Category: fantasy

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Hellig Review

Title: For a Muse of Fire

Author: Heidi Heilig

Age Group: Teen/Young Adult

Genre: Fantasy

Series: For a Muse of Fire, book one

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Heidi Heilig made quite a splash last year, with her debut novel and series starter, The Girl from Everywhere, and I really enjoyed it. I mean: Time travel! Forbidden romance! Danger and adventure! So, when I found out that she was writing a brand-new series opener, I was so excited, and I ordered it from my local library. It’s been sitting in my library stack for a while, and once I realized that I couldn’t renew it anymore, I pushed it up to the top of it, as soon as I was finished with Blanca and Roja. And I was pleasantly surprised; it took me a little bit to get into it, but once I did, I found myself totally transfixed. Full of magic, darkness, war, political intrigue, and more than a few monsters, I loved For a Muse of Fire, and I can’t wait for the sequel!

Jetta and her family are renowned as the most talented shadow troupe in the whole land. With her behind the scrim, their homemade puppets move without the aids of string or sticks. They pass it off as nothing more than trade secrets, but in reality, Jetta can see recently departed souls and bind them to their puppets with her blood. But the old, magical ways are forbidden, now that the colonial army has taken over their country. Forced to hide the only skills she has to support her family, she is seeking passage to Aquitan, where shadow plays are in high demand, and rumor has it that it contains a magical spring that could hold the cure to her own madness. But she also has even bigger problems than restless spirits: a rebellion is beginning to brew throughout the land, and there is a compelling, dynamic smuggler who has his own secrets to hide. Jetta will risk everything to get her family to safety, even if it means turning her back on everything that she’s learned before…

This book was such a dark and lovely surprise! First of all, the format of it was unusual and compelling; told in the form of sheet music, prose, letters, telegrams, and other documents, it really kept the book fresh and exciting, and it also offered a different perspective on what was happening. Jetta was a great character; desperate for normalcy, safety, and security for herself and her family, and I really liked her point of view throughout the novel. The pacing in this book was breakneck, once it started to pick up; it felt like I was right beside Jetta, experiencing what she felt as the book went on. I also really enjoyed the other characters, especially Leo and his girls, and Jetta’s mother and father. The characters on the other side, especially the Legrande family, were also intriguing. There were several things that I was aching to know more about, but perhaps the author is saving that knowledge for the next book. And that ending! For a Muse of Fire, despite its flaws, is one of my favorite books of 2018. I especially liked the way that Jetta’s bipolar disorder was depicted; we need more books that talk this frankly about mental illness, especially in fiction. I’m so excited for what’s coming next from Heidi Heilig! The bottom line: A darkly magical, unusual series debut, I loved For a Muse of Fire! One of my favorite books of 2018! Next on deck: Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas!

https://literatureobsessed.blogspot.com/2018/11/for-muse-of-fire-by-heidi-heilig-review.html

Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore Review

Title: Blanca and Roja

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Age Group: Teen/Young Adult

Genre: Fantasy/Romance

Series: Standalone

Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I’ve been a huge fan of Anna-Marie McLemore’s work since I read her debut novel, The Weight of Feathers, and I read her third book, Wild Beauty, for my book club a few months ago. So, when I heard that she was writing a diverse, mashup retelling of Snow White, Rose Red and The Wild Swans, I was so excited. I ordered it from my local library and it’s been sitting in my library stack for a while; after I couldn’t renew it anymore, I dove into it right after I finished Muse of Nightmares. (Well, after I was finished mourning the painful end of that series. But moving on.) I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, as I haven’t really read either of the fairy tales that the story was inspired by, but I was blown away. With lush, gorgeous prose, diverse characters that felt so real that I felt that when I finished, I was saying goodbye to a beloved group of friends. Blanca and Roja is the most brutal and beautiful of McLemore’s novels, captivating and tender and full of every kind of love you could possibly think of. A deliciously bittersweet exploration of sisterhood, first love, and sacrifice, I will never forget Blanca and Roja; I feel like they’ve burrowed into my heart and soul.

Blanca and Roja are two sisters, best friends, and rivals, because ever since they were tiny, the women in their family have been cursed: One sister is doomed to become a swan, taken by the flock that live nearby, and she must live out the rest of her years as a bird, while the other is untouched. This is the way things have always been, and how it always will be. Blanca is sweet, gentle, delicate, everything that her sister, Roja, is not. Roja is sharp-tongued, tomboyish, brash, loud, and curious. They know their fate, even when it means sacrificing everything. But things become even more complicated when two different people emerge from the wood near their home: Yearling, who has spent the last year as a bear, and is drawn to Roja in spite of hiding his own secrets, and Page, someone whose identity is as unclear as their motives. As the time draws near for one of the girls to gain wings and the other to remain human, the girls begin to wonder if they can, in fact, change their destinies, and find everything that they’ve denied themselves.

This book; it was amazing, a beautiful, bittersweet triumph of family, especially sisterly bonds, love in all of its forms, magic, and most importantly, agency, and the courage to change your fate, even when it seems that all the odds are stacked against you. The pacing was breakneck, the prose so gorgeous that more often than not, I was rereading lines, absolutely in awe over it, but even more than that, I was head over heels for the characters that she so lovingly created. I was utterly spellbound by this book, and I was so happy to finally be reading a diverse, gender-nonbinary fairy tale retelling; this is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life! I also really enjoyed the way that the point of view bounced between Blanca, Roja, Yearling, and Page; I loved that everyone was giving perspective on what was happening. I also liked the other characters: Roja and Blanca’s parents, Page’s loving, if confused, family, Yearling’s grandmother, mother and father, and cousins; each character was fleshed out beautifully and I was captivated. But honestly, the ending was what really got me. I cried through most of the book, but it was the worst when the book ended. It was so bittersweet, shocking, and unexpected; my heart was broken and then stitched back together all at once. Easily one of the best books of 2018, and I will never forget Blanca and Roja! The bottom line: A tender, beautiful, and brutal fairy telling retelling involving forbidden love, diverse and non-gender binary main characters, and the bonds of family, especially sisterhood! My favorite book by Anna-Marie McLemore, and one of the best books of 2018! Next on deck: For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig!

https://literatureobsessed.blogspot.com/2018/11/blanca-and-roja-by-anna-marie-mclemore.html

(IP) The Hidden City

(IP) The Hidden City

               She stood on the steps, staring up at a city that, until very recently, only existed in her imagination.

               It was all so surreal, that she was actually here. All of those years being laughed out of court and everywhere else, and to know that the widowed Queen had chosen her to put together a team and set out to find it.

               Truth be told, she did not want to return. Always on the fringes, whispers, smirks, and scorn following in her wake.

               Why return where she was not welcome, when what she’d spent her entire life dreaming of was right in front of her? But she was bound, at the very least, to her word to her Queen. And if nothing else, it had been she who had valued Rose’s opinion.

               Her crew stood beside her, a motley, ragtag group: Yew, the healer, stood tall behind her captain, a medical bag tucked close to her side, her smock covered in mysterious, unidentifiable stains, her long, dark brown hair bound in a bun at the nape of her neck, bright amber eyes glinting behind a pair of thick spectacles. As was her way, she was content just to let Rose drink in the magnificent view; she knew what this meant to her, and Rose was grateful for her friend and first crewmate, and her patience.

               Beside Yew stood her wife, the demolitions expert, Vesper, clothed in a tight blue leather bodysuit, cigar clamped between gleaming golden teeth, peering with more than a little terror at the edge of the stone staircase, built into the sky. It was almost funny; give the woman explosives and something to blow up and she was running into it full tilt, whooping with joy, but put her somewhere high up and she was pale green and ready to be ill; Rose noticed that she gripped Yew’s arm in a vise so tight that her scarred knuckles shone white. Yew was smiling, head bent toward her spouse, murmuring words that Rose couldn’t hear.

The cabin boy, Emmett, stood beside Rose, peering over the edge.

               “I’ve never been this high, Captain!” The boy said, and Rose had to smile at his enthusiasm; all of the crew had shared in her excitement, in differing degrees. But her young stray had been as hopeful and excited as she, and she had to bite back a laugh. “Not even in the airship!”

               “It is pretty high, isn’t it, Emmett?” She agreed. She knew that she had to begin the trek into the actual city, but right now she wanted to drink in the sight of what she’d always known was real, even if no one else had believed her.

               The cook, Zahar, smiled at Emmett’s antics, shaking his head. “Be careful, little man. You could fall off of the edge if you don’t watch your step.” His scent reminded Rose of the galley, sharp garlic and pungent cloves, woody rosemary, and sharp chili; he sported a merry potbelly and a full, sable beard striped with silver. A father himself with a young wife and a bevy of little ones waiting for him back in the kingdom, she trusted no one else to watch over the boy, not even herself.

“Shouldn’t we be going inside, or at least to the gates?” A voice piped up from the back of the pack, and their navigator, Salazar, pushed to the front, not noticing that he stepped on several toes on the way up. Sharp as seaglass he was on the ocean and the sky, but interpersonal relations were not his forte at all. As long as he did his job well and didn’t go out of his way to pick fights, Rose didn’t care that he kept to himself. He was a dark-skinned man with all manner of colorful tattoos, the most noticeable of all the compass rose that adorned his throat.

“I mean, really, Captain. How long are we gonna stand here? I want to see the city. Not the outside of it!”

Vesper frowned, and opened her mouth to contradict him, but Rose held up a hand, signaling for peace without even opening her mouth.

To Salazar, she said, “Calm yourself, navigator. We’ll go in soon. I just… I just want to look at it for a little while longer. Please,” She murmured, and much to her surprise, he nodded, though he turned his back from them and toward the doors; indifferent though he had seemed through the journey, she could sense his curiosity roiling inside of him.

A lump the size of an orange formed in her throat, and she had to hold the sobs deep inside; her crew, under no circumstances, saw her emotional. That wasn’t how she operated.

As much as she wanted to continue to savor the moment: She was really here, she could feel her crew’s impatience, and supposed she had no choice but to give in to it. Now, it was time to discover what The Hidden City actually contained.

“Let’s go.” She said, and they moved as one toward the entrance to the city.

**

(IP) Journey Through the Dark

(IP) Journey Through the Dark

               They’d
reached the ruined abbey just as the sun had begun to set and turn everything a
bloody scarlet.

               The
party was made up of three people, a woman holding a lantern astride a horse,
and two men walking in front of her, one holding a bow and arrow and the other
leaning heavily on a twisted yew staff.

The abbey was so quiet that only
their footsteps and the horse’s feet clop
clop clopping
on the stone floor broke the silence, each one crashing down
like a rockslide onto a hill.

The woman frowned, one hand wrapped
in her mount’s long, dark mane. She wasn’t sure why, but it felt as though
something was hiding in the dark shadows. She shook herself mentally; she wasn’t
a child in a brick and thatch hut anymore, sitting in front of a fire while her
grandmother told stories of the past. She was far too old for such fear to be
sitting upon her shoulders.

Her companions, meanwhile, were
keeping ahead of the horse, silent and watchful.

The archer crept through the
shadows, blinking as he passed through the light of the dying sun, hands poised
on his bow, his ears perked up for any out of ordinary sounds. They weren’t
expecting anyone; this abbey had been falling apart for years. In fact, no one
in the ragtag little group knew just why they’d been sent here.

The man with the staff was trying
to match the archer step for step, but he was impaired by a deep limp. He said
nothing, but his teeth were clenched, sweat beading up on his brow like tiny,
liquid salt crystals.

As they moved further into the
building, a chill formed in the air, freezing the sweat on the mage’s brow, and
the archer shuddered, caught by surprise.

A breeze chased the sudden dip in
temperature, making the golden flame within the lantern gutter and dance,
painting sinuous shadows upon the stone walls.

“What’s going on?” The woman
gasped, and her horse spooked, rearing and bucking her off; she landed on the
stone floor with a nasty crunch, and
there was a flash of white light in her vision; the pain was such that it felt
like her rib cage had imploded.

For one terrible fraction of a second,
she thought that she was dying.

But the spell was broken by the
horse turning and fleeing, its frightened cries magnified so that it felt like
there was a whole herd of them running out of this haunted place.

“Are you all right?” The mage
asked, limping over to her and gracelessly kneeling beside her, as best he
could.

The archer stood in front of them, fitting
an arrow on the drawstring of his bow and pulling it quickly taut.

The woman nodded, though she had
quickly grown pale, and she was holding her ankle, her lips drawn into a thin
line; her companions suspected that she was biting back a scream.

“Don’t worry, we’re going to get
you help, somehow,” The mage murmured, gently smoothing back her hair.

The cold that surrounded them only
intensified, and a mocking, high laugh sounded, echoing off of the abbey’s
stone walls.

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,
foolish little mortals, for you have trespassed in my territory. Bid each other
goodbye, for you will not leave this place alive.”

**

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor Review

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor Review: undefined

The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes Review

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Rule by Ellen Goodlett Review

Rule by Ellen Goodlett Review: undefined

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor Review

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(IP) Shaman

(IP) Shaman

The forest was a riot of sound, and it and all of its creatures welcomed her.

A distant smile touched her full, lush lips, painted as violet as flower petals, and she reached out her long, bejeweled fingers to feel the viridian velvet of the plants.

Here, more than anywhere else, was home, and the rightness of it settled into her bones. The skull headdress upon her proud forehead gave her a look that was almost menacing, but her aura spoke of something else: peace, and magic; it hung like a rosy-pink veil around her body, casting her pale skin in warm light.

One by one, animals melted out of the trees and foliage, brushing the shaman’s fingers, hips, any part of her skin that they could reach, and she let out a quiet, musical laugh that seemed to stir the woods into full waking.

She lifted her head and spoke to the sky, to the world that had welcomed her as its own.

“Thank you, Mother Earth and Father Sky, for your endless bounty! I cannot express in mere words how pleased I am.”

Revered though she was in the village, she could not quiet the voice inside of her that simply demanded: more.

More of what, she did not know. When she was busy in the village, healing, midwifing, giving advice, overseeing marriages and separations, it was quiet, but not silenced.

And how could she run to chase phantom desires, when so many people actually needed her?

But that could not stop her dreams, the endless visions of running with her feet to the earth, feeling the wind stroke cool fingers through her long hair, the trees parting for her, freeing her from her duties…

The conflict was a storm inside of her heart, one she feared would build into something she could not suppress.

Part of her belonged to the village, and the other belonged to the great unknown, and she could not even begin to know what it was she really wanted.

She walked until she came to a clearing, a meadow full of bright flowers and a small, bright pool of water. She sat down at the edge of the pool, then sank into it, fully clothed, and she sighed, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.

Here, she could pretend that nothing awaited her; that she was an entity of the gods and the world they ruled.

She had no idea that in the trees, undetected, someone was watching her.

**

(IP) Many Are the Dead

(IP) Many are the Dead

The sky was bloodred, painting the new snow on the ground a rusty cinnamon.

The warrior and his familiar, a painted steed with a white mane, stood in the center of the wreckage, the only sound breaking the heavy silence the huffing of the beasts no one had bothered to pillage.

Gone were the sounds of marching, the beating of drums and the screams of the dying.

When they’d been sent here by their general, they’d been expecting slaughter and bloodshed. But everyone was gone, down to the last man, woman, and child. The only thing left now was the heavy, carrion stench of death and vengeance.

The warrior’s stomach turned. Though he was used to war, he could not fathom just how senseless this all was. The general had demanded that he travel to the mountains and find the battleground, and to scavenge what they could from it.

“I hate to do this,” She’d said, in a quiet, raspy voice that bespoke of years of tobacco and other vices, “But loss is necessary, and we must make of it what we will.”

She’d set a cup of tea in front of him, and he’d nodded to her in thanks.

“Go to the mountains with your familiar and see what happened there. Please. Those people deserve the truth, the gods see them home safely. Of course, I will give you supplies. Be careful. You never know who may be watching.” Her already thin lips flattened into a grim, white line, and he knew she was thinking of The Devourer.

It was a black shadow that had descended over their land, able to hide in plain sight and work deadly magic; its presence was both omnipotent and unknowable, even to those who worked their whole lives to dismantle its iron grip on the country.

The horse tossed her head, her hooves meeting the ground with terrible force, and she turned to look at the warrior, dark eyes glistening with human knowledge.

I can smell The Devourer here. But I’m certain that it did not come itself.

“So it was working through someone,” Her companion replied, more statement than question, and the horse nodded, whickering as her head bobbed up and down.

“I was afraid of that,” He sighed, running a hand through his hair, his breath forming a white cloud in the cold, crystalline air.

How did one catch something that constantly changed forms, that hid everywhere, was impossible to detect? It was as impossible as trying to catch smoke, or hold water in one’s cupped hands.

“Come,” He bade at last, taking the horse’s reins. He would have to send word that he required help after all—there was no way that his horse could transport the buffalo that had somehow survived the onslaught.

“Let’s get this over with,” He murmured; the cold had seeped down to his marrow, his heart a frozen block of ice in his chest.

All of this wasted, another wave in The Devourer’s reign of terror.

With the military’s resources shrinking daily, it seemed impossible to hold on to the humanity, or, what was left of it. But the General, and every soldier under her, was depending on him.

Giving up simply was not an option.