We Hunt the Flame (2019)

by Hafsah Faizal
ASIN/ISBN: 9780374311544
Publication: May 14, 2019
Series: Sands of Arawiya #1

To feed her village, Zafira dons the cloak of the Hunter to bring back meat from the Arz, a forest that ensnares all those who enter it…but Zafira returns time and again. Nasir is the Sultan’s assassin, loyally killing by request to gain his father’s approval and to protect those he pretends not to care about. Their paths cross when Zafira is tasked with retrieving a magical object to return magic to Arawiya and Nasir is sent to retrieve it from her.

It took a few false starts before I was finally able to get past the first chapter. The first part of the book is an introduction to our characters and Arawiya. Faizal creates a complex world, providing tales of its creation as well as background on events that led to the current state of the land. It was a bit slow for me but quickly picked up when Zafira sets out to retrieve the magical object. In the second half, as the search begins the book becomes a lot more interesting; this is where all the fun begins. I couldn’t put it down after that.

Amidst the battle between good and evil is the struggle over one’s identity, and this was the more interesting one (although not as exciting). Zafira and Nasir both have deeply held fears of not being accepted for who they are. Zafira pretends to be a hunter because she cares for her people but her good deeds wouldn’t be enough to save her if it is discovered that she is a woman. Nassir has not known love since his mother’s death. He’s been corrupted by his father who instilled in him that compassion and love are weaknesses that can only hurt him, so he hides them instead. Nassir isn’t necessarily looking for redemption as much as he is seeking acceptance for who he has become. In donning these disguises for the world, Zafira and Nasir also begin to lose parts of themselves. The journey to find the magical object presents both of them with the opportunity to choose who they want to be. Is it the disguise they wear or is it who lies underneath? Or, can they be both?

I enjoyed the novel. With the loss that many of the characters already faced, Faizal was able to beautifully capture the emotions associated with those losses into words, at times making it feel like she put my own feelings of loss onto the page as well. I found Zafira to be an admirable individual, and I really wanted to give Nasir a hug–someone, the man needs a hug! I look forward to We Free the Stars, which will be released on January 19, 2021. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping it will be similar to the last half of We Hunt the Flame.

Marilia, the Warlord (2020)

by Morgan Cole
ISBN: 9781676935117
Publication: February 29, 2020
Series: Chrysathamere Trilogy #1

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Marilia, the Warlord is an amazing novel with a complex heroine who isn’t prone to being the nicest person or the most humble.  Readers of fantasy who are used to the chosen one trope with a likeable character who is nearly infallible might be turned off by Marilia.  She may often act rashly; she is flawed and more human than touched by the gods. She has a brilliant mind, one with a penchant for strategy and warfare but societal and gender norms prevent her from pursuing anything more than a domestic life. Sibling rivalry pits her against her brother Annuweth, who is being trained in all the things she would rather be doing. Jealousy and the belief she could be much better than him if only given the same opportunities creates a strain between the siblings who once believed it was the both of them against the world. 

Morgan Cole created a world that is richly detailed with complex characters. Cole excels in world building and the introduction to it was engaging. We get a glimpse of what Marilia’s life was supposed to have been before destiny takes a hand and pushes her elsewhere. The strategy and battle scenes are also very well-written. The middle is not nearly as exciting as the beginning and the end. It’s not Cole’s writing so much as this is the Marilia growing up part, where she has to deal with societal norms and grapple with feelings that she is unsure about whereas the beginning and the end are just more…exciting.

The book was tortuous! I’m used to the nice chosen one trope and so had a love-hate relationship with Marilia as soon as the sibling rivalry began. I hated that it only became more pronounced. She was brilliant and hardly humble about her skills.  It frustrated me, and I desperately wanted her to make up with Annuweth. I wanted her to look beyond herself and also recognize that her brother could provide her with the insight she didn’t have but I also recognized that had all that happened, it wouldn’t have been the same book.

Passing over Marilia, the Warlord may be a rash decision on the reader’s part because this will mean missing out on a well-written novel about the rise of a woman who changed the fate society kept pushing onto her.  Marilia, the Warlord is an amazing read, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, no matter the pain it inflicted on me. I’m a bit scared to start the next book, especially with the last book coming out soon (I think), because I don’t know how much I’ll still like Marilia after the trilogy ends.

Revolutionary (2020)

by Colleen Cowley
Publication: November 29, 2020
Series: Clandestine Magic Trilogy #3

Get it here: Amazon
For more details (like content warnings), click here.

**I was provided a copy of the book from the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

**Additionally, be forewarned the following may contain spoilers for Subversive and Radical.**

While Peter’s life hangs in the balance, Beatrix is faced with the responsibilities of keeping him safe as well as ensuring Lydia can continue going to school…not to mention ensuring all the bills are still being paid despite her job being on (possibly indefinite) hiatus. Despite this, enemies are still lurking everywhere, prepared to explore any weakness they can find. However, allies can be found in unexpected places.

The distribution of power has clear consequences especially when we understand that those in power have no reason to want to share it.  If you have power, why would you give it up?  Through Subversive and Radical, we learn that wizards sit at the top of the social strata while men without magical ability occupy everything else except the bottom rung, which is set aside for women.  Women have no magical abilities (or were at least told they didn’t) and are expected to marry to fulfill societal expectations. Not only are women up against males who want them to remain in their subservient roles but wizards who would like to maintain the status quo.  The growing number of women trying to dismantle the patriarchy pose a threat to those in power, and those in power will do anything to keep it. In Revolutionary, we find out what anything means.

Cowley once again shows how she can manipulate me into believing that I know what she’s getting me into, that I know what is going on. Then, of course, she throws something into the mix that surprises me. I was her puppet, and she continually pulled my (heart) strings. (I am just too gullible.) I thought I learned my lesson from the first two books but my guesses as to what would happen next only multiplied.  Cowley had me suspicious of everyone and made me doubt my hunches multiple times. I was proud to say there was at least one thing I suspected that I was right about, and it made me feel like I finally won the magic lotto.

Of course, I cannot close this review without mentioning Beatrix and Peter. This was a relationship I rooted for since the beginning. I’m a sucker for enemies-to-lovers but Cowley brought so much complexity to this trope. Beatrix and Peter went through so much with and for each other. The ending was one they deserved. Throughout the trilogy, there has always been a question of whether what they felt for one another was genuine. Is there an answer? Yes. Is it the one you’re looking for? I can’t say. (commence evil laughter: MUAH HAHAHA.)

It is bittersweet to have The Clandestine Trilogy come to an end. I always feel this way when I finish reading books I love, and I definitely loved this trilogy. It feels more like I’m closing a chapter on my life, as though I’m saying goodbye to friends, and less like I’m simply closing a book. The trilogy is a highlight of my very bookish year.

The trilogy brought me joy in multiple ways. I greatly enjoyed the political intrigue and how it reflected real past and present political struggles. The fight for equal rights, the strategic behavior in framing the fight, and the distribution of power were all very entertaining from an analytical perspective. Pairing these with romance between two characters I grew to care about made it all the more interesting and a worthwhile read. While nothing will beat the first time reading it, I already know I will be rereading this trilogy soon.

Radical (2020)

by Colleen Cowley
Publication date: October 25, 2020
Series: Clandestine Magic Trilogy #2

Get it here: Amazon
For more details (like content warnings), click here.

**The following contains spoilers for book 1, Subversive.**

Beatrix’s desire to protect her sister against those trying to dismantle the women’s movement compels Beatrix and her best friend Ella to move forward with their plans to secretly provide magic lessons to other women. Their actions, however, may have consequences neither completely thought through.

The political intrigue continues in Radical as it becomes clear that those running the government see Lydia Harper and the women’s movement as a threat to their power. Beatrix now understands that the danger to her sister is very real. Being in this position reinforces the importance of family to Beatrix but also highlights her tunnel vision when things relate to her sister. She may often act hastily without thoroughly understanding the consequences for those around her. When magic is concerned, the resident wizard is bound to become entangled, leading to the question of how much of her relationship with Peter is Beatrix willing to jeopardize? It’s a difficult decision when they’re both people she loves (or one of them is at least).

The plot device used to connect our leads was ingenious. It was complex and constantly evolving. It put me on an emotional rollercoaster. And yet, I still loved it. I’ve been committed to Beatrice and Peter’s relationship since the beginning, and Radical wore me down emotionally. I was struggling nearly as much as Peter and Beatrix struggled with their feelings for one another, questioning if their feelings were genuine or a manifestation of their connection. One thing is for certain though, whether it is love or not, the pain from betrayal still cuts deeply.

There were moments when it felt like the magic rules kept changing. It could be construed that the rules were being made up as the story went…as if there weren’t rules to begin with. However, I think it fits well into the overall story because not much research has been done on the magical abilities of women. Anything can nearly go because no one knows much about what women can do. (Now for my PSA…) This is what can happen when knowledge is purposely withheld. If knowledge is truly power, those who get to control the narrative and determine what information is released may go a long way to protect what they do not want to be disclosed. This is why the dissemination of information is so important.

While I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Subversive, it is still a good read–great when compared to other books I’ve read this year. It’s just that Subversive was extra good (unfair, I know). I felt like Radical taunted me, lulling me into believing I knew what was going to happen when I actually didn’t know much at all. Like its predecessor, it kept me on my toes. It also reinforced what I learned from reading Subversive: Cowley has an uncanny ability for writing endings, the rip your heart out kind (cue: Lifehouse’s “Whatever It Takes”)

Subversive (2020)

by Colleen Cowley
Publication date: September 27, 2020
Series: Clandestine Magic Trilogy #1

Get it here: Amazon
For more details (like content warnings), click here.

**I was provided a copy of the book by the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own. (If you’re wondering, the book is superb!)**

Peter Blackwell returns to his former hometown Ellicott Mills to serve as the town’s resident wizard, an omnimancer to help with illnesses or other problems that may arise in the town.  Requiring an assistant, he manages to steal Beatrix Harper from her current place of employment (against her wishes).  Although initially adverse to the idea, Beatrix agrees to help him, not realizing that helping Peter will require her to break the law because he didn’t exactly return home to just be an omnimancer.

There’s something to be said about reading a book you hope is going to be good and have it meet your expectations, possibly even exceed them. Reading Subversive was one of the best experiences I had all year. It felt like all my favorite genres—fantasy, romance, regency (not a real genre I know…but it’s historical but yet not and I get regency vibes from it )–melded into one.  I had a difficult time trying to figure out that something to say, how I might capture how wonderful it is in a blog post—the answer is that I couldn’t but still tried.

Cowley’s magnetic storytelling and distinct magic system had me enamored with the book and its characters. The social system and the political system are reflective of the present United States but this somewhat dystopian U.S. lags in women’s rights—women don’t have any.  Okay, they have limited rights but it feels more like no rights at all. For instance, women have a curfew, and single women are not allowed to be alone with single men or else their reputations will be tarnished. The lack of women’s rights and the privilege that comes from having magical abilities serves as a compelling backdrop to the events that unfold. The book poses multiple questions, and among them is the question of what those in power will do to stay in power. 

I immediately liked Beatrix upon meeting her.  Family is everything to her, and she is determined that her sister has opportunities she never had, even though it can lead to resentment and go unappreciated at times. She isn’t infallible.  She can be stubborn and doesn’t have a problem speaking her mind or apologizing when she has erred.

Peter is a bit harder to figure out because it isn’t immediately clear what his motivations are. What is clear, though, is that he knows exactly what he is doing when he hires Beatrix, and it isn’t because he is just a nice wizard trying to help her out.  The relationship that blossoms from their work arrangement is a complicated one and kept me turning the pages.

I cannot emphasize how much I enjoyed it!  It felt like stepping into a Jane Austen novel in an alternate 21st century made extra complicated by the presence of magic. I wasn’t always able to predict what was going to happen next. I both loved and hated how it kept me on my toes just as I thought I had it figured out. I kept wanting to skip to the end so I wouldn’t be so anxious about what was going to happen next. I didn’t but I really wanted to. It’s perfect for fans of romantic fantasy with strong, capable women fighting for what they believe in.

Princess Knight (2020)

by G.A. Aiken
ISBN: 9781496721259
Publication: November 24, 2020
Series: The Scarred Earth Saga #2

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

The Princess Knight follows the 2nd eldest Smythe sister Gemma as she and her older sister Keeley attempt to protect the world from the treachery of their younger sister Beatrix. Gemma is the titular princess knight and struggles between remaining sidelined as sister to the queen, protecting her family, and maintaining her vows as a war monk. When temples and monasteries are pilfered and their residents murdered, Gemma decides to return to the Order of Righteous Valor to try to provide them sanctuary with her queen.

(It’s difficult to write about The Princess Knight without also comparing it to The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga #1). I apologize in advance.)

The Princess Knight retains the same humor and bickering among siblings as its predecessor so I was not disappointed in the overall story. Many of the same characters return along with a barrage of new characters, making it difficult to follow at times. Strong female characters remain dominant and many more are added to the series. For instance, Ainsley Smythe is another skilled Smythe sister readers are introduced to. The long-running joke that neither Gemma nor Keeley pay attention to Ainsley and is constantly forgotten is both funny and infuriating. Being a younger sister myself, it pained me that Ainsley kept being ignored. I hope Ainsley will be the focus of the next book and that being forgotten will be an asset she will use to her advantage. I did love how the centaurs didn’t forget about her though.

Gemma Smythe was one of my favorite characters in The Blacksmith Queen so I was excited to have her as lead in the sequel. Gemma is not as likeable as Keeley, who easily opens her heart (and arms) to any individual and animal needing help. Gemma is much more suspicious of others as well as more prickly than Keeley. She remains hot-tempered and retains her single-track mind (set on destroying Beatrix). While the above was expected, Gemma’s confidence in herself seems to have eroded a little though the confidence she has in her skills remains. Her indecisive nature was the most bothersome to me because I found it to be somewhat uncharacteristic of her as compared to the Gemma in the first book. It frustrated me when Quinn (centaur and constant companion) constantly stepped in to point things out to her because of it.

There is a tenuous friendship that ultimately culminates into love but the romance isn’t present. The characters are constantly around one another but there is no chemistry beyond camaraderie to assume there could be an actual relationship beyond what ends up happening between the two. Maybe this might be addressed better in the next installments…maybe? I really hope so if they’re meant to be endgame.

The Princess Knight is for those who like humor in their fantasy and sword-wielding female characters who are not afraid to get their hands bloody. If you enjoyed The Blacksmith Queen, it is highly likely you’ll like the sequel as well. Although The Princess Knight stands well enough on its own, it doesn’t quite meet the bar set by The Blacksmith Queen. I enjoyed reading it and am ready for the next book in the series! (This might actually be a new favorite series but I’m hoping saga doesn’t mean more than 5 books.)

The Wise One (2020)

by K.T. Anglehart
ISBN: 9781777331719
Publication date: October 28, 2020
Series: The Scottish Scrolls #1

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

The Wise One is an urban fantasy that incorporates Celtic folklore to create a world in which McKenna, the main character, journeys to discover who or what she is. While the novel begins in Massachusetts, it quickly shifts to a trip to Ireland with new friend Nissa along with Cillian, someone who just happens to be going that way. Oddly enough, everything seems to fall magically into place…as if something or someone is ensuring she arrives at her destination. (Hmm…)

With the title being so mysterious, and the beginning of the book not giving too much away, I couldn’t help but turn to the next page, swiping quickly through the book because I needed to know who or what the wise one was. I was not disappointed at the reveal. In fact, the reveal and the events surrounding it were probably my favorite parts of the novel.

The story moves quickly and the beginning immediately had me engaged in McKenna’s story. I did have a lot of questions though. Why does Nissa follow McKenna without question? Why is a random couple helping McKenna and Nissa out? How is everything just falling so easily into place? The answer seems to be that events are being set in motion to ensure McKenna is headed where she is supposed to be. While an acceptable answer–for now–I hope more will be explained in the next books.

I expected magic to play a bigger role than it actually did. Readers shouldn’t expect to see much magic utilized or else they’ll be disappointed. The book is more of an introduction., leading to something that doesn’t happen in this one. We get glimpses of the world Anglehart is constructing and the magical creatures that inhabit it but not much else until closer to the end. It’s mostly about the manifestations of McKenna’s powers and her trying to figure them out–like an origin story. I do hope this is building to something bigger.

Something that bothered me immensely was one of McKenna’s dads (Andre) being okay with her running away from home. She’s underage with nowhere to stay. How was it that he felt they should just wait at home for her to return or contact them when she was ready? Sure, it’s the ’90s and all but even in the ’90s your kid running away from home doesn’t mean you just let her go. I was confused by his attitude. Maybe…more on this in the next installment??

Despite all these questions, I liked the story overall. It’s a lot of traveling and nothing big happens but it’s still interesting. I want to know more about the wise one and the role the wise one will play going forward. This alone kept me turning pages even when I might have stopped if it were some other book. It does end abruptly with a cliff hanger. I had to make sure that it really was the end of the book. If you’re not a fan of cliff hangers, you might want to wait to read this.

Hush (2020)

by Dylan Farrow
ISBN: 9781250771667
Publication: October 6, 2020
Series: Hush #1

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

After her brother dies of the Blot, Shae and her mom are ostracized and forced to move outside of the village.  When her dreams start to come true and the things she stitches manifests itself in real life, she begins to worry that maybe the Blot has not only taken her brother but has also cursed her.  Her search to remove the curse is cut short when her mother is murdered and the village refuses to acknowledge her account of what happened, effectively trying to silence her.  Lies are twisted into truths, making Shae question what she knows, or thought she knew, but she will not stop until she finds her mother’s murderer. 

The tone she sets at the beginning of the book is eerie and ominous but it doesn’t quite carry through to the rest of the book. The latter part of it left me more frustrated than intrigued, more exasperated than in suspense–states both largely attributed to Shae’s behavior even understandable as her behavior was. Shae is a generally likeable protagonist but has a penchant for not listening and being impulsive. (Also, don’t get me started on her crush on Ravod.) The best way I can explain this is when you’re watching a horror movie and the character does something you know will put them in danger, or worse killed.  While you should be at the edge of your seat, you’re instead sitting back and just yelling, “Why did you just do that? Don’t open the door!  Now, you’re going to die!”  That’s how the last two thirds of the book felt like: “What are you doing? Why did you just say that? Stop bumping into things!”   Again, her behavior is understandable (I need to remind myself of this) but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or infuriating.  I guess if that was in fact Farrow’s goal, then it worked. Everything does come together at the end fairly well, maybe even a little too nicely, but it leaves you with enough questions that you’ll want to read the next installments. 

Despite my frustration, I found Farrow to be a masterful storyteller.  The strength of the book comes from the recurring theme of truth.  Farrow weaves it into the story so effortlessly.  The magic of the Bards or the gift of Telling is illusion and manipulation.  Someone with the gift can Tell a lock to become mangled so that a door can be opened but the power of the illusion, or the lie, has a limited lifespan. It will eventually revert back to its true form yet the illusion was still powerful enough to allow someone to walk through the door, essentially making a profound impact on outcomes. Ink is powerful in its ability to communicate the truth. Instilling fear in ink, in spreading words, works effectively to obscure truth.  What is the use of learning to write or learning to read when one can die from it? The sickness that comes from ink is known as the Blot, and what does a blot do but to stain and hide. It’s all so smartly done. This is the reason for my 4 stars when the story started to dip into 3 star territory.

Firefrost (2020)

by Camille Longley
ISBN: 978192795008
Publication: September 21, 2020
Series: Flameskin Chronicles #0

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

The book revolves around two individuals, Sol and Kenan, who are forced to rely on one another after an avalanche leaves them the only survivors.  While this may not seem so bad—I mean, it is better to be in the wild with company than no one at all—Kenan is a flameskin and Sol has been taught to fear and hate people like him.  Flameskins are humans who share their bodies with a pyra, a fire spirit or demon, that hungers for violence and death.  It gives the human host immense power but it can take over their lives.  Through much of the book, Kenan struggles to maintain his humanity while Sol only sees him as a demon.  The more time they spend in each other’s presence, the more Sol starts to question her views of flameskins.  As they get closer to their destination, the decision to go their separate ways becomes increasingly more difficult.   

I enjoyed the book largely due to it being character-driven. Sol is clearly the more capable of the two protagonists. She is a hunter (huntress as the book calls her) and a tracker able to survive in nature whereas Kenan is a soldier who would otherwise have been lost without her.  I immediately liked Sol but it was hard to justify my partiality to her after the way she treats Kenan during their trek to the city of Olisipo. She constantly refers to him as Demon and initially refuses to see him as human.  Throughout the first half of the book, she is constantly struggling with her feelings for Kenan, contrasting the person that Kenan is with a hatred of the “unnatural” that her father (someone she idolized) has instilled in her.  It doesn’t necessarily give her a free pass, but it tells us a lot about what she has to overcome when she finally makes up her mind. Because of this, Sol is the one that experiences the most growth throughout the novel. Kenan doesn’t change very much from beginning to end with the biggest difference being how he feels about Sol.

The romantic buildup, at least in the beginning, lacked chemistry.  Kelan’s attraction to Sol happened pretty quickly, and it initially surprised me. Sol spends much of the beginning trying to reconcile her feelings for him, mostly fighting her attraction, so it was surprising to me when it was love.  Once the initial bumpiness of their attraction is overcome, the development of the relationship becomes much better. In all honesty, I am back and forth about whether the romance was a necessary component. At the outset, it doesn’t feel organic to the story. I wonder if it was possible that another type of relationship may have fit with the story better and would have still served as an impetus for Sol to make the same decisions. Four weeks alone together is a lot of time but romantic love does not necessarily always need to be the outcome.     

With romance dominating the book, the world building is a bit lacking in some aspects and is not very complex. It’s just all very surface level but a few cool things do happen (I know, I know…I’m being pretty vague but I cannot spoil the maybe 3 things that I really liked that happen). How magic works is interesting. It is channeled through stones and limited by how much it can store. Wielding magic comes with a price (Once Upon A Time anyone? Anyone?), individuals will lose their emotions.

While I can go on and on, I should probably stop here. I ended up liking the book more than I thought I would.  This likely has a lot to do with some revelations I didn’t catch onto until just before they happened as well as an explosive ending.  This book is a prequel, noted as #0 in the Flameskin Chronicles, so I hope to read the rest of the books as they come out. I would like to know what happens to Sol and Kenan.

It seems like I am nitpicking at everything, and it seems like a tossup in being a worthwhile read. The book has it’s shortcomings but what it comes down to is that after I finished reading, I was left with an overall feeling of contentment. I’m not sure how else to describe it. It’s like what the book tries to tell us about love–when you know, you just know. In this case, I knew it was a 4 star.

The Bone Shard Daughter (2020)

by Andrea Stewart
ISBN: 9780316541435
Publication: September 8, 2020
Series: The Drowning Empire #1

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
**Also, let me apologize ahead of time because my review for the book feels a bit disjointed. (bones…joints…harharhar…sorry again.)

Bone Shard Daughter is told from the perspective of multiple characters, with the bulk of the story alternating between the emperor’s daughter Lin and smuggler Jovis.  Having suffered from a sickness that erased her memories, the emperor is unwilling to give Lin the throne and has her compete against her foster brother instead.  Lagging behind her foster brother in the competition, she takes things into her own hands to prove to her father she is the rightful heir. In a different part of the country, Jovis, a wanted smuggler, searches for his missing wife but his search is delayed when the people begin asking him to smuggle their children out before bone shards can be taken.  As Lin struggles to retain her title and Jovis tries to find his wife, rebel forces gather to overthrow the emperor.

The book immediately pulls the reader into its world and into Lin’s current problem—trying to convince her dad she does remember things, at least enough to stay in competition with her foster brother.  Multiple questions formed as soon as I began reading.  What is shard magic?  How does it work?  What exactly is going on here?  Why can’t Lin remember anything?  Answers to these questions are slowly given in here and there, which frustrated me mostly because I wanted them right away but worked well to keep me moving forward.  Even when the book ends, there will be many questions that remain unanswered along with new questions that arise, leaving readers aching for the next book—unfortunately that won’t be for a while.

There is much to like about the world Stewart has created.

Sex, for instance, doesn’t appear to be a barrier to ascending the throne nor is one’s sex viewed as a setback for different occupations. Women are not set into the traditional gender roles and are not viewed only as pawns to garner alliances with other nations or families.  Lin can become the emperor and it is unlikely that this would be called into question simply because she is a woman. The emperor’s concern over Lin being named heir is not due to her sex but her memory.

Sexual orientation is not viewed negatively either. The book has an established same sex relationship and it is out in the open. People do not question it. It does not appear to serve as a barrier to holding office either. I liked that these are not specifically pointed out in the book but are just the norm. It was refreshing in this sense.

Stewart adds novel elements to make the old new again. Piecing parts of creatures to form constructs is a plot we’ve seen before like Frankenstein or The Island of Dr. Moreau—there’s probably newer stuff out there but these were the first two I thought of.  Stewart’s twist on this is the bone shards that make up these constructs, particularly how they are collected and how the constructs receive their instructions.  Shards are taken from children in a ceremony and commands are written on the shards when used to create constructs.  It isn’t exactly clear whether shards are taken from all children or if those who are wealthy are exempt.  There isn’t very much information given about how these constructs are animated either.  Is it magic or is something else powering them to give them life?

While I did like the book, I expected the book to be about Lin and told from her point of view and was a bit disappointed when there were multiple perspectives, five to be exact—Lin and Jovis in first person and the rest in third person.  With so many perspectives, less time is allotted to Lin and to finding more about her. Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, again encouraging readers to continue reading to the end. Eventually about mid-way, I settled into the structure of the book but I would have liked more from Lin. 

I found the emphasis in the book is not so much on the ethics of creating these constructs (to an extent, I think we are to assume it is); it is more about agency.  Do these constructs have independent thought?  Do they have free will?  If they do, can they act on their free will?  Should they be treated as more than constructs?  If they are to be viewed as more than just a construct, what happens to the owners of those shards?  Should the owners also have some opinion in the matter?  I hope future books will delve into this some more. 

I liked the book a lot and thought it to be an excellent debut.  The book touches on themes of class inequality and agency that I hope will see more of in the later book(s). The novel kept me engrossed and I am ready for the next installment. I’m badly suffering from having so many questions that need answers.

Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy.