Serena’s Review: “Heartwood Box”

41541611Book: “Heartwood Box” by Ann Aguirre

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, July 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley!

Book Description: In this tiny, terrifying town, the lost are never found. When Araceli Flores Harper is sent to live with her great-aunt Ottilie in her ramshackle Victorian home, the plan is simple. She’ll buckle down and get ready for college. Life won’t be exciting, but she’ll cope, right?

Wrong. From the start, things are very, very wrong. Her great-aunt still leaves food for the husband who went missing twenty years ago, and local businesses are plastered with MISSING posters. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city limits that the locals don’t talk about. Ever. When she starts receiving mysterious letters that seem to be coming from the past, she suspects someone of pranking her or trying to drive her out of her mind. To solve these riddles and bring the lost home again, Araceli must delve into a truly diabolical conspiracy, but some secrets fight to stay buried…

Review: This was an impulse request mostly because I was in the mood for something creepy and the title/cover art combo seemed to fit those criteria pretty well. The description of a teenager discovering the mysteries of a strange, small town just cemented by interest. But while the book does deliver on what it sets out to do, it didn’t quite match up with what I was looking for.

Araceli doesn’t know what to expect when she shows up at the small town where her great-aunt lives. But a town full of missing people and mysterious happenings in the woods surrounding it is not what she had in mind for her visit. Soon enough these mysteries end up knocking on her own door and curiosity and bewilderment quickly turn into fear and a fight for not only her future, but those who have been lost before her.

This is a tough book to evaluate, mostly due to the fact that it’s just not the type of book I read often. And for the reason that I typically don’t enjoy them as much as others. I’m not sure where the line is between “contemporary fantasy” and “urban fantasy,” but there definitely is one and it’s enough to make me greatly prefer the latter to the former. In this book’s case, there were a few aspects of the former that didn’t quite fit with what I was looking for.

First, our main character, Araceli. Most of the fantasy fiction that I read that features young protagonists is set in a world or time period where a young age doesn’t mean the same thing it does here. Teenagers often find themselves in very adult situations and it is perfectly normal that they be there. And, in fact, they have often been raised to expect to operate in an adult fashion by this age. This makes many YA fantasy novels essentially read as adult fantasy novels (I won’t start up again on the marketing mechanisms behind these choices).

So in part I’m simply not used to reading teenagers that, well, act like teenagers. It’s not really the fault of the book that Araceli is a believable teen and thus often makes poor decisions. But I won’t concede some of the dialogue. Teenage characters don’t have to sound immature in their speaking, and there were often bits of both her actual voiced comments as well as the commentary in her head that read as even more juvenile than necessary for belivablilty.

My other main struggle came down to genre confusion. Simply put, there are too many genres and genre conventions vying for page time in this book. I had a hard time settling in to any one type of story. Some genre blending is to be expected, but this one had a bit too much on its hands with fantasy, thriller, horror, and mystery all packed in. I think it was more a fault of blending than anything. It felt a bit too obvious when the story switched from one genre focus to another, reading as bumpy and jarring rather than a smooth, unnoticeable transition.

The mystery of the story is good, though the comparison to “Stranger Things” is a bit too on the nose. I mean, creepy woods. Dudes in bio-hazard outfits. People disappearing. We get it. But still, I was intrigued enough about discovering what exactly was going on that I was able to get through my general frustration with the main character and some bumpy writing.

Essentially, if you’re a fan of contemporary YA fiction and enjoy a fantasy/horror aspect to your tale, you might really like “Heartwood Box.” Most of my complaints for this one are purely my own preference, so take that with what you will. I do think the writing lacks a bit to be desired overall, but that’s not a deal breaker if this kind of story is your thing.

Rating 6: Not for me. “Realistic” teenagers apparently annoy me too much.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Heartwood Box” is  a new title and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it should be on “YA Fantasy Set in the Real World.”

Find “Heartwood Box” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Age of Legend”

22819354Book: “Age of Legend” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Grim Oak Press, July 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: With “Age of Myth,” “Age of Swords,” and “Age of War,” fantasy master Michael J. Sullivan riveted readers with a tale of unlikely heroes locked in a desperate battle to save mankind. After years of warfare, humanity has gained the upper hand and has pushed the Fhrey to the edge of their homeland, but no farther. Now comes the pivotal moment. Persephone’s plan to use the stalemate to seek peace is destroyed by an unexpected betrayal that threatens to hand victory to the Fhrey and leaves a dear friend in peril. Her only hope lies in the legend of a witch, a forgotten song, and a simple garden door.

Previously Reviewed: “Age of Myth” , “Age of Swords” and “Age of War”

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for the first three books in this review, so reader beware!

Review: I don’t know how many ways there are to write an introductory paragraph to a series of books that you’ve been raving about the entire time. Yes, more of the same! Loved, loved, loved it! Yada yada. So without any ado for that, let’s just jump into the book summary and actual discussion!

While humankind one a massive victory in the last book, one that also cost an enormous price, the war has now been dragging on for years. Persephone and her people have slowly pushed forward, and it’s clear that they pose a real threat to the Fhrey people. This growing fear results in the leaders of the Fhrey admitting one crucial fact: regardless of the “crudeness” of the human species, they have a powerful weapon in the form of Suri, the only human so far to master the Art, and thus she must be dealt with before all else. This realization sets off a tragic chain of events that can only be stopped by another band of characters setting off on an impossible mission, this time one that leads into the very heart of the Fhrey land.

Given the dramatic events in the previous book, it was inevitable that this one would read very differently. For one, the loss of Raithe is huge. Not only do we lose the man whose actions ultimately lead to this conflict and a pretty important POV character, but he had a lot of important connections to the other characters. His loss is felt by both the reader and these other characters. I very much appreciate the fact that Sullivan picked up the story at a few different time periods. By doing this, he allowed readers an insight into the thoughts and feelings of characters into this loss over a period of time. We see the initial loss and signs of grief (anger, regret, etc.), and we also see how this loss continues to play out as characters, especially Suri and Persephone, are forced to make difficult choices.

Suri’s burden is by far the heavier. The dragon she created with Raithe’s sacrifice was pretty much solely responsible for the humans’ victory. It is so powerful that the knowledge and use of this “spell,” for lack of a better word, is pretty much all it takes to win the war for one side of the other. But the price is incredibly high and Suri has had to pay it twice now. Naturally, her conclusion is that she must not love anyone or anything to avoid future tragedy. But she’s not alone in this war, and there are those on both sides of the fight who would pay dearly for her to use it again or to teach someone else how to wield this deadly ability.

Persephone, for her part, has to deal with the regret she feels for turning Raithe away with false words of disinterest all those years ago. Instead, she has had to follow the path she set out for herself, making practical decisions for the betterment of her people. These decisions have come with some joy, but also a lot of increased pain, worry, and self-sacrificed. The Persephone we see in this book is the worn-down leader, a war-time general who has been fighting for too long.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, one of the things that stands out the most in this series is Sullivan’s ability to juggle a large cast of characters and choose just the right POV character for every situation. We’re always seeing event through the perfect angle, and just when you begin wondering what so-and-so’s take would be on events, bam! They get the very next chapter! It all plays out so smoothly and at times it feels like the author is reading one’s mind with regards to what is needed next to keep this perfect juggling act in order. This being the case, there were several characters in this book who we got to see more POV chapters from and I very much enjoyed it.

I also loved the story itself, though it is a bit handicapped by the overall nature of the book. Sullivan provides and introduction to the work and in it explains that the book was originally one longer book that was split into two. This is pretty clear as one reads the book, and especially at the end (big cliffhanger warning there!). But this is a half-hearted complaint at worst. For one, in the hands of a more strict editor trying to force it into one book, we may have lost some of the early chapters that gave us earlier scenes in time than when the majority of the story takes place. We might have missed out on some of the important character work that was laid down in these chapters, especially dealing with the fall-out of Raithe’s death, as I mentioned above. This type of devotion to key character moments is what has allowed the series to maintain its large cast. So while the pacing of this story might have suffered for having to be split into two books, I would still prefer this result to the likely other option of reduced character moments in the service of plot.

Like I said, there’s a pretty major cliffhanger at the end of this book, but don’t let that deter you! I zipped through this book, and it has done all the work needed to set up the next one as even more thrilling. Definitely check it out! And don’t forget to enter for our current giveaway for an ARC version of the book. 

Rating 8: There aren’t really any new ways of praising this series other than to wag my finger at any epic fantasy readers who haven’t jumped on this wagon yet!

Reader’s Advisory

“Age of War” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be “Popular Ensemble Cast Books.”

Find “Age of War” at your library using WorldCat!

Giveaway: “Age of Legend”

22819354Book Description:With “Age of Myth,” “Age of Swords,” and “Age of War,” fantasy master Michael J. Sullivan riveted readers with a tale of unlikely heroes locked in a desperate battle to save mankind. After years of warfare, humanity has gained the upper hand and has pushed the Fhrey to the edge of their homeland, but no farther. Now comes the pivotal moment. Persephone’s plan to use the stalemate to seek peace is destroyed by an unexpected betrayal that threatens to hand victory to the Fhrey and leaves a dear friend in peril. Her only hope lies in the legend of a witch, a forgotten song, and a simple garden door.

Giveaway Details: I’ve been loving this series so far. It’s always great to find a new fantasy series to follow along. This series in particular has stood out due to Sullivan’s incredible work with a large ensemble cast of characters. Through the first three books, we’ve followed a handful of different characters and early work in the first book or two has paid off as characters have risen and fallen in important to each book’s unique plot.

This is technically a prequel series to Sullivan’s other works, but I haven’t read them and it doesn’t seem to be hindering my enjoyment. I’m sure for longtime fans, there are references I’m missing, but it stands well on its own.

It also stands out particularly well for its large cast of interesting female characters. Epic fantasy has come a long way since “Lord of the Rings” which, while lovely and amazing, has very few women characters and really only one notable (but awesome!) moment for any of them. Here, however, there are several including a powerful mystic, an inventor, and even the supreme leader of the human clans is a woman.

So yes, I’ve enjoyed the books so far. But this was the first one I really had to wait for and it was a trial indeed. Luckily for me, I received an ARC of this book in the mail a few months early and was able to dive in then. My full review will come out this Friday, but in the meantime, I wanted to share the love and host a giveaway for this copy! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends July 9, 2019.

Enter here!

Serena’s Review: “Grave Mercy”

9565548Book: “Grave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Review: Our bookclub theme this go-around is books that have been on our TBR list for over two years. And there are a lot. My lists is somewhere in the mid-300s though, so cut me some slack! But while going through it, I tried to match up a few titles with ones that are currently available at the library in audiobook format and I struck across “Grave Mercy” and thought “Why not? Killer nuns sounds pretty neat.” And here we are. Sadly, killer nuns were not, in fact neat. But one could argue that the story wasn’t really about that anyways, so some other author could still cash in on what sounds like a cool idea.

Just as Ismae’s life is taking a distinct turn for the worst (an arranged marriage, said husband being an abusive jerk, etc. etc.), she’s caught up by a mysterious organization., a convent that follows an old god, one who calls upon his followers to take out evil in the world. The convents train in these deadly arts to carry out this work. With a new route before her, Ismae excels in her new life and role. But when the straight-forward plan of killing targets gets caught up in a much more murky world of courtly politics, Ismae finds herself out of her depth. Add in some romantic feelings, and she’s in a real mess.

To start with any pros, the best thing this book has going for it is the cool premise. I was excited to pick up this book, as assassins always seem like they would be good for an action-packed story full of potentially interesting moral quandaries. Unfortunately, the book itself fails to follow through on this premise, so even that is a pretty luke warm pro.

My biggest problem with this book comes down to the writing itself, both the style of sentences construction as well as the numerous plotting issues. I’m not personally a fan of first person present tense writing, and this one definitely falls prey to the weaknesses of this tense. The voice is often wooden and off-putting. Her emotions are conveyed using a handful of cliches that do nothing to really show us Ismae’s feelings, rather just informing us of them, as a matter of fact. I’m not sure I would have loved the character of Ismae had she been presented in another way, but this definitely didn’t help.

The other big problem with the writing is the way numerous writing crutches are used. The story opens with Ismae’s abusive first day of married life, quickly moves on to her being taken in by the convent and informed, succinctly, of their role in the world. Then two seconds later Ismae’s all on board and we have a time jump. Suddenly, she’s now this badass assassin out on her first mission. It all happens too fast and readers are left to just swallow it all, no questions. There is far too much telling and no showing. We never see Ismae gain any of these so-called skills, and with the introduction of a magical knife that kills with just the barest touch, we’re left wondering why any training is needed at all.

Frankly, it feels as if the author did the barest amount of work in the beginning of her story to get to the part she really wanted to write about. Which, fine. But if that’s your goal, just skip it all together and introduce these pieces of history as the current story plays out. This method would have worked much better and solved several of these problems.

I also struggled with the romance. It’s pretty much just what you would think, so I don’t really need to even bother explaining any of the details. But given Ismae’s early marriage (which, by the way, seems fairly valid and never is addressed again) and the abuse that came with it, I would have hoped for a more nuanced approach to her love story. Instead, we have generic googly eyes at the hawt guy and, again, a long list of cliched descriptions and emotions.

Assassin books are a strange thing for me, now. I feel like I really like them. But when I try to think of examples of books with this theme that I’ve enjoyed, there are really very few. And on the other hand, a rather long list of books with this plot that I’ve absolutely hated. It makes sense: how do you write about something as brutal as assassination without also taking the time to really address the moral issues at the heart of it? Far too many authors simply want the badass points of it all without the latter responsibility to the emotions and decisions behind it. So we end up with books like this, where we’re told that our main character is a badass and then proceed on to a pretty bland love story that is more focused on court politics that assassinations, anyways.

Rating 4: The weak writing really killed this one for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Grave Mercy” is on these Goodreads lists: Books With Heroes/Heroines Who Are Assassins and Young Adult Books Without Love Triangles.

Find “Grave Mercy” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Shadows of Self”

16065004Book: “Shadows of Self” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor Books, October 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: “Shadows of Self” shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.

This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.

Previously Reviewed: “The Alloy of Law”

Review: This is another series that I’ve been reading in audiobook format, and as such, am at the mercy of a more limited holds list at the library. But oh well! Not only is the narrator of Sanderson’s books excellent (I’m pretty sure he does them all), but I also have my own weird thing about switching formats halfway through a series. Yes, I know, I’m a freak. Anyways! My hold finally came through and it was on to the next installment in this second trilogy in the Mistborn world featuring our favorite lawmen, Wax and Wayne!

A year after the events of the first book, Wax and Wayne are still doing their thing, solving crimes in the city of Elendel. All the while, however, Wayne is having to balance his crime-solving with also be the lord of his house and planning a wedding with his fiance. The latter takes a back-burner position in priorities when a new enemy appears on the scene, one who seems to be able to predict their every action and disappear into any crowd. Wax and Wayne struggle to keep up, but also to put together a possible motive and endgame for this mysterious villain. Marasi, working as a more official officer of the law, joins the action, and soon enough they all find themselves caught up in a conspiracy that is set to rock the entire city.

While this story still is very much Wax’s, one of the things that stood out to me the most in this book was how I felt it was improved by giving Wayne his own chapters as well as Marasi. I’ve always liked Wax, but I also don’t feel super drawn to his character. I think this is because he’s essentially Batman in the Mistborn world. Wealthy, powerful, fighting crime, and, of course, brooding. Just as Batman isn’t my favorite superhero for this reason, I don’t feel a lot of draw to Wayne in the same way. But I do very much like Wayne and Marasi. Both seem a bit more complicated, with internal struggles and story arcs that seem ripe for more exploration. Wayne, of course, is a very amusing narrator, though here I do wish that some of the clever lines would give away more often to the actual heart of the matter (something that, conversely, he is very good at identifying, unlike Wax at times). And I appreciate Marasi’s journey to prove herself worthy of working along the famed Wax and to carve her own place in the police force, one that she earns through her abilities and not through her connections to her notable family or Wayne himself.

I very much enjoyed the story itself. This entire trilogy so far has been tending much more towards Westerns and thrillers than fantasy (take out the fantasy elements and the stories themselves would hold up pretty easily). Neither of those are really favorite genres of mine, but this one counterbalances that with the introduction of a very compelling villain. The villain has really great abilities that truly challenge Wax (similar to Batman, it’s tough to create a villain that poses an actual threat when you’re hero is so established as a badass). I really liked how it wasn’t clear what the motivation or connection was behind the villain’s actions throughout the book as well. So not only are readers caught up in the fast-paced action, but there is a legitimate mystery at the heart of it all. And the best part is the incredible shock at the end of the story. Obviously, I won’t spoil it. But it’s not only huge for this book, but for the series as a whole. I’m excited to see how things play out from here!

My one criticism of the book (other than my own personal hang-ups on Wax’s character) has to do with some of the action scenes. I’m not really sure how to articulate the issue I had. It was by no means large, but it was almost as if there were times when some of the action read as a bit cheesy, with Wax pulling stunts that seemed a bit too similar to the likes of what you may see in the “Fast and the Furious” or some other corny action movie. Many of these scenes read well and the cool magic system that Sanderson has built up for this world continues to entertain. But there were just a few moments that walked the line of “cool for coolness-sake” a bit too closely for my taste.

Overall, however, I very much enjoyed this book. The ending itself with the surprise reveal probably helped bump the book up a whole point in my estimation. And it’s the kind of reshuffle that will have lasting impact, so it creates added interest for the next book in the series.

Rating 8: Some action points were a bit much at times, but some incredible twists and the addition of a viewpoint for Wayne made this a fun read.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Shadows of Self” is on these Goodreads lists: “Most Action-Packed Books” and “Best Steampunk Books.”

Find “Shadows of Self” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Black Powder War”

91989Book: “Black Powder War” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, May 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Picking up where book two left off (in China, Macau) Captain Will Laurence and his extraordinary dragon, Temeraire, are ordered to retrieve and escort a precious cargo of valuable dragon eggs from Istanbul to England. They take the Old Silk Road from China to Istanbul, crossing deserts and mountains. En route to England, they help the beleaguered Prussians battle Napoleon.

Previously Reviewed: “His Majesty’s Dragon” and “Throne of Jade”

Review: Trucking along with this series! Once you get me started, there’s no stopping me! Well, the waiting list at the library for the audiobook does hold me up…mostly because I love the narrator for this book so much that I refuse to read it in any other format now. So really, it’s my own pickiness that is holding me up. But really, it’s also probably for the best, as it’s always nice to have a solid series on the back burner that one can return to if ever caught in the midst of a string of bad luck reads. That’s not the case right now, really. I just couldn’t resist.

Lawrence and Temeraire are anxious to return home to England and rejoin their fellows in the war against Napoleon. They are also tasked with picking up a few dragon eggs on their way home. After a few unfortunate events, a sea voyage ends up being off the table as means of travel, and they’re forced to prepare for an over-land expedition. Along the way they face challenges of terrain, both mountain and desert, as well as rogue dragons and shady political figures. They also eventually find themselves caught up in the war itself on the continent, pulled before dueling loyalties: their honor to the foreign allies and the urgency to deliver the dragon eggs before they hatch.

As my reviews indicate, the first two books in this series took me a bit by surprise. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting into when I started the series (many books that feature dragons have clear tropes, none of which were found here), and the second book went in a new direction even from that. But now I think I’m starting to settle in and it all comes down to a similar theme: Lawrence and Temeraire go on adventures! Not only has each book taken place in very different locations and featured very difference challenges, foes, and comrades. But within each book are a series of mini adventures that the two friends must navigate.

In this one, we have another travel adventure for the first half of the book, as the pair and their crew leave China and make their way across Asia towards their home. Along the way, they must battle the elements, getting into some dire circumstances in the mountains and in a sandstorm. I was also excited when they ran into a group of feral dragons. As the series has progressed, it’s become clear that Lawrence and many people in general, don’t truly understand dragons and what they are capable of. There have been a lot of preconceptions that Temeraire has proved false, about dragon intelligence and individuality. Throughout it all, we’ve often heard about feral dragons as those that can’t be tamed or made to work with people. I very much enjoyed the way they were worked into the story and the foibles of the mini dragon society we see here.

I was also excited to see a return to the military aspect of the story. The first book had a brief battle scene towards the end of the book, and the second one had very little in this regard. But half way through this book, we really dive into the military tactics of dragons. I like the way Novik highlighted how different countries have had different approaches to how they use their aerial corps, a detail that continues the heighten the believability of dragons fighting in the Napoleonic wars.

Further, we began to see how dragons themselves can contribute to these types of military strategies, with Temeraire putting to use his knowledge for formations and strategy for in-air battle. I also really liked the way we see Napoleon use his dragons in very clever ways, making his military brilliance transfer just as well to this fantastical element. We also see how the presence of dragons could influence the outcome of some of these historic events in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate.

The ending did seem to kind of come out of the blue, however, with things building up to a climax and then quickly ending. I’m not sure the pacing of the story overall was quite right, in this regard. But other than, I’m still thoroughly enjoying this series!

Rating 8: I particularly enjoyed the return to the military aspects of the story in this one.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Black Powder War” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Alternate History Novels and Stories” and “Dragon Books NOT ROMANCE.”

Find “Black Powder War” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Sorcery of Thorns”

42201395Book: “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

Publication Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

Review: “An Enchantment of Ravens” was a book with a pretty cover that I just happened to nab at ALA. And then it quickly turned into one of my favorite original fairytale fantasies in quite a while. So I was thrilled when I saw a new story coming out by this author (and with another gorgeous cover to boot!). And I was not disappointed; I may have liked this one even more than the other!

Elisabeth is a child of the library, an orphan who has been raised with in its walls, surrounded by the magical, and sometime dangerous, grimoires that also call it home. She has been raised to protect the realm from the threat that is posed by sorcerers and the magic that rest in these books. But when a grimoire goes bad, becoming a monstrous beast, Elisabeth gets caught up in a conspiracy that is much larger than she ever could have suspected. And to get through it she has to rely on the help of a sorcerer himself, the mysterious Nathaniel Thorn and his demon companion, Simon.

Authors and librarians have a symbiotic relationship. Many authors grow up going to libraries which is where they develop their love for reading. They go on to write, and it makes sense that they would often write about they love, and thus we end up with a good number of books about libraries. Librarians, for their part, love nothing more than reading books about libraries and librarians (we’re a self-interested lot, it seems) and will rush out to get our hands on any title that focuses on our beloved profession. The cynical side of me could say that authors might suspect this love on librarians’ parts and figure their books have a better chance of being purchased and stocked en masse in libraries if they focus on this topic. But I choose to think that mostly it’s the former: an act of real love for reading and libraries as the source of so much of it.

This book takes this all one step further, making its librarians not only purveyors of knowledge, but literal warriors who protect both the books within the library walls as well as the people throughout the realm should those books’ worse nature take over. It’s an interesting concept, and beyond just being a blast of fantasy action adventure, there are some parallels that can be drawn for the wonder and danger of books. There is an argument presented at one point that questions whether protecting the grimoires is worth it, if they have potential to become so deadly. But the librarians’ answer is always this: the knowledge they hold is unique and precious, even if it can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and thus must be protected.

As for the characters, Elisabeth is a fantastic leading lady. She’s brave, not a little reckless, but so full of heart that you can’t help but fall in love with her immediately. Her story is one of self-discovery as well as reconciling what she has been taught growing up with the reality in which she suddenly finds herself, once outside the Great Library’s walls. Her connection with the Great Libraries and the grimoires is a mystery that plays out deliciously.

As her supports, Thorn and Simon are excellent as well. Written with the trademark wit that I now associate with this author, the dialogue between Elisabeth and these two is quick and snappy. Simon, especially, was developed as a nuanced and mysterious character. And as the romantic interest, Thorn checks all of the boxes for me. He is powerful in his own right, but never outshines Elisabeth, and both come to realize that only together will they be able to defeat the evil that is rising around them. While the romance is not the focus of the story as much as it was in “Enchantment of Ravens,” I think I enjoyed this balance even better, with it playing a more minor role to the Elisabeth, Thorn, and Simon’s mission to save the world more at the heart.

The story itself was pure fun. It romps along from exciting action piece, to witting repartee, to touching emotional moments. All caught up in a unique fantasy world that feels lush and colorful. Potentially killer books or no, this is a world I’d like to visit. I mean, hey, I’m pretty sure all of us librarians would be happy to adopt the word “warrior” before our title.  Readers looking for an original fairytale adventure are sure to enjoy this!

Rating 10: Just excellent, checking every box for me: a superb heroine, a swoon-worth romance, and an adventure story that pulls you along from start to finish. Featuring libraries, none the less!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sorcery of Thorns” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Magical Books, Libraries and Bookstores.”

Find “An Illusion of Thieves” at your library using WorldCat!