Blog Tour: Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1) by Janella Angeles

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I’m excited to present my stop on the Where Dreams Descend blog tour! 

Where Dreams Descend_Cover

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headlinerof the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

My Thoughts

Where Dreams Descend sets some lofty goals for itself- comparing it to The Night Circus and Phantom of the Opera. I’m pleased to say it meets those expectations fairly well. I loved the atmosphere and Angeles’s writing makes for an almost cinematic experience. It was easy to picture the old world glitz and glamor of glittering chandeliers and extravagant halls, as well as the more whimsical, playful scenes of the Conquering Circus, the dramatics of the performers’ clothing. The setting easily sweeps the reader away.

But I have to say I think the best parts of this book are the female empowerment. Kallia is a refreshing main character. She consistently defies expectations, relishing in it even, making room for herself where the men would rather exclude her. And while there is usually a man nearby to catch her when she swoons, she is by no means relying on them to sweep in and save the day. Several other female characters were strong and independent as well- Ira the seamstress holding her own at the card tables, and Canary, who was a very minor character but was a delight to read anyway, and the rest of the circus performers are a ragtag group of rough-around-the-edges women that I really adored.

This book is heavy on the romance and the mystery and ends on a huge cliffhanger. Hopefully the next book won’t keep readers waiting long as there is still a lot to uncover!

Where Dreams Descend released on August 25, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon. Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Have you read Where Dreams Descend or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments below!

About the Author

JANELLA ANGELES is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age—which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. Where Dreams Descend is her first book.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Title: Phoenix Extravagant  Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Author:  Yoon Ha Lee

Publisher: Rebellion / Solaris

Genre: Fantasy

Length: 416 Pages

Release Date: June 9, 2020

Blurb: For generations the empire has spread across the world, nigh-unstoppable in their advance. Its power depends on its automata, magically animated and programmed with sigils and patterns painted in mystical pigments.

A symbol-painter – themselves a colonial subject – is frustrated in their work when their supply of Phoenix Extravagant dries up, and sets out to find the source. What they’ll discover is darker than anything they could have imagined…

Why I’m Excited for it:  Despite the difficult learning curve in Ninefox Gambit, I absolutely fell in love with the unique and complex world building and the flawed and yet weirdly lovable characters.  Though I am also eager to return to The Machineries of the Empire, I’m also excited to see what Lee does with a new world and new characters.

It also sounds like another fantastic blend of science fiction and fantasy with magic powered robot (dragons?).  Either way- I absolutely can’t wait for this!

Which new releases are you looking forward to?

Book Review: Ninefox Gambit (Machineries of the Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee The Machineries of Empire

Rating:  ★★★★★

I bought this one awhile ago and kept putting it off because I was so intimidated by it.  After the confusion the was Gamechanger, and the debacle that was Dead Astronauts, the density of The Mirror Empire, I thought, what the heck, might as well throw another mind bender on the pile.

I don’t know if this one just felt simpler in comparison to those, or if it’s just not as difficult as reviews depicted it to be (it’s probably the first one).  Just keep this in mind: formations and equations = magic.  That’s it.  It’s difficult to picture sometimes, and I think part of the difficulty is in accepting something so very hard science as magic.  If you can accept that, you’ll be fine.

What I loved about this, in addition to the crazy new world and complex societal structure, was the characters.  Cheris is a young captain for the Kel (like the army/infantry division) of the Hexarchate (an Empire with six distinct divisions or schools of thought).  She finds herself promoted to Brevet General after a particularly difficult mission.  She’s very smart, with an eye for strategy, and an ability to compute complex mathematical equations under extreme stress.

But the true star here is Jedao.  I won’t spoil how he factors into it all (just remember- magic).  He is an 800 years dead general, that everyone agrees is incredibly brilliant, not to mention dangerous, and once suffered some sort of mental breakdown which resulted in him killing over a million of his own soldiers.  No one knows why he did it.  I should mention – Jedao is Shuos.  Another school of thought within the Hexarchate, that consists of assassins and infiltrators, people trained in mind games and trickery.

Jedao is playing the long game.   You never know where he stands.  You never know if he’s leading his team into disaster or victory.  You don’t know why he’s doing it.  You want to believe him – he seems to have noble intentions.  But you won’t.

I also loved the way this story was told.  The main character is Cheris, but Lee writes in little vignettes from soldiers in the heat of the action.  I thought it was a brilliant way to keep the pace and the suspense up since a lot of Cheris’s story is removed from the action as the acting General, overseeing things from the ship.

There are a lot of little details to remember regarding the different factions and terminology.  There isn’t a glossary included that I saw, but Lee made it easy to absorb by sliding little details in at appropriate moments, tying it into character histories or plot points.  He doesn’t beat you over the head with it, but slowly builds fuller and fuller pictures of each faction.  I still haven’t seen much of the Rahal, Vidona, or Andan, but I’m expecting them to come into play in later books.

All in all – a creative, unique story with complex world building and some wonderful characters.  If, like me, you’ve been putting it off because it felt intimidating, just go for it.  I had a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to reading the next two installments.

 

Book Review: The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1) by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Rating:  ★★★★

This book took awhile for me to get into.  It’s very dense, and there is a lot of information and characters to sift through.  However, once I got into the flow of it, from about the halfway mark on, I very much enjoyed this.

The plot is rather difficult to explain without spoilers, so I’ll keep it simple.  We follow different perspectives of people living across a single land, in different positions of power and different kingdoms, as they are slowly invaded by a unified opposing force.

The world building here is very complex, if that’s your sort of thing.  There’s three distinct cultures, possibly four if we count the invading force.  They have their own hierarchies, their own customs and rituals, and their own ways of thinking.  One culture is a matriarchy, another a patriarchy, another governed by priests or priestesses. In one culture men are kept predominantly as slaves, and in another you may not touch anyone, even for a handshake, without first asking consent.  There’s a lot of nuance and it can be difficult to keep track of at first.

The characters too are very complex.  A lot of them fall into those shades of gray areas where they’re neither inherently good or bad, not really likable or unlikable.  I felt differently about some characters than my buddies did at any given moment.

Reviews on this one seem to be split, with some loving the way Hurley has subverted common fantasy tropes, and others frustrated with the story.  And I actually do understand the frustration with the story.  It’s very slow for most of the book, mostly character driven.  This first book feels very distinctly like the prelude to the rest of the story.  It doesn’t necessarily feel complete unless you’re willing to continue.  There are a lot of loose threads to clean up in future books.

I do think there are some technical issues with it.  What stands out most for me is the number of POV characters.  I think there were a lot of viewpoints included that didn’t need to be included because Hurley was trying to show us some other side to the story.  It felt like she was going for omniscient and just didn’t quite make it.  Aside from that- we are not given any clues as to which POV we are seeing most of the time.  It resulted in me doubling back several times after reading ahead to figure out who was speaking.

It won me over in the end though, and I’m excited to continue on to book two in December!

Links: GoodReads & Amazon

 

Book Review: Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo

INTO_THE_CROOKED_PLACE6

Rating:  ★★★1/2

I was very excited about Into the Crooked Place because the blurb was giving me strong Six of Crows vibes.  I guess they call this gangster fantasy these days?  While parts of it does feel like SoC, overall the book missed the mark a little for me.

The world building was pretty good.  Christo imbued the setting with seemingly sufficient grit.  There’s history.  There’s buskers peddling magic.  The magic itself I struggled with a lot.  It often felt like there weren’t any strict rules, some of it felt “hand wavey” if you will, which I occasionally struggled with.  Wesley “summons” charms from his skin?  There wasn’t a lot of explanation about where the charms come from or how they get their specific powers.

Another thing I struggled with, is it’s explained initially there is no new magic, so anything the buskers sell is somehow recycled or a trick.  But where was it recycled from?  Is there that much illicit magic laying around that 50-100 buskers in several different cities can afford to sell many of these charms and potions every night?  I felt like I was just supposed to take all this at face value.

The characters were all great and yet I often felt like I wasn’t connecting.  There was funny banter and wit and sass galore, a f/f relationship/romance that I actually did enjoy.  But often a chapter would devolve into the character’s inner monologue about their significant/desired other and that often took me out of the story a bit.  I think the story would have been sufficient with just Karam’s and Saxony’s romance, because that one felt relatively effortless, while Wesley and Tavia’s romance/flirtations, often felt shoehorned in.

The plot was okay.  It was high action, but a lot of the action could have been skipped without any detriment to the story.  There were several fist fights that felt like we were seeing them just to show how tough Wesley or Karam were.  There were a lot of training scenes.  It’s just not my favorite way to read action in a book.  I cared about the fights against the bad guys, not so much the fights and the training amongst themselves.

The other thing I want to note- I finished this on Saturday, less than a week ago.  And I am struggling to remember lots of the details.  It wasn’t an unenjoyable experience, but it simply wasn’t that memorable.

Into the Crooked Place released on October 8, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending a copy in exchange for a review.

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January releases tomorrow!!

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow

Rating:  ★★★★1/2

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this. I was a little bit skeptical because I don’t always have the best track record with YA.  I do think the title is a little misleading.  I originally thought the blurb was misleading too, but looking back I see it’s pretty accurate.  However, if you are going into this expecting a portal fantasy and a girl who travels to a bunch of different fantasy lands… that’s not this book.  It doesn’t need to be that book.  It’s great as it is.

The beginning is fairly slow and requires a lot of patience.  As I said above, if you’re like me, and expecting January to find a door and begin adventuring.. it doesn’t happen for a very long time.  Initially, this is a lot of backstory, building the character of our protagonist and those around her, setting up little dominoes so Harrow can knock them all down brilliantly in the end.

However, once we finally reach the part where we start reading The Ten Thousand Doors (maybe starting at the second chapter) I was sucked into the story and could not put it down. In the middle of the book, this secondary story became compelling much more quickly than the first story, and at times I was frustrated with the direction January’s story was taking.  By the time we reach the end of The Ten Thousand Doors (the book within the book) I was completely hooked by January and Bad, and cared a lot about her as a fictional character.

You’ll likely see the twist coming from a mile away (I did) but that somehow didn’t make that twist any less perfect. It felt like it was where the story needed to go. Beyond that, there were plenty more surprises in store to keep the reader guessing and turning the page.

This is still a grand story, cleverly told.   Each little point in time, each character, has a neat little pin placed in it, no one and nothing forgotten. This book gave me something I feel like I’ve been missing all year, and that is closure. I don’t have any questions, I know what happened to all the characters. The ending is perfect.

The writing in this story beautiful, lyrical, magical. The tone can be very grim at times. January’s race (which is not white, at a time when persons of color in the US and elsewhere were widely unwelcome, to put it mildly) plays an important part in the story, and she is reminded of it constantly. Aside from her race, there are characters in the story who use and abuse her (mentally, verbally, and physically on occasion). To them, she is not a person, she is very much a thing.  It’s heartbreaking and at times I just wanted to scream at the page.  Thank goodness for Jane.

Even though the reader is only given glimpses of other worlds, worlds with leopard people and worlds filled with monsters, I loved how the magic was incorporated into the story. I think this particular magic will appeal to anyone who reads.  Adding to that, there are little trinkets from different worlds incorporated throughout the book, all with their own unique abilities and their parts to play.  It’s this level of detail in the book, the way items are mentioned and forgotten and pulled back in, purposes revealed that I loved so much.

I highly recommend this book to readers of any age.  Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for review.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January releases tomorrow, September 10! So add it to your GoodReads TBR or head on over to Amazon to check it out!

Book Review: Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Rating:  ★★★

I have to say- I was a little disappointed with this.  I’ll be up front and say that the premise: Pokemon meets Airbender, is in no way my thing- so your mileage may vary.  In my defense I didn’t see it marketed that way until well after I started reading it, but the comparison is legitimate enough, and the Pokemon part was a lot of fun.

However I couldn’t shake the feeling that the motivations for these characters and their countries didn’t always make sense.  When the book starts we are with Dimangan and Tala, observing them as children running errands in the market.  While there, they see the prince of the Tomodanese people jetting through the streets.  The Tomodanese people occupy Sanbuna by force, and the prince’s presence in the street starts a riot.

The problem is: the Tomodanese view the Sanbuna and their shades (think Pokemon) as slavers and slaves respectively.  The Tomodanese don’t eat meat and they don’t believe in utilizing animals for human benefit.  Basically, they are PETA.

And of course, the Sanbuna don’t view it that way.  The pact between them and their shades is an agreement, with give and take, not slavery.  (They do eat meat though…)  Cultural views on animals aside, obviously the Sanbuna are angry at the attempted colonization and occupation of their country.

Anyway- now that we’ve got that straightened out, what I don’t understand is what the other two cultures we are introduced to have anything to do with it.  There are also the Shang, and the Jeongsonese.  All of which seem to be against the Tomodanese, and then to top it off, the Shang, Sanbuna, and Tomodanese all look down upon the Jeongsonese, despite the fact that they don’t seem to have done anything.

Sound complex?  It is.  And I’m okay with complex.. but without knowing the motivations of the other two countries involved I wasn’t sure why the author felt the need to include them.  It seemed needlessly complex and without knowing the reasoning behind it I couldn’t help but feel like it was added to give the world building an illusion of depth.

Does that sort of thing happen in real life?  Yes.  Of course.  Is it right?  Of course not.  But I couldn’t help feeling throughout like Lee and Xiulan’s story really would have been better dedicated to a different plot and a different book, and being given the time it needed to establish how these cultures all fit together.

The characters aren’t terrible, but occasionally felt like cartoons and caricatures.  Xiulan runs around in an all white suit, calls herself the “White Rat,” wears a fedora and smokes a pipe in an endless to homage to her childhood hero, a detective from a book, Bai Junjie.  Lee is a morally grey thief character, rogue archetype.  She’s always imagining how it would feel to pick so-and-so’s pocket, or slip a lock or infiltrate a palace.  I guess my issue is they came off as very one note.

And to top it off… this book is long.  Way too long.  I think if it had been trimmed down to 300 pages and strictly followed Tala and Jimuro’s story, we’d have had a tightly paced plot with world building that didn’t feel flimsy and a truly unique take on fantasy.  Lee and Xiulan’s parts in the story could easily have been removed without effecting the overall plot and end result.

But I don’t have all negative things to say about it.  There is LGBT+ representation.  The f/f romance actually felt much stronger and sweeter than the m/f romance.  At least one of the main characters is bisexual, and there is a transgender side character.  And it was all done without any of them being shunned or feeling ashamed.

And despite me not necessarily loving Pokemon or Airbender, I have to say, imagining the battle field running rampant with magical, mutated-animal creatures was lots of fun.  Overall not a bad book that I think other readers will find more joy in than I did.

Steel Crow Saga releases on September 24th, and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.  Thank you to Del Rey and NetGalley for providing an eARC for review.

 

Book Review: The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova

The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova

Rating:  ★★★

The Alchemists of Loom has lots of action, fun characters and a fun setting, but I also had a lot of issues with the writing.  The setting is mostly steampunk, but we also see glimpses of a colorful sky city.

The plot is that a Dragon (seems like a human hybrid type creature, not an actual dragon), Cvareh, needs to meet with the Alchemists of Loom to deliver a message.  Arianna, chimera and the White Wraith of Loom, stumbles into his path and agrees to bring him to the alchemists if she receives a boon in return.  Backstory: The dragons are foreign invaders who have colonized Loom.  Naturally, Arianna hates dragons, and dragons dislike Fenthri (the other race of Loom).

I didn’t notice many errors in the text, but there were definitely some.  The book could also have used a developmental editor for continuity and consistency errors.  There were things that felt unexplained and unclear.

Additionally, the book does a fine job of showing character qualities.  However, the author also tells the reader, far too often, about the characters.  For many chapters, it felt like we were rehashing again and again, that Arianna is the best at what she does, she’s invincible, she’s stubborn, and on and on and on.  I was just so tired of these redundant, paragraph long entries.  And to make matters worse, once one character was done commenting on Arianna, they would then make comments on the other characters.  It was extremely frustrating.

The world was intricately detailed.  The different races had a multitude of differentiating qualities.  The cultures seemed substantially different.  Each had their own societal structure.  This is not easy to do and I was pretty impressed by the level of detail the author included without feeling like I suffered too many info dumps.  I haven’t read much in steam punk, but this novel easily surpasses any other I’ve read in the number of steampunk elements included, trains, airships, clockwork messenger birds… it’s all there and I easily envisioned a London-esque city running entirely on steam and clockwork.  This was easily my favorite aspect of the book.

There’s no obvious romantic plot line here, which could be a plus for some readers.  The book definitely seems like it will head that way at some point.  I was a little confused at the nature of Arianna’s relationship with her student, Florence, which I really didn’t like. It’s mentioned multiple times that the two share a bed, but there’s no other indication of romance between the characters.  Now maybe Fenthri sleep like puppies, all in a pile, but it was an odd detail to drop in without further explanation.  (If anyone is interested, Arianna appears to be bisexual pansexual, references to past f/f relationships are made.)

Finally, the ending felt like a big cliff hanger, but not in a chomping-at-the-bit-to-get-the-next-book sort of way.  It was more that the book simply felt unfinished.  I mean- if we look strictly at the plot, the arc is completed, but is traversing a map really enough to make a book?  I’m simply not convinced.

I may or may not continue with the series depending on whether I could get it from the library or pick it up on another sale, but I’ll have to be in the right mood for it.  I’m not necessarily eager to return to this book knowing how frustrated I was with the writing in places.

The Alchemists of Loom can be found on GoodReads or purchased on Amazon.

Have you read Alchemists of Loom?  What did you think?

 

Book Review: An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass

Do you know I’ve read more fantasy this year than any other genre and I only have like three books I’d recommend from the 20 I’ve read?  My fantasy reading this year has kind of bummed me out.  Anyway, I am happy to have another book to add to that roster!

An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass

Rating:  ★★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): In Cantagna, being a sorcerer is a death sentence.

Romy escapes her hardscrabble upbringing when she becomes courtesan to the Shadow Lord, a revolutionary noble who brings laws and comforts once reserved for the wealthy to all. When her brother, Neri, is caught thieving with the aid of magic, Romy’s aristocratic influence is the only thing that can spare his life—and the price is her banishment.

Now back in Beggar’s Ring, she has just her wits and her own long-hidden sorcery to help her and Neri survive. But when a plot to overthrow the Shadow Lord and incite civil war is uncovered, only Romy knows how to stop it. To do so, she’ll have to rely on newfound allies—a swordmaster, a silversmith, and her own thieving brother. And they’ll need the very thing that could condemn them all: magic.

This sucked me in right away- not so much because of the plot, but I loved the characters and the world building/setting.  The setting is inspired by renaissance Italy.  Although we could detract points for it being a European setting, I do think Italy is one of the rarer European settings, and I also felt like Glass did an excellent job of it making it unique (this is a godless empire for starters, which was kind of refreshing).  Cantagna has seen it’s share of tyrant rulers and strife, so a decent portion of the population lives in poverty, keeping the setting dark and gritty.

Adding to that, Romy is a courtesan, and it was actually a relatively positive portrayal of a sex worker, so that was refreshing too.  I will say though: the Shadow Lord technically owns Romy, which we all know is wrong, but there is no violence, no rape, etc.  She is grateful and happy to be with him (her life before him sucked).  So it definitely delves into some muddy water there.  I’d compare the relationship to that of the one between Belle and Beast, just something I want to note because I can understand why this would be problematic for some readers.  I don’t want to say this is a small part of the book, because their relationship is integral to the plot, but it also manages to not be the focus.  As an aside, there are no sex scenes and very little romance.

Romy won me over right from the beginning as a character.  There’s a scene where the wife of the Shadow Lord is gloating about her being cast out, and Romy instead of responding in a catty or jealous way, offers to help his wife however she can should she ever need it.  In all their dealings with each other she always acted as the “bigger” person so to speak, and it was just nice that it never defaulted into the trope of two girls fighting over a man.

The main characters in this book are all sorcerers and I loved the variety of abilities they possessed among them (they only seem to have one ability each).  I also really loved the diverging arcs between Romy and her brother Neri.  Romy helps her brother grow a lot as a character, while at the same time, mourning the loss of her Shadow Lord and her old life, we see her enter a sort of downward spiral.  Again- it was a refreshing arc for a character to have.

It wasn’t quite a five star read for me for a couple of very minor reasons.  The first is that this is a slow burn sort of book where we don’t get to the heart of the plot until well after the halfway point.  Many of the things prior to that are all set up, and as a result the plot felt a little thin (the characters and setting were so great, I just didn’t care that much in this case).

My second issue is with a stylistic choice that was made, that makes perfect sense for the book and I can see why the author did it that way, but is one that I found really jarring and kind of took me out of the moment when I encountered it.  I can’t really say more than that without spoilers, but when it happened, it felt like I was reading an entirely different character.  It only happens in a couple of chapters so again, no big deal.

I am absolutely chomping at the bit to get my hands on the next book and highly recommend this to any fantasy reader.  An Illusion of Thieves can be found on GoodReads or purchased on Amazon.

Book Review: The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

I actually finished this last week, and I’ve dreaded writing the review.  I’m having a hard time reconciling the beauty of Gratton’s writing with the fact that this book is painfully bloated and over descriptive.  It also happens to be a retelling of one of my favorite Shakespeare stories: King Lear.

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

Rating:  ★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

This is a pretty exact retelling of King Lear in terms of the events that happen.  Where it is not exact is: A) the inclusion of magic and B) the lack of humor.  King Lear is really a rather dark play, that’s broken up by bits of humor from the Fool and Lear’s madness.

And that was one of the places where this book failed, hard.  It’s all dark, and not even remotely funny.  Combine that darkness with some very overly descriptive passages of setting and endless prattling about the magic of Lear, and the book really needed that injection of humor to pick up the momentum.

The magic felt a little pointless.  Some of the individual characters harness that magic to their own benefit by talking to trees and drinking root water, but no one ever really articulates what will happen if the magic dies.  Will the island sink into the sea?  Will the vegetation and wildlife die off thereby making the island uninhabitable?

Without knowing that- there weren’t any stakes and little suspense.  I wasn’t given a reason to care whether the magic on Innis Lear dies.  So what?  So Elia can’t talk to the trees anymore?  So the witch of Hartfare can’t foretell the future?  So those that use magic have to live a more mundane life?  To talk about the magic in the setting that much and never once give the reader a reason why it mattered was a big source of frustration for me.

I enjoyed some of the characters.  Elia didn’t make me feel any type of way.  She felt like a very typical, fresh out of the box heroine, embodying many virtuous qualities without having a lot of depth.  She’s the character we spend the most time with, and it was frustrating because she was the least interesting of the three sisters for me.

Gaela was my favorite- but even she has her issues.  I enjoyed her because she’s a female warrior, and refuses to let herself be silenced by the men in her life, be they her husband or her father.  My issue was that I’m not sure if she was supposed to be a transgender character.  She often genders herself as male, but then none of the other characters gender her that way, and she seemed uncommitted to being male when speaking to others.

I think it was great to see gender portrayed as fluid, but I also wish this had been explored a little more or made clearer.  It came off as wishy washy and because of that the message seemed to be that Gaela wanted to be a man because she wanted to be strong and powerful, and not because she really felt like a man (if that was even what she wanted).  I wish it had been recognized somewhere that kings aren’t inherently stronger than queens simply because they’re male.

Aside from the above problems, the structure was a huge issue for me.  We’d sometimes get some forward momentum in the story, and it would be immediately broken by a needless flashback to something that happened years ago that was already easily inferred from the previous text.  They didn’t enhance the story at all and detracted a lot from the pacing.  A good example is Regan and Connley.  Three quarters of the way in we get a flashback to the time when they first met.  By that time in the book, the reader already knows these characters are crazy in love with each other.  That flashback did nothing to move the story forward and didn’t help the reader understand their relationship in any more meaningful a way than we already did.  I was constantly frustrated and put off from reading whenever I’d read the header: TEN YEARS AGO.

Compounding the problem, there were way too many viewpoints.  I think everyone except the Fool and Brona gets their own POV chapter at some point.  It made the book feel like it lacked focus and also created a lot of distance between the reader and the characters, making it hard to connect with any one of them.  I think the story would have been infinitely stronger if we’d only seen the story told from the sisters POVs and maybe Ban’s.  At one point, about a hundred pages in I came to a POV chapter from Aefa.  I put the book down, and every time I went to pick it up again, opened it and saw her name I immediately put it back down again.  She didn’t have anything to add that couldn’t have been told from Elia’s perspective.

There were a few moments of brilliance.  The later scenes between Gaela and her husband for example, where she asserts her dominance over him, were wonderful and a definite highlight of the book for me.  If this had been a retelling solely from Gaela’s point of view with her remade as a sort of antihero rather than the villain I think I would have enjoyed it much more.

Finally, the writing really is beautiful, definitely worthy of Shakespeare.  I just wish those words had been spent more on the storytelling than the descriptions of scenery and magic, which became immensely redundant a third of the way in.

Gratton is releasing another book next year, Lady Hotspur, that I was very excited for. However, given my experience with this I’m undecided if I’ll pick it up.  I just don’t have the patience for books told this way lately.

The Queens of Innis Lear can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.