Book Review: The Captive Prince Trilogy

This is going to be a somewhat different post from me because it’s a review of not one book but three: the entire Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat, comprising of Captive Prince, Prince’s Gambit, and Kings Rising. I consumed these books in a month after a Herculean effort of trying to pace myself, to absorb what I was reading instead of blazing through it in a “head empty, no thoughts” mindset. This has been the first trilogy I’ve read all the way through in quite some time, and I had nothing but a good time, a realization that thrilled me to no end.

For a few years, I’d been eyeing these books, staying away for a few reasons that all amounted to my own unfounded assumptions and others’ naysaying. These books were in the romance section, which means they likely weren’t well-written. They contained just sex covered by the thinnest veil of plot. They were hugely problematic in the way they glorify sexual slavery, rape, and other issues. The list goes on, but finally, I’d had enough of believing the fears. I picked up Captive Prince because current fiction and romance have been boring me to death lately, and before long I realized I was utterly—wait for it—captivated.

Read More »

ARC Review: Black Water Sister

Title: Black Water Sister
Author: Zen Cho
Genre: 
Contemporary/Fantasy
Version: 
ebook – ARC
Page Count: 
384
Publisher: Ace Books
Synopsis: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: 
Malaysian lesbian main character, Malaysian setting and mythology, Chinese culture
Recommended Readers: 
Fans of Yangsze Choo and anyone looking for a modern, magical Southeast Asian read
CAWPILE Rating: 9.29
Rating: ★★★★★

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

My Review

Contemporary fiction is not a genre I usually pick up because most of it simply doesn’t interest me. Contemporary fantasy, however, is an entirely different matter, and Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister struck gold with me from the very first chapter.

If you’ve read and loved either Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride or The Night Tiger, then the setting, tone, and mythology of Black Water Sister may come across as familiar to you, to say nothing of someone who already has a Malaysian background. I only mention Yangsze Choo because 1) I love her works and 2) she started this love for Malaysian contemporary fantasy that I possess now, and I am beyond delighted that Zen Cho has contributed to that love. I cannot wait to check out Cho’s other books now.

Black Water Sister opens with jobless Harvard graduate Jessamyn Teoh moving back with her family to Malaysia after her father loses his job in America. Between hiding her lesbian relationship from her traditional parents, attempting to re-assimilate to a country and culture she hasn’t been a part of in decades, and adjust to the sudden swarm of relatives, Jess is understandably stressed. Hearing voices should come as no surprise—except the voice she hears is the ghost of her estranged, opinionated grandmother, Ah Ma, who was a spirit medium to a god called the Black Water Sister. Now, Ah Ma wants Jess to help her exact vengeance on a gang boss and businessman who has offended the god, or she won’t be able to pass on to the afterlife. However, the more Jess becomes entrenched in the supernatural, the more her own life and destiny are thrown into jeopardy.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.”

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

Book Review: The Unspoken Name

Title: The Unspoken Name
Author: A. K. Larkwood
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Version: Hardcover
Page Count: 464
Publisher: Tor Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: LGBTQA+ characters, loose orc and elf descriptions not of Tolkien making
Recommended Readers: Fans of messy, badly-behaving characters and a sprinkling of sci-fi to go with your fantasy
Rating: ★★★☆☆

My Review

I was so excited to read The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood. I coveted it every time I traveled to the bookstore or saw it online until I wore myself down with my longing to buy it. It sounded like everything I had been craving and not finding in my reads lately. A priestess—who happens to be an orc—turning from sacrificing her life to her god and following a morally-questionable, duplicitous wizard instead? A wizard who also happens to be a hot elf exiled from his seat of power, and now has a weapon, an assassin, at his disposal? And the priestess’ god might one day call its debt due? You couldn’t have sold this to me any harder.

Read More »

ARC Review: Ruthless Gods

ruthless gods
Title:
Ruthless Gods
Author:
 Emily A. Duncan
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 432
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: Dark, gothic atmosphere with no punches pulled; villain romance; diverse LGBTQA+ cast
Recommended Readers: Fans of the first book and cosmic horror enthusiasts
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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

EDIT: I have changed my review from a four-star rating to a two-star rating on 4/11/21 to reflect my lingering feelings of dissatisfaction with this book and how unenthused this trilogy’s conclusion has left me.

I absolutely fell in love with Wicked Saints, the first book in the Something Dark and Holy trilogy by Emily A. Duncan. It connected with me on a level that I can’t fully explain; all I know is, it was one of those rare books where I read the ARC and went out to buy the published version that very same day.

Needless to say, I have been eagerly awaiting the sequel, Ruthless Gods, and was overjoyed to receive an ARC for it. I’m a bit disappointed to say that it didn’t resonate with me as strongly as its predecessor did. Its strong points came through splendidly, but its low points were detracting and, in some cases, downright annoying.

Read More »

ARC Review: The Guinevere Deception

the guinevere deceptionTitle: The Guinevere Deception
Author:
Kiersten White
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 352
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: LGBTQA+ characters
Recommended Readers: Yo, anyone want a feminist reimagining of Arthurian legends?
Rating: ★★★★☆

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

Kiersten White’s latest trilogy is a feminist study into the character Guinevere, a figure in Arthurian legends who is often regulated to the sidelines as a prize, an adulterer, a villain, and an opportunistic traitor—but never the architect of her own story. With The Guinevere Deception, Guinevere has found her voice at last, but in true White fashion, her story is full of interesting twists and unexpected choices.

For instance, when we meet Guinevere, she is journeying from a convent to Camelot in order to wed her future husband, King Arthur—and she isn’t truly Guinevere. The real Guinevere died tragically, and unbeknownst to everyone, a changeling raised by Merlin has taken her place. Casting all knowledge of her past aside, including her true name, “Guinevere” intends to be a source of magical protection for Arthur against his enemies, even though Camelot has exiled all magic and ousted Merlin. But exiling magic doesn’t stop the forests and lakes from wanting to reclaim the land, and the ideal of Camelot has as many enemies in man and beast as Arthur does. Perhaps the greatest threat might be Guinevere herself.

Read More »

ARC Review: The Library of the Unwritten

\library of the unwrittenTitle: The Library of the Unwritten
Author:
 A. J. Hackwith
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 384
Publisher: Ace Books
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: A book about stories, diverse, LGBTQA+ characters
Recommended Readers: Those wanting a dash of mythology to go along with their adventure
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review—and sorry it’s a tad bit late.

I absolutely love any kind of content about angels, demons, heaven, hell, and the mortals trapped between them. I love written works that are themselves tributes to stories and storytelling. The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith boasted all of the above, with an emphasis on unwritten stories and characters by unwritten authors. While I was overall more in love with the idea of this book than I was with the actual execution, there is still a fair amount of good I’d like to highlight with this review.

Our story begins with finding Claire Hadley as the current Head Librarian of Hell’s Unwritten Wing, one of the few neutral spaces in Hell, where it’s Claire’s job to repair and monitor all unwritten books. When a Hero awakens from one of the books and escapes to the mortal world to meet his Author, Claire leaves in pursuit along with her assistant Brevity and a nervous teenage demon, Leto, who seems more human than he ought to. In pursuit of the character and his book, the group runs afoul of fallen angel and Watcher Ramiel, who accuses them of having pages of the elusive Devil’s Bible. Claire and her motley crew, including the Hero and an old demon Arcanist named Andras, must locate the pages and return them to the library before any other angels or demons can get ahold of them—or risk a cosmic war and power imbalance between the realms.

Read More »