Title: To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Published: March 6th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Alexandra Christo’s To Kill a Kingdom scratched the itch I had for sea stories focusing on mermaids and sirens and pirates and ships, and I loved it! Sometimes the banter felt a little cheesy, but in the scope of the novel, the dialogue helped maintain a balance with the murderous aspect of the sirens because without the banter, this would be a pretty gruesome book!
Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.
The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?
I love mermaid/siren stories, and I especially love when the familiar stories are reinvented and reinvented well. Each of the places explored seemed incredibly real and memorable, and Lira’s adjustment from living in the cold sea waters as the Princes’ Bane to living above the sea in the care of the prince known to kill sirens was masterfully explored. The worldbuilding felt believable, and I never once felt overwhelmed or underwhelmed by the level of detail. If anything, I found myself wanting to read more of the characters, especially Lila and Elian. They were vicious and violent with soft sides that came out as they got to know each other.
Lila and Elian’s rivalry that turns into something more by the end kept me turning pages. The barbs they threw at each other that eventually developed into something deeper is part of the enemies-to-lovers slow burn trope I live for. Sometimes a physical transformation can lead to emotional realizations that you don’t consider in your previous form. Especially when it comes to your past life, your past self, and the ideals you held before circumstances showed you a different way of life. And Elian’s compass of truth? I want to see more of that.
All in all, this was a fantastic YA fantasy that fulfilled all of my expectations and then some.
After a week of spotty internet and moving house with my mom, I’m finally in a place where I can update my blog more regularly! Woohoo! All summer, I’ve been wanting to focus more on my blog, but between my move and all of the stress and busy-ness associated with it, it’s been difficult to find time to sit down and write. Reading is easy when you’re in bed at night and in the morning, but for me, writing requires a little more “me” time. Now that everything is out of the old house and into the new, I’m ready to get back on track and work out a posting schedule that works for me! What would you like to see more of?
Title: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross
Published by Berkley
Published: February 12th 2019
Format: Trade Paper
A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast's side of the story at long last.
I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.
I am the Beast.
The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.
My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.
My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.
And now I might lose her forever.
Lose yourself in this gorgeously rich and magical retelling of The Beauty and the Beast that finally lays bare the beast's heart.
It feels like it’s been forever since a I read a fairy tale retelling that was set in its traditional time period. The Beast’s Heart
is a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in 17th century France that evokes a lot of the style and magic of what I associate with the fairy tale. Shallcross manages to retell a familiar tale set in a familiar landscape and somehow make it entirely infused with a fresh magic. This retelling is told from the Beast’s perspective, and Shallcross does a fantastic job of letting us into the mind of the beast, showing us the arrogance and the assumptions that the young woman should
love him just because he saved her. She shows his growth from “the beast” to “the prince” in a sympathetic and true way, and I liked seeing the Beast’s growth from his own perspective.
While this does stay true to the original tales, as I get older, I realize and recognize some of the weird behaviors that are often swept aside for the romance. As someone in her 30s now, I do find it generally off-putting for men to continually ask someone else out even after she’s said no, find non-consensual voyeurism strange, and think that the whole “woe is me, please love me I’m alone” deal to be tired. You’ll find all of this in the book, and on one hand it is grating and off-putting. I found myself thinking “just leave her alone!” several times when the Beast kept making his advances. I thought some of the scenes where the Beast was watching Isabeau and her family through his magic mirror to add a depth to the story, but there were times he watched Isabeau for the sake of watching her (and in one scene watching her undress). The Beast also bemoans his lack of humanity and the horrors of his beast self, and the consistency with which that happens gets old after a while. But there are people out there in the world who behave this way, and the Beast does come to his senses, matures, and begin reversing a lot of those thoughts and behaviors by the book’s end.
I thought the descriptions of the chateau and its surroundings were beautiful, the dialogue is sparkling, and the pacing is just right for a story like this. It reminded me a lot of the fairy tale retellings I read ages ago by Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, and Gail Carson Levine, so it left me with good feelings by the end.
Title: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Published by Angry Robot
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
It has been as long as it takes to tell a tale, neither long nor short.
Catherine Helstone's brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon - but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.
If you found yourself wanting something more in the same vein as Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, wait no more. Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun expertly weaves fantasy, the Gothic, academia, and religion in this compelling novel about missionaries to Arcadia, the land of the Fae.
The story explores a lot of the conventions and repressions of the times and of Gothic tropes (it’s got that weird castle with hidden passage ways, clever uses of light, and the madwoman down below); delves into folklore, fairy tales, and the Fae; and manages to make you think about how we view those ideas, concepts, and social constructs if you’re familiar with them. The story also manages to twist and invert all of that and make it very new, something that I think can be difficult to do well and Ng makes it look effortless.
I loved the inclusion of documents at the beginning of each chapter and spread throughout to ground the story in its own reality and explore the beliefs of Catherine and Leon. The narrative moves in such a way that you, as a reader, begin to question everything, especially once Queen Mab makes her appearance and throws everything for a loop. As we are experiencing all of this through Catherine’s eyes, once the veil is lifted, all we can do is experience the horror and awe as truths come to light.
Under the Pendulum Sun is dark, twisted, and well-executed, and it’s a debut. There was much failing and ahhhhh-ing from me while reading it. If you are already interested in Gothic literature, religion and its functions in society, the taboo, the Fae, you’ll want to read this. You won’t want to put it down once you’ve started, and you’ll be thinking about Arcadia long after you turn the final page.
Thank you to Angry Robot and Netgalley for an advance reader’s copy! All opinions are my own.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme thing hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is best reads (so far) of 2017! As of writing this post, I’ve read 65 books this year, and here are the ten that I think absolutely shone. Some were released this year, but not all of them! These are also not in any kind of order!
- The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher. I think, like a lot of people, I regret not having read any of Carrie Fisher’s writing before her death. This memoir is one of the funniest memoirs I’ve read in a while, and she writes with an openness and a frankness I someday aspire to have.
- Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. It’s Gaiman. It’s Norse mythology.
- The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. A really lovely, atmospheric fairy tale with bits of Russian and Western fairy tale essences woven in. I’m really excited for the followup because so much excitement of the story seemed to happen in the last third.
- Moby-Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville. Uh, if you would have told me a couple of years ago that Moby-Dick would become one of my top favorite novels of all time, I might have laughed in your face. But seriously, my dudes. This is a classic case of learning about the history surrounding a novel and then diving into it, because it makes the experience all the richer. I devoured this monstrous beast of a novel in mere days. DAYS.
- The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. So heartbreaking, so touching, so relevant. I’ve been telling everyone to read this book.
- The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley. I pitch this to people who are looking for new science fiction to read like this: Do you like military-esque, dramatic sci-fi? Do you like weird sci-fi? Do you like gross sci-fi? How do you feel about womb-punk? (What? they often ask.) I respond with a: this book is like a birth-is-war and war-is-birth kind of thing. I generally get one of two responses: I’M SOLD OMG and YOU READ SOME WEIRD SHIT, MEG. Read it, now.
- The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu. THIS JUST WON A LOCUS AWARD and has a lot of other accolades. The stories range from fantasy to sci-fi and are all well written and full of life. It’s just a good anthology, period.
- The Whole Art of Detection, by Lyndsay Faye. I don’t think I can stop babbling about this or thinking about this collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. They’re just so well done and evoke Doyle’s atmosphere so well while at the same time being fresh and modern. I’ll read anything Faye writes, and she’ll always be at the top of my recommendations lists.
- Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer. Flying bears? A blobby, morphing person-thing? Examinations on what it means to be a person? Yes, yes, yes. This feels like an Atwood extension that’s thoroughly VanderMeer’s stuff. If you’ve read his Southern Reach trilogy and liked it, why haven’t you picked this up yet? It’s dystopian, but it’s not an in-your-face one. Everything is centralized, and the characters are so well developed.
- Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen. THIS ONE CAME OUT OF NOWHERE?? I’ve seen lots of writers I like mention this and blurb for it, so when it was a Kindle daily deal, I bought it. I didn’t start reading it until a bit later, and it was everything I needed at that moment: a protagonist dealing with gender identity and expression, the old west, MONSTERS and creepy things, AH so many things that I’ll get into in a proper review soon.
THIS CONCLUDES THE TEN. I’m thinking I’ll do a ten best for the second half of the year and then do a final post narrowing those twenty down to the overall best ten of 2017!
Have you read any of these?
Title: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey
Published: January 10th 2017
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale
is a superbly magical fairy tale inspired by Russian folklore. The story is lyrical and engaging, and even though I’m not a reader who is familiar with Russian fairy tales and folklore, so much of it seems both familiar and strange that I felt like this story has both been part of that fairy tale lexicon of sorts and wholly new all at the same time. I love it when a writer weaves together the old and the new to make a new effortless-feeling tale that lingers in the mind long after the book ends.
Vasya, the main character, is lively and complicated, as fairy tale heroines often tend to be. Arden’s villains are nuanced and complex, making you think that perhaps villainy is only a construct of our perspectives rather than a factual thing. The atmosphere feels like a chilly Russian wilderness, and its distant enough in time and distance to be all the more enchanting.
And, like many traditional, “original,” fairy tales, The Bear and the Nightingale is beautiful and terrifying in a very Neil Gaiman-esque sort of way, and I love the sort of terror that sneaks up on you and faces you full-on, making you come to terms with the terror of your own reality in contrast to this fairy tale one.
If you are a fan of Erin Morgenstern and Neil Gaiman and enjoy reading terrifically beautiful fairy tales, this is one you need to add to your TBRs immediately!
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine for a review copy!