We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal

Title: We Free the Stars
Author: Hafsah Faizal
Series: Sands of Arawiya, #2
Pages: 592
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: January 19th 2021

TW: mentions of physical and emotional abuse by a parent

**Includes spoilers for We Hunt the Flame**

      “The battle on Sharr is over. The dark forest has fallen. Altair may be captive, but Zafira, Nasir, and Kifah are bound for Sultan’s Keep, determined to finish the plan he set in motion: restoring the hearts of the Sisters of Old to the minarets of each caliphate, and finally returning magic to all of Arawiya. But they are low on resources and allies alike, and the kingdom teems with fear of the Lion of the Night’s return.
      As the zumra plots to overthrow the kingdom’s darkest threat, Nasir fights to command the magic in his blood. He must learn to hone his power into a weapon, to wield not only against the Lion but against his father, trapped under the Lion’s control. Zafira battles a very different darkness festering in her through her bond with the Jawarat—a darkness that hums with voices, pushing her to the brink of her sanity and to the edge of a chaos she dare not unleash. In spite of the darkness enclosing ever faster, Nasir and Zafira find themselves falling into a love they can’t stand to lose…but time is running out to achieve their ends, and if order is to be restored, drastic sacrifices will have to be made.
      Lush and striking, hopeful and devastating, We Free the Stars is the masterful conclusion to the Sands of Arawiya duology by New York Times–bestselling author Hafsah Faizal.”

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“He melted into the night, his feet barely touching the ground as he sprinted along the edge. Her heart crammed half a croak into her throat as he leaped at the end, arms spreading, a falcon in flight for the barest of moments before he tumbled onto the next rooftop, silhouetted against the night.”

Hafsah Faizal concludes her duology We Hunt the Flame with We Free the Stars, a chunky sequel with heartstopping action at every turn. At the conclusion of We Free the Stars, Zafira, Huntress of Demenhur, found herself joining forces with unlikely allies to defeat the Lion of the Night and restore magic to Arawiya. But facing off against a foe far more powerful comes at a cost. Forced to leave behind one of their own in order to escape, Zafira, along with Nasir and Kifah race to restore the hearts of Sisters of Old and usher Arawiya into a new era. Meanwhile Altair is held captive by his own father, the Lion of the Night, a revelation that has sent him reeling and which will test the bonds he has formed while on Sharr.

Faizal builds on her universe with this sequel, diving deeper into the world of Arawiya and a story of revenge that’s been brewing for generations. We learn in this sequel that Arawiya’s fate will be shaped by both mortal and immortal beings. The Lion of the Night has dark plans for this world. He is cunning and secretive. The small glimpses we get of his humanity make him an interesting, but still terrifying character. Though restoring magic is Zafira and company’s ultimate goal, we learn just how much magic can be influenced by darkness. The Jawarat, a book that promised a way to restore magic, has its own goals. It has become sentient and has begun to dig its claws into Zafira. It pushes and whispers to her, clouding her judgment.

As much as I love the world building in this duology, it’s the characters who have kept me glued to the pages. Both their personal journeys as well as the shifting dynamics between them. Zafira has gone from hiding who she is to embracing it, but in so doing, she also must confront the darkness inside her, a darkness the Jawarat continues to call to. Nasir was raised by his father to be a cold-blooded killer. He’s done his best to stomp out the empathy his mother once fostered. While on Sharr, he developed an unexpectedly connection to Zafira which made him question his own objectives as his father’s assassin. He also grew closer to Altair, who is later revealed to be his half-brother. The relationships Nasir has forged are changing him and his new purpose pits him against his own father. Zafira and Nasir’s interactions are so delectable. I loved seeing them navigate this connection between them when neither of them are very good at being open with others. Every look they exchanged, every conversation, and every interaction was torturous, but in the best possible way.

Faizal also expands on Altair’s characterization in this sequel. Though he often comes off as frivolous, Altair has been playing the long game, working behind the scenes. I loved seeing a more vulnerable Altair in this one. He’s used his charm to cover up the ways he’s been hurting. He has both loved and hated his brother, resented and craved the attention of his mother. I would have loved to have seen chapters from Kifah’s POV, but still appreciated the bond she forms with the others, Zafira in particular. Kifah’s always wanted to prove her father wrong, but has found another purpose and another family where she least expected it.

We Free the Stars is a daring conclusion to one of the most memorable fantasy series I’ve ever read. I look forward to devouring everything Hafsah Faizal writes and am hoping we might see a spin-off series in the future.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Mini-Reviews: The Burning God + A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

Today I’m bringing you two mini-reviews of books I finished at the end of 2020. I’m going to admit right now that I haven’t written a review in 2021, but I better get on this as this is the last series of reviews I have in my drafts. **laughs nervously**

Title: The Burning God
Author: R.F. Kuang
Series: The Burning God, #3
Pages: 654
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: November 17th 2020

**Includes spoilers for The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic**

TW: rape (including child rape), graphic violence, castration, suicide, genocide, drug use, self-harm, cannibalism, human experimentation

      “After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
      Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
      Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
      The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.

swirl (2)R.F. Kuang’s The Burning God provides a staggering ending to her epic fantasy series, The Poppy War. After being betrayed by someone close to her, Rin has gathered with allies in the south to fight against Federation soldiers who remain in the region even after their country’s defeat. But another battle is on the horizon as Vaisra has declared himself the President of the Nikara Republic and aligned himself with the Hesperians. Rin is determined to rid the Empire of the Hesperians for good, but in order to do so, she will have to align herself with nefarious characters and start a civil war that may spell Nikan’s doom in the end. Kuang has explored many different themes in her series from the trauma of war to Western imperialism. One thing that’s stood out is the uncompromising and sobering tone these books take on. These heavy topics are never romanticized. Her characters continually grapple with decisions they’ve made and no choice is ever simple. This has never been a good vs evil kind of story. It is grim and horrendous at times. Its characters exist in a grey area and they can be both the hero and the villain at the same time. The highlight of this final book is Rin’s relationship with Kitay. She’s relied on him to help her bridge the gap between her and her god, but more importantly he has become her tether to the physical world. Unfortunately Rin’s sole purpose has been to be a weapon, her rise could not have happen outside of war, and it begs the question what becomes of her and those like her who have only ever known how to survive and not necessarily how to live? The Burning God is merciless but a fitting conclusion to one of the most brutal and heart-stopping series I’ve ever read.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
Author: Roseanne A. Brown
Series: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, #1
Pages: 480
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: June 2nd 2020

TW: death of a parent, self-harm

      “For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.
      But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.
      When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?
      The first in an fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.

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Roseanne A. Brown debuts with a luscious fantasy novel, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, which chronicles two desperate characters on a collision course with one another. Malik, along with his sisters, are traveling to Ziran in hopes of finding a better life, but their plans are thwarted by an evil spirit who orders Malik to take the life of Princess Karina or watch his younger sister perish. Karina never got over her father and older sister’s passing. She knows she should never have been heir to her mother’s throne, but fate is nothing if not cruel. When the sultana is murdered before her eyes, Karina is desperate to bring her back, even if it means meddling in dangerous magic that demands she take another’s life. Brown’s world is vibrant and intricate, the magical system is intriguing but the physical world also holds its share of wonders. Karina is an incredibly strong-willed character, bred for the spotlight. She’s brazen and confident, but these characteristics sometimes hide the loneliness she’s experienced in her grief. Malik, on the other hand, shrinks from the spotlight. He’s shy, vulnerable, and struggles with panic attacks. No one looks at him and thinks hero, not even himself, but his strength lies in his love for his sisters and his ability to empathize with those around him. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin‘s unpredictable ending with its many duplicitous characters and shifting dynamics promises a whirlwind of a sequel.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Mini-Reviews: The Sound of Stars & 10 Things I Hate About Pinky

Not me finding five-month-old mini-reviews in my drafts! **insert cringe emoji** Honestly, I was tempted to just delete these instead of editing (they were very messy) and posting it since it’s been so long, but I figured you all need to hear how much I enjoyed these to books even if the reviews are long overdue.

Title: The Sound of Stars
Author:
Alechia Dow
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: February 25th 2020

      “Can a girl who risks her life for books and an alien who loves forbidden pop music work together to save humanity?
      Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.
      Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.
      Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.
      Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.”

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Alechia Dow’s The Sound of Stars is a fun sci-fi adventure with two likable leads on an against-all-odds mission to save the world. Ellie has spent the last two years imprisoned by the Ilori, the alien race who invaded earth. One of the few things that bring her joy is the underground library she runs. Books have always been a refuge for Ellie and she knows people more than ever need a momentary respite from the world. When one of her books goes missing, Ellie meets M0Rr1s, a labmade Ilori, who is a little too human for her liking. Despite being from opposite sides of an intergalactic war, Ellie and Morris find a rare connection with one another. Ellie is a Black teen with an anxiety disorder that she has had to find ways to deal with without medication ever since the invasion. While the story does not focus on race, racism has still played a part in Ellie’s life. She understands that humanity isn’t necessarily worth saving because of its prejudices and in many ways humankind hasn’t necessarily earned its salvation. I loved the deep love shown to art in The Sound of Stars. For Ellie, it’s books that have helped her find who she is. For Morris, it’s his love of music that has moved him. I loved the affection these two characters have for one other. At its core The Sound of Stars is a celebration of the human spirit and the power of stories. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much these characters wormed their way into my heart by the end.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: 10 Things I Hate About Pinky
Author: Sandhya Menon
Series: Dimple and Rishi, #3
Pages: 368
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: July 21st 2020

      “The follow-up to When Dimple Met Rishi and There’s Something about Sweetie follows Pinky and Samir as they pretend to date—with disastrous and hilarious results.
    Pinky Kumar wears the social justice warrior badge with pride. From raccoon hospitals to persecuted rock stars, no cause is too esoteric for her to champion. But a teeny-tiny part of her also really enjoys making her conservative, buttoned-up corporate lawyer parents cringe.
      Samir Jha might have a few . . . quirks remaining from the time he had to take care of his sick mother, like the endless lists he makes in his planner and the way he schedules every minute of every day, but those are good things. They make life predictable and steady…
      Pinky loves lazy summers at her parents’ Cape Cod lake house, but after listening to them harangue her about the poor decisions (aka boyfriends) she’s made, she hatches a plan. Get her sorta-friend-sorta-enemy, Samir—who is a total Harvard-bound Mama’s boy—to pose as her perfect boyfriend for the summer. As they bicker their way through lighthouses and butterfly habitats, sparks fly, and they both realize this will be a summer they’ll never forget.”

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Sandhya Menon delivers her most enjoyable novel since When Dimple Met Rishi with this companion novel 10 Things I Hate About Pinky. Readers were first introduced to characters Pinky and Samir in There’s Something About Sweetie. Pinky Kumar has embraced the fact that she will never be the kind of goody-two-shoes daughter her parents hoped for. But she knows who she is and knows that standing up for what she believes is more important than having your entire future planned out. Samir Jha likes predictability, in fact, he thrives off of knowing what to expect at all times. When a summer internship falls through, leaving Samir desperate for another opportunity, Pinky proposes an arrangement. Be her fake boyfriend for the summer and prove to her parents she isn’t as irresponsible as they think and she’ll help him land a new internship. But the more Pinky and Samir spend time together, the animosity they once felt begins turning into something more like attraction. Though much of the novel focuses on the potential romance between these very different characters, it’s Pinky’s tumultuous relationship with her mother that drives the story. Pinky isn’t always great at communication but it’s easy to see how desperate she is for her mother’s approval. Samir makes an fantastic foil to Pinky, especially as an ally. He challenges her and isn’t afraid to call her out. He is secure in who he is and finds it far easier than Pinky to admit how he feels. Also worth noting is Pinky’s relationship with her cousin Dolly, who her mother always seems to praise compared to herself. I loved that neither of these characters fell into a rivalry with one another. They were always supportive and saw the best in each other. Fans of the fake dating and hate-to-love tropes, rejoice! Sandhya Menon’s latest, 10 Things I Hate About Pinky was written for you.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Title: Clap When You Land
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Release Date: May 5th 2020

TW: death of a parent, sexual assault, mentions of sex trafficking

      “In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.
    Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…
      In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.
      Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.
      And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.”

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“Neighbors pour into the house
like our grief is a bottomless thirst
& God has tipped this pitcher of people to fill us up.”

Elizabeth Acevedo delivers her most emotionally-charged novel with Clap When You Land, chronicling the grief of two sisters who discover one another’s existence only after the death of their father. Every summer Camino’s father visits her in the Dominican Republic where she lives with her aunt since her mother’s passing a decade earlier. And at the end of every summer when he leaves for the States, she wishes she could go with him. Yahaira’s relationship with her father has been strained since she learned of a secret he’s been keeping. Her resentment has built up in silence as she’s never found the courage to confront him. Just when she thinks she’s found the words, he has to leave for work like he does every summer in the Dominican Republic. As Camino awaits her father’s arrival and Yahaira says goodbye to him for the summer, the unthinkable happens. Their father’s plane crashes, leaving no survivors. What follows is a heartbreaking story of two girls picking up the pieces of their lives in the midst of loss, discovering that neither of them knew their father completely, and figuring out if there is a way to move forward with the wounds their father left behind.

Camino has aspirations that have always felt far reaching but still possible. Having assisted her Tía Solana with her work as a curandera, Camino wants to become a doctor. Her father’s financial support has provided her with an education that not many young people in her county have. When he dies, her whole world feels like it’s flipped upside down. The stability he provided is gone and her future suddenly becomes muddled. Finding out that she has a sister that lives in the States feels like a blow when she’s never been allowed to live with her father and when at the end of every summer, he left her to return to his other daughter who will never know the struggles she has had. The Dominican Republic has been exploited and its goods used to fill the pockets of foreigners, meanwhile its people are barely getting by. To Camino, Yahaira represents the life she should have had, but will probably never get to with her father’s passing.

Yahaira had already began to grapple with the fact that her father wasn’t the person she thought he was. They had been growing apart and she never was able to forgive him for the secret she discovered before his passing. When he dies, she regrets not confronting him but also doesn’t know what to do with the anger she still feels toward him or how to go about forgiving someone who is no longer alive. Her mother comes apart with the news of her husband’s passing and Yahaira does her best to keep them both afloat. Yahaira’s girlfriend Dre is the one person she feels she can be vulnerable around. Their relationship offers some of the sweetest moments in the novel. When Yahaira meets Camino, she cannot help but feel inadequate in comparison. She’s grapples with being a part of the diaspora and not feeling like she is Dominican enough to belong to this country.

Clap When You Land demonstates Acevedo’s gift of storytelling through her latest novel-in-verse. Poetry is the chosen medium used to convey the depth of emotion the two POV characters experience throughout the story. Acevedo writing is succinct but no less powerful and wrought with emotion. Grief is present in every interaction Camino and Yahaira have with other people and with each other. Both characters go through stages of shock, denial, acceptance. Acevedo captures the trauma of losing someone, how this life-altering devastation affects you physically, emotionally, and psychologically. For Camino and Yahaira, the discovery that there is someone out there who understands exactly what they are feeling is marred by the fact that the person they are mourning lied to them their whole lives.

Clap When You Land explores how complicated grief can be, how it can unravel your entire world, but how it can also forge unbreakable bonds. Acevedo’s latest is a somber read but still makes room for light in the darkest of places.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)