An Affair of Poisons by Addie Thorley

Title: An Affair of Poisons
Author: Addie Thorley
Series: N/A
Pages: 391
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Release Date: February 26th 2019

      “No one looks kindly on the killer of a king.
      After unwittingly helping her mother poison King Louis XIV, seventeen-year-old alchemist Mirabelle Monvoisin is forced to see her mother’s Shadow Society in a horrifying new light: they’re not heroes of the people, as they’ve always claimed to be, but murderers. Herself included. Mira tries to ease her guilt by brewing helpful curatives, but her hunger tonics and headache remedies cannot right past wrongs or save the dissenters her mother vows to purge.
      Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon is more kitchen boy than fils de France. But when the Shadow Society assassinates the Sun King and half of the royal court, he must become the prince he was never meant to be in order to save his injured sisters and the petulant dauphin. Forced to hide in the sewers beneath the city, Josse’s hope of reclaiming Paris seems impossible―until his path collides with Mirabelle’s.
      She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. They are sworn enemies, yet they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and former nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?”

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“These are not birds and butterflies like before, but winged dragons and three-headed serpents that are so much more threatening, so much more tangible. They roar and gnash their teeth as they slither through the clouds. From half a block away, I can see each glittering scale of crimson, green, and gold.”

Addie Thorley’s An Affair of Poisons while not necessarily the most groundbreaking historical fantasy, is nonetheless an enjoyable read with likable leads. Mirabelle has spent her life training to be an alchemist, hoping to earn a place in the Shadow Society. Her mother is leader of the Shadow Society, a organization built on helping the common people who are often neglected by the nobles. When Mira unknowingly concocts a poison used to assassinate the king of France, she is forced to see her mother and the society in a whole new light. She strikes an unlikely alliance with Josse, the bastard son of the king who is determined to protect his sisters no matter the cost. Together they must figure out a way to unite the commoners and nobility and overthrow the Shadow Society.

Thorley’s writes really descriptive writing that immediately had me falling into the story. While An Affair of Poisons has a historical backdrop (though the author does take political license), it is the combination of poison-making and magic that make this world so captivating. From healing tonics used to stave hunger pains to a poison called Viper’s Venom meant to make a person’s death slow and agonizing, the practice of alchemy can be used for good or terrible evil. There is also a magical element to this world that I wished had been explored more. Mira helps enhance the magic of one of the members of the Shadow Society, making his illusions corporeal and his magic even more dangerous than before. Unfortunately, the novel sort of dances around how Mira was able to do this and I was surprised that although we get a lot of detail when it comes to her making poisons, this portion of the novel isn’t delved into deeper.

Mira spends most of the novel struggling between what is right and what she’s been taught. She’s always been under the impression that the Shadow Society stood for the people first and foremost. I loved her journey as she finds an identity apart from her mother and embraces a different path. My only issue is that Mira spends so much of her life navigating her mother’s callousness, including how she withholds approval from both her daughters, turning them into rivals that compete for her attention. Yet it takes Mira far too long to accept that her mother is more interested in power than in taking care of commoners. I really enjoyed Josse’s character. Being a bastard son of a king, he has never had the same kind of privileges as his brother, the heir. Still, I love that Thorley has Josse confronting his own privilege. While he has been relegated to working in the kitchens, he still has never gone hungry and even though he hasn’t taken advantage of it, has had opportunities to better himself. There are so many different familial relationships in this one, but I loved that each one was so complex and so important to each character’s arc.

Addie Thorley’s An Affair of Poisons is a promising debut that’s fast-paced and perfect for those who enjoy historical fiction with a touch of fantasy.

★★★

(3/5)

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Snapshot Review: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Title: Ayesha at Last
Author: Uzma Jalaluddin
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Berkley Books
Release Date: June 4th 2019

      “A modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice for a new generation of love.
      Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.
      Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.”

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“Because while it is a truth universally acknowledge that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.”

  • Diverse P&P retelling – I am currently on the hunt for more P&P and other Austen retellings by and about PoC. Ayesha and Khalid are both Indian-Canadian and Muslim. Both of these identities are essential to who they are as characters and how they move about the world.
  • Ayesha – Loved that this novel features an “older” young adult (Ayesha is 27) who hasn’t quite figured out what she wants out of life yet. She’s fallen back on teaching, but her true passion is her spoken-word poetry. Ayesha is opinionated, willing to go toe-to-toe with anyone who might disagree with her, and continuously pushes against conventional expectations.
  • Khalid – Khalid is incredibly pious, conservative in his beliefs, and feels a strong sense of obligation toward his family. He comes across as extremely judgmental, but he’s also incredibly honest, shy, and socially awkward. I loved every interaction between Ayesha and him, whether they were at odds or not.
  • Nana and Nani – Perhaps the best characters in the novel are Ayesha’s grandparents. These two made me laugh so much. I loved how recalcitrant Nana was, especially when it came to his health and how knowing, yet wise Nani was. Rather than interfering, they allowed the young people in their lives to make mistakes and grow from them.
  • P&P quotes sprinkled throughout – Jalaluddin sprinkles P&P quotes throughout her novel. Some of them are obvious like the quote above, but others you might not catch unless you are more familiar with the classic.

  • Certain aspects of the conflict – I might be a little vague here to avoid spoilers. I didn’t completely buy into the part of the conflict that required Ayesha to not only believe a rumor about Khalid’s family, but also somehow place blame on him when the alleged misdeed took place when he was barely a teen. I couldn’t reconcile what I knew of Ayesha and this sort of unfair judgement she had for what Khalid did or didn’t do when he was thirteen years old.

  • Uzma Jalaluddin’s Ayesha at Last pays homage to Pride and Prejudice without feeling confined by certain aspects. The characters’ struggles feel more relevant in a modern setting and Jalaluddin’s infuses just enough humor and romance to make this a must for P&P fans.

★★★★
(4/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Title: House of Salt and Sorrows
Author: Erin A. Craig
Series: N/A
Pages: 426
Publisher: Delacorte
Release Date: August 6th 2019

*I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

TW: mention of suicide, stillbirth

      “In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.
      Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
      Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
      When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.”

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  • Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling – There are multiple Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White retellings, but I’ve always been partial to the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Erin A. Craig’s interpretation of the tale is familiar enough for those who enjoy the original, but takes plenty of liberties that will keep readers on their toes.
  • The mysteryHouse of Salt and Sorrows is more plot-based than character-driven and while I usually gravitate toward the latter, I became really invested in the mystery surrounding the deaths of the Thaumas’s daughters.
  • Horror elements – I did not expect this one to get so dark, but the lead character Annaleigh has strange nightmares, is troubled by the chilling things her younger sister shares with her about their dead sisters, and eventually begins to see apparitions with nefarious intentions.
  • The world-building (for the most part) – While I would argue that the novel could have delved deeper when it came to world-building, there were several elements that I really enjoyed including the mythology of this world.

  • Character development – I really wanted to see the characters in the novel grow more, but it never really felt like any of them necessarily changed throughout the course of the novel.
  •  The first half – I ended up liking the second-half of the novel a whole lot more than the first. It’s not a slow start, but nothing in the first half made it stand out for me and I kept comparing it to the masterpiece that is Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing, my personal favorite Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling.
  • Annaleigh’s romance arc – I go back and forth between whether I liked where the author took this storyline or whether it just fell flat for me. On one hand, it felt very fairytale-esque with Annaleigh’s first meeting her love interest and eventually finding out there’s more to him than meets the eye, but on the other hand, I’m not sure this part of his story completely made sense to the narrative.
  • Didn’t always feel consistent – I mentioned both the horror elements and the mythology of this world. The problem was these two didn’t always feel like they were part of the same world. With a few changes, I think this would have worked better as a horror novel rather than leaning into the fantastical aspects.


Erin A. Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrow is a solid retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, but it is the dark and morose elements rather than the fantastical that had me wishing it hadn’t tried so hard to straddle two genres.

★★★
(3/5)

ARC Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: July 23rd 2019
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.
      The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.
    Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.
      In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.”

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With Gods of Jade and Shadow Silvia Morena-Garcia proves once again that she is a master at storytelling with this Mayan-inspired fantasy. In the dreary town of Uukumil in southern Mexico, Casiopea Tun toils away her youth, treated more as a servant than family to her affluent but ailing grandfather. The other members of her family look down upon her for her Indigenous heritage and those like her cousin Martín do not even consider her to be a real member of the Leyva family. Though she dreams of leaving and experiencing all the revels to be had during the 1920s, she has all but accepted this as her lot in life. Until one day when she opens a mysterious box, unleashing an imprisoned God and accidentally binding herself to him. Casiopea has no choice but to follow Hun-Kamé as he recovers missing pieces of himself hidden by his brother in a quest to regain the throne of Xibalba.

Moreno-Garcia draws from Mayan folklore to build the bones of Gods of Jade and Shadow. Hun-Kamé and his twin brother Vucub-Kamé have been locked in a battle of wills for centuries. The former was content to accept the Gods’ diminished role and growing indifference from mortals while Vucub-Kamé wishes to usher in a new era of adulation and sacrifice. The Gods’ power is irrevocably tied to the worship of mortals. Though they yield a great deal of influence, I found it really interesting that in this world mortals were given more freedom. Though a God cannot change fate, mortals have the autonomy to change their fate, making them unpredictable pieces in a game of chess.

Moreno-Garcia pays equal attention to both the mortal and immortal worlds. Readers are taken on a journey across Mexico and into the very heart of the Underworld known as Xibalba. Mexico City is both dazzling and overwhelming, having profited off the U.S.’s prohibition era. Here there is music and dancing and a celebration of life. Xibalba, though the land belongs to the dead, is subtle in its allure. Dangerous and misleading, but dark and mysterious. Through Hun-Kamé’s eyes, Casiopea begins to see that Xibalba is a place of beauty, despite its nefarious creatures, and a home to those who were born there.

Casiopea is a protagonist I grew fond of rather quickly. Though she longs for another life she isn’t consumed by her fantastical daydreams. She is too practical to drown in the sorrow of her insipid life. Though she has been treated as a servant and expects to give deference to the more prominent members of her family, Casiopea is stubborn and willful, defiant in the face of those with more power than her. This makes for an interesting dynamic with the haughty God Hun-Kamé, who expects obedience. Their bond chips away at Casiopea’s strength, but also makes Hun-Kamé more human with each passing day. Their relationship is slow to develop, subtle yet beautiful.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow is a quiet, yet intoxicating fantasy with delicate prose and a satisfyingly, yet bittersweet romance.

★★★★
(4/5)