When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.
There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.
Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.
Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?
A fantasy written from a queer, female perspective that explores race and social justice featuring the common trope of multiple parallel worlds.
The basic plot is an intertwining of two common to fantasy: 1) there’s multiple parallel worlds 2) political intrigue warring societies etc… These are both done to a level I appreciate. They make sense without overwhelming me with world building and pages of explanations of how a society that doesn’t really exist works.
Both of these basic plots are used to explore queer viewpoints, feminism, and race, all through the lens of social justice. How much you’ll enjoy this lens depends upon the reader. I think the queer part is fairly well-done with a broad representation including: bisexual (by name!), lesbian, trans*, and polyamory. I’m not big on polyamory plots but I thought its inclusion in a parallel world made sense and was clearly not written from a perspective intended to purely titillate, rather, the emotional aspects of these relationships was explored. I do think the explorations of race lacked some of the subtlety present in the explorations of queerness. The white Australian girl being thrust into a parallel world where the majority race is black who is guided by another “worldwalker” who similarly fell through but decided to stay because she’s black and this world is better than Thatcher’s England struck me as a bit heavy-handed and overly simplistic. I’m also not sure how I felt about the black character being put into a secondary role as guide. I kept finding myself thinking how I would have preferred to have read her story. (You quickly find out she stayed in the world, gained some power, joined a polyamorous marriage, had a child, and more! What an interesting life!)
All of that said, I don’t often enjoy traditional style non-urban fantasy, and this one did keep me reading and interested. It’s fun to read a book about political intrigue and multiple worlds dominated by women, touched by dragons, and with no male gaze. I doubt I will seek out the second entry in the series, though, because I feel I’ve already got everything out of the story I’m going to get.
4 out of 5 stars
Etienne has a mysteriously powerful changeling daughter no one else knew about who goes missing and now Toby must find her.
Goblin Fruit is being sold on the streets and Toby in her grief seeks to eradicate it only to discover the Queen is behind it. Then she gets hit in the face with a pie made of it and since it’s only addictive to humans and changelings she’s now addicted to basically the fantasy equivalent of heroin. Oh also she becomes fixated on reestablishing the rightful heir to the throne, and not just because she’s been exiled by the current Queen
So here’s the thing. I love reading a good series but generally so long as everything is continuing along at the same quality level as the first couple of books there’s not too much to say about them. But also if you just stop reviewing them it makes it seem like you stopped reading the series, which isn’t the case. So I’m going to be sticking to short reviews for my series reads, and I might start lumping them together, unless there’s one that’s particularly good or one that’s particularly bad.
I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I’m tired of the series looking for missing kids. This happens again in book 6, and yes it kind of bugged me, but it was different enough that I kept reading. I think having the added factor of learning more about how changelings work and also how Toby’s particular type of fae work helped keep it interesting.
I’d say that book 7 kept me more on the edge of my seat than book 6 because Toby is in more genuine peril and also she is more honest about her feelings for the King of Cats. I find overthrowing one royal person to instill another to be rather boring but Toby’s personal peril helped keep it interesting for me. I also really enjoyed one particular reveal about a longstanding character. That said, all of the political intrigue and the fact that the next book promises only more made me decide it was time to take a break from the series until I’m ready for a read that will be exactly what I am expecting. There’s always room for that in my reading but it can be a bit dull if you read a few too many in a row.
Both of these reads hold enough of what long-time readers of the series have come to expect and new information to be both engaging and not disappointing. It’s a good series but not one that builds intrigue over the course of each book throughout the series.
4 out of 5 stars (each)
New Release Friday: Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton by Donald Firesmith (#apocalyptic #paranormal #fantasy)
I know Opinions of a Wolf readers love a strong female lead (I do too!), so when Don contacted me about his new release, I was excited to feature it. Take it away, Don!
When huge holes mysteriously formed in Alaska’s North Slope, a research team went to discover their cause. But when an army of invading demons erupted out of these hell holes, only two scientists and Aileen, the team’s secretive photographer, survived. Now in this exciting second book in the Hell Holes series, they must flee south along 350 miles of the Dalton Highway, one of the world’s most treacherous roads. Aileen, a member of an ancient order charged with defending humanity from Hell, must save the two scientists, but who will save her?
Genre: apocalyptic paranormal fantasy
What makes this book unique in its genre?
The book is strongly grounded in reality and based on real life locations, which helps to make the fantasy elements (e.g., magic and invading demons) more believable. For example, in addition to the book’s beta readers and two editors, its military aspects were based on the inputs of three military advisors and a tour of the relevant parts of Eielson AFB including the Wing Commander’s conference room. Another interesting aspect is that each of the three books in the trilogy is written from the first person viewpoint of a different major character.
Could you tell us more about some of your research? It sounds like you did a lot!
I very much like to ground my science fiction in science fact, and that also carries over to my fantasy books. This book was largely driven by the flight of the three survivors of the first book (Hell Holes 1: What Lurks Below) down the Dalton Highway as they are chased by the invading demon horde. In addition to driving part of this dangerous road in real life, I have also “driven” it using Google Maps street view, and major locations along the way were often used to drive the plot to its logical conclusion.
But wait! Now through June 30th, get the ebook for free (that’s 100% off you guys) using the coupon code HE54A on Smashwords. Get it here.
Thanks so much for being featured here on Opinions of a Wolf, Don!
Would you be interested in being featured on New Release Friday? Find out how here.
New Release Friday is a sponsored post but I only feature books on New Release Friday that I believe would interest readers of this blog. Book reviews are never sponsored. Find out more about the sponsored post policy here.
When a rabbit low on the totem pole has a bad premonition, he and some friends run from their warren just before man intrudes wreaking havoc on their once-home. What follows is an adventure of evading predators and foes and looking for a new home.
Let me preface my review by saying that I know a lot of people either: A) love this book or B) find this book to be very traumatic. My experience was neither of these. The fact that this was not my experience does not negate yours. But neither does your love or traumatizing by this book mean that I felt the same way about it.
One of the risks of reading a book that is widely-known and loved (or remembered as traumatic) is that you have a pre-existing notion of just what that experience might mean for you. I came at this book with some trepidation and excitement because I absolutely love bunnies and I also love semi-realistic depictions of wild animals. Those that are accurate about scientific information but also personify them somewhat. I wound up being greatly disappointed because it gave me neither a world of bunnies to get lost in nor an experience of great trauma and drama. What I wanted was a highly emotional experience, and instead I got a bit of boredom and my main emotion being disappointment.
Let me start with what I think was well done. Adams clearly paid a lot of attention to the real science of how wild bunnies live and function, and I appreciated that. I also like the allusions to mythology. But there’s lots of reviews that talk about why they love this book, so let’s get down to why I didn’t.
1) I found it to be way too wordy.
I want cuteness and bunnies and plot not overly long descriptions of fields. This is a really thick book (my copy was 479 pages) and just…not that much actually happens. I don’t like to feel like a book is wasting my time, and I felt that a lot with this one. You could argue that it just felt long because I didn’t emotionally connect to it, but I think part of my lack of emotional connection was because of the lengthy descriptive passages.
2) I was expecting a great mythos of a story, and what I got was WWII with bunnies.
I love WWII. Do not get me wrong. I did an entire course for my History BA in just WWII. But I don’t think bunnies particularly pair well with WWII. A large overarching mythos? Sure. Basically the Battle of the Bulge with rabbits? Not so much. I don’t want my bunnies acting like British colonels and their optimistic soldiers, and I certainly don’t want an evil bunny who is basically Hitler coming into the story. (I mean…who makes the enemy another bunny who is basically Hitler? ? What? Why??)
3)It just isn’t all that tragic (sorry guys).
I thought that basically the bunnies fight to survive all book and then all die at the end. Of the core group of rabbits, only ONE dies. There are many epic battles but just no true peril except for the warren that the rabbits leave at the beginning of the book. They are, true, pretty brutally killed by the farmer, but the problem is we never had a chance to get to know them, and we hear the story of the killing from someone who saw it. We don’t see it first-hand. It’s all very distanced and just not that tragic. This would obviously bother me less if I wasn’t expecting a tragedy from everyone saying how sad Watership Down is. But honestly to this day I don’t get why everyone is so sad. The rabbits get a new warren. They successfully find female bunnies and make more bunnies. One main character dies. That is it. I just. What. Why does this traumatize you people?
So, if you are a person who doesn’t mind WWII told through rabbits, quite long passages of description, and will welcome a tale lacking in great tragedies, you might have a better experience with the book than I did. Lord knows many people the world-over have loved it. But for those who come to it expecting to find a great tragedy or a fast-moving tale or warm and cuddly rabbits be warned that it’s not what you’ve heard about it.
3 out of 5 stars
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge
Vlad the Impaler, a Wallachian prince, inspired the story of Dracula with his bloodthirsty, iron-handed ruling. This, though, is the story of his long-time consort, Ecaterina Floari, mother one of his sons and a daughter. She loves him deeply but is haunted by his ruling style, as well as spirits in a helmet he brings into their home from one of his battles.
I picked this up during the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale years ago but it took a while for my mood to be just right to read it. It is a historic piece set in 1400s with splashes of the fantastic, and I tended to be in the mood for one or the other but not both. Finally in the heat of the summer, I was ready for a dark historic fantasy that would take me away to heavy gowns and ancient rulers. I was surprised by the level of historic research and detail in the book, as well as the tie-in to the Dracula story, making it a marriage of two genres.
This is a long book with a lot of rich setting detail. That doesn’t tend to be my style but it works with the feel the book is going for, and many readers will enjoy the pace at which the book moves. The dark fantasy elements take time to set up, but when they get into motion they really add to the story. The story strikes a nice balance of Ecaterina working with the culture of her time-period and being bothered by certain things Vlad does. For instance, it bothers her that he has mistresses, but she comes to accept it as is expected of her in the time-period. This trajectory acknowledges the feelings the modern reader may have about the situation but also lets the character be true to her time-period.
The author toes a finely-held line of showing Vlad’s cruelty but also keeping him human and not demonizing him. He was a cruel ruler but he wasn’t a monster. Similarly, although Ecaterina loves him she is still disturbed by his actions when ruling. This lends both characters depth they would not have if Ecaterina’s love was blind or Vlad was monstrous.
In spite of appreciating the historic fiction plot covering many decades, I did sometimes feel that the plot meandered a bit too much. I also felt that sometimes the book told too much instead of showing. Similarly, there were a few too many typos and grammatical errors for a book that is in its final version. It was not enough to make me stop reading but it was enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the story.
I appreciated how much of the book is from women’s perspectives. Not just Ecaterina’s but her mother’s, servants, and other consorts and even a spy are featured. The female cast is strong, and that would be easy for a less thoughtful writer to pass over in favor of showcasing the men history chose to record more thoroughly.
Overall, readers seeking to learn something about the 1400s in Romania will be pleased by how much they will learn reading this book. Those who come to it due to the Dracula connection will enjoy the fantastical elements toward the end in particular. Recommended to readers of historic fiction and fantasy who do not mind a long book with a slow burn.
4 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers!
I hope you enjoyed the variety of genres on the blog this month. I know I enjoyed reading them! I also just wanted to let you know not to expect a huge influx of product reviews. I at most will have one a month, and then only if I’ve won an item from another blog (I like to give them the links back as a thank you) or if I receive an item for review. Again, though, I will keep it to one a month at most.
The book of the month for September will be:
The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
First reviewed in September 2011
“Marlowe is someone whose presence it is always worth being in, regardless of whether his surroundings are perfect or not. I recommend this to noir fans, highly.”
How was my reading, reviewing, and writing this month?
August books read: 4 (1 historic urban fantasy, 2 ya dystopian scifi, 1 historic fantasy)
August reviews: 7
Other August posts: 1 product review
Most popular post in August written in August: Product Review: Squatty Potty
My favorite post of August: Book Review: Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman. I really enjoyed the discussion in the comments of this review. It was a difficult review to write, and I was really glad it stirred such a positive response!
Most popular post in August written at any time: Book Review: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)
August writing: I put my writing energy into the blog this month, as well as my reading. This was intentional, as I was very limited on time, and I wanted my blog in tip top shape before fall.
Coming up in September: I have a 2015 ARC with a giveaway to post, as well as reviews for the reads named above. For the first time in years, I won’t be participating in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge. Instead, I chose to participate in the Once Upon a Time fantasy challenge in the spring. But I encourage you all to consider participating in R.I.P. X!
Happy September and happy reading!