Disclaimer: I received an eARC of Spin the Dawn from the publisher via Caffeine Blog Tour.
2019 has been a wonderful year for East Asian fantasy releases, from The Girl King, to Descendant of the Cranes, to Wicked Fox, and now Spin the Dawn – we’ve seen an exploration of a diverse array of Asian culture and history through YA fiction.
Spin the Dawn had two distinct story arcs, each breathing fresh air into the tropes of high-stake tournaments and impossible quests. As a daughter of a tailor, I felt a kinship to Maia, her plight and her utter devotion to her craft. Here is a heroine that did not sought to change the world with physical might or sharp wit – she altered the fabric of the universe with a decisive cut of her scissors – and I found that imagery beautiful.
I prefer my fantasy to be character driven, and this is exactly what Spin the Dawn delivered with its introspective heroine. The relationships that Maia developed over the course of this novel, especially her slow-burn friendship turned romance, was satisfying to behold.
My favourite thing about Spin the Dawn was the way the tale took familiar notes of East Asian folklore and weaved it into the fabric of its lore and legend. The resplendent robes Maia was tasked with completing called to mind the myths of Weaver girl. More than that, the story reclaimed the narrative of unfortunate girls being transformed by beautiful dresses – and placed the power back into the hands of a girl who created them.
Spin the Dawn was rich in beautiful imageries expressed through both Maia’s embroidered creations and Elizabeth Lim’s lyrical proses. I could see no better way to celebrate than through a collection of wallpapers, to pay homage to both the book and its beautiful cover.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warning for sexual assault.
Girls of Paper and Fire is an antidote to the poison that is on the daily news. It’s a testament to the resilience of survivors, filled with fire and fury and hope. If you are in the mood for a read that will set the patriarchy alight, this is definitely one to grab.
There is a lot to unpack about this stunner of a debut novel. The experience of reading Girls is intensely personal, as the book draws intimately from the Natasha Ngan’s experiences. From the cultural flourishes to the Paper Girls’ shared trauma, every detail within the book is carefully considered to create an emotionally immersive experience. I confess this novel left me in a daze after I finished it, so do approach with caution considering the heavy content within.
The world building in Girls is rich and expansive, helped by Natasha Ngan’s beautiful descriptive writing. Characters within this world are divided into three groups – with the powerless humans of the Paper caste oppressed by the demons in the Steel and Moon castes. There is mythology and founding legend deeply rooted in the fabric of this world, re-purposed by the ruling class to reinforce their reign at the top. I loved the political tension between the different caste and the various provinces of the Demon King’s vast empire. As the world is based in Malaysia, it’s as rich in cultural diversity as its real-life counterpart.
Lei is a Paper Girl, one among a group of nine selected to be concubine to the Demon King. Born to a world where women are routinely robbed of their agency, Lei emerges from the page simmering in anger yet plagued by insecurities and self-doubt. Her character arc is an exploration of self-empowerment and reclaiming of identity in a deeply flawed and misogynistic system. I appreciated that the book presented a multitude of ways in which these women coped, and does not pass judgement on any methods.
The romantic love story within this book is the slow burn F/F fantasy romance readers everywhere have been waiting for. It’s satisfying watching two women learn of each other’s flaws and strengths, empowering one another, and falling in love along the way. It’s so easy to root for these ladies and cheer on their battle against the world.
If you only pick one debut novel to read in 2018, make it this one.
I could not resist picking up this title as soon as it popped up on my Audible recommendations: a full cast of 30+ voice actors take on a revenge story, framed as a true crime podcast? Yes, please. As if that impressive blurb wasn’t enough, Sadie went on to trump every single one of my expectations. It delivers a powerful and unapologetic tale about a girl who’s hellbent on regaining control and exacting justice.
The audio production of Sadie was incredible and a perfect medium for this story, if you can access it, I highly recommend listening rather than reading to this book. Half of the book features a fictional crime podcast, The Girls, as presenter Wes McCrae follows the trail of the missing Sadie Hunter – who disappeared after the murder of her younger sister, Mattie. The other half of the book, told in alternate chapters, follows Sadie as she tracks down a man she knew as Keith. The voice actors are incredible, especially Sadie’s narrator, who did an excellent job conveying her intensity and emotion. Sadie also has a stutter, and this was portrayed very well on the audiobook. Continue reading “Audiobook Review: Sadie”→
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
The following review will contain spoilers for the first book, Strange the Dreamer (which I have reviewed here). There will be no spoilers for Muse of Nightmares.
Laini Taylor is a wordsmith and a weaver of dreams, she never ceases to amaze me. This duology will go down as my all-time favourite, sharing the throne with The Orphan’s Tales Duology and Six of Crows.
As long-time blog readers might remember, Strange the Dreamer was one of my favourite reads of 2017. Within the first few pages, I was captivated by Lazlo’s dreams, Sarai’s musings, and the magic of Weep. If the first book in this duology was a languid and indescribably vivid dreamscape, then Muse of Nightmares was a triumphant awakening into a reality equally monstrous and fantastical. To me, Muse was pitch-perfect from beginning to end, marked by Laini Taylor’s inimitable lyrical prose and enviable imagination. Continue reading “Book Review: Muse of Nightmares”→
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
The Astonishing Colour of After is a marvel of a debut novel, beautifully crafted and infused with magic. The novel illustrates a moving portrait of mental illness, love, and loss. Reading the book is an experience that will break your heart, heal it, and leave it not quite the same afterwards.
Leigh’s mother committed suicide, and since her death, an elusive bird began appearing in her place. Driven to find answers, Leigh finds her way to Taiwan, the birthplace of her mother and home to her estranged grandparents. What unfolds is an intricate and layered story about generational memories and how they shape us. The way the novel plays out is part mystery, part memoir. Incense smoke, stray feathers, unsent mail, and half-forgotten memories, intertwine to compose a page-turning tale about discovery and identity. Continue reading “Book Review: The Astonishing Colour of After”→
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Many YA reimaginations of Faerie conjures up an impossibly beautiful wonderland, populated by beautiful lords ready to romance our mortal protagonist. Enter Holly Black: exacting in her portrayal of Faerie as a beautiful nightmare, inhabited by cruel and capricious creatures. This dark tale is a story with teeth, where ambition and vengeance drive the plot forward. For Jude, romance is less than an afterthought, especially if she wants to survive in a world hell-bent on diminishing her worth. The Cruel Prince is a story about a girl wrestling for control of her own narrative, and discovering that to fight monsters, she might have to become one.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia, all opinions are mine.
Note: This review will contain spoilers for the first Red Rising trilogy (including spoilers of the last book, Morning Star). I promise it will be absolutely spoiler-free for Iron Golditself! If you haven’t read the previous trilogy, what are you waiting for?! Go binge it immediately, it will be one of the best decisions you’ll make this year.
I can say with absolute certainty that the Red Rising trilogy is one of the best series I’ve ever read, and it’s one I regularly recommend to avid bookworms and reluctant readers alike. Aside from its gripping action and high-octane emotional drama, the series is populated by some of my fictional favourites. While I found Morning Star a wholly satisfying conclusion, I was pumped to discover Pierce Brown wanted to expand on the series. We’ve seen numerous fictional tyrannical empire fall before visionary young leaders, yet we rarely witness the aftermath of these upheavals. Iron Gold explores the conflict and unrest which continues to plague the newfound Republic a decade after its establishment.
“War eats the victors last.”
If the first trilogy is an examination of revolutions and wars, this sequel trilogy scrutinizes the slippery slope of governance and politics. In classic Red Rising manner, Iron Gold never deals in moral absolutes. The readers are shown numerous sides of every political debate, and I can appreciate the hefty weight that Mustang carries on her shoulders as the Sovereign of the new Republic. Similarly, Darrow faces a multitude of challenges as he’s simultaneously the ArchImperator of the Republic, and a living symbol of The Rising. Our heroes’s exploits during the The Rising have been made into legend in the decade that followed the fall of society, but we will soon find out that being living gods is a tough act when the fate of the Solar System hinges on your every decision.
Alongside with the challenges of governance, we also see Darrow grapple with being a father and a husband. One of Darrow’s most enduring trait throughout the series is his inability to choose, whether it’s he’s torn between his identity as someone who’s both Red and Gold – or picking between his duties to the Republic and his responsibilities to Mustang and his son, Pax. We also see several other characters struggle with the fine balancing act that comes with a family, most delightful of all being the Barca – Sevro and Victra both retains the essence of their character, honed all the sharper in their roles as parents.
On the flipside to the Republic, the book also follows Lysander and Cassius as they travel to the Rim of the system. The Rim is somewhere I’ve always wanted the first trilogy to explore in more details, so I felt gratified to see it in sharp focus during Lysander’s chapters. The culture of the Rim is derivative of Japanese traditions, in particular the honour codes of the samurai. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous to see the world building head towards this direction –thankfully the influences avoided cultural misappropriation by featuring more than stereotypes and aesthetics. Numerous new personalities emerge from the Rim, with my favourites being the two mother-daughter duo of Dido and Seraphina.
Another reason why I found Lysander’s chapter engaging was the philosophy by which he lived, as they are drastically different from my own. Although I don’t agree with his point of view, at times they infuriated me, I could always understand where he was coming from. I can’t wait to see where future books will take his character and his choices. A mirror to his own story arc, Lysander’s relationship with Cassius is fraught with contradiction and tension. Their brotherhood is tainted by mistrust and Cassius’s betrayal of the Golds ten years ago, yet strengthened by the time they spent in exile together. This series has such a knack for layered friendships and this one quickly became one of my favourites.
Two new voices are added in this series, and they both add another dimension of depth to the world of Red Rising. The first is Lyria of Lagalos, a Red been liberated from the mines – but finds herself shackled by poverty and prejudice that still plagues this new world. Her narration is filled with resentment towards Darrow and Mustang, along with the unfulfilled promises of the Republic. I loved her chapters, especially for the way Iron Gold incisively criticises the ongoing social injustices of the real world through it. The other point of view is Ephraim ti Horn, a Gray who once served in The Rising, but walked away once bloodshed and tragedies turned him cynical. Through his eyes, we see the underbelly of society, where gangsters and thieves are caught in an interplanetary web of crime and deceits. Ephraim is also the first main character in Red Rising to openly identify as gay, and I’m glad to see a step towards more inclusivity in this series.
The world building is expanded immensely in this book, yet it never gets in the way of the constant thrum of action. There are machinations from all sides, open-war and heart-stopping combat, betrayals and triumph, and underlying all of that – a deeply personal narrative about how difficult it is to remain a hero in a broken world. But they bloodydamn try, and I love them all for it.
As I said to CJ on twitter earlier on today, it’s not a Red Rising book unless you feel your very existence is being threatened while reading it. Iron Gold certainly fits that bill, so Howlers: brace yourselves and pray for your faves.
Please tell me whether you’ve read this series, and let me know your thoughts. However: No spoilers for Iron Gold in the comments please, or The Reaper himself will come for you with his slingBlade.
I also posted some phone wallpapers based on the book earlier on this week, check them out here!
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan Australia in exchange for an honest review.
Girls Made of Snow and Glass is an exquisite retelling of Snow White, reinventing a tale about jealous queens and helpless maidens into a story of female empowerment. The familiar tale is dissected with precision and carefully imbued with new layers of complexities. The final result is a gorgeously rendered story about a glass queen and a snow princess, both working to defy the roles the men in their lives have forced upon them.
“If they love you for anything, it will be for your beauty.”
Mina first heard the phrase above when she was sixteen, in the same moment she learned she has a heart of glass – incapable of beating, and purportedly also unable to comprehend human love. Her father, Gregory, the power-obsessed magician who created the glass heart, is utterly convinced Mina is devoid of the potential for love. Instead, he persuades Mina that only her beauty can pave her way to any semblance of happiness. His words haunt Mina’s steps for several years, even as she becomes queen of the northern territories of Whitespring. As Mina ages, she can feel her youth and beauty slip from her. She becomes keenly aware of her precarious position in court as her stepdaughter, Lynet, blossom into the very image of her long-dead mother – the beloved queen Amelia. Continue reading “Book Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass”→
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Wild Beauty, like all of Anna-Marie’s Mclemore’s previous books, is filled to the brim with enchantment and beauty. The story contains all of the elements of a fairy tale: forbidden love, a family curse, an enchanted garden – mixed in with heartfelt exploration of sexuality, gender, and socioeconomic divide. Wild Beauty is a tale to be savoured, especially on warm spring days where fresh blooms are in sight and life is brimming with unexplored potential.
The Nomeovildes women have inhabited La Pradera for more than a century, locked to the place by a dark legacy. With the Nomeovildes’s natural gift, La Pradera flourishes with lush vegetation and fragrant blooms – but should any of the women try to leave La Pradera, they succumb to an agonising end. Even more tragic is a powerful curse which erases any person the Nomeovildes women loves too deeply. They’re not only physically trapped by this otherworldly garden, it also emotionally separates them from the rest of the world. In Wild Beauty, we watch as the youngest generation of Nomeovildes women traverse their savage inheritance.
Wild Beauty is written in Anna-Marie Mclemore’s signature whimsical yet intimate style. I’m continually floored by how she manages to blend magic with heart-rending realism. Although magical realism is a subgenre I absolutely adore, at times I find it difficult to relate to the characters within these stories. This is never the case with Anna-Marie’s books, especially in Wild Beauty. All five of the Nomeovildes ladies have noteworthy characterisation, despite the relatively short length of the novel. Fel and Estrella’s narrative voices are distinctive, yet both manages to retain a lyrical cadence that I found arresting.
Aside from the visual wonders in Wild Beauty, the book is also rich in representation. All five of the Nomeovildes girls are initially in love with Bay, a genderqueer character. The novel portrays the fluidity of sexuality, and throughout the course of the book we witness many different kinds of love. Without giving too much away, Fel’s character arc was also an excellent commentary on race and class. Wild Beauty is brimming with hope and warmth, despite the dark and oppressive atmosphere of its setting.
Speaking of La Pradera, I don’t think any review of Wild Beauty could be complete without mentioning its haunting setting. To the Nomeovildes, La Pradera is a garden, a refuge, a home, but it is also a prison. The land thrives under their ministration and grow rich in beauty, but it also guards these women jealously – crushing them down whenever they attempt to leave. Within the gardens, the reader will find blooms of every kind, moonlit spring nights, and dozens of mementos from generations of hopeful Nomeovildes girls. The complex relationship between the family and their land is one of the central focus of the novel, and I found the resolution absolutely satisfying.
As a lover of slow-burn romance, I was completely drawn in by the romantic entanglements in Wild Beauty. It felt forbidden yet inevitable, and I loved that it began as a tentative friendship and built upon a foundation of trust.
This is a book I can see myself revisiting time and again. I highly recommend this, along with Anna-Marie’s entire backlist, to everyone who wants to lose themselves in the magic of stories.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
The Language of Thorns is an enchanting collection of folklores from Leigh Bardugo’s richly embellished Grishaverse. Aside from the pleasure of reading stories your favourite Grishaverse characters would have grown up hearing, the beguiling tales within this collection will captivate readers with their subversive narrative and beautiful composition. In these stories, you will find human truths hidden amongst dangerous beasts and courageous maidens – simply put, this is fairy tales at its finest.
We have all grown up reading or hearing fairy tales, we know their rhythm as intimately as our own heartbeat. The stories within The Language of Thorns retains that familiar rhythm of a well-loved and oft-told fairy tale, yet they also manage to invent delightful and transformative twists. While Leigh Bardugo never flinches from portraying the cruelty and savagery of the Grishaverse in these tales, she doesn’t shy from infusing the stories with courage and optimism either. The writing throughout this collection is consistently lyrical and gorgeous, it’s one of those book that begs to be savoured on repeat.