Blog tour and review: The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng by K.S. Villoso

Title: The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng by K.S. Villoso

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: 4 May 2021

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Rep: POC characters (Filipino)

Page extent: 448 pages

Rating:

The stunning finale to the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen trilogy where the queen of a divided land must unite her people against the enemies who threaten to tear her country apart. K. S. Villoso is a “powerful new voice in fantasy.” (Kameron Hurley)

Queen Talyien is finally home, but dangers she never imagined await her in the shadowed halls of her father’s castle.

War is on the horizon. Her son has been stolen from her, her warlords despise her, and across the sea, a cursed prince threatens her nation with invasion in order to win her hand.

Worse yet, her father’s ancient secrets are dangerous enough to bring Jin Sayeng to ruin. Dark magic tears rifts in the sky, preparing to rain down madness, chaos, and the possibility of setting her nation aflame.

Bearing the brunt of the past and uncertain about her future, Talyien will need to decide between fleeing her shadows or embracing them before the whole world becomes an inferno.

I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of my participation in their tour. This has not affected my review. This review will contain spoilers for the first two books in the series, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and The Ikessar Falcon.

Where do I even start with this epic of a book? I am raw after reading the final installment of the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen, that feeling you only ever get after reading the very best of books. My heart feels hollowed out and empty, my eyes stinging with tears at this ending, this ending that has ruined me. The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng was always going to be a difficult read, wrapping up the stories of characters we love and those we hate, and K.S. Villoso absolutely nailed it. This is one of the best finales I’ve ever read, and it will be for a very long time.

The last installment in this series is a book about monsters, about the impact our actions have even if we don’t intend it, about the harm inevitable when you have power over others, and about the people willing to suffer themselves so that others can live. We start immediately where we left off, in Jin-Sayeng where Tali awaits trial to prove whether her son’s father is the Crown Prince, Rayyel, or Agos, her lover and former guard. But with Yuebek now on their doorstep with an army in toe, a gash in the fabric of reality letting monsters through in the Sougen, and her son kidnapped, it’s safe to say Tali has far more important problems. We are taken on a huge journey as all of the plotlines begin to come together and huge machinations are revealed that bind everything together. There is something so so satisfying about the mysteries and puzzles of a mammoth fantasy series all coming together and making sense in the last book, and Villoso managed this absolutely perfectly and in a way that left me guessing all the way to the very last pages. I started this book with no idea how Tali was going to get out of this mess, and I felt that all the way to the very last pages. Villoso expertly managed to tie up what I wanted to see tied up, but left the ending open in such an honest way that I think really speaks to the messiness and trauma of living and trying to rebuild after a war.

This book is one about monsters, Tali even says so herself. It’s about the way society creates monsters, how people can be twisted to become a monster but also how those in power cannot be anything other. Throughout this trilogy I think we’ve seen this play out in front of us, seen how a person can be driven to monstrosity, both in Tali’s journey and in Khine’s, both who are driven to awful actions in this last book. Tali really confronts her own monstrosity in this book, and I found such a brilliant duality in the way we see her have to take terrible, terrible actions (I’d argue by far the worst we’ve seen across the trilogy) that affect the poorest and most marginalised the most, in her bid to save the country, but with her first person POV we get to see the other side of the coin as well. We see so closely into how much Tali suffers for Jin-Sayeng, we see how much she bleeds, we see those in power around her continue to ask for more and more and in spite of the cost, Tali suffers and bears the anger and guilt and horror of what is needed to unite a nation and destroy the monsters on their shore. Tali is a monster who was made: by her father, by those around her, by the very power she has as royalty, her monstrosity is inevitable and horrific and despite this, it is still necessary for the survival of Jin-Sayeng. I adored how Villoso explored this, the idea that impact is more important that intent. It doesn’t matter that Tali does not intend to hurt those around her, doesn’t mean to hurt the poorest in her community, but her role in this requires her to sacrifice for the greater good—what else could she have done? Tali is a true morally grey character and I think this book explores this aspect of her best out of the whole trilogy. I started the book completely convinced that Tali’s actions were justified, knowing what she trying to do, believing her intent was what mattered and it wasn’t her fault that some were hurt in the process. But The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng really makes you, as well as Tali, confront and examine that idea in such a deep and impactful way. What else could Tali have done? Should she have suffered to save her country, offered herself and her loved ones up as a lamb for slaughter to Yuebek? Would that even have saved her country, or merely delayed the inevitable? Should she have fought the past, fought those begging her to destroy herself for them, instead sacrificing the people around her, her country, the poorest and most vulnerable in society, for the chance she could save both her country and herself? There are no right answers, no easy answers to this question, and I loved how much this book made me think in trying to find answers for myself.

In fact, I adored how much my opinions of some characters changed throughout this book. In addition to my thoughts on Tali, I found my feelings for Rayyel took a complete U-turn! I started the book hating him, as I have for the first two, because he is a hypocritical arse. And then you find out something early on which makes you even more disgusted in him. But after the latter half of the book, how can you ever hate him? When you see what he goes through for Tali, for Jin-Sayeng, for his son? There are so many layers to every single one of these characters, with each subsequent book in the series my opinions have changed and developed as more and more is revealed. And it takes such skill to do this so expertly, to slowly reveal the many facets of these characters as if peeling back more and more of them every time.

One of my favourite things about Villoso’s writing is how sensuous it is – by which I mean Villoso is an author that makes use of the senses so much when writing. In such a close POV, we are pulled into this world by Villoso’s use of description. We see, hear, taste and smell everything Tali does and it makes for such an intimate story. From the very height of action in the midst of battles to the quiet moments between when Tali travels, Villoso uses the senses to envelop us in this world so we feel everything Tali does, from her fear to her peace. These moments of peace were really perfect as well. In such a confronting and traumatic story, these moments of peace and calm were so necessary to break between the terror and horror. And of course, Khine was at the centre of so many of these, his presence like a ray of sunshine through the darkness of this story. His hope and love just shines on the page and he remains my favourite character.

There is so much to wrap up in this book, so many different plots and threads to bring together, none more important than Tali’s son, who was kidnapped by Dai Kaggawa for leverage at the end of book 2. This is what makes The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen so fresh and unique for me: this entire series has been driven by the love Tali has for her son, and I really can’t think of a single other fantasy which does this. So often fantasy focuses on orphans, on absent parents or parents who weren’t there, and I find it so brilliantly wholesome and fresh to read a fantasy where the defining relationship, the one that drives the main character’s actions the whole way through, is the love a mother has for her son. Because of this, there is an inevitability to this book that stuns you. You can see what has to happen, for Tali to save her son, there is no question of whether she will do it, because it her son and she loves him beyond anything else. He is her weakness, she knows it, and she does not care. And so you can only read on in stunned silence as everything you feared has to come true, because Tali will do whatever it takes to save her son. It was so lovely to see her finally get some time on page with him, to see her joy at seeing him, it makes my soul hurt and eyes tear up just thinking about it again.

I feel like this getting to be an essay so I better try wrap this review up… I am in awe of what K.S Villoso has created with this series. It’s a story about monsters, power and the love a mother has for her son. It has one of the best characters in any fantasy in Queen Talyien, a morally grey character who must confront and accept her own monstrosity as the cost in order to save her son and country from even worse monsters. It is a journey of such epic proportions I will never be able to sum it all up in just one review, but suffice to say, I think it’s one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read.

About the author

K.S. Villoso was born in a dank hospital on an afternoon in Albay, Philippines, and things have generally been okay since then. After spending most of her childhood in a slum area in Taguig (where she dodged death-defying traffic, ate questionable food, and fell into open-pit sewers more often than one ought to), she and her family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, where they spent the better part of two decades trying to chase the North American Dream. She is now living amidst the forest and mountains with her family, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC.

About the blog tour

Please check out the rest of the amazing bloggers involved in the blog tour over the next two weeks! You can find the full schedule here! There is also a HUGE giveaway as part of the tour, and I highly encourage you to enter so you can win copies of this amazing series!

The prize is The Literary Culture’s Revenge of the Bitch Queen collection (inclusive of exclusive tapestry, book sleeve, and merchandise inspired by the series). There will also be TWO winners, one from the Phillipines and one international. You can enter the giveaway here!

Book review: A Dowry of Blood by S.T Gibson

Title: A Dowry of Blood by S.T Gibson

Publisher: Nyx Publishing

Publication date: 31 January 2021

Genre: Adult | Horror | Fantasy

Rep: All bi cast, polyamorous (m/f/f/m)

Page extent: 248 pages

Rating:

A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation.

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets.

With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

Content warnings from the author: emotional, verbal, and physical intimate partner abuse, gaslighting, war, famine, and plague, blood and gore, consensual sexual content, sadomasochism, self harm, body horror, violence and murder, alcohol use, depression and mania, sexual assault (not directed at any named character), drug use, drowning

Some books just leave you a shuddering, incomplete creature, unsure of how to go on in the world after you read them. This is A Dowry of Blood. There is such beauty and reverence in this prose that, sitting here after immediately finishing and trying to write this review, I find myself unsure of how the world works anymore, unsure of what to do next, longing to just sit and contemplate the words I just read.

A Dowry of Blood is a reimagining of Dracula’s brides, written from the point of view of Constanta, one of his brides, through the form of letters written to Dracula. She tells of their life together, how they came to be joined with his other brides, Magdalena and Alexi, and how they began to discover his dark secrets.

Blood has never been sexier. From the very first pages, this book just oozes with lust and desire, the prose so sumptuous and rich and decadent. It is like drowning in chocolate or wine, pleasure mixing with pain so intimately that you can’t separate one from the other. The fire with which desire floods this book is uncontrollable and obsessive: the way Gibson has written desire as something so deeply embedded in religious worship is so stunning that nothing I can say in this review will ever do it justice. Reading it feels like an awakening: you are as enraptured in the desire as Constanta, Magdalena and Alexi are. This book is a work of art, one that could not more perfectly explore the darkness and danger in desire. The way desire is represented through this sense of worship and faith is unlike anything I’ve read before, and yet so powerful and so beautiful that it feels like nothing will compare to it ever again.

These characters were just as perfectly rendered as the prose. The constant sense of foreboding, that sharp inhale of breath you and his brides take whenever Dracula, unnamed throughout the book but so breathlessly there in every sentence, walks into a room. The power he breathes into this book to have such presence in a world where he is not even named, where Constanta purposefully leaves him nameless to remove his power from her story. Constanta herself, the first of his brides, begins her story in these letters with her guilt and fear of him, but she gathers such strength as she writes her story. She gathers the love he brought into their lives in the form of Magdalena and Alexi and uses them against him. It is her love and pure, protective ferocity that brings about his downfall, that reveals his dark secrets, her fear of seeing them hurt anymore that seals his fate.

Then there’s Magdalena, a glowing, shining light of energy and passion and cleverness, subtly manipulating the room from her very first pages. Her change across the book feels most noticeable, as it leaves the most vivid hole in its wake, as her shining desire for life and freedom is brutally torn apart. And finally, the last of the brides, Alexi. He is the fire and brimstone, the terror who won’t go down without fighting, who will tear away from Dracula’s grasp even as he is strangled by it. These characters are so intricately woven together, their horrors shared together in Dracula’s control as he exerts his manipulation over them, elaborately ensuring they see that no matter what he does, they will shatter into even more pieces without him there. It digs so deeply and hauntingly into that slow journey from love to brutality in abusive relationships that the book feels as raw and bruised as anything I’ve ever read.

A Dowry of Blood is a book full of worship, telling a story about the way pain and pleasure, abuse and desire, can be so intricately wrapped that the unravelling can take centuries and break you in the process. It is a work of art, a book that has prose so beautiful that you come out of the book in a haze, wondering how you can return to the beauty beholden in its pages.

Book review: The Extraordinaries by T.J Klune

Title: The Extraordinaries by T.J Klune

Publisher: Tor Teen

Publication date: 14 July 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 405 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Some people are extraordinary. Some are just extra. TJ Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is a queer coming-of-age story about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves.

Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?

After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick’s best friend (and maybe the love of his life).

Well I’m extraordinarily in love with this book. It was everything I wanted it to be and more, which, of course it was because T.J Klune is an absolute genius and I will read everything he writes from now till ever. This had me laughing out loud on one page and sobbing the next. It is a brilliantly fun take on the superhero genre, has wonderfully open and honest portrayals of grief, discusses ADHD so personally it reverberates on every page, has an absolutelyfuckingadorable romance, a killer friendship group, lots of funny fandom anecdotes that brought back so much nostalgia, and a tender and warm message about being extraordinary when you’re ordinary.

The Extraordinaries is set in a world where superheros exist (though here they’re called Extraordinaries). In Nova City, Shadow Star protects the city from the evil villain PyroStorm. In this city is Nick, Shadow Star’s greatest fan and fanfic author of the most popular fanfic about the Extraordinaries. When he runs into Shadow Star in an alley, Nick decides he wants to become an Extraordinary himself and so begins his plan to turn himself into a superhero, much to the consternation of his friends.

I don’t quite know where to start with reviewing this book because I loved everything so much. It was warm and cosy and so funny, I can’t remember the last time I laughed this much at a book. Nick is just a brilliant and adorable character. He’s open and honest about his ADHD in such a relatable and funny way (and I just want to shout out that this is own voices ADHD rep too!) Nick is just an absolute precious gem, his complete blindness when it comes to his feelings for Seth is adorable, his realisation journey is so cute. Seth is quite possibly even more adorable than Nick, with his bowties (bowties are cool), cravats and a big secret he can’t possibly tell Nick. Alongside Gibby, Jazz and Owen, this is a friendship group that sounds like it must be some of the most fun. They’re all so hilarious in their own ways, so brilliantly, openly queer and pretty much everything I want in a rag tag team of misfits. Gibby is a butch lesbian who won’t take shit from anyone and has the most deadpan ringers; Jazz is sweet and kind and then she turns around and knocks you out of the park with a revelation; Owen is flirty and arrogant and popular (and his dad is the richest man in the city), but he can be so vulnerable at times when Nick gets through his walls.

Alongside the hilarity of these characters, there are several moments that had me almost sobbing. The book deals openly with grief, Nick having lost his mum fairly recently and Seth having lost both his parents when young. With his Dad’s job as a policeman, Nick is filled with anxiety about losing his Dad as well, and there are scenes so raw and gutrenching I thought it would tear me apart. I’m very glad I was in a different room from my partner when reading this because he always thinks it’s funny how emotionally invested I get in books!

I loved the sass towards the superhero genre as well. It flowed throughout the book, from the ridiculous villain speeches, to the need for capes. I also very much appreciated the fandom and fanfic references and excerpts throughout, this felt so nostalgic. I was completely brought back to my teenage days sneaking around writing fanfic, right down to the tags they used on Nick’s fanfic excerpts, it was all so reminiscent.

Everything about this book was just brilliant. T.J Klune astounds me with every book I read, I don’t think there’s another author out there who can quite make me laugh and cry as much as he does. It’s a fun, fresh, fandom enthusiastic take on the superhero genre with the most adorable romance. I read the majority of this book (the last 70%) in one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down. I sincerely hope we get more books in this series as soon as possible because I will follow these characters for years!

Book review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia

Title: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia

Publisher: Del Rey

Publication date: 30 June 2020

Genre: Adult | Horror | Gothic

Page extent: 352 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic artistocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. . . .

From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico—“fans of classic novels like Jane Eyre and Rebecca are in for a suspenseful treat” (PopSugar).

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. 

Mexican Gothic is the kind of book that will haunt you for years to come. It’s the kind of book that will make you yearn for a feeling like that again. It is dark, it is twisted and it is so entralling and bewitching that it is hard to put into words. It’s the book I will spend all year thrusting desperately into people’s hands while screaming READ IT. It’s a book I wish I could read for the first time again, because the horror and shock and awe was captivating.

So what’s it all about? Noemí receives a frantic and odd letter from her cousin, Catalina, full of frantic pleas to help her as she thinks her husband is trying to poison her. In a bid to find out exactly what the fuck is going on Noemí travels to High Place, the mysterious mansion where Catalina now lives with her husband and his odd, dysfunctional family. In this damp and mould covered house, Noemí is met with fierce disapproval and downright hatred from all except one, Francis, who she enlists in her attempts to work out what’s going on.

And boy, it’s a fucking ride. This book is so delightfully twisted and creepy. At first glance, this evokes the feelings of classic gothic novels: the fog, the house, the wilderness encroaching on the humanity and living. But Moreno-Garcia has brought an entirely modern twist to the genre, blending elements of the supernatural with science and academia, creating a book that is both a love story to classic gothic and embraces modern dark academia. In daylight, it is a gothic mystery, but at night, through Noemí’s disturbing and dark dreams, we see the other side of this novel. Moreno-Garcia’s language is stunningly horrific and distburbing – at many points it makes you sick to the stomach, and you dare not turn your eyes away from the page so desperate to see what the everloving fuck is happening.

And let’s talk about Noemí herself! Some books you read just the first few pages and know it’s going to be bloody excellent. Mexican Gothic was one of those for me. And it’s usually down to the ease and strength of the character voice. Noemí really shone in this novel. Her voice was so clear and immediately engrossing: she is both capable and independent, flirty and kind. And we see this strong, capable woman descend into horrors across the book and it is the strength of Noemí’s voice at the start which makes me care so much for her and be so passionate and mad as this house destroys such a wonderful character.

The other characters we meet are:

  • Virgil: the new husband to Noemí’s cousin, cold and calculating and cruel, with a vicious grasp on Noemí, able to spark deep rage and passion in her
  • Florence: an Aunt who runs the household, even more unfeeling than Virgil, strict beyond measure and deeply unkind
  • Howard: the patriarch of the family, slowly dying and around whom all revolve in this household
  • Catalina: Noemí’s cousin who frantically wrote a letter to save herself, and seems constantly seesawing between peaceful and well, and utterly mad
  • Francis: the one individual in the house who dares to be kind to Noemí, sweet and unsure but ruled with an iron fist by Howard, Florence, and Virgil.

These characters revolve around each other in an uneasy fashion, lies around every corner and horrors hiding in the dark, mould invested mansion of High Place. Mexican Gothic is a twisted, fucked up book that will surprise you at every turn. It combines all my favourite elements of gothic suspense but brings the genre into the modern age with glimpses of horror and dark academia. It is the book I am going to gift to pretty much everyone I know because I adored this so much. It gave me disturbing dreams, my heart raced as I read, and I never wanted to stop reading it.

30 Days of Pride: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Title: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication date: 5 May 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary

Page extent: 368 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: From Stonewall and Lambda Award-winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

How do you describe a book which just completely floored you in all ways imaginable? A book that tells you you’re valid, even when your whole body says you aren’t, when society says you aren’t, when your own family says you aren’t. This book is amazing. It’s fun, the story is so engaging (I read it in less than 24 hours, I can’t remember the last time I read a book so fast), the voice is excellent, I can say with complete confidence that this book is going to be one of my favourites of the year!

Felix Ever After follows Felix Love, a 17 year old Black, trans, queer boy at art school. When someone puts up a gallery of his old photos before his transition, along with his deadname, Felix decides to catfish his bully to try get revenge. Instead, he somehow ends up in a quasi-love triangle, even though Felix has never even been in love himself.

First and foremost, this book has one of the most incredible YA characters of all time. Felix was written so realistically and so honestly. He makes terrible decisions, he’s impulsive, he doesn’t think before speaking and I loved how flawed he was. He just felt so much like an actual teen. But most importantly, there were so many moments when I had to just pause for a second because I was tearing up seeing how much I related to him. Felix is a character going through a journey of questioning who he is, he’s terrified he’s a fraud at being trans now that he as a niggling feeling that sometimes he doesn’t feel like a boy (though he knows he doesn’t feel like a girl then either). It’s always so heartening and validating to see characters in books going through the same journey you are, especially as someone who has always felt like a fraud in the queer community because I’m in a cishet appearing relationship. More than anything, I feel like I’m Felix at the start of his journey. I’m not yet at the stage of being happy and proud of who I am, I haven’t reached the end Felix yet. But seeing that it is possible is so hopeful (and also terrifying) and one of my favourite things about reading queer books like Felix Ever After.

This book is very clearly written for trans teens, and that’s what I love most about it. It’s so open and honest about the struggles teens feel when trying to work out who they are, and what they want to do in their future. It also shows the complicated relationship queer people often have with their families, and I liked the way Felix, and characters around him, struggled to resolve their feelings with family. In Felix’s case we see both the absent parent and the one who’s there, who clearly loves him, but who constantly causes pain and hurt by deadnaming him. We see the complicated relationship this results in: Felix knows his Dad loves him, after all he helped him get on T and have his surgery, but his Dad forgets or doesn’t seem to try at other things. We see this relationship contrasted again with Ezra’s parents, the rich absent parents who seem to care only for their son when he’s on show, and then again with Declan, whose parents don’t want him. We see so many of the difficulties queer people have in their families, I feel almost all of us will find a family we can relate to in Felix Ever After.

This book does have lots of transphobic comments (it’s literally about a guy trying to get revenge on his transphobic bully) so do be prepared for that going in. I really appreciated that Felix Ever After also addressed trauma and pain coming from inside the queer community. It’s something we don’t often talk about, but which occurs so readily for some of us. And when it comes from inside our community, where we’re meant to feel safe, it hurts so much worse than if it had come from somewhere else. We see how this furthers Felix’s fears that he’s a fraud, even down to the way he’s terrified he’ll be asked to leave Callen-Lorde (a queer only pharmacy and clinic) because he isn’t queer enough. It’s just so fucking relatable it hurts, and I loved that Kacen Callender confronted this trauma head on because fuck me, is it something that needs to change. The constant transphobia, biphobia, acephobia from members of the queer community is so unacceptable. Felix Ever After is set during Pride month, this month where we’re supposed to celebrate who we are, where we’ve come from and be proud. I’ve never been to Pride because I’m terrified of the hate I’ll receive from the queer community. And as much as I hate that others also receive this hate, I’m glad that Callender openly wrote and addressed this in Felix Ever After.

All in all, I think it’s very clear I adored this book. Despite the dark discussions it has, it’s also really fun and hopeful and Felix is pretty much my favourite character in YA now. This book is so important for anyone who’s ever felt left out, who’s felt like a fraud, or who’s questioning their identity. It’s just phenomenal!

Book review: The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

Title: The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

Publisher: Skyscape

Publication date: 17 March 2020

Genre: Science fantasy

Page extent: 480 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life. 

Before beginning this review, please note that Victoria Lee has a large list of content warnings for this novel – it is darker than The Fever King so please take note before reading (you can find the list here).

It was like Dara had been shot but hadn’t realised yet, was bleeding out.

Me reading this book

It has been almost four months since I first read The Electric Heir, as I was somehow the luckiest person ever and managed to snag a NetGalley ARC. If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you may have realised The Fever King is my favourite book in the world, and was most definitely my favourite read of 2019. It was always going to be hard to follow up what was one of the most impactful, resonant and utterly captivating novels I’ve ever read. And yet somehow, The Electric Heir stands up to the mantel of its predecessor and manages to be just as entrancing and magnificent as I ever dreamed it could be. 

Following from where The Fever King leaves off, we now get both Noam and Dara’s POVs and isn’t that just a joy to behold!! Dara, fine purveyor of pineapple pizzas and goats, is coming back to Carolinia, with one goal: assassinate Calix Leher. Noam meanwhile is determined to build a better society for refugees, even if that means he’ll need to take down another government. 

Where The Fever King addresses the immediacy of trauma, The Electric Heir brings a further edge to the discussions and implications of trauma: what happens after? Through both Noam and Dara’s POV, we see the different ways trauma and abuse can impact victims. We see the different behaviours that follow, the different thoughts and opinions, the different forms abuse can take. We see the subtle, mental manipulations crossing paths with the outright physical abuse. But we also see, from start to finish, a book of survival. And that makes The Electric Heir one of the most powerful books I’ve read.  

I am just completely in awe of Victoria Lee. 

The pacing of this novel is phenomenal. It is tense and action packed but filled with the emotional moments that feel like a knife to the chest in between. This is an extremely hard book to review, because much like The Fever King, all I want to say is THIS IS INCREDIBLE. Even sitting here, writing this review, my heart is pounding as I race to the end, and that is exactly the feeling I had reading The Electric Heir. It is everything I wanted, dreamt of and couldn’t even imagine I needed for the sequel, and end, to this destroying duology. 

Book review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Title: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication date: 2 April 2019

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 432 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

I let this book languish on my Kindle for months WHY RACHEL WHY?!? What idiocy was I thinking?!? This book, in all its terrifying, claustrophobic madness, was incredible.

Gyre is a caver. Taking a high paying job so she can escape the planet to find her mother, Gyre sets out to explore an uncharted cave system. But her handler, Em, is enigmatic and keeping secrets. Like why does she not have a team of handlers keeping her alive in these dangerous caves? Why is she really down here? And why are there bodies down in the caves….?

This is a tense and atmospheric delight of a book. Well delight makes it seem happy and joyful. It isn’t. It’s terrifying and dark and so fucking scary, but brilliant in every word. The fact that such a marvellous book could be written, when really there’s just one setting and two characters is incredible. I expected it to be very repetitive – I mean how many ways can you describe a cave tunnel? But it really wasn’t! The book manages to exceptionally stay tense and exciting throughout the story. As Gyre spends more time underground, and more time discovering the secrets Em is hiding, the more unhinged and unreliant she becomes. As we travel further into the book, and into the cave system, both the reader and Gyre begin to have no idea what’s real and what’s not. There are so many twists and turns, I would finally be convinced ‘yes this is real this is definitely the way the story is going’ only to have it veer off into more unexpected twists.

Both Gyre and Em are flawed and exceptional characters. Em, the monster, controlling Gyre from afar, drugging her and controlling her limbs if she desires. When beneath her facade is a tired woman, someone searching for something she’s never going to find. And then there’s Gyre, headstrong, stubborn Gyre, who refuses help even when she could use it, unwilling to admit defeat in her body. These two are both so strong to fight to the end. Until the very last pages, I honestly had no idea how the book would end. Would Gyre get out? Would she die? Would Em come for her? Was Em even real? My mind was as uncertain in reality as Gyre’s and I loved it.

This book is a horror masterpiece! A queer horror masterpiece to be even more precise, which makes this book even better for me. For such a simple narrative (explore the cave) there is such a depth to the writing and the emotions of the characters, the fear and horror at what lies in the system, and ultimately at what is happening to Gyre as she journeys further. Cannot recommend this one enough.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Spooktober Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Title: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: 14 November 2017

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 440 pages

Rating: FIVE / FIVE GLORIOUSLY SPOOKY STARS 👻👻👻👻👻

Goodreads blurb: Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

***

“Do I think they found mermaids? Yes. Of course I do. And I think the mermaids ate them all.”

IT GIVES ME CHILLS

Well I’m never getting on a boat again. Continuing my dive (hahaha) into horror, which started with Wilder Girls, I picked up Into the Drowning Deep after seeing it recommended on Twitter. And holy smokes, this book is goddamn incredible and I am now officially a fan of horror. Cue immediate reserving of several titles at the library. Into the Drowning Deep is a psychological horror set in a world where mermaids exist. Except, instead of the ‘lovely ladies of the sea’ we expect to find based on all our myths, we find creatures who want to eat our faces. 

7 years before the start of the novel, the Atargatis set off to film a mockumentary about the existence of mermaids. Instead, they were devoured alive. Now, Imagine, the entertainment company who had arranged the mockumentary 7 years ago, are launching a new mission to fix their reputation. They will prove that the mermaids are not a hoax, by capturing one and bringing it back to land. Accompanied by an army of scientists driven to either find the mermaids and make the discovery of a lifetime, or just to study parts of the uncharted ocean, the Melusine sets off on its mission. 

The trouble with discovery is that it goes two ways. For you to find something, that thing must also find you.

From the very first page of the novel, there is SO MUCH tension. I was immediately enthralled from the very first page. Short extracts of interviews, talks, videos appear at the start of each ‘section’, and these really add to the sense of tension and fear. They add brilliant insights into the mermaids, as well as hint at some of the terrible things about to happen. Another tension enducing technique I adored was the way Grant would compare the mermaids to very specific animals, the second before something awful happens. There is a split second of realisation for both the characters, and the reader, as you realise oh shit yes that’s what the mermaids are doing, and then immediately the shit happens. It was so terrifying and so amazing, my stomach was like a rollercoaster. It was just SO INTENSE. I cannot express how incredible it was to be swept on this ride.

Cats chitter when they see a bird. They make this little squeaky noise…Cats chitter, because they’re excited, because they’re about to start hunting. But when the hunt begins, they’re silent. They don’t make a sound. They come at their prey as quietly as they can, because a hunt only counts if there’s a kill at the end.

I loved the hugely scientific focus of the book. It was so detailed and made everything so much more ‘real’ by adding the science element – and by real I mean, I could imagine this all happening in real life. One of the things I love most about scarier stories is making it as realistic and believable as possible. It’s why I really love stories about viruses/pandemics, because they are so believable. And that believability really does add to the sense of fear! I feel like Into the Drowning Deep really had that believability, in part because there was such a scientific focus. I loved all the descriptions of the different scientists and their work, and loved that many of these different characters got focus. There are lots of POVs, but it works! There is such a diverse range of characters and I love that they all got to feature so heavily. Whilst there are main characters, the side characters POV still add a unique and interesting take to the story, sometimes having some of the scariest POVs in the book.

Our ‘main’ crew can be narrowed down to:

Victoria (Tory) Stewart: bisexual icon, sister of Anne, one of the people who died on the previous mission, and who has got NO TIME for her foolish asshole scientist ex who also happens to be on the boat (Jason, he’s a total ass, I shall mention him no further).

Dr Jillian Toth, half-Hawaiian world-leading expert on mermaids, who has dedicated her entire life to studying mermaids and who feels deeply guilty that her research led to the massacre on the previous Atargatis expedition (Jillian is probably my favourite character because she just has her shit together so much, and I just absolutely hung off every word she uttered).

Olivia: autistic, lesbian TV personality from Imagine who is documenting the events on board the ship.

Theo Blackwell: physically disabled, representing the Imagine management on board, and Jillain’s ex-husband – and probably the one character I’ll say I wish we’d had more character development from. He’s definitely not a good character (as in “morally good”), and I wanted to find out more about his motives.

These four are joined by a host of others, including three sisters, Holly (chemical data analysist, deaf twin) and Heather (also deaf, twin to Holly, and underwater explorer, HOW COOL IS THAT?!), and Hallie (sign langauge extraordinaire); Luis, crytozoologist and Victoria’s lab partner and funder; Michi and Jacques, gun loving monster hunters. Honestly, this cast list is just amazing. Every single one is so damn unique and different, and every POV felt really different. Whilst the four main characters get more page time, I loved that we still got to read from the smaller characters POV. Their short POV sections were excellent and added so much to the book and the tension. 

On top of all this awesomeness, it all features a f/f relationship (though this is definitely not the focus of the book). We get to watch the romance bloom – and there was a part of the book, right near the end, where something happens, and I’m just like NO NO NO this can’t happen, because SHE will be causing it AND JUST I need someone to talk to about this book.

Finally, Into the Drowning Deep goes into some really deep discussions on the commercialisation of science, our treatment of species we consider “other”, and the impact humanity has on the world around us, which I thought were all handed brilliantly and really shows how terrible the human race can be.

“Humanity was cruel, and if you were prepared to try to find a bottom to that cruelty, you had best be prepared for a long, long fall.”

All in all, I loved this book! My first adult horror, I really wasn’t sure what to expect and I certainly didn’t expect to love it as much as I did (because I’m a visual media horror wimp). But everything about this book was fantastic, the plot, the science, the characters, the prose. It all added up to a superbly terrifying and intense novel, and I can’t recommend it enough! 

***

After this book, I am now so exicted to expand my reading into the horror genre! So, since I’m such a newby, do you have any horror recs? Let me know!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Title: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Publication date: 8 March 2018

Genre: Contemporary| Young Adult

Page extent: 337 pages

Goodreads blurb: Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…

So this book is now one of my all time favourites. It is so fucking funny and so topical and just utterly fantastic in every single way. This book had me completely sold from around page 20 with “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them, largely because Little Bo Peep is fucking irresponsible and should not be in charge of livestock” which I could not stop laughing at for 5 minutes straight.

The Exact Opposite of Okay follows Izzy O’Neill, a sex positive and hilarious teen as pictures are released online and sent around her school of her having sex with a politician’s son. Izzy tries to ignore the constant calls of ‘Slut’ and ‘Whore’ with limited success as the situation spirals out of control.

I loved absolutely everything about this book – Laura Steven is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, and I am so excited for everything else she does. The humour really helps lighten the otherwise very heavy and topical subject matter which crosses revenge porn, feminism, gender equality, the friendzone, slut shaming, and ‘Nice Guy’ syndrome. It’s an utterly captivating and wild comedic journey through the life of a teen girl who actually enjoys having sex. And is obviously therefore vilified for it. The discussions around the treatment of men and women (‘player’ vs ‘whore’) are nuanced and throughly feminist. I particuarly enjoyed the introdution and development of the ‘nice guy’ syndrome – the age old truth that if you have to say you’re a nice guy, you really really aren’t. This book is the perfect starting point for so many discussions with teens about these issues which are so goddamn important.

What an absolutely spectacular range of charcters as well. Izzy, the MC, is extremely sarcastic, full of sass, so honest about herself and so so brave in the face of unimaginable odds. Ajita, her best friend, who is just amazing – so supportive. Danny, Izzy’s friend who seems to now be falling for her and doesn’t get why she doesn’t like him. Everyone knows a Danny. I dislike him more than I dislike the more openly hostile men – the nice guy/friendzone jerks are just so much worse somehow. At least the regular jerks openly admit they only want to fuck you… Betty, Izzy’s grandma, was lovely as well – though I did feel she needed to do a little more parenting.

Laura Steven takes some really dark, tricky topics and has created a book filled with humour and hope and so much anger and passion. It is both a feminist manifesto and comedy gold and I adored every single page.

“What do I want to be now? Bold. Fierce. Honest. A fighter. A revolutionary. A bitch. Because the way the world treats teenage girls – as sluts, as objects, as bitches – is not okay. It’s the exact opposite of okay.” 

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

P.S I of course immediately bought the sequel and I’m planning to read it this month and cannot wait!

Book review: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

Title: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

Publisher: Imprint

Publication date: 31 Oct 2017

Genre: Fantasy | Young adult

Page extent: 305 pages

Holy fuck was this a read. What a twisted and stunning novel combining mental illness, fantasy and soft, broken, co-dependent boys. The writing is so lyrical and poetic, it’s just absolutely stunning.

I was tossing between both of K. Ancrum’s book for my Pride TBR list – The Wicker King or The Weight of the Stars. I decided on The Wicker King because I really love reading books with good mental health representation as it’s very close to my heart – and it did not disappoint. August learns that best friend Jack is beginning to hallucinate a fantasy world, one he can interact with but which no else can. The halluncinations seem to grow worse and worse as Jack imagines himself in the midst of a quest within the world. August, trying to support his friend, allows him to play out the fantasy, and helps Jack to fulfil the quest.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this, not least because of the styling. You most definitely should pick up a print copy of this book, because the way the book is printed is phenomenal. Ink slowly covers more and more of the page, as Jack’s illness progresses and it is such a powerful tool. I haven’t ever seen a book do something like that before, the closest I can think of is Illuminae which I read on a Kindle and so it didn’t really work.

K. Ancrum has such a beautiful and emotive prose – I felt like someone had punched me in the chest the whole way through. It was brutal in a way not many books are. It was so gutrenching to see August realise how much help Jack needed but not know how to help him. With neglectful adults, he does the only thing he knows how to – he tries to help Jack himself. Their relationship is so twisted and interesting. August wants so much to give his whole self to Jack, and be under his control, he would do anything for him. And Jack is just as entranced, wanting to control and give August what he needs.

This is such a difficult book to review, because I’m still numb from the read. When I think about it, I struggle to find words because it is such a different, unique and magnificant book. All I can say, is that is it absolutely stunning and you will feel absolutely torn apart as you read it.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco