Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag

I’ve been seeing this tag floating around quite a lot recently, and – since I’m not really feeling the reviews at the moment – I thought it might make an interesting post. Also, it’s the middle of the year, and “freaking out” is a pretty accurate way to describe my attitude towards books right now, even though, unusually, I’m ahead on my Goodreads challenge! 🎉

lois mcmaster bujold a civil campaign1. What’s the best book you’ve read so far in 2019?

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I just read a couple of weeks ago! I stumbled across the massive Vorkosigan Saga at the beginning of the year, and have been obsessed with it ever since… and the books just keep getting better and better! A Civil Campaign is my favourite so far, by a small margin.

2. What’s the best sequel you’ve read so far in 2019?

Well, as above (closely followed by Memory, from the same series), but in the interest of not spending the whole of this tag gushing over the same few books… I thought that The Wicked King by Holly Black was also a really great follow-up to The Cruel Prince, and improved on it in basically every way. I can’t wait to see how the trilogy is going to wrap up! 😊

3) What’s a new release that you haven’t read yet, but want to?

My book-buying ban combined with my new Vorkosigan Saga obsession has meant that there are quite a few of these, but the one that stings the most is probably The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie… I keep going into bookshops and staring longingly at it on the shelves, which really isn’t helping, but maybe I’ll get some book money for my birthday, or something. 🤞 I really loved Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, & am dying to see what she’ll do with the fantasy genre.

rainbow rowell wayward son4. What’s your most anticipated release for the second half of the year?

That would be Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell! Rowell seems very much to me to be in the business of wish-fulfilment; when I read Fangirl, I couldn’t help thinking how much I wanted to read a read Simon Snow book, and when Carry On (one of my all-time favourite books) came into existence, all I wanted was a sequel… and now we’re getting that, too! 24th September, wait for me! 😆 (I’m also very excited for The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman, but my hype for it isn’t quite so extreme.)

5. What’s your biggest disappointment of the year?

Definitely Starfall by Melissa Landers. It’s not the worst book I’ve read this year, but it was such a let-down after the first book in the series, which at the time of reading was close to a favourite. Worst of Starfall‘s crimes, though, is that it’s kind of tainted Starflight by association… What if it was never as good as I thought it was?! 😣

6. And the biggest surprise?

Probably Before Adam by Jack London, which I wasn’t expecting to like at all, but actually turned out to be pretty gripping. I posted a review of this book recently that talks more about the whys-and-wherefores, but in short: I found the entire premise off-putting, but clearly should’ve had more faith in London’s ability to spin a good story.

7. Do you have a new favourite author?

I do! Lois McMaster Bujold, the author of the Vorkosigan Saga! My aunt mentioned her to me over Christmas as a reputedly really excellent fantasy writer, and upon looking her up I was vaguely interested in trying some of her works (though the sci-fi appealed to me more than the fantasy, surprisingly), and then I stumbled across one of her books (Young Miles) second-hand in January… Naturally, I picked it up, but I wasn’t expecting to love it nearly as much as I did. Bujold hasn’t just become a favourite author of 2019 for me, but an all-time favourite, for sure.

8. Or a new fictional crush?

This one not so much, I’m afraid. The Vorkosigan Saga is full of incredibly charming characters, but I don’t think I’d call any of them crushes, exactly…

9. Who’s your newest favourite character?

Miles Vorkosigan~! 💕 He pulls you in like he’s a planet; it’s inevitable. 😉 But really, this series has given me so many new favourite characters, Miles is only the most blindingly brilliant of them. Others include: Ivan and Gregor, Miles’ mother Cordelia, Mark and Kareen, and most recently the wonderful Ekaterin, who came as a(nother) huge surprise to me, and I might even have come to like even more than Miles himself…!? (Maybe. Don’t hold me to that; I haven’t made my mind up yet.)

Honorary mentions as well to Midoriya and Todoroki from the My Hero Academia series, the manga of which I started this year, although I was already familiar with their anime counterparts…

10. What book made you cry?

I think the last book that made me cry actual tears was The Book Thief, and I read that, what, five years ago now? I’m not holding my breath for another one any time soon… but of this year’s reads, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa has definitely come the closest.

11. What book made you happy?

A fair few. 😊 A Civil Campaign probably made me the happiest, but I also really loved the ridiculously fluffy Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett.

satoru noda golden kamuy vol 212. What’s the most beautiful book you’ve bought (or been given) this year?

This may be a slightly weird answer, but I think it’s probably Golden Kamuy, Volume 2 by Satoru Noda. None of the (admittedly few) books I’ve obtained this year have been fancy special editions, or anything, but I really like Noda’s art style, and the picture of Asirpa on the second volume is particularly pretty. Click on the cover for a (much) closer look! ☞ ☞ ☞

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

So many books! All of the books! More specifically, though: I’ve only read two of the eight books on my 5-star predictions list, which I promised myself I’d read this year (those being Uprooted and Lies We Tell Ourselves), but of the remaining six, the ones I’m most anxious to get to are Eon by Alison Goodman and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Otherwise, I’d really like to finish Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series soon, if only so that I can finally move on to the other Shadowhunters books…

eon alison goodman madeleine miller the song of achilles cassandra clare city of lost souls cassandra clare city of heavenly fire

[Tag’s original creators: Earl Grey Books & ReadLikeWildfire.]

Winter Wrap-Up

Guys. Guys. I read so many good books in the last couple of months! 😱 I know there aren’t many five-stars here, but pretty much everything I’ve read recently has come super-close, so don’t be surprised if I end up changing these ratings later (especially for some of the Vorkosigan Saga books, which I’ve been loving). I am in the opposite of a reading slump. A reverse reading slump? A reading boom? Who knows. But in any case, I’m on a roll! 💕 Here are all the amazing books:

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

JANUARY
[REVIEW]

FEBRUARY
[REVIEW]

 

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Jay Snyder, Brandon Rubin, Fred Berman, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans & Tristan Morris]

The first book in the Six of Crows duology, which takes place in the Grisha-verse, and follows a motley crew of thieves as they try to pull off a seemingly-impossible heist; snatching a heavily-guarded Shu scientist from inside the supposedly impenetrable Ice Court. A re-read (or re-listen, I guess), and every inch as amazing the second time around as it was the first. This is definitely still my favourite Grisha-verse story (though I have high hopes for King of Scars). A note on the narration, since that’s the only part of the book that was new to me: I found some of the voices a little startling at first (especially Matthias, who absolutely does not sound like a teenager), but all the voice actors did an amazing job (though Inej’s – Lauren Fortgang – was probably my favourite).

Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin. [Illustrator: Charles Vess]

The fourth book in the Earthsea Cycle, which follows a now middle aged and widowed Tenar, who finds herself caring for a young, brutalised girl called Therru, as well as a frail and lost Ged, newly returned from the land of the dead. A really interesting read! I didn’t like it quite as much as I have some of the other Earthsea books, but I really enjoyed getting to know this new version of Tenar, and seeing where life had taken her – which wasn’t where I was expecting at all. Her relationship with Therru was also really touching (as was the relationship with Ged, though it was less of a focus), and the novel’s discourse on the power of women was very thought-provoking.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

The tale of a girl called Agnieszka, who is chosen to become the servant of the ominous, aloof Dragon who rules her village, a sacrifice that her people must make to him every ten years, if he is to continue keep the malevolent Wood at bay. I absolutely loved this book! My favourite parts were the relationship that grew between Agnieszka and the Dragon, which was simultaneously adorable and hilarious, and the creepy atmosphere of evil-just-off-stage that the Wood provided for much of the story. The only part of the book that I had any complaints with was the brief Capital-arc, which I felt was a little rushed and over-convenient in terms of plot development, but even there I found plenty to entertain me. In short: Not a perfect book, but so, so charming. 💕

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. [COMIC]

A collection of spooky stories that I was inspired to re-read after finishing Uprooted, for a little more of that dark-fairytale atmosphere – though this book plays into that a lot more than Uprooted did. Beautifully illustrated, and incredibly chilling.

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The second book in the Vorkosigan Saga, but fourth chronologically (the chronology of this series is confusing, but here is the author’s suggested reading order, which I will roughly be following). After failing the entrance exams for the Barrayaran Imperial Service Academy, Miles Vorkosigan heads off to visit his grandmother on Beta Colony, but his holiday doesn’t go quite as planned, as he soon finds himself accidentally in command of a mercenary fleet, and embroiled in an inter-planetary war. I am absolutely loving this series, and The Warrior’s Apprentice started it off for me with a bang! Miles is an excellent protagonist, and all the aspects of the plot (action-driven and character-driven) were incredibly gripping. Also, Bujold is a really great writer. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series (and maybe even jump into her fantasy novels, too!).

The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold. [SHORT STORY]

A short story set between The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game, in which Miles is sent by his father to investigate the death of a child in a remote village on their family’s lands. Plot-wise, I wasn’t hugely surprised by the eventual reveal of what happened to the child, though the details of it were rather chilling. The real strength of this story was in its characters and world-building, however; the similarities between the dead child and Miles himself, both considered less than human by most of Barrayar due to their birth defects; the reaction of the villagers to Miles’ presence, particularly in a position of authority… I’m not often a big fan of short stories, or of crime novels, but I’m pleased that this one bucked the trend. A definite highlight of the series so far.

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The sixth-published and fifth chronological novel in the Vorkosigan Saga, in which Miles gets his first military posting as Lazkowski Base’s new weather officer, which is absolutely not the one he was hoping for, or what he’s been trained for. After, he finds himself unexpectedly reunited with the Dendarii Mercenaries – now dealing with in-fighting – and charged with the safety of Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, who has somehow managed to escape his ImpSec entourage, and has no easy way home. This was an odd story, and seemed like it ought really to have been two, as the tone of the novel shifted drastically halfway through, when Miles left Lazkowski Base. The first half (previously published on its own as the novella Weatherman) – where Miles was dealing with a dangerous commanding officer, and enlisted soldiers who refused to take him seriously due to his physical disabilities – was probably my favourite thing that I’ve read from this series so far, but I also enjoyed the later part, which was more action-driven, and which gave a proper introduction to Gregor (who I loved).

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa.

Told from the perspective of a former-stray cat Nana, this short novel takes us on a trip across Japan, as Satoru tries to find a new home for his beloved cat. Along the way, we’re introduced to several of Satoru’s old friends, whose lives are improved by Nana in various subtle ways, before Nana makes it clear that he’s not yet ready to leave Satoru behind – until we finally come to understand the reason why Satoru and Nana have to be parted. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book, but I was really surprised by how much I liked it. Nana made for an entertaining narrator, the bond between him and Satoru felt almost tangible, and I really liked learning about Satoru’s history with each of the people they visited. It was also incredibly sad in places, but beautifully written.

Fire Falling by Elise Kova.

The second book in the Air Awakens series, in which Vhalla – now property of the Empire – slowly makes her way north to war, struggling with her powers, her conscience, and her feelings for the Crown Prince. I didn’t like this book quite as much as Air Awakens, as its plot felt a little filler-y, but I really enjoyed the relationship development between Vhalla and Aldrik, and as usual, Kova’s writing was incredibly absorbing. A new character called Elecia was also introduced in this book, and even though I didn’t like her that much here, I’m hoping that we’ll get to know her a little better in the next few books, as, to be honest, there aren’t very many memorable female characters in this series (barring Vhalla herself, of course). In any case, I’m looking forward to (finishing) Earth’s End.

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Kathleen Gati]

The third and final book in the Winternight trilogy, which begun in The Bear and the Nightingale. With the Bear loosed on the world, and Russia on the brink of war, Vasya must find a way to unite humans and chyerti before both are destroyed. This was such a great series, and such a great ending! 💕 I loved Vasya, I loved all the supporting characters (human and chyerti), I loved the romance, and the story was amazing. My favourite part of the book was Vasya’s journey through Midnight, where I could have happily stayed forever, if it wouldn’t have meant missing out on the rest of the novel. 😅 Definitely my favourite book in the series.

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. [Illustrator: Charles Vess]

The fifth book in the Earthsea Cycle, which is a collection of short stories following various different people at various points in Earthsea’s timeline. The Finder is the story of the founding of the school of magic on Roke Island; Darkrose and Diamond is a love story; The Bones of the Earth tells the tale of Ogion’s former teacher; On the High Marsh follows a woman who meets and takes in a mysterious wandering wizard; and Dragonfly is about a magically-gifted young woman, who wishes to enter the school on Roke. As I said earlier, I’m not usually a fan of short stories, but like Bujold, Ursula Le Guin is somehow able to write ones that I really love. 💕 My favourites from this collection were The Finder and On the High Marsh, but they’re all beautiful and thought-provoking, and do a great job of fleshing out the world of Earthsea. Also, for anyone who’s interested in the music of Earthsea, this lovely piece is an arrangement of the song at the end of Darkrose and Diamond.

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The ninth-published book in the Vorkosigan Saga and sixth chronologically, in which Miles and his cousin Ivan are sent on a mission to the home planet of Barrayar’s former enemies, the Cetagandans, in order to represent Barrayar at the funeral of the dowager Empress, and find themselves implicated in the theft of a piece of the Empress’ regalia. Another great entry in the series! The storyline was really interesting, as was the Cetagandan society that we were introduced to here, and I also really loved the relationship dynamics between Miles and Ivan, and Miles and Rian (this book’s most prominent new character).

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The third Vorkosigan Saga book in publication order, and seventh chronologically, in which a new protagonist, Ethan, is forced to leave his all-male, gynophobic home planet of Athos in order to seek out new uterine samples before his people become unable to reproduce, only to find himself immediately in trouble with a group of deadly Cetagandans, and under the dubious protection of Elli Quinn. Miles is not in this book (it seems to take place at around the same time as Cetaganda), and I missed him, but it was nice to have the opportunity to get to know Elli a little better, and Ethan’s reactions to the universe beyond Athos were hilarious. In terms of world-building, I found Athos really interesting, and plot-wise the book was cohesive, and pretty action-packed; Ethan seems to have Miles’ knack for trouble, if not for escaping it. 😅

Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold. [SHORT STORY]

A short story set after Cetaganda, in which Miles finds himself in the lawless Jackson’s Whole – nominally to purchase weapons for the Dendarii Mercenaries, but actually to collect a scientist for the Barrayaran government – only for his plans to go very drastically awry. Probably my least favourite Vorkosigan story so far (not that that’s saying much), but still a fun adventure. I enjoyed the interaction between Miles and Bel, as well as my first encounter with quaddies (who I remember hearing will play an important part in some of the other novels)… But Taura was the real highlight of this story, so I’m pleased that it seems like she’ll be sticking around.

[EDIT (25/3/2019): Added link to Lies We Tell Ourselves review.]

Thematic Recs: Boarding School

Boarding schools make great settings for stories; familiar enough to the average reader, but enclosed in their own social bubbles, allowing for some really interesting situations – of all kinds! So, from a few different genres, here are a few of my favourite boarding school books:

1) Killing the Dead by Marcus Sedgwick. A short story set in a girls’ boarding school and told from several perspectives, which circles around the mystery of the death of a student the previous year. For a book this short, it manages to pack quite a punch, and is wonderfully atmospheric. I believe it also has some connection to Sedgwick’s previous book, The Ghosts of Heaven, but you certainly don’t need to have read that in order to enjoy this one, as I can attest! 😊

2) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockheart. Annoyed at being excluded, Frankie decides to infiltrate her school’s secret boys’ club, sparking a hilarious and meticulously-plotted prank war. Fantastically written, with an amazing lead, and a great feminist angle that really snuck up on me… just like my love for this book, which I now consider among my all-time favourites.

3) Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson. Ruby and Garnet are identical twins, and love to play a matching pair, but beneath the surface they’re actually very different – and when they’re forced to move away from home and live with their dad’s new girlfriend, their relationship is put to the test. I read quite a lot of Jaqueline Wilson books as a child, but this one is hands-down my favourite; it’s a riot for younger readers, but still interesting for anyone older, and beautifully illustrated, too! Unlike the other books I’m recommending here, Double Act isn’t set at a boarding school, but the school does play an important part in Ruby and Garnet’s changing relationship towards the end of the book.

4) The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. And, of course, no list of boarding school books would be complete without an appearance from the school that we all wish we could’ve gone to: Hogwarts! Of course, there’s little point in my recommending these books, as they’ve already got the attention of anyone who’s even slightly interested, but I would like to give an honourable mention to a couple of other magical-boarding-school books: The Iron Trial by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, both of which were undoubtedly influenced by Harry Potter, but have put their own unique spin on the genre. (Carry On, in particular, is a favourite of mine.)

Library Scavenger Hunt: February

This month’s challenge was to read a short story, and my pick ended up being something I actually already had on my (digital) shelf, which may end up as a trend for 2019, as I’d really like to focus on cutting back the number of unread books I own… 😓 So this isn’t entirely in the spirit of the LSH, but oh well. Here’s what I thought of…

THE LOST SISTERS
Holly Black

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but if you haven’t begun the series at all, then click here to check out my review of The Cruel Prince.]

After the events of The Cruel Prince, Taryn writes an apology to her sister Jude, explaining the secrets she kept over the course of the book, and her reasons for keeping them.

Taryn & Jude’s complicated relationship was one of my favourite things about The Cruel Prince, so it was really interesting to finally get Taryn’s perspective on everything that happened, and I also really enjoyed the way that this short story was written; the majority of it was Taryn recounting the book’s events, but she also included bits and pieces of various fairytales from their childhood, all with a slightly dangerous edge born of their less-than-amazing experiences in Faerie.

If I had one complaint, it would be that there were a couple of scenes that seemed like they were mostly just lifted from The Cruel Prince, and Taryn’s perspective didn’t add much to them, but whenever this happened it was for scenes important enough that the story might have felt a bit fragmented if they’d been left out entirely… and in any case, it was a pretty minor issue. Overall, I think The Lost Sisters makes a great addition to the Folk of the Air universe, and I’m left feeling even more excited for The Wicked King than I already was. (Which, given that I’m not likely to be able to read it any time soon, might not be as good a thing as it sounds. 😅)

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Upcoming Releases: Winter 2018-19

This winter looks like it’s going to be bringing with it a slew of new fantasy books, many of which I’m really eager to get my hands on… and most of which have flown completely under my radar for the last few months; I had some pretty big surprises when I started searching for things to write about in this post (which was at the time looking rather bare bones)! 😅 After the always-challenging task of narrowing down my list, I ended up with this (not-so-)little batch of books, which I will be impatiently awaiting in December, January & February:

[All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 28/11/2018.]

The Curses by Laure Eve (3rd January)

The sequel to the tragically under-appreciated The Graces, which takes all the unintentionally creepy things about Twilight, and makes them intentionally creepy, to great effect! It wasn’t the best-written book, and had an incredibly slow start, but ended up being so delightfully twisted that it swept away all my initial misgivings. 😁 This sequel looks likes it’s going to focus on Summer Grace rather than the original protagonist River, and I’m really looking forward to seeing her take on the events of the first book, as well as how their relationship has changed after everything that happened between them. Excitement level: 9/10

The Wicked King by Holly Black (8th January)

The second book in the Folk of the Air series, which follows a human called Jude who was raised in Faerie, and fights to prove herself an equal to the faerie children that she grew up with. The Cruel Prince was an unexpected hit with me when I picked it up on a whim earlier this year, and I’m delighted not to have had to wait too long for this sequel, as it left off at a really tense moment. Hopefully this will be one of the first books I read next year. 🤞 Excitement level: 9/10

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo (29th January)

A new book from the world of the Grisha trilogy, centred around my favourite character from that series: Prince Nikolai! War is brewing and dark magic rising in Ravka, and, as king, it’s Nikolai’s responsibility to keep his country safe. Bardugo’s Grishaverse seems to heave been getting better and better with every new entry, so it wouldn’t have taken much to get me feeling hyped for more, but a book about Nikolai goes far beyond that! And Zoya will be in it! 😆 The only other thing I want from this is for some of the Six of Crows characters to make an appearance, but, to be honest, it feels a little greedy just to say so. 😅 Excitement level: 9/10

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (26th February)

Finally, The Raven Tower is a brand new (standalone, it looks like!) epic fantasy from the author of my favourite books ever, Ancillary Justice! 💕 The synopsis for this is pretty vague, so I don’t really have any idea what it’s about, but I couldn’t be more excited to see what Leckie will do with this new genre. If this is even half as good as her previous books, we’re all in for a treat. Excitement level: 10/10, naturally. 😋

& some honourable mentions:

  • The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden (10th January) – the final book in the Winternight trilogy
  • Slayer by Kiersten White (21st February) – the first in a new series set in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe.
  • Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury (26th February) – a sci-fi novel inspired by the legend of Princess Anastasia
  • The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (26th February) – a new fantasy from the author of The Bone Season

Spring Catch-Up

Once again, I’m trying a new layout for my wrap-ups, and I’m thinking of also switching them to being seasonal rather than monthly, at least at times (like now) when I’m not reading all that much… Let me know what you think! 😊 I did post a wrap-up of my March reads, so this post has everything that I read/listened to in April and May – a total of six novels, two audiobooks, and one (very short) comic:

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

When Anxiety Attacks by Terian Koscik. A short, autobiographical comic about Koscik’s experience with anxiety, and her decision to see a therapist, along with a call for others not to feel ashamed or embarrassed to do the same, if they feel that it would help them. This was super-short, but it conveyed its message very well, and the cute artwork made it really fun to read, too. 😊
The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce. One of the later books in Pierce’s Emelan series, as well as my audiobook purchase for March. This is one of my favourite books of all time; I love the story and the characters, and how the four main characters have all changed after their years of separation make for a lot of tense, emotional re-thinking of their relationship. One thing that struck me this time through was how childish Sandry was at times in comparison to the others… Of course, she is a child, so it’s not entirely surprising, but I don’t remember ever really noticing it before… The performance was also excellent: Pierce took the narrator’s role, while the characters were each played by different voice actors. I did find that the actors who played Tris and Daja had quite similar voices (for a while I even thought that they were the same person), but they differ so much in personality that it was only occasionally difficult to tell which of them was speaking.
The Four Swans by Winston Graham. The sixth book in the Poldark series, which takes place in a small Cornish mining community, and follows the titular Poldark family – though the number of protagonists has been steadily increasing as the series goes on, and characters whose names are not Poldark have been becoming much more significant to the story. Obviously since this is a sequel, I can’t say too much about the plot, but it remains very exciting. I’m very glad that Morwenna’s plight has not been forgotten, and her younger sister Rowella is also an interesting addition to the cast; while I’m definitely rooting for her, and am frequently concerned for her, I’m still not entirely sure how much I like her… 😓 Ossie continues to be super-disgusting (as I talked about in another recent post), and the feud between Ross and George takes some unexpected turns in this book, too. I can’t say I found it quite as good as The Black Moon, but it was a little less anxiety-inducing to read… the Poldark series as a whole has a tendency towards drama that is probably not good for my heart, but definitely keeps me invested! 😋
Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell. A fantasy novel set in a society where magic-users, known as Jan’Tep, rule absolutely, while the magic-less Sha’Tep live lives of subservience, regardless of their own preference. Our protagonist Kellen is the son of a prominent Jan’Tep family, but with his sixteenth birthday rapidly approaching, and his magical abilities having been growing steadily weaker all his life, he has to come up with an incredible con in order to avoid the fate of becoming a Sha’Tep. I found the premise of this book really, really interesting; the tension between the different social classes, and the very real possibility of Kellen failing his trials both lent themselves to a potentially epic storyline – but while I did think that Kellen’s personal journey was very compelling, I found that the world-building wasn’t strong enough for me to feel any investment in the story beyond its immediate effects on Kellen… Ferius (probably the most important of the supporting cast) also felt quite convieniently-forced-in-for-the-convenience-of-the-plot at times, which was disappointing, although I did like her as a character. I did enjoy the book enough to continue with the series, though it’s a shame that (in my opinion) it didn’t quite live up to its potential.
Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell. The sequel to Spellslinger, in which Kellen leaves home with Ferius, and the squirrel-cat Reichis in hopes of learning the Argosi way, but is soon caught up by a mysterious girl called Seneira, who seems to have contracted Shadowblack as a disease, despite having no magic to speak of. The beginning of this book was quite slow, but I found myself really enjoying it once the plot got going (around the time they reach the University). The new characters that were introduced were all a lot of fun, and although I’m disappointed that the new setting meant that my world-building issues from Spellslinger haven’t been fixed yet, I remain hopeful that they may be eventually, as apparently this is going to be a six-book series. Book 3, Charmcaster, is out already, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to read it sometime soon. 😊
Magic Steps by Tamora Pierce. The first book in the Circle Opens quartet, which is set in Pierce’s Emelan universe, and follows Sandry a few years after the Circle of Magic books, now with her magical qualifications, and a student of her own to teach – whether she feels ready for it or not. I’ve read this book several times before, and still love the story and characters just as much as ever. I decided to listen to it as an audiobook this time (I’m slowly making my way through the whole of Audible’s collection of Tamora Pierce books), and it definitely wasn’t a mistake; the whole cast did an excellent job. 🎶

*Not including re-reads.

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Spoiler-Free)

As a child, Jude witnessed the murder of her parents at the hands of a mysterious stranger, who then stole her and her two sisters away to the High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, she lives a life of privilege as his daughter, attending balls in beautiful dresses, attending school with the children of Faerie’s elite… but her mortality sets her apart from her classmates in the most degrading way, and the desire to prove herself above her tormentors consumes her.

I picked this book up purely on a whim. I thought I remembered seeing mediocre reviews for it (though looking back at the reviews now, I think I must have had it mixed up with a different book), so my hopes weren’t particularly high in terms of quality, but I was in the mood for faeries, and melodrama, and improbable romances, and venomous villains (however well-portrayed), which the book seemed to promise. But although I was right on most of those counts, it’s actually a really good book! The plot was full of intrigue and politics (and, yes, romance as well, but that mostly came across as secondary) that was really interesting, and although I didn’t always like Jude all that much, I did find her situation sympathetic.

Her relationship with her two sisters – Vivi (her older half-sister who is the true daughter of the faerie who murdered their mother) and Taryn (her human twin) – was also very interesting, as was the way her closeness to each of them, and her trust in them shifted over the course of the story. Whereas one would expect the shared trauma of having to live with their mother’s murderer would bring them together, their different approaches to dealing with their situation are one of the biggest alienating forces between them, and make for some fascinating familial drama – though that’s definitely not all that the book has going for it.

The other character who really needs to be talked about is the titular Cruel Prince, Cardan, who is the youngest prince of Faerie, and the chief of Jude and Taryn’s tormentors. Given his moniker, I was expecting him to be rather crueller than I actually found him to be; except on a few, brief occasions, he was little more than your typical entitled teenager, petty and rude more than actively cruel, and certainly nowhere near the level of viciousness that some of the other characters reached. Later in the book, he even seemed to be the one in his group of friends who’d put a stop to the bullying (or at least limit it) rather than instigate it… (Don’t get me wrong, he was definitely a git; I was just expecting worse) I also felt that the reasoning behind his fixation with Jude was rather obvious, and it was a little frustrating that Jude herself took so long to figure it out – though perhaps it was just something that she was not able to wrap her head around. I did, however, really like his character arc over the course of the story, as well as the way his relationship with Jude developed, and that’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to seeing more of in the next book – especially given the dramatic turn it took towards the end.

(An aside: Weirdly, the two stories I was most reminded of while reading this were a K-drama I was watching a little while ago, Boys Over Flowers – though The Cruel Prince is a lot more serious in tone – and Jane Austen’s Emma – for a specific reason that I won’t go into because it’s super-spoilery. They seem like they should be pretty far apart on the fiction spectrum, but somehow it works. 😅)