Category: Fantasy

Ten Things That Keep Me Coming Back to Kushiel’s Dart

Cover image for Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline CareyDisclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.

Abandoned by her parents on the doorstep of the Night Court—home to the courtesans of Terre D’Ange—Phèdre is groomed for a life of service to Naamah in the City of Elua. But a red spot in her left eye marks her unfit to officially serve in the Night Court, so her marque is sold to the courtier Anafiel Delaunay, who raises her up to be a spy as well as a courtesan. Delaunay is also the only one to recognize what the red mote in her eye betokens; Phèdre is marked by Blessed Elua’s companion Kushiel, and she is an anguisette, doomed to take her pleasure in pain. Without knowing the depths in which she is swimming, Phèdre stumbles upon the key to a plot that threatens the Crown, and indeed Terre D’Ange itself.

Originally published in 2001, Tor recently announced they would be reprinting Phèdre’s Trilogy this summer, starting with Kushiel’s Dart in June, and then one per month to finish out the summer. On receiving my copy, I was amused to notice for the first time that the book had been compared to George R. R. Martin, a fact which meant nothing to me when I first read it in high school, at least seven years before I picked up Game of Thrones. I wrote a full-length review of this book back in 2017, the last time I reread it, so today I thought we’d do something a little different, and hit my top ten favourite things that keep me coming back to this series again and again. Warning: here there be spoilers! For a spoiler-free introduction, see my original review.

10. Terre D’Ange Kushiel’s Dart is a hefty 900 page epic, and Jacqueline Carey spends the better part of the first hundred and fifty pages using Phèdre’s education as an excuse for world-building. The D’Angelines are the scions of Blessed Elua, who was born of the co-mingled blood of the dying Yeshua ben Yosef and the tears of the Magdelene, and his companions, angels who turned from the service of the One God when he rejected Elua and turned him out to wander the Earth.

9. “Love as thou wilt” – The chief precept of Blessed Elua, and a governing principle for all D’Angelines is a breath of fresh air in the realm of epic fantasy, which often isn’t terribly concerned with consent. (CW: The Skaldi do not abide by this precept so the book isn’t perfect in this regard). And while it is nowhere mentioned in the first volume of the series, Carey later reveals that D’Angeline women do not conceive until they visit the temple of Eisheth and ask to do so!  

8. The Night Court – Along with the precept of Blessed Elua, the other half of the sex-positive foundation of this world lies in the Service of Naamah. Of those cast down from heaven to follow Elua, Naamah served by selling her body, and so in Terre D’Ange, courtesans are something akin to priestesses, practicing a holy art that is governed by custom and contract.

7. Alcuin nó Delaunay – Phèdre’s foster-brother and fellow pupil is her companion in the service of Anafiel Delaunay, and her conspirator in trying to unravel the mysterious history of their benefactor. More politically astute than Phèdre, but less well-suited to the service of Naamah, I maintain to this day that Alcuin deserved more!

6. Rolande de la Courcel – The Dauphin of Terre D’Ange died at the Battle of the Three Princes, destabilizing the Courcel succession, so we never meet him on the page, but his love affair with Anafiel Delaunay is a driving force behind the story. Delaunay and Prince Rolande met at the University of Tiberium, and their back story is a spin-off that I’ve never stopped wanting.

5. “All knowledge is worth having”Kushiel’s Dart is an epic fantasy centered on spies and courtesans; they deal in information, the subtle trade that underpins the royal court. Phèdre learns Caerdicci, the language of scholars, in the Night Court, and when she comes to Delaunay she is also schooled in Skaldi and Cruithne. Her facility with languages becomes as important as her courtesan’s wiles.

4. “That which yields is not always weak” – There are warriors aplenty in Kushiel’s Dart, men and women alike, but Phèdre nó Delaunay isn’t one of them. By the end of the book, Phèdre has been a spy, a courtesan, a slave, an ambassador, and a messenger, and she wins all her victories on her wits and her charms, rather than by might of arms.

3. Grainne mac Conor – Speaking of warrior women, the mightiest of them is the Lady of the Dalriada, who rules alongside her twin brother, Eamonn. As brash as her brother is cautious, Grainne takes Phèdre to her bed to make her brother jealous enough to go to war alongside the Cruithne, and then rides to battle at Troyes-le-Mont pregnant with her second child.

2. Drustan mab Necthana – There are two romances at the heart of this book, and one of them is the secret betrothal between Ysandre de la Courcel, and Drustan mab Necthana, the rightful Cruarch of Alba. The Cruithne are matrilineal, and Drustan was the heir to his uncle’s throne before it was usurped by his cousin, and he must reclaim it in order to win passage across the straights, and wed the Dauphine. Meanwhile in Terre D’Ange, Ysandre has rebuffed a succession of suitors to remain true to her promise to Drustan, even as her grandfather ages, and their grip on the crown becomes ever more perilous.

1. Joscelin Verreuil – The second sons of Siovale are sworn to the service of Cassiel, and the celibate Cassiline brothers are trained from the age of ten as elite bodyguards. We meet Joscelin when Delaunay contracts him to protect Phèdre, but the plot against them is deeper than anyone could guess. A Cassiline’s word is his bond, but Phèdre will test his vows again and again as their adventures take them across the known world. Candidly, the complex relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin is the best thing about this entire series–contracting a celibate warrior-priest to protect a courtesan goes about as well as you would expect!

If you’ve read Kushiel’s Dart, tell me about the parts you loved! I know there are at least a couple of fan favourites that I haven’t even mentioned here.

The Empire of Gold (The Daevabad Trilogy #3)

Cover image for The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakrabortyby S.A. Chakraborty

ISBN 978-0-06-267816-4

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

“I find that those who look on politics with contempt are usually the first to be dragged down by them.”

Daevabad has fallen to the machinations of Banu Manizheh, and her Afshin, Darayavahoush. Nahri and Ali have fled, leaving the city in the hands of a brutal conqueror who seems poised to be even crueler than the tyrant she overthrew. But Suleiman’s Seal was never meant to leave Daevabad, and the consequences reach across much of the magical world, stripping the daevas of their powers. Only Dara and Manizheh’s ifrit retain their magic, leaving the people of Daevabad helpless, though the Geziri and the shafit try to mount a resistance led by Zaynab al Qahtani. Even Ali’s mysterious marid powers seem to have been affected in strange ways, though perhaps this is because he now bears Suleiman’s Seal. Thrust unexpectedly into the human world, Ali and Nahri must decide whether to return to Daevabad and fight for the throne to which each of them might stake a claim.

While five years passed between The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper, Empire of Gold picks up in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Daevabad. After five years as a prisoner of the al Qahtanis, trapped in a political marriage to Ali’s brother Muntadhir, Nahri is finally free, and unexpectedly finds herself back in Cairo. Returned to her human home, and stripped of her Nahid powers, Nahri seriously considers letting Daevabad fade into memory, and apprenticing herself to her old apothecary friend Yaqub. Meanwhile, Ali’s thoughts turn to Ta Ntry, and the possibility of reuniting with his exiled mother, Queen Hatset. He has questions about his marid magic, and suspects that the answer lies in his Ayaanle heritage, which he has long been subsuming in favour of his father’s Geziri bloodline. But with Ghassan dead, and his djinn magic snuffed out, the water is calling to Ali in new ways. Neither Nahri nor Ali ever expected to be called to rule, but now the question of that potential responsibility weighs heavily on them as they look to an uncertain future.

One of the stand out features of this series has always been the complex dynamic S.A. Chakraborty created between the different magical beings of the world, and even within the ranks and classes of the djinn themselves. Those rivalries come to a head here, as Manizheh takes revenge for the deposed Nahids, having conquered Daevabad by unleashing a genocidal magic against the Geziri in The Kingdom of Copper. Though she has reclaimed the palace of her ancestors, and nominally rules the city, the various quarters remained locked tight against her, with the daevas fearing to trust such a brutal takeover, even by one of their own. Once, Manizheh was Ghassan’s prisoner, bent to his purposes, and fighting desperately to prevent the union she knew he desired. But while her past is tragic, she now she seems determined to visit that abuse upon others, willing to pay any price for power.

In the midst of all this, Dara takes center stage. As Manizheh’s long-trusted servant, and one of the only magical beings left in Daevabad, it is up to him to control the city his mistress has conquered. If he refuses, control falls to the conniving ifrit Aeshma, whose influence with Manizheh Dara already deeply mistrusts. Chakraborty delves deeper into Dara’s backstory, revealing the scene in which as a young Afshin, the Nahid council called him to Qui-zi, the massacre that would earn him the moniker Scourge. Dara may be even more hated in Daevabad than Manizheh herself, and it seems impossible for one person to hold the city against the inevitable uprising forever. Worse, Dara is tortured by the question of whether he made the wrong choice when he remained loyal to Manizheh rather than following Nahri. Manizheh seems to be turning ever further towards darkness as she seeks to replace the power she lost when Suleiman’s Seal slipped through her fingers. And Dara must face the question of what further horrors he is willing to perform in the name of the loyalty he swore to the Nahids long ago. Although a sympathetic character, Empire of Gold calls Dara to account for the orders he has willingly obeyed.

In the final volume of the Daevabad trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty delivers a whopping 784 page series ender that upends the established politics of Daevabad by delving into questions of family legacy, intergenerational trauma, monarchy, governance, genocide, authoritarianism and the distribution of power. Dara, Nahri, and Ali share narration through rotating perspectives with escalating cliffhangers, though many of Chakraborty’s other conniving, memorable characters appear as well as she brings this sprawling Islamic fantasy to its epic conclusion.

You might also like The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children #5)

Cover image for Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuireby Seanan McGuire

ISBN 978-0-7653-9930-4

“Have you noticed that the doors come for us when we’re young enough to believe we know everything, and toss us out again as soon as we’re old enough to have doubts? I can’t decide whether it’s an infinite kindness or an incredible cruelty.”

In the fifth installment of the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire continues the story of Jack and Jill, twin sisters who found a doorway to another world in a trunk in their attic. The door opened onto the Moors, a world under a crimson moon where dark powers hold one another in a constant battle for balance. In Down Among the Sticks and Bones, we followed Jack and Jill through their door, and to their eventual expulsion from the Moors. In Every Heart a Doorway, we witnessed their bloody return to that world, and were left wondering about the consequences. Now Jill has snatched Jack’s body, and the twin sisters are locked in a battle for the future of their world.

At the heart of Come Tumbling Down is the nature of evil and monsters. Meditating on Jill’s deceptively innocent appearance, Christopher reflects that “Something about the way she’d wrapped her horror movie heart in ribbons and bows had reminded him of a corpse that hadn’t been properly embalmed, like she was pretty on the outside and rotten on the inside. Terrifying and subtly wrong.” Jack finds herself trapped inside this “charnel house” of a body, ostensibly identical to her own, and yet terrifyingly different. Coping with her OCD proves to be a particular challenge in these unique circumstances, and yet the battle must go on. Returning to Eleanor West’s school, Jack recruits several of her former classmates to help stop Jill before it is too late.

Thanks to the events of Beneath the Sugar Sky, it is great to have Sumi back amongst our adventurers. We know that sooner or later her door will come for her, and she will go back to Confection, but for now she joins her school friends on yet another forbidden quest. As a character who travelled to a Nonsense world, Sumi gets a lot of the best lines, coming out with bizarre yet accurate comparisons and strikingly observant insights. As someone who would almost certainly find a Logic world behind my own door, I always find her peculiar forthrightness strangely refreshing.

The other adventurers are Cora, mermaid heroine of Beneath the Sugar Sky, and Christopher, lost love of the Skeleton princess, and Kade, Goblin Prince in Waiting, and heir to Eleanor West’s school for wayward children like himself. They are none of them suited to the world of the Moors, but as heroes who once answered the call of their own doors, they are no less ready to answer the call of friend in need. It also hints at a school that might be very different under Kade’s management. Eleanor tries to persuade them from the quest, lamenting “I should have reminded you of the rules when Rini fell out of the sky. No quests. It’s so easy to become addicted to them, and so hard to break the habit once it takes hold.” But heroes are not so easily dissuaded.

Come Tumbling Down also draws some parallels to the previous installment, In an Absent Dream. Just as Lundy and Moon’s friendship is slowly poisoned by inequality and debt, Jack keeps saving Jill, even at a terrible cost to herself, and those around her. True, Sumi “got over” being dead at Jill’s hand with a little help from her friends, but Lundy and Loriel are never coming back.  Alexis will never be whole and healthy again, despite her resurrection. The outcome of Chester and Serena Walcott’s petty insistence on differentiating their twin daughters and pitting them against one another plays out on a grander and more terrible stage than those wayward parents could ever have imagined, leading the sisters into a final, fateful confrontation with inevitable casualties.

You might also like Temper by Nicky Drayden

In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children #4)

Cover image for In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuireby Seanan McGuire

ISBN 978-0-7653-9929-8

“You can’t save anyone if you neglect yourself. All you can do is fall slowly with them.”

One day, Katherine Victoria Lundy will be a teacher at Eleanor West’s school for wayward children. One day, she will help teach and guide the children who come back from impossible adventures, and spend every day hoping that their door will return to take them back to their true home. But once, a long time ago, it was Lundy who found an impossible door, one that came back for her again and again. But always, she had to remember the curfew; on her eighteenth birthday, the doors would close forever, and she would have to choose which side of it she would be on. Once, that choice would have been easy, and Lundy would have chosen Moon, the Archivist, and the magic of the Goblin Market without hesitation. But a bargain must always give fair value, and it wouldn’t be a bargain without a cost.

The Wayward Children series began in 2016 with Every Heart a Doorway, in which a series of murders took place at the school, including those of Sumi and Lundy. 2017’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones was a prequel, recounting Jack and Jill’s trip to the Moors before they landed at the school. Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018) was an impossible sequel, in which a dead girl’s unborn daughter arrives at the school looking for her mother, Sumi. In the fourth installment, Seanan McGuire takes us back further still, to Katherine Victoria Lundy’s quiet, 1960s suburban childhood. Friendless by virtue of her father’s being the school principal, Katherine is a self-sufficient girl who “keeps her own company” and finds her solace in books, until one day she looks up from Trixie Belden and the Black Jacket Mystery and finds an impossible door. I am probably not alone in feeling that of all the wayward children we have met so far, Lundy is the most like me, giving this installment a particular resonance.

The Goblin Market is the strictest and most fae-like of the portal worlds McGuire has presented Wayward Children readers with so far. The rules are clearly laid out, and with each trip through the door, Lundy becomes more bound to them. She is slowly growing out of the grace the world allows for children on their first, or even second visit. Above all, she must Be Sure. But if Lundy is well-suited for the Goblin Market, the same cannot be said of her best friend Moon, who was born to it, rather than chosen; it was her mother’s door, and she left her child there. Moon was the first person Lundy met when she came through her door, and that bond will never fade, but Moon only follows the rules because she fears punishment, and whenever Lundy isn’t around, she can’t seem to help herself getting into debt with the Market.

In an Absent Dream is fundamentally about unequal friendships. Differences that seem small and inconsequential when we are children grow with us until they overrun the relationship, and even a shared history can no longer bind us. Lundy keeps paying Moon’s debts, even when she is warned that Moon will one day resent owing her so much, even when it comes at Lundy’s own danger and expense. “No one serves their friends by grinding themselves into dust on the altar of compassion,” but Lundy seems determined to try. She binds herself tightly to those few she chooses, and remains loyal to the bitter, inevitable end. Even more so than Down Among the Sticks and Bones, In an Absent Dream has a tragic sense of inevitability. We know that Lundy will eventually make a bad bargain, and we know the end it will lead her to. But, as ever, it is the journey that provides the fascination.

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.

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