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.
r e v i e w
'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.
r e v i e w
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.