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Maybe I should introduce myself. My name’s Sifa (Elizabeth’s my middle name, but ‘Sifa Elizabeth Reads’ rolled off the tongue better than ‘Sifa Reads’!). In case my stubborn use of ‘u’ despite google’s squiggly red underlines hasn’t tipped you off, I’m British so there might be a few strange colloquialisms floating around. Sorry in advance!

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Book Review: WHITE RABBIT, RED WOLF by Tom Pollock

In the US, this book is titled THIS STORY IS A LIE

Genre: Thriller
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Series: standalone

Summary:

white rabbit red wolfPeter is a maths prodigy, who also suffers from severe panic attacks. The love and support of his twin, Bel, and mother helps him cope day to day, but living a fearful life is hard.

On the day his mother is about to receive an award for her scientific research she’s critically stabbed and Bel goes missing. Peter is thrust into a world of lies and espionage – his mother had been working for a secret government organisation.

What was she working on, and how does it affect Peter and Bel? If he’s going to survive t find out the truth, he’ll have to trust his mind and instincts, but where do the lies end and the truth begin?


Thoughts:

This book has left me with so many questions – in a very good way. The ending throws a series of sharp twists so fast that there’s no time to process exactly what they mean for the rest of the book, beyond a ‘oh my gosh, what?’ reaction. The last sentence doesn’t answer the biggest question, leaving it there is a frustratingly satisfying way.

Normally, non-linear books frustrate me with the constant cutting back and forth, but alternating chapters of past and present worked so well here. It really built up the impression of what it was like in Peter’s mind, thinking non-linearly. His panic attacks and the thought spirals were handled well, but also the coping mechanisms.

The characters as a whole are great – Ingrid is my favourite supporting character who I have so many questions about. Bel is the next. I’d have liked more page-time to get to know her, but that’s kind of the point. The mystery sucks you in (I read this in three hours rather than studying).

The middle section is a whirlwind. The twist that sets this section in motion doesn’t make any sense at first. Initially, I was very sceptical, and concerned that it was too unbelievable and that the story would go downhill from there. It doesn’t, and the twist is explained in the first (and only really) major explanation of his mother’s research and just what exactly is going on. I’m not sure exactly how believable the construct is, but it’s a YA thriller so my suspension-of-disbelief is a little higher than for, say, a Bond novel.

What you can’t see in the cover picture are the shiny butterflies. They only appear when you look close and tilt the book to catch the light. It’s such a clever detail, that doesn’t fully make sense until the ending.

Book Review: THE POPPY WAR by R. F. Kuang

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4/5 stars
Series: Yes - first in trilogy

Summary:

the poppy warRin is a war orphan raised by opium smugglers so she knows the life-destroying effect of the drug better than anyone. Desperate to escape a forced marriage, she tests into the prestigious military academy.

There, Rin learns that she has a talent for shamanism – calling on the gods to access unworldly power with the help of psychedelics like opium. Her abilities, unnatural and could more easily than not shatter her mind.

As the enemy across the sea stirs, ready to plunge Rin’s homeland into brutal war once more, Rin has to decide if she’s willing to pay the price of victory – her sanity.


Thoughts:

When I first heard about this book, my initial thought was that this would be a bit like the later Harry Potter books – school, magic, war. I’m glad someone told me it’s not before I read the book so I didn’t go in with the wrong expectations. The school takes up less than half the book, a stepping stone to the brutal war that unfolds.

There is no better word for the war than brutal. This is not a book for children or young teens. A chapter about two-thirds of the way through, where the aftermath of a city overrun by the enemy is described, made me feel physically sick.

Kuang does not shy away from the full atrocities of war, drawing heavily on contemporary Chinese history. The shape of the enemy country (Mughen) immediately informs you which country they stand in for. However, there blame is not heaped on one side, but the lengths both sides are willing to go to for victory are explored.

Rin is an interesting protagonist. I liked her much more at the start, when her goal was simply to stay in the military academy and prove herself. Then the war started and she made decisions I hated. I knew she’d never stick to the path I wanted her to take – it simply wasn’t in line with her character or her situation and experience.

Watching her take what I’d call a negative character arc was painfully brilliant. I was clinging to hope until the chapter I talked about above, from there, I was on the edge of my seat, wanting to know just how bad it would become.  Every step of the way, I was rooting for her to turn around and dreading the next horrible twist. It was uncomfortable in a very hooking way.

The reason I couldn’t understand why she was making such obviously bad choices was because I have no reference point to understand what she was going through. Despite this, the book is highly addictive reading. This is probably the only book I’ve read that I thought was great despite spending the final act disconnected from the main character and watching in horror as events unfold.

There is very little romance in this book – if it can even be called that. Rin has an infatuation with Altan, which rocks between disgust and attraction. They never talk about it and it’s mainly a ‘you’re the only person like me’ bond. It’s very subtle, maybe a little too subtle as I think her relationship (or whatever it was) was supposed to influence one of her decisions I couldn’t understand.

There is one chapter that drops out Rin’s POV, and that was probably my least favourite chapter as it spoilt a couple of twists.

Overall, this book is really good, but don’t read it if you don’t like violence. I’m certainly going to read the next book.

Book Review: THE WINNER’S CRIME by Marie Rutkoski

Genre: Fantast
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 3/5 stars
Series: Yes - book 2

SPOILER ALERT: contains SPOILERS for THE WINNER’S CURSE

Summary:

the-winners-crime.jpgKestrel agreed to marry the Emperor’s son in order to give the Herrani – give Arin – their freedom. But he can’t know, no one can over know. She and Arin fell in love just as

their actions made them enemies.

The Imperial Court is a web of intrigue and lies, and the Emperor is the spider at the centre of it all. Who can Kestrel trust when she can’t even trust herself? What will the price be when her true heart is discovered?


Thoughts:

In this book, there’s still romance but a lot more scheming. I liked the way the plans unfolded, but at times it took a back seat to the ‘I love him but I can’t because it will be the death of us’. That bugged me more than a little because it cheapened the excellent political schemes.

Kestrel feels very hollow for a large section of the book as she was fighting her feelings. Still, the schemes pulled me along and kept me reading. I particularly liked how they both went after the problem from two different ends. Arin’s solution was my favourite.

I want to know how it all resolves after the clinghanger ending.


Read my reviews of the other books in the series:

Book Review: SIGHTWITCH by Susan Dennard

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 3/5 stars
Series: Yes - book 2.5 in the Witchlands Series (novella)

Summary:

sightwitch.jpgRyber is a Sightwitch Sister waiting to be summoned by the goddess into the depth of the mountain to receive the sight. The summons never come for Ryber.

One day, Sisters already possessing the sight are summoned into the mountains, and don’t return. More and more are called until Ryber alone is left.

It’s up to her to save her Sisters, venturing into the mountain without the Sight to guide her. There, she meets a young airwitch captain with no knowledge of how he got there – or who he is. He is not the only secret the mountain holds, secrets that will alter the fate of the Witchlands forever.


Thoughts:

Even though this book is set before TRUTHWITCH, it should be read after WINDWITCH because it sort of spoils an event in TW and therefore WW.

This book has a very different feel and layout to the rest of the series. It’s written as diary entries and scraps of annotated textbooks. The pictures are gorgeous, and gives a sense of layout in a way that the other books don’t. I loved the maps in particular.

It also jumps about in time from Ryber’s present diary to excepts from her past diary and then thousands of years back in time to the paladins and the origins of magic. That was a little jarring at first, but it really fleshes out the history of the Witchlands and adds a depth to the challenges faced by the characters, and import to who they are. In particular, it really changes how I viewed Kullen and makes me very nervous about what Susan Dennard is going to do to him.

I would say it’s not a necessary read, but a fun novella to tide you over until BLOODWITCH.


Read my reviews of other books in the series:

Book Review: THE DEFIANT HEIR by Melissa Caruso

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult (but also YA)
Star Rating: 5/5
Series: yes - 2nd book in Swords and Fire

SPOILER WARNING: contains SPOILERS for THE TETHERED MAGE

Summary:

the defiant heirWar marshals at the Serene Empire’s borders but before the Witch Lords can declare war, they must hold a Conclave. Each Witch Lord has the right to vote, or abstain, but if they light the candles of war, violence and bloodshed will engulf the Serene Empire.

To prevent war, Amalia must secure an invite to the secretive conclave – an event no outsider has ever witnessed – and travel through hostile territory where her name is a beacon for danger. The secrets of the Witch Lords power, and the reason one in particular wants to kill her, are hers for the taking – if she can survive.  Can she trust her new allies, even knowing their playing games of their own?


Thoughts:

This is an amazing and honestly under appreciated series, full of magic, political intrigue and wonderful characters. TDH falls into that elusive category of sequels that outshine their predecessor.

The schemes are more complex, unfolding along with all these secrets about the world. Travelling into Vaskandar really fleshed out the world. It threw a murky light on the morality of the Witch Lords in general – except for Ruven. His creepy evil is even more pronounced. The magic system remains solidly defined, and never feels like a simple way out of a problem. If anything, magic complicates any problem.

Amalia is a compelling lead once more, and I loved how she’s really stepping into her own now. The events of TTM have given her a boost of confidence – and a lot more doubts thanks to the responsibilities laid on her. It was so much fun watching her slowly trust herself to make hard decisions. The decision at the climax was perfect, heartbreaking and handled so well but summing up the journey she’d come on.

Zaira shines with her customary bluntness and irreverence, but the friendship between then really blossoms. I love how much Zaira’s forcing Amalia to change, and the arc Zaira’s on – particualrly with regards to Terika. Marcello is adorable once more, and their relationship is one of the few ‘they really like each other but can’t be together’ that I like.

However, the absolute standout secondary character is newcomer Kathe. He was so sneaky, and I could never be sure what games he was up to. I wanted to know what cards were up his sleeve and desperately wanted to trust him, despite all my instincts roaring that there was something he was holding back.

I can’t wait to read the final book in the trilogy – THE UNBOUND EMPIRE – when it comes out in April 2019


Read my review of the other book in the series

Book Blitz – Except from the upcoming THE FEVER KING by Victoria Lee

TheFeverKingBlitzBanner.pngBit of an usual post, as thanks to Giselle of Xpresso Book Tours, I’m part of the Book Blitz allowing you to read an except of THE FEVER KING before it comes out March 1st 2019.

Summary:

TFK.jpgIn the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.


About the Author:

Victoria.jpgVictoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering that spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey. Lee writes early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her partner.
For exclusive updates, excerpts, and giveaways, visit her website, follow her on twitter, facebook and goodreads.

Win a copy:

US/Canada only, I’m afraid. Win one of 5 advanced copies of THE FEVER KING

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(If the above link isn’t working, try here)


Buy yourself a copy:

Once there are UK links, I will add them. Add to your Goodreads shelf while you wait!


Now, the bit you’re really interested in:

Excerpt: CHAPTER ONE

Outbreaks of magic started all kinds of ways. Maybe a tank coming in from the quarantined zone didn’t get hosed down properly. Maybe, like some people said, the refugees brought it up with them from Atlantia, the virus hiding out in someone’s blood or in a juicy peach pie.

But when magic infected the slums of west Durham, in the proud sovereign nation of Carolinia, it didn’t matter how it got there.

Everybody still died.

Noam was ringing up Mrs. Ellis’s snuff tins when he nearly toppled into the cash register.

He all but had to fight her off as she tried to force him down into a folding chair—swore he’d just got a touch dizzy, but he’d be fine, really. Go on home. She left eventually, and he went to stand in front of the window fan for a while, holding his shirt off his sweat-sticky back and trying not to pass out.

He spent the rest of his shift reading Bulgakov under the counter. He felt just fine.

That evening he locked the doors, pulled chicken wire over the windows, and took a new route to the Migrant Center. In this neighborhood, you had to if you didn’t want to get robbed. Once upon a time, or so Noam had heard, there’d been a textile mill here. The street would’ve been full of workers heading home, empty lunch pails in hand. Then the mill had gone down and apartments went up, and by the 1960s, Ninth Street had been repopulated by rich university students with their leather satchels and clove cigarettes. All that was before the city got bombed halfway to hell in the catastrophe, of course.

Noam’s ex used to call it “the Ninth Circle.” She meant it in Dante’s sense.

The catastrophe was last century, though. Now the university campus blocked the area in from the east, elegant stone walls keeping out the riffraff while Ninth and Broad crumbled under the weight of five-person refugee families crammed into one-room apartments, black markets buried in basements, laundry lines strung between windows like market lights. Sure, maybe you shouldn’t wander around the neighborhood at night draped in diamonds, but Noam liked it anyway.

“Someone’s famous,” Linda said when he reached the back offices of the Migrant Center, a sly smile curving her lips as she passed him the morning’s Herald.

Noam grinned back and looked.

Massive Cyberattack Disables Central News Bureau

Authorities link hack to Atlantian cyberterrorist affiliates.

“Haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. Say, have you got any scissors?”

“What for?”

“I’m gonna frame this.”

Linda snorted and swatted him on the arm. “Get on, you. Brennan has some task he wants finished this week, and I don’t think you, him, and your ego can all fit in that office.”

Which, fair: the office was pretty small. Tucked into the back corner of the building, with Brennan’s name and Director printed on the door in copperplate, it was pretty much an unofficial storage closet for all the files and paperwork Linda couldn’t cram anywhere else. Brennan’s desk was dwarfed by boxes stacked precariously around it, the man himself leaning close to his holoreader monitor with reading glasses perched on the end of a long nose and a pen behind one ear.

“Noam,” he said, glancing up when the door opened. “You made it.”

“Sorry I missed yesterday. I had to cover someone’s shift at the computer store after I got off the clock at Larry’s.”

Brennan waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t apologize. If you have to work, you have to work.”

“Still.”

It wasn’t guilt, per se, that coiled up in Noam’s stomach. Or maybe it was. That was his father’s photograph on the wall, after all, though his face was hidden by a bandanna tied over his nose and mouth. His father’s hands holding up that sign—Refugee rights are human rights. That was in June 2118, during the revolt over the new, more stringent citizenship tests. It had been the largest protest in Carolinian history.

“Linda said you had something for me to work on?” Noam said, tilting his head toward the holoreader.

“It’s just database management, I’m afraid, nothing very interesting.”

“I love databases.” Noam smiled, and Brennan smiled back. The expression lifted the exhaustion from Brennan’s face like a curtain rising from a window, sunlight streaming through.

Brennan oriented him to the task, then gave up his desk chair for Noam to get to work. He squeezed Noam’s shoulder before he left to help Linda with dinner, and a warm beat of familiarity took root in the pit of Noam’s stomach. Brennan might try to put up boundaries, clear delineations between professional life and how close Brennan had been to Noam’s family, but the cracks were always visible.

That was pretty much the only reason Noam didn’t tell him up front: database management was mind-numbingly boring. After you figured out how to script your way past the problem, it was just a matter of waiting around. He’d have once maybe emailed Carly or someone while the program executed. But they were all dead now, and between the Migrant Center and two jobs, Noam didn’t have time to meet new people. So he sat and watched text stream down the command console, letters blurring into numbers until the screen was wavering light.

A dull ache bored into Noam’s skull.

Maybe he was more tired than he thought, because he didn’t remember what happened between hitting “Execute” and Brennan shaking him awake. Noam lurched upright.

“You all right?” Brennan asked.

“What? Oh—fine, sorry. I must have . . . dozed off.” Noam seized the holoreader, tapping at the screen until it lit up again. The script was finished, anyway, and no run-time errors. Thankfully. “It’s all done.”

The thin line between Brennan’s brows deepened. “Are you feeling okay? You look . . .”

“Fine. I’m fine. Just tired.” Noam attempted a wan smile. He really hoped he wasn’t coming down with whatever it was Elliott from the computer store had. Only, he and Elliott had kissed in the back room on their lunch break yesterday, so yeah, he probably had exactly what Elliott had.

“Maybe you should go on home,” Brennan said, using that grip on Noam’s shoulder to ease him back from the computer. “I can help Linda finish up dinner.”

“I can—”

“It wasn’t a request.”

Noam made a face, and Brennan sighed.

“For me, Noam. Please. I’ll drop by later on if I have time.”

There was no arguing with Brennan when he got all protective. So Noam just exhaled and said, “Yeah, all right. Fine.”

Brennan’s hand lingered a beat longer than usual on Noam’s shoulder, squeezing slightly, then let go. When Noam looked over, Brennan’s expression gave nothing away as he said, “Tell your dad hi for me.”

Noam had arrived at the Migrant Center in the early evening. Now it was night, the deep-blue world illuminated by pale streetlight pooling on the sidewalk. It was unusually silent. When Noam turned onto Broad, he found out why: a checkpoint was stationed up at the intersection by the railroad tracks—floodlights and vans, police, even a few government witchings in military uniform.

Right. No one without a Carolinian passport would be on the street tonight, not with Immigration on the prowl.

Noam’s papers were tucked into his back pocket, but yeah, he didn’t need to deal with Chancellor Sacha’s anti-Atlantian bullshit right now. Not with this headache. He cut through the alley between the liquor store and the barbecue joint to skirt the police perimeter. It was a longer walk home from there, but Noam didn’t mind.

He liked the way tonight smelled, like smoked ribs and gasoline. Like oncoming snow.

When he got to his building, he managed to get the door open—the front latch was ancient enough it probably counted as precatastrophe. Fucking thing always got stuck, always, and Noam had written to the super fifty times, for what little difference that’d made. It was November, but the back of Noam’s neck was sweat-damp by the time he finally shouldered his way into the building and trudged into his apartment.

Once upon a time, this building was a bookstore. It’d long since been converted to tenements, all plywood walls and hung-up sheets for doors. The books were still there, though, yellowing and mildewed. They made him sneeze, but he read a new one every day all the same, curled up in a corner and out of the way of the other tenants. It was old and worn out, but it was home.

Noam touched the mezuzah on the doorframe as he went in, a habit he hadn’t picked up till after his mother died but felt right somehow. Not that being extra Jewish would bring her back to life.

Noam’s father had been moved from the TV to the window.

“What’s up, Dad?”

No answer. That was nothing new. Noam was pretty sure his father hadn’t said three words in a row since 2120. Still, Noam draped his arms over his father’s lax shoulders and kissed his cheek.

“I hope you want pasta for dinner,” Noam said, “’cause that’s what we’ve got.”

He left his father staring out at the empty street and busied himself with the saucepans. He set up the induction plate and hunched over it, steam wafting toward his face as the water simmered. God, it was unbearably hot, but he didn’t trust himself to let go of the counter edge, not with this dizziness rippling through his mind.

Should’ve had more than an apple for lunch. Should’ve gone to bed early last night, not stayed up reading Paradise Lost for the fiftieth time.

If his mother were here, she’d have dragged him off to bed and stuck him with a mug of aguapanela. It was some sugary tea remedy she’d learned from her Colombian mother-in-law that was supposed to cure everything. Noam had never learned how to make it.

Another regret to add to the list.

He dumped dried noodles into the pot. “There’s a checkpoint at the corner of Broad and Main,” he said, not expecting an answer.

None came. Jaime Álvaro didn’t care about anything anymore, not even Atlantia.

Noam turned down the heat on the stove. “Couldn’t tell if they made any arrests. Nobody’s out, so they might start knocking on doors later.”

He turned around. His father’s expression was the same slack-jawed one he’d been wearing when Noam first came in.

“Brennan asked about you,” Noam said. Surely that deserved a blink, at least.

Nothing.

“I killed him.”

Nothing then either.

Noam spun toward the saucepan again, grabbing a fork and stabbing at the noodles, which slipped through the prongs like so many slimy worms. His gut surged up into his throat, and Noam closed his eyes, free hand gripping the edge of the nearest bookshelf.

“You could at least pretend to give a shit,” he said to the blackness on the other side of his eyelids. The pounding in his head was back. “I’m sad about Mom, too, you know.”

His next breath shuddered all the way down into his chest—painful, like inhaling frost.

His father used to sing show tunes while he did the dinner dishes. Used to check the classifieds every morning for job offers even though having no papers meant he’d never get the good ones—he still never gave up. Never ever.

And Noam . . . Noam had to remember who his father really was, even if that version of him belonged to another life, ephemeral as footprints in the snow. Even if it felt like he’d lost both parents the day his mother died.

Noam switched off the heat, spooning the noodles into two bowls. No sauce, so he drizzled canola oil on top and carried one of the bowls over to his father. Noam edged his way between the chair and the window, crouching down in that narrow space. He spun noodles around the fork. “Open up.”

Usually, the prospect of food managed to garner a reaction. Not this time.

Nausea crawled up and down Noam’s breastbone. Or maybe it was regret. “I’m sorry,” he said after a beat and tried for a self-deprecating grin. “I was . . . it’s been a long day. I was a dick. I’m sorry, Dad.”

His father didn’t speak and didn’t open his mouth.

Noam set the pasta bowl on the floor and wrapped his other hand around his father’s bony wrist. “Please,” Noam said. “Just a few bites. I know it’s not Mom’s cooking, but . . . for me. Okay?”

Noam’s mother had made the most amazing food. Noam tried to live up to her standard, but he never could. He’d given up on cooking anything edible, on keeping a kosher kitchen, on speaking Spanish. On making his father smile.

Noam rubbed his thumb against his father’s forearm.

The skin there was paper thin and far, far too hot.

“Dad?”

His father’s eyes stared past Noam, unseeing and glassy, reflecting the lamplight outside. That wasn’t what made Noam lurch back and collide with window, its latch jabbing his spine.

A drop of blood welled in the corner of his father’s eye and—after a single quivering moment—cut down his cheek like a tear.

“Mrs. Brown!”

Noam shoved the chair back from the window, half stumbling across the narrow room to the curtain separating their space from their neighbor’s. He banged a fist against the nearest bookshelf.

“Mrs. Brown, are you in there? I—I’m coming in.”

He ripped the curtain to one side. Mrs. Brown was there but not in her usual spot. She was curled on the bed instead, shoulders jutting against the ratty blanket like bony wings.

Noam hesitated. Was she . . . no. Was she dead?

She moved, then, a pale hand creeping out to wave vaguely in the air.

“Mrs. Brown, I need help,” Noam said. “It’s my dad—he’s sick. He’s . . . he’s really sick, and I think . . .”

The hand dropped back onto the blanket and went still.

No. No, no—this wasn’t right. This wasn’t happening. He should go downstairs and get another neighbor. He should—no, he should check on his dad. He couldn’t. He . . .

He had to focus.

The blanket covering Mrs. Brown began to ripple like the surface of the sea. Outside, the hazard sirens wailed.

Magic.

Dragging his eyes away from Mrs. Brown, Noam twisted round to face his own apartment and vomited all over the floor.

He stood there for a second, staring woozily at the mess while sirens shrieked in his ears. He was sick. Magic festered in his veins, ready to consume him whole.

An outbreak.

His father, when Noam managed to weave his way back to his side, had fallen unconscious. His head lolled forward, and there was a bloody patch on his lap, yellow electricity flickering over the stain. The world undulated around them both in watery waves.

“It’s okay,” Noam said, knowing his dad couldn’t hear him. He sucked in a sharp breath and hitched his father’s body out of the chair. He shouldn’t—he couldn’t just leave him there like that. Noam had carried him around for three years, but today his father weighed twice as much as before. Noam’s arms quivered. His thoughts were white noise.

It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, a voice kept repeating in Noam’s head.

He dumped his father’s body on the bed, skinny limbs sprawling. Noam tried to nudge him into a more comfortable position, but even that took effort. But this . . . it was more than he’d done for his mother. He’d left her corpse swinging on that rope for hours before Brennan had shown up to take her down.

His father still breathed, for now.

How long did it take to die? God, Noam couldn’t remember.

On shaky legs, Noam made his way back to the chair by the window. He couldn’t manage much more. The television kept turning itself on and off again, images blazing across a field of static snow and vanishing just as quickly. Noam saw it out of the corners of his eyes even when he tried not to look, the same way he saw his father’s unconscious body. That would be Noam soon.

Magic crawled like ivy up the sides of the fire escape next door.

Noam imagined his mother waiting for him with a smile and open arms, the past three years just a blink against eternity.

His hands sparked with something silver-blue and bright. Bolts shot between his fingers and flickered up his arms. The effect would have been beautiful were it not so deadly. And yet . . .

A shiver ricocheted up his spine.

Noam held a storm in his hands, and he couldn’t feel a thing.


What did you think? I’ll be eagerly watching for news of UK publication. Are you excited to read more? Tell me in the comments.

Book Review: THE TETHERED MAGE by Melissa Caruso

Genre: Fantasy (political!)
Age Range: Adult (but easily could by YA as well)
Star Rating: 
Series: yes - book 1 of Swords and Fire

Summary:

the tethered mageAmalia isn’t the heir her mother wants – she’d much rather study her books and work on intricate artifice designs than attend council meetings. But one day, Amalia will have to take her place on the Council one day.

Searching for a book, Amalia is enlisted to stop fire warlock Zaira burning the city down, slipping a jess on Zaira’s wrist. Once on, the jess contains Zaira’s fire, and only Amalia can release it. Fire warlocks are rare, a terrifying weapon in the Raverran Empire’s arsenal – a weapon that might be used to burn a city if it won’t bend the knee. Someone wants war to explode across the empire, and the Doge is losing patience.


Thoughts:

I’ve always loved the political side of fantasy, but this is the book that really hooked me into scouring for other similar books. (Recommendations PLEASE!)

I love this book, particularly the twisty ins and outs of all the political scheming. It was impossible to predict and made me race through to find out exactly who was behind the schemes – and what their overall plan was. This is my second read, and it was so much fun to go ‘ah, s/he said/did that because [major end spoiler]!”

The Venetian-esque setting suits the story perfectly. Venice with its masks and waterways has always seeped intrigue to me – and splendour.

Amalia is an interesting character, who has to juggle all the expectations of her position with the new duty laid on her as an accidental Falconer. I love that her strength is her mind, not her fighting skills (which Zaira constantly points out are terrible).

The first time I read this book, I thought she lacked flaws (though she was a solid, believable character). However, on this read, I saw them far more – they’re just subtle flaws which make her more realistic. She’s afraid of failing/disappointing her mother but is also afraid of the expectations her mother has.

The blurb of the copy I read had Zaira mentioned first, when she isn’t the MC, but a supporting cast member. The story is told from Amalia’s perspective, following her and the intrigues around her. Zaira is very important, but not first-person-on-the-blurb important. She’s fiery (with the BEST curses) and watching her speak her mind, very bluntly, to all the rich nobles is amazing.

Marcello is so shipable, sweet and learning to step back from overprotective-soldier mode to trusting that Amalia has things under control.

This book series has capable women front and centre, where physical strength is a minor mark on the metric. It was wonderful to have a fantasy world where women aren’t doubted, but accepted easily into the inner circles of power. La Contessa is terrifying (in a good way) and I was always on edge to know exactly what she’d do. Istrella is every geek’s inner self – her enthusiasm reaching off the page to infect me. I want to learn artifice now! I’m so glad I found this book.


Read my reviews of other books in the series: