ARC Review: Iron Widow

Title: Iron Widow
Author: 
Xiran Jay Zhao
Genre: 
Young Adult/Sci-Fi
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 
400
Publisher: 
Penguin Teen
Synopsis: GoodReads | StoryGraph
Notable Notables: 
Based in Chinese culture with a Chinese-coded cast; inspired by China’s only female emperor; polyamorous relationship
Recommended Readers: 
Fans of mecha anime and revenge stories
CAWPILE Rating: 7.86
Rating: ★★★★☆

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

My Review

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is a stand-out, explosive debut that is sure to capture the imaginations and whet the appetites of readers searching for female revenge stories. With sci-fi being a rarer sight in the YA genre, Iron Widow takes a bold approach with its mecha anime-inspired roots along with being steeped in Chinese history.

In Huxia, boys dream of becoming ace pilots of Chrysalises, which are giant, transforming robots powered by syncing up with female concubine-pilots. It doesn’t matter that the girls die of mental strain, only that the mecha aliens beyond the Great Wall are stopped. Wu Zetian volunteers as a concubine-pilot to assassinate the male pilot who killed her older sister, only to emerge from the cockpit unscathed and with her co-pilot dead after overcoming him through their psychic link. Instead of being his One True Match and Iron Princess, Zetian is an Iron Widow, a much-feared and often silenced female pilot who can sacrifice boys instead. To subdue her, she is paired with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial pilot in Huxia, but she is not interested in being cowed. Instead, she plots to use Shimin and their newfound notoriety to survive attempt after attempt against her life until she can discover why the pilot system works as it does and stop more girls from being sacrificed for male dominance.

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New Books I’m Hyped for: July – December 2021

Welcome back to another post where I highlight books I’m excited for in a truly excessive fashion. Will most of these books be featured on other people’s lists? Probably. Will that stop me? No. I like what I like, and the sounds of these are very pleasing. We have an East Asian YA fantasy that is a retelling of The Wild Swans; an adult fantasy novel where all the protagonists are renowned villains; a work set in Victorian London featuring an African tightrope dancer who cannot die; and much more!

I’m looking forward to seeing which of these will be my favorite book releases between July and December 2021, especially compared to which ones the book community at large will fawn over.

[slaps the roof of this post] This baby can fit so many books inside it, so let’s get started!

July

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
(July 6th)

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.

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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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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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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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Blog Tour | ARC Review: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

Title: Where Dreams Descend
Author: Janella Angeles
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 464
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Diverse cast of characters, vivid descriptions, dark romance
Recommended Readers: Magician enthusiasts and anyone else who’s tired of all the bland, boring romances being put out there
Rating: ★★★★☆

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC and to Wednesday Books for asking me to participate in the Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

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Blog Tour | ARC Review: Lobizona by Romina Garber

Title: Lobizona
Author: Romina Garber
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: Latinx cast of characters, Argentine culture and folklore, the immigrant experience, feminist commentary
Recommended Readers: Those who’ve been waiting to see real Spanish on the page and fans of werewolves and witches
Rating: ★★★★☆

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC and to Wednesday Books for asking me to participate in the Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis

Some people ARE illegal.

Lobizonas do NOT exist.

Both of these statements are false.

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past—a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.

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