Category: Fantasy

Race the Sands

Cover image for Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durstby Sarah Beth Durst

ISBN 978006269085

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

“Does it truly benefit people to know what their souls will become? What does it matter? Shouldn’t they just be good people because they love their family and they care about the people around them? People should be good because it’s right, not because an augur tells them it’s what they should do.”

After losing her rider in a tragic accident at the Becaran Races, disgraced Trainer Tamra Verlas has been reduced to teaching the children of the wealthy to ride kehoks, the monstrous souls reborn as condemned beasts that are too evil to ever reincarnate as humans, or even lesser beasts. But Tamra needs the money to help her beloved daughter Shalla continue her training with the augurs, the soul readers who guide Becaran society, and try to help its citizens avoid damaging their souls to the point that they are reborn as monsters. But as Shalla’s tuition becomes increasingly expensive, and Tamra’s debts to her sponsor mount, she knows that they only way to avoid having Shalla become a permanent ward of the temple is for her to find and train a rider and racer that can win the Becaran Races. With the prize money, but she will be able to repay her debts, cover her daughter’s tuition, and ensure her future. But the rider and racer team she puts together draws Tamra into the midst of a plot that goes beyond the Becaran Races, threatening the very future of the Becaran Empire.

The fire at the centre of Race the Sands is Tamra, an independent, determined woman, a fierce single mother, and a force of nature on the race track in her younger days, before an injury put an end to her racing career. In the acknowledgement, Sarah Beth Durst reveals that Tamra’s namesake is fantasy author Tamora Pierce, the mentor who made Durst believe she really could become a writer. Similarly, Tamra becomes the mentor to Raia, a seventeen-year-old girl on the run from an arranged marriage that her parents tried to force upon her after she flunked out of augur training. Although Tamra normally despises the sons and daughters of the wealthy as too soft to ever actually win a race, in Raia she sees a fire that she believes she can bend towards victory.

Although the plot centres on Tamra and Raia, another interesting character is Yorbel, who has spent most of his life safe within the augurs’ temple, studying philosophy and ethics. He has only ever met the public in closely controlled one-on-one readings, where citizens may meet with an augur to have their auras read, and the fate of their soul revealed, in the hopes that they will mend their ways. With Yorbel’s character, I appreciated the exploration of what happens when the academy meets reality, and high flying theoretical principles clash with the grey reality of real world choices. Taken from his farmer parents when he was a child, Yorbel has ever since known only the soft and sheltered life of the augur temple, where everything is provided for him. Being sent out into the world on a secret mission by Prince Dar, the Emperor-to-Be of Becar, proves to be a more complicated venture than Yorbel could ever have dreamed of, and his journey is one of the more interesting aspects of Race the Sands.

While the primary characters are intriguing, the secondary characters here are a bit flat. We never so much as learn the name of the rider Tamra lost the previous season, making this person into more a of a tragic backstory than any sort of actual character. Raia’s parents and they man they want her to marry seem flatly villainous, in part because we don’t see enough of them to really understand their characters or motivations. Durst also introduces three other riders who are supposed to be Raia’s friends, but they feature so little it is hard for these characters to feel like more than an afterthought. However, from a character perspective, the book is well worth reading for Tamra alone.

Becaran society, and the very premise of Race the Sands is built on a problematic system of value judgements that cry out to be overthrown. Humans, for example, are at the top of the chain of reincarnation, and animals are lesser creatures for the rebirth of those whose souls were not pure in their previous life. Kehoks are monsters whose physical ugliness and malformation is a visual representation of the evilness of their souls, thus implicitly equating beauty with goodness. The kehok Tamra buys for the races at first seems poised to undermine the idea that the soul of a kehok is irredeemable, but in the end the truth about the black lion only reinforces this structure. While the plot of Race the Sands does call into question some aspects of this problematic system, ultimately tearing down corrupt institutions, I wanted to see Durst go farther, and burn down the ruins of this bankrupt concept.

You might also like The Deepest Blue 

Sing the Four Quarters

Cover image for Sing the Four Quarters by Tanya Huff by Tanya Huff

ISBN 0886776287

“Annice had been fourteen when she left the palace for Bardic Hall in Elbasan and while she never regretted the decision, she did occasionally wish that some things could’ve been different.”

Travelling to every corner of the kingdom of Shkoder, it is a bard’s calling to carry news, gather intelligence for the crown, and help administer justice by binding witnesses to speak only the truth at trial. Bards are also magicians, Singing to the Elements to call the kigh of Earth, Air, Fire, or Water to their service. Most bards have a strength, but some rare talents such as Annice, can Sing all four. Or at least, Annice could until she discovered she was pregnant. As the child grows, so does her affinity for Earth, until soon the other Elementals will have nothing to do with her. But losing her talent isn’t Annice’s only problem; ten years ago her brother, King Theron, disowned her and forbid her from bearing any children that might muddy the line of succession. Worse, the father of Annice’s child, Pjerin, Duc of Ohrid has just been accused of treason as well. Now Annice must not only find a way to mend the break from her family, she must also convince the King that the father of her child has been framed.

As becomes evident early in the novel, Annice is pregnant, although it takes her much longer than the reader to realize it. I wasn’t sure how I felt initially about Tanya Huff’s choice to hamstring Annice’s abilities simply because she was pregnant. However, it did add some interesting conflicts and limitations to the story while helped me reconcile to the decision. For instance, eliminating her ability to call the Air kigh is the fantasy equivalent of taking away Annice’s cellphone; she can no longer send or receive messages from other bards while she is out on the road. The positive trade-off is that the King’s Guard cannot command the other bards to use the Air kigh to locate Annice when she goes on the lam with Pjerin at seven months pregnant.

Although the book is primarily about Annice’s estranged relationship with her family, and the looming war with the neighbouring kingdom of Cemandia, she also has two romantic interests, Pjerin and Stasya. Pjerin is the father of her child, and the two bicker like an old married couple once the plot finally gets them in the same place, but it quickly becomes evident that they don’t actually like each other that much, at least not romantically. Back home at Bardic Hall in Elbasan, Annice also has a longstanding liaison with Stasya, a fellow bard who seems partly bemused and partly annoyed by Annice’s interest in men. In general, I didn’t feel a lot of chemistry or pull towards either love interest, but fortunately this is not the focus of the story, and in many ways actually adds to rather than detracts from the novel.

As is common in Tanya Huff’s fantasy novels, same sex relationships are common and unremarkable. In Sing the Four Quarters, this is true not just in Shkoder, but in other kingdoms as well, as evidenced by the early off-hand comment that one of Theron and Annice’s brothers made a marriage alliance with a distant nobleman. Homophobia is simply not a factor here. Instead, prejudice is attached to the ability to command the elements. In the neighbouring kingdom of Cemandia, this ability is viewed as unnatural, leading to tensions between the two countries. Annice also has an open relationship with Stasya; though the two go out separately to Walk the roads of Shkoder, they always come home to Bardic Hall and one another. Both their open relationship and Annice’s bisexuality are treated as entirely unremarkable, so if this is something you find enjoyable and refreshing in your fantasy, I can recommend this book in particular, but also Tanya Huff’s work more generally. Although this is the first in a series of books set in this world, each of the subsequent books follows different characters, so that Sing the Four Quarters can easily be read as a standalone.

You might also like Of Fire and Stars 

An Enchantment of Ravens

Cover image for An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogersonby Margaret Rogerson

ISBN 978-1-4814-9758-9

“No one used their birth name in Whimsy. To do so would be to expose oneself to ensorcellment, by which a fair one could control a mortal in body and soul, forever, without their ever knowing—merely through the power of that single, secret word. It was the most wicked form of fairy magic, and the most feared.”

Although she is only seventeen, Isobel is the best painter in generations, and her Craft is coveted by all the fair ones who visit the artisan village of Whimsy to purchase human artistry. While the fair folk are masters of glamour and enchantment, they cannot truly create in the manner of mortals, but their appetite for human Craft is insatiable. So great is Isobel’s talent that rumour has it she will one day be invited to drink from the Green Well, and become a fair one herself—though it would mean losing her Craft forever. That dreaded possibility seems more real than ever when one day Isobel’s regular patron Gadfly announces that she can expect a visit from the Autumn Prince. Painting Rook proves to be an unexpected challenge; there is something about his eyes that Isobel can’t quite seem to capture, and worse, she finds his company dangerously captivating. In an unguarded moment, Isobel realizes that what she has been seeing in Rook’s eyes is a sorrow deeper than any expression of emotion she has ever seen from a fair one. When Isobel’s masterpiece is revealed before the entire Autumn Court, the weakness that has been painted plain for everyone to see is on display for all of Rook’s enemies and rivals. Refusing to let this insult stand, Rook spirits Isobel away to his Court to stand trial, presumably accused of fomenting rebellion amongst his courtiers.

I have to admit that I was a bit dubious about the premise of this book, particularly the trial,  which is how I ended up reading Sorcery of Thorns first, even though it is Margaret Rogerson’s second book. In the end, however, I was captured by the world Rogerson has created here. The village of Whimsy exists in a place between Faerie and the human World Beyond. It is a liminal space of perpetual summer, where human artisans exist to serve the capricious whims and ravenous appetites of the fair folk. They are paid in carefully negotiated enchantments, and the knowledge that the best among them may be offered the chance to visit the Green Well. But if they do not negotiate carefully enough, they may find that they pay the price, whether that is becoming unable to speak words that begin with vowels, or losing their very lives. And there are other dangers to living so close to Faerie; Isobel’s parents were killed by wild fae creatures that escaped the Wild Hunt and came out of the woods into Whimsy when she was a little girl.

We never do venture into the World Beyond, so the other half of Rogerson’s story takes place in Faerie, where we visit the realms of the Spring, Summer, and Autumn courts. For time untold, the courts have been ruled over by the Alder King of the Summer Court. But as they traverse the Summerlands on their way to the Autumn court, it becomes apparent to both Rook and Isobel that decay has taken root in the heart of the realm. Soon Rook is worried that Faerie has worse to fear than a rebellion in the Autumn Court. When their journey becomes unexpectedly dangerous, they seek refuge in the Spring Court, where Isobel hatches a clever plan that will perhaps save Rook’s reputation, and her own life.

Amongst the side characters, I particularly enjoyed Gadfly and his niece, Lark. Gadfly is an elder fae, accustomed to dealing with mortals, but in meeting Lark we catch a glimpse of the raw power and impetuousness of a nearly immortal being who has yet to truly grasp mortal fragility. I was also intrigued by Aster, the only fair one we meet who was once mortal. In her time, Aster was an acclaimed writer, but gave up wordsmithing when she drank from the Green Well and joined the Spring Court. Altogether, they make up the cast of this fantastic, standalone adventure into the heart of Faerie.

You might also like The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Crush the King (Crown of Shards #3)

Cover image for Crush the King by Jennifer Estep by Jennifer Estep

ISBN 978-0-06-279769-8

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

 “I needed help. I needed another Blair, someone I could depend on, and especially someone I could leave my throne to if the worst happened and the Mortans finally managed to kill me.”

In the year since she ascended to the Bellonan throne after the murder of all her relatives in a Mortan plot, Everleigh Winter Blair has secured her crown, and survived multiple assassination attempts. However the threat of Morta still looms large, and with the international Regalia Games coming up, a unique opportunity for her enemies to try to kill her again. Unless, of course, she manages to kill them first. For the first time, Evie will come face to face with King Maximus of Morta, the tyrant behind the Seven Spire Massacre, and she plans to go on the offensive. In order to protect Bellona, she will need to secure alliances with Unger and Ryusama, champion her kingdom in the kronekling tournament, and crush the King of Morta, with a little help from her friends.

In the third installment of the Crown of Shards series, Jennifer Estep continues to use flashbacks to develop Evie’s history, exposing just how far back Mortan meddling in Bellonan affairs goes. After escaping the murder of her parents at Winterwind, young Evie finds herself alone in the forest, at the mercy of the elements and bounty hunters alike. We already know that she will eventually end up in the custody of her cousin, Queen Cordelia, but the flashbacks never quite get that far. In the present, Evie must survive three days of balls, political jockeying, and multiple attempts on her life. Although the Regalia games are set on the nominally neutral Fortuna Island, home of the prosperous DiLucri banking family, Evie strongly suspects that the DiLucris have struck a deal with Morta, placing the Regalia on hostile ground.

Both of the previous volumes in the series have featured significant romance elements. Kill the Queen introduced Everleigh’s slow burn romance with Lucas Sullivan, magier of the Black Swan gladiator troupe, and illegitimate son of the King of Andvari. Protect the Prince centered Lucas even more strongly, with a trip to his home country of Andvari to try to secure an alliance between Bellona and Lucas’ legitimate royal relatives. However, he is relegated to a minor role in Crush the King, and there is no significant development of his character or their relationship in this installment. However, I did appreciate that Estep didn’t try to insert an unnecessary interpersonal conflict between them in order to keep things exciting in the final volume. This book has more than enough on its plate already.

While I enjoyed the action of Crush the King, by the third book in the series, the lack of variety in description is abundantly clear, and I was at times annoyed by the writing. I lost track of how many times Evie executed “the perfect Bellonan curtsy” in the series, yet I still have no idea what that particular type of curtsy looks like as opposed to any other. Evie also has the ability to smell magic and emotions, but each emotion is described identically every single time she senses it, particularly “hot peppery anger” and “hot jalapeno rage,” which come up again and again. Consistency can be a virtue, but in this case it was becoming extremely tedious.

Jennifer Estep had many threads in play going into this final volume, and a challenge to tie them up neatly. Rather than cramming it all in, she has opted for a conclusion that is a bit more open-ended than many trilogies. Future conflict with Morta remains a distinct possibility, and Everleigh has yet to determine if any other Blairs are still alive, or designate a successor to her throne. Cho and Serilda have not come to terms, and the relationship between Xenia and Paloma is also not fully resolved. However, a little bit of open-endedness gives the world a feeling of continuance, beyond the last page.

You might also like The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst

Chosen (Slayer #2)

Cover image for Chosen by Kiersten Whiteby Kiersten White

ISBN 978-1-5344-0498-4

 “Leo loved me, betrayed us, saved us, and then died, and I can’t be sad without being mad or mad without feeling guilty or guilty without feeling exhausted.”

When Buffy destroyed the Seed of Wonder, magic went out of the world. The hell mouths were sealed, cutting Earth off from the infernal realms. But the demons who were on Earth when the portals closed are now trapped here forever. Nina is the last Slayer, her powers activated in the final moments before magic left the world forever. It was an inheritance she never wanted; as the daughter of Watchers, she never asked or expected to be chosen. But she has chosen to use her powers for good, setting up the Watchers’ crumbling Irish castle as a sanctuary for non-violent demons who were trapped on Earth when the doorways closed. Yet despite believing whole-heartedly in this mission, Nina finds herself fighting the violent impulses of a Slayer, tempted to react to everything with anger and force. And although the infernal realms are closed, those who remain on Earth may still pose a threat, and Nina must decide who to save, and who to save humanity from.

With the Watchers Council decimated, Nina, Rhys, and Imogen take up the mantle of reorganizing the ancient institution for the next generation. Leo is gone, and Artemis and Honora have struck out on their own, unable or unwilling to accept Nina’s vision for the future. Artemis can’t quite come to terms with the fact that her twin sister, the gentle girl who wanted to be a healer, was Chosen, while Artemis, who trained all her life, will never have the power of a Slayer. In fact, now that magic has gone out of the world, she may never have any power at all. This conflict comes to be at the heart of Chosen, the second volume in Kiersten White’s Buffy spin off series. Artemis’ lust for power is not abated by the passing of magic, while Nina’s fear of and distaste for her own power complicates every choice she is faced with. Nor can Artemis accept her sister in any role other than the one she—and all the other Watchers—cast her in. Family, sisterhood, and having a choice versus being chosen are at the heart of this story.

As with the previous installment, Chosen focuses on the younger generation of Watchers, but also features cameos from beloved characters from the original series. Buffy and Faith feature in Nina’s Slayer dreams, while a certain popular werewolf makes an unexpected appearance in London. As with the previous installment, White captures the dialogue and banter well, balancing the darker themes with the pithy one liners, as when an exasperated Nina exclaims, “We don’t have time for an apocalypse… Maybe pencil in an apocalypse for May. It seems like a nice spring activity.” That said, Chosen wraps things up in a way that suggests this might be a duology, but there is still room here for further stories if the publisher decides to continue.

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The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #3)

Cover image for The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black by Holly Black

ISBN 978-0-316-31042-0

 “I keep my head down, as I probably should have done in the first place. And if I curse Cardan, then I have to curse myself, too, for being the fool who walked right into the trap he set for me.”

As a mortal struggling to survive in the brutal realm of Faerie, Jude Duarte made a desperate bid to hold on to power by marrying the High King Cardan. But now Cardan has disavowed her, and Jude is banished to the mortal realm, while war brews back in Elfhame. Eldred’s former High General Madoc continues to rally troops to his cause, including the smith Grimsen, the fae who forged the Blood Crown in the first place, which is the key to the Greenbriar succession. Jude tries to convince herself that the war is no longer her problem, but when her twin sister Taryn knocks on her door for help, Jude will find herself drawn back into the deadly politics of the fae.

The prophecy that alienated Prince Cardan from his father, the former High King Eldred, lies at the heart of the final installment of Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air trilogy. On the day of the prince’s birth, the court astrologer Baphen spoke a dark warning. “Prince Cardan will be your last born child… He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne… Only out of his spilled blood can a great ruler rise, but not before what I have told you comes to pass.” Now, through Jude’s ambition and trickery, Cardan sits on a throne that he never expected to occupy, unsure if he can command the loyalty of the courts that make up his kingdom. Certainly Madoc is still bent on war, and seizing power for himself, whatever the cost to the realm.

Meanwhile, the three sisters are all faced with the darker side of what it means to love the fae. Having gotten her wish and married into the Court with her wedding to Locke, Taryn now lives with the daily reality of marriage to the cruel trickster who played her against her twin sister. Vivi continues to pay the price for having used magic to deceive her mortal lover, Heather, to hide her true nature, and the fallout of the eventual revelation of the truth. And Jude, of course, is still grappling with her feelings for Cardan, somehow still in love with the man who denied her and banished her from her home. If they are ever to be reunited a balance of power must be struck, but trust does not come easily to two people who have hurt each other so relentlessly. The power dynamics of interpersonal relationships are just as key to the series as the power dynamics of the Faerie court at large.

It is hard to say much more about the conclusion of this series without heading deep into the realm of spoilers. Holly Black continues her nuanced exploration of power, and what we will do to keep it, and how that desire can poison our relationships if abused. Under Madoc’s tutelage, and informed by her mortal weaknesses, Jude has been accustomed to seizing power by whatever means necessary. But some power cannot be seized, but can only be granted by willing consent. When it comes to dark, twisting, intricately plotted faerie tales, Holly Black is the true Queen of Faerie.

You might also like  The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Spinning Silver

Cover image for Spinning Silver by Naomi Novikby Naomi Novik

ISBN 978-0-399-18099-6

 “Thrice, mortal maiden… Thrice you shall turn silver to gold for me, or be changed to ice yourself. And then, if you manage it, I will make you my queen.”

Winter is long in the kingdom of Lithvas, and every year it seems to grow longer. With scant harvests and crops ruined by frost, no one wants to repay their debts. Miryem’s family has been driven into poverty by her father’s soft heart, and inability to collect what is owed him. But when her mother falls ill, Miryem hardens herself, and sets out to gather back that which has been loaned. Soon she garners a fierce reputation for being able to turn silver into gold, and her family prospers, even as resentment towards them grows. Worse, her reputation attracts not just the mutters of their resentful neighbours, but the attention of the Staryk, winter fey with a rapacious appetite for gold. One winter’s night, the king of the Staryk knocks at her door, demanding three impossible feats. If she fails, her life is forfeit. If she succeeds, he promises—or perhaps threatens—to make her his queen.

Spinning Silver includes three primary narrators; Miryem the Jewish moneylender, her gentile servant girl, Wanda, and Irina, ill-favoured daughter of the Duke of Vysnia. However, as the story goes on, Novik freely incorporates additional perspectives, including Wanda’s youngest brother, Stepon; Magreta, nurse and chaperone to Irina; and Mirnatius, Tsar of Lithvas. Each perspective is distinct, and as the new ones are added, we are offered the opportunity to see the preceding characters through their eyes. When Wanda comes to Miryem’s house, she perceives the prayer they say over their dinner as a spell, and the math that Miryem uses to keep her accounts as magic. But soon Miryem becomes familiar to Wanda, and later, when Stepon’s voice is added, we review the confounding events through the innocent aspect of a child.

Hunger runs through the book, motivating each character in their own way. Wanda’s hunger is what drives her to Miryem’s doorstep, her farmer father unable to repay the money he has borrowed, because he drinks away what little he manages to earn, hungering after oblivion. At Miryem’s table, Wanda finds food, work, and comfort, satisfying appetites and ambitions she could never acknowledge at home. But she is also positioned to see just how Miryem’s hunger to never live in poverty again puts them all in terrible danger, first from the resentful neighbours, and then from supernatural forces beyond their ken. Meanwhile, mortal men hunger for faerie silver, enabling Miryem to perform the impossible feats demanded of her, while sun-warmed human gold is hungered after by the Staryk, for unknown ends. Worst of all, a demon who has made a particularly advantageous bargain possesses an appetite that threatens to swallow both Lithvas, and the Staryk realms.

Naomi Novik takes the greed that underpins the faerie tale of Rumpelstiltskin, and affixes it to the anti-Semitism that is tied up in the history of money lending in Europe. Miryem’s literal ability to lend out silver, and then consolidate the interest into gold at her grandfather’s bank makes her both useful and hated within her village, and coveted by a faerie king who has no other use for a mortal girl. Whereas Uprooted was based in the Polish Catholic roots of her mother’s family Novik attributes some of this inspiration to the history of her father’s Lithuanian Jewish family, though Jewish reviewers have had mixed reactions to her execution.

As a counterpart to Novik’s preceding book, Uprooted, Spinning Silver is much in the same vein. It is only loosely inspired by any particular faerie tale, and both stories play with elements of a magical being who takes a mortal girl as his captive helper for his own ends. Neither man figures on the agency or ingenuity of the girl. Both are set in a fantastical version of Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, though they are not explicitly the same world, and do not overlap outright. If the fact of Uprooted’s being a standalone left you wanting more, Spinning Silver might just scratch that itch.

You might also like Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

The Everlasting Rose (The Belles #2)

Cover image for The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton by Dhonielle Clayton

ISBN 978-1-4847-2848-2

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

“What is the truth in Orléans?… You and your sisters spent your entire existence altering appearances, shifting reality, catering to the most shallow whims. The birth of this world came out of a rotten, poisonous seed—and now, the framework is laced with it. Everyone spends all their time trying to look like something else. The masses will believe what is presented to them, as long as it is compelling and beautiful. Thanks to you, they no longer have any idea what’s real—what’s true.”

Camille, Edel, and Rémy are on the run from the tyrannical Princess Sophia, soon to be crowned Queen of Orléans, unless they can find the rightful heir, the recently awakened Princess Charlotte. Sophia claims her sister is dead, and that she will present her body to the court before her coronation, but Camille has to believe that she is still alive, and she knows that the dead Queen Celeste would not want her cruel younger daughter to inherit the crown. But it seems impossible that they will find Charlotte before Sophia’s ascension, and the scheming Princess is already hard at work ensuring that new imperial decrees will make it almost impossible to unseat her once she is crowned. A resistance movement is afoot in Orléans, but can the Belles really make common cause with the Iron Ladies, a group of women who reject beauty treatments altogether in favour of living with the gris?

I was excited to return to Orléans, but reading The Everlasting Rose reminded me that while I mostly enjoyed the world of The Belles, I was still upset about Claudine’s fate, as she was by far my favourite character in the first volume. Claudine’s lover, Violetta, reappears here, and it did seem at first as if Clayton was going to cast her as the grieving avenger with a grudge against Camille. Fortunately she does not significantly pursue that tired angle. However, there were a couple more deaths that felt engineered for heavy-handed melodrama, in ways that seemed merely intended to traumatize Camille. I was more interested in the parts of the book that explored the origin of the Belles, the calcifying control over their traditions, and the possibilities for a different future. In short, the society, rather than the plot, grabbed my attention.

With the remaining Belles either captured or on the run, The Everlasting Rose relies heavily on interjected new snippets to convey what is going on elsewhere in Orléans, and keep both the reader and the rebels apprised of Sophia’s machinations. Of course, the news nets are not entirely to be trusted, as Sophia manipulates certain outlets to her own ends. Only the underground newspapers can fully defy her censorship. While the first book was set mostly at court, the second volume is free to range over Clayton’s world, to explore the other cities and teahouses, and the shadowy corners no regular Belle would ever have a chance to see. This tour also incorporates a few fun nods to Clayton’s colleagues, including a peacock named after her Tiny Pretty Things coauthor, and a millinery named for Justine Larbalestier.

I expected the Iron Ladies to play a more significant role in the story based on the plot description, but they do not feature in the early parts of the book. It is only later that they form an uneasy alliance to depose Sophia, and set Charlotte in her place. But ultimately, the Belles and the Iron Ladies have different goals, and different visions for the future of Orléans, and I expect we will get to see this dynamic play out further if this series gets another installment. Currently, no third book has been announced.

You might also like Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra