River of Ashes
A howl came from the direction of The Abbey.
Andrea leaned away from him, listening. “What’s that?”
Beau nuzzled her neck. “Wild dogs. They live on The Abbey grounds. There’s a couple of legends about them.”
“What legends?” She stepped out of his embrace.
He watched her hips beneath her coat. “They say the dogs stay around The Abbey waiting for the lady in white. She was a gamekeeper for the seminary school and a lover of one of the monks. She died on the grounds, betrayed by the man she loved. Her dogs were kept to manage the varmint population. The wild dogs are said to be their offspring.”
Beau slipped the coat from her shoulders. “The gamekeeper was found hanging from a tree in a white hooded cloak. It was all kept very hush-hush at the time. After the woman’s death, the dogs roamed the grounds and lived off the land. They’re said to only appear when death is near.”
Beau looked at Andrea to see if she was sufficiently unnerved.
“That’s just creepy.” She glanced at his hands as he tugged at her jeans. “But a guy who brings girls to these abandoned cells is into creepy.”
He liked the image the cells portrayed. It was his laboratory, like he’d read about in Frankenstein, where he could experiment and create his own monsters.
Sirens and Leviathans
Amphitrite stepped off the gangplank and steadied herself against the sway of the ship as waves met the hull. She looked around the deck, where her ladies were well into the process of commandeering the large vessel.
She took a deep, fortifying breath of crisp ocean air. The salty breeze revitalized her in a way nothing else could. They were still far from shore, a fact belied by the lack of birds calling out to her. She’d have enough time to handle her business here and move on before the human ships found her.
The pirates, having been rounded up by her crew, were on their knees with their wrists tied behind their backs.
Good. This was going to be easier than she thought.
The captives’ dark eyes watched them with a combination of anger and shock. Another perk of a ship full of female pirates. Men never knew what to do when faced with her crew. Did they fight the lady as they did a man? That moment of hesitation was all she and her girls needed.
Her first mate moved to stand beside her and, without prompting, gave her the lay of the land.
“A dozen men here. Twenty men, including the captain, are being held below decks.” Her first mate paused and ground her teeth. “And thirty-two in cargo.”
Amphitrite almost choked.
“Thirty-two?” She tried not to let her voice rise, but she was having difficulty. Thirty-two women sat in the ship’s hull, terrified, not knowing that their future meant being sold into a slave trade where the price was innocence and flesh.
“Yes,” she confirmed. “They are in a horrendous state. This lot,” she motioned to the men bound in front of them, “is lucky I didn’t separate their heads from their necks when I found them.”
The cadence of her first mate’s normally calm voice broke, telling Amphitrite all she needed to know about how to handle this.
“Take me to the captain,” she ordered. “Hold the men here. We will let our friends of the sea handle them soon enough and I don’t want to miss that.” She let a devious smirk cross her face as the men tied in ropes visibly paled at her reference to ‘friends of the sea’.
Oh, they knew. All the better.
Her first mate led her across the deck. As she turned toward the ship’s living quarters, she heard the tell-tale grunts of her crew taking their anger out on the newly captured men. She did not begrudge them, not if what she was walking into was anything close to what she imagined.
They stopped in front of an ornately carved door, the rich wood mismatched from the rest of the battered ship, and she knew immediately a pretentious bastard waited behind it. Her hand twitched toward her cutlass, but perhaps it was better to let him think her weaker, less able to handle herself in his presence.
Amphitrite was good at misleading people. That was what made her the best spymaster on the high seas. She was unremarkable when compared to her sisters; Persephone and Hera. She could fall back into the shadows, and she knew how to stay there. Even her sisters were ignorant of the network she’d amassed over the years and her role at its head. When her spies went to Hera with information, Amphitrite often wondered if she even questioned who’d accumulated those jewels of intelligence for her. How would that thunderous sister of hers react if she knew the truth? That she spent her days as a pirate, hunting for a treasure much greater than gold: secrets.
She stepped through the ridiculous door, her first mate following behind her, and stood before a fat, bearded man. He was strapped to his seat in the center of the small chamber. A sneer pinched his bloated face when she entered.
Amphitrite knew what he saw. A petite woman in scandalous trousers and a leather corset tied over her undersleeves. A dark blue coat large enough to suit a man twice her size. A tricorn hat with a bold feather. A gleaming cutlass. Wild red hair barely constrained in a wind-swept braid.
A pirate queen.
The bane of his existence.
“Sea witch,” he growled, straining against his bonds.
Amphitrite shrugged. “Sea witch. Water witch. It matters not what you call me.”
The captain glowered.
“You searched him?” she questioned her first mate.
“Sadly, yes. The disgusting things I do for you…” she muttered.
Amphitrite gave her a wink and assessed the briny captain coolly.
Oh, how the tables have turned.
“And whom may I presume you are?” She smiled, but it was all teeth.
He spat on the floor near her feet. Neither she nor her first mate flinched.
“Ah!” Amphitrite held up a hand. “My apologies! I haven’t properly introduced you to my first mate! A thorough search without a name. Where are my manners?”
The woman stepped forward and Amphitrite watched the man’s weariness grow at the sight of the honey eyes and skin, the dark hair braided with colorful beads from around the world. She could have been a siren had she not been born mortal.
“Captain,” she said with flourish. “This is Medusa.”
The man jerked against the rope holding him to the chair, his eyes bulging with fear.
Amphitrite smirked at her friend. “Your reputation precedes you!”
Medusa’s beautiful face held no smile. “As it should.” Her flinty gaze was trained on the captain, who trembled violently.
“Honestly, I did not receive that same reaction.” Amphitrite pouted.
“You hide the nightmares in you. I let mine free.”
Publisher: DPW / Disney Press
Publication date: May 3rd, 2022
Genres: Young Adult Fantasy
What if you had one year to save everything you loved?
ONE PRINCESS. Merida of DunBroch needs a change. She loves her family—jovial King Fergus, proper Queen Elinor, the mischievous triplets— and her peaceful kingdom. But she’s frustrated by its sluggishness; each day, the same. Merida longs for adventure, purpose, challenge – maybe even, someday, love.
TWO GODS. But the fiery Princess never expects her disquiet to manifest by way of Feradach, an uncanny supernatural being tasked with rooting out rot and stagnation, who appears in DunBroch on Christmas Eve with the intent to demolish the realm – and everyone within. Only the intervention of the Cailleach, an ancient entity of creation, gives Merida a shred of hope: convince her family to change within the year – or suffer the eternal consequences.
THREE VOYAGES. Under the watchful eyes of the gods, Merida leads a series of epic journeys to kingdoms near and far in an attempt to inspire revolution within her family. But in her efforts to save those she loves from ruin, has Merida lost sight of the Clan member grown most stagnant of all – herself?
FOUR SEASONS TO SAVE DUNBROCH – OR SEE IT DESTROYED, FOREVER.
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'Bravely' by Maggie Stiefvater might just be the sleeper hit of the year for me. I certainly loved the original Disney film and its fiery princess, but as this was my first full Steifvater novel.. I wasn't prepared for the depths I was about to slip into.
It isn't that the story starts off slowly per se, so much as.. it seems innocuous enough at the beginning. The time spent setting up focuses on the connection to the original tale as well as a sort of.. update as to where things stand now. We're given ample time to reacquaint ourselves with the family and their way of life.. to get used to the mostly content.. if somewhat lackadaisical existence they've meted out for themselves. Our princess however, is restless as ever.
When the threat makes itself apparent, it comes softly.. on hushed steps muffled by the gauzy cocoon of winter.. and that's really the elegance of the story. Throughout, as motives and histories are revealed, each revelation is delivered with precision.. yet it doesn't boom. It simply falls delicately into place like the snow.
As the story progresses, the pace definitely increases as well. Time is running out for Merida to accomplish her task and the beat of the writing is an undercurrent driving us along like the pounding of a heart struggling not to fail.
Ultimately, I became deeply invested in the characters Stiefvater brought to life. Not just Merida and her family, who are at once both flawed and wonderfully wholesome.. but also in Feradach and the machinations of the Cailleach.
I love that the author doesn't shy away from tragedy. This story is equal parts hope and dread.. misfortune and blessing. The balance constantly trying to right itself, which is actually perfect for the tale it has to tell.
Book of Night
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: May 3rd, 2022
Genres: Adult Fantasy
Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make.
She's spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie Hall.
Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but getting out isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that Charlie's shadowless, and possibly soulless, boyfriend has been hiding things from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends into a maelstrom of murder and lies.
Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgangers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world—all trying to steal a secret that will give them vast and terrible power.
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Though I've fallen for Folk of the Air's Cardan through fan art and bought a handful of sets of the books, I've yet to read them. So, when author Holly Black announced her debut into adult fiction with 'Book of Night,' I was really excited to experience her writing for the first time.. uninfluenced by any perceptions or spoilers I may have acquired along the way.
All I can say is.. if this is a good representation of her creative work, I definitely need to go back and read everything else. Consider me a fan.
I genuinely like Charlie, the main character which the story follows. She has a very natural texture to her that's uncommon, especially in modern fantasy. She's a girl with intentions to be sure, some good.. some bad.. but she owns them all. If she has any regrets, they're relatively few. She has a self-awareness that avoids the step into self-pity. Though she admittedly has faults, she seems satisfied for the most part with what she's chosen to use them for.
This story.. not unlike real life.. certainly has a darkness to it that leaves no one completely untouched. While that darkness simply tromps through some characters lives briefly, others are veritably mired in it.
While I hesitate to call this story a retelling, as it hasn't been billed as such.. it's at the very least.. heavily inspired by a folktale referenced throughout. But what wonderful things Black has done with those inspirations!
The magical system is unique, speaking both to the vanity and power obsessed traits within humanity. She creates what could be a very realistic direction followed by those with magic, those who want it, and those in-between.. who might profit from acquiring it for others.
As for the rest of the cast of characters, they are well-rounded and interesting. Even those mentioned only for a moment, feel solid, like beyond the scene they have full lives and stories of their own. I love that, as so often a glimpse of a character ends up feeling like nothing more than the few lines representing them.
Among the cast, Vince is certainly my favorite besides Charlie, but Balthazar, Odette, Posey, Adam.. good or bad.. they're all richly fleshed-out.
Black managed to surprise me more than once, a feat which is not easy. Each surprise was a pleasure, expertly crafted, rather than the random nonsensical twists thrown haphazardly throughout a story that I've become accustomed to from modern writers. This author is not just a writer, she's one of those rare storytellers.. that has you hanging on every word. And between you and I.. the ending left me with the proverbial urge to.. 'kick puppies'.. as they say. Or something of that nature.
Nonetheless, the ending was perfect. Do I hope there will be a follow-up book? Yes and no. Either way, I'm glad I pre-ordered a few copies of this book and I couldn't recommend it more highly.
Dark Hunter Universe
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: April 12th, 2022
Genres: Romance, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
For centuries, Ariel has fought the forces of evil. Her task was to protect the souls of innocent mortals when they die. Captured by a powerful sorceress, she is transformed into a human who has no memory of her real life or calling.
And is plunked into the middle of the Norman invasion of England.
Cursed the moment he was born with a "demonic deformity," Valteri wants nothing of this earth except to depart it and will do his duty to his king until then. When a strange noblewoman is brought before him, Valteri realizes he has met her before…in his dreams. When others come for her, bringing with them preternatural predators, he is faced with a destiny he had no idea was waiting. One he wants no part of.
The truth is that Valteri isn’t just a knight of William the Conqueror. He is the son of one of the deadliest powers in existence, and if he doesn’t restore Ariel to her place, she is not the only one who will be in peril. The world itself hangs in the balance, and he is the necessary key to hold back the powers of evil. But only if he can find a way to work with the woman who stands for everything in the universe he hates.
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I've been so excited for 'Shadows Fallen,' the new release by Sherrilyn Kenyon in the Dark Hunter universe.. more specifically a Dream Hunter novel. It's been such a long time coming and the road has been a rough one for her, but she remains one of my favorite novelists and I couldn't be happier with her latest book.
As this is just the first in the trilogy leading up to Jaden's book, I'm already heavily invested. Jaden was one of my favorites already.. and though I did get one glimpse of my absolute #1 Dark Hunter here, I'm hoping for a lot more of that too.
Valteri is wonderful. If anyone wondered if Kenyon would still be able to tug at their heart strings with ease, let me assure you.. she can. Only a handful of pages into the first chapter, I knew he was going to have a horrible backstory and probably an unpleasant immediate future as well. He's gruff on the outside (though not as much as Zarek.. who I also adore) and a squishy soft marshmallow man on the inside. In other words, he's easy to love.
Since life caused me to fall behind on a few books in the latter part of the series, there were some revelations here for me regarding some of the other characters that we'd met earlier on. Though, that has only spurred my need to go back and catch up.
Ariel is a really sweet character and she means well, but man.. if there is something she could have done to make his journey unintentionally any more difficult.. I have no idea what it would have been. In addition to all the scheming from the enemies, she just makes bad decision after bad decision when it comes to Valteri.
I did enjoy my return to the Dark Hunter universe though and I can't wait to see what lies ahead on this path to the Broker we all know and love.
Emily J. Taylor
Publisher: Razorbill Books (Penguin Teen)
Publication date: April 5th, 2022
Genres: YA Fantasy
Decadent and darkly enchanting, this lavish YA fantasy debut follows seventeen-year-old Jani as she uncovers the deeply disturbing secrets of the legendary Hotel Magnifique.
All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere. Just barely scraping by with her job at a tannery, she’s resigned to a dreary life in the port town of Durc, caring for her younger sister Zosa. That is, until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town.
The hotel is legendary not only for its whimsical enchantments, but also for its ability to travel—appearing in a different destination every morning. While Jani and Zosa can’t afford the exorbitant costs of a guest’s stay, they can interview to join the staff, and are soon whisked away on the greatest adventure of their lives. But once inside, Jani quickly discovers their contracts are unbreakable and that beneath the marvelous glamour, the hotel is hiding dangerous secrets.
With the vexingly handsome doorman Bel as her only ally, Jani embarks on a mission to unravel the mystery of the magic at the heart of the hotel and free Zosa—and the other staff—from the cruelty of the ruthless maître d’hôtel. To succeed, she’ll have to risk everything she loves, but failure would mean a fate far worse than never returning home.
rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ (4 / 5 stars)
Over the last year or so I've come to realize I have a fondness for fantasy novels that deal with performative magic in some way. So, it came as no surprise when I got my first glimpse at the synopsis for 'Hotel Magnifique' by Emily J. Taylor, that I felt immediately drawn to the story.
Swelling with enchantments, nothing is what it seems to be beyond the threshold of the hotel. Often, even the simplest of tasks are complex spells at work, but for those things deemed too unimportant to waste magic on.. there are employees to handle the details. Though, I hesitate to call anything that goes on behind the hotel's black lacquered door.. regular, they're as close as it comes.
Jani is our main character, a feisty.. devoted sister to young Zosa who is hired as a singer. While I appreciate her loyalty and desire to right wrongs, her inner monologues and dialogue border on annoying for me. Luckily, that's not even really a complaint, however.
Bel is probably the gem of the story in my eyes, though of course I often tend to connect better with a side character and this is no exception. Mysterious and playful from the beginning, the more we get to know him, the more likable he is. Likewise for Beatrice and Hellas, though sometimes interactions between the characters feel a little clunky.
The book does feature an interesting trinket-based magic system, which allows the author room to be creative and results in numerous different abilities, which I love. In addition to the threat posed by the antagonist, the hotel is constantly changing and traveling to a new location every day.. not only keeping the setting fresh and interesting, but also creating some more challenges along the way.
Though there are moments where the story feels a little choppy, I honestly think it's just because Taylor is keeping so many proverbial plates spinning at the same time. There's a lot going on at all times within the hotel, layers of mystery and I really enjoyed the journey the author took us on.
While there is plenty of beauty and whimsical magic at play, there's also plenty of darkness. Gruesome, cruel acts take place that actually kind of surprised me a little. So.. if you're squeamish, keep that in mind.
If you're a fan of Caraval, Where Dreams Descend, or Night Circus.. you'll probably enjoy this book as well.
Continue below to read my review of the book and be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on the 'A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON' blog tour brought to you by TBR & BEYOND TOURS, FEIWEL & FRIENDS, and JUDY I. LIN!
A Magic Steeped in Poison
(The Book of Tea, #1)
Judy I. Lin
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: March 29th, 2022
Genres: YA Fantasy
Judy I. Lin’s sweeping debut A Magic Steeped in Poison, first in a duology, is sure to enchant fans of Adrienne Young and Leigh Bardugo.
I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”
For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.
When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.
But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.
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