Book review: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Title: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Publisher: Erewhon

Publication date: 13 October 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 384 pages



Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

C.L Polk is the author of one of the books, Witchmark, that got me back into reading and blogging after several years without it. So I was inordinately excited to read her new book, The Midnight Bargain. I was a little wary during the first 20%, but after that, the plot and characters really begin to shine and I couldn’t stop reading!

The Midnight Bargain follows Beatrice, a young ingenue in her first bargaining season, whereby gentlemen try to woo and win over women for marriage. Beatrice needs a good match, as her father’s fortunes were decimated by a bad investment and now the family is close to ruin. But if she marries, Beatrice is forced into a binding collar, which removes all her magic in order to protect any unborn child who might be possessed by a spirit. Beatrice is torn between wanting to help her family and wanting to pursue her dreams of freedom without a binding collar. It becomes an even harder decision when she falls in love with one of the gentlemen, Ianthe. But she has found someone who understands her desires in Ianthe’s sister, Ysbeta, who also does not want to marry. The two plan to help each other bind a greater spirit which will prevent anyone from marrying them.

The first 20% of this book I did struggle. C.L Polk, along with V.E Schwab, is one of those authors that I really struggle to care about their female characters because they are just so annoying. I felt this in Witchmark with Grace, a character we’re supposed to care about when she wants to enslave her brother for her own power? Yeah no thanks (it’s why I haven’t ever read the sequel to Witchmark despite how much I adored that book). And I worried during the first 20% of the book because Beatrice, our main character, starts out a little bratty and whiny. It really isn’t clear why she wants to pursue magic, and thus the initial conflict between magic and marriage that will save her family doesn’t feel particularly strong. It seems like a whiny selfish girl not wanting to help her family. Which is fine if that was who Beatrice was! But she was portrayed as really wanting to save her family and give up her life for them, so it felt very contradictory when you can’t really see any strong reasons for why she wants magic at such great expense to her family. Add that to the insufferable Harriet, Beatrice’s sister who seems to care naught a single bit for her sister, doesn’t care what Beatrice might desire or more importantly, what Beatrice might suffer. So I did spend the first 20% thinking oh god not another book with insufferable female characters.

BUT! PUSH THROUGH! Because after about 20%, everything really changes. As Beatrice meets Ysbeta and Ianthe, we really see her personality blossom, along with her two desires: saving her family and being a mage. I really loved this exploration of individualistic vs collective goals in this society, and to see Beatrice’s struggle to reconcile her wish to save her family with her wish to not be shackled and sold off in a marriage contract, no matter how much she loved Ianthe. I really appreciated the emphasis on Beatrice’s family and the strength of her love for them throughout the book, no matter what happened. A lot of other books exploring this, the struggle never really feels fully real – you always kind of know of course the person is going to pick themselves. And I loved that that feeling wasn’t there. I had no idea what Beatrice would do and I think that’s down to the strength in the second half of portraying this sense of selfish, more individualistic style of living alongside the hopes of her family who have bankrupted themselves for her.

I adored the friendship with Ysbeta. The fire in these two as they try to find a way out of marriage really helps bring Beatrice’s desires into a much stronger and clearer light, and thus my initial problem with her characterisation in the first 20% disappears. They have such a strong friendship and I really appreciated Ysbeta’s character. In a book so focused on marriage and tying yourself away to someone, Ysbeta was a breath of fresh air as someone who knows she doesn’t ever want to get married. I very much read her as somewhere on the ace spectrum, though it isn’t on page rep, as her desires to not get married felt like they went beyond just her wishes to be a mage and travel the world.

I’m also a huge Ianthe fan. In a society such as this, he of course does not start off perfect. I loved that Beatrice was unafraid to stand up to him and the two had so many fierce discussions around the morals and ethics surrounding Chasland society and culture. The way she challenges him made the relationship feel so much more positive and really makes you root for them because Ianthe is so willing to change and grow for Beatrice.

I really enjoyed this book. Despite my intial concerns during the first 20%, they were completely blown away by the rest of the book. I loved the emphasis on friendship, Ysbeta is pretty much one of the best female characters I’ve read all year and the relationship was very sweet.

Book review: A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe

Title: A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication date: 13 October 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 320 pages



Thea Hope longs to be an alchemist out of the shadow of her famous mother. The two of them are close to creating the legendary Philosopher’s Stone—whose properties include immortality and can turn any metal into gold—but just when the promise of the Stone’s riches is in their grasp, Thea’s mother destroys the Stone in a sudden fit of violent madness.

While combing through her mother’s notes, Thea learns that there’s a curse on the Stone that causes anyone who tries to make it to lose their sanity. With the threat of the French Revolution looming, Thea is sent to Oxford for her safety, to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists.

But in Oxford, there are alchemists after the Stone who don’t believe Thea’s warning about the curse—instead, they’ll stop at nothing to steal Thea’s knowledge of how to create the Stone. But Thea can only run for so long, and soon she will have to choose: create the Stone and sacrifice her sanity, or let the people she loves die.

Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve spoken quite a few times on here that I’ve been really struggling with YA fantasy this year. But over the past few months, I’ve been going in with low expectations (or no expectations), and that actually seems to be boding well for me because I was pleasantly surprised by YA fantasy, A Golden Fury!

A Golden Fury is a science heavy fantasy all about alchemy, set in a time where female alchemists were very frowned upon. We follow a young alchemist, Thea, whose mother is the most famous female alchemist in the world. She’s also neglectful and abusive and when her mother seems to go mad, Thea is sent to live with the father who doesn’t even know she exists. Thea works out that the journey to create the Philosopher’s stone is what caused her mother’s madness, so when she gets to her father and finds him and his companions just as hungry for the stone, she must try to save the ones she loves from the madness. And the only way to do that is by creating the stone herself so she pays the price of madness and not them.

The first 40% or so of this novel is my favourite. It’s full of brilliant scenes all around alchemy. I loved how much detail has been put into this science, there is so much detail about the process of alchemy and I loved this! This heavy science is probably not for every reader, but it’s one of the things I love most about adult fantasy/scifi and a key thing missing in a lot of YA fantasy I read, so I just adored that we had so much information about the actual science behind the magic.

Despite my love for the science, and as much as I enjoyed this book, I did leave the book just feeling a little well, lack of any feeling. This book was fine, it was okay, but I didn’t leave the book with any overwhelming feeling of passion, either good or bad. I think one of the main reasons for this is that none of the characters felt very genuine in their actions. I never trusted Will from the second we first meet him, so the whole romance storyline and Thea willing to give up her mind for him just felt a little ridiculous. It could have been a really powerful story because I think Thea’s strength and determination were written really well, but because the romance was so central to her actions and the romance was the most lacklustre part of this book, it meant I struggled to believe how someone supposedly as smart as Thea could act like she does (much like how Rahel feels towards her actually!) Add that to her father’s actions, and the sudden forgiveness of him, it just didn’t feel hugely genuine to me. Unfortunately, the key driving plot of this book does surround the romance and Thea’s feelings for Will, so if that doesn’t hit right for you, this story will feel a little lacking.

It’s in no way a bad book! I enjoyed reading this, the science is very cool, I just didn’t leave it with any particularly strong feelings. I hope others have better luck with it!

Book review: Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliot

Title: Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliot

Publisher: Tor Books/Head of Zeus

Publication date: 1 October 2020

Genre: Adult | Science fiction | Space opera

Page extent: 528 pages



It has been eight centuries since the beacon system failed, sundering the heavens. Rising from the ashes of the collapse, cultures have fought, system-by-system, for control of the few remaining beacons. The Republic of Chaonia is one such polity. Surrounded by the Yele League and the vast Phene Empire, they have had to fight for their existence. After decades of conflict, Queen-Marshal Eirene has brought the Yele to heel.

Now it is time to deal with the Empire. Princess Sun, daughter and heir, has come of age.

In her first command, she drove a Phene garrison from the beacons of Na Iri – an impressive feat. But growing up in the shadow of her mother – a ruler both revered and feared – has been no easy task. While Sun may imagine that her victorious command will bring further opportunity to prove herself, it will in fact place her on the wrong side of court politics. There are those who would like to see Sun removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

Thank you to Head of Zeus and NetGalley for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

WE ARE BLESSED WITH AMAZING QUEER SCI FI THIS YEAR AND I CANT STOP SCREAMING ABOUT IT. I honestly cannot express in words how amazing a year scifi is having, I am in AWE at the stories coming in this genre. Unconquerable Sun is a retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a female Alexander (and yes, there is a female Hephaestion too). It’s an epic story of war across the galaxy and as someone who hasn’t been hugely interested in massive war/military fantasy and scifi before, I am in awe at the ease with which Elliot’s writing completely engaged me because I had so much fun and was on the edge of my seat the whole way through.

Unconquerable Sun follows Sun, the daughter and heir to the Chaonian empire, who is locked in a bitter battle with her warrior mother for power, and must deftly use her brain and loyal companions to defeat the Phene empire they are at war with.

Unconquerable Sun does take a little time to fully get into. Sun isn’t the most endearing of characters: in fact, for the first few chapters, I thought she was a whiny brat and was swaying towards Team Eireine (her mother). A lot of the book is from Sun’s POV, which did make it a little difficult to get into the first portion of this book. However, from the wedding feast onwards, I was enthralled. There is constant action and tension throughout, this story never ever lets up. It’s absolutely amazing. It might sound like near constant battles and races against team is too much, but I really didn’t think it was at all. I think that’s particularly down to the way Elliot has embedded so much plot behind every single battle? We see so much history of the world come out in the story when we battle the Phene; we see so much political shenanigans when we get the fights and tension with Perse; we see so much insight into the different cultures in the galaxy when we battle with the Gatoi; and we see so much depth and exploration of family when we see the fraught nature of Sun’s relationship with her mother. There is so much worldbuilding poured into each of these battles that every one seems so different but so important because you gain more insights into the world each time.

This is another book which has had a blurb that doesn’t prepare you for more than one POV going in, which I do think publishing needs to get better at because it is always rather jarring to go into a book you think is going to be about Sun, and then get four or five other POVs (The Bone Shard Daughter I’m looking at you as well). But much like with The Bone Shard Daughter, I also think Unconquerable Sun benefited from having these additional viewpoints. It’s very interesting to see into the POV of an enemy Phene soldier, though their importance isn’t really touched upon within this book so by the end I was questioning a little why they were there. I’m assuming we’ll see more of them in the sequel! Alongside Sun, the other major POV character is Perse, the daughter of the leader of one of the 7 houses holding up the Chaonian Empire, who ran away from home to be a soldier. Her path becomes entwined with Sun’s in a way neither of them want, but I found the development of their relationship fascinating. It was really interesting to see Sun’s opinions on Perse go back and forth depending on who she was talking to. It really highlighted Sun’s ability to manipulate and use people, but also emphasised how she gains loyalty from those around her. Zizou is another POV character who I absoluty loved. He’s a Gatoi soldier who has been captured, and his personal storyline was one of my favourites. The Gatoi are a very interesting race and I loved reading about their culture and how the Phene have manipulated them in their war, it was all absolutely fascinating.

Sun has other companions, although we don’t get their POVs, but each are so unique and they are all so brilliant! If anything, I wish we got more of them! Of course, I must hightlight Hetty, the Hephaestion to Sun’s Alexander, the secret lover always by her side. I found the protective nature of Sun’s personality hilarious around Hetty but was equally enamoured with the way Hetty refused to be put in the corner and hidden away.

This was a really fantastic read. Push past the first few chapters of bratty Sun to get to a thrilling military scifi that never gets boring despite the constant battles thanks to the mammoth world building and character development that is embedded into each of these battles. Loved this one, and I can’t wait for the sequel!

Book review: The Ikessar Falcon by K. S. Villoso

Title: The Ikessar Falcon by K. S. Villoso

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: 22 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 640 pages



The Bitch Queen returns in The Ikessar Falcon, the action-packed sequel to K. S. Villoso’s acclaimed fantasy debut, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro.

Abandoned by her people, Queen Talyien’s quest takes a turn for the worse as she stumbles upon a plot deeper and more sinister than she could have ever imagined, one that will displace her king and see her son dead. The road home beckons, strewn with a tangled web of deceit and unimaginable horrors – creatures from the dark, mad dragons and men with hearts hungry for power.

To save her land, Talyien must confront the myth others have built around her: Warlord Yeshin’s daughter, symbol of peace, warrior and queen and everything she could never be.

The price for failure is steep. Her friends are few. And a nation carved by a murderer can only be destined for war.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED. This book is full of pain and I’m just jotting down all my thoughts immediately after finishing so prepare for a review which is basically just me screaming OH MY GOD the whole time. I love adult fantasy for many reasons, but there’s a few authors who I adore for one very simple reason: when you think everything is absolutely rock bottom for the characters you love, shit gets even worse. K. S. Villoso is one of those authors who does so exceptionally well that almost constantly throughout this book I was like okay this is it, we’re on the up, come on Talyien, I’m rooting for you! And a page later shit goes to absolute fuck. And I fucking love it.

The Ikessar Falcon is book 2 in the series that started with the incredible The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, which follows the Bitch Queen Talyien as she hunts down her husband who walked out of her life 5 years ago. We left Talyien in Zirano, where her husband Raayel had vowed to kill her son if he proved he wasn’t his. He has gone off to hunt down mages to assist him and Talyien is hot on his trail.

The Ikessar Falcon is one of those absolute masterpieces of fantasy, where the ridiculously tense and fast paced plot is just as brilliant as the deeply flawed characters keeping you hooked to the book. The four key players rile me so passionately whether I hate them or love them.

  • Talyien is just as powerful a character as we met in the first book, but in this sequel, she’s getting desperate. She is such a driven character, who makes deeply hurtful and flawed decisions in the path to save her son. There are moments I wanted to scream at her, dark moments where her actions got so low it’s so hard to stay on her side. But this is a desperate woman, one who will stop at anything to save her son who she loves more than anything in the world and even in her darkest hours, I still can’t help but admire her and the strength she has to do what’s needed, no matter the cost. (And fuck me, the cost is great).
  • Khine continues to be the most refreshing beacon of light in this book. In the midst of so much pain and darkenss, Khine shines with such hope and joy and love and his relationship with Talyien continues to be one of my favourite parts of this series.
  • Raayel continues to be on my list of most hated book characters, such is the fury he fills me with due to his hypocrisy. And I hated myself to see that I was kinda sorta maybe growing to like him by the end of this book. We get to spend a lot more time with him in this book, and so we see more of his motivations as well as see Talyien deal with her feelings and their history.
  • And Agos!! The new addition to my most hated book characters! I so adore books that can rile me up with such love and such hate towards the characters, because it shows me how exceptional that book truly is to cause such uncontrollable passion in me. Alongside Raayel, we also spent lot more time with Agos, we see the deep possessiveness he has of Talyien, the dark cloak of anger he wears and all of that dark violence and love comes to such an incredible climax at the end of the book.

Alongside the characters, we have a whole host of new elements to The Ikessar Falcon to intice us in. We spent a lot more time exploring the agan, with lots of new magical creature and creations for Talyien to run into. The highlight of these for me were the majestic, ferocious dragons who we meet. But I also loved just spending some more time around mages, finding out more about how the agan works. I really loved the blood magic element of this book, which we got more of at the start of the book. It was so dark and caused so much heartbreak. And it was so early in the book!! I was in awe at how Villoso has no fears about fucking up these characters, about putting them through hell and when they think they’re finally free, shit gets even worse. I was so shocked at some of the events in the first section of the book because so rarely do you see events THIS traumatic so early in a book. And as much pain as this causes me, I just absolutely love when authors don’t hold back and are willing to do the absolute worst to their characters.

Another, slightly more random thing I really noticed in this sequel was the fooooooood. I don’t know if I just missed it all in the first book or if it was genuinely more prominent in this one, but oh my god?! All of the food descriptions were incredible?! I was salivating the whole way through. I could not stop imagining this food, it just sounded so unbelievably delicious.

As you can probably tell, I adored this sequel! I love Villoso’s ability to completely destroy characters (and readers). I love that she isn’t afraid to play with pain, to make her characters really suffer, to take us to that edge of wow actually maybe these people that I love aren’t going to win. I love her way of writing such morally grey characters who fill you with either such love or hate (or both, hello Talyien from 80% through the book!!!) The Ikessar Falcon completely fulfilled all I hoped for and SO MUCH more. It also got me out of a reading slump so THANK YOU.

Book review: The Roommate by Rosie Danan

Title: The Roommate by Rosie Danan

Publisher: Berkley

Publication date: 15 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Romance

Page extent: 336 pages



House Rules:
Do your own dishes
Knock before entering the bathroom
Never look up your roommate online

The Wheatons are infamous among the east coast elite for their lack of impulse control, except for their daughter Clara. She’s the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But every Wheaton has their weakness. When Clara’s childhood crush invites her to move cross-country, the offer is too much to resist. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true.

After a bait-and-switch, Clara finds herself sharing a lease with a charming stranger. Josh might be a bit too perceptive—not to mention handsome—for comfort, but there’s a good chance he and Clara could have survived sharing a summer sublet if she hadn’t looked him up on the Internet…

Once she learns how Josh has made a name for himself, Clara realizes living with him might make her the Wheaton’s most scandalous story yet. His professional prowess inspires her to take tackling the stigma against female desire into her own hands. They may not agree on much, but Josh and Clara both believe women deserve better sex. What they decide to do about it will change both of their lives, and if they’re lucky, they’ll help everyone else get lucky too.

This was my most anticipated romance of the year and it was everything I wanted it to be! I’m not a huge romance reader so I don’t really know how this compares to others in the genre, but I personally loved it! It has some of the best sex scenes I’ve read, the two characters are adorable, and it’s all about overturning the porn industry to focus on female pleasure!

Let’s start with the characters, I love romances with complete opposites because it always results in hilarious moments and we definitely had that here! Clara is a button-uped rich kid from Greenwich who hasn’t ever stepped a toe out of line, but who moves across the country to chase a childhood crush when she realises she could walk out of the life she was living and nothing would happen. But when she gets across the country, the man she crushes on says he’s going on tour with his band, leaving her alone in the flat with none other than popular porn star, Josh Darling. Josh Darling is confident and sexy and so freaking adorable it hurts and Clara knows he’ll never ever fall for someone like her. But then they get drunk and decide it’s time to topple a porn empire by making their own platform that focuses on partner intimacy and female pleasure. These two humans are just so so different and yet so so perfect together. Josh brings out all of Clara’s confidence and helps her see beyond her self doubt and she does the same for him. They both make each other into these powerhouse individuals who are going to fight for what they want. And what they want is to say fuck you to an exploitative porn corporation.

I loved how sweet and innocent Clara is. I could relate so much to her, she’s so full of self doubt and this horrible self esteem thinking she could never be attractive to someone like Josh. She’s so focused on never letting her family down that she forgets how to live which is just so sad. But Josh comes into her life and helps her get out of her shell and find freedom and joy in life.

And omg THE SEX. HOLY SHIT IT’S HOT. It’s so good, Danan is definitely now one of my favourite sex writers. Every scene was just so different but so powerful and fun. I loved reading from Josh’s POV because he is just so blown away by Clara and it was just so lovely to compare that to Clara’s POV who is so shy and self-hating and all I wanted to do was scream at her to look at this man drooling over her?!?

I also really loved the huge focus on the autonomy of sex workers. It’s a book which explores the exploitative nature of some aspects of the porn industry, but alongside this critique, also places emphasis on the autonomy and choice of sex workers and those in the industry which isn’t usually seen when discussing adult entertainment. It also places so much importance on female pleasure, partner intimacy and sex education. It’s just wonderfully sex positive and I loved reading about this!

This book was everything I wanted. I needed something fun and lighthearted and this is definitely that, Clara and Josh are so incredibly adorable together. It’s so so sexy, but alongside this fun, lighthearted romance is a great exploration of sex work, both the exploitative nature of the industry at times but alongside a positive and empowering portrayal of sex workers.

Book review: The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

Title: The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

Publisher: Erewhon

Publication date: 15 September 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 400 pages


Synopsis: An outcast teenage lesbian witch finds her coven hidden amongst the popular girls in her school, and performs some seriously badass magic in the process.

Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now–unbelievably–Sideways’ best friends.

Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent on stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole ‘having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated?

Rich with the urgency of feral youth, The Scapegracers explores growing up and complex female friendship with all the rage of a teenage girl. It subverts the trope of competitive mean girls and instead portrays a mercilessly supportive clique of diverse and vivid characters. It is an atmospheric, voice-driven novel of the occult, and the first of a three-book series.

The Scapegracers is a the gayest, witchiest book in the world and I loved every second of it. Whilst it is more of a slowburn plotwise, the focus on the characters and this deep connection that is formed between the four witches in the new coven was so brilliant. It completely subverts the mean girl trope and I found it one of the most refreshing and exciting portrayals of female friendship that I’ve read in a long time.

The Scapegracers follows Sideways, a lesbian witch who is invited to perform her magic at a party organised by three popular girls who want their party to be the spookiest in memory at the school. But instead of just getting a killer cool bit of magic out of it, the new coven finds friendship and support like never before. The four of them team up to help Sideways with her new crush, as well as fight off the modern day witchhunters who want to take their magic from them.

The Scapegracers is a slow book, I won’t deny it. There isn’t a clear enemy or plot across the book as you would expect from a YA fantasy novel. Instead, this book is more of an exploration of friendship with a side of fantasy as the girls investigate and try out their new powers. And whilst I wasn’t expecting that, I loved this surprise! The Scapegracers has one of the best portrayals of female friendship I’ve ever seen. Clarke has taken the trope of mean, popular school girls, and thrown everything you think about them into the bin. Here, these girls are so supportive, so badass and the way they take Sideways into their group is so incredibly beautiful and heartwarming. It’s done so well that I found myself tearing up when Sideways is just in awe that these beautiful, loving people want to be her friend because she’s so fucked up from being so alone. I also loved that these girls were allowed to embrace their femininity if they wanted and it was amazing because they can still be badass witches too? So often, YA fantasy has to feature “girls who aren’t like other girls”, ones who need to throw away their femininity in order to be cool and kick butts with magic. But The Scapegracers is just the opposite of that in every way: here are these girls who love make up, who wear tight dresses, who flirt, but can still kick butts with magic. More of this in fantasy please!

I also want to praise the casual queerness in the book which was so great to see. We have a lesbain main character, bisexual and queer side characters, and Sideways has two dads! And that leads me to my second favourite part of this book: Sideways is so. fucking. gay. She is such a clueless lesbian, it is amazing. I loved her pure awed joy when interacting with Madeline, which lead to lines like this: “Hell, if Madeline offered to beat me up, I’d probably weep with joy and give her a hearty tip when she was done” and “She wanted my number in a potentially gay way. Oh God, I wanted to die.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her, she’s such a great character who is a complete mess when she has a crush and it was so great to see.

I enjoyed the bringing of witchhunters into the modern world. Although it was only a small section, I loved finding out about the history of these witchhunters, it was so fascinating how they came to be and how they track witches. The reason I didn’t give this a full of five stars is because it did slow quite a lot, particularly in the middle of the book, when the witchhunters seemed to disappear. I think they could have been a bit more prominent to add a sense of tension and urgency to the book as they were a great, creepy villain!

All in all, I really loved this book! I’ve been having a bad run with YA fantasy this year, but because this was so different to what I expected from YA fantasy, it resulted in something so much better than I hoped for! The Scapegracers is a really lovely look at female friendships and had such a kickass group of queer witches, so much casual queerness, and a clueless lesbain crushing so bad it made for the funniest lines. Highly recommend this one!

Book review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Title: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: 8 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 448 pages


Goodreads blurb: In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne. The Bone Shard Daughter marks the debut of a major new voice in epic fantasy.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for providing me an advanced copy of The Bone Shard Daughter in exchange for an honest review.

Welcome to your new favourite fantasy world! The Bone Shard Daughter is a slowburn fantasy with such an interesting world (where islands move and sink!), a very fun magic system (using shards of people’s skulls!) and has a cast of brilliant characters (MEPHI, MY SWEET BABY ANGEL!)

From the blurb, I went into The Bone Shard Daughter expecting a story of power and privilege as daughter of the emperor Lin tried to take the throne from the father. And we do get that. But what was unexpected was this whole host of other POVs that made this world even better than I anticipated! It did through me off a bit at the start as I’d gone in with such different expectations to what we got, but I really loved these other characters by the end of the book. We follow five main POVs throughout:

  • Lin, the daughter of the emperor who recovered from a serious illness five years ago, but lost all the memories of her childhood. Her father now pits her against foster brother Bayan as the two compete to see who can learn most about bone shard magic and be named their father’s heir.
  • Jovis, a burly smuggler desperate to find his wife who disappeared seven years ago. Helping children escape the tithing festival, where they give away part of their skull bone to the emperor for his bone magic constructs, he runs into Mephi, a bedraggled looking kitten who just so turns out to be something else entirely.
  • Phalue, the daughter of a governor on one of the islands around the Empire, whose long term partner Ramani has wound up involved with the Shardless Few, a group who want to take down the Empire.
  • Ramani herself, who has to grapple with her love for a woman in a position in power who doesn’t seem to understand the depths of suffering in the lower classes.
  • And then there’s Sand, an outsider point of view at the far reaches of the Empire, who falls out of a mango tree and realises something odd about her island.

I had times when each of these POVs were my favourite, so it’s difficult to say who I liked best. Though I’m certainly not complaining, as big multi-POV fantasies like this one often suffer from a ‘this other character has a much more interesting POV and I don’t care about the rest at all.’ The Bone Shard Daughter was not like that. At the start, I found myself dying to know more about Lin, as she started her discovery and exploration of this very cool magic system that allowed bone shards to be created in constructs to protect the Empire. But then I was blown away and drawn into this mystery on Sand’s island, longing to know more about what the fuck was happening. Then Ramani and Phalue, this amazing f/f relationship who love each other but are struggling to resolve their morality and positions. But by the end, I think I was most in love with Jovis (which actually very much surprised me, because he starts out very rude and gruff and a unwilling to help, and almost left poor little Mephi in the sea). But by the end I cherished the strong love that had developed between Jovis and his magical animal companion Mephi, I adored the way his love for his wife drove his actions so much, the beauty of his emotion and heart break clear on every page. So there really wasn’t a single POV I wasn’t interested in and didn’t want to know more about!

The magic system is definitely one of the coolest in any book I’ve read this year. Parts of people’s SKULLS are used to power constructs to defend the empire? And citizens are forced to give their bones? But it means if your shard is in use, at some point you will grow suddenly weak and sick and no longer be able to function. This system made for such an interesting power dynamic, one that could really explore the experiences between the nobility and the working class. This was particularly apparent with Lin and Phalue, who had to challenge themselves and their role in power, and see how far they were willing to go to. For Lin especially, as a wielder of bone shard magic, the magic she must learn to use to win over her father, she was faced with the knowledge that by using these shards and using the working class as a stepping stone to power, she wasn’t really any different to her awful father. Her journey and development as she had to come to terms with this was one of my favourite parts of the book.

As much as I loved the magic system, the reason I didn’t give this a full five stars is also the magic system. There seemed to be some inconsistencies and I was rather confused about how this magic that took time and patience to wield could somehow be instantaneously used in the middle of battle? The battle scenes used this magic in a way that seemed to ignore time? As this was an ARC, I’m hoping this might be improved by the final book, but I was very confused about how a magic that requires time to actually work was suddenly either being used immediately in the heat of battle (and thus made no sense with the rest of the book), or the opponent’s simply sat around waiting for you to complete it before attacking (which makes equally little sense). It brought me right out of the story which was really disappointing because I’d been loving every minute until then.

But overall, I was really impressed with The Bone Shard Daughter! It has one of my favourite ensemble casts, each of their POVs were so interesting in their own ways, and this world, with islands that can move and sink and magic that is wielded with people’s skulls, made for a very exciting fantasy debut! And of course I will devour the sequel whenever it releases.

Blog tour and review: Iron Heart by Nina Varela

Hi everyone,

I’m here today with such an exciting post, it’s my stop on the blog tour for Iron Heart! Iron Heart is the sequel to the incredible sapphic science fantasy novel Crier’s War. Thank you so much to Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours, HarperTeen and Nina Varela for allowing me to scream excitedly about this book on this tour! You are in for such a treat with this sequel! Do check out the rest of the tour stops all week long, you can view the tour schedule here.

Title: Iron Heart

Author: Nina Varela

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication date: 08 September 2020

Genres: Young Adult | Fantasy | Science Fiction



An unstoppable love between two girls—one human, one Made—both set on destroying the Iron Heart.

For too long the cruel, beautiful Automae have lorded over the kingdom of Rabu, oppressing the humans who live there. But the human revolution is on the rise, and at its heart is Ayla. Once handmaiden, now fugitive, Ayla escaped the palace of Lady Crier, the girl Ayla had planned to kill . . . but instead fell in love with. Now Ayla has pledged her allegiance to Queen Junn, whom she believes can accomplish the ultimate goal of the human rebellion: destroy the Iron Heart. Without it, the Automae will be weakened to the point of extinction.

But playing at Ayla’s memory are the powerful feelings she developed for Crier. And unbeknownst to her, Crier has also fled the palace, taking up among travelling rebels, determined to find and protect Ayla.

As their paths collide, neither are prepared for the dark secret underlying the Iron Heart.

In this stunning sequel to acclaimed author Nina Varela’s Crier’s War, the love that launched a revolution must now pave the way for a whole new era…and the ultimate change of heart.

You can purchase your own copy of Iron Heart at Amazon, B&N, Book Depository, IndieBound, or your own favourite local bookshop!


Bio: Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays, short fiction, poetry, and novels. In May 2017, she graduated magna cum laude from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with a BFA in Writing for Screen & Television. Crier’s War was her debut, and this is the sequel. She is originally from Durham, North Carolina, where she grew up on a hippie commune in the middle of the woods. She now lives in Los Angeles.

You can keep uptodate with Nina Varela at the following links: website, Goodreads, Instagram and Twitter

Please note that this review will contain spoilers for the first book in the series, Crier’s War. All quotes are from an advanced reader’s copy so may be changed in the final copy.

Ummmm so where on earth do I start with this book?! It’s probably one of my favourite sequels ever! I love it even more than Crier’s War, it went in a direction I never really expected and oh my god, it’s so, so gay. I am in love.

Iron Heart picks up where Crier’s War left off: Ayla and Benji are on their way to Varn to ally with the Mad Queen; Crier is betrothed to Scyre Kinok and waiting to be married. Meanwhile, Scyre Kinok’s alternative to Heartstone continues to wreck havoc on his followers and Crier and Ayla must find find a way to stop him.

All I have to say is wow. I wasn’t sure what we were going to expect in this sequel, but it certainly wasn’t what we got. But I loved it! I’m going to attempt to talk about this in some semblance of an order so here are some headings to assist.

Things got dark

This is probably the main element giving me the ‘I did not expect this’ vibe. But Iron Heart got so dark, it almost had a horror vibe at times which is of course why I’m so absolutely in love with this!! Let’s start with the shades, these creepy, terrifying creatures: goodness they are horrific! I absolutely adore the kind of ‘creature that is quite clearly dead but yet still fights on and on and will never, ever stop’. There is just something so spinechillingly creepy about it. Varela’s descriptions were so fantastic. They are definitely creepy and gross, and there is a MAJOR content warning for body horror. But I found the way the shades were described with their broken limbs, black veins and caved in heads, just so disgustingly fantastic!

The plotline surrounding the Iron Heart and how Heartstone was made also got rreeeal dark and I absolutely loved it. It was so unexpected, I was shook. There’s a moment in a room where Crier just freezes as she realises the truth and then you freeze when you realise what she’s realised, it was just amazing. Where Crier’s War was perhaps a little lighter, based within the safety of the palace, now that Ayla and Crier have left the confines of the palace, they are faced with a world darker than even I, someone who reads a lot of dark books, had anticipated.

Things got real gay

Crier oh Crier my sweet, sweet Crier. The love she has for Ayla is seriously unmatched. This Automa is literally fighting to the death and all she can think about is Ayla. It is so funny but also so sweet and tender. Meanwhile there’s Ayla who’s refusing to think about Crier at all even though she’ll see random day to day objects like a hairbrush or a bathtub and immediately think about Crier. The way these two are so constantly in the other’s thoughts was just adorable and so so beautiful. And their reunion scene is one of my favourites in the book. The horror and shock and disbelief is hilarious to read and also it’s just really really gay. There are so many moments of soft queer yearning and longing and glancing looks and holding hands and constantly checking back to make sure the other is okay, I love them to pieces. This book just gives us sapphic joy and I love it.

Other characters

I loved that we got to spend a bit more time with characters we didn’t get to see as much of in the first book, particularly Queen Junn of Varn, the Mad Queen, the Bone Eater. We saw her briefly in Crier’s War but she plays a much more important role in this book. I love seeing female monarchs kicking butts and ruling shit and Junn, as a queen who had to take the throne whilst still a teenager, is that to a tee. She’s had to build this air of ferocity and madness in an attempt to get people to fear her because it’s the only way they’d listen to a young woman. I also appreciated getting to see more of Storme and hear his backstory finally about how the heck he survived the village raid and made it to Queen Junn’s court. There’s also some really sweet anecdotes about the relationship between Junn and Storme, and despite it being such a small part of the book, the hidden story of how they met is really touching and beautiful. I’m still not a Benji fan however. Benji, can you seriously stop harassing Ayla for being in love with Crier, WHO WOULDN’T LOVE HER.


We also get a deeper look into alchemy in this book! I really loved the extra worldbuilding details added thanks to our time spent in Queen Junn’s court. I really love small worldbuilding details in fantasy, so there were some really interesting alchemy creations that I appreciated, like the little birds that flew about to stop intruders. We also got a better look at alchemy in the search for Yora’s heart, that mysterious substance from the first book which we learned powered the very first Automa. I would still have liked to see more of this, but that’s because I’m a big fan of very intricate and detailed adult fantasies and so love exploring new and exciting sciences or magics or religions – I always want more of it!

So all in all, I really loved Iron Heart! I enjoyed Crier’s War but loved this sequel even more. The darkness was unexpected but that’s part of what made me love this book as it provided such a deadly, tense atmosphere for the book. And finally, of course Crier and Ayla’s relationship continued to be both the sweetest and gayest relationship in YA and I will love them forever.

Book review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B Lemberg

Title: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B Lemberg

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Publication date: 4 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 192 pages


Goodreads blurb: Wind: To match one’s body with one’s heart
Sand: To take the bearer where they wish
Song: In praise of the goddess Bird
Bone: To move unheard in the night

The Surun’ do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.

Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.

As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.

Set in R. B. Lemberg’s beloved Birdverse, The Four Profound Weaves hearkens to Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. In this breathtaking debut, Lemberg offers a timeless chronicle of claiming one’s identity in a hostile world.

I’ve been having such a good year for novellas, I haven’t read a single bad one and this was no different! Queer novellas are pretty much the only thing giving me life right now.

The Four Profound Weaves is a novella set within R.B Lemberg’s Birdverse series. It follows a nameless man who has recently transitioned, as he searches for a name; and his friend, a weaver, who is searching for her Aunt so she can be taught how to weave from death, the last of the four profound Weaves.

As a newcomer to this series, I won’t lie, I did find the first half quite confusing. There is so much history, mythology and worldbuilding that needed to be crammed into such a small novella and I think I probably would’ve benefited by reading some of the Birdverse series prior to jumping straight into this, just so I had a better understanding of this world. But by the second half, I felt much more comfortable in the world and really enjoyed this!

My absolute favourite thing about this novella is the magic system. Interesting magic systems are of one the best parts of reading fantasy because they’re all so unique, and the fact this one was all about weaving was so cool?? I need more crafts and magic in my life! Weaving magic can be created through four elements: wind, for change; sand, for wanderlust; song, for hope; bones, for death. The way these magics influenced the story and world were so interesting. I found the carpets of change, made from wind, particularly amazing: that these carpets are used by individuals who wish to change their bodies to match their identities is just so cool?!

Which leads me to my second favourite thing about this novella, the exploration of gender, expression and identity. God I really just fucking love books that have magic systems that allow for trans and nonbinary individuals. We have evolved past the need for binary magic systems!! I loved how the nameless man explored his new identity but in a way that took into account the fact he’d lived life as a woman for 60 years? The way he embraced the fact he was a man but also that he’d been raised to trade and explore the world, which would usually be a woman’s role. It was so great to see that acknowledged? That yes he was a man, but you don’t just lose everything that made you who you are for the last 40 years after transitioning?

This was a really great novella. Given the subject matter, there is a great deal of transphobia, dead-naming and misgendering so do be aware of that going in. But I’m definitely very interested in reading more of Lemberg’s work set in the Birdverse!

Book review: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

Title: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication date: 25 August 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy | Magicians

Page extent: 464 pages


Goodreads blurb: 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.

Where Dreams Descend was one of my most anticipated books of the year: the combination of Moulin Rouge x Phantom of the Opera, two of my absolute favourite pieces of media, was so powerful. But ultimately, as lush as this was at times, I hate to admit I was a little bored. It was always going to be a very tough ask to stand up to literally two of my favourite films of all time. But unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot for a lot of the book, instead the majority of the book are just detailed descriptions of Kallia’s show. Which was amazing the first time! And the second time! But by the end, I was just a bit underwhelmed because that’s all there was.

Where Dreams Descend follows Kallia, a showgirl magician who is running away from her master, Jack, the owner of the house she performs at. She runs to Glorian, an odd city that seems to hate magic and has forgotten everything about its past. But Glorian is trying to put itself back on the map and so is holding a competition to find a magician to be the star of a circus. Kallia, enters herself and vows to win at all costs, as the only woman in the competition. But Jack isn’t keen on letting her go…

I love a good story about theatre, performance, dance, performing magicians! As a theatre nerd in my school days, the setting of this book was so perfect. Between Kallia’s time as a showgirl with Jack, and then her experiences as a magician, I really enjoyed the lush and detailed prose around these (at least the first few times….) I also liked exploring Glorian, this old dead city with an intriguing layout and lots of old dusty buildings to explore. That is completely my jam. Did I wish we had more of it? Yes. The worldbuilding was limited – it almost felt like having the city forgetting everything about their past was kind of an easy way out to avoid actually having to worldbuild?

When we get to the characters, we have three main players:

  • Kallia: a powerful magician and performer who adores the spotlight. I did really appreciate the way Angeles made Kallia so ambitious, even to the detriment of others, as I think that’s a trait we still don’t see much of in female characters. Give us more ambitious female characters, because this was so much fun to see!
  • Jack: the mysterious, brooding master. We don’t get much time with Jack and that made me struggle to understand his goals: I still have no idea why he was so obsessed with Kallia because we spent so little time with him.
  • Demarco: Demarco felt the most fleshed out to me of these three, and he felt like a much more complex figure. He’s got a secret to hide, a missing sister he’s trying to find, no one knows why he no longer uses magic, so he’s this tense and stressed out figure who really makes sense. I also love how flustered Kallia made him, it was a very cute trait!

The side characters however were my favourites. I particularly liked the grouchy old seamstress who helps out with Kallia’s costumes; Aaros, Kallia’s trusty sidekick, he’s just such a loyal and caring character and I felt he really shone; and Lottie, a journalist and also apparently the only person who can actually get shit done. #TeamLottie

However, the lack of a plot or any resolution to anything is something I really struggled with. For most of the book, it’s just scene after scene of Kallia in her dressing room preparing for a show, Kallia performing in said show, Kallia passing out from magic. And repeat. There needs to have a plot or something that’s driving the story onward. In Where Dreams Descend, odd things are happening with magicians from the competition disappearing and more, but no one cares? Instead everyone brushes past it very quickly and we just have another three chapters focusing on yet another Kallia performance. There was just no point to anything? And so because of the repetitive nature, I just found it quite boring. And I am devastated that I felt this way because I thought I would adore this. We find out nothing about what’s actually happening in the city ever? We eventually meet the villain in the last pages and then it just ends? I assume there will be a second book exploring the “villain”….but I just felt that almost 500 pages of almost nothing but Kallia dancing and performing magic could easily have been edited down and condensed and we could have had more interaction and mystery that engaged with the actual villains who are driving on the plot.

So ultimately this was a disappointment to me. I was so excited for this, it’s pretty much my dream pairing of Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera. And whilst I did initially enjoy the lush, unhurried nature of Kallia’s magic and performance, the lack of a plot and repetitive nature of this book really impacted my enjoyment. But as always, even though I was a little disappointed, you might love it! If you like the sound of very detailed prose, with a focus on magic shows, dance, performance, and a side of mystery, I would definitely recommend you read this one to see for yourself!