Review: Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler

Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy.

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

Rating: 4/5

Review

I’m an only child who loves stories about other people’s complicated sibling relationships, which is what originally drew me to this book. Ashes of the Sun alternates between Gyre and Maya’s POVs, and while we don’t see a lot of them interacting with each other in this book, the set up for the broader conflict was fantastic and still kept me engaged all the way through. There are a lot of complicated – and legitimate – feelings on both sides, that will need to be worked through once Gyre and Maya are both in the same place at the same time.

The author notes Star Wars as an inspiration, which is clear in the world-building, most notably in the role of the Twilight Order, which is made up of heirs of the former magic-wielding Chosen, and is responsible for protecting the Republic, as well as use of lightsaber like weapons. It does occasionally feel derivative, but this book takes the premise to a really interesting place and pokes at the moral questions Star Wars never really wanted to explore – at what point does protection become a form of subjugation in its own right? And how ethical is it for a single group to regulate the use of magic, even if they use it for the greater good? With one sibling on each side of this divide, I look forward to seeing them wrestle with these questions in future books.

In addition, this book features a really sweet f/f romance (and a less sweet, but highly entertaining m/f one) and a begrudging ally (my favourite kind). There are also the plagueborn: mutant, ever-evolving creatures that the Twilight Order defends its citizens against, and which I literally pictured as giant, plague-ridden rats. While there are no plagues in this book, it’s probably an unfortunate time for your main monsters to have such connotations.

If I have one complaint, it’s that this book could have been 50-100 pages shorter – the fight scenes are a little more detailed than they need to be, and some events feel rather drawn out. (Anyone who’s read Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series is likely to already be familiar with this particular issue).

I highly recommend Ashes of the Sun and am looking forward to the sequel.

Note: I received an ARC from Head of Zeus. Ashes of the Sun was released on 21 July 2020 (October 2020 in the UK and Aus).

Review: The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

A desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial daughter find a connection on the high seas in a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic.

Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, as the pirates prepare to sell their unsuspecting passengers into slavery, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is en route to a dreaded arranged marriage with her own casket in tow. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian.

Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood, which causes men to have visions and lose memories) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, and the all-encompassing Sea itself.

Rating: 2/5

Review

Warning: This review contains some mild spoilers.

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea was among my most anticipated for 2020: a sapphic pirate story that promised to actively grapple with colonialism sounded right up my alley. Not to mention the gorgeous cover…

Unfortunately, everything about this book felt unpolished. I could see what the author was trying to do, but unfortunately the pieces never fully came together. To list a few of my gripes: the instalove between Evelyn and Flora was entirely unbelievable; the plot devices that brought them into the same orbit were flimsy; and the magic system was only introduced halfway through the story, and its origins were never properly explained.

Of course, there were a few shining moments in the darkness. This book shows one of the main characters exploring their gender identify, and I am glad to see more nonbinary representation in YA fiction.

By far my biggest disappointment, however, was how The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea tackled colonialism and slavery. I should note outright that these are just my views, and there are plenty of positive reviews on this subject, but the exploration of these issues didn’t work for me.

My main criticism is that there was a clear disconnect between the message Tokuda-Hall wanted to portray – that colonialism is bad – and how the characters who deliver that message behave. The really bad characters all meet horrible ends, but Evelyn and Flora, who also uphold and benefit from the system in different ways, are never forced to acknowledge the consequences of their actions.

Evelyn starts this book by abusing her power over her maid and lying about to her maid’s face about how she feels. Later, Evelyn is horrified by the revelation that her parents are looking to expand the empire at all costs, but only because she’s surprised that they’re evil and dared to make her a pawn in their imperial game. Apart from them failing in this particular endeavour to colonise another land, there are no consequences for her family, or for the imperial system as a whole. Flora, meanwhile, is a literal slaver (and also black, which was a weird dynamic), but never really grapples with that choice except to note that she does what she has to survive. It’s only seeing the girl she loves become enslaved that prompts her to change her mind.

I’m sure there are people much more knowledgable than me who may have differing views on how The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea dealt with these issues, but this book left a weird taste in my mouth.

Note: I received an ARC from Candlewick Press.

Review: Camelot by Giles Kristian

Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive . . . 

Rating: 3.5/5

Add Camelot on Goodreads

Review

I loved Kristian’s Lancelot when I read it last year, and I was incredibly excited to get an ARC of the sequel, Camelot! While you can read Camelot as a standalone, I recommend reading Lancelot first for the best experience. Galahad’s struggles with living up to his father’s legacy are very much informed by the characterisation of Lancelot (who doesn’t appear in this book). It’s also nice to see a number of the characters from Lancelot return, including an expanded role for Merlin, who is cunning and unpredictable to the last.

Of course, some things are the same in this sequel: most notably, Kristian’s incredibly evocative way with words, which bring Britain to life and make it easy to picture both the scenery and the horrors of weather and war.

However, this is also a very different kind of book. Where Lancelot covers the main character’s journey from birth to death, Camelot starts when Galahad is 20, and only tells a very small portion of his tale. Galahad is much less sure of himself and his place in the world than Lancelot … which made the middle third of this book a little tedious, as there’s a lot of wandering around on various missions and puzzling things (and feelings) through. However, the reader’s patience is largely rewarded by the end, as Galahad comes to terms with what he wants from life.

Overall, I really enjoyed Camelot. Kristian hasn’t announced any plans (that I know of) but I wouldn’t be at all opposed to reading more in this world.

Note: I received an ARC from Bantam Press in exchange for a review. Camelot will be released on 14 May.

Review: Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran

When teenage queen Lia inherits her corrupt uncle’s bankrupt kingdom, she brings a new spymaster into the fold … Xania, who takes the job to avenge her murdered father.

Faced with dangerous plots and hidden enemies, can Lia and Xania learn to rely on each another, as they discover that all is not fair in love and treason?

In a world where the throne means both power and duty, they must decide what to sacrifice for their country – and for each other … 

Rating: 4/5

Review

This was an excellent debut (and an all round great read). I joked after I read this book about how much I wanted a sequel (and I still do). However, Queen of Coin and Whispers did actually work well as a standalone and I hope some other YA authors out there take note: a single, tightly plotted book can be a good thing.

The characters were generally well-rounded and interesting. I enjoyed Xania’s POV more than Lia’s (partly because her being the spymaster gave her more to do, as much as I loved Lia trying to smite everyone with her stare), but both characters had unique personalities and voices. And the romance was chef’s kiss.

Queen of Coin and Whispers grappled strongly with the consequences of making Difficult Choices, not only for yourself but what it means for those trying their best to love you. Not to mention, so much mutual pining and longing looks and hand-holding… the first part of this book was slow-burn at its best.

There were a few small things that meant it wasn’t quite a 5-star book for me. Most notably, I thought the world-building was somewhat thin, and I didn’t have much of a sense of the history of the various kingdoms, but given that this was clearly written as a romance set against a fantasy backdrop, that didn’t bother me as much as it might have in a more clearly fantasy-oriented book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a sweet, slow-burn f/f romance.

Note: I received an ARC from The O’Brien Press in exchange for a review. Queen of Coin and Whispers will be released on 1 June 2020.

Review: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

Rating: 2.5/5

Review

The concept behind Dangerous Remedy – assemble a ragtag bunch of outcasts in the middle of the French Revolution and then add magic – is a fun one, and I expect it will draw a lot of readers in. I did, in fact, have a lot of fun: the setting was fantastic and I loved all the little nods to history that were included. You don’t need a good knowledge of the French Revolution to follow this story, but there are lots of extra nuggets to enjoy if you do.

Additionally, the dialogue made me laugh out loud at several points, though it occasionally did veer past funny and into unrealistic and cheesy. The queer rep (including the explicit bi rep) was also great, and it was nice to read a historical novel that didn’t constantly dwell on how hard it was to be queer at this point in time.

Unfortunately, the execution of this idea could have benefited from some more work. This book races through each plot point, changing direction as quickly as the French Revolution itself often did, and there was often no time to reflect on what had just happened or to fully engage with the characters’ reactions. Various characters’ backstories were hinted at but never really fleshed out, and I found it really hard to connect with any of the main characters on more than a superficial level. Additionally, while this is marketed as fantasy, this often felt more like straight up historical fiction. Olympe – the girl our intrepid squad rescues – has magical abilities that mean she’s wanted by every high ranking law enforcement officer in Paris. However; the exploration of why Olympe has such powers or what they could be used for never really goes beyond the superficial, and I would have liked to see more of the characters investigating her strange talents and trying to understand them.

Overall, while Dangerous Remedy showed plenty of promise, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations and, with so many books out there to enjoy, I’m unlikely to personally pick up the sequel.

Note: I received an ARC from Zephyr. Dangerous Remedy is available from 5 May.

Reviews by Author

B

Barker, R.J. The Bone Ship’s Wake
Beaton, E.J. The Councillor
Beckley, Laurel. Evie and the Pack Horse Librarians
Blackwood, Lauren. Within These Wicked Walls
Brooks, Mike. The Splinter King
Burgis, Stephanie. Scales and Sensibility

C

Carrick, M.A. The Liar’s Knot
Cohoe, Samantha. A Golden Fury

D

Durst, Sarah Beth. The Queen of Blood (mini review)

E

Elliott, Kate. Servant Mage

F

Fox, Harper. Seven Summer Nights (mini review)

G

Gibson, S.T. A Dowry of Blood
Glover, Nicole. The Conductors
Gong, Chloe. Our Violent Ends
Griffith, Nicola. Spear

H

Hall, Alexis. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter (mini review)
Hawke, Sam. Hollow Empire
He, Joan. The Ones We’re Meant to Find
Holmberg, Charlie N. Spellmaker
Hoyt, Stephanie. The Magic Between

J

Jang, Jadie. Monkey Around
Jarvis, Nicole. The Lights of Prague
Johnson, Joshua Phillip. The Forever Sea

K

Kimberley, Maree. Dirt Circus League
Kowal, Mary Robinette. Ghost Talkers (mini review)

L

Lee, Fonda. Jade Legacy
Lee, Yoon Ha. Phoenix Extravagant
Leicht, Stina. Persephone Station
Lewis, Linden A. The Second Rebel
Loestetter, Marina J. The Helm of Midnight
Long, H.M. Hall of Smoke

M

Martine, Arkady. A Desolation Called Peace
Maxwell, Everina. Winter’s Orbit (mini review)
May, Elizabeth & Lam, Laura. Seven Devils
McKillip, Patricia A. Od Magic (mini review)
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia. The Beautiful Ones

P

Pinguicha, Diana. A Curse of Roses
Polk, C.L. The Midnight Bargain
Pulley, Natasha. The Kingdoms

R

Ross, Rebecca. A River Enchanted

S

Slatter, A.G. All the Murmuring Bones
Solomon, Rivers. Sorrowland
Stewart, Andrea. The Bone Shard Emperor

T

Tahir, Sabaa. A Torch Against the Night (mini review)
Tchaikovsky, Adrian. Elder Race (mini review)
Thornton, A.S. Daughter of the Salt King

U

Underhill, Holly J. The Bone Way

V

Valente, Catherynne M. Space Opera (mini review)

W

Wells, Martha. The Cloud Roads (mini review)
Wexler, Django. Ashes of the Sun; Blood of the Chosen
Wise, A.C. Wendy, Darling

Y

Young, Adrienne. Fable
Yu, E. Lily. On Fragile Waves

Z

Zhao, Xiran Jay. Iron Widow