BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow – E.K. Johnston

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow – E.K. JohnstonTitle: Star Wars: Queen's Shadow by E.K. Johnston
Published by Disney Lucasfilm Press
Published: March 5th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 345
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The end of her reign is just the beginning...

When Padmé Amidala steps down from her position as Queen of Naboo, she is ready to set aside her title and return to life outside of the spotlight. But to her surprise, the new queen asks Padmé to continue serving their people—this time in the Galactic Senate. Padmé is unsure about the new role but cannot turn down the request, especially since, thanks to her dearest friend—and decoy—Sabé, she can be in two places at once. So while Padmé plunges into politics, Sabé sets off on a mission dear to Padmé's heart.

On the glistening capital planet Coruscant, Padmé's new Senate colleagues regard her with curiosity—and with suspicion for her role in ousting the previous chancellor. Posing as a merchant on Tatooine, Sabé has fewer resources than she thought and fewer options than she needs.

Together with Padmé's loyal handmaidens, Padmé and Sabé must navigate treacherous politics, adapt to constantly changing landscapes, and forge a new identity beyond the queen's shadow.

I’ve fought evil, and it was easy: I shot it. It’s apathy I can’t stand.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out twenty years ago this month. That blows my mind, because I still remember when the promotional material started appearing everywhere and then finally seeing the movie and falling head over heels in love with Queen Amidala/Padmé Naberrie. I loved her character, her gowns, her handmaidens, and the way she was able to navigate her day to day life disguised as a handmaiden while her decoy Sabé assumed the persona of Queen Amidala.

Back then, I wanted to know more about Padmé, where she came from, and who she was behind the scenes. Over the years, there were a few things that were sprinkled into the Star Wars novels but not enough to fully satiate what I was wanting to see. Then comes E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow and it’s everything I’ve wanted for twenty years. And I only want more.

Queen’s Shadow is a quiet Star Wars novel, going behind the scenes and to the front lines of Padmé’s reign as queen and her time as senator. We’re able to see the connections between Episode I to Episode III from her perspective in a quietly tense, masterful way. You won’t see big battles on planets or in space, but you will get to see the heart and soul behind one of Star Wars’ most interesting characters. We also get to know Padmé’s handmaidens, and I was especially happy to see Sabé in this book.

I can’t really describe how I felt while reading this book, except that it was a good feeling and full of nostalgia. I was twelve when Episode I came out, and I was obsessed with Padmé’s costuming and character. I doodled her everywhere, I bought the dolls so I could marvel at the costumes in person and display them on my shelves (I still have them, too!). All I wanted was more of her from the movies and the extended universe, and it wasn’t until twenty years later that this wish was fulfilled. Queen’s Shadow is easily one of my favorite Star Wars novels of all time.

BOOK REVIEW: Evermore, by Sara Holland

BOOK REVIEW: Evermore, by Sara HollandTitle: Evermore by Sara Holland
Series: Everless #2
Published by HarperTeen
Published: December 31st 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

The highly anticipated sequel to New York Times bestseller, Everless!

Jules Ember was raised hearing legends of the ancient magic of the wicked Alchemist and the good Sorceress. But she has just learned the truth: not only are the stories true, but she herself is the Alchemist, and Caro—a woman who single-handedly murdered the Queen and Jules’s first love, Roan, in cold blood—is the Sorceress.

The whole kingdom believes that Jules is responsible for the murders, and a hefty bounty has been placed on her head. And Caro is intent on destroying Jules, who stole her heart twelve lifetimes ago. Jules must delve into the stories that she now recognizes are accounts of her own past. For it is only by piecing together the mysteries of her lives that Jules will be able to save the person who has captured her own heart in this one.

Evermore picks up not long after Everless ends, and while I read the first over a year ago, it wasn’t difficult to get back into Sara Holland’s world not having reread the first. I loved how the world building, magic system, and mythology were expanded upon and built to be so much more in the second, and it honestly made me wish there was at least one more book in this series just to flesh out the world that much more. The writing was just as lyrical and compelling in the sequel as it was in the first, and I absolutely enjoyed the twists and turns the sequel took after book one left off. Jules is fully fleshed out, having moments of brilliance and airheadedness throughout, and I thought that made her real to me and added a lot of dimension to the story. She is a young woman, after all, and I like it when writers choose to add that ‘young’ feeling to their characters without having them be ‘the best at everything.’

Evermore took a different turn than I was expecting, and I found myself completely enjoying the ride. In Everless, Liam is believed to be the villain throughout most of the book, and in Evermore we get to see a lot more of him. The romance in this duology is appropriate for the genre, and sometimes I found it a little too instalove, but overall, I like where Holland went with the character development with Jules and Liam, showing us as readers that there is often a lot more than meets the eye. Besides, I have a little soft spot for those fantasy antiheroes, and I always want more of them.

Overall, if you read Everless and enjoyed it, definitely finish out the duology. I thought it was a fitting ending even though I was left wanting more!

Thank you to the publisher and Glasstown Entertainment for sending me an e-galley to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Hullmetal Girls, by Emily Skrutskie

BOOK REVIEW: Hullmetal Girls, by Emily SkrutskieTitle: Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie
Published by Delacorte
Published: July 17th 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Goodreads

Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor's salary isn't enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she's from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha's and Key's paths collide, and the two must learn to work together--a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

Emily Skrutskie’s Hullmetal Girls is what I’ve been wanting to see from YA science fiction for what feels like forever! A lot of the “science fiction” YA books I’ve read in the last several years have been more science fantasy, or they’ve been shelved in the adult science fiction/fantasy section, which can keep titles out of view of their targeted audiences. And I’m happy to say that I absolutely LOVED Hullmetal Girls.

Emily calls it her “standalone sci-fi Battlestar/Pacific Rim/Sens8/Snowpiercer frolic affectionately known as Cyborg Space Jam” and in addition to loving the premise of it before, seeing her own blurb of it made me want to read it even more. It definitely lives up to that tagline, and I also can’t tell you how much I love that it’s a standalone. I sometimes feel a little burnt out on series, so knowing that this is it for these characters made me get that much more invested in the story.

Hullmetal Girls will make you think about bodies, about the role of bodies and physical forms in society versus what’s going on in your mind or someone else’s (or, daresay, a collective), and about challenges and consequences do to the spirit before, during, and after action or inaction. I loved that the cyborg aspect had a little bit of alien/artificial intelligence thrown in and that the body modifications ended up being more of a symbiosis kind of meld rather than the body merely being a host for the implants and modifications.

If you liked Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion (which, SPOILER ALERT, that’s one of my favorite science fiction books ever), Hullmetal Girls is something you need to add to your TBRs immediately because the styles and themes are very much riding on the same wavelengths. RIGHT NOW! Go preorder it! I’m buying myself a physical copy too!

Many thanks to Netgalley and Delacorte for the free review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Furyborn, by Claire Legrand

BOOK REVIEW: Furyborn, by Claire LegrandTitle: Furyborn by Claire Legrand
Series: The Empirium Trilogy #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire
Published: May 22nd 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 512
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Goodreads

Follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world...or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed...unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable--until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world--and of each other.

I think Claire Legrand’s Furyborn is going to be one of the biggest YA fantasy books of the summer. It’s full of magic, strong-willed young women, and nearly impossible challenges for each of them to overcome. The two main characters are connected to each other (and no spoilers!), but each of them live over a thousand years apart. For me, the idea behind this series is exciting, but I found that the execution of it is a little overwhelming. Connecting two characters across a span of a thousand years brings together two completely different stories told in alternating chapters.

Legend has it that two queens will possess extraordinary power. The Blood Queen will bring catastrophe and destruction to her reign; the Sun Queen will bring light and and salvation to her reign. Rielle, the prophesied powerful queen of a thousand years ago, is merely a legend to the bounty hunter Eliana. However, Eliana knows that she possesses extraordinary powers and struggles to keep her powers a secret from everyone else.

The things I loved most about this and hope will be explored more in the future books are the magic system and the history of what happened between Rielle and Eliana. I thought the initial world-building of the magic system and country engaging; I just wanted more! Rielle and Eliana are fairly well-developed, though sometimes I felt that their voices sounded too similar and had to remember which chapter I was reading (but considering their connection, I shouldn’t have been so thrown off by this!). The secondary characters really added to this story. I loved Simon and Ludivine the most, and loved the twists and connections they brought to the story.

Overall, this is an ambitious fantasy novel that will appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas and Erika Johansen! I gave it four stars for the pacing and the scope, but it’s almost a little too much. I think maybe this could have worked better if two books of the trilogy focused each Rielle and Eliana separately and the final book bringing their stories together, because this novel felt like a very long and divided set-up for the rest of the series.

A copy of this book was provided for review by Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire; all opinions are my own.

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley Reads

I have been terrible at keeping up with blog reviews ever since late last year, so I am playing catch-up now and make more of an effort! I felt like I was doing really well for a while, and then a whole bunch of things happened and my brain just kind of went blah and that was that. ANYWAY, onward to these short but sweet reviews.

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
Series: Lotus Kingdoms #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: October 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 367
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull is the start to a lush fantasy trilogy that felt a lot at times to be the fantasy counterpart to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness as it explores gender and identity against the backdrop of political intrigue and upheaval. I hadn’t realized it is the start to a sequel trilogy of a previous series of Bear’s. While I think that I probably could have benefited from being a little more familiar with the world before diving into this one, I don’t feel like I was alienated in any way from the enjoyment of The Stone and the Skull‘s story because this story is set several decades after the first trilogy. My only issue with the book was that it took too long for the heart of the story to really reveal itself. I was more than halfway through the book before I felt as if I could connect with almost any of the characters. My favorite characters, however, are the Gage and the Dead Man, so I’m looking forward to seeing how their story progresses in the rest of the trilogy!

Review copy provided by Netgalley/Tor; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Del Rey
Published: December 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 363
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

After I finished reading The Girl in the Tower, all I could think was wow, what an amazing followup, because much like The Bear and the Nightingale, Arden’s second title in the Winternight Trilogy satisfies some of the questions left at the end of the first book and leaves a lot of questions to be answered in the upcoming final book. The writing and atmosphere is both foreign and familiar, like a fairy tale you’ve only heard on the peripherals of the familiar stories we’ve grown up with. Arden expertly weaves and subverts those familiar fairy tale tropes while managing to make her tale fresh and exciting. After such a stunning followup to the already incredible The Bear and the Nightingale, I’ll certainly be picking up anything Arden writes in the future without any hesitation.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Del Rey; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood turned out to be everything I’ve been hoping for lately in recent YA fantasy. Dark fairy tales, believable characters, and all of those twists and turns to keep you glued to the page. This is a fairy tale about a mother-daughter bond and the strange, wild lengths one goes for family and truth. The major issue I had with this, though, was the pacing. The first half is a little slower-paced, allowing for us as the reader to get to know Alice and the world in which she leaves and the world she was told to avoid, but the last half had so much going on in it that I felt a lack of development for the Hinterlands. Knowing now that this is the first in a series, I’m hoping we get to see more of the Hinterlands in later stories because I wanted to know more! This is going to be perfect if true-to-the-source dark fairy tales are your thing and for those who enjoy a well-crafted YA fantasy.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Flatiron Books; all opinions are my own!