ARC Review: Blessed Monsters

Title: Blessed Monsters
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 528
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: Dark, gothic atmosphere with eldritch horror descriptions; villain romance; diverse LGBTQA+ cast
Recommended Readers: No one; I fear we’ve jumped the shark
CAWPILE Rating: 3.57
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

For the record, I’m not going to be reviewing the author and her behavior here but the book. If you’re curious about the former, plenty of folks on Goodreads have already done so for me. I have, frankly, read much better from much worse people.

So what’s the deal with Blessed Monsters by Emily A. Duncan? Well, it turns out it’s better than Ruthless Gods, but it’s still not good. Descriptions of cosmic horrors and eldritch monsters were emphasized vastly over setting, so I never got a clear sense of where we were in Kalyazin. Characters would be at a nondescript palace, manor, safe house, graveyard, capital city, etc., and then they would be at the next nondescript place. So my brain did what it does: imagined whatever it wanted with nothing to ground its imaginings. Neither author nor editor has gotten a handle on the comma splices, either, so they were beyond annoying, along with the “noun and noun and noun and noun” description style. Whatever weight those had before gets beaten to death in this book. Whatever enthusiasm I had left for this trilogy was slowly chipped away as I read, to the point where even if other books were planned to be set in this world, I wouldn’t reach for them.

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ARC Review: The Descent of the Drowned

Title: The Descent of the Drowned
Author: 
Ana Lal Din
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Version: 
ARC – ebook
Page Count: 373
Publisher: White Tigress Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: 
Diverse cast, Pre-Islamic Arabian mythology
Recommended Readers: 
Anyone looking for a slow-building yet gripping read with two main characters who stand on their own
CAWPILE Rating: 9.14
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

A dark, compelling read, The Descent of the Drowned by Ana Lal Din immensely impressed me with its rich cultural descriptions, complicated characters, and slow-building plot. So much so that I already own a copy for myself.

Inspired by pre-Islamic Arabian mythology and culture, The Descent of the Drowned is the start of a YA fantasy trilogy that definitely leans hard on the older side of the scale due to its many heavy themes, which are addressed headfirst and unflinchingly. I recently read a book that equally horrified and enraged me at how gratuitous its violence and sexual themes were to be directed at a younger audience than truly appropriate. Therefore, my guard was up when I started this book, which tackles topics regarding sacred prostitution, rape, sexual assault, torture, self harm, suicide ideation, and many others.

Turns out I needn’t have bothered to be so wary. Each of these issues—and others—are treated with the gravity, horror, and fury they rightfully deserve. Readers have time to sit with these issues along with the characters and experience how these issues affect and inform the characters and their world, which is lovingly detailed with rich descriptions juxtaposed against the ugliness of human trafficking, transphobia, rape culture, caste systems, ethnic cleansing, and other cruelties. While reading, nothing ever felt glossed over or overdone, yet I also never felt hopelessly mired down by darkness. That’s because Lal Din managed to walk a delicate line between bringing awareness to these issues while also crafting a sincerely enjoyable story with characters I couldn’t help but be drawn to and root for.

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ARC Review: Down Comes the Night

Title: Down Comes the Night
Author: 
Allison Saft
Genre: 
Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: 
ARC – ebook
Page Count: 
400
Publisher: 
Wednesday Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: 
Bisexual main character, lesbian side character
Recommended Readers: 
Those looking for a standalone, atmospheric fantasy
CAWPILE Rating: 6.57
Star Rating: ★★★☆☆

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

Down Comes the Night is Allison Saft’s debut novel, an original YA fantasy that pits logic and ruthlessness against emotion and forgiveness—and explores where the line is drawn between the two. What choices render you into your best self? Following the duty you’ve pledged yourself to or following your instincts to do what is right?

These are choices that Wren Southerland wrestles with daily in the country of Danu. A solider with healing magic in the Queen’s Guard, she is torn by the empathy she feels even toward enemy soldiers. Not even her best friend and commanding officer, Una Dryden, can save Wren once she makes a reckless mistake healing a captured enemy. Dismissed from the guard, Wren is determined to get back into the Queen’s good graces and return to the side of the girl she loves, even if Una can never truly reciprocate her affections. Wren sees her chance for redemption when an invitation arrives from a lord in a neutral country promising to lend his support to the Queen in exchange for curing his favorite servant from a mysterious illness plaguing his estate. However, Colwick Hall holds more mysteries than a disease that can kill, including that Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the Reaper of Vesria and Danu’s public enemy number one. As the estate and its eccentric host, Lord Lowry, turn more ominous, Wren and Hal will have to work together to solve the sinister forces at work even at the risk of committing treason, if their feelings for each other don’t render them traitors first.

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Book Review: Asunder

Title: Asunder
Author: David Gaider
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Version: Mass Market Paperback
Page Count: 485
Publisher: Tor Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Written by openly-gay man who was a head writer of the Dragon Age games
Recommended Readers: Dragon Age fans wanting to read some sweet, sweet lore
CAWPILE Rating: 9.57
Star Rating: ★★★★★

My Review

Picture this: I’m in my third, back-to-back playthrough of Dragon Age: Inquisition when I learn that my son, Cole, has a book that’s all about his backstory. Naturally, I had to find and read it as soon as possible.

While I’ve vaguely known that Dragon Age books existed, I hadn’t picked up any until now because, historically, books written to supplement a video game franchise are often lackluster comparatively. It can be hard to capture all the things that make a video game wondrous through text alone, without you there as the player character that makes all the decisions and ultimately saves the day. So imagine my delighted surprise when I read Asunder, only to find that I didn’t just like it; I devoured it.

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ARC Review: The Gilded Ones

Title: The Gilded Ones
Author: Namina Forna
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 432
Publisher: Delacorte
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Female-led, POC cast; original, if underdeveloped, world-building
Recommended Readers: Older teens, but also no one unless you’re really in the mood for some grimdark
CAWPILE Rating: 2.29
Star Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

Well, what happened here? I’m flabbergasted.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna was easily one of my most anticipated books since it was supposed to be released in 2020, its publication date pushed back due to the pandemic. Finally reading it, however, has been a bizarre, disturbing, and deeply unenjoyable experience.

Synopsis time. Sixteen-year-old Deka waits anxiously for the Ritual of Purity—for her blood to run red, so she can be accepted as a pure woman by her village at last. In the country of Otera, women must wear masks and defer to the men in their lives at all times, and all Deka wants is to be accepted enough to be considered marriageable. When her blood turns out to run gold, she is deemed impure, a demon, and must face the Death Mandate all her kind go through. Except she doesn’t die. Before the male elders can find her true death, a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. These girls—alaki—are near-immortals with strength and speed men don’t possess, and they are the key to stopping the deathshrieks that plague the empire.

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New Books I’m Hyped for: January – June 2021

[Shaky wave] Hi, there. So, yeah, I’m back, sorta. 2020 was definitely not my year for reading or posting due to [checks notes] oh, yeah, everything that was going on. While 2021 is still proving to be emotionally and mentally taxing in many ways, I’m also feeling an affinity for reading and posting again. Frankly, I miss books, and I’m hoping that by being a bit more active about them, I will rekindle the fervor I used to have. I’m still not counting on posting as much this year as I did in past years. I want to focus much more on things that are exciting and fun for me, along with paying attention to my mental health and what it can stand.

I figured a post about what 2021 is bringing in terms of new books could be a start, a way to look forward about what will come. Here are the ones that seem pretty cool for the first half of 2021.

January

Crown of Bones by A.K. Wilder
(January 5th)

Raise. Your. Phantom.

For fans of epic fantasies and sweeping adventures, this ensemble cast will immerse you in a world of unique magic, breathtaking action and unforgettable characters.

In a world on the brink of the next Great Dying, no amount of training can prepare us for what is to come …

A young heir will raise the most powerful phantom in all of Baiseen.

A dangerous High Savant will do anything to control the nine realms.

A mysterious and deadly Mar race will steal children into the sea.

And a handsome guide with far too many secrets will make me fall in love.

My name is Ash. A lowly scribe meant to observe and record. And yet I think I’m destined to surprise us all.

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ARC Review: Persephone Station

Title: Persephone Station
Author: Stina Leicht
Genre: Adult Sci-Fi
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 512
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Characters that are predominately female and non-binary with LGBTQ+ rep
Recommended Readers: Seekers of feminism in space opera
CAWPILE Rating: 3.14
Star Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

I was taken in by Stina Leicht’s Persephone Station the moment I saw its beautifully artistic cover and was sold when I read what it was being compared to: a blend of Cowboy Bebop and The Mandalorian but with a leading cast of women, non-binary, and queer characters.

Upon reading it, however, my excitement quickly fizzled. By far the coolest thing about the book is its cover, not the representation it delivers. The author seems to have focused so hard on providing good, squeaky-clean diversity and rep that she forgot a key element: making the characters and its plot interesting. There isn’t a hint of the eclectic friction found in the Cowboy Bebop cast, and it’s also sorely missing the heart of The Mandalorian. If I could sum up Persephone Station and its characters in a few words, they would be “safe and boring.”

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ARC Review: Black Sun

Title: Black Sun
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Genre: Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 454
Publisher: Saga Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: POC, LGBTQ+, and blind characters
Recommended Readers: Anyone wanting a fresh, non-European take on epic fantasy
Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

Yes! This is it! This book is… wow!

Maybe my 2020 reading life has experienced a drought of easy, five-star reads. Maybe everything about this year has been utter shit and brimming with disappointment. So when I picked up Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, I was begging, Please be good. You sound so interesting and your cover is gorgeous and if another of my most anticipated reads disappoints me, I will cry.

Well, Black Sun wasn’t just good; it was wonderful. It wasn’t just interesting. It was page-turning and original. I’ve already ran out and bought a copy for myself because I fell for it so hard.

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Book Review: So You Want to Talk About Race

Title: So You Want to Talk About Race
Author: Ijeoma Oluo
Genre: Nonfiction/Social Justice/Race
Version: Paperback
Page Count: 256
Publisher: Seal Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Accessible language combined with honesty of the lived experience for Black people and non-Black POC
Recommended Readers: For white people who need a primer on race relations in America and for POC who need knowledge of how to navigate these discussions and white reactions
Rating: ★★★★★

My Review

I’m not sure what can be said about Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race that hasn’t already been said by those more knowledgeable and eloquent than I, including Oluo herself. So instead, I will endeavor to be honest.

This book has timely messages written in a clear, accessible language that have been needed long before its initial publication in 2018. They are timely now in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders at the hands of police brutality and White Supremacy. And I suspect they will be needed regardless of what the outcome of the U.S. 2020 election is for years to come.

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Book Review: The Silvered Serpents

Title: The Silvered Serpents
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 416
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: POC, LGBTQ+, and autistic characters
Recommended Readers: Lovers of character-driven, fantasy adventures set in the real world (19th century)
Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

What a dramatic and tragic return! Roshani Chokshi has taken everything that made The Gilded Wolves fun and intriguing and added so much more for The Silvered Serpents. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s an easy 4.25 stars from me because I felt swept away from the first page. Everything here is richer. The world, the magic system, the stakes, the consequences, the characters, oh my, the characters.

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