Review: Ash Princess

June 14, 2018 in Book Reviews, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Ash Princess Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian
Series: Ash Princess Trilogy #1
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on 14th June 2018 (UK)
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can't ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot to seduce and murder the Kaiser's warrior son with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels. But Theo doesn't expect to develop feelings for the Prinz.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she's willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she's willing to sacrifice to become Queen.

A Wee Summary

Theosodia Eirene Houzzara, daughter of the Fire Queen aka the Queen of Astrea, was six years old when the Kalovaxians attacked her homeland. She was 6 when the Kalovaxian warrior the Theyn murdered her mother before her young eyes.

She has spent the last decade in the palace of the conquering Kaiser, dubbed “Ash Princess” and given the name ‘Thora’ and under the constant surveillance of her three ‘shadows’. Her only friend is, ironically, the Theyn’s daughter, Crescentia.

Those Astreans who remain alive are enslaved in one way or another, often in the hallowed mines where magical Spiritgems are mined. The Kalovaxians ignore the sacred nature of the gems, disrespecting the Astrean way of life.

There remains a band of Astrean rebels who seek to free their country and see Theosodia (Thora) in her rightful place as Queen. The Kaiser tortures Thora, punishing her for the acts of these rebels. She knows that she must show deference to the Kaiser at all time, lest she be whipped.

When one of the main rebels is captured, the Kaiser forces Thora to kill him. Along with his death goes Thora’s distant hope of rescue.

When the Kaiser’s heir, Prince Søren, returns from his warfare training, it becomes clear that he has feelings for Thora. She begins to wonder if he might somehow be her route to freedom.

My Thoughts

On the whole, I enjoyed Ash Princess. It has a very well-built fantasy world with interesting politics and magic. I will warn you though that some people may find some of the issues tackled triggering. (View Spoiler »

I must admit that I felt this book rather “samely”. Broadly, it resembles many YA fantasies I’ve read in recent years. However, I tend to enjoy this kind of fantasy so this is just a warning if you’re somewhat fed up with such themes. Oh and there’s a bit of a love triangle going on too, FYI.

While I really liked the world building and premise of this book overall, I didn’t really connect with Theodosia (Thora). Although we get a bit of an insight into her mind, I just didn’t feel drawn to her. Perhaps this was intentional as part of the PTSD she suffers from? I’m not sure.

It was those around Theodosia that actually piqued my interest. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m going to be a bit vague with this, but I liked Søren and would’ve loved more on him. There are rebels as well that I hope we get to learn more about in the next book.

Ash Princess is largely set within the confines of the palace, and I’m looking forward to finding out what lies further afield.

While I didn’t feel that this book was anything particularly ‘new’. I did enjoy it. There were a few twists – some I foresaw, others I didn’t. These twists coupled with the darkness and the politics of the world have me genuinely intrigued about book two, Lady Smoke, which will be out next year.

Have you read Ash Princess? Do you share my opinions?

three-half-stars

Review: Smoke In The Sun

May 28, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Smoke In The Sun Smoke In The Sun by Renee Ahdieh
Series: Flame In The Mist #2
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 5th June 2018
Genres: Fantasy, YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice - to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor's ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead.

With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.

Following the revelations at the end of Flame In The Mist (warning, this post will contain spoilers for book one), I’ve been desperate to read book two, Smoke In The Sun.

With Mariko ‘rescued’ from the clutches of the Black Clan by her betrothed, Prince Raiden and her brother, the Dragon of KAi, Kenshin, she is taken to Heian Castle in the imperial city of Inako to face the future. With Okami imprisoned in the depths of the castle, Mariko desperately wants to find a way to free him. So she keeps up pretence of her kidnap, and works to convince Raiden of her loyalty to him and the Emperor of Wa.

I really enjoyed the conclusion to this duology. Largely set within Heian Castle and the city of Inako, it has a different atmospheric feel to the Jukai forest of book one, but it’s a setting that Ahdieh ones again captures beautifully with her descriptive writing.

The character development in this second book was so interesting. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone a bit more – with Yumi, Raiden and Roku standing out for me.

I actually discovered after I finished Smoke In The Sun that there are two short stories available that are set between books one and two – Okami and Yumi. They are available for free on the kindle. You definitely don’t need to read them for Smoke In The Sun, they are really just like extra chapters. Okami’s focusses on his ride in the wagon to the castle following his capture. Yumi’s was actually more interesting to me, it gives us a bit more of an insight into her character in preparation for the second book.

To be honest, my only real complaint about this book is that I felt the ending was rather rushed. To me, it lacked the detail that the rest of the two novels possess. I know it’s obviously at a faster pace than the rest, but I just felt like I wanted more. I was so near the end and started to doubt whether this actually was a duology; how could it finish in so few pages? But it does and I’d have liked a bit more from it.

All in all though, I really enjoyed this book and its predecessor. I loved the setting of Feudal Japan and everything that went along with it. Each character has their own individual struggles and issues, drawing me in and making me want to read more about them.

Then, of course, we have Ahdieh’s writing style which just adds to the journey of this tale. She, seemingly effortlessly, painted the feudal Japan setting in my mind, and brought her characters to life. I could smell Okami (warm stone and wood smoke), hear the creaking of the nightingale floors and envisage the colours of Mariko’s silk kimonos.

It’s an easy read, but it’s a fantastic tale and I’m definitely going to miss some of these characters.

four-stars

Review: The Smoke Thieves

April 28, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Smoke Thieves The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green
Series: The Smoke Thieves #1
Published by Penguin on 3rd May 2018
Genres: Fantasy, YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-half-stars

A princess, a traitor, a soldier, a hunter and a thief. Five teenagers with the fate of the world in their hands. Five nations destined for conflict.

In Brigant, Princess Catherine prepares for a political marriage arranged by her brutal and ambitious father, while her true love, Ambrose, faces the executioner's block. In Calidor, downtrodden servant March seeks revenge on the prince who betrayed his people. In Pitoria, feckless Edyon steals cheap baubles for cheaper thrills as he drifts from town to town. And in the barren northern territories, thirteen-year-old Tash is running for her life as she plays bait for the gruff demon hunter Gravell.

As alliances shift and shatter, and old certainties are overturned, our five heroes find their past lives transformed and their futures inextricably linked by the unpredictable tides of magic and war. Who will rise and who will fall? And who will claim the ultimate prize?

I’m not even going to try to explain The Smoke Thieves. Usually, I like to attempt a wee overview but in all honesty, I don’t think I could do this book justice in a summary! So, read the one above!

Told from the perspectives of five characters; Tash, a demon hunter; Catherine, a princess betrothed to a prince she’s never met; Ambrose, a soldier and personal bodyguard to Catherine; March, a servant and traitor; and Edyon, a thief and bastard son of a trader.

I loved this book! I’m often wary of stories that are told through a host of different characters, as sometimes I can feel that we don’t really get to know the characters well enough. Or  I inevitably dislike a character and dread reading their chapter. The Smoke Thieves thankfully bucked that trend. I loved all of the characters, found their voices distinct and felt we got to know them all and the world around them.

I’ll be honest and say that I found the beginning a little slow at times, but before I knew it, I was swept up in this world and in the characters and I couldn’t put the book down.

I think Green has built a fascinating world, one that I didn’t want to leave: Brigant, with its cruel, oppressive king and attitude towards women in contrast to Pitoria with its colour, dance and customs. I’d like to have explored Calidor a bit more but I’ve no doubt that will happen in future books.

This story is packed with intrigue, deceit, and deception. There’s fighting, demon smoke, hatred, political manoeuvres, revenge and even love. I truly didn’t want it to end.

Now, I rarely pay attention to comparisons but when I finished reading I saw this…

“a new epic fantasy series perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Game of Thrones”

and bizarrely, I agree with that! As I was reading I did actually think of it as a YA Game of Thrones.  Maybe it was the travelling, the food, and the multiple perspectives, but I can see where they are coming from with that.

This is a wonderful epic fantasy that stopped my heart at times, made me chortle at others, and made me crave delicious foods!

I loved Green’s writing, this world, her characters and way the book is poised for the next instalment of the series. I seriously cannot wait for book two!

The Smoke Thieves

Image from Goldsboro Books.

Oh and if you fancy getting your hands on a signed, hardback edition I just noticed that Goldsboro Books have some copies available!

four-half-stars

Review: Isle of Blood and Stone

April 10, 2018 in Book Reviews, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Isle of Blood and Stone Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier
Series: Isle of Blood and Stone #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 10th April 2017
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

Ulises asked, "How can I look at these maps, see this riddle, and do nothing? They are my brothers."

Elias reached across the table and flicked aside two shells with a fingertip. The map curled into itself. "It's bound to be a goose chase. You know that?"

"Or a treasure hunt," Ulises countered, "and you've always been good at those."

Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar's oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way...until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.

The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias's father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king's beautiful cousin by his side—whether he wants her there or not—Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried...and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.

I’d been really looking forward to Isle of Blood and Stone – fantasy, maps, a dangerous treasure hunt, sounded right up my street! Oh, it was! I really enjoyed this book.

When two maps are found that seem to imply that the del Marian Kind’s two brothers survived the attack by the kingdom of Mondrago 18 years ago, King Ulises enlists his closest friend and navigating explorer, Lord Elias to help him uncover the truth. Elias has his own interest in the mystery. His late father, the Royal Navigator Lord Antoni, had been with the young princes when the attack occurred.

The King’s cousin, Mercedes, whose mother was Mondragan, joins Elias and Ulises as they attempt to find out the truth.

I loved the characters in this book. Sometimes a host of characters can feel overwhelming, but that definitely wasn’t the case here. What’s more, I felt like we actually got to know our main characters; at no point did I feel disconnected from them – a testament to Lucier’s writing.

Talking about her writing, I loved her style. It added to the feel of the book, a perfect accompaniment to the world that Lucier has created.

I found this to be a really entertaining novel. It’s easy to read, mysterious and tense at times, while wonderfully meandering at others.

When I finished reading, I actually craved more of these characters, so I was delighted to find out that there will be a second book. With the way that this book finishes, book two could go any way and I cannot wait to see what Lucier treats us to.

If you like the sound of a well-written, easy to read, fantasy treasure hunt with fantastic characters, strong females, fierce loyalty, deception and sea serpents, then this is the book for you!

four-stars

Review: To Kill A Kingdom

March 17, 2018 in Book Reviews, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from Readers First in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: To Kill A Kingdom To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Published by Hot Key Books on 6th March 2018
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Source: Readers First
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

I was lucky enough to win an advanced copy of To Kill A Kingdom through Readers First. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a platform whereby you get sneak peeks of books, share reviews for points and cash those points in for books. They also have weekly giveaways with some of their upcoming titles. Plus, you don’t have to be a blogger to join!

Anyway, suffice to say I was excited to get my hands on a copy. A pirate, siren-hunting prince and a prince-slaying siren? Yes, please!

Prince Elian is heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Midas. Except, he’s not interested in becoming King. He’d much rather continue as captain of the Saad, sailing the oceans with his pirate crew and hunting down the sirens who relentlessly take human lives.

Lira is the Sea Queen’s daughter, heir to the Kingdom of Keto, hidden in the Diavolos Sea. Her mother’s kingdom of sirens is at war with humans and the Sea Queen urges her subjects to hunt sailers, using their magical songs to enrapture them before ripping out their hearts.

But for Lira, only the hearts of princes will suffice – she takes one every year at her birthday, earning her the notorious title of Prince’s Bane.

When Lira disappoints her mother, her mother punishes her by turning her into a human. She may only return to the kingdom beneath the waves when she steals the heart of a Prince, without using her siren strengths.

So it is that Elian and Lira’s paths cross as he undertakes a mission to destroy the Sea Queen. Only, he has no idea who the girl is that has just walked into his life.

I loved this book so much! Told through chapters from both Elian and Lira’s perspectives, this book is a real page-turner. I loved the banter between Elian and his crew, as well as the back and forth with sassy Lira. The dialogue as a whole in this book is probably one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much.

I also really enjoyed the way the author has drawn upon myth and legend, weaving it throughout the novel.

Also, I just have to mention the cover. It’s stunning, and once you dive into this novel it’ll mean all the more.

This is actually a stand-alone novel, which makes such a nice change from the fantasy series I tend to read. It was nice to have a conclusion, a whole fantastical tale in 300-something pages. That said, I’d love to read more of these characters someday – maybe an Elian prequel?

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable read that I definitely recommend.

four-half-stars