Review: Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong

It’s 1931 in Shanghai, and the stage is set for a new decade of intrigue.

Four years ago, Rosalind Lang was brought back from the brink of death, but the strange experiment that saved her also stopped her from sleeping and aging—and allows her to heal from any wound. In short, Rosalind cannot die. Now, desperate for redemption from her traitorous past, she uses her abilities as an assassin for her country.

Code name: Fortune.

But when the Japanese Imperial Army begins its invasion march, Rosalind’s mission pivots. A series of murders is causing unrest in Shanghai, and the Japanese are under suspicion. Rosalind’s new orders are to infiltrate foreign society and identify the culprits behind the terror plot before more of her people are killed.

To reduce suspicion, however, she must pose as the wife of another Nationalist spy, Orion Hong, and though Rosalind finds Orion’s cavalier attitude and playboy demeanor infuriating, she is willing to work with him for the greater good. But Orion has an agenda of his own, and Rosalind has secrets that she wants to keep buried. As they both attempt to unravel the conspiracy, the two spies soon find that there are deeper and more horrifying layers to this mystery than they ever imagined.

Publication details: 27 September 2022, by Hodder & Stoughton. Review copy provided by the publisher

Rating: 3.5/5


As a fan of what Chloe Gong did with the Romeo and Juliet source material in These Violent Delights, I was very excited for another Shakespeare-inspired story from her, returning to the chaotic stage of Shanghai. Foul Lady Fortune shares a lot with Gong’s first duology, including a number of minor characters who become bigger players this time round, but it does feel quite different in tone, and I’m not quite sure it always played to Gong’s strengths.

One of Gong’s strengths is definitely ramping up the tension and intrigue, and I will say straight up that the last 20% of this book redeemed a rather slow start and threw open a lot of new questions which mean I will most likely read the sequel. Gong also continues to do a fantastic job of bringing a city alive, and it was easy to feel like I was right there on the streets of Shanghai with the main characters, particularly once the action starts unfolding.

But Foul Lady Fortune is also a more political book than its predecessors, and in trying to balance that with a strangers-to-lovers romance, I felt like this book tried to do too much and too little at the same time. There are a lot of various subplots related to Chinese history at the time that were only briefly explained, and didn’t always seem related to what was going on in the characters’ lives – all of the character join various causes at points, but it’s never really clear that any of them have any strength of conviction or meaningful reason to be on one side or another except that the plot demands it.

The political manoeuvring also comes at the expense of character growth. Rosalind and Orion never felt like sympathetic, emotionally complex characters like Roma and Juliette did (even accounting for the fact that Rosalind is meant to be a more stoic character). There is so much happening on the political front that they are given very little time to process what is happening to them or reflect on the development of their relationship, so their romantic moments felt rather unearned when they arrived. There’s also limited development for the numerous side characters, which is a shame, especially since I was looking forward to getting to know some of them, particularly Alisa and Celia, both of whom intrigued me in the original series.

I’m pretty sure I’ll pick up the sequel just to see what happens next, and I will definitely keep an eye out for Gong’s other works – particularly those that seem more romance-oriented – I just wish I hadn’t struggled with the first half of this instalment quite so much so I could give a more positive review overall.

Review: The Valkyrie’s Daughter by Tiana Warner

For as long as Sigrid could remember, she’s wanted to become a mighty, fearless valkyrie. But without a winged mare, she’s a mere stable hand, left wondering who her parents were and why she’s so different. So when the Eye shows her a vision where she’s leading a valkyrie charge on the legendary eight-legged horse Sleipnir, she grabs the possibility of this greater destiny with both hands, refusing to let go.

Too bad that the only one who can help her get there is Mariam, an enemy valkyrie who begrudgingly agrees to lead her to Helheim but who certainly can’t be trusted―even if she does make Sigrid more than a little flustered. As they cross the nine worlds, battling night elves, riding sea serpents, and hurtling into fire to learn the truth about Sigrid’s birthright, an unexpected but powerful bond forms.

As her feelings for Mariam deepen into something fiery and undeniable, Fate has other plans for Sigrid. What happens when the one thing you think you were meant to do might end the nine worlds?

Publication details: 26 July 2022, by Entangled: Teen. Review copy provided by the publisher

Rating: 3/5


The Valkyrie’s Daughter is a sapphic take on Norse mythology, focused around Sigrid – the only girl in the Valkyrie training camp without a flying horse, who is desperate to prove that she is worthy of something. I was excited to see what this book could do with the source material, and it does do a good job in that regard: the focus on valkyries in particular allowed for a relatively feminist take on the myths that gave us a wide variety of female characters and allowed them a chance to shine. There are also some fun horse-chase scenes that I really enjoyed.

However; overall, this book reminded me of a slightly aged up version of a Rick Riordan story. It would be a good fit for younger readers who are looking to make the transition from middle grade to young adult, or who have simply read all the available books in those series and are looking for more. But for an adult reader – or a more mature YA reader – there simply isn’t a lot to offer here. There is no nuance in Sigrid’s story – every emotion is telegraphed very explicitly on page – and the plot twists are all very predictable, regardless of whether the reader has any background in the original myths. It does hit the emotional beats well, especially in the back half of the book, when Sigrid’s family origins come into play, and the romance between Sigrid and Mariam is sufficiently sweet, but The Valkyrie’s Daughter isn’t quite the refreshing new addition to the genre I’d been hoping for.

Review: High Times at the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson

Lana Baker is Aldgate’s finest scribe, with a sharp pen and an even sharper wit. Gregarious, charming, and ever so eager to please, she agrees to deliver a message for another lovely scribe in exchange for kisses and ends up getting sent to Low Parliament by a temperamental fairy as a result.

As Lana transcribes the endless circular arguments of Parliament, the debates grow tenser and more desperate. Due to long-standing tradition, a hung vote will cause Parliament to flood and a return to endless war. Lana must rely on an unlikely pair of comrades—Bugbite, the curmudgeonly fairy, and Eloquentia, the bewitching human deputy—to save humanity (and maybe even woo one or two lucky ladies), come hell or high water.

Publication details: 9 August 2022, by Tordotcom. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 2.5/5


This is a tough book to review, because it’s hard to disentangle my feelings about the book from the fact that this was likely a mismatch for me as a reader due to some mistaken assumptions about the content on my part. I somehow missed that the author referred to this book as a “lesbian stoner buddy comedy” and was expecting something more akin to a bite-size Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – a sharp, witty fantasy of manners. Alas.

High Times at the Low Parliament takes place in an alternate England called “Angland”, where many things have stayed the same, but also there are absolutely no men and now everyone’s a lesbian. None of this is really explained, so you just have to roll with it. Various Angland constituencies are also represented in an EU Parliament (consisting of a collection of real and fake jurisdictions I couldn’t quite get my head around) that’s monitored by vicious fairies, and – like many real parliaments – the debate is pretty acrimonious. So acrimonious, in fact, that if they can’t agree, the Parliament will flood and everyone will go back to endless warfare between nations – and the fairies will also suffer as war inevitably destroys their territories.

Into this mess wanders our narrator, Lana, a scribe who isn’t particularly interested in politics, but is interested in getting drunk and bedding other ladies.

Putting aside the utterly ludicrous world-building, which I found far too convoluted and nonsensical for such a short piece, Robson isn’t the first author to take on Brexit via fantasy fiction, and I’m sure she won’t be the last. There are plenty of moral lessons and endless seeds of stories to come from that political calamity.

In one sense, there is a really interesting Brexit metaphor here; most of this book is taken up by Lana getting high on psychadelic mushrooms and arguing/flirting with her fairy companion Bugbite and one of the politicians, while Parliament disintegrates into chaos around her and rogue parliamentarians slowly undermine the institution without anyone at first noticing. On the other hand, that metaphor is mostly lost because the reader can’t make sense of why this parliament even exists in the first place, or what’s at stake in this version of united Europe. By setting this story in a fake “Angland” with a completely different social structure to the country we know, any connection to England and therefore the politics of Brexit is severed, and it feels like the politicians are just fighting in the background over hypothetical ideas, while Lana spends all her time distracted, elsewhere.

That said, I did like the idea of an alternate world where sexism and misogyny are not a key issue plaguing politics (particularly having just survived the recent Australian election campaign), and I always appreciate books where characters are openly queer and explicit about their intentions in that regard, but those ideas didn’t really mesh neatly with the rest of this book at all. If you just want a fun romp, you might well still enjoy this book, but if you’re expecting a treatise on parliamentary democracy – or even just a parliamentary system that actually makes sense – you might want to look elsewhere.

Review: The Language of Roses by Heather Rose Jones

Meet Alys, eldest daughter of a merchant, a merchant who foolishly plucks a rose from a briar as he flees from the home of a terrifying fay Beast and his seemingly icy sister. Now Alys must pay the price to save his life and allow the Beast, the once handsome Philippe, to pay court to her.

But Alys has never fallen in love with anyone; how can she love a Beast? The fairy Peronelle, waiting in the woods to see the culmination of her curse, is sure that she will fail. Yet, if she does, Philippe’s sister Grace and her beloved Eglantine, trapped in an enchanted briar in the garden, will pay a terrible price. Unless Alys can find another way…

Publication details: 14 April 2022, by Queen of Swords Press. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 3/5


Beauty and the Beast isn’t my favourite fairytale, or my favourite Disney movie, but it’s a story that I’m always drawn to retellings of, because I’m fascinated by how authors choose to reinterpret the elements that are less palatable in the modern age. Thankfully, Jones delivers on that front, in a few different ways.

Knowing that this book featured an aromantic heroine, Alys, was a big drawcard of this book. The representation isn’t explicit – unsurprising given that this book is set in the 1700s, when such words weren’t available – but Alys does very conceptualise that she has never and will never feel romantic love for others, and that this doesn’t make her broken or defective, just different from her sisters, who cannot wait to marry. She stands true to this throughout her time with the Beast, even when pressured, and while I won’t spoil the ending, comes to realise that other, non-romantic relationships can be equally important. There’s also a highly plot-relevant sapphic relationship between the beast’s sister, Grace, and another character.

The other thing I found interesting about this book is how it deals with the Beast’s… well, beastly nature. Rather than trying to humanise him, this book clearly calls out abusive behaviour where it occurs (not just from the Beast but from others), and makes it clear that this is considered unacceptable. It’s not a huge theme of the book, but it’s a nice touch compared to the ham-fisted way the topic can sometimes be treated in retellings.

While I really valued the representation and themes in this book though, I have to acknowledge that it never really excited or surprised me – hence why I’m only giving it 3 stars. The narration is somewhat overwrought and rather distant; I felt like I was watching this story from a distance rather than truly experiencing Alys’ full emotional discoveries as she slowly came to understand herself better. Part of this is the decision to use multiple POVs to tell the story; some of the side characters reveal things to the audience before Alys works them out, which I felt undercut the experience of seeing her react to deceptions and betrayals the reader already knew about. The setting is also rather generic; this book is set in roughly 1700s France, like the original story, but it could have been set in any generic medieval place and it would have been hard to tell the difference.

All that said, I’m glad to see that the already diverse range of Beauty and the Beast retellings continues to be expanded, and it’s worth checking this book out – particularly if you’ve never read a book with an aromantic heroine before.

Review: January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky

January Fifteenth—the day all Americans receive their annual Universal Basic Income payment.

For Hannah, a middle-aged mother, today is the anniversary of the day she took her two children and fled her abusive ex-wife.

For Janelle, a young, broke journalist, today is another mind-numbing day interviewing passersby about the very policy she once opposed.

For Olivia, a wealthy college freshman, today is “Waste Day”, when rich kids across the country compete to see who can most obscenely squander the government’s money.

For Sarah, a pregnant teen, today is the day she’ll journey alongside her sister-wives to pick up the payment­­s that undergird their community—and perhaps embark on a new journey altogether.

In this near-future science fiction novella by Nebula Award-winning author Rachel Swirsky, the fifteenth of January is another day of the status quo, and another chance at making lasting change.

Publication details: 14 June 2022, by Tordotcom. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 4/5


I was after something short and punchy to read for a plane ride earlier this week, and January Fifteenth seemed like a good fit (with the added bonus of getting ahead on my ARCs). It mostly fit the bill as it read very quickly, though it does deal with plenty of tough topics – so some readers may be better off picking up something else for their flight.

January Fifteenth is less a novel and more a series of vignettes about the experiences people might have if a Universal Basic Income (UBI) scheme were to be introduced in the near-future United States. Three of the four stories are explicitly about marginalised or under-represented groups: a lesbian Jew who has survived domestic violence; a black woman and her transgender younger sister; a young Mormon girl who has suffered abuse within the church community.

Something I found interesting about Swirsky’s choice of perspectives is that a UBI program isn’t portrayed as a universally good thing for these people. In some cases the implementation of the program is still classist and racist, as certain recipients must jump through hoops to receive their money (similar to voter disenfranchisement in many countries); in other cases characters question whether giving everyone the same amount of money now is sufficient reparation for historical injustices. There is no easy answers to these questions, but Swirsky isn’t necessarily interested in providing them, simply getting the reader to think through some of the potential challenges we would face were we to ever implement such a system.

Swirsky also does an excellent job of creating a near-future America where things are mostly the same but kind of different: technologies have evolved (phones are now ‘wristers’), and the weather is unseasonably bad but not yet apocalyptic. But January Fifteenth also has the occasionally moment of perceptive wit and isn’t afraid to poke preemptive fun at what cultural trends might continue in the years to come, with a few throwaway moments (you’ll know them when you see them) that made me snort.

The vignette format won’t be for everyone, and it does have a few pitfalls; one section tries to do too much by introducing too many minor characters and unfortunately distracting from the key message in the process, and overall I found the ending a little too abrupt. It’s also less political than I expect some readers will want: the text never makes a decisive statement about whether or not introducing a UBI policy is a desirable choice, nor does it explicitly refute pro or anti UBI statements.

But there’s definitely a lot to chew on here, and I’ll be thinking about some of the questions raised for a while, so I highly recommend it on that front.

Five Mini Reviews, Part II

How is it already mid-February (and time for another five mini reviews)? This round of reviews includes two books I really loved, and a few I wished I enjoyed more than I actually did.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
One of those books that has some objective flaws, but that I had too much fun reading to care. I enjoyed the sci-fi and mystery elements, but the highlight for more was definitely the slow-burn romance between Kiem and Jainen; miscommunication as a trope is very risky, but here it was the good kind of painful as both characters worked through the various personal traumas they carried into their arranged marriage. Maxwell uses various romance tropes to great effect to showcase the characters’ shifting dynamic over time. 4.5/5

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite being more renowned for his long fiction, Tchaikovsky is responsible for two of my favourite novellas in the past twelve months, this one being the second. It’s a pretty simple concept – sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – but I loved how Tchaikovsky played with the language barrier between Lynesse and Nyr, and the idea that we all interpret meaning in different ways. It’s also – surprisingly – the best book I’ve read about clinical depression that I can remember, as Nyr struggles to keep his brain chemicals in check with the help of medical aids, while doing his anthropological duties and trying not to suffer under the weight of being the last of his kind on this particular planet. It does suffer for balance, due to Lyn’s POV being essentially standard epic fantasy fare and therefore far less engaging than Nyr’s, but it’s still an excellent read. 4/5

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
Valente is an an author I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and I definitely admire her chops – there is a lot of wit in this story about Eurovision in space. Too much, in fact; it takes a long time to establish who the main character even is, and it’s quite clear that they’re of secondary interest compared to various tangents that poke at some pretty uncomfortable truths about 21st century British society, but also seem designed to show off exactly how smart the author is. Also, there was way less singing than I would have expected from a (literal) space opera. 2.5/5

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
Martha Wells is an author I admire greatly and this book came highly recommended, but sadly it wasn’t for me. There’s some really excellent world-building: it feels expansive, and it’s full of non-human shifters that genuinely feel alien in perspective. But I never connected with any of the characters and didn’t find the plot particularly compelling either. 3/5

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
I finally came back to this series almost two years after I read (and enjoyed) the first book. It still has all the things I enjoyed about book #1 – the fast-paced plot, the seamless blend of Arabic and Roman influences, the well-executed plot twists – and I found myself easily re-immersed in the world. That said, I found the villains rather cartoonish; there’s a lot of deaths in this book that feel like the mass murder equivalent of the evil dude kicking the dog. 4/5

Review: The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick

In Nadezra, peace is as tenuous as a single thread. The ruthless House Indestor has been destroyed, but darkness still weaves through the city’s filthy back alleys and jewel-bright gardens, seen by those who know where to look.

Derossi Vargo has always known. He has sacrificed more than anyone imagines to carve himself a position of power among the nobility, hiding a will of steel behind a velvet smile. He’ll be damned if he lets anyone threaten what he’s built.

Grey Serrado knows all too well. Bent under the yoke of too many burdens, he fights to protect the city’s most vulnerable. Sooner or later, that fight will demand more than he can give.

And Ren, daughter of no clan, knows best of all. Caught in a knot of lies, torn between her heritage and her aristocratic masquerade, she relies on her gift for reading pattern to survive. And it shows her the web of corruption that traps her city.

But all three have yet to discover just how far that web stretches. And in the end, it will take more than knives to cut themselves free…

Publication details: 9 December 2021, by Orbit. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 4.5/5


The Mask of Mirrors was one of my favourite books of 2021 and I was thrilled to get an ARC of book #2 not long after I read it (even if I then delayed said review, since I was decidedly not in an epic fantasy mood for a few weeks).

Luckily, I loved The Liar’s Knot as much as The Mask of Mirrors, though it’s a very different book in some ways. Secondary world urban fantasy is something that I wish we saw more of, and this series does it wonderfully. Like the first book, the setting is a real highlight. There are clear Venetian inspirations, but none of it feels paint by the numbers, particularly given the various high fantasy concepts woven throughout, which we learn a lot more about in this book. Nadezra also feels like a lived-in place, as we get lots of little details about both the city and its various inhabitants that help build the big picture.

A side note, but I really like the way that ethnic tensions are seeded throughout the book. This series is not a full-blown war story between rival factions, but you can feel things bubbling along under the surface (with the occasional fiery outbreak), in a way that feels much deeper and more complex to unpick than just ‘culture A hates culture B for reasons’. It’s clear the authors have spent a lot of time thinking through their world-building in all its sociopolitical detail.

But while the world-building remains top-notch, it’s clear the characters have moved on from The Mask of Mirrors. By the end of book #1, Ren had tied herself up in all kinds of knots as she tried to maintain three seperate secret identities, and there was a sense of frantic energy as you knew it had to unravel… but when? The fun, and the tension, came from watching each of our characters trying to hide all of their various secrets, and digging themselves a new hole with every one they climbed out of. To their credit, the authors don’t try to keep this masquerade up past the point that it’s no longer believable – instead, the focus shifts to what it means for characters to trust each other and find common ground in pursuit of their various goals. The result is a much more intimate – but equally tense – sequel, as we see what choices our characters make armed with new information about each other.

I am very curious to see whether our characters’ tentative new bonds can weather the storm that’s inevitably coming in book #3. After all, all our characters – not just Ren – still have plenty of secrets to be revealed.

Review: A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.

As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.

Publication details: 3 February 2022, by Harper Voyager. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 3/5


A River Enchanted had some elements I really liked, and some that didn’t work for me at all, leaving me distinctly whelmed.

Firstly, I’m not sure the comp titles are the right ones, personally. This book lacks the romantic passion of a Sarah J. Maas book (and I say that as someone who aggressively DNF’d her books), and it’s much more whimsical and soft than either Uprooted or the The Witch’s Heart. I’d suggest it’s much closer to something like an adult version of the Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, though that’s not a perfect comparison either.

On the positive side, the setting is excellent, and Ross writes really nicely. Her prose is relatively straightforward but there’s a really strong sense of place, inspired by Scotland, with plenty of quaint cottages and a wild, rugged coastline. I also really liked the spirit-based magic system and the way that enchanted songs, clothing and weapons were incorporated into the storyline; magic, in Cadence, has a very clear price that must be weighed up. Some of the most compelling scenes involve Jack making choices about using his bardic talents to control the spirits, even as it begins to physically weaken him.

Additionally, the mystery of the missing children is well done. Some elements are rather predictable, but Ross slowly unravels the true extent of Jack and Adaira’s (the laird’s daughter) complicated family histories throughout the novel, and there is one twist I didn’t see coming that changes the whole dynamic in terms of the characters’ relationships. I’m on the fence about whether I’ll read the sequel, but the ending of this book does set up some rather interesting possibilities for what choices Jack and Adaira might make next in light of their newfound knowledge.

Where this book really fell down for me, however, is the key relationships and the pacing. Somehow, A River Enchanted managed to be both too short and too long. The first chapter tells us that Jack has a complicated relationship with the island of Cadence and with his mother, having been away at university on the mainland for ten years until he is summoned back. Within a chapter or two more, he’s already reconciled his feelings about all of these issues… and we still have 400 pages to go. Similarly, this book has been pitched as an ‘enemies to lovers romance’, but… it’s not that. Based on how their relationship is laid out in the book, Jack and Adaira used to lightly tease each other as kids before being separated for ten years; any bickering now they have reunited could be described as friendly banter at best, which very quickly gives way to romance.

There is another romance between the older adults, Sidra (the local healer) and Torin (the chief warrior of the East), but it’s all very one-note. Sidra is the dutiful mother and healer, and Torin is a stock-standard emotionally stunted hero, and while they make efforts to overcome these tropes during the book, it wasn’t very compelling to me. The most interesting element that has the potential to change their relationship (a particular secret Sidra is hiding) isn’t even brought into play in the first half of this duology.

All of this combined means we spend most of the book rehashing the same few scenes over and over, and drawing out other elements of the story unnecessarily. A River Enchanted is a story that ultimately could have been told in about 300-350 pages without losing a thing. It is Ross’ adult debut after several YA novels, so I’m hoping she felt the need to overcompensate a little on length and will find a more natural balance in later works.

There’s plenty to like here, and those who like vibes over plot may well find some of the book’s weaknesses to be strengths instead. Unfortunately this one just didn’t quite live up to my hopes.

Review: The Magic Between by Stephanie Hoyt

In a world where everyone has magic coursing through them, legend says magic itself craves a mate. Legend says those with opposite magics have the greatest chance of forming the unbreakable Bond it desires.

A.B. Cerise is an obsessive compulsive pop star with the ability to turn invisible. He’s an out bisexual with absolutely no belief in Bonds. He has a love-bruised heart, thinks dating in the spotlight is a hassle at best and a nightmare at worst, and has no intention of going through it all over again.

Matthew Hellman-Levoie is the NHL’s number one goalie prospect, the youngest in a hockey dynasty, and one of the rare few who can see the unseeable. He’s a straight man who wears his heart on his sleeve, has grown up searching for a Bond, and dreams of finding the love of his life.

Legend never said anything about what to do when sparks fly between two people opposite in more ways than just magic.

Publication details: 14 February 2022, by Ninestar Press. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 3.5/5


This is a tough book to review, because I had a few major issues with it… but I also had a lot of fun. I definitely debated for quite some time about rounding up vs. down on Goodreads (and ultimately went up).

This book reminds me a lot of fanfic, in many ways; in that it’s very focused on the internal lives of our two main characters – A.B. and Matthew – and developing a sense of camraderie, sexual tension and eventually love between them. There’s a lot of fun inside jokes, callbacks to previous chapters, and a lot of tension. This is definitely one of those books where frankly, you’re just waiting for that moment where the characters finally get their shit together. All of which made The Magic Between very bingeable; it’s much longer than a typical fantasy romance at 428 pages, but it read very quickly.

It’s also unapologetically queer. In addition to A.B. and Matthew, most of the supporting cast is queer (it sort of feels like going around and collecting a big bisexual found family). The book is very clear that there is more than one way to be bisexual, and tackles bi-erasure as well as the challenges of coming out as bi (including when famous). That’s probably the strongest element of this book – and it’s worth recommending for that alone. There’s some good mental health rep as well; both characters are aware of their challenges and are working on them.

While I enjoyed the romance, I am primarily a fantasy blogger, and yet – the magic system in this book was actually too much. The book started with an extended info-dump about the various types of magic in the world (which I note is now being revised before publication) that was incredibly overwhelming and almost turned me off the book before I began. It’s also a bit unnecessary; this book could have trimmed the enormous magic system down to two or three key types of magic, and it wouldn’t have changed a thing about the plot, and would have saved the need for readers to keep remembering a bunch of terms and getting distracted by more info-dumps. I did also find some of the bonded soulmates stuff a little too cheesy. I love cheese, but it was hard to take a book seriously when the main characters started glowing every time they made out.

My other complaint is that the character’s professions are a big selling point of this story – and the driver of the conflict – but don’t actually seem to matter much to either of them. We’re constantly told that coming out could jeopardise Matthew’s hockey career but we’re never told why he even likes hockey or wants to pursue it beyond being the son of a famous hockey player, and there is very little about how hockey is a part of his life: when does he go to practice? how does it impact his health and fitness regime outside of training? We just don’t know. Similarly, A.B. is a pop-star who struggles with anxiety and (quite literally) being seen, so why choose a career that makes you famous? How did he get into music in the first place? Again, we just don’t know. That probably doesn’t matter to some people, but as someone who loves stories about famous people whose lives are just unfathomable to those of us less famous, it bothered me a lot.

Despite all that I did, like I said, have a lot of fun – and with everything else going on right now, that’s probably what matters most.

Review: Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong

The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.

After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on the warpath. One wrongmove, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.

Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for lettingthe ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.

Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.

Publication details: 16 November 2021, by Hodder & Stoughton. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 4/5


I really enjoyed These Violent Delights earlier in the year despite that ridiculous cliffhanger – so now is a great time to pick up both books in the duology. There’s a lot going on – monsters in Shanghai, not to mention the lovers to enemies to reluctant partners to lovers and back to enemies again romance (and that’s just the first book) – but ultimately it’s an action packed duology with plenty of depths. If you like YA fantasy that actually pokes at gender inequality and colonialism, and includes multiple queer characters despite the historical setting, I’d highly recommend this series. 

Our Violent Ends is a thrilling ride – it took a little bit to get going (and possibly spent a little too long rehashing character dynamics from book one), but once the plot kicked off I binged the last 50 per cent in a single evening, and couldn’t put it down. Gong really captures the complexities of 1920s Shanghai, even before you add monsters to the equation; everyone’s loyalties are constantly shifting, and the broader political tensions of the era intersect with the more localised gang conflict in a meaningful way. Juliette and Roma both love Shanghai and hate what it has become after decades of colonial interference, and the scenes where they debate whether it is worth saving are some of the most hard-hitting. 

This is Juliette’s story – she is by far the most fleshed-out character – and I found her fascinating to spend time with. She’s violent, often reckless, and quick to anger, but I wouldn’t really call her an anti-heroine (even if I was surprised by how far she pushed the limits in the sequel). It’s pretty clear she is just making all of her moral choices in the context of her tumultuous upbringing. The other characters are a lot of fun to be around even if they are not quite as engaging, and I am very excited about the recent news of a standalone sequel potentially starring one of my favourite side characters in this series. 

I do have one complaint, which is that I really wish this had been an adult book – and I really think Gong is capable of writing a great one, despite only being in her early 20s. I simply couldn’t believe the strength of Roma and Juliette’s love for each other – a love that started when they were 14, per the series’ timeline – which meant that a lot of the romance scenes didn’t quite land for me (an important part of any Romeo and Juliet retelling!). I also had to keep mentally aging the characters up in my head because otherwise some of the plot elements felt somewhat far-fetched, particularly the extent to which several grown men were scared of or went along with the whims of an 18 year old woman. I am fully aware that I am outside the target age range, however, and accept that as my lot. 

The ending is appropriately bittersweet: it’s a Romeo and Juliet retelling, so I hope no one was expecting a perfectly happy ending. But it’s satisfying and rounds out the story nicely, particularly after some of the high stakes scenes in the middle. And it leaves open the possibility of more stories in this world, which I’m definitely looking forward to.