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: Blazewrath Games [ARC review] + Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

I have been reading so much over the last couple of months that I have only had time to write snapshot and mini-reviews. I miss writing full reviews, so I am hoping this month I can get back to doing so. Today, I have two reviews of books by Latinx authors, one of which comes out tomorrow!

Title: Blazewrath Games
Author: Amparo Ortiz
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Page Street Books
Release Date: October 6th 2020

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

TW: violence, mention of domestic violence

      “How to Train Your Dragon meets Quidditch through the Ages in this debut fantasy, set in an alternate contemporary world, in which dragons and their riders compete in an international sports tournament.
      Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.
      But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.”

swirl (2)Amparo Ortiz’s YA debut, Blazewrath Games, is an utter delight, a captivating fantasy from start to finish. Lana Torres has one dream, to become the Runner for the Puerto Rican team in the Blazewrath World Cup, a game played with dragons and their riders. After a dangerous brush with death in which Lana confronts a follower of the notorious Sire, a man who was once a dragon, Lana misses her chance at tryouts. But when the president of the International Blazewrath Federation takes notice, Lana is given another chance to join the Puerto Rican team. As Lana and her new team train together, news of the Sire conducting raids on dragon sanctuaries begins to circulate. Soon Lana finds herself caught in another game as the Sire threatens violence if the Cup is not canceled; meanwhile, the people Lana is supposed to trust the most are calling for the Cup to go on as planned. Ortiz’s has built such a complex world with Blazewrath Games. I enjoyed every time we as readers got to see another layer and loved how each new fact built on the last. Dragons aren’t the only magical beings, there are also witches and wizards. One of my favorite side characters was Lana’s best friend, Samira, who is a copper-wand witch and what she lacks in magical skill she makes up for in drive. It was really interesting to explore different polarizing views in this world and how they  influenced both the heroes and villains of the story. Blazewrath Games is a celebration of camaraderie and belonging, with enough twists and turns to keep readers on their toes.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)

 

Title: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Series: Paola Santiago, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Release Date: August 4th 2020

TW: mentions of deportation

      “Space-obsessed 12-year-old Paola Santiago and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, know the rule: Stay away from the river. It’s all they’ve heard since a schoolmate of theirs drowned a year ago. Pao is embarrassed to admit that she has been told to stay away for even longer than that, because her mother is constantly warning her about La Llorona, the wailing ghost woman who wanders the banks of the Gila at night, looking for young people to drag into its murky depths.
    Hating her mother’s humiliating superstitions and knowing that she and her friends would never venture into the water, Pao organizes a meet-up to test out her new telescope near the Gila, since it’s the best stargazing spot. But when Emma never arrives and Pao sees a shadowy figure in the reeds, it seems like maybe her mom was right. . . .
      Pao has always relied on hard science to make sense of the world, but to find her friend she will have to enter the world of her nightmares, which includes unnatural mist, mind-bending monsters, and relentless spirits controlled by a terrifying force that defies both logic and legend.”

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Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Middle Grade debut, Paola Santiago and the Rivers of Tears, takes inspiration from Mexican-American folklore as the young Paola Santiago discovers that all the fantastic stories her mom has been telling her about since she was small are in fact real. Pao knows the world is best explained through science, which is why her mother’s stories about supernatural beings like La Llorona seem so unbelievable. That is until Emma, one of her best friends goes missing. Pao begins to have strange dreams and when she discovers the world is not what she thought it was, she sets out on a quest with her friend Dante to save Emma. Pao is an easy character to like, she is ruled by her head but has to reevaluate everything she believes when the supernatural becomes impossible to deny. She is also trying to figure out all the new and messy feelings of her first crush. The most compelling relationship in the novel is Pao’s relationship with her mother. There is a divide between the two, not just because of their differing beliefs, but because Pao feels that she has to be the adult, the one who worries about things like rent while her mom is stuck in a make-believe world. I really wish we explored the latter part of this relationship more. Pao has some very strong feelings that I don’t think were addressed enough. While I enjoyed this debut overall, I do think it had issues with pacing and considering that it dragged in places, could have been shorter. Still, I will be checking out the sequel to find out what other adventures Paola finds herself in.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

ARC Review: The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi

Title: The Silvered Serpents
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Gilded Wolves, #2
Pages: 416
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: September 22nd 2020
**Disclaimer: I won an ARC of this book through a Goodreads giveaway which does not influence my review**

TW: mentions of a stillbirth, suicide, child abuse

**Includes spoilers for The Gilded Wolves**

      “Returning to the dark and glamorous world of her New York Times instant bestseller, The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi dazzles us with another riveting tale as full of mystery and danger as ever.
      They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.
      Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost ― one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.
      Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.
      As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.
      A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job.”

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The Silvered Serpents, sequel to The Gilded Wolves, improves on the first and once again proves that Roshani Chokshi is a master at creating unique worlds and characters you can’t help but root for. After the heart-stopping ending to the first book, Séverin and his team are no longer the tight-knit group they once were. Grief has reshaped each of them, throwing some of them together, but pushing most further apart. In his search for The Divine Lyrics, a relic rumored to give its wielder godlike power, Séverin has agreed to work with the Order. Laila has kept her reason for wanting to find the mysterious artifact a secret, but without it her life will become forfeit. The Fallen House is still on the loose, still hoping to find The Divine Lyrics themselves and they will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. Unbeknownst to his team, Séverin has his own motivations for locating this treasure before anyone else, one that threatens to sever their friendship for good.

Ensemble casts can be tricky, but Chokshi skillfully juggles her list of characters. Each one feels wholly formed with their own backgrounds, motivations, personalities, and flaws. While the first novel spent time introducing readers to each of these characters, the second novel encourages them to explore these characters on a deeper level. One of my favorite things about this group of characters is their emotional complexity. While the loss of one of their own has impacted them all, grief has manifested itself in different ways. For Séverin, the loss of his brother has him secluding himself from the others. He is driven by his fear of not being able to protect them, but the guilt that protecting one of them cost him his brother. He has become a shadow of the person he once was and without him, the team feels fractured. The novel explores the darker side of grief where the person you were before is at odds with the person you are now.

I loved seeing characters like Zofia shine in this one. On one hand she struggles to find her place because one of her greatest fears is to be a burden. But on the other, she discovers just how valuable she is and that other people need her, maybe even more than she needs them. I really wanted a little more Hypnos in this one, but loved seeing how Chokshi explores his evolving relationship with Séverin. Hypnos isn’t quite part of the group, but very much wants to be. Standing in his way is his past with Séverin, one once full of affection but now soured with betrayal and distrust. Laila is probably my favorite character in this cast. She’s incredibly kind and thoughtful; strong and willful. While she is Séverin’s love interest, Chokshi never let’s this define Laila entirely. She is her own person with her own agency and I love how Chokshi depicts her as a woman who refuses to let her or her pain be a catalyst for another person’s growth. Enrique undergoes a different journey in this one. Probably the one character whose trust in others hasn’t been shaken, he wears his heart on his sleeve, but learns that other people are not averse to wearing masks, to using others, even those they may love.

The Silvered Serpents has some of the most vivid and lush settings. Chokshi paints a scene like no other. Her prose deserves to be savored and nothing I say here will rightful capture all her brilliance. Her words bring every new location to life and it feels that as a reader you are right in on the action with the team. The Gilded Wolves series has one of the most unique premises and The Silvered Serpents grabs you from page one and never lets go. Fans of the first will be enthralled and critics will be won over.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Blog Tour: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles (ARC Review)

I’ve got a really exciting blog tour post for you today. Janella Angeles’s Where Dreams Descend is one of the most mesmerizing debuts I’ve read this year. If you are a fan of Phantom of the Opera, this is a must read and anyone who loves dark fantasies, you’re going to love this one too. Thank you to Wednesday Books for inviting me to this tour. Where Dreams Descend is out August 25th!

Title: Where Dreams Descend
Author: Janella Angeles
Series: Kingdom of Cards, #1
Pages: 464
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: August 25th 2020
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**

      “In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
      As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
      The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
      The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
      The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide.
      Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.”

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Janella Angeles enchants with her Phantom of the Opera-inspired fantasy debut Where Dreams Descend. Hellfire House is known for two things, it’s enigmatic master, Jack, and it’s beguiling showgirl, Kallia, who casts a spell nightly on her audience. But despite Kallia’s stardom, she feels stifled at Hellfire House. She wants more than applause, she wants esteem and freedom. When Kallia discover Jack has been keeping secrets from her, she runs away to the mysterious town of Glorian, where a competition for magicians is being held. Kallia knows that women are discouraged from pursuing the spotlight, but she is determined to prove that she has no equal when it comes to magic. Kallia immediately butts head with Demarco, the youngest judge who has his own reasons for coming to Glorian. When competitors begin vanishing, it becomes clear that there is a dark force in this town determined to upend the competition and no one knows who will be left standing in the end.

Kallia was born with magical abilities, has spent her life at Hellfire House under the patronage of Jack’s father before his death, then taken under Jack’s wing. Though she has spent years mastering magic, she has always felt caged. Jack’s enigmatic warnings of the outside world have discouraged her from striking out on her own. Glorian is not prepared for a magician like Kallia. She is unapologetically ambitious, not just scoffing at the rules that would prevent a woman from competing, but actively stomping on tradition at every turn. There is no challenge she is not up for, not person she is too afraid to stand up to, but this often results in a recklessness that she has not yet learned to tame. Vulnerablity does not come easy to her and neither does trust. In the course of the novel, Kallia slowly learns that forming connections is not just a liability, but that making a name for herself means little when she has no one to share it with.

Kallia relationship with Jack has always been fraught with tension. He has been the only one who has been able to challenge her magically, but so much of who he is is hidden away. There is an undeniable pull between them, but as Kallia learns, she doesn’t know if she could ever trust him. I really enjoyed Kallia’s relationship with Demarco. They both get under each other’s skin from the very beginning of their acquaintance. Demarco was once a renown magician but left the stage after a personal tragedy he likes to keep tight-lipped about. I loved the chapters from his POV and feel like we learned far more about him and his motivations compared to Jack. Like Kallia, he does not easily trust, but he can’t deny that there is something about Kallia’s unshakable confidence that draws him to her. Slowly Kallia and Demarco grow closer, but both have pasts that ultimately threaten to tear them apart.

There are so many colors and sights in Where Dreams Descend. Angeles transports readers to various settings which really capture the dark and enchanting elements of the novel. Hellfire House is mysterious and shadowy. A place of intrigue but also confining. The Conquering Circus has made its way to Glorian with its lively performers and often dangerous acts. Glorian itself feels like a shadow of what it once was. Its historical houses speak of a glorious past, perhaps waiting for someone to reclaim it. Fans of Phantom of the Opera will appreciate the various references from the chandelier and mirror imagery to the namesakes and lines from the musical.

Where Dreams Descend excels at creating an intriguing world with seductive characters and an ending that will leave readers demanding its sequel.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)

What People Are Saying:

“Janella Angeles steals the 2020 show with her fiercely imagined debut starring larger than life characters, a dangerous world alive with magic, and a dizzying dose of grab-a-fainting-couch-and-swoon-away romance!” – Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Gilded Wolves

“Where Dreams Descend is a glamorous dark gem of a tale, sparkling with romance, magic, and intrigue. Readers will be captivated by prima donna Kallia as the mystery is slowly unmasked. Bravissima!” – Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

“Lavish and opulent in a way that feels warmly familiar yet demands your attention. There are secrets upon secrets, a girl who’s boldly ambitious, and truly riveting stage magic. I didn’t want the show to stop.” – Emily A. Duncan, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Saints

“Vibrant imagery, jaw-dropping set pieces, sizzling romantic tension, and unstoppable heroine Kallia bring this ambitious debut novel to spectacular life. Fans of Caraval and The Night Circus will be delighted!” – Claire Legrand, New York Times bestselling author of Furyborn

“[A] spellbinding melody of a book, and the true magic is how Angeles puts all the best parts of an enrapturing theatrical performance onto paper and ink. From the gripping twists in the first pages all the way to the final, heartbreaking crescendo, Where Dreams Descend will surge you to your feet in a standing ovation.” – Sara Raasch, New York Times bestselling author of the Snow Like Ashes trilogy

About the Author:

JANELLA ANGELES is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age—which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. Where Dreams Descend is her first book.

Follow Janella: Twitter – @Janella_Angeles; Instagram – @Janella_Angeles

Click here to preorder Where Dreams Descend now!