Stain: A Dark Tale Involving a Silent Princess and a Prince Who Turns to Gold

5/5 Stars!

Author: A. G. Howard

Publisher/Imprint: Amulet Books

Edition: Hardcover, 516 Pages

Publication Date: January 15, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Superbly!

Initial Thoughts & World-Building

I loved Stain! I’m so excited to finally share my review with you! (I was waiting until my pre-order prize package arrived so that I could post these lovely pictures.) This is the second book I’ve read by A. G. Howard, and I was blown away by this dark fairytale inspired by The Princess and the Pea. It also feels as if Howard has mixed in elements of other popular tales, such as The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. Nevertheless, Howard’s book is marvelously complex and well-crafted, and she really makes it her own. Her characters possess a richness of depth that I don’t always sense in those of other YA books. The plot is engaging and often takes unexpected turns. Princess Lyra’s evil aunt schemes to put an impostor on the throne, and Lyra must prove herself to claim back what rightfully belongs to her and break the curse that has befallen her kingdom.

Speaking of the kingdoms, give yourself plenty of time to just absorb the amazing world that A. G. Howard has created in this story. The land has been split in two; Nerezeth is the kingdom of night, lit only by moonlight, and Eldoria – Lyra’s kingdom – is the kingdom of daylight, suffering from too much sunlight. Different creatures live in each kingdom, and the human inhabitants possess different complexions and abilities – such as telepathy. The pace might feel slightly slower than other YA books, but I was never bored. I was too caught up in the mesmerizing world and what was happening to the characters.

Stain Pre-order Prize Pack!

The Characters

As I said, I was extremely impressed with the characters. I was able to empathize with almost all of them, and even enjoyed reading about the minor characters. Here is a brief overview of some of the main characters:

  • Lyra is our silvery-haired princess of the “Prophecy,” meant to break the curse on the two kingdoms. Lyra has super long white eyelashes and purplish skin. She also cries purple tears and is able to control shadows! She loses the ability to make any sounds with her voice, and her memories are taken from her as a young child. She must remember who she is, then figure out how to prove that she is the true Eldorian princess. Lyra communicates mainly through sign language. Yes! Sign language! I get really excited when I find sign language used in YA books! Later on, she learns she can also communicate with Nerezethites through telepathy.
  • Vesper is the prince of our tale, on his way to becoming the king of Nerezeth. He is literally turning to gold (yes, think Midas), because he drank liquid sunlight! He needs Lyra, the “moonlit princess,” to reverse the effects of the sunlight and “cure” him. He is not your typical fairytale prince, but his romance with Lyra is sweet and not overwhelming.
  • Crony is perhaps not your typical witch. She possesses the power to steal memories from dying corpses. But she rescues Lyra in the forest and raises her disguised as a boy named Stain. There is much more to Crony than her ugly exterior.
  • Luce is Lyra’s fox-like sylph companion. He is endearingly protective of her and eager to help her win back Eldoria’s throne. He has unfinished business with Griselda, and he feels he may never completely appease his guilty conscience for an act committed years ago.
  • Griselda is Lyra’s aunt, the regent of Eldoria. This woman has no conscience. She employs brutal techniques to get what she wants, to put her perfect imposter on the throne. In the end, it is difficult not to at least feel pity towards her.


Final Thoughts

I loved the overall message that the inside matters! A person’s outside can be deceiving. I did notice that there were some moments of more “telling” rather than illustrating the action; there were scenes near the end of the book that I wished I could’ve experienced through Lyra’s eyes rather than Crony’s. But the ending proves to be satisfying and wraps things up nicely. Stain is a wonderful book! It is the best I’ve read yet from A. G. Howard. If you like high fantasy, give Stain a chance. I think you’ll be impressed. Has anyone read Stain yet? Any thoughts to add?


Spines that Shine


The Valiant: Fierce Gladiatrix Leaves Her Mark on History

4.5/5 Stars

Author: Lesley Livingston

Publisher/Imprint: Razorbill

Edition: Hardcover, 372 Pages

Publication Date: February 14, 2017

A Spine that Shines? Absolutely!

Initial Thoughts

The Valiant is the first installment in a historical fiction trilogy about Fallon, a Celtic princess who is captured, taken to Rome, and transformed into a female gladiator. This was also my first Lesley Livingston book. I have to say, I’m impressed! It is thrilling and action-packed all the way through. The rapid pace successfully held my attention. The world-building is enough to convey the brutal, mythical atmosphere of Ancient Rome. Livingston even gives us appearances from Julius Caesar and Cleopatra! How exciting! The gladiatrix training school perhaps echoes some elements of The Hunger Games. I believe fans of An Ember in the Ashes would also enjoy this book immensely.

The Characters & Romance

Here is a brief overview of my favorite characters:

  • Fallon is, of course, the Celtic princess. She mourns the loss of Sorcha, her sister, at the hands of the Romans. At first, she deems all Romans to be her mortal enemies. She’s fierce and determined to hold her head high, no matter the situation or the threats issued from the other gladiatrices-in-training. I admired her spirit and loyalty to her family.
  • Decurion Caius Varro is Fallon’s love interest. There were aspects about the romance that I liked, and aspects that I didn’t. I do think Fallon and Cai make a good pair. However, considering the recent tragedy that occurs in the beginning of the book, the timing of their relationship feels off. It doesn’t seem like Cai knows Fallon long enough before making her the huge offer that he does. In my opinion, I liked Cai and thought the romance was sweet, but I also felt I didn’t get to know Cai very well in this book. Perhaps he will become more well-rounded in the sequel.
  • Elka is Fallon’s gladiatrix sister. She is gruff on the outside, yet lovable on the inside. They almost kill each other upon their first meeting, but of course, they end up becoming BFFs.

Final Thoughts

There were a few things that bugged me and prevented me from giving the book 5 stars:

  • The author tends to unnecessarily repeat information, such as explaining who a person is, when we’ve already been given this information in a previous scene. And these descriptions are often interjected into the middle of the sentences, a technique that sometimes impedes the writing flow.
  • Fallon’s interactions with Aeddan near the end of the book are not what I was expecting from her. She hardly thinks about enacting revenge upon him at the end. Given the earlier parts of the book, this does not make complete sense in my opinion.
  • Plus, there are several things in the end that feel unresolved. We don’t really learn who was leaving Fallon threats. What’s the deal with these mysterious political figures who have it out for Aquila, the mistress of the gladiatrix training school? And what happens with Fallon’s tribe? The tribe hardly plays any role in the story after the first part of the book. I’m guessing Livingston intends to address more of these aspects in following books.

Overall, the ending was exciting and provided a satisfying conclusion, aside from the items mentioned above. I can’t wait to find out what happens to Fallon and her sisters in the sequel! Thanks for reading, and I hope you found this review helpful!

Spines that Shine

The Gilded Wolves: An Alternate France in 1889

4/5 Stars

Author: Roshani Chokshi

Publisher/Imprint: Wednesday Books

Edition: e-ARC, 304 Pages

Hardcover Publication Date: January 15, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Fairly Well

*This review is based on an e-ARC edition provided by the publisher via NetGalley. These are my honest opinions.*

The World-Building

In my opinion, the setting and world-building of The Gilded Wolves are the novel’s greatest strengths. It feels like we are in France – but not. A crew of six sets out on a quest to retrieve an ancient artifact central to the preservation of the civilized world. It’s 1889, and Paris is on the verge of the World Fair. It’s a time of glittering parties, but also a time filled with darkness. And this Paris has magic!

It is an interesting idea to center the story around “Babel Fragments,” objects that are imbued with God’s power to create things. And Chokshi adds many creative details that contribute to her fictional France. In this world, people have the ability to “Forge” – the power that allows humans to create artistic magical gardens or to give inanimate objects, such as stone animals, lifelike qualities. Every forged object or creature is also built with a fail-safe called a somno that will put the creation to sleep. There are secret workshops hidden behind mirror-like doors that turn transparent, called Tezcat doors. There is actually a powder called “mirror powder” that allows a person to look exactly like another person for a few minutes. This Paris also has mnemo bugs, which are Forged beetles that can record images and sound and project them like holograms. Another interesting – but creepy – addition is the Phobus Helmet, which plays the wearer’s nightmares on a loop.

The Characters

The characters are OK. I didn’t feel drawn to them very strongly. Here’s a brief overview of each:

Severin is the leader of the quest and also the lost heir to House Vanth. (There are several Houses for each country that are part of the Babel Order, which helps to govern the world.) Severin is part Algerian and deeply wants to protect his crew members, who are like family to him. But I couldn’t get over how much of a jerk he is to Laila near the end of the book.

I found Zofia to be one of the more interesting characters. She functions as the crew’s “engineer.” She seems to be a touch Autistic, and she is superb with numbers. Zofia also has the ability to forge metals and enjoys blowing things up. (She can light a match with her teeth!) She is also Jewish, which creates a difficult situation for her during that time period. However, the author doesn’t go too deeply into it.

Tristan is like a brother to Severin. He has a Forging affinity for liquid matter, particularly the liquid in plants; as a result, he can create extravagant gardens. In my opinion, he is a bit too fond of Goliath, his pet tarantula, which often generates jokes. Unfortunately, I think the emphasis on Goliath is a bit distracting from the mature atmosphere that the author seems to be going for. The first few mentions were cute, but Tristan talks about Goliath so much that it later became annoying.

Enrique is the crew’s “historian.” He excels at puzzles and is very knowledgeable about ancient civilizations. He is part Filipino, and he often brings a nice touch of humor to the group’s conversations. He wields a cool walking stick that has a light bomb attached to the end.

Hypnos is the patriarch of one of the other Houses – House Nyx. He is wealthy and spoiled, and he is the person who recruits the team members for the mission (by tricking Severin into it). He is crafty and sly, but it seems that he just wants a family to be a part of.

Laila is a wonderful dancer of Indian descent. Her stage name is L’Enigme! She is passionate about baking desserts, and she also has the power to read an object’s history. She can see what the objects once witnessed. The other interesting thing about Laila is that she has an expiration date: age 19. Apparently, she was magically stitched together from body pieces – like a zombie? Laila’s creation is one thing that seems a bit muddled and could have used a bit more explanation.

A Lot Going On

I think my remaining criticisms have to do with how much stuff is packed into the book. There is quite a lot going on.

  • Laila has her own side quest, searching for a book that may help her with her predicament.
  • There are a lot of POV switches. I typically enjoy books with fewer POVs so that I can gain a deeper understanding of one or two main characters. I’d say more than two or three POVs is a lot to keep track of.
  • There are several love triangles going on. All six of the main characters seem to be involved. I felt that this kind of cluttered the main plot, because most of the characters don’t even know who they desire – except for Severin. Severin is clearly interested in Laila, but there also seems to be something between Laila and Tristan (unless I’m mistaken). Then Zofia seems kind of interested in Enrique, although she doesn’t seem to fully understand her feelings. Enrique at times thinks he’s attracted to Zofia, but then Hypnos is attracted to Enrique. These relationships are a lot to juggle in the very first novel of a trilogy, and I think the novel could have done well with fewer relationships. I like the idea of Laila and Severin, and it seems as if the focus is more on them. The Zofia-Enrique-Hypnos triangle seemed like it was there for the sake of being there.
  • The death scene that occurs near the end of the novel feels too rushed. (I won’t say who it was.) The character was someone pretty important, but the person only received a few sentences describing the event itself. We are told what happens weeks later, but that moment is not fleshed out enough. Thus, I don’t think the death scene really had the emotional impact that it could have had on the reader.

The Writing

Overall, Chokshi’s writing is lovely. I found that I was pulled easily through the scenes. The pace is pretty brisk. However, in several instances, I found the writing to be slightly confusing or unclear.

  • Aside from Laila’s creation, I was confused about how Severin manages to get his hand unstuck near the beginning. Something about the pronouns and POV change is confusing in that moment. And he really shouldn’t be able to crack jokes when bleeding profusely…
  • Another instance of inconsistency occurs in the underground library. The text says that Hypnos clutches an object. But then moments later, it says that Enrique is holding it, and Severin orders him not to give it to Hypnos. But there was no mention of Hypnos ever tossing it to Enrique in the first place.

Final Thoughts

[As far as content warnings for parents, be aware that there are some expletives uttered occasionally.]

Overall, I am awarding 4 stars to The Gilded Wolves for its creativity and entertaining aspects. I especially enjoyed the scene that occurs down in the Paris catacombs, and the ending does leave me curious. Thanks for reading, and I hope this review was helpful!

Splintered: A Gothic Wonderland

4.5/5 Stars

Author: A. G. Howard

Publisher/Imprint: Amulet Books

Edition: Paperback, 371 Pages

Publication Date: February 18, 2014

A Spine that Shines? Quite Well!

Initial Thoughts

Splintered is the first of a trilogy inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I love retellings, so I decided to give this one a go. I was amazed at A. G. Howard’s imagination. All the scenes that take place in Wonderland are quite creative. There are multi-eyed, human-plant mutants that eat flesh. There is an octopus-walrus creature called an Octobenus. A Humpty-Dumpty-like character even makes an appearance. Plus, Alyssa’s own abilities are quite interesting.

At first, the pacing felt slower. I wasn’t completely invested in the story until about 100 pages in, when Alyssa actually arrives in Wonderland. But the more I read, the more captivated I was by the mysterious Wonderland creatures.

The Characters & Romance

At first, Alyssa’s character didn’t resonate with me. I thought it was rather petty of her to steal money that belongs to Taelor, the popular girl dating Jeb. And it was a bit unrealistic for Alyssa to think that she could get a fake passport and travel to London immediately without anyone really noticing what she was up to. But as the story progressed, I did find myself liking her more. And the way she stands up for Jeb in the end is cool.

I have mixed feelings about Jeb’s character, Alyssa’s first romantic interest. In my opinion, he doesn’t always treat Alyssa respectfully. And the whole Jeb and Taelor thing in the beginning didn’t appeal to me. Taelor feels like a stock character, a typical popular girl who gets in the way of the “good” girl’s dreams. I didn’t understand why Jeb wanted to be with Taelor in the first place; the reason he gives later on feels cliche. Furthermore, in Wonderland, Jeb keeps behaving as if Alyssa is incapable of doing things by herself. But there are moments in which he proves that he is willing to sacrifice a lot for her because of his feelings.

Morpheus is fascinating and complex. He serves as Alyss’a guide in Wonderland and her second love interest. I felt that he has more faith in Alyssa’s abilities and sometimes treats her better than does Jeb. He is dark and mysterious, but not too cliche. I will be interested in reading more about him in the sequel.

Final Thoughts (Minor Spoilers!)

Another question that nagged at me after finishing the book was this: Did Alyssa’s mom really need to pretend to be insane and keep distance between them? Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t quite understand the reasoning behind that. Anyway, I truly enjoyed the inventive aspects of this novel! It contained an interesting twist on the Wonderland tale. If you like retellings, you should give Splintered a try. And be sure to check out the author’s newest release Stain!

Mirage: A Moroccan-Influenced Sci-Fi Debut

4/5 Stars

Author: Somaiya Daud

Publisher/Imprint: Flatiron

Edition: Hardcover, 320 Pages

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

A Spine that Shines? Quite Well!

Initial Thoughts

The book blurb makes Mirage sound like a tense, fascinating story. I believe it is, but not in the way that I was expecting. Mirage is a beautifully-written tale about Amani, a girl who is taken from her family and forced to act as a body double for the cruel Princess Maram, the heir to the Vathek empire that took over Amani’s home world. This book is a wonderful debut, but I couldn’t quite give it five stars for reasons that I will discuss below.

The Characters & World-Building

In my opinion, the characters that Daud crafted are this novel’s greatest strength. The major characters feel quite real, and their struggles make the reader seriously empathize with them.

Amani and Princess Maram demonstrate a very complex relationship. Amani still works hard to try to forge her own destiny despite her terrible situation. Her courage and strength in her attempt to sway Maram to her side are admirable. Maram has been raised to be cruel and fend for herself, but there are moments where she seems to soften toward Amani – almost in a sisterly manner. But then she recedes back into her hard shell.

Idris, Maram’s betrothed, is a wonderful addition to the cast of characters as well. The romance between Idris and Amani is a sweet slow-burn. I enjoyed seeing them together in their peaceful moments alone with each other – especially that moment when Amani reads him the romantic poetry! I’m eager to learn what happens to them in the sequel.

Furthermore, the world-building complements the characterization. Daud puts in a lot of effort to make Amani’s world and the Kushaila culture come alive. The lovely cultural details make the world feel quite authentic – although there is a lot of history to keep up with. The poetry and creation tales add nice touches to the culture.

The Pacing

The pacing in Mirage feels slower than what I am used to. Although many of the descriptions are lovely, I feel that the lengthy descriptions in this novel sometimes hinder the pace and slow things down. There is a bit of action and excitement at the beginning of the book and then again near the end. But it seems like there is hardly any “action” throughout the middle chunk of the book. It mostly consists of Amani going on political missions or attending parties in Maram’s place. Furthermore, the purpose of her pretending to be Maram is supposed to be to protect Maram from the dangerous threat presented by the rebels who hate Maram for her cruelty. However, for the majority of the book, the story does not deliver on the promise of such danger. There are moments in the middle chunk where Amani actually feels quite safe. Maram herself seems like more of a threat to Amani than do the rebels. And I personally thought that the end was a bit anti-climactic.

The length of several scenes feel a bit off. For example, when Amani first arrives at the Ziyanaa, the seamstress only seems to take her measurements for a short minute as Nadine exchanges a few words with Tala before the seamstress is dismissed. Also, the scenes of the coronation and Amani’s family near the end of the novel, such important moments, feel quite short in comparison to earlier scenes.

Another thing is the prologue. The events of the prologue at first feel disconnected from the rest of the story. For the longest time, I had no idea who the boy is or what the context of that scene is. After I finished the book, it took me two more readings of the prologue to make the connection between the prologue and the scene near the end with which I believe it corresponds. I don’t know whether this was only my reading experience or if other readers felt the same way, but I think the prologue would have had more of an impact if the connection were made more explicit.

Final Thoughts (Small Spoilers!)

This novel’s many strengths resulted in a four-star rating from me. However, another thing that felt a bit off was Arinaas’ declaration to Amani that she could not contact the rebel assassin sent to kill Maram in time to stop him; Arinaas, the rebel leader, had given Amani a high-tech, instant communication device to use to report back to the rebels. Wouldn’t the rebel assassin have had a device like this as well? I think a better explanation could have been provided. Nevertheless, this was a lovely debut overall! I look forward to reading more from Somaiya Daud.

Rebel of the Sands: A Fiery Blend of Mythology & the Wild West

5/5 Stars!

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Publisher/Imprint: Speak

Edition: Paperback, 314 Pages

Publication Date: February 14, 2017

A Spine that Shines? Definitely!

Initial Thoughts & the Plot

Rebel of the Sands was such a fun read! I can definitely see why it won a Goodreads award. I loved the world-building and mythology blended with Amani’s gun-slinging Western skills. The Ghouls and the other creatures are so creepy!

“Ghouls came in a thousand different forms. Tall faceless Skinwalkers, who’d eat a man’s flesh and take his shape so they could feast on his family, too.”

I also really loved the Buraqi, the magical horse creatures, and wished the author had used them more in the story.

There are even enchanted compasses and fugitives jumping off trains in the middle of a desert! The plot was exciting and easy to follow, and I never wanted to set the book down. If you like fast-paced, action-packed stories, this book is definitely for you.

The Characters & Romance

Amani: To me, the main character Amani behaves as if she is older than sixteen. She is a strong young woman fighting to forge her own destiny. And Amani’s powers! Woah! I won’t specify what they are since you should totally read about them for yourself. But they are pretty awesome. And the big showdown scene at the end of the book was completely satisfying.

Jin: A foreigner who is also pretty good with a gun. He’s witty and smart and hides a big secret. I loved the romance between Jin and Amani. The two have great chemistry. Yes, the romance does start pretty early in the book, but it is not over the top. I truly enjoyed how the author developed their relationship.

Even the side characters are enjoyable to read about. They add a nice touch to the story. Some of my favorite side characters are Shazad, a tough general’s daughter, and Izz and Maz, the goofy shape-shifting twins.

Final Thoughts

There are some small things that didn’t quite feel right. For instance, I had difficulty believing that all of those guys in the beginning wanted to marry Amani. Plus, what happens to her friend Tamid from her hometown? The way she kind of tosses him aside bothered me slightly. And what purpose did his disability serve? Furthermore, I was a little disappointed that we don’t get to see Izman and Amani’s other aunt after all of her talk about going to Izman, but perhaps we will in a later book? Also, some things that happened felt a bit coincidental, but it was all so highly entertaining. I didn’t subtract any stars from my rating. Overall, a five-star book! You should definitely give it a try! I look forward to reading more publications by Alwyn Hamilton.


For a Muse of Fire: A World of Shadow Puppets & Necromancy

4/5 Stars

Author: Heidi Heilig

Publisher/Imprint: Greenwillow Books

Edition: Hardcover, 512 Pages

Publication Date: September 25, 2018

A Spine that Shines? Fairly Well

The Format & World-Building

“Some people say that all the world’s a stage.

But here, a shaky scaffold in the paddies

Can hold a universe inside an hour.”

-Opening Lines of the Prologue

For a Muse of Fire is the first book I’ve read by Heilig. I love that we get Shakespeare allusions right away! It sets a playful, mythical tone and frames the story as if it were a play being performed on stage.

I was really intrigued by the multi-format of this book. Elements like the puppet stories, songs, and telegraphs contributed to the world-building. I truly felt like I gained a sense of the rich culture and history of Chakrana through these various documents. The world is an interesting blend of French and Asian influences; the language that Heilig created sounded pretty authentic due to the use of French elements.

The multi-format also contributed to Heilig’s playfulness with the idea of performance. Mixed in with the regular 1st person POV prose style were Acts and Scenes written as if they were a play script. These scenes provide the reader with insight into events that the main protagonist Jetta could not have witnessed. But these scenes really do feel as if they could be part of a performance. In addition to her Shakespeare allusions, Heilig builds in another layer of performance by having Jetta and her parents actually do a shadow puppet show in the story. I found the idea of shadow puppets to be quite interesting. I don’t think I’ve come across any other YA books that experiment with shadow puppets. Heilig has a lovely way of describing the puppets and Jetta’s ability to animate them.


Jetta’s powers are quite interesting. She does some cool stuff with it – like animate puppets with spirits and make metal contraptions fly! I enjoyed learning more secrets about her powers as Jetta herself began discovering them. It was entertaining to follow along.

It was also nice to see a close relationship between a daughter and her parents. Jetta and her parents often make sacrifices for each other. These days, it seems that parents are not involved in many YA books.

In a note at the end, the author explains that Jetta’s “malheur” is supposed to reflect aspects of bipolar. I thought it was really cool that she tried to incorporate those elements. The bipolar representation does not overwhelm the plot. It is a bit subtle, but you would notice it if you’re looking for it.

Jetta’s romance with Leo was OK, but I wasn’t in love with him. By the end of the book, I didn’t really feel like I knew him. Jetta felt a bit more fleshed out than Leo.

Final Thoughts

“And though fear is invisible, there is a weight and size to it; it wraps round our necks, it drags at our feet, it sits on our backs like a sin, making every step a journey.”

I really enjoyed reading about Jetta’s journey, and Heilig’s writing is quite lyrical – like in the above quote. Nevertheless, I couldn’t quite give For a Muse of Fire five stars. I didn’t love love it. I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I wanted to.

Sometimes, the timeline was a little confusing when other scenes or documents interrupted the main narrative. Also, one of the “bad guys” dies fairly early in the book; I thought there was potential for much more use of his character. I was also expecting more to happen with Pique. Plus, I was slightly disappointed that we don’t get to see Les Trepas himself as an active character; he is only talked about. But if he was imprisoned and is still alive in the temple, I wished Jetta could’ve interacted with him.

There were also some moments when I was slightly confused about the physical placement of characters. For example, there is a moment when Jetta appears to be inside her family’s wagon, but the text doesn’t actually describe her entering the wagon.

Also, around page 303, there is a moment when Jetta recognizes the handwriting of La Fleur. Except, she hasn’t seen La Fleur’s handwriting prior to this moment, so it doesn’t make complete sense.

As for the ending, it was OK, but left a lot of threads to conclude in the sequel I suppose. I don’t want to spoil any parts of the book, but I will say it was difficult for me to believe all of the components of Legarde’s offer to Jetta at the end.

Overall, Heilig demonstrates creative use of her theatre writing degree, and the mixed media/multi-format structure alone would make the novel an interesting read for anyone interested in modern literary techniques.

Ash Princess: Let the Queen Rise

4/5 Stars

Author: Laura Sebastian

Publisher/Imprint: Delacorte Press

Edition: Hardcover, 433 Pages

Publication Date: April 24, 2018

A Spine that Shines? Almost…

Initial Thoughts & the Plot

This book is not bad for a debut. It just doesn’t quite have the same amount of five-star oomph as something like Sky in the Deep or An Ember in the Ashes did. I could tell a lot of effort went into Ash Princess. That being said, I agree with other reviewers who say Ash Princess doesn’t really introduce anything “new” to the realm of YA fantasy. “Old” is not necessarily a bad thing if the book still manages to be engaging and keep the reader entertained.

However, I have to be honest; for several hundred pages, I was simply bored with this plot. Yes, the book opens with a bang, and Theo suffers through some really difficult situations within the first few chapters. But after those first few chapters, the story seems to lag until the last hundred pages pick up the pace again. It simply loses momentum in the middle chunk, the majority of which seems to be Theo meditating internally upon her own misery and the suffering of her people – with a bit of court drama thrown in. But there is only so much I want to hear about how miserable she is before I expect some action to happen. But it didn’t really happen until near the end. Perhaps the novel was a bit longer than necessary.

The Characters & Romance

Theo is a strong young lady who has suffered a lot at the hands of the Kaiser and other Kalovaxians. As such, some of her actions don’t make complete sense to me. I found myself really annoyed at her faith in Cress. Theo does show a good amount of determination at times, but there are other times where she can’t seem to make up her mind about some things.

Cress seems really petty, selfish, and mean. I thought it took Theo way too long to come to her senses about Cress. Theo knows from the beginning that Cress is the daughter of the man who killed her mother. Thus, I found it difficult to believe she would be so trusting of Cress, even if the girl did try to protect her from school bullies. Cress really sees Theo as a plaything, a creature who’s significantly beneath her on the social ladder.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite feeling the romance with either guy. I didn’t feel any deep, emotional tug toward either. In my opinion, Blaise seemed like he could use a bit more development. Soren was too trusting of Theo. He seems too easily swayed by his emotions at the end; he doesn’t even seem mad once he realizes what Theo is up to. I kind of had a hard time accepting all the explicit declarations of love that were thrown around. If Theo had had more moments alone with one or both of the guys, maybe the romance would feel more convincing; but as it is now, the court drama and her miserable thoughts kind of take over the show. And what was the foundation for her feelings toward Soren? By the end, I think I’m leaning more towards Blaise since he and Theo actually share more of a history together from their past.

The other characters seem to be more in the background, and the Kaiser is your typical corrupt conqueror.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this book was a good start. It managed to make me interested in reading the sequel. The last 100 pages had a good amount of action that kept me turning the pages, and I am curious to find out how Theo will defeat the Kaiser. Will she learn how to use fire magic? What will happen to Blaise? I really think the sequel has potential to be much more than this first book, and it will likely have a large impact on the success of the trilogy. Let’s see if Queen Theodosia really will “rise” to the occasion.

To Kill a Kingdom: Little Mermaid, But Darker

5/5 Stars!

Author: Alexandra Christo

Publisher/Imprint: Feiwel & Friends

Edition: Hardcover, 352 Pages

Publication Date: March 06, 2018

A Spine that Shines? Definitely!

Initial Thoughts

This was a really exciting, action-packed read! Neither of the two main characters are what you’d call “innocent” or “good,” but Alexandra Christo skillfully coaxes the reader into rooting for both of them. By the end, you’re truly sympathetic to their struggles and just want them to finally be happy together.

The World-Building

I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the various kingdoms, and the mythology that Christo was able to incorporate really complements the world-building. The kingdom of Midas is beautifully described. The kingdom of Keto is definitely brutal. The sirens are menacing, and mermaids are not the kind, sweet creatures depicted in Disney movies. The time spent in the land of Edyllio and Rycroft’s ship in Psemata is quite entertaining, and the Cloud Mountain on icy Pagos is the perfect setting for the final showdown.

The Characters

Elian. A prince who wants to be a pirate, always wishing he were at sea. He’s tough and not afraid to go after what he wants.

Lira. A siren princess who’s determined to prove herself worthy to rule the sea:

“For the kingdom – for my mother – I am ruthless. And that ruthlessness makes each and every sea creature certain I can reign.”

I like that Christo spends a lot of time building up Elian and Lira’s relationship. Their chemistry slowly grows so that, by the end, the outcome is believable. Lira also undergoes a lot of character development throughout the story. As her heart opens up, she slowly lets go of some of her “ruthlessness” and learns what it might mean to be more human.

The Sea Queen/Witch is absolutely vicious! She makes quite the formidable villain. She  won’t give up her hold over Lira and makes her do twisted, twisted things. By the end I just wanted her to die. And her ruthless merman minion, the Flesh-Eater, was well-done! Together, they gave me the shivers.

Elian’s crew was a great addition to the cast of characters. I especially enjoyed the banter between Kye and Madrid. They had great chemistry and always made me laugh, even when they were apart:

“‘You don’t like him?’ I [Lira] press my palms flat on the edge of the ship. ‘Aren’t you mates?’

Mates,’ Madrid gapes. ‘What are we, horses? We’re partners,’ she says. ‘There’s a big difference, you know.'”

As well as the banter between Kye and Torik:

“Kye smirks. ‘It’s not good form for someone like me to sleep on the floor. I’m practically an aristocrat.’

Torik casts him a blank, unimpressed stare. ‘You’re an aristoprat,’ he says.”

Final Thoughts

Everything felt like it was pretty well wrapped up, and I was satisfied with the ending. There are some great twists and turns, and the big battle managed to get me quite emotional, which is not always something an author manages to accomplish. As far as content warnings, there is some gritty violence as well as the occasional use of the “s-word.” Overall, this was a well-crafted piece of entertainment, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

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