Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 2 by Kamome Shirahama {Manga Review}

Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 2Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 2 by Kamome Shirahama (Witch Hat Atelier #2)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: June 25, 2019

Pages: 192

Available Through The Book Depository: Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 2

Summary: Her journey as a witch is underway, and Coco’s earnest wish is but to learn. But now she has a dragon in her way, and friendships she badly wants to earn. For comrades lend one strength to carry on and kindred spirits blunt the keenest threat. A dragon, once enraged, now sleeps ’til dawn, transforming peril into light vignette. Though Coco has attained apprenticeship and Qifrey’s trio now becomes quartet, his gift to Coco threatens to be stripped, for wary Watchful Eyes no wrongs abet. When Knights Moralis come to take their due, her magic learned turns magic lost anew…

My Rating: ★★★★★

My Thoughts: Witch Hat Atelier is a must-read series that’s magical and captivating! Coco finds her journey filled with obstacles, from strengthening her new-found friendships and taking what she learns at every turn to improve upon her magic! The detailed art, inspiring messages, and captivating story weave together to make Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 2 an outstanding sequel!

You know when you’ve been highly anticipating a book and when its finally out, you put off reading it only to read it in practically one sitting, then your left wondering how on earth you’ll possibly be able to wait for the next one?

That’s how I feel reading the Witch Hat Atelier manga! It’s a series I’d really been looking forward to since I’d heard about it at last year’s AX and it’s easily one of the best fantasy manga series I’ve ever read!

I truly believe this series is incredibly underrated and underhyped in the bookish community–I can’t recommend this series enough! If you love complex magic systems, amazing ensemble cast of characters, whimsical, but also inspiring and almost timeless tales? Then please pick up Witch Hat Atelier!

The story follows a young girl named Coco who dreams of becoming a witch. But in this world, it’s not such an easy task, only select few are born with the ability to practice this secret art.

Coco discovered her love of magic when she attended a castle festival with her mother at a young age! Since then, she’s held onto the dream that she can make it happen one day!

An unfortunate accident involving forbidden spells leads her on a magical adventure alongside magician Qifrey, where he takes her to his atelier and let her training begin.

In Volume 2, it picks up right where the story left off with Coco, Tetia, Richeh, and Agott trapped in an empty and abandoned Mc Escher-esque city, trying to escape a dragon!

What makes Witch Hat Atelier such a memorable series for me, is that through the writing, characters, their development and plot, I feel like I already know the cast so well that it was so easy for me to get back into this world in the second volume!

Coco attempts to help her other friends find a way out, but Agott and Tetia have their doubts about her abilities. Because of that, Coco questions whether she’ll ever find that sense of belonging in the atelier as they go on without her.

I related to her so much in that first chapter, that sort of unsaid doubt that she picks up on and questioning whether she can make it. But, Coco is both inspiring and dedicated in her perseverance to continue learning, alongside strengthening the bonds with her new friends, even if she knows she isn’t quite ready. I adore that about her as a character, time and time again she’s faced with obstacles that seem impossible but she keeps on trying and uses what she learns to help others!

During this time, were also following their master Qifrey who’s outside of this mysterious city, trying to help the girls and find a way out! But, we also learn this misfortune may be connected to the Brimmed Caps: Witches who wear masks and caps from a bygone era. They keep their identities hidden and practice forbidden magic!

As Coco reunites with her friends, she has a heart-warming moment with Tetia, keeping her spirits up and reminds her of the strength she has within herself!

As they come up with a plan for escape, Qifrey manages to find them, but Coco is quickly faced again with the mysterious, masked magician!

Next, Witch Hat Atelier introduces us to some interesting new characters and magicians! First there’s Olruggio, Qifrey’s close friend and overseer of the atelier. Next are the Knights Moralis, defenders of magic who maintain order by ensuring those who aren’t allowed to practice magic, have their memories erased & eliminate those who practice forbidden magic!

In this volume not only do Coco and Qifrey continue to be my absolute favorite characters, but I’ve now gotten to know more about Agott and I loved her so much + seeing her development!

What makes this volume such a great sequel, is how it balances the action, character development, new character introductions, and world-building in such a seamless way. The complexity to the magic system is developed even further through the use of new spells and obstacles, where we see Coco take each and every adventure as a learning experience to help her on the next one!

Additionally, I loved how for most of the characters, I could see a clear development arc that began and ended in this volume!

Alongside Coco, another character who gets more development is Agott! She’s hesitant towards Coco at first and doesn’t want her in the way. But, as she begins to see Coco’s true strength, potential, and tenacity, she realizes just how much she really belongs there as much as she does! She begins to see just how powerful and inspiring Coco truly is.

We learn she mainly feels this way, because as Agott grew up in another Atelier, she always felt like she was never good enough. Her mother was incredibly skilled and all these outside expectations turned into other’s disappointment. Because of that, she feels that at Qifrey’s she has to continue proving herself.

However one moment that really stuck with me was when Coco and the team were headed out to help a family caught in a raging river and Qifrey said this:

“Agott tends to dwell on things she has not yet learned, rather than rejoicing in the things she has…” (135).

As the story progresses we get a little more about the hierarchy among witches and magicians! This makes for a very interesting end to this volume and I was left in shock once I turned that last page–How am I supposed to wait for Volume 3? I don’t think I can??

The art, as with the first volume, is carefully detailed! The characters especially are illustrated with such care and come to life on the page. What I noticed more in this volume was the little details that continue to make the world incredibly immersive. For example, the onomatopoeias added more layers to the sights and sounds of the world―action scenes alongside the settings, and food (one of my favorite scenes was the rainy picnic they all had!).

In addition, through the writing and art together we get more depth and added layers to the world! More spells and their capabilities, rules, magical equipment like the Rain Cleaver and Link Rings, even the nuances to the magic system (such as why the witches cloaks are so large and billowy― to prevent the secret of preforming magic from being seen by normal people).

The way the panels are shown too, present the story in such a wonderful way. Each and every panel offered something to the story and from the magic system, character development, to the setting–not one single panel or page ever felt wasted!

I continue to be in awe at how everything in this series flows together so perfectly! The various elements to the world-building continue to be incredibly captivating and so well developed. Every time your introduced to something new, it immerses you so much into the story to the point you forget that its your first time reading about it–that’s not easy for a story to do, but Witch Hat Atelier does it with such care!

Another element of this series that is not only an important part, but also something that connects with me on such a personal level is the powerful messages deeply rooted into the story! As I mentioned in my review of Volume 1, there’s this feeling of endless hope and possibility that allows the reader to keep asking “What-If,” which connects to this inner wonder of the magic that’s all around us!

One of my many favorite inspirational moments is when Coco is helping Qifrey cook something in the kitchen using magic and he explains to her:

“When your anxious to learn something and need to get better…the solution is to make it part of your daily life…” (84).

Its moments like that between the characters where beautiful and inspiring messages just stick with you on such a personal level that makes this series so much more special to me!

Witch Hat Atelier proves you can blend humor, dark moments, alongside happy and cheerful ones to deliver a story both inspiring, timeless, and captivating all at once!

Witch Hat Atelier Volume 2 is a page-turning continuation to Coco’s adventures! Character development, inspiring messages, and immersive world-building are just some of the many highlights this volume has to offer! Everything weaves together to bring an epic continuation to the Witch Hat Atelier series that will leave you speechless and want the next volume right away! Kamome’s Witch Hat Atelier is a truly phenomenal manga series that is a must read!

Nocturna by Maya Motayne Review

Nocturna by Maya MotayneNocturna by Maya Motayne (A Forgery Of Magic #1)

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Epic Reads)

Release Date: May 7, 2019

Pages: 480

Available Through The Book Depository: Nocturna

Summary: To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Nocturna is a Dominican-inspired YA Fantasy you don’t want to miss! Motayne’s debut follows a grieving prince and a clever thief who have to save their world when a dark magic is unleashed! Character development, a wonderfully developed story, and an immersive world are just some of the many highlights of this delightful fantasy debut!

Nocturna is a novel forged in magic, complex topics and themes, alongside the deep introspection we uncover about the main characters Finn and Alfie!

You know when you read a book and although you know more is coming, you can’t help but feel sad that this introduction to a series is over? That’s how I felt the second I turned the last page of Nocturna! Without spoiling anything my thoughts summed up to:

How am I supposed to wait for book 2?!? I need more page-time with my prince/thief duo–I can’t believe I reached the end!!😭💖

Motayne’s debut is one I had been looking forward to for months because coming from a Latinx background, I was just so incredibly happy to see more Latinx YA (especially fantasy) being released! And more specifically, I was so excited to see more Latinx representation (in this novel its Dominican specifically) get the spotlight!

Just reading the Spanish phrases/words I grew up hearing, recognizing the food, etc. just made me SO SO happy!! 💞 Also just to get this out there, there’s a heist & thievery!! + another bonus ✨: Nocturna has chapter titles & they need to be appreciated 😆💖 because they’re great + who doesn’t love chapter titles!?!

Told through a 3rd person POV, we follow quite a few characters throughout this novel but two that I want to focus on are Prince Alfher (or Alfie) and Finn Voy (though I absolutely loved Alfie’s cousin Luka)!

Alfie returns to his kingdom of Castallan grieving over his lost brother Dez and is unsure he has what it takes to assume his role as king. But, he still hasn’t given up hope on finding his brother, who he still believes is alive! Finn, is a face-changing thief who gets forced to do a seemingly impossible mission of stealing a vanishing cloak from the royal palace!

The 2 collide and Alfie connects with an ancient dark magic that gets unleashed unto the world while trying to save Luka–now the two must team up to stop it!

To get into more detail, since Dez’s death after an attempted royal coup, Alfie has felt nothing but grief for his brother who he believed to be the rightful heir. Not only does he carry that loss with him, but also this feeling of not being the ruler that his kingdom needs! He still holds this anger inside of him for the world having moved on from Dez and he’s still holding onto hope! ( I loved the story of Dez’s carved figurines).

Finn lost her parents at a very young age and has learned to survive on her own as a thief, but also carries the hurt that was caused by her manipulative (adoptive) father figure, Igancio. He essentially felt that she was destined to be just like him, so he manipulated her into always remaining at his side–until one day she finally left!

I can’t put into words just how much I loved Alfie & Finn! The depth to their character arcs and development was another highlight of this book. Looking back, I found that at its core, Nocturna is really about two people from opposite sides who are overcoming grief and obstacles to become better people and in turn be their best selves!

They don’t want to be selfish about their choices to bring about their happiness, but they learn to not let their grief cloud their judgement as they learn to work together and I LOVED that message! Exploring their grief so deeply throughout the story allows them to talk about it and grow!

They both felt so real and I could understand each of the obstacles they were facing throughout the book, but I loved that their journey to growth really developed with one another! Finn’s wit was so much fun to read as was Alfie’s cleverness and how his shyness really bounced off of Finn’s confidence! I loved their banter and friendship so much, their dynamic was great!! 💞💞

Overall though I loved that with each character they all felt so real!

Now onto the magic system–which was one of my many favorite world-building elements to explore in Nocturna!

Within this world that Motayne created, we explore this personal magic that one can carry called a propio! Within the novel it explains that magic itself moves in a cycle of sorts with people–which creates a balance. People can house magic within them and the magic itself “[offers] its wonders to man…” (8).

The magic can be elemental, like in Alfie’s case to control water or a supernatural type of magic, like Finn’s to change her appearance! There’s this overarching theme, however, throughout Nocturna that time and time again (especially when our main characters encounter dark magic) there’s a balance!

I loved that–especially as its explored through the main characters Alfie & Finn! For me personally, I found that the forbidden magic they encounter was a kind of metaphor for the power they wish they had to overcome their traumas.

There’s so much depth to the magic system, from influence of language (Spanish), but also how the unknown/dark magic can impact each person differently–in this case we see that when Alfie attempts to carry dark magic alongside him throughout his journey with Finn!

Next, there’s such a present discussion on on colonialism, slavery, and its effects! I don’t often see this explored in YA Fantasy (from recent memory the only books I’ve seen that explored this were Children Of Blood And Bone & The Gilded Wolves–though that’s more of a historical fantasy). Overall though, I applaud these female authors of color exploring topics like this in YA because again, its something that I don’t always see talked about! As an aspiring YA Fantasy author of color as well, its so inspiring to read these books that explore real-life topics and themes with such depth and complexity!

Castallan in the past, was taken over by Englassen colonizers and with that, their culture was taken away (especially their magic)! Over time they reclaimed what they lost and Nocturna explores this in such a layered way!

Now onto something I wanted to discuss because as a reader who is from a marginalized background, its disheartening to see books by authors of color so quickly compared to previous books.

I’ve seen Nocturna compared a lot to ADSOM (I’ve read them both) and for me personally I didn’t read this book at all with that comparison in mind–the only similarity I saw, but even then it was completely different–was how Finn & Kell can traverse to different locations. Overall I can completely understand the points being made, but for me Nocturna was a wholly unique fantasy in its own right. Also Nocturna tackles discussion of poverty, slavery, and colonialism (which ADSOM doesn’t).

Of course I know that not every book is for everyone and every reader has differing opinions! ^_^ Overall, I just hope with my little discussion here, people are willing to look past some parallels because at the end of the day these stories, characters and inspirations–are different.

Now onto why its a 4.5: There were a few moments of slow pacing. + As the story progressed I wasn’t really liking the villain all that much anymore–I saw what Motayne was trying to do and when looking at it from a character arc perspective I see what it did to Finn’s character in allowing her to grow, but the villain himself was just kind of bland at points.

I would have loved more of an exploration between Finn & Alfie in their world and the magic their forced to carry with them instead of a lot of focus on this villain, but in the end it did work with the story and I loved the ending!! I may have shed a few tears 😭💖

But overall, I can’t wait to see where Alfie & Finn’s journey is headed in the sequel! I’m excited to learn more about the world of Castallan, the magic system, my favorite characters Alfie, Finn, Luka–and see what they’ll be tackling next!

Nocturna is a YA Fantasy debut you should definitely add to your to-read list! If your looking for a fantasy that’s character-driven, has an immersive setting that explores a variety of themes, is filled with adventure, a complex magic system, and a delightful main cast, don’t miss out on Motayne’s debut! Nocturna is a YA Fantasy adventure you’ve got to pick up!

Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 1 by Kamome Shirahama {Manga Review}

Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama Vol. 1Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 1 by Kamome Shirahama (Witch Hat Atelier #1)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: April 2, 2019

Pages: 204

Available Through The Book Depository: Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 1

Summary: In a world where everyone takes wonders like magic spells and dragons for granted, Coco is a girl with a simple dream: She wants to be a witch. But everybody knows magicians are born, not made, and Coco was not born with the gift for magic. She’s resigned to her un-magical life, until a traveling magician passes through her village, and Coco learns what what everybody “knows” might not be the truth.

My Rating: ★★★★★

My Thoughts: Witch Hat Atelier Volume 1 is a captivating manga debut and easily one of my new favorite series! The beautiful art, alongside the enchanting story, powerful messages, & fantastic characters all come together so perfectly! The first volume of Witch Hat Atelier shows that there’s a powerful magic inside each of us!

Witch Hat Atelier is a manga I’ve waited almost a year for at this point! I’d first heard about it at AX last year and knew I just had to add it to my TBR!!

The story follows Coco who lives in a world where magic is all around her, but not everyone (including herself) know how to use it. Only witches can, however in this world witches are only born–not made!

The daughter of a seamstress, both Coco and her mother live in a small village living their everyday lives. But, one day a magical carriage comes into town with wealthy women from another town.

Not long after, a traveler by the name of Qifrey stops by quickly to get a cloth from their shop. However, after the Pegasus Carriage gets damaged Qifrey reveals he has the ability to fix it–because he’s a magician.

Coco shares with Qifrey that her love of magic came when she was little! Both she & her mother went to a castle festival, where Coco encountered a masked magician that offered her a special book and a pen that she’s kept alongside her ever since!

Magic in the world of Witch Hat Atelier is not only beautiful, but explored in such a unique way! Knowing magic long ago used to be a part of everyday life, but with the world being in a constant state of war, a new order was set up so few (with good intentions) would keep magic alive. But in turn, everyone else had to forget magic.

What also brought such a unique take on the exploration of magic, was how its cast! The secret that must be kept behind closed doors, is that the magic of this world isn’t through words, but drawn!

If your looking for a deeply complex, elaborate, but whimsical magic system, Witch Hat Atelier delivers! The fulidity of magic and how its explored through Coco’s past and present allow the reader to really feel a sense of wonder in this captivating world!

The events of the day inspire Coco to examine the journal one more time, but her spells go wrong! Now she must join Qifrey on a quest to understand more about this intriguing world of magic and save her mother.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, because the way it unfolds was so brilliant and I highly recommend experiencing this wonderful tale for yourself!

But I will say, as Coco’s journey begins she’s brought to Qifrey’s Atelier where she meets other young girls like herself who are also magicians-in-training: Tetia, Richeh, & Agott!

A very present message throughout this whole volume which I adored was this idea that although magic is rare in this world, its something grounded in a reality that was so relatable to me in a way I hope I can explain?

Basically, because we follow a main character who sees the possibilities of magic (though she can’t wield it) we get this sense of hope, wonder, and the wonder of what-ifs! So, the world feels far vaster than we can imagine, but never hollow–which show’s the incredible depth to the world-building and how its rooted in the powerful messages of the story!

The plot has mystery, hope, moments both happy and sad, humorous and they all complement each other in this fantastic introduction to the series of Witch Hat Atelier so perfectly! The pacing never falters for a moment and the story is captivating from the opening page!

I honestly cannot pick a favorite character because I love them all so much–Coco, Qifrey, Tetia, Richeh, Agott & the masked magician! They each feel so incredibly developed in this first volume and connected with each and every one of them. There’s also a mystery to Qifrey and the masked Magician that I have some theories about (when it comes to how magic is used by very few)–but I’ll keep it to myself for now 😂✨

The setting is rich, immersive, and just gives you this thread of limitless possibility when it comes to the scope of magic as you get further along into the story! It has a steampunk + historical magic feeling to it and it works perfectly! I never felt confused with all these new elements being introduced, instead I felt even more captivated and was in awe! Overall, the world-building is phenomenal

The art style is just breathtaking! Shirahama’s details to the background, character designs, attention to details among each and every panel are true works of art!

Its stories like Witch Hat Atelier that I find can appeal to readers of all ages, because it connects to this inner wonder we have about the magic in the world around us, that endless hope of finding magic where we know there may not be, and its beautiful! Its about believing in yourself and following your heart to see that magic appear in its own way!

If your looking for your newest manga obsession, Witch Hat Atelier is a must!! I can’t recommend it enough, please add this captivating series to your to-read list, you will not be disappointed, I can promise you that!

Witch Hat Atelier Volume 1 is a truly incredible start to a magical manga series I can’t wait to continue! Everything from the story, characters, world, themes, and artwork are utterly phenomenal! Magic thrives through each page of Witch Hat Atelier and will leave you in awe, eager to read the next volume right away! 

The Wicked King by Holly Black Review

The Wicked King (The Folk Of The Air #2)the wicked king by holly black

Publisher: Little Brown & Company

Release Date: January 8, 2019

Pages: 322

Available Through The Book Depository: The Wicked King

Summary: You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself that strong.

Jude has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were biddable. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her, even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a faerie world.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: The Wicked King is a sequel that raises the stakes as intrigue and politics become a much more central role! Jude attempts to hold onto her power in Elfhame all while keeping Cardan in check! Clever twists and a greater focus on character-development makes The Wicked King a sequel you just can’t put down!

So I started this book last Thursday and was not expecting to get through 90% of it in one afternoon!

I was wary going into The Wicked King because I’d found that Jude wasn’t really the anti-heroine I was expecting, from what so many people were saying about The Cruel Prince. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what level my expectations we’re at because what was motivating me to continue this series was mainly Cardan!

The Wicked King was honestly such a step up from The Cruel Prince, I was more surprised than anything because when I rate a book in the 3-star range, I don’t usually have much motivation to pick up the sequel right away!

So, The Wicked King takes place 5 months after book 1 with Cardan on the throne all while Jude is the power behind it, trying to keep the prince in-check.

She continues to build her strength in the background all while plotting a way to keep her control and form a plan to get Oak on the throne when he’s ready!

What I found The Wicked King did so much better was showcasing the cunning and deceptive side to Jude! In Cruel Prince, were told this, but its never really given much expansion or depth (other than us knowing she wants to be accepted by the fae & constantly telling us she wants power). However, because in The Wicked King Jude finally has what she’s been after, it makes it so much clearer and easier to see where her strategic and political thinking are coming from.

The pacing is much more gripping and fast-paced as well. Early on in The Wicked King, we learn that time has passed since Jude’s deal with Cardan and we feel that sense of urgency because Jude is trying to form as many plans along the way to ensure her power as seneschal isn’t taken away before the year is up.

What I found to be super interesting which lends itself to some amazing character development was Cardan and how he feels about his role as prince! He seems to be pretty nonchalant in the beginning all while knowing that Jude is the one giving him direction on what to do!

Yet, we see these multiple sides to him throughout the novel, not only on how he feels about being prince, but also how he feels about Jude! He continues to be my favorite character in this series.

Jude finds herself attempting to undermine enemies from multiple sides when she learns from Nicasia that someone is going to betray her, Orlagh Queen of the Undersea has a plan of her own, and the mysterious Balekin (Cardan’s older brother) who seems to be plotting something while in the Tower Of Forgetting.

We also learn that there are many in Elfhame who, in secret, don’t find Cardan to be an eligible ruler and his position as High King puts him in quite a bit of danger.

What I really loved about The Wicked King a lot more about The Cruel Prince was the dynamic that built between both Jude and Cardan. Where in The Cruel Prince their relationship didn’t seem to have any solid foundation (aside from Cardan’s bullying & Jude’s one-sided lust for power), Black navigates their relationship with more tension and maturity in this book, that I finally understood the enemies-to-lovers dynamic people were talking about!

There’s this element of trust that gets explored between the both of them throughout their journey in this sequel and I loved how it also lends itself to the development of their relationship.

Jude is a character who really surprised me in The Wicked King! I didn’t really like her all that much in book 1, but seeing Black give her more solid ground for her power and motivations made me really change my view about her.

The world-building itself flowed a lot better too! Focusing more on the general, but differing ties with Cardan as King, I found it much easier to navigate the different classes of Elfahme and what they represent in the grand scheme of the world.

From the Undersea, councils, Jude’s role as seneschal, the other royals, and fae creatures, everything seemed to be developed more smoothly and I found myself understanding each and every element to the politics and the hierarchy of the world!

Even when it comes to the land of Elhame, we learn rulers have a special tie to the land that gets introduced somewhat near the middle & end, but it made for such a great addition to the vastness of the world.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Madoc in Cruel Prince either, but I loved how his storyline really takes on a antagonistic role as he stands against Jude all while we see she still wants to prove himself to her! Their dynamic is built slowly throughout the book, but was one I found was given the perfect amount of development and mystery.

I don’t usually love books where its a good 90% angst and scheming, but wow– The Wicked King got me and I’m obsessed now! I can’t wait to see what happens in The Queen Of Nothing, but I’m also scared because I don’t know if anything after The Wicked King can really top it off!

Now I’m obviously not going to give away the ending, but those last pages really sucked me in and I could not put the book down! I love how we see even more different sides to the characters and their motivations that really come into play at the end!

The writing itself is something I already loved in The Cruel Prince because I found Black’s writing-style really delivered intrigue and an immersive quality to the story! However, in The Wicked King I found it really allowed for all the different elements of the story from the politics, setting, character motivations, deception & planning, and development to come together in a much more coherent way! Everything flowed perfectly!

Now onto some of the minor elements that made me drop a star! Though I love the writing, I did find because its very character-centric, the descriptive elements to the setting and world weren’t as present. Additionally, I wasn’t much of a fan of Taryn & Viv’s storylines, I felt they took away from Jude’s overall story (which was much more engaging) and did slow the pacing a little.

Also similar to The Cruel Prince, I still don’t buy that Taryn & Jude are twins! As I mentioned in that review, they are just too different and don’t get enough page-time together where I can really see them as twins.

Overall though, I really had fun reading this book! It surprised me in a lot of ways and I’m looking forward to book 3!

The Wicked King is an immersive and page-turning sequel to The Cruel Prince! There’s a more focused development on the characters and inner politics involving the throne of Elfhame! From Jude attempting to hold onto her power with Cardan on the throne, mysterious enemies, and intrigue at every turn, this is a great continuation to the Folk Of The Air Series!

Flyest Fables Podcast Review {Literary Listens}

flyest fables podcastFlyest Fables created by Morgan Givens

Release Date: October 1, 2018

Episodes: 8

Running Time: Episodes range from 15 to 26 minutes

Summary: Flyest Fables brings you anthology style and critically acclaimed hopepunk fables for the 21st century. Created by Morgan Givens.

My Thoughts: Flyest Fables is an anthology audio drama podcast! There’s a magical book and an even more magic tale inside, just waiting to be read! Merging contemporary with fantasy, this is an inspiring podcast that showcases brilliant storytelling!

As my audio drama podcast lists grows as high as my TBR, I’ve made it a goal for 2019 to get back into listening to podcasts and review them more!

My first podcast of 2019 is a 2018 debut titled, Flyest Fables!

Created by Morgan Givens, this anthology-style audio drama is a podcast that focuses on black and brown protagonists who encounter a magical book with their name mysteriously engraved on the cover and get immersed in a fable that’s more than it seems upon first glance!

Episode 1, “Like Little Mice Mocking His Humiliation,” follows 6th-grader Antoine leaving class before the final bell! He’s trying to outrun bullies who’ve bothered him since kindergarten and luckily finds a fence near the school with a hole he hadn’t noticed before.

From there he passes through to escapes the bullies, but as he continues walking he soon finds a bench and a book with his name on it!

Filled with blank pages, it isn’t until he finds his moment of peace when he starts singing that the book quickly fill with words!

Not just any words, but a story of a far away land and a princess on a quest!

He looks at the book one more time and gets lost in the story of the Princess Keisha from the Kingdom of Orleans.

It turns out she’s been on a quest and to return home with a flower that would heal her mother, the Queen.

But as she trudges through the desert, she’s unsure if she’ll make it back in time because the journey itself was filled with lots of misfortune. As weeks pass though, she thinks back to the quartermaster and her mother’s words that stay with her as she finds her kingdom slowly getting closer and closer!

“I am not behind you, why do spend so much time there?…Or [is it that you] spend so much time looking at the past?…”

“It would be so easy to turn around…but I will not…”

As the story starts getting good, Antoine’s phone starts ringing from his mother to pick him up and realizes he’d been transported into that story for hours! As he tries to explain to her what happened, he keeps the book by his side waiting to return to that magical tale!

The writing was incredibly atmospheric! Through the 3rd person narrative, there is such depth to the unique world of this podcast and especially the main characters Antoine and Princess Keisha, but also the Kingdom Of Orleans.

Givens brilliantly juxtaposes his main protagonist with that of the fictional character to offer them and the listener with inspiring messages of hope and courage!

Antoine is a boy who’s running away from his bullies, but he gets introduced to a brave heroine who is facing her obstacles and not giving up!

Though I’ve only listened to this first episode, I can’t wait to hear more!

The voice acting was great! I haven’t looked too much into it, but I think creator Morgan Givens does all the voices and all the characters are given so much depth where I feel I know a good amount about them from just a few lines!

The atmosphere of Flyest Fables itself also delivers a feeling of optimism and hope which I love! The inspiring tales and the main characters who come to life are also sure to inspire listeners!

This young adult anthology above all showcases and spotlights positivity through its storytelling and I love that!

Speaking of storytelling, that is definitely another fantastic element to this audio drama! Even when faced with challenges, its the power of tales that remind our protagonist of his courage!

I haven’t taken a look at the other episodes yet, but I see the overarching theme of protagonists finding this magical book and with that, the stories remind them of the magic they have within themselves to channel their own strengths & bravery!

Flyest Fables is a brilliant podcast that spotlights the power and importance of storytelling! The fantastic and atmospheric writing deliver not only a unique world, but great protagonists who offer inspiring messages of courage and bravery! If your looking for a wholly unique tale that weaves contemporary with fantasy brimming with hope, I highly recommend this podcast!

Flyest Fables introduces fictional heroes while also reminding the listener of their inner hero! ✨🎙

Realm Of Ruins by Hannah West ARC Review

Realm Of Ruins by Hannah WestRealm Of Ruins by Hannah West (The Nissera Chronicles #2)

Publisher: Holiday House Books

Release Date: December 4, 2018

Pages: 464

Available Through The Book Depository: Realm Of Ruins

Summary: Valory’s power is different . . . it’s dangerous, unruly, and destructive. But can she channel it to crush a cunning enemy and save the realm from chaos? 

Welcome to Nissera, land of three kingdoms and home to spectacular magic.

A century after her legendary ancestors overcame a bloodthirsty tyrant, seventeen-year-old Valory Braiosa attends a training academy for elicromancers, immortal beings with magical gifts. Yet Valory’s immense power seems impossible to tame, and she faces imprisonment by the Nisseran authorities. Then a forbidden resurrection spell awakens a long-dormant evil, and Valory may be the only one who can vanquish this terrifying villain. Together with a band of allies—including an old friend; a haughty princess; and a mysterious, handsome stranger—Valory must learn to harness her power and fight back.

*Requested an ARC from the publisher*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Readers are back in land of Nissera in Realm Of Ruins, the spin-off/companion to West’s 2016 debut, Kingdom Of Ash And Briars!  Valory Braiosa is sent on a quest to not only clear her name, but take down a darkness that threatens to ruin her world! This YA Fantasy melds so much from action, magic, fairy tales, quests, dark powers, royalty, & so much more! If your also looking for wholly unique twists on the classic fairy tales, West’s books are the ones to check out!

*Before I get into my review–just want to say I’m so happy to be back posting on the blog! 😍💞✨📚🎉 Finals are coming up and that’s why this book took me a bit longer to finish than expected! But happy to be posting my first review (finally) in December!

Back in the early days of my blog, I fell in love with West’s debut, Kingdom Of Ash And Briars! So, of course I just had to get an ARC of it!

Realm Of Ruins takes place generations after KOAAB! To start, I loved that the story was plotted that way because throughout the novel we explore this idea of those who came before us, legacies, how history plays a role into our future, & so on!

Now the plot itself has a lot of different elements to it and weaves in a lot throughout this single book–so sorry if my review is all over the place!

Valory Braiosa, descendant of Bristal & Anthony from KOAAB is a royal, but not exactly an Elicromancer–unlike her other cousins and family members.

As a student of a magical academy, she’s joined by her best friend Knox, and cousins such as Melkior (who isn’t exactly nice to her) and Ander!

There’s a scene in which Val is in classes and we learn about the school, history and how its shaped the ways of magic in her time now and the way West makes it such a seamless, but integral part of the story was one of my favorite elements when it comes to the world building!

On a quick side-note, often times in YA fantasy books (when it comes to future books in series or spin-offs) there isn’t always much explanation or exploration from previous installments and how they really shape numerous aspects of a world from its politics, magic system, beliefs–and I felt West really made it clear how important that was to the world!

Especially reading about the academy in general, because in KOAAB Elicromancers are somewhat on their own and guide each other. But, seeing how the world has grown to meld elicromancy into the everyday and train new generations was so fascinating to read about!

But of all her family members, her cousin Ivria is practically her best friend and they are always honest with each other–or so, Valory thinks!

During Val’s birthday dinner, she finds Ivria having run off and head towards the Water through a magical portal.

The Water is what allows an Elicromancer to get their fully harness their abilities. It chooses them and with that, they get an Elicrin Stone which also symbolizes their power.

Ivria has the ability to sense danger and fears she will never fully grasp her powers. So, she heads to The Water alone to see for herself.

However, Ivria is set on getting to the Water & as Val jumps into save her, she realizes Ivria didn’t make it & the Water has disappeared!!

Now being seen as a murderer and forced to go to trial by the Conclave to the Realm Alliance. This requires a journey away from her kingdom and with those she though were on her side, now against her. Also, a neutralizer (by the name of Brandar) to keep her powers in check, doesn’t help either!

When Valory’s grandmother joins and mentions something about people in white cloaks & masks, they also learn of a mysterious (possibly looming threat) known as the Summoners!

As stops along the way allow Valory to visit her cousins (Gliselle, Perrenia, & Ambrosine) they convince her to talk to their brother Deovrian–there we learn of a mysterious tablet & how the Summoners may be involved?

When the tablet unleashes a dark force, Valory learns more about what the Water left behind (that now resides within her–some dark & dangerous power) and the journey she will have to undergo to clear her name.

I love how this story really takes on an anti-hero vibe through Val as we see the extent of her powers near the end!

Val goes through so much in this book where it looks like the world is stacked against her, but with her cousin Glisette, fellow princess friend Kadri, & mysterious Mercer who we learn time-traveled from generations in the past!

Now they team up to help Val on her journey to learn more about the mysterious force known as The Summoners which are spreading illness and death wherever they go!

We soon learn that Mercer may have the answers as he has the ability to see visions! This leads to even more being uncovered about the Summoners, Mercer’s past (like his brother Tilmorn) & how this all ties to a mysterious elicromancer known as the Moth King!

Similar to West’s debut, fairy tales are twisted in such unique ways that really bring even more magic to the world of Nissera! From The Little Mermaid (seen through Kadri’s boyfriend who’s a prince who loves sailing & becomes interested in finding a mermaid who saved him), even Beauty & Beast (when Devorian’s cost of unlocking the tablet turns him into a beast).

The fairy tales are uniquely woven, but also into the story and have such distinct details mentioned that really make them their own. For ex. there’s mention of Devorian keeping mirrors closed to not be in contact w/ his sisters, even a sea witch & mermaid who are reminiscent of The Little Mermaid)

The characters all have their own flaws and secrets that make them feel real and I love how their imperfections or fears really allowed me to see their growth by the end!

I love how this journey isn’t exactly linear! While it seems that way in the beginning, the way West plots her stories allows for the story to go in so many directions, yet all tie together as it progresses. From numerous royal families, fairy tale homages, dark magic, quests–West packs so much into this standalone tale!

Also what made the magic so interesting was seeing how Val, a person who wasn’t born with magic, inherits this magical ability from the Water which we learn has the power to destroy, but also create! The Water itself becomes a pretty major part in the magic system as the story progresses and I love how it was explored! This also allows for her to explore, throughout the book both before and after she touches the Water, the legacy her ancestors left behind and how she questions whether she’s even capable of such things that family members who came before her managed!

Also there was one particular thing that really surprised me and that just brought back all the memories from KOAAB! We meet a very interesting Elicromancer who has ties to Bristal and I loved how that story line tied into the major plot! The references and ties to West’s first book was just something I did not see coming in the way that it did-but I loved how it was explored!

Time-travel was explored so well in this novel and I loved how it tied into the main story.

The world itself is incredibly vast and you sense that through the journey Val takes and just the way West describes the little details of the kingdoms. However, there were a few moments where a lot of the locations did get a bit confusing & could have had differing explanations when it comes to their depth. But overall, you can tell West has built such a vast world!

Now on to some of things that did lower my rating! Personally, I found the pacing to be rather slow for me and it dragged quite a bit from the middle on-wards. There were also some plot points explored when some time passes & Val returns home, which I wish had a little more explanation (b/c while it does make sense with the story) I found for me personally it came a little out of nowhere and I was a little lost as to how all that happened in that amount of time!

There were also some side characters, one’s that take on a villain role & at times the villain himself, that I wish had some more development b/c they become so important later on–that I found there character at times just needed a little more!

Returning to the plot, as the story continues I loved how it becomes clear what the goal is (to destroy the Moth King), but the uncertainty as to if Val & her friends could do it, made it all the more interesting to figure out!

Another element which made this fantasy book so unique too, was how it concludes after the battle (which I won’t spoil). Just seeing how characters naturally go their separate ways and explaining all the work left to do after all that’s happened really left it on a note where your satisfied with the ending, but still know there’s much more to explore! ( Valory’s ending was really epic & kind of ambiguous, but I loved that).

Realm Of Ruins is a YA Fantasy that weaves in classic fairy tales, while also delivering a wholly unique story all its own! From journeys across magical lands, dark magic, royalty, & the importance of self and how you can shape your own destiny! West’s spin-off continues to build on her magical world of Nissera and leaves opportunity for future installments!

Fields Of Fire by Hannah West Review

Fields Of Fire by Hannah WestFields Of Fire by Hannah West (The Nissera Chronicles #1.5)

Publisher: Holiday House Books

Release Date: September 18, 2018

Pages: 32

Summary: In the war to save the magical realm of Nissera, every battle counts—including those fought on the smallest fronts.

Across the land, the powerful sorceresses Bristal and Tamarice are marshalling their armies, readying for a climactic battle to decide the fate of their world. But in a hay-filled barn far off in the countryside, a small group of spies led by a courageous young warrior named Drell is about to launch an offensive in order to root out the identity of a shadowy alchemist. If Drell’s team is successful, one of Tamarice’s most dangerous accomplices will be destroyed. If they fail, the sorceress will come into possession of a weapon that could turn the tide of the war against them. Drell knows everything must play out perfectly for their mission to be successful, but even she cannot fathom the depths of the alchemist’s cruelty—or the sacrifices her own spies are willing to make to stop him…

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Readers return to the land of Nissera in West’s novella that runs parallel to the events in Kingdom Of Ash And Briars! Following a group of spies, they attempt to uncover the identity of alchemist and his plan for a dangerous weapon, which could turn the tide of war in their favor! This short, but character-driven novella easily immerses readers looking forward to more from The Nissera Chronicles!

I was really looking forward to this short story because its been practically 2 years since I read West’s debut, Kingdom Of Ash And Briars! So, I was really looking forward to diving back into the magical world of Nissera before starting my ARC of the companion/sequel: Realm Of Ruins!

This short story follows Drell, who is a spy helping the main character from KOAAB, Bristal, to turn the tides of a looming war in which the villain is attempting to take over the country (who I won’t spoil if you haven’t read Kingdom yet!).

There’s Drell, Reed, Gannan, & Skye! These 4 are close friends and are working together as spies to find as much intel as they can to shift the tide of an upcoming war!

It turns out there’s an alchemist whose used dark magic from in far island kingdom of Galgeth’s Caverns to retrieve black granules which he’s been experimenting with to create what’s called: Shadowfire.

This novella essentially follows the team scoping out a local inn where Skye has been doing recon. for a while & they are convinced they’ll be to find all the information they can on the Alchemist, Cecil and his work, to destroy it and prevent this dark force from potentially wiping out cities!

This short story is so immersive and even if you aren’t familiar with the world, West makes it so incredibly easy to follow and allow you to feel like your a part of this mission with Drell & her crew!

For an incredibly short novella, the characters are all really well-developed and you really understand them through such few pages!

One of my favorite dynamics was Drell & Gannan as they go undercover as a couple at the inn to keep an eye on Skye as she tries to get more intel! Though its very brief, I liked that there was backstories on each of these characters!

I loved the friendship between Drell & Skye! Its also hinted that Gannan & Skye may like each other, so it was interesting seeing their dynamic become somewhat of a conflict as Drell tries to keep Gannan focused on the mission.

There’s also a few plot twists I really didn’t see coming and because this novel focuses on an upcoming war, there is a good amount of tension and stakes throughout the story!

There’s intrigue, mystery, & a lot of action! 

I also really loved the quick references to Kingdom Of Ash And Briars, Bristal and what she’s up to which runs parallel to this novella!

My only issue that had me drop a star, was that I honestly forgot a lot about the world of KOAAB than I thought, so it did take me a bit to really connect with the characters mostly.

And from what I read up before getting into this novella, is that Drell is originally from KOAAB, but again its just been so long that I forgot.

There was also a couple of really minor/side characters that I wish had a little more development.

However, West’s writing style and use of 1st person POV really brings you into the story right away which I really loved!

Similar to West’s debut, she builds such an immersive atmosphere which pulls you right into the story!

This novella brought me back into a fun and fascinating fantasy world I’ve missed a lot & has me so excited to start Realm Of Ruins!

Fields Of Fire is a short story filled with intrigue and builds a little more into the fascinating world of Kingdom Of Ash And Briars! The Nissera Chronicles continue in this tale that highlights another side of a looming battle that was introduced in Kingdom Of Ash And Briars!

Empire Of Sand by Tasha Suri ARC Review

Empire Of Sand by Tasha SuriEmpire Of Sand by Tasha Suri (The Books Of Ambha #1)

Publisher: Orbit Books

Release Date: November 13, 2018

Pages: 496

Available Through The Book Depository: Empire Of Sand

Summary: A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy.

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.

Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…

*Requested an ARC from the publisher*

My Rating:★★★★★

My Thoughts: Empire Of Sand is an epic fantasy tale with its world rooted and inspired by India’s Mughal Empire! This atmospheric debut pulls you in with its lush and wondrous writing as we learn about Mehr and her abilities that catch the attention of Mystics! Suri’s debut is filled to the brim with politics, intrigue, mystery, phenomenal world-building, themes of hope, love, sleeping gods, and a richly plotted tale that will captivate you! Empire Of Sand is a stellar debut that is a must read!

You know when you’ve been really looking forward to a book, the expectations are sky high, & your left wondering how in the world it managed to leave you ruined, while also filling you with hope and shock that you have to wait for the next one?– That’s how Empire Of Sand left me, as I turned that last page and closed the book on Mehr’s journey, which I was not ready to leave just yet!

Set in the land of Ambhan, inspired by the Mughal Empire, we follow Mehr who is the daughter of a governor and lives a peaceful life with her father, younger sister Arwa, stepmother Maryam, & servants/nurses who’ve looked after her since she was little.

Within the dark, but beautifully crafted world that Suri has presented, we learn Mehr is not fully Ambhan, but also Amrithi, nomads who descended from desert spirits and have magic within their blood.

Being half Amrithi, she knows of the fear and scorn that Ambhan’s have for her people. However, regardless of what people say or think, she stays true to her Amrithi heritage by practicing Rites, or dances that symbolize a number of events or causes and Sigils, hand signs that can allow her to communicate with the daiva .

Amrithi’s are the only ones who can ward off and even connect with the daiva, desert spirits crafted of darkness that take on many forms.

Suri starts this book off in such a fantastic way! (& Yes, that’s also including Mehr taking out a dagger in from under her pillow within the first page/sentences✨🗡)

It turns out Arwa, Mehr’s 9-year old sister, has just seen a daiva and was frightened. From within those first few pages, we get so much lore to the daiva that not only are they desert spirits, but they can also take many forms and respond to Sigils, & that the blood of Amrithi is the only thing that can keep them at bay.

We also get so much inner politics between Mehr & the household, through so many complex relationships. To start, Mehr wants to talk to Arwa about their Amrithi heritage, but their stepmother Maryam, won’t allow it and despises Mehr because of her background, all while Maryam wants to ensure Arwa is never connected that part of her heritage.

Mehr and her dynamic with her father is incredibly complex. She loves him and he does everything in his power to keep her safe, but she is still hurting due to the fact that he didn’t stop her mother from leaving and has convinced Mehr not to talk about her Amrithi heritage with her sister.

The love Mehr has for Arwa is so incredibly strong and heart-breaking because she wants Arwa to understand the Amrithi heritage she hardly has any knowledge of, but for fear of Maryam further creating a rift between them, she knows she can’t.

Then there’s Lalita, a long-time family friend who knew Mehr’s mother & is also Amrithi! She’s Mehr’s motherly figure and has taught her all that she can about the Rites, Sigils, & daiva. However, when Lalita announces that she may have to leave their city of Jah Irinah.

As it turns out, Lalita fears some Amrithi are no longer safe, herself included. Though, she ensures Mehr that her Ambhan 1/2 & her father Suren’s position as governor will keep her well protected.

Mehr is such a brave, clever, and strongly-willed protagonist who does everything in her power to protect those she loves, regardless of the consequences. However, though she’s an incredibly compassionate and fiercely dedicated heroine, she also isn’t afraid to outwit people if it means those she cares about are safe!

When this energy/power descended from the gods, Dreamfire looms closer to her city, she goes after Lalita to make sure she’s alright and preform the Rite to keep them from taking over the city.

However, this draws to the attention of important religious figures in the Empire and puts herself and possibly even her entire family, at risk.

With Mehr’s safety now in jeopardy, her father tells her she has to leave Jah Irinah with her sister and stepmother and find a husband. She chooses to stay and from that decision, the Mystics find her and strike up a bargain with her father.

My heart broke at Arwa having to leave Mehr 😭 But before she has to leave, Mehr gives Arwa her dagger, while reminding her it means they’ll see each other again soon.

With the Mystics having leverage over the knowledge of Mehr and her Amrithi abilites, Kalini (the 2nd in command) comes with another of their group, Amun, for Mehr to marry and return to The Maha Temple.

Not many options are left and while Mehr truly wishes things could be different, she sticks with her choice and chooses to be with Amun.

While there were so many amazing characters in Empire Of Sand, aside from Mehr, Amun was another one of my all-time favorite characters (I loved him so much!! ❤💕)

Their first meeting was them staring into each others eyes, with Mehr asking him questions!! (That whole scene was just so beautifully written). If your looking for a utterly beautiful, but also realistic & at times heartbreaking romance in fantasy–Empire Of Sand is for you!! You will love Mehr & Amun– they were such an amazing couple/duo and I heart was with them with every page, rooting for them and seeing them grow and find strength with each other!

He’s a character who’s vows have bound him and he’s come to accept that freedom just isn’t an option. However, throughout the entire book as Mehr learns more about him, we know from her internal POV she understands his hurt and wants more than anything–to help him gain a shot at freedom!

I loved how devoted they are to one another, even though we learn through Mehr’s Amrithi heritage, that marriage means something incredibly special and was a choice taken away from her, she understands that if she has any chance at ensuring her family & the Amrithi’s safety, its a choice that carries so much weight!

Mehr is also confronting quite a number of internal battles, from this rift between these 2 cultures that are a part of her identity, to the hope and fear she buries within herself as she’s brought into a dangerous game of magic and intrigue within the Maha’s temple.

Amun has this shell around himself and underneath has really just given up because of all that he’s lost and the judgement he undergoes as the only Amrithi within the Mystics (My heart broke for him 💔😭). But with Mehr, there is hope and he finds himself believing again and the bond that’s forged between them is so powerful, even if they don’t see it right away!

With Mehr now on a trek with Amun and the other Mystics to the Maha (the powerful religious, & immortal figure/spiritual leader of the Empire who’s also the Emperor’s right-hand man) and his temple, we find ourselves in this place with magic, secrets, intrigue, & politics.

He’s an incredibly powerful figure who the Mystics see as a hero and savior, but we see there’s these mysterious/dark sides to him as he interacts with the cast of characters, Mehr included! As we learn more about his plan and why he had Mehr brought to his temple, the more that gets explored to the world, its magic, & the other Mystics + especially Amun!

Empire Of Sand is one of those books that continuously builds on every aspect of its story, while finding a perfect balance with each of those elements.

The characters (even the one’s you despise) are built with so much depth and have their own flaws and weaknesses that build with their development in the story. For example, Mehr’s friends work in the temple (some are Mystics & others are servants/cooks): Such as Hema (Kalini’s sister), Ami, Rena, & Anni. Also other Mystics she meets on her journey to the temple: Bahren, Abhiman, & Edhir!

The magic system is incredibly complex all while showing such a stark beauty and darkness to it in a way I loved exploring! From the many Rites and their symbolism for a variety of things (like an entire cycle of rites just for the passing hours), to the way daiva take on forms, and the ancient magic The Maha uses to keep control of Mehr, Amun and his Mystics throughout the book!

The setting and magic build in such a way where they are brilliantly crafted within the characters themselves. Its also explored to a point where not only do you learn more about Ambhan, but its through the subtle details that your shown even more facets to not only the immersive world, but also its stunning cast of characters!

Suri’s writing is utterly phenomenal, brilliantly crafted, while allowing her plot to unfold in such a layered and complex way! Every paragraph, sentence, & word matters. Through a lush and vibrant descriptions, you feel the beauty and grittiness of the desert sand, Mehr’s hope, fear, & valiant spirit, Amun’s deep connection with her, and the dark, wondrous, & beautiful magic explored of the Ambhan Empire.

There’s also such complex and important themes explored throughout the entirety of Empire Of Sand, like the intricacy of choice, love, family, faith, and Suri goes even deeper to explore the deeper truths within each of these, which I have never seen developed in such a way until this glorious book!

Through mainly Mehr’s 3rd person POV, she not only comes to life from the first page, but every single character, no matter how little page time they had, become so real. I could picture each of them and connect with them, to where I could decipher so much about them from just a sentence or two!

What also brought even more complexity to this already fantastical story, was the inclusion after a chunk of chapters, a new POV! They were introduced at such perfect moments where you could easily shift gears and learn more about the Amrithi and vastness of the Ambhan Empire!

Empire Of Sand had me smiling, crying–there were just so many emotions! You know those books that just utterly captivate you and you can’t exactly put into words just how amazing the story & reading experience is? That was definitely Suri’s fantastic debut!

Even as a book blogger, I find it hard at times to pitch & recommend my favorite books, but if your reading this review and have yet to pick up this amazing book or add it to your TBR–do it, so you can immerse yourself into this amazing world & follow even more amazing characters like Mehr & Amun!

Overall, I am beyond excited to see where Suri’s world of the Ambhan Empire is explored in her next book!

Empire Of Sand is an epic fantasy debut you don’t want to miss! With an immersive, magical, & complex world, this novel will pull you in as it explores the power of choice and love, alongside such important themes of family, identity, & so much more! The richly detailed plot is filled with so much history, intrigue, mystery, politics, and phenomenal characters, that are rooted in an utterly fascinating and intriguing world inspired by the Mughal Empire!

Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean ARC Review

Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko JeanEmpress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Publisher: HMH Books For Young Readers

Release Date: November 6, 2018

Pages: 384

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

Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.

Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku.

*Received ARC through Yallwest*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Empress Of All Seasons is a character-driven YA Fantasy inspired by rich, deeply woven Japanese mythology, great cast of characters, a plot filled with intrigue, politics, action, & adventure!

Empress was a book that had such a unique premise and what really made it shine, was the characters and their development!

Set in the country of Honoku, there’s strict rules against yokai, or those who have the ability to transform in to monsters or other supernatural creatures. They are treated as a lesser class and for those that are caught, are enslaved and forced to wear an iron collar that subdues them and their powers. More importantly, if any are found anywhere near the palace, they are either tortured or killed.

Mari is a Yokai. She lives in the all-female village of Tsuma, hidden away in the mountains of Honoku. She has been trained all her life by her strict mother, who along with all the other women in the village, are Animal Wives!

Animal Wives are women who use their Yoaki abilities to trick men into marrying them & take their fortunes.

Because Mari is assumed to never have the capability of becoming an Animal Wife, her mother has trained her in combat to ready herself for the competition that takes place in the Imperial City, mainly the Palace Of Illusions where all female contestants must battle within the 4 seasonal rooms for the prince’s hand in marriage!

Though she has never felt quite at home in her village, she does have one friend who she cares for deeply, Hissa! She is reminded of what it could mean for her and the yokai, but more importantly herself if she wins the title of empress.

Now a part of the competition, she must lie and deceive the court, pretend she is human and win the competition.

Within Mari’s village, we learn of a boy named Akira, who’s mother was a ghost yokai and father was human, he is known as the Son Of Nightmares. He has the ability to disappear and is one Mari’s other best friend!

They both care for each other, but its clear Akira really loves her!

When he learns she’s left for the competition, he takes charge to ensure she’s safe and tries to convince her to run away with him. He gets told to find a Weapons Master, which quickly leads him towards a new path and fate when trying to look after Mari!

Little does he know, he gets caught up in a rebellion, where there is a secret Yokai resistance, ready to destroy the system that keeps them enslaved. The rebellion is led by Hanako, aka Snow Girl, a yokai who has gathered a rebel army in secret + hiding to free the yokai!

Prince Taro, doesn’t want anything to do with the upcoming competition and spends his days in his workshop, creating and inventing. One of his favorite inventions is a mechanical bird! However, when Mari finds herself hiding behind a palace wall, she without knowing, ends up meeting prince Taro.

He becomes intrigued by her and the two have this almost unsaid crush on each other. What I loved about Jean’s development to the “romance” is that its never really a central aspect to the story. Mari is focused more on herself and where her goals will lead her & those she loves throughout the competition. Though its clear that Taro & Mari are interested in each other.

Akira becomes part of the rebellion to bring about a better world for Yokai, while with Prince Taro we are shown that he is not okay with how the yokai are treated (which started with his father, the Emperor), but still wants nothing to do with the throne.

I loved how these characters are so different than when the book begins and seeing them develop in such unique ways really kept me invested!

Empress is presented as a single and linear story focusing on a competition within seasonal rooms, but its so much more than just that! The summary really leaves out the different sides to this story, but it works so well, because you don’t really expect it!

Now I don’t want to spoil the end, but it really weaves together all these different plot threads and leaves on such an unexpected, but overall really satisfying note!

This novel is told through 3 POVs: we have Mari, Akira, & prince Taro! I loved how the differing POVs were not only distinct, but explore the world of Honako and the incredibly layered story.

I loved all 3 povs equally! Each character goes through so much development and undergo such unexpected journeys throughout the book.

There were also so many great side characters, like Asami who is alongside Mari w/ the other competitors to win title of Empress. She was so incredibly developed and I loved the interesting friendship they form when they both agree to be allies in the competition.

Asami is a character who is a bit of an enigma, but I love how there’s so much more to her reasoning for entering the competition + overall just her personality shines so much in this book. She was definitely one of my favorites!

Also aside from this novel being #ownvoices for Japanese rep./culture, was also the hint to Hanako being a lesbian (& that she loved Asami). 

Now as to why I’m rating this 4 stars, is due to the uneven pacing, a couple elements to the writing-style, & development in regards to the seasonal rooms!

  *TBH though, I find the rating on this to be super difficult for me to state because on an enjoyment scale its a 4.5, but if I’m looking at it overall, 4 seems to make the most sense? Ratings can be super difficult for me! 😂📚🌟

As the story progresses, the pacing becomes a bit slow especially throughout the middle and nearing the end. Yet, its also fast-paced near the end. So, above all the pacing fluctuated all throughout.

I did read an ARC so, this may have changed a bit, but the writing-style at points was rather direct and simplistic? So a lot of what what was introduced (in regards to characters, what they were feeling/development) did seem more like it was being told rather than shown.

I also loved the seasonal rooms within the palace, but I wish there was more even more development and inclusion of them with the overall story. Though with the background we do learn about them, it was fascinating– the rooms have a mind of their own and the extreme weather or obstacles the girls encounter within them, are a way of bringing balance to the rooms (which was so interesting!).

But, what I really loved about Empress Of All Seasons is that it accomplished what I expected more of in Forest Of A Thousand Lanterns, in terms of delivering a morally grey main character & the world-building!

Mari, to me seemed to be a bit of an anti-hero, there’s this dark side to her because she’s on this journey not just for her village, but along the way she learns its okay to go after things for yourself! She is showing these two differing sides and with the palace intrigue, its a mystery whether she’ll be able to keep her secrets!

Same goes with the world-building! The world isn’t just stated by the names of places, many elements to the world are explored, developed, and its incredibly immersive! I found myself picturing the world each and every moment I picked the book back up!

Overall, Empress Of All Seasons surprised me in many ways I was not expecting and ends on a note that really subverts tropes and expectations.

Empress Of All Seasons is a unique YA Fantasy, which is very character-driven, filled with intrigue, action, and adventure! If your looking for a standalone YA Fantasy with Japanese mythology, a competition, politics, & a rising rebellion, this is a fantasy you definitely want to check out!

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta ARC Review

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose CapettaThe Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta (The Brilliant Death #1)

Publisher: Viking Books For Young Readers

Release Date: October 30, 2018

Pages: 352

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: The Brilliant Death

Summary: For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.

All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas–wielders of magic–are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.

Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son–not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.

Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country–and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.

*Received ARC through Bookish First*

My Rating:★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: The Brilliant Death is a YA Fantasy filled with politics, magic & adventure! Set in a magical country inspired by 19th-century Italy, we follow Teo on a journey to the palace of the current ruler and uncover the secrets to save her father, leader of one of five mafia families! Capetta’s novel is character-driven, action-packed tale of intrigue, that also explores gender and identity, that will have you hooked from page 1!

I had incredibly high hopes for The Brilliant Death, so when I reached the last page, not only had I been surprised in so many ways, but I was left ready to get my hands on the sequel!

The Brilliant Death is such an immersive, wonderfully developed, and rich story that you won’t even notice the pages flying by! There’s so much packed into each page & chapter, everything about Capetta’s story is so incredibly vivid and real!

Everything you think you know about Teo & her world just expands on a massive scale and goes in directions your not really expecting! There’s so many different plot threads  + mysteries, but they all manage to come together in the end & in really unique ways!

Capetta has forged a tale rich with politics, an immersive and unique fantasy world, with a plot that contains so many different layers to it, that everything about Teo and her journey comes to life in such detail!

Teodora (or Teo) di Sangro has understood since she was little, the power of her family! As the 2nd daughter of one of five ruling mafia families in the country of Vinalia, Teo knows that family comes first.

In order to do that, she uses her magical abilities as a Strega (in secret) to take care of those who’ve done wrong by her family, by transforming them into objects from fans to prayer beads, even daggers!

Early on in the story, we’re introduced to Pietro, who did wrong by the family & is one of the di Sangro’s latest victims. Teo is ruthless in defending her family and intimidating those to get the answers she needs. As punishment, she turns him into a music box!

Teo is no stranger to this form of punishment, we learn she even has her room filled with, what we learn are, all those she’s transformed (permanently it seems) into a variety of objects!

Family is so important in this story! From the exploration of her dynamic with her youngest brother Luca (who is the sweetest, I adored him (´▽`ʃƪ)💕), to the powerful bond she has with her father, Niccolo di Sangro, her older sister, stepmother & other siblings, Capetta shows just how much family means to Teo and how vital it is to the story!

Magic is not widely accepted as it once was and now the subject of fairy tales! But, Teo finds herself unsure of her place with magic in her mafia family, especially when she does use it to help them with her powerful + ruthless father who not only has no idea, but also doesn’t accept magic!

When the leaders of the 5 ruling families are poisoned one by one by letters sent from the current ruler, the Capo, Teo decides to take charge alongside Luca & a mysterious gender-fluid mage by the name of Cielo to the Palazza and answer the Capo’s message, not disguised as boy, but turned into one!

Her father may have a chance, but only if she can reach the Capo & find a way to save him!

From the beginning we are introduced to Luca di Sangro, Teo’s younger brother who hasn’t been interested in taking over for the family, but going to university and continuing with his studies, mainly in science!

We see just how close they are and that Teo is ruthless in protecting her family, but most importantly Luca, who she cares for so much!

The 2 embark on this journey and along the way are reunited with Cielo (& his magical transformation book) who then becomes Teo’s tutor and help her control her abilities and use them to save her family!

Now the 3 of them are on a journey to make it to the Palazza, but not without heartbreak, secrets revealed about the magic within their kingdom, & the harsh realities Teo faces as she encounters danger, politics, intrigue, and so much more!

Not only that, but we learn Cielo lost his mother and I just loved exploring his story + learning more about him!!

The Brilliant Death has so many fantastic elements that you really see Teo and her world come to life in this story that’s so incredibly developed and immersive, the pages will fly right before your eyes!

Set in a fantasy world inspired by the author’s Italian background, you can really see the heart and authenticity to the setting, culture, and politics explored in this story! The many different layers to the setting and world are also given great development and exploration, I was beyond impressed with how much of the unique + vast world I retained after finishing!

I don’t want to spoil too much about the setting, but there’s goddesses, magic, warring mafia families, rival powers (mainly by the country of Eterra), political intrigue, and so much history weaved throughout the story and at such perfect moments, you never feel bogged down at all! Capetta weaves in such lush descriptions and fascinating tidbits about the world, its such a wonderfully developed setting, you could really picture it!

*I will say one of my favorite parts about the setting you learn about later in the story, is this interesting circular dungeon within the Palazza (with 8 different levels) & it gave me major Six Of Crows vibes from the Ice Court!

The Brilliant Death reminded me why I love politics and intrigue in YA Fantasy! From the unsaid secrets between Teo, her siblings, & parents, the secrets and image Teo needs to keep up with in the game of intrigue within the Palazza, all of these and more, build into the story and really keeps the reader guessing!

The exploration of magic was also so incredibly developed that I found it built with each major plot point! From the different abilities Stregha can have to details about the magic itself that really builds into the story as you get further into it!

Capetta’s writing through 1st person not only gives you such an in-depth look to Vinalia through Teo’s eyes, but also allows you to connect so much to the characters and the plot!

As mentioned above, this novel also weaves in the importance and differing sides to gender, identity, & how one finds comfort within their own skin, which is explored so wonderfully.

Teo identifies as queer, while Cielo is gender-fluid and alternates between he & she pronouns (which is specifically stated through Teo whenever Cielo goes between he/she). In Teo’s world and within her family, the boys have higher expectations + clearly are given more of a say (unlike Teo).

With her lessons to try & transform with Cielo + once she makes it to the palace & meets the other ruling families sons, she is constantly met with expectations by taking on the role of a son, which has its pros & cons when it comes to keeping it a secret. She’s thought about this for so long and now that she is given the opportunity to save her father, she finds herself easily accepting her different identities!

She uses this to her ability to uncover even more secrets that it really turns the plot into very unique directions!

The characters were all fantastic and I loved them all (even the villains) because they are all so incredibly complex, multi-faceted, and developed, that you understand them so well by the end of this book and they may even come to surprise you!

Not only is there Teo, her father, & Luca, but also her other siblings + relatives like Beniamo (the oldest brother) & Mirella, but her cousins Carina & Adele, and her stepmother Fiorenza (Teo & her stepmother’s dynamic was so wonderfully developed!!).

There’s also Cielo, the Capo, the ruling families sons: Ambrogio, Vanni, Lorenzo, Rao and 2 mysterious girls within the Palazza, Azzurra & Delfina!

There were so many great dynamics explored with Teo throughout this book, but aside from her & Luca, I have to shout-out a few of my favorites: Teo & the adorable Cielo (their banter & relationship is the best!!), but also Teo & Azzurra (she was so interesting & really surprised me!) + Teo & Ambrogio!!

Now I don’t really want to give away too much of the plot, but truly it surprised me in so many ways and I loved following Teo on her journey to help her father, but also learn more about her home of Vinalia!

My only minor critique is that the last part of the story (its split up by 5) did feel a bit rushed nearing the end!

I am beyond excited for the next one and highly recommend picking it up if your a fan of political fantasy books, are looking for Queer + Genderfluid rep, and are looking for a unique and immersive YA Fantasy tale!

The Brilliant Death is a book I managed to finish in just a few days and I am just beyond happy it surprised + went above my expectations! I am beyond excited to see where Teo’s journey is headed in book 2!

This tale set in 19th Century Italy weaves with magic, exploration of gender & identity and is filled with a wholly unique magic system and world that transports you in an instant! It has easily become one of my new favorite YA Fantasy books, with its expansive setting, immersive story and world, themes of family, love & so much adventure + intrigue to keep you on the edge of your seat! The Brilliant Death is Capetta’s start to a new fantasy series and not one you want to miss!

+ Keep an eye on the blog for a new upcoming feature to the blog, with The Brilliant Death being the first of that new series! If you love fantasy + fantasy settings, you’ll definitely want to check it out!! 😍✨⚔📚