Category: Fiction

Sorcery of Thorns

Cover image for Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson by Margaret Rogerson

ISBN 9781481497619

“She would never dare give voice to such a thought aloud. The sentiment verged on betraying her oaths to the Great Library. But a part of her rebelled against the idea that in order to be a good apprentice, she should close her eyes and pretend she hadn’t seen. How could a warden defend against something they didn’t understand? Surely it was better to face evil than cower from its presence, learning nothing.”

As a child of the Great Libraries of Austermeer, orphaned Elisabeth Scrivener has been raised surrounded by the magical grimoires that house the arcane secrets of the kingdom. Since sorcery is only possible via demonic bargain, magic users are necessary to the security of the kingdom, but also suspect, and never to be trusted. Librarians and their apprentices, like Elisabeth, tightly control access to magical knowledge, and are responsible for containing and protecting the most dangerous books. Worse, if a grimoire is a damaged, it can transform into a violent Malefict, wreaking havoc until it is bound or destroyed. When a disaster at the Great Library of Summershall forces Elisabeth to ally with the taciturn young sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his demonic servant, the precepts of the Great Libraries are called into question, with the fate of Austermeer hanging in the balance.

In Sorcery of Thorns, Margaret Rogerson has created a tantalizing world, both filled with magic, and where magical knowledge is forbidden, with the practice of sorcery tightly controlled by law. But while sorcerers are dangerous, they are also powerful, and the checks and balances of power in such a world make for intriguing politics. Who gets access to knowledge, and who gets to decide? What have the old magical families kept in reserve, even after the Reforms that stripped them of the right to practice their craft freely? Elisabeth does not come from one of the old sorcery families; in fact, she has no family at all save for the Warden who chose to raise her in the Great Library. As a young, non-magical woman, she has very little power, and even less credibility, making her quest to discover what really happened at Summershall all the more difficult.

Fortunately, of course, Nathaniel Thorn has the power and prestige that Elisabeth lacks, though he has tried his best to remain aloof from the politics of Austermeer’s magical elite. With all his relatives dead, he has largely cut himself off from society as much as he can get away with while still serving his duty as a sorcerer to the crown. Elisabeth’s problem is to convince him to let down his walls, and forge an alliance with her, even as she is uncertain whether or not she should be trusting any sorcerer. Her circumstances leave her with little choice, but it is a constant tension that defines the course of the narrative. Keeping company with Nathaniel changes not only her idea of the world they live in, but her conception of herself and what she imagines for her future.

The third point of the triad at the heart of Sorcery of Thorns is Silas, the hereditary demon of the Thorn clan. The names of high demons are passed down from father to son, and when the father inevitably pays the price for his bargain, it is the duty of the son to recall the demon, and continue the family’s legacy and duty to the kingdom, whatever the personal cost. Demons are to be trusted even less than sorcerers, but something about Silas seems different from the other high demons Elisabeth encounters after she travels to the capital. However, the more time she spends with Nathaniel and Silas, the more she learns about the terrible price the Thorns have paid to keep him bound into their service over the centuries.

Sorcery of Thorns has not been billed as a series, and it contains a strong standalone plot that is concluded within the volume. The magical setting results in a thoroughly immersive reading experience, and Elisabeth’s stubbornness and curiosity make for a heroine who is inevitably going to push boundaries and ask hard questions as she outgrows the world of her childhood. Mix in some romance, action, and intrigue, and you have the recipe for a fascinating read.

You might also like Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Flamebringer (Heartstone #3)

Cover image for Flamebringer by Elle Katharine White by Elle Katharine White

ISBN 978-0-06-274798-3

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “You humans with your saints and heroes. Learn the truth as I did, both you and your husband: they will always disappoint you. If Alastair returns to Pendragon a wiser man for my honesty, then I will have done some good. It is all I have left to offer House Daired.”

Weary and disenchanted by their adventures in the north of Arle, Aliza, Alastair, and Akarra return south bearing a dire warning. Their old enemy Wydrick lives, ghast-ridden and merely the harbinger of a greater evil yet to come. Old things are stirring in Arle and abroad, and war is coming. The Silent King of Els is coming to Edonarle, even as the Tekari range ever further southward, terrorizing the towns and villages in their path. But will either the dragons or the human rulers of Arle listen to their warnings, or it will it be up to the Daireds to mount a lonely defense against the old grudges that are finally being called to account?

While Heartstone began as a Pride and Prejudice adaptation, by the third volume that scaffolding has largely fallen away, as Flamebringer is well beyond the bounds of that plot, leaving only the characters to hint at the origins of the tale. The story becomes about grappling with history and tradition, both for Aliza and Alastair personally, and the Kingdom of Arle as a whole. The return of Tristan Wydrick forces both Aliza and Alistair to face up to their previous relationship to him, and the social disparities that led him down his current path. As the plot develops, it becomes evident that Wydrick’s fate ties back to old Daired secrets, which House Pendragon has wilfully forgotten, but other still remember, and do not forgive. House Daired is an old power in Arle, but on what foundation was that power built?

After setting Dragonshadow in the north of Arle, and separating Aliza and Alistair from their family and friends, Flamebringer returns south, catching up with the Bentaine sisters, as well as Julienna Daired and Cedric Brysney. Bearing dire news about the war to come, Aliza hesitates to share all of her misadventures in the north with her sister, even though she is delighted to be reunited with Anjey. Their reunion sparks doubt in Aliza, as she realizes that Anjey has embraced the identity of Rider as her own, training and fighting alongside her husband. Still more healer than warrior, and attuned to the fact that Rider culture will never fully accept her, Aliza has a harder time leaving her old life behind as she tries to settle into the new one. Together the two form an interesting contrast in adapting to a new culture, and new life circumstances. The complex relationships depicted between the sisters remain one of my favourite aspects of the series.

Dragonshadow (Heartstone #2)

Cover image for Dragonshadow by Elle Katharine White by Elle Katharine White

ISBN 978-0-06-274796-9

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“I won’t play this game. Aliza is your wife, not your servant. You can’t dismiss her and you certainly can’t slip away in the night without telling her. Frankly, I’m a little ashamed to see you try.”

The Greater Lindworm is dead, and Aliza Bentaine and Alistair Daired are happily wed and settled at House Pendragon. But only a couple of weeks into their honeymoon, reality has come calling. The Tekari continue to wreak havoc on the Kingdom of Arle in the aftermath of the Battle of North Fields, and the offers for Alistair and Akarra to take a new contract are mounting. The question of which contract to accept is settled when a desperate messenger from the far north of the kingdom collapses on their doorstep, bringing news of a threat that hunts Idar, and has now begun to claim human victims as well. But as Alistair and Akarra prepare to travel north, Aliza is determined not to be left behind

The second installment in this series follows on Heartstone, which could be best described as Pride and Prejudice with dragons. However, Dragonshadow stands alone, having left the parameters of the original scaffolding story behind. I was curious to see if White would try to pull in another narrative, perhaps using elements of a different Austen story, but Dragonshadow instead delves deeper into the fantasy elements to explore the fallout of the Battle of North Fields. Old, dark things are stirring in Arle, and the lindworms were only the beginning. While humans freely harvest heartstones from the Tekari, they do not take them from the Idar, and wearing the heartstone of a Shani is unthinkable. But meeting some of the Idar, and talking to one Centaur in particular, causes Aliza to beginning thinking about how these distinctions among Arle’s magical creatures arose in the first place.

Many of the supporting characters from Heartstone do not feature in Dragonshadow, as Alistair and Aliza wing north to Castle Selwyn with Akarra. None of Aliza’s sisters make an on page appearance, and nor does Alistair’s sister Julienna feature. I found this a bit disappointing, since I really enjoyed the sibling dynamics in Heartstone, but White highlights other relationships here. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Aliza and Akarra. Although Akarra is bonded to Alistair, she accepts Aliza into that bond as an equal, despite her lack of Rider pedigree. More than that, she calls Alistair on his nonsense when his protectiveness borders on infantilizing. It would have been easy to set up a conflict between Aliza and Akarra, but their friendship is much more interesting.

This final point is a bit spoilery, but also falls into the category of content warnings. Over the course of the story, Aliza discovers, and then loses, a very early pregnancy. It’s rare to see miscarriage depicted in a fantasy novel at all, let alone sensitively handled. I was a bit worried that it would be used as a destructive plot point for Alistair, who would blame either himself or Aliza for killing their child by allowing her to accompany him on the contract, but fortunately White does not take the story down that road. Instead, Aliza is surrounded by empathetic and supportive women from Castle Selwyn, some of whom have known loss of their own.

In order to live happily ever after, Aliza knows she needs to figure out how she will walk the line between the traditions of the dragon riders, and staying true to her own heart. As Lady Daired, new expectations threaten to hem her in at every turn, but she is determined to forge her own path, and set her own terms for what it means to be a Rider’s wife. Sequels with newly married characters often find an excuse to separate them in order to add tension to the plot, but Dragonshadow stands out by having Aliza and Alistair face the difficulties together, weathering their first disagreements as newlyweds. I look forward to the Daireds’ further adventures in Flamebringer.

Ninth House

Cover image for Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo by Leigh Bardugo

ISBN 978-1250-31307-2

 “Nothing is going to stop this. Too many powerful people rely on what the societies can do. Before Lethe existed, no one was keeping watch. So you can make futile bleating noises in protest and lose you scholarship, or you can stay here, do your job, and do the most good you can.”

Alex Stern never expected to end up at Yale. She spent most of her teen years going from fix to fix, looking to numb out, to forget. But when an overdose lands her in the hospital, she wakes up to an unexpected visitor. Dean Sandow of Yale University knows much more about her than any stranger should, and he has an offer to make Alex; come to Yale on a full scholarship, in exchange for serving as the watch dog to Yale’s secret societies. When she arrives on campus, Alex descends into a world of privilege and magic, monitoring the arcane rights of the societies, and ensuring that they follow the proper occult forms for their rituals. She was supposed to have an entire year to learn the rules from outgoing delegate Daniel Arlington before he graduated and moved on. But then Darlington disappears, and a girl is murdered, and it is up to Alex to ensure that none of the societies were responsible.

Told in alternating chapters, Ninth House toggles between Alex’s arrival at Yale in the autumn, and the investigation into the murder of Tara Hutchins during the winter. Leigh Bardugo carefully peels back the layers, doling out information in dribs and drabs. Alex’s past is murky, and the precise events the led her to the hospital where Dean Sandow made her his offer even more so. She doesn’t want to think about it. The circumstances around Darlington’s disappearance are equally mysterious; no one is supposed to know that he isn’t just spending a semester abroad, lest the societies get any funny ideas. What quickly becomes evident is why Alex was chosen; she can see the Grays, the ghostly shadows of the dead that haunt New Haven and the Yale campus, and threaten to disrupt occult rites if not banished by graveyard dirt or death words. Every watcher before her has had to swallow a nasty, toxic potion to perform this duty, but Alex can see the Grays all the time, even when she would rather not.

Ninth House might be best described as a dark fantasy with horror vibes. It is set in our own world, but to the privilege of wealth is added the privilege of magic, the one contributing to the other. The fact that it feels just one step to the left of what is real only serves to make it that much more eerie. Some of the horror is magical in nature, but much of it is real. Trigger warnings for this title include, but are not limited to: rape and sexual assault, ritual gore, drug use, and self-harm. Bardugo is examining these events from the point of view of the victims and survivors, but nevertheless, some of these occurrences make for difficult reading.

In many respects, Ninth House is an examination of structural inequality. It is all too easy to imagine the privileged secret societies of an Ivy League school keeping magic to themselves, and using it to increase their power, wealth, and influence, widening the gap between themselves and everyone else. Alex is trying to bear the weight of the responsibility she has taken on, but she is being slowly crushed under the burden. Her aborted high school career left her utterly unprepared for the rigours of study at Yale, just as Darlington’s sudden disappearance leaves her utterly unprepared for performing the full scope of her responsibilities. Lethe House is supposed to monitor and curtail the excesses of the other eight houses, but Lethe is also dependent on the houses for the very funding that allows it to continue to exist, creating a conflict of interest that threatens to bind Alex’s hands at every turn. Power dynamics are constantly in play.

At nearly five hundred pages long, Ninth House is a slow burn. Bardugo plays her cards close to the vest, and only doles out information grudgingly. This opening and build up contrasts sharply with the dramatic twists and rapid turns of the ending, which comes to more than one false conclusion. While the main plot is largely wrapped up in this volume, Bardugo leaves the door open for more mysteries in the world of Alex Stern.

Aurora Blazing (Consortium Rebellion #2)

Cover image for Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik by Jessie Mihalik

ISBN 978-0-06-28241-5

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “I would personally storm the gates of hell for any of my brothers or sisters. To claim otherwise was to fundamentally misunderstand me as a person.”

With House von Hasenberg at war with House Rockhurst over the rare mineral called alcubium that will revolutionize faster than light travel, tensions are running high, even in the neutral territory of Serenity. When Bianca, daughter of House von Hasenberg, is attacked, and her brother, Ferdinand, heir to the House is kidnapped, the Rockhursts seem like the natural suspects, but something more complicated seems to be afoot. Bianca deals in information, and thanks to a cruel experiment conducted by her dead husband, she has unique code cracking abilities that no one can know about, not even Ian Bishop, Director of Security for House von Hasenberg. Bianca knows that together they would be an unstoppable force, if only she could convince Ian to stop protecting her, and start working with her to find Ferdinand and bring him home before it is too late.

In the second volume of the Consortium Rebellion trilogy, Jessie Mihalik shifts her attention to the recently widowed Bianca, who is still recovering from the abuse she endured at the hands of her husband in an unhappy political marriage. Bianca is back home in House von Hasenberg, quietly working intelligence for her family, while rumours fly through Consortium society that she murdered her husband. Bianca pretends to mourn, when in fact she is guarding a deadly secret; Gregory was using her as a guinea pig in a science experiment. Thanks to his work, she can pick up and decrypt electronic signals, though the barrage often leaves her head pounding, and her guts churning with nausea. Even her father cannot be let in on the secret, because the ruthless Albrecht von Hasenberg has already demonstrated that he will use his daughters to gain an edge, however small, and the technology implanted in Bianca’s body is priceless. Her time trapped in Gregory’s lab has left her physically weakened, but those limitations only make her a more compelling heroine. What she lacks in physical stamina she more than makes up for with wits and poise.

Like Polaris Rising, Aurora Blazing is as much romance as sci-fi adventure, and will appeal most to readers who enjoy both. Bianca’s love interest is Ian, the mysterious Head of Security. Seven years ago, he was her bodyguard, but back then he spurned her advances to further his determination to rise quickly through the ranks. Ian is somewhat less of an alpha love interest than Marcus Loch was in the first volume, which I found more appealing, though his insistence on ignoring Bianca’s wishes was still infuriating. After being spurned seven years earlier, establishing trust is key if Bianca and Ian are ever to have a relationship, and this is made more difficult by the fact that he technically works for her conniving father, who decidedly does not have her best interests at heart. The tension between them is a slow, cautious burn that lasts through the book.

The first volume of the series focused on Bianca’s younger sister, Ada, and her love interest, Marcus, a supersoldier who escaped a secret government experiment. Ada, Marcus and their allies have a role to play in Aurora Blazing, though Bianca and Ian take center stage. I enjoyed the sibling relationships portrayed between the von Hasenbergs in Polaris Rising, and that continues to be a strong feature in Aurora Blazing. Ada provides critical support to Bianca in her mission to save their oldest brother, and Bianca’s twin Benedict also features, though not as much as I would have hoped. The most interesting glimpse is Catarina, the youngest von Hasenberg, who all the older siblings have strived to protect from their parents’ brutal machinations. But Catarina is beginning to chafe at being constantly sheltered and sidelined, despite her obvious smarts and resourcefulness. She will not be content to sit by for long. The final installment of the trilogy will follow Catarina’s adventures, as her father determines to make her a political match that will solidify their House’s position in the war with the Rockhursts—but Catarina has other plans. Looks for Chaos Reigning in May 2020.

You might also like Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep

Chilling Effect

Cover image for Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes by Valerie Valdes

ISBN 978-0-06-2877239

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “I’m not working for you filthy bastards. I won’t even work for my own father, and he’s a saint compared to you.”

As captain of La Sirena Negra, Eva Innocente does her best to find honest work for her crew of misfits, human and alien alike. After finally getting out from under the thumb of her dishonest father, and her manipulative first employer due to a job gone disastrously wrong, she finally has a chance to deal fairly, on her own terms. But when Eva’s sister, Mari, is kidnapped by a mysterious crime syndicate known as The Fridge, she has no choice but to take on some shady deals. Can someone as rash and accident prone as Eva really pull off a rescue, especially when she is trying to keep it a secret from her crew? And if that wasn’t bad enough, Eva has attracted the ire of an egomaniacal alien emperor by refusing his amorous advances. Plus, she has a cargo hold full of troublesome psychic cats, and no buyer in sight.

In many space operas, the ship is as much a character as any of the people or aliens. This is certainly how Eva feels about La Sirena Negra, a ship she got from her father after a job gone particularly badly, and the vehicle for her new life where she can set her own rules. However, La Sirena Negra is part and parcel with Min, the pilot who is so jacked into the ship’s systems that she regards it as an extension of her own body. Also on board are the ship’s medic, and Eva’s long-time best friend, Pink, and Leroy, a damaged ex-merc who was used as “meat puppet” in a remotely controlled army. The engineer, and Eva’s love interest, is the charmingly literal Vakar, a quennian with a mysterious past who can’t help but share his emotions through his ever-shifting scent signals. Eva herself is a pretty salty character, fully of punchy dialogue in both English and Spanish. The unitalicized, untranslated Spanish is peppered throughout, and while it isn’t necessary to translate to get the gist, pop a few words into your favourite translator if you want to learn some interesting new insults.

Valerie Valdes clearly likes to play with tropes, of which women in refrigerators is the most central. Usually, this refers to a male protagonist’s female love interest being murdered to serve as motivation for a revenge storyline. In Chilling Effect, the woman in a refrigerator is Eva’s sister, Mari, except that Mari isn’t dead; she’s being held in cryostasis to ensure that Eva submits to the demands of the shadowy crime syndicate that has taken her sister hostage. While Eva’s found family is comprised of a compelling cast of characters, her biological family is a little less likeable. Unfortunately, we don’t meet Mari, or know much about their sibling relationship before her sister is turned into leverage.

I was a bit disappointed that the cats didn’t play a more central role in the story, because everyone knows that if you introduce psychic space cats in act one, you should make good use of them by act three. But they do add to the atmosphere of La Sirena Negra, and I can hope that they will feature more prominently as the series continues. The trade paperback includes a preview chapter for the next installment, Prime Deception, which will deal with the fall out of Eva’s misadventures in Chilling Effect.

You might also like:
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

The Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles

Juliet Takes a Breath (2019)

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath (Dial Books Edition) by Gabby Riveraby Gabby Rivera

ISBN 9780593108178

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “How could anything as huge as feminism be universal?”

Juliet Palante has just come home to the Bronx from her first year at college, and she is trying to figure out how to come out to her Puerto Rican family before she moves across the country for a summer internship. She will be spending the summer in Portland working for Harlowe Brisbane, author of Raging Flower, the book that sparked Juliet’s feminist awakening. But when she arrives in Portland, Juliet quickly feels out of her depth. Her girlfriend Lainie isn’t returning her calls, Harlowe doesn’t seem to have a clear plan for her internship, and everything is unfamiliar. The longer she is in Portland, the less sure Juliet is about Harlowe’s brand of feminism. But the summer nevertheless introduces her to people and experiences that will open her mind in ways she never expected.

Originally published by Riverdale Avenue Books back in 2016, and hailed by Roxane Gay as “fucking outstanding,” Juliet Takes a Breath has been picked up and rereleased by Dial Books. As I noted in my original review back in January 2017, the book was a strong story marred by an unfortunate profusion of typos and extra words, badly in need of additional proofreading. Happily, the new edition has taken that story and polished it to a shine. Although I was reading an ARC, I spotted only one mistake. The new edition also removes some problematic lines that reviewers drew attention to at the time of the original publication.

Juliet Takes a Breath is a coming-of-age novel about finding your voice and discovering your identity. The book opens with the letter that Juliet wrote to famous feminist author Harlowe Brisbane in order to land her internship. As with my first reading, by the end of this five page introduction, I was fully invested in Juliet’s character, and mesmerized by her voice. She is in many ways a naïve character who learns a lot over the course of the novel, and the reader gets to go along with her on that journey. She is just beginning to grasp the language of the social justice movement, and readers can be educated alongside her, or if already fluent, reminded of what it feels like not to know or understand the terminology. While some sections are still a bit didactic, it is certainly more accessible than a textbook.

One of the most appealing aspects of Juliet’s character is her openness, and pure curiosity. Her hope for Portland is so bright, and her willingness to be open to new people makes the city her oyster. Although Harlowe isn’t exactly what she expected, she still connects with everyone from Harlowe’s primary partner Maxine to Kira, the “junior librarian” at Portland’s central library (professional quibble: I have never heard of a junior librarian. Nor do I know any librarians who go around flirting with their patrons while on duty, or making out with them in the stacks). We get to see the outlines of a true community growing up around Juliet, and her brief sojourn in Miami provides hope that her family will accept her and become part of that community in time.

In some ways, it was harder to read this book the second time around. The narrative builds towards Harlowe giving a big reading at Powell’s, during which she uses Juliet in an unforgivable way.  Knowing that scene was coming only made it more of a punch in the gut. Worse still is watching Juliet care for Harlowe’s feelings in the aftermath of her big fuck up, rather than the other way around. Harlowe is more interested in being forgiven than she is in fixing the harm that she caused. The impact of the story is increased by knowing what is coming, rather than reduced by removing the element of surprise. Juliet Takes a Breath stands up well to rereading, and I am happy to be able to recommend it going forward without the caveats I previously attached.

You might also like Brother by David Chariandy

Of Ice and Shadows (Of Fire and Stars #2)

Cover image for Of Ice and Shadows by Audrey Coulthurstby Audrey Coulthurst

ISBN 9780062841223

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “It felt like the latest in a series of mistakes, and I wasn’t even sure what the first one had been. Was it letting everyone believe I’d died in the star fall? Was it the morning I’d gotten up before dawn to leave Mare behind? Or, the darkest part of my heart asked, was it the night I’d chosen to flee from the man I was betrothed to in order to save his sister instead?”

With everyone believing that Princess Dennaleia of Havemont was killed in the starfall that also struck down the scheming Lord Kriantz of Sonnenborne, Denna and Mare are finally free to be together. But as Princess Amaranthine, Mare also owes a duty to her brother, the newly crowned King Thandillimon of Mynaria. With the Sonnenborne plot revealed, it is crucial that they recruit the magical kingdom of Zumorda as an ally, despite Mynarian’s instinctive suspicion of magic. Better yet, in Zumorda, Denna will be accepted, and able to receive training for her gifts, the destructive scope of which has frightened Mare beyond words. So with Denna disguised as her maid, Mare sets out as the newly appointed Mynarian ambassador to Zumorda. Unfortunately, the Zumordan queen seems uninterested in Mynaria’s troubles, and unconcerned by the Sonnenborne plot. Denna’s gift, on the other hand, is extremely interesting, and soon Queen Invasya is trying to recruit her into an elite but dangerous magical training program that threatens to separate her from Mare.

If Of Fire and Stars was about forbidden love, Of Ice and Shadows is about what happens when the initial obstacle is removed, and the next stage must be faced. Traveling in disguise, Denna encounters new constraints, having to pretend to be Mare’s maid, and hiding her intelligence and diplomatic skills. And once across the border, no one can understand why a powerful magic user like “Lia” would be a servant to a vakos like Mare, who has no gift at all. While Denna seeks training for her gift, she becomes uncomfortably aware that Mare would rather find a way to eliminate her magic altogether—Mynarian prejudice against magic runs deep. Having already given up her identity to be with Mare, Denna is faced with the question of whether she will sacrifice more of herself in the name of love. Magic also keeps the two apart in more ways than one; after accidentally burning Mare in an amourous moment, Denna refuses to touch her again until her power is under control. I wasn’t a huge fan of this trope being introduced, as it tends to be rooted in sex shame, and I don’t think this use subverted that problem.

Of Ice and Shadows is told in alternating chapters, from Mare and Denna’s perspectives. Their voices aren’t terribly distinct, and it can be easy to mix the two up during the first part of the story, when they are both generally in the same place. As their paths diverge a bit in the latter half of the book, this becomes less of a concern. While both characters grow in the course of the book, it is especially important for Mare. Out from under the critical eye of the Mynarian court, she is finally able to accept some responsibility for what it means to be a member of the royal house, while also taking advantage of the freedom offered by distance to pursue interests and skills that would have been forbidden to her as a woman in Mynaria. Ultimately, I think it is being able to grow this way herself that enables her to accept Denna’s development as well.

As a setting, Zumorda makes for a much more interesting backdrop than Mynaria. Magic is rife, and there are many different types to be discovered. This makes Mare uncomfortable, but the prevalence makes Denna feel normal for once, like she might belong. Three powerful women play a major role, including the ancient dragon queen, Invasya, Guardian Laurenna, and Grand Vizier Zhari, who are powerful magic users in their own right, based in the Southern trade hub of Kartasha, while the Queen holds court in Corovja. None of the women seem especially concerned by the Sonnenborne threat, leading Mare and Denna to wonder if they are really so powerful in their magic that they have nothing to fear, or if one or more of them may be in league with their enemies.

Of Ice and Shadows wraps up this particular storyline, but leaves ample room to continue exploring the world, and what happens to Mare and Denna next. Currently no further installments have been announced, but a reader can hope!

You might also like The Cursed Queen by Sarah Fine