Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted book cover

The Blurb

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

My Thoughts

3 / 5

Not as much romance as I wanted but I did appreciate the strong theme of friendship running though the story.

After reading the description I was hoping for a fun romance between Agnieszka and Sarkan and it did start out that way with lots of mystery from Sarkan and sarkiness from Agnieszka. But just as I was starting to enjoy the interactions between them and it looked like things were heating up the romance side of the story is just ditched when Agnieszka leaves for the capital.

I loved the first half of the book – it starts out with a lot of banter between them and Agnieszka is struggling with learning the magic basics. You can really see the Beauty and the Beast influence here and it’s fun watching the balance of power between them change as Agnieszka finds her strength in her abilities and her confidence grows.

After the halfway point Agnieszka started to irritate me with her amazing abilities that appear just when she needs them and her lucky escapes. Then Sarkan disappears from the story altogether just as we start to get to know him and the spark and the contrast between that made the story so lively is gone.

The story gets more exciting but it doesn’t feel like anything special. It feels like I’ve seen this story over and over again recently. A young woman is looked down upon and treated like she is a second class citizen but finds that her abilities are super special and she starts to outshine and outwit everyone around her.

What I did appreciate is the way Agnieszka’s confidence grows and she becomes much more sure in herself and her abilities, though it eventually goes too far with this. She forges her own path and isn’t afraid to go against the popular appearance. She is the hero of the story and the removal of Sarkan makes this clear. By the end though she is so amazing and so fantastic and kind and wonderful that it gets a bit grating.

Friendship is a strong theme running through the book, Agnieszka and Kasia are the real stars of the story, I think this should have been the focus all the way through, adding a romance into the story just took away from this. Kasia and Sarkan are never fully realised, dropped in and out when it suits the story and it would have been nice to get to know at least one of them in-depth, and maybe see their side of the story.

The writing is beautifully done though, by far the best thing about the book. And to be fair, Agnieszka was always just the right side of too irritating to live. The way she was written made her more enduring than annoying, but only just.

I expected more after all the hype about it, but it’s an enjoyable coming of age adventure story and it’s very well written.

Uprooted
Naomi Novik
Young Adult Fantasy
May 12th 2016
Paperback
435

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season cover

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

My Thoughts

This is so good I don’t even know where to start with my review.

It’s a fantasy story but set in such a unique world that it’s different to anything I’ve read before. There’s a sort of magic system but the magic here is that people gifted with it can control the earth and command or dissipate earthquakes at will. It’s a magic that is desperately needed on an unstable earth which destroys everything with extinction-level natural disasters every century but those that have it are hated and feared and strictly controlled.

It’s a tale of three women surviving in this world of oppression and instability, three stories that intertwine and make sense of the world as they are told alongside each other.

The story is intelligent and thoughtful and it has a lot to say but it’s done in a way that is entertaining, not preachy.

I have to admit that I felt a bit lost at first because it just dumped me into what felt like (and really is) the middle of a story.  It sorts itself out by the end but there was a fair bit of having no clue what was going on before it did.  Normally that would leave me cold and wanting to put the book down but I found the story interesting enough that it was addictive reading anyway. I had to know what happened next and where things were going.

I’ve not read anything this good and this unique in a while, if you like fantasy even a little bit then pick this one up, I doubt you’ll regret it!

The Fifth Season
The Broken Earth
N.K. Jemisin
Fantasy
August 4th 2015
Paperback

Shadow of the Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1) by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox Cover

A single wish will spark a new dawn. Every millennium, one age ends and another age dawns and whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers holds the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish. The time is near and the missing pieces of the scroll will be sought throughout the land of Iwagoto.

The holder of the first piece is a humble, unknown peasant girl with a dangerous secret. Demons have burned the temple Yumeko was raised in to the ground, killing everyone within, including the master who trained her to both use and hide her kitsune powers.

Yumeko escapes with the temple’s greatest treasure – one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan. Yumeko knows he seeks what she has and is under orders to kill anything and anyone who stands between him and the scroll.

My Thoughts

The start was very slow and jumped about between different characters a lot so it took me a while to get going with it. I didn’t like Yumenko or Tatsumi at all at first and I felt like it was going to be another formulaic young adult fantasy book. There was also too much of the characters internal thoughts with not much action going on. But once I managed to get past the first few chapters and really got into it I actually liked this a lot!

I liked that there was a lot of little almost side quests thrown into the story along the way. Tatsumi and Yumeko fight a few demons, help some villages and pick up an assortment of fellow travellers that become part of the story. It reminded me of some of the manga series I’ve read and I thought it made what could have been a dry journey where all that happens is the two of them start falling for each other into something more interesting and unusual. Plus, the sidekicks they picked up were funny and all brought something to the team!

Both Tatsumi and Yumenko grew on me along the way and I liked the way they were together. Tatsumi particularly has to try and fight his attraction and it’s cute how confused and frustrated he gets – he’s had very little positive interaction with other humans so it’s like he is seeing the world for the first time, Yumenko is bringing him slowly to life.

Yumenko I liked a lot more when we were seeing her from Tatsumi’s point of view. In his eyes, she seems a little odd, a bit daft but super funny and sweet. From Yumenko’s own viewpoint though she comes across a lot more serious and thoughtful. It’s a difference I found hard to reconcile to get a real feel for her character and left me feeling strangely disconnected from her. I’m hoping in the next book her personality becomes clearer, I also hope she gets to use more of her magic! I suspect she could be fierce if she wanted to be.

I do think it suffers from the characters and the plot being stereotypical of young adult fantasy at the moment but where this really stands out is in the world it is set in and the atmosphere that is created. The Japanese setting gives this something special and the author has done a great job of making the journey of the characters feel real and full of vibrant life. It feels like there is a lot of Japanese folklore and mythology weaved into the story but it never becomes confusing – it always just felt real to me.

Give this a chance, get past the first few chapters and it’s an exciting story with enough of its own personality to stand out in a sea of young adult fantasies with similar plots. I enjoyed reading this one and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

Shadow of the Fox
Shadow of the Fox
Julie Kagawa
Young Adult Fantasy
November 1st 2018
Kindle
454

The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2) by Genevieve Cogman

masked city cover

Librarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he’s been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds.

Kai’s dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people – and the forces of order and chaos themselves.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.

The Masked City (The Invisible Library, #2)The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the first book, I liked this one even more!

The plot is very clever, this one is all about stories within stories as Irene has to travel into a chaos infected alternative version of Venice. Here, the fae can manipulate reality to make themselves the main characters in whatever story they see themselves in. Irene has to go along with it and play her part in such a way that she can manipulate the storyline.

I enjoyed watching Irene work everything out, often in books like this the characters are reactive, solutions fall easily at their feet and all they have to do is follow along. Irene has to reason and be clever about it, thinking her way through and finding her own solutions.

A lot of thought has gone into the characters and their personality, their motivations and feelings, how they would react in all the situations. Irene is brilliant, clever and resourceful and even though she is often unsure she is also confident without being arrogant. Kai isn’t in the story very much, Irene has to act on her own this time and rely on her own wits and reasoning. When she decides to act she doesn’t second guess herself and sees it through.

The train was my most favourite character in this book, and that says something about the talent of the author that she can give something like a train so much personality.

The world of Venice and Carnival is brought to life quite effectively but I would have liked to have seen more of the celebrations and the partying! Obviously, Irene has other things on her mind, she skips through parties but we don’t get much chance to enjoy them. I loved the scenes set in the theatre though.

Suspenseful, exciting, clever and original, this is one I highly recommend to fans of fantasy or steampunk.

The Masked City
The Invisible Library
Genevieve Cogman
Steampunk
Paperback
369

Nocturna (A Forgery of Magic #1) by Maya Motayne

nocturna book cover

Set in a Latinx-inspired world, a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed.

To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts.

My Thoughts

Nocturna (A Forgery of Magic, #1)Nocturna by Maya Motayne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I requested Nocturna for review because it’s a fantasy with a thief and a prince accidentally unleashing an evil power, set in a Latinx inspired world – it just sounds amazing.

In reality, it’s ok. Not brilliant but it’s not trash either. It’s lacking in world building and the story and characters are kind childishly done but the writing is ok and there’s a lot of fun ideas. My attention drifted though, I couldn’t focus on it and I put it down about halfway through and read about 6 other books before I found my way back to it.

I liked the idea of the clock tower prison but when it came down to it the intimidation factor it should have had, it wasn’t there. Finn and Alfie got in and out with no issues and the prison feel just wasn’t there. I couldn’t picture it at all.

A lot of the things written into the plot felt like they were there for convenience instead of world building. The duenos in the clock tower for example, they had no real role or place in the story – the rules around their existence weren’t solid enough to be able to understand them. I feel like the author only added them so that Alfie had someone to impersonate.

I love some of the ideas around how the magic works and the way Alfie can see magic as coloured auras. But again, these things didn’t seem consistent. What the characters could do and the way their magic worked changed as the story needed it to.

For what is actually a very dark story a lot of the plot and the characters felt quite childish. The story just wasn’t exciting or real enough and the banter was cringey instead of funny with Alfie, Finn and Luka often sounding like they were all 12 instead of older teenagers.

I appreciate having main characters in the story that aren’t perfect, both of them here are a long way from being the sort of saintly saviours I can’t relate to, but I just can’t stand Finn. She’s not nearly as funny and not half as smart as she thinks she is. Wisecracking smartarses I can deal with but they have to be amusing to read and Finn’s not, she comes across as childish and irritating and for an amazing thief everything she did was a disaster. If I’m supposed to believe she’s a master thief I need to see her being awesome, her character doesn’t work if she has to suddenly start being crap at everything for plot reasons.

Another thing that really annoyed me was the way everyone in it was either full of darkness or full of light. People aren’t that basic; there are shades of grey in everyone and more of that ambivalence would have made this book feel less flat than it does. The dark magician doesn’t seem to have any motivations either, he is just full of darkness and that’s it, he does bad things. I like books where you can get right into the minds of the villains and if not sympathise then at least understand them. They are often more interesting than the good guys and can bring a book like this to life.

There is a lot of good stuff here but it wasn’t enough to hold my attention. I found that I didn’t want to keep reading it and I was picking up other books instead of going back to this one. Altogether it feels rushed like the characters haven’t been fully worked out and the setting isn’t rich and lush or developed enough. It has potential though because the ideas are good and the writing is decent I feel it just needs more time spent on the basics.

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Nocturna
A Forgery of Magic
Maya Motayne
Young Adult Fantasy
May 7th 2019
Kindle
480

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts #1) by Stacia Kane

Unholy Ghosts cover

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased.

Enter Chess Putnam, a tattooed church witch and ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls.

Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

My Thoughts

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, #1)Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark and gothic take on urban fantasy.

Unholy Ghosts stands out for me as being one of the better books in the urban fantasy genre. It’s much darker than most and main character Chess has issues – she’s not perfect at all, not even in the “thinks she’s not but actually is” sort of way.

Chess is a troubled individual who works for the church exorcising ghosts with magic. She’s also a drug addict who finds herself in debt to her local drug dealer, Bump. He calls her in for a favour and Chess finds herself in a whole lot of a mess, having to deal with black magic and human sacrifice while trying to hide her involvement from the church to protect her job.

I know I’m emotionally invested in the story because I get very angry at Chess for some of the bad decisions she makes. I just so badly want her to have a bit more self-respect and look after herself better.

But this is a story that is dark, the ghosts are scary and dangerous and the characters are not heroes.

Potential love interest Terrible is 6 foot plus, described as being not very attractive and a bit rough and is Bump’s main enforcer, doing all the risky dirty work. But his intelligence and kindness balance out his rough edges to make him super interesting and actually really attractive for me. I was rooting for Chess to notice just how lovely he is and how he seems to have a thing for her.

The world building is done in a way that feels unobtrusive but I can still easily imagine myself there. I love when the authors throw in references to the music the characters are listening to, it adds a lot to my mental picture of the world. This is a book that would lend itself to some awesome soundtracks!

So, I thought this was fun, dark, different and I’m left desperate to know what happens next with Chess and Terrible.

Unholy Ghosts
Downside Ghosts
Stacia Kane
Urban Fantasy
May 25th 2010
Paperback
339

The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #3) by Jen Williams

poison song cover

From Jen Williams, three-time British Fantasy Award finalist comes the electrifying conclusion to the Winnowing Flame trilogy. Exhilarating epic fantasy for fans of Robin Hobb.

Jump on board a war beast or two with Vintage, Noon and Tor and return to Sarn for the last instalment of this epic series where the trio must gather their forces and make a final stand against the invading Jure’lia.

My Thoughts

The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy, #3)The Poison Song by Jen Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was so excited to get my hands on The Poison Song, the last book in The Winnowing Flame trilogy! I’ve been waiting for this for two years now. And happily, it didn’t disappoint.

It shows how much I’ve enjoyed this series that I could remember what happened in the last two books. Normally I forget everything and have to keep checking back, especially if it’s been a while, but the storyline of this series has stayed with me.

And there’s a lot of story that’s been crammed into these three books! It works and it never felt overwhelming or like it was moving too fast but there’s a lot going on. So much so that right up until the last third of the book I couldn’t see how the story could come to a conclusion by the last page. Jen Williams has very cleverly made this intertwined story come together and wrap everything up neatly, but without feeling forced. I don’t know how she’s managed it, the woman is a genius!

So, the storyline I don’t want to talk about too much because I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read the first two books. But it starts with an event that I’ve been waiting for since the first book when Noon goes back with her warbeast to where she was imprisoned for so long and makes them see the error of their ways (to put it nicely). Aside from that though things are looking bad for the warbeasts and their riders. They are damaged and battered from their fights in the last book and they have lost one of their own but despite all that, they have become a team. They now trust each other and are working together.

The Jure’lia, who I still think are some of the creepiest and scariest villains, are also battered and their Queen is distracted trying to fix the crystal. Hestillion won’t let them give in though and uses her knowledge of her world to give them strategy and make them attack with a purpose, something the Jure’lia have been lacking.

There are some epic battles in this book! Hestillion is scarily clever and the warbeasts and their riders have to pull out all the stops to fight her. Noon and Vintage have their own adventures – I loved Vintage’s storyline in this one. She is by far my favourite character and she was already kinda awesome but I enjoyed watching her out on her own without Noon and Tor to back her up.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. I admire authors that make brave decisions but I also kinda hate it at the same time and I wish it hadn’t ended like that. This is one I need time to recover from.

The Winnowing Flame is modern and fresh fantasy and it’s one of my favourite series of the last few years and it ended super strong with The Poison Song. I hope Jen Williams style starts to influence other fantasy authors.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

The Poison Song
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy
Jen Williams
Fantasy
May 16th 2019
Kindle
320

The Secret City (The Alchemist Chronicles #2) by C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld

the secret city cover

Locked away inside the fortified walls of Oxford’s St Wilfred’s College, surrounded by alchemists sworn to protect them, Taylor and Sacha are safe from the Darkness. For now.

But time is short. In seven days Sacha will turn 18, and the ancient curse that once made him invincible will kill him, unleashing unimaginable demonic horror upon the world.

There is one way to stop it.

Taylor and Sacha must go to where the curse was first cast – the medieval French city of Carcassonne – and face the demons.

The journey will be dangerous. And monsters are waiting for them.

But as Darkness descends on Oxford, their choice is stark. They must face everything that scares them or lose everything they love.

My Thoughts

The Secret City (The Alchemist Chronicles #2)The Secret City by C.J. Daugherty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Secret City picks right up where The Secret Fire left off, with Taylor learning how to control her magic while she and Sascha and the alchemists of St Winifred’s are searching for the key to breaking Sascha’s curse.

There’s a lot more action in this one when Taylor and Sascha have to race through France to Carcassone to beat a villain who is trying to raise a demon. It felt like the ending was rushed – they found the solution all at once and then it seemed to be over very quickly but the rest of the book was exciting without moving too fast. There was time to get to know the characters and I loved following them on their journey through France. Their relationship is sweet, they don’t fall in love at first sight, and they are very likeable both separately and together.

The villain though was cartoonish and underwhelming. He wasn’t fleshed out enough, and if I don’t know the villain’s motivations it’s difficult for me to see them as actual people or to find them threatening. He was just something and nothing that popped up every so often to leer at them a bit.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this. It’s interesting and a bit different and exciting enough to hold it’s own against the more obvious series in this genre. I want to know more about the alchemist society though and life at St Winifred’s!

The Secret City
The Alchemist Chronicles
C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld
Young Adult Fantasy
September 1st 2016
Paperback
368

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1) by Diana Wynne Jones

Charmed life cover

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

My Thoughts

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci, #1)Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charmed Life is an odd but fun book about two orphan children who go to live in Chrestomanci Castle, home of the most powerful magician in the land and his family.

Cat has no magic of his own but his sister Gwendolen is a very powerful witch and she’s also very impressed with her own ability. When they arrive at the castle though, the adults ignore them and Gwendolen is banned from practising magic. Safe to say she is not pleased by this and she quickly sets out to cause as much mayhem as possible in revenge.

I did enjoy this book but it has what I think is a pretty big plot hole. Cat and his sister are dragged away from their home to live with this Chrestomanci person and no one in their new home will talk to them or explain anything that’s going on. No wonder Gwendolen gets frustrated, I would too!

I spent a good two-thirds of the book being outraged on behalf of Cat and Gwendolen and cheering Gwendolen’s naughtiness on. The adults keep their secrets for far too long for no real reason – they could have sat down and talked to Cat, then everything would have been resolved almost straight away.

Of course, when the truth comes out you realise the adults were actually dealing with everything very carefully. The villain is mean and nasty (and the author doesn’t sugar coat it) and there is real and scary danger to everyone.

The story has a very dark edge to it but then the best children’s books always do. The exciting ending made up for a lot of my issue with Chrestomanci just not talking to the children.

Charmed Life is aimed at children but with enough to it to keep adults interested too. Make yourself a big cup of tea and settle down somewhere cosy to enjoy this one!

Charmed Life
Chrestomanci
Diana Wynne Jones
Children's Fantasy
1977
Paperback
252

A Pinch of Magic (A Pinch of Magic #1) by Michelle Harrison

a pinch of magic cover

Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.

Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.

Will they be enough to break the curse?

Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger?

My Thoughts

A Pinch of MagicA Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got off to a rocky start with this one because I found the writing very clunky and awkward. It put me off reading it so I dipped in and out of it and it just took me ages to get into it. I also couldn’t work out if it was set in the modern day or in a ‘ye olde’ fantasy world. It sounds daft but it really threw me that I couldn’t work it out.

I am glad I persevered with it though because the story is actually rather lovely. It’s about 3 sisters who find that they are living under a curse – if they leave the island where they grew up they will be dead within a day. Not particularly nice, but they also have a gift of magic objects – normal, everyday items that enable them to move vast distances in the blink of an eye, become invisible and talk to anyone they want whenever they want.

The bond between the sisters and the way they work together whilst bickering and falling out made this book for me. It brings back memories of growing up with my sister and having adventures together even though we didn’t always get on.

After about the first half of the book, the story starts to flow better and even the writing improved. It’s also quite dark at times and I was pleased that it didn’t try to sugar coat the world – I don’t think that ever works, even in children’s books. We’re all of us smarter than to be taken in by that.

So if you’re looking for a children’s book that is full of adventure and sisters supporting each other you could do much worse than this.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

A Pinch of Magic
A Pinch of Magic
Michelle Harrison
Children's Fantasy
February 7th 2019
Kindle
352