The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye

crown's fate

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

This review will contain spoilers for The Crown’s Game and a few very early book spoilers for this one (though they are also found in the book description.

This is the second in the duology written by Evelyn Skye. There is currently a small niche of fantasy books that take place in a tsarist Russia. This is the only series, so far at least, that has attempted to place itself against an actual historic backdrop instead of just a fairly believable facade. It is set in Russia, 1825 during the Decembrist revolt. Tsar Alexander has passed away in the first book and his son Pasha (Nicholas I) is on his way to being crowned (though his bossy sister Yuliana does interfere a LOT).

Vika won the Crown’s game in the first book and is the Imperial Enchanter. While this does come with a luxurious lifestyle, it also comes with an oath of obedience and an enchanted bracelet that threatens to burn her if she disobeys. Given her fiery nature,  this will not work well. Nikolai, the other contender, having sacrificed himself to save her, is now trapped between life and death in his enchanted bench on Vika’s island. Since his mother managed to pull herself back from death by leeching life from worms and, later, from slaughtering people, it is do-able, but his preference would be a much gentler way. His undead mother might try to persuade him otherwise though.

While the first book really saw Vika and Nikolai falling in love while competing, this one has Nikolai slowly going evil and Vika having to fight him because Pasha and Yuliana compel her to. Both Pasha and Vika are torn between their loyalty to Nikolai and their fear of him trying to take over Russia. He slowly turns from a very gentle character into something more sinister. Vika, if she wants to try and save Nikolai, has to find a way to

What I did not enjoy about this book was that they did not have the displays of beautiful magic that I enjoyed so much in the first book. Part of the Crown Game was celebrating Pasha’s birthday and having beautiful and creative shows of magic. In this book it has changed mostly to combat, which is the way most fantasy books work. I loved seeing the gorgeous, fanciful things that the author came up with. There is still a bit in this one, but not nearly as much.

I loved the way Nikolai trying to seize the throne was intertwined with the historic Decembrist revolution. There are not a lot of fantasy books that I read that work that closely with real historic events and try and work magic into the cause of something that happened in this world. Sometimes magic rides alongside, but in this case it was worked into the actual cause of the event itself. It was clever and fun to read.

This was a solid conclusion. It took on a more solid and sombre tone, played with the relationships a bit more and came to a very satisfying ending.

Now I Rise by Kiersten White

now i rise

4 out of 5

I received an ARC of this work.

This will contain spoilers for the first book in the saga, And I Darken.

The majority of the first book focused on the relationship between Lada and Radu, as they both are held captive in the Ottoman Empire to  guarantee their father’s best behaviour. It showed us their childhood and development together. In this sequel they are separated and it takes on a more political tone and focuses more on their independent growth.

Lada’s father and brother are killed, and since Radu is not willing to leave Mehmed’s side and rule, she wants to become prince of the country as she is next in line. Unfortunately, as a woman, no one is willing to accept her. She is not going to ask for help from the Sultan or her brother, so she grabs some soldiers and starts cutting a rather bloody path across the territory between Ottoman -controlled land and Wallachia to grab the throne anyways. She does manage to gain some allies eventually, but her main point of negotiation is the one found at the end of a sword. This remains very characteristic of her.

Radu does not accept the throne of Wallachia or want to accompany his sister more than staying next to the Sultan Mehmed. It seemed safer at the time, but the Sultan’s lust for the city of Constantinople drives Radu into the role of spy within its walls. The subsequent battle start bringing out the more vicious side of Mehmed. While Radu has always treasured Mehmed and loved him, seeing how far he will go to bring a city to its knees makes him question what his love for this man is worth, and how far the Sultan’s ambitions should go. It also puts his life in peril as he is now trapped in a city under siege.

Because of the split of the siblings, this novel really reads like two books crammed into one. One plot line is the Ottoman Empire attacking the city of Constantinople, trying to starve it out and force the Emperor Constantine to surrender it. The second plot line is Lady Lada Dracul travelling through Wallachia and the surrounding country, attacking various European countries and trying to find allies in the Wallachian nobility and gain the throne. It is interesting because one plot line is a HUGE historical point of a major city changing hands between empires and religious powers and the other is a tiny country changing princes when it does so alarmingly frequently. It is definitely a contrast in historical events.

The siblings are still greatly juxtaposed personalities even though they are now geographically separated and growing older. Radu is a gentle soul, filled with love who only goes on this mission out of loyalty for the person he adores most. Lada is tempestuous and passionate and REALLY likes stabbing things. They have a weird relationship for two people who really have nothing in common.

My favourite part of this novel was actually the attention drawn to the attack on Constantinople. I liked seeing what sort of technology they used to try and bring down a city in the 1400s. Apparently they had  cannon big enough to fling 600 lb cannonballs at the wall, but it overheated at one point and exploded. Fire, arrows, shields and ships were involved. The entrance to the harbour was blocked using a huge chain, but the ships got around it by being transported over land on logs.

This was a really good second book in a saga because it developed the characters further and expanded its perspective. Please go read, especially since it looks at a historical event that does not get a lot of attention!

Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

traitor-to-the-throne

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book.

This may contain spoilers for Rebel of the Sands.

There has been a recent uptick in the number of YA fantasies set in an historical middle eastern setting. This is wonderful because now we can add Djinns into the mix of magical creatures we get to read about, and not everything is automatically medieval Europe. I love the diversity these books add to the mix of YA fantasy.

In the first book, Amani, a sharpshooting and adventurous young lady, is desperate to get out of her dusty and boring hometown before she gets married off. When a stranger stumbles into town, closely pursued by the army, she grabs the chance and escapes. At the end of the book it is revealed that he is a prince who is helping his brother plan a rebellion against their father, and that Amani herself is part Djinn.

In this second instalment, Amani is captured by the crown and taken to the palace as a prisoner. Instead of a desert, she must now navigate the corrupt world of the harem. Jealousies run high amongst those closest to the sultan and Amani having Djinn powers does not fully grant her immunity.

I liked this book more than the first one. In Rebel of the Sands Amani does not really have any long term plans besides ditching her hometown. In this book she has purpose and direction, which gives her character more life. It also gives the book a little more direction. The first one felt like the plot was just random stuff happening to this poor girl and she had little to no say in where she was going and what she was doing. At least in this volume she has a clear goal.

Despite being vaguely desert-themed, this world was not the best in terms of fleshed-out detail. Most fantasy worlds do not hit so close to reality and I was hoping for a bit more deviation, either in terms of food or religion or clothing or something, but the world rang a bit flat. I like the non-European setting, but it definitely could use more creativity.

 

The Wish Granter by C.J. Redline

wish-granter

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a rewrite of the fairytale Rumplestilstkin, but it took most of the book for that to be apparent. Could have just been me though.

Princess Ari, up until a couple of days ago, was the bastard daughter of the king. This worked for her, since it meant running wild with her best friend, baking, and not being called on her un-princess like behaviour. Then the entire proper royal family is murdered, her twin is King and she is now the heir apparent. She and her brother are only alive because her brother has made a deal with the devil. The Wish Granter appears to the desperate and offers them their hearts’ desire, in return for their souls, to be collected at a later date. The now King Thad traded his soul for the kingship, praying that will be enough to keep his twin safe. Thad has his soul for the next ten years, as long as he does not interfere with the Wish Granter’s shady business dealings and drug manufacturing. Ari has to watch the powerful Fae gain a toehold, then foothold in her brother and her kingdom and decides to fight back.

I love Ari as a heroine. She is a little plump, loves baking, hates being a proper princess and can talk her way out of anything. She is vibrant, friendly and completely someone I would want as a best friend. Her character was well constructed and real, and a spunky, interesting heroine. Sebastian, the love interest, is also a great character. He comes from a  broken home, with a drug addicted mother and and abusive father, but he is working to rise above it. He is strong and loyal to his friends.

This is an amazing interpretation of this fairy tale. The Wish Granter is vicious and conniving in a way that forces the protagonists to be clever and on their toes. They are trying to figure out how to legally wrangle themselves out of a contract, as well as possibly assassinate a Fae, so it is a two-pronged attack, which is something a lot of books don’t have at this level. They tend to be “kill the bad guy”, not “maybe litigate your way out of trouble?”. We get some back story on Rumplestiltskin but the fairy tale is twisted around in a complex and amazing new way.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

lost-kingdom-of-bamarre

4 out of 5

I received an ARC of this work

The Latki and Bamarre share a kingdom, with the Latki ruling and the Bamarre working as a permanently subjugated underclass. Peregrine is a girl stuck between worlds. She was born to a Bamarre family but a Latki Lady stole her from her family (apparently Perry’s father had been stealing food from a garden). Raised as Latki, when her heritage is revealed she must choose her side and the world she wants to be a part of.

Like the companion book, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, the shadows of the original fairy tale are very slight. Perry’s magical hair and her brief tower imprisonment make a slight appearance, but this novel is much more than just a rewrite of Rapunzel. Aside from a few nods to other fairy tale (magical tablecloths and seven-league boots), this work has a much larger scope. Rapunzel is a story about one girl breaking free of her imprisonment. The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre is a story about an entire people breaking free from slavery and oppression.

Perry grows up as part of the ruling class, valuing physical strength, bravery and believing conquest through arms is right. She genuinely loves her Latki mother and father and never really bothers to question their place in the world. When she finds out she is Bamarre she has to worry immediately about whether her parents will still love her. She has to acclimatize to being Bamarre when she is reunited with her birth parents and for a while she never feels accepted by either side. She likes poetry too much to be a true Latki, but she is too forceful to truly be Bamarre. Her identity is completely in question and she is torn.

This is a very strong addition to Gail Carson Levine’s bibliography. The story has some great themes about identity and belonging and is a wonderful read.

Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau

dividing-eden

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

Carys and Andreus are twin royalty to the Eden throne. Since their father and elder brother are healthy, they will not be taking the throne anytime soon. They are both okay with that as one suffers from a chronic condition that looks a lot like asthma (and the kingdom is at war, which means kings have to appear strong) and the other has a crippling poppy addiction. Then the king and heir apparent are killed and the queen goes crazy. Carys and Andreus are now in direct competition for the throne. The Elder ministers set up a series of tasks to test the willingness of the new heirs to do whatever it takes to seize power. The twins, who have always been loyal to each other, now find themselves fighting for their lives and the good of their kingdom.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. This is the second time Joelle Charbonneau has written a series that is concerned with life and death competition between characters and she does both the political maneuvering and emotional responses very well. Her books are well-paced and hard to put down.

It was fascinating watching both Cerys and Andreus change throughout the competition. They start out being virtually the only person the other can trust, but within days of the trials starting, they are at each other’s throats. The ministers and courtiers all start manipulating the twins and each other in a desperate grab for influence and no one knows whom they can trust.

This book is very quickly paced and exciting. The relationships are complex and the plot keeps you guessing. Definitely a must-read.

 

 

Wintersong by S Jae-Jones

wintersong

3 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

This novel is a European style fairy tale. Elizabeth’s family are impoverished inn-keepers. Her parents were once famous performers, but they have fallen on hard times. All of their hopes lie on the shoulders of their son who is a virtuoso on the violin. Elizabeth and her sister are put on the sideline as all of their parents’ energies are directed towards their son. Elizabeth pour herself into her musical composition while Cathe becomes a die-hard flirt. Cathe soon attracts the eye of the Goblin King, a magical figure who needs a human bride. Elizabeth trades herself for her sister’s freedom, but being the Goblin Queen drains the life out of humans, so Elizabeth has only a limited time to escape before the role completely consumes her.

I took this to be a very teen novel from the description, but there are enough explicit sex scenes that I would more hand it to 20-somethings. Teen novels usually cut to black or use more euphemisms. Some older teens might like this, but maybe don’t give this to grade 6 and 7 kids unless you know their tastes.

Woven throughout this novel are many musical references. Elizabeth’s music is the only thing that keeps her sane as she tries to hold her family together and then navigate the underground Goblin Kingdom. The prose reflects this preoccupation with the art, with the writing style being very artistic.

I enjoyed the first part of the story, with Elizabeth trying to rescue her sister and keep her family together, but as soon as she marries the Goblin King, most of the story is just their relationship. Elizabeth is trying to discover the King’s personality but he seems to have 3 or 4 of them. She is kind of attracted to him, kind of repulsed, and most of the story turns into a will-she won’t she style dilemma, which I found pretty dull.

Despite it being fairly explicit, I just did not buy the romance angle, and that was a large part of the book. Elizabeth had a pre-existing relationship with the Goblin King as a child, forgot that he really existed, and now is head over heels in love with him. He is demanding complete surrender of every part of her before he is willing to sleep with her (a move I found super creepy and Elizabeth takes to mean she has to give him her music). Parts of their relationship seem abusive and this character that I had come to admire just started seeming rather stupid. Trade your life for your sister’s if you must, but throwing yourself at the guy who seduced her with magic is maybe not the best move.