Review: “A Song of Wraiths and Ruin” by Roseanne A. Brown

Title: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
Series: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin #1
Author: Roseanne A. Brown
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Content warning: Anxiety, panic attack, violence, child abuse (implied), chronic pain
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

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

Destiny, magic, trickster deities, and vengeful spirits bring two young people on a collision course that’ll upend both their lives and the world as they know it in this debut YA Fantasy inspired by West African folklore.

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the cit, Malik strikes a fatal deal – kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has bee assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic… requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

Some stories start on a breakneck pace, hitting the ground running and taking off immediately right from page one. There are others, still, that go the opposite direction, gathering its bearings and doling out its bits and pieces before finally coalescing into something more solid.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is firmly in the second category, something that both works for and against it.

Debut author Roseanne A. Brown took care to lay down her story’s world. Taking inspiration from West African folklore, she transports readers to a world of elemental gods and goddesses, powerful beings, and ancient magic. Ziran, the desert city where the story takes place, is a vast place teeming with peoples from different Zirani territories and allied kingdoms. It was an intriguing and complex world brought to life by meticulous detail work. However, with the hefty amounts of information needed to be unloaded, worldbuilding took up most of the book’s first half and slowed down the pace significantly.

Unnecessary exposition, of which there were many, also didn’t help even out this story’s pace. It did more telling than showing, explaining ideas and situations rather than dramatizing them through effective use of dialogue and the characters’ unvoiced thoughts. Reading these bits felt a lot like going around in endless circles. It was pretty frustrating.

Its faulty pacing aside, this book gives readers interesting characters who are each other’s polar opposites. Karina, the reluctant crown princess of Ziran, is brash, reckless, impulsive, and a bit arrogant and self-centered. But she’s also insecure, and hurting from all her losses. Malik, an Eshran refugee, has only known hardship most of his life. He is meek, filled with so much self-doubt, and suffering from debilitating panic attacks brought about by his anxiety. But he also has the biggest heart, his love for his family becoming both a strength and weakness. It was interesting watching them together and seeing them learn from each other. Karina shows Malik that he can be someone strong, while Malik softens Karina’s edges.

The politics inside Ksar Alahari and Ziran was also one of the things that kept me reading. The oppression and discrimination the Eshrans experience depicted in the book could open discussions about race and equality, topics that are forever relevant but even more so in our world today.

Though it starts slow, the story finds its footing and hits its stride in its last quarter. The explosive ending is sure to make readers come back for the last half of this planned duology once it comes out next year.

Overall, even with its wonky pacing and info dump in its first half, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is a satisfying read. YA fantasy readers, especially those who loved Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone will enjoy this book. Roseanne A. Brown is a promising author, and I’m definitely coming back for the sequel if only to know how Malik and Karina’s stories end.

ROSEANNE “ROSIE” A. BROWN was born in Kumasi, Ghana and immigrated to the wild jungles of central Maryland as a child. Writing was her first love, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to use the power of writing – creative and otherwise – to connect the different cultures she called home. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and was also a teaching assistant for the school’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her journalistic work has been featured by Voice of America among other outlets.

On the publishing side of thing, she has worked as an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. Rosie was a 2017 Pitch Wars mentee and 2018 Pitch Wars mentor. Never content to stay in any one place for too long, Rosie currently teaches in Japan, where in her free time she can usually be found exploring the local mountains, explaining memes to her students, or thinking about Star Wars.

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Review: “A Treason of Thorns” by Laura E. Weymouth

A Treason of Thorns (Laura E. Weymouth)Title: A Treason of Thorns
Author: Laura E. Weymouth
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
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.

A young girl must decide between duty and heart in this enchanting and haunting YA fantasy.

Violet Sterling has spent the last seven years in exile, longing to return to Burleigh House. One of the six great houses of England, Burleigh’s magic always kept the countryside well. And as a child, this magic kept Violet happy, draping her in flowers while she slept, fashioning secret hiding places for her, and lighting fires on the coldest of nights to keep her warm.

Everything shattered, though, when her father committed high treason trying to free Burleigh from the king’s oppressive control. He was killed, and Vi was forced into hiding.

When she’s given a chance to go back, she discovers Burleigh has run wild with grief. Vines and briars are crumbling the walls. Magic that once enriched the surrounding countryside has turned dark and deadly, twisting lush blooms into thorns, poisoning livestock and destroying crops. Burleigh’s very soul is crying out in pain.

Vi would do anything to help, and soon she finds herself walking the same deadly path as her father all those years before. Vi must decide how far she’s willing to go to save her house – before her house destroy’s everything she’s ever known.

With the hectic thing that was 2018, I missed Laura E. Weymouth’s debut A Light Between Worlds so I’m coming into this new book of hers as a total newbie to her words and worlds. If A Treason of Thorns is anything to go by, however, I think I might just have found a new auto-buy author.

Ultimately a novel about family – of inherited responsibilities and the ghosts of the ones before us – and the bonds that bind us, A Treason of Thorns was a thing of beauty. It was poetic and haunting, lush and dark, atmospheric and almost Gothic. I quickly fell in love with this imagined version of an older England fueled by the magic of six great houses.

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Solid world-building and Weymouth’s almost lyrical writing are two of this book’s many aces. The magic system was a fresh one for me. The thought of old, sentient houses running on ancient magic was such an intriguing idea and I gobbled it up. I had so much fun visualizing what was being described: fireplaces lighting up on their own when you enter a room, moments from the past featuring your forebears playing like scenes from a movie right in front of you. The story’s world is fully alive ready to pop up from the pages.

But, as strong as the world-building and as beautiful as the writing, these elements weren’t what kept me reading.

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A Treason of Thornscharacters remains its strongest suit. I found a compelling protagonist in Violet Sterling. Caught up between duty and the desires of her heart, her dilemma was entirely relatable and very human. She started out the story certain of her purpose and goal – to be Burleigh House’s caretaker, to restore the only home she’d ever known and in turn heal the West Country – her duty having been ingrained in her by her father since her childhood. Uncovering hidden truths, though, Violet quickly realizes that things are not as cut-and-dry. Her situation is made even more complicated when she starts to want things for herself, things that aren’t to Burleigh’s benefit.

I loved Violet. Even from the first few chapters, she made a connection to my heart. She’s stubborn, strong-willed, naive and fallible. Her struggle between what she needed and wanted – family and love, home and heart – was something familiar. I think it’s a bridge we all must cross as we come of age, having the power to choose your own way if only you’d be brave enough to claim it.

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Wyn took his time with me, but eventually, I grew fond of him. He was sort of gray at first, gaining depth as the story progressed. He, like the rest of the secondary characters, added more texture to Violet’s story because, in the end, this is still about her.

In all honesty, I am just floored by how the women in this story were written. They embody strength in different ways, one not less than the others. Mira, the Sterling’s longtime housekeeper who stood as Violet’s mother-figure, showed her strength in the form of loyal and her steadfastness. Frey, the owner of Red Shilling where Violet worked and her father’s lover after her mother left them, showed it in her quiet defiance. Esperanza, the Princess of Wales and King Edgar’s heir, navigated the royal court armed with her cunning, wit and resourcefulness. She was one of the nicest surprises in this book for me as I thought she was going to be an antagonist. It was great being proved wrong.

This review will never do justice to just how good A Treason of Thorns was. It was spellbinding, enchanting. It’s one of the best books I read this year and will surely stay in my head for a long, long time. Teen readers and adults alike will all find something they can relate to in this book. YA fantasy readers will surely eat this story up just like I did. This comes with my wholehearted recommendations. (Also, I’m going to finally pick up A Light Between Worlds after this.)

about the author

Laura E. Weymouth

LAURA E. WEYMOUTH is a Canadian living in exile in America, and the sixth consecutive generation in her family to immigrate from one country to another Born and raised in the Niagara region of Ontario, she now lives at the edge of the woods in western New York, along with her husband, two wild-hearted daughters, a spoiled cat, an old soul of a dog, and an indeterminate number of chickens. She is represented by the inimitable Lauren Spieller of TriadaUS.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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