Being Picky About What You Read

Being Picky About What You Read

I think its reasonable for readers to be picky about what content they’re obtaining when they look for new books. To be honest, many of the novels that are currently occupying the breathing space in my bedroom (I have to walk around the stacks of books just to find my mattress) are ones that were either sent to me from publishers or authors, or ones that friends loaned to me with the secret intent of never seeing those books again. Luckily I found a donation bin near my old library where I can drop off the ones I know I’ll never get to, but recently I went to that bin and found that it was overflowing with books. There is even a clear sign on the crate that states “please do not leave books outside if bin is full.” But as it turns out, I’m leaving to go to college in less than a week and my cottage sized home is already bursting with luggage and cardboard boxes. So I did what I could— fit as many books as I could cram into the donation bin, called the number on the bin for a quick pick-up, and then drove off with half of the books still in my car.

This probably seems so strange and random of me to be mentioning, but it actually brought to mind something that has always been nagging me. I feel as though many of the readers I meet both online and offline always have a preferred genre that they stick to when trying to find new books. I’m not exception to this rule, because I adore fantasy novels over everything else. While half of the books I own aren’t ones that I’ve picked for myself, the half that I did buy on my own time are all ones with warrior heroines on the covers; dragons, knights, castles, magic. You name it, it’s on there. But for me, those are the best types of novels. A love story between two high school students or a science-fiction piece about the apocalypse just doesn’t draw me in as much as a story about a wandering mage or a medieval executioner would. So while I’ve tried to force myself to enjoy genres other than fantasy… it usually never works out. With the exception of one of my favorite novels, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, I often stray from contemporary (for example) because I feel as though I’ve already read those stories because I’m living in that world currently. Perhaps one of the reasons I do adore Tartt’s novel so much is because it was the only contemporary/ thriller to draw me in as much as a high fantasy would.

I find that readers, particularly bloggers, will force themselves to try genres that they know they won’t really enjoy because they want to broaden their scope of stories. And truly, I think that’s wonderful! It makes sense, right? But for me, and I’m sure this applies to others as well, each time I try a certain genre that’s not my preferred cup of coffee, I end up having a bad experience with it because in the back of my head I know there are a thousand more fantasy books I could be reading of which I would love plenty more than the off-chance I pick up a romance novel.

I also feel that it’s important to bring up the diversity issue in regards to book genres. While I’ve probably just exhausted your eyes with my blathering on about how I love fantasy… I also have to recognize that it doesn’t contain as much diversity as other genres, particularly Young Adult contemporary. In recent years, the YA contempt. sections have experienced a massive influx of diverse stories, and I couldn’t be more inspired to see it. It’s something that every book being published needs to include, no matter the content or “historical accuracy” (a weak argument I’ve seen far to many times to even want to delve into on this post). So that being said, I’ve tried my hardest to search for the fantasy novels that include a diverse cast of characters and portray them in correct/ positive ways. Needless to say, it wasn’t on easy feat. But that’s in part due to the fact that there aren’t too many diverse fantasies being published, and for the ones that are, occasionally the synopsis won’t draw me in. Remember what I said about being picky? On one hand it’s a blessing because you’re more likely to enjoy the book your reading, but on the other hand the book you’re reading may have many faults or might take you forever to find.

All that being said, below is a list of my favorite books. And yes, they’re mostly fantasy.


  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt— Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

 

  • An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson— Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life. Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless. Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

 

  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi— Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

 

  • Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh—The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath. So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace. The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

 

  • Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones— All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns. But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts. Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

 

  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo—Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee. Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

 

  • Scourge by Gail Z. Martin—The city-state of Ravenwood is wealthy, powerful, and corrupt. Merchant Princes and Guild Masters wager fortunes to outmaneuver League rivals for the king’s favor and advantageous trading terms. Lord Mayor Ellor Machison wields assassins, blood witches, and forbidden magic to assure that his powerful patrons get what they want, no matter the cost. Corran, Rigan, and Kell Valmonde are Guild Undertakers, left to run their family’s business when guards murdered their father and monsters killed their mother. Their grave magic enables them to help souls pass to the After and banish vengeful spirits. Rigan’s magic is unusually strong and enables him to hear the confessions of the dead, the secrets that would otherwise be taken to the grave. When the toll exacted by monsters and brutal guards hits close to home and ghosts expose the hidden sins of powerful men, Corran, Rigan and Kell become targets in a deadly game and face a choice: obey the Guild, or fight back and risk everything.

 

  • The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak— In her latest novel, Elif Shafak spins an epic tale spanning nearly a century in the life of the Ottoman Empire. In 1540, twelve-year-old Jahan arrives in Istanbul. As an animal tamer in the sultan’s menagerie, he looks after the exceptionally smart elephant Chota and befriends (and falls for) the sultan’s beautiful daughter, Princess Mihrimah. A palace education leads Jahan to Mimar Sinan, the empire’s chief architect, who takes Jahan under his wing as they construct (with Chota’s help) some of the most magnificent buildings in history. Yet even as they build Sinan’s triumphant masterpieces—the incredible Suleymaniye and Selimiye mosques—dangerous undercurrents begin to emerge, with jealousy erupting among Sinan’s four apprentices. A memorable story of artistic freedom, creativity, and the clash between science and fundamentalism, Shafak’s intricate novel brims with vibrant characters, intriguing adventure, and the lavish backdrop of the Ottoman court, where love and loyalty are no match for raw power.

 

  • Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente— Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century. Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.

 

  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab—Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

 

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater—“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.” It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive. Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her. His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

 

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor—Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war. Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out. When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

 

  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley— Here is the magical legend of King Arthur, vividly retold through the eyes and lives of the women who wielded power from behind the throne. A spellbinding novel, an extraordinary literary achievement, THE MISTS OF AVALON will stay with you for a long time to come….

 

  • Vixen by Rosie Garland— Rosie Garland’s extraordinary tale is a story of superstition and devotion in the time of the Black Death and will bewitch both new readers and fans of her much-loved debut, The Palace of Curiosities. Devon, 1349. In Brauntone, where seagulls screech across the fields and the wind has a mind to change, Father Thomas arrives as the new priest. Determined to impress his congregation, he quells fears of the coming pestilence with promises of protection. For Anne, the priest’s arrival is an opportunity that at sixteen, she feels all too ready for. Convinced a grand fate awaits, she moves in as Thomas’s housekeeper, though hopeful of something more. But his home is a place without love or kindness. So when a strange, mute Maid is discovered, washed up in the marshes, and taken in, Anne is grateful for the company. Their friendship is to give Anne the chance of a happiness she thought she’d never know. But soon the plague strikes Brauntone, spreading panic. And as the villagers’ fear turns to anger, Thomas must sacrifice anything to restore their faith in him.

 

  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir— Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free. Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

 

  • Heartwood by Freya Robertson— A dying tree, a desperate quest, a love story, a last stand. Chonrad, Lord of Barle, comes to the fortified temple of Heartwood for the Congressus peace talks, which Heartwood’s holy knights have called in an attempt to stave off war in Anguis. But the Arbor, Heartwood’s holy tree, is failing, and because the land and its people are one, it is imperative the nations try to make peace. After the Veriditas, or annual Greening Ceremony, the Congressus takes place. The talks do not go well and tempers are rising when an army of warriors emerges from the river. After a fierce battle, the Heartwood knights discover that the water warriors have stolen the Arbor’s heart. For the first time in history, its leaves begin to fall… The knights divide into seven groups and begin an epic quest to retrieve the Arbor, and save the land.

 

  • The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera—The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests. Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons. This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

 

  • Elfland by Fred Warrington—Rosie Fox is a daughter of the Aetherials, an ancient race from the Spiral—the innermost realm of the Otherworld—who lives secretly among us. Yet she and her kind are bereft of their origins, because on Earth, in a beautiful village named Cloudcroft, the Great Gates between worlds stand sealed. Her parents, Auberon and Jessica, are the warm heart of Cloudcroft and of Rosie’s loving family. But on the hill lives the mysterious, aloof Lawrence Wilder, Gatekeeper to the inner realms of Elfland. Tortured by private demons, he is beset by trouble on all sides: his wife has vanished and his sons Jon and Sam are bitter and damaged. Lawrence is duty bound to throw open the Gates every seven years for the Night of the Summer Stars, a ritual granting young Aetherials their heritage, their elders vital reconnection to their source. Lawrence, however, is haunted by fears of an ever-growing menace within the Spiral. When he stubbornly bars the Gates, he defies tradition and enrages the Aetherial community. What will become of them, deprived of the realm from which flows their essential life force? Is Lawrence protecting them—or betraying them? Growing up amid this turmoil, Rosie and her brothers, along with Sam and Jon Wilder, are heedless of the peril lurking beyond the Gates. They know only that their elders have denied them their birthright, harboring dark secrets in a conspiracy of silence. When Sam is imprisoned for an all-too-human crime, age-old wounds sunder the two families…yet Rosie is drawn into his web, even as she fears the passions awoken in her by the dangerous Wilder clan. Torn between duty and desire, between worlds, Rosie unwittingly precipitates a tragedy that compels her to journey into the Otherworld, where unknown terrors await. Accompanied by the one man most perilous to her life, she must learn hard lessons about life and love in order to understand her Aetherial nature…and her role in the terrifying conflict to come.

 

  • The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco— “The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.” Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human. Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

 

  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller—Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

 

  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss—Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle Q+A

glass castle beachJust this previous week I was lucky enough to see a screening of the book adaption The Glass Castle thanks to Lionsgate. The book is written by Jeannette Walls and the movie was directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. The story follows four siblings as they are raised on the run, constantly moving from home and adapting to their new environments. Their parents are wild, carefree, and reckless, but they’ve also taught their children a way to experience the world that no other kids in their predicament ever could understand. That nostalgia is what ignites a moment of reflection for Jeannette as she is on her way to a fancy event in New York City and looks out her taxicab to see her mother picking through a dumpster. The Walls parents are found squatting in an abandoned building on the Lower East Side, having traveled half way across the country to the city so they can be near their children who’ve only ever wanted to distance themselves from their dangerous childhood.

The movie was a brilliant adaption of the book, staying true to every plot and characteristic while also keeping the more morbid and troublesome to read scenes slightly less dark. If anything, the movie was a tad lighter and more peaceful than the chaotic wilderness of the book, but both the novel and the film ended on a similar note with the same intended message.

Brie Larson was phenomenal and played the part of Jeannette as though she had taken in a part of her soul. You could really see it in the actor’s eyes how deeply connected she became with her character, especially because the book is a biography and the author was revealed to often be on the set of the shoot. It was magical to watch unfurl, and there were numerous times where I had to hold back tears.

During a Q&A interview with the Jeannette Walls, Naomi Watts, and Brie Larson, the women of the Glass Castle movie spoke about their time on set, getting to adapt to their characters, and learning from the story the importance of empowering yourself. The whole atmosphere of the event was saturated in deep conversations about inner strength. Walls is a remarkable speaker as well! Occasionally I’ve notice some authors who aren’t the strongest public speakers, but Jeannette could be on TED with how well she communicated with us all.

A member of the press asked “The tension between self-preservation and care for others is a theme throughout the entire film, and I would love to hear your experiences dealing with this both as an individual and when in the film.” Jeannette then tells us all that this is something she has wrestled with for most of her life because she is a survivor. She then explains that while many people have asked her how she could forgive her parents for all that they have caused her, she believes the only person she needed to forgive was herself.

Jeannette explained that “we who pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and have to make some tough choices to get by are a bit selfish. And that was one of the transformative things about watching this movie— seeing Brie Larson making these tough choices. I loved her and was rooting for her in a way that I never loved or rooted for myself. It was kind of magnificent.”

The Glass Castle is now in theaters everywhere and you can watch the trailer by clicking right here. I highly recommend bringing your tissues! It’ll be an emotional ride.

Review: Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

Rate 1

“I wish I was not who I am. I wish I had met you in different circumstances, in a place far away from here, where there was no magic, politics and deception. Somewhere where things could be different between us. I wish I was someone else. But I am what and who I am, and all the wishes in the world will not change that.”

The narrator, a young village girl named Cécile, was taught ever since her childhood to sing as beautifully as her mother once did. Her teachers were brutal but efficient, and eventually she sang with such strength that her talents would soon land her outside of her rural hometown and into great fame and fortune. But on the eve of her birthday, as she rides home without a chaperone, she is kidnapped by a neighbor and taken beneath the mountains as tribute for the trolls who had been seeking her. A witch’s curse imprisoned the trolls so that they could never be above ground again, but with the arranged proposal between our heroine and the Prince Tristan of Trollus, many believed the curse would break and set them free. However, when the curse remains in place, Cécile is left with one thing on her mind: escape Trollus or be killed alongside her betrothed.

I truly wanted to enjoy this story, especially because I know many who loved it, and the premise seemed wonderful, but sadly that is not what happened.

As I’ve mentioned, the heroine is kidnaped not too far into the story (first few chapters) and taken beneath the earth. This was my first uneasy sign of how the rest of the book would fall through, because while not every heroine comes written with blades and military training, this one didn’t have the strength of mind or willpower to at least try to flee from her captor. She must’ve fallen a dozen times in her attempted plight, and at one point she even concedes to just walk behind him because she knows she is screwed. About ten more chapters later she sees her captor bartering his wares in the goblin market, and instead of being outraged she is relieved and hopes to find comfort from him. I understand they’re the only humans in the realm, but really? He is the reason you’re there in the first place. Why try to ally with him? You can gather by now the pattern in which this character will continue.

Then we have the supposed love interest— Prince Tristan of Trollus. Coincidentally everyone else in the realm has some sort of deformity to show their troll status but Tristan looks human right down to the color of his eyes. He is arrogant and brooding, two traits I loath, and although the perspective shits with each chapter between him and Cécile, I still couldn’t understand where his sudden affection for her came from. One chapter they’re screaming at each other, and the next he is secretly in love with her. “But Alas! She cannot know for she will be endangered so I shall continue being a giant asshole to her.” Or something along those lines. And when she started to reciprocate the feelings I wanted to just stop reading then and there because the romance makes absolutely no sense and if anything felt a bit like a Stockholm Syndrome scenario. The only relationship throughout the entire novel that I did enjoy was between Cécile and Tristan’s cousin and closest friend, Marc. But that all changed when our heroine did something brash, got her love interest in vital danger, and was blamed for nearly killing the Prince in the only moment I was rooting for her— while she was trying to finally escape. Upon Tristan’s injured state, Marc is so enraged that he attempts to physically hit Cécile but cannot, not because he knows he damn well shouldn’t, but because of an oath he pledged never to harm her. So instead, he asks the nearest guard to do it for him. (What the literal fuck.) At least that guard has the sense not to, but don’t worry; she forgives Marc regardless.

And perhaps it was just me, but the way in which the trolls were described disturbed me a bit. For me, it was a little too many digs at deformities (yes, even for a fantasy series about trolls) and I was uncomfortable by how many times disfigured people were referenced as monsters and disgusting creatures. I know the author must not have wanted it to come off that way, but personally I felt that it did and I would rather their descriptors had been written differently.

Where the plot is concerned, I felt that too was another flop of a concept that had a wonderful premise and build up. It was very vague and a lot of the scenes I found were mundane, and every once in a while I had to force myself not to skim over a whole section because it either didn’t make sense or had no relevance to the immediate plot. That could also just be a reflection on the writing style as well. I wasn’t much of a fan of either.
I would not recommend this book although I understand that many people felt differently about it, so perhaps you will as well. I won’t be reading the rest of this series because I don’t have high hopes but I do have a million books on my TBR pile that I’d like to get to instead. Hopefully my next read will be better!

My Rating: 1/5 
Goodreads Link: X

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

rate 5

This book is a spring banquet of ripe grapefruit wine, a summer morning beneath swaying willow trees, an autumnal bonfire deep in the woods, and a wintry dusk backset to the wind.

….At least it made me feel that way. Rogerson killed the imagery game.

I’ve been waiting for a very long time for a book like this to come out. I’ve always been obsessed with faeries and elvish folklore, and while I’ve read just about every book related to those mythologies nothing ever seemed quite right. Sure, all of the characters had pointy ears, magical powers, and lived somewhat near the forest, but that’s about where the similarities cut off. I wanted a story where the Fae were humanoid with tree roots for limbs and flowers for lips, where they worshipped nature instead of just lived in it— something closer to the rendition of Celtic folklore including the Wild Hunt, changelings, and caverns beneath the earth. And I’m so happy to say that An Enchantment of Ravens was that book for me.

Our narrator is a young portrait artist named Isobel who lives in a village called Whimsy where it is eternally summer. Her Craft— a form of human creativity that cannot be done by Fair Folk without risk of harm—is legendary for someone her age, and various Fair Ones come to visit her parlor to be painted, if only for a small price. All masters of Craft receive enchantments as a form of payment, but if worded wrong these wishes can go awry. Isobel always wishes for practical things and words them right, much to the delight of her regular client and wish-granter Gadfly. But upon one of his usual visits, Gadfly tells Isobel that she should expect the Autumn Prince soon. And while she gets to know Rook more intimately than any of her other clients, she accidentally paints mortal sorrow into his eyes. For this, the price is grave, and now Rook must take Isobel to his home, the Autumnlands, to stand trial for what she has done. However, they might never make it there with what lurks between her world and his kingdom.

The writing, the plot, the characters, the romance….everything in this book is a treat. At first I thought that it might be a bit fast-paced because it’s just a tad smaller in length to some of my more recent reads, but that’s definitely not the case. It was well thought out from the start to the finish with no “filler” scenes or rushed pivotal moments. I took my time reading this book and it really helped me delve into the setting so much so that I felt a deep connection with the main characters by the commencement of the final page.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the deal-breaking moments for me was the rendition of the Fae. The Fair Folk in this book cannot lie, are harmed by iron, have humanoid skins they wear as a disguise to hide their more monstrous forms underneath, live in places made of all things natural, and (my favorite) don’t have emotions. Supposedly.

One thing that always stood out to me amongst these other faerie novels was that the authors were quick to include emotion of some sort amongst their kind, wherein the original tales depicted the Fae as cruel, often vindictive and evil characters that didn’t feel human emotion and rather loved to toil with it for their own reprieve. That being said, the only romance featured in this book is saved for the main characters—which I thought was a wonderful decision as opposed to the usual minor “ships” that are often sidelined and then forced to fulfill plot devices. Also, it made the story seem more like a fairytale which was entirely the vibe I got from it (a morbid, eerily beautiful fairytale at that).

“He was no more able to understand the sorrow of a human’s death than a fox might mourn the killing of a mouse.”

Not to be dramatic, but I think I’ve found my favorite YA male protagonist as well. I had gone into this book believing that the Autumn Prince would be brooding with a side of dark humor (you know the type, I’m sure) but you can imagine my utter surprise when I find that Rook is, in fact, quite the opposite. He is good-natured, apologizes whenever he thinks he’s upset someone even when he hasn’t, doesn’t understand human emotion and finds it terrifying, and has a deep love for autumn. There were many hysterical moments between Rook and Isobel but I won’t mention them here because they’re something you should experience on your own. However, I will say that when someone bows or curtsies to a Fair One, that Fae must return the gesture immediately.

His character development is prominent throughout the story, as is Isobel’s, but I won’t mention more for fear of spoiling you. Rest assured, there were many things I picked up on that had changed from the beginning to the end, and they changed for the better. I also adore the way in which his physical descriptor was written: “…against his golden-brown complexion, which put me in mind of late-afternoon sunlight dappling fallen leaves.” And I think it’s important to note that he has ADHD, something my brother suffers from, and I found it refreshing to see this trait with a main character for a change. Did I mention that he can also transform into a dark horse and a raven?

I’ve already re-read this story three times and each time brings about stronger emotions for me. This is one of those books that you’ll want to revisit frequently because it plays with your heart in ways no other stories have (at least that’s the case for me)! The ending was wild, and while everything was answered and little to no ties were left untangled, I still want more. As of now I believe this is a stand-alone, but if there were ever a sequel in it’s future there would be plenty of things to write further more from where this book ended. If not that, then you can expect I’ll be dabbling in my fair share of Fanfiction. Enough said: READ THIS BOOK.

My Rating: 5/5
Goodreads Link: X

And because I’m so enraptured with this tale, I did a little makeup look inspired by the Autumnlands! It’s nothing overly magnificent because I just recently discovered my love for makeup, but it’s certainly something else. Who knows, I’d still wear this to class.

Eyeshadow: Modern Renaissance by Anastasia Beverly Hills
Liquid Eyeliner: Kat Von D
Elf Ears: Geekling Creations on Etsy

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Processed with VSCO with c7 preset

Faerie Book Recommendations

Faerie Book Recommendations

Faeries, elves, dwarves, and druids are only a few of my favorite fictional creatures. I’m constantly searching for fantasy series that incorporate these characters, and although the fairy/faerie trope has recently skyrocketed thanks to authors like Cassandra Clare and Sarah J. Maas, I feel as though those are only certain types of Fae, being portrayed in drastically different manners with different parts of folkloric inspiration. And while I once enjoyed both the Seelie characters in Clare’s books, and all of the Fae in Mass’s stories, I’ve grown tired of the same few representations of these mythical beings. (This applies to almost every YA faerie book I’ve read— but needless to say there are many books that I find could replace the word “fairy” with “vampire” or “witch” and the readers wouldn’t notice the difference so long as said characters are still dark, sexy, and magical. I suppose the pointy ears are the only real giveaway.)

I’m not writing this post with the intent to bash popular authors. However, if you’re looking to move on or recover from a series and want books similar to it that are perhaps even better than the original… look no further. I’ve loved the Fae since I was a little girl, and the fact that there are so few known books about them makes me sad. That being said, here’s a list of all the faerie books I’ve read or will be reading this year! Beware the fair ones, friends.

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

aeor coverIsobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.

Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

The Dreaming Tree by C.J. Cherryh

It was that transitional time of the world, when man first brought the clang of iron and the reek of smoke to the lands which before had echoed only with fairy voices. In that dawn of man and death of magic there yet remained one last untouched place—the small forest of Ealdwood—which kept the magic intact, and protected the old ways. And there was one who dwelt there, Arafel the Sidhe, who had more pride and love of the world as it used to be than any of her kind. But fear of the world of Faery ran deep in the hearts of men, and when Ciaran Cuilean, Lord of Caer Wiell, a man with Elvish blood in his veins, found himself the object of increasing distrust and suspicion from his men, his king, and even his own family, he knew he must once again put his humanity aside and return to Ealdwood. For shadows of a newly awakened evil swarmed across both lands, and unless Ciaran reclaimed his haunted weapons from the Tree of Swords and joined Arafel, he would see this evil overtake not only the warm hearthstones of the mortal keeps but the silvery heart of Ealdwood itself!

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

pendelum sun coverCatherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

Rhapsodic by Laura Thalassa

Callypso Lillis is a siren with a very big problem, one that stretches up her arm and far into her past. For the last seven years she’s been collecting a bracelet of black beads up her wrist, magical IOUs for favors she’s received. Only death or repayment will fulfill the obligations. Only then will the beads disappear.

Everyone knows that if you need a favor, you go to the Bargainer to make it happen. He’s a man who can get you anything you want… at a price. And everyone knows that sooner or later he always collects.

But for one of his clients, he’s never asked for repayment. Not until now. When Callie finds the fae king of the night in her room, a grin on his lips and a twinkle in his eye, she knows things are about to change. At first it’s just a chaste kiss—a single bead’s worth—and a promise for more.

For the Bargainer, it’s more than just a matter of rekindling an old romance. Something is happening in the Otherworld. Fae warriors are going missing one by one. Only the women are returned, each in a glass casket, a child clutched to their breast. And then there are the whispers among the slaves, whispers of an evil that’s been awoken.

If the Bargainer has any hope to save his people, he’ll need the help of the siren he spurned long ago. Only, his foe has a taste for exotic creatures, and Callie just happens to be one.

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marlier

High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.

wildwood dancingWhen Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.

Spindle Fire Lexa Hillyer

A kingdom burns. A princess sleeps. This is no fairy tale.

It all started with the burning of the spindles.

No.

It all started with a curse…

Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and her voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood—and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.

As the faerie queen and her army of Vultures prepare to march, Isabelle must race to find a prince who can awaken her sister with the kiss of true love and seal their two kingdoms in an alliance against the queen.

Isabelle crosses land and sea; unearthly, thorny vines rise up the palace walls; and whispers of revolt travel in the ashes on the wind. The kingdom falls to ruin under layers of snow. Meanwhile, Aurora wakes up in a strange and enchanted world, where a mysterious hunter may be the secret to her escape…or the reason for her to stay.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Young Tristran Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria—even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. Beyond that old stone wall, Tristran learns, lies Faerie—where nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman comes a remarkable quest into the dark and miraculous—in pursuit of love and the utterly impossible.

Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

When the ancient evil of the Blackbringer rises to unmake the world, only one determined faerie stands in its way. However, Magpie Windwitch, granddaughter of the West Wind, is not like other faeries. While her kind live in seclusion deep in the forests of Dreamdark, she’s devoted her life to tracking down and recapturing devils escaped from their ancient bottles, just as her hero, the legendary Bellatrix, did 25,000 years ago. With her faithful gang of crows, she travels the world fighting where others would choose to flee. But when a devil escapes from a bottle sealed by the ancient Djinn King himself, the creator of the world, she may be in over her head. How can a single faerie, even with the help of her friends, hope to defeat the impenetrable darkness of the Blackbringer?

At a time when fantasy readers have an embarrassment of riches in choosing new worlds to fall in love with, this first novel by a fresh, original voice is sure to stand out.

Under the Green Hill by Laura L. Sullivan

Meg and her siblings have been sent to the English countryside for the summer to stay with elderly relatives. The children are looking forward to exploring the ancient mansion and perhaps discovering a musty old attic or two filled with treasure, but never in their wildest dreams did they expect to find themselves in the middle of a fairy war.

under the green hillWhen Rowan pledges to fight for the beautiful fairy queen, Meg is desperate to save her brother. But the Midsummer War is far more than a battle between mythic creatures: Everything that lives depends on it. How can Meg choose between family and the fate of the very land itself?

The Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell

It began with the chiming of the tiny copper bell on the mantel, warning them someone was passing the ward stone her mother had placed on the path to their house …

One terrible day, Makenna, a young hedgewitch, witnesses her mother’s murder at the hands of their own neighbors. Striken with grief and rage, Makenna flees the village that has been her home. In the wilds of the forest, she forms an unexpected alliance. Leading an army of clever goblins, Makenna skillfully attacks the humans, now their shared enemy.

What she doesn’t realize is that the ruling Hierarchy is determined to rid the land of all magical creatures, and they believe Makenna is their ultimate threat – so they have sent a young knight named Tobin into the Goblin Wood to entrap her.

In this captivating fantasy adventure, the difference between Bright and Dark magic is as deceptive as our memories, hopes, and fears — and the light of loyalty and friendship has a magic all of its own.

A young Hedgewitch, an idealistic knight, and an army of clever goblins fight against the ruling hierarchy that is trying to rid the land of all magical creatures.

Elfland by Freda Warrington

Rosie Fox is a daughter of the Aetherials, an ancient race from the Spiral—the innermost realm of the Otherworld—who lives secretly among us. Yet she and her kind are bereft of their origins, because on Earth, in a beautiful village named Cloudcroft, the Great Gates between worlds stand sealed.

elfland coverHer parents, Auberon and Jessica, are the warm heart of Cloudcroft and of Rosie’s loving family. But on the hill lives the mysterious, aloof Lawrence Wilder, Gatekeeper to the inner realms of Elfland. Tortured by private demons, he is beset by trouble on all sides: his wife has vanished and his sons Jon and Sam are bitter and damaged. Lawrence is duty bound to throw open the Gates every seven years for the Night of the Summer Stars, a ritual granting young Aetherials their heritage, their elders vital reconnection to their source. Lawrence, however, is haunted by fears of an ever-growing menace within the Spiral. When he stubbornly bars the Gates, he defies tradition and enrages the Aetherial community. What will become of them, deprived of the realm from which flows their essential life force? Is Lawrence protecting them—or betraying them?

Growing up amid this turmoil, Rosie and her brothers, along with Sam and Jon Wilder, are heedless of the peril lurking beyond the Gates. They know only that their elders have denied them their birthright, harboring dark secrets in a conspiracy of silence.

When Sam is imprisoned for an all-too-human crime, age-old wounds sunder the two families…yet Rosie is drawn into his web, even as she fears the passions awoken in her by the dangerous Wilder clan. Torn between duty and desire, between worlds, Rosie unwittingly precipitates a tragedy that compels her to journey into the Otherworld, where unknown terrors await. Accompanied by the one man most perilous to her life, she must learn hard lessons about life and love in order to understand her Aetherial nature…and her role in the terrifying conflict to come.

Midwinter by Matthew Sturges

Winter comes to the land only once in a hundred years. But the snow covers ancient secrets: secrets that could topple a kingdom.

Mauritaine was a war hero, a captain in the Seelie Army. Then he was accused of treason and sentenced to life without parole at Crere Sulace, a dark and ancient prison in the mountains, far from the City Emerald. But now the Seelie Queen – Regina Titania herself – has offered him one last chance to redeem himself, an opportunity to regain his freedom and his honor.

Unfortunately, it’s a suicide mission, which is why only Mauritaine and the few prisoners he trusts enough to accompany him, would even dare attempt it: Raieve, beautiful and harsh, an emissary from a foreign land caught in the wrong place at the wrong time; Perrin Alt, Lord Silverdun, a nobleman imprisoned as a result of political intrigues so Byzantine that not even he understands them; and Brian Satterly, a human physicist, apprehended searching for the human victims of the faery changeling trade.

Meanwhile, dark forces are at work at home and abroad. In the Seelie kingdom, the reluctant soldier Purane-Es burns with hatred for Mauritaine, and plots to steal the one thing that remains to him: his wife. Across the border, the black artist Hy Pezho courts the whim of Mab, offering a deadly weapon that could allow the Unseelie in their flying cities to crush Titania and her army once and for all.

With time running out, Mauritaine and his companions must cross the deadly Contested Lands filled with dire magical fallout from wars past. They will confront mounted patrols, brigands, and a traitor in their midst. And before they reach their destination, as the Unseelie Armies led by Queen Mab approach the border, Mauritaine must decide between his own freedom and the fate of the very land that has forsaken him.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

“They said that love was terrifying and tender, wild and sweet, and none of it made any sense. 

But now I knew that every mad word was true.”

After the release of the live action Beauty and the Beast film staring Emma Watson about a month ago, I’ve been searching for other retellings to satisfy my renewed interest in the classic. I’ve seen this book various times on social media— often being compared to one of those “if you liked this popular YA book, then you might enjoy this one” types of commentaries. So a year later, I decided to give Rosamund Hodge a try.

Cruel Beauty is set against a Greco-Roman background but instead of deriving from the eighth century BC, it is geared more towards the eighteenth century. Nyx, our narrator, has forever been engaged to marry the demon lord who rules over her village. A bargain had been struck from before she was even conceived, allotting that one daughter of the bargainer’s offspring must be given to the demon to be his betrothed when she is of age. And even though Nyx is a twin to a beautiful and charismatic sister, it had always been her that was chained to this dark destiny. We follow our heroine throughout this story as she navigates into her husband’s palace, searching for clues to unbind him from his curse and free her people from demonic enslavement.

I’ve heard many people rave about this book and even compare it to one of my favorite tales, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, but unfortunately I didn’t experience the same thrill. I’m actually a bit disappointed, because while I enjoyed certain aspects there was plenty that I felt could have been further explained or revisited to make the plot seem stronger and the characters less vague.

For starters, we have our main protagonist Nyx. I love her name and thought it was fitting because Nyx in Greek mythology is the daughter of Chaos and the personification of night. She was interesting to read during the first section of the story before going to the palace. In that part, I found her inner conflict very relatable: is it right to hate someone for something they have no control over? Especially a family member? Nyx seemed like a character with grey morals and appropriate inquires for someone her age/ in her position… which is amazing considering I’ve read books on the contrary that drove me mad! But once she is finally placed in a different setting outside of her village, her character seemed to…deflate? (I can think of no better word, honestly.) Sure, she is more sarcastic and witty. But then again, so was Ignifex— her main love interest and the adaption of the “Beast.” I felt as though half of what I wound up reading was mindless banter between the two of them with no real plot or revelations. And not for nothing, but when I say that the characters started to blur with one another, I quite literally mean that. There is a character who may or may not be another character just wearing different flesh. So overall, the narrative was making me aggravated after a while.

The writing was nice, however it did lag on a bit during certain scenes. I realize that inner monologue is wonderful to have when faced with a complex character, but if I feel as though the questions being brought up by the protagonist were becoming overly frequent or obvious. Most of the acton throughout the book was spent searching for four elemental “keys” of a sort, but naturally we don’t get anywhere until the very last pages of the book. And even then I still had so many questions that were left completely unanswered. The magic system confused me, the love interests felt forced, and the plot twists didn’t entirely seem to make sense? I wondered if it was just me being too obtuse, but after going back to re-read some chapters I still find these problems unattended to.

While supposedly being a Beauty and the Beast retelling, we honestly could have gone without the romance and the book might have even been more pleasant to read. Yes, there is a love triangle of sorts. I won’t spoil much, but this particular triangle is later explained to be something else, but for three-fourths of the story you are led to believe that two men are in love with the same women who doesn’t know who to meld her soul with. I also didn’t find either relationship compatible, but that’s likely because I didn’t necessarily enjoy any of these characters enough to want to see them together.
The more I write this review, the more issues I seem to realize I had with the book. So I will just leave it at this. I did enjoy the Greek mythology portions, and I found the sibling relationship to be relatable, but other than that I’m too confused about so much that I can’t say else about the pros of the story. Hopefully if you decide to give this one a shot you’ll have a better time with it than I did.

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars.

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”

There hasn’t been a book in a long while that has enraptured me as strongly as Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh. I’ve been in a bit of slump for some time now, only reading sections of a book and then losing all interest in it. When I first heard about this particular story, I knew I would at least enjoy it because it encompassed plenty of elements from my favorite movies and folklore. That I wound up loving it makes me incredibly happy because I can safely say that this book is my current favorite read of 2017! It was pitched as a mix between 47 Ronin and Mulan, so of course I was interested before the title and cover were even revealed. (However, unlike Mulan, this story takes place in feudal Japan and focuses on samurai and the seven tenets of Bushidō .)

This story is told through a third person narration, with perspectives shifting between our main character Mariko and occasionally her twin brother Kenshin. It begins as Hattori Mariko is carted within a norimono on her way to her betrothed— the emperor’s second son. Along the path she and her legion are forced to wander through the dark forest or risk being a day late for their arrival at the palace. But then they are attacked in the middle of the night, and Mariko scarcely escapes with her life after setting a farce display for her murderer’s to make certain they believe she is dead. Knowing that to wander the woods nearly naked and alone—and as a woman—Mariko harks on every ounce of self preservation to stay alive, but is sought out by a vagabond whom had been stalking her. In the end, she leaves the forest after chopping off lengths of her hair and donning the guise of a boy who’d run away from home.

She sets off to find her attackers with the hope of discovering their secrets and finding out why she was targeted in the first place. Yet things don’t go as planned, and soon she finds herself admits the ranks of the Black Clan, her supposed killers and a group of renegade warriors, and she must keep up her disguise if she wants to see the light of day while also gaining their trust and learning their ways. But as the story goes on, Mariko comes to the revelation that perhaps she was miscalculating everything from before she was even sent to the emperor’s home. And with this knowledge comes darker questions with answers she will have to face and suffer the consequences of.

The heroine has quite an aversion to men because she believes them to be only what she has seen— dominant in her society: conquerors, masters, and slavers. She has been so thoroughly shielded from the true world that her political union doesn’t phase her in the beginning of the book as much as it does at the end. Mariko is often being called “odd” and “curious” throughout the novel, both of which she initially describes as being frowned upon but comes to realize only makes her who she is. She begins to own those titles. Especially considering her knack for creativity, which is her passion for inventing things such as weapons and makeshift lanterns. Mariko is an inventor and a warrior, but her femininity is never washed away, even as she pretends to be a boy, because she is always mulling through an inner struggle with her identity in that she ponders the strength of being a woman. This invokes the very focal point of her character development— which is handled carefully and crafted with beautiful scenes. A particular section of this book that exemplifies this character arc is when Mariko and her group of warriors visit a Teahouse. It is during their visit where Mariko first sees a Geiko, and this is what transpires:

Geiko were referred to as living, floating works of art. The very idea had ruffled her sensibilities. That a beautiful woman could be nothing more than a form of entertainment, left to the vices and pleasures of men.

But as Mariko watched—transfixed—while a geiko clad in layers of tatsumura silk drifted across the spotless tatami mats, she realized her first mistake. This young woman did not stand or move from a place of subservience. Nor did she convey any sense that her existence was based solely on the whim of men. Not once did the geiko’s gaze register the newest arrivals. Her head was high, her gait proud. The poise with which she moved—the grace with which she took each of her steps—was a clear testament to years of training and tradition.

The young woman was not a plaything. Not at all.

And although Mariko is without a doubt my favorite character, the members of the Black Clan slowly stole my heart as well. They were equals parts Robin Hood and the Lost Boys, not at all what I had been expecting and definitely a good surprise. Without giving away too much, because to talk about these characters would mean I have to spoil something inevitably, I can tell you that Ōkami is the love of my life and I really hope to read more about his past in the second book (because yes, there WILL be a second novel)!

Which in turn brings me to another thing I adored— the romance. It’s not heavily packed into the tale, which I very much appreciated considering the pillars behind Flame in the Mist are based upon a woman discovering the strength of being herself and following her hearts desires. However, when it is mentioned… let’s just say I wasn’t prepared for how deeply I’d invest myself in the pairing that came about. It was the type of slow burning, enemies-to-lovers trope that I fall for every time, and yet it was unlike any of the others I have read. Partially due to the characters, and partially because of the pretty writing in this novel.

Ahdieh has such wonderful prose and whimsical imagery. You could sell me a story about two rocks sitting atop a bigger rock and I would give it a five-star rating if the setting and imagery deserved it. And with the setting being feudal Japan, it was something rare and breathtaking for me to journey through. I can’t speak for everyone when I say that I believe this story was well researched in terms of the historical accuracy, because I’m not Japanese and did find myself struggling with some terms, (there is a glossary in the back) but to someone who rarely encounters this type of setting, it felt thoroughly edited and authentic. Here’s a little piece of what to expect:

The outskirts of Inako now pressed beyond the fields and forests that had ringed its borders in the past. Snaking through the city’s center was a gentle flowing river littered with dying blossoms. Its petal pink waters were a painted stroke separating the tiled roofs on either shoreline—a swell of blue-grey clay, rising like the sea, bandied about by a storm.

There were many plot-twists and action scenes in this book, some of which I had suspected since the beginning but wound up second guessing the more I read. It was well thought-out and leaves plenty of room for a sequel… considering the ending wasn’t really an ending, more or less one path on a bridge overlooking the far side (aka Book II). I was dreading how much was left to be answered by the time I reached the final chapters, but upon realizing that there will be more books to come I felt much better and happier with the placement of where this tale left off. However, I can tell you there are many cliffhanger and Ahdieh really must love to keep her readers on their toes.

The only compliant I had, if any, was the magic system. We don’t really hear much of it until the commencing parts of the story, which probably means we will see a great deal of it in the second book. But there were a few things I still don’t understand, even though I’ve reread them twice to check if I missed something. I’ll probably reread the whole book another hundred times before 2018.

I hope you all enjoy this one as much as I did! Book two is too long away. I’m not sure how I can cope for another year!

My Rating: 5/5 stars