Review: “Kingdom of Souls” by Rena Barron

Kingdom of SoulsTitle: Kingdom of Souls
Series: Kingdom of Souls #1
Author: Rena Barron
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Publisher: HarperVoyager
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Content Warnings: Blood magic, self-injury for a ritual, challenging familial relationship, psychological torture, death of children, mind manipulation, animal possession, animal sacrifice (mentioned), violence
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC access provided by the publisher through NetGalley as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.

Built on a world based on West Africa, Rena Barron debuts with a compelling story about a girl with no magic in a world teeming with it.

Magic has a price—if you’re willing to pay.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

With all intents of being forthright, I will tell you that I have very complicated feelings about this book. There were definitely parts that I loved and parts that I didn’t. Writing this review took just as much time as reading it with me having to parse through said complicated feelings. This post is an extension of that dissection.

breaker

When this book is at its strongest, it doesn’t only put its best foot forward – it goes all out. Nothing is done by half-measures, which works well half the time playing up strengths to a maximum. It’s brave and something that I really admire in this story.

A world built as strong as it is vast

Kingdom of Souls is an ambitious work and its larger-than-life world attests to it. With West Africa at its foundation, Barron’s world is a lush, colorful one with unique characteristics that’ll separate it from other stories in its genre.

I love how clear the story’s world was described – the dynamics between its peoples, the Five Tribes and the Almighty Kingdom: their belief system, the gods they worship, political hierarchy, and general way of living. They are fully alive within the pages of this story, even the Northerners and Kefu, though I have a feeling there’d be a lot more from those last two in the coming books as they’ve only been discussed in relation with the former.

KoS 1

Mythology weaved into the narrative

I love mythology and I love that many books have a bit of it included in their narrative. I most especially love when the mythology and lore in a book go outside the usual Greek and Roman ones that have already inspired a handful of earlier YA titles.

But, that’s not the case with Kingdom of Souls.

Mythology and lore are not added as a mere layer to Arrah’s story – it’s tightly woven into the narrative with a life and purpose of its own independent from Arrah. Heka – the god of the peoples of the Five Tribes – and the Orishas – the gods of the Almighty Kingdom – all add something to the whole story. Powerful but fallible and unpredictable, their intentions are not entirely pure and their actions aren’t always for the good of everyone. They are the wild cards of this story and I just have a feeling they will continue to serve up surprises in the coming sequels, which will be really interesting especially given the way things ended in this one.

A compelling heroine

This is one of the biggest selling points of this book for me. Kingdom of Souls is a character-driven story, and it needed a strong character to carry its weight through.

Arrah proved to be more than capable for the part.

KoS 3

She is a compelling heroine, one that you will root for from beginning to end. She’s tough, fierce, and determined but she’s also plagued with frustration, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy at her lack of magic, at her mother’s disapproval and condescension. Arrah is loyal and dedicated to her family and her friends, unhesitatingly making sacrifices – crossing lines she set for herself – in the belief that it will save those she loves.

With a solid cast of characters behind her – the charming Rudjek, steadfast Sukkar, and Hassana, her loving father Oshe and her paradoxical mother Arti – Arrah grow by leaps and bounds within the pages of this book and it was such a joy reading about her. I found it easy to empathize with her, despair with her – basically to feel whatever it is that she is feeling. It takes a special kind of character to do that and, if anything, I will be reading the sequels just to find out what happens to Arrah.

breaker

As it is with any book, I had a number of issues with Kingdom of Souls. Some of these I would have easily overlooked but, in the case of this book, they just greatly affected my enjoyment that I had to take note of them.

Too much

I appreciate complex stories, I really do. Sometimes though, when you add one thing after another, it just gets to be too much. This was my main problem with Kingdom of Souls.

Barron served up plot twists like dishes on a banquet, and it became too much, too hard to digest. All the plot threads she pulled into this book alone could easily write a trilogy. It created an imbalance that in turn affected the story’s pace.

KoS 6

Wonky pacing

This is probably my biggest issue.

Being a character-driven story, I already expected the pace of this book to run a bit slower. But, with all those blocks of story pieces thrown into the plot, the pace just crawled.

This problem was most prevalent in the book’s middle parts. It just sagged, felt unbalanced and repetitive. Characters would go on about something one chapter only to repeat talking about the same thing a few chapters down. I put down the book a handful of times because it just got too exhausting. It was a good thing that the first and last parts of the book were more even-tempered.

breaker

Kingdom of Souls is an imperfect but still sets the beginnings of what sounds like a really promising series. Its strength lies deeply in its character and Barron’s rich world-building. I would definitely come back for the sequels because I’m just too curious (and, honestly, too attached to the characters.) YA SFF readers will find something to love in this book, and hopefully, the whole series.

about the authorRena BarronRENA BARRON grew up in small-town Alabama where stories of magic and adventure sparked her imagination. After penning her first awful poem in middle school, she graduated to writing short stories and novels by high school.

Rena loves all things science fiction, ghosts, and superheroes. She’s a self-proclaimed space nerd. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or brushing up on her French.

Website | TwitterInstagram | Tumblr

 

Giveaway

WIN A KINGDOM OF SOULS VIP SWAG BAG: ONE (1) COPY OF KINGDOM OF SOULS BY RENA BARRON & SWAG (US ONLY)

Giveaway starts September 4th and ends September 18th.

Follow the Tour

p-2

SEPTEMBER 4TH

SEPTEMBER 5TH

Phannie the ginger bookworm  – Review + Favourite Quotes
Jrsbookreviews – Review
Kait Plus Books – Review + Favourite Quotes

SEPTEMBER 6TH

In Between Book Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes
Utopia State of Mind – Review + Favourite Quotes
Camillea Reads – Review
Artsy Draft – Review + Favourite Quotes

SEPTEMBER 7TH

Frayed Books – Review
The Layaway Dragon – Review + Favourite Quotes
NovelKnight – Review
Charis Rae – Review
Novel Lives – Review

SEPTEMBER 8TH

Luchia Houghton Blog – Review + Favourite Quotes
Justbusyreading – Review
Flying Paperbacks – Review

SEPTEMBER 9TH

Moonlight Rendezvous – Review + Favourite Quotes
Confessions of a YA Reader – Review + Favourite Quotes
TBR and Beyond – Review + Playlist + Favourite Quotes

SEPTEMBER 10TH

Wishful Endings – Review
Jessica Writes – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Reading Life – Review + Favourite Quotes
Devouring Books – Review
Flipping Through the Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes

Review: “The Merciful Crow” by Margaret Owen

36483378._sx318_

Title: The Merciful Crow
Series: The Merciful Crow #1
Author: Margaret Owen
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Publisher: Henry Holt (BYR)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pre-order: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

A solid story from start to finish, debuting author Margaret Owen tackles discrimination head-on in The Merciful Crow.

A future chieftain
Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect the royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.
A fugitive prince
When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses – and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.
A too-cunning bodyguard
Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?

This book took me by surprise in all the best ways.

Rich and immersive, The Merciful Crow is everything I wanted in a Fantasy and more. An intriguing story set in a unique universe starring diverse characters in an epic quest – this is the kind of book that’ll take you by the scruff your shirt and drag you inside its world not caring if you’re ready for it or not.

Margaret Owen writes with a razor-sharp and unyielding – which fits TMC. From the get-go, she immediately sets the tone and pace of the story with a punchy first line, sustaining it right to the very end. Her characters, all from diverse backgrounds, appearances, and gender identities, take readers on a high-stakes quest across their kingdom. It was a frame after frame of action that kept me on my toes (and kept me turning the pages.)

But more than those obvious bits, there’s just so much more to The Merciful Crow and it’s these elements that make this book stand out.

breaker
A well-built world and a unique magic system

This is the first thing that really stood out for me. It was obvious the careful planning that went into the making of this story’s universe. Owen crafted an expansive kingdom of diverse peoples; a kingdom where a person’s birthright determines their fate – caste, trade, and magic included.

The Merciful Crow quote #1

It’s a fictional world that still feels pretty much like ours. You could easily draw out real-world parallels – the Hindu caste system and the bubonic plague immediately came to my mind when I started this book – which helped with filling out the minute details.

The bigger elements though, like the details about each group’s magic and how it works, were seamlessly woven into the narrative and it made for a smoother flow of the story. No info dump here, whatsoever!
A story that bites

The Merciful Crow takes an unflinching look at discrimination and systematic prejudice. The kingdom’s caste system provides a rich ground for inequality to grow and fester, with people thinking their caste being above others by basis of birthright alone. The Oleander Gentry – something that just reminds me so much of the KKK with their white cloaks and masks – and the power-hungry Queen Rhusana capitalizes on their people’s prejudices to advance their own agendas.

The Merciful Crow quote #2

TMC hits close to home, probably too close. A hard truth as it is, the things that the Crows – being the lowest caste – suffer in this story is the reality of a lot of people in our world. I very much appreciate how the author handled these topics. She was harsh when the story called for harsh and empathetic when the story called for empathy, never sugarcoating anything. It was this that made this story more real to me.
A feisty female protagonist you can rage with

Hands down, Owen did a great job with her characters. All of them are fleshed out, their mannerisms and actions, the way the relationships between characters developed were very organic – realistic. Still, somehow, Fie just really sets herself apart.

Fie is one angry lady and, I say, she has every right to.

The Merciful Crow quote #3

Being a Crow, Fie has seen and experienced just about all the injustices the higher castes threw down their way. Her mother was brutally murdered by the Oleanders, the same people who seek their help with the plague won’t even pay them their due. Nevertheless, despite these, Fie’s spirit remains unbroken. She refuses to accept things as they are and will do her damndest to change the status quo for herself and the Crows.

Fie’s such a powerful character, one you’ll root for to win. In a plot-driven story, she broke through and made me feel whatever she was feeling, and that’s a testament to how Owen wrote her character.

breaker

I absolutely loved The Merciful Crow. It’s a unique story that just feels so real perhaps because of the hard issues it tackled.

This one read like a standalone with pretty much of the plot threads tied up as cleanly as the author could have, but I’m happy to get another installment next year. The ending leaves enough space for a continuation. I certainly want to see how things pan out for Fie and Tavin, Jasimir, and the Crows. This is definitely a must-read!

about the author

m-owen-headshot

Born and raised at the end of the Oregon Trail, MARGARET OWEN first encountered an author in the wild in fourth grade. Roughly twenty seconds later, she decided she too would be an author, the first of many well-thought-out life decisions.

The career plan shifted frequently as Margaret spent her childhood haunting the halls of Powell’s Books. After earning her degree in Japanese, her love of espresso called her north to Seattle, where she worked in everything from thrift stores to presidential campaigns. The common thread between every job can be summed up as: lessons were learned.

Fortunately, it turned out that fourth-grade Margaret was onto something. She now spends her days wrestling disgruntled characters onto the page and negotiating a long-term hostage situation with her two monstrous cats. (There is surprisingly little difference between the two.) In her free time, she enjoys exploring ill-advised travel destinations and raising money for social justice nonprofits through her illustrations.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

First Line Fridays: “The Candle and the Flame” by Nafiza Azad

First Line Fridays (feature photo)First Line Fridays is a weekly feature hosted by Hoarding Books.


Happy Friday!

I’ve been on a reading blitz the last couple of weeks – listening to audiobooks on my commutes to and from work, reading books from my TBR during lulls at work, then putting my focus on ARCs during the weekend. I managed to finish 6 books so far, which, for someone who has to be creative with her reading time, felt so good.

Writing, however, did not work for me.

I haven’t written much in two weeks, only managing to finish a couple of new paragraphs for a 5-year old fanfic I unearthed from my almost-forgotten Yahoo e-mail account’s drafts (that I tried cleaning up, but then saw the fanfic…and you know, plotbunnies started jumping around my head…so…) I still don’t know what I’ll do with whatever I finish. I haven’t updated that fic in 3, almost 4 years. By now, I might have already lost my audience, but we’ll see.

Anyway, I’ll be sharing the first few lines from one of those 6 books I finished for today’s FLF.

The Candle and the Flame

The desert sings of loss, always loss, and if you stand quiet with your eyes closed, it will grieve you too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nafiza Azad’s The Candle and the Flame is a wonderful diverse read set featuring Middle Eastern mythology and a setting inspired by the historic trade routes of The Silk Road. This was different from my usual as the story was pretty much character-driven, but I absolutely adored this book and was so glad to have finally gotten to it after loads of recommendations from other bloggers. I agree with them, this is a must read!

I’m set to write a review for this, just not sure when. I’m currently working on my review for another book I loved The Merciful Crow, which is coming out this July 30. Crossed fingers, I’ll be able to chip a bit of my review work this weekend.

Til next week!

💗💗💗

Rachel

let's chat

Come and join in the fun. Visit Hoarding Books to see what other FLF bloggers have to share.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday: “The Merciful Crow” by Margaret Owen

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted Tressa at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted Jill at Breaking the Spine.


Hello! It’s another Wednesday. Seems like once June come in, days go by faster. While I don’t exactly know how I feel about that yet, I, at least, could say that I’m excited for the books coming out this last half of 2018, and this CWW I’ll be featuring one of those titles.

36483378._sx318_

 

Title: The Merciful Crow
Series: The Merciful Crow #1
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

A future chieftain.

Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.

A fugitive prince.

When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses – and perhaps his throat. But her offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.

A too-cunning bodyguard.

Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?

I have this to read next after I finish with the audiobook of Victoria Aveyard’s Broken Throne.  Recently, I have been relying heavily on audiobook for my daily escape from real life. Work has been busy – a number of employees getting sick with the flu, me and our company physician finally contracting the bug after two weeks of continuous exposure – it was just nasty. I haven’t recovered yet, truly. I still have sticky phlegm (eww…TMI!) I couldn’t get out and the constant coughing has made me lose my voice.

Anyway, I’m sorry for oversharing. It’ll be a treat to find out what you guys think of this book and what you’re reading. I have a couple more ARCs to finish, but I’m always in the lookout for book suggestions.

💗💗💗

Rachel

let's chat

What book/s are you excited for this week?

 

Review: “Bright Burning Stars” by A.K. Small

42288387
Title: 
Bright Burning Stars
Author: 
A.K. Small
Publication Date: 
April 24, 2019
Publisher:
 Algonquin Young Readers
Rating: ⭐
Get it:
IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | iBooks
Content Warnings:
body dysmorphia, severe disordered eating, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, drug use, grief

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

 

Two best friends find themselves in opposite sides of a competition in this compelling debut set in the dazzling world of ballet.

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. and as selection day draws near, the competition – for the prize, for the Demigod – becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

I remember reading the blurb of this book and thinking how interesting it was. A dead body, two best friends in a very cutthroat ballet school, a love triangle – it was like sweet nectar to a honeybee and I fell for it.

Bright Burning Stars was a letdown.

I desperately wanted to love this book, but there were just too many things in it that left a bitter taste in my mouth. Everything from the characters to the story’s pacing down to the way certain arcs were handled and resolved felt off to me. So much so that even if there were still parts of the story that I liked, I just couldn’t shake off the funny (and infuriating) feeling this book left me with.

If I were to only look at this book as solely a ballet story, Bright Burning Stars would have been a good one. Having been a former dance herself, A.K. Small was able to bring to life the drama and the competitiveness of life at a topnotch ballet school. All the best parts – parts that I loved – were contained in these short, sporadic scenes. Small’s exacting descriptions of every step and movement the dancers, especially Kate, Marine and Cyrille, made created a vivid picture in my head.

It was all downhill from there.

This was supposed to be a quick read – just 304 pages. I could have finished reading it in one sitting, yet it took me 13 days to get through the whole thing, and I put part of the blame on the wonky writing.

The pacing, for me, lacked the rhythm this story called for – it slowed in the parts that needed speeding up and careened in the parts that needed more fleshing out. It totally doesn’t help that the characters – both main and secondary – were all shallowly drawn, caricatures made of shadows instead of solid lines. I couldn’t help but think just how big of a misstep this was both for the author and the story. Small, at the best moments of this book, showed great talent. She writes with a certain clarity and sharpness, and with a plot this interesting, she could have done a great deal more.

While the conclusion was satisfying enough, I just couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling this book gave me especially with the way it handled some things. I get that this was a story about toxic friendship, and that it dealt with dark, heavy topics, but it could have been handled better. Instead, all of it felt like mere plot points and not integral parts of the characters’ stories.

Overall, Bright Burning Stars could have a been a better story. Some might find something here for themselves, but for me, this just didn’t work.

about the author

Angela Small credit _Becky Thurner BraddockA.K. SMALL was born in Paris, France. At first years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States, where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram