I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.
Now I’m done hiding.
My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.
When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.
Once & Future is a sapphic King Arthur retelling in space, and as much as that sounds like a recipe for awesome, I unfortunately didn’t enjoy this half as much as I thought I was going to.
The first half is a fun found family space romp that boasts an incredibly diverse cast. The main character Ari is Arab and queer, and her adoptive family consists of her brother Kay and her two moms. Once & Future‘s iteration of Merlin is as gay as a maypole, while Ari’s love interest Gwen is bi-racial white and Asian. Ari’s merry band of knights includes Lamarack, who is black, genderfluid, and an amputee, Val, who is black and queer, and Jordan, who is asexual (though I strongly disliked the way her asexuality was revealed and portrayed).
As delightful as the diverse representation is, the writing could use some work. The purple prose made this space opera veer into soap opera territory more than once. The pacing is off, especially with regards to the emotional arcs, which felt rushed and unsatisfying. Even the character deaths seemed more like an afterthought, so they didn’t have much of an emotional impact on me.
Despite all of the issues with the writing, I enjoyed the first half of the book well enough. However, a revelation early in the second half almost made me DNF Once & Future. MAJOR SPOILER — Ari finally visits her home planet, Ketch, only to find out that the entire population has been wiped out and she is the last the Ketchan, or Arab, in the universe. Even though one of the authors is part Lebanese, using the genocide of an entire planet populated exclusively by Arab people as a plot twist felt extremely gross to me. — END SPOILER
I decided to keep reading because I wanted to see where the story was going, but the book definitely started deteriorating after the major spoiler, and finishing the last third turned out to be quite a chore. The authors kept injecting unnecessary interpersonal drama, and the weird love triangle and its aftermath were particularly frustrating. And then there was the villain, the Administrator, the evil capitalist overlord of the universe, who unfortunately didn’t work for me at all. He was much too comical to actually be scary.
I’m bummed that I didn’t enjoy this more, especially given the super diverse cast. Unfortunately, the great premise was let down by the writing, but the major spoiler event mentioned above is what really, well, spoiled my enjoyment.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Little, Brown for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Have you read Once & Future? What are your thoughts? Let’s chat in the comments below!
To learn more about Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly book meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, click here.
This week’s theme is Books On My Spring TBR, but I’m putting a little spin on it, so I will be sharing my ten current library holds with you, which are technically all books I’ll be reading this spring. So… it counts, okay? (Title = Goodreads)
In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel. But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this enthralling, heartrending sequel to Reign of the Fallen, Odessa faces the fight of her life as the boundaries between the Dead and the living are challenged in a way more gruesome than ever before.
After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disoriented, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’s favour.
A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. Heidi Heilig creates a world inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism.
Jules Ember was raised hearing legends of the ancient magic of the wicked Alchemist and the good Sorceress. But she has just learned the truth: not only are the stories true, but she herself is the Alchemist, and Caro—a woman who single-handedly murdered the Queen and Jules’s first love, Roan, in cold blood—is the Sorceress.
From New York Times bestselling author Roshani Chokshi comes The Gilded Wolves, a novel set in Paris during a time of extraordinary change—one that is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous desires…
No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.
The Thief (The Queen’s Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner
The king’s scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king’s prison. The magus is interested only in the thief’s abilities.
What Gen is interested in is anyone’s guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.
Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham. Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.
True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case.
Have you read any of these books? Or are any of them on your TBR? Let’s chat in the comments below!
In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.
The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.
Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good. (Goodreads)
Please see the end of the post for content warnings.
The Fever King is Victoria Lee’s explosive debut and the first book in her dystopian YA series, Feverwake. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s hard to believe this is even a debut. The author’s narrative voice is strong and compelling, and I enjoyed The Fever King from beginning to end.
I’m not going to lie though, it took me a while to digest what I’d read after I finished the book. The plot unwinds as a layered exploration of right and wrong, and of how far you can go in the service of right before it becomes a wrong of its own. The author combines modern dystopia with elements of Jewish storytelling and a strong theme of seeking to repair the world.
The main character, Noam, brings a fresh gust of air to the dystopian genre. He is both Latinx and Jewish, and openly and explicitly bisexual. The cast overall is ethnically diverse. Noam’s mentor and minister of defense Calix Lehrer is also Jewish, and Noam’s love interest, Dara, is also brown—his name suggests a Persian background—and was raised Jewish.
The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam moonlights as a hacktivist for the immigrant cause. His affinity for technology causes him to become a technopath in the wake of surviving the magic virus, and while at times his abilities seemed maybe a little omnipotent, it was a fascinating take on magic.
But if Noam could use magic—Carolinia’s most treasured resource—for the Atlantian cause, then maybe being a witching wasn’t such a bad thing.
Noam is passionate about refugee rights. As a witching with access to the minister of defense Calix Lehrer, he plans to learn everything he can in his government training program and use it to bring the government down. But the closer he feels to achieving his goals, the more he starts to question whether he really is on the path to making the world a better place. He gets more and more caught up in Lehrer’s machinations until it becomes hard to distinguish between right and wrong.
Lehrer is a character that I felt and still feel very ambivalent about. He is, if not a clear-cut villain, definitely an antagonist. He certainly has some good intentions, but the methods he uses to achieve them are dubious at best. I was able to discuss some of the particulars about Lehrer’s character with some wonderful Jewish friends, whose perspective helped me contextualise Lehrer as a character, for which I am infinitely grateful. One of them compared Lehrer to Magneto, a very fitting analogy:
The cinematic Magneto was never a villain for villainy’s sake, along the lines of “Heh, heh, heh – and now for my malicious plan to take over the world!” He was a reasoned, charismatic villain; yes, he had an extreme agenda, but an understandable one. The new film – the prequel – further elaborates and buttresses Magneto’s backstory. Actually, he is the hero of the film; only later does he become the bad guy. (Source; CN: use of the g-slur)
This quote from the linked article in particular really helped me frame my feelings about Lehrer. He is not a villain for villainy’s sake either, and his villainy is borne of understandable and traumatic circumstances. I think he started out wanting to repair the world in his own way, but his view of the perfect world has become warped. While Noam wants to empower everyone through equal rights, Lehrer wants magic to dictate the distribution of power. (You know, kind of like Magneto wants to put the power in the hands of mutants only.) I’m a huge marshmallow, so I’m not usually very interested in villains, but I truly appreciate the way Lehrer’s character adds dimension to the story here and I’m so intrigued to see what direction the author will take him in the sequel.
I cannot end this review without mentioning the romance between Noam and Dara, and that Dara owns my heart. He is what it says on the packaging: cruel, dangerous, and beautiful, but he is also so much more. In Persian, Dara means “He who holds firm to good”, and Dara has held firm to good through trauma and abuse as best he could. He is another complex character who, like Noam, is trying to work towards a better world while being tossed around by bigger political players. It’s heart-breaking to see him struggle and all I want to do is protect him.
I loved seeing him fall in love with Noam and Noam with him. They have a fraught relationship from the start because there are things that Noam doesn’t know and that Dara cannot tell him, but they start chipping away at each other’s defenses, opening up to each other in trickles. They are, underneath all of their protective armour, just two soft boys looking for love.
He exhaled softly, breath fogging the window glass. He looked so … happy, as if he’d swallowed one of those stars and it illuminated him from within. Noam was struck with the urge to capture this moment somehow, so Dara could relive it.
They had so many missed kissing opportunities that it made me want to scream, but the author definitely delivered on resolving that sexual tension. I don’t want to spoil too much, but they have a beautiful scene together. Of course, the ending tore my heart apart again—if Victoria Lee doesn’t let my boys be happy at some point in this series, I will have some strong words.
Either way, if you haven’t read The Fever King yet, you should run, not walk. But be warned: it’s not a light read and it will leave you reeling with emotion for a while.
CONTENT WARNINGS: parental death, suicide / hanging (past), substance abuse, physical and emotional child abuse, statutory rape (not explicit), mention of the Holocaust, mention of past medical experiments
All quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof and might not match the published version.
Thank you to NetGalley and Skyscape for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Have you read The Fever King? What were your thoughts? Let’s chat in the comments below!
For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.
All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas—wielders of magic—are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.
Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son—not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.
Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country—and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.
I’ve been yearning to read this book ever since I first heard about it a couple of months ago. Non-binary representation is still few and far between, and being agender myself, discovering a book has non-binary characters is like having my birthday and Christmas on the same day.
The Brilliant Death follows Teodora, who uses her carefully hidden magic powers to rid her family of their enemies. She’s her father’s eldest daughter, but being a girl, she can never inherit the title of family head, and her most fervent wish is to be a di Sangro son. She finally gets her wish when she has to transform herself into a boy and journey to Amalia as her family’s representative in the wake of her father’s poisoning, accompanied by another strega, Cielo.
I occasionally thought that the writing was a little bumpy, and especially in the beginning, the pacing was slightly off. The writing is still engaging though, and the further I got into the book, the less I wanted to put it down.
I really enjoyed Teo’s character development. She grows so much over the course of the book. Growing up as a mafia don’s child has left her with a warped sense of morality, but in her pursuit of power, she re-evaluates right and wrong. At the end of the book, she makes a pivotal decision that I didn’t see coming but cheered for nonetheless.
It felt like I had spent my entire life speaking a secret language and then stumbled on someone else who was perfectly fluent.
I also loved the relationship between Teo and Cielo. As they journey across the mountains and navigate court, they teach each other about magic and power, family and gender. They slowly fall in love, and while they often tease and bicker, they share some deep moments as well. Their attraction to each other is palpable, no matter which form either Cielo or Teo take, and there are a couple of really hot scenes between the two characters. Hoo boy, does this author know how to cook up some sexual tension.
“It’s true that I contain more than one thing,” Cielo said. “And sometimes the balance shifts.”
I do have some critical thoughts on the non-binary representation. I loved Cielo as a character, but the binarism and biological essentialism in the exploration of gender bothered me.
“I can’t figure out if I should be using the word he or she or something else entirely.” (…)
“Either will do,” Cielo said. (…) “Though all of those words feel a bit like coats that are too tight in the elbows.”
I feel like this was a missed opportunity to introduce either they pronouns or maybe even neo-pronouns, instead of pushing the narrative that there are two ill-fitting options to choose from. Cielo is genderfluid, and it rankles that Teo always uses she when Cielo is in their “girlish body” and he when Cielo is in their “boyish body”, reinforcing the idea that certain pronouns match certain bodies.
A true non-binary exploration of gender should challenge the idea that any one type of body has a certain gender, or that certain biological traits mark you as a boy or a girl. Considering the author is non-binary herself, I was expecting a lot better.
The queer representation was great. Neither Teo’s nor Cielo’s sexuality is ever stated outright, but it’s safe to assume from the text that they’re both some flavour of queer, and Teo makes her attraction to women quite clear more than once. Overall, I would have appreciated some more diverse representation, especially with regards to race and disability.
Even though it’s not perfect, I really enjoyed The Brilliant Death, and I’m glad that this book has put Amy Rose Capetta on my radar. I will definitely be checking out some of her other books, first and foremost Once & Future, since I received an eARC for that one. I’m excited!
Have you read The Brilliant Death or any of the author’s other books? Let’s chat in the comments below!
Kaz Brekker and his crew of deadly outcasts have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives.
Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties.
A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets – a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world. (Goodreads)
Oof. I was hoping that Crooked Kingdom would redeem the series in my eyes, but instead it was a major letdown. Truth be told, I almost DNF’ed this, but I ended up pushing through because I wanted to see how the author would handle some of the things I was taking issue with.
I mentioned in my review of Six of Crows that I struggled with the amount of POV characters, though the frequent shifts ultimately made sense to me. The sequel, however, felt cluttered and incoherent with all of the different point of views. Kaz kept coming up with more and more convoluted plans in order for the crew to get their due, and things stopped making sense to me very early on. The eventual execution of the plan was brilliant, but I had to muddle through confusion for too long to be excited about the pay-off.
The author also repeats lines they deem important way too much in this book. It felt like I was repeatedly being hit over the head with a mallet that says “meaningful!”, while the constant repetition actually reduced the impact those lines and conversations had on me.
I was hoping for more explicit queer rep in Crooked Kingdom, and there was some, but I was pretty disappointed that it was all M/M. I’d heard there was queer lady rep in this duology, and there was at best the barest hint of that.
In my review of Six of Crows I said I hated the trope of a bigot being redeemed by falling in love with a member of the persecuted group. For that reason, I was hoping there would be less Matthias/Nina in the sequel, but instead the pairing became more prominent. Personally, this trope makes me a little nauseous, and it didn’t help that Matthias’s chapters were so woe is me. Being a bigot was really hard for him, y’all! But the real kicker was when the author compared unlearning bigotry to overcoming addiction, and finally Matthias saddling Nina with the task of reforming his fellow bigots.
There is also a white character who is tailored to look like a character with East Asian features. He stays that way for a good long while before he is finally changed back, but before his change, the author makes him experience racism on several occasions. I don’t even know what to say here, except: white authors, if you want to explore the racism people of colour experience, maybe don’t do it with a character who is, in essence, wearing yellowface. Especially not when your Big Bad is a Chinese-inspired country.
Overall, Crooked Kingdom left me feeling disappointed and icky. I wish I had been made aware of at least some of these issues prior to reading the duology myself, which is why I felt it important to write this review for other people who prefer to be forewarned. I understand that many people love the Grishaverse books, and while I don’t begrudge anyone their enjoyment, I will be steering clear of this author from now on.
Have you read the Six of Crows duology? (You probably have; I’m pretty late to the party.) What were your thoughts? Let’s chat in the comments below!
Being able to put ebooks on hold at the library so they’re automatically checked out to you when they become available is really convenient, but it can be a bit difficult getting the timing right, as I’ve become very aware these past few weeks! I’ve been waiting for some library holds to come through for ages, and suddenly they’re all coming through at the same time! Read on to see my most recent library check-outs, and click on the book titles to go to each book’s Goodreads page!
I’m super excited to finally be reading this book about a mafia don’s daughter who secretly turns her family’s enemies into decorative objects. It sounds very intriguing, and it has non-binary / genderfluid representation.
My February reading was supposed to be drawn mainly from my F/F February Reading Challenge TBR. However, I failed to predict all of the things that February was going to throw at me, from more financial issues, to severe depression, and chronic illness flare-ups.
I quickly lost steam for completing the reading challenge and felt myself sliding into a slump. I was miserable and all I wanted to do was to immerse myself in the comfort of rereading Kate Daniels. I fought it for a while, but in the end I realised that having a set TBR was too restrictive for me, and that mood reading is a huge part of what makes reading so good for my mental health.
So I quietly failed out of the F/F February Reading Challenge. I don’t really see it as a fail though because it taught me something valuable about my reading patterns. Another thing that really helped me this past month was rigorously DNF’ing books that weren’t doing it for me, and even though I can’t help but feel a sense of failure when I do, ultimately it always feels freeing. (ETA: I totally forgot to mention this, but this post about good reading habits by Kaleena @ Reader Voracious played a huge part in my realisation that I fare better with mood reading than with a set TBR.)
All in all, I read 9 books in February, compared to the 14 books I read in January, but to be fair, February is like, only half as long as January. I managed to finish a bunch of ARCs that needed reviewing and to cross a couple of books off my F/F February TBR after all, and given my mental health struggles, I’m honestly glad I managed to do any reading at all, let alone as much as I did. To see what I read in February, take a look at my Goodreads Challenge or read on below! Clicking the book titles will take you to each book’s Goodreads page.