Book Review: The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni (eARC)

The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 416

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan is a survivor. For ten years, she has worked as the healer in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, making herself indispensable. Kept afloat by messages of hope from her family, Kiva has one goal and one goal only: stay alive.

Then one day the infamous Rebel Queen arrives at the prison on death’s door and Kiva receives a new message: Don’t let her die. We are coming.

The queen is sentenced to the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals. Aware the sickly queen has little chance of making it through the Trials alive, Kiva volunteers to take her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

And with an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.

Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Prison Healer is the first book by Lynette Noni I’ve read and I was excited to dive into this intriguing sounding novel. The description and concept of a story set entirely in a prison caught my attention, so I was very happy to be approved for an eARC and get the opportunity to read The Prison Healer early. Unfortunately, the opening chapters didn’t capture my attention and I almost DNFed quite early on. I kept on reading and the last quarter or so of the book had me much more riveted, so I was glad I didn’t give up on it. Until that twist on the final page, which left me feeling incredibly exasperated. More on that later.

The beginning of this review will be spoiler-free, with a section at the end containing major spoilers so I can properly explain why this twist ending was so frustrating. I’ll clearly signpost when the spoilers start so you can avoid them if you wish to.

The idea of a book set entirely in a deadly prison is very intriguing. Setting is really important in books located in entirely one location like this, the setting has to be considered as another character. Unfortunately, the setting didn’t have any personality. I wanted to be completely immersed in this dark and dangerous place, but I didn’t feel anything. There was no atmosphere or tension. We’re told people hardly ever leave this prison alive, that Kiva is unique for having managed to survive ten years. Almost everything we know about the prison we’re told, not shown. Because there was no atmosphere, it felt flat. In the latter half we did get to see the darker side to the prison, but for most of the book I didn’t feel afraid for the main character, I didn’t feel the tension that should come from a deadly prison setting.

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Book Review: Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin

Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: September 2020, Harper Teen

Pages: 528

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Dames Blanches, Lou, Reid, Coco, and Ansel are on the run from coven, kingdom, and church—fugitives with nowhere to hide.

To elude the scores of witches and throngs of chasseurs at their heels, Lou and Reid need allies. Strong ones. But protection comes at a price, and the group is forced to embark on separate quests to build their forces. As Lou and Reid try to close the widening rift between them, the dastardly Morgane baits them in a lethal game of cat and mouse that threatens to destroy something worth more than any coven.

Serpent & Dove was a surprise read for me last year. There was so much hype around it that I was curious to read it and ended up loving it more than I expected. The sequel, Blood & Honey, has not been received quite so well, so I was a little cautious going into reading it as I didn’t want to set my expectations too high and be disappointed. 

It took me a while to orientate myself at the beginning of the book, and I had to search for a recap online in the end because there were some important points from the end of Serpent & Dove which I just couldn’t remember. So I would definitely recommend rereading Serpent & Dove or looking for a recap if it’s been a while since you read the first book.

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Book Review: Shielded by KayLynn Flanders

Shielded by KayLynn Flanders

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Publishing Info: July 2020 by Delacorte Press (Fairyloot edition)

Pages: 424

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It’s losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.

As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn’s–her brother’s–magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.

Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong–the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it’s too late–for her and for her entire kingdom.

Shielded wasn’t on my radar but it came in the Fairyloot July box so I decided to give it a go. My initial impressions weren’t so good, but this one grew on me as I read. The opening chapters felt very introductory and it took too long for the story to get going.

The section in the Wild dragged on and at times it read like a list of Jenna’s actions, just her doing one thing and then another and another. Since she spent so long in the Wild, I was expecting something that happened in that part to become significant later, but there wasn’t a meaningful connection to anything else, so this part of the book needn’t have taken so long. Besides being referred to as a dangerous place in between the two kingdoms, the Wild isn’t referred to much in the rest of the book.  

I didn’t enjoy the writing style. It could be a bit clunky, and I times I even felt confused. There were bits of dialogue or description which I had to read a few times to understand what the author meant, and sometimes I still didn’t understand. Between some of the chapters there were short one or two page snippets showing what the villains of the story were up to. They were written in a very vague way, perhaps to provoke intrigue in the reader, but I just felt confused. Speaking of the villains, they were quite one-dimensional and I didn’t really get much grasp of their motivations.  

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Book Review: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: June 2020 by Page Street Kids (Fairyloot edition)

Pages: 385

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training, she plans on challenging her rival for the position of the queen’s next royal spy, but she’s forced to abandon her plan when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

With her mysterious ability uncovered, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King—the only person powerful enough to control the haunted Dead Wood that separates the kingdoms and, ultimately, enforces peace. But the Spider King’s hold of the Dead Wood is weakening, and he needs Sirscha to use her newly awakened powers to obliterate the bloodthirsty forest. As war looms on the horizon, it’s up to Sirscha to learn what she can do and who she can trust before time runs out.

Forest of Souls is a fast-paced fantasy novel with an Asian-inspired setting and I absolutely loved it. I’ve read a lot of character-driven YA fantasy recently so I enjoyed reading something that was more plot-driven and a bit faster paced. The Dead Wood is so spooky! Some of the scenes were really atmospheric and creepy! The way the trees partly come to life and grab at the characters as they’re trying to get through the forest was really gripping. The world is painted really vividly and I loved learning about the various peoples, their cultures, history and magic, as I read.

There was no romance in this book and I have to say I was really happy about that. Every YA book seems to be either romance-heavy or at least have a main romantic subplot. So it was refreshing to read a fantasy novel that didn’t focus on romance or try and shoehorn a romance in.

Theyen was hands down the best character. He’s so full of sass and has some amazing lines. He really brought the scenes he was in to life. However, most of the supporting characters just didn’t seem very complex. By the end of the book we know hardly anything about them as the focus is so much on Sirscha. While I appreciated the book focused on her personal journey, I would have liked to have known the other characters more. Even though this book is clearly plot-driven, it would have benefited from the supporting characters having more depth. Having said that, I did love all the characters and can’t wait to see them again in the sequel.

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Fairyloot June 2020 Unboxing

June is my birthday month so I was excited to get this box since it was due to come around my birthday. Unfortunately, it was delayed a couple of weeks due to the coronavirus so it didn’t come until about mid-July.

Fairyloot is a UK-based YA fantasy subscription box. If you subscribe, you get a box a month which includes a hardback book and 5-6 exclusive goodies around a theme.

The theme for this box was ‘A Different Kind of Magic’ and they revealed it would be a two-book box which is always awesome!

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Book Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Mass

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: September 2014 by Bloomsbury

Pages: 562

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Consumed by guilt and rage, Celaena can’t bring herself to spill blood for the King of Adarlan. She must fight back…

The Immortal Queen will help her destroy the king – for a price. But as Celaena battles with her darkest memories and her heart breaks for a love that could never last, can she fulfil the bargain and head the almighty court of Terrasen? And who will stand with her?

Heir of Fire is the third book in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series and so far it’s been getting better and better with each book. Sarah J. Maas introduces us to new locations and new characters in Heir of Fire which helped keep the story fresh. While the first two books were focused on Rifthold, Heir of Fire is split between three locations and storylines – Celaena in Wendlyn, Chaol and Dorian in Rifthold, and Manon in the Ferian Gap.

Celaena’s story and character development had me gripped the most. Celaena is broken and grieving after the events of Crown of Midnight and she grows a lot in this book. Celaena learns to use her magic and it is not easy. I appreciated that she didn’t get a grip of her magic instantaneously. It took time for her to learn to control her power. I’m not always keen on training sequences as they can be a bit samey and boring, but I didn’t find that at all in this book. Rowan is an interesting addition to the cast. He and Celaena don’t get on at first but their friendship grows as they realise they have more in common than they thought. I didn’t find the sections with Chaol and Dorian as entertaining. Although these parts were necessary for the plot, in places I just wasn’t that gripped by their storyline. Though I did like the introduction of Aedion Ashryver.

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Book Review: Burn by Patrick Ness

Burn by Patrick Ness

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: June 2020 by Walker Books  

Pages: 384

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

In 1956 Sarah Dewhurst’s father shocks her by hiring a dragon to work the farm. The dragon is a smaller blue rather than the traditional larger reds, though even the reds are now scarce. When the blue dragon, Kazimir, unexpectedly saves Sarah and her friend Jason Inagawa from the attentions of the racist police deputy, Kelby, everything changes. Sarah is part of a prophecy and she must escape the clutches of Malcolm, an assassin from a Believer Cell, the dragon-worshiping cult. When Sarah, Malcolm, and Kazimir eventually converge, they are thrown into another universe, where dragons seem never to have existed. Can they save this world and the one they left?

Patrick Ness’s latest book, Burn, took me on a journey I was not expecting. This is my second Patrick Ness book and I can’t quite put my finger on how to describe his work. He has a unique style and his books always seem unpredictable. Although they do sometimes use tropes (e.g. a prophecy in this book) they seem different to most YA books. This time, he’s taken dragons and put them in 1950s America. That concept alone had me desperate to read it.

Burn imagines a world where dragons are real and are a normal part of life. There has been a truce of sorts between humans and dragons, meaning dragons mostly stick to their own areas. There is a lot going on in this book. We have dragons, the Cold War, FBI agents, a cult and a prophecy. And it works. Patrick Ness has created a world where dragons wandering round rural America seemed totally normal. I don’t want to say too much more about the plot as I think this is one of those books where it’s best going into it not knowing much. At the midpoint it went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and kept me on my toes. There were so many twists and I loved that I never knew what was going to happen next.                                                                                   

There were a lot of characters packed into a short book, so we don’t get to know them in that much depth. But I felt I knew enough about them to be invested in their stories. Kazimir was my absolute favourite character. Patrick Ness does such an amazing job of showing his personality through his body language and facial expressions. Plus, he has some of the best lines. Although this is mostly a serious save the world kind of book, there are also some lines that had me chuckling.

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Book Review: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: July 2019 by Alfred A. Knopf Books

Pages: 392

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

Spin the Dawn is a magical YA fantasy novel that had me thoroughly enchanted. There’s something mystical about this story and Lim’s writing that just drew me in right from the first chapter.

From the description, the contest sounds like a large part of the story, but I was aware from reading other reviews that it actually only takes up a relatively small part of the book. I knew to expect more of a travelling/adventure narrative so wasn’t disappointed that the contest was short. My attention did waver a little in the middle when Maia and Edan are travelling through the desert, but it quickly picks up again and I was hooked in the latter half in particular.

I really enjoyed seeing a YA novel told from a perspective I’ve not seen before – that of a tailor. Protagonists in YA are often princesses, queens, rebels, thieves, assassins etc. Maia’s skill, and her dreams, lie in tailoring. The descriptions of her creations are stunning and it was wonderful to see the world through the eyes of a tailor. I also liked that family is important to her and how that is woven into the story. The relationships she has with her brothers is shown really well.  

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Let’s Talk Bookish: What Makes a Book YA?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s discussion topic is ‘What makes a book YA?’ which I think is quite an interesting topic at the moment. YA is very popular and has evolved a lot over the last 20 years. The age range for YA is generally described as 12-18. In the UK you tend to see a bit more of a divide in bookshops, where there is a ‘teen’ section which would be books aimed at 12-14 year-olds and a ‘YA’ section which is more 14+, with YA dealing with more mature subject matter than teen fiction.

So what makes a book YA? Well, some of the things that seem to be common across most YA is that they explore the lives of young characters finding their place in the world or discovering something about themselves. While plot is important, characters are vital to YA. There is usually romance (though I would happily see more YA focusing on friendship than romance) and the pacing is often faster than Adult titles.  

Then there is crossover. Crossover can go two ways. It can be a YA novel that has appeal for adults so is published as YA but also marketed to adults. Or an Adult book that has appeal to a YA audience so is published as Adult but also marketed to YA readers. I don’t think there’s any problem with this when utilised appropriately. It’s a great way for books to reach more hands of people who will enjoy them. But I think it can become confusing for people in relation to the what’s YA and what’s Adult debate.

There are definitely issues with how women authors are categorised, particularly in the fantasy genre. I see time and time again novels by women that are labelled as Adult fantasy still ending up in the YA section of the book shop or with a YA label on Goodreads. For example, I always see some V. E. Schwab books in the YA section of the bookshop even though they are Adult. From a reader perspective this makes it difficult to know what you’re reading. I’d like to know when I read a book whether it’s YA or Adult (or crossover) so I can have appropriate expectations of what to expect when I read it.

One issue with this is that books aimed at adults, potentially with adult content not suitable for younger readers, ends up in the YA section and being unknowingly picked up by readers at the younger end of that age category.

A series that often gets discussed with regards to this issue is the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas. The series has been categorised as YA but has a warning about content not being suitable for younger readers on the back cover. If you haven’t read it, there are some seriously steamy sex scenes that are much more graphic than anything else I’ve read in YA. But at the same time, I think this series does appeal to a YA audience. So I can see why it was put in the YA category, since Maas’s first series, Throne of Glass, was YA as well. But with this amount of sexual content, especially later in the series, it probably should have been shelved as Adult. Fortunately, I picked this series up as an adult, but if I’d read it as a younger teen…hmm…well…it probably wouldn’t have been appropriate and I would have been surprised to find that content in a book I’d picked up in the YA section.

There seems to be an issue with fantasy being edged towards the YA category rather than Adult because it’s been written by a woman, when it would fit better in the Adult category. Adult science-fiction and fantasy is full of amazing works by women, but it still seems to be a genre dominated by men.

Attitudes towards female sci-fi and fantasy authors needs to change. It’s completely ridiculous that fantasy by women so often gets pushed towards YA purely because of the author’s gender.

What do you think makes a book YA? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Book Review: Bone Crier’s Moon by Kathryn Purdie

Bone Crier’s Moon by Kathryn Purdie

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: March 2020 by Katherine Tegan Books (Fairyloot edition)  

Pages: 453

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Bone ​Criers have a sacred duty. They alone can keep the dead from preying on the living. But their power to ferry the spirits of the dead into goddess Elara’s Night Heavens or Tyrus’s Underworld comes from sacrifice. The gods demand a promise of dedication. And that promise comes at the cost of the Bone Criers’ one true love.

Ailesse has been prepared since birth to become the matriarch of the Bone Criers, a mysterious famille of women who use strengths drawn from animal bones to ferry dead souls. But first she must complete her rite of passage and kill the boy she’s also destined to love.

Bastien’s father was slain by a Bone Crier and he’s been seeking revenge ever since. Yet when he finally captures one, his vengeance will have to wait. Ailesse’s ritual has begun and now their fates are entwined—in life and in death.

Sabine has never had the stomach for the Bone Criers’ work. But when her best friend Ailesse is taken captive, Sabine will do whatever it takes to save her, even if it means defying their traditions—and their matriarch—to break the bond between Ailesse and Bastien. Before they all die.

Bone Crier’s Moon is an imaginative, fast-paced young adult fantasy. I was expecting romance to play a bigger part, but this book has a wider focus. The novel is told from three first person perspectives – Ailesse, Bastien and Sabine.

The magic system and world building in this book are creative and enchanting. The Leuress ferry the dead once a month, guiding them on to Tyrus’s underworld or to Elara’s paradise. They draw their magic from the grace bones of animals. A Leuress has to kill an animal and take one of its bones (warning: there are a few animal deaths in this book). When they wear this bone, they take on the graces of that animal, for example enhanced hearing or strength. In order to become a ferrier, the Leuress have to complete a rite of passage in which they kill their soul mate. The mythology of the bone crier’s is so vivid and it’s such an interesting idea. I loved discovering more about them and I hope we’ll gain even more insight into their magic and their role as ferriers of the dead in the next book.

Sabine was definitely my favourite character. She finds having to kill animals in order to get grace bones very conflicting. She isn’t even sure she wants to be a ferrier. I liked seeing her character grow over the course of the novel. I didn’t connect with Ailesse as much at the start, but she definitely grew on me. I also loved the strength of their friendship and how it drives them. Unfortunately, I felt we didn’t get to know Bastien well enough. I didn’t like or dislike his character; I just didn’t feel like I knew him as well as the two other POV characters. Odiva, Ailesse’s mother, was an interesting character. I knew there was something fishy about her from the start, but I couldn’t have guessed what the truth actually was!

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