Giveaway: “The Queen of Raiders”

45046587Book: “The Queen of Raiders” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: The soldiers of Oromondo have invaded the Free States, leaving a wake of misery and death. Thalen, a young scholar, survives and gathers a small cadre of guerrilla fighters for a one-way mission into the heart of an enemy land.

Unconsciously guided by the elemental Spirits of Ennea Mon, Cerulia is drawn to the Land of the Fire Mountains to join Thelan’s Raiders, where she will learn the price of war.

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding”

Giveaway Details: In partnership with the publisher, I’m happy to be able to offer an ongoing giveaway for each book in this series as they come out! As I mentioned in my review of “A Queen in Hiding,” I was drawn to check out these books not only because of  the intriguing book description but because of the publisher’s initiative “binge-style” approach to publishing: releasing all four books over the course of four months. What a novel approach! Think of it, being an epic fantasy fan and not only not having to secretly wonder whether your favorite series will ever be finished at all, but knowing that you’ll be able to get your hands on the next book in only one short month! Short enough that many readers might even struggle to keep up with publishing rate! An unheard thing for most of us fantasy fans who are used to grueling waits.

So, if you’ve already gotten through the first book in the series, don’t miss your opportunity to win a finished copy of the second! And don’t forget to check back in March and April for giveaways of the third and fourth books, too! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on February 26.

Enter to win!

Valentine’s Giveaway!

Valentine’s Day was this past Friday, and in honor of the romantic holiday we have decided to run a giveaway of two romantic novels! Because there’s nothing wrong with celebrating in a belated way, right? Totally!

41150487._sy475_Book: “Red, White, & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Griffin, May 2019

Book Description: What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

Giveaway Details: Kate really loved this romantic and light story of the son of the President of the United States falling in love with the grandson of the Queen of England. First Son Alex is ambitious and gregarious, while Prince Henry is more reserved, and their initial rivalry, of course, turns into romance. “Red, White, & Royal Blue” was a runaway hit last year, and was one of the recipients of the 2020 Alex Award. It’s funny, heartfelt, and gives you a glimpse into a happier timeline where a woman is President and the U.S. isn’t in political shambles. Plus, both Alex and Henry are likable and easy to root for.

43192642._sy475_Book: “Realm of Ash” by Tasha Suri

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2019

Book Description: The Ambhan Empire is crumbling. A terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon. The only hope for peace lies in the mysterious realm of ash, where mortals can find what they seek in the echoes of their ancestors’ dreams. But to walk there requires a steep price.

Arwa is determined to make the journey. Widowed by a brutal massacre, she’s pledged service to the royal family and will see that pledge through to the end. She never expected to be joined by Zahir, the disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden magic in a desperate bid to save those he loves.

Together, they’ll walk the bloody path of their shared past. And it will call into question everything they’ve ever believed…including whether the Empire is worth saving at all.

Giveaway Details: This was a favorite fantasy read for Serena in 2019. It’s technically the second book by this author set in her Middle East-inspired world, but it can easily be read alone. What makes it notable for this themed giveaway is the lovely slow-burn romance that develops throughout the book. In the midst of some incredibly unique fantasy twists and turns, it was lovely to watch the slow friendship and trust form between the young widow, Arwa, and the outcast prince, Zahir. Together, they will strive to save their country and learn what they will sacrifice in the name of love.

This giveaway for both books is open to U.S. Residents only and ends on February 24th at Midnight (EST).

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Serena’s Review: “Age of Death”

30613608._sy475_Book: “Age of Death” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Riyria Enterprises LLC, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC

Book Description: Winter blankets the land, and more than just hope has died. Prevented from invading the Fhrey homeland by the tower of Avempartha, the western army seeks a way across the Nidwalden River before the fane obtains the secret of dragons. As time runs out for both humanity and the mystic Suri, the only chance for the living rests with the dead. Having made their fateful choice, can a handful of misfits do the impossible, or are they forever lost to an inescapable grave? Do gods truly exist? Is it possible to know the future? And what lies beyond the veil of death? In the tradition of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the most epic of tales transcend the world of the living. It’s time to see what lies in Elan’s Age of Death.

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

Review: Sullivan is not only an established fantasy author, but I have to think he’s one of the most successful as a self-published author. Not only did he start out his career that way and manage to break into the major league standard publishing circuit, he also has now managed to go back to self-publishing and break all kinds of Kickstarter records for books. It also works well for his fans, as I, like many others, was able to get my hands on an early ebook copy. Kind of important after that cliffhanger in the last one! Alas, a cliffhanger was here too (warning!), but, a Kickstarter campaign starts up again shortly, so my wait time is again cut down. Thank god! All of that is neither here nor there to my overall review of the book, but it’s a kind of neat unique trait of these books that I like to highlight. But, the long and the short of it: per the usual for this series, I had a great time reading this book and am now hanging on hooks waiting for the grand finale!

The last book ended with our grand party sinking to their “death” in a disgusting bog, hoping to journey through the land of the dead to the realm of the Fhrey where their dear friend and most powerful ally, Suri, is being held captive. This book picks up immediately from there as our party begins to make their way through the various lands of the dead, meeting up with old friends and new foes along the way. Suri, on the other hand, is caught up in the political maneuverings of the power that be among the Fhrey people, trying to determine friend from foe while protecting the deadly secret of dragon-making, the only advantage the human army has had on their side during this decade-long war.

As this is the fifth book in the series, the characters are all pretty well-established. Aside from a one or two new character that we meet in the underworld, we spend most of our time with these familiar faces. Of course, the challenges they face in the underworld bring new elements of their characters to light, but for the most part, they are all largely as we have come to expect. Of them all, I seem to be enjoying Moya more and more. In this book we see her face some incredibly hard decisions and losses. But the characters who saw the most growth were the two that have walked the line of villainy to some extent to this point, who both feel that they may deserve to be in some of the deeper levels of this underworld.

As far as the underworld itself went, I enjoyed the version we were given here. There were elements of it that were fairly predictable, the groundwork being laid early in the story and predictably coming to fruition later. However, I didn’t feel that this detracted much from the story. There were a couple of character introduced here that did take me completely by surprise, however, and it was exciting to finally see them on the page given how often they had been referenced in other books.

My biggest struggle with this book, however, was the pacing. All of the books are clearly part of six part, epic series, so none of them can truly be read as standalones. That said, they all felt like they had clear beginnings and endings with at least one character seeming to experience an entire arch through the one book. Even the last with its massive cliffhanger felt fairly complete on its own. Here, however, it’s like we were given the Moria scene from “Lord of the Rings”…and that’s it. Nothing before and nothing after. There’s another cliffhanger, yes, but I went in expecting that. It’s more that the story as a whole didn’t really feel like its own thing in its own right. More than any of the others, this one felt like a chunk that had been removed from a larger book and then made its own book. Like it could have been the “Part II” of a bigger book. Again, this wasn’t a game changer or anything, but it did stick out more in this book than in others.

Per the usual now, I really enjoyed this book. On its own, I probably enjoyed it less than others just because it didn’t really feel like a complete book so much as a long section of the previous book and, likely, the last book combined. I also missed not seeing as much of Persephone. But I’m excited for the direction the story is taking with Suri and the Fhrey and, of course, the cliffhanger leaves a lot of tension built up that can’t be resolved quickly enough. Fans of the series so far will be both satisfied with this one and left in a similar position as before: impatient for the next (and last!) book to come!

Rating 8: Gearing up for the final book, this fun fantasy adventure struggles to hold its own as a complete work, but rocks as the next step in the whole.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Age of Death” is a newer title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy Releases of 2020.”

Find “Age of Death” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Cheshire Crossing”

42583942Book: “Cheshire Crossing” by Andy Weir and Sarah Andersen (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Ten Speed Press, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The three meet here, at Cheshire Crossing–a boarding school where girls like them learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.

But the trio–now teenagers, who’ve had their fill of meddling authority figures–aren’t content to sit still in a classroom. Soon they’re dashing from one universe to the next, leaving havoc in their wake–and, inadvertently, bringing the Wicked Witch and Hook together in a deadly supervillain love match.

To stop them, the girls will have to draw on all of their powers . . . and marshal a team of unlikely allies from across the magical multiverse.

Review: I recently went back to work after taking my maternity leave, and one of my first tasks was to weed the children’s graphic novel section. I love a good weeding project, and whenever I go through graphics I usually find a few that I want to read, and by checking them out I spare them from being culled from the collection. This was how I stumbled upon “Cheshire Crossing” by Andy “The Martian” Weir. Was I surprised that the guy known for science fiction with hard science themes and snarky humor had written a graphic novel for kids/teens? For sure. But the fact that it starred Wendy Darling, Dorothy Gale, and Alice was incredibly fascinating to me (especially since these three have been brought together in graphic form before in Alan Moore’s, erm, shall we say ‘controversial’ “Lost Girls”.).

“Cheshire Crossing” is a cute and witty mash up of three well loved characters who played rather passive roles in their initial stories. While it’s true that Wendy, Dorothy, and Alice are all important figures within the stories they are from, and have become absolutely and rightfully beloved, they all kind of have things happen to them while the people and worlds around them do the ‘doing’. They wander through Wonderland, Oz, and Neverland acting as surrogates for the reader to explore, which is perfectly understandable. But in “Cheshire Crossing”, Weir gives them a lot to actually do, special powers that they bring to their initial visits, and explores what the consequences would be if three girls came back to their usual lives after going to magical places. It’s not too surprising that they are all seen as ‘crazy’ or ‘hysterical’, and have had to spend time in asylums before coming to Cheshire Crossing, which knows that they are portals to other worlds. The idea of hysterical women, especially at the time that these books were originally written, was very common, and I really enjoyed that Weir explored how our world would have no doubt marginalized and taken any kind of agency from these girls (and something I noticed was that there was no mention of Michael or Peter Darling, which makes me think that the two boys haven’t been institutionalized). Alice especially has a lot to contend with, as her time in Wonderland wasn’t exactly ‘pleasant’. She is by far the most traumatized, and dour, of the girls, and the most interesting because of it.

The one criticism I had about this story is that not very much time was spent at Cheshire Academy itself. While I appreciated that Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy very well may be sick and tired of being taken from place and place and poked and prodded, I had hoped that we would be able to see a little bit more of the motivation of Cheshire Crossing, as the idea of a school that is teaching these girls to harness the powers that they have inside of them (as opposed to the powers that have been lent to them at their various magical visits) is really appealing to me. Instead the three girls hop from world to world, getting into more trouble and inadvertently hooking up Captain Hook and the Wicked Witch of the West. Which is, admittedly, kind of the perfect pairing. Their nanny from Cheshire Crossing does follow them and try to keep them out of trouble (and it’s very heavily implied that this woman is Mary Poppins, though she isn’t called that by name), but she was cleaning up their messes as opposed to actively teaching them how to use their powers. Was it fun visiting Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland in this context? Sure! But I also wanted the grounding of the school so that the three girls could harness their powers even more. That said, this ended on something of a cliffhanger, and therefore there may be more stories in the future.

And finally, the illustrations are absolutely charming. They are done by Sarah Andersen of “Sarah’s Scribbles” fame, and the style is dreamy and pleasing to the eye.

cheshirecrossing-1
(source)

“Cheshire Crossing” is a fun exploration of three girls who deserve a little more credit and an expansion of three well loved fantasy stories. People who love Oz, Wonderland, and Neverland will find a lot to like!

Rating 7: A very cute mash up of three beloved children’s lit heroines, “Cheshire Crossing” has some good commentary on female marginalization during the time the original books were written.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cheshire Crossing” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Women Kicking Ass (Graphic Novels/Comics)”, and “Curiouser and Curiouser”.

Find “Cheshire Crossing” at your library using WordCat!

Serena’s Review: “Woven in Moonlight”

40877706._sy475_Book: “Woven in Moonlight” by Isabel Ibnez

Publishing Info: Page Street Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst

Book Description: Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

Review: This book was a no-brainer for me to request. I mean, look at that gorgeous cover? I’m not sure I can remember a book with a cover like that; it immediately stands out and I’m sure the book will benefit from many a spur-of-the-moment pick-up while on the shelves at stores. The book description itself was also incredibly unique-sounding and dealing with a people, place, and culture that I am only passingly familiar. In many ways, the cover and description reminded me greatly of “Gods of Jade and Shadow” which I read last summer and loved. Unfortunately, this comparison didn’t hold true in the actual reading experience…

Ximena has lived most of her life pretending to be someone else, a queen, the Condesa. But mostly a queen under siege: managing dwindling supplies, sending out scouting parties, and dreaming of one day returning her people to their homeland and the city that is now occupied by the cruel king Atoc. Now, with a demanded-marriage between the two leaders of these divided peoples, Ximena has the greatest of all performances before her. She must marry the usurper and serve as an embedded spy, searching for that crack that can benefit her people and her sister-friend, the true Condesa.

Even typing up that description makes me excited about the story this could have been. Yet, alas, could have been, but wasn’t. This is one of those strange books where I question whether I read the same story others read. Currently, it’s rated over 4 on Goodreads, so many people are loving it. Perhaps I can see elements of what all of these other readers are latching on to, but it all seems like too little, too familiar, and too inexplicable to really earn those 4 stars.

The biggest strength this book has going for it is the unique setting, the unique culture (what little we really get of it), and the descriptions of Ximena’s weavings. There are some truly lovely depictions of these detailed creations, and having a mother who is an avid weaver, I could see the magic in her abilities here, even without the actual magic involved. What descriptions we received of the countryside and the city itself were intriguing, but this is also where the bare minimums began to show. I had just enough to form loose images, but I have to admit that many of these were probably drawing from stereotypical images of South American culture (there isn’t even such a thing, hence the extreme stereotype of my mental images that were just drawing from random images from other books and movies set in South American countries). I wish there had been a more detailed look into the daily life of the people, a clearer image drawn of their lives and the world they lived in. Half of the reason I picked up this book was because of the uniqueness to be had here. Finally not another European fantasy novel! But then it felt like the author only went halfway, and I was left wanting.

From the “too little” we move to the “too familiar.” Most of this plot will read as incredibly predictable to anyone who reads a lot of YA fantasy. I could quickly guess who El Lobo was as well as predict several of the other major plot points of the story. Perhaps for readers who aren’t as well versed in current YA fantasy tropes this would read better. Or even age it down to middle grade readers who simply haven’t had the time to build up these stores of memory that make stories like this feel rote and tired. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; I’ve just read it too many times before. And when the surprise has been taken out of most of the twists, there’s not a lot of drive behind speeding through the rest of the story.

And lastly, the “too inexplicable.” I really struggled with Ximena herself. The love story was, again, predictable. And she kept referring to said characters as “the boy” which I just found cringe-worthy. I get that typing out “young man” seems kind of silly and obviously “guy” is anachronistic and has its own issues. But given the situation we’re meant to be in (she’s there to marry a king), I think we can just stick with “man” and be done with it. Regardless of age, this is an adult situation, and she’s been an adult for many years, making decisions as a ruler and now serving as a spy meant to marry the enemy. Referring to someone as “a boy” can only be a demeaning comment in these circumstances. But she uses it as a bland, seemingly objective description, and it bothered the heck out of me. If he’s “a boy,” he’s a kid and my mind will neatly file him away in the “non-love-interest” section.

Beyond that small nit-pick that I blew out of proportion with my own annoyance, it was hard to understand Ximena. We’re meant to believe that she’s been training, and acting, as the Condesa for almost all of her grown life. Not only would the real Condesa have to be well-versed in self-control, cool thinking, and precise speaking/acting, someone who grew up to serve as a decoy in this role would have to be all of that twice over. But Ximena routinely and regularly loses all self-control. It’s hard to believe that she wasn’t immediately seen through. Or, if not that, it would seem that all respect would be quickly lost for “the Condesa” as a leader since she can’t stop behaving like a rash, easily provoked youth. Ximena spends way too much time caught up in her own personal angst and far too little behaving as a true Condesa would. Sure, she always comments after the fact on how that was really “un-Condesa-like,” but that doesn’t do away with the fact that had she been trained to do this her entire life, there should be nowhere near as many outbursts as there are in the first place.

A book is always going to be a hard sell for me if I can’t connect with the POV character. I found Ximena unbelievable at best and incredibly annoying at worst. From there, the predictable story just lowered it further. I’m really sad that this wasn’t a great read for me. So many people are enjoying it, and I really wish I had read whatever book they’re loving so much. There are many great elements of this story, particularly with the snippets of the world, culture, and history we get. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of any of those things to counteract the weak main character and tired story. But, like I said, lots of people are liking it, so if you’re looking for an ownvoice, Latinx story, it might still be worth a shot.

I didn’t love this one, but a lot of people do. So I’d like to share it with someone who will appreciate it more than I was able. If this sounds like something you would enjoy, make sure to enter the giveaway for a hardback copy!

Rating 6: A really confusing read where I’m not sure what I’m missing that so many other people are loving.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Woven in Moonlight” is on these Goodreads lists: “Latina Leads in YA and Middle Grade Fiction” and “Upcoming 2020 SFF Books with Female Leads or Co-Leads.”

Find“Woven in Moonlight” in your library using WorldCat!

Giveaway: “Woven in Moonlight”

40877706._sy475_Book: “Woven in Moonlight” by Isabel Ibnez

Publishing Info: Page Street Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst

Book Description: Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

Giveaway Details: Though it did take me until February to get around to it, I was excited enough about this book to include it as one of the three titles I was most looking forward to in January. And now the time has come! My full review comes up on Friday, so I won’t go into any spoilers as to my opinions here.

I will say that the concept is an intriguing one, intertwining a unique magic system with the political upheaval and history of Bolivia. It’s an ownvoices work, so the author brings much vibrancy to her story and world. And here, the cover artist really upped the ante creating a cover image that perfectly communicates the heart of the story and is sure to draw readers in. I know it worked well on me!

It’s always great to see young adult fantasy escape from the often overwhelming European-centered stories that are everywhere. And this one presents an area of the world and history that I’m sure many readers are only passably familiar with. For myself, I knew very little and, while this book is still clearly fictional and, you know, magic, it did inspire me to do some research of my own into the country’s history.

So, for those of you who still haven’t gotten around to this book, or for those of you who have already read it and loved it (according to Goodreads, there are many of you!), here’s your chance to get your hands on a hardback copy! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and closes on February 12.

Enter now!

Serena’s Review: “City of Stone and Silence”

34640582._sy475_Book: “City of Stone and Silence” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: After surviving the Vile Rot, Isoka, Meroe, and the rest of Soliton’s crew finally arrive at Soliton’s mysterious destination, the Harbor―a city of great stone ziggurats, enshrouded in a ghostly veil of Eddica magic. And they’re not alone.

Royalty, monks, and madmen live in a precarious balance, and by night take shelter from monstrous living corpses. None know how to leave the Harbor, but if Isoka can’t find a way to capture Soliton and return it to the Emperor’s spymaster before a year is up, her sister’s Tori’s life will be forfeit.

But there’s more to Tori’s life back in Kahnzoka than the comfortable luxury Isoka intended for her. By night, she visits the lower wards, risking danger to help run a sanctuary for mage-bloods fleeing the Emperor’s iron fist. When she discovers that Isoka is missing, her search takes her deep in the mires of intrigue and revolution. And she has her own secret―the power of Kindre, the Well of Mind, which can bend others to its will. Though she’s spent her life denying this brutal magic, Tori will use whatever means she has to with Isoka’s fate on the line…

Review: After blowing through the first book in this trilogy in about two days, I immediately nabbed a copy from NetGalley. What a joy to find a new series that you absolutely love and have the second book come out the very month you finish the first! While I think the first book stills ranks ahead of this, I was quite pleased with the direction the series seems to be headed in and the surprises that were in store here!

It seems that the ghost ship, Soliton, has finally reached its port. But answers here are as illusive as they were on the mysterious ship. In a land riddled with the walking dead, Isoka must untangle the complicated history of the ship and its makers if she has any hope of returning to her beloved sister, Tori. Back in her home city, Tori has been getting out and about much more than Isoka knew or would have wanted. She spends much of this time volunteering at a hospital for the poor, but her own street instincts have not been lost or forgotten either. With her eyes constantly on an exit strategy, Tori has been carefully cultivating her own connections. But when the city begins to teeter on the bring of revolt, Tori finds herself thrust into the spotlight in a way that may expose secrets that she’s kept even from her own sister.

The introduction of Tori was quite the shift for this book, with the chapters now alternating between the two sisters and their experiences. I enjoyed the addition of this new character quite a lot, though I will also admit that Isoka was still by far my favorite character and I found her story here the more intriguing of the two. But it’s a brave choice to make, and I think it was pulled off well. Tori’s story lays a lot of groundwork for the final confrontation in the third book and brings some complicated themes into a story that, before, was pretty solidly a fun adventure fantasy.

Isoka is still as brilliant as ever. Brave, straight-forward, but with a hard shell that she is only beginning to shed. In the first book we saw her confront her own ability to care for others, both in the immediate and personal, as well as in the whole, as she leads the other Soliton residents to the last remaining safe space on the ship. In this book, she confronts the challenge of lasting leadership when the goal is not so obvious or so black and white in what needs to be done to achieve it. More than anything, she learns what it means to trust others to help her. She’s just the sort of prickly, gruff, super competent hero I like.

The mystery of the port of Soliton is also incredibly intriguing. In the first book, we really only scraped the surface of the ghost ship, knowing just enough to know that we didn’t know anything. This book takes that one ship and now explodes it out to an entire lost city with mysteries that reach back thousands of years. There are answers here to more than just the strange ship and its solitary mission to collected young people with access to magical Wells. There were a lot a lot of legitimately creepy elements. The crabs from the first book read like the type of exciting monsters that one finds in Japanese monster flicks. But here an element of horror is painted over top it all. And I’ll just say this…dinosaurs. Take from that what you will.

As I said above, while I still enjoyed the adventure of Isoka’s story and her own character arc best, Tori was overall an excellent addition. It becomes clear early on that Tori’s own experiences of life on the street were not so effectively wiped away as Isoka had hoped. But, being a very different girl than Isoka with very different gifts, Tori has taken her own route in building up a life for herself, one that is still always prepared for the worst. Through her story, we get a much deeper look into the geo-political state of the Empire Isoka left behind. And the story of growing unrest, a tipping point, and the uprising of the common people against an Empire that has pushed too far is very compelling.

Tori’s own role in this revolution was a very interesting contrast to Isoka. Both have been thrust into leadership roles that they feel ill equipped to manage. Both have incredible power that others can both admire and fear (though Tori’s is kept under wraps from those around her for much of the book). The classic “with great power come great responsibility” motif is explored thoroughly from both angles. But the book takes an interesting approach to the idea. The power itself isn’t in question, it’s more what does responsibility actually look like when one has power? The story explores how power can bring out both the best and worst of people. And that similar experiences of having power, and more importantly here, responsibility thrust upon a person can have very different outcomes, depending on the person. Power alone does not good or evil make.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel. Tori was a fantastic addition, adding new themes into the story as well as creating more shades of grey to the ones already being covered. The world-building and magical history seemed to multiply in this book, and what had been contained to a strange ship, expands out to provide insights into the entire world and magical system itself. And, of course, I love Isoka. I have no filter for this type of powerful, yet emotionally walled off, heroines it seems. If you enjoyed the first book, be ready to kick into the next gear!

Rating 8: A fantastic second outing that highlights the author’s meticulous story-telling techniques, leaving so many goodies and reveals for the second book that one can only wonder at what will come in the third!

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Stone and Silence” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2020.”

Find “City of Stone and Silence” at your library using WorldCat!