her destiny once and for all. But when the fighting is over and the smoke clears, who will be left standing?

[Read an ARC: which I received unsolicited from the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Storm The Earth is a character-driven conclusion to the Shatter The Sky duology! When Maren is eager to free the dragons of her nation, she also embarks on a journey to rescue a friend whose been taken prisoner. With political intrigue, additional layers to the world building, and well-rounded character arcs, this is a quiet YA fantasy adventure worth reading!

Early last year, I read a surprising debut that I personally feel went under the radar. Although I truly don’t talk about this series enough, Shatter The Sky easily became one of my new favorite books. If you have yet to read Wells’ book it can essentially be pitched as an “angry bisexual/dragon” novel.

The first novel follows Maren, a girl who lives in the quiet mountain nation of Ilvera and whose girlfriend gets taken by Aurati, seers of the empire. So, as she devises a plan to rescue Kaia, she believes the only thing she can do is steal the emperor’s beloved dragons and search for her. When her journey takes her to a stronghold, she goes undercover as an aromatory apprentice, learning more about dragons, her nation’s deeply rooted link to them, and perhaps her own special connection.

Now that Maren and Kaia are reunited with the great dragon Naava by their side, she’s hoping to uncover a lot more about her unique abilities of being able to communicate with dragons and her mysterious Dragon dreams. With Sev (who is actually a prince leading an undercover rebellion) having become prisoner by the emperor, Maren is unsure of where he could possibly be. So, while the Emperor is devising a plan to destroy the brewing rebellion, take control of the dragons, and bring an end to Maren’s plans, Sev hopes she won’t be too late. Then to make matters even more interesting, Naava decides to leave and recover, leaving Maren to discover how she’ll free the dragons on her own and determine what the dragons’ fates will be when she breaks their hold from the Emperor’s Talons’…to join her or be free.

The worldbuilding in this sequel for me, was excellent, which is where STS faltered just slightly. However what this sequel does exceedingly well is delving more into those different layers from the various nations, political ties, and how both the lore and history of dragons fit into all of it! While taking place across the Zefedi empire from Maren’s POV, her travels detail more of the location, neighboring towns, and the world feels even more grounded. While from Sev’s POV there is a much clearer picture to the tyrannical rule of Rafael and his empire.

What both Maren and Sev’s POVs offer to expand on this rich world that Wells has established are elements of economic class division, hierarchy of the court, even the Emperor’s Talons and the dragon’s forced to work for them.

I felt that telling this story from a dual perspective truly was a brilliant move on Wells’s part because at its core, this story is propelled by its compelling cast of characters, especially our main protagonists. They are each learning more about themselves and how the world is shaping them at every step. Maren and Sev both had equally strong arcs and I genuinely loved following them in this finale, seeing how their stories intertwine added a new layer to this already phenomenal series.

An interesting twist is how Maren has taken up the role as the “Chosen One” / Hero, where Kaia has become much more reluctant like Maren was at the beginning of her own journey. While it can seem like “miscommunication” is a big factor in their surprisingly uneasy dynamic, Well’s naturally explored a relationship that is shifting, changing, and left adrift. It felt quite realistic and with the focus on characters, it made perfect sense with how Maren’s journey develops by the end.

As Maren continues on her journey she also learns whether she can take up the role of “Dragon Empress” the world so desperately needs. Sev is the last remaining royal of his family after they were murdered some years ago. With Rafael knowing more about Sev’s work with the Dragon’s, his rebel group, he knows he won’t let him escape so easily. While under the Emperor’s control and influence, Sev becomes forced to face trials that make him rethink his own power as a leader while it slowly crumbles away through torture and being coerced into making innocent people suffer for Rafael’s own image.

My only complaint is that I felt there could have been a couple more plot threads, mainly across Sev’s POV because he is essentially just stuck waiting for a way to escape. There’s his Aurati watcher named Faris and Neve also makes a return, which was very exciting as she was another one of my favorite characters, plus Sev’s childhood crush Piera. I enjoyed their character arcs a lot, but again I just wish they had a bit more page-time because they were so interesting [Especially Neve, who is on the verge of demotion after what happened with Maren in Book 1!]. The pacing can feel a bit slow, but with how the building conflict adds more tension to the story, I didn’t mind so much the further I read.

Again, the new characters we’re introduced to were so well developed and despite only just meeting them in the finale, their arcs really felt complete by the end of the book. Also, the intense action scenes (especially near the end) were SO GOOD! Actually, those scenes in particular were probably some of the best I’ve read in fantasy in quite a bit. Well’s detail to movement whether it was a confrontation with a Talon, dragon, etc., were described in a neat way where I never really felt lost while reading them.

Shatter The Sky and especially this sequel also is focused on presenting Queer rep. in this fantasy world. I love how Well’s navigated Queer relationships in her world. It’s nice to see typical romantic tropes or established relationships through the lens of a normalized queer fantasy setting. In addition to the bisexual rep. there’s a character who uses they/them pronouns, and there’s also a sapphic relationship.

Once I reached the end, I was overjoyed at where the main characters journeys had ended and truthfully I’m still feeling a bit sad at saying goodbye to this amazing world. If anything Storm The Earth left me wanting to know so much more. Maren, Sev, Kaia, the little dragon Tasia, Tovin, Efren, Neve, Faris, etc. were such intriguing characters and really captured my heart throughout the story, leading up to the end!

Shatter The Sky was definitely a unique reading experience and this surprisingly quick duology, really took me on a journey. These books are in my eyes truly under the radar. Its such a great series worth checking out, highly recommend them if you are looking for Queer fantasy, more YA duologies, dragons, or just eager to read a story set in a distinct world!

Storm The Earth closes the chapter on the Shatter The Sky duology following a reluctant hero who learns to lead a rebellion. From a layered world that gets explored even more, stunning cast of characters, dragon lore, politics, and much more, this is truly a YA Fantasy duology worth the read!

Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 7 by Kamome Shirahama {Manga Review}

Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 7 by Kamome Shirahama (Witch Hat Atelier #7)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Pages: 176

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Summary: As the new trial comes to an end, one of Coco’s rewards from Beldaruit the Wise is the story of Qifrey’s past and how he came to desire the mysteries of magic. Feeling a connection with her own desire to save her mother, Coco departs for the source of all answers: the Tower Of Tomes. But it is a perilous journey to make on her own, and the secrets held within could sway even the most virtuous of witches…

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Witch Hat Atelier is a profound masterpiece in the making and each volume is proof of it! With breathtaking artwork, thoughtful messages, and a compelling story delving deeper into my favorite character Qifrey, Shirahama has crafted something truly special! Volume 7 reveals that the true magic lies not just within the epic fantasy world, but it’s deeply profound cast of characters. This series captivates with every installment!

Shirahama’s Witch Hat has swiftly cemented itself as a beloved series in my eyes, no matter what adventure befalls Coco, her fellow apprentices, alongside master’s Qifrey and Olruggio. Witch Hat Atelier reads like a love letter to good fantasy stories― the whimsy, and magic continue within each volume.

Volume 7 is everything you want from a sequel or continuation, the poetic exploration of characters pasts, heroes facing trials, plus a myriad of twists and secrets that leave you unable to put the book down for a second.

It opens up on a deeply metaphorical backstory to who could probably be best described as my “comfort character” Qifrey and his best friend Olruggio when they were young apprentice magicians discussing opposing elements: fire and water. Olruggio teaches him there is power in embracing what scares you and knowing those fears can help you to rest easier.

Now back in the present at the Great Hall after Qifrey has healed, the two childhood friends delve more into Qifrey’s mysterious past involving his memories, his (missing) eye, and much more. While elsewhere, Coco learns more about master Qifrey from Beldaruit, leaving her fearful of the future if her current magic can’t provide the answers she’s looking for.

Filled with nothing but dread and uneasiness, Coco is convinced she can find what she needs to save her mother in the Tower Of Tomes and runs away. However, at the same time Olruggio continues his much needed chat which reveals more to Qifrey’s obsession with locating the Brimmed Caps and how it relates to Coco.

As the group reunites and a monster close by, Qifrey reminds her how far she’s come and there is always a solution. Being the true teacher he is, he offers his young apprentice a choice…allowing her to choose whether to pursue the cryptic tower or return home, instead she chooses a different way leading her straight towards Qifrey. That was easily one of the most heartfelt moments in this surprisingly dark installment because, Coco is eager to learn more about magic and this scene is a reminder of how she wants Qifrey at her side, every step of the way, enthusiastic to keep on improving her skills no matter how long it takes. What she’s learned, the friends she’s made, and the adventures still ahead keep her anchored, allowing her to shake off any temptation to use dark magic, even if seems like the quicker solution.

With Beldaruit being Qifrey’s former master, he also learns how much he’s grown into a teacher and wonders whether he will be wise to not tear down the home he’s built for himself and his apprentices.

The last chapter though, WOW it kept me on edge. Never has Shirahama delved so deeply into the intricate past of a character like Qifrey in previous volumes. It was filled with so much pain, tension, surprise…I still cannot believe what I just read. Although I adore all of the characters in this series, Qifrey has a special place in my heart. Learning more about the lengths he’s willing to go to to protect his past and defend his future (both for himself, friends, and students) you feel for him, but also left so shaken.

Reading Qifrey’s past, being buried alive by certain magicians, losing his memories, and his former role in the rise of dark magic, Shirahama handles his story with so much care, but isn’t afraid to show us the sinister thread he still faithfully clings to making him one intriguing character I cannot wait to learn more about.

At its core though, this volume reflected on such profound themes like that of family, home, and where home truly is. As the Great Witch Beldaruit mentioned, “the mighty Silverwood, it is said, it only takes root in places it knows it will find true comfort…” (105). Much like Qifrey, the atelier is his home and despite his insistence on finding the Brimmed Caps, Beldaruit hopes he will make the wise choice in not tearing it all down.

There’s even a deeply explored concept that’s made evidently clear in this volume, that magic can be seen as both a kind of hope and despair. Coco is naïve and enthusiastic to learn everything there is to know, where Qifrey has experienced the more hostile sides of magic, both ideas co-exist and are fundamental to the superb magic system that’s been introduced thus far.

As with each volume, the story is elevated by the expert artwork. The varying shapes of panels guide the pace of the action scenes so perfectly. The specific focus to backgrounds and set details, heighten the focus of scenes as well. For example on page 21, when Beldaruit reflects on finding a younger Qifrey being buried, the page specifically splits him from the magicians with the lid of a casket acting as a divide between the scenes. Or another one of my favorite types of paneling involves Shirahama’s use of a scene as she breaks it out of a traditional panel square, it adds dimension and focus to the specific elements, which is always fantastic.

Despite Volume 7 most likely tied with 1 as my favorite in the series thus far, I did have an interesting critique once I reread this in preparation of my review. Olruggio’s side chapter in the Hall as he’s tasked with helping a royal in preparation for a banquet, in my opinion, would have fit much better in a different volume. Although it delves into a lot of great elements like introducing me to Heihart and Jujy, history surrounding the pairing of monarchs and witches, plus details into the dynamic of masters and apprentices, I believe this chapter ultimately broke up the pacing of the Qifrey-focused story.

Above all though, I truly enjoyed how there was such a character-focus to this volume, intriguing backstory, new characters as well. However, while there are quite a few dark moments in this volume, it left on a hopeful note hinting at a fun new adventure awaiting the witches of the atelier.

Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 7 is a stellar installment in Shirahama’s brilliant series! From the detailed artwork, charming cast of characters, and compelling story that gets even more interesting, this series is something truly special. This series slowly unravels the deep mysteries of a phenomenal character. Each volume, as always, leaves you eager to see what happens next!

Cover Reveal: Melody Of Astronomical Dusk by Miri Castor

24hr.YABookBlog is delighted to share the cover for the third novel in Miri Castor’s Opal Charm Series. This self-published Young Adult Fantasy series follows a Black teen named Opal from New York who learns of an alternate world and her own magical abilities. As this discovery soon propels her to try and save both worlds, she faces many hardships along the way. However, at its core, the series is about family, friendship and strengthening those bonds!

When Miri reached out to me about revealing this cover, I was overjoyed in taking part! It’s no surprise that I’m always looking to discover new YA novels and especially indie books. After discovering Castor’s series just last year, I’ve been eager to start it and it’s exciting getting to share the forthcoming novel with all of you!


Opal Charm is in desperate need of a vacation. A trip to her grandmother’s place in the sunny town of Marisol offers tranquility and distance from recent chaotic events in Dewdrop. But Marisol brings a whole new set of mysteries about Opal’s family, including the original Twilight wielder Philomenos.  

Meanwhile, Samael Serkhan’s influence grows quickly across the alternate world of Athre. Lies, secrets, and heartache spread with Samael’s power, threatening to sever Opal’s ties with JAEL and family once and for all. With Twilight and family bonds, Opal must stop those trapped under Samael’s control from a self-destructing madness that can engulf both her worlds.

Opal Charm: Melody Of Astronomical Dusk by is set to be released April 2, 2021!

Cover Artist and Illustrator: Piere d’Arterie // Credits: Castor Press and Miri Castor

You can pre-order the novel through Amazon or add the series to your Goodreads!

Opal is a Black bi girl who is learning to grow alongside her family and friends over the course of the series. Set in the bustling suburb of Dewdrop, she meets a new friend named Hope Adaire and life slowly begins to change. She’s unveiling truths, finding her own path, and better understanding her own superpowers.

The Path To Dawn‘ is the first novel and was the launch of the series back in February of 2016. In addition to the two novels in the series thus far, there’s also a prequel novel which follows Opal’s brother Jermaine. Castor plans to conclude the Opal’s adventures with a fourth book in the series currently being written.

About Miri Castor: She spent many recesses in middle school writing fantasy stories, with Opal Charm being one of many. She has written for Black Girl Magic Literary Magazine and was featured as a Spotlight New Author in 2016. After attending a university on the East Coast, she studied biochemistry and received her B.S. in 2016. A New York native, Miri enjoys playing video games, attending music concerts, and strolling through the city. 

Find Miri Castor on: WebsiteAmazonTwitterTumblrFacebook

Have you heard of the Opal Charm Series? What are your thoughts on this cover? 🔥✨

Nicola Traveling Around The Demons’ World Vol. 1 by Asaya Miyanaga {Manga Review}

Nicola Traveling Around The Demons’ World Volume 1 by Asaya Miyanaga (Nicola Traveling #1)

Publisher: Seven Seas

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Pages: 176

Available Through Book Depository & Bookshop: Nicola Traveling Around The Demons World Vol. 1

Summary: A World of Magic and Mischief!

Nicola never really felt like she fit in around other humans…so she came to the demons’ world instead! Together with her demon friend Simon, Nicola travels far and wide, meeting many monsters along the way. With Nicola, every day on the road is a new adventure!

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Nicola Traveling Around The Demons’ World is a charming, whimsical manga series that evokes the feeling of delightful fairytale. Nicola is a young girl who’s embarking on adventures throughout a strange magical world alongside her demon friend and guide. Miyanaga’s series delivers fun adventures, a magical world with so much heart, clever humor, and is entertaining start to finish!

With an expanse of cities and locations across the Demon World, little Nicola travels with her demon friend Simon where they meet new creatures, find adventure wherever they go, and try to avoid trouble if they can help it!

From it’s opening pages, I knew Nicola would be a fantastic start to my reading year of 2021! Told through a series of episodic chapters, each one takes the reader across various locales of the Demon world. From the threads of humor, varying cast of characters, fairytale-esque art style, and underlying yearn for adventure, this title pitched as one for all ages, is a manga that not only younger readers, but also adults will find absolute whimsy in.

The story begins in the bustling city of Klimburg, where human girl Nicola is accompanied by her demon friend / traveling merchant named Simon. While evading guards for discovering Nicola’s “other-worldly”-ness as a human, they race towards another part of town, leading them to the welcoming Black Bazaar (an underground shopping district) to wait out the guards. During their stay, we learn more about the banter and comedic dynamic the two have, which makes this series a true comedic gem!

From the situational humor, fast-paced jokes, and just underlying threads of comedy that reminds me very much of Spy X Family in a way, the wacky situations Simon and Nicola get into make for an utterly entertaining read.

The episodic nature of this series, especially as a fantasy, allows for the expansive world to build in chunks that the reader can connect to previous chapters and yet also not feel bogged down by a longer running plot. The result is a harmonious blend of magic, whimsy, and humor that transports you. Along the way, this first volumes complies messages of friendship, facing the unknown with a laugh or two, and allowing yourself to find whimsy in the world!

In regards to worldbuilding, there’s various cities and locales that show how expansive the Demon world really is. There’s a tavern, a Count’s mansion, whimsical mushroom forest, mysterious hotel, and a bustling district! A sense of wonder follows you through each chapter as Nicola and Simon encounter magic, new creatures, and get lost in whatever adventure they embark on next.

The demon world upon first hearing can sound like a scary place, but Nicola creates a heartfelt, cozy atmosphere where our young protagonist is making herself more at home with each new chapter.

We also get glimpses into Nicola’s past, her grandmother, and the magic her family had as witches in our world. Although I’m very interested in knowing more, the author gives you just enough to see how it plays an important part in this first volume to establish Nicola’s own magical abilities.

One of my favorite chapters because of how it delved into worldbuilding while not feeling too info-dumpy was chapter two: “Hanging Out At The Tavern.” The Poisson Tavern, an oasis for travelers, becomes the setting for a fun competition between Simon and Nicola when he tells her more about the different species of demons. It not only gave a lot of detail about the different kinds of demons, offering more background, but it also served as another comedic look into their dynamic.

Another chapter that presented more of the particular folklore of the setting was chapter four when the duo treks to a quiet forest in search of a rare mushroom. There’s also “After The Visit” chapters giving nice insight into the characters that Nicola and Simon meet once they’ve moved on to a new place.

What also makes this series a stand-out in the fantasy space are the creative monsters and species it’s established, I loved that attention to detail making the world feel much more unique. There’s the gaboorian, fluff monster, and popay species, they each have their own distinct looks as some of the humanoid creatures of the demon world.

As for artwork, to start the use of brown ink instead of the traditional black just further elevates the whimsical and magical quality of this series. Paying more attention to the paneling, the compact and tight use of the panels gives a personal feel to the setting and cast. There’s a rough inky, scratched line detail to the art allowing it to evoke the idea of having that beloved fairytale quality.

Although very brief, the only reason I’m giving this 4 stars is that I personally felt there could have been just a tiny bit more detail for the setting. There’s lots of information introduced here and although that’s mainly due to it’s episodic nature, I would have loved to get more insight into the surrounding areas or particular section of the demon world to get a better scope of how expansive it is. However despite that, this was a such a great start to a new series.

With the variety of mangas out there, I believe this one is pretty underrated. It’s the kind of series that leaves you with a sense of wonder the moment your thrust into the very page! The clever blend of humor and fantasy makes this a series worth checking out, I’m eager to continue and see where our comedic duo heads to next.

Nicola Traveling Around The Demon’s World Vol. 1 spins a delightful comedic, fantasy adventure following the adventures of girl and a demon merchant, who happens to be her friend and guide! An utterly immersive start to magical series. For those who enjoy magical adventures packed with humor and whimsy, don’t miss this series!

The Queen Of Nothing by Holly Black Review

The Queen Of Nothing by Holly Black (The Folk Of The Air #3)

Publisher: Little Brown & Company

Release Date: November 19, 2019

Pages: 305

Available Through The Book Depository: The Queen Of Nothing

Summary: He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne.

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to. Jude learned that lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now, as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time, determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her deceptive twin sister, Taryn, whose mortal life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines, she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

And when a terrible curse is unleashed, panic spreads throughout the land, forcing her to choose between her ambition and her humanity….

My Rating: ★★★☆☆ ¾

My Thoughts: The Queen Of Nothing is the entertaining conclusion to the Folk Of The Air trilogy! When Jude’s exile is cut short by her sister, she’s given an opportunity to return to Elfhame, confront Cardan, and give it one more shot at her hold for power. Dynamic character arcs, dramatic politics, and more make this a page-turning finale!

As 2020 was coming to a close, I was very undecided on what my final read of the year would be. Then remembering one of my goals was to finish up QON after the gripping sequel that was The Wicked King, it wasn’t surprising at all that as with the previous book, it was read in practically a day. Taking a pause on blogging gave me more time to think about all the things that happened in this finale and while I find these reads to be just pure escapism, still felt there were parts that could’ve been better.

What kept me motivated to finish up Folk Of The Air was not only Jude x Cardan dynamic, but also the fate of Elfhame after Jude’s exile. Though without question, TWK is by far my favorite book in this series.

Jude is barely getting by in the human realm and continuously feeling out of her element, with her sister Vivi and Oak. However, when a quest involving the a former Court fae by the name of Grima Mog offers her the chance to brush up on her strategy / training she’s retained within her since being exiled, she knows she has to find a way back.

Then when her twin sister Taryn gives the perfect opportunity by switching places with her and attempt to pardon her after murdering her husband Locke, she questions whether she should take this chance and risk facing the King of Elfhame, Cardan again.

While seeming rather disjointed and unpredictable early on from Jude’s moments undercover at the Court Of Teeth to her eventual return to the palace, there’s importance to these scenes especially in how Jude’s power as queen and the stakes are confronted later on in the story.

Both a pro and a con of this finale is how sympathetic I felt for the cast, which is supposed to be filled with morally grey / bad fairy folk. When Jude is reunited with her sister again, there’s that moment of fear for Taryn and the feeling of triumph that Jude finally has a way back to Elfhame. When she sits down with Madoc at the Court of Teeth, there’s a sense of understanding in knowing now why Jude and Taryn were brought up so differently with Madoc. However, why this majorly impacts the story is that it takes away from the whole purpose of what I thought this series was meant to be: these are morally bad people and Jude being one of them, we’re still compelled to root for her in her journey to gain power.

In a way our characters felt weirdly out of character. That intense greyish morality and cunning was swapped for this idea that now everyone is just misunderstood. Did I like some of those characters regardless? Absolutely, in the context of the book I enjoyed it, I’m not sure about you but I felt like I finally understood Taryn in this one even Nicasia. However, in general it felt like that mystery of whether characters can be good was just taken away and didn’t seem like it made sense when looking to the series as a whole.

The politics, while not as strong as in The Wicked King, do carry an important weight as we begin to see the impact power, prophecy, and the fae lore has on the future of this world. The division between Elfhame and the mortal world was a much needed addition that brought a nice balance of realism to the fantastical elements of the Folk Of The Air. The way it operates is pretty different than in Elfhame and it was fun to see that introduced.

Next I wanted to talk briefly about the writing. While it does have a fairytale-like quality to it and Black is very clever (in this book especially) with weaving together plot points/ fae’s ability to say things a certain way in order for them to come true later. I feel like it gets me to remember specific scenes, and allowing those important tidbits of info to stick with you. But as a whole, the writing in general doesn’t have much substance to it. It’s very focused on Jude’s internal and emotional thoughts which leaves little to no detail for the setting or building more concrete elements into the world itself.

Okay now onto Cardan and Jude!  The ending of the second book left them off on an interesting twist and no doubt I was invested to see what would happen to them in the finale. Out of all the characters, he was the most interesting and one of my favorites throughout the series. I think their dynamic here was more like an established partnership (which was nice) as their fitting into their roles as king and queen, but I thought that angst and uncertainty wasn’t as strong in this one. While I won’t spoil specific scenes, it felt like a core piece to Jude as a person did a complete 180 in this book because of their roles and established relationship. Again, I didn’t dislike their relationship, but it felt like something was missing here.

The pacing itself is also a bit weird. It’s fast paced at times and yet it felt it like I was stuck at certain spots forever, like the Court Of Teeth and the Madoc stuff near the end. It felt like that sense of urgency to the story wasn’t always there. Also a very random side note, I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this in previous reviews of The Cruel Prince or Wicked King, but overall, don’t really like Bomb, Roach or Ghost…In this book I thought they brought interesting surprises for Jude in the story for sure, but sadly I’m just not the biggest fan of them and honestly could not tell you a single thing about them.

The ending does wrap-up rather quickly, though the build-up towards it felt like forever. Spoiler’s ahead: Probably one of my favorite chapters in the entire book was the throne room stuff near the end, yet I felt like it was bogged down with trying to show Jude become more comfortable in her role as queen on her own. But in general it’s a nice ending so I’ll leave it there. Overall this series was just fun, entertaining, escapism, and I could probably see myself rereading them in the future one day.

The Queen Of Nothing is the conclusion to the Folk Of The Air series! Wrapping up all the loose threads this finale does seem a bit out of place compared to previous books, but overall it’s filled to the brim with politics, intrigue, some romance and is just entertaining all around!

Magic Dark And Strange by Kelly Powell ARC Review

Magic Dark And Strange by Kelly Powell

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Release Date: October 27, 2020

Pages: 240

Available Through The Book Depository: Magic Dark & Strange

Cover Design: Sonia Chaghatzbanian and Greg Stadnyk

Summary: Catherine Daly has an unusual talent. By day she works for a printer. But by night, she awakens the dead for a few precious moments with loved ones seeking a final goodbye. But this magic comes with a price: for every hour that a ghost is brought back, Catherine loses an hour from her own life.

When Catherine is given the unusual task of collecting a timepiece from an old grave, she is sure that the mysterious item must contain some kind of enchantment. So she enlists Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, to help her dig it up. But instead of a timepiece, they find a surprise: the body of a teenage boy. And as they watch, he comes back to life—not as the pale imitation that Catherine can conjure, but as a living, breathing boy. A boy with no memory of his past.

This magic is more powerful than any Catherine has ever encountered, and revealing it brings dangerous enemies. Catherine and Guy must race to unravel the connection between the missing timepiece and the undead boy. For this mysterious magic could mean the difference between life and death—for all of them.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Magic Dark And Strange is Powell’s latest standalone set in a Victorian fantasy world filled with magic and murder! A necromancer and watchmaker’s son team up to solve a mystery when a boy is brought back to life. This is an atmospheric, immersive novel, that delivers a more quiet, character-driven story! Perfect for fans of Margaret Rogerson!

Set in the Victorian-esque city of Invercarn, Powell crafts a story built around a distinct, equally quirky magic system, propelled by an almost slice-of-life narrative following a trio who band together to solve a town mystery!

Having read Powell’s debut, I’ve realized her unique, leisurely-paced historical fantasy novels can potentially be hit or miss with some readers who prefer more immediate storylines with a swiftness to their plot, but don’t let that deter you from this fun, gothic fantasy with friendship at its core!

Catherine Daly has worked at the Invercarn Chronicle for two years to support her family and tries to write them often. She seems to have a rather mundane job as an obituary writer, but to sustain the business her boss (as many other businesses do) have side operations that run solely on providing magical services.

Opening at a graveyard no less, Catherine uses skills of necromancy to help clients reunite with loved ones who’ve died. But with magic at a cost to the user, Catherine herself loses hours of her life in exchange.

When her boss is eager to find a magical timepiece or risk losing her job, Catherine teams up with Guy Nolan, son of Nolan’s Watch & Clock Repair to dig up some leads. This leads them to the grave of a boy (given the name Owen) whose mysteriously brought back to life! But the watch isn’t with him and he has no memories of who he was or his past. Now the three of them are working together to figure out where the mysterious timepiece is and when rumors surface, why it’s leading to a thread of murders.

As mentioned above, this is very much a slice-of-life story because the characters go about their daily lives while also trying to find the watch! I think that makes for a very interesting setting in YA Fantasy because it shows how lived in the world is, plus how our characters interact with it. Magic itself is established in the world as a norm and isn’t used to extremes or for very heightened stakes, so it’s delved into in a very quiet way.

As Catherine continues her quest while also writing for the paper, Guy is working alongside his father to fix watches, plus they even help Owen try to find work and establish a new life for himself as he’s now alive again.

Throughout the novel, friendship and the bond between the trio is such an important, underlying theme that Powell makes so clear through Catherine and Guy’s dynamic, Catherine and her support for Owen, even Guy using his connections to help Owen learn more about who he was. There is an element of romance between Catherine and Guy, whose shows a vulnerability around her, but the two of them establish a friendship first. The way Powell makes those friendship dynamics such a central force of the story, allows it to be such a refreshing read too! Their support for one another is so nice to read and once you reach the end your also left feeling kind of sad because there’s only one book!! I could imagine tons more adventures with the three of them together and tbh think they should open up their own magic side business or something!

Powell’s novel reads like a comforting, familiar fantasy where you can easily picture the story and immerse yourself in it. You really sink into the city and it almost envelops the reader as their along for the adventure sweeping our main cast across town. The Victorian setting is brought to life through the weather, stone architecture, locations (university, cemetery, shops, etc.), period styles of clothing, even how the characters speak, allows you to picture a very specific kind of location. The mystery is also compelling and interesting because it asks so many questions about who is risking so much to obtain this magic, where is the watch now, and what’s at stake?

Powell’s novels carry a unique whimsy to them that’s made her one of my favorite underrated authors over the past couple years. This book just takes you on an adventure woven with mystery, friendship, and brings up such fascinating ideas about who we are and where we can go next. This wonderful underlying messages delved into through each character in their own way, which is present a lot with Owen for example, who is confronting his own fears of not being able to know his true identity and also trying to establish something completely new for himself. Same with Catherine & Guy who seem to be pretty comfortable with where they are at, but working together to solve the mystery and building that friendship allows them to question what’s next. In addition, there’s a brief, underlying moment where Powell presents this idea of the price of magic for those we care about. All are very interesting questions, however I just wish they were delved into even more. Same for the magic system and the world itself: What other magical jobs are there, different layers to the magic system and how others use magic that’s such common place? I feel like we never really get those answers.

Now onto why I personally rated it 4 stars, although I whole-heartedly recommend this fun read: The build-up to the mystery is fascinating as we’re wondering who Owen was in his previous life and who was responsible for his death? Also, where is that timepiece? But, because they go back and forth a lot between the shops and various characters as well who may have leads, it feels like the mystery never really picks up until halfway through. The urgency felt like it wasn’t completely there, but again as someone who enjoys the quiet fantasy stories, I didn’t mind too much, however with the fascinating story Powell presented it felt like the pacing could have been a bit faster.

With the writing itself too, it felt like there was more to learn about Invercarn! Again, Powell really delves into a specific atmosphere and setting, so I just wanted to know even more about the magic and world itself.

Aside from that though, I will absolutely be reading Powell’s next book! She crafts such inventive, creative YA Fantasy tales that no matter what, always leave me feeling like I’ve gone on some grand adventure. And seriously, if you enjoy Rogerson’s Sorcery Of Thorns, I think you’d have a lot of fun with this book too! Highly recommend reading it.

Magic Dark And Strange is an inventive, fantasy standalone with necromancy, murder mystery, with a Victorian-gothic setting! Although quiet, the story delivers a compelling plot and mystery, alongside a delightful main cast of characters you want to learn more about. A unique world, intriguing layer of questions, and atmospheric storytelling make this an underrated YA Fantasy worth checking out!