Review: The Glass Spare

Wilhelmina Heidle, the fourth child and only daughter of the king of the world’s wealthiest nation, has grown up in the shadows. Kept hidden from the world in order to serve as a spy for her father—whose obsession with building his empire is causing a war—Wil wants nothing more than to explore the world beyond her kingdom, if only her father would give her the chance.

Until one night Wil is attacked, and she discovers a dangerous secret. Her touch turns people into gemstone. At first, Wil is horrified—but as she tests its limits, she’s drawn more and more to the strange and volatile ability. When it leads to tragedy, though, Wil is forced to face the destructive power within her and finally leave her home to seek the truth and a cure.

But finding the key to her redemption puts her in the path of a cursed prince who has his own ideas for what to do with Wil’s power.

With a world on the brink of war and a power of ultimate destruction, can Wil find a way to help the kingdom that’s turned its back on her, or will she betray her past and her family forever?

Fun fact: when I found this book, it was in the business section. Obviously, it was in the wrong section but it definitely caught my attention. So I read the back.

Me reading the back of a book is actually a pretty dangerous thing. It leads to me buying said book and adding yet another to my shelf. I just can’t help it sometimes. A girl who was basically raised to act as a spy who can suddenly turn people to gemstones through touch? I had to have it.

The king, Wil’s father, is a tyrant dead set on maintaining the old ways while the world around them embraces technology. He is also rather paranoid and power-hungry, determined to take over the world through war. He pressures the youngest and smartest of his sons to create weapons of unfathomable destruction. The oldest son is in training to be king. And the middle child is angry and jealous. 

When it comes to his daughter, she is nothing but a tool for him. A way for him to accomplish things that he doesn’t want people to know he is doing. We mostly see her going on missions to find specialized ingredients to help her youngest brother with his experiments, but there are hints of countless other missions. 

The relationship between Wil and Gertie (the youngest son) was something I very much enjoyed reading. It was so pure and so strong that it made me want to have a brother like that. Well, I have a guy friend who is like a brother, but my point still stands. I have always enjoyed stories that play with various family relationships, whether it is biological or adopted. This story plays around with these dynamics in a way that I very much enjoy.

I also really enjoyed the magic system. The world has an air of mysticism to it that I found to be a refreshing step away from the magic laden worlds I am used to. Those born with magic are few and they mostly deal in curses or blessings. Well, I assume there are blessings. We haven’t seen much of that yet as far as I can tell, but the two do tend to go hand in hand. Either way, these curses can only be given by incredibly powerful beings and cannot be broken unless by the one who gave it. 

Two of the characters we meet are cursed. We know where one came from, but not the other. This just adds to the feeling that there is more going on in this world that we have seen so far. There are mysteries yet to be solved, worlds left to be explored, and a war looming on the horizon. So many things that could go horribly wrong. 

The Glass Spare ends with the promise of more to come in The Cursed Sea. This is a fantasy duet that is worth reading. 

Review: American Royals

Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.

Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.

This is the story of the American royals.

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.

It was the title that grabbed my attention. American Royals. A look at what the world would look like had George Washington said yes to the crown. I couldn’t help it. I had to know where Katherine McGee was going with this. She has had a few other titles that caught my attention but this was the one I could not ignore.

Normally I get books out of the science fiction and fantasy section, but this is straight YA. And I loved every second of it.

It took longer than I expected to get my brain to accept the words ‘America’ and ‘monarchy’ being in the same sentence (probably because I never in my life expected to read them in the same sentence). Thankfully, it got a little less weird in time.

If you want to see what America would look like today if it had a monarchy, this book is pretty spot on. It doesn’t go as political as I expected it too, though there are some mentions of how most of the world’s countries have their own monarchy and nobility. I giggled a little when one of the characters had a snarky thought about how chaotic having a democracy would be, with all of the people fighting to have their party’s beliefs upheld. 

Most of the politics in the story involve the family maintaining their public appearances and keeping the goodwill of the people. They are essentially all celebrities, but celebrities who were born and raised in the lifestyle. They work hard to make sure they are living in such a way that they will not lose the trust of their people. It is actually really interesting to watch.

That isn’t to say there isn’t drama, though. Because there is quite a bit of drama going on behind the scenes. One person is fighting to earn their place among the royals. One is struggling to find their place in a world where they feel like they are the spare, the backup plan. One is suffocating under the weight of the burden placed upon them by their birth (thanks to a law changed years before then). And yet another is trying to figure who they are and how to stand for themself. 

It’s the characters that really won me over, with their intertwining plot lines and complicated history. Normally I am not that into celebrity drama, but the way this was all portrayed was so captivating. It felt so totally and completely human while also appealing to the part of me that secretly enjoys that kind of emotional/political drama. I had to keep reading to see who was going to win the day and in the end, I was left absolutely floored.

This was an impulse purchase that left me with no regrets (aside from the fact I now have to wait for the sequel to see what happens next). It would make a great vacation read, or if you are looking for something a little different to spice things up. I honestly cannot wait to see what happens next. Katharine McGee did a fantastic job of setting up different plot threads tied to different characters who are all complex in their own right. It leaves you not sure who to root for, while also hoping that everyone gets their own different happy ending. Then the story ends with a jaw-dropper that throws all of those endings into jeopardy.

Needless to say, I am counting down days until we get a sequel.

Review: Dorothy Must Die

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a road of yellow brick—but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I’ve been trained to fight. And I have a mission:

Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart. 

Steal the Scarecrow’s brain. 

Take the Lion’s courage.

 And—Dorothy must die.

Moment of truth: I have been working on a Wizard of Oz retelling for a few months now. It will likely end up being a five-book crime series, so lots of room for references. I promise to share more details later, but that is not what this blog post is about. 

This book is about another Wizard of Oz retelling. Or, more accurately, a tale of what happened when Dorothy came back to stay. It follows Amy Gumm, a girl from a broken home with an addict for a mother. Her life is definitely not pretty and she would do almost anything to escape. 

Then a tornado comes through and takes her to a very different Oz than the ones in the stories. The land is dying, the people are trapped under the thumb of a dictator, and the Wicked have banded together to return balance to Oz.

I did not expect this book to revolve so much around addiction and neglect, but I can appreciate the way it was handled. My parents divorced when I was little, and my dad was very much an addict when I was going over to his house every other weekend. I experience some of that loneliness that Amy was dealing with on a regular basis. Thankfully, I had my mom and my grandmother. She has no one. 

The world-building is rather bleak, which makes sense in context. Oz, an inherently magical place, is being drained of its magic and so is being drained of life. There are a few places left that retain their magic, mostly because they are harder to access, and that is where the Wicked hide. 

The real beauty of this story is found in the characters. The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked is led by some dynamic, powerful women, all with their own stories. They all have secrets to hide and are not afraid to resort to turning victims into weapons when necessary. War is a messy thing, especially when it is between Wicked and Good.

Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion have all changed drastically as well. Their descriptions feel so artificial that it is uncanny. These are not the same people as you met in the original story. They have grown drastically, not only in their power but in their corruption.

This story blurs the lines between good and evil in a way that I really enjoyed. Things aren’t as straightforward as you might think. The stakes are high. Actions have consequences. Both sides are not afraid to do things that would normally be considered unthinkable. 

There is also a lot more going on behind the scenes than anyone person realizes. Even the most powerful beings do not have the full picture. They only have guesses, assumptions as to what the underlying causes might be. It leaves for a lot of questions, especially as Amy takes up a new quest in the last few pages. It is the same quest mentioned on the back cover.

To remove the tin woodman’s heart, steal the scarecrow’s brain, and take the lion’s courage.

Then, and only then, she can kill Dorothy and save Oz. 

Or so they think.

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic, from #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antarimagicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in ArnesRed Londonand officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

I’ve been following V.E. Schwab on Twitter for some time now. Her life revolves around writing and being an author, and I enjoy the peeks she gives us into that world. I also, if you haven’t guessed by now, really enjoy fantasy. 

Picking this book up, I was first intrigued by the idea of multiple Londons. I have seen multiple worlds done before (this isn’t quite a multiverse) but something about this particular iteration caught my attention. There is a finite number of worlds, each with its own level of magic. 

One world has none. One world is teaming with it. One world is tearing itself apart to find more of it. And a fourth that fell to a fate that no one wants to talk about, but you know it had to do with magic. 

I also don’t think I have ever had a book start off talking about the main character’s interesting jacket. Yet the whole thing is the perfect introduction for the main character, Kell. You quickly realize how and why he is different as he takes the reader on a literal journey through the three Londons. A great example of showing versus telling. It also does a great job of establishing the main cast of characters.

I found everything about these worlds intriguing and enthralling. When we finally got the story of the fall of Black London, I was in awe. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to read that story as well. A lot of time in fantasy worlds, authors don’t take the time to explain how their magic system works. This means in a lot of fantasy worlds, the magic system doesn’t really make sense. I am looking at you, J.K. Rowling.

Before you start yelling at me I would like to state, for the record, that I basically grew up on Harry Potter. I will always love the series. That said, my point is still valid. 

I will save my magic system rant for another day. Because it is going to be a doozy. 

I really like this one though. It feels natural and makes sense in all of the worlds. It is what is called ‘soft magic’, where magic has an organic feel to it. There are some spells and some rules to the magic, but most of it flows naturally. 

Everything about these worlds and these characters has me hungry for more. I want to see more of Lila and Kell, to learn more about their mysterious past and see their friendship grow. They are so engaging and dynamic. They are complex. They evolve. 

I had a coworker refer to this series as a poor man’s Mistborn. Honestly, I don’t see it. This story is great in its own right. I mean, there is a reason that V.E. Schwab is a best selling author. She knows how to weave a fantastic tale in a world unlike any I have encountered before. 

I am curious to see what happens in the future between the three Londons. I want to see more of Kell and Delilah as they find themselves and their place in this wonderfully strange world. I’m also curious to learn more about Black London. I feel like there is much more to the story than meets the eye. 

I guess we will have to wait and see in A Gathering of Shadows.

Review: The Witcher (pt 1)

For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.

Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as The Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world - for good, or for evil.

As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt's responsibility to protect them all - and the Witcher never accepts defeat.

Following The Last Wish, Blood of Elves is the new novel starring Geralt of Rivia, the inspiration for the critically acclaimed videogame The Witcher.

I was first introduced to the world of The Witcher through the videogames. I spent some time on YouTube familiarizing myself with the events of the first two games because upon starting up the third I had no idea who anyone was or why I should care. Thankfully I was able to rectify that without spoiling anything.

That was when I first started falling in love with the world. The richness coupled with the hint of death and decay creeping around the edges. The interplay between an old world of magic and a new world of technology.

Needless to say, I was very excited to hear there was going to be a Netflix show. So excited that I decided to have the first book read before season one drops, so I can be caught up. 

I started with The Last Wish, a series of short stories that come before the first book. It took me a minute to figure out it was a frame story that jumped back and forth between then and now.  It was a great way to introduce the characters and how they all fill together.

It wasn’t until I started Blood of Elves that I really got into the story though. Andrzej Sapowski’s writing style varies differently between when he is writing long-form fiction and when he is writing short stories. I personally very much preferred the long-form style. I found it much easier to engage with and was quickly absorbed into the story.

There were a few interactions between Triss and Geralt that I was not particularly pleased with, but overall I do like their dynamic. A woman wantonly throwing herself at a man is never going to be something I like. Thankfully, these moments were few and the rest of the time Triss was incredibly competent and fiercely independent. So I can look past the few lines that made me cringe.

The Last Wish gives you a good taste of what Geralt’s life is like before the events of Blood of Elves. It establishes the world and the characters in a way that manages to not give away any of the twists to come. I know there is another collection of short stories, The Sword of Destiny, which came out recently. I found this out after I had started Blood of Elves, so I decided I would come back to that one.

There are so many moving pieces and so many questions littered throughout the story that I could not put it down. There are references to a prophecy that is connected to one of the main characters, but no one ever fully explains what it is. War lurks around the edges of the map, stirring up trouble within the kingdom and causing revolts. Alliances shift as each side is concerned solely with its own, eyeing to see which allies will most help them in the coming conflict. Agents seemingly tied with no cause flit in and out, leaving you to wonder whose side they are on.

There were many times where I had a hard time putting the book down. I became so invested in the conflict and in the characters that I had to know what happened next. The ending filled me with an intense curiosity and then, with a single sentence, left me with a vague sense of unease. 

Once I clear out more of my reading backlog I am definitely going to continue with this series. Until then, I am going to wait with bated breath for the release of season 1 on Netflix. 

I have been following Lauren Hissrich, the lead writer, since not long after I first heard about the show. Every bit of news she drops leaves me more excited than before. 

The Rating

The Last Wish – It may feel a little slow getting into this one, but once you get used to the style and pacing it is much more enjoyable. If you plan to get into the series, this is definitely the best place to start. The frame narrative helps provide context for the impact past events have had on Geralt, as well as how things have changed since then.

Blood of Elves – If you love fantasy, you will love this book. It will hook you from the very first page and it will not let you go until the very end. There is this sense of decay as the old world and all of its magic is being usurped by the new world of technology. Yet there is something ancient and powerful that is refusing to let go, creeping along the edges of the story to be addressed later. A solid start to a promising series.