Sunday, 22 October 2017


Assassin Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo, or avenging her familia. And after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it’s announced that Scaeva and Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end them. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between loyalty and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

Well, he did it. I wasn't expecting Jay Kristoff to be able to top Nevernight. Second books are often the weakest in a trilogy, and Nevernight was so good that Godsgrave had an even higher mountain to climb. And then, about five chapters in, I realised by scepticism was misplaced. Godsgrave is just as brilliant - maybe even better - than Nevernight. The author takes everything that was so good about the first book and expands it. The world gets bigger, the politics get more twisted and the violence gets bloodier. Everything was perfection. The world, the history, the characters, the plot, the dialogue were all individually outstanding, and together they were absolutely fucking incredible.

After just scraping by her initiation into the Red Church, Mia draws closer to her ultimate goal of avenging the deaths of her family by killing their killers; Scaeva and Duomo. Unfortunately, her end differs to that of her church, and she's forced to go it alone in her quest for revenge. In order to get to Scaeva and Duomo, she has to enter - and win - Godsgrave's gladiator-esque games. By a cruel twist of fate, she finds herself enslaved in her old family home - now a gladiator/slaved training school - where she meets fellow slaves and warriors who make her bloody focus waiver ever so slightly. Mia's fellow recruits were so well written, never once feeling like cliches or plot devices. Mia's almost sisterly relationship with young healer slave Maggot was quietly touching, enough to make you believe that Mia's bloodymindedness could start to falter.

Slave owner Leona was another stand out. While she could have been a standard antagonist or a really good bad guy undone by a sappy back story (my pet peeve!), the author managed to make her an absolute bitch, but a very human one. Constantly battling her abusive bastard of a father, Leona still bought humans to fight to the death, but there were just enough quiet scenes to show the woman behind the mask, even if I did still want to see her get her comeuppance! I was a bit disappointed that Mia's new daemon, the wolf-like Eclipse, was MIA for much of the story. She (it?) had a great back and forth with Mia's original shadowpet, Mr Kindly, but felt a bit pointless given how rarely she featured. 

While I loved Mia's sweet and tender relationship with Ash - it was the closest thing to sweet I could ever hope to find in this series! - I just couldn't get fully on board with it because I loved Tric so much in the first book. He and Mia were so good together and shared a genuine bond, so when Mia jumped into bed with the girl who killed him, there was no way I was going to ship their pairing! The sex scenes were just and graphic, hot and well-written as they were in Nevernight. Unlike some other authors, who try to be both graphic and coy and end up sounding like they're not 100% sure how sex actually works, Jay Kristoff goes there! I've read countless, poorly written sex scenes that refer to down there or people reaching their peak (although my personal favourite are those that refer to guys roaring as they climax. Can you imagine someone roaring as they came? You'd laugh your ass off!) but you don't get that here. Sex, language and violence get equal billing in Godsgrave and this book doesn't shy away from the reality of any one of them. I wasn't a huge fan of the early threesome sex scene, simply because it felt unnecessary and therefore a bit tacky. It wasn't like Mia was going for stealth - she poisoned her target and he ended up vomiting his guts up like he was in a Mortal Kombat fatality - so quite why there was a four page sex scene leading up to it instead of her just slitting his throat was beyond me. Still though, Jay Kristoff is a man who knows how to write good sex!

There's an undeniable Gladiator-esque vibe to the book, I had high hopes for the inevitable 'colesseum' scenes, and I was not disappointed! The beasts Mia encountered in the arena brought genuine peril to the proceedings; from giant worms that vomited up their entire stomachs to six-armed, acid-spitting spider women, I was on the edge of my seat for each and every action sequence. Even though you have more than a sneaking suspicion that the protagonist isn't going to be killed off on page 80, the danger feels real and the stakes feel suitably high. I did wonder how Scaeva hadn't been assassinated earlier, given how easily Mia's frenemy Ash was able to sneak around poisoning wine and hiding weapons in the arena.  

It's hard not to give too much away, but the story was so, so good! It built on all the best element from book one, expanding the world and history through the new characters Mia meets. The footnotes peppered through the main story linking to supplementary world info and history were carried over from Nevernight, and I personally love them. I guess I could agree with some people who say they're a lazy way of conveying information rather than incorporating it into the chapters, but most of it enhances the story rather fits into it. The notes explained legends, imparted sarcastic wisdom from the narrator and shaded in the details of Godsgrave's history, and they can be skipped without detracting from the main story if you're not into them. Just don't go into this book expecting everything to come up sunshine and rainbows. The story, the world, the characters are all brutal and no punches are pulled in showing exactly what this means. There's a borderline cute scene where Mia and her fellow, terrified new recruit prepare to enter the arena for the first time. In a moment of uncharacteristic softness, she holds his hand, tells him to stick with her and, just for a moment, you think they're going to be okay. And then the lad immediately gets shot in the neck and dies. Yeah, sweetness and light, it ain't!

And the ending ... 'byss and blood, the ending!

I don't think I've ever anticipated a sequel this much in my life! Jay Kristoff is a master storyteller and the king of cliffhangers.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sunday Street Team - Brooding YA Hero

Sunday Street Team is the brainchild of the very lovely Nori over at Read Write Love, shining the spotlight on new releases by new authors. For the October edition, I was super excited to get the opportunity to review Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (almost) as Awesome as Me. If you're into YA and you're on Twitter, you can't not have heard of this guy! I've been following Brooding YA Hero (aka Broody McHottiepants) on Twitter for a long time, alternating between laughing, rolling my eyes and laughing and exclaiming "thank you!" loudly at my phone screen for a while now, so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a review copy of "his" book. Thanks to co-organisers Nori and Aditi for letting me be part of this tour! 

The Book

Ever wished you could receive a little guidance from your favorite book boyfriend?
Or maybe you're just really confused about what "opal-tinted, luminous cerulean orbs" actually are?

Well, popular Twitter personality @broodingYAhero is here to help as he tackles the final frontier in his media dominance: writing a book. Join Broody McHottiepants as he attempts to pen Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me, a "self-help" guide (with activities--you always need activities) that lovingly pokes fun at the YA tropes that we roll our eyes at, but secretly love.

As his nefarious ex, Blondie DeMeani, attempts to thwart him at every turn, Broody overcomes to detail, among other topics, how to choose your genre,  his secret formula for guaranteed love triangle success, and how to make sure you secure that sequel, all while keeping his hair perfectly coiffed.
The Author

Carrie Ann DiRisio is a YA writer and creator of @BroodingYAHero. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with one large fluffy cat, and is currently pursuing her masters in business, although her true dream is to become a Disney Villainess, complete with a really snazzy gown. In addition to writing and plans for world domination, she also enjoys running, coffee, Krav Maga, and knitting.
The Review

There's a pretty simple way to work out if this book is for you or not. Go and check out @BroodingYAHero on Twitter. Did you laugh? Then get this book!

I love YA books and I love YA tropes, but I also love people giving them a poke in the ribs every now and then because, let's be honest, they deserve it.  Don't get me wrong, they're fun to read, but they're also cliche as hell and potentially quite damaging. Good YA books take these tropes and turn them on their head, or blend them into a story with other elements. Bad YA books simply put them in order and then write a plot around them. If you're anything like me, you'll be pinpointing which books the author is referencing as you read.

A lake, a mirror, your sword ... any surface can be used to sneak in some adjectives used to remind the reader of your beauty.

If there's one thing this book can't be accused of, it's taking itself seriously! But of course the hero of the piece, the guy standing front and centre of the cliches - no matter how much the book blurb tries to sell its strong female protagonist - is Broody himself. Or Broody McHottiepants, as the author has christened him.

Some Broody features come standard. These include; angst about my past, casual misogyny, a deep love of my own self importance, and really nice hair.

My workout routine includes eyebrow lifts, leaping over plot holes, high-jumping to conclusions, bench-pressing my emotions to make them easier to suppress, and climbing up cliffs I've been left hanging on.  

Even though the book was mostly for fun, I loved that the author wasn't afraid to call out some of the more damaging and dismissive cliches in YA, like killing off minority side characters and describing people's ethnicity in relations to food. There are so many laugh out loud truths !

“Did I do something wrong?” Well. That was a given. He usually did at least fifteen things wrong per book, but only in a swoony, romantic way, where all could be fixed when he took off his shirt.

The reason I don't give this book the full five stars is because I did struggle to get through the whole thing. There's no denying though that what worked so well in tweet form doesn't translate quite so well into a full book. At least with Very British Problems, the "books" are little more than novelties that are just tweet-length gems. Here, the author attempts to mix the Twitter soundbites with an actual sort-of story, as Broody attempts to write his own book while obliviously living every YA trope in existence. Either one of these approaches could have worked on their own, but the two together don't blend all that well.

Whether you love or hate YA cliches, you'll find something to enjoy in this book. Much truth tea is spilled and plenty of bestselling authors are not so subtley shaded. You'll have plenty of entertainment picking which barbs are aimed where! I found myself laughing in agreement on more than one occasion (which as awkward when I was reading in a cafe or on public transport). A must-read for fans and detractors of brooding YA heroes!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017


The Book

Savage (Dragonrider Legacy #1)
by Nicole Conway
Publication Date:  September 26, 2017
Publisher:  Month9Books

Savage begins the Dragonrider Legacy series, a thrilling companion to the international bestselling Dragonrider Chronicles.

Never send a hero to do a monster’s job.

Forty years have passed since Jaevid Broadfeather brought peace to Maldobar and Luntharda. But that fragile truce will be tested as darkness gathers on the horizon. The vicious armies of the Tibran Empire have crossed the far seas and are threatening to destroy Maldobar completely. Not even the dragonriders can match the Tibran war machines. And after an attempt to awaken Jaevid from his divine sleep fails, the fate of Maldobar is looking grim.

Reigh has never known what it means to be a normal human. Raised amongst the gray elves in the wild jungle of Luntharda, he’s tried everything to fit in. But the dark power within him is bursting at the seams—refusing to be silenced. And while his adoptive father, Kiran, insists this power must be kept secret, Reigh knows he’s running out of time.

As Maldobar burns, the world is desperate for a new hero. Destiny has called, and one boy will rise to answer.

Google Play | BAM | Chapters | Indies | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks

The Author 

Nicole is the author of the children’s fantasy series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES, about a young boy’s journey into manhood as he trains to become a dragonrider. She has completed the first two books in the series, and is now working on the third and final book.

Originally from a small town in North Alabama, Nicole moves frequently due to her husband’s career as a pilot for the United States Air Force. She received a B.A. in English with a concentration in Classics from Auburn University, and will soon attend graduate school. She has previously worked as a freelance and graphic artist for promotional companies, but has now embraced writing as a full-time occupation.

Nicole enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She also loves watching children’s movies and collecting books. She lives at home with her husband, two cats, and dog.

Website • Twitter • Facebook • Goodreads

The Review

Savage is an ambitious novel for sure! It covers warring kingdoms, elves, dragons (and their human riders), prophecy, dark magic, shadow wolves, royal politics and more, all told from the pov of a teenage human raised by elves. That's a lot for a first book in a series to cover, but with so much happening, you can pretty much guarantee to not be bored, but it's a testament to the author's storytelling that you won't be confused either.

The writing style is, across the board, great; descriptive enough to build the world and characters easily, but not affected enough to be distracting or annoying. Nicole Conway manages to build one heck of a world in a first book, populating it with otherworldly creatures and building it with royal politics and history. The one niggling problem I had though was with Reigh's narration. He talks like a 90s California surfer - talking about things sucking, missions being bogus - and it jars with the more traditional fantasy language of all the other characters, like the author wrote a contemporary character and put him in a fantasy novel.

As for Reigh himself though - despite a few eye rolls at his dialogue - I grew to love him s a character. He was a good mix of determined, hot-headed and brave, but he did have a tendency to be stubborn to a fault, and sometimes downright idiotic. In short though, he felt real. I have to say though, his woe-is-me about his dark magic felt a bit disingenuous at times. He constantly professed to be unable to control his mysterious dark power, but he's shown several time to be in complete control. Noh - the wolf-like form his dark magic often takes - obeys Reigh without question. It's not until nearly three quarters of the way through the book that we finally see an instance of Reigh losing control of his magic. I would have liked to have seen more of Noh and exactly what he was capable of doing (Reigh has a tendency to pass out when Noh goes to work), but I guess that's material for book two!

Reigh's adopted, grey-elf "father", Kiran, was one of my favourite characters. Always putting himself out and going out of his way to raise his idiot son right, he was a wonderful character. It probably helped that I kept picturing this healer/hunter/tracker as Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings! Elsewhere, the human dragonrider Princess Jenna was brilliant! The dragons entered the story pretty late considering the book has one on the cover, but Jenna's struggle to be accepted as a fighting female was nicely touched on. It's a shame this book didn't focus on her! Reigh's elf friend Enyo fares less well though, relegated to the best friend/love interest role.

The story was excellent, even if there was a bit much going on. However, I have to admit, this book wrong footed me more than once. I was so sure I saw a twist about Reigh's true identity coming, but the author spun this a completely different way, snatching back my attention - and wiping the smug, 'saw-it-coming' smile from my face - having me devouring pages right up until the end. There's plenty here that makes me want to come back for book two!


The Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Sunday, 3 September 2017


Kai is a Moonburner—a female sorceress reviled by her people and normally killed at birth. Except Kai's parents saved her by disguising her as a boy—a ruse they've kept up for almost seventeen years. But when her village is attacked, Kai’s secret is revealed and she’s sentenced to death.

Thankfully, the gods aren’t done with Kai. Despite the odds stacked against her, she escapes her fate, undertaking a harrowing journey to a land where Moonburners are revered and trained as warriors.

But her new home has dangers of its own—the ancient war against the male Sunburners has led the Moonburners down a dark path that could destroy all magic. And Kai, armed only with a secret from her past and a handsome but dangerous ally, may be the only one who can prevent the destruction of her people...

Wow. Just wow. There's a lot to enjoy in Claire Luana's debut YA fantasy novel; the gender politics, the girl-power, the world building, the fantastic cast of characters. I was expecting to like the story, but I wasn't expecting to totally love it! I was lucky enough to see this story in its late-draft form, but the work that's gone into polishing it is clear to see. Moonburner is clearly a labour of love for the author, and it shows on every page.

And what pages they are! From the prologue that grabs hold of you and won't let go, right the way through to the final battle, Moonburner is a page turner from start to finish. The story is set in the lands of Kita and Miina, countries divided by magic and gender. In Miina, females with magic - drawn from the power of the moon - are revered as so-called Moonburners. In Kita, where Kai was unfortunately born, they are put to death by the male-dominated powers that be - males with magic drawn from the sun, aka Sunburners. After escaping her death sentence march into the desert that divides the two lands, Kai is taken in by the Moonburners and trained to embrace her powers. The world building is simple and easy to get into, which allows for a breathlessly taught opening act. From Kai's outing to her arrival in the Moonburner citadel, a school where young women are trained as warriors to harness their magic, there's barely a stray word that could have been cut in the edit to be found.

However the author takes a fairly simple story of two opposites, and turns the idea on its head. There are no good guys and bad guys here (well, there are, but I'll get to that later). What starts as a black and white world for Kai quickly begins to morph into a world of grey, where nothing's quite as clear-cut as either side of the impending war seem to think. There are a lot of Asian-inspired elements to the story, so the concept of yin and yang seems fitting. On the surface, the moon and sun burners are polar opposites. Female and male. Night and day. Darkness and light. What is initially present to Kai in the citadel's teachings is very much them and us, but the set up evolves into something more complicated as she gradually comes to realise that neither can exist without the other, and true victory lies in peace rather than destruction. Yes, this book features plenty of strong female characters, but it's not always the case that these are the good guys. It also features plenty of strong male characters, and it's not always the case that they are the bad guys. Claire Luana manages to walk the fine line between feminism and equality, without overbalancing into superiority on either side.

If the world building was outstanding, then the characters and dialogue in this story set it on fire! Kai is a utterly adorable protagonist, equal parts strong and vulnerable. Behind her Buffy-esque sass is a young girl raised to fear the world around her, and when the security blanket of her loving family is ripped away in brutal fashion, she's thrown out into that world to fend for herself. Well, not quite for herself. Powerful burners acquire a senshen, a sort of spirit animal, and Kai's is a take-no-shit fox named Quitsu. And he is awesome! Snarky and wise in equal measure, this guy is easily my favourite character. I would have liked to see him written a little more distinctly - it was sometimes hard to work out whether it was Kai or Quitsu that was talking because their dialogue and attitudes were so similar - but that's a minor quibble. Kai's new Moonburner friends were pretty good, if a little interchangeable with their silver hair and sass. Maaya was the best of the group, her soft-heartedness making her stand out a little more than the rest. I did love the ass-kicking trainer Nanase (aka Eclipse, because she killed so many Sunburners in the first war that the sun apparently went dark - seriously, what's not to love here!?), but the abundance of friends, antagonists and teachers at the citadel felt a bit cluttered.

And what can I say about Kai's 'love interest', Hiro? I say love interest in inverted commas because, to be honest, he barely features for most of the book. Seriously, he and Kai meet about three or four times. Their burgeoning relationship is pushed aside by the impending war - and the fact that their both standing on opposite sides of it - as it rightly should be. I have to applaud the author for being brave and going with this angle. The Romeo and Juliet thing is a pretty well trodden path in YA fantasy, and it would have been easy to play this up. But Claire Luana puts her protagonist front and centre, her journey and growth taking precedent over ticking a box or shoehorning in any swoony scenes. It's weird, because in a roundabout way, this totally works. Because both characters keep their head in the game, you buy into their romance even more. It's clearly not some fleeting obsession. Kai's obviously not falling to pieces over Hiro's abs or his sparkly eyes, so their connection feels more real, and I will take this a hundred times over magical bonds, instalove and/or a love triangle.

With such a fast-paced story, it was inevitable that the writing would feel a little flat at times. There's very little navel-gazing here, and no affected, artsy prose. And for the most part it's great because it makes for a more exciting story. But there were times when I'd have liked just a little bit more on how Kai and the other characters were feeling. There's a lot of she said this and he did that, but at lot of the time there's very little sense of how they're saying it and what they're thinking. 

Much like Kai's gradual uncovering of the citadel's dark secrets, there's more to the story than meets the eye. I loved the suprisingly dark subplot with the Moonburner queen and her plot to destroy the Sunburners once and for all. There were a few almost too dark moments though, with a couple of allusions to and mentions of rape that felt out of place. There as nothing wrong with them per se, they just don't seem to fit in this book. The story itself though is solid, if a little cliche at times, but because it's all told through such colourful characters and in such a rich, vibrant world, it feels like something fresh. The gender politics bring a different angle to the usual 'good guys v bad guys' set up, and the message of coexistence and tolerance has rarely felt more timely.

The story wrapped up nicely, while still leaving room for a sequel (more on that below). One of my pet peeves is an ending that reads like the author stopped typing part way through a chapter, but this book has a solid beginning, middle, and end, as well as a hook for book two. Ending perfection! Moonburner is a fantastic debut from a very talented author, and a must-read for YA fantasy fans.

Author Q&A with Claire Luana

1. What inspired you to write Moonburner?

My inspiration for Moonburner was loosely based on China’s One Child Policy, which led to generations of Chinese families choosing to have boys over girls. It made me think: what would happen in a world where families didn't want girls because those girls had some magical ability that was forbidden?

This led to the premise of Moonburner, where Kai, the main character, is born into a land where magic is forbidden to women, and she is forced to masquerade as a boy to hide her powers.

2. If you could go back in time and give your past self one bit of advice when you sat down and started writing Moonburner, what would it be?

Probably to share Moonburner with other readers and writers sooner! I was so nervous to share my work that I spent a lot of time trying to perfect it before I let it see the light of day. When I inevitably changed things as a result of the feedback, all that polishing went down the drain. Plus, I’ve found I really enjoy sharing my work and getting collaborative feedback and ideas on how to make it better. No need to miss out on that!

3. Do you have any writing rituals?

My rituals have changed over time, but currently, I write every morning. My day job is pretty mentally taxing (I’m a lawyer) so I found I didn’t have much brainpower left at the end of the day. Now I get up at 5am to write, which is painful, but it means it’s done first thing. It feels really good!

4. Which three books would you take to a desert island?

I’d want something with a lot of pages to fend off boredom, so probably the Bible, the Eye of the World (first book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series), and Six of Crows, which is my current fave read.

5. There are a lot of Japanese words and names in Moonburner, did you have any location and cultural inspiration from the far east?

Yes! As I mentioned, the book started with me thinking about China’s One Child policy, and so I always imagined the book as having an Asian influence. We housed Japanese students in my house for years growing up, so I was more familiar with that culture. It’s because of those experiences that I decided to borrow from Japanese medieval culture for Moonburner.

6. Gender division, feminism and equality play big parts in Moonburner, what made you decide to include these rather than more traditional elements of YA fantasy?

Gender equality is a topic near and dear to my heart as a woman who works in a traditionally male dominated field. My colleagues and I spend a lot of time sharing experiences and talking about how we can better advance women in law and society generally, so it felt natural for me to focus on gender as a theme in my first book, especially once the world and the story premise began to take shape.

7. It’s wonderful to see a YA female protagonist who’s on her own journey while the love interest takes a back seat. Was this intentional when you originally sat down to write Moonburner?

It wasn’t intentional, but grew naturally out of the way the plot worked out. Kai met her love interest very early on, but then didn’t run into him again until the last quarter of the book. I definitely sweated a bit trying to figure out a way to build a connection between them without falling prey to the Insta-love trope that so many YA books are guilty of! But in the end, I think romance as a sub-plot more naturally fit the book. Moonburner is really about Kai growing as a person and as a woman. The romance is like a little bonus.

8. Who would be in your fantasy cast for the movie version of Moonburner?

I imagine Grace Park to play Kai, and maybe a younger version of Ian Anthony Dale for Hiro.

9. Who was your favourite character from a writer’s perspective and who was your favourite character from a reader’s perspective, or were they one and the same?

I loved writing Quitsu. He was so fun and scrappy and unique. Those early chapters with him and Kai were some of the first I ever wrote, and still feel really special to me. Readers tell me their favorite character is Emi. I think they appreciate her bad-assery and snark!

10. Kai’s seishen in a fox. What do you think your spirit animal would be?

I think maybe an owl. Owls are wise and mysterious, but can be tough when they need to be!

11. Obviously Sunburner is out soon, but are there any plans for more books in this universe?

Yes! I originally intended to write two, but as I was brainstorming ideas for a new series, I realized that one of those ideas would fit perfectly as a third book in the Moonburner world. Instantly, I knew I had to write it! So, there will be a third book titled Starburner. The protagonist will be Kai and Hiro’s teenage daughter. I have it all plotted out and I’m aiming for a spring launch!

12. Sum up Moonburner in five words.

Strong women make moon magic! 

Coming soon ...

If, like me, you hate getting into a series only to find there's a year plus wait for the next book in the series, you're in luck! Not only is the Moonburner prequel, Burning Fate, already available (and for free if you subscribe to Claire's mailing list) but the sequel proper, Sunburner, is out on Tuesday 26 September.

I've been lucky enough to get my hands on an arc of Sunburner and believe me when I say it's awesome! It's everything that was brilliant about Moonburner turned up to eleven; with the stakes higher, the romance swoonier and the bad guys badder. It's absolutely unmissable, so, if you read and love Moonburner, make sure you add this one to your TBR too. You can check out the blurb on Goodreads now, but be warned, it does contain a spoiler if you're yet to read Moonburner.

If you need any more tempting, there's also a load of swag on offer if you preorder Sunburner, including a bookmark, map (my personal favourite of all swag!) and deleted scenes, as well as chance to win more bookish goodies. Happy reading!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Heart of Mist

In a realm where toxic mist sweeps the lands and magic is forbidden, all Bleak wants is a cure for her power.

Still grieving the death of her guardian and dangerously self-medicating with alcohol, Bleak is snatched from her home by the Commander of the King’s Army, and summoned to the capital.

But the king isn’t the only one interested in Bleak’s powers.

The leader of an infamous society of warriors, the Valia Kindred, lays claim to her as well, and Bleak finds herself in the middle of a much bigger battle than she anticipated.

Heart of Mist is the gripping first book in The Oremere Chronicles, a fantasy series of epic proportions.

Disclaimer; I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I love YA fantasy tropes, but just like too much of a good thing can make you sick, too many can bore the hell out of me when I'm reading a book (like Frostblood, for example). At first glance, I was a bit worried that Heart of Mist was going to go the same way; orphan girl with reluctant special powers that are a threat to the evil monarch. The salt of the earth, childhood friend love interest and the swoon worthy opposite. True, Heart of Mist isn't free of cliches, but it subverts them as often as it plays on them.

Heart of Mist takes no prisoners. The plot kicks off pretty much from the very first page, telling you what you need to know and not a whole lot more. It grabs you from the very first page and pretty much doesn't let you go to catch your breath until a good few chapters in. As someone who's not a fan of pages atop pages that set up an elaborate backstory and complex word at the expense of pacing, this scores big points with me! Rarely does a book, much less the first one in a series, have the nerve to branch into so many povs so early on. It's breath-takingly exciting; fast-paced and never boring.

Yes, there's lots of information to take in when it's delivered - names and places and gods are thrown at you thick and fast - but because it's done as the story progresses and not dumped in the intro, the story flows so well. It's a rich, vibrant world I didn't want to leave, populated by characters that stayed with me long after I'd closed the pages.

Speaking of characters, can I talk about how much I loved Bleak? In less capable hands, she could have been a mess of the most irritating YA protagonist cliches; arrogance mistaken for confidence, appalling social skills mistaken for sass, and a tendency to commit physical assault mistaken for badassery. However Helen Scheuerer manages to create a sympathetic, flawed character. Bleak is an ashai - someone who possesses magic, in this case a Mind Whisperer. Alone in a land where this power could lead to her execution via marching at sword-point into a deadly mist that's encroaching at the edges of the land, she turns to alcohol to silence the voices in her head. She's far from perfect, and there were a good few times I wanted to reach into the pages and give her a good slap, but she felt real. Every action was believable, and every decision she made - while not always sensible - made sense for the character. The author doesn't gloss over her addiction to alcohol either, nor just make it a token character attribute that gets mentioned once in a while. There's no glamour or attempting to sugar-coat Bleak's debilitating condition, and it's refreshing to see a YA author who's not afraid to present the harsh and unpretty reality of Bleak being the town drunk.

I have to say though, I wasn't a fan of the constant threats of sexual violence against Bleak early on. Sure, it becomes a plot point when the rebel matriarchy - the Valia Kindred - lay their claim to Bleak, but, after reading about the village sleaze having to be pulled off Bleak on multiple occasions (complete with an attempted rape as his final in-book act), I then had to read pretty much the exact same behaviour from a member of the King's Guard sent to retrieve her. With another attempted rape in as many chapters. I understand that rape is often a threat for female characters in fantasy worlds, but so much misogyny and two rape attempts with the first few chapters didn't sit well with me.

The supporting characters were some of the best I've read in a long time! I utterly loved the girl power (once the male characters had been sent packing) and sexual diversity! The twist of the mysterious rebel Henri being female was great, and very welcomed after the earlier male oppression of the protagonist. King's commander Swinton, his deputy Fiorre and Henri's second-in-command/occasional lover Athene were stand outs for me. I didn't like the weak love interest subplot with Bleak and her friend Bren though. It didn't pack any heat and felt repetitive. He thinks he wants her, she reads his thoughts, she thinks he's better off without her and storms off. This happens at least three times. I had no idea why he kept stumbling after her (seriously, he gets himself captured twice. By two different groups. This boy has no sense of self preservation!). Maybe there's a prequel in there somewhere, but it just felt undercooked here. Thankfully, Bleak's frienships with the Valia Kindred, especially fellow warrior-in-training Luka, fared much better. The "upstairs downstairs" hierarchy of the Kindred and their brutal, take-no-prisoners attitude was suitably harsh for a forest-based rebellion who needed brute strength and skill to survive, and it made the quietly sweet relationships between the women all the more special.

Minor quibbles with the odd character and plot point aside though, Heart of Mist is a truly brilliant book. Helen Scheuerer's writing style is absolutely wonderful, creating a rich world steeped in history and populated by a fantastic cast of characters. She walks the fine line between showing and telling perfectly, letting the reader know enough to keep them hooked but leaving plenty of secrets in a vast world that begs to be explored. At first, I thought the ending was going to be a let-down - the strange-eyed street orphan is actually a super-powerful inhabitant of a long-forgotten land with ties to a king who wants her dead, confronted by the true name she was trying to flee - skirted dangerously close to a lot of other fantasy YA novels. I was so sure I'd read this twist before that I wrote this whole review calling Bleak the long lost princess, before I checked back a saw there was actually no mention of this. I'd just assumed, because I've read this twist so often before. But, like so many of the YA fantasy tropes that the author presents in the book, it's taken beyond what many readers are used to seeing. The actual ending is fantastic! Without giving too much away, the stage is set perfectly for the next book. There's so much left to explore, so many questions that need answering. This is truly a world to get lost in.

I had a few nitpicks with some elements of the story, but they're minor issues in an otherwise incredible book. Heart of Mist is a brave, unflinching story, with some of the most beautiful and ambitious storytelling I've ever seen from the first novel in a series. It's intense and intriguing, brought to life in a vibrant world by wonderful characters. Seriously, I need book two in my life, right now!

Heart of Mist is available now from Amazon UK for just £0.99, and Amazon US for the equivalent in dollars. You can also check out my Q&A with author Helen Scheuerer here.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Masked Blog Tour

by J.D. Wright
Genre: Upper YA Paranormal/Superheroes
Release Date: August 15th 2017
Limitless Publishing

Vada’s To-Do List:

- Turn 18 (check!)
- Register super name
- Order supersuit
- Attend superhero indoctrination
- Graduate high school
- Start kicking criminal tail

Vada Lawson can’t wait to be a superhero. Born into a family with special powers, she’s been training to fight criminals and villains her whole life. But her indoctrination into the underground super community is derailed when normals start breaking out in superpowers themselves.

Not trained to control their new abilities, the normals are frightened and vulnerable. Then their mutilated corpses begin turning up all over town. What the heck?

Somehow, with the help—and hindrance—of an annoying newly-minted super named Orion, Vada has to stop the chaos before it destroys her and everything she holds dear…and ruins her superhero debut.

No one ever said that being a superhero was easy…

About the Author
J.D. Wright is a military wife, mother of four, and author of paranormal and fantasy romance books filled with strong-willed heroines, swoon-worthy heroes, and sprinkled with humor and adventure. J.D. creates artistry in many ways, as a baker and cake artist by day and author by night. You can usually find her typing away at the computer or covered in frosting.

Since discovering she has a knack for writing, J.D. has so far written and self-published eight books of the Everealm and Songs of Everealm Series and is now venturing into the world of paranormal with her new superhero-themed series. She is an avid reader and lover of all things romance so she always includes a good love story in her paranormal and fantasy novels.

Author Links:

I loved JD Wright's Everealm series, so I couldn't wait to get started with her new one. I'm not as big a fan of urban/contemporary as I am traditional fantasy, but ... come on, it's JD Wright, so I was pretty sure I was going to love her new series too. It's obvious from page one how much the author loved writing this. No wallowing in misery or making the characters suffer. It's light hearted and so much fun to read, which is one of the things I love so much about her books.

JD Wright's writing has developed since Everealm (no criticism - I loved Everealm), and Masked is very well written. The world building is nicely done, with details about supers and how they fit into society (think The Incredibles!) woven discreetly through the story rather than presented as infodumps. As always, there's plenty of girl power on display from the super-powered ladies too!

I was pleasantly surprised that there was no insta-love between Vada and her high school's resident hot guy, Nick. Even better, there was no actual relationship between them (I get the feeling JD Wright is saving that for book two!) or cases where he rode in on a white horse to save her. The constant bickering between their alter egos, Magestic and Orion, felt a bit forced after a while, and I did have to wonder how this pair didn't work out each others superhero identities given how much times they spent together in and out of costumes. A mask over your eyes just doesn't seem enough to conceal your identity!

The supporting characters were great across the board, with Vada's tech support James standing out. Theirs was a refreshing male-female relationship without a hint of flirting or sexual tensions. You wouldn't believe it from many books/movies/tv shows etc, but this does happen in real life! As well as keeping her safe, James is all about setting Vada up on her missions and making sure her supersuit is as fabulous as it is functional.

One notable exception to the great supporting characters for me though was Vada's best friend Henley. Simple put: Henley is an idiot. Aside from being as dumb as a box of rocks, she's rude to and dismissive of Vada, her supposed best friend, and things don't get much better once she becomes a super. She takes a drug from local dealer Victor without knowing what it is, then does the same thing again later with his father Marticus after he calls her weak with the line; "I'm not weak. I will take your drug." *facepalm* That type of reverse psychology wouldn't work on my six year old niece. Henley's newly-acquired superpower of persuasion works on some and not others as plot requires, but using it to score free purses at the mall seems less than supervillain behaviour. There always seems to be one character in the pack that rubs me up the wrong way, and in this series, it's Henley! The conflict for Vada of having to fight her best friends is deliciously intriguing, but I'd like to have seen more of this. There's so much that could be done with this plot thread in the next book!

Character issue aside though, Masked is a great start to a new series. It sets the groundwork nicely for future books, and wraps up this story nicely while still leaving plenty of places for future stories to go. If Masked reminded me of The Incredibles, I think Masked #2 will be more Monsters University!