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
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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: “Incendiary” by Zoraida Córdova

Title: IncendiaryIncendiary - book cover
Series:
Hollow Crown #1
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content warning: Genocide, torture
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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Taking inspiration from Spanish Inquisition Spain, Zoraida Córdova’s duology starter is an ambitious work with love and war at its core.

I am Renata Convida.
I have lived a hundred stolen lives.
Now I live my own.

Renata Convida was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a memory thief, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata’s ability to steal memories from royal enemies enabled the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.

Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown and helping the remaining Moria escape the kingdom bent on their destruction. The Whispers may have rescued Renata from the palace years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred – or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she drained during he time in the palace.

When Dez, the commander of her unit – and the boy she’s grown to love – is taken captive by the notorious Príncipe Dorado, Renata must return to Andalucia and complete Dez’s top secret mission herself. Can she keep her cover, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.

But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the fate of the entire kingdom – and end the war that has cost her everything.

There are those rare stories that grip you, latch on to you from the first page until the last – those stories that make you stay up all night just so you could finish it. Incendiary is one of those rare stories.

Action-packed and so full of twists and turns from start to end, Incendiary sank its claws on me and dragged me on a trip to a volatile and dangerous world. I enjoyed this book so much. It has everything I ever wanted in a fantasy – magic, court intrigue, spycraft, and revenge – I ate it all up.

The story follows Renata Convida, a róbari – a memory thief – the rarest of the magic-wielding Moria. Kidnapped when she was a child and manipulated into being an instrument to hunt and persecute her own people by the cruel King Fernando and Justice Méndez, the leader of the King’s Justice, she was rescued by the Whispers. Now a young woman and a member of the rebel Moria group, Ren is dead set on destroying her former captors’ rule and to take back Memoria from her conquerors. But when Dez, her friend and love, is captured and executed by the Bloody Prince, Prince Castian, Renata is forced to go back the palace, to her enemies, to finish Dez’s last mission.

Incendiary Q4

Córdova takes on an ambitious work with this book, and it pays off.

Inspired by Spanish Inquisition Spain, this story’s world feels real and familiar in its brutality and its workings. The degradation of the subjugated peoples and the erasure of their way of life – their culture, traditions, religion – felt uncomfortably close especially to someone who is from a country with a long history of being colonized. I couldn’t help but see my own people in the Moria.

Incendiary is intricately plotted and heavily driven by this same element. At any given time, there are about two or three plot threads being explored in the same chapter. But, amazingly, it doesn’t overwhelm, coalescing and adding up instead to form a solid, formidable base for this whole series to stand on. It was fun trying to piece together stuff and try to figure out how things will go down, try being the operative word in that statement. It was, I think, the most enjoyable bit of this book for me.

Incendiary Q5

The magic system, while it could use some more elaboration, was another thing I loved about this book. The use of metals – gold for the illusionári, silver for the ventári, copper for persúari, and platinum for róbari – to amplify the magics of the Moria was an interesting detail and makes me wonder if alchemy will play a bigger role in the next book.

Córdova also did an awesome job creating intriguing characters you’d want to get to know and root for. Though, with this story being heavily plot-driven, the exploration these characters – Sayida, Margo, and Esteban, Lady Nuria and Leo, even the main trio of Ren, Dez, and Prince Castian – suffers a bit. It’s one of the things I wish will be remedied in the next book.

Incendiary Q2

Still, even with its flaws, Incendiary is a riveting story full of nail-biting action and intriguing politics. The conclusion of this first installment leaves a lot open for the next one to explore, and I, for one, am excited about it.about the author

author

ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA is the author of nine fantasy novels for kids and teens, most recently the award-winning Brooklyn Brujas series, Incendiary, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of ViewCome on In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. She is the co-editor of Vampires Never Get Old: Eleven Tales with Fresh Bite. Her debut middle grade novel is The Way to Rio Luna. She is the co-host of the podcast Deadline City with Dhonielle Clayton. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.

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Review: “The Seventh Sun” by Lani Forbes

Title: The Seventh Sun48088682
Series:
The Age of the Seventh Sun #1
Author: Lani Forbes
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content warning: Blood rituals, animal sacrifice, parental death
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 Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Lani Forbes explores the complexities of faith, religion, and tradition in the first book of her series inspired by Aztec mythology The Seventh Sun.

Thrust into leadership upon the death of his emperor father, young Prince Ahkin feels completely unready for his new position. Though his royal blood controls the power of the sun, he’s now responsible for the lives of all the Chicome people. And despite all Ahkin’s efforts, the sun is fading – and the end of the world may be at hand.

For Mayana, the only daughter of the Chicome family whose blood controls the power of water, the old emperor’s death may mean that she is next. Prince Ahkin must be married before he can ascend the throne, and Mayana is one of six noble daughters presented to him as a possible wife. Those whose are not chosen will be sacrificed to the gods.

Only one girl can become Ahkin’s bride. Mayana and Ahkin feel an immediate connection, but the gods themselves may be against them. Both recognize that the ancient rites of blood that keep the gods appeased may be harming the Chicome more than they help. As a bloodred comet and the fading sun bring a growing sense of dread, only two young people may hope to change their world.

To be honest, I didn’t quite know what this book was about when I first saw it on Edelweiss. I think my mind just zeroed in on Aztec mythology and, having not read many books inspired by Mesoamerican cultures, I requested it and luckily got approved for a review copy.

Well, folks, ya girl is super glad she took a chance.

The Seventh Sun was the nicest of surprises. Thrilling and romantic in equal parts, Lani Forbes weaved together a story about faith and tradition, and of two young people who must challenge everything they’ve ever known and believed in if they are to have hope of saving their people and the world.

There is much to love in this story. From the characters to the intricate plot, to the surprising and unexpected twist revealed near the end of this installment, The Seventh Sun is an engrossing and intriguing read.

The story follows Ahkin, heir to the Chicome empire, and Mayana, the only daughter of the noble family of Atl. With the sudden death of the emperor, both Ahkin’s and Mayana’s lives are altered: the former forced into leadership while the latter is sent to either be the new empress to rule by the prince’s side or as a sacrifice to the gods.

Ahkin and Mayana were a great match. Alike and different at the same time, their personalities and their beliefs complement one another’s. Introspective, untested, and still grieving the deaths of his parents Ahkin was unready and ill-prepared to be emperor but, with another apocalypse looming, he doesn’t have much of a choice. Curious, compassionate, and kind to a fault, Mayana is born into a world whose practices goes against the very core of her. She stands alone and without an ally in her corner of the empire, weighed down by guilt over her mother’s accidental death. Still, wanting to earn her father’s approval, she abides by the ancient rules and rites set upon her even as she starts to question them.

It took me a while but I grew to like both Ahkin and Mayana. These two were put through the grinder, and I just couldn’t help but feel for them. Despite the vast difference between our world and theirs, I was still able to relate to Ahkin and Mayana. They grappled with similar questions I’ve often asked myself – questions about faith, religion, and tradition, and about staying true to yourself and doing what your feel is right.

As good as Ahkin and Mayana were as main characters though, it is this story’s world that really shone the brightest.

Built upon various Mesoamerican cultures & mythology, The Seventh Sun featured a unique world, rich and lush from the very first page. Forbes mainly takes inspiration from Aztec mythology – the ancient gods and a great part of rituals and the religion depicted in the story – but she has also taken creative liberties where it is necessary, threading in inspiration from ancient Mayan and even Egyptian cultures. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t encountered a lot of books featuring the ancient cultures that this book did, but the world of this story was the part that I enjoyed the most. It just drew me in and into the pages, so intrigued by everything described – the food, the way of life of the Chicome – that I became even more engrossed reading and following Ahkin and Mayana’s stories.

While there are still a few things I wished were better – secondary characters lacked depth, a few action sequences felt like filler- I absolutely loved this book. It explored ancient myths and cultures that haven’t been featured on a lot of stories. I’m definitely coming back to this series next year once the sequel is out. I mean, you couldn’t possibly think I’d want to miss it not with the way this installment ended. Readers of YA fantasy and the romance genre will definitely find something to love in this book.

P.S. The author has a pronunciation guide on her website. You can check it out if you’re curious (and tongue-tied) as I was. And in that same vein, I highly encourage you to read more about ancient Mesoamerican cultures and myths. about the author

Lani ForbesLANI FORBES is the daughter of a librarian and an ex-drug smuggling surfer, which explains her passionate love of the ocean and books. A California native whose parents live in Mexico, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest where she stubbornly wears flip flops no matter how cold it gets. She teaches middle school math and science, and proudly calls herself a nerd and Gryffindor. She is also an award-winning member of Romance Writers of America and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

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Review: “Beyond the Shadowed Earth” by Joanna Ruth Meyer

book coverTitle: Beyond the Shadowed Earth
Series: Beneath the Haunting Sea #2
Author: Joanna Ruth Meyer
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Pre-order: 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.

Featuring morally gray characters and an intricate plot, Joanna Ruth Meyer’s companion novel to her 2018 debut Beneath the Haunting Sea is a complex tale about vengeance, guilt, and redemption.

It has always been Eda’s dream to become empress, no matter the cost. Haunted by her ambition and selfishness, she’s convinced that the only way to achieve her goal is to barter with the gods. But all requests come with a price and Eda bargains away the soul of her best friend in exchange for the crown

Years later, her hold on the empire begins to crumble and her best friend unexpectedly grows sick and dies. Gnawed by guilt and betrayal, Eda embarks on a harrowing journey to confront the very god who gave her the kingdom in the first place. However, she soon discovers that he’s trapped at the center of an otherworldly labyrinth and that her bargain with him is more complex than she ever could have imagined.

Though not without flaws, Beyond the Shadowed Earth was, overall, an enjoyable read. Set in the world of Meyer’s debut Beneath the Haunting Sea, this book was ambitious in its coverage; expanding on already established elements and exploring characters previously introduced.

The story focuses on book one’s antagonist, Eda. Intent on taking revenge on the baron who stole her inheritance, a grieving nine-year-old Eda makes a deal with the god Tuer: her life in his service in exchange for the crown. Bargaining with gods, however, are tricky transactions and when Eda fails to fulfill her end of it, she realizes, much too late, that the consequences are bigger than her.

BTSE 1 (2).png

I’m going to be honest. I had a hard time with this book. Yes, the plot was intriguing, and yes, the world building was well done. I loved and enjoyed both elements. I am, however, of two minds about its characters.

Eda, to say the least, is unlikable. She’s selfish, self-centered, naive, and vengeful. She is so blinded by her anger that it clouds her judgment. She bartered with a god, schemed and killed her way to get the crown. She is everything a villain is.

Being unlikeable, though, isn’t the reason why I have conflicting feelings about her.

BTSE 2 (1).png

All throughout the book, things happen to Eda – tough ones. She lost both of her parents at a very young age, was displaced and betrayed and used. Her best friend, the one person she truly cares for, is taken from her all while her hold on her empire slips, her barons making their own moves to grab whatever power they could. All these are meant and should have made me, at the very least, a little bit considerate if not totally empathetic towards her. But it was so difficult to connect with Eda. Her character was shallowly drawn and one-dimensional. There just wasn’t so much to her, no hidden depths. This also holds true for most of the supporting characters, which, for a character-driven story, is a big problem.

Setting my issues with character development aside, I still found many things to like in Beyond the Shadowed Earth.

The world building was exquisite. From its complicated politics to its intricate religion, Enduena was fully alive and I gladly immersed myself in it. The magical and almost mythical nine gods, the center of this story’s religion, was the most interesting part for me, and, admittedly, it was what kept me reading especially when Eda’s story wasn’t progressing much.

BTSE 3.png

Ultimately, even with its share of issues, Beyond the Shadowed Earth was a good read. The conclusion to Eda’s story was satisfying, open-ended enough but with clues that she’s on to the right path. This book is the second of the series, but could pretty much stand on its own. YA fantasy readers, especially the ones that love a good redemption arc will love this story.

about the authorJoanna Ruth Meyer

JOANNA RUTH MEYER hails from Mesa, Arizona, where she lives with her dear family, a rascally feline, and an enormous grand piano. When she’s not writing, she’s trying to convince her students that Bach is actually awesome, or plotting her escape from the desert. She loves good music, thick books, looseleaf tea, rainstorms, and staring out of windows. One day, she aspires to own an old Victorian house with creaky wooden floors and a tower (for writing in, of course!)

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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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