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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Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas  

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: May 2017 by Bloomsbury Childrens Books

Pages: 699

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

A Court of Wings and Ruin is the third book in this series and concludes the main original trilogy. And wow was it a good conclusion. While I didn’t enjoy A Court of Mist and Fury as much as the first book, I absolutely loved A Court of Wings and Ruin. People seem to rave over ACOMAF, but it was too slow in places for me and I felt that book was dragged out a bit too much (although I still liked it, just not as much as the others!). ACOWAR on the other hand kept the pace and suspense up all the way through. The stakes were high, I was invested in the characters and I was hooked from start to finish.  

This book has a huge cast and I loved most of them. I loved seeing Feyre as High Lady and adjusting to her new role (also it was really satisfying seeing other characters, especially High Lords, react to realising she’s High Lady). Then there’s the inner circle, Mor, Amren, Cassian and Azriel, and the addition of Nesta and Elain. I liked seeing Feyre’s sisters have a bigger role in this book as we got to see her interact with them more.

The amount of twists and turns in this book was unbelievable. It’s building up to the final climactic battle between Prythian and Hybern, but along the way there is plenty of suspense and twists. I devoured the last 100 or so pages, with my moods shifting from elation to tears and back again over and over. When I closed the book, I felt satisfied with the conclusion. ACOWAR is a great ending to this trilogy.

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Book Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: January 2019 by Bloomsbury  

Pages: 496

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

In a lush, contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Brigid Kemmerer gives readers another compulsively readable romance perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer.

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

I have to admit, this is one of those books I picked up because of the hype. I passed it time and time again in the bookshop and considered buying it, but changed my mind (that shiny spine on the paperback edition catches the eye!). I’m not a big Beauty and the Beast fan, so that wasn’t a particular selling point to me, although I do love retellings. Eventually, I bought it, and I’m glad I did.

Although it’s a romance, it also explores the people of Emberfall and the conflict with a neighbouring kingdom, so there was a good blend of romance and fantasy. The writing style is easy to read but also vivid and at the end of each chapter I was eager to turn the page and continue reading. It’s told in the alternating first person perspectives of Harper and Rhen. It often takes me a while to settle into this kind of style, but I didn’t have that problem with this book. The story gets going right from the start, with Harper being transported to Emberfall, so I was hooked from the off.

I immediately took to Harper, Rhen and Grey. I’m so glad that Brigid Kemmerer decided to include a main character with cerebral palsy. There needs to be more characters with disabilities and chronic health conditions in YA books. I loved that Harper’s cerebral palsy doesn’t hold her back. She’s thrown into this fantasy world from DC and quickly adapts, using her fearlessness to fight bad guys and stand up for others. Harper has to be one of my favourite YA heroines.

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Book Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: February 2020 by Feiwel and Friends, Fairyloot Edition

Pages: 326

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

The Shadows Between Us is a standalone fantasy novel and my first introduction to Tricia Levenseller’s writing. I wasn’t sure this book would be for me, but it came in February’s Fairyloot box in the most gorgeous edition, so of course I had to give it a go. It’s described as a Slytherin romance, and I’m very much a Hufflepuff, so that selling point didn’t speak to me personally. But I ended up loving it! It also makes a nice change to read a standalone fantasy, as this genre is so often long series.

Alessandra is such a determined character. Right from the start, we get a sense of her personality. She’s not afraid to be herself and she fights for what she wants. Her eyes are set on the throne, and she’s willing to kill the king to get it. Alessandra also designs and makes her own dresses and the descriptions are divine. She bends the rules of what women can do in this world, and uses her power to change things for the other women of the court too. She’s ambitious and scheming and she stands out from other young adult protagonists for that reason. From that perspective she’s quite an unusual protagonist really. This sort of character is often the antagonist, so I loved seeing a story told through the eyes of a different kind of character.

Kallius is an equally interesting character. He’s not a noble hero. We see him kill a guard for failing to keep watch. He wants to conquer more of the surrounding kingdoms. But since Alessandra isn’t your typical protagonist either, they are very well suited. They’re both ambitious and driven.   

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Book Review: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova (eARC)

Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 464

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

An epic tale of revenge and redemption in a world where a memory thief must fight against terrifying monarchs bent on the destruction of her people.

When the royal family of Puerto Leones sets out to destroy magic through a grand and terrible inquisition, spy and memory-thief Renata seeks to kill the prince, leader of the King’s Justice, who plans to use a terrible new weapon to wipe out the magic of the Moria…

For fans who enjoyed the ferocity of Ember in the Ashes, INCENDIARY explores the double-edged sword of memory and the triumph of hope and love in the midst of fear and oppression.

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

Incendiary is set in a fantasy world inspired by Inquisition-era Spain. The concept of having a character who can steal memories intrigued me. But while the world and concept were interesting, this book was in some ways disappointing.

The opening few chapters grabbed my attention, but there was a lot of new information for the reader, some of which could have been explained better. I did feel a bit lost at times with all the new words and concepts. It was never really explained why Ren is occasionally referred to as an Incendiary, and since that’s the title of the book, it’s a shame that doesn’t come across. I like that we were thrown right into the story, but that did mean I found it a bit difficult to get my head around the magic system. There is a lot of exposition which makes the pacing drag. The first section of the book is very exciting and the last section is also very gripping, but the middle was quite slow and didn’t keep me hooked.  

Ren is a good protagonist. While she’s shunned by society because of her magic, she’s also looked upon with mistrust by the Moria because her magic is rare and seen as dangerous. She has the ability to steal people’s memories, and if she steals too many she can leave a person as a Hollow. This creates some great conflict, as Ren doesn’t really fit in anywhere, and it also means she has a lot of internal conflict which is what drives a lot of the story. However, many of the reveals come from memories Ren has stolen. While she is an active rather than passive character, she doesn’t do much to work things out for herself at times, the reveals for the reader are kind of handed to her.

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Book Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: September 2019, kindle edition, Harper Teen

Pages: 518

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle:
thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

I have heard so much about this book that I just had to read it. I was curious why it was being raved about so much. At first when I started reading, I wasn’t sure about it. I thought I might find Lou annoying, but the characters and story grew on me. Shelby Mahurin really pulled me into their story and I ended up being hooked. It was an addictive read and even though I only recently finished it, I know I’m going to want to read this book again.  

Enemies to lovers romance seems really popular right now. I hope we’re not going to get flooded with these types of stories like we did love triangles years back. The romance was gradual and not forced in anyway, their growing chemistry was written really well. I can see why enemies to lovers romance is appealing to readers, and I did enjoy the romance in this story, even though I don’t usually enjoy romance-focused stories as much as plot/action focused ones.

Lou and Reid really grew on me and I loved seeing how they changed over the course of the book. The supporting characters were great too, especially Ansel and Coco. Although Beau felt a bit randomly thrown into the group at the end and I wanted to know more about him and why he didn’t seem fazed by the magic. Maybe he’s just a rebellious prince. But I hope we know a bit more about him in the next book so his presence doesn’t seem so random.

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Book Review: Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: November 2019, Illumicrate Edition, Harper Voyager  

Pages: 454

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.

You may or may not be aware that there was some controversy around this book prior to its publication. A Twitter backlash resulted in the author deciding not to publish the book initially, and later, having made some changes, going ahead with publishing it. There was a bit of a Twitter pile on by people who hadn’t even read the book, which seems completely ridiculous. If you’ve read the book you can form an opinion on it, but I don’t get it when people hadn’t even read the book. Besides, people shouldn’t be going round attacking authors on Twitter. I’m glad the author did decide to publish in the end. This post is going to be purely a review of the book. If you want to know more about what happened, a quick google will pull up a tonne of articles on the subject.  

Blood Heir hooked me from the start, with a tense and compelling opening few chapters. Ana’s Affinity means she can control blood. She can sense it in other people and use it to kill people. There is the potential for her to use it to heal too, but she’s never been taught how to do this. Since her Affinity revealed itself, she’s been viewed by others as a monster, meaning she also views herself as a monster. Ana’s internal conflict revolves around the view of herself as a monster, and trying to accept that it’s how she uses her ability that shows who she is, that she isn’t inherently bad because of her Affinity.

The world in which Ana lives – the Cyrilian empire – is one that misunderstands and mistreats Affinites. Those with abilities are used for their magic and are looked down upon by society. When her family learn she’s an Affinite, Ana is locked away and attempts are made to ‘cure’ her. Due to being kept hidden in the palace, it’s only when Ana is outside of its walls that she discovers her Empire isn’t as good as she had thought, but is actually very corrupt. Affinites are trafficked and the Empire’s own soldiers are complicit in it. Many Affinites come to Cyrilia looking for a better life, but are separated from their families and trapped in work contracts they can’t escape. The author has drawn on her own multicultural experiences in writing the book. She moved from China to the US when she was 18. Amelie has stated that Affinite indenturement in Blood Heir reflects the issues of human trafficking in Asia. As the reader uncovers the truth of what’s happening in Cyrilia alongside Ana, it’s an eye opening experience to the corruptness of the Empire’s system and the conditions the trafficked Affinites endure.     

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Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas  

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: May 2016 by Bloomsbury Children’s

Pages: 626

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Feyre is immortal.

After rescuing her lover Tamlin from a wicked Faerie Queen, she returns to the Spring Court possessing the powers of the High Fae. But Feyre cannot forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people – nor the bargain she made with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.

As Feyre is drawn ever deeper into Rhysand’s dark web of politics and passion, war is looming and an evil far greater than any queen threatens to destroy everything Feyre has fought for. She must confront her past, embrace her gifts and decide her fate.

She must surrender her heart to heal a world torn in two.

As I loved A Court of Thorns and Roses so much, I was very excited to read the sequel. Lots of new characters are introduced as Feyre enters the world of the Night Court. It didn’t take long for me to become invested in all of them. I loved meeting Mor, Amren, Cassian and Azriel, and I also enjoyed discovering other parts of Prythian as A Court of Thorns and Roses was focused on the Spring Court.

Maas does a such a good job with Feyre’s character, showing the impact the events from A Court of Thorns and Roses has on her. At the beginning of the book she’s haunted by what happened to her, and the lives she was forced to take to save Prythian. Feyre grows and develops over the course of this book, coming to terms with what happened Under the Mountain and gaining new perspective of her time with Tamlin. Speaking of Tamlin, I really don’t like his character. I didn’t like him in the first book and I didn’t like him in the sequel either. He’s a very boring character who just comes across as moody and lacking in personality. So I was glad he wasn’t a main character in this book!

Unfortunately I did feel it was longer than needed to be. If it had been a bit shorter, just trimmed in a few places, it would have had better pacing. However I appreciated the time taken for character development, as I felt I really got to know all the central characters, not just Feyre, which made me more invested in their fates. I also loved the slow development of the romance. It was predictable who would end up together, but there was no instalove here.

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