BOOK REVIEW: Ruinsong, by Julia Ember

BOOK REVIEW: Ruinsong, by Julia EmberTitle: Ruinsong by Julia Ember
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Published: November 24th, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In Julia Ember's dark and lush LGBTQ+ romantic fantasy Ruinsong, two young women from rival factions must work together to reunite their country, as they wrestle with their feelings for each other.

Her voice was her prison…Now it’s her weapon.

In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence has been forced to torture her country's disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen's bidding.

But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen’s footsteps and become a monster herself.

Ruinsong is a YA fantasy in which the voice is a central part of the magic system. I’m not familiar at all with The Phantom of the Opera, but apparently this is being marketed as a queer The Phantom of the Opera retelling. However, I wanted to read it because it’s sapphic fantasy and that cover is amazing.

Cadence is a mage who has been forced to use her voice to torture her country’s nobility at the queen’s bidding to make them compliant. When she and her family are discovered to be part of the rebellion, Remi is imprisoned and discovers that her childhood friend, Cadence, is no longer the person she remembers. Remi’s return helps Cadence find her voice (literally and figuratively) underneath the ruthless, power-hungry queen’s gaze, and they both navigate the more conservative nobility’s society compared to the more open outlook of the rebellion.

I enjoyed reading this! I don’t think the concepts of the novel were anything new or revolutionary, but it was well done for what it was and I loved the main characters a lot. The magic system is the most developed part of the world-building, but with the power of the voice being such a central theme to the story, I didn’t mind that I didn’t know much about the world in which they inhabited outside of the palace because I think I would have felt that knowing much more would have been too much. All I know is that I would have devoured this even more fifteen years ago, and I’m so glad that readers younger than me have the opportunity to read a fantasy book like this, with wlw, fancy dresses, high stakes, and learning how to harness one’s voice for the right thing, no matter how difficult it seems to be.

Many thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

FIRST LINES FRIDAY: Cemetery Boys, by Aidan Thomas

Hello, Friday! First Lines Friday is a feature on my blog in which I post the first lines from a book I am interested in reading, either a new release or a backlist title! For the rest of the year, I’m going to feature books by non-white writers, partially because I just did a whole list of classics by a majority of white writers and partially because I am continually focusing on purchasing and reading books by non-white writers for a whole list of reasons. The books featured will range from “classics” to adult fiction to YA/middle grade fiction, and these are all I’ve had on my shelf for a bit that I want to read by the end of this year or within the first few months of 2021! I can’t believe it’s basically the middle of November already, but time flies when you’re in the middle of a stress-bomb called COVID-19. Stay safe, stay home, wear a mask!

Yadriel wasn’t technically trespassing because he’d lived in the cemetery his whole life. But breaking into the church was definitely crossing the moral-ambiguity line.

Still, if he was going to finally prove he was a brujo, he had to perform the rite in front of Lady Death.

And she was waiting for him inside the church.

The black Hydro Flask full of chicken blood thumped against Yadriel’s hip as he snuck past his family’s small house at the front of the cemetery. The rest of the supplies for the ceremony were tucked away inside his backpack. He and his cousin Maritza ducked under the front windows, careful not to bump their heads on the sills. Silhouettes of the brujx celebrating inside danced across the curtains. Their laughter and the sound of music filtered through the graveyard. Yadriel paused, crouching in the shadows to check the coast was clear before he jumped from the porch and took off. Maritza followed close behind, her footsteps echoing in tandem with Yadriel’s as they ran down stone paths and through puddles.

Adrian Thomas’s Cemetery Boys has been buzzy in my neck of the book internet, and the premise intrigued me from the get-go. Thankfully my store got copies on release day so I could buy it, and I wanted to read it around Halloween but life took a different turn than I was expecting with the death of my cat and work getting busier/more stressful. But after reading the first few pages in preparation for this post, I definitely am bumping it up to the top of my TBR because it already sounds so good and perfectly spooky.

BOOK REVIEW: Bonds of Brass, by Emily Skrutskie

BOOK REVIEW: Bonds of Brass, by Emily SkrutskieTitle: Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie
Series: The Bloodright Trilogy #1
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A young pilot risks everything to save his best friend--the man he trusts most and might even love--only to learn that he's secretly the heir to a brutal galactic empire.

Ettian Nassun's life was shattered when the merciless Umber Empire invaded. He's spent seven years putting himself back together under its rule, joining an Umber military academy and becoming the best pilot in his class. Even better, he's met Gal Veres--his exasperating and infuriatingly enticing roommate who's made the Academy feel like a new home.

But when dozens of classmates spring an assassination plot on Gal, a devastating secret comes to light: Gal is the heir to the Umber Empire. Ettian barely manages to save his best friend and flee the compromised Academy unscathed, rattled both that Gal stands to inherit the empire that broke him and that there are still people willing to fight back against Umber rule. As they piece together a way to deliver Gal safely to his throne, Ettian finds himself torn in half by an impossible choice. Does he save the man who's won his heart and trust that Gal's goodness could transform the empire? Or does he throw his lot in with the brewing rebellion and fight to take back what's rightfully theirs?

One of the things I love about Emily Skrutskie’s work (and I have only read two of hers, and now obviously need to fix this) is that she makes you immediately care about the characters and throws you right into the action without feeling as if you’re missing any information. Bonds of Brass plays with familiar sci-fi and romance tropes (big galactic empire heirs, omg they were roommates) while breathing new life into them all while taking you on a wild space chase through the galaxy. It also throws a handful of references to those of us who like a particular Star Wars ship, and it felt like Skrutskie said, if Star Wars won’t do it, I will. And she did.

The book opens with Ettian defending Gal, his roommate, from an attack from schoolmates; and after this, Ettian begins to struggle reconciling the truth about Gal’s identity, his feelings for his roommate, and the status of the galaxy at large. Gal’s the heir to the Umber Empire, the very same empire that shattered Ettian’s home, the capital city of the former Archon Empire. During their escape, Ettian and Gal meet Wen, a scrappy scavenger, who reveals that an Archon resistance exists, and she might be the only way for either of them to get home, wherever that home might be.

Without revealing any spoilers, the last third of this book is incredibly action-packed and a complete free fall of revelations that shift everything you as the reader knew about Ettian and Gal and the empires to which they belonged, and the final reveal occurs at the end of the book that will leave you desperate for the sequel. I can’t wait to see how each character continues to come to terms with the annihilation and violence the empires have wrought and to see how the relationships among all of the characters develop. Overall, this is a fun sci-fi title that makes you feel things.

When I first heard about this book, I was certain it was marketed as YA, but it’s published by an adult imprint. This first installment does read a little bit like YA, so it’s definitely a crossover, but I’m hoping with the rest of the trilogy, Skrutskie takes it as far as she’s able to really explore the depths this galaxy has to offer.

Thank you to Del Rey for the giveaway and the advance copy to read!

BOOK REVIEW: The Guinevere Deception, by Kiersten White

BOOK REVIEW: The Guinevere Deception, by Kiersten WhiteTitle: The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
Series: Camelot Rising #1
Published by Delacorte Press
Published: November 5th 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

There is nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom's borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution -- send in Guinevere to be Arthur's wife... and his protector from those who want to see the young king's idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere's real name -- and her true identity -- is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old -- including Arthur's own family -- demand things continue as they have been, and the new -- those drawn by the dream of Camelot -- fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur's knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a new fantasy series reimagining the Arthurian legend, set in the magical world of Camelot.

I’ve always loved King Arthur, it’s mythologies, and all of the various takes on the lore, but Kiersten White’s The Guinevere Deception blew me away. It had been so long since I’ve read anything King Arthur, and I was really excited when I got approved for this ARC from Netgalley.

The story opens with Guinevere arriving to Camelot before her marriage, unsure of herself and her future position in King Arthur’s court, and it’s soon revealed that Guinevere is not who she seems, not even to herself. She has been sent to protect King Arthur rather than merely be a bride sent from a royal family. Throughout the course of the story, Guinevere balances learning about her past and her realities while also getting to know the court in which she lives and the people with whom she is surrounded.

I absolutely love the duality of Guinevere’s character and thought that the struggles she faced while in the midst of all sorts of discovery were true to herself. The supporting case of characters were well-developed, had incredible range and depth, and delighted and surprised me at every turn. The first part of the book did feel a little slow, but since this is the set-up to what I hope is at least a trilogy, I did find it necessary. There’s a lot of ground to cover when reinventing a familiar story, and by the last half of the book, I was completely hooked and didn’t want this to end. I don’t want to spoil anything, but of all the supporting characters, I think Lancelot is my favorite and I’m so excited to see what White does with this character in the context of the familiar stories.

This is one of my favorite reads of the year, and not just YA reads, just because it was so much fun and so inventive on so many levels. I’ve never read White before, but I’ve had the physical ARC for her Frankenstein retelling and the first of another series on my kindle for a while, so I’m definitely bumping those up on my TBR because I enjoyed this so much.

Read this if you enjoy fantasy and/or King Arthur revisits, because this checked off so many boxes for me and I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since I read it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Delacorte for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Magic For Liars, Sarah Gailey

BOOK REVIEW: Magic For Liars, Sarah GaileyTitle: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Published by Tor Books
Published: June 4th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Sharp, mainstream fantasy meets compelling thrills of investigative noir in this fantasy debut by rising star Sarah Gailey.

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It's a great life and she doesn't wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

What do you get when you mix the styles of Agatha Christie, throwbacks to magical boarding schools à la Harry Potter, but set in California? You get Sarah Gailey’s Magic For Liars, a murder mystery set in and around a magical boarding school in central California! I really enjoyed this one, and I knew I would because I enjoyed Gailey’s River of Teeth novella duology released by tor.com in the last few years.

Magic For Liars weaves its way in and out of Ivy Gamble’s involvement in solving a murder at the school at which her twin sister Tabitha teaches. In the process of solving the whodunnit, Ivy has to face and come to terms with her own nonmagical abilities, something she’s been struggling with her entire life. She finds herself imagining the person she is to the person she could have been with magical abilities, and she has the opportunity to see who might have been had she been born with magical abilities.

Tie in this self-discovery and murder with other magical students, rumors of a chosen one, and familial relationship struggles, and Magic For Liars becomes a fully-fledged novel that has lingered with me since I finished it. I really enjoyed the fresh-noir feeling of the writing, the magic system and how gruesome and cruel magic could be, and all of the little references and throwbacks to popular mystery series and Harry Potter.

Like magic, mystery, murder, relationships between sisters, magical theories and conspiracies? Read this delight of a novel. It’s out June 4.

Many thanks to Tor for a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.