#BlogTour #Review: The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick – @ma_carrick @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Today I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick, the first book in the new Rook & Rose trilogy – which is shaping up to be one of my favourite new adult fantasy series. Get lost in this magical world created by co-writing team Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms with a uniquely distinct setting, an abundance of magic, and more drama than you can shake a stick at. Say it with me now *chef’s kiss*.

Title: The Mask of Mirrors

Series Title: Rook & Rose

Author: M. A. Carrick 

Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date: January 21, 2021

Genre: Fantasy, Adult Fantasy, High Fantasy

Tropes & Themes: Found Family, LGBTQ+, Political Drama, Deep Cons

Features: Character Index, Glossary of Terms


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Fortune favors the bold. Magic favors the liars.

Ren is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadežra with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house, securing her fortune and her sister’s future.

But as she’s drawn into the elite world of House Traementis, she realizes her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the City of Dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled…with Ren at their heart.

The Mask of Mirrors is the unmissable start to the Rook & Rose trilogy, a dazzling and darkly magical fantasy adventure by Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, writing together as M. A. Carrick.


My Review

It’s been ten days since I finished reading this book and I am still struggling to put my thoughts for it into words. For those of you that know me, words are not often a problem, but it was just… so amazing?

This darkly magical high fantasy will transport you to another world, wrap you up in it’s many layers of political intrigue and deep deceptions, and then spit you out the other side craving more. It’s got a fantastic blend of deep world building, strong character development, and nail-biting action. Oh, and to top it off, it also has some incredible on-page diversity rep!

The thing that I loved the most about this book is that even though it’s a high fantasy and the world is big, the story itself takes place within in a single, many-layer setting. I would much rather read a book where you get to know one place painfully well – taking in everything from the canals to the plazas, to the societal fabric and petty undercurrent of curses and grudges – than to read a book with many places that you get to know only superficially. I was so sad to leave Nadežra when the book was over because I’m in love with the slums and the magic and the fashion. It’s steeped in history, and subtly discusses some big topics like the long tail of imperialism, class stratified society, and poverty. And because everything is so nuanced, this book comes with the warning to take it slow and savour every detail – you’ll get so much more out of it than if you rush through looking for action. 

Now, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, so don’t be afraid to use the index at the back! But, once you start to get a feel for everyone and all of their idiosyncrasies, all of the subplots begin to take on a vibrant life of their own. And while I fond Ren to be fascinating, the true beauty of this book lies in how no supporting character is wasted. Everyone has a purpose, everyone has a story, and all of the threads come together magnificently. I adored Tess, especially how she was strong and resourceful without compromising her femininity. I was immediately invested in Grey’s quest to discover who’s stealing the children’s sleep. And I love how morally grey every single character is – there’s a broad spectrum of heroes with compelling and defined backstories, and it’s up to the reader to decide for themselves where they stand. 

All together this is a magical gem of a book. It’s twists and turns, competing magic systems, and intricate plot were exactly what I needed to start the reading year off right. I can’t wait for the second book to come out so that I can dive back into Nadežra and spend more time with Ren, Grey, Tess, and the crew. Epic and High Fantasy lovers, I can’t recommend The Mask of Mirrors highly enough.


About the Authors

M.A. Carrick is the joint pen name of Marie Brennan (author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent) and Alyc Helms (author of the Adventures of Mr. Mystic). The two met in 2000 on an archaeological dig in Wales and Ireland — including a stint in the town of Carrickmacross — and have built their friendship through two decades of anthropology, writing, and gaming. They live in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Many thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to participate in the blog tour, and to Orbit books for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

#Review: The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty #Fantasy

I’m back! I think. At least for now, hiatus is over. Yipee!

And my first review now that I’m back? The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty. I know, I know, I’m late to the party when it comes to this baby. But it’s so good. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who kept telling me to read it – I am officially in love.


city of brassTitle: The City of Brass

Series: The Daevabad Trilogy

Author: S. A. Chakraborty

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date (Paperback): July 3, 2018

Genre: Fantasy, Adult Fantasy

Themes: Djinn, Magic, Politics, Civil Unrest

Features: Interview, Glossary, Excerpt, Reading Group Guide


Synopsis

From goodreads… 

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…


My Review

This is a deliciously sumptuous read that toes the line between older YA and adult/ epic fantasy and makes the best of both worlds. The main characters are 18, 20, and tangentially immortal so they will appeal to wide range of readers, while the story itself makes use of some much loved tropes including the unexpected discovery of magical abilities, missing/ dead parents, a hint of the chosen one, the makings of a love triangle, and a tyrannical ruler. And then it elevates them all to the next level with intense world building, complicated H/histories and politics, and a delightfully complex and unpredictable magic system. Add in some luscious prose, snappy dialogue, and a diabolical eye for detail and this is the type of storytelling that might just leave you wanting more.

I thought that everything was incredibly well crafted. Yes, there are some slower spots where the world takes precedent of the plot, but considering that this book is crafted around non-western settings and cultures I think that this extra detail is warranted. Not just because readers may be unfamiliar with the late nineteenth century Egyptian/ Middle Eastern setting, but because mainstream publishing has focused so much on western courtly retellings that I think books like these deserve a little bit more room to build and breathe. Everything from the food to the buildings, from the ifrit to the djinn, and from the clothing to the politics is given the attention is deserves to set the imagination alight. And the best part? No detail or line of dialogue is superfluous, everything has a purpose and a place, and the attentive reader will be rewarded for paying attention.

And the characters, my goodness, the characters! They are all so gloriously flawed that it’s divine. Every single one of them is morally grey and there are no clear-cut heroes or villains. Sure, we have Nahri as our protagonist but I would’t call her a heroine by any stretch. She’s a thief and a con artist, always looking for her next mark, terribly pragmatic, and infuriatingly stubborn. She might be the last of the Nahids and in possession of incredible powers, but she’s also a criminal who might not be the best fit for courtly life. Then we have Dara – the dark and stabby warrior who once decimated nations, conveniently lacking is more outrageous memories, and in possession of more arrogance than one broody boy should have. He’s clearly not a good person, but he’s also not all bad either, and the more you learn about him, the more muddled the waters becomes. And Finally, there’s Ali – the hot-headed young prince who has been raised to fight for his older brother since birth. He’s all business and no play, a devout observer of his faith, and a champion of the common person. But he sees the world in black and white, fails the grasp politics, and has no problems engaging in treasonous activities when he believes that they’re right. Throw them all together and you have the perfect fire storm full of tension, drama, and even a touch of romance.

Now, a lot of time was invested in exploring the Daeva tribes and politics, and I have no doubt that this investment will pay off even more in books two and three. Even still, it offers a nuanced exploration of History as written from the perspective of the victors and history as experienced by the conquered. It juxtaposes the value of the written word with oral histories and the power of memory – and that can be a powerful thing in a world where people seemingly live forever.

On one hand I’m mad at myself for being so late in discovering this series, but on the other I’m thrilled that I can order the other two books and finish them right away. I can’t wait to dive back into this magical world and have my emotions destroyed… again.


I purchased this book as a result of blogger recommendations, all opinions are my own.

#Review: Girl With Three Eyes by Priya Ardis #Fantasy #YAFantasy

Today I am thrilled to be sharing a long overdue review for the amazing fantasy series starter Girl With Three Eyes by Priya Ardis. This fun YA romp had just about everything I could ask for when your looking for a literary pick-me-up: a strong protagonist with some serious emotional wounds, a sweet n’ awkward love interest, a house-based school system, high stakes intrigue, deep friendships, a thrilling new school sport that’s a delightful cross between between boardercross and jousting, and more than few characters that you’ll love to hate.

All together… Chef’s kiss.


threeTitle: Girl with Three Eyes

Author: Priya Ardis

Publisher: Vulcan Ink

Publication Date: August 31, 2020

Genre: YA Fiction, YA Fantasy, Fantasy

Themes: Found Family, Espionage, Betrayal, Friendship, School Sports, Teen Romance

Features: N/A


Synopsis

She would hate her third eye less if it actually gave her special powers.

Sixteen-year-old Kira puts on a show about having empathic abilities, but she miraculously wakes a highborn boy from a coma after a near-fatal accident on mountainous slopes. When his father threatens to expose her “magic” to the queen, she attends the kingdom’s most elite academy as a bodyguard.

Soon, she’s immersed in a strange new life—one of being a simple student trying out for the school’s skyboarding team. Her fake life becomes the life she’s always wanted, but Kira cannot escape who she truly is. Nothing in the court of the Raj is as it seems…

Will she risk her freedom to unmask a killer before the crown falls?

Girl with Three Eyes is a young adult fantasy series. If you like strong female protagonists, futuristic fairy tales, and epic tournaments, you’ll love this blend of Hindu lore and political intrigue in Priya Ardis’s academy fairy tale.

Purchase Links:

USA: https://amzn.to/3jagFhB

UK: https://amzn.to/3cBEQDt

Canada: https://amzn.to/3i1Fv20


My Review

It’s pretty clear that Kira Shine is the chosen one from the opening pages – we know that she’s low-born, a talented athlete, in possession of magical abilities, and that she has to hide her physical differences from others in order to avoid censure. Then along comes an event that changes everything and BAM! It’s suddenly her job to Do The Thing™ and Save The People™ and this book if off the the races.

I fell in love with Kira’s voice in the first few pages as it is both young and believable. Her sayings and internalization are sheltered and more than a little naive – especially when it comes to romance – and this lead to a lot of laughs in those relatable ‘I’ve been there’ moments. She’s awkward, inexperienced in forming friendships and romantic relationships, but still wants to be part of that world. In short, Kira embodies your average young lady trying to fit into a new setting and navigating some darned confusing emotions for the very first time.

However, Kira’s inexperience in social settings is balanced out by a cast of characters who were raised in the high-class, high-stakes setting of the court and the Raj Royal School. You have Sarita, the loveable general’s daughters; Trace, the caustic but potentially loveable rich boy; and Ajay, the gorgeous love interest who just so happens to be a prince. They’re all bound together through their involvement with the school’s skyboarding team, and ultimately Kira’s investigation into a string of assassination attempts. Together they make a balanced and dynamic group of teens, and I can’t wait to see how they change and develop as the series progresses.

But, if the characters doesn’t draw you in, Ardis’s writing is sure to do the trick. Her style light, imaginative and incredibly fast paced. The world building is both unique and gradual, painting the picture of a fragile empire laced through futuristic technology and myth-like magic. There are unique geographical regions, a defined class society, and the seeds of social revolution shaking the foundations of life as the characters know it. And then there’s the matter of the investigative arc, with high stakes and dire consequences, carefully threaded throughout Kira’s personal journey. There’s an abundance of subtle clues and details that will allow for invested or seasoned readers to predict the ending, but no so many as to give all the twists away. I genuinely can’t wait for the next book to be released!

Finally, there’s a lot of YA Fantasy out there that should really be classed as NA or adult – and believe me, I devour it with my whole heart – but Girl With Three Eyes is well and truly a YA book and this fills my heart with joy. The characters in it are in the 13-16 range and the embody the maelstrom of contradictions that come with that age. They are awkward and emotional, keep secrets and make impulsive decisions, and regularly blow inconsequential events out of proportion. But then on the next page they make intelligent and rational decisions, experience deep emotions and empathy, and navigate some very adult problems with an enviable and single-minded focus. In short, they are teenagers. And I’ll be damned because they actually act like it.

The result is that this book is an inviting bridge between the world of MG and YA fantasy. It’s chalk full of the tropes that are beloved in the genre – it has a chosen one, an orphan falling in love with a prince, a house based school, complex and magical sports, an outsider protagonist with an impossible task, dramatically dysfunctional families, and more. Some might say that these tropes are over-used, but honestly, we keep reading them for a reason! They’re relatable, there’s an infinite number of ways in which an author can make them new and fresh (hence my love of this book!), and the fact that most readers enjoy a touch of the familiar when they delve into new and magical worlds. Having these tropes presented in a setting that is free from the adult responsibilities found in the later age ranges for YA helps to build knowledge without being overwhelming, and it’s exactly the kind of book I would recommend for Junior High and High School Libraries.


Many thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review, and my deepest apologies for not reviewing the ARC prior to publication. 2020 has been a bitch.

#BlogTour #Review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart @Tr4cyF3nt0n @OrbitBooks @AndreaGStewart

There are few things in this world that I enjoy more than a hot cup of tea and good book, one of them is a book so good that I completely forget about the tea…

Reader, let me present to you one of those books: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart, killer of the cuppa, and one heck of a captivating read. If you like imaginative epic fantasy, multiple POVs with distinct perspectives and voices, and highly structured magic systems then this might just be the book for you.


Title: Bone Shard Daughter

Series: The Drowning Empire

Author:  Andrea Stewart

Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Genre: Fantasy, Adult Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

Features: N/A


Synopsis

In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne. The Bone Shard Daughter marks the debut of a major new voice in epic fantasy.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.


My Review

This story is told through three different POVs, with each character occupying a different space in a highly stratified society – Lin is the Emperor’s daughter, and while she struggles against her father’s control and the secrets that he keeps she still occupies a position of immense privilege and must eventually come to terms with the inevitable consequences of her actions; Phalue is a governor’s daughter born to a comfortable life, but through her relationship to commoner and rebel she is able to reflect on the systems on oppression from which she has benefited and wield her privilege in a way that betters the lives of others; and finally, Jovis is smuggler who has always been having just enough so long as he had his love at his side, but when she goes missing his life falls into the hands of racketeering gang until a cataclysmic convergence of fate, chance, and a magical animal familiar set on him the path to becoming a people’s hero.

The three narratives, while balanced, aren’t presented in any systematic pattern or order and this fluidity of narrative allows for a natural ebb and flow to each character’s individual arc without ever easing up on the overall pacing of the book. For example, significant portions of Phalue’s character development take place while Jovis is away from the action at sea,  or how Lin’s quest to uncover her memories and her father’s secrets are interspersed throughout the silences of Phalue and Ranami’s lover’s quarrels. The stories run parallel to one another for much of the book as the foundations for the series are set, but once they start to intertwine the already impeccable storytelling steps up to a whole new level. The final battles are entirely engaging, bringing neat resolutions to many of arcs that drove the plot for this instalment, each character is treated to cliff-hangers and realizations that will keep readers anxiously awaiting more.

The world building is both comprehensive and unique, with a fully flushed out political structure operating on fumes and a tenuous balance between magical constructs and fallible humans. This is further complicated by a system of corrupt officials grown entitled and lazy as a result of their greed, and the beginnings of a civil uprising slowly burning it’s way from one island to the next. Layered atop the highly relatable political instability is an ancient history that is equal parts mythology and living magic, and I have no doubts that the seeds planted in this first instalment will continue to grown and amaze as the trilogy progresses.

The same level of detail and intricacy invested into building the Empire is also extended to the bone shard magic system. The methods in which different animal parts can be combined to create creatures to serve a specific purpose are endless, as are the commands that can be etched on the bone shards that power them. The language of the commands is complicated and difficult to learn, reminiscent of block-based coding or MySQL implemented in such a way as to control the actions of intelligent beings. This mixture of magic programming and self determination presents significant barriers for Lin to overcome as conflicting commands can lead to disastrous results, but when done right will provide her with the tools with which to control the Empire.

The immense power behind construct creation is balanced out by the fact the constructs are powered by threads of actual human life, and will eventually lead to the death of those whose shards are in use. This provides ample opportunity for the subtle critique of imperialism, capitalism, abuse of power, and class stratified societies. But it never feels like a lesson, rather these issues are presented from the views of of our three main characters who all occupy different places in society, and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

If you’re looking for Asian inspired fantasy that is neither derivative nor damagingly stereotypical, then I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It presents a tactful and deliberate blend of the tropes and features that readers have come to crave in fantasy and presents them in new and exciting ways with originality as the main course and not as a side. It features a full cast of unique and diverse characters, a fully developed on-page f/f romance complete with genuine conflict and growth, and the subtle undertones of scathing societal critique leveraged at our contemporary world.

This title is listed as Epic Fantasy, but I’d happily leave it at Epic. Period.


About The Author

Andrea Stewart is the Chinese American daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number of places across the United States. When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon slayer didn’t pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California.


Purchase Links:

USA:  https://amzn.to/33HWrFq 

UK:  https://amzn.to/3hZaVGo

Canada: https://amzn.to/2FHIQq1


Many thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to join this tour and providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

#Review: This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner #YASciFi #ScienceFiction #SeriesReview

Summer + COVID Lockdown = Jessica reading whatever the heck she wants!

I made the choice early on in the pandemic that I was going to dramatically slash my blog tour commitments and use my reading to feed happiness when the world descended into the symbolic dumpster fire that is 2020. So fair warning friends, the vast majority of the reviews that I post in the coming weeks are going to be YA, mostly fantasy, and probably part of a series that I started ages ago and just recently got around to finishing (because my heart needed to know the ending).

First up, This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner – the second book in the epic Starbound series.


shatteredTitle: This Shattered World

Series Title: Starbound

Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Date: December 23, 2014

Genre: YA Fiction, YA Fantasy, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Themes: Romance, Rebellion, Cost of war, Fight the state

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

Purchase Links:

Canada: https://amzn.to/3l8j8dY 

UK: https://amzn.to/34v5b3R

U.S.A.: https://amzn.to/2EqtuVQ

As an Amazon Associate I may earn from qualifying purchases.


My Review

If you had told me that I would end up falling in love with a YA SciFi series heavy on the fuck-the-corporation sentiment (which I’m almost always there for) and heavier yet on the romance I would have laughed and said yeah right. But guess what? I’m kind of obsessed.

I checked out These Broken Stars a while back because it was available for immediate listening through my library’s Libby platform and because I had loved Kaufman’s collaboration on The Illuminae Files. I knew going into this series that there was going to be more focus on the romance than I typically enjoy, but I was looking for light and fun while still being cerebral, and I most definitely found it.

I adored the flipped gender roles with our heroine being the snarky and mysteriously resilient soldier, and the reluctant hero being an idealistic soft-boy pacifist (though why this has to be read as flipped gender roles is an entirely different discussion). They both exhibit and command different modes of loyalty and pathways to honour, and when combined together highlight the reality of disparate narratives on major issues.

At the start of the book they both start off firmly entrenched in their ideals but quickly fall into the grey space that comes with having their beliefs rocked to the core. This ambiguity provides the foundations for some serious character development and when combined with the generous exploration of their emotional wounds creates characters that are both easy to fall in love with and even easier to root for.

To top it all off, the enemies to lovers trope is used exceptionally well. While there is certainly a touch of instant attraction, this attraction remains an appreciation of physicality until the characters are given the grounds and opportunity to develop a legitimate romantic attraction. The romance is both sweet and complicated, but the challenges presented ultimately bring them together in realistic ways.

Normally a trilogy suffers from second book syndrome where the first book is amazing and does a fabulous job of setting the stage, book two carries things along and builds a lot of tension without a whole lot of action, and then book three is the big finale with all the fireworks. I am pleased to say that second book syndrome is not at all present here! In choosing to have each book focus on a different romantic arc with only cameos from the other instalments, This Shattered World is a self-contained bundle of excitement that doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘slow’.

The world building in this book is second to none. It’s got an extensive backstory layering historical precedent with political depth, and an evocative setting reminiscent of a cross between Higgin’s Moon from Firefly and Star War’s Dagobah. In stepping away from the empty world discovered by Lilac and Tarver and onto societally fraught Avon, we get to explore the whispers and the corporation that’s abused them from an entirely different angle. Readers are presented with corruption, class suppression, and bigotry at every turn and must work to unpack the messages buried beneath the action and romance.

Though this book was published nearly six years ago, I have no doubt that today’s teen readers would have no problem drawing parallels to the corporate and political corruption running rampant in the world today. It might be Sci-Fi, but all the best fiction has foundation in reality.