The Perfect Assassin (The Chronicles of Ghadid #1)

The Perfect Assassin was provided to me as a free digital advance copy by Tor Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review. The Perfect Assassin will be available for purchase on March 19, 2019 but you can also preorder anytime.

When I started reading The Perfect Assassin I was reminded of a trilogy of books that is one of my absolute favorites. The Rebel of the Sands trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton introduced me to dangerous shapeshifters and legendary djinn, all of which must be decrypted and understood before goals could be reached. Another such series is the An Ember in the Ashes line by Sabaa Tahir. Through both of these series I have discovered a love of the stories and mythology from the middle east and desert realms.

This particular series begins with the final entrance exam for a school of assassins. We follow the main character Amastan as he sweats through his worst fears and completes a physically strenuous trial to join all his classmates as freshly minted assassins in the city of Ghalid. The problem is that the drum chiefs that run all the neighborhoods put an end to assassin’s contracts a long time ago, with no indication they will be issued again anytime soon. So the young assassins are told to bide their time and stay sharp in case contracts start up again.

One of the rules of being an assassin is that when they kill they have to do it so the body will be easily discovered, because if they aren’t then the special priests who quiet jaani (souls?) won’t be able to get there in time and the jaani becomes an angry ghost that floats around trying to possess people. These jaani start showing up and attacking Amastan, and he and his assassin cousins start discovering bodies on the rooftops, meaning that there are more and more unquieted jaani preying on the people in Ghadid. It’s up to Amastan and his friends to uncover the murderer and restore peace to Ghadid.

My only complaint was that the ending doesn’t make me salivate for the next installation in the series (chronicles). Everything is nicely tied up and everyone seems to be where they should be. Usually when I finish the first book of a series I am on Twitter demanding the next one post haste, but here it felt more like a standalone tome.

Balancing out this complaint is my delight in the normalcy with which the sexuality of Amastan is presented. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want more books where LGBTQIA+ individuals are just a part of the world. Their presence is normal, not a red flag or something to be overcome or something they have to hide or convince others of. Just normal. I love this in a representation book. Thanks to K.A. Doore for making this a part of her writing.

Oh my goodness do I apparently love me some desert mysticism and stabby murder. I couldn’t stop reading, I had to know what happened next. Even though most of the elements were fantasy, this book is a mystery/thriller in its own right too. I strongly recommend giving this one a go.

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The Belles (Belles #1)

I bought this book a year ago with the generous funds I received on Patreon. It’s been sitting on my shelf since then. I’ve tried to start it several times, it’s popped onto my ‘currently reading’ list on Goodreads a few times, but then other books always took precedence either due to release date or being on hold at the library. But recently I was granted an advanced copy of its sequel, The Everlasting Rose, via NetGalley and since The Everlasting Rose is releasing on March 5th its the perfect time to read The Belles.

Despite it being a kind of dystopian fantasy novel, the setting and storyline were almost completely brand new to me. The magic is similar to the Corporalki Grisha in Leigh Bardugo’s universe, but there are only six girls in the current generation of Belles who can do what’s necessary to bring beauty and color to the kingdom of Orleans. They perform for the royal family at the Carnaval of Beauty and then the queen picks the Favorite, who will be the Belle of the palace. The rest of the Belles are places at teahouses around the islands of the kingdom.

The narrator Camille wants to be the favorite, but she is reckless in her performance and her sister Amber is picked over her. But something disastrous happens at the palace and Amber is sent away, at which point the queen summons Camille to take her place. Once we get a glimpse in the palace, especially Princess Sophia, it’s obvious that something really sinister is brewing under the surface, and Camille is just too naive to pick up on it. Things become darker and darker until Sophia’s true plan is revealed, which threatens everything that the Belles believe and stand for.

The racial elements being laid out in this novel are obvious. Clayton presents the pursuit of beauty in a sugar coated, shiny way, but you’ll find yourself asking whether this system is sustainable in the long term, especially with the number of Belles dwindling. Finding connections between the novel’s description of Belle-products and procedures to African-American beauty products and procedures is something you should be able to do without much prompting. I imagine any young black person would read this book and feel an immediate connection to the story.

My only real criticism is that while the descriptions of this new world begin as lush and gorgeous, as the story moves forward they become repetitive and unclear. The number of times we hear that “belle-roses” are on display is legion, and belle-buns, belle-products, and on and on. I feel like while some scenes were easy to imagine, many others left too much to my own imagination when this world was new and needed to be built more for me to envision what it looked like.

It was easiest for me to compare this book to Marie Lu’s Legend series. We see a main character who is a prodigy in her field, expects to be a part of the system, and works hard to qualify to be a leader in that system, only to inevitably see the darkness that bolsters the system and therefore become a rebel against it. While this plot fell apart for me when I moved on from Legend to Lu’s second book Prodigy, I am hopeful that Clayton’s The Everlasting Rose (out 3/5/19) will keep my interest piqued. I am very curious about how this re-Belle-ion will work out, especially given how the entire population requires beautification and is almost addicted to the process.

I have a DRC of The Everlasting Rose, and will have that review out to you shortly. As for The Belles, it is an interesting concept and worth reading and exploring if only for a fresh take on fantasy. I enjoyed and finished it. Give it a try.

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Two Dark Reigns (TDC #3)

Three Dark Crowns (#1)

One Dark Throne (#2)

Book 3 of the Three Dark Crowns series has us in three different locations with one central purpose driving everyone: Katherine is wrong for the throne and must be dealt with.

Mirabella and Arsinoe live with Billy, Arsinoe’s suitor, at his estate with his mother and two sisters. None of them know that his father has been killed, and they are all just waiting for him to return. His mom is pushing women on him to marry, but he’s still devoted to Arsinoe. Problem is that Arsinoe has started having strange dreams about the last great Blue Queen (a queen that is a fourth born automatically becomes a Blue Queen, and her other three sisters are killed) and is being shown how the prison mist they fought so hard to escape came to be, and why they must return to the island.

Jules has gone to Bastian City to learn to use her war gift (which when paired with her naturalist gift makes her “legion cursed”) but discovers that the warriors there plan to set her up as a replacement queen to end the triplet queen tradition and forge a new path forward for the island. She does not like this, but apparently rumors are being spread and events are being set in motion to turn the people against Katherine and towards Jules.

Katherine is trying to set up her new Black Council and begin her rule, but dead bodies of regular people that have been killed by the mist that surrounds the island keep washing up on shore, some decayed for longer than they were ever out at sea, implying that the mist isn’t just dangerous, that it might warp time as well. The people are whispering about her Undead Queen nickname, saying she has brought the curse of the mist upon them. When these whispers are added to the Legion Queen rumors spreading from Bastian City, Katherine finds herself dealing with a fair amount of unrest in Volroy as well as unrest from the multitude of dead queen spirits that reside within her own self.

This shit takes so long. I shouldn’t be 66% into book fucking three of this series wondering (1) what the fuck is going on, (2) WHY the fuck are things happening, and (3) what is the point of what is happening?

I loved the first two books, even if the second one was a little flat. This third book feels like someone put ideas on darts and threw them at the wall to see what stuck. There is no tension, no build up, and nothing has any meaningful connection to the mythology of this universe. This third book left me confused and unmoored instead of craving the conclusion. I finished it, but I won’t be reading the fourth.

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King of Scars

 

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Shadow and Bone
Siege and Storm
Ruin and Rising

Six of Crows
Crooked Kingdom

Language of Thorns

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I’m not sure how to make this review non-spoilery but I am going to try. I think it’s fair to say that there might be spoilers from the above books that I’ve already read and reviewed, so if you haven’t read those and you care about remaining unspoiled, maybe go read them first. I will not spoil THIS particular book though.

King of Scars is told through several viewpoints, but from two main locations: Fierda and Ravka. Nina is with a small team of Grisha attempting to infiltrate Fierda and save Grisha who would be willing to join the Second Army and help defend Ravka. She’s also there to return Matthais to the ground after his death in Ketterdam. Nicolai and Zoya along with the Grisha Triumverate are in Ravka building a fleet of submarines for Kerch to make money for the treasury while trying to handle the weird black demon thing that takes over Nicolai’s body and flies him around the countryside.

One of the things I love about Bardugo’s writing is her ability to write political intricacies into the plot. Ravka is facing war from the north and from the south, their financial situation is dire and they are in debt to Kerch (which they are hoping to supplement with the submarines) and they need the support of Novyi Zem to keep their naval defenses strong. In addition to all of the military and financial woes, other men are claiming they are the true Lantsov heir and have been trying to usurp Nicolai’s reign. It’s an understatement that they are in a bit of a pickle.

I enjoyed Nicolai and Zoya’s story more than Nina’s, and for a while there I was actually quite bored with Nina’s mission, her story feeling as gray and barren as the Fierdan tundra. I suppose this was to be expected. A lot of her and her team’s story was waiting, hiding, and being in disguise. If they were real people I’m sure they would have been bored (and cold and hungry) too.

Nicolai and Zoya have to deal with a growing group of people that claim to be loyal to the Starless Saint – The Darkling from the Grisha trilogy with Alina Starkov. They venture out to track ‘miracles’ that see to be popping up and radiating out from the spot on the Unsea where the Darkling fell and died. When they arrive on the Unsea they find a giant black, shiny disc in the sand. When they move toward it they are sucked into an alternate universe, leaving the Grisha Triumverate to tailor a solider and guard at the palace to look like Nicolai and manage a major diplomatic gathering in his stead.

It’s…a lot.

I cried real, gasping sobs in the first part of the book. Nicolai always has me laughing. And in Zoya I finally found a member of this Grishaverse that I could identify with. She’s everything I feel there on the page, walking around furious with everyone, with no fucks to give, and being a badass Grisha general. I love her. She’s one of my favorite characters now. I wish I could transport myself into the world of these books and live there, if only to help these characters that I have come to love.

I trust Leigh Bardugo 100%, and so I preordered this book. Other books I would put on hold at the library (if they were even available at all). Plus the hardcover jacket and book are absolutely gorgeous. I can’t wait to find out what happens to the whole Ravkan team in the second installment of the duology.

If you haven’t read Bardugo’s work by now I just don’t know what I have to say to get you to start. Her world is amazing and real. Her characters are diverse, interesting, and complex. The magic system is elemental and bone deep. It’s necessary reading for any fantasy lover. So go do it already.

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Sightwitch (Witchlands #2.5)

Truthwitch (Witchlands #1)

Windwitch (Witchlands #2)

Let me start with the most important part of this review.

THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT WHY IS IT EVEN CALLED A TWO POINT FIVE?????

Every other 2.5 novella was kind of an afterthought. You could skip it. The Lunar Chronicles, Throne of Glass, and others had little peeks into lesser characters or prequel type stories, but they weren’t essential.

THIS BOOK IS SO FUCKING ESSENTIAL DON’T SKIP IT HOLY CRAP.

I’m furious that this isn’t Book 3. Is it just the length? Why isn’t it a full book?

Sightwitch is the story of Ryber Fortiza, one of the shipmates of Merik and Kullen from Truthwitch and Windwitch. She’s Kullen’s Heart-Thread, but up until this point she’s been mysterious at best. Her existence at the home of the Sightwitches, which is within the boundaries of Nubrevna hid under a glamour (think Wakanda hidden), is described as tedious. She is waiting for her eyes to turn silver, the sign that she’s been called to become a full Sightwitch, able to remember everything, see the future, and read the memories of the dead. Sisters who are called journey into the mountain to commune with Sirmaya, the Goddess at the center of all magic, and then return to the convent to serve until they are called back to sleep with the Goddess herself.

The problem is that while Ryber is waiting to be summoned, her Thread-Sister is called. Then two more, then four more, until all the sisters have been summoned into the mountain and none have returned. Ryber is the last Sightwitch sister. Partnered only with The Rook, a strange crow that lives in the convent, she has to unravel the mystery at the heart of the mountain and somehow save her sisters.

Told alongside Ryber’s story is the history of Eridysi, a similar Sightwitch from about a thousand years earlier, who left a diary of prophecies and statements that collectively are referred to as Eridysi’s Lament in both Truthwitch and Windwitch. Knowing the history of the Paladins and their war is so essential to understanding the Twenty-Year Truce and what is happening with cleaving in the current time that I honestly don’t know how you could skip this book for that information alone.

Dennard put so many pieces in play with this story that connected to so many others that were already on the board that I raced through hungry for answers or leads forward in the universe. There is such a sense of urgency that Sightwitch adds to the series that wasn’t present in either Truthwitch or Windwitch, and I cannot wait for Bloodwitch to load to my Kindle next week so I can find out what happens next!

I think I can officially call myself a #Witchlander now! I’m a huge fan of this series and I strongly recommend all of the books. The magic is interesting, the politics are complex, and the world is vast and new. Please go grab Truthwitch and get started on an enjoyable journey.

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One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns #2)

Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns #1)

This is not going to be a spoiler free review, so if you haven’t read Three Dark Crowns (#1) yet, you should come back to this review when you are deciding to move forward with the series.

These two books were originally intended to be a duology, and I can see why. This book could have ended with a queen who changes the system of murder and they all live kind of happily ever after. But then the series got extended to four books and we had to have a cliffhanger.

It’s just another whole book about the triplet queens taking part in the Ascension Year by trying to kill each other. The only difference is that after being thrown into the Breccia Domain (the deep crevasse in the center of the island where all dead queen’s bodies are thrown to be forgotten) by Peter, Katherine is fucking bonkers crazy and completely different than she was before. We’re not sure why at first, but eventually we’re told it’s probably because she’s possessed by the spirits of the dead queens who are completely out of fucks to give and want everything dead.

So I have some questions.

First, how does this end? Are you telling me that in the thousands of years that this island has been murdering teenagers there has never been a year in which a queen died in childbirth? Or all three queens died  for one reason or another without bearing the Goddess-blessed triplets? So this is the ONE TIME in the history of the island where the queens refused to murder their sisters and one of them is a fucking psychopath who is basically made out of poison?

Second, I must have not received the message of how the queen’s magicks work in this universe. Katherine has sex with her king-consort and murders the everloving daylights out of him because every part of her seethes with poison. How? When? Why now? Why not when she touches Mirabella at the ball? When she touches Arsinoe’s bear? When did she turn from crazy small girl to leaking bag of poison?

Third, Mirabella and Arsinoe escape to the mainland and you don’t think those “humans” aren’t going to turn them right back around? Sure, they have William Chatworth Jr (whose scheming dad is super dead now – I won’t spoil that one) so I guess that’s how they’ll survive, but how will they hide that they are queens? I guess I’ll need to wait for the next book to find this one out.

Fourth, I’m almost at the point of who cares. I felt like this at the end of book 2 of the Hunger Games – there’s only so much senseless killing and cruelty I can take without something changing or being different to allow for a change of pace or tone. This has been two books of WHO WILL DIE AND WHO WILL BECOME QUEEN and idk, who cares? I don’t feel any hope. I don’t feel like things can change. I’m glad that Arsinoe and Mirabella escaped, why can’t we just let them have their lives and let this nasty island burn itself out? Who cares?

I am going to read the next book Two Dark Reigns to see if it turns around, and the final fourth book comes out this year so perhaps we’re heading for a satisfying conclusion. Go get this one to keep up, but I’m tentative and skeptical about what the remaining books of the series have to offer and whether I want to stick around long enough to find out.

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Windwitch (Witchlands #2)

Truthwitch (Witchlands #1)

Synopsis (Goodreads)

I don’t usually link to a synopsis, but I want to take my review time to talk to you about more intricate pieces of this book as opposed to “this happened! and then this happened!” because SO MUCH HAPPENS and I don’t want to get caught up in WHAT happens, I want to talk about FEELINGS caused by what happens.

I stand by my previous assessment of Dennard’s worldbuilding and character development. It is absolutely amazing that there is so much going on in the story and yet I remember all the characters, what they want, what they care about, AND I’m able to see how all of their separate stories are woven together into the larger plot. Windwitch focuses in primarily on Merik and his sister Vivia in their defense of their country Nubrevna, but both Safi’s and Iseult’s stories feed into the future of Nubrevna while letting us know that in the next books we’ll be taking the story in other directions.

You will learn more about what Iseult’s powers are all about in this book. It’s possible that she’s not a Threadwitch at all, but a Weaverwitch, a more advanced Threadwitch who can manipulate the threads and magic of other witches. Aeduan, the Bloodwitch hunting Iseult, is now working with her and believes she may be a true Voidwitch as well as one half of the mythical Cahr Awen. I find her situation compelling, but every time we get a small glimpse of what she’s really capable of, I wonder back to Safi. Is she only a Truthwitch? If she’s the other half of the Cahr Awen, destined to reawaken the Origin Wells and heal the land, what more is there that we need to learn about her magic that might be more than we think?

Dennard asks us to consider the sentiment of all for one, one for all in many different parts of our journey. Is it ever appropriate to sacrifice one person for the sake of all? Or can a single person be important enough to save at the expense of the suffering of many? Honestly Windwitch seems to show us that both are possible, that making the decision is next to impossible, and there are always consequences that you will have to live with either way. I am glad that the constant guilt machine I briefly bemoaned in my Truthwitch review seems to have ground to a halt here in Windwitch.

The way that Windwitch illustrates so many different kinds of relationships is also thoughtfully done. Parents and children, brother and sister, friendships, life-debts – all of these are played out so we can see that nothing is as simple as we think, and everything is connected. All witcheries, all people in this universe have threads that Threadwitches can see. Threads that bind, threads that break, threads that show all manner of emotion. It only makes sense that we should see how the characters that we care so much about might be working to bind themselves to one another to face an even greater foe that we have not yet even been introduced to. I can’t wait to find out what that will be.

I have preordered Bloodwitch, out in February 2019, and I caught the novella Sightwitch on a Kindle deal this past weekend. I’m into this series, and I think you should be too. Try it out and see what you think.

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