[The Last Magician] Lisa Maxwell

I love the ouroboros element on the cover.

Find the Magician. And stop him before he destroys our future.*

The Lost Magician starts with a connection, though they don’t know it yet. Esta is a thief who uses her old magic to manipulate time, slowing it down and even jumping to the past and present. Dolph is the leader of a gang of Mageus who use their powers to protect those who cannot. And Harte is trying to blend in as a Sundren magician, hiding his Mageus powers in plain sight in a time when having old magic marked you as a target for the Order of Ortus Aurea in their climb to power. Their stories are connected by the Ars Arcana–a book that was thought to be lost. A book that is said to hold the secret to magic itself. A book that they all want.

Lisa Maxwell has created a story full of fascinating characters, a vivid setting, and an interesting plot. At 512 pages, it may seem a little long, but it kept me fascinated the entire time. As the story progressed and the twists began to show themselves, I seemed to read it faster, hurtling toward an end that made me angry–because it was over and I wanted to read more! While I initially thought The Last Magician was a stand-alone novel, it turns out that it’s the first part of a duology. I’m so glad I get to spend more time with the people and places of Maxwell’s Mageus society, even though I’m not happy about having to wait. I will just have to practice my patience.

The bulk of The Last Magician is set in the world of 1900s Manhattan, in the city before it became soaring skyscrapers and cacophonous noise at all hours of the day and night. The Manhattan of The Last Magician is full of the clip-clop of horse drawn carriages through cobblestone streets, the sickly-sweet smell of opium nests, and the thrill of living in a city that looks toward the future. The city has elements of hope and fear as the Sundren and Mageus live together, sometimes unknowingly. For the Mageus, having the old magic means that you have an affinity: power that allows you to manipulate time, know someone’s thoughts, or kill someone without touching. Naturally, the Sundren fear this, because people often fear what they don’t understand. The old magic is palpable in the air, with a warmth and a hum that is so different than Esta’s Manhattan.

In present-day Manhattan, the old magic–the magic that Esta and the rest of the Professor’s Mageus crew have–is nearly dead. The one thing that connects the two times, other than the magic flowing through their veins, is the Brink. The Brink, to those without magic, is nothing. To those with magic, it is terrifying. If they get too close to the Brink, it seems to pull at the magic in them, desiring to take it from them. To get close is to feel like you are losing part of yourself. To pass through means the loss of your mind and certain death. The Mageus have been trapped on the island ever since the Brink was created by the Order. And in 1902, more and more Mageus flock to Manhattan and the promise that they will not be persecuted there like they have been in their old countries, only to find that they are trapped there by the Brink.

A view of the Brooklyn Bridge, where the Brink is located.

Maybe it was because the Order of Ortus Aurea and all they’d done so long ago seemed more like myth than reality. The stories had been so monstrous, but in actuality, the Order itself had always been little more than a shadow haunting the periphery of Esta’s vision, the boogyman in her unopened closet.* 

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Upcoming summer releases that I want to read, and you should too! Part one

Summer is the time for reading: iced tea, cold sandwiches, the warmth of the sun on my back…and a book in my hand. There’s so many books coming out in the summer that I thought I’d narrow it down* by sharing some of my most anticipated releases.

A note: some of the books mentioned here are ones that I’ve reviewed but sometimes my anticipation was greater than my enjoyment.

It’s the first week of June, which means that these could soon be in your (my) hands! Excitement!

ROAR: June 6th  I was lusting after an ARC of this one so bad, but I never was approved. *insert sad emoji here* So basically, the rulers of the land have the ability to harness storms. They reach into it and steal its essence in the form of a stone. BUT the protagonist doesn’t have this power, despite being from one of the ruling families. But she may be able to figure out a way to steal storm power. It sounds so dangerous, and so exciting! And the cover is beautiful.

TASH HEARTS TOLSTOY: June 6th Tash loves Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. She loves it so much that she created a (suddenly famous) web series that’s a modern day retelling. It sounds really cute and it’s right up my alley with the whole loving a book / books so much that you do something creative with said book. ALSO, she’s an asexual character which I hope is done really well because it’s the first I’ve seen in YA.

HERE LIES DANIEL TATE: June 6th This one sounds SO GOOD. When a boy who went missing six years ago suddenly reappears with no memories of that time, his overjoyed family reassure him that the memories will come back. Only one problem: HE ISN’T DANIEL TATE. He’s a CON ARTIST. DUNDUNDUUUUN. But seriously, this one sounds like a mystery and thriller all rolled up in one which I love reading.

THE SUFFERING TREE: June 13th  A mysterious inheritance, a town that doesn’t like outsiders, and a family with secrets–and a curse–they would do anything to keep hidden. I requested an ARC because I thought it sounded interesting, but it was a case of the summary saying one thing but the book being more about another. I’m including it because you can find my review here and decide for yourself. Some readers may enjoy it.

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[Now I Rise: The Conqueror’s Saga II] Kiersten White

This review contains some minor spoilers for the first novel in The Conqueror’s Saga. This review is also long because I loved this book so much.

One of my minor complaints about And I Darken (the first in the series) was that it got a little long purely because there’s a lot of unfamiliar names, places, and events that I had to first get through in order to get to the story. That was not the case with the second novel. Now I Rise benefits from the world building that was done in the first novel and further expands on locations that had smaller parts in the first novel. It balances character growth with action, creating a thrilling story that had me questioning characters’ motives. It is a a great continuation of a series that is set in a historical context that is real, yet also genderbends a historical figure. It made me more excited about a series that I already loved.

Lada and Radu burst back onto the scene shortly after where And I Darken left them. Radu remains in the Ottoman Empire, and Lada is trying to regain what she believes is rightfully hers: Wallachia. They’ve taken different paths that are still connected to each other, but Radu uses gilded words and Lada uses cold steel. Mehmed remains, but Now I Rise quickly becomes about Lada and Radu. Mehmed takes on a role in the background but occasionally comes back to interact with our main characters. And even when he’s not physically there, both Radu and Lada often think about him. Sometimes he still affects how they act, but gradually that changes.

Shortly into the novel Radu is sent to Constantinople to act as a spy for Mehmed. Although he has quite a bit of worries about going there, he follows Mehmed’s orders because he loves him. In the first novel, Radu learns how to use his skills to further Mehmed and through close proximity, himself. He is very charismatic, and it was interesting to read how he grew into it in And I Darken. This novel finds Radu questioning much of what he believes and who he believes in. Radu is semi-stranded in Constantinople for months. At first, he eagerly awaits a war that he knows is coming, playing his role as defector to the Christians as he secretly plots to bring Constantinople down. The longer he stays in Constantinople, however,  the more he questions the motives of Mehmed and what he’s doing.

He had imagined Constantinople, had wanted it for Mehmed. It had been simple and straightforward. But now he knew the true cost of things, the murky horrors of the distance between wanting something and getting it.*

Radu is becoming a part of Constantinople and being accepted by people there, but he knows that he ultimately will betray them. It begins to wear on him. Reading this expanded his character in a new direction that was so raw I was heartbroken for him. While this series does tend to focus more on Lada as the female Vlad, I feel that Radu has the greater emotional response in Now I Rise.

Radu had seen what it took to be great, and he never again wanted to be part of something bigger than himself.*

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[The Bear and the Nightingale] Katherine Arden

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I absolutely loved The Bear and the Nightingale. Katherine Arden has crafted a beautiful tale of wildness, beauty, and fantasy. It’s the story of Vasilisa–called Vasya by those who love her–and her family’s trials and triumphs in a world that doesn’t always believe in the mystical. In the wilds of Russia, far from the civilized world of Moscow, Vasilisa and her siblings grow up believing in Morozko–the not-always-nice Frost–and other household and wilderness beings such as the domovoi and the rusalka. It chronicles the life of Vasilisa as she grows and discovers how to reconcile her old beliefs with new ones that make their way to her household.

The Bear and the Nightingale opens with a Russian folktale, that of Morozko and the maiden. It sets up the story quite well, as there are parallels to this folktale throughout The Bear and the Nightingale. While I would say that is the main folktale that is threaded throughout the book, Arden has included more of the mythology and stories of the region to create a rich cultural setting in addition to a rich physical setting. And it wasn’t mentioned just to have “culture.” The beliefs of the North–which is, according to those who live in the cities, obsolete and incorrect–are consistently in the narrative. As Vasilisa grows, Arden introduces more of the mythology as she learns about it through exploring her world. It was a natural way of storytelling and of growing the world contained in the book.

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Morozko and the Maiden

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[A Darkly Beating Heart] Lindsay Smith

This is a book I wrote off as one I’d have to read after it was published. I was pleasantly surprised when I was given an ARC by the publisher and NetGalley, so this became an unexpected October read. Perfect for Halloween, because the book deals with a lot of darkness. A Darkly Beating Heart is going to be published next week, so now is the perfect time for a review.

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I love this cover.

Reiko didn’t go to Japan to enjoy herself. Packing herself away to a country where she doesn’t speak the language, Reiko allows the rage she has inside about the events preceding her senior year to fester. Consumed by thoughts of revenge, she manages day by day only because she is planning how to best get back at everyone. Comfortable with her routine, when her summer job requires her to go to an Edo-period town in Gifu prefecture, Reiko initially believes that leaving Tokyo is the worst thing that could have happened. It throws all of her revenge plans out the window.

Finding herself in a town with a curfew and deeply-rooted traditions, Reiko struggles with maintaining her revenge plot and coping with the anger that fills her head. Then she discovers a long-forgotten makeshift temple. It pulls Reiko back into the past into a time period rife with dangers. The connection that she feels with Miyu is immediate, her anger even more explosive than Reiko’s. But Miyu is keeping things from Reiko. And if Reiko doesn’t discover them in time, it’s not just Miyu’s time that will be affected.

This is a book that is odd to review. Lindsay Smith writes beautifully; the scenes she creates are so vivid that it’s very easy to see them in my mind’s eye. The setting just jumps off the page. Of course, it helps that I live in Japan. This book isn’t one that is “set in Japan,” where the setting isn’t realized. This setting is, and I loved it. This would have made me really nostalgic for Japan had I already moved back.

The world of modern day Tokyo and that of the Edo period were so clearly written that I had a very easy time picturing them. I’m such a fan of the Edo period of Japan that I was thrilled to read a story set in it. Or half set in it. Reiko is connected to both, and the differences and similarities in the town she finds herself in–and the times–is done really well. I liked how they both kept getting closer together and the connections that were being discovered. Despite the speed of the plot, the setting was built slowly and when it made sense for the readers to be given the information.

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Break time! A review for [A Murder in Time] by Julie McElwain

While I primarily read and review young adult novels, I do occasionally take a break and read adult fiction novels. I’ve decided that I’ll sometimes post about them here, especially if they’re recently released like this one. A Murder in Time was released this past April.

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I absolutely adore this cover. So simplistic yet beautiful.

Kendra Donovan is a woman who has focused on her career at the FBI–rising through the ranks as one of the best profilers, she’s on track to being one of the most successful agents. When a mission goes all kinds of wrong, Kendra switches that focus to justice and goes after the man who orchestrated the events of that botched mission. Her private mission is cut short when she is threatened by an assassin herself. Her flight leads her into the secret passageways of the castle, and when she comes out, she finds herself in the same place–but not the same time.

The strengths of this novel lie in the chapters where Kendra is in the past. They’re more vivid and interesting as she navigates living–and keeping the fact that she’s a time-traveler a secret–in a world where women were considered the softer sex. For the gentry of the Regency era, a woman like Kendra is something they’re not used to. She’s brash, speaks her opinion, and doesn’t stick to the conventions of the time. At first it causes a little bit of tension in the house, but as she continues to prove herself, they gradually accept–to them–her eccentricities.

Eventually Kendra believes that her slip into the past was not random; when a young girl is found murdered on the estate, she suddenly finds that she has a reason to be in 1815. Kendra has to go back to the basics of solving a crime because she’s far ahead of the time when DNA and fingerprinting has become the norm. She realizes that she needs to depend on the people around her to help her solve the crime–and that even though they may not have the technology, they certainly have the skills.

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[And I Darken] Kiersten White

27153280Part of a new series called The Conqueror’s SagaAnd I Darken is the tale of a princess who will not follow the standards of her time. Lada Dragwyla has fought her entire life to be seen by her father. She has to prove that she’s more valuable at his side than married off like other girls of noble families. When she and her brother Radu are abandoned by their father in the Ottoman Courts as a means to keep him in check, Lada vows to never weaken again. Weakness could get them killed in this place where their lineage is just another piece to move around. As they grow up in the Ottoman Courts, both Lada and Radu hone their respective skills, picking up friends and enemies along the way. To survive at all costs, they have to make decisions that could come back to haunt them later. But they know to never look back.

This is a novel that asks “What if Vlad the Impaler was a girl?”, an intriguing premise that made me request a copy.  And I Darken is set in Wallachia, now a part of Romania, and the Ottoman Empire. It’s a setting that isn’t often used for young adult novels, and it is done distinctively enough that I saw it very clearly while reading. The setting was a character in its own way. It played a part during different stages of Lada and Radu’s life, and I suspect that it will become increasingly important in the later novels. Lada is Wallachia; it’s in her blood, constantly calling to her. For Radu, the Ottoman Empire is more of a match.

For the most part,  And I Darken was a successful novel for me. It had a protagonist who was intentionally not lovable. Lada wasn’t a character who waited around for other people to tell her what to do. She rebelled when people tried to order her to do things. A lot of protagonists in young adult novels are promised to be strong characters but turn out to be weak. This is not the case for Lada. Some of the things she did made me dislike her. However, I had to admire her for doing them. Her reasoning for her actions are presented to the reader and they make complete sense. I knew and understood why she was doing them. Lada was not a character who is promised to be one thing and then becomes another. She was not one of the protagonists who pretend to be strong but inwardly worry about if the male character likes her or not. Lada was brutal and quite unlike most female protagonists I’ve read.

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