Review: The Chosen and the Beautiful (Vo)

A Review of The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo

In The Chosen and the Beautiful, the author of The Empress of Salt and Fortune loosely retells Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby through the eyes of a very different Jordan. This Jordan, who is identified in the book blurb as queer (though she never labels herself), was adopted by the religious but not exactly well-meaning Bakers of Louisville from Tonkin (Vietnam). The opening scene, in which Jordan and Daisy literally float around the latter’s mansion on a hot summer day, positions The Chosen and the Beautiful on a creative, magical path that kept me turning pages.

Jordan occupies a ritzy and often lonesome world shaped by magic, parties, demons and xenophobia. Add to this her mysterious ability to make cut paper come to life and The Chosen and the Beautiful becomes a completely unique book. Change the names and places, and it would be one.

“There are women who will forgive a great deal for a moment of kindness from a handsome man, but Daisy and the other older girls who had taken me under their wings had taught me not to be one of them.”

–Jordan in The Chosen and the Beautiful

In Vo’s world of dark magic and recreational demon’s blood, the relationship between Daisy and Jordan is as complex as Jordan’s relationship with her country. Daisy leans on Jordan for unending support, often at great cost. Jordan, with the blasé attitude that helps her survive in a strict home and a city with few people who look like her, goes along with what Daisy wants, and often seeks out her companionship. Her involvement with Daisy’s tangled affairs becomes inevitable.

Certain scenes from The Great Gatsby are dropped into The Chosen and the Beautiful with faithfulness. Other intrusions by Gatsby, who may have sold his soul to attain wealth instead of becoming a bootlegger, take on a shape unique to the book.

Vo’s Gatsby himself is queer (again, no labels in the actual text), and something of a cad despite his love for Daisy; when Jordan meets him a magically hidden club where members of the LGBTQ community can be themselves, she isn’t shy about pointing out Gatsby’s recent encounter with a “rent boy” in crude terms. He sets his sights on Nick, too, putting him at instant odds with Jordan.

Gatsby’s other relationships and liaisons make his declaration of love for Daisy feel forced, but also color it as the obsession Fitzgerald may have intended it as (the original Gatsby has a naive quality, despite being a World War I veteran and a bootlegger, and though he never appears ruthless like Vo’s Gatsby, his innocence and belief in true love is more of a wish to turn back time than a reality). The scene where Gatsby knocks over the clock is even included in Vo’s version, though how he gets to Nick’s house is far messier and more awkward.

Needless to say, Nick’s character is also different. His relationship with Jordan is closer—Vo’s Jordan is also less detached, and less on a society pedestal, than Fitzgerald’s Jordan, making the attachment natural—though it’s no secret that Nick sees other people when he’s not with her. She does, too, but has far more feelings about his lack of devotion that he does, hinting at her vulnerability even as she claims she doesn’t care. I thought the eventual big reveal about Nick’s personality and nature effective and moving. Coupled with Jordan’s reaction, it made the book for me.

Vo also delves into other long-standing societal problems (namely xenophobia and racism), leaving immigrant Jordan, who is essentially a Dreamer, in a bad and unexpected position. Her interactions with other Vietnamese paper magicians are uncomfortable and leave her feeling like an outsider in two different cultures. Jordan also admits to avoiding Chinatown and other people who look like her, preferring to be a novelty on her own while fearing how white Americans, many of whom are hoping to expel foreigners with a pending bill, would view her in a cluster of Asian immigrants.

Jordan is really the best part of The Chosen and the Beautiful—and to be honest, I think she deserved her own story without Gatsby butting in, a tale inspired by The Great Gatsby rather than a retelling. By The Chosen and the Beautiful‘s poignant end, I wish there had been more Jordan, and maybe no Gatsby at all.

To learn more about this author, visit nghivo.com.

Indie Book Spotlight: Twelve Days of Faery (Gingell)

Another Indie Book Spotlight is upon us!

Twelve Days of Faery Book Review Graphic

Who knew a king being overwhelmed with paperwork would be so endearing?

On the surface, Twelve Days of Faery is the story of a beleaguered king caught up in the dangerous realm of Faery when a peculiar enchantress arrives, claiming she can break the curse on King Markon’s son. Thanks to this said and so-called curse, a woman cannot even wink at the young prince without something terrible befalling her. And the one whose hair vanished got off easy; the outcomes are only getting worse.

This means Markon has two problems: Althea’s contract says she’ll eventually be made queen if she can stop the attacks, and Markon is steadily falling in love with her even as she grows closer to his son.

Twelve Days of Faery can be violent (but not excessively, in my opinion), and there’s no shortage of wicked, scheming characters. But thanks to off-beat enchantress Althea and procrastinating-on-royal-paperwork Markon, it’s a complete delight. A quirky one, too!

Quotable Quirk

“There’s a world of meaning in the almost-saids of the worlds.” – W.R. Gingell, Twelve Days of Faery

The wonderful characters are what makes the book, and the procedural-style structure also kept me binge-reading. Each day in the story is a day in Althea’s investigation. It doesn’t hurt that Markon is actually likeable, either. It’s hard not to root for him, and he’s just plain refreshing after the scheming royals in, well, almost everything.

As for Althea, she’s a bit like the character Luck in another book by Gingell, Spindle [find my review here], but is more self-possessed, less dotty and more aloof. While Luck (who has the same magical talents as Althea) practically makes a catchphrase out of the word “huh,” Althea’s catchphrase should be “I found something.” She’s Sherlock to Markon’s overwhelmed Watson.

Althea is also a faery-changeling who grew up and was able to escape the faery world. That is one interesting backstory.

The romance in Twelve Days of Faery is approached from a refreshingly mature angle, too. Markon is older, dignified and sensible. He approaches his growing feelings for Althea just how a person with those traits would, even though he’s sure things aren’t about to go his way.

Though the world of Faery settings (Seelie and Unseelie) were creative, the descriptions were a bit loosely sketched at times. Still, it was fun, zany and scary all at once as Markon marched into unfamiliar territory, following the magical clues toward the culprit.

This short book is well-thought out, creative and 100% enjoyable. I plan to pick up the sequel as soon as my lengthy TBR list allows, because it’s the perfect pick-me-up (wordplay alert! Don’t worry, the humor in Twelve Days of Faery is a lot more sophisticated than that—and not a small amount quirky). Funny, refreshing and great characters (plus a sizeable dash of mystery) will always equal five stars for me. If you like those things, faery, and portals into another world, you’ll love this book, too.

To learn more about titles from this author, visit W.R. Gingell’s website.

Review: Children of Blood and Bone (Adeyemi)

Catching up on some reviews today as I finally add Children of Virtue and Vengeance to my very long TBR list. Which can only mean today’s review is of…!

This is a new YA classic, with an inventive fantasy world and a real-world social message.

Children of Blood and Bone is rooted in the culture and religion of the Yoruba people, and it’s beautiful. Adeyemi drops the readers into a compelling fantasy world we’ve all been waiting for, even if we didn’t know it yet. Giant animals to ride on, a stunning pantheon of gods and goddesses, coming-of-age, bigotry (external and internalized), duty, injustice, selflessness and young love are woven into this magical story.

The world of Children of Blood and Bone is cruel to some. Even a girl as strong-willed as Zélie is driven out of her village by bloodshed and tragedy; at the same time, Amari, a princess with about zero self-confidence, makes her way out of the palace, while her heir-to-the-throne brother Inan joins the ranks of the very people responsible for what happens to Zélie’s village (one could say he’s a zealot, or naïve, or both). A collision course is in order.

Zélie is beset by grief and hopelessness at times, which adds to the depth of her story and her own drive. As a Diviner, she is connected to the goddess of death, and holds on just when her faith is about to desert her. She beats impossible odds, but not without strife and cost to herself.

Legend of Zélie: Zélie’s story is the most moving and most riveting of the perspectives. This determined heroine goes from grief and hopelessness to hope, love and sacrifice during her journey. 

My only complaint was that I wanted to stay with Zélie and her companions rather than see what other characters were doing (which is really a testament to how much more exciting Zélie’s story is). It also means I kept reading to get back to her. There were scenes in which Zélie’s awe transmitted perfectly, like when she sees an image of the goddess of death, which gave me actual goosebumps. Adeyemi has a real talent for transferring her characters emotions from page to reader.

In short, I shed tears. I stayed up way too late reading. There was a touch of romance and a big helping of heartbreak. This was a true “experience” novel, and it was gorgeous. It’s also a prime example of the right way to *ahem* kill off a character.

The feeling I had reading this book has stayed with me long after the details began to blur (and admittedly they have blurred a bit). But for me, the best books will always be the ones that make you remember the feeling of reading them, if not all the names and details. Fans of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen/The Old Kingdom series and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow are likely to enjoy it as much as I did.

So while this book was probably checked off your own TBR list long ago, I won’t risk somebody out there missing it. Read Children of Blood and Bone if you still haven’t! You won’t be sorry.

Note: Book 2 in the Legacy of Orïsha series, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, was released in 2019; as of posting, there was no release date or title listed on Goodreads for #3.

Indie Book Spotlight: Tapestry of Night (Vince)

In a world where only one late-bloomer can save her people from a terrible fate, the time has come…for another Indie Book Spotlight!

Tapestry of Night Review Graphic

The opening chapter of Elm Vince’s Tapestry of Night shows us that fate can be written in the stars—if those stars are charted properly. Thanks to the Stellar Sisters of Celestial Devotion, Cassia is an expert of making natal star charts, and she has an “uncanny intuition” to go with it.

Eventually, Cassia entrusts the reader with the exciting secret that she has the most unusual—and difficult to understand—prophesied fate of anyone. For a magically late-bloomer with no shortage of problems, there seem to be a lot of important roles heading Cassia’s way. Too many, in fact, to be solved in one book.

Which is why I need the next book.

This is Elm Vince’s debut solo series (Vince co-authored the Desert Nights series with Helena Rookwood). Teasers aside, Tapestry of Night really hit all the right notes for me. The tone isn’t overly dark and depressing, the truly bad guys are creepy, the love interests are unlikely and there’s a truly loveable alchemist to boot. The spy plotline is put to very good use. It reminds me of Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire (Mistborn series). Fans of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series will probably love it, too.

There are a lot of details in the opening chapters about monstrous snatchers, mysterious nuns in astrology-themed convents, and a few types of magic. The backstory and said details are never piled on, but carefully set the stage for a riveting story in which the stars are nearly omnipresent. Tapestry of Night is literally and figuratively dark from the beginning, with warm characters and fanciful magic to light the way.

As the nature of the Governance is gradually explained to the reader, things get a whole lot darker. It’s illegal to be a mage in Myrsia, and those with a talent are taken by snatchers to become Governance slaves. They’re also fitted with alloy collars to restrict their magic. In the Governance’s eyes, magic is too dangerous, and the alloy makes it safe (but cruelly useable).

Unlikely spy: struggling to control new magic, Cassia must sneak away to “a quiet shadow in a city of light” in order to study with endearing alchemist Ptolemus.

And then there’s the Defiance. Hidden away in the Rust Desert, the Defiance is the last vestiges of the now-eradicated Guild’s magic-users, but signs of former glory exist in the capital, too. The glasshouses Cassia uses as a rendezvous point was once “created and tended to by the Guild’s earth-signers, housing exotic greenery from across Myrsia and beyond. Now they sit abandoned, the plants slowly trying to reclaim the building.” There’s a lot of horror and decay behind the capital’s pretty veneer.

Myrsia’s Governance is reliably crooked and pitiless (without any flat villains, just some blind ambition). But the Defiance may not be all they’re cracked up to be, either: after all, they kicked Cassia out as a girl, right after her father died on a mission, because she had no magic.

All that changes as Cassia wanders into adulthood. She has an empath’s gifts, but they refuse to work in the usual way. She can feel what others feel, not just sense it. And it’s pretty out of control besides.

Depending on whether she can learn to control her gift, Cassia just might be the Defiance’s perfect spy. But she has zero time to master it. With the life of a friend on the line, Cassia is about to head off to the capital with a fake identity, where she witnesses constant reminders of how important—and dangerous—her task is.

Eventually, as a side note, we hear there are fey out there somewhere, closed off in their own country across the sea. And for an unknown reason, the leader of the Governance is out there visiting them. This series has a whole lot of space to grow, with some interesting plot points set up for the next book.

The settings of Tapestry of Night are just as interesting, from a red desert to the peculiar convents to the inner bureaucratic chambers of the Governance. The Governance is sort of like evil Hogwarts at times, complete with its own wizarding ball.

On a copy editing note, the excess of commas can be looked past after a bit, so don’t let that stop you. This is a great take on magical “job classes” and a good late-bloomer story, too. Not to mention the spy-craft! I’ll be continuing with the series for sure.

The Bests and Mosts 2020: awards

Today, I want to recognize my favorite fantasy reads of 2020 (and encourage you to discover one of them yourself!). And I’ll be accomplishing that with these 11 awards show-style categories!

The Bests and Mosts 2020

In order to “win” (no prize other than my great esteem and respect), books must have been reviewed by me on the blog, Goodreads or Bookbub during the long happening that was 2020.

Without further ado, the award goes to…

Best Female Lead

Lira, The Prince and the Poisoner (Carnival of Fae #1), by Helena Rookwood. I love this sassy, self-serving yet likeable character, who lies, cheats and steals her way into readers hearts in The Prince and the Poisoner and its sequel, The Thief and the Throne. [My Review.]

Best Male Lead

Numair, Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles #1), by Tamora Pierce. Like a sensible Harry Potter, the much loved character of Numair from Pierce’s The Immortals trilogy grows up in a school surrounded by a river god, a leftover prince and no shortage of intrigue. Numair does all the normal adolescent boy things, even as he does the extraordinary. [Review available on Bookbub; coming soon to website.]

Best Storytelling

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness #1), by Tamora Pierce. There’s nothing like the story of a young girl better at swordplay than sorcery, who trades places with her twin and seeks to become a knight. Not only does Alanna make room for a different kind of girl in YA fantasy, but it’s absorbing from page one. Now and always, a classic. [My review.]

Best Plot Twist

Conjure Women, by Afia Atakora. “Twist” needs to be plural for this story, which probably fits best under the category of magical realism. Betrayals, terrible truths, and a vengeful lie sit at the heart of this book like jagged wire. The truth about Bean, a black-eyed child born with what might as well be a curse, is only one revelation in the story of a Black community during enslavement and after, and the midwife-plus-medicine-maker Rue who tries to keep it—and a few of the lies—from falling apart. [Review available on Bookbub; coming soon to website.]

Most Magical

The Prince and the Poisoner (Carnival of Fae #1), by Helena Rookwood. It’s hard to beat the fabulous magic carnival Lira runs away to (with a catch) in the first book in the series. (Sigh. Why doesn’t anything like it exist?) Add in magical objects left by the fae, and you can almost smell the burnt caramel. [My Review.]

Most Romantic 2020
Runner up: Spindle, by W.R. Gingell

Most Original

Sting Magic (Empire of War and Wings #1), by Sarah K.L. Wilson. The concept of familiars for magic-users gets new life in a world where something is very wrong in the forest, and most pressingly, with protagonist  *’s magic. When magic-users manifest, it’s supposed to be with an egg (soon be followed by a bird). But *’s angry magic is a pack of swarming bees (and sometimes a hopeful little golden bumble bee that just sounds cute). The magic system was fantastic. [My Review.]

Most Action-Packed

Daughter of Shades (The Venatrix Chronicles), by Silvia Mercedes. Young Ayeleth finds more than her fair share of trouble as she tries to become a full-fledged Venetrix. After a certain point in the book (about a third of the way in, I’d say), the action hardly ever pauses, and things get a whole lot spookier.  [My Review.]

Most Romantic

Snowblind (Pler Trilogy #1), by Anna Velfman. A wonderful romance between two young people occurs in the first half of the book that is somehow wholesome and nostalgic without being chaste. Icedancer is now on my Kindle but still on my TBR list, but something tells me there’s more to come, both with Lanna’s original love and a potential new (and much less romantic) suitor. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of the cute farm boy! [My Review.]

Most Heartbreaking

A Song Below Water (A Song Below Water #1), by Bethany C. Morrow. A story of injustice, found family and lost ones, A Song Below Water doesn’t just share the two narrators’ feelings with the reader, it allows them to connect to them through universal truths: the need for family, true friendship, love, acceptance, and justice. And there’s one other essential right tying those needs together for Tavia and Effie: in a world where some magical beings are reviled and even killed, the friends-turned-sisters both seek the space not just to speak and be heard, but to be. [My Review.]

Most Satisfying

Spindle (Two Monarchies Sequence #1), by W.R. Gingell. This delightful, quirky and often outright funny book introduces Gingell’s special brand of enchanter/enchantresses. I can’t spoil anything, so I’ll just have to say that the ending feels just right. [My Review.]

Most Likely to be Read Twice

The Purple Haze, by Andrew Einspruch. This hilarious book has so many jokes and just-the-right-level-of-bad puns, I could hardly take them all in. Silly and endearing, the story of germophobe Princess Eloise and her quest to find her sister is the perfect read when in need of a pick-me-up. [My Review.]

That’s it for 2020. Congratulations to all the winners!

YA books that changed the game #4: Wild Magic (Pierce)

The series on classic (pre-Harry Potter) YA books continues with another book by Tamora Pierce.

Wild Magic (Pierce) Review

Sometimes you don’t need a superhero. Sometimes you just need a Daine.

Thirteen-year-old Daine is missing a lot in her life: her family, a home, the identity of her father, the reason she can interact with animals almost like she’s one of them…She’s a puzzle, including to herself. She also has a self-esteem level in the negative digits and needs to make her way on her own.

Fortunately, a job bringing horses to Tortall sends her on a far better path.

Wild Magic is full of scarier creatures, higher stakes and more warm and fuzzy feelings than Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book of Tamora Pierce’s previous series. In many ways, it’s Alanna‘s exact opposite.

Alanna comes from a noble family; Daine comes from the middle of nowhere. Alanna can read; Daine can’t. The list goes on, but in essence, Alanna is an empowered young person chasing her dreams by bucking gender roles. Daine doesn’t know who she is, what she needs, or the first clue how to get it. She’s a girl alone in the world. But she’s also very, very special.

Diamond in the rough: Daine has extraordinary abilities, no faith in herself and little self-worth. The adventures get more serious–and more magical–as the series continues.

In all honesty, I didn’t get as much out of a grown-up re-read of Wild Magic as I did Alanna. I was struck and almost annoyed by how very little self-esteem Daine had, and how she continually was shocked by kindness and the differences in Tortall’s culture from that of her homeland. She can’t believe someone lets her have a book. That wide-eyed, What? For me? But I’m just a peasant girl! bit gets trying after a while. But fantasy is full of female characters who, at best, only act like they have low self-esteem. Poor Daine is the real deal.

Daine has amazing powers of her own, to be sure, but she’s no powerful sorcerer like her new teacher Numair. She lacks training, strength and reliability compared to the lovely, chummy cast of characters from the Song of the Lioness series, plus Numair.

This means Daine is never reduced to her abilities. Many “nice” young female characters have their personalities defined by what they can do for others: become a hero in a battle, lead a movement, learn the conniving ways of the people in power and beat them at their own game. Daine is defined by her powerlessness, by the way she lacks control and can hurt others.

She’s the ultimate underdog.

When I first read this as a teen, I was doing all the normal teen things, like negotiating my self-worth on a daily basis and figuring out myself and the world. Every other book had a girl empowered in some way. Sure, Daine has great abilities, but she doesn’t want them. They’re double-edged swords. She’ll use them to round up animals (also awesome), but she’s rightly terrified of hurting others, including her animal friends. Daine is trying to figure out how to be a good person and survive, and in the process almost diminishes herself into nothing.

If there’s a lesson to Wild Magic, it’s that even the meekest, most frightened of us are deserving of love. There are so many young people (and adults!) out there who need that message, and it’s why Wild Magic is still one of the best.

Review: A Song Below Water (Morrow)

A Song Below Water Review

I adored this book and the beautiful relationship between its two narrators, Tavia and Effie.

The story lines in A Song Below Water feel timely, but would have fit decades ago, too (with one exception: this YA fantasy is anchored to the present by Tavia’s devotion to a fictional YouTube star). Its themes are comprehensive: activism, fear rooted in bigotry (through mythos), racism, sexism, the drive a parent feels to keep a child safe from that discrimination and, rising above them all, friendship and found family.

Tavia’s voice is power—literally, when she uses her siren voice. But being a siren is dangerous, tied into the fact that only black women and girls have been sirens in recent times. Tavia’s throat burns when she suppresses her voice, but—according to her father—being outed as a siren is the worst thing that could happen. She’s worn down by a life spent wading through society’s fears, her father’s and her own.

A Song Below Water‘s other protagonist, Effie, is the antidote for all that, even if she can’t take it away. They aren’t really sisters, but now that they live together they might as well be. Oh, and she’s a mermaid. Not in real life, but she plays one at the Renaissance faire she loves. Effie’s love for it goes back to her mother, who was a performer, too, and since her mother’s death, it’s how she holds on.

She might not be a real mermaid, but it’s clear Effie is something. As the girls negotiate a sometimes cruel and frequently, dangerously misunderstanding world (same goes for their high school), their bond of sisterhood guides them through and propels the story line. That and the mysterious gargoyle that roosts on Tavia’s roof.

This is a great story, well told, and more. A Song Below Water is chuck full of lessons in empathy for non-black readers. Morrow does some of her best work in Tavia’s narration. “I’m not up for educating anyone on how many things exist that they don’t know about or support, even if we are basically friends,” says Tavia, too worn to explain when she’s questioned about why she watches hair videos on YouTube. And, later, “the only ones who seem to stand for Black girls are Black girls.”

The popular girls have magic to boost their charm, but Tavia and Effie have it all on their own. They read like real girls.

As A Song Below Water progresses, Tav moves ever closer to activism, and gets a big jolt forward when another young woman reveals herself as a siren. It gives Tavia more than one reason to join in, and more than one reason to be afraid. Yet, at the protest, she says, “I feel honest here. I feel like a battery being recharged. Like an orphan coming home.”

A Song Below Water is wonderfully crafted, too. The mystery of Effie’s identity—and that of her father—kept me turning pages late into the night (even when I guessed part of the answer). I had to know what happened to these fully realized characters. The story might be wrapped up a little quickly and neatly, but it’s not without heartache. For some of the characters, it will never be neat enough.

And one other thing: these are real girls on the page. (I can’t speak to whether their slang is accurate, but it did make me feel old, so there’s that.) It was refreshing. Tavia and Effie’s stories are crammed full of the ache of facing the world (and boys, and parents) as young adults. Their emotions and fears feel real and unforced, and their characters are never diminished just because they do something girly. They’re competent, confident, and capable of independently navigating the world, even if all the supernatural happenings are overwhelming them. They cry without looking like crybabies, without ever seeming weak.

Yes, they also care about their hair and poor Effie’s skin, but they aren’t made to look vapid or silly while doing it. They’re two teenagers taking charge, trying to figure out how to grow up and how to write the manuals for their lives, the way we all have to. Effie gets self-conscious. Tav braves the minefield of popular elokos who have it all. She also worries about whether she will be allowed to grow up because of who she is.

The romance angles are never soapy or sappy, only authentically awkward and sweet (or heartbreaking. In both cases, it doesn’t consume either girl’s life). Its characters could easily walk off the page, but it’s the bittersweet nature of A Song Below Water that makes its plot feel true. In that way, this is not just timely but a timeless story, with a universal message you don’t need to be young to remember:

True friendship is rare, and growing up, no matter who you are (or because of who you are), is no small feat.

Indie Book Spotlight: Sting Magic (Wilson)

It’s time for another Indie Book Spotlight!

Note: I received a free advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sting Magic, the first book in the new Empire of War and Wings series by prolific author Sarah K.L. Wilson, is a typo-dotted triumph. There are three reasons for that: world-building, a unique magic system, and the fact that it is never boring.

Main character Aella lives in a wild colony, the Far Stones, where residents have freedom and hardships alike. They’re poor and backwards by Imperial standards, but most of their time is spent farming in a land that likes to turn upside down and murder them—the Forbidding, a strange, viney magic that corrupts trees and bears and whatever else it can find. Aella’s family is her everything.

And then the heir to the Empire shows up.

That’s when Aella finds out that she has the same winged, creative twist on familiars-style magic as the Empire’s most celebrated warriors. It’s a dream and a nightmare for her. Except, instead of having birds like literally everyone, Aella hatches golden, magical bees. Heresy!

Aella is forced to leave her family to become property of the ruthless Le Majest, Juste Montpetit. In the course of a few hours she loses everything, with only the warm glow of her cute and happy bee familiars to comfort her. Aella has a litany of horrors to face as she travels through a perilous land alongside violent Imperials, and more than few mysteries to solve as she tries to save her family and weighs joining the rebels.

Familiar magic: Readers will love to hate Sting Magic‘s ruthless villain and adore Aella’s bees.

Sting Magic is a shorter novel that moves at a brisk pace. The cozy but disgruntled domestic scenes at the beginning are the closest it ever gets to slow, plus the “let me barge in and spend a long time asserting my authority even though I clearly have other houses to get to” encounter with the cruel prince that immediately follows it. The latter scene could have been more concise and still left the reader wanting to punch Juste Montpetit if given the chance. He’s pure villain, but it works.

An early exchange with Ospey also feels a touch long, and there’s a bit of bouncing around the timeline here and there that can be confusing. But the high stakes for the main character, combined with the mysteries of her magical and dangerous homeland, keep things moving.

That being said, Sting Magic wasn’t fully my cup of tea. One of its biggest weaknesses is its main character, not a weak female MC at all but a broadly sketched one. Aella is more reactive than anything, and replies angrily to her captors when I would’ve expected a brooding, calculating silence, given her goals. She’s a contradiction that way, flying off the handle despite repeatedly being told she could endanger her family, the absolute last thing she wants. She doesn’t read like a person with a hot temper, either.

I was relieved when Aella finally did something proactive toward her goal, and it filled in some of her missing personality. Still, I left the book with only a weak sense of who she is. (I hope Aella will be fleshed out more in the rest of the series.)

One of the reasons Aella’s weak personality stands out so much is because the other characters are so well-rendered: the irredeemably villainous prince, Juste Montpetit; the snooty society gal who just might be a friend, Zayana; the mentor with the huge personality, Ivo; and Osprey, the toothpick-gnawing would-be ally she can’t fully trust. They are never described extensively (Osprey gets a little extra detail so you’ll know he’s handsome), but the things these characters say and do gave me a clear picture of them and their personalities.

The magic system and world-building of Sting Magic are, of course, superb. I wished the writing was a bit more polished (those typos and repetitive phrases!), but the interesting world Wilson created kept me turning pages.

This is a quick read I recommend picking up, in which you can despise the villain, root for the heroine to accomplish her goals (“Be relentless.”), and lose yourself if an intriguing and dangerous world of fabulous magic.

New comics and reviews on the way!

Hola!

I just served up a brand new episode of Princess Disasterface, titled Bunny Slippers and Truth. (Not to be confused with the bunny slippers OF truth. Sounds like my kind of superhero accouterments.) I’ve been a bit stuck on what will happen next lately…and the answer turned out to be a plot twist! Episode 2.6 also turned out longer than most (funny how that works). I hope you all enjoy it.

Growin' Pup #5, made with Comic Draw

In other news, I’m learning to use a new comic-specific app, Comic Draw (not affiliated). It’s not as intuitive as Tayasui Sketches (still not affiliated)…except when it comes to coloring in my drawings. So I’m using Comic Draw to make a special in-color edition of Princess Disasterface, but it is taking time. I currently have no timetable for release, and my current thinking is to make it available to mailing list subscribers. It’s a lot more work this way, and there will be some exclusives in the special edition (like actually seeing the king! And not just his bunny slippers) to sweeten the deal.

You can see the polished look Comic Draw offers in my latest edition of Growin’ Pup (pictured), and in a forthcoming Social Isolation. (That’s right…I’m still working on that one, in life and in comics.)

In book review news, I just got an advanced copy of Sarah K. L. Wilson’s Sting Magic. It’s available for just a few more days for those on her mailing list. If I like it, it’ll be this month’s Indie Book Spotlight. I have her Bridge of Legends compilation on my Kindle, just waiting to be read, but for now that will wait.

And now for some book recommendations!

I’ve been fortunate to read three exceptionally well-written books in a row. The first was Anna Velfman’s Snowblind, then The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. And right after that, a book I’ve had my eye on since it was in hardcover came up on my library waiting list: Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I loved all three, but the last two made me wish there was a bit more to the post-climax wrap up. I won’t hesitate to pick up subsequent books by any of these three authors, though (Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic is already on my Holds list).

Stay tuned for many more reviews! And in the meantime, please stay well and take excellent care of yourselves.

-CKB

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The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog

The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog

Welcome to The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog! If you’re looking for your next read, titles are listed alphabetically and divided by indie and traditional publishing. (If you look closely enough, you may even find some non-fantasy books.) And while you’re here, don’t forget to check out the author interviews and special features, which include book lists by theme!

Independently Published Books: C.K. Beggan‘s Indie Book Spotlight

Fiction

Reviews of the best (and my favorite) fantasy and speculative fiction novels I’ve come across so far, all by indie authors.

Atheist’s Angel (Anna Velfman)

Avalanche (Anna Velfman)

Between Jobs (W.R. Gingell)

Bride of the Shadow King (Sylvia Mercedes)

The Cracked Slipper (Stephanie Alexander)

The Crown Plonked Queen (Andrew Einspruch)

A Darkness at the Door (Intisar Khanani)

The Daughter of Earth (Callie Pey)

Daughter of Shades (Silvia Mercedes)

Droplets of Magic (Emily Bybee)

The Eastie Threat (Andrew Einspruch)

An Enchantment of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

Enchanting Fate (Ashley Evercott)

The Fox and the Briar (Chesney Infalt)

Frozen Hearts and Death Magic (Day Leitao)

Guardians of Talons and Snares (Anastasis Blythe) – live 9/27/22

Heart of Cinders (J. Darlene Everly)

Her Dreadful Will (Rebecca F. Kenney)

Icedancer (Anna Velfman)

Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses (Anastasis Blythe)

Married by Wind (Angela J. Ford)

Married by Fate (Jenny Hickman)

Music of the Night (Angela J. Ford)

Of Heists and Hexes (S.L. Prater)

Of Silver and Secrets (Sylvia Mercedes)

Phoenix Heart, Season One, Episode One: Ashes (Sarah K.L. Wilson)

The Prince and the Poisoner (Helena Rookwood)

A Promise of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

The Purple Haze (Andrew Einspruch)

Rise of the Fire Queen (Alisha Klapheke)

The Road to Farringale (Charlotte E. English)

Stolen by the Shadow King (Alisha Klapheke)

Sunbolt (Intisar Khanani)

Spindle (W.R. Gingell)

Sting Magic (Sarah K.L. Wilson)

Snowblind (Anna Velfman)

Tapestry of Night (Elm Vince)

The Thief and the Throne (Helena Rookwood)

A Trial of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

Throne of Sand (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

To Carve a Fae Heart (Tessonja Odette)

Twelve Days of Faery (W.R. Gingell)

Nonfiction

Traditionally Published Books: Reviews of All My Favs

My favorite books in the fantasy, noir, literary and speculative fiction genres that have been released by traditional publishers.

Author Interviews: One Author to Another

A new category! In which I do my best to pose thoughtful questions to some of my favorite indie authors.

Anastasis Blythe, live October 1, 2022 – 11 Questions with Anastasis Blythe, author of Guardians of Talons and Snares

Chesney Infalt, June 3, 2022 – 10 Questions with Chesney Infalt, author of The Fox and the Briar

Anna Velfman, April 15, 2022 – 10 Questions with author Anna Velfman, author of Snowblind

Andrew Einspruch, May 25, 2021 – Questions with the hilarious, award-winning author of The Light Bearer

Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince, April 10, 2021 – Questions with the co-authors of An Enchantment of Thorns

Special Features: Authors, Books and Writing

From Ask an Indie Author to trivia to Book Lists, find blog posts featuring by topic, writing tips andIndie Author Spotlights.

Indie Author Spotlight: Tessonja Odette – August 2022

Of Thieves and Shadows cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – live 8/23/22

Rise of the Fire Queen is here! (Book News) (8/7/22)

Ask an Indie Author with Ashley Evercott – How I make my book covers shine on social media? (7/15/22)

Indie Author Spotlight: Anthea Sharp – June 2022

Six of Crows month content (June 2022)

8 Fantasy Books with Delicious Cliffhanger Endings (Including Six of Crows)

9 Fantastic quotes from the Six of Crows duology

10 Books to read after Six of Crows

Kaz Brekker and my Fjerdan heist level character hangover

Trivia: Do You Know Kaz Brekker?

Trivia: How well do you know Six of Crows?

Trivia: How well do you know the Six of Crows duology characters?

From Storm and Shadow cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 5/30/22

16+ Awesome Asian-Inspired Fantasy Worlds – 5/27/22 – A book list with settings from the Middle East to the Pacific Islands

Weaver cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 5/10/22

Vow of the Shadow King cover reveal (BOMM tour) – 5/4/22

A Throne of Shadows Cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 4/28/22

A Darkness at the Door cover reveal – 4/22/22 – in which I discuss the Dauntless Path series and reveal the fabulous cover

Retellings to Thrill Any Fantasy Reader – A complete list of fairy tale and classic book retellings I’ve reviewed on the blog

Supporting Diversity in Fantasy – A mission statement for the blog, plus links to authors who feature diverse characters in their work

Lessons from Bestsellers Part I (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – Learning from Hannah and Leo in The German Girlby Armando Lucas Correa

Lessons from Bestsellers Part II (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – A look at the many sides of Ali in S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass

Lessons from Bestsellers Part III (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – A mystery and a terrible truth rounds out Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water

5 Awkward Situations to Make Your MC Shine – Examples of awkwardness that endear main characters to readers in some of my favorite books