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Books, Sneak Peek Weekends

February Sneak Peek Weekends #4

This week’s sneak peeks are two books focusing on minority characters. Although they may not be meant for me, they’ll undoubtedly resonate with readers they’re representing!

At the Edge of the Universe

edge of the universe

 I sat beside the window pretending to read Plato’s Republic as the rest of the passengers boarding Flight 1184 zombie-walked to their seats. The woman next to me refused to lower her armrest, and the chemical sweetness of her perfume coated my tongue and the back of my throat. I considered both acts of war.

Author: Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Published: February 7, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: We are the Ants, History is All You Left Me, Dante and Aristotle, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Final Destination

If I were an agent/acquisitions editor, would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

 

I know I only have the first twenty pages to go off of, but this one isn’t doing anything for me. The blurb promises a unique plot in the form of a male protagonist searching for his missing boyfriend. It’s doing similar things as History is All You Left Me, which makes me think this novel shouldn’t be ignored in terms of LGBT content, which although growing, is still pretty sparse.

In terms of its opening sequence, it’s slow building. This setup is likely intentional to lull the reader into a false sense of security. It takes ten pages to get going. I don’t know if I’d read that far before making a decision in terms of pitch selection. There’s no indication that the inciting incident is a plane crash by the blurb, so I wouldn’t necessarily have much to go on if this were pitched to me. As a mere reader, though, the cliffhanger at the end of the first chapter is a solid hook that leaves you curious.

Hutchinson is engaging with the world in ways I don’t ordinarily see male writers doing. Very early on in the text, he shames frat boys for boasting about date rape. More male writers should be engaging with this kind of discourse, even if it’s for a quick, throwaway line. I do find, however, that this protagonist is a little man-splainy, which is what I hate about male writers in general. But as far as male writers go, this one’s hardly offensive.

From a publisher’s perspective, this is an interesting case, because while books with gay protagonists are in the minority, such manuscripts shouldn’t receive a free pass. Which is why many publishers don’t necessarily see the potential in so many of these books. I, for instance, wouldn’t be the agent or publisher to publish this one, but that doesn’t by any means mean it shouldn’t be on the shelves.

The Education of Margot Sanchez

the education of margot sanchez

A cashierista with flaming orange-red hair invades my space the minute I step inside the supermarket. I search for Papi but he’s walked ahead into his office already.

Author: Lilliam Rivera

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Published: February 21, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Allegedly, Ugly Betty, Jane the Virgin

Would I Publish This?

I am so clearly not the right audience for this novel. This is clearly meant for Latinx readers, which is hardly a bad thing whatsoever. The fact that I can count the amount of Latinx narratives I’ve engaged with lately on one hand is distressing and should be challenged in the contemporary literary canon.

I have no idea if this plot is going anywhere particularly bold or revolutionary in terms of messages, but the opener suggests Rivera isn’t trying to say anything too important with her narrative. The protagonist comes off as vapid and uninteresting. I personally find characters who natter on about their clothes and their “big booty” to be a giant turn off. I don’t know if this is some kind of reflection of Latinx culture or not, but it’s not an aspect I’m keen to engage with.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Firstlife

Firstlife

Author: Gena Showalter

Publisher: HarlequinTEEN

Published: February 23, 2016

Rating: 4 / 5

For those who enjoyed: Divergent, Hunger Games, Snow Piercer, Lord of the Flies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Orange is the New Black, Beauty Queens

This is a spoiler-free review!

Firstlife

This novel is bonkers in the best way. It’s like an extremely camp version of Hunger Games and I loved it more than I should have. It’s everything I wanted Divergent to be… There is so much going on, I don’t even know where to start.

The heroine, Tenley Lockwood, who has possibly the best character name I’ve stumbled across since Wuthering Heights, lives in a dystopian society divided into two factions: Troika and Myriad. As you can imagine, one’s peaceful, one’s violent. And Ten has to choose between the two for her second life after she dies. For one reason or another, both sides want her more than anyone else and it seriously irks them that she refuses to choose in an attempt to find her own, independent way. Even though it’s totally unclear why she’s being pursued and why she refuses to sign with one or the other, that’s why I’m completely taken by her. She’s stubborn and obstinate, and unwilling to bend to anyone’s will.

Best of all, she can kick some serious ass.

It’s Ten’s fierce independence that saves her from being a stereotypical YA heroine. There are so many aspects of Showalter’s writing that teeters on the edge of cringe-worthy, but she’s exceptionally good at pulling it back to the right place. For instance, there’s two boys chasing after her? Don’t worry – she sees one of them as her brother. There’s a superficial mean girl bullying her in prison? Oh, look… she’s got complex, grey morals and now they’re best friends. Oh, the heroine keeps finding herself in dire situations she can’t get out of? Doesn’t matter, she’s already beat up her attackers, saved half a dozen people, and is on to the next thing. Amazing. I’m here for all of this.

None of the developments in this plot should work, and yet it does.

Her love interest, Killian, is your conventional bad boy with a secret heart of gold. And maybe I’ve been seduced by his name alone (what? You mean Killian Jones, right? Eyeliner wearing, leather clad bad boy pirate, Killian Jones from Once Upon a Time? Where do I sign up???), but I fell hook line and sinker for him in ways I’m never tempted by YA love interests. He comes from the violent Myriad faction and the entire way through, even though the sensible thing to do would be to join the peaceful Troika faction, the odds are stacked in favour of Myriad. I mean, you get the hot guy and you get to beat people up. It just so happens to make for the more interesting story. The chaotic neutral in me has mad love for Killian and Myriad. You know what? Yeah… go wreak havoc with your hot boyfriend. I’d far rather read that than watch her sing Kumbaya with her new guardian angel bestie for an entire novel…

The whole way through, Tenley knows better than anyone that there are flaws in both Myriad and Troika. Neither is perfect and both have their own ulterior motives she’s constantly aware of. Ten’s incredibly calculating, a characteristic we don’t see too much of in female characters. She’s earned her nickname, Ten, for her love of numbers, and the fact that she’d undoubtedly be a mathematician if the factions let her simply be what she wanted to be, does so much to set her apart from the conventional dystopian heroine. Unlike a lot of dystopian heroines who are thrown into the maylay without any skills for war or rebellion (I take it back, Katniss. You are great with a bow), I can definitely see Ten strategizing and leading rebellions in future books. The factions supposedly want her because of a prophecy stating she’ll be the leader of them all and I can see her doing just that.

The point I’m trying to make her though, is that I want more logically inclined girls in YA. I want girls to be able to read stories about girls like them who are good with numbers, or science, or leadership, so they can feel validated in what they love to do. This is what YA heroines should be doing in the grand scheme of their stories. They should be helping real life girls pursue their passions, no matter how many people tell them they can’t because it’s not a girl’s job. And I think, against all odds, Tenley Lockwood is leading the charge.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Nexis

Nexis

Author: A.L. Davroe

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Published: December 2015

Rating: 1 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed  Read These Instead: The Hunger Games, The Diabolic, Firstlife, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984

This is not a spoiler-free review! You can find a spoiler-free version on goodreads!

Nexis

This is as good a time to write this review as any, given how much furor Harlequin Teen has received over The Black Witch lately… I read Nexis with full intentions of reading the sequel, Redux in time for its release, but I can’t in good conscience read Redux, let alone finish Nexis. Which I feel really terrible about because I received Redux not just in exchange for an honest review from the publisher, but I got it as a granted Wish on NetGalley… If anything, I hope this post raises awareness as to the types of things publishers should be aware of when considering sensitivity reads.

This series has an interesting enough premise. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world (called Evanescence, by the way. I hope that sets the tone…) where humans have let the Earth fall to ruin. The poor are left to rot in the toxic air of the outside world while the elite literally live in their own bubble of ignorance. It’s essentially a cheap imitation of The Diabolic. The elite pat themselves on the back for doing a favour to the poor by creating virtual reality video games that allows people to essentially live a second life. (So basically, virtual reality Sims.) Fine. Cool. The author says to just roll with it and let it happen.

So I do.

In amongst this dystopian world is Ellani, who happens to go by 500 different pet names, half of them cringe-worthy. She’s a stuck up, bratty teen obsessed with boys and disrespectful to her father, who tries so hard to teach her how the Earth once was and all the terrible things human beings have done to it in their selfishness. I can see where Davroe is going with this. It’s heavy-handed, and you expect Ellani to get it at some point and realise she has to do something about it. But nope.

In one ear and out the other.

While her father’s busy trying to teach her empathy for the world that once was, she’s too preoccupied with begging for plastic surgery for her birthday because she’s the only one who hasn’t been altered in some way. She also happens to solely accept validation in the form of how many boys notice and fall in love with her. So vapid is she, she’s apparently “in love with” the prince, who never gives her the time of day, never said a word to her, and doesn’t even know who she is. Not only that, he owns what Davroe is calling Dolls, who are basically slaves he uses to experiment cosmetic surgery upon… If this were, say, The Hunger Games, this would be making all sorts of really intense social commentary on just how corrupt and beauty-obsessed society has become. But no, this, just like everything else, is treated as the norm.

Not only is cosmetic surgery completely normalised in this world, so is assimilation of culture. It’s explained early on that black people were completely weeded out of the gene pool. They’re literally extinct. At this point, I have to put down my ereader and whisper eugenics to myself, which is never a word I want to associate with books I’m reading unless it’s something making important statements against it. This book is not, and in fact, is so blasé, I almost miss when they use the actual word eugenics to explain the way people look so homogenous. And it’s not in a “eugenics happened and now the world is fucked up” way. But in a “and also, eugenics happened… anyway…” way. Casual as you please. As if the reader’s just supposed to accept it and move on. Because that’s exactly what the characters do…

So, Ellani enters the game, which takes all its world-building from how the world used to be before mankind destroyed it. And for 4.5 seconds, she’s taken with how beautiful it is and what a shame that the sky and wildlife and trees and rain are gone. And I think, thank god, maybe she’ll be motivated to do something about it in the real world.

But then a boy comes along. And it’s instalove, so everything else she was inspired by has instantly been wiped clean from her brain (not literally, but wouldn’t that be interesting?) because clearly boys are more important than stopping planetary extinction…

Just when you think I’m done describing the offensive things being so casually name-dropped in this novel, I have one more horrifying tidbit. The big, instigating plot device that gets Ellani into the game in the first place is this big crash which (spoiler alert), kills her father. Fine, you could see it coming from miles away. Alright. But then she loses her legs. And given how poorly Davroe has handled literally everything else in this novel so far, you can maybe see where this is going. Two or so chapters later, she enters the game and discovers she can have her legs back. Well, I was looking forward to seeing a disabled character kick ass in a dystopian world (again, please see The Hunger Games!), but sure, this isn’t a horrifying, ableist alternative at all

I can now glean a couple messages Davroe is leaving with this:

  1. Attention from cute boys is all the validation girls need.
  2. Being beautiful is all girls should aspire to be.
  3. God forbid, if you wind up disabled, you’re better off dead.
  4. You know what was a good idea? The Holocaust.

Cool. With that, I have absolutely no interest, or intention of reading the rest of this series. I sincerely hope Entangled Publishing reads this review and strives to do better next time.

Books, Sneak Peek Weekends

February Sneak Peek Weekend #3

This week’s Sneak Peek celebrates the ever-growing representation of mental illness in YA!

10 Things I Can See From Here

10 Things

I could easily admit that it was nicer and faster to take the train from Seattle to Vancouver. But the last time I took the train, a woman threw herself in front of it just outside Everett.

Author: Carrie Mac

Publisher: Knopf

Published: February 28, 2017

For Those Who LIked: All the Bright Places, Perks of Being a Wallflower, A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, History is All You Left Me, A List of Cages, Girl on the Train

If I were an agent/acquisitions editor, would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

Absolutely.

This is a silly, subjective thing, but Mac immediately sets the setting of Seattle and Vancouver, which I automatically connect with because I’m somewhat of a West Coast girl. I’m already excited to get into her protagonist’s frame of mind, having at least somewhat been that girl traveling from Seattle to Vancouver island and back again before. Paired with the comforts of a familiar setting, the author throws in an overly anxious protagonist whose witnessed a traumatising event. This trauma is shocking and reading about a character grappling with witnessing a suicide is shocking and instantly pulls you in. There’s a lot of dynamic things going on in terms of character and setting development. I know what journey she needs to go on right away.

Like a lot of books I’ve read lately concerning mental illness, the protagonist is attending therapy right from the start. I will always have tons of respect for this, because therapists are not the enemy and teenagers need to be told there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. With this in mind, this gives me strong All the Bright Places vibes. It’s got very similar subject matter. Maeve is obsessed with death like Finch was, and on top of that, extra paranoid. She’s a sympathetic wreck and I feel for her.

Another little touch I appreciate is the chapter relates to a different way to die as Maeve does her obsessive research. I love these types of hooks because it makes me wanna know what the next chapter’s focus is. So many things in this novel’s opener just crooks a come hither finger at you and you have no other choice but to read on…

I should also make a case for the fact that this features a wlw girl, something that wasn’t immediately obvious to me based purely on the opener. But I see so few queer plots featuring girls lately (without deliberately digging for it, which I don’t ordinarily do), we should be supporting these plots more often!

Optimists Die First

Optimists Die First

The first time I saw Bionic Man I was covered in sparkles.

Author: Susan Nielsen

Publisher: Tundra Books

Published: February 21, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: All the Bright Places, 10 Things I Can See From Here, Perks of Being a Wallflower

Would I select this for publication?:

I personally wouldn’t, simply because there’s too much going on. I don’t know where I’m supposed to look. There are far too many characters introduced right away and I can’t tell who I’m supposed to glom on to. Opening chapters should be reserved for the protagonist and because there’s so much going on here, I’m struggling to connect.

This opener also makes the mistake of describing what the protagonist is wearing, in detail, from the protagonist’s point of view. I hate this trope. There are better ways to describe characters’ appearances and I just happen to think a protagonist has more important things to do than talk about what everyone’s wearing.

It’s a shame, because I think the title is really great and what drew me in in the first place.

 

Bonus: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

a-tragic-kind-of-wonderful

My big brother, Nolan used to say everyone has a superpower. Not a skill you learned, but something you were born with.

Author: Eric Lindstrom

Publisher: Poppy (Hachette)

Published: February 7, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: All the Bright Places, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Mean Girls

You can read my full review of A Tragic Kind of Wonderful here!

 

What’s your favourite novel addressing mental illness?

 

Books, Reviews

ARC Book Review: These Vicious Masks and These Ruthless Deeds

These Vicious Masks and These Ruthless Deeds

Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Publisher: Swoon Reads (Macmillan)

Published: February 2016 and March 14, 2017

Rating:

These Vicious Masks: 4 / 5 Stars

These Ruthless Deeds: 3 /5 Stars

Overall: 3.5 / 5

For Those Who Enjoyed:  X-Men, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Dark Days Club, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Parasol Protectorate

This is a spoiler-free review!

These Vicious Masks

I received an early release copy of These Ruthless Deeds from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve decided to review these two together, because I finished the first book immediately before the second and wouldn’t have had time to post a review of These Vicious Masks before the release date of These Ruthless Deeds. Plus, I think my love for the first book gives a richer context to the second.

As a fanatic of both Victorian literature and magical powers, I was so giddy getting into These Vicious Masks. What made it even more enticing was the silly, tongue in cheek way the characters and dialogue was written. It’s like a solid mix of Joss Whedon and Jane Austen in terms of sassy, witty rejoinders. There’s a stereotypical dark and brooding love interest which the protagonist keeps poking fun at for being so. You suspect you’re getting into a Rochester or Heathcliff situation with him, when really he’s just a socially awkward, kind-hearted Darcy. The pair of them, plus Evelyn’s best friends and sister have this very snappy whip smart dynamic which is easily the triumph of the series.

Oscar Vicious Masks

I felt These Ruthless Deeds lost some of that charm with the shift in focus from that ragtag team to the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters-esque Society of Aberrations. The first book spends so much time poking fun at society matters that the focus on Evelyn’s return to society was boring by comparison. Because she spends so much time under the Society’s thumb, the narrative loses the snappy dialogue that made the first book so fun to read in the first place. I happened to read an interview snippet from Zekas who noted that she and Shanker only keep dialogue that make them both laugh in their drafting stages and it feels a little like they abandoned that rule by the second book in favour of this dry political intrigue plot.

What I did like about These Ruthless Deeds was how Zekas and Shanker addressed the British Empire. There are moments here and there where it’s explicitly stated that the Society of Aberrations is working to round up people with magical abilities in order to protect the country’s Imperial interests. Since the British Empire’s historical background is rooted in horrific deeds and has been documented as such in so many novels of the time, I wanted them to go full blown dark, gothic horror on it. Although bringing down the political conspiracy within the Society does have massive consequences by the end of the novel, I wanted it to go further with it and really drive home the horrible things the Empire is doing to the world and not just immediately to the characters at hand.

While I did still thoroughly enjoy These Ruthless Deeds, the novelty of what made the first book so good wore a little thin. But if you’re a huge fan of Jane Austen, Gothic literature, X-Men, and Joss Whedon’s sass, you will love this series.

Books, Sneak Peek Weekends

February Sneak Peek Weekends #2

This week’s sneak peek is another personal favourite theme of mine: murder most foul. Here are three of the latest YA releases featuring a couple murder mysteries…

A Good Idea

A Good Idea

I think it started with the seizure. Serena and I talked about it later, and she agreed that if Ann Russo hadn’t had an epileptic fit during the graduation ceremony, she would have been far less likely to contribute her own outburst to the proceedings. Something about the sight of Ann spasming on the ground, red hair gleaming against the aggressively green, meticulously manicured grass of the backfield, mouth opening and closing wordlessly like a fish, gave what had been until then an unnoteworthy ceremony  … a surreal quality that sent things firmly off the rails.

Author: Cristina Moracho

Publisher: Viking Children’s Books (Penguin Random House)

Published: February 28, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, Castle, All the Bright Places, Cuckoo’s Calling, Allegedly, Asking For It

If I were an agent/acquisitions editor, would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

Yes. When I go looking for thrillers with a hint of murder, I want ‘em gritty, brutal, and gory. I want to be shocked and horrified and A Good Idea succeeds from page one. A lot is going on in this first chapter, and it sets up so many intriguing questions. This opening scene takes place during a graduation ceremony (I would argue, a rarity in YA novels?), where a dead girl’s murderer is allowed to cross the stage while the victim goes completely unacknowledged. Meanwhile, another graduating student suffers a seizure. Right away, Moracho’s setting up a heavy message she wants to share. She gets to the point without messing around with irrelevant narrative developments. Her protagonist stands for justice for girls who are victimised while their predators go free without acknowledgement of their crimes or compromising their reputation. It’s a message to get angry about and makes you want to follow her down the rabbit hole to see where this goes. I like that we’re reaching an age where murder and violence in fiction isn’t just meant to shock. When done right, it’s to prove a point, and shed a light on the corruptions of society and the legal system. And I can clearly see that’s what Moracho’s doing here. She’s got a point to make.

To Catch a Killer

To Catch a Killer

 I soothe my forehead against the icy car window and breathe out a path of fog. If I squint one eye, the neon splashed across the rain-slicked street forms a wide, cruel mouth.

Author: Sheryl Scarborough

Publisher: Tor Teen (Macmillan)

Published:February 7, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Cuckoo’s Calling, Castle, Law and Order, NCIS

Would I Select it for Publication?

Given there are so many cop procedurals out there about murder cases, this one’s a little too cookie cutter for me. The title even sounds exactly like every other true crime program on tv right now. There is obviously a market for books like these, otherwise we wouldn’t have dozens and dozens of crime series out there. As far as crime novels go, you kind of have to start with a bang. There’s a reason why every crime show opens with the murder itself and backtracks. Instead, in this, Scarborough opens with a witness investigation. Which, in terms of the crime plot structure, isn’t necessarily the most interesting part of the murder mystery formula. (In my humble opinion.) Right away, I wanna know how did the person die, and who are they. All we know from this chapter is that it’s the protagonist’s teacher, and there was a lot of blood. Obviously, if you’re a die-hard mystery reader (which I’m not), and you like to have a quick, poolside read during your holidays, then maybe this is right up your alley. It’s just not quite up mine…

Dreamland Burning

Dreamland Burning

Nobody walks in Tulsa. At least not to get anywhere. Oil built our houses, paved our streets, and turned us from a cow town stop on the Frisco Railroad into the heart of Route 66. My ninth-grade Oklahoma History teacher joked that around these parts, walking is sacrilege. Real Tulsans drive.

Author: Jennifer Latham

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Hachette)

Published:February 21, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Holes, The Help, Their Eyes Were Watching God, To Kill a Mockingbird, Allegedly

Would I Select it for Publication?

I don’t know about this one! This one’s got a slow build which doesn’t immediately grip you like it should. It gets there by the end of the first chapter, but it felt like I was going through the motions to get to that point. It does definitely feel, though, like Latham’s also got a point to make. Hers is one about race relations and slave-era America and how it’s impossible to erase that corrupt history, no matter how hard you try to clean the slate. There is clearly something to be said for erasure of victims, whether they’re women, like Moracho’s narrative, or black people, as Latham’s addressing. It’s incredibly topical now especially and I think it’s important to bring that discussion to teens as accessibly as possible. So while I don’t think this would be an immediately obvious choice for me as an agent, there is undoubtedly a place on the shelves for this novel and a reason it’s out there now. Sometimes that’s the burden agents and publishers face – the topics don’t always align with their categories of interest, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be out in the world!

What are your favourite murder mysteries? Feel free to share in the comments!

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Truthwitch

Truthwitch

Author: Susan Dennard

Publisher: Tor Teen (Macmillan)

Published: January 2016

Rating: 2 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: Throne of Glass, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stardust, Lord of the Rings, Rebel of the Sands

*This is not a spoiler-free review! You can find a spoiler-free version on Goodreads!

Truthwitch

Welcome to the Witchlands, where everything’s made up and the plot doesn’t matter…

This book made me irrationally angry. Which is probably what I get for picking up a book with a Sarah J. Maas endorsement on the front cover. What kills me is that it took me two thirds of the way through before I even realised it was making me angry. And that’s not even to say Dennard is a terrible writer. She’s just not a character writer. …and not a plot writer.

What she is blatantly skilled at is action writing, something I personally struggle with. That being said, without the other two elements to buoy the narrative development, the rest of the story falls apart. Dennard should be writing for video games or DnD campaigns, just not… novels.

Speaking of DnD, this entire world she’s created is essentially a dungeons and dragons adventure. There are bards and paladins and everyone’s got different powers and swords they’re constantly fighting things… Which could’ve been fun. If Dennard were doing anything particularly original with it. It’s a shame, because there are clearly elements where she’s trying so hard to make the world her own. Her world is called the Witchlands, where everyone wields some form of witchcraft or another and for some reason, despite the fact that some witches control the sea, or the weather, or people’s blood, or poisons, the Truthwitch is the most powerful, sought after of them all…

I should just say, this story shouldn’t have followed Safi (the Truthwitch) at all. She’s the worst type of fantasy hero. She’s impulsive and selfish and completely lacking in self-preservation and motivation… The choices she makes are very quick short-term fixes to dire situations without any concern for the long-term. The novel opens with her losing all her money at cards because a guy who flirted with her once charmed her into believing him. (Let me remind you, her speciality is in identifying the truth). During several emergency situations that unfold because of this mistake, she proceeds to intentionally rip up her clothes multiple times, simply for convenience’s sake. The DnD player in me says ripping up her skirts so she can be more effective in combat and giving chase sounds aesthetically pleasing. Why don’t fantasy writers use this option more often? But then I think about it a little more and…

Practicality.

It’s just not practical. Which is literally every single decision she makes in this novel. Another example of poor choices the protagonist makes is although these villages seem to be full of perfectly nice people who might lend her things if she asked, she still beats passing strangers up on the streets so she can steal their weapons. Or not just weapons. Their horses. She beats people up and steals their horses. On numerous occasions! These villagers must be completely desensitised to being used and abused because Safi’s not the only culprit who gets away with it. Her love interest, Prince-and-occasionally-Admiral Merik has this seemingly loyal crew who adore him and think he’s the best, yet he chains them up below deck as punishment? This same person shows up for the first time ever at this new settlement for his people (who have been suffering from the royal family’s debts), and everyone’s celebrating him in the streets, even though there is literally no explanation as to what he’s done to warrant such devotion.

There is literally no explanation as to why lots of things happen in this book. Which is why the development is so weak in all cases. Why are all the kingdoms at war? Why do all the rulers want the Truthwitch of all the other witches for their power grab? Why would the Emperor want lowly no one Safi as his Empress? Why isn’t this story about her soul sister, Iseult?

Why isn’t this story about Iseult?

Dennard missed such an opportunity by not making Safi’s BFF the protagonist here. Iseult has so much going on and is easily the most dynamic character in this narrative. On the surface, she’s got this meek, stuttering Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe, but you find out she actually packs more of a Willow punch with Buffy’s fighting skills. She comes from this nomadic tribe that’s being usurped by this creepy Puritanical preacher a la Fantastic Beasts. And she’s got this complicated relationship with her mother, who supposedly abandoned her when she was young, but in actuality, she was protecting her, and she’s taken on this new apprentice to replace her… She clearly comes from a minority background, like she’s representative of Native or Romani culture even though Dennard doesn’t ever put it into so many words, so she’s got a lot of old world traditions, and she’s constantly the center of casually racist threats (by the other characters, not the author). Meanwhile, she’s also got this ominous voice in her head gently swaying her to the dark side and even though everyone thinks she’s so powerless, she’s actually the most powerful of basically everyone…

Why isn’t this story about her?

I really wish Dennard had done the bold thing and killed off Safi. Iseult would’ve gone total Dark!Willow on everyone and destroyed everything. It would’ve been great and I would’ve loved it. Instead, we got Safi, being selfish and dumb and completely contradictory to her powers… Apparently, lie-detecting protagonists in fantasy is in right now, because this was the second of three books in a row I’ve read with such a trope. So I know for a fact girlfriend’s not doing it right. At all. Having read Traitor to the Throne immediately before this one, where Amani’s fact-checking every little thing someone says to her, Safi never once uses her power. And when she does, it’s like “oh, yeah, I believed it was true, even though it wasn’t, so my power did too”. Why is everyone running in circles, trying to find this useless girl when Iseult is bursting at the seams with every magic there is?

Why wasn’t it about Iseult???

To sum up, this novel should’ve been about Iseult. And I’m upset about it.

I’ll be reading and reviewing the new sequel, Windwitch, soon, so we’ll be able to see if Dennard makes good on that front…