Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Title: Children of Blood and Bone
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Series: Legacy of Orïsha, #1
Pages: 525
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 6th 2018

      “Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
      But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
      Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
      Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.”

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“I gasp as the sweltering jungle heat around us snaps to a freezing cold. The chill bites through my skin, cutting straight to the bone.But the icy rush only lasts an instant. As quick as it comes, it vanishes, leaving us bewildered on the mountainside.”

Tomi Adeyemi’s much-anticipated debut, Children of Blood and Bone, is full of breathtaking adventure and features a world that is both stunning and complex. The land of Orïsha once overflowed with magic. The maji worked wonders, but hatred and a thirst for power turned the crown against them. When magic mysteriously disappeared, King Saran ordered the eradication of the defenseless maji, robbing the world of any trace of magic. Zélie knows intimately the injustices of Saran’s enmity toward those like her mother. As a divîner, Zélie and children like her who bear the mark of a once-promised magic, cannot hide what they might have become. Though magic no longer exists, it does not protect them from the prejudices held against them. When Zélie is unexpectedly thrust into an impossible scheme by Saran’s daughter Amari to restore magic to the divîners of Orïsha, she embarks on a journey that will test her resolve and courage.

Adeyemi has build a world that is inventive and multi-layered. In Orïsha, magic has divided its people. The divîners, those who would have become maji if magic still existed, remind King Saran and those who think like him of the corruption of magic. Those like Zélie are treated as inferior, subjected to daily prejudice and harsh punishment. She, along with other divîners, have trained in secret for years, knowing that one day Saran may come for them the way he came for their parents. The gods once occupied an important part of this world, but since magic’s disappearance, many believe the gods have abandoned them for good.

Told in three perspectives, Children of Blood and Bone, gives its readers an in-depth look at the young people who will ultimately shape the fate of this world. Zélie is an easy character to like. She’s tough and determined, and even when she is reckless, it’s hard not to admire her for wanting to do the right thing despite the consequences. Her doubts about her abilities are what ultimately make her a relatable character. Zélie lost her mother at a young age to Saran and his war against the maji. Magic is the strongest tie Zélie has to her mother; it’s a link to a past where those like her were able to thrive; it’s freedom from the oppression of Saran and a chance to right the wrongs she and those like her have endured. Her relationship with her brother, Tzain, is one of my favorites in the novel. He feels a strong obligation to protect her, but finds it hard when Zélie is more of a leap-first, think-later kind of person. She loves her brother, but finds his protectiveness to be stifling.

As princess of Orïsha, much is expected of Amari. Expectations that both her parents are disappointed that Amari fails to meet. She’s timid and soft-hearted. Though her father has wanted to raise both of his children to be strong and unrelenting, Amari has refused to raise a hand against those she cares about. I loved Amari’s entire arc, how she learns to embrace her own strengths when much of the world sees such traits as weak. Inan is destined to take over Orïsha from his father. He has learned to hate magic and will do anything to keep it from returning. His mission to retrieve a stolen artifact takes an unexpected turn when he crosses paths with Zélie. I loved his early interactions with Zélie as he is forced to face truths about himself and Saran, but does so very reluctantly. His relationship with Amari has been poisoned by their father. I really wanted to explore this aspect of both of their characters more. Saran is such a strong influence in both their lives, but we hardly get to see them interact with him.

Children of Blood and Bone is an impressive debut that takes readers on an epic journey full of hope and heartbreak. With an ending that will shake you to the core, Adeyemi has introduced readers to a world you won’t soon forget.

4/5

★★★★

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Series: The Folk of the Air, #1
Pages: 384
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 2nd 2017

      “Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
      To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.
      In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

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“I thought I was supposed to be good and follow the rules…But I am done with being weak. I am done with being good. I think I am going to be something else.”

Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince features a complex heroine who is forced to become more ruthless than the monsters who surround her in order to survive. Jude was taken from the human world along with her sisters when she was a child and has grown up under the watchful eye of Madoc, the High King of Elfhame’s powerful general. As a mortal, Jude will never truly belong in the Faerie realm, but she has been so altered by its cruelty and majesty, that returning to the human world is unthinkable. Jude must find a way to earn her place in the High Court, to ensure her own safety and protection for those she cares about. But sparring with a foe who is stronger and more powerful than she will ever be will push Jude to her limits and could turn her into something even more terrible than than the Fae themselves.

Jude was such an interesting character in that she never wanted to embrace her humanity, but instead understood that she had to rid herself of her very human weaknesses in order to gain any kind of footing in the Faerie world. Her relationship with this world is rooted in opposing emotions. She hates these immortal beings for taking away her parents, for their cruelty, and the alienation she feels being a part of their world but not of it. But on the other hand, she has found a home in this strange and inhuman world. She admires their strength, ruthlessness, and power. Jude longs for the kind of power that no mortal has ever been granted. For the Faeries, mortal are playthings. There to amuse or serve them one minute and then to be discarded the next. It is for this reason that Jude is able to move undetected among them, it’s why her defiance is so provoking to those with more power, and why, though improbably, Jude finds a way to shape not just her own story but those around her.

I loved all the different relationships Jude has with each member of her family. Her twin sister Taryn very much wants to embrace the Faerie world, but in a very human way. She ultimate believes love will be her protection. She is everything that Jude might have been if she hadn’t been consumed by her own ambition. Jude’s older sister Vivi is half-Faerie and half-human. She longs to return to the human world where she has fallen in love with a human girl. Vivi hates her father Madoc for shattering her world and perhaps blames him for her sisters’ love for the Faerie realm. As far as side characters go, I thought Vivi was the most interesting and deserved more page time. For Jude, Madoc has always represented the best and worst part of the Faerie world. He murdered her parents, but has also shown her and her sisters a great deal of affection. He pushes her, but in many ways, also hold her back.

Making these vicious creatures romantic characters is always tricky. Faeries are inherently cruel and selfish. After finishing this first installment, I wonder if there is any goodness to be found in these creatures that you could call redeeming or if their nature is such that the morality we apply to human characters cannot be applied to them. It is for this reason that I found it hard to root for certain characters. Though it is revealed later that the motives of some may not be solely rooted in hatred, I still found it hard to forget the malice shown to the protagonist. I understood more what a Faerie might see in Jude in that she finds a way to overcome her own weaknesses despite her fragility as a mortal, but couldn’t quite see what Jude would see in someone who has been a thorn in her side. Still, I’m curious to see where the author decides to take a certain relationship.

Overall, Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince was a fascinating read that had me racing to the end with its startling conclusion.

4/5

★★★★

ARC Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

Title: The Price Guide to the Occult
Author: Leslye Walton
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Publisher: Candlewick
Release Date: March 13th 2018
*I received a free copy of this novel through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

      “The Blackburn women are cursed. Ever since the extraordinary witch Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island centuries ago and was shunned by the eight ‘original’ settlers, Blackburn witches have been doomed to carry out a brief whirlwind affair with a descendant of the Original Eight. The vengeful curse, however, had unintended side effects: it diluted the Blackburns’ supernatural powers. That’s perfectly all right with seventeen-year-old Nor Blackburn. All she wants is a quiet, unremarkable life—her powers are blissfully unexceptional, her love life pretty much nonexistent. Nor hopes the curse has played itself out through enough generations that she’ll finally be spared the drama. But when a mysterious book comes out promising to cast any spell for the right price, Nor senses a dark storm headed straight for Anathema—and straight for her.
      In her second novel, Leslye Walton spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl stumbling along the path toward self-acceptance and first love, even as the Price Guide’s malevolent author—Nor’s own mother—looms and threatens to strangle any hope for happiness.”

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Leslye Waltons’s The Price Guide to the Occult is a captivating fantasy that pits its heroine against her own mother in a novel full of magic and pain. Nor is part of a long line of Blackburn women whose magical abilities have both beguiled folk on Anathema Island and caused them to regard these women with suspicion. Nor would like nothing more than to have everyone forget the notoriety of her family name even as the magic that courses through her veins grows harder and harder to ignore. When the book, The Price Guide to the Occult, makes its way to the island, Nor can’t help but notice its contents bare a striking resemblance to spells cast long ago by her ancestor Rona Blackburn. Something grows amiss with the people on the island who once pledged their allegiance to Nor’s mother and she can’t shake the feeling that something is coming. As much as Nor would like to fade into the background, the danger heading her way will force her to confront her past and embrace the magic inside her she has tried so hard to deny.

When one loves a book like I have loved Walton’s first novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, it’s inevitable that I will compare this second to the first. While Ava Lavender was steeped in magical realism, The Price Guide to the Occult reads more like a fantasy novel. Curses, witches, and spells fill this new world. While I found lots of charm in the idea of people like Nor’s grandmother using her Blackburn gift to heal ailments that may not be treated with modern medicine, I really wanted the author to delve more into this world. But the novel is limited to Nor’s perspective and she would rather distance herself from any kind of magic and so we as readers miss out on exploring this kind of magic more in depth. The island felt like a distinct character itself. Being isolated from the mainland, it felt like a place where magic could be whispered about, but go largely unnoticed to the rest of the world. Nor’s world is small, but also full of people who have taken part in her upbringing, who have occupied that space once reserved for her mother who abandoned her long ago.

Nor’s avoidance of magic is tied specifically to her relationship with her mother. Next to Nor, Fern Blackburn is the most clearly defined of the characters. Fern was never a nurturing mother. Her obsession with Nor’s father overrode any love she may have once felt for her daughter. Willing to do anything to get what she wanted, Fern didn’t bat an eyelash when it came to harming her own daughter in order to do so. Able to manipulate others, Fern has made a living off of other people’s pain. Nor lives in fear of becoming her mother, of being the kind of person that uses others without a second thought. But the people in Nor’s life, from her best friend Savvy to her grandmother Judd, are evidence that Nor is not like her mother at all. I do want to mention that the novel does deal with self-harm. Nor has hurt herself in the past and struggles with overcoming the urge to do so again throughout the story.

The Price Guide to the Occult is a short novel and in many places this shows. The development of certain relationships suffer from lack of page time. While there’s a budding romance between Nor and a boy she thought she would never see again, I found myself more invested in her relationship with the prickly Gage Coldwater. He and his family play a vital role in the island’s history and while this explains the animosity he feels toward Nor, I really wanted to see more about how this relationship shifts. There is a time-jump later on in the novel where this development takes place and so wish I could have witnessed more of their interactions. The novel also comes to a close rather quickly. There is a lot of build-up where Nor’s mother is concerned and I expected the battle to be a bit longer.

Overall, The Price Guide to the Occult is a wonderful example of Walton’s storytelling ability. Nor is a memorable character and the world Walton has built is filled with both beauty and horror.

4/5

★★★★

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Beautiful Ones
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 327
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: October 24th 2017

      “In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be.
      Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.
      Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamed of, but Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.
      The Beautiful Ones is a sweeping fantasy of manners set in a world inspired by the Belle Époque.

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“Hector raised his hands, the candle flames rising with them, and with one movement of his arms they merged into a prodigious ball of fire that he then snuffed out with a clap of his hands, causing several spectators shriek because, for a moment, it seemed like he was about to scorch himself.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Beautiful Ones is a character-driven novel that combines fantasy and romance in a eloquent story rapt with emotion. Antonina “Nina” Beaulieu has been invited to stay with her cousin in Loisail for her first Grand Season. The city is a far cry from Nina’s home in the country, but she can’t help but see its appeal when she meets the mysterious Hector Auvray. A gifted telekinetic, Hector has risen to prominence performing for audiences across the globe. When Hector begins courting Nina, she’s convinced that they are meant to be. Hector, however, has a ulterior motive, one that will bring Nina’s world crashing down.

Moreno-Garcia juggles three perspectives and does a masterful job of fleshing out each character, making them feel real to the reader and allowing each to have their strengths as well as their faults. Nina is more comfortable trying to catch beetles and butterflies than a potential husband. Not the kind of young woman that suitors line up for in a city like Loisail, Nina finds rules regarding etiquette to be stifling. It doesn’t help that her telekinetic ability often manifests at inopportune times. While those in Loisail can appreciate such a talent as a means of entertainment, it is not something suitable for ladies to display. Nina is markedly younger than the other two characters and it very much shows. Hopelessly romantic and naive about the world, Nina is easily taken in. She believes the very best about people because she has never been exposed to those who would use others for their own gain. Her inexperience opens her up to plenty of heartache. Though her openness was one of the first things I admired about her, her growth as a character made me appreciate her even more. I loved that Moreno-Garcia took the most humble of the three characters and allowed her to develop and show strength unparalleled.

Hector is not a character that you immediately fall in love with. Yes, in some ways, he can be seen as simply a tragic figure. Coming from nothing, Hector has managed to accumulate the kind of wealth that people in Loisail are either born with or marry into. While trying to recognize this dream, he ended up losing his first love in the process. His choice to court Nina only as a means to get close to another instinctively made me bristle. That being said, his is a really rewarding character arc as he is forced to confront his own naivety. Even as a grown man, he still has a lot to learn. Hector learns to see the past and present how they are and now how he wishes them to be.

At times I wanted to dislike Valérie wholeheartedly, but Moreno-Garcia has created such a complicated character that it’s difficult not to admire her in some way. Valérie was pressured into marrying Nina’s cousin Gaeten in order to save her family from financial ruin. But lest you think she is some tragic figure, Valérie is also vain, resentful, and prone to jealousy. She often regards Nina with disdain because, unlike her, Nina has more freedom to choose who she marries. Nina also has the love of her cousin, something Valérie doesn’t necessarily want, but which her proud personality demands. She’s an incredibly manipulative person who is much more comfortable being cruel than sentimental. For her, loving someone means they have power over her and she refuses to be under another’s thumb. There’s no way to justify Valérie’s every decision, but because she is such a well-developed character, I understood why she did the things she did and this ultimately made her an exceptional antagonist.

The Beautiful Ones showcases just how versatile and gifted a writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia is. The world she builds is very easy to fall in love with and my only criticism is that I wanted to see more of the telekinetic aspect. Still, there are few books that leave me feeling completely satisfied and The Beautiful Ones is one of them.

5/5

★★★★★

ARC Review: By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

Title: By a Charm and a Curse
Author: Jaime Questell
Series: N/A
Pages: 300
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Release Date: February 1st 2018
*I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review*

      “Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.
      Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.
      Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

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One of the most appealing aspects of Jaime Questell’s By a Charm and a Curse is its carnival setting, but I could not help but want more from this backdrop. Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic is supposed to be a place where Emma gets a chance to forget all her problems for one night. No thinking about her mother, who is a world a way on a research project, or the fact that since she moved back with her dad, the easy friendship she had with her childhood best friend Juliet, can sometimes feel forced. When Emma is tricked and forced to bear a curse that links her to the carnival and its troupe, her problems go from bad to worse. The curse alters her entirely. An unshakable coldness settles into her bones, making all previous human sensations a distance memory. In exchange for Emma’s involuntary sacrifice, those who work for the carnival are protected with a charm that prevents injury or illness. But Emma is desperate to reclaim her freedom, but in so doing, she may have to ensnare someone else.

The curse and charm aspect of the novel created an interesting predicament for the protagonist. Not being able to leave the carnival and unable to feel like she can function normally, Emma is trapped in a strange place with no one to turn to. Her only out is to find someone else to take on the curse, but that would require her to condemn an innocent person. This novel had the potential to be darker than it was and it is the possibility of a darker character arc for the protagonist that had me wanting more. Emma is a really naive character in the beginning of the novel and accepts her role as the “Girl in the Box” a little too quickly. I really wanted to explore how this loss of agency over her own life alters her as a person, but the author never delves this deep.

The novel features a dual perspective; the second of which belongs to Benjamin. As a roustabout, Benjamin is not a performer himself, but someone who works behind the scenes. He often feels like an outsider himself. His mother is a really strong influence in his life, though not always in a good way. She’s determined to protect him, but her need to shield him from life’s woes is stifling. Ben longs to leave the carnival, to stay in one place for once and make himself a home. As a character, Ben felt more developed than Emma and a lot of this had to do with his relationship to the carnival folk. We never get to see Emma with her family and only briefly see her interacting with her best friend. With Ben, we get to know him through his interactions with his mother especially. There’s a power struggle between the two that ends up revealing a really interesting backstory for his mother. As much as Ben feels like the carnival isn’t his home, there are many members of the troupe that he has a close relationship with. I enjoyed a lot of scenes with sisters Whiskey and Gin especially.

By a Charm and a Curse lacks the kind of magic I was hoping for in a carnival setting, left something to be desired when it came to darker elements, but showed promise when it came to its characters.

3/5

★★★

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy, #1
Pages: 346
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release Date: January 10th 2017

      “At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
      After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
      And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
      As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

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“The moon was little thicker than a crescent, the light a glitter of blue. Vasya ran, with a panic she could not understand. The life she had led made her strong. She bolted and let the cool wind wash the taste of fear from her mouth.”

Katherine Arden captivates with her storytelling in her debut fantasy The Bear and the Nightingale. Vasya grows up in a family that belongs to two worlds. In a time where devotion to the old gods is dying, Vasya must hide her ability to see the old ones, but her gift may be what saves her as a darkness slowly descends upon the land. Her new stepmother and a recently arrived priest believe these creatures to be demons and are determined to rid the people of their devotion to said gods, but in so doing, they will put everyone in danger. As Vasya grows older, it becomes clear that her journey will bring her closer to Morozko, a demon of winter, but whether he offers help or death is uncertain.

Arden’s novel may be slow-paced for some, but for those who enjoy the journey of a tale and love an intricately woven story, The Bear and the Nighingale unfolds delicately and rewardingly. The novels opens before Vasya is even born where characters like her mother, whom she never gets to know, remain important players in a larger story. With eloquent descriptions that bring the bitter cold of Vasya’s world to life, allow the magic of old to seep through its pages, and takes the reader on an epic journey, Arden’s writing is an utter delight.

I loved how we as readers get to see Vasya grow up. As the world around her is concerned with more dire matters, Vasya grows up wanting to be a part of her older siblings’ lives but is always being told she is too young. Even as a child, she is willful and astute, her eagerness and unabashed openness is sometimes regarded with offense. Her stepmother regards her with barely contained scorn. Her potential beaus are shaken by her audacity and strength. The pious priest Konstantin, takes every opportunity to remind Vasya that she must turn to God and forsake old beliefs. Vasya, despite the disapproval of those around her, remains a strong and able heroine. Brave and selfless, Vasya is a character who is hard to forget and one worthy of admiration.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a wondrous tale of one girl’s strength in the midst of a cruel world and the power of sacrifice. Vasya is a protagonist who is easy to love and with every step she takes, you as a reader feel like you are taking it with her. Characters like the enigmatic Morozko are both dangerous and magnetic, making you want more. With this debut, Arden has secured herself as an author to pay attention to.

4/5

★★★★