Skip by Molly Mendoza Review {Graphic Novel}

Skip by Molly MendozaSkip by Molly Mendoza

Publisher: Nobrow Ltd.

Release Date: July 23, 2019

Pages: 168

Available Through The Book Depository: SKIP

Summary: A colorful, unpredictable postapocalyptic world comes alive in Skip, when two unlikely friends, Bloom and Gloopy, find themselves tossed from dimension to dimension. Gloopy is running toward adventure, and away from their home and friends who don’t understand their creative talent. Bloom is desperately trying to return home to their lake, and avoid the terrible violence of the city. Instead, both Bloom and Gloopy find what they need in each other, and bravely return home to challenge their fears and create beauty in their own worlds.

As Bloom and Gloopy skip through dimensions and encounter weeping giants, alligator islands, and a topsy turvy 2D world, they find comfort in each other and learn that sometimes, your greatest fear reveals where your strengths lie. 

My Rating: ★★★★★

My Thoughts: Skip is an absolute gem and a graphic novel that should be on your to-read list! The art is enchanting, a captivating rainbow of color!  Its a deeply moving tale about 2 unlikely friends whose dimensions cross and now they must travel across countless dimensions to find their way home! Skip by Molly Mendoza is an absolute masterpiece!

I’d had this beautiful graphic novel on my TBR for months, ever since I first discovered it through LatinxInPublishing during its release day! I hadn’t yet read a graphic novel by a Latina illustrator/author and I’m absolutely thrilled that SKIP was the first!

In this mysterious, postapocalyptic world the journey starts with Bloom, a young kid who lives with their guardian Bee! The two always head out to lake to go fishing and go about their daily lives peacefully, however Bloom can’t help but be curious about the cities on the other side of the lake.

Through stunning art and beautifully crafted writing, you get instantly transported to a world that is wholly familiar, yet still unrecognizable.

The society (across the lake) seems to be teeming with tech-hounds, there’s even innocent people being chased by these technologically advanced creatures, and all other forms of communication (aside from radio) seems to have vanished.

Bee decides they’ll investigate and leaves Bloom in charge of looking after the lake. However, Bee leaves an important treasure for Bloom: a black stone necklace.

Bloom tends to things as best as possible, but there’s an emptiness where Bee’s presence should be. As Bloom skips some stones across the lake, they uncover a swirl of color that’s actually a portal–taking them to another dimension!

On this other side we meet Gloopy and their world seems to filled with unique creatures inspired by nature. Their the oddball in their world and no matter how they try, their creative spirit just doesn’t gel with other friends and townsfolk. This quickly leads to Gloopy messing some things up for The Great Harvest. As Gloopy tries to make time to reflect, Bloom appears in a field within Gloopy’s world.

The two investigate as to how Bloom got there and find themselves quickly sucked into a vibrant world of color, which leads across hundreds, possibly thousands of dimensions!

Friendship is an important layer to this story not only as Bloom & Gloopy learn more about each other, but also how it tests their connection to one another as they try to find their way back home. Gloopy is the optimistic and curious one of the group and I loved seeing their dynamic with Bloom change and grow throughout the novel! Their friendship is the sweetest ❤❤

There’s such a beauty in the portrayal of emotion from fear to sadness, joy, melancholy and through Mendoza’s surrealist-style art, its given such attention and gravity to the story! Its really brought into focus and as the plot progresses you see that its such an intrinsic part to our characters journey and the world itself.

There’s an important symbol of mirrors and reflection throughout this novel and it beautifully captures that journey through the emotional depth and story of our main characters, including those they meet. 2 sections highlighted that reflection very well, their introductions and later towards the end (If you’ve read it you know what I mean) 😭💖

What comes through in the art from very first page at Bloom & Bee’s lake (& in Gloopy’s nature-filled world) is a distinct sense of place and such a feeling of realness from the gusts of wind to a splash of water in a lake!

The art continues to capture you with each and every panel. It delivers weight, emotion, and perception, which you can see beautifully through the pauses and details, mainly through the hands and eyes.

Another brilliant element to the art that I only noticed upon writing my review, was the variety of colors used when we’re first introduced to our main characters, to later the distinct color palette we’re guided along as Bloom & Gloopy travel throughout the dimensions.

One that really stuck out to me was this distinct blue world that had a technological side to it and used a pastel, dark blue & green color palette. This world really focused on Gloopy’s internal reflection and the development was explored beautifully through the colors.

Each world though they may seem disconnected due to the distinct creativity of each, there’s a common thread that links them all. Its the tools they offer to Bloom & Gloopy to continue with the challenges they face ahead. Another important element is how they both manage to shape and inspire those they run into in each dimension.

“I have been so lonely…so afraid. I would have never left the tower if not for you…” (96).

I also wanted to mention the representation within this novel! There’s brown-skinned main characters, 3 characters (our main characters included) use They/Them pronouns: Bloom, Bee & Gloopy! Also, this was just from my personal interpretation, but I personally read the human characters to be Latinx as well!

Skip is not just a story of emotion and reflection, its also exploring what it means to find or reach home!

I could gush about this graphic novel all day! So, if my review hasn’t convinced you yet, then let me just say PLEASE read this gem! Its beautiful, heartwarming, moving and just captivated me in so many ways! If you love emotionally-driven and impactful storytelling, surrealist + vibrant art, and a journey of friendship this should be on your to-read list!

Skip is a captivating graphic novel! Beautiful in every way from its storytelling, art, characters, their journeys, and underlying themes, this is a wonderful tale not to miss! This fantastical story is a journey unlike any other, its emotionally-driven, deeply moving and enchanting! Molly Mendoza’s Skip is not a graphic novel to miss!

Author Interview With Isabel Ibañez {Woven In Moonlight}

Hey everyone! Its been over a few months since I attended Yallwest 2019 and I’m thrilled to finally share, that I had the opportunity to interview 2020 YA Fantasy debut author: Isabel Ibañez!! 🎉✨

Her debut Woven In Moonlight is set to be released January 7, 2020 and we chatted all about the inspiration behind her story, its different layers, characters and other parts of her story that she’s looking forward to sharing with readers! (Thanks again Isabel 💕)

This interview was done during Fierce Reads Friday at Yallwest on May 3, 2019!

Here’s Isabel to talk a little more about Woven In Moonlight:

“My debut is a Bolivian political-fantasy and it’s about a decoy Condesa who infiltrates this corrupt monarchy and she sends coded messages back to the rebels through her weaving. So, she uses celestial magic and undergoes an experience unlike any she’s ever been taught or known!”

When talking about the inspiration behind her debut, she mentioned that she never really saw herself represented in any of the books she read―“I mean, [reading about] a South-American character would have been fabulous, but I never did…” 

“I really wanted to write someone that looks like me, understood my culture, the importance of family and so, I wanted someone to share that perspective and worldview that I had while growing up…”

Secondly, she discussed how the political climate in Bolivia is complicated and dangerous, so the antagonist is heavily inspired by the current president/dictator. She “wanted to write and tell this story because it’s not really talked about…”

Next, we discussed the elements of Bolivian culture within her novel and I asked Ibañez if there were any, that while writing, she thought “yes, this has to be in the story!”

“I love food and I love the experiences that are centered around sharing a meal. Bolivia has such wonderful, wonderful dishes and recipes, so all of those foods that I enjoyed eating with my family ended up in Woven In Moonlight!”

Alongside that, Woven In Moonlight is also heavily inspired by the “food, clothing, and the Bolivian history as well. Your going to find snippets of that in the story woven throughout (pun intended 😂✨).”

Ibañez and I then discussed what it meant for her to create this fantasy world inspired by a country that hasn’t really been represented in YA Fantasy before:

“It’s amazing to me that there could be a story that can touch people in this country because growing up Bolivian in the US, I ran into a variety of people from Spanish-speaking countries, but I didn’t often run into a Bolivian. So when I started getting sweet emails from readers who had some sort of relationship with Bolivia (either from there, lived there, or had a relative whose from there), it was astounding that there were people here who had that kind of connection to Bolivia and hopefully, this book reaches them!

I hope they can find and see themselves in this story and that really matters to me.”

Woven In Moonlight is a standalone fantasy novel and it does have a “satisfying ending”  but Ibañez shared that she does leave many threads open! With that said, it was announced on June 21 that Ibañez will be returning to the fantasy kingdom she created  within Woven In Moonlight in 2021 with a spin-off!

If your anticipating Woven In Moonlight, she also discussed some elements of the story that she’s looking forward to see readers explore throughout her story:

“I love YA and I’ve read so many books that center around a revolution, and this idea of fighting for a type of republic/democracy that benefits everyone. We’ve seen those books, I’ve bought those books, read them and loved them. So, I’m looking forward to see readers excited about a revolution story that’s happening in real time, in Bolivia.

If you read the book very closely and do a bit of research with the current Bolivian politics, you might see some parallels.”

Woven In Moonlight by Isabel IbañezNext we talked about her cover! If you didn’t know, it was announced back in March that Isabel would be designing her own book cover and as of June 6, the cover for Woven In Moonlight has been revealed via Hypable!

“My editor reached out to me asking if I knew of any Bolivian artists I could contract for the cover and I happened to be an artist/illustrator + greeting card designer by day! So I sent her my portfolio and I’m excited that they went ahead and trusted me with so much of the book. There was so much support, encouragement, and the fact that they even asked (wanting a Bolivian artist to do the cover) just meant so much to me!

They were doing everything they could to step-up in regards to representation, support, and encouragement for this book!”

Next we talked about the main character of Woven In Moonlight, Ximena, who has the unique ability to spin thread from moonlight. In doing so, she’s able to use this power to help the resistance. Ibañez delved a little more into her inspirations for Ximena’s rare ability.

“In Bolivia, the tradition of weaving tapestries, blankets, pouches, bags, that is a long-standing tradition, its beautiful, bright, and colorful! These women who work the loom are absolutely talented and many of us learn how to weave. Its such a Bolivian art form…I’m a weaver and I wanted to give Ximena something that felt very Bolivian, something I knew intimately well, also as an artist I think there is something so beautiful about being able to create something by hand and have this piece of art you’ve created. Using your imagination and a skill set handed down to you–I really wanted Ximena to have that. Also because I love fantasy, I wanted to infuse her ability with something special. In Bolivia, there are a group of people who still respect and worship different deities, that they’ve inherited from their Incan ancestors, so I wanted to honor that as well!”

“When I was thinking of what kind of ability Ximena could have, I was inspired by Pachamama (Incan goddess of the earth). I also thought about not going downward, but up and that’s how I picked that type of magic…”

I then chatted with Ibañez about the elements of Woven In Moonlight she had the most fun developing!

“I loved creating Ximena! She’s named after my mother and she’s someone who is fierce, loyal, incredibly brave, and outspoken. So, I wanted to create this character out of love and respect for my mother, but also because I’ve always been fascinated by her courage! Ximena came really easily to me because I felt I really knew her–so that was a lot of fun!”

To conclude our interview, Ibañez shared her final thoughts on why readers should check out Woven In Moonlight:

“If you love food, magic, kissing, adventure, stories about girls who are flawed and whose reactions aren’t perfect, are still growing, confronting and called out for their mistakes, I think you should check out Woven In Moonlight! Plus, did I mention there’s lots of good food?”

Also, as part of Isbael’s Inkasisa Street Team for WIM I wanted to share the wonderful pre-order campaign going on! Here’s some of the awesome swag that’ll be included:

Woven In Moonlight bookmark, print, sticker, annotated PDF of Chapter 1, and there’ll be special grand prizes! All the info/details can be found on her Instagram post here!
(*To show support for the street team too, if you find yourself pre-ordering please include this code in your email INKASISA07)

Are you looking forward to Woven In Moonlight? 🌙✨

Flying Witch Vol. 2 by Chihiro Ishizuka {Manga Review}

Flying Witch Vol. 2 by Chihiro IshizukaFlying Witch Vol. 2 by Chihiro Ishizuka & Melissa Tanaka (Translator) (Flying Witch Series)

Publisher: Vertical Comics

Release Date: June 27, 2017

Pages: 160

Available Through The Book Depository: Flying Witch Volume 2

Summary: Makoto goes to a local cherry blossom festival and happens to encounter someone who has a bone to pick with her sister, Akane. When Akane happens to drop by, she teaches Makoto some new tricks for flying and some easy spellcraft. Their kid cousin Chinatsu is so charmed by the witches’ talents that she makes an unexpected request…

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Flying Witch is a slice of life/urban fantasy manga series! We follow Makoto who moves to Aomori to live with her cousins and aunt, as she continues her training to become a witch!

Its been 2 years since I read the first volume where we get introduced to Makoto, her family, and the delightful quiet magic of Flying Witch! I really missed this world and it was great to get back to this series again! Overall, this is a really sweet, quiet and engaging manga series that’s just a lot of fun!

If I could summarize this series it essentially follows Makoto (a witch in training) as she hangs out with her cousins Kei & Chinatsu, and new friend Nao all while their adventures are filled with the mundane and magical happenings of their daily lives!

Volume 2 is a lot more episodic than the first one. Where in Flying Witch Vol. 1, we were introduced to the magic system and little moments of being a witch through Makoto’s eyes.

There’s the tiniest of details woven into the dialogue that help build on the unique witchy/magical world that comes to life in this rural part of Aomori, Japan. From what it takes to fly, witches dreams, and peculiar spells.

Throughout this volume, Makoto cooks with her cousin Kei, we learn more about a friend of Akane’s (Makoto’s sister) who has a problem that needs solving, there’s walks through the forest, and Akane helps Makoto + her younger cousin Chinatsu learn more about spells, tricks, and witchcraft!

What I appreciate about this series is that there’s a nice focus on the bonds between the characters and details about the city that make it a quiet, unique place to live!

Though this series is a whole lot of fun, I did want to talk about some elements that dropped my rating to 4 stars:

One of my expectations was that the plot would be connected to an overarching conflict, but it very much sticks to the slice of life atmosphere, which includes the backdrop of an upcoming festival!

What I appreciated about Volume 1, was that although it had that distinct slice of life feel to it, we still learned a lot about the world and characters interwoven with unique plot points. However, Flying Witch Volume 2, definitely feels slow and less focused on that direct conflict.

I personally felt it would have been great to see this series establish more concrete plot points to root us into the world before continuing with the everyday/slice of life stuff.

When it comes to art its definitely got a unique style, but for me personally the paneling felt a bit rushed in this volume!

Aside from my issues with this volume, Flying Witch is incredibly easy to get immersed in from the setting to the magical world, characters, story etc. So if your looking for a new manga series and aren’t exactly sure where to start, this is one I definitely recommend!

Overall though, I’m really looking forward to seeing what new adventures the characters get mixed up in next!

Flying Witch is a quiet, slice of life story that follows Makoto, a witch in training! The characters and everyday life make this a fun series for anyone to get into and enjoy! This volume definitely builds on quieter character moments that come to life in the quiet city of Aomori!

Crier’s War by Nina Varela Review

Crier's War by Nina VarelaCrier’s War by Nina Varela (Crier’s War #1)

Publisher: Harper Teen

Release Date: October 1, 2019

Pages: 434

Available Through The Book Depository: Crier’s War

Summary: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Crier’s War is a deftly woven political fantasy, featuring stellar world building, romance, poetic writing, and a brilliantly crafted plot that will keep you hooked! 

I just finished this book over the weekend and I’m not sure how my review can do this incredible book justice! Ayla & Crier were AMAZING characters, I loved them both so much and my heart burst with joy and sadness throughout their POVs! This book swept me away from the very first page and I’m incredibly excited to see what adventures lay ahead for our protagonists in the sequel, Iron Heart!

Even well before the start of the novel, from the epigraph: “For the queer readers. You deserve every adventure” you can sense the heart and soul Varela poured into this gem of a story! The compact timeline introduced from the very first page lays the groundwork for an epic adventure, the complex dynamic and history between humans and Automae in the lands of Zulla!

Crafted by a specific Maker, the Automae soon began to rebel against their owners and quickly became in charge, turning the tides of society. Now essentially starting from scratch, the Automae rule over humans (who are now servants) and some of the monarchs even take pride in still finding the fascination in human culture they’ve oppressed.

Crier is the current heir, an Autmoae who is brilliant and politically savvy, eager to prove it to her father, the current king, Hessod. However, she’s also set to be married to Scyre Kinok, the cunning war hero who may also have secrets of his own. Yet, when she learns early on that there’s something within her that makes her Flawed, she realizes she is still not fully free herself.

Ayla has one thing on her mind…revenge! For her family that was killed, for the future that was taken away from her, and for those she’s sworn to defend. As part of a rebellion group, she finds she’s given the opportunity to make strides in their uprising for freedom when she becomes handmaiden to Lady Crier, the current heir to the Kingdom of Rabu!

She isn’t entirely alone however, she sticks by one of her best friends Benjy and Rowan a “bird of prey” who is one of the leaders in a group of human rebels who are gearing to take down the Automae and give themselves a fighting chance at a new life.

The story is tightly-plotted with a lot of intrigue, mystery, and continuously builds on story threads that showcase their importance to the world and narrative!

Both Ayla and Crier are placed in positions where the secrets they carry are vital to their futures, requiring them to keep a close eye on each other and the figures around them as well. It’s in the underlying language that we see: both girls are working to stay one step ahead and know that even the smallest slip, could mean their downfall.

The 3rd-person / dual perspective allows for insight not only into the different sides of Zullan society (both human & Automae alike), but it also connects the plot in such a seamless way where your always left surprised by what will happen next.

The other main characters from Benjy to Kinok, rebels, royalty, etc. you feel their weight and impact to the story, even from secondary characters in such a way where the political unrest brings all these different voices to the forefront in some way.

Crier’s War doesn’t shy away from the impact and ferocity of emotion that courses its way through different layers of the story: from its characters to world, the politics, and the inner journey of our main protagonists!

Ayla, her anger and rage bled through each page and you could feel it through her words, actions, and internal thoughts! All she wants is to avenge those she’s lost (mother, father, & twin brother Storme) and create a better life for people. That can only be achieved by getting rid of the Automae, starting with Crier.

I can’t put into words how much I loved following her & Crier’s journeys! They were layered with depth, growth, hurt, and healing, which became such central and emotional themes of the book!

In the world of Crier’s War, though its setting is entirely new and unique, the way Varela develops the different villages, the intricate political relations, and the layers to society feel incredibly real as if they could very well exist in our own world.

What I also loved delving into, when it comes to Automae was their own history and influence in society, their reach goes to practically every sphere of this world! Another intriguing element to the Automae themselves is how their Designed, Made, and the influence the 4 Pillars has on how it makes them who they are (Reason, Calculation, Organic, & Intellect). Again this also ties in with the world building itself, but I loved all the little details that were described really brought the setting to life!

One of my favorite parts of this world (as with any other sci-fi/fantasy) was the politics! I studied this in college and I find it utterly fascinating and I can’t count how many moments I stopped reading to take notes on it.

From Scyre Kinok’s hidden agenda for acquiring power not only within the kingdom, being a former protector of the Iron Heart, to his part within the elite guard to advance Automae, and vying for power in the Red Council (which he continues to do successfully).

Kinok was easily one of my favorite antagonistic characters in this book because, from the very beginning we know he has worked to acquire power for himself, yet we still don’t know to what extent. He was fascinating to learn about because even as we learn more about him and his mysterious motives, the way he presents himself vs. what he keeps hidden are completely different things! This allows us as readers to constantly feel unsettled by him but also fascinated by his cleverness.

Additionally, its through the heriarchy of the characters themselves and their words, Crier with Kinok, Crier with her father Hessod, Ayla with Crier, and so on!

A favorite scene of mine involved Kinok and Crier dancing and to me, I felt this scene reflected the impact their reputations have on the status which they can successfully attain in the kingdom! It was beautifully written and impacted me in ways that had me enthralled by their dynamic!

Varela’s writing is incredibly thought-provoking and she brilliantly captured the political tone and intrigue that’s teeming on the edge of revolution! Her writing just connected with me on such a deep level, it felt philosophical. As we learn about this entirely new world the words are presented in a beautifully composed and scholarly way (Like I’m not entirely sure this makes sense, but the writing kept me thinking and I felt I was learning so much? About politics, the depth of dominating emotion, etc…)

Her writing above all was beautiful, captivating, and elegant!

When it comes to the romance, its slow-burn and again, elegantly written! As you read Crier & Ayla’s beautiful descriptions of one another, your heart feels the depth of emotion where you can truly understand them on a deep, internal level.

My only minor critique is that because SO many people were emphasizing the f/f romance, I was personally expecting more just a bit more exploration to their dynamic throughout the book! But, I can tell Book 2 will delve more into that. Also, more Kinok! He was such a fantastic antagonist and I just wanted more pages from him, as I mentioned above there’s just so many layers to his agenda and I couldn’t help but be intrigued as to how he would make things more complicated for Ayla and Crier!

Crier’s War is a beautifully crafted debut that explores politics, intrigue, tackles philosophical questions on what it means to be human and what does one fight for? Against an expansive backdrop of a world led by alchemical magick and dangerous AI royalty! This is another stellar debut and its a must read for 2019!!

Vagrant Queen Vol. 1 by Magdalene Visaggio Review {Graphic Novel}

Vagrant Queen Vol. 1 by Magdalene VisaggioVagrant Queen Vol. 1 by Magdalene Visaggio (Writer), Harry Saxon (Colorist), Tim Daniel (Design), Zakk Saam (Letterer), & Jason Smith (Ink)

Publisher: Vault Comics

Release Date: February 26, 2019

Pages: 192

Available Through The Book Depository: Vagrant Queen Vol. 1

Summary: Former child queen Elida was driven from her throne at age ten and forced to wander the galaxy, evading the revolutionary forces that wanted her dead. When an old frenemy claims to know the whereabouts of Elida’s long-lost mother, she is forced to return to her former kingdom and stage a rescue.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Vagrant Queen is fun, fast-paced, space opera adventure featuring a queen on the run! There’s action, space travel, politics, but where the story really shines is through the main character Elida, who remains on the fringes of space as she is the only royal left after her kingdom’s revolution!

I’d actually heard about this series last year when it was being released as single issues and this is the same publisher that you may already be familiar with on my blog, because they are also publishing Sera And The Royal Stars!

Its been a while since I’ve read a good space story and Vagrant Queen was a book I’d had on my to-read shelf already. I’ve eagerly been trying to get through my physical TBR, so I finally got the chance to pick it up!

Elida Al-Feyr is a former child queen who was forced to leave her kingdom of Arropia after a revolution. Now in her 20’s, she’s living out in the fringes of the galaxy as she is also trying to evade capture from space commander Lazaro, as one of the last remaining royals!

However, when she gets a tip from her former friend Isaac that he knows the whereabouts of her mother, she realizes its the only lead she’s gotten in such a long time.

Now the two of them are charting across space, bantering, and evading capture along the way!

As Elida joins Isaac, we also see them try to reconnect considering they used to work with each other a few years back and over the course of this volume, we learn more about their history and what led to them splitting ways.

There’s also a lot of surprises to Elida’s space adventure as we learn more about where the journey to finding her mother will take her and what her former friend Isaac Sterling has been up to!

Vagrant Queen features Black royalty, lots of action and adventure! This was such a great start to the series and overall is incredibly fun! I’m surprised I haven’t seen more discussion about this series, because its just a blast― start to finish!

Elida is a fun character to follow, she’s always ready to punch and fight someone if necessary, evade enemies, and always has a plan! I’m looking forward to learning even more about her in future installments.

The setting feels incredibly well developed through the slow progression of the world-building from the politics, our main protagonists & antagonist’s history, alongside the different planets, security and political figures!

The art style has a vintage aesthetic to it with a lot of bold colors that really bring each page to life! Alongside that, pages deliver on the detail whether its to a character, the setting or background, and the action is portrayed through the detailed lines and unique paneling!

What I wasn’t expecting was that this was more futuristic sci-fi dystopia than just sci-fi and that surprised me, but in a great way! This leaves certain future plot threads open for exploration in future installments, even as the story itself wraps-up wonderfully!

My only minor critiques are that, I did want a little more to Elida’s adventures (space travel, world exploration, etc.) but I’m sure there’s more to come in future installments!

And though I knew going in this series wouldn’t be for younger readers, I did find the mature/adult vibe of some parts of the story to not really click with me personally– again it isn’t too adult, but I wouldn’t recommend this for YA readers on the younger side.

Though rating aside on they enjoyment scale, this is definitely a 5 out of 5! Elida is a fantastic and captivating main character, I loved her banter, getting to learn more about her history with Isaac, and following them on their unique journeys as they reluctantly travel the galaxy together!

Also, its been a while since I’d read about this, but now that I’ve read Vagrant Queen it also seems fitting to mention that: its getting a series on SYFY in 2020! From what I’ve looked up it’ll have 10 episodes, the cast for Elida & Isaac look fantastic, & it already has a preview trailer which is pretty awesome!! So if your looking to be ahead of the hype for this new series, I recommend picking up Vagrant Queen 😁💜👑🚀

Vagrant Queen Vol. 1 is a dynamic space opera featuring a fantastic female lead! Adventure, action, humor, great world-building, and page-turning story, this series has it all! Looking forward to future issues!

Realm Of Ash by Tasha Suri Review

Realm Of Ash by Tasha SuriRealm Of Ash by Tasha Suri (The Books Of Ambha #2)

Publisher: Orbit Books

Release Date: November 12, 2019

Pages: 496

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: Realm Of Ash

Summary: The Ambhan Empire is crumbling. A terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon. The only hope for peace lies in the mysterious realm of ash, where mortals can find what they seek in the echoes of their ancestors’ dreams. But to walk there requires a steep price.

Arwa is determined to make the journey. Widowed by a brutal massacre, she’s pledged service to the royal family and will see that pledge through to the end. She never expected to be joined by Zahir, the disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden magic in a desperate bid to save those he loves.

Together, they’ll walk the bloody path of their shared past. And it will call into question everything they’ve ever believed…including whether the Empire is worth saving at all.

*Received a finished copy from the publisher*

My Rating: ★★★★☆ 

My Thoughts: Realm Of Ash takes readers back to the Ambhan Empire, now following Arwa, Mehr’s younger sister! Filled with politics, intrigue, and rich world-building, Suri’s  novel delivers a tale that explores grief and identity following 2 protagonists who attempt to figure out who they are, as the world around them has established their identities! A journey of grief, self, and hope, Suri’s return to her epic fantasy inspired by Mughal India is not one to miss!

Empire Of Sand was easily one of my favorite SFF/Epic Fantasy debuts of last year! I fell in love with the deeply rooted themes, brilliantly crafted story, alongside her wondrous writing, interwoven with her fantastic world building/characters!

Even though I was SO looking forward to diving back into the world and following Arwa’s journey, I actually put off reading it for about a week because I just couldn’t believe the book was an actual thing I could hold in my hands!!

Once I did pick it up, I quickly immersed myself back in the Ambhan Empire! However, it wasn’t until I made it further through the book that I realized Suri creates such an introspective and quiet journey for her protagonists in a way that always manages to captivate me― even to the point where I could reflect on the important messages she weaves throughout her novel and found them inspiring for my own life (for Realm I’ll get back to that more in a bit).

Set 10 years after Empire Of Sand, we follow Mehr’s younger sister Arwa, who’s now in her 20’s and a widow, establishing her identity as she reconciles with her grief.

Though, its also a journey about Arwa learning to embrace the Amrithi heritage she’s had to keep hidden for most of her life. As we learn in EOS, the Amrithi are oppressed and pushed towards the fringes of society. Due to that, she has been raised to focus more on her Ambhan heritage, casting deep down this other half of her, which could be the key to saving the empire.

The overarching plot thread that develops of the course of Realm Of Ash involves the Empire and how it slowly crumbles after the Maha’s death (who Mehr met in EOS). Though what stood out to me, compared to Mehr’s journey, was how both sisters viewed the empire in slightly different ways as well. All Arwa remembers are moments here & there where her sister would attempt to tell her more about her Amrithi blood, yet wasn’t allowed to become familiar with that part of herself growing up.

Where we see Mehr’s Amrithi roots guide her, we see with Arwa she’s grown up to feel like its a curse for her. Early on it ROA we see these two different paths converge as Arwa learns to embrace the Amrithi side of her as it plays an influential part in saving the empire.

At the start of the novel, Arwa takes time to reflect in the hermitage after the loss of her husband Kamran, who was also a commander at Darez Fort. Slowly the story unravels more about her personal emotional journey, but also that to unlock her Amrithi heritage. Much to her dismay, she befriends one of the widows there who offers her a chance on a new path, in the heart of the royal palace of the empire.

Arwa soon finds herself at the royal palace quickly immersing herself in the court politics and meets Zahir the studious illegitimate prince who’s invisible to the eyes of his other royal siblings (though not Princess Jihan).

Arwa is told to assist Zahir and he teaches her all about the mysterious realm of ash. As the story progresses, the two find ways to root themselves in this place (with the help of Arwa’s Amrithi blood) to find a way to cure the ills of the Empire’s curse, which has brought famine and uncertainty to the people.

The realm of ash is this metaphysical/literal realm where people can walk and dive deep into a world that roots them to their past and history (both familial and cultural). This realm is where Arwa and Zahir attempt to traverse to find the Maha’s ash and use it to bring balance back to their world.

Before going more into my review let me just say when I read about the curse inflicting the Empire I was internally fangirling so much because, it reminded of the conflict in one of my favorite comics Sera And The Royal Stars– it also features a fierce female lead who’s on a journey as her kingdom crumbles around her! (Highly recommend it, its amazing & is getting released as a graphic novel next year)  I really need more people to talk about this comic, but back to the review 😂✨:

What Suri captures beautifully, are the incredibly important themes throughout the novel: Grief and Identity.

Through Arwa’s perspective we are taken on a journey not only of grief, but also healing. Suri brings up many questions in regards to how Arwa processes these complex emotions, rolled up with the fact that her Amrithi heritage is coming to light around her.

The process of grief and mourning, what happens after? What do we owe others in regards to our grief? Including the healing process both for ones self and the world around them…Arwa’s perspective captures all of these layered ideas, emotional responses, and reactions masterfully as we follow Arwa on her journey to set her own path.

One of my favorite scenes was between Arwa and Gulshera, one of the widows, who reminds her of the “noblewoman’s art” and history through archery. However, it’s not just about learning to use a bow and arrow, Suri cleverly uses this scene as a metaphor to showcase how Arwa can use her grief and direct it towards a new path! I kept that scene close to heart throughout the entirety of this book and long after I finished it. It represents a turning point for Arwa as she learns to channel her grief and not let it take control of her! 

Additionally, as Arwa (and us as readers) learn more about soft prince Zahir, we then begin to see this is really his story too. Their journey both as they develop their relationship and head to the realm of ash, allows them to question/better understand who they are in a world that has established their identities.

The further along I got into the story, the more I appreciated how central the theme of identity was! How we define ourselves and how the world around us influences that, these were the thoughts turning in my mind as I read…in one of my university classes we actually delved into this topic of identity and how the world shapes it. Additionally, its something I’ve personally been giving more thought as I continue to learn more in school, etc. and it felt so validating to have that theme explored in many different layers and just–be something that really resonated with me at this moment in my life!

Arwa believes her only role after her husband’s death is to be a mourning widow, Zahir feels he is meant to always remain in shadow.

However, its also about how the 2 of them grapple with the identities they are assigned, but how they also use them to their advantage!

Similar to EoS, the world-building in Realm Of Ash is fantastic! There’s so much traveling in this book, so if you love journey stories, I recommend it!

In addition, I absolutely ADORED the layered politics of this novel. Often times it can seem like they slow the pacing of fantasy world, because they can influence and encompass many different facets of a society. However, Suri masterfully examines court politics, their influence on the world, and the layered castes of society that are each trying to find their footing as the world crumbles around them.

That’s also explored through the layered background as to how the Maha’s death influenced the balance of the world and how it impacts so many groups of people within the world.

Now onto the plot! There are many different layers to the story that are explored and I don’t want to spoil them all, but its a slow/steady progress from the hermitage, palace, realm of ash, and additional threads that force Arwa & Zahir to journey together to hopefully save their empire.

Now onto the cast of characters which were..fantastic!?! I loved the cast so much even the characters you aren’t supposed to love they are written with so much depth, emotion, and impact, you sense their presence long after they’ve left a scene. As Arwa & Zahir continue their journeys it was great to get so much background to a lot of characters throughout the story : Gulshera, princes Akhtar, Nasir, Parviz, princess Jihan, the widows, the commander, & many more!

I felt there was so much background given to Zahir, the royal family, and those connected to it, especially when it comes to how they are influenced by their world. For example, Jihan and Gulshera are determined a certain role in society (Jihan has to rely on her cunning politics to ensure her pick for the throne & Gulshera not only has her role as Arwa’s confidant of sorts, but is also still loyal to Jihan). When it comes to Zahir, he has such an influential place in the palace but is left to be hidden in its depths.

Now I wanted to discuss some minor critiques that lowered my rating (though I absolutely loved this book with all my heart) 😭💖!!  (*honestly, ratings just make things complicated 😂✨)

As Arwa and Zahir work together in the tomb enclosure reading and learning more about the Realm Of Ash, while also attending political meetings, I found that I really wanted more from the royal/court politics. Again, Suri weaves them in such a way where they not only influence that particular scene, but the characters and world and its just masterfully done!

I just really wanted a bit more of it explored because in some fantasy books I’ve read with court politics they often showcase them as incredibly cunning or deceptive…but they don’t always have to be! Suri portrays the politics in a realistic and impactful way when the world itself is crumbling, it still shows all these different facets and layers to it!

Though I absolutely loved the introspective journey of Arwa, I would have loved more plot threads here & there because again, I just love this world and these characters SO much!

Also more Arwa + Zahir moments because I just adore them! I also felt there could have been more expansion and plot threads on the royals  because they were wonderfully introduced and developed that I wanted more page time with them!

I don’t want to spoil, but I will say that there is 1 character though they were a lot of fun to read about, I personally didn’t feel too impacted by them in the story and felt they could have had less page time. Aside from those however:

Once I reached the final page of Realm Of Ash I’m literally in tears right now because Arwa, Zahir, their journeys they will forever remain a part of my heart!
I am definitely looking forward to Suri’s next adventure in the Ambhan Empire! ♥♥*・✧゚*

Realm Of Ash is a deeply character-driven journey that delves even more into the immersive world established in Empire Of Sand! A tale of grief, embracing ones identity, and the journeys one seeks to find the truth to better understand themselves & their world! A phenomenal sequel that unlocks more to the Ambhan Empire than ever before!

Silver In The Wood by Emily Tesh Review

Silver In The Wood by Emily TeshSilver In The Wood by Emily Tesh

Publisher: Tor.com (Tor Books)

Release Date: June 18, 2019

Pages: 112

Available Through The Book Depository: Silver In The Wood

Summary: There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.

When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Silver In The Wood is a captivating, enchanting, and atmospheric novella debut which follows Tobias Finch whose looked after Greenhollow woods for hundreds of years and the new owner of Greenhollow Hall, Henry Silver! Tesh delivers an introspective tale, rooted in folklore and legend!

Ever since I read Forest Of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal back in 2016, I’ve loved keeping up with the latest novellas from Tor! No matter which one I pick up I can always expect to be transported to a unique and memorable world!

Silver In The Wood was no different! In my Cozy Fall Recommendations post that I shared recently I actually featured this book, and let me just say that the lush and detailed forest imagery and focus on folklore definitely deliver on that fall atmosphere!

This was a novella I got through in one sitting and I can’t wait to read future books in this series! Despite the length, I felt there was a great understanding of the world, mythology, and its characters.

Its very much a reflective and introspective kind of story as we follow Tobias who is tethered to the Greenhollow woods, looks after its visitors and other forest creatures (dryads, etc.). Tobias’s journey changes course when a there’s a new owner of Greenhollow Hall, Henry Silver.

As the two connect, we learn more about them, alongside the mythology and folktales that have rooted themselves deeply in their world.

Apparently the story was inspired by the Green Man myth, which I didn’t know going into it. But, I felt that going into it with vague knowledge on the plot actually made the reading experience so much fun!

Continuing with the story, Henry always finds himself coming back to Greenhollow where Tobias lives. As the two grow even closer, we learn more about Tobias and his past, including the fact that Henry may be in danger!

What I appreciated about this book so much was that there were layers to the characters that get expanded on and get revealed at a steady pace. There’s questions I had about Tobias and Henry’s past, but it was at the most perfect moments where I finally got my answers.

Tobias, we learn has lived for so long that he’s grown accustomed to the world around him, but hasn’t really found a place to set down roots. Tesh explores Tobias’s internal journey so wonderfully as he reflects on the legends of the world, the forest around him, and his growing relationship/dynamic with Henry through a detailed and personal POV.

According to a blog post from Tor, Tesh’s inspiration for the setting was inspired by:

“the ancient woodlands of the British Isles, places which although they may seem wild are in fact witness to centuries if not millennia of carefully managed relationships between human beings and the natural world…”

You can sense the imagery with the way Tesh just weaves together the details of the setting and how it becomes part of the characters in a big way too!

Through Tesh’s writing there’s a sense of wonder and charm to the woods that’s delivered through the 3rd person POV! It really shines as it dives deep into the legends of the world and how it connects to our main characters.

Another elements that are woven all throughout (which I loved) were the themes of story and storytelling. The folklore of of a notorious bandit (Red Fay), Henry’s old maps of Hallowed Woods, Tobias’s dryad friend Bramble, its these details that really bring the world to life to present a folktale within a folktale. Its lush, atmospheric, and finds its roots in the folklore/legend that’s layered into the story.

What Silver In The Wood does in such a fantastic way is weaving together the legend and folklore of the past and showing how it influences the present, as seen through 23-year old Henry, who we learn is a folklorist who is eager to learn and study more of the tales of the Hallowed Hall & woods!

That also includes the tale of Fabian Rafela (which Tobias is very familiar with). I won’t spoil what happens, but that adds another layer of mystery and conflict to the story that really keeps you hooked nearing the middle to end!

The romance between Henry and Tobias is brought to life through the quiet moments they have with one another that builds so much depth and emotion to different layers of the story.

The novella does have a bit of a slow pace to it, but the writing-style really makes the pages fly by!

Also, have I mentioned that Tobias has a very loyal cat named Pearl? 🐱

I definitely recommend this novella if your looking for an atmospheric novella, rooted in folklore, legends, followed by a delightful and unique cast of characters!

Silver In The Wood is an immersive novella that is rooted deep in folklore and legends! This is an introspective and character-driven tale that also delivers lush and atmospheric forest imagery! Its Tobias and Henry’s journeys that really root you in the story and keep you hooked till the very end! You’ll be left wondering what new adventures Tesh has set in the world of Greenhollow!