Masks and Shadows is the first published adult novel by Stephanie Burgis, author of the award-winning Kat, Incorrigible series. This historical fantasy, set almost entirely within the Eszterháza Palace in Hungary in 1779, is an enjoyable story with conspiracy, romance, and music—the latter of which Stephanie Burgis has firsthand experience with since she studied music history as a Fulbright Scholar and worked for an opera company.

Shortly after becoming a widow, Baroness Charlotte von Steinbeck is invited to visit Eszterháza Palace by her younger sister Sophie, a lady-in-waiting to the Princess Esterházy. She is delighted to accept Sophie’s invitation since she hasn’t seen her sister in twelve years and is also interested in hearing the work of Herr Haydn as a gifted musician herself. While the concerts are indeed heavenly, Eszterháza Palace isn’t at all what Charlotte expected…

Charlotte is shocked to discover that her sister’s title of “lady-in-waiting” is a sham: she’s actually living at the palace because she is publicly acknowledged as Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s mistress, even though each of them is married to other people. Although Charlotte disapproves, Sophie’s improper conduct soon becomes the least of her worries as strange occurrences alert her and another visitor, the renowned castrato Signor Morelli, to trouble brewing within the palace. A conspiracy fueled by dark magic is planned and it will have dire consequences for the audience of an anticipated opera event—and the House of Habsburg as a whole—if it succeeds.

Masks and Shadows is an entertaining book with a unique setting. Hungary in the late 1700s is not a time period I’ve encountered in fiction inspired by history before, and although I don’t have in-depth knowledge of the history, I thought the author did a wonderful job with showing a sense of time and place that worked with this story through small details and the characters’ attitudes. It’s a very readable book without a lot of infodumping or dense description, and in many ways this book with focus on music and opera reminded me of a performance itself. Masks and Shadows is divided into three acts with the first introducing a cast of characters who provide different pieces of the big picture. Almost immediately, it hints at danger within the palace, and this unease grows as it leads up to the big event toward the end. It’s also a very dialogue-heavy book, and there were occasionally some misunderstandings and situations that reminded me of those from Shakespeare.

Societal issues such as gender and class are woven into it as well. In addition to being a story about an evil conspiracy, it’s also largely about Charlotte’s struggle against the social mores that dictate how a baroness should behave. She’s a very proper lady, but she and the renowned singer Signor Carlo Morelli (who has his own struggles with the way people view him due to being a castrato) become attracted to each other—and as her sister lectures her, this is a disgraceful match that will make her a pariah if she chooses to pursue it.

Sophie exhibits the attitudes of the higher classes, and while this shows what Charlotte is expected to think and how difficult it must be at times for her to even contemplate other beliefs, she is a very frustrating character to read about. She seems extraordinarily oblivious when she does chastise Charlotte for her feelings or exclaim at the immorality of two singers running away together when she never so much as questions how her position affects her own husband or the Princess, whom she makes rather snide and unfair comments about. Sophie’s only redeeming qualities seem to be that she does seem to truly care for her sister and the Prince; she also doesn’t see any problems with stating that certain people are beneath her—when they’re standing right in front of her. Sophie doesn’t seem at all self aware, and though the two sisters seem to have been very close in the past due to their shared experience with a disapproving mother, I can’t help but feel Charlotte must be some sort of saint to deal with her eighteen years later.

Although I consider Charlotte the central main character, there are a lot of pages dedicated to various other characters, mainly:

  • Carlo Morelli, an incredible singer who rose to perform before princes (and is now starting to feel more jaded about the nobility than honored to be in their presence)
  • Anna, Charlotte’s maid who becomes a singer due to her beautiful voice
  • Franz, an actor who is manipulated into joining the conspiracy
  • Sophie’s husband Friedrich, who is also manipulated into being part of the big conspiracy

After Charlotte, my favorite character to follow was Anna. She’s always loved to sing, and after Carlo hears her voice, he recommends she fill an opening with the opera singers. It’s a dream come true but also a challenge since she is untrained, can’t read music, and does not know Italian. She is also incredibly brave and heroic and has a big role in the ending.

Though not a point of view character, the Princess is also wonderful. She mainly avoids the public, yet she always seems to know everything that is going on in the palace.

Despite being one of the more entertaining books I’ve read this year, Masks and Shadows did have some drawbacks that kept it from being one of my favorites I’ve read lately. It was a little difficult to get into in the beginning since it did jump back and forth between characters a lot, and the only one I was immediately interested in was Charlotte. Since it is a relatively short book focusing on quite a few characters, there’s not a lot of room for in-depth character development. Charlotte is probably the most developed of the bunch, and although they do have motivations and personal journeys, more time is dedicated to moving the plot along than exploring the people involved. Due to this, their actual personalities do not set them apart from others I’ve read about, even if does seem to fit with its performance-like structure. Lastly—and I want to make clear that this is not a criticism but a matter of personal taste since I think it takes immense skill to write a book as effortlessly readable as this one—the writing is not beautiful or extraordinary.

Once it gets past the beginning, Masks and Shadows is an engaging book, and I admire the author’s ability with weaving history, music, and societal issues into a compelling story. Although I did enjoy reading it very much, there wasn’t much that stood out about it that was different or notable other than a rarely used setting and the emphasis on music, however, and it didn’t have the depth of character development that appeals to me as a reader.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the author/publisher.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Masks and Shadows:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week’s book post covers books that arrived in the last two weeks including a couple I couldn’t resist buying after reading what Memory wrote about them at In the Forest of Stories.

In case you missed it last week, I reviewed Kat Howard’s debut novel Roses and Rot. It was also released last week, and it’s my favorite 2016 release I’ve read so far. I’m currently working on a review of Stephanie Burgis’ enjoyable historical fantasy Masks and Shadows.

On to the books!

The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier

The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier

In the last one of these posts, I mentioned Rachel Neumeier’s recently released YA fantasy The Keeper of the Mists, which was on my most anticipated books of 2016 list. At the time, I didn’t realize she also had an adult fantasy book coming out later this year or this would have been on that list as well! It sounds great and the cover is gorgeous, plus I tend to enjoy Rachel Neumeier’s books (especially House of Shadows!).

The Mountain of Kept Memory will be released in November (hardcover, ebook). The book’s page on the author’s website has several formats for reading an extract; the PDF excerpt is here.

 

In this gorgeous fantasy in the spirit of Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin McKinley, a prince and a princess must work together to save their kingdom from outside invaders…and dangers within.

Long ago the Kieba, last goddess in the world, raised up her mountain in the drylands of Carastind. Ever since then she has dwelled and protected the world from unending plagues and danger…

Gulien Madalin, heir to the throne of Carastind, finds himself more interested in ancient history than the tedious business of government and watching his father rule. But Gulien suspects that his father has offended the Kieba so seriously that she has withdrawn her protection from the kingdom. Worse, he fears that Carastind’s enemies suspect this as well.

Then he learns that he is right. And invasion is imminent.

Meanwhile Gulien’s sister Oressa has focused on what’s important: avoiding the attention of her royal father while keeping track of all the secrets at court. But when she overhears news about the threatened invasion, she’s shocked to discover what her father plans to give away in order to buy peace.

But Carastind’s enemies will not agree to peace at any price. They intend to not only conquer the kingdom, but also cast down the Kieba and steal her power. Now, Gulien and Oressa must decide where their most important loyalties lie, and what price they are willing to pay to protect the Kieba, their home, and the world.

The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason

The Empress Game (The Empress Game Trilogy #1) by Rhonda Mason

Memory from In the Forest of Stories wrote about how much fun this was last weekend. After reading what she had to say about it, I immediately went to add it to my wish list, and uh, kind of ended up ordering it instead… It was less than $4 at the time and I still have gift card money so I couldn’t resist!

 

One seat on the intergalactic Sakien Empire’s supreme ruling body, the Council of Seven, remains unfilled, that of the Empress Apparent. The seat isn’t won by votes or marriage. It’s won in a tournament of ritualized combat in the ancient tradition. Now that tournament, the Empress Game, has been called and the females of the empire will stop at nothing to secure political domination for their homeworlds. Kayla Reinumon, a supreme fighter, is called by a mysterious stranger to battle it out in the arena.

The battle for political power isn’t contained by the tournament’s ring, however. The empire’s elite gather to forge, strengthen or betray alliances in a dance that will determine the fate of the empire for a generation. With the empire wracked by a rising nanovirus plague and stretched thin by an ill-advised planet-wide occupation of Ordoch in enemy territory, everything rests on the woman who rises to the top.

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

In that same blog post mentioned above, Memory also wrote about enjoying Zeroboxer. When I ended up ordering The Empress Game, I couldn’t resist buying that one too (I’d almost purchased it when I used some of my gift card last time).

Zeroboxer (excerpt) was nominated for the 2015 Andre Norton Award.

 

A Sci-Fi Thrill Ride Set in the Action-Packed Sports Arena of the Future

A rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, Carr “the Raptor” Luka dreams of winning the championship title. Recognizing his talent, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association assigns Risha, an ambitious and beautiful Martian colonist, to be his brandhelm––a personal marketing strategist. It isn’t long before she’s made Carr into a popular celebrity and stolen his heart along the way.

As his fame grows, Carr becomes an inspirational hero on Earth, a once-great planet that’s fallen into the shadow of its more prosperous colonies. But when Carr discovers a far-reaching criminal scheme, he becomes the keeper of a devastating secret. Not only will his choices place everything he cares about in jeopardy, but they may also spill the violence from the sports arena into the solar system.

Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire #1) by Michael J. Sullivan

The first book in a new series set in the same world as the Riyria series will be released on June 28 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

 

Michael J. Sullivan’s trailblazing career began with the breakout success of his Riyria series: full-bodied, spellbinding fantasy adventures whose imaginative scope and sympathetic characters won a devoted readership. Now, Sullivan’s stunning hardcover debut, Age of Myth, inaugurates an original five-book series, and one of fantasy’s finest next-generation storytellers continues to break new ground.

Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer, Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom, and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun.

The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 1

The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume One edited by Neil Clarke

The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume One will be released on June 7 (paperback, ebook). It includes stories by many phenomenal authors including Nancy Kress, Aliette de Bodard, Ken Liu, Seanan McGuire, Alastair Reynolds, Yoon Ha Lee, and many more.

 

A biological plague begins infecting artificial intelligence; a natural-born Earth woman seeking asylum on another planet finds a human society far different from her own; a food blogger’s posts chronicle a nationwide medical outbreak; trapped in a matchmaking game, a couple tries to escape from the only world they know; a janitor risks everything to rescue a “defective” tank-born baby he can raise as his own.

For decades, science fiction has compelled us to imagine futures both inspiring and cautionary. Whether it’s a warning message from a survey ship, a harrowing journey to a new world, or the adventures of well-meaning AI, science fiction feeds the imagination and delivers a lens through which we can better understand ourselves and the world around us. With The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume One, award-winning editor Neil Clarke provides a year-in-review and thirty-one of the best stories published by both new and established authors in 2015.

Myth-Fits by Jody Lynn Nye

Myth-Fits (Myth Adventures) by Jody Lynn Nye

The latest Myth Adventures book will be released on June 7 (paperback, ebook, audiobook).

 

Robert Asprin’s “excellent, lighthearted fantasy series” (Epic Illustrated) continues with more antics from magician Skeeve and his eclectic team at M.Y.T.H., Inc.

Business is slow for M.Y.T.H., Inc., and its president, Bunny, is getting nervous that the company might not meet its quarterly goal. So when a job comes in that’s worth an absurd amount of gold—and also happens to take them to Winslow, the most luxurious vacation resort in any dimension—the team jumps at the opportunity to recoup some cash and maybe catch some R&R.

Only, magician Skeeve has an unsettling feeling that this mission might be trickier than it seems. Someone in Winslow is messing with the magic lines and working hard to ensure that the M.Y.T.H. crew gets nowhere near the powerful relic that they’ve been hired to find. And as the mysterious manipulation turns deadly, Skeeve, Bunny, Aahz, and the rest of their partners find themselves in a race not only to finish the job but also to escape paradise alive…

Additional Books:

Although Kat Howard has written plenty of short fiction (including a story nominated for the World Fantasy Award and others that have been selected for “best of” collections), Roses and Rot is her first published novel. This contemporary fantasy is a marvelous debut and my favorite 2016 release so far for its readability, exploration of art, and depiction of a complex bond between two sisters—intertwined with the magic of Faerie!

After Marin leaves home and an abusive mother to study at an elite school, she does not hear from her younger sister Imogen for four years. A few years after their reunion, Imogen decides to apply to Melete, a program in New Hampshire that provides housing, food, and full funding to especially gifted artists of all kinds for nine months, and convinces Marin to do the same in hopes that they can attend together. Both sisters are accepted: Marin for her writing and Imogen for her ballet dancing.

Although Marin has some reservations about Melete—it sounds far too perfect to be true—she decides she cannot miss the opportunity to work with her assigned mentor, who also happens to be her favorite living writer, and heads to New Hampshire to spend the next few months working on her most ambitious story yet. Other than one prickly housemate, Melete does initially seem every bit as wonderful as it sounded: the grounds are beautiful, Marin has a lovely tower room in the house she shares with her sister and two other women, and Marin’s mentor is understanding and supportive. However, Marin soon discovers she’s not just writing a fairy tale but also living in one when she learns the truth about Melete and its connection to Faerie. This forces Marin to face some tough choices that cause strain between her and Imogen: both sisters want the reward that can only belong to one residential artist, dredging up the competitive feelings their mother once used to drive a wedge between them.

Roses and Rot captured my attention from the very first page and never once lost it. The introduction to Marin and Imogen in the very first chapter drew me in, and the complexity of their relationship is expanded upon throughout the novel. The beginning shows two sisters who are close as they both navigate living with a horrible mother, and though Marin is relieved to be getting away from the situation, she also feels guilty for leaving her sister on her own. Later, it goes into more depth about the extent of the verbal and physical abuse heaped upon them both by their mother, showing how it shaped them and complicates their relationship. They have some unresolved issues and find it difficult to ignore some of the messages their mother ingrained in them in her attempts to divide them, although they also have a deep understanding stemming from this shared experience that can bring them together even when their bond is more fragile.

Although the sisters are given the most page time, the relationships in general (particularly those between women) are very well done. Marin develops an easy camaraderie with her housemate Ariel, and her conversations with her mentor Beth are also quite natural. All the rest of Marin’s household has a rocky relationship with their housemate Helena at the beginning, but this changes as they make an effort to include her and they eventually learn that there is an explanation for her behavior given her past. I did think that the romances paled in comparison to the other relationships; neither Marin nor Imogen seemed to have the same rapport with their love interests as they did with others in the novel. Since Imogen isn’t a point of view character, I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see the bond between her and Gavin clearly, but this is noticeable with Marin and Evan given that the story is told from Marin’s perspective.

In addition to the wonderfully developed friendships, I also loved the emphasis on both fairy tales and art. It examines the connection between art and artist and how artists’ creations grow with them as their experiences and perspectives influence what they create. Marin is also working on a story that grew out of her own past, and there are many discussions about art in general. Since there were so many conversations about art, these themes didn’t seem very subtle, but at the same time, this makes sense in context: in a colony of artists, it would seem out of place if they didn’t talk about art and the creative process.

The novel’s biggest weakness besides one weakly drawn relationship is its ending, which is rather abrupt and rushed. The main event it’s been leading up to occurs, and then the rest is wrapped up rather quickly in the final chapter. Given how compelling I found the novel, these are minor issues, though.

Roses and Rot is a stellar debut with a fitting title—it shows both the beauty and the ugliness, the light and the dark, as it traverses relationships, art, and fairy tales. In particular, it excels at relationships: a realistic, complex relationship between two sisters and that between creator and creation. It’s a wonderfully engaging story, and I’m looking forward to Kat Howard’s second novel.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from a publisher/publicist.

Read an Excerpt from Roses and Rot

May
13
2016

The May book selection, determined by the Patreon reward tier for voting on the monthly book poll, is a stand alone fantasy. The choices were as follows:

The book to be read and reviewed in May is…

The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson

The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson

Yoshifuji is a man fascinated by foxes, a man discontented and troubled by the meaning of life. A misstep at court forces him to retire to his long-deserted country estate, to rethink his plans and contemplate the next move that might return him to favor and guarantee his family’s prosperity.

Kitsune is a young fox who is fascinated by the large creatures that have suddenly invaded her world. She is drawn to them and to Yoshifuji. She comes to love him and will do anything to become a human woman to be with him.

Shikujo is Yoshifuji’s wife, ashamed of her husband, yet in love with him and uncertain of her role in his world. She is confused by his fascination with the creatures of the wood, and especially the foxes that she knows in her heart are harbingers of danger. She sees him slipping away and is determined to win him back from the wild … for all that she has her own fox-related secret.

Magic binds them all. And in the making (and breaking) of oaths and honors, the patterns of their lives will be changed forever.

The theme for the poll determining a book to read and review in June is Mythopoeic Award winners.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

There are far too many books to cover since I last did one of these posts so this is going to be a condensed version with just a few of the highlights. I didn’t include a lot of books that do look interesting and narrowed it down a little further by not featuring ones that have been mentioned in the last month or ones that are currently on the to-review pile. I also didn’t look up excerpts or include a lot of information on them this time since there are still a lot of books!

In the last week, I posted one mini review of the first Shattered Realms book, Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima. This was one of my most anticipated 2016 releases since I loved the Seven Realms series, but I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much since I didn’t really care about the main characters.

On to (a few of) the books!

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

This came out in paperback earlier this month. I’m really looking forward to it, both because the first few paragraphs were intriguing and because I recently read Nnedi Okorafor’s novella Binti and really enjoyed it!

 

A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell…. 

The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.

Children of Earth and Sky

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

This comes out on Tuesday! In case you missed it, I posted an excerpt from Children of Earth and Sky toward the end of March, accompanied by a pretty animated version of the cover image.

 

The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…

The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood

The Summer Dragon (The Evertide #1) by Todd Lockwood

This is a debut novel by illustrator Todd Lockwood (who did the gorgeous covers for Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series). This hardcover book is also quite beautiful.

 

The debut novel from the acclaimed illustrator—a high fantasy adventure featuring dragons and deadly politics.

Maia and her family raise dragons for the political war machine. As she comes of age, she anticipates a dragon of her own to add to the stable of breeding parents. Her peaceful life is shattered when the Summer Dragon—one of the rare and mythical High Dragons—makes an appearance in her quiet valley. Political factions vie for control of the implied message, threatening her aspirations, her aerie, her entire way of life.

The bond between dragons and their riders is deep and life-long, and Maia’s desire for a dragon of her own to train, ride, fly, and love drives her to take a risk that puts her life at stake. She is swept into an adventure that pits her against the deathless Horrors, thralls of the enemy, and a faceless creature drawn from her fear. In her fight to preserve everything she knows and loves, she exposes a conspiracy, unearths an ancient civilization, and challenges her understanding of her world—and of herself.

Beyond the Woods edited by Paula Guran

Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold edited by Paula Guran

This upcoming anthology (July 2016) contains an impressive list of authors, including Peter S. Beagle, Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Angela Slatter, Elizabeth Bear, Yoon Ha Lee, Nalo Hopkinson, Catherynne M. Valente, Charles de Lint, Ken Liu, and more.

 

Once upon a time, the stories that came to be known as “fairy tales” were cultivated to entertain adults more than children; it was only later that they were tamed and pruned into less thorny versions intended for youngsters. But in truth, they have continued to prick the imaginations of readers at all ages.

Over the years, authors have often borrowed bits and pieces from these stories, grafting them into their own writing, creating literature with both new meaning and age-old significance. In the last few decades or so, they’ve also intentionally retold and reinvented the tales in a variety of ways—delightful or dark, wistful or wicked, sweet or satirical—that forge new trails through the forests of fantastic fiction.

This new anthology compiles some of the best modern fairy-tale retellings and reinventions from award-winning and bestselling authors, acclaimed storytellers, and exciting new talents, into an enchanting collection. Explore magical new realms by traveling with us, Beyond the Woods . . .

The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier

The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier

I tend to enjoy Rachel Neumeier’s books and I received her latest for my birthday last month.

 

Keri has been struggling to run her family bakery since her mother passed away. Now the father she barely knew—the Lord of Nimmira—has died, and ancient magic has decreed that she will take his place as the new Lady. The position has never been so dangerous: the mists that hide Nimmira from its vicious, land-hungry neighbors have failed, and Keri’s people are visible to strangers for the first time since the mists were put in place generations ago.

At the same time, three half-brothers with their own eyes on the crown make life within the House just as dangerous as the world outside. But Keri has three people to guide her: her mysterious Timekeeper, clever Bookkeeper, and steadfast Doorkeeper. Together they must find a way to repair the boundary before her neighbors realize just how vulnerable Nimmira is.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

I’ve been hearing this book is wonderful so I spent some of my birthday gift card on it.

 

Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo

This is another one I’ve heard great things about and bought with my gift card. It’s a really lovely hardcover; the outside edges of the pages are all black which looks great with the cover.

 

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) by Renée Ahdieh

I’ve been wanting to read this one for awhile so it was another gift card purchase. It recently came out in paperback, and the second book was just released.

 

A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

Book Description:

Set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Seven Realms series, a generation later, this is a breathtaking story of dark magic, chilling threats, and two unforgettable characters walking a knife-sharp line between life and death. This dazzling beginning to a new series is indispensable for fans of Cinda Williams Chima and a perfect starting point for readers who are new to her work.

Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now he’s closer than ever to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. With time running out, Ash faces an excruciating choice: Can he use his powers not to save a life but to take it?

Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told that the magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught.

Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the ruthless king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.

There are what some may consider spoilers for the Seven Realms quartet and a certain occurrence later in Flamecaster in the fourth paragraph of this review. My personal opinion is that the occurrences mentioned are too predictable to be spoilers, but I wanted to provide a warning for those who try to avoid spoilers at all costs! 

Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms quartet (The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown) is one of my favorite young adult fantasy series. When I heard that there was going to be a new series about the next generation, I was thrilled, and the first book in the Shattered Realms series, Flamecaster, was one of my most anticipated releases this year.

Unfortunately, Flamecaster has the same major weakness as the first book in the Seven Realms series with none of its strengths. Like The Demon King, it took me a long time to become at all interested in the story, but it took me even longer to start finding Flamecaster readable—about half the book, which is over 500 pages long! It also didn’t manage to keep that interest once the book ended since it did not do what the previous series did so well: make me care about the characters. Han and Raisa were the main reason I enjoyed the Seven Realms books so much, and the main protagonists in Flamecaster were not nearly as memorable as the two who came before them.

Although there are four point of view characters, there are two I’d consider the main characters: the healer Ash, who seeks vengeance against a king, and the revolutionary Jenna, who is sought by the same king due to the mysterious magemark on her neck. It’s easy to sympathize with both of their situations since both of them have rough lives, but they were missing that spark that made Han and Raisa special. Ash and Jenna didn’t come alive as characters and neither of them underwent any major character development, and although I didn’t dislike them, I didn’t find either of them particularly compelling either.

Part of the appeal of the previous quartet was also Han and Raisa’s relationship: their interactions and seeing them fall for each other. The romance in Flamecaster happened quickly and without any chemistry between the characters involved. Of course, sometimes people do connect quickly, and in this particular case, there is a magical reason for the relationship to proceed so quickly from “just met” to “madly in love,” but skipping over the progression of the relationship and not showing the two getting to know one another is boring.

Although the second half was quite readable, I just didn’t care enough about the main characters to really enjoy it or give Flamecaster a second thought after I’d turned the final page, especially since the writing and plot were not particularly notable either. It’s possible I’ll give the second book a chance, but if so, it will be due to my fondness for the first quartet—not because of the first Shattered Realms book, which I found rather forgettable.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from a publicist.