The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb: 

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales. 

I’m a huge fan of Russian literature but I’ve read any Russian folklore before so I was interested to see what I’d think of this book. I’d heard some really persuasive reviews and I finally decided I couldn’t put it off anymore.

From the first few pages I was hooked on Arden’s writing which so perfectly evoked the small Russian village community she was writing about. I felt myself completely there, feeling the biting cold of the wind and snow of their bitter winters and the creeping fear of the shadowy demons as they appeared.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a perfect mix of historical fiction, fantasy and fairytale. The story flows beautifully, even though it’s a fairly slow burning story as the first in a trilogy of books. The introduction of the characters is masterful, the Russian folklore mixing with the slow creeping danger of the village men and Konstantin the priest who are so distrustful of Vasya’s strength and vivacity as a woman ahead of her time who has no intention of doing as she is told.

I just couldn’t get enough of the rich Russian folklore or the wonderfully fierce character of Vasya, from young child to young woman.

I can’t wait to continue with Vasya’s story and immerse myself back into the wonderful atmospheric tale Arden is weaving.

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Damsel by Elana K Arnold


Damsel
by Elana K. Arnold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb:

The rite has existed for as long as anyone can remember: when the prince-who-will-be-king comes of age, he must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, however, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon, or what horrors she has faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome prince, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny to sit on the throne beside him. Ama comes with Emory back to the kingdom of Harding, hailed as the new princess, welcomed to the court.

However, as soon as her first night falls, she begins to realize that not all is as it seems, that there is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows–and that the greatest threats to her life may not be behind her, but here, in front of her. 

For the past couple of years I have really been enjoying fairytale retellings, so when the opportunity to review Damsel came up I jumped at the chance not really knowing what it would be about beyond Princes, Damsels and dragons.

Unusually I’m going to start my review by talking about the ending because I think it will be the part of this book that is most controversial and potentially disliked. For my part, I got to the end and said aloud to the empty room “WHAT.THE.HELL”. I’m not going to give any spoilers beyond saying that the secret behind Prince Emory’s slaying of the dragon is… graphic, disgusting and fairly shocking. It definitely hit me from left field, although thinking about the book as a whole I think you could argue that there’s a strong theme throughout that builds up to this ending.

As much as the ending wasn’t my favourite part of the book, it does add to the grim, gritty, dark tone of the story. I still dropped my rating of Damsel by a star because for me, it took the book in a direction I felt was unnecessary. I feel like the feminist tone of the book and the gradual rebellion of Ama was strong enough to make a fantastic story without needing the truly bizarre shock factor part of the ending.

Ending aside, I was hooked on this book from the first page. Arnold’s writing style lends itself fantastically to the fairytale genre and I thought the world building in this book was particularly strong- possibly because Ama is discovering the world at the same time the reader is.

This book will make you angry, sad, probably a little big disgusted in places but it will also give you some real feminist satisfaction. This is a truly grim fairytale, so if you’re looking for a romance, this is not it. It’s gritty, but also beautifully written. Just don’t blame me if you read it and hate the ending…

Thanks to Harper 360 for sending me a proof copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you to Macmillan and My Kinda Book for providing an uncorrected proof copy.

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.

If you are remotely interested in the world of YA fiction you can’t have missed the hype surrounding Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel Children of Blood Bone. For this reason, I was thrilled when My Kinda Book offered to send me an ARC. My first reaction was, wow, that’s a big book. It’s possibly the longest YA book I’ve ever seen at a mighty 600 pages but trust me when I say there is no fat to this book. Every word is vital to the story. It’s an intricate, beautifully woven story and the parallels it draws between the society of Orisha and our own society is stark and important.

Children of Blood and Bone opens in an Orisha devoid of magic where once it was rich. Different majis had different powers; some were burners, others were reapers controlling death alongside healers and tiders who could control the waves. Zelie, our heroine and the daughter of a reaper, has become used to life without magic, without her mother and with the ever present danger of a monarchy hell bent on eradicationg magic forever shadowing her life. Zelie has one chance to bring back magic and with the help of her brother and a rogue princess she embarks on an epic journey to acheive her goal, whilst struggling to contain her powers and her feelings for an enemy.

It’s not often that a book can be so hyped and yet live up to that reputation. This book is rich with mythology and world building and Adeyemi has masterfully crafted her characters to the point where I felt bereft when I finished reading because I missed them. The story switched from the point of view of each of the four main characters and this was so effective because it made me keep switching my point of view. At times I could totally see the justification for wanting to take away magic and then would come a Zelie chapter and I’d be right back to wanting to kick the monarchy’s butt.

Zelie as a heroine is so inspirational. She’s a complete bad ass but also massively flawed. She makes a lot of mistakes but the very core of her is good. Her moral compass is unwavering and her courage is unmatched.

Aside from the epic action and adventure of the book, I really enjoyed the romance aspects. It was a slow burner and completely additional to the plot so not focused on too heavily. It was a nice light relief and added another facet to the characters.

Children of Blood and Bone is an incredible piece of fantasy fiction and it was a wonderful escapism for me to disappear to Orisha on my lunch break or before I went to sleep each night. However, it also focuses on issues that are at the forefront of our society, heavily featuring racially-charged violence and injustice. It’s incredible to me that this book can be such an entertaining fantasy story whilst also being so powerful in conveying important messages that we can and should apply to our own lives.

As if by the end of the book we didn’t already know that Adeymi is a master storyteller, I think the cliffhanger she leaves us on makes it abundently clear. I find it hard to believe that anyone who has read this book isn’t waiting with bated breath for the next installment in the series.

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The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recieved an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

I’ve never read anything by Sally Green before, but within the first chapter I knew I was going to love this book. It is a strong contender for my favourite book of 2018 and it’s definitely become one of my favourite series. I can’t wait for the next installment.

The Smoke Thieves is a high fantasy book with the chapters alternating between the points of view of each of the main characters. This style is very reminiscent of Game of Thrones but it’s much less of a slog to get through and remember who everyone is. I found myself invested in each of the characters and every time the POV switched I was excited to see how their story was going to develop or what had happened to them in the time between each chapter.

This book is set across three kingdoms and each one is fantastically built and unique, jostling for power and dominance and attempting to make unions to further their own paths.

My favourite character arcs were Tash and Gravell and their squabbly father-daughter type relationship as they illegally hunt demons for their smoke, and Princess Catherine. Catherine’s arc was probably the one which had the most development, and the most potiential for further development in the coming books. She starts the book as a child being effectively traded by her father for the good of the kingdom and she ends up becoming a leader. I liked the romance between her and Ambrose but personally I’m rooting for her to end up with the Prince.

I think it’s worth warning you not to get too attached to the characters in this series as at least once in this book my heart was broken and with the war in full swing I foresee this only getting worse.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series but in the meantime I’ve been to the library to get my hands on some more Sally Green books!

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am relatively new to this genre of books, having only previously read Sarah J Maas’ ACOTAR series, but the hype around The Cruel Prince and the description of Holly Black as “Queen of the Faerie stories” made it impossible for me to resist trying this. To add to my desperation to get my hands on it it seeemed like I had to travel the breadth of the South coast to find a bookshop that still had it in stock. Once I did find a copy I was powerless to resist getting stuck in right away when I possibly should have tackled one of my many Netgalley ARCs…

Guilt inducing TBR list aside, I’m so glad I did pick this up straight away. Holly Black’s writing is the perfect blend of fantasy and real world. In spite of the magical setting, you never forget that Jude is first and foremost a mortal and that lends a kind of relatability to her as a character.. It can be hard to relate to the magical world of the Folk but it’s easy to empathise with Jude and imagine the difficulties she has had to overcome as a imperfect mortal living in a perfect Faerie world.

I know that a lot of people have struggled with the romantic aspects of this book and the uncomfortable parallels with domestic violence that one might be able to draw. However, I don’t think I would have considered this had I not read other people’s reviews. I think in mythology it’s well known that the Folk are not particularly nice and love to toy with mortals, so to some degree the games of cat and mouse in this book are redolent of the genre. Jude as a character is also guilty of acting in the same way, replicating the Faeries behaviour, and is more than capable of giving as good as she gets which, for me, makes this aspect of the book more acceptable. Also, the book is called The Cruel Prince so… yeah, expect a cruel prince.

The romance in this book is probably only 5% of the plot. The rest of the 95% is very much about power grabbing, Jude kicking ass, elaborate balls, family arguments and the difficulties of navigating the Faerie realm as a mortal. It’s a fantastic bit of escapism with just enough inclusion of things from our world which are familiar to make it seem like just maybe all this could be real.

I can’t speak for whether this book is special within it’s genre, but I can say that it was enjoyable enough that I went out to seek more of Holly Black’s books before I had even finished this one. I will be eagerly awaiting the second and third installments of this series.

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To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

The first thing to note about this book is the fact it is a stand alone fantasy book which seems to be as rare as a mythical creature these days. It was so satisfying to read this knowing there would be a conclusion to the story and not having to mentally commit myself to waiting for further books in the series.

The second thing to note is that it’s very likely you’ll be hooked on this story from the very first sentence. This book is dark and bloody and romantic in an odd, eccentric way.

Lightly borrowing from ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘To Kill a Kingdom’ follows Lira, a siren princess who is punished by her mother, the sea queen, and turned into a human. Prince Elian is the heir to the golden kingdom of Midas but spends his days at sea as a notorious pirate and siren hunter. He finds Lira floating in the sea and, not realising her true identity, rescues her. Lira bargains her way onto the crew and they set off on an adventure to locate the key to destroying the sea queen once and for all.

‘To Kill a Kingdom’ is almost 400 pages long but I barely noticed the pages speeding by. The story is perfectly mapped out and so compelling I didn’t want it to end. I loved the descriptions of Lira and the other sirens and the distinctions made between sirens and mermaids. The under water world they lived in came to life in my imagination, as did the vivid kingdoms on land. It was all so unique and delicately described.

I found the romance between Lira and Elian a little hard to believe at times, but then thought if i’m able to emotionally invest myself in a story about sirens and pirates I can’t really complain that a romance between two characters is “unbelievable”. Once I allowed myself to get swept up in it all, I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book and willed them to end up together.

I thought I would enjoy this book, but I didn’t know I would fall in love with the characters and the world as much as I did.

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The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an e-arc of The Hazel Wood to read via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

I love dark fairy tale stories so when I read the synopsis for The Hazel Wood I was immediately intrigued, with more than a pinch of scepticism. “No books are *that* dark these days”, I thought to myself.

Happily, I was very wrong. The Hazel Wood is everything good about fantasy and if you like your fairy tales dark and bloody you won’t be disappointed.

Alice and her mother Ella live life on the road constantly travelling from town to city to town again as bad luck follows them. Then, they receive word that Alice’s grandmother, the infamous, cult-acclaimed writer of a book of fairy tales and owner of The Hazel Wood estate, has passed away and the bad luck engulfs their lives completely.

Although a fantasy book, The Hazel Wood is set in “the real world” for 60% of the book. I really enjoyed this slow unravelling of the story and found it very creepy as more and more of the dark fantasy world invaded the supposedly safe surroundings Alice was in. I love the way Melissa Albert writes, she can send icy shivers down your back by the simple act of having a background character unexpectedly wink at Alice, letting you know they were part of the Hinterland.

The Hinterland itself is a fairy tale masterpiece. The idea of a realm where these dark, twisted fairy tales repeat themselves over and over, with the subjects of the hellish stories unable to free themselves is absolutely chilling. I found the journey Alice had to complete within the realm a little overlong and bogged down with description, however, the plot itself was clever and gripping.

The characterisation in this book was fantastic. The characters were all flawed but inherently likeable. I fell in love with Finch and his kind, quiet nature and I found the way Alice interacted with different people in her life very interesting. From her close, dependant relationship with her mother to her blossoming relationship with Finch I felt like I was able to get to know Alice better by the way she behaved with each person in her life.

My only criticism with the book is with the length. Admittedly it is a very detailed story with a tangled plot that required a lot of explaining, but I found that in places the pace of the plot dipped a bit and some sections (e.g. Finch and Alice travelling to The Hazel Wood) could have been far choppier without taking anything away from the plot.

If you like fairy tales you will definitely enjoy this original, unpredictable take on the genre.

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