An Affair of Poisons by Addie Thorley

Title: An Affair of Poisons
Author: Addie Thorley
Series: N/A
Pages: 391
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Release Date: February 26th 2019

      “No one looks kindly on the killer of a king.
      After unwittingly helping her mother poison King Louis XIV, seventeen-year-old alchemist Mirabelle Monvoisin is forced to see her mother’s Shadow Society in a horrifying new light: they’re not heroes of the people, as they’ve always claimed to be, but murderers. Herself included. Mira tries to ease her guilt by brewing helpful curatives, but her hunger tonics and headache remedies cannot right past wrongs or save the dissenters her mother vows to purge.
      Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon is more kitchen boy than fils de France. But when the Shadow Society assassinates the Sun King and half of the royal court, he must become the prince he was never meant to be in order to save his injured sisters and the petulant dauphin. Forced to hide in the sewers beneath the city, Josse’s hope of reclaiming Paris seems impossible―until his path collides with Mirabelle’s.
      She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. They are sworn enemies, yet they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and former nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?”

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“These are not birds and butterflies like before, but winged dragons and three-headed serpents that are so much more threatening, so much more tangible. They roar and gnash their teeth as they slither through the clouds. From half a block away, I can see each glittering scale of crimson, green, and gold.”

Addie Thorley’s An Affair of Poisons while not necessarily the most groundbreaking historical fantasy, is nonetheless an enjoyable read with likable leads. Mirabelle has spent her life training to be an alchemist, hoping to earn a place in the Shadow Society. Her mother is leader of the Shadow Society, a organization built on helping the common people who are often neglected by the nobles. When Mira unknowingly concocts a poison used to assassinate the king of France, she is forced to see her mother and the society in a whole new light. She strikes an unlikely alliance with Josse, the bastard son of the king who is determined to protect his sisters no matter the cost. Together they must figure out a way to unite the commoners and nobility and overthrow the Shadow Society.

Thorley’s writes really descriptive writing that immediately had me falling into the story. While An Affair of Poisons has a historical backdrop (though the author does take political license), it is the combination of poison-making and magic that make this world so captivating. From healing tonics used to stave hunger pains to a poison called Viper’s Venom meant to make a person’s death slow and agonizing, the practice of alchemy can be used for good or terrible evil. There is also a magical element to this world that I wished had been explored more. Mira helps enhance the magic of one of the members of the Shadow Society, making his illusions corporeal and his magic even more dangerous than before. Unfortunately, the novel sort of dances around how Mira was able to do this and I was surprised that although we get a lot of detail when it comes to her making poisons, this portion of the novel isn’t delved into deeper.

Mira spends most of the novel struggling between what is right and what she’s been taught. She’s always been under the impression that the Shadow Society stood for the people first and foremost. I loved her journey as she finds an identity apart from her mother and embraces a different path. My only issue is that Mira spends so much of her life navigating her mother’s callousness, including how she withholds approval from both her daughters, turning them into rivals that compete for her attention. Yet it takes Mira far too long to accept that her mother is more interested in power than in taking care of commoners. I really enjoyed Josse’s character. Being a bastard son of a king, he has never had the same kind of privileges as his brother, the heir. Still, I love that Thorley has Josse confronting his own privilege. While he has been relegated to working in the kitchens, he still has never gone hungry and even though he hasn’t taken advantage of it, has had opportunities to better himself. There are so many different familial relationships in this one, but I loved that each one was so complex and so important to each character’s arc.

Addie Thorley’s An Affair of Poisons is a promising debut that’s fast-paced and perfect for those who enjoy historical fiction with a touch of fantasy.

★★★

(3/5)

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justina Ireland
Series: Dread Nation, #1
Pages: 464
Publisher: Blazer + Bray
Release Date: April 3rd 2018

      “Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
      But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.”

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“The trick is not to think of them as regular folks. When you do that, your emotions get all tangled up. You start to wonder whether it’s right or wrong and what kind of person that makes you for taking their life, whatever kind of existence it may be. Your brain starts doubting, and those second thoughts can get you killed.”

Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation reimagines the end of the Civil War not with the surrender of the Confederate Army, but with the rising of the dead. Facing its greatest threat, the government passes the Native and Negro Reedcation Act, forcing Native and black children into schools where they train to fight the undead. Jane has grown up in a world where shamblers are a constant threat. As a student at Miss Preston’s School of Combat, she has developed the necessary skills to survive a fight with a shambler. While she should be hoping to be hired as an Attendent for a rich, white family, all she really wants is to return home to her mother whom she hasn’t seen in years. When Jane reluctantly lends a hand to an old friend in finding his sister, she stumbles upon a scheme that will take her even farther from home, to a place where those in charge will do anything to keep their secrets hidden.

Ireland manages to be both creative and realistic in her world-building. Though shamblers have reshaped the country, the fundamentals of white supremacy still ring true. In towns like Baltimore, affluent families enjoy a degree of safety not afforded to others. They would rather pretend that the shambler threat exists elsewhere and that their city couldn’t possibly be overrun. Though slavery has been abolished, it is still black bodies being put on the front lines, valued less for their ability to fight the undead and more for their expendability. While some white folks are willing to move forward and embrace an age where black and white people could work together, there are factions that still believe certain races are inherently superior to others. When you combine this with religious fervor and unchecked power, the results are devastating.

I’d be hard-pressed to decide whether Ireland’s writing shines brightest in her world-building or her creation of a character that feels as real as the paper she’s printed on. Jane’s narration is one of the most genuine that I’ve come across. The more I read, the more I gained an appreciation for the character and Ireland’s ability to make every thought and piece of a dialogue feel both deliberate and authentic. I loved that Jane manages to be delightful both in her negative and positive attributes. Ireland never side-steps the protagonist’s flaws, but rather let’s her be petty and reckless in the moments that make sense for her character. This means Jane feels more real and readers get an honest glimpse at who she is rather than what the author just wants you to see.

There are several minor character who I grew to appreciate. Jane’s schoolmate Katherine starts off as a foil to Jane, but by the end of the novel there is an earned respect and camaraderie between the two. I did want to see more of Jackson, Jane’s once-upon-a-time romantic interest. It’s hard not to see how he might have charmed her and I’m greedily curious to know more about their lawless escapades. Like Jane, I am also very curious about Mr. Gideon, a bright young inventor who also understand what it means to play the long game against a more powerful opponent. 

Ireland’s Dead Nation is like nothing I’ve ever read. It takes a tired zombie trope and gives it a fresh new look. It’s insightful and provocative as it juxtaposes a population who longs for the glory days of a prosperous America with one that has only been used as stepladder for the other’s triumphs.

5/5

★★★★★

Mini Reviews: Hunting Prince Dracula + And the Trees Crept In

MiniHello, friends fiends (see what I did there?). It’s been a while since I posted a set of mini-reviews. I’ve been busy reading creepy books this month (I’m excited for Halloween, can you tell I’m excited for Halloween?) and so it’s only appropriate to pair these two together for mini-reviews. Hope you enjoy. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Hunting Prince Dracula
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, #2
Pages: 434
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Release Date: September 19th 2017 

      “In this New York Times bestselling sequel to Kerri Maniscalco’s haunting #1 debut Stalking Jack the Ripper, bizarre murders are discovered in the castle of Prince Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. Could it be a copycat killer…or has the depraved prince been brought back to life?
      Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper’s true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe’s best schools of forensic medicine…and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

      But her life’s dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school’s forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.

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“Chills invaded the cracks of my emotional armor, sliding their icy fingers along my skin. I gave in to their prodding and shivered in the waning morning light.”

Kerri Maniscalco’s Hunting Prince Dracula is an action-packed historical thriller that had me guessing at every turn. Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell are quickly becoming one of my favorite literary pairs. Their relationship continues to evolve in this one and I really liked how the author balances this with both characters learning important lessons about themselves as well. Audrey Rose is still haunted by the events from the first book and isn’t sure she still has what it takes to pursue a career in forensic studies. Thomas is concerned for her well-being and often oversteps, but I love how assertive Audrey Rose is with both him and her new classmates at the Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science. Thomas was a bit of an enigma in the first book, so I was happy to see him get backstory as well as becoming acquainted with his sister in this one. The majority of the novel takes place at Bran Castle and I loved the dark and dreary descriptions. The eerie atmosphere and murderous mystery is reminiscent of Gothic literature and made a perfect read for October.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: And the Trees Crept In
Author: Dawn Kurtagich
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 6th 2017

      “Stay away from the woods…
      When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the manor is cursed. The endless creaking of the house at night and the eerie stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too—questions that Silla can’t ignore: Why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer? Who is the beautiful boy who’s appeared from the woods? And who is the tall man with no eyes who Nori plays with in the basement at night… a man no one else can see?

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“The terror is like a foghorn in the darkness. Like a spotlight pointed at me, notifying the monsters of the world exactly where I am: exposed, armorless. ”

Dawn Kurtagich’s And the Trees Crept In is a novel I’ve really been looking forward to this October. Like Kurtagich’s previous novel, The Dead House, Kurtagich’s uses various methods to tell her story. There’s first person narration, diary entries, and flash backs. All these work together to bring the reader into the story and the mystery of La Baume, the home of Silla and Nori’s aunt. The story opens with Silla and Nori arriving at their aunt’s doorstep in search of refuge. We quickly learn that both these girls have been on the receiving end of their father’s violent outbursts and while little Nori’s wounds are very visible, Silla’s injuries are more emotional and psychological. As their aunt’s behavior grows more and more erratic, Silla begins to suspect that there is more to La Baume and the surrounding woods. Her aunt speaks of the Creeper Man, lying in wait for any who may enter Python Wood. I really liked the growing tension in this book and in many ways it’s more of a psychological thriller than a horror novel. Silla is tormented by the isolation of the house, the lack of food for her and her sister, and unexplained behavior of her aunt. And the Trees Crept In isn’t a perfect horror novel. I liked the beginning more than the latter part of the story. At times it felt a little too long and the ending is cliché, but if you’re looking for a novel that might make you think twice before walking down the hall in the dark, then this is one you’ll want to check out.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

ARC Review: Odd & True by Cat Winters

Title: Odd & True
Author: Cat Winters
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: September 12th 2017
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.
      In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

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Cat Winters’s novels are some of the best, but underappreciated historical fiction I’ve ever read. Od and Tru grew up with stories about their mother and her siblings’ bravery. They grew up believing in the paranormal, that monsters exist and it was their family’s responsibility to protect the world from them. But life has taken many things from both Od and Tru. Their father disappeared when they were young and their mother hasn’t been in their life. Even their beloved Uncle Magnus hasn’t been seen for years. After being sent away, Od shows up at her sister’s window, begging her to come away with her and to accept their family’s legacy. But Tru no longer believes in monsters. Still, her love for his sister Odette will take them far from the safe haven of their aunt’s house and into a dangerous, unknown world. Using dual perspectives and shifting timelines, Cat Winters crafts a tale of two sisters whose lives are full of loss, but also perseverance.

At the heart of this story are two sisters who hold very different views of the world. As the oldest, Odette has always felt that she needed to protect her younger sister. Her stories of monsters and the heroes that slay them have been the only way in which she has been able to help shield her sister from the realities of life. What goes unsaid is that Odette is also in need of these stories. Being older has exposed her to the flaws of the adults in her life and it’s been easier to embrace a story about these people than to accept who they really are. Unlike her sister, Tru no longer holds fast to these myths. Ever since her sister was forced to leave her aunt’s home, Tru has grown up to resent these tall tales and the letters from her sister that speak of harrowing travels. While life with her Aunt Viktoria has been stifling, Tru isn’t sure she’s brave enough to step outside into the great unknown. Though she’s suspended any belief in the paranormal, she’s taken to reading tea leaves in secret because a part of her still wants to believe in her sister’s stories.

Odd & True takes its time separating fact from fiction as the girls embark on a hunt for Leeds Devil which has been terrorizing the people of New Jersey. From the cover and synopsis, I expected an action-packed novel about monster hunting, but instead was treated to a slow-paced narrative about a flawed family, two sisters who survive despite injustices done to them, and the power of a story to weave magic if only one takes a leap of faith and believes.

4/5

★★★★