The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves, #2) by Roshani Chokshi – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: September 22, 2020

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Goodreads | Bookshop (Buy from local bookstores!)

Returning to the dark and glamorous 19th century 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 in The Silvered Serpents.

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 the 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.”

*I received an e-arc from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

*This is spoiler free if you have not read the second book!! There might be some small spoilers from the first book!*

Our adventure begins by dropping you into our gang’s lives a few months after book one. And it’s so sad! They are all apart doing their own thing while Severin is drowning in his sorrows. Severin quickly calls them all together to finally find The Divine Lyrics. Then things really pick up.

They are not thieves like the gang from Six of Crows, but they are treasure hunters. So freaking cool. They each have a job to do within the crew. And of course, Severin trying to “protect” them, treats them all horribly. Especially Laila. *Cue tears* But through that, I love how close Laila gets with Enrique and Zofia! Those three are the sweetest ever. I love them.

Zofia was probably my favorite character this time! She is very logical to the extreme but she is learning social cues and maybe learning some of her own heart. I for sure ship her with a certain someone. And this book put wind in my ship’s sails!!!

I liked Hypnos but he was sort of the annoying/ little brother character? I don’t know how to explain it.

CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE WRITING?! I give 5 freaking stars to the writing alone. It’s pure magic. Chokshi makes the reader feel all five senses while reading. And it’s different for each character. One character will see snow as sugar while the other feels it as tiny ice droplets that makes their skin freeze. She also writes AMAZING food scenes. Made me hungry.

The plot read like an adventure, treasure hunting movie! They travel to Russia and discover new places to find the mysterious book. And they all go through plenty of trials and pain!

This book had it all! Love- platonic and romantic, descriptions to die for, characters you love, ice creatures come alive, myths and legends, twists, and a cliff hanger ending that will leave you begging for more! I can’t wait for the next book!

Check out my review for the first book HERE! It was written a couple years ago so my style has changed a bit. 😛

Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards, #1) by Janella Angeles – Blog Tour Spoiler Free Review, Excerpt

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: August 25, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4.5 Stars

Goodreads | Macmillan | Bookshop

*Bookshop is a new affiliate I am trying out because the proceeds go to your local bookstores!*

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.

*Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me an e-arc via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and for having me on the blog tour!*

Y’all, it has been a hot minute since a YA book has gripped me. This one was actually really hard to put down! It has danger, slow-burn romance, love triangle (it’s actually done well! Trust me!), mysteries, and plenty of magic! Plus a it is a retelling of Phantom of the Opera mixed with a magic competition!!

I really enjoyed the characters. Everything including the characters is so mysterious! Kallia, our main MC, is feisty and speaks her mind. And listen, I don’t like ANY MCs that are jerks when they are written like that. Male or Female. But Kallia somehow isn’t! I really enjoyed her fierce personality. I think because she was still generous and wants to help people, like her assistant Aaros!

Let’s talk loooooove. Jack. This is the Phantom and the Opera part. Jack is the phantom. He is very dark and mysterious. And he is fiercely protective over Kallia. But he definitely smothers her. But Demarco has his own dangerous secrets too. He is just a bit of the gentler sort. A few times he got angry and I was just like, yeeeess Demarco, let it out.

I LOVED the world. Fantastic world building. Glorian is really the only place we see, so I would love to get more of the outside world! And the magic! It was so amazing to read about the unique and creative magic that Kallia could do! I could almost experience the 5 senses just from Angeles’s writing! She really wrote a magical book!

THAT ENDING. WHERE IS BOOK 2?! MUST HAVE IT!

Never come to Hellfire House without wearing a mask.

It was one of the rare rules in a joint without any. The only rule the master of the club did not mind following. He blended in with the sea of suits and white masks that arrived every other night, switching appearances from crowd to crowd. A bartender one moment, a dealer at the card tables the next.

Only his face remained the same, half-masked and haunting. Like a prince who relished the bloody crown on his head, and the ghosts that came with it. A face almost hardened by beauty, though glints of youth ran deep beneath soft black eyes. It always shocked new guests, to see him. The master of the House was rumored to be a dragon of a man. A monster. A magician who had no mercy for fools.

Only those who dared slur the word boy in his face understood how true those rumors were.

To the rest, he played the devil on all shoulders, leading patrons to his bar and game tables, guiding them toward his enchanted smoke lounge to drown in curated memories. The warmth of first love, the heady rush of triumph, the immense joy of dreams come true. The master kept a selection of sensations, and one hit of the pipes delivered magic the people came crawling to his house to taste.

They had no idea the show that was in store for them.

The master of the House sipped his short glass of scarlet whiskey in peace, tapping along the wide black strip over his brass knuckles. He’d long since manipulated his attire, sitting casually at a card table and savoring the mayhem. Raucous cheers erupted from the next table as dice rolled out across the surface. Smiling Hellfire girls in black blazers and masks of lace denied patrons begging for a dance. Loudest of all, the dealer’s crisp shuffling of the black cards with teeth-white numbers before she doled out hands to players at the table.

“No, no more,” one moaned. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can, chap.” A young man in a white thorn-edged mask cheerfully pressed him back in his seat. “We can’t leave. Haven’t even finished your drink, yet.”

His drunken friend’s mouth puckered under another gulp. “Think it’s true, the drink? Magician’s Blood, the menu said.”

“Think you have power, now?” Thorn Mask laughed, leaning back to appraise the club. “Here, you take your magic where you can get it. You wear a mask. You flip a card, smoke a memory. Or you look up . . . at her.”

The master’s fingers tightened around his glass, just as the lights dimmed. Dancers cleared the floor under the hush of music, shifting from smooth, steady beats to a racing rhythm loud as thunderous applause.

Right on cue.

The band’s worth of instruments he’d charmed for the night started up a wild entry tune of drums, the thick trill of trumpets. Chatter ceased and backs straightened as a beam of light speared toward the ceiling. A panel slid open over the dance floor.

And the chandelier descended.

Strings of crystals dangled along tiered rims of rose gold, cutting sharply into a jewel-set swing where a masked showgirl sat. A throne of glittering jewels, casting luminous lace across the walls and the ground and the audience taking her in. Her brown skin glowed against her corset, red as her gem-studded mask. Arms stretched out, she crossed and extended her legs in smooth lines all the way down, until her heels touched the lacquered black dancefloor. With the hint of a smile, she rose from her throne and stalked forward, thrusting a hand up with a snap.

Darkness engulfed the room.

Hoots and hollers rang at the drop of the beat, before a glimmer of her form reappeared in the shadows. The room pulsed at her command, matching the spike of heartbeats the master sensed throughout the club.

The smirk on his lips matched the girl’s as she arched her back to the raw stretch of the melody. She thrived under the attention, like a wildflower under the sun. A star finding the night.

His star.

“I’ll be damned.” The drunk at the card table breathed in awe, as the girl’s palms began brightening with a molten glow. “Nothing like an academy girl.”

“Worth the trip, right?” His friend clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“I didn’t know they could be magicians like . . . this.

The master smothered a dark scoff under a sip of whiskey. The girl showed off good tricks—improvised and bettered from his basic crowd-pleasers. Treating the ceiling like a sky and showering comets from it, casting an elaborate shadow show of dancing shades over the floor, shifting every candlelight in the room to different colors to the beat of the music.

But always the performer, she preferred to be front and center. Teasing her power just enough to make the audience want more of her magic, more of her.

He wet his lips as flames shot from her hands, arcing over her head and around her body. The fire’s melody bent to her every movement, and she gave everything to it. If she wasn’t careful, she’d overexert herself like she did most nights, never knowing when to stop. How to pull back.

Careful never was her strongest suit.

Sparks fell before her, sizzling on the ground. Unafraid, she sauntered down her stage of flames with slow swaying hips and a firelit smile.

“Magicians like this are best kept a secret,” Thorn Mask went on. “And besides, the work is far too scandalous for a lady. Only clubs will take them.”

“What a shame. Imagine going up against the likes of her at the competition.”

The master paused, drawing his gaze back to his glass.

“Not this again. That flyer was nothing but a joke.” Thorn Mask slapped the table with a groaning laugh. “A prank.”

The drunk sloppily patted around his coat, pulling from his breast pocket a dirty, scrunched ball of paper. “It’s real. They’re all over the academies, in Deque and New Crown and—”

“A prank,” repeated Thorn Mask, unfolding the flyer anyway. “It has to be. No one’s been to that city in ages, it would never open itself to such games.”

“That makes it all the more interesting, don’t you think?” As another roar of cheers erupted around them, the friend sipped his drink smugly. “Imagine if she entered, the city might implode.”

“Right. As if that would ever happen.” Thorn Mask leered. “Competition would eat a creature like her alive.”

“Because she’s . . . ?”

With an impish lift of his brow, the man in the thorny mask flicked the flyer off the table and returned to his forgotten spread of cards. “Let’s get on with the game, shall we?”

Before he could gesture at the dealer, the master suddenly appeared at their table, snatching the young man’s wrist in a biting grip. The man yelped as the force knocked over his drink, and sent a stream of hidden cards spilling out from his sleeves.

“What’s this?” The master bent toward the ground and picked up a couple, entirely too calm. “Cheating in my house?”

The man froze, recognition dawning at the brass knuckles alone. “Where did you—I-I mean,” he sputtered, patting frantically at his sleeve. “That’s impossible. Those aren’t mine, I swear.”

“Then where did they come from?”

Sweat dripped from his temple, his face paler than the white of his mask. “I emptied my pockets at the door. Honest.”

Honest. That was the best he could do? The master almost laughed.

“You want to know the price cheaters pay in my joint?” His question offered no mercy. Only deliverance, served on ice. “Memories.”

“No, please!” The man’s lip trembled. “I didn’t, I-I’ll do whatever you want!”

“This is what I want.” The master rose from the table with the jerk of his wrist. The cheat flew to the ground in a gasp as he gripped at the invisible chain-like weight around his neck. Sharp, staccato breaths followed the master as he dragged his prisoner toward the smoke dens.

The man screamed, but no one heard him. No one saw, no one cared. All eyes fell on the star of the show as she searched for a dance partner to join her. The drunken friend, noticing nothing amiss, raised his half-full glass of Magician’s Blood to his lips before waving his hand high like the others. The man thrashed harder, only to feel his cries smothered and deeper in his throat. His form, invisible at the sweep of the master’s hand.

With a disdainful glance, the master chuckled. “You’re only making this more difficult for yourself. One memory won’t kill you.”

At once, he paused. The lights blinked around them, the air grown still. Dim and hazy, as though locked in a dream.

He thought nothing of it until he caught the movements of the patrons—their arms raised and waving slowly, increment by increment. Their cheers dulled and stretched into low, gravelly roars, as if the sound were wading through heavier air. Against time itself.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

The sound of her voice slithered around him, stopping the master in his tracks. The man quieted. Sweat soaked his pale face, his chest heaving. The showgirl stood in their path, every stare in the room still locked on the spotlit floor where she’d been. As though she’d never left.

Impressive.

Her red corset glinted as she cocked her hip and pointed at the man on the floor. “I choose him.”

She could never let things be easy.

“Kallia,” he growled, warning.

She smiled. “Jack.”

“Pick another. He’s a cheater.”

Her lips pursed into a dubious line. “Then let me teach him a lesson. He’ll no doubt prefer it more.” She swung a leg over the man’s prone form so she stood directly above him. Invitation dripped from the crook of her fingers. “The music calls, darling. Let’s have ourselves a grand time.”

The man’s terror turned swiftly into awe, and he looked at her as if ready to kiss the ground she walked on. As soon as he took her beckoning hand, the room resumed its lively rhythm—a song snapped back in full swing. The cheers and hollers returned to their normal speed, exploding in delight as patrons found their lovely entertainer in their midst, her chosen dance partner in tow.

She bypassed the master, pressing a casual hand on his chest to move him. It lingered, he noticed. Unafraid, unlike most. Their gazes locked for a moment, their masked faces inches apart.

No one ever dared to get this close. To him, to her.

Only each other.

At the next round of cheers and whistles, she pushed him away, smug as a cat. Tugging the man close behind her, she sent fires onto the ground that illuminated her path and warded others from trying to follow them to the stage. Never once looking back at the master, even as he watched on after her.

His fist tightened, full of the cards from his earlier trick. They disappeared into mist, having served their purpose. Along with the flyer he managed to grab.

He didn’t even bother giving it a read. It died in the fire caged by his palm. Tendrils of smoke rose between his brass knuckles, and when he opened his fingers, nothing but ash fell to the ground.

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.

Social LinksTwitter: @Janella_Angeles // Instagram: @Janella_Angeles

The Lost City (The Omte Origins, #1) by Amanda Hocking – Blog Tour, Spoiler Free Review, Author Q&A, Excerpt

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: July 07, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Buy Links: Macmillan | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Amanda Hocking, the New York Times bestselling author of The Kanin Chronicles, returns to the magical world of the Trylle Trilogy with The Lost City, the first novel in The Omte Origins—and the final story arc in her beloved series.

The storm and the orphan

Twenty years ago, a woman sought safety from the spinning ice and darkness that descended upon a small village. She was given shelter for the night by the local innkeepers but in the morning, she disappeared—leaving behind an infant. Now nineteen, Ulla Tulin is ready to find who abandoned her as a baby or why.

The institution and the quest

Ulla knows the answers to her identity and heritage may be found at the Mimirin where scholars dedicate themselves to chronicling troll history. Granted an internship translating old documents, Ulla starts researching her own family lineage with help from her handsome and charming colleague Pan Soriano.

The runaway and the mystery

But then Ulla meets Eliana, a young girl who no memory of who she is but who possesses otherworldly abilities. When Eliana is pursued and captured by bounty hunters, Ulla and Pan find themselves wrapped up in a dangerous game where folklore and myth become very real and very deadly—but one that could lead Ulla to the answers she’s been looking for.

*Thank you to the publisher for sending me an e-arc in exchange for an honest review!*

Hocking painted such a vivid, lush world full of wonder and magic. I got major Gail Carson Levine vibes, and my inner teenage self was squealing with joy. It felt nostalgic. It felt sweet. I loved it!

I want to find out so badly about Ulla’s past! It’s so mysterious! I have a few guesses but we will see if I am right! Y’all, I also LOVED that she was written as plus sized! But I also loved that it wasn’t a big deal. It was normal. She is so cool! She is wicked smart and has a ton of courage.

I also loved the side characters! Hanna, Pan, Dagny, and Eliana! Eliana is as mysterious as Ulla. I want to know more about her as well. Pan is the sweetest ever and I for sure ship him and Ulla! Dagny is the surly roomate with a secret heart of gold. And Hanna is the bubbly young teen who wants to be a part of everything.

There are so many mysterious things that are happening in this world that I MUST know!! Like the mysterious stranger Ulla keeps running into!

The only thing I wanted a bit more of was adventure. The book took place all in one city the whole time and basically there was a bunch of information to be found while the characters talked and researched. But it looks like book two will have that adventure I am looking for and I can’t wait!

Prologue

Ten Years Ago

“Tell me about it again,” I entreated—begged, really, in a small voice, small especially for a girl like me. 

Mr. Tulin, on the nights he had a little too much hot tea and brandy, would tell me stories of other, less fortunate babies. One had been left out for the wolves, another drowned in the icy river. Still another was killed by an angakkuq, this time to be mashed into a paste for one of her potions.

On the other nights, he’d try to convince me there wasn’t any time for a story. But I’d beg and plead, and his eyes would glimmer—already milky with cataracts, lighting up when he spoke about monsters. I would pull the covers up to my chin, and his normally crackled baritone would go even lower, rumbling with the threat of the monsters he impersonated.

I was never sure how much he’d made up or what had been passed down to him, as he’d weave through all sorts of patchwork folklore—the monsters and heroes pieced together from the neighboring Inuit, our Norse ancestry, and especially from the troll tribe that Mr. and Mrs. Tulin belonged to—the Kanin.

But I had a favorite story, one that I asked for over and over again.

This one I loved because it was about me, and because it was true.

“Which one?” Mr. Tulin asked, feigning ignorance as he lingered at my bedroom door.

It was dark in my room, except for the cast-iron woodstove in the corner. My room had been a pantry before I was here, before Mr. Tulin had converted it into a tiny bedroom. Outside, the wind howled, and if I hadn’t been buried underneath the blankets and furs, I would’ve felt the icy drafts that went along with all that howling.

“The day you met me,” I replied with unbridled glee. 

“Well, you turned out to be a big one, didn’t ya?” That’s what Mr. Tulin liked to say, particularly when I was scooping another helping of potatoes on my plate at the supper table, and

then I would sheepishly put half a portion back, under the sharp gaze of Mrs. Tulin.

But he wasn’t wrong. I was tall, thick, and pale. By the age of nine I was nearly five feet tall, towering over the kids in the little schoolhouse.

Once, I’d overheard Mrs. Tulin complaining aloud to a neighbor, saying, “I don’t know why they chose our doorstep to leave ’er on. By the size of her, her da’ must be an ogre, and her ma’ must be a nanuq. She’ll eat us out of house and home before she’s eighteen.”

After that, I tried to make myself smaller, invisible, and I made sure that I mended all my clothing and cleaned up after myself. Mrs. Tulin didn’t complain too much about me after that, but every once in a while I would hear her muttering about how they really ought to set up a proper orphanage in Iskyla, so the townsfolk weren’t stuck taking in all the abandoned strays.

I didn’t complain either, and not only because there was nobody to listen. There were a few kids at my school who served as a reminder of how much worse it could be for me. They were sketches of children, really—thin lines, stark shadows, sad eyes, just the silhouettes of orphans.

“You sure you wanna hear that one again, ayuh?” Mr. Tulin said in response to my pleas.

“Yes, please!”

“If that’s the one the lil’ miss wants, then that be the one I tell.” He walked back over to the bed, limping slightly, the way he did every time the temperatures dipped this low.

Once he’d settled on the edge of the bed, his bones cracked and creaked almost as loudly as the bed itself.

“It was a night much like this—” he began.

“But darker and colder, right?” I interjected.

His bushy silver eyebrows pinched together. “Are you telling it this time?”

“No, no, you tell it.”

“Ayuh.” He nodded once. “So I will, then.”

It was a night much like this. The sun hadn’t been seen for days, hiding behind dark clouds that left even the daylight murky blue. When the wind came up, blowing fresh snow so

heavy and thick, you couldn’t hardly see an inch in front of your nose. All over, the town was battened down and quiet, waiting out the dark storm. Now, the folks in Iskyla had survived

many a winter storm, persisting through even the harshest of winters. This wasn’t the worst of the storms we’d faced, but there was something different about this one. Along with the cold and the dark, it brought with it a strange feeling in the air.

“And a stranger,” I interjected again, unable to help myself.

Mr. Tulin didn’t chastise me this time. He just winked and said, “Ayuh, and a stranger.”

The old missus, Hilde, and I were hunkered down in front of the fireplace, listening to the wind rattling the house, when a knock came at the door. 

Hilde—who scoffed whenever Tapeesa the angakkuq spoke of the spirits and monsters—shrieked at me when I got up to answer the door. “Whaddya think you’re doing, Oskar?”

“We’re still an inn, aren’t we?” I paused before I reached the door to look back at my wife, who sat in her old rocker, clutching her knitting to her chest.

Well, of course we were. Her father had opened the inn years ago, back when the mines first opened and we had a brief bout of tourism from humans who got lost on their way to the mines.

But that had long dried up by the time Hilde inherited it. We only had a dozen or so customers every year, mostly Inuit or visiting trolls, but whenever I suggested we close up and move south, Hilde would pitch a fit, reminding me that her family settled Iskyla, and she was settled here until she died.

“Course we’re an inn, but we’re closed,” Hilde said. “The storm’s too bad to open.”

Again the knocking came at the door, pounding harder this time.

“We got all our rooms empty, Hilde!” I argued. “Anyone out in this storm needs a place to stay, and we won’t have to do much for ’em.”

“But you don’t know who—or what—is at the door,”

Hilde stammered, lowering her voice as if it would carry over the howling wind and out the door to whoever waited on our stoop. “No human or troll has any sense being out in a storm like this.”

“Well, someone has, and I aim to find out who it is.”

I headed toward the door, Hilde still spouting her hushed protests, but my mind had been made up. I wasn’t about to let anyone freeze to death outside our house, not when we had ample firewood and room to keep them warm.

When I opened the door, there she stood. The tallest woman I ever saw. She was buried under layers of fabric and fur, looking so much like a giant grizzly bear that Hilde let out a scream.

Then the woman pushed back her hood, letting us see her face. Ice and snow had frozen to her eyebrows and eyelashes, and her short wild hair nearly matched the grizzly fur. She wasn’t much to look at, with a broad face and a jagged scar across her ruddy cheeks, but she made up for it with her size.

She had to duck to come inside, ever mindful of the large bag she carried on her back.

“Don’t bother coming in,” Hilde called at the woman from where she sat angrily rocking. “We’re closed.”

“Please,” the giant woman begged, and then she quickly slipped off her gloves and fumbled in her pockets. “Please, I have money. I’ll give you all I have. I only need a place to stay for the night.”

When she went for her money, she’d pushed back her cloaks enough that I could see the dagger holstered on her hip. The fire glinted off the amber stone in the hilt, the dark

bronze handle carved into a trio of vultures.

It was the symbol of the Omte, and that was a weapon for a warrior. Here was this giant troll woman, with supernatural strength and a soldier’s training. She could’ve killed me and Hilde right there, taken everything we had, but instead she pleaded and offered us all she had.

“Since we’re closed, I won’t be taking any of your money.” I waved it away. “You need sanctuary from the storm, and I’m happy to give it to you.”

“Thank you.” The woman smiled, with tears in her eyes, and they sparkled in the light like the amber gemstone on her dagger.

Hilde huffed, but she didn’t say anything more. The woman herself didn’t say much either, not as I showed her up to her room and where the extra blankets were.

“Is there anything more you’ll be needing?” I asked before I left her alone. 

“Quiet rest,” she replied with a weak smile. 

“Well, you can always holler at me if you need anything. I’m Oskar.”

She hesitated a second before saying, “Call me Orra.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Orra, and I hope you enjoy your stay with us.”

She smiled again, then she shut the door. That was the last I ever saw of her.

All through the night, she made not a peep, which upset Hilde even more, since it gave her nothing to complain about. I slept soundly, but Hilde tossed and turned, certain that Orra would hurt us.

By the time morning came, the wind had stopped and the sun had broken through the clouds for the first time in days. I went up to check on Orra and see if she needed anything, and

I discovered her gone. 

She rode in on the back of the dark storm, and she left before the sun.

Her room had been left empty—except for a little tiny baby, wrapped in a blanket, sleeping in the middle of the bed. The babe couldn’t be more than a few weeks old, but already had a thick head of wild blond hair. When I picked her up, the baby mewled, but didn’t open her eyes.

Not until I said, “Ullaakuut,”—a good-morning greeting.

Then her big amber eyes opened. She smiled up at me, and it was like the sun after the storm.

“That’s how we met.” I beamed, and he smiled back down at me. Mrs. Tulin wasn’t sure if they would keep me, so she wouldn’t let him name me yet, but then they called me Ullaakuut

until it stuck.

“It was quite the introduction,” he agreed with a chuckle. “Oskar!” Mrs. Tulin shouted from the other room. “The fire’s gone cold!”

“I’ll be right down!” he yelled over his shoulder before turning back to me. “Well, you’ve had your story now, and Hilde needs me. You best be getting to sleep now. Good night, Ulla.”

“Good night.” I settled back into the bed, and it wasn’t until he was at the door that I mustered the courage to ask him the question that burned on the tip of my tongue. “How come my mom left me here?”

“I can’t say that I understand it,” he said with a heavy sigh. “But she’d have to have got a mighty good reason to be traveling in that kinda storm, especially with a newborn. She was an Omte warrior, and I don’t know what kind of monsters she had to face down on her way to our doorstep. But she musta known that here you’d be safe.”

“Do you think she’ll come back?” I asked.

His lips pressed into a thin line. “I can’t say, lil’ miss. But it’s not the kind of thing I would hang my hat on. And it’s nothing that you should concern yourself with. You have a home here as long as you need it, and now it’s time for bed.”

Chapter 1

Home

Emma sprinted into my room first, clutching her older brother’s slingshot in her pudgy hands, and down the hall Liam was already yelling for me.

“Ulla! Emma keeps taking my stuff!” Liam rushed into my room in a huff, little Niko toddling behind him.

My bedroom was a maze of cardboard boxes—all of my worldly possessions carefully packed and labeled for my move in six weeks—and Emma darted between them to escape Liam’s grasp.

“He said he was going to shoot fairies in the garden!” Emma insisted vehemently.

Liam rolled his eyes and brushed his thick tangles of curls off his forehead. “Don’t be such a dumb baby. You know there’s no such things as fairies.”

“Don’t call your sister dumb,” I admonished him, which only caused him to huff even louder. For only being seven years old, Liam already had quite the flair for the dramatic. “You know, you’re going to have to learn how to get along with your sister on your own. I’m not going to be around to get in the middle of your squabbles.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Liam replied sourly. He stared down at the wood floor, letting his hair fall into his eyes. “She’s the one that always starts it.”

“I did not!” Emma shouted back. “I only wanted to protect the fairies!”

“Emma, will you give Liam back his slingshot if he promises not to kill anything with it?” I asked her. She seemed to consider this for a moment, wrinkling up her little freckled nose, but finally she nodded yes.

“I was never really going to kill anything anyway,” he said.

“Promise!” Emma insisted.

“Fine. I promise I won’t kill anything with my slingshot.”

He held his hand out to her, and she reluctantly handed it back to him. With that, he dashed out of the room, and Emma raced after him.

Niko, meanwhile, had no interest in the argument, and instead made his way over to me. I pulled him into my arms, relishing the way his soft curls felt tickling my chin as I held him, and breathing in his little-boy scent—the summer sun on his skin and sugared milk from his breakfast. 

“How are you doing this morning, my sweet boy?” I asked him softly. He didn’t answer, but Niko rarely did. Instead, he curled up more into me and began sucking his thumb.

I know I shouldn’t pick favorites, but Niko would be the one I missed the most. Sandwiched between Emma and the twins, he was quiet and easily overlooked. Whenever I was having a bad day or feeling lonely, I could always count on him for cuddles and hugs that somehow managed to erase all the bad—at least for a few moments.

But now I could only smile at him and swallow down the lump in my throat.

This—all the scraped knees and runny noses, the giggles and tantrums, all the love and chaos and constant noise of a house full of children—had been my life for the past five years. Which was quite the contrast to the frozen isolation of the first fourteen and a half years of my life.

Five years ago, a Kanin tracker named Bryn Aven had been on an investigation that brought her to Iskyla in central Canada, and when I met her, I knew it was my chance out of that town. Maybe it was because of the way she came in, on the back of a storm, or because she was a half-breed. She was also blond like me, and that wasn’t something I saw often in a town populated by trolls and a handful of the native humans of the area, the Inuit.

Most trolls, especially from the three more populous tribes—the Kanin, Trylle, and Vittra—were

of a darker complexion. Their skin ran the gamut of medium brown shades, and their hair was dark brown and black, with eyes that matched. The Kanin and the Trylle looked like attractive

humans, and the Vittra often did as well. 

The Omte had a slightly lighter complexion than that, and they were also more prone to gigantism and physical deformities, most notably in their large population of ogres. With

wild blond hair and blue eyes, the Skojare were the fairest, and they had a tendency to be born with gills, attuned to their aquatic lifestyle.

Each of the tribes even had different skill sets and extraordinary abilities. All of the kingdoms had some mild psychokinetic talents, with the Trylle being the most powerful. The Vittra and the Omte were known for their physical strength and ability to heal, while the Kanin had the skin-color- changing ability to blend in with their surroundings, much like intense chameleons.

Iskyla was officially a Kanin town, and the Inuit coloring wasn’t much different from that of the Kanin. Most everyone around me had a shock of dark hair and symmetrical features. My noticeable differences had always made me an easy target growing up, and seeing the blond-haired tracker Bryn, I recognized a kindred spirit.

Or maybe it was because I could tell she was running from something, and I had been itching to run since as soon as I could walk. The Tulins had been good to me—or as good as an elderly couple who had never wanted kids could be when a baby is dropped on them. But Mrs. Tulin had always made it clear that I would be on my own as soon as I was ready, and when I was fourteen I was sure I was ready.

Fortunately, Bryn had been smart enough—and kind enough—not to leave me to fend for myself. She brought me to Förening, the Trylle capital in Minnesota, and found me a job and a place to stay with friends of hers. 

When I had started as a live-in nanny working for Finn and Mia Holmes, they’d only had two children with another on the way, but already their cottage was rather cramped. Shortly after I moved in, Emma came along—followed by a promotion for Finn to the head of the Trylle royal guard—and Mia insisted a house upgrade was long overdue.

This grand little house, nestled in the bluffs along the Mississippi River—cozy but clean and bright—had enough room for us all—Finn, Mia, Hanna, Liam, Emma, Niko, Lissa, Luna, and me. As of a few months ago, we’d even managed to fit in Finn’s mother, Annali, who had decided to move in with them after her husband passed away last fall.

This home had been my home for years, and really, this family had been my family too. They welcomed me with open arms. I grew to love them, and they loved me. Here, I felt like I belonged and mattered in a way that I had never been able to in Iskyla.

I was happy with them. But now I was leaving all of this behind.

From The Lost City.  Copyright © 2020 by Amanda Hocking and reprinted by permission of Wednesday Books.

1. There’s been so much excitement and anticipation for more books in the world of the Trylle and Kanin.  What made you decide to revisit those worlds now in The Omte Origins trilogy? 

I knew as soon as I wrote Ulla as a small character in Crystal Kingdom (the final book of the Kanin Chronicles) that I was going to write a trilogy about her, but it was just a matter of when. After the Kanin Chronicles, I wanted to take a little break from that world and visit others – which I did with Freeks and the Valkyrie duology. By then, I was so ready to dive back into the world and answer some lingering questions I had left for the Trylle and Kanin.  

2. Why make this the final trilogy?

With the Omte Origins, I feel like I’ve been able to say everything I want to about the worlds. Through the three trilogies, I spent time with all five tribes. Wendy’s mother is Trylle and her father is Vittra, and her story has her visiting both kingdoms. Bryn’s mother is Skojare and her father is Kanin, and her trilogy shows life in the Kanin and Skojare cities, as well as travelling to others beyond that. I won’t say who exactly Ulla’s parents are (that would be spoiling the story) but her journey takes her through the troll kingdoms, with interesting detours through the Omte, Trylle, and Kanin tribes.

3. What are the most challenging aspects of writing a new trilogy that can be read independently, but is set in a world–the Trylle and Kanin–that you’ve written about before?  

The hardest challenge is getting new readers caught up with the world and the lingo without feeling repetitive and boring to longtime fans of the series. I try use this an opportunity to show characters and situations from different angles. The Wendy the audience meets at the beginning of Switched is vastly different Wendy than the that Ulla knows in the Omte Origins. So for new readers, they get introduced Wendy as she currently is, and for repeat readers, they can see who Wendy has become and who she appears to be through the eyes of an average citizen with Ulla.

4. What’s the most fascinating thing you researched while writing The Lost City?

With the Omte Origins, I really looked back at the course of troll history, and their past has dovetailed with the Vikings and other artic peoples. So I did a lot research on early Vikings and indigenous arctic people, primarily the Inuit and the Sami. My favorite parts were reading their folklore. I even got an Inuit cookbook, and I attempted to make Bannock (a traditional Inuit bread). It did not turn out well, but I blame that entirely on my cooking skills (or lack thereof) and not the recipe.

5. The “Glossary” and “Tribal Facts” sections at the end of the book are fascinating and really help create a layered, fleshed out world.  Was putting those together as much fun as writing the novel?  

It was so much fun. It’s been over ten years and nine books (and several short stories), so I have spent a lot time of thinking and doing world-building. I honestly have enough information for a history book about the worlds of the Trylle, but I don’t know there’s a demand for fictional textbooks. The Tribal Facts were actually one of the first things I wrote for the Omte series, because I went through and get myself reacquainted and made sure I had all my important facts straight.

6. Was your writing routine affected by the stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic?  

My routine itself hasn’t been too affected, since I write from home, but I would say that the stress has a negative impact on me, the way it has for many of us that work in creative fields – or any field at all, honestly. My husband has been working from home, and my stepson had been doing long distance learning before summer break, but that hasn’t really changed too much for me. I usually work after they go to bed and stay up late into the early morning hours.

7. Were there any favorite songs or music you listened to while writing this book?  

Yes, definitely! I listen to so much music when I write, and I even have curated playlists to go along with my books on Spotify. open.spotify.com/user/127756215 Some of my favorite songs to write to were “Ella” by Myrkur, “Wild World” by Cat Stevens, and “Delicate” by Taylor Swift. I also listened to a lot of Wardruna, who are this Norwegian band who make traditional Nordic music with historically accurate instruments. For the soundtrack to the Omte Origins, I wanted it be a blend of traditional Nordic music, mellow seventies folk to go with the trolls delayed pop culture tastes, and pop music that gets through with the trendier younger generations of trolls.

8. Do you think the music you listen to has an influence on the stories?  Or do the stories influence the music you choose?

I think it’s both, honestly. When I’m picking songs for the playlist, I definitely choose them based on the kind of emotions I want to feel and the tone I want to set for whatever I’m writing. Sometimes I’ll put particularly romantic songs on repeat when writing a love scene or an angry fast-paced instrumental for a fight scene.

9. What books or authors are you reading or excited to read lately?

I’m super excited about Faith: Taking Flight by Julie Murphy. It comes out the same day as The Lost City, and it’s about a plus-size teenage girl who discovers that she can fly. I recently read A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Rosanne Brown, and I’m counting down the days until The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna and The Project by Courtney Summers.

10.  Any hints you can share about what’s coming next after The Omte Origins Trilogy?

I’m currently working on a stand-alone fantasy inspired by Greek mythology, but I don’t know when it will be out yet. I’ve got ideas for dozens of projects after that, and I’m working hard (and having fun) getting through them all.

AMANDA HOCKING is the author of over twenty young adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Trylle Trilogy and Kanin Chronicles. Her love of pop culture and all things paranormal influence her writing. She spends her time in Minnesota, taking care of her menagerie of pets and working on her next book.

Social Links:

Author website | Twitter @Amanda_Hocking | Facebook | Author Blog | Pinterest | GoodReads

Forest of Souls (Shamanborn, #1) by Lori M. Lee – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Publication Date: June 23, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 3 Stars

Goodreads | Amazon

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.

Danger lurks within the roots of Forest of Souls, an epic, unrelenting tale of destiny and sisterhood, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Susan Dennard. 

*Thank you to the publisher for sending me an e-arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

I LOVE me some Asian Fantasy, so I was really excited to read this one!

It started off with a really strong start. It started off with Sirscha getting back from a mission and talking with her mentor about being this really cool shadow assassin then meeting up with her best friend then you come to find out they ride drakes. So freaking cool. I was so invested from the beginning! Sirscha has a mysterious past, she’s has crazy fighting skills, and she’s sassy. I liked her.

However, the story just didn’t get really far after that. It felt like being on a roller coaster and anticipating the drop but it never comes. She had plenty of adventure but they were all short trips where nothing actually happened. Until the very end. Like the last 5% of the book. Then it ends on a cliffhanger. I liked that part but the majority of the book was a bit lackluster. The beginning and the end were intense but the whole middle was just not.

Things I liked. There is no romance in this book. And that’s totally fine! It stands completely on it’s own! However, I am totally shipping Sirscha and Theyen. Theyen was my favorite. He is mysterious and brooding and sassy. More of him please! I also really liked the magic system. It was very Avatar-y except add in shadow magic and soul magic. It was so cool!

I do want to read book 2. I think this series has a lot of promise so I am excited about that. I also liked the authors writing!

The Court of Miracles (The Court of Miracles, #1) by Kester Grant – Blog Tour Review + Giveaway

Publisher: Knopf Children’s

Publication Date: June 02, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Retellings

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Buy Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Book Depository | Kobo | Google Books

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds,or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

*Thank you to the publisher and Fantastic Flying Book Club for the e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review!*

This book actually got me out of a reading slump, so doubly thank you!

I was really excited to read a Les Mis / Jungle Book retelling and this did not dissapoint! Like, what a freaking cool mash up!! I have always loved Eponine. She is my favorite character, so when I heard this book was also about her, I jumped at the chance to review it!

Eponine is a spit fire. She is on a mission to save her sister (then sisters), from an evil man. I loved her personality. She is fiercely protective but she also knows her own limits. I really liked that she wasn’t a can-do-it-all girl. She was humble enough to ask for help. BUT she also knew she was the best tactician. I loved her story and am nervous it still might end up like in the real Les Mis! Dear Grant, please don’t! Please give Eponine the ending she deserves!

I really enjoyed the world building as well. I loved there were 9 different guilds all with their own purpose. There are definitely some gray areas morally and I loved it. I did however want to see a bit more of the thieves guild where Nina (Eponine) is from. She was mostly on the streets or staying with another guild.

I liked the side characters. Montparnasse of the Guild of Assassins was my favorite. He was soooo mysterious and I totally ship him and Nina. In fact, I would love more on his story! And Ettie was so sweet! I loved how her and Nina interacted together.

What I didn’t like: this would have been a 5 star read for me, HOWEVER, I struggled with the flow of the book. It was choppy. It would be something like this: I did this. Then I did this. *Time Skip*. I am doing this now. Let me put it this way, the actual writing was quite good, descriptive, I could imagine everything, it was the execution that was choppy. And I couldn’t figure out the love quad going on. Nina had 3 boys after her? And she seemed like she couldn’t make up her mind. Like I said, I am hoping for Montparnasse!

This book was still very entertaining, y’all know I love to be entertained, and I can’t wait for book 2!

“Do not cry for me, I am already dead.”
“No, not dead, the dead at least are free.”

———–

“Our mother the City is not a merciful mother,’ she says as she gathers my hair in one hand.”

————

“Let us go,” says Monteparnasse. “The Dead are calling.”

———–

She takes my hand, and the gesture is a powerful declaration of sorrow, of forgiveness, of love, threads of silver and gold wrapping around us…

———-

Something inside her draws people to her. Innocence, a kindness that could swallow the city whole if she let it.

Kester Grant is a British-Mauritian writer of color. She was born in London, grew up between the UK, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the tropical island paradise of Mauritius. As a wanton nomad she and her husband are unsure which country they currently reside in but they can generally be found surrounded by their fiendish pack of cats and dogs.

Author Links:

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Pinterest

Click the photo to go to Random House for the excerpt!

Check out the other tour hosts/ tour schedule HERE for more chances to win!

Prize: Win a copy of THE COURT OF MIRACLES by Kester Grant (US Only)

Starts: June 2nd, 2020

Ends: June 16th, 2020

Click HERE for the Rafflecopter giveaway!

House of Dragons (House of Dragons, #1) by Jessica Cluess – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: May 12, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy, Dragons

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Goodreads | Amazon

Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win?

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year, these five outcasts will answer the call….

THE LIAR: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

THE SOLDIER: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

THE SERVANT: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

THE THIEF: Ajax knows that nothing is free–he must take what he wants.

THE MURDERER: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.

I am starting to learn something about myself, I think I review books based on how entertaining they are to me vs. intricacies. If I am super entertained, I don’t care if such and such didn’t add up. Or if characters are boring or whatnot.

Anyways, I say that because this book was really entertaining but it had some slight problems. Just not enough for me to dock another star.

I always like to start with the problem areas so then we can end on a good note! And really, I only had one problem. The characters.

The characters were boring. It’s hard to explain because they didn’t have a lot of personality, while still having 5 very different people.

Hyperia: She is the “mean girl” with a past of abuse

Lucien: The good looking, goody-goody boy scout

Emilia: The smart girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty

Vespir: The shy, quiet, gay girl

Ajax: The class clown

I liked them, they were just a bit bland. They get better the last half of the book when they start to use what they are good at to shine during the trials.

WITH THAT BEING SAID: I ENJOYED THIS BOOK!

There were dragons galore! There was adventure, a mysterious plot, and plenty of action. THOSE are the things that make me love a book! I was entertained! Dog, Ajax’s dragons, was my favorite! He acts like a puppy! Cluess knows how to write dragons! And I loved it! Each dragon had it’s own personality that sort of matched their riders! It was so cool!

The trials to become emperor were sooooo much fun to read about! The Hunt, The Game, The Race, and The Truth. In The Hunt, they had to hunt a basilisk and that was my favorite! They were all on an island hunting it and it was so intense! LOTs of adventure going on. Each character tried to use their skills to win (or not to win in Lucien’s case), and it was interesting to see how they would use those skills. Emilia was probably my favorite to read about, just because she had the added element of dark magic she had to try to control and keep secret, while trying to compete.

Maybe 70% of the way through, the book changes gears. Meaning, there was a huge twist that I am here for! I won’t spoil it, but it’s so good! I definitely can’t wait for book 2!

I am going to try something new. Novel Heartbeat (follow her, she’s amazing!) has star ratings for each aspect of the book. I would love to try my own hand at that! Here are mine:

Characters: 2 🌟

Entertainment: 5 🌟

Plot: 5 🌟

Adventure: 5 🌟

Writing: 4 🌟

Let’s talk DRAGONS! Tell me your favorite book that has dragons in it!

*Amazon link is my affiliate link*

Night of the Dragon (Shadow of the Fox, #3) by Julie Kagawa – Spoiler Free Review, Q&A, Excerpt

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Publication Date: March 31, 2020

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Buy Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |IndieBound | Books-A-Million | AppleBooks | Google Play

“Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has given up the final piece of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers in order to save everyone she loves from imminent death. Now she and her ragtag band of companions must journey to the wild sea cliffs of Iwagoto in a desperate last-chance effort to stop the Master of Demons from calling upon the Great Kami dragon and making the wish that will plunge the empire into destruction and darkness.

Shadow clan assassin Kage Tatsumi has regained control of his body and agreed to a true deal with the devil — the demon inside him, Hakaimono. They will share his body and work with Yumeko and their companions to stop a madman and separate Hakaimono from Tatsumi and the cursed sword that had trapped the demon for nearly a millennium.

But even with their combined skills and powers, this most unlikely team of heroes knows the forces of evil may be impossible to overcome. And there is another player in the battle for the scroll, a player who has been watching, waiting for the right moment to pull strings that no one even realized existed… until now.

Master storyteller Julie Kagawa concludes the enthralling journey into the heart of the fantastical Empire of Iwagoto in the third book of the Shadow of the Fox trilogy. As darkness rises and chaos reigns, a fierce kitsune and her shadowy protector will face down the greatest evil of all. A captivating fantasy for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Sarah J. Maas and Marie Lu.

*Thank you so much to Netgalley and Inkyardpress for the e-arc and for having me on the tour!*

Did you notice the dead flowers in my photo? Yes? Because that’s how my heart is after reading the end of this book. Dead. It hurt and then it died. What. An. Ending. Kagawa. Wow. This was my reaction to the ending of this series:

Anyways, moving on from the shocking ending, I loved this book! It held the same magic that book one did so I am one happy reader. This was my first Kagawa series, so I will DEFINITELY be reading everything by her. This series reads like an anime.

Yumeko becomes soooooo freaking cool, y’all. She really grows into her own leader. She faces some TOUGH decisions. She also finally finds out answers to many mysteries of her life. And they are some big answers! I do not envy her. She goes through some stuff, man.

I LOVED Tatsumi/ Hakaimono. Their mashup still makes me chuckle sometimes. They do well together. Their evolution is probably my favorite to read about. It was super interesting to see how they share a body and feelings and memories.

The other side characters were great to read about too. How they all functioned as a unit was fun to see. They all worked well together.

The premise of the book was EPIC. It went from like, a cute, fun story in the first book to this huge climax in the last book. It was crazy! And of course, I loved the adventure going on.

I thought this was a perfect end to an amazing series! I literally tell everyone to go read this. Especially if you love anime. It just gives me those vibes!

Excerpted from Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa. © 2020 by Julie Kagawa, used with permission by Inkyard Press.

One thousand years ago

In the long years of his existence, the number of times he had been summoned from Jigoku could be counted on one claw.

Other demon lords had been summoned before. Yaburama. Akumu. The oni lords were too powerful not to have some en-terprising blood mage attempt a contract with them, though such rituals often ended badly for the arrogant human who thought they could enslave an oni lord. The four of them were, admit-tedly, a proud bunch, and did not take kindly to an insignificant mortal attempting to bend them to their will. They humored the blood mage long enough to hear what the human was offering, and if it did not interest them, or if the mage foolishly tried to assert dominance, they would rip him apart and do what they pleased in the mortal realm until they were sent back to Jigoku.
It had always amused Hakaimono when a mortal tried to summon him. Especially that moment when they gazed upon him for the first time and fully realized what they had done.

Narrowing his eyes, he gazed around, peering through smoke and ignoring the brief feeling of vertigo that always accompanied being dragged from Jigoku into the mortal realm. A growl of murderous annoyance rumbled in his throat. Already, he was not in the best of moods. Akumu had been scheming again, trying to weaken Hakaimono’s forces behind his back, and he had been on his way to deal with the devious Third General when black fire had erupted over his skin, words of blood magic echoing in his head as he abruptly found himself in the mortal realm. Now he stood in the center of a ruin, broken walls and shattered pillars surrounding him, the scent of death thick on the air, and contemplated squeezing the head of the mage responsible until it popped like an egg in his claws.

The stones under his feet were sticky and had a sweet, coppery smell he recognized instantly. Lines of blood had been painted over the ground in a familiar circle, with words and sigils of power woven in a complex pattern. A summoning circle, and a powerful one at that. Whomever the blood mage was, they had done their research. Though it wouldn’t save them in the end.

“Hakaimono.”

The First Oni looked down. A woman stood at the edge of the blood circle, black robes and long hair seeming to blend into the shadows. She clutched a knife in slender fingers, her pale arm covered in red to the elbow.

A chuckle escaped him. “Well, don’t I feel important,” he said, crouching down to better see the woman. She gazed coolly back. “Summoned by the immortal shadow herself. I am curious, however.” He raised a talon, watching the human over curved black claws the length of her arm. “If you rip off an immortal’s head, do you think it will die?”

“You will not kill me, First Oni.” The woman’s voice was neither amused nor afraid, though the certainty in it made him smirk. “I am not so foolish as to attempt a binding, nor will I ask much of you. I have but a single request, and after that, you are free to do what you like.”

“Oh?” Hakaimono chuckled, but admittedly, he was curi-ous. Only the very desperate, foolish or powerful called on one of the four oni generals, and only for the most ambitious of re-quests. Like destroying a castle, or wiping out an entire gen-eration. The risk was too great for anything less. “Let’s hear it then, human,” he prompted. “What is this one task you would have me undertake?”

“I need you to bring me the Dragon scroll.”

Hakaimono sighed. Of course. He had forgotten it was that time again in the mortal world. When the great scaly one him-self would rise to grant a wish to an insignificant, short-lived human. “You disappoint me, mortal,” he growled. “I am not a hound that fetches upon command. You could have gotten the amanjaku to retrieve the scroll for you, or one of your own human warrior pets. I have been called on to slaughter armies and tear strongholds to dust. Fetching the Dragon’s Prayer is not worth my time.”

“This is different.” The woman’s voice was as unruffled as ever. If she knew she was in danger of being ripped apart and devoured by an annoyed First Oni, she did not show it. “I have already sent my strongest champion to retrieve the scroll, but I fear he has betrayed me. He wants the power of the Dragon scroll for himself, and I cannot let the Wish slip away now. You must find him and take back the scroll.”

“One human?” Hakaimono curled a lip. “Not much of a challenge.”

“You do not know Kage Hirotaka,” the woman said quietly. “He is the greatest warrior the Empire of Iwagoto has seen in a thousand years. He is kami-touched, but also trained in the way of the samurai. His talents with both blade and magic are so great, the emperor himself praised his achievements. He has killed men, yokai and demons in waves, and will be perhaps the single greatest opponent you have ever faced, Hakaimono.” “I very seriously doubt that.” The First Oni felt a smirk cross his face as he breathed in the blood-scented air. “But now, I’m intrigued. Let’s see if this champion of shadow is as good as you say. Where can I find this demonslaying human?” “Hirotaka’s estate lies outside a village called Koyama, ten miles from the eastern border of Kage territory,” the woman re-plied. “It’s not hard to find, but it is rather isolated. Aside from Hirotaka’s men and servants, you won’t be opposed. Find Hi-rotaka, kill him and bring the scroll to me. Oh, and one more thing.” She raised the knife, observing the bloody, glittering edge. “I cannot have anyone suspecting me of blood magic. Not now, when the night of the Wish is so close.” Her black eyes rose to his, narrowing sharply. “There can be no witnesses, Hakaimono. No survivors. Kill everyone there.”

“I can do that.” A slow grin spread across the oni’s face, and his eyes gleamed red with bloodlust. “This will be fun.”

He would come to regret those words more than any other in his existence.”
Q&A with Julie Kagawa
Q: What were your biggest influences when creating this world in story, whether they be legends, folklore, anime, manga or other novels?
A:  Anime, Manga and video games have been my biggest influences when writing the world of Shadow of the Fox, but also the works of Akira Kurosawa like The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rashomon.   

Q: Would you ever consider using this world and/or some of the characters in future stories that you write?
A:  I love Japanese legends and folklore, so I might very well return to this world someday.  Maybe not through the eyes of a kitsune, but there is always the possibility of future books set in the land of Iwagoto.  

Q: Did Night of the Dragon have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?
A: I listen to a lot of movie and anime soundtracks while writing, but nothing specific.  
 
Q: What was the hardest scene to write? What was the easiest?
A:  The hardest scene was the last battle with the Final Boss at the end.  Without giving away spoilers, there was a lot of kitsune magic, illusion and misdirection, and trying to show everything that was going on without making it too confusing was a challenge.  I don’t remember an easy scene to write, but I did enjoy writing one of the final chapters (where I hope everyone cries).  
Q: Did you hide any secrets in your book? (names of friends, little jokes, references to things only some people will get)
A: There are a few references that only those very familiar with Japanese folklore would get.  For example, the names of the Reika’s two dogs, Chu and Ko, come from a Japanese novel called The Eight Dog Chronicles, which has been adapted into manga, anime, and even video games.  In Soul of the Sword, Yumeko and her friends are on their way to the home of the tengu, when they encounter a pair of magical stone guardians called Yoshitsune and Benkei, two real life historical figures that inspired countless legends and stories.  In folklore, Minamoto no Yoshitsune was a near mythical swordsman who had been trained by the king of the tengu, and Benki was a warrior monk who was his stalwart companion. 
 
Q: What do you hope people remember about Night of the Dragon?
A: I hope people come away with a new appreciation of Japanese myth and folklore, particularly all the wonderfully bizarre yokai, yurei and bakemono that populate these stories.  From kitsune and tanuki to oni and kirin, I hope it inspires readers to learn more about the world of Japanese myth and legend. And I hope people remember how much they cried at the end of the story. 
 
Q: What is your dream cast for Night of the Dragon?
A:  I am so bad at this question.  I really can’t answer it because one: I am terrible at keeping up with current actors/actresses.  And two: I see everyone in Shadow of the Fox as anime characters.



Q: Is there a character that you found challenging to write? Why?

A:  Taiyo Daisuke was probably the most challenging, because it was a balancing act of making him a noble and making him likable.  Nobles in fantasy stories tend to be arrogant, snooty, mocking, and manipulatieve. More often than not they are the villains, or at least an unpleasant obstacle the heroes must get around.  Daisuke was very clearly an aristocrat, so I made very certain to give him qualities atypical of a noble. Kindness, humility, and viewing everyone, even the ronin, as an equal was certainly not the mindset of a typical samurai, but it was necessary to make Daisuke a well loved member of the team and not a person the reader, and the other characters, hated.   


Q: How does a typical writing day look like for you?

A: I work from home, so times vary, but I try to head into my office and start writing around 9am everyday.  I have a quota of 1,000 words a day, except when I’m close to deadline, then the word count jumps by a few hundred words.  Sometimes I reach my quota in a few hours, sometimes it takes me all day, but I try not to stop writing until my word quota is reached.



Q: What is your current read?

A: At the moment, the words on my computer screen, lol.  Its deadline crunch time, so my current WIP is the only thing I have time for now. Hopefully I can get back to pleasure reading when I’m finished.


Q: What part of the Shadow of the Fox series was the most fun to write?


A: I really enjoyed writing the parts with Yumeko’s kitsune illusion magic.  One of my favorite scenes was when Yumeko and the others attended a formal tea ceremony with a snooty noble of the Shadow Clan.  I won’t give away spoilers, but what Yumeko does at the tea ceremony still makes me smile, and remains one of my favorite parts of the series.


Q: Was there a scene or backstory about a favorite character that didn’t make it into the final version of NIGHT OF THE DRAGON that you can share with us?

A: There was an earlier draft where Taka, Lord Seigetsu’s servant, was a human boy instead of a small, one-eyed yokai who could see the future.  But it seemed more interesting to have him be a yokai instead. Also in an earlier draft, Yumeko was not a half kitsune but a full fox who lived in a den with her grandmother fox and two brothers.  That also, got cut, as a half-human Yumeko was more sympathetic and relatable than one who was full kitsune.



Q: The Iron Fey series was your first large published success. How did you feel as a writer when you reflect upon those books? How did/do you feel as a reader when you read or re-read those books?

A: The Iron Fey series holds a very special place in my heart as my first published series. I know I’ve grown since then, and when I re-read the Iron Fey I know I’ve come a long way as an author. But I also know that I wrote the best books I could at the time, so even though I wouldn’t write them the same way now, I’m happy with them.


Q: What is it about fantasy that draws you to it?

A: Is everything a good answer? I love myths and legends, other worlds, magic, swords, wizards, dragons, evil gods, epic quests, and the battle between good and evil.  I read to escape, but also to travel to far away places and encounter creatures and beings I would never meet in real life. Who hasn’t daydreamed about flying on the back of a dragon?  I read fantasy for the same reason.  


Q: How much research goes into your books and at what point do you stop using research and build off it?

A: It depends on how much I already know about certain aspects of the book.  For example, from the amount of anime and manga I’d consumed over the years, I knew a lot about kitsune, oni, tanuki, and various other Japanese monsters.  I still did a fair amount of research, though it was more about the samurai and the Sengoku Jidai, the era I was basing the book off of. I never really stop researching, though most of it goes into book one, which is where much of the world building takes place.




Q: Would you ever write adult fantasy? If so, what would it look like?

A: I certainly have considered it, though it would look a lot like my YA books, just with older protagonists.   When I write, I don’t think “This is for teens,” I just write how I would always write. Really, the only thing that differentiates YA from adult is the age of the heroes and the lack of graphic sex in YA.  And even that is changing.


Q: Finally, out of all the books you have written, which has your favorite world and why?

A:  Probably the Iron Fey series, though Shadow of the Fox is a close second.  I love fantasy and all the fantastic creatures that populate it, so the Nevernever is my favorite world for that alone.  Even though I wouldn’t last a day there without getting eaten by an ogre, a redcap or a kelpie. Maybe if I could find a big gray cat…    

Julie Kagawa, the New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Fey, Blood of Eden, Talon, and Shadow of the Fox series was born in Sacramento, California. But nothing exciting really happened to her there. So, at the age of nine she and her family moved to Hawaii, which she soon discovered was inhabited by large carnivorous insects, colonies of house geckos, and frequent hurricanes. She spent much of her time in the ocean, when she wasn’t getting chased out of it by reef sharks, jellyfish, and the odd eel.

When not swimming for her life, Julie immersed herself in books, often to the chagrin of her schoolteachers, who would find she hid novels behind her Math textbooks during class. Her love of reading led her to pen some very dark and gruesome stories, complete with colored illustrations, to shock her hapless teachers. The gory tales faded with time, but the passion for writing remained, long after she graduated and was supposed to get a real job.

To pay the rent, Julie worked in different bookstores over the years, but discovered the managers frowned upon her reading the books she was supposed to be shelving. So she turned to her other passion: training animals. She worked as a professional dogtrainer for several years, dodging Chihuahua bites and overly enthusiastic Labradors, until her first book sold and she stopped training to write full time.

Julie now lives in North Carolina with her husband, two obnoxious cats, and a pair of Australian Shepherds that have more Instagram followers than she does.

Social Links:

Author website | Facebook | Twitter: @jkagawa | Instagram: @juliekagawaauthor | Goodreads

The Seventh Sun (The Age of the Seventh Sun, #1) by Lani Forbes – Spoiler Free Review, Tour, & Giveaway

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Buy Links: Blackstone’s Website | Amazon | Book Depository | Goodreads

“Thrust into leadership upon the death of his emperor father, young Prince Ahkin feels completely unready for his new position. Though his royal blood controls the power of the sun, he’s now responsible for the lives of all the Chicome people. And despite all Ahkin’s efforts, the sun is fading–and the end of the world may be at hand.

For Mayana, the only daughter of the Chicome family whose blood controls the power of water, the old emperor’s death may mean that she is next. Prince Ahkin must be married before he can ascend the throne, and Mayana is one of six noble daughters presented to him as a possible wife. Those who are not chosen will be sacrificed to the gods.

Only one girl can become Ahkin’s bride. Mayana and Ahkin feel an immediate connection, but the gods themselves may be against them. Both recognize that the ancient rites of blood that keep the gods appeased may be harming the Chicome more than they help. As a bloodred comet and the fading sun bring a growing sense of dread, only two young people may hope to change their world.

Rich in imagination and romance, and based on the legends and history of the Aztec and Maya people, The Seventh Sun brings to vivid life a world on the edge of apocalyptic disaster.”

*Thank you so much to MTMC Tours for having me on the tour!

Here is my aesthetic I made for the book!

This book surprised me for some reason. I mean, it sounded interesting, and I thought I was going to like it, I just didn’t realize how much! Like, I actually stayed up late reading this and couldn’t put it down! I also figured something out, I really like the whole chosen bride competition thing. I don’t even know what to call that, but I like it.

I normally don’t like insta-love type thing but Forbes actually did it really well. I think Mayana and Prince Ahkin had to fall in love quickly because, you know, the whole death thing. And they were on a bit of a time crunch. It fit and made sense with the book. And they clicked really well and had great chemistry!

I loved the descriptions of the lush landscape that was their home. It sounded so incredibly beautiful mixed with their magic. It was so earthy and I definitely wanted to visit that book world! Forbes has beautiful writing! She’s also quite funny. There were quite a few times where I laughed out loud.

I really clicked with Mayana. She was relatable. She had sincere compassion but that didn’t make her weak. It made her stronger. She still stood up for what she believed in but in a respectful way. I liked that. I felt for her when she had to put up with the other girls (Zorrah) crazy antics, and when she made friends with a couple of the others that were doomed to die. She still tried to find a way to save them all, even thought they wouldn’t have done the same.

Prince Ahkin was a strong male lead. He was a great warrior, smart, and gentle when it came to Mayana or his sister. He and Mayana complimented each other. He thought with his head while she with her heart. He always suspected something was off about their crazy rituals, but it took Mayana to help him see that I think.

The ending! Oh my gosh! Don’t worry, no spoilers, but I was super worried and then it got better and then I was worried again. But hopeful. Man, that’s hard without spoilers!

I can’t wait for the second book!

Lani Forbes is the daughter of a librarian and an ex-drug smuggling surfer, which explains her passionate love of the ocean and books. A California native whose parents live in Mexico, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest where she stubbornly wears flip flops no matter how cold it gets. She teaches middle school math and science and proudly calls herself a nerd and Gryffindor. She is also an award-winning member of Romance Writers of America and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram 

INTL Tour-Wide Giveaway on Instagram!

Head over to my Instagram account where TWO readers will win:
A hardcover copy of THE SEVENTH SUN!
(And don’t miss out the rest of the tour stops to get more chances to win!!!)

Tour Schedule:

February 17
@thereaderandthechef – Bookstagram + Blog

February 18
@throneofshatteredbooks – Bookstagram

February 19
@reverieandink – Bookstagram

February 20
@paperfury – Bookstagram 

February 21
@storied.adventures – Bookstagram + Blog

February 22
@libraryinthecountry – Bookstagram

February 23
@exquisitepages – Bookstagram + Blog

February 24
@giota_the_reader – Bookstagram

February 25
@myhoneyreads – Bookstagram + Blog

February 26
@the.magicalpages – Bookstagram

Hosted by:

Let’s discuss! Since this one is based on Mayan/ Aztec culture, what is your favorite culture to read about in books?

The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet – Feature & Excerpt

Publisher: Mira

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Buy Links: Oblong Books: Signed, personalized preorders! | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Powell’s | Apple Books | IndieBound

I am so excited to feature and post an excerpt of this gorgeous book! I am drooling over this cover! It sounds absolutely magical and I can’t wait to read it!

“A penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride…

The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival… and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban – a lord as mighty as he is cruel – has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.”

Prologue

On the third day of the convocation, two of the Slonimi scouts killed a calf, and the herbalist’s boy wept because he’d watched the calf being born and grown to love it. His
mother stroked his hair and promised he would forget by the time the feast came, the following night. He told her he would never forget. She said, “Just wait.”

He spent all of the next day playing with the children from the other caravan; three days before, they’d all been strangers, but Slonimi children were used to making friends quickly. The group the boy and his mother traveled with had come across the desert to the south, and they found the cool air of the rocky plain a relief from the heat. The others had come from the grassy plains farther west, and were used to milder weather. While the adults traded news and maps and equipment, the children ran wild. Only one boy, from the other caravan, didn’t run or play: a pale boy, with fine features, who followed by habit a few feet behind one of the older women from the other caravan. “Derie’s apprentice,” the other children told him, and shrugged, as if there was nothing more to say. The older woman was the other group’s best Worker, with dark hair going to grizzle and gimlet eyes. Every time she appeared the herbalist suddenly remembered an herb her son needed to help her prepare, or something in their wagon that needed cleaning. The boy was observant, and clever, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that his mother was trying to keep him away from the older woman: she, who had always demanded he face everything head-on, who had no patience for what she called squeamishness and megrims.

After a hard day of play over the rocks and dry, grayish grass, the boy was starving. A cold wind blew down over the rocky plain from the never-melting snow that topped the high peaks of the Barriers to the east; the bonfire was warm. The meat smelled good. The boy had not forgotten the calf but when his mother brought him meat and roasted potatoes and soft pan bread on a plate, he did not think of him. Gerta—the head driver of the boy’s caravan—had spent the last three days with the other head driver, poring over bloodline records to figure out who between their two groups might be well matched for breeding, and as soon as everybody had a plate of food in front of them they announced the results. The adults and older teenagers seemed to find this all fascinating. The herbalist’s boy was nine years old and he didn’t understand the fuss. He knew how it went: the matched pairs would travel together until a child was on the way, and then most likely never see each other again. Sometimes they liked each other, sometimes they didn’t. That, his mother had told him, was what brandy was for.

The Slonimi caravans kept to well-defined territories, and any time two caravans met there was feasting and trading and music and matching, but this was no ordinary meeting, and both sides knew it. After everyone had eaten their fill, a few bottles were passed. Someone had a set of pipes and someone else had a sitar, but after a song or two, nobody wanted any more music. Gerta—who was older than the other driver—stood up. She was tall and strong, with ropy, muscular limbs. “Well,” she said, “let’s see them.”

In the back, the herbalist slid an arm around her son. He squirmed under the attention but bore it.

From opposite sides of the fire, a young man and a young woman were produced. The young man, Tobin, had been traveling with Gerta’s people for years. He was smart but not unkind, but the herbalist’s son thought him aloof. With good reason, maybe; Tobin’s power was so strong that being near him made the hair on the back of the boy’s neck stand up. Unlike all the other Workers—who were always champing at the bit to get a chance to show off—Tobin was secretive about his skills. He shared a wagon with Tash, Gerta’s best Worker, even though the two men didn’t seem particularly friendly with each other. More than once the boy had glimpsed their lantern burning late into the night, long after the main fire was embers.

The young woman had come across the plains with the others. The boy had seen her a few times; she was small, round, and pleasant-enough looking. She didn’t strike the boy as particularly remarkable. But when she came forward, the other caravan’s best Worker—the woman named Derie—came with her. Tash stood up when Tobin did, and when they all stood in front of Gerta, the caravan driver looked from one of them to the other. “Tash and Derie,” she said, “you’re sure?”

“Already decided, and by smarter heads than yours,” the gimlet-eyed woman snapped.

Tash, who wasn’t much of a talker, merely said, “Sure.”

Gerta looked back at the couple. For couple they were; the boy could see the strings tied round each wrist, to show they’d already been matched. “Hard to believe,” she said. “But I know it’s true. I can feel it down my spine. Quite a legacy you two carry; five generations’ worth, ever since mad old Martin bound up the power in the world. Five generations of working and planning and plotting and hoping; that’s the legacy you two carry.” The corner of her mouth twitched slightly. “No pressure.”

A faint ripple of mirth ran through the listeners around the fire. “Nothing to joke about, Gerta,” Derie said, lofty and hard, and Gerta nodded.

“I know it. They just seem so damn young, that’s all.” The driver sighed and shook her head. “Well, it’s a momentous occasion. We’ve come here to see the two of you off, and we send with you the hopes of all the Slonimi, all the Workers of all of our lines, back to the great John Slonim himself, whose plan this was. His blood runs in both of you. It’s strong and good and when we put it up against what’s left of Martin’s, we’re bound to prevail, and the world will be free.”

“What’ll we do with ourselves then, Gert?” someone called out from the darkness, and this time the laughter was a full burst, loud and relieved.

Gerta smiled. “Teach the rest of humanity how to use the power, that’s what we’ll do. Except you, Fausto. You can clean up after the horses.”

More laughter. Gerta let it run out, and then turned to the girl.

“Maia,” she said, serious once more. “I know Derie’s been drilling this into you since you were knee-high, but once you’re carrying, the clock is ticking. Got to be inside, at the end.”

“I know,” Maia said.

Gerta scanned the crowd. “Caterina? Cat, where are you?”

Next to the boy, the herbalist cleared her throat. “Here, Gerta.”

Gerta found her, nodded, and turned back to Maia. “Our Cat’s the best healer the Slonimi have. Go see her before you set out. If you’ve caught already, she’ll know. If you haven’t, she’ll know how to help.”

“It’s only been three days,” Tobin said, sounding slighted.

“Nothing against you, Tobe,” Gerta said. “Nature does what it will. Sometimes it takes a while.”

“Not this time,” Maia said calmly.

A murmur ran through the crowd. Derie sat up bolt-straight, her lips pressed together. “You think so?” Gerta said, matching Maia’s tone—although nobody was calm, even the boy could feel the sudden excited tension around the bonfire.

“I know so,” Maia said, laying a hand on her stomach. “I can feel her.”

The tension exploded in a mighty cheer. Instantly, Tobin wiped the sulk off his face and replaced it with pride. The boy leaned into his mother and whispered, under the roar, “Isn’t it too soon to tell?”

“For most women, far too soon, by a good ten days. For Maia?” Caterina sounded as if she were talking to herself, as much as to her son. The boy felt her arm tighten around him. “If she says there’s a baby, there’s a baby.”

After that the adults got drunk. Maia and Tobin slipped away early. Caterina knew a scout from the other group, a man named Sadao, and watching the two of them dancing together, the boy decided to make himself scarce. Tash would have an empty bunk, now that Tobin was gone, and he never brought women home. He’d probably share. If not, there would be a bed somewhere. There always was.

In the morning, the boy found Caterina by the fire, only slightly bleary, and brewing a kettle of strong-smelling tea. Her best hangover cure, she told her son. He took out his notebook and asked what was in it. Ginger, she told him, and willowbark, and a few other things; he wrote them all down carefully. Labeled the page. Caterina’s Hangover Cure.

Then he looked up to find the old woman from the bonfire, Derie, listening with shrewd, narrow eyes. Behind her hovered her apprentice, the pale boy, who this morning had a bruised cheek. “Charles, go fetch my satchel,” she said to him, and he scurried away. To Caterina, Derie said, “Your boy’s conscientious.”

“He learns quickly,” Caterina said, and maybe she just hadn’t had enough hangover tea yet, but the boy thought she sounded wary.

“And fair skinned,” Derie said. “Who’s his father?”

“Jasper Arasgain.”

Derie nodded. “Travels with Afia’s caravan, doesn’t he? Solid man.”

Caterina shrugged. The boy had only met his father a few times. He knew Caterina found Jasper boring.

“Healer’s a good trade. Everywhere needs healers.” Derie paused. “A healer could find his way in anywhere, I’d say. And with that skin—”

The boy noticed Gerta nearby, listening. Her own skin was black as obsidian. “Say what you’re thinking, Derie,” the driver said.

“Highfall,” the old woman said, and immediately, Caterina said, “No.”

“It’d be a great honor for him, Cat,” Gerta said. The boy thought he detected a hint of reluctance in Gerta’s voice.

“Has he done his first Work yet?” Derie said.

Caterina’s lips pressed together. “Not yet.”

Charles, the bruised boy, reappeared with Derie’s satchel.

“We’ll soon change that,” the old woman said, taking the satchel without a word and rooting through until she found a small leather case. Inside was a small knife, silver-colored but without the sheen of real silver.

The boy noticed his own heartbeat, hard hollow thuds in his chest. He glanced at his mother. She looked unhappy, her brow furrowed. But she said nothing.

“Come here, boy,” Derie said.

He sneaked another look at his mother, who still said nothing, and went to stand next to the woman. “Give me your arm,” she said, and he did. She held his wrist with a hand that was both soft and hard at the same time. Her eyes were the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen.

“It’s polite to ask permission before you do this,” she told him. “Not always possible, but polite. I need to see what’s in you, so if you say no, I’ll probably still cut you, but—do I have your permission?”

Behind Derie, Gerta nodded. The bruised boy watched curiously.

“Yes,” the boy said.

“Good,” Derie said. She made a quick, confident cut in the ball of her thumb, made an identical cut in his small hand, quickly drew their two sigils on her skin in the blood, and pressed the cuts together.

The world unfolded. But unfolded was too neat a word, too tidy. This was like when he’d gone wading in the western sea and been knocked off his feet, snatched underwater, tossed in a maelstrom of sand and sun and green water and foam—but this time it wasn’t merely sand and sun and water and foam that swirled around him, it was everything. All of existence, all that had ever been, all that would ever be. His mother was there, bright and hot as the bonfire the night before—not her face or her voice but the Caterina of her, her very essence rendered into flame and warmth.

But most of what he felt was Derie. Derie, immense and powerful and fierce: Derie, reaching into him, unfolding him as surely as she’d unfolded the world. And this was neat and tidy, methodical, almost cold. She unpacked him like a trunk, explored him like a new village. She sought out his secret corners and dark places. When he felt her approval, he thrilled. When he felt her contempt, he trembled. And everywhere she went she left a trace of herself behind like a scent, like the chalk marks the Slonimi sometimes left for each other. Her sigil was hard-edged, multi-cornered. It was everywhere. There was no part of him where it wasn’t.

Then it was over, and he was kneeling by the campfire, throwing up. Caterina was next to him, making soothing noises as she wrapped a cloth around his hand. He leaned against her, weak and grateful.

“It’s all right, my love,” she whispered in his ear, and the nervousness was gone. Now she sounded proud, and sad, and as if she might be crying. “You did well.”

He closed his eyes and saw, on the inside of his eyelids, the woman’s hard, angular sigil, burning like a horse brand.

“Don’t coddle him,” Derie said, and her voice reached through him, back into the places inside him where she’d left her mark. Caterina’s arm dropped away. He forced himself to open his eyes and stand up. His entire body hurt. Derie was watching him, calculating but—yes—pleased. “Well, boy,” she said. “You’ll never be anyone’s best Worker, but you’re malleable, and you’ve got the right look. There’s enough power in you to be of use, once you’re taught to use it. You want to learn?”

“Yes,” he said, without hesitating.

“Good,” she said. “Then you’re my apprentice now, as much as your mother’s. You’ll still learn herbs from your mother, so we’ll join our wagon to your group. But don’t expect the kisses and cuddles from me you get from her. For me, you’ll work hard and you’ll learn hard and maybe someday you’ll be worthy of the knowledge I’ll pass on to you. Say, Yes, Derie.”

“Yes, Derie,” he said.

“You’ve got a lot to learn,” she said. “Go with Charles. He’ll show you where you sleep.”

He hesitated, looked at his mother, because it hadn’t occurred to him that he would be leaving her. Suddenly, swiftly, Derie kicked hard at his leg. He yelped and jumped out of the way. Behind her he saw Charles—he of the bruised face—wince, unsurprised but not unsympathetic.

“Don’t ever make me ask you anything twice,” she said.

“Yes, Derie,” he said, and ran.

Excerpted from The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet. Copyright © 2020 by Kelly Braffet. Published by MIRA Books.

Kelly Braffet is the author of the novels Save Yourself, Last Seen Leaving and Josie & Jack. Her writing has been published in The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. She currently lives in upstate New York with her husband, the author Owen King. A lifelong reader of speculative fiction, the idea for The Unwilling originally came to her in college; twenty years later, it’s her first fantasy novel. Visit her at kellybraffet.com.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.kellybraffet.com/

Facebook: @kellybraffetfiction

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All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace – Book Tour and Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Imprint

Publication Date: February 04, 2020

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Goodreads | Amazon

“Set in a kingdom where danger lurks beneath the sea, mermaids seek vengeance with song, and magic is a choice, Adalyn Grace’s All the Stars and Teeth is a thrilling fantasy for fans of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval and Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series.

She will reign.

As princess of the island kingdom Visidia, Amora Montara has spent her entire life training to be High Animancer—the master of souls. The rest of the realm can choose their magic, but for Amora, it’s never been a choice. To secure her place as heir to the throne, she must prove her mastery of the monarchy’s dangerous soul magic.

When her demonstration goes awry, Amora is forced to flee. She strikes a deal with Bastian, a mysterious pirate: he’ll help her prove she’s fit to rule, if she’ll help him reclaim his stolen magic.

But sailing the kingdom holds more wonder—and more peril—than Amora anticipated. A destructive new magic is on the rise, and if Amora is to conquer it, she’ll need to face legendary monsters, cross paths with vengeful mermaids, and deal with a stow-away she never expected… or risk the fate of Visidia and lose the crown forever.

I am the right choice. The only choice. And I will protect my kingdom.

*Thank you so much to Imprint for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review, and having me on the blog tour!*

Oh dang that was a good read! Very adventurous. Pirates, mermaids/ sirens, magic, adventure, a runaway princess, monster fights, action. Everything I love in a book. It did remind me ever so slightly of Caraval BUT only in the descriptions of things. Not plot. And along the lines of Velaris in description.

Let’s talk characters! Amora was great fun to read from her POV. She was sassy, flawed, and strong. She loves her people and would do anything to save them. She is battling her magic as well as others who want to destroy her kingdom. Loved her. Okay, BASTIAN. I really could not help but picture him as Killian Jones from Once Upon a Time. Minus the hook. But with plenty of secrets. The side characters were also great fun. Vataea and Ferrick hold their own. (Side note: Sorry not sorry, I totally ship them.) Ahem, moving on. Vataea is a beast. I want more of her story! And Ferrick is the cinnamon roll character. So sweet!

This book had GRAND adventure! They sail across the sea to find a way to help Amora save her kingdom. There is an epic beast fight, a daring rescue, and a bit of a cliff hanger that makes me need the next book, like, yesterday. I love seeing the different magics played out. Although there are many different kinds of magic, I couldn’t help but think a tiny bit of Avatar: The Last Airbender type of thing going on. Which I was all about. I need this to be a movie. It would be epic.

I loved the writing. It was so beautifully descriptive. Adalyn Grace and this series are definitely ones to watch out for. I can see this becoming a big hit series.

Some favorite quotes:

“The world doesn’t work with only your eyes, Princess. There’s truth in more than what you can see.”

“Fear is part of life; all that matters is what we do with it.”

Let’s talk! Tell me your favorite pirate/ sea adventure movies, shows, books!