Title: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig
Series: The Shepherd King #1
Published by Orbit
Published: September 27, 2022
Format: Trade Paper
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Elspeth needs a monster. The monster might be her.
Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom of Blunder—she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets.
But nothing comes for free, especially magic.
When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. And the highwayman? He just so happens to be the King’s nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.
Together they must gather twelve Providence Cards—the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.
Rachel Gillig’s One Dark Window is a fantasy series opener of a kingdom in which a dark magic is spreading like an infection. Magic in this realm is facilitated by Providence Cards, in the vein of tarot cards, and the magic has a price. These Providence Cards were created by an ancient king with magic bestowed upon him by a primeval forest spirit, and this magic caused a rift with the spirit, who in turn cursed the realm with a foreboding mist that’s eating away at the realm’s lands and causing fevers in its people.
In order to stop this mist, twelve of the cards are needed to break the curse and one of them is missing. Elspeth, the main character, had the fever as a child and was possessed by the Nightmare, and, as a result, she has powers she does not know how to control.
I enjoyed the characters so much, especially the slow burn of a relationship between Elspeth and Ravyn and the banter between Elspeth and the Nightmare. The possession of the Nightmare in Elspeth reminded me a bit of Artemisa and the Revenant in Margaret Rogerson’s Vespertine (which was a surprising read for me, and has fully marked Rogerson as one of my favorite YA fantasy writers). The use of the Providence Cards in a dark fantasy setting threw me back to the Gamecube game Lost Kingdoms in which a dark fog begins to consume a kingdom and the character uses magic cards to summon spirits and monsters. It’s not a game many I know seem to remember, but it was one of my favorites that I rented several times over (I could never find a copy that was affordable to me at the time)!
This is a lush, dark fantasy debut that hints at what’s to come while offering an engaging and romantic story that left me ready for the sequel!!
Title: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: August 5th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Fantasy
Format: Trade Paper
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Yangsze Choo’s stunning debut, The Ghost Bride, is a startlingly original novel infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, and unexpected supernatural twists, reminiscent of Lisa See’s Peony in Love and Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter.
Li Lan, the daughter of a respectable Chinese family in colonial Malaysia, hopes for a favorable marriage, but her father has lost his fortune, and she has few suitors. Instead, the wealthy Lim family urges her to become a “ghost bride” for their son, who has recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at what price? Night after night, Li Lan is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, where she must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family.
I started my spooky season reads a little early this year, and The Ghost Bride
is one of those I’ve had on my shelves for a while that I picked out to round out some personal challenges this year.
I chose The Ghost Bride for my challenges because it has been on my shelves for a while, and it got a little bit of buzz when it was released and around the time Choo’s second novel was released, and I am sometimes one of those people who like to read books by authors in publication order. On top of that, the concept of Li Lan having to solve a murder in Death highly appealed to me, especially as a first read of ‘spooky’ season.
What I loved most was the attention to world detail, especially as a non-Chinese reader unfamiliar with some aspects of Chinese/colonial Malaysia culture, and I felt completely engaged with the worlds of the living and the dead. The story itself was straightforward, and this is something that would be a great bridge from readers of YA to readers of adult fiction, as thematically, I see a lot of the same themes and concepts in YA, but in Choo’s novel, the storytelling, language, and characters are a bit more elevated and complex. The villains are believable and not fully evil, the main character grows and shifts her perspective on ghost brides, marriage, and her role in her life and in her family’s life.
Overall, I enjoyed it! I thought it dragged a bit in the middle with repetitive narrative plots, but the resolution was satisfying and I don’t feel like I was missing anything from the story once it had finished. I’ll also be checking out the series on Netflix as well! I hadn’t realized the series was a thing until I unpacked a book at work with the Netflix sticker on the cover. If you want a bit of non-Western historical fiction with a spooky twist, look into this one!
Today’s Little List of Reviews features three historical romances that I’ve recently read! All three are new to me authors, and two series I will continue with and one I will not!
Title: Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallory
Series: All the King's Men #1
Published by Forever
Published: July 1st 2009
Format: Mass Market
FEARLESS IN BATTLE
His surcoat still bloody from battle, William FitzAlan comes to claim the strategic borderlands granted to him by the king. One last prize awaits him at the castle gates: the lovely Lady Catherine Rayburn.
TENDER IN BED
Catherine risked everything to spy for the crown. Her reward? Her lands are declared forfeit and she is given this choice: marry FitzAlan or be taken to the Tower. Catherine agrees to give her handsome new husband her body, but she's keeping secrets, and dare not give him her heart. As passion ignites and danger closes in, Catherine and William must learn to trust in each other to save their marriage, their land, and their very lives.
I had an omnibus of the first two in this series, but I decided I liked the original covers and I don’t think the third book was going to be released in the newer format, and I’m a completionist. So. I enjoyed this for the most part. I think it was more due to the setting and the history involved with the medieval setting than the actual characters themselves. The heroine was true to form, discovering herself after being married to a terrible man who held no regard for her. But the hero got annoying after a while. Like yes, you’re a decent person for not forcing yourself on her, but he kept complaining about the heroine’s trauma repeatedly, and it got tiresome after a while. Overall, I’m going to continue the series and hope the heroes get better in the subsequent titles!
Title: Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #1
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Published: August 1st 2010
A man controlled by his desires . . .
Infamous for his wild, sensual needs, Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching for a savage killer in St. Giles, London's most notorious slum. Widowed Temperance Dews knows St. Giles like the back of her hand-she's spent a lifetime caring for its inhabitants at the foundling home her family established. Now that home is at risk . . .
A woman haunted by her past . . .
Caire makes a simple offer-in return for Temperance's help navigating the perilous alleys of St. Giles, he will introduce her to London's high society so that she can find a benefactor for the home. But Temperance may not be the innocent she seems, and what begins as cold calculation soon falls prey to a passion that neither can control-one that may well destroy them both.
A bargain neither could refuse.
I didn’t really care for this one. I liked the heroine and her work the most and that she felt torn toward duty and her desires, but like…………… so much of this was over the top for me, even for a historical romance. I don’t know what it was, honestly. I kept reading it though, I enjoyed the writing itself, but the story wasn’t for me. The hero was pretty terrible to the heroine and never makes any effort to forgive himself towards her for it. There was also a buildup to bondage but nothing was ever fully committed to on the page, so it’s teasing but in the not fun way?? I don’t think this series is for me either, because I read the first couple of chapters from the second in the Maiden Lane series and didn’t like where the story was going to go. I have another first book in a series by Hoyt, so I’ll give that one a go soon to see if it’s just me with this particular series or if it’s the author I don’t mesh with.
Title: Never Kiss a Duke by Megan Frampton
Series: Hazards of Dukes #1
Published by Avon
Published: January 28th 2020
Format: Mass Market
A disinherited duke and a former lady are courting much more than business in the first novel in Megan Frampton's newest titillating series, Hazards of Dukes.
Everything he had ever known was a lie…
Sebastian, Duke of Hasford, has a title, wealth, privilege, and plenty of rakish charm. Until he discovers the only thing that truly belongs to him is his charm. An accident of birth has turned him into plain Mr. de Silva. Now, Sebastian is flummoxed as to what to do with his life—until he stumbles into a gambling den owned by Miss Ivy, a most fascinating young lady, who hires him on the spot. Working with a boss has never seemed so enticing.
Everything tells her he’s a risk she has to take
Two years ago, Ivy gambled everything that was precious to her—and won. Now the owner of London's most intriguing gambling house, Ivy is competent, assured, and measured. Until she meets Mr. de Silva, who stirs feelings she didn't realize she had. Can she keep her composure around her newest employee?
They vow to keep their partnership strictly business, but just one kiss makes them realize that with each passing day—and night—it becomes clear to them both that there's nothing as tempting as what is forbidden…
While I liked this one, liked the characters, liked the writing, nothing much happened
. This was definitely the set up to the series, had a lot of supporting characters that I’m looking forward to reading about in the rest of the series, and Frampton’s writing is engaging! The chemistry between the hero and heroine was believable and sparkling, but aside from the development of themselves and their relationship, the heroine hires the hero to work in her gaming den, they fall in love, the hero finds out some things about being and not being a duke, and it’s a happy ending. I’m not sure I’ll purchase the rest of the books aside from the fourth I bought thinking it was part of a new series, but I’ll definitely read them from my library!!
Title: Malice by Heather Walter
Series: Malice Duology #1
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: April 13th 2021
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
A princess isn’t supposed to fall for an evil sorceress. But in this darkly magical retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” true love is more than a simple fairy tale.
Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.
You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.
Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.
Until I met her.
Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.
But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.
Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—
I am the villain.
Sleeping Beauty is probably one of my favorite fairy tales, especially when the tropes are explored and subverted, and the second I heard about Malice
I knew I needed to read this. It was everything I hoped for!
Malice deftly weaves the familiar and the new, setting up the familiar Sleeping Beauty tropes while fleshing out the fantasy world in which Alyce and Aurora live because the history, politics, and landscape add so much to the story. Alyce is a Dark Grace, assisting the palace and its courtiers with her skills, when she meets Aurora and her world begins to shift. Alyce’s struggle with her true self and wanting to fit in add so much depth, and I loved that her identity scared even herself. It ties in so much with the feeling of being queer, that society tends to tell us we’re wrong for being who we are or that it’s evil. This is the first half of a duology, so there’s a lot left to be discovered in Alyce’s true self and how much of a villain she becomes later on, but I hope that it’s explored more and that she learns more about her own history.
The romance between Alyce and Aurora is so layered, and I hope there’s a lot more buildup and exploration of their romance in the second book. So much of this first one felt like an introduction to the world and these characters that the last third of the book felt rushed, so I hope the second one develops more specifically with the characters now that we have this world set up for us to explore. Aurora is nothing like what we often expect from Sleeping Beauty retellings – a quiet, almost simple girl who has one set of desires and nothing else – because this Aurora is feisty, willing to fight for what she believes in, and questions everything. She also surprises Alyce by saying that she wants to be just like her, something Alyce never thought she’d hear anyone say. The romance in this feels natural and right, never forced (though sometimes a little insta-love, but it is a fairy tale after all), and it’s all I want out of a sapphic romance – fantasy with both fluff and depth.
Overall, I enjoyed this so much, from the characters to the worldbuilding, and I’m looking forward to the sequel and anything else Walter releases in the future!
Title: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien
Series: The Lord of the Rings #0
Published by Del Rey
Published: September 21, 1937
Format: Mass Market
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.
According to Goodreads, I hadn’t read The Hobbit
in eight years. EIGHT! I had been waffling for a few months about revisiting Tolkien’s stuff, and once I saw that it had been that long, I decided to start rereading! The Hobbit
is my least favorite part about The Lord of the Rings saga, but it also feels wrong to start reading The Lord of the Rings
without beginning with The Hobbit.
I think part of the reason it’s been so long in between rereads (I used to read it all at least once a year!) is that I have such a nostalgic view of it because it was a series I was obsessed with right around the time the movies were released. So after seeing how long it’s been since I’ve read them and seeing the films again in IMAX this year, it’s time for a journey back to Middle Earth.
It was everything I remembered it being, and I appreciated the story for what it was! It definitely reads like a children’s book in some places and feels a little over-told sometimes. I also tend to forget the huge gap in between the publication dates of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and it’s evident already as I’ve already started The Fellowship. Tolkien developed so much about Middle Earth that it’s astounding, and with all of these new covers and editions being released in 2020 and in the near future, I want to revisit as much of it as possible.
Bilbo is one of the most relatable fantasy characters to me, someone who only wants to stay undisturbed in his little hobbit hole with a few small adventures here and there, until Gandalf comes along and takes him on a real, true adventure. The whole adventure, Bilbo is “puzzled, yet cheered” and carries on no matter what happens to him. Even though he’s a grumpy hobbit, he’s a grumpy optimistic hobbit, and that sort of optimism helps get him untangled from the worst sorts of situations.
And Bilbo’s last riddle with Gollum certainly wasn’t a riddle.