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: “Jane Anonymous” by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Book CoverTitle: Jane Anonymous
Author: Laurie Faria Stolarz
Publishing Date: January 7, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
Content Warnings: Abduction, Stockholm syndrome, manipulation, PTSD, obsession, stalking
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 provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Compelling and haunting, Laurie Faria Stolarz’s explores trauma, healing, and hope in her newest novel Jane Anonymous.

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life..

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew – everything you thought you experienced –turned out to be a lie

Aware of the theme of this book, I went into this story with a prepared heart. But, alas, it was to no avail.

As gut-wrenching as it was gripping, Jane Anonymous is one story that’ll get under your skin and get through your heart. It explores trauma – its effects on both the victim and the people around them – healing and hope.

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LAURIE FARIA STOLARZ: I love that you’ve chosen this text. I struggled so much with it. I didn’t want it to reveal too much, and yet I wanted a degree of retrospection here. I rewrote this text again and again, trying to get the right balance – just enough insight but not too much. 

Gutsy main character “Jane” narrates the story, going back and forth between then, which covers the time before and during her seven-month captivity, and now, three months after her return home. She has a compelling voice, honest and raw and vulnerable. It was so easy to empathize with her.

The exploration of trauma, and the long and varied road to healing is at the heart of this book.

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LFS: I really wanted to show that therapy isn’t one-size-fits-all. Brave acts as therapy for Jane, giving her a sense of purpose. Brave also cries out when Jane can’t, and helps Jane see that life is worth fighting for; despite all of the abuse Brave has lived through, she still hasn’t lost her will to live. It is her instinct – something Jane admires.

Jane, at the beginning of the story, was in pieces: isolated, made to question her own experience. All throughout the book I felt like Jane stood alone. Her parents, even her best friend Shelley, seemed to expect her to just go back to her normal self once she returned home. It could be because they don’t know how to deal with it, but I don’t think they ever understood what Jane has gone through. The only one who was open and willing enough to try was Jack.

Bleak her start may be, Jane ends the book at a hopeful place. I think she started coming to terms with what has happened to her, ready to start healing and take back control of her life.

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LFS: In this scene, Jane is overhearing her father talk to a nurse at the hospital. Jane doesn’t feel she has a voice in her own life. People are talking about her in the third-person, as though she’s not even there, not even part of her own healing. Jane uses their words here to convey how alone she feels (the notion of luck feels so foreign to her at this point.) The point here is that people talk about her, as though everything is about her (her health, her growth, her safety, etc.). But things aren’t about her at all – not really. They’re more about them – how Jane’s time in captivity affects them/their lives.

Though heavy, I enjoyed reading Jane Anonymous. It was fast-paced and suspenseful. The story flowed really well even with all the switches between Jane’s then and now. Stolarz was able to handle trauma with care and sensitivity.

That said, there were a few things that didn’t work for me. Most characters, with the exception of Jane, were two dimensional. You really don’t get to know them much – Jane’s parents, Shelley; “Mason” and Jack were a little bit better but not by much.

Still, overall, this was a good read. Readers of crime and suspense YA thrillers will find something to love in this one. I highly recommend this especially for those who love Courtney Summers’ Sadie and Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl in Pieces.

about the authorLaurie Faria Stolarz

LAURIE FARIA STOLARZ is an American author of young adult fiction novels, best known for her Blue is for Nightmares series. Her works, which feature teenage protagonists, blend elements found in mystery and romance novels.

Stolarz found sales success with her first novel, Blue is for Nightmares, and followed it up with three more titles in the series, White is for Magic, Silvers is for Secrets, and Red is for Remembrance, as well as a companion graphic novel, Black is for Beginnings. Stolarz is also the author of the Touch series (Deadly Little Secret, Deadly Little Lies, Deadly Little Games, Deadly Little Voices, and Deadly Little Lessons,) as well as Bleed and Project 17. With more than two million books sold worldwide, Stolarz’s titles have been named on various awards list.

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Review: “The Never Tilting World” by Rin Chupeco

The Never Tilting World
Title: The Never Tilting World
Series: Never Tilting World #1
Author: Rin Chupeco
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
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 provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Two young goddesses try to right a world gone wrong in Rin Chupeco’s newest fantasy duology The Never Tilting World.

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by unrelenting sun.
While one sister rules Aranth – a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wrecked sea – her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.
But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses – along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and mouthy desert scavenger – set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands.

“A demoness is what men call a goddess they cannot control.”

A strong opening for a strong story, The Never Tilting World blew me away. From the amazing world-building down to all the carefully laid out plot twists, this book had everything I wanted and more. It entertained and made me think: about sisters and that invisible thread connecting them, about power and sacrifice, and of the broken world handed down to us and what we could do to heal it.

Rin Chupeco’s writing really shone through in this book.

With details so vividly described they’re almost tangible, this story’s world-building is just something else. The idea of a world that has stopped spinning, split in two by a great unknowable abyss was a fresh one to me. The two halves – one veiled in the darkness of a never-ending night frozen and battered by tempestuous storms, the other languishing under the heat of a set that never sets – and the element-based magic system reminded me a bit of The Avatar: The Last Airbender and Mad Max.

Having multiple point-of-view characters can be a tough thing to work with. Sometimes it works, others it doesn’t. For TNTW though, it’s the latter. In fact, I think, it’s the best way to tell this particular story.

The two halves of the split world setting of this world is a huge ground to cover. Each side’s widely (and wildly) differing natures create an equally diverse set of challenges for everyone in this book. Chupeco, however, used her characters effectively and maximized the use of the first-person narrative. The four POV characters – Odessa and Lan, Haidee and Arjun – give readers a complete and comprehensive view of the story’s world all while moving the plot.

I must admit, for the first 20% of the book I felt kind of overwhelmed. There were a lot of foundational parts of the world-building thrown in with the narrative in the opening part and it was a sensory overload. Processing and separating the plot while trying to get a feel of what the world looked like and how it functioned became a task. Once things start gelling together though, everything just flowed and those bits laid out at the beginning of the book made a whole lot of sense. Plot twists (especially that ONE involving a supporting character) were deftly foreshadowed without sinking down the surprise factor. This is actually one of the first books I’ve read in a while that I wasn’t able to predict how things will go, and I was all the better for it.

The main characters were a treat to read about. They all have distinct voices and unique personalities, making them easy to tell apart. I enjoyed reading about them – Arjun more than most because he’s just hilarious even when he’s not trying. But, as fun as following their journeys through their world and, in turn, watching them grow as characters, I wasn’t able to really personally connect with any of them. This is not something necessarily bad, it’s just a matter of different experiences. Nevertheless, this difference did not stop me from rooting for all four MCs to succeed (or stay alive and unharmed.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It’s an epic adventure featuring young characters who are willing to take on the challenge of righting the wrongs of those who came before them – to break the cycle. It tackles climate change in all its harshness and destruction, but it still carries with it a hopeful note.

The Never Tilting World is a great start to a new series. It tied off a handful of the plot threads it pulled in but left enough to give the sequel a comfortable starting point. I definitely have a number of questions I want to be answered (What exactly did Asteria and Latona do?) and you can be sure that the moment the next installment hits the shelves, I will be making a grab for it. This is a must-read!

about the author

Rin Chupeco

Raised in Manila, Philippines, RIN CHUPECO writes about ghosts and fantastic worlds. She is the author of The Bone Witch series, The Suffering, and The Girl from the Well.

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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.

A Treason of Thorns 3

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.

A Treason of Thorns 1

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.

A Treason of Thorns 2

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.

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Win signed copies of Laura E. Weymouth’s book: The Light Between Worlds and A Treason of Thorns (US/CAN only)

Giveaway ends 24th September.

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Review: “The Merciful Crow” by Margaret Owen

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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.

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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.

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