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 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 Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan

The Drowning GIrl Cover

India Morgan Phelps–Imp to her friends–is schizophrenic. She can no longer trust her own mind because she is convinced that her memories have somehow betrayed her, forcing her to question her very identity.

Struggling with her perception of reality, Imp must uncover the truth about an encounter with a vicious siren, or a helpless wolf that came to her as a feral girl, or neither of these things but something far, far stranger.

My Thoughts

The Drowning GirlThe Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Drowning Girl is confused, messy, full of lies, and takes a full third of the book to get past the first event.

But I loved it. I was sucked in straight away and couldn’t stop reading it. India’s voice is compelling. By her own admission, she is an unreliable narrator, not able to choose between two different versions of the same events she is holding in her own head. But I’d quite happily listen to this girl spin tales for as long as she wants

It’s probably not going to be for everyone. It was odd and rambling and it took ages to get going – the first third of the book was spent going back and forth over the same ground. I think the author has taken the idea that books should have a beginning, middle and end, of plot structure altogether, and thrown it straight out of the window. Though saying that, it worked very well and added to the atmosphere of the book and everyone in my book club that read it loved it.

Persevere though and it’s a rewarding read. The writing is magical and dreamy and the world sprang into life in my head. I need to read more by this author.

The Drowning Girl
Caitlín R. Kiernan
Fantasy
March 6th 2012
Paperback
332

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

cuckoo song cover

The first things to shift were the doll’s eyes, the beautiful grey-green glass eyes. Slowly they swivelled, until their gaze was resting on Triss’s face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak.

‘What are you doing here?’ It was uttered in tones of outrage and surprise, and in a voice as cold and musical as the clinking of cups. ‘Who do you think you are? This is my family.’

When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.

Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest find the truth she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it’s too late.

My Thoughts

Cuckoo SongCuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cuckoo Song is a dark, creepy fairy tale that comes out like Diana Wynne Jones’ The Time of the Ghost but then twists itself into a very dark and atmospheric fairy tale.

It’s told from the point of view of the ‘monster’ – the fake Triss that is created by magic and made from twigs and ribbons and hair to cover up the kidnap of the real Triss. She doesn’t know what she is at first, she wakes up with no memories and can’t understand why nothing in her life feels quite right and why her little sister hates her.

Underneath the fairy tale story is a story about a family falling apart. Triss’ older brother Sebastion was killed in the war and her parents are devastated, turning all their attention on protecting sickly Triss and ignoring her little sister Pen, who can never behave herself. They are distant and cold and all the love has gone from the family.

I was wary of starting this one after I didn’t like the first Frances Harding book I read, The Lie Tree. I’m glad that I gave it a chance though, in this book the oddness that I couldn’t get to grips with in The Lie Tree was done perfectly with a decent and layered story to back it up.

Frances Harding manages to make me have sympathy for the villain. Ok, he’s crazy scary and way too obsessed with revenge, but the root of his motivation is that he is trying to help his people find a place to live where they won’t be persecuted. As much as I want not-Triss to stop his plans and save real Triss I also understand why he’s done most of what he’s done.

Pen and Violet are two of the best characters I’ve read about all year; Violet is sensible but a total badass and I adore how fierce and wilful Pen is.

I loved it, I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved everything about it. It’s a strange and dark and odd story and I couldn’t stop reading.

Cuckoo Song
Frances Hardinge
Young Adult Fantasy
May 8th 2014
Paperback
409

Troll Or Derby by Red Tash

Troll or Derby Cover

In Troll Or Derby, fifteen-year-old Roller Deb is singled out by town bullies for both her skates, and for being different. When her popular homecoming queen of a sister is kidnapped by a scuzzy drug dealer, Deb must flee the trailer park in which she’s grown up, and rescue her. Along the way, Deb becomes enmeshed in the magical realm of trolls and fairies, and the blood-thirsty version of roller derby at which these beings excel. But spending too much time among the fairies comes with a price. Will Deb choose to save her sister, with the aid of a mysterious troll? Or will she be lost to the lures of roller derby, and the blonde temptress April, forever?

My Review of Troll or Derby

Troll Or DerbyTroll Or Derby by Red Tash
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book so bad but I just didn’t get on with it. I found the story too far-fetched and the characters didn’t grab me.

The idea is fun, a teenage girl doesn’t realise she’s actually a fairy until her sister is kidnapped by a troll but are too many holes in the story and too much that doesn’t make sense. The plot jumps around so fast that the scenes are never filled out and allowed to come to life.

Why was Deb’s sister kidnapped? And why was she left as her protector anyway? That never made sense to me. And as much as I love roller derby it felt very out of place in the story. It was put in there just because.

Deb herself I didn’t find likeable. She didn’t have personality over than she roller skates. And I didn’t get her humour, her jokes I just found irritating.

The saving grace of the whole book is that Harlow is an absolute sweetheart. By far the best character in the book.

So generally just a bit of a mess with too much going on. Though I would read another book about Harlow in a second.

Troll Or Derby
Trollogy
Red Tash
Young Adult Fantasy
June 14th 2012
Kindle
262

The Iron Ghost (The Copper Cat, #2) by Jen Williams

The Iron Ghost Cover

Beware the dawning of a new mage.

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking.

My Review of The Iron Ghost

The Iron Ghost (The Copper Cat, #2)The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved this. It’s fun and fast and Wydrin is brilliant, she’s my new hero. She never thinks, she acts first and leads the way for everyone else.

So the Iron Ghost goes a bit more in-depth with the characters than the first book. Now the scene has been set there’s more time for them to develop beyond the stereotypes and we see more complex personalities come out.

But it also feels more focused and like there is more time given to developing the story. The tone is darker with scarier monsters and a seriously twisted bad mage that thinks he’s actually doing good things. To fight him the Black Feather Three have to do things that make them question their own moral values.

It’s the second in a trilogy but what I like about this series is that they are stand-alone stories. It does help if you’ve read the first book, but the story here has its own beginning and ending. No cliffhangers! *happy face*

It’s super enjoyable, action-packed, and it has a cast of diverse characters. It left me feeling happy when I’d finished it! I already want to go back and re-read it.

The Iron Ghost
The Copper Cat
Jen Williams
Fantasy
February 26th 2015
Paperback
544

The Bitter Twins (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #2) by Jen Williams

The Bitter Twins Cover

The Ninth Rain has fallen, the Jure’lia have returned, and with Ebora a shadow of its former self, the old enemy are closer to conquering Sarn than ever.

Tormalin the Oathless and the Fell-Witch Noon have their hands full dealing with the first war-beasts to be born in Ebora for nearly three hundred years. But these are not the great mythological warriors of old; hatched too early and with no link to their past lives, the war-beasts have no memory of the many battles they have fought and won, and no concept of how they can possibly do it again. The key to uniting them, according to the scholar Vintage, may lie in a part of Sarn no one really believes exists, but finding it will mean a dangerous journey at a time of war…

Meanwhile, Hestillion is trapped on board the corpse moon, forced into a strange and uneasy alliance with the Jure’lia queen. Something terrifying is growing up there, in the heart of the Behemoth, and the people of Sarn will have no defence against these new monsters.

My Review of The Bitter Twins

The Bitter Twins (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #2)The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sequel to the brilliant Ninth Rain kicks it up a notch with more action, scarier monsters and a more expansive story.

There’s also a more desperate feel to the story now. The Jure’lia have returned, their ruins are waking up and piecing themselves back together and Hestellion has been kidnapped and taken aboard the Corpse Moon. The War Beasts have also returned but there are only a few of them, they have hatched too early and apart from the dragon bonded with Noon they don’t have their memories of their past lives. They don’t know how to fight and they certainly don’t know how to work together. How can the four of them possibly stop the Jure’lia from wiping out all the human settlements?

The monsters are creepy and visceral and make my skin crawl. The Jure’lia Queen is terrifying! Hestillion is very brave when she is taken hostage by the Queen, then they start to find common ground and Hestillion’s influence makes the Queen act more and more like a human. I think that just makes her even scarier! In this book, her story has become my favourite. She’s conflicted and unsure really of what she is doing, and whose side she wants to be on.

I loved everything with the War Beasts in! They were born without their memories and are not what they should have been. They find it difficult to get on with each other and they struggle to build themselves into a team, working against each other more than with each other. It brings a lot of humour into the book. Then the action scenes where they fight are just awesome.

A few different plot threads are woven together and there’s so much going on another author might have taken 3 or 4 books to cover all this. Mostly it works and it makes an action-packed story but some parts seem to become a little lost in the action. Bern’s visit to his family and Eri’s story could fill whole books by themselves.

Noon and Tor are trying to find a way to make the War Beasts into a fighting team. They find that an Eborean might have kept records of the War Beasts past lives but he left Eboaria hundreds of years ago on a journey searching for the origins of Ysgeril. Noon and Tor are so desperate to get the records and help the war beasts that they decide to follow his route.

I just love Jen Williams’ writing. She creates such complicated and diverse characters and the world she has created is rich and unique. She’s not afraid to write adult stories that can be dark at times; the ending is heartbreaking.

The Bitter Twins is an imaginative and original story with a cast of complex and diverse characters. Modern fantasy at it’s best and I cannot wait for the third book in the series!

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

The Bitter Twins
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy
Jen Williams
Fantasy
March 8th 2018
Kindle
320

Cthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone

Cthulu and Other Monsters

Short tales of horror regarding the Old Ones and their minions by master horror scribe Sam Stone.

Cthulu and Other MonstersCthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always love getting my hands on a new Sam Stone book! This one is a collection of short horror stories about monsters and Cthulu.

One thing I like about Sam Stone is that she skips between and combines genres without it being jarring. The stories in this collection are all horror stories but they also combine other genres too. Some are a bit steampunk, and some are more sci-fi, some set in the past and some in the present. She’s clearly full of ideas and there’s a lot of originality in these stories.

My favourites are the steampunk tinged stories. There is one about Arabella, a Victorian lady who moonlights as a thief, and another where Lucy goes down into the sewers to hunt a monster plaguing the city. I loved both of these and I really wanted to see more from these characters!

This is a very adult collection, there’s lots of gore and a fair bit of sex. Things don’t always end well so you’re kept guessing right up to the end.

My only complaint is that sometimes the conversations are there more to give information to the reader than for the characters to communicate with each other. There’s a fair few “as you know” expositions that are thrown in there that feel like they don’t fit the story, and sometimes the characters can be overly formal and stilted. I feel like it could use a good editor as there are a few errors in the text. But it’s a minor complaint and it didn’t stop me enjoying reading this.

I found all of the stories creepy and interesting, and there weren’t any that I didn’t really enjoy. I feel like the author had a lot of fun writing them.

It’s a great little collection of horror stories and it’s just right for the long nights that are approaching.

Cthulu and Other Monsters
Sam Stone
Horror
April 2017
Paperback
287

Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Wake Cover

On a sunny spring morning, the settlement of Kahukura in Tasman is suddenly overwhelmed by a mysterious mass insanity. A handful of survivors find themselves cut off from the world, and surrounded by the dead.

As the group try to take care of one another and survive in ever more difficult circumstances, it becomes apparent that this isn’t the first time that this has happened, and that they aren’t all survivors and victims – two of them are something quite other. And, it seems, they are trapped with something. Something unseen is picking at the loose threads of their characters, corrupting, provoking, and haunting them.

Wake is a book that asks: ‘What are the last things left when the worst has happened?’ It is a book about extreme events, ordinary people, heroic compassion—and invisible monsters.

My Review of Wake

WakeWake by Elizabeth Knox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inventive, original, dark and disturbing. Wake takes what has become a common story – a small group of people survive while everyone around them dies, and makes something unique out of it.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it, and really you just need to read it yourself, but Wake is a mix of horror, thriller and drama, with a touch of sci-fi added in.

Wake has a cast of 14 characters and a large part of the book is about how they interact, how they work together, and how they cope with what happens. With so many of them, a few of them inevitably get a bit lost and don’t feature very much. The action mostly focuses on a core group, these characters are done very well and are believable in the way they act based on their different personalities. I ended up losing track of some of them though and I couldn’t keep who was who straight if they weren’t in the core few.

Sam was by far my favourite character. I didn’t find many of the others likeable, except I did like William, the American, – maybe because he was just honest and open from the start? But Sam was lovely and I think the author did a really good job with her story. Learning about her was my favourite part of the book.

I like the way Elizabeth Knox writes, but I found it more practical and brutal than beautiful or poetic. I know a lot of other reviewers disagree with that though so maybe I just didn’t really understand her style? Sometimes I had to re-read a sentence a few times before I understood what was happening.

The world building was brilliant, and the whole thing was very readable, a few times I only meant to read a chapter then realised an hour had passed without me noticing.

My favourite thing about the book is the sci-fi bit. I wish that was developed a bit more but it wouldn’t be realistic or fit in with the story so I can forgive it.

The way it ended made me happy. I don’t really like when I have to make my own mind up about what is happening in a book, I always feel like what was the point of actually reading the book if I don’t find out what’s going on. There are enough answers in Wake to satisfy me and I like the way it’s revealed slowly with enough pointers that I could try to work it out for myself if I wanted to.

Wake is original and disturbing, and it is a must-read for anyone that likes survivor horror stories.

Wake
Elizabeth Knox
Horror
November 1st 2013
Paperback
443

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun Cover

Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last, there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

My Review of Under the Pendulum Sun

Under the Pendulum SunUnder the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not what I was expecting! This is a dark and twisted tale of Victorian era missionaries who travel to the Faelands of Arcadia to try to convert the fae.

Catherine Helstone’s brother Laon is a missionary who has been sent to the fairy land of Arcadia in an attempt to convert the fae. When he stops replying to her letters she Catherine is so worried about him that she travels to Arcadia in an attempt to find him.

When she arrives her brother is not there at Gethsemane, the manor house Queen Mab of the fae provided for him to stay in. Her brother’s staff are vague about his location but assure Catherine that he will return soon. As she waits for him, she hears rumours about the death of the previous missionary, Reverend Roche, but no one will straight out tell her what happened to him. When Catherine finds the dead Roche’s journals full of strange rambling entries and a book written in a language she does not recognise she decides that reading and deciphering them will provide the key to understanding the strange place that she has found herself.

The characters are missionaries, so obviously are going to be religious. I read that the author has studied theology, and it shows. Religion plays a massive part in this story, with discussions around theology making up a lot of the book. Catherine spends a lot of time praying and thinking about God, and pondering whether the fae have souls or not.

There are so many layers to this story. The main story is easy enough to follow but there’s a lot of hidden meanings that as the reader you need to decipher to fully understand what is going on. If you enjoy working out the meaning behind what the author is showing us for yourself, you will love this book! There is a lot to think about or things that if you research a bit will make a lot more sense. Even the name of the manor house Catherine and Laon are staying in has meaning.

Honestly, I struggle with hints and subtle suggestion, I prefer things that are spelt out for me. I like knowing what the author intended without having to make guesses myself. So it took me a while to get into this. It was very slow to start with, and I had no idea where it was going, it took me a while to work out the point of the book, Cathrine spends most of her time reminiscing about her childhood and how wonderful her brother is. But I slowly got caught up in the story telling, and the second half is much better paced.

Queen Mab turns up and throws a (very nasty) winter ball full of clockwork automaton and things start to get more interesting. Then Catherine starts to find out what happened to the Reverend Roche, and why no one will talk about how he died.

I loved the way the fae are cruel and unkind, playing games with the few humans that are allowed into Arcadia. This is fae as they are meant to be! Queen Mab is very, very scary and I can’t understand why Catherine and her brother want to go further into the interior of Arcadia. I’d be running for my life after that Winter Ball.

It’s very twisty and turny, just when I thought I understood what was going on the story changes again. Even though most of the action takes place in Gethsemane, it’s still full of secrets and intrigue and strange and unusual creatures and sights.

Very dark, very gothic, Under the Pendulum Sun is not an easy read. But the writing and the world building are an absolute treat and the story is very original.

I’m wavering between 3 and 4 stars, but the narrator is just too religious and pious for my liking. After a while, she started to grate on me, so I’m going with 3 stars.

I recommend this for readers that like original takes on dark and twisted gothic fairy tales or books with layers and hidden meanings that make you think.

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

Under the Pendulum Sun
Jeannette Ng
Fantasy
October 3rd 2017
Kindle
464