ARC Review: Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard

Title: Bloodwitch
Author: Susan Dennard
Series: The Witchlands, #3
Pages: 464
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: February 12th 2019

      “Fans of Susan Dennard’s New York Times bestselling Witchlands series have fallen in love with the Bloodwitch Aeduan. And now, finally, comes his story.
      High in a snowy mountain range, a monastery that holds more than just faith clings to the side of a cliff. Below, thwarted by a lake, a bloodthirsty horde of raiders await the coming of winter and the frozen path to destroy the sanctuary and its secrets.
      The Bloodwitch Aeduan has teamed up with the Threadwitch Iseult and the magical girl Owl to stop the destruction. But to do so, he must confront his own father, and his past.

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The long-awaited third novel in Susan Dennard’s The Witchlands series is finally here. Bloodwitch picks off where Windwitch left off as Aeduan and Iseult set off toward the Carawen Monastery in hopes of finding a safe place for the young Owl. Iseult’s Threadsister, Safi, finally finds herself in Marstok, helping the Empress Vaness weed out traitors in her court. Merik has set off with Cam and Ryber, hoping to find answers to how and why his Threadbrother Kullen has taken on the form of the Fury. Nubrevna is now in the capable hands of Merik’s older sister Vivia, who struggles to find her footing as Queen-in-Waiting. Meanwhile the Raider King to the North finally makes his move against the Witchlands and with the Twenty-Year Treaty negated, the Empires distrust of one another may lead to their downfall.

Susan Dennard has excelled at giving each of her characters their own arc. Sometimes this is a difficult thing to do with an ensemble of characters, but Dennard is never afraid to separate characters to test them out individually, to push them to their limits and help them discover things about themselves they might not have learned otherwise. Though the focus of this series has always been Safi and Iseult and the strength of their friendship, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know these two on their own. Safi finds herself in a precarious situation, unable to escape Vaness as the Empress wields Safi’s Truthwitchery as a weapon, showing no mercy to those guilty of duplicity. Safi has always had someone to rely on when she makes mistakes, but in Marstok she must learn to rely on herself. Iseult has only ever had Safi to rely one, but through the course of her journey, she discovers an unlikely ally in the Bloodwitch Aeduan. I love how every scene with the two of them feels significant both to their relationship and to them as individuals. Iseult has never felt empowered, she’s always been on the outskirts, but in this novel, she begins to embrace how powerful she is and instead of listening to the voices that tell her she is not enough, she shouts back that she is.

I love how Merik’s perspective continues to be challenged in this third novel. He’s had to take a step back from being his people’s savior. He wants to do what is right, but learns that sometimes that’s not enough if you are blinded by your need to play the hero. We first get to know his sister Vivia in the second novel and in this one it’s hard not to root for her. She’s proven herself to be competent leader, but her father, the King Regent, along with members of the High Council, keep undermining her every chance they get. Still, Vivia manages to stay poised and manages to get things done even when she is doubted by so many. I’d really like to explore how Vivia and Merik’s father has shaped their relationship as siblings. It’s implied that he might be the reason they never found value in the other, why they’ve been resentful of one another. It’s probably the one aspect of these books that I wish Dennard had spent more time on.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the title character Aeduan. When we first met him in Truthwitch, he is the villain of the story, hunting down Safi and Iseult. His arc might be my favorite in the series as he goes from cold-hearted killer to tentative ally. In Bloodwitch we get a little more backstory on why Aeduan has made such an effective killer. His witchery has defined him since he was a young boy. He lost his mother at a young age and only recently was reunited with his father. He grew up seeing himself through other people’s eyes and never had someone see him as anything other than a monster. This changes through his relationship with both Iseult and Owl, but ultimately it is Aeduan who has to learn to see himself differently.

If you’re looking for a fantasy series that keeps you on the edge of your seat with invigorating action scenes, world-building that feels deliberate and intricate, and characters with rewarding character arcs, Susan Dennard’s The Witchlands series is one you should start now. For fans of the series, Bloodwitch feels worth the wait and cements this fantasy series as one of the best out there.

★★★★★
(5/5)

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The Wicked King by Holly Black

Title: The Wicked King
Author: Holly Black
Series: The Folk of the Air, #2
Pages: 336
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 8th 2019

      “You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.
      The first lesson is to make yourself strong.
      After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.
      When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.”

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      “I hope it unnerves them to know I am lying.
      After all, if the insult to me is pointing out that I am mortal, then this is my riposte: I live here, too, and I know the rules. Perhaps I even know them better than you since you were born into them, but I had to learn.”

The Wicked King, Holly Black’s highly-anticipated sequel to The Cruel Prince, is as intoxicating and heart-stopping as its predecessor as Jude tries to hold on to power in a world that makes games out of crushing mortals. Five months have passed since the end of The Cruel Prince. As Cardan, the new High King of Elfhame, sits on the throne, his subjects are unaware that it is Jude, a mortal girl who grew up in Faerie, pulling the stings, having orchestrated both his crowing and his vow to obey her every command. But with such a young ruler on the thrown and his older brother Balekin in prison, there are those in Faerie who believe a weak king and an alternate heir leaves room for another coup. Jude must find a way to counter the machinations of those hoping for a power grab while also keeping a vexing, yet alluring Cardan in check. With little allies on her side, Jude is tested at every turn and when she discovers someone in her confidence has betrayed her, it becomes even more imperative that she find a way to hold on to power.

Faerie is a world built on deceit. The Folk cannot lie, but they can manipulate, they can twist the truth and hide their true motivations. Jude has grown up in this world and has had to figure out how to survive when every Fae sees her as weak and vulnerable. She has become a force to be reckon. In this sequel, I loved seeing the shift in her relationship with Madoc, her ‘adoptive’ father. He raised Jude and Taryn to look out for themselves in this world of Fae, but he never quite imagined that either would grow up to influence his world in such a dramatic way. Madoc, like most Fae, puts his own desires first, but since these often clash with Jude’s own wishes, it pits them against one another and I love that they both manage to push the other to their limits. I also really enjoyed Jude’s shifting relationship with Cardan. Black writes the Folk in such a way that the reader is forced, like Jude, to sift through words and actions in order to find the truth underneath. There’s always another layer to a character that I thought I had figured out. After this novel, I feel like I have a better understanding of who Cardan is and what his motivations are. Jude and Cardan’s relationship is fraught with mutual contempt, but also a fascination with one another. In this second book, both take steps to understanding each other better and I see so much potential for an alliance between the two built on actual trust if they could only get there.

One of my favorite things about The Folk of the Air series is how Black continues to raise the stakes. Jude was able to manipulate Cardan in order to put him on the thrown instead of her little brother Oak, but in this novel, she doesn’t have an opportunity to rest. Power is fleeting in the Faerie world, especially for those who can’t stay vigilant. Jude is pushed physically, emotionally, and mentally in The Wicked King. She succeeds only when she is able to stay several steps ahead, but there is always the possibility that as a mortal, she is ill-equipped to the task. Female characters who want power for power’s sake are few and far between in fiction, so it’s refreshing to get a character like Jude whose motivation is to gain as much power as possible and who can’t help but delight in her newfound authority. Also there is something truly satisfying about seeing Jude, a mortal girl, get the best of these mythical beings.

Holly Black’s The Wicked King is a sequel that will no doubt delight fans of the first novel, its twists will keep readers on their toes, and its ending will have them begging for the next installment.

★★★★

(4/5)

Snapshot Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I know I’m not the only blogger who struggles with reviews. I’ve implemented the mini-review on my blog which has helped immensely when I just can’t get myself to write a full review. However, there are still times when I struggle to get my thoughts down. Since it is the start of a brand new year, I decided to try another review method which I am calling the snapshot review. It’s designed to help me convey how I feel about a book without being bogged down by a particular kind of format. Speaking of formats, I might tinker with this one throughout the year until I find what I’m comfortable with. You can still expect mini-reviews (though I might ultimately do away with them in favor of this) and full reviews from me throughout the year.

Title: Empire of Sand
Author: Tasha Suri
Series: The Books of Ambha, #1
Pages: 496
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: November 13th 2018

      “A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy.
      The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.
      When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.
      Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…”

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“The wind howled around her, threatening to throw her off balance. Dreamfire poured into her cupped hands. Her head tipped back, and her hood fell. She felt the wind catch her braid, making it lash out behind her. She closed her eyes tight.”

  • World-building – I loved Tasha Suri’s world. It was filled with magic, sleeping gods, and also touched on prejudices toward ethnic minorities.
  • Magical system – Some of the most gorgeous writing in this one was when Suri described the rites. These were different kinds of dances performed by the characters which function as both a prayer and a way to harness the power of the Gods.
  • Mehr – I loved following Mehr as she goes from her very confined life as the illegitimate daughter of governor to being turned into a pawn to finding the strength to embrace herself, both as a Amrithi woman with magic in her blood and a mortal with limitations.
  • Amun – I have a soft spot for secretly soft-hearted love interests. Though Amun at first comes off as cold, he is extremely patient and gentle with Mehr. Fans of the slow-burn, this book is for you.
  • Maha – The villain of the story is easy to hate, but also really interesting. He demands worship from his followers, though he is no God. His followers in turn are so taken with him, most being once lost children without a home, that any thought that he may be doing evil instead of good feels unfathomable.

  • No real complaints about this one, though I will say the end of a certain character came about really swiftly and I was hoping for a more epic battle with them in the end.

  • Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand will surely sweep fantasy lovers off their feet. With beautiful descriptions and a harrowing journey at its center, Empire of Sand had me from page one.

★★★★★
(5/5)

Blog Tour | ARC Review & Giveaway | The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

I am delighted to be a part of The Gilded Wolves Blog Tour for Wednesday Books. Roshani Chokshi has always been an author who has wowed me with her writing. When I heard of this latest release, I was beyond ecstatic. It’s my pleasure to bring you an ARC review of The Gilded Wolves and an opportunity to win a copy of the book from the publisher. Details at the end of the post.

Title: The Gilded Wolves
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Gilded Wolves, #1
Pages: 464
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: January 4th 2019
**I received a copy of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

      “Set in a darkly glamorous world, The Gilded Wolves is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous but thrilling adventure.
      Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.
      To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.
      Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.”

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     “A creaking sound lit up the silence. Séverin jerked his hand back. Too late. The bear’s teeth lengthened in a blink, forming narrow little bars. Enrique took one look at Séverin’s trapped hand, turned pale, and bit out a single word: ‘Shit.'”

With The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi has constructed a unique fantasy heist novel that also functions as a commentary on cultural theft under the guise of historical preservation. Séverin Montagnet-Alarie thought he knew his place in the world, as heir to House Vanth. But when the other heads of the Houses of France turned him away, denying him his rightful place as the next patriarch of House Vanth, Séverin made it his mission to steal back what had been taken from him. With a team of smart and unusually gifted individuals, Séverin has caused a myriad of trouble for the Order of Babel, the organization in charge of the Houses of France, stealing back artifacts belonging to his own House and returning stolen cultural artifacts to their countries and peoples of origin. When Hypnos, patriarch of House Nyx offers Séverin a second chance at claiming his inheritance in exchange for stealing a mysterious artifact from another House, Séverin’s blind ambition lands him and his crew in the middle of a conspiracy that will test each character’s resolve and pit them against a dangerous organization.

The Gilded Wolves has one of the best casts of characters I’ve come across. I love how each character has their own personality, set of skills, and way of perceiving in the world. Chokshi excels at creating characters whose cultural and sexual identities are incredibly important to them. Identity is the driving force behind all of their motivations and heavily influences how they see themselves. Séverin is obsessed with reclaiming his birthright and isn’t afraid to take dangerous risks in order to do so. Though a natural leader, he isn’t always honest with himself and holds the faulty belief that if he can just become patriarch, he’ll have everything he’s always wanted. Tristan is Séverin’s closest companion, having grown up in a number of foster homes alongside him. Tristan is more interested in his pet tarantula than his adopted brother’s schemes, but they are both fiercely protective of one another. Laila is in her element when she is either in the kitchen baking or taking care of others. Masquerading as a courtesan becomes incredibly resourceful as she is able to gain access to places that would otherwise be closed off to Séverin and his crew. Laila’s past is the most mysterious. Save for Séverin, no one knows of her ability to read memories tied to objects. This gift, or perhaps more aptly a curse, is tied to her origins that even she doesn’t quite understand.

One of my favorite things about this group of characters is the witty dialogue and no one exemplifies this more than the young historian Enrique. From the get-go, he had me in stitches. His humor is always a breath of fresh air and I really like that Chokshi’s doesn’t sacrifice the rest of his character for the sake of comedic relief. Enrique not only has a passion for history, but for his country’s freedom. The Philippines has been under Spain’s thumb for the last 300 years and Enrique wants to be part of helping his country gain independence. Zofia is more adequate when it comes to making bombs than making friends. Some of the most rewarding scenes in this one involve Zofia and Laila. The latter shows incredible patience, slowly helping Zofia come out her shell. The final character is the enigmatic Hypnos, the young patriarch of House Nyx, who was once childhood pals with Séverin. Hypnos is both arrogant and charming. Though regarded as more of an enemy at first, Hynpos feels draw to Séverin and his friends, to their camaraderie, for there’s no denying that Hypnos’s easy smiles actually hide a loneliness underneath.

If you like fantasies rooted in history, Chokshi’s latest novel is the one for you. Chokshi pays close attention to detail, bringing not only her characters, but this world to life. It took a little bit of time for me as a reader to be comfortable moving through this intricate world, but once I did, it was one I wasn’t quite ready to let go of with the closing pages. Forging was an aspect that I really wanted to explore more of. There are individuals in this world able to manipulate matter and the mind, the latter of which is highly regulated as it includes the ability to control minds and create illusions. The former takes on many forms, including the ability to manipulate metal and stone into different forms, even lifelike creatures.

If you like tragic heroes, found families and impossible heists, Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves is one you don’t want to miss. I’ll be spending the next year eagerly anticipating the sequel and reeling from this one’s gut-punch of an ending.

4/5

★★★★

PRAISE FOR THE GILDED WOLVES

“Chokshi has created an inclusive and authentic cast with obvious chemistry and affection for one another and infuses the tale with witty banter and twists. A delectably intriguing adventure for all teen shelves.” School Library Journal, Starred Review

“Evocative writing, sumptuous set pieces, and vividly sketched, authentically flawed characters distinguish this immersive tale of found family and star-crossed romance. Kaleidoscopic narration complements the intricate, high-stakes plot and allows Chokshi to showcase numerous aspects of her richly imagined universe all the way to the closing cliff-hanger.” Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code converge in this dazzling new fantasy… An opulent heist adventure that will leave readers voracious for more.” Kirkus, Starred Review

“Chokshi delivers a thrilling, gritty new fantasy set in an alternate nineteenth century Paris… Chokshi shines as a master storyteller in her newest novel; the setting, world building, plot, and conflict are all staggering. However, the elements that perhaps shine the most are the history, riddles, mysteries, and science, woven together in a world brimming with power and magic.” Booklist, Starred Review

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ROSHANI CHOKSHI is the New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen, A Crown of Wishes, and Aru Shah and the End of Time. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, “The Star Maiden,” was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

It’s time for a GIVEAWAY. Enter to win a copy of The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi. Click on the Rafflecopter link below to enter, details below.

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

Giveaway Details:

  • Giveaway runs from January 16th at 12:00 am through January 22nd at 11:59 pm (PST)
  • Open to US residents only
  • One lucky winner will win one a copy of The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
  • Winner will be selected randomly and emailed (you have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen)
  • You must provide your name and shipping info, so I can send it to the publisher
  • Prize will be provided by the publisher

Mini Reviews: The Fallen Kingdom + The Similars (ARC Review)

MiniI have two very different books and two very different ratings for this set of mini-reviews. You might not see another set of mini-reviews for a while. I am going to be trying a new kind of format for books I don’t want to write full reviews for. So stay tuned for that. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Fallen Kingdom
Author: Elizabeth May
Series: The Falconer, #3
Pages: 389
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: June 13th 2017 

      “She’s on borrowed time…and she has only one chance to set things right.
      Find life.
      Deep in a forest, Aileana Kameron claws her way out of the earth. Back from the dead with no memory of who she is or what has happened to her, the Falconer now possesses even greater otherworldly powers and a ruthless instinct to kill—and the one piece of knowledge that can change everything.
      Find Kiaran.
      Two fae monarchs, Aithinne and Kadamach, stand on the brink of war, and according to an ancient curse, one must die at the hand of the other or all the worlds will perish. Once, Kadamach was known as Kiaran, and he was mentor, protector, and lover to Aileana. Now, under the grip of the curse, his better nature seems lost forever.
      Find the book.
      Aileana’s only hope lies in the legendary Book of Remembrance, a book of spells so powerful that it can break the fae curse and even turn back time. But the book has been lost for centuries, and many are looking for it, including its creator, the Morrigan—a faery of terrifying malevolence and cruelty.
      Sacrifice everything.
      To obtain the book and defeat the Morrigan, Aileana must form an unthinkable alliance, one that challenges every vow she has made to herself—even as the powers that brought her to life are slowly but surely killing her.

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“It wraps me in a cloak of darkness, thick and impenetrable. I am suddenly calm, my pulse a steady cadence. My mind slices right back into the instinct of a hunt. It’s so easy. My power assures me that I am perfect. I am untouchable.”

I have been putting off Elizabeth May’s final book in her Falconer Trilogy for over a year in fear of how the series would finally end. I finally picked up The Fallen Kingdom and absolutely adored the conclusion. This final book in the Falconer Trilogy pulls no punches as the characters we’ve come to know are met with even more impossible odds in their quest to save both the human and fae worlds. One of the things I really admire about May’s writing is she’s not afraid to have her characters lose. This has made the whole series a nail-biting journey. Each book has felt like an accomplishment in and of itself and I cannot choose which of the three would be considered the weakest. I’ve really enjoyed all the side characters from Aileana’s loyal faery friend Derrick, who always adds a dash of humor to even the direst of situations, to Kiaran’s sister Aithinne, who makes it easy to see the humanity in these otherworldly fae creatures who often feel untouchable. I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that my favorite relationship has always been Aileana and Kiaran’s. I’ve loved all their interactions, from the first book when bickering was their favorite way of communicating to the second novel when they were just starting to discover what their feelings for one another meant to this final book when it feels that every interaction may be their last. The Falconer Trilogy is a underrated fantasy series in my opinion and May is a really gifted author we should all be paying attention to. 

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: The Similars
Author: Rebecca Hanover
Series: The Similars,#1
Pages: 352
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: January 1st 2019
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “When six clones join Emmaline’s prestigious boarding school, she must confront the heartbreak of seeing her dead best friend’s face each day in class.
      The Similars are all anyone can talk about at the elite Darkwood Academy. Who are these six clones? What are the odds that all of them would be Darkwood students? Who is the madman who broke the law to create them? Emma couldn’t care less. Her best friend, Oliver, died over the summer and all she can think about is how to get through her junior year without him. Then she comes face-to-heartbreaking-face with Levi—Oliver’s exact DNA replica and one of the Similars.
      Emma wants nothing to do with the Similars, but she keeps getting pulled deeper and deeper into their clique, uncovering dark truths about the clones and her prestigious school along the way. But no one can be trusted…not even the boy she is falling for who has Oliver’s face.”

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Rebecca Hanover’s The Similars has an interesting premise, but lacked that something extra that would take it from being mediocre to something truly unique. Emma Chance is still reeling from the death of her best friend Oliver who died by suicide. Going back as a junior to Darkwood Academy should help Emma feel normal again, but the elite boarding school just brings back memories of Oliver. When the academy enrolls the Similars, a group of clones, Emma’s entire world is turned upside down. Not only do the Similars bring controversy to campus, the U.S. and the rest of the world are wrestling with the ethics of cloning and clone rights, unbeknownst to Emma, one of the Similars is Oliver’s clone. Emma and Levi don’t get along from the get-go, but when Emma discovers there may be something more to Oliver’s death, she enlists his and the other Similars’ help. I wish I could point to more than the premise as being a positive element of this novel, but from the characters to the plot to the writing, I found this one to be incredibly lacking. Emma was not a character I liked or even respected. She was the kind of character who thought not caring made her stand out, making her come across as incredibly privileged. I was not a fan of her relationship with Levi for several reason, one of which being she literally physically attacks him the first time they meet. Secondly, she never fully deals with Oliver’s death, so starting a relationship with his clone left me feeling uncomfortable. There are twists and turns in this one that sometimes felt so disjointed, it felt like I was reading five different versions of the same story. The writing left me wanting more and while I did like exploring this world, I never felt immersed in this world.

Rating: 1/5

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhouse

Title: Trail of Lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhouse
Series: The Sixth World, #1
Pages: 287
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: June 26th 2018

      “While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.
      Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
      Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
      As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.
      Welcome to the Sixth World.”

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“And with my need, Honágháahnii comes. Like a streak of wildfire through my veins, churning through my muscles, turning me into something more than I am without it. My eyesight sharpens. My lungs expand. And I fly, feet light, barely touching the ground.”

Rebecca Roanhouse’s Trail of Lightning is a ferocious and intoxicating fantasy novel that will keep readers on the edge of their seat from start to finish. Maggie Hoskie only knows how to do one thing well: kill monsters. Not a bad skill when you live in a world where monsters walk the land, lying in wait for their next victim. Ever since her mentor abandoned her, Maggie’s been going it alone. When a job brings her into contact with a monster whose behavior deviates greatly from the ones she’s been hunting for years, she stumbles upon a mystery. Someone is using witchcraft to create these creatures. With little to go on, Maggie must accept help from Kai Arviso, a medicine man in training whose amicable disposition is a far cry from Maggie’s often hostile personality. Their journey leads them to more questions than answers and closer to an enemy that may be impossible to kill.

Rare is the book that strikes a perfect balance between world-building and characterization, but Trail of Lightning does just that. Roanhouse’s post-apocalyptic setting sets the stage for a dangerous and unpredictable world. While much of the world outside Dinétah has been decimated, the reservation has protected itself with the Wall, meant to keep out the chaos that followed a series of environmental catastrophes. But resources inside the reservation continue to grow scarce and the Wall had no way of protecting the people from the monsters within. There are also the Diyn Dine’é, the “Holy People”, godlike beings who have once again emerged to play a role in the story of the Diné people. With the world taking new shape, many Diné have also undergone a metamorphosis. Supernatural abilities have manifested themselves in the form of clan powers. For Maggie, being part of the Honágháahnii (“one walks around) and K’aahanáanii (“living arrow”) clans, makes her unnaturally fast and an efficient killer.

Maggie has been training and hunting monsters for years, her drive is borne out of a tragic past when she lost the last person who truly cared about her. It’s easier for her not to care, to brush off the whispers behind her back, to close herself off from the world. But she is haunted by the fear that she will eventually become like the monsters she hunts and without someone to pull her back from these thoughts, it becomes a large part of who she is and affects how she navigates the world. Kai is an easy character to take a liking to. Gregarious and charming, Kai is the more efficient investigator. While Maggie is willing to spill a little blood in order to get answers, Kai tapers this instinct, showing her that reaching for her trusted Böker may not always be the best way to handle a situation. Their friendship is slow coming, but every small step forward feels like Maggie is pulled further out from the cage she has built for herself. It is through Kai’s eyes that Maggie slowly comes to realize that she can be more than the killer she was trained to be.

Roanhouse’s debut is easily my favorite book of year. Trial of Lightning captivates with its exhilarating action scenes, pulls you in with its multifaceted characters, and guts you with its epic ending. I cannot wait for more.

5/5

★★★★★