Audiobook Review: The Stardust Thief by Cheslea Abdullah

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

Genre: Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: Audiobook by Hachette Audio UK, May 2022, narrated by Nikki Massoud, Rasha Zamamiri, Sean Rohani

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, this book weaves together the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

Neither here nor there, but long ago . . .

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

Full of adventure and magic, The Stardust Thief takes readers on a journey through an Arab-inspired fantasy world where our protagonists take on a perilous quest fraught with danger. This fantasy debut is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights and uses storytelling as a theme throughout, weaving the stories and myths the protagonists know with the truth of the jinn they come to discover.

It took a little while for me to really get into this book. However, I enjoyed it more as the story progressed. There were some great twists in the second half which left me terrified for my favourite characters, as well as exciting and magical action. The novel focuses on the quest and the characters’ journeys, so if you are looking for fantasy without romance, I’d recommend giving this one a go.

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Audiobook Review: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Dark Academia

Publishing Info: Audiobook, March 2022, Tor, narrated by Steve West, Siho Ellsmore, Munirih Grace, James Patrick Cronin, David Monteith, Damian Lynch, Caitlin Kelly, Andy Ingalls

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

When the world’s best magicians are offered an extraordinary opportunity, saying yes is easy. Each could join the secretive Alexandrian Society, whose custodians guard lost knowledge from ancient civilizations. Their members enjoy a lifetime of power and prestige. Yet each decade, only six practitioners are invited – to fill five places.

Contenders Libby Rhodes and Nico de Varona are inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds. Parisa Kamali is a telepath, who sees the mind’s deepest secrets. Reina Mori is a naturalist who can perceive and understand the flow of life itself. And Callum Nova is an empath, who can manipulate the desires of others. Finally there’s Tristan Caine, whose powers mystify even himself.

Following recruitment by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they travel to the Society’s London headquarters. Here, each must study and innovate within esoteric subject areas. And if they can prove themselves, over the course of a year, they’ll survive. Most of them.

The Atlas Six is one of 2022’s most talked about releases. Originally self-published, the novel was picked up by Tor Books and rereleased. With the intense amount of hype around this book, I felt a little wary going in as I didn’t want to be left disappointed. Dark academia is also not my usual genre of choice, but I was intrigued by the premise and decided to take a chance on something outside my comfort zone.

The opening intrigued me and the smooth writing style drew me in. It did, however, take a while to introduce all six point of view characters, and the formula of Atlas approaching each of them to make offers to join the Alexandrian Society felt a little repetitive after the first couple.

Having multiple POVs worked really well in this novel. It was fascinating seeing everything from different perspectives and getting to see how all the characters viewed each other, building tension very nicely. They are basically all morally grey in some way and each have an interesting backstory. There was a different narrator for each POV which was really effective, making it easier to distinguish the characters and feel immersed in each viewpoint.

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Audiobook Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Genre: Dystopian, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: Audiobook, March 2021, Bloomsbury Publishing, narrated by Alana Kerr Collins

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

For the past two hundred years the Scion government has led an oppressive campaign against unnaturalness in London.

Clairvoyance in all its forms has been decreed a criminal offence, and those who practise it viciously punished. Forced underground, a clairvoyant underworld has developed, combating persecution and evading capture.

Paige Mahoney, a powerful dreamwalker operating in the Seven Dials district of London, leads a double life, using her unnaturalness illegally while hiding her gift from her father, who works for the Scion regime…

Having enjoyed Samantha Shannon’s epic fantasy novel, The Priory of the Orange Tree, I decided to delve into her backlist and try her debut novel, The Bone Season. While The Bone Season is vastly different from Priory, being set in future London rather than a secondary world fantasy, the pages were still filled with Samantha Shannon’s rich, detailed worldbuilding and readable, engaging prose. The audiobook narration by Alana Kerr Collins was also excellent and drew me into the story.  

After an intriguing opening, The Bone Season very quickly went in a direction I was not expecting, giving me a kind of book whiplash. It left me feeling a little baffled at first, wondering what, exactly, it was I was reading. However, once I adjusted my expectations and got used to this complex and strange future world, I found myself becoming more and more invested in Paige’s story. I won’t talk about plot specifics, because I think this is one of those books where it’s best going in not knowing much at all. Many of the plot elements are familiar, but Samantha Shannon’s immersive world building makes it feel fresh.

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Book Review: Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz

Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz

Genre: Young adult, contemporary fantasy

Publishing Info: October 2020 by Page Street Kids

Pages: 368

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.

But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.

Blazewrath Games is a creative and fun entry into the YA landscape, integrating fantasy elements into our contemporary world in a way that felt believable and magical. As much as I love high fantasy, there is something unique about the way contemporary fantasy makes magic feel closer, more real. The world Amparo Ortiz has created feels like a completely plausible alternative version of our own world. One where there are dragons, tournaments, and magic wand shops. Something about it just captured my imagination and that tingly magical feeling that you only get from some books.

We’re introduced to Lana, who dreams of playing in the Blazewrath World Cup for Puerto Rico. Lana is a very relatable character – she has dreams, is driven and has a strong belief in doing what is right. Amparo Ortiz also explores what it means to belong and Lana’s relationship with Puerto Rico after moving to the US as a child, and how that affects her identity and her place amongst the Puerto Rico team. A lot of readers will really connect to Lana’s internal struggles and appreciate seeing this represented on the page.

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Audiobook Review: Gods & Monsters by Shelby Mahurin

Gods & Monsters by Shelby Mahurin

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: Audiobook, July 2021, narrated by Holter Graham & Saskia Maarleveld

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:
The spellbinding conclusion to the New York Times and IndieBound bestselling trilogy Serpent & Dove. This stunning fantasy take on French witches and forbidden love is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas.

Evil always seeks a foothold. We must not give it one.

After a heartbreaking loss, Lou, Reid, Beau, and Coco are bent on vengeance more than ever before—and none more so than Lou.

But this is no longer the Lou they thought they knew. No longer the Lou that captured a chasseur’s heart. A darkness has settled over her, and this time it will take more than love to drive it out.

Gods & Monsters is the concluding novel in Shelby Mahurin’s Serpent & Dove series and, following an unexpected twist at the end of the previous instalment, I was intrigued to see how the story would conclude. While many fans of the first book found Blood & Honey disappointing, I found the character development and evolution of Lou and Reid’s relationship engaging, though there was a little too much filler in the plot department. Still, Gods & Monsters had a lot of work to do to bring the story round to a good conclusion and, while it did have a satisfying ending, the third novel sadly suffered from issues with the overall series structure.

The opening section of Gods & Monsters didn’t quite draw me in as much as I had hoped. Nicholina’s character was incredibly creepy, which I expect was the author’s intention, and the audiobook narrator did an excellent job of making her disturbing. Perhaps too good a job, as I felt a bit uncomfortable listening to this part of the audiobook. Lou also only had a small part in the first section, and without her presence, there was something missing.

After a while, I settled into the familiarity of the characters and Shelby Mahurin’s writing style, simply enjoying being back with these characters and enjoying the story. The character development was once again strong, with the characters challenged to face their deepest fears and truths about themselves they have yet to acknowledge.

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Audiobook Review: The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance  

Publishing Info: Audiobook, June 2021, narrated by Elizabeth Knoweldon

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

A prim and proper lady thief must save her aunt from a crazed pirate and his dangerously charming henchman in this fantastical historical romance.

Cecilia Bassingwaite is the ideal Victorian lady. She’s also a thief. Like the other members of the Wisteria Society crime sorority, she flies around England drinking tea, blackmailing friends, and acquiring treasure by interesting means. Sure, she has a dark and traumatic past and an overbearing aunt, but all things considered, it’s a pleasant existence. Until the men show up.

Ned Lightbourne is a sometimes assassin who is smitten with Cecilia from the moment they meet. Unfortunately, that happens to be while he’s under direct orders to kill her. His employer, Captain Morvath, who possesses a gothic abbey bristling with cannons and an unbridled hate for the world, intends to rid England of all its presumptuous women, starting with the Wisteria Society. Ned has plans of his own. But both men have made one grave mistake. Never underestimate a woman.

When Morvath imperils the Wisteria Society, Cecilia is forced to team up with her handsome would-be assassin to save the women who raised her–hopefully proving, once and for all, that she’s as much of a scoundrel as the rest of them.

Fancying a change of pace, I decided to pick up The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels, expecting a historical romance with a dash of adventure. That is what I got, but with a tad more of the fantastical than I had anticipated.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is bizarre yet brilliant, with Victorian ladies flying pirate houses using incantations, regularly attempting to assassinate each other, capably wielding guns and knives, and drinking tea. The juxtaposition between the well-mannered ladies and their piratical behaviour provided some excellent humour. The magical element is only a small part of the world as aside from the flying pirate houses, there wasn’t any other magic. After my initial bafflement at the concept, the idea was so well integrated into the Victorian world that it quickly seemed normal. Why wouldn’t women fly pirate houses around England?

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Audiobook Review: Knot My Type by Evie Mitchell

Knot My Type by Evie Mitchell

Genre: Romance  

Publishing Info: Audiobook, November 2021

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

He doesn’t do relationships.

She doesn’t do flings.

Everything they thought is about to unravel…

Frankie

When you say you’re a sexologist, people imagine Marilyn Monroe. They don’t expect a woman who uses a wheelchair. As the host of the All Access Podcast, I’m breaking barriers, crushing stigmas, and creating sexual connections that are fulfilling for my fans. I’m like cupid, but with pink hair and fewer diapers.

Only, I’ve hit a snag. A lovely listener wants some advice about accessible rope play and I’m drawing a big fat blank. Which leaves me with no option but to get out there and give it a go.

Which is how I meet Jay Wood—rigger, carpenter, and all-round hottie.

I’d be open to letting him wine and dine me—only Jay isn’t my type. He’s not a one-girl kind of guy. Monogamy isn’t even in his vocab, and I’m not a woman who’ll settle for being second choice.

But the closer we get, the more Jay has me tied up in knots.

And it’s making me think, maybe I could compromise and accept a little Wood in my life. Even if it’s only temporary.

Jay

Frankie’s funny, intelligent, and ridiculously sexy. This should be a no-brainer. A little fun in the sheets, and a little romp with some ropes—simple.

Only the infuriating woman is asking for more. I’m not that kind of guy. I wouldn’t even know how to be that kind of guy. I’m the definition of easy.

It’ll be fine. We’ll be friends. Just friends.

So, why does my heart feel frayed? And why is it I can’t help but consider taking the ultimate leap of faith—tying myself to Frankie. Permanently.

I’m not usually a romance reader but I’m always on the lookout for books with disability rep, and this cover caught my eye. It honestly made me really emotional reading this one. I don’t use a wheelchair, but I’ve been chronically ill for most of my life and seeing this kind of rep just fills me with so much emotion. Never underestimate the value good rep for underrepresented groups can have. There is a scene in Knot My Type where Frankie secretly leaves a party to find an accessible toilet in another building because the bathroom is too small in her partner’s house, and although this isn’t something I’ve experienced, I really related to having to adapt your life as a disabled person and the feelings Frankie went through during this scene. 

This is just the kind of disability rep I want to see in fiction. It appeared to be well researched (I can’t comment on accuracy) and it wasn’t a book about disability, it showed a disabled person living and enjoying life, going through all the highs and lows that everyone goes through, experiencing love and passion. Frankie is intelligent, bold, funny and sexy – she is a fully fleshed out character, and her disability is part of who she is.

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Audiobook Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Publishing Info: Audiobook, September 2019 by Recorded Books

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

Tamsyn Muir’s debut is an enthralling and unique science fantasy which propels the reader into an unexpectedly delightful, yet dark, tale about necromancers in space. Gideon the Ninth is complex and difficult to summarise, and in some ways difficult to define due to the way it draws together multiple genres, stitching them together into something entirely new.

Despite the significant amount of devoted fans Gideon the Ninth has garnered, it was with a little trepidation that I picked it up. It didn’t sound like my kind of book, but the glowing reviews for the narration encouraged me to give the audiobook a try.     

Rather than taking your hand and guiding you through the world, Tamsyn Muir thrusts you straight in, immediately immersing you in an unfamiliar and slightly daunting new world in which you feel like you could easily sink, rather than swim. There were times where I felt like I was floundering, struggling to keep my head above water and absorb all of the new words and concepts crashing over me in waves. There are few explanations about the world, how it came to be, how the system of nine necromantic Houses works, or what the different types of necromantic abilities are. There were many times where I was simply confused. However, the lack of pausing for explanations meant that reading Gideon the Ninth was an immersive experience, and once I had realised that the author wasn’t going to stop to explain anything, I simply allowed myself to be carried on the wave and enjoy the experience. I might not have understood every word or every aspect of the worldbuilding, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Forming a reluctant alliance, Gideon and Harrow of the Ninth House travel to the First House, where they join the necromancers and cavaliers of the other Houses for trials which they hope will see them rise to Lyctorhood. They find themselves in a once grand but now crumbling palace served by skeletons. Tamsyn Muir blends the old and the new in Canaan House, combining classical architecture with modern experimental labs, to create an eerie and sinister atmosphere which builds over the course of the novel. There is a significant mystery element to Gideon the Ninth which kept me turning the pages, and plenty of unexpected twists which kept me on my toes. The novel concludes with a thrilling climax. However, while I usually love action scenes, I found the final battle a little repetitive, and the pacing dragged in this section.   

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Audiobook Review: Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Genre: Fantasy

Publishing Info: Audiobook by Simon & Schuster Audio 2021

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

In just over a year’s time, Ryia Cautella has already earned herself a reputation as the quickest, deadliest blade in the dockside city of Carrowwick—not to mention the sharpest tongue. But Ryia Cautella is not her real name.

For the past six years, a deadly secret has kept her in hiding, running from town to town, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster—the sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. No matter how far or fast she travels, his servants never fail to track her down…but even the most powerful men can be defeated.

Ryia’s path now leads directly into the heart of the Guildmaster’s stronghold, and against every instinct she has, it’s not a path she can walk alone. Forced to team up with a crew of assorted miscreants, smugglers, and thieves, Ryia must plan her next moves very carefully. If she succeeds, her freedom is won once and for all… but unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is, and they all have plans of their own.

Among Thieves has been pitched as perfect for fans of Six of Crows, and it has a lot in common with that work which many will enjoy, namely a ragtag crew from a criminal gang taking on a massive heist. The novel follows five POV characters as they are forced to work together, each with their own secrets and agendas. While I enjoyed Among Thieves, it didn’t quite keep me turning the pages the way I had hoped, especially for such a short, fast-paced Adult fantasy. 

In the opening chapters, we’re introduced to our main characters – Ryia, Tristan, Nash, Ivan and Evelyn. Three of these five characters had very similar backstories – they are on the run and their real identities are a secret that none of the others know. This similarity made it difficult to remember who was who at first, and also meant their stories didn’t feel unique enough to hold my interest.

The plot moved fast, was engaging, and the stakes were high. Inevitably, all their plans for the heist go wrong, and they have to adapt. Some parts kept me guessing, others felt a little too predictable.

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Book Review: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor  

Genre: Fantasy

Publishing Info: 10th Anniversary Edition, 2020 by Hodder & Stoughton (first published 2012)

Pages: 528

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living – one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel-box without a jewel – a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of my favourite books of all time. It’s two years since I read it and I can’t believe it took me this long to get to the sequel. I think, perhaps, because the first book blew me away so much, I was nervous to read Days of Blood and Starlight. I needn’t have been worried, because although I don’t love it quite as much as the first book, it was still absolutely phenomenal.

I found the first half a little slow and wasn’t really sure where the story was going, but the last third or so was filled with so many twists I was absolutely glued to the page and audibly gasped at multiple points. There’s not too much I can say without spoiling the first book, but this one is at times very bleak and very grim, but despite that, the words and way Laini Taylor tells the story is so captivating and heart wrenching. There are also a few lighter moments provided by Zuzana and Mik who are gems bringing some much-needed smiles amongst all the darkness. 

I’ve read three of Laini Taylor’s books now and I just can’t get over how stunning her writing is. It paints a picture and envelops you like silk, delivering gentle moments and violence with a brush stroke that captures every emotion and movement so beautifully and vividly. Her words draw me into every story she writes and makes me want to never let go of the book in my hands.

Days of Blood and Starlight is an excellent sequel – dark and heart-breaking, yet full of hope. I’m excited for the final book in the trilogy – Dreams of Gods and Monsters – but I also don’t want the story to end, and I have a feeling it’s going to be devastating. Brilliant, but devastating, in the way the first two books have been. In a way that makes it unforgettable.