Mini-Reviews: Race to the Sun + Black Sun

Hello, friends! I have another set of backlog reviews for you. I really need to sit down and edit all these reviews I have sitting in my drafts. The only good thing about this is I haven’t been writing a ton of new reviews lately, so it’s nice to know I won’t run out of reviews to post anytime soon. Today, I am bringing you reviews for two books both by Rebecca Roanhorse. I picked up her middle grade, Race to the Sun, when I couldn’t get a hold of the audiobook for Black Sun, but I finally managed to pick up the latter as well. Both of these were stellar reads and I just love when writers can write for multiple audiences so well.

Title: Race to the Sun Author: Rebecca Roanhorse Series: N/A Pages: 306 Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents Release Date: January 14th 2020

TW: racism, bullying, homophobia

"Lately, seventh grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like that man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he's Mr. Charles, her dad's new boss at the oil and gas company, and he's alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he's a threat, but her father won't believe her. When Dad disappears the next day, leaving behind a message that says "Run!", the siblings and Nizhoni's best friend, Davery, are thrust into a rescue mission that can only be accomplished with the help of Diné Holy People, all disguised as quirky characters. Their aid will come at a price: the kids must pass a series of trials in which it seems like nature itself is out to kill them. If Nizhoni, Mac, and Davery can reach the House of the Sun, they will be outfitted with what they need to defeat the ancient monsters Mr. Charles has unleashed. But it will take more than weapons for Nizhoni to become the hero she was destined to be . . ."

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun is a daring thrill ride whose heart lies in a family-centered story. Nizhony Begay is your normal seventh grader with one exception. She isn’t the best at sports or school, but longs for some sort of recognition. She can also see monsters, but it’s not a secret she likes to share. When her father is taken by a wily monster, Nizhony, along with her brother Mac and best friend, Davery, must go on an epic quest to not only save him but also the world. Nizhony has a great youthful and humorous voice. She longs to be special, but is unsure if she has what it takes to be an actual hero and monster slayer. With help from various beings, Nizhony and company are faced with almost impossible odds. But Nizhony is far braver and selfless than she gives herself credit for. One storyline that particularly had me enthralled was Nizhony having to deal with her mother’s abandonment. It’s heartbreaking, but also full of hope. Nizhony must deal with her anger and sadness while also trying to understand that sometimes people are faced with impossible decisions, but this doesn’t negate their love for you. Race to the Sun, with its page-turning action and Navajo-inspired storyline, is sure to delight readers of all ages.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Black Sun Author: Rebecca Roanhorse Series: Between Earth and Sky, #1 Pages: 454 Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers Release Date: October 13th 2020

TW: forced prostitution, suicide, homophobia, racism

"The first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic. A god will return When the earth and sky converge Under the black sun In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world. Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain."

Rebecca Roanhorse builds a world like no other with her latest high fantasy series. Inspired by pre-Columbian times, Black Sun, her first book in the Between Earth and Sky series, follows the ascent and descent of several characters as they approach the day known as Convergence. In Tova, the Watchers, priests of different orders, are revered and paid homage. But there is plenty of distrust of their governance. The Carrion Crow clan in particular has clashed with the Watchers on numerous occasions. Carrion once held fast to the old religion but its followers were deemed blasphemous and hunted down and slaughtered on the Night of Knives. But there remains a small, devout group, still loyal to the Crow God, who hopes to see their God return and exact revenge. Serapio has known his fate since he was a boy, the first moment his mother gave him his first hatah, a tattoo symbolizing who his body belongs to. Now he must fulfill his destiny and return to Tova to confront the priests who slaughtered his people. Roanhorse’s fantasy novels are so enriching, always painting a vivid and lush story. The characters always feel like products of their worlds, each with their own desires and motivations. I love that we are introduced to several different characters and loved seeing how they interact and how each of their paths are destined to collide. Religion plays a vital role in this world, but it is often mixed with politics. Truth is often snuffed by those in power in an effort to hold on to said power. There is also really interesting mythological elements as one character is introduces as Teek, beings with strong ties to the sea. They are powerful, but are often discriminated against because of the mythos that surround them. With Black Sun Rebecca Roanhorse has risen as a powerhouse fantasy writer and if you are not reading her work, you are missing out on some of the most intricate and groundbreaking fantasy publishing has to offer.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Snapshot Review: Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan

Title: Jade Fire Gold
Author: June C.L. Tan
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 12th 2021

TW: self-harm, child abuse

      “In an empire on the brink of war…
      Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
      Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
      When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
      But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.
      Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.,/b>”

  • Ahn – Ahn has spent her life trying not to want more than she has. Abandoned as a child, Ahn has no memory of her parents, of what her life was like before Grandma Jia found her and took her in. Everyday has been a struggle to survive. Ahn is also harboring a secret that could get her and the people she loves killed. During the course of Jade Fire Gold, Ahn has to contend with all the voices inside her. Her magic feels reckless and uncontrollable, but it also makes her feel powerful. And power is so very enticing for someone who has lived such a powerless life.
  • Altan – Altan’s journey has been defined by revenge for so long, it’s difficult for him to see any other path for himself. He lost everything he loved years ago and for him, taking his throne back and killing those responsible for his family’s death is the only option for him. Altan is willing to go to extreme means to take down the usurpers of his throne, but his anger often blinds him to what is right in front of him.
  • Magical system and politics – I really loved the elemental magic in the novel especially how it intertwined with the politics of this world. Though magic has been banned in the Empire, there are a certain sect of priests who are still allowed to practice. They play a vital role in who holds power in the Empire. It was also interesting delving into the politics of history, how truth gets buried when those in power want to erase the past.
  • Time jumps – One of my major issues with the novel is the time jumps. I feel like as a reader we miss out on so much because of this. Ahn in particular goes through a lot of changes as she goes from living in poverty to living in a palace. But those changes feel very abrupt with a time jump and I really wanted to see things slow down, especially when Ahn begins to develop new relationships that I, as a reader, am supposed to feel invested in as various other storylines come to fruition.
  • Minor Character developmentJade Fire Gold has so many interesting minor characters, but we never really get to know any of them. I was really disappointed that we didn’t spend more time with Tai Shun, the current prince and Altan’s cousin. 
  • Romance – I wish I could say I enjoyed the romance in this novel, but most of the time I felt that it got in the way of both Ahn and Altan’s individual development. In the end, I think the book would have been better without it.

June CL Tan’s Jade Fire Gold has incredibly epic action scenes, but I couldn’t help but want more in terms of character and relationship development.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

Snapshot Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee

Title: Jade War
Author: Fonda Lee
Series: The Green Bone Saga, #2
Pages: 590
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: July 23rd 2019

TW: suicide, graphic violence, racism, mentions of rape and homophobia.

      “In Jade War, the sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Jade City, the Kaul siblings battle rival clans for honor and control over an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis.
      On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.
      Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.
      Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.
      Jade War is the second book of the Green Bone Saga, an epic trilogy about family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of blood and jade.”

  • The details – It’s hard not to appreciate how much detail Fonda Lee puts into her world. Everything is so well-thought out from the politics of this world to its economics. Kekon feels like a real place. As Lee opens up her world a little more to include international relations, this county feels a little smaller as it is not only its citizens but the countries that surround it that affect Kekon.
  • Sibling relationships – One of my favorite things about the previous book was the often messy and complicated relationships between siblings. We see this continue with Hilo and Shae and how their relationship has evolved. Of the three Kaul siblings, they are the pairing who naturally are at odds with one another. Both have to navigate positions they never thought they would have to take on and together they have to make decisions that not only affect them as individuals but the whole clan.
  • Family – Really liked seeing the emphasis put on family in this series. We are invested in the No Peak clan because of the Kaul siblings. We’ve spent the first two books learning who these characters are as a unit and how they navigate family and clan business. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with the Mountain clan where Ayt Mada isn’t surrounded by family because she literally killed them in order to gain her position. 
  • Wen and Anden – I really love the Kaul siblings, but really enjoyed seeing Wen and Anden stand out in this installment. Anden is dealing with the consequences of his actions, in particular his refusal to wear jade. He’s been shunned to Espenia and experiences culture shock. Wen is every bit the badass her husband is. She’s always felt like an outsider because she is stone-eyed, but is determined to contribute to the clan and not just as the wife of the Pillar. Her devotion to the clan and her need to prove herself worthy have her taking risks that can benefit No Peak greatly if she succeeds.
  • The surprisesJade War is full of even more surprises than Jade City. I think I held my breath during the final 40 pages. Fonda Lee did not pull any punches and it will be a while until I recover from this one.
  • Pacing Jade War felt slower than the previous book, but with its attention to detail, it’s hard to hold this against it.

Fonda Lee’s The Green Bone Saga is a smart and enthralling fantasy. Jade War will keep readers on their toes with its heart-stopping action and unexpected twists.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Snapshot Review: Illusionary by Zoraida Córdova

Title: Illusionary
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Series: Hollow Crown, #2
Pages: 368
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 11th 2021

TW: mentions of alcoholism and self-harm

**Contains Incendiary spoilers**

      “In Zoraida Córdova’s thrilling sequel to Incendiary, Renata embarks on a dangerous journey to bring justice to the kingdom — perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas.
      Reeling from betrayal at the hands of the Whispers, Renata Convida is a girl on the run. With few options and fewer allies, she’s reluctantly joined forces with none other than Prince Castian, her most infuriating and intriguing enemy. They’re united by lofty goals: find the fabled Knife of Memory, kill the ruthless King Fernando, and bring peace to the nation. Together, Ren and Castian have a chance to save everything, if only they can set aside their complex and intense feelings for each other.
      With the king’s forces on their heels at every turn, their quest across Puerto Leones and beyond leaves little room for mistakes. But the greatest danger is within Ren. The Gray, her fortress of stolen memories, has begun to crumble, threatening her grip on reality. She’ll have to control her magics–and her mind–to unlock her power and protect the Moria people once and for all.
      For years, she was wielded as weapon. Now it’s her time to fight back.”

      “We were given the power of a goddess, but we are still breakable things.”

  • Renata – Renata has been used my others her whole life. She’s been taught that her Robári abilities are dangerous, and her only value is as a weapon. Much of her agency has been taken from her. When she was young Justice Méndez manipulated her and exploited her. When she became a Whisper, she hoped she had found a place where she belonged, but the Moria rebel group never truly accepted her. In Illusionary, Renataś journey is one of self-discovery, learning to reclaim and value herself. She is able to find people who accept her for who she is, who help her in accept herself, and who trust her unequivocally.
  • Castian – If there was one thing I wanted more of in Incendiary, it was more Castian. He is probably the most puzzling and intriguing character in the first book, so I was very pleased that we as readers got to pull back the curtain and find out exactly who the Prince of Puerto Leones really is.
  • Second-love – I don’t want to give too much away, but it felt really refreshing reading a YA where someone’s first love may not be their be all end all. Renata is a different person than who she was at the beginning of the first book and as a result who she wants to be with and what she needs in a relationship has changed.
  • World-building expansion – I loved exploring Córdova’s world more in this sequel, meeting new characters, and seeing the magical system itself expand.
  • Epilogue – I can only recall one other book whose epilogue goes so far into the future. There are books that end that leave you wondering what happens next for the characters and I loved that we got to see what happens years down the road. We don’t always get that kind of closure as readers.
  • Dez’s storyline – With the first book’s revelation about Dez, I expected to see more of him in this book and felt that he deserved more page-time. Also connected to this is my desire to see more Margo. She is partially responsible for what happens to Renata at the end of Incendiary, and their reunion is a little anticlimatic considering all animus.
  • Secondary charactersIncendiary and Illusionary have some great secondary characters like Nuria and Leo, but there were a few characters that I really wanted to get to know more about and we didn’t. At the top of my list is Queen Josephine, wife of King Fernando. I feel like she would have made a great ally or enemy. It’s hard to say as we learn so little about her.

Zoraida Córdova concludes her Hollow Crown duology with Illusionary, giving Renata the space to unlearn harmful beliefs about herself as well as the means to reclaim herself as her own.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)