Monthly Marillier: “Seer of Sevenwaters”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Seer of Sevenwaters” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc Hardcover, December 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The young seer Sibeal is visiting an island of elite warriors, prior to making her final pledge as a druid. It’s there she finds Felix, a survivor of a Viking shipwreck, who’s lost his memory. The scholarly Felix and Sibeal form a natural bond. He could even be her soul mate, but Sibeal’s vocation is her true calling, and her heart must answer.

As Felix fully regains his memory, Sibeal has a runic divination showing her that Felix must go on a perilous mission-and that she will join him. The rough waters and the sea creatures they will face are no match for Sibeal’s own inner turmoil. She must choose between the two things that tug at her soul-her spirituality and a chance at love…

Review: Unlike the first Sevenwaters trilogy which jumps generations with each book, the second trilogy remains focused on one generation: the daughters of Sean and Aisling. We’ve met, or heard reference to, them all before either in “Child of the Prophesy” or the previous book, so there’s an element of familiarity and expectation on each’s story from the start. Clodagh was a fantastic first pick for this new set of books, and it seemed only natural that Sibeal, her reserved, mystical younger sister would be the next choice. Unfortunately, for as much as I liked Sibeal’s character in “Heir to Sevenwaters,” her story has been one of my less favorite Marillier books, and so it remained with this re-read.

Even without the power of a seer, Sibeal believes she knows what will come of her life. She is soon to take her final vows to become a druid and join her brethren in the services they provide, that of wisdom, story-telling, and powerful, magical insight into the world around them. But this clear, straight path takes a sudden turn when Sibeal discovers a young man washed up on the shore with no memory of who he is. Suddenly, her life becomes much less clear and mysteries appear around every corner. For his part, Felix knows next to nothing about himself, with only dire hints at his own past and what paths he had been trodding before meeting Sibeal. Together, each must take on a perilous journey not only of self-discovery but to unlock wonders in the very world itself.

I really liked what we got from Sibeal in “Heir to Sevenwaters.” She didn’t have much page time, but she was a refreshing breath of fresh air in the midst of a family who was all treating Clodagh fairly poorly. Sibeal, alone, believed Clodagh and provided what support she could in the journey set out before her sister. Alas, as a main character, Sibeal wasn’t nearly as compelling. For one thing, her voice and perspective are not as distinct and unique as I had hoped. In too many ways, she seems similar to the other female protagonists we’ve seen in these stories and lacks the spark needed to make her stand out from the pack.

What’s worse, for the first time in this series, the narrative is split between Sibeal’s chapters and Felix’s, the romantic interest. And his are even worse than hers. Not only does the bare fact that splitting the narrative this way lesson the page time we have to get to know Sibeal as a character (perhaps this extended page count would have allowed for more development for her), but Felix himself brings next to nothing to the story. Amnesia stories are tough in this way, and Marillier falls into the same trap that many authors do with this type of arch: there’s just not enough to build upon when your character doesn’t know himself or his history. Beyond that, Felix’s chapters feel almost too similar to Sibeal’s. I’m not saying that there is a “male” and “female” way of thinking/speaking, but I definitely don’t want my two main characters to sound almost indistinguishable.

I also didn’t enjoy the overall story in this one as much as I have in Marillier’s previous Sevenwaters books. The mystery itself was fairly obvious, with numerous clues laid down well in advance of any characters piecing them together. It also all felt disconnected from the rest of the Sevenwaters story. In many ways, I feel like you could almost lift this book out of the series and no one would miss it.

Marillier’s writing remains strong, but with weaker characters and a weaker story overall, some of her tried and true go-toes become a bit more obvious as well. Some of her turns of phrase feel a bit tired and over-used, even. I did enjoy reading the final act of the story, where I felt like the pace picked up a bit more and my interested was piqued somewhat. But overall, it wasn’t enough to justify the rest of the story.

I remember being very disappointed when I read this book and wondering whether it might not be for the best that Marillier just hang up the Sevenwaters series altogether. Luckily (spoilers!), I did enjoy the last book in this series quite a bit, so that helped me recover from this reading experience. Luckily there are very few duds in her work, but this is definitely one of them.

Rating 6: The weakest Sevenwaters book of the lot with two main character, neither of whom are particularly interesting.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Seer of Sevenwaters” is on these Goodreads lists: Hidden Gems: YA-Fantasy Novels and Best Reconciliation Romance Books.

Find “Seer of Sevenwaters” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Bright and the Pale”

Book: “The Bright and the Pale” by Jessica Rubinkowski

Publishing Info: Quill Tree Books, March 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Valeria is one of the only survivors of the freeze, a dark magical hold Knnot Mountain unleashed over her village. Everyone, including her family, is trapped in an unbreakable sheet of ice. Ever since, she’s been on the run from the Czar, who is determined to imprison any who managed to escape. Valeria finds refuge with the Thieves Guild, doing odd jobs with her best friend Alik, the only piece of home she has left.

That is, until he is brutally murdered.

A year later, she discovers Alik is alive and being held against his will. To buy his freedom, she must lead a group of cutthroats and thieves on a perilous expedition to the very mountain that claimed her family. Only something sinister slumbers in the heart of Knnot.

And it has waited years for release.

Review: Of course this new YA fantasy was marketed as similar to Leigh Bardugo’s work. If it’s not the Grisha series, it’s “Six of Crows. This nonsense has gotten completely out of hand. At this point, that comparison has been used so often (and so poorly) that it’s essentially meaningless. But, alongside the Leigh Bardugo comparison, this book was blurbed as being for fans of Katherine Arden’s “Winternight” trilogy, an all-time favorite series of mine recently. So that did the trick in getting me to pick this one up. Unfortunately, the book really doesn’t deserve either comparison…unless we’re back to the meaninglessness of the Leigh Bardugo spin where all it really signifies is that the book you’re about to pick up is a YA fantasy, which, then, yes.

To this point, Valeria’s life has been nothing but loss. First she lost her home and everyone she loved to a deep freeze. And later, after finding refuge in the Thieves Guild, she loses her best friend Alik to a brutal death. But she is also a survivor, eking out an existence beneath the very nose of the Czar who is out to silence anyone who has survived the freeze. Her life takes a turn, however, when she discovers that Alik is alive. Alive, but changed. To save him, she must venture back to the very place she fears most, the mountain that claimed her town to its cold power.

To get it out of the way from the start, this wasn’t a favorite read of mine. But the one thing I did enjoy, overall, was the world-building involved. Most especially, perhaps, the gods called the Bright and the Pale were very interesting. I liked the idea that neither is inherently good or bad, therefore choosing to follow one over the other doesn’t necessarily speak to any overall world-view or intent on an individual’s part. I also enjoyed the general world-building. It was easy to picture the frozen landscape and the ominous presence of the mountains and the magic that lurked there. The atmosphere itself worked very well for what the story was trying to accomplish.

However, I struggled to enjoy this book. The pacing was difficult, with a slow start that took quite a while to become engaging. This beginning was also hindered by a style of writing that too often veered into telling rather than showing, with information feeling squeezed into dialogue and in the narration in ways that felt unnatural and ponderous. The writing itself was rather clunky, and it took me several chapters to realize that part of the reason I was struggling with the book was the fact that I needed to re-read several sentences to try to piece together what the author was actually getting at. Hopefully, as I was reading an e-ARC, some of this will be cleaned up in edits (there were words missing from sentences even, though the sheer number of times this seemed to happen makes me think it might have just been a very poor writing style choice??).

Valeria was also not a character to write home about. There was nothing obviously wrong with her, and the attempts at giving her a dark back story with the loss of her home suited well enough. However, she still simply felt like every other YA heroine with “a past.” There wasn’t enough distinction to her voice or character to make her stand out from the increasingly crowded set of leading ladies in YA fantasy.

I also didn’t care for the romance or some of the twists in the story. I felt like most of the reveals were telegraphed way too early and too obviously to provide any sort of weight when they finally landed. And the romance struggled against some of the unlikable aspects of Alik’s character. There was too much time spent on him saying horrible things and then later apologizing for those same horrible things. From there, it just followed the typical YA romance arc without adding much or creating any real sizzle between these two.

Fans of Russian-inspired fairytales may enjoy this read, but I do think it has enough marks against it to not earn a strong recommendation. It definitely wasn’t for me, and I think there are likely better examples of similar works to read if one is looking for books like this. Katherine Arden’s “Winternight” series, for sure, and Naomi Novik’s “Spinning Silver,” come to mind.

Rating 6: A disappointing read that had promise but seemed to lack some of the writing proficiency needed to really pully it off.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bright and the Pale” are on these Goodreads lists: Monsters and Magic Society and 2021 Young Adult Debuts.

Find “The Bright and the Pale” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Whisper Down the Lane”

Book: “Whisper Down the Lane” by Clay McLeod Chapman

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, April 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, the critically acclaimed author of The Remaking delivers another pulse pounding, true-crime-based horror novel.

Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday—but Sean does . . .

Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbor, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favorite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation—and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.

Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies.

Review: Thank you to Quirk Books for sending me an eARC via NetGalley!

As a person who has very, shall we say, passionate feelings about certain topics, there are a few subjects that will send me off on rants, be they happy or angry or what have you. One of those topics that is of the ‘angry’ variety is that of Satanic Panic, a period in American History during the 1980s and early 1990s in which people started to believe that there were hidden Satanists all over who wanted nothing more than to molest children and sacrifice them and do other things horrible things all to please Satan. This led to a hysteria fueled by Evangelicals, unethical psychologists, manipulated testimonials, and daytime talk show hosts, and in turn led to a lot of people being unfairly accused of horrific things that didn’t happen, and it wrecked peoples lives. It is a subject that makes my blood boil (and it sure doesn’t help that with the rise of QAnon we are starting to see a new breed of secret Satan conspiracy theories in real time). This brings me to “Whisper Down the Lane” by Clay McLeod Chapman, which takes the infamous McMartin Preschool Trials and makes a novel about a man who, when he was a child, told lies about his Kindergarten teacher, and is now as an adult having lies told about him. I steeled myself, ready to be pissed as hell as I read. And reader, boy was I.

This very phrase uttered numerous times, but quieter as not to wake the sleeping husband beside me in bed. (source)

As “Whisper Down the Lane” is probably supposed to get you riled up, as a story it works. BOY does it work. We get to see a frustrating and also unsettling narrative about Richard, who has tried to forget that he is actually Sean, a boy who told many awful lies about his Kindergarten teacher Mr. Woodhouse, because he liked the attention and because he thought that he was doing what his mother wanted. The mystery of who has started stalking Richard as an adult and has started to try to ruin his life in the same way he ruined Mr. Woodhouse’s is a promising and enticing storyline, as the question is is someone after him, or is this a manifestation of his own repressed guilt? This in turn leads to some very creepy moments, and it also does a fantastic and cathartic dressing down of Satanic Panic and how it preyed upon the misguided fears of a lot of people, and in turn did a lot of damage. Instead of portraying Richard’s/Sean’s mom as a zealous true believer, we got to see a fairly normal single mother with understandable anxieties swept up into something that is untrue, as it take advantage of those anxieties. I didn’t LIKE her as a character, but I don’t think you are supposed to. But I also liked that Chapman gave her some grace, showing that it was this horror of something happening to her son, and then the horror realizing that something HADN’T, that had some tragic fallout. Chapman does draw some really insightful parallels to Satanic Panic of the 80s and the whackadoo and dangerous conspiracy theories that we are seeing today (not just Q shit but also School Shooting False Flag shit).

But there was a big issue I had with “Whisper Down the Lane”. The same grace that is afforded to his mother isn’t REALLY afforded to Richard/Sean. One of the really awful things about Satanic Panic (in a real soup of MANY AWFUL THINGS) is that this strange obsession with Satanists preying upon children in turn led to many children being manipulated to not only tell lies, but also to start believing the lies that some really HORRIFIC things happened to them. While Richard’s/Sean’s actions absolutely fueled what ultimately happens to Mr. Woodhouse, I don’t feel like enough attention and culpability was put upon the adults who fed him that narrative. Sure, that means his Mom, a bit anyway, but what about the authorities? What about the crackpot psychologist who bullies him into lying in the first place (these were the worst parts for me, the transcripts of the interviews)? What about the talk show host who propped him up AS A CHILD as an arbiter or truth and justice and added even more lies into it? While we feel a true amount of anger towards them, I felt that there was definitely too much of Richard blaming himself, with no pushback against that thinking whatsoever. I don’t need a long and winding speech about ‘you were just a child, Sean!’. But I also don’t want to see that perfectly reasonable ‘you were LITERALLY FIVE’ argument be tossed aside as not good enough. It just felt a little too much like ‘and now you’re getting some just desserts’ in a situation where just desserts shouldn’t be sent his way. At least not to the extent they are. And had I not been able to see where this entire thing was going from pretty early on, this may have been a little forgivable. But the mystery itself wasn’t that shocking or surprising. True, some red herrings get thrown in here and there, but they weren’t explored enough to make me feel like they were actual contenders for a solution.

In some ways “Whisper Down the Lane” missed the mark for me. It’s very possible it is because this is a topic that really touches a nerve for me, so I don’t necessarily want people to write it off. As an examination the horrible things Satanic Panic did, it’s very effective. I just wish it had been a little more discerning in where to place the lion’s share of blame, because as it it feels more like a morality tale than the multi layered tragedy it could have been.

Rating 6: A lot of promise, but a somewhat obvious solution and misdirected blame made “Whisper Down the Lane” a bit of let down for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Whisper Down the Lane” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Releases”, and it would fit in on “Satanic Panic”.

Find “Whisper Down the Lane” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Wild Sign”

Book: “Wild Sign” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace Books, March 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: In the wilds of the Northern California mountains, all the inhabitants of a small town have gone missing. It’s as if the people picked up and left everything they owned behind. Fearing something supernatural might be going on, the FBI taps a source they’ve consulted in the past: the werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. But Charles and Anna soon find a deserted town is the least of the mysteries they face.

Death sings in the forest, and when it calls, Charles and Anna must answer. Something has awakened in the heart of the California mountains, something old and dangerous — and it has met werewolves before.

Previously Reviewed: “Burn Bright”

Review: If you go back and read my review of the previous book in the “Alpha and Omega” series, you’ll see that I was…less than thrilled with that entry. My concerns from that book spanned both this series as well as the “Mercy Thompson” books. But as my review earlier this week demonstrated, that series managed to sidestep the implications of the events in “Burn Bright.” But I was always a bit more concerned with how the next book in this series would do, given that Bran is more of a main character here. And, well, Briggs tries to walk it back a bit, I guess. But unfortunately the distraction offered in the main plot just introduces another frustration of mine.

Old things live in the dark wilds of the forest. And if you stay on the path, maybe you’ll miss the dangers lurking there. But when an entire town’s worth of people go missing, what lurks in the shades of the trees leaves a mark to big to ignore. Anna and Charles are called into action to track down the mystery. Where do you start, though, when all of the victims seem to have vanished into the air leaving behind no trace? Clues exist however in rumors of a powerful force that once lived there centuries before and may have faced werewolves before.

So, I did like this book overall. It’s hard, however, to write a review without taking up tons of wordcount on how this book deals with the fallout of the previous one. Or getting sucked into a long commentary piece on my frustrations with one particular aspect of it that I’m beginnig to struggle with more and more. So…I’ll try to write a fairly general bit before getting into any of that.

Overall, I liked the villain at the heart of this story. Its powers and backstory were very unique and interesting and left me guessing for much of the story. I was able to piece a few bits together early on, but there were a number of genuine surprises throughout that really helped build towards the final conflict. The action and threat-level felt high when it needed too, and there was a underlying sense of doom that pervaded the book in a really nice, creepy way.

I also liked what we got from Charles and Anna. Brother Wolf, the personified version of Charles’s wolf half was given more to say/do here and it was almost like having an entire third character. Might be a bit unfortunate, though, when your wolf character is more interesting than the two humans. Not that Charles and Anna are bad characters, but they still seem a bit dull and one-note, especially in comparison to the characters in the Mercy Thompson series.

The book also introduces a few chapters from Leah’s perspective. On the surface, this is a good thing. The story largely has to do with events in her history, and it’s great seeing inside the head of a character who has been at the heart of so much conflict earlier in the series and even in the “Mercy Thompson” series. It seems clear that by doing this Briggs is attempting to respond to the criticism of the previous book. Her history is such that Bran’s actions in her life are highly criticized by both Charles and Anna. Briggs also seems to try to build up a more true relationship between Leah and Bran with Bran needing to deal with his own past actions and open up to Leah more. It’s all well and good, I guess, but, really, it just makes the previous book’s “reveal” about Bran’s feelings for Mercy feel more about of place. This book not only doesn’t address that but seems to want to just paint over that with some alternative history in which Bran does care for Leah and that whole Mercy thing…never happened.

But when diving into Leah’s history, Briggs steps right into another big problem that I have. I’ve already struggled with the fact that both of Briggs’ leading ladies has a history of being a rape victim. Several SFF authors have written about how pervasive this particular trauma is within the genre and how unfortunate that fact is. Here are two of my favorite pieces, one by Seanan McGuire and one by Sarah Gailey. Each tackles the topic much more thoroughly and eloquently than I can.

Unfortunately, this book not only includes another rape attempt on our main character, but gives the only other POV female character we have a history of rape as well. Now all three POV female characters we’ve had in both series have experienced this particular trauma. Beyond that, the topic is placed firmly at the center of the conflict in this book. I wouldn’t have a problem with that fact on its own if it wasn’t for this established history of using it for our two other main characters. It not only begins to feel a bit much, but Briggs is falling into the exact trap that McGuire and Gailey discuss in their pieces: that somehow rape and sexual assault are almost necessary traumas that female heroes must go through in the ever-chased goal of “character development” and “added depth.” And in Leah’s case, particularly, it almost seems to be used as a way to excuse her abusive treatment of Mercy in the past. The entire thing reads as lazy and uninventive at best and as exploitative at worst.

So, there you go. Another book in this series that’s hard to evaluate based only on the merits of the story itself, but instead gets stuck in challenging topics that outweigh much of the rest. At this point, I’m sure I’ll still continue to read this series if there are more to come. But I’m on high alert now with this author and if these topics continue to come up in this manner, it might be time to throw in the towel.

Rating 6: A solid story is marred by the unfortunate, recurring use of sexual assault as a character-building tactic.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wild Sign” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on this funny-titled one: My Vampire Book Obsession Book Boyfriends

Find “Wild Sign” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Girls Are All So Nice Here”

Book: “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, March 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Two former best friends return to their college reunion to find that they’re being circled by someone who wants revenge for what they did ten years before—and will stop at nothing to get it—in this shocking psychological thriller about ambition, toxic friendship, and deadly desire.

A lot has changed in the years since Ambrosia Wellington graduated from college, and she’s worked hard to create a new life for herself. But then an invitation to her ten-year reunion arrives in the mail, along with an anonymous note that reads “We need to talk about what we did that night.”

It seems that the secrets of Ambrosia’s past—and the people she thought she’d left there—aren’t as buried as she’d believed. Amb can’t stop fixating on what she did or who she did it with: larger-than-life Sloane “Sully” Sullivan, Amb’s former best friend, who could make anyone do anything.

At the reunion, Amb and Sully receive increasingly menacing messages, and it becomes clear that they’re being pursued by someone who wants more than just the truth of what happened that first semester. This person wants revenge for what they did and the damage they caused—the extent of which Amb is only now fully understanding. And it was all because of the game they played to get a boy who belonged to someone else, and the girl who paid the price.

Alternating between the reunion and Amb’s freshman year, The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a shocking novel about the brutal lengths girls can go to get what they think they’re owed, and what happens when the games we play in college become matters of life and death.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Having gone to a large public university (two, really, as I transferred after freshman year from one U of MN campus to another) and having only lived in the dorm for one year, I didn’t really find myself caught up in any dorm drama or scandals. Perhaps my dorm was just boring, or perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough. The closest I got was having a roommate with whom I initially bumped heads (but even that doesn’t really count because now she’s one of my dearest friends). But I guess that I can believe that such things do happen. And “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn is steeped, and I mean STEEPED, in the poisonous shenanigans that some college kids get up to while living on campus. I’ll admit that I was just picturing Danielle from “Happy Death Day” as I read the description. And while I wasn’t too far off, it didn’t rise to the occasion that I was anticipating.

Danielle and Tree play my expectations when they’re smacked back to reality. (source)

“The Girls Are All So Nice Here” has some pretty good hits, and a few glaring misses. I’ll start with the hits, however, as there were definitely things that worked really well. We have ourselves a mystery at hand. Our narrator, Amb, has done her best to leave her college days behind and forget about them. She has a kind husband, lives in New York, and has cultivated a scandal free life. But when her college reunion looms, she starts getting strange messages from an anonymous person saying that they need to ‘talk about what they did that night’. The story is Amb going back to the school to find out who is sending the messages, and we as the readers slowly get to find out what it is she did, through flashbacks and the present day reunion weekend. It’s a device that we’ve seen before, but it works well here as Flynn carefully peels back the layers of Amb’s freshman year, and her relationships. Specifically those she had with her then best friend Sully, the resident mean girl, and Flora, Amb’s sweet and well loved roommate. I will say that what we find out is pretty damn upsetting, with mean girl bullshit spiraling out of control, jealousy and pettiness getting the best of people, and the entitlement thinking one deserves more than they have leading to very bad things. I’m being vague deliberately, because the plot itself is well done. When I thought a character couldn’t stoop lower, she did. When I thought that a twist was one thing, it ended up being something else. A couple reveals felt a bit convenient, but ultimately I was enjoying the ride enough that it didn’t put me too off.

What didn’t work as well for me were the characterizations of the various players in our toxic soup of a story. I definitely understand having garbage people being at the forefront in a story like this, and I don’t have a problem with following an unreliable narrator who is also an unlikable and nasty person. But I think that if you are going to do that, I would like a little bit of exploration as to what it is that makes them that way, or at least make them wickedly entertaining in their nastiness. With Amb, we get a lot of telling that she is insecure, that she is jealous of Flora and how easy it is for ‘girls like her’, but there wasn’t really much in Amb’s background that we see that made me fully see the complexities that go with this kind of dangerous coveting and jealousy that leads to very bad things. Sully, too, is just nasty with no reason or exploration into her nastiness. We just see she’s horrible and that’s all we get from her, and she isn’t interesting enough to even make it fun to hate her. Perhaps one would think that Flora may get a bit of depth here, given that she is the one who is hurt the most by Amb and Sully, but no. Flora is your two dimensional really nice girl that is there to be a martyr. Even when she talks with Amb or other characters talk about her with Amb in the past and the present, all we know about Flora is SUPER sweet which, sure, makes your blood boil when Amb and Sully treat her like crap. But that only gets me so far.

So while the plot was engrossing and had some genuine tricks up its sleeves, “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” was a fairly run of the mill thriller about women behaving badly. It gets the job done, but it probably could have done more.

Rating 6: A twisty thriller with some fun surprises, “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” will keep you guessing, but doesn’t have anyone to root for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girls Are All So Nice Here” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2021”.

Find “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Monthly Marillier: “Child of the Prophecy”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Child of the Prophecy” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor, June 2003

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Magic is fading… and the ways of Man are driving the Old Ones to the West, beyond the ken of humankind. The ancient groves are being destroyed, and if nothing is done, Ireland will lose its essential mystic core.

The prophecies of long ago have foretold a way to prevent this horror, and it is the Sevenwaters clan that the Spirits of Eire look to for salvation. They are a family bound into the lifeblood of the land, and their promise to preserve the magic has been the cause of great joy to them… as well as great sorrow.

It is up to Fainne, daughter of Niamh, the lost sister of Sevenwaters, to solve the riddles of power. She is the shy child of a reclusive sorcerer, and her way is hard, for her father is the son of the wicked sorceress Oonagh, who has emerged from the shadows and seeks to destroy all that Sevenwaters has striven for. Oonagh will use her granddaughter Fainne most cruelly to accomplish her ends, and stops at nothing to see her will done.

Will Fainne be strong enough to battle this evil and save those she has come to love?

Review: Several years after the events in “Son of the Shadows,” we meet Fainne, the daughter of Niamh, Liadan’s lost sister. Growing up in practical isolation, and with the loss of her mother early in life and a reclusive father, Faine’s life has been one of quiet and seclusion. In many ways, Faine feels that she and her father aren’t simply hiding from his cruel, sorceress mother, Oonagh, but they are hiding from their own dark potential. But when the currents shift and Faine is forced out into the world and finds herself in her mother’s ancestral home of Sevenwaters, Faine must begin to make choices about her own future. Will she follow in her grandmother’s footsteps? Or will she choose a new way like her aunt and maternal grandmother before her?

By the time I got to this book, I’d actually read a few of Marillier’s other works. This was probably for the best as this is one of my less favorite of her books. It’s kind of surprising, because overall, I think her Sevenwaters series has been one of her biggest draws to her fantasy readership. But for me, something felt off about this book almost from the start. However, let’s talk about the things I liked, first off.

Marillier’s writing is almost freakish in its consistency. If you read a lot of her books, you’ll soon be able to immediately recognize her unique style of lyrical prose and straightforward storytelling. There’s a sense of wonder and comfort in much of her work, even as she touches on some dark topics. Every word feels delicate and intentional. There’s no denying the craftmanship of her work, and that was all on display here, especially when working with a character like Faine who is very different than the leading ladies who came before her.

I also liked seeing some familiar faces again. I, of course, really enjoyed Liadan and Bran’s story, so it was great seeing them again. It was also interesting to see side characters who had grown into roles they had just begun in “Son of the Shadows.” Sean, for example, has now been leader of Sevenwaters for over a decade. We also see Aisling, his wife, in her role as the lady of Sevenwaters. And, most jarring but also best of all, we get to see a grown Johnny balancing his role as heir to Sevenwaters and presumed fulfiller of the much-debated prophesy that has sat at the heart of the story from the start.

The problem with all of this, however, is that these side characters, both the very familiar, like Liadan and Bran, and the less so, like Johnny, are more intriguing than Faine. Much of Marillier’s work lives and dies on the strength of her characters. Most of her books are slow on the action and heavy on the introspection. So that main character has a lot of heavy lifting to do. And unfortunately, Faine just isn’t up to it. To some extent, I appreciate the challenges that Faine represents. Liadan and Sorcha were almost perfect women, so it’s refreshing to see Marillier tackling a heroine who faces challenges both physical and emotional. Faine walks with a limp, and due to her reclusive lifestyle, she struggles to form connections and maintain relationships. These parts of her character I thought were very well-drawn, and it was interesting watching her learn to piece together human interactions with people who are family in name only to her.

Unfortunately, her naivety turns into almost willful stupidity at points. Her concern of the darkness within her drives her actions past the point of reason. It’s hard to be sympathetic at points when events around her and those who would seek to use her are less than subtle. She does some pretty bad stuff for some pretty weak reasons. And much of her motivation seems weak and more told to the reader than shown in any way that would make it truly threatening feeling.

I also really disliked the romance. It’s not that it was bad, and the hero had his charming, appealing moments. But in comparison to the deep, well-drawn relationships that came in the books before, this one just feels shallow and uninteresting in comparison. I never felt any real chemistry between these characters, and there was very little tension in the proceedings. Some dramatic events happen towards the end, but even then, what should have been heavy hits felt fairly removed for me. I just didn’t care that much.

Of the original trilogy, this book is the weakest by far. It had a really interesting premise, featuring a character who has grown up more on the fringes of Sevenwaters and its stretching legacy, but several aspects of the book just felt a bit off. Faine wasn’t nearly as compelling as Sorcha and Liadan. And the romance felt stilted and thin. It’s still worth reading, however, if you’re a fan of the series as some pretty significant events occur and many of the mysteries laid down in the first two books are resolved. Events that occur here will also be referred to loosely in the second trilogy in the series.

Rating 6: Underwhelming after the flashes of mastery that were the first two books in the trilogy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Child of the Prophecy” is on these Goodreads lists: Great Celtic Fiction and Myth and Folktale Retellings.

Find “Child of the Prophecy” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Fireheart Tiger”

Book: “Fireheart Tiger” by Aliette De Bodard

Publishing Info: Tor.com, February 2021

Where Did I get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.

Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.

Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?

Review: I’ll admit that this was another book that pulled me in on the strength of the cover art alone. I mean, that’s just a gorgeous cover, and there’s no second opinion about it! The description comparing it to “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “The Goblin Emperor” couldn’t help but add more intrigue. Plus, it’s a novella, which I haven’t read one of for quite a while. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to all of those expectations!

Life as a political hostage is not easy, but then no one ever expects it to be. More surprising for Thanh, a princess returning home at long last, is that her homecoming proves to have its own set of challenges. Haunted by a first love now thrown back in her path who sees her own path forward, Thanh begins to understand that she will need to evolve. As a passive hostage, her life had been simple. But as princess, wielding great power and responsibility, she has choices, some of which could impact the future of her entire country.

While I can think of several good examples of novellas that I’ve read in the past (Seanan McGuire’s entire “Wayward Children” series, for example), unfortunately, this book highlights much of how to do them wrong. With the strict word count limit imposed on writing a shorter story, the author has to be incredibly efficient with world-building and character development. And even then, you can’t spend too much time on it, necessitating that both the world, story, and character are fairly interesting and compelling on their own from the very start. And in these key areas, this book fails the test.

Particularly, Thanh herself is a fairly paper-thin character. She doesn’t stand out in any bad ways, but she’s also not very interesting and lacks the charisma needed to drive a short story like this. Her lack of a strong voice makes the necessary info-dumping portions of the story stand out more than they should. Beyond that, I found the character to be a bit unlikable, seeming to wallow in self-pity more often than not and easily distracted by her own personal dramas over the larger state of affairs going on around her.

I also was very uninvested in the love interest and romance of this story. We simply aren’t given enough here to care. Ephteria’s attraction is almost entirely contained in the author’s telling rather than showing style. She has blue eyes…that’s about all we get. But Thanh spends pages upon pages obsessing over her, and the readers are stuck there with her, just not understanding why. The thin depiction of this relationship is mirrored in Thanh’s other relationships as well, with her mother, and with another young girl she befriends.

Beyond this, the writing didn’t work for me. I found it often to be jarring and uninspired, pulling out cliches when you’d most expect them and not helping to build any tension as the story worked its way through its plot points. The dialogue was at times particularly egregious, with some of the villains just one mustache-twirl away from being comical.

There may have been a good story here somewhere if the author had had more word-count to work on. But I’m also not convinced that the characters, world, or overall plot could have supported an increased page count. It’s kind of a chicken or the egg thing: did the page count limit the creativity of the characters and flow of the writing, or were these aspects weak on their own and would have just struggled more in a full-length novel?

Rating 6: Pretty disappointing overall. Though the cover is still one of the best I’ve seen in a while.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fireheart Tiger” is a new title so it isn’t on too many Goodreads list, but it is on Upcoming 2021 SFF Books With Female Leads or Co-Leads.

Find “Fireheart Tiger” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Revenge of the Sluts”

Book: “Revenge of the Sluts” by Natalie Walton

Publishing Info: Wattpad Books, February 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Double standards are about to get singled out.

In this stunning debut, author Natalie Walton tackles privacy and relationships in the digital age.

As a lead reporter for The Warrior Weekly, Eden has covered her fair share of stories at St. Joseph’s High School. And when intimate pictures of seven female students are anonymously emailed to the entire school, Eden is determined to get to the bottom of it.

In tracking down leads, Eden is shocked to discover not everyone agrees the students are victims. Some people feel the girls “brought it on themselves.” Even worse, the school’s administration seems more concerned about protecting its reputation than its students.

With the anonymous sender threatening more emails, Eden finds an unlikely ally: the seven young women themselves. Banding together to find the perpetrator, the tables are about to be turned. The Slut Squad is fighting back!

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I thank my lucky stars that I got out of high school before social media became a huge thing, because my GOD I don’t know if I would have survived it all. I went to a prestigious and rigorous prep school, and as someone who was a bit of a weirdo who, for some time, bore the brunt of my meaner classmates, I can’t even imagine what might have happened if Snapchat, Tik Tok, or the like were available (I’m old, are those still popular with the youths?). “Revenge of the Sluts” by Natalie Walton addresses a number of the things that make my heart hurt when it comes to stories of teenage bullying and cruelty, specifically that of girls who send nudes to people they think they can trust, only to find their trust broken and their bodies exposed for laughs, revenge, or what have you. When I saw this book on NetGalley, I knew that I had to read it.

“The Revenge of the Sluts” is a VERY fast read that kept me interested, as I pretty much read it in one day during a long weekend. The mystery of who leaked the nudes of seven high school girls is technically the heart of this book, but it felt more like an examination of the difficulties of high school life for girls in modern society. I really enjoyed Eden, our protagonist and intrepid student reporter who is investigating the invasive and cruel leak of nude selfies of seven of her classmates. While Eden wasn’t a target herself, she and co-journalist/editor in chief Ronnie not only see a huge story, but a number of girls who deserve justice and deserve to have their voices heard. Eden has a few more layers to it as well, as she too has sent nude photos of herself in the past to her ex boyfriend, and while he never shared them so that they could potentially be leaked, she knows that she was just as vulnerable.

I liked that Walton brings up all of the complicated messy issues about teen dating and sex. Such things include the pressures that some may feel do do things that they may not want to do, and the self autonomy that others have to be comfortable in their sexuality which can lead to stigma and punishment from others when that is put on display. The victims are a wide variety, with some enjoying casual hook ups and sexual exploration, and others being in monogamous relationships with people they are supposed to be able to trust. Walton never frames any of these girls as anything but victims, and I really liked that we get to explore double standards when it comes to boy vs girl sexuality and the expectations that is foisted on the two, many times unfairly. I also liked the frustrating but probably pretty realistic subplot of the mishandling of the scandal by the school and the greater community, as the girls are treated less as victims and more as, well, ‘sluts’, like in the title.

Therein, however, lies some of the weaknesses in this book as well. These messages and themes are absolutely important, especially for teen readers who may have to navigate such things in their lives. But some of the lessons were presented in really awkward and clunky ways. Many times we would have these teachable moments with characters going into long lectures or diatribes about consent, bodily autonomy, double standards, and misogyny which felt like they were lifted from educational or resource materials. There would be debates between characters that go the way that one would expect from an after school special as opposed to an actual conversation between classmates or friends. It ended up making things feel a bit canned and packaged, and while I know that the YA audience may like things a bit more straight forward, I think that authors need to give teens a little more credit in how they can process the messages being conveyed.

All in all, I thought that “Revenge of the Sluts” had a few hiccups here and there in execution, but the themes and statements behind that are too important for me to write it off completely. It’s quick and engaging, and I hope that it can help people who may be going through the bad things it addresses.

Rating 7: A quick and entertaining read that often treads towards clunky monologues and lecturing, “Revenge of the Sluts” has good messages about bodily autonomy, consent, and rape culture, even if it felt a little canned.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Revenge of the Sluts” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Girls Take on the Patriarchy”, and “Best Books to Read When You Need a Reminder of Why Feminism Is Important”.

Find “Revenge of the Sluts” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Winterkeep”

Book: “Winterkeep” by Kristin Cashore

Publishing Info: Dial Books For Young Readers, January 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Four years after “Bitterblue” left off, a new land has been discovered to the east: Torla; and the closest nation to Monsea is Winterkeep. Winterkeep is a land of miracles, a democratic republic run by people who like each other, where people speak to telepathic sea creatures, adopt telepathic foxes as pets, and fly across the sky in ships attached to balloons.

But when Bitterblue’s envoys to Winterkeep drown under suspicious circumstances, she and Giddon and her half sister, Hava, set off to discover the truth–putting both Bitterblue’s life and Giddon’s heart to the test when Bitterbue is kidnapped. Giddon believes she has drowned, leaving him and Hava to solve the mystery of what’s wrong in Winterkeep.

Lovisa Cavenda is the teenage daughter of a powerful Scholar and Industrialist (the opposing governing parties) with a fire inside her that is always hungry, always just nearly about to make something happen. She is the key to everything, but only if she can figure out what’s going on before anyone else, and only if she’s willing to transcend the person she’s been all her life.

Review: Well, we’ve finally arrived at the long-awaited (really, was anyone actually waiting on this? I think it took most fans by surprise!) fourth book in the “Gracely Realm” series. I’ve enjoyed my re-read so far, though the high of the first two has definitely been dampened by what I felt was a lackluster showing in “Bitterblue”. But given that it has been almost a decade since that book was published, I was curious to see which version of the author’s writing we’d get here: the fast-action, heartstring- pulling story that we saw in the first two, or the more slow, somewhat bloated story that was last one?

It’s been four years since the events of “Bitterblue” and the world has once again expanded. Winterkeep is a distant land whose society is largely focused on politics and industry. With fantastical airships and the knowledge of powerful resources, Winterkeep’s society is at an impasse over the progression of its industry over the environmental effects of some of the resources needed to power those advancements. When two of her envoys die under mysterious circumstances, Bitterblue takes it upon herself to visit this distant land. Things quickly go wrong, and she and her party are left to unravel the mystery at the heart of Winterkeep alongside a local teenage girl, Lovisa, whose parents are somehow connected to it all.

So, I’ll just get it out of the way early: this, sadly, fell much more into the “Bitterblue” school of book than the “Graceling” type which in turn means it was a bit of a disappointment for me. But I’ll start with what I did like. In many ways, I feel like the writing was stronger in this book than in “Bitterblue.” That book was almost oppressively gloomy and serious, whereas here, while the story still tackled serious topics and had darker moments, there were also several funny lines and observations throw in. Bitterblue herself was a much more likable character for having some of these funnier lines/thoughts early in the book which immediately endeared her to me.

I also liked Giddon’s chapters. He was a strong point in “Bitterblue,” so it was great to see Cashore recognize his potential and make him a POV character here. His relationship with Bitterblue was also much more interesting in that book than her romance with Saf, so I was happy to see their friendship/romance take precedence. We also get chapters from a telepathic fox, a special type of animal that is common in Winterkeep and bonds with humans, as well as chapters from a mysterious ocean monster.

But I struggled to connect to Lovisa, and that proved to be a fairly large failing for my enjoyment of the story. As the only native human character we have for Winterkeep, much of the world-building and deeper insight into this world comes through this character. I think there are a few problems here. For one thing, Lovisa simply didn’t have a strong inner voice or particularly compelling character. Those funny lines I mentioned with Bitterblue? None to be found with Lovisa. I’m not asking for a joke a minute, but her voice simply didn’t have any particular aspect to it that made it stand out, which leads to my second problem.

Much of Lovisa’s chapters and inner thoughts are devoted to long reflections on Winterkeep’s political situation and the challenges of balancing industry and environmentalism. Fairly early in the book, I read one of her chapters that devoted almost half of her page count to long paragraphs on these topics. And there simply wasn’t much there! The entire “debate” about environmentalism is a very thinly veiled depiction of our own struggles in this world. And the politics involved are just the same, a very watered down version of the U.S. two party system with entrenched viewpoints on both sides. There are plenty of good ways of using a fantasy novel to get out modern debates, but these were so washed out and thin that they didn’t actually get at any new ideas or add anything of value to the overall conversation. Plus it’s a fantasy novel which usually gives authors a lot of creative leeway to present these ideas in unique and interesting ways. Not so here, unfortunately. The two parties are called the Scholars and Industrialists, for heaven’s sake! And poor Lovisa’s chapters are just full of this stuff, going on and on.

Which gets to my final complaint: this book is way too long. Just like “Bitterblue,” the story begins to feel like a slog fairly early into the first third of the book. The action dies down, the mystery drags on and on, and then finally we get to the resolution, only to find that there’s a significant page count left to get through. In which, again, nothing much happens and the whole thing could have been wrapped up in half the time. This book seriously needed the firm hand of an editor who wasn’t afraid to make great big slashes through some of this.

By this point, it’s clear that Cashore is the type of author who likes to write about issues. Unfortunately, I feel like the books in which she focuses on this the most are her weakest. “Graceling” and “Fire” both touched on some pretty important topics about self-acceptance and the responsibility and dangers of great power. But when the stories delved into more broad topics like they did in “Bitterbue” and here, these issues seemed to consume the book, its characters, and any attempts to build up tension. Fans who enjoyed “Bitterblue” will probably be more pleased with this entry than those who struggled with that book.

Rating 6: Overall, pretty disappointing and bogged down by uninteresting takes on social and political statement pieces.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Winterkeep” is a newer book so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on YA Novels of 2021.

Find “Winterkeep” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Bitterblue”

Book: “Bitterblue” by Kristin Cashore

Publishing Info: Dial, May 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Eight years have passed since the young Princess Bitterblue, and her country, were saved from the vicious King Leck. Now Bitterblue is the queen of Monsea, and her land is at peace.

But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisers, who have run the country on her behalf since Leck’s death, believe in a forward-thinking plan: to pardon all of those who committed terrible acts during Leck’s reign; and to forget every dark event that ever happened. Monsea’s past has become shrouded in mystery, and it’s only when Bitterblue begins sneaking out of her castle – curious, disguised and alone – to walk the streets of her own city, that she begins to realise the truth. Her kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year long spell of a madman, and now their only chance to move forward is to revisit the past.

Whatever that past holds.

Two thieves, who have sworn only to steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, who possesses an unidentified Grace, may also hold a key to her heart . . .

Previously Reviewed: “Graceling” and “Fire”

Review: So this re-read has been one of discoveries so far. I discovered first that “Graceling” held up really well in the ten plus years since it was first published, even given the boom of similar YA fantasies novels that have come out since. I discovered that while I still prefer “Graceling” overall, I actually liked the romance in “Fire” better. And with “Bitterblue” I discovered…I actually hadn’t read this one before?? I own a copy, and I think I must have skimmed through it at some point, but a full, cover-to-cover read? Nope! Given my takeaway at the end of this read, I suspect I may have skimmed some Goodreads reviews when this came out and put it on the back-burner, being a bit wary. Because, yes, for me, this was quite the step down from the highs of “Graceling” and “Fire.”

Bitterblue has been queen of Monsea since she was ten and her sociopathic father was killed at the hands of Bitterblue’s strongest protector, Katsa. In the years since, Bitterblue has struggled to put her broken country back together. But with endless paperwork and little contact with her actual people, Bitterblue begins to suspect that her efforts aren’t accomplishing much. She takes matters into her own hands and sneaks out to wander the streets of her city and see the state of things for herself. What she discovers opens the floodgates and she is suddenly overwhelmed with all of the mysteries and secrets that have lurked from the time of her cruel father’s reign.

So, overall, I really didn’t love this book. It was so surprising and disappointing to have a reaction like this after just loving both books that came before! But, unfortunately, I think there were several things that worked against it. Not least of which is the fact that I think that even its strengths ultimately work against it when compared to the books that came before. Namely that Cashore’s strengths for creating interesting new worlds and great fantastical elements weren’t allowed any room to grow here. We’ve already been introduced to Monsea, and while the story does show us around the city itself and has some new things to add here, the world itself is largely familiar. The magic, too, is familiar. We may meet a few new Gracelings, but their abilities and their place in the world are already understood. So, too, we already know about the Seven Realms and, largely, how they differ from one another and interact with each other. All of this works to undercut much of what made the first two books so great: Cashore’s deeply imaginative new worlds and magic systems.

And while both of the first two books were slower reads overall, this one really seemed to drag on. It’s much longer than the first two, and nothing in the story really justifies this length. Bitterblue is constantly beset with new mysteries and new roadblocks on any progress she’s making on the ones that came before. More than once she simply gives up and returns to her paperwork in her tower. This is just as boring and anti-climatic for the reader as it’s said to be for her. What’s more, many of the mysteries are built around the seemingly crazy actions of many of the characters around her. But they are so random and so off-the-wall that with the lack of understanding around them comes also the lack of caring. Unlike the books before where it felt like clues were being laid down that reader’s could begin to piece together for themselves (part of what kept the pacing better in those books), here, it all feels too disconnected to any logic or overall plan to really engage the reader.

I also really, really disliked the romance in this book. This was truly shocking as the other books in this series had two of my favorite romances ever. But here, nothing really works about it. Saf is a terrible romantic hero. When he’s not annoyingly immature (it’s never a good sign when you’re heroine herself calls the hero this and she’s completely right!), he’s outright rude and mean to Bitterblue. And all of this is when he’s even on the page at all, for there are large chunks of the story where he’s nowhere to be seen. From a personal reading perspective, his absence isn’t missed as when he was around I was mostly frustrated by him. But from the perspective of trying to build a compelling romance, it’s hard to do when you’re romantic hero is nowhere to be found for the last half of the book. And the end was only satisfying because it was ultimately unsatisfying, essentially!

I did like Bitterblue as a character, but I think the romance and the plodding storyline both did her a massive disserve. It was also confusing trying to understand why Bitterblue was suddenly noticing all of these things around her. Presumably she’s been acting as queen for the last 8 years, and while she was too young initially to take notice, it’s hard to understand what was distracting her from it all for the last few years. There’s no obvious impetus for any of it, really. “Winterkeep” will also feature Bitterblue, so I’m excited to see how the character fares when put in a different (hopefully better!) story. We’ll find out next week when we finally get to “Winterkeep” itself!

Rating 6: Very disappointing. It has some serious weaknesses on its own, but it’s definitely not helped by the fact that the two before it were such hits for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bitterblue” is on these Goodreads lists: YA Second World Fantasy and Best Kick-Ass Female Characters From YA and Children’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Find “Bitterblue” at your library using WorldCat!