Wednesday, April 21, 2021

#Review - Flamefall by Rosaria Munda #YA #Fantasy

Series: The Aurelian Cycle # 2
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Release Date: March 23, 2021
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Dystopian / Fantasy

Revolutionary flames ignite around Annie, Lee, and a brand new character in the follow-up to FIREBORNE.

After fleeing the revolution and settling into the craggy cliffs of New Pythos, the dragonlords are eager to punish their usurpers and reclaim their city. Their first order of business was destroying the Callipolan food supply. Now they’re coming for the dragonriders.

Annie is Callipolis’s new Firstrider, charged with leading the war against New Pythos. But with unrest at home, enforcing the government’s rationing program risks turning her into public enemy number one.

Lee struggles to find his place after killing kin for a leader who betrayed him. He can support Annie and the other Guardians…or join the rebels who look to topple the new regime.

Griff, a lowborn dragonrider who serves New Pythos, knows he has no future. And now that Julia Stormscourge is no longer there to protect him, he is called on to sacrifice everything for the lords that oppress his people—or to forge a new path with the Callipolan Firstrider seeking his help.

With famine tearing Callipolis apart and the Pythians determined to take back what they lost, it will be up to Annie, Lee, and Griff to decide who—and what—to fight for.


Flamefall is the second installment in author Rosaria Munda's The Aurelian Cycle. This series focuses on three main characters: Griff, Lee, and Annie. Griff is a peasant on New Pythos called a humble rider because he was claimed by a dragon. Lee Stormscourge aka Lee Sur Paller is Dragonborn who made a life or death choice at the end of the previous installment. Antigone aka Annie is now First Rider and Fleet Commander of Callipolis Dragon fleet. Annie and Lee grew up together but her family was killed by a Dragon.  

Annie is charged with leading the war against New Pythos. But with unrest at home, enforcing the government’s rationing program risks turning her into public enemy number one. Annie is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Literally. She does the unthinkable which makes people upset with her. She makes an alliance with Griff to help him against his oppressors. She has a responsibility to her people, but her people are suffering under a metals test that separates people under 4 different colors: Gold, Silver, Iron, and Bronze. In the end, Annie comes up with a brilliant strategy that leaves a hold your breath ending.

Griff knows he has no future now that Julia Stormscourge is no longer there to protect him. His dragon and the rest of the humble dragons in New Pythos are muzzled and unable to breathe their flames. Those he serves want to see Callipolis brought to their knees, but Griff feels differently. He longs to help do what is right, leading him to seek guidance from Callipolis’s new Firstrider, Annie. Griff, however, gets blindsided by a new character who hates peasants. As with Annie, his story ends on a cliffhanger.

Lee struggles to find his place after killing kin for a leader who betrayed him. Lee must make some really hard decisions as to where he lays his loyalties for the best of the people. He isn’t sure what is right anymore. One thing is for sure, though, he doesn’t want to be part of a regime that hoards rations for certain people and allows others to go hungry. He can support Annie and the other Guardians or join the rebels who look to topple the new regime. 

With everything that happens in this story, it is not a shock or surprise to read the ending of this book and watch as all three characters lives are on the brink of darkness. The characters are constantly having to make hard choices and reevaluate their principles. For Annie, it's allowing people to believe that she's the villain and not whining when they treat her as such. For Griff, it's loving someone you can't have, and then making a choice to stand up for himself against tough odds. Lee seems to struggle internally and the repercussions of Lee’s actions lead to a stunning ending to the story.

Chapter One: New Pythos


Julia’s missing, and I’m in a terrible mood. Not improved by the weather, which is cold and damp, but in New Pythos, it’s always cold and damp. I’m gutting fish in a back room off the dragon lairs when Scully comes to find me.

“Dragonlord here to see you,” the lair- master says.

That’s the one way to make my day worse. Bran and Fionna, the other two squires on fish- gutting duty, exchange a look. We’re up to our arms in bits of fish bone and scales; the stink of the fish oil will follow us out of the lairs, and now I’m going to miss the one perk that comes with prepping dragon feed— sneaking the remains home. I rise, wiping my hands on the work rag.

Scully hates the sound of my perfect Dragontongue, which is why I always try to use it. “Which dragonlord”— I pause just long enough for him to wonder if I’ll add— “sir?”

Scully scowls. This is why he keeps putting me on fish gutting. Lip. Not to mention our clans hate each other. “The one you serve,” he says in Norish.

Most days, that would be good news. Today, I just wish it were Julia.

On the balustrade outside, Delo Skyfish waits for me.

I remember as a child being struck by the Callipolan exiles, when they arrived on New Pythos: at the ghostly pallor of the Stormscourge survivors, at the warm brown skin and tight curls of the Skyfish lords. Delo Skyfish no longer looks like the ragged urchin that washed ashore ten years ago, but he’s still striking, and at the sight of his fur cloak and freshly coiffed hair, I’m conscious of my own stinking state.

I bow low.

“Your presence is an unexpected honor, my lord.”

Delo mutters, “As you were.” I straighten; Delo is scowling at me, like he knows I’m trying to discomfort him. He’s my age, taller than I, but slenderer. “The Triarchy- in- Exile wants to speak with you.”

I hug my arms around my chest, shivering from the sea spray coming in off the water. We’re dwarfed by the cliffs above and the citadel atop them, and by the limestone pillars of karst that jut from the sea into the sky. “Did they tell you what for?”

I use the formal you, and when Delo answers, he uses the informal. When we were younger, and I was still figuring out Dragontongue, he tried to get me to use the informal, too, or speak to him in Norish, which he was learning at the same time, but I refused. In trials of will with Delo, I win.

“They want to question you about Julia,” he says. “She’s missing.”

As if I haven’t noticed.

“Why would I know where Julia is?”

Delo hesitates. “Ixion— told them.”

From the way he says it, I don’t have to ask what.

The last time I saw Julia, her lips were on mine. In the dark I could feel, not see, her smile as she bunched my shirt to raise it. She always smiles, like what we’re doing is a game, and it amuses her to win.

Ixion told them.

I’ve stopped walking, and Delo stops, too, turning back to me. His face says everything I need to know about what’s about to happen in the Glass Hall. He doesn’t say I’m sorry, and I don’t say Ixion had no right. By now, I’m no stranger to the humiliations Ixion devises.

Like being called before the Glass Hall as Julia’s peasant lover stinking of fish.

As if he’d heard me think it, Delo reaches into his satchel. “I brought you a fresh shirt.”

Most of Delo’s clothes are blue, the color of his House, but this shirt is plain, undyed— appropriate for a peasant. Even so, it’s finer than anything I’ve ever owned, and I’m likely to ruin it with muck. I pull it over my head, and when I look up, Delo’s watching me. He looks away, down. The shirt smells like him.

I follow Delo up the winding outer stairs, carved into the side of the cliff and looking out over the North Sea, that connect the lairs where I work to the citadel at the summit. Both were built by the ha’Aurelians in the original conquering, when they invaded Norcia with their dragons, subjugated my people, and renamed our island New Pythos. The dragons’ bloodlines dried up in the cold not long after, but the lords remained.

And now, for the first time in generations, they have dragons again. Twenty-five dragons, brought as eggs by the Callipolan exiles ten years ago.

Dragons for revenge.

Dragons for the exiles’ surviving sons. Dragons for the sons of the lords on whose hospitality they imposed. Titles for their children in a future, greater Callipolis.

But there weren’t enough sons. The exiled Triarchy was forced to present the remaining hatchlings to others. Female dragonborn, like Julia. Bastards, who trickled in from Callipolis’s vassal islands, once despised for their illegitimacy but now needed.

Dragons were still unclaimed.

So, with a fleet not yet filled, the dragonborn resorted to a measure few believed would work.

They had the remaining dragons presented to the sons and daughters of their Norcian serfs.

And the dragons Chose.

They call us humble-riders.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

#Review - The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur #YA #Mystery #Historical #Thriller #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: April 20, 2021
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Thrillers & Suspense / Crime / Historical

After her father vanishes while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women, a teen returns home to pick up the trail in this YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.

1426, Joseon, Korea. Hwani's family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani's father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate. . . only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father, Hwani travels home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now-estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

Suspenseful and richly atmospheric, June Hur's The Forest of Stolen Girls is a haunting historical mystery sure to keep readers guessing until the last page.

Author June Hur's The Forest of Stolen Girls is a historical fiction/mystery that takes place in 1426, Joseon (Korea). A year after her father, Detective Min Jewoo, vanished while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women in 4 years, Min Hawani returns to her former home of Jeju Island hoping to pick up his trail. Min's father solved almost every case that was handed to him, except for the Forest Incident involving his own daughters which tore the family apart.  

Hwani is determined to find the truth behind her father's disappearance no matter how ugly the truth may be. Hwani must work with her estranged sister Maewol, a shamanic apprentice, who may hold the key to Hwani's success. All thirteen girls were allegedly in the forest when they disappeared and there have been repeated reports of a masked man in the vicinity. Years before, Hawani and Maewol had their own individual experiences with nearly being taken by the unknown masked person. 

Hawani is determined to follow the clues and make logical deductions just as her father would. Maewol wants to help, but her work in the shaman's hut seems to be at odds with the evidence. Hawani has to realize that the father she knew, is different than the one her sister knew. That her father was, after all is said and done, just human. Hwani and Maewol have a bit of a rocky relationship. Happens when there is a gap between younger and older sister. While Hwani feels like the cold steel of determination, Maewol feels like the warm fire, determined to burn to where she needs to go

The historical aspect of the mystery did not disappoint. Hur illuminates a lesser known part of Korean history; the tribute women. Young women aged 12 thru 18 were sent to appease the Ming dynasty emperor of China. Commonly known as comfort women, these women and girls were also known as ‘kongnyo’ or tribute women. This practice continued right into the 20th century. When families of Korea had a daughter, they immediately hid and disfigured their daughters so that they would not be stolen away from them and never seen again. At the time of this story, Joseon (Korea) was under Mogul rule. Later, the Ming Dynasty continued the practice of taking women and girls every 3 years.

Monday, April 19, 2021

#Review - Ravage the Dark by Tara Sim #YA #Fantasy

Series: Scavenge the Stars (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: March 9, 2021
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Epic

Step into an opulent world filled with risk, romance, and revenge and find out whether two unlikely heroes can save the world and stop corruption.

For seven long years, while she was imprisoned on a debtor's ship, Amaya Chandra had one plan: to survive. But now, survival is not enough. She has people counting on her; counting on her for protection, for leadership, for vengeance. And after escaping Moray by the skin of her teeth, she's determined to track down the man who betrayed her and her friends.

Cayo Mercado has lost everything: his money, his father, his reputation. Everything except his beloved sister. But he's well on his way to losing her, too, with no way to afford the treatment for her deadly illness. In a foreign empire also being consumed by ash fever, Cayo has no choice but to join Amaya in uncovering the mystery of the counterfeit currency, the fever, and how his father was involved in their creation. But Cayo still hasn't forgiven Amaya for her earlier deception, and their complicated feelings for each other are getting harder and harder to ignore.

Through glittering galas, dazzling trickery, and thrilling heists, Cayo and Amaya will learn that the corruption in Moray goes far deeper than they know, and in the end the only people they can trust are each other.  

Ravage the Dark is the second installment in author Tara Sim's Scavenge the Stars duology. This story once again focuses on two main characters: Amaya Chandra and Cayo Mercado. 7-years ago, Amaya aka Silver Fish, was sold to a debtor ship Brackish to pay off her father's debts. For years, Amaya tried to save enough money to pay off her debts. Then she met a man named Boon who claimed he was rich beyond her dreams and needed her help with a bit of revenge on those who destroyed his life. 

Amaya chose a path of vengeance against the man who put her there and those who ruined her father and sent her mother scurrying to pay off her debts the only way she knew how by selling her own daughter. Amaya as Countess Yamaa met Cayo Mercado who just happens to be the son of the man who destroyed her life. Cayo was a boy who loved to gamble and drink heavily and he didn't care one bit who he slept with as long as it took away his pain. Cayo was trying to do the right thing when it came to his sister Sonia who has come down with a strange illness called Ash Fever.  
After fleeing the city of Moray by the skin of their teeth, Amaya, Remy, Liesel, Deadshot and Cayo head to a foreign land in hopes of saving Cayo's sister Sonia who has been infected with the Ash Fever thanks in large part to Amaya's own actions in wanting to get revenge on those who took away her parents. Amaya carries a huge guilt trip for a large part of this story. She betrayed Cayo. She helped Boon with his so called revenge plot. She spread counterfeit coins far and wide while pretending to be someone rich and powerful from a far off land. 
Amaya also has to face the truths about her own family and what they were up to. Cayo isn't the only one whose own family did something really unhinged which led to lots of people getting hurt or dying thanks to the Ash Fever which has now jumped from Moray to the Rain Empire. I think the most interesting aspect of this story is Amaya coming face to face with the truth about her own mother and father and what they were up to. The secrets that they kept, the depths they went to protect themselves at the expense of their own daughter who has grown into being a powerful force to be reckoned with.
This duology began with the story being called the reimagining of the Count of Monte Cristo. The story twists and turns and tosses in a few surprises along the way. This is a world that is in shambles. Moray is close to being bankrupted and overrun by competing empires. There are also instances of sadness and loss and all because of a revenge plot gone wrong. Family plotting against Family. In the end, Blood is more costly than any coin or jewel and Amaya and Cayo find themselves struggling to once again trust the other. Her betrayal made him distance himself for a large portion of this book, but life is so unfair and full of sorrow sometimes that you must take joy whenever you can and that forgiveness is very important.

Friday, April 16, 2021

#Review - Girls with Rebel Souls by Suzanne Young #YA #SYFY

Series: Girls with Sharp Sticks # 3
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Release Date: March 23, 2021
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source: Borrowed Library
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction

The girls make their final stand in this third and final novel in the thrilling, subversive near-future series from New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Young about a girls-only private school that is far more than it appears to be.

There is no one who can save your rebel soul…

The girls of Innovations Academy escaped the confines of their unethical school, fought against the system protecting predators who targeted girls for harassment, and they’re not done yet. They’re still not free.

Reeling from one revelation after the next, Mena and her friends begin to unwind the truth of their existence and, as a result, their destiny. The men from Innovations Corporation still hunt them, the woman who created them still wants control over them, and worst of all, Mena realizes that through all her pain, all her tears, the world of men has not changed. There is no more time to hope for the best. The girls know they are in a battle for their lives, a war for their very existence.

The girls of Innovations Academy have sharpened their sticks to fight back, they have fought for justice with blood from their razor hearts. And now, the girls will choose their true nature...and how they define their rebel souls.  

Girls with Rebel Souls, by author Suzanne Young, is the third and final installment in the authors Girls with Sharp Sticks trilogy. It’s been a few weeks since Mena and the other girls of Innovations Academy Marcella, Brynn, Annalise, and Sydney, escaped their elite boarding school. Although traumatized by the violence and experimentations that occurred there, Mena discovered that the outside world can be just as unwelcoming and cruel. With no one else to turn to, the girls only have each other—and the revenge-fueled desire to shut down the corporation that imprisoned them. 

Coming to terms with the fact that they are AI, created by men to be controlled and dominated by men, they are devastated and shell shocked. The girls now have one goal in mind, revenge. But, they are also trying to learn about the school's investors so they can destroy them. Can there be a decent person underneath when there's so much cruelty and malice towards a group of people? The closer the girls get to their freedoms and revenge, the more unexpected things become and soon they don't know who to trust and who is on their side.

Mena's job starts in Colorado while her sisters end up in New York and Oregon hunting down investors. But when she and Jackson arrive at the former Innovations School, they find the school destroyed, and the town empty. It is a ghost town. To make matters worse, Jackson's father is apparently one of the investors in Innovations School but he's no longer around to explain hit side of the story since someone beat Mena to him first. To make matters worse, the girls are on edge because they have a kill switch implanted in their brains.

We've learned previously that Leandra was a double agent of sorts. She's just like Mena and her sisters. Leandra has an agenda yes, but nobody should make a mistake and trust Rosemarie. Rosemarie made an adjustment to Lennon Rose's brain that takes away emotions like fear and guilt. So, in the end, she allows Lennon Rose to basically do whatever she wants to do with men who she believes got away with abuse towards girls in various schools. This includes doing a lobotomies which have dire consequences for those who have had them.

I'm going to say this for the benefit of everyone. The author is a radical feminist with an agenda who truly believes that women don't have the same rights as men do. I call hog wash. The author started with a fictitious law called the Essential Women's Act. That would never happen in our society. There are too many women in positions of power that will never allow that to happen. As someone nearing 60 years old, I have never been told I can't do something I wanted to do. Nobody has ever told me that I can't work the job that I wanted to work. Nobody has ever tried to prevent me from voting. 

Nobody has ever paid me less than a man for the same job. In fact, more times than not, I've been paid higher wages than certain men. In other words, fiction based alternative realities like this series, definitely belong in the Science Fiction genre. In this series, there are two men, Jackson and Quinn who have been there from the beginning. Not once have they treated Mena and her friends with anything less than respect and kindness. Jackson has been hobbling along with a broken leg for part of the first story, all of the second, into this story.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

#Review - The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes #SYFY

Series: The Divide # 1
Format: Paperback, 480 pages
Release Date: April 20, 2021
Publisher: Tor Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera

The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes' fast-paced, sf adventure where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation.

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer--genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather's genetic facility for “reasons.”

She knows they’re humanity's last chance.

  "Sentinel, Sentinel at the black, do not blink or turn your back. You must stand ready to stem the tide, lest Viators come to cross the divide. 
The Last Watch is the first installment in author J.S. Dewes The Divide series. Imagine the soldiers of the Night's Watch from Game of Thrones, faced with the high stakes politicking and interstellar action of The Expanse, and you'll begin to get the flavor of the first entry in the Divide series. Dewes uses her flair for the dramatic to stack twist after twist, compounded by epic space-battles fought by uniquely compelling characters like Cavalon Augustus Mercer II, and Excubitor Adequin Rake. Adequin, the Commander of the Argus, is a Titan--one of the elite special operation soldiers during the last war against the Viator's. Titans are legendary heroes and Rake was one of the best known along with her partner Griffith Bach. 
Adequin has been a fighter pilot, tactician, and marks-woman. So why has she been relegated to the edge of the Divide? I'll not spoil the entire reason except to say that Five years ago, she made a life or death choice that sent her to the farthest reaches of the universe so that nobody would discover what she did. To make matters worse, The Argus is ancient and is falling apart. The Sentinels stationed onboard the Argus are a mixed bag that have some problematic reason for their posting: hacking, disobeying an order, lack of respect for officers, etc.. One could say that Adequin is captain of a ship filled with criminals. Including one very special one. Cavalon is an outcast royal heir who has been stripped of his titles and sent to the Divide and the SCS Argus. 
All of his alleged offenses have been redacted and he was lucky to keep his own name. What crime did Cavalon commit that would get him sent to a military battle-cruiser on the edge of the Divide? A very creative one. Cavalon nuked his grandfather’s genetic labs trying to stem his grandfather's machinations. When he's not being a smartass, he's brilliant with a list of advanced degrees that come in handy time and time again. He's also the only one onboard without any military training. The Sentinels at the Divide are allegedly protecting mankind from another Viator incident. Except they died out two hundred years ago. Had to clean up a few during the so called Resurgence War that led to the discovery that the Viators created a race of beings called Drudgers. 
Some may not believe in coincidences, but shortly after Cav's arrival, the Divide does some wanky things which forces Rake and a hand full of her crew to abandon ship. What's even more disturbing is that the crew has no communications back to civilization. They are literally cut off. They have jump stations that are deactivated. They have Drudgers who show up at unusual places, and with no way to return back to civilization, Rake and her crew must make a stand to prevent the Divide and Drudgers from killing any more Sentinels who have been stranded by their own people. What's curious about this world is that Humans have chosen to borrow, as it were, technology from their hated enemies called Imprints. Rake's are very curious and above anything you will see from any other character in this book. 
There is another group in this book as well called Savants. The Savants received intellect, grace, and an appearance that is alien yet not frightening. They were also slaves to the Viators. Cavalon starts out a jerk who thinks the world is against him, but what he needs is Rake. She challenges him to be better and gives him structure and he responds in big ways. There is mild romance in this story basically on two characters Rake and Bach. There is also plenty of darkness, plenty of deaths, and plenty of action to keep everyone satisfied right to the final page of the book. I liked this story so much that I requested the sequel which will be releasing later this summer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

#Review - Dustborn by Erin Bowman #YA #SYFY #Apocalyptic

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Release Date: April 20, 2021
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Science Fiction / Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic

Delta of Dead River sets out to rescue her family from a ruthless dictator rising to power in the Wastes and discovers a secret that will reshape her world in this post-apocalyptic Western mashup for fans of Mad Max and Gunslinger Girl.

Delta of Dead River has always been told to hide her back, where a map is branded on her skin to a rumored paradise called the Verdant. In a wasteland plagued by dust squalls, geomagnetic storms, and solar flares, many would kill for it—even if no one can read it. So when raiders sent by a man known as the General attack her village, Delta suspects he is searching for her.

Delta sets out to rescue her family but quickly learns that in the Wastes no one can be trusted—perhaps not even her childhood friend, Asher, who has been missing for nearly a decade. If Delta can trust Asher, she just might decode the map and trade evidence of the Verdant to the General for her family. What Delta doesn’t count on is what waits at the Verdant: a long-forgotten secret that will shake the foundation of her entire world.

Author Erin Bowman's Dustborn is a bleak yet hopeful tale that follows 17-year-old Delta of Dead River as she attempts to change the world and save her pack from the machinations of the General. The story begins with Delta and her pack of mostly females struggling to survive in a world reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road. A band of raiders has everyone on edge. Whenever they appear, bad things happen. What makes Delta interesting you ask? She has a map branded to her back. What is the map to you ask? Read the book!
After her sister Indie dies in childbirth, Delta and the baby who she names Bay, discover that her pack was attacked, and part of the pack was taken away. To make matters worse, Delta is taken by traders including a very familiar face. Asher, who was Delta's childhood friend, was supposed to be dead but now it appears he's in league with the General. I mentioned the General above, and now we shall get into the meat and potatoes of the story. You see, the General has been looking for a specific map that leads to a place called Verdant. A map that Delta and Asher both have branded to their backs. 

Life is harsh in this world, but it's even harder for those visited by raiders, or sold to work for the General. He controls Bedrock, a cache of weapons, and a source of water used to grow crops. To consolidate his power, he rules with fear, guns and drugged water, turning laborers into mindless drones. Children aren't taught anything but how to fight or harvest; if they spontaneously know how to read or any other skill, they're "gods touched" and given a place of respect.
There are plenty of interesting characters in this book as well a curious places like Powder Town where the women create their own explosives. The author hits on a bit of the Old World, and what apparently happened. The tale of Verdant haunts everyone, the hope for a life with water, greenery, and relative ease compared to the desert and dried up ocean beds. Delta transforms from a disgruntled older teenager who hates having been stuck with a baby that isn't hers, into a determined, fierce heroine who would do anything to save Bay.  
The worldbuilding comes about so organically. We're treated to descriptions of the landscape, sure, but then pieces of the history are woven into the prose and dialogue as naturally as could be. There's no shortage of action in any of the four parts in which the book was split up. Wind-wagons, falcons, hybrid “Old World” guns and new, this book had a wide variety of tools to pull you in. It is fair to say that I have read almost everything the author has written. From the Taken trilogy, to the Vengeance Road duology, to the Contagion duology. It's apparent that the author has a curious mind that can create strange and interesting new worlds. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Chapter One

There’s a storm coming.
I can see it out across the plains, a cloud of haze along the horizon that’s bearing down on Dead River like a blanket of shadow. It’s a good four clicks off, maybe more, but dust storms move fast. Already the threadbare flags on the huts flap wildly.
I hurry on to the lake. “Big storm to the west,” I call out to Old Fang. The wrinkled trapper is kneeling on the dock beside the dam, checking my traps for frogs or fish, not that we get many of either anymore. Dead River’s been slowly dying for years, the lake drying up and the banks growing wider. I’ve had to extend the dock several times just so the traps can still sit in water.
Old Fang searches out the storm. The churning clouds crackle and glint with lightning. “That’s the second one in ten days. We can’t get a break.”
It’s not untrue. “Any catch?”
He shakes his head. We should have moved in the winter, but now the endless stink of summer is ahead of us. There’s no chance of a pilgrimage for at least four moons, not unless we want to die in the heat, and even the damn frogs have had the sense to move on. Of course, frogs can’t read the stars, and I know we need to have faith. The night skies warn of dangers ahead, of dry land and dust-caked tongues, but if we just sit tight, they also promise a bounty. Flowing rivers. Green land. There’s to be a rebirth. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and even before I could see it, there was Indie pointing it out to me in her sisterly way, and before she could read the stars, there was Ma, pointing it out to both of us. Still, it’s hard to keep believing the sky when every sign here, on the land, shows nothing but death and decay.
Old Fang squints at the empty buckets I’m carrying, secured to the piece of driftwood I’ve got propped on my shoulders. “You grab the haul,” he grunts. “I’ll rally the pack.”
From back near camp, Ma’s voice is audible on the wind. She’s already shouting orders to our people. I also catch the twinkle of my bone chimes, and once those start singing, it means a hell of a storm. Ma’ll need all the help she can get.
I give Old Fang a quick nod, and he hobbles off. I pull my scarf over my mouth and nose, looping the loose end over my head to protect some of my hair. Then I scamper down the bank and sprint across the cracked, parched lakebed, the buckets clipping my hips as I run. Used to be I could grab a haul right from the bank. The river might have always been “dead,” flowing only in the spring or after a rare rain, but the lake was a beauty when we first arrived. Now I have to go out a ways to reach water. Not even the dam helps much anymore.
The hard earth becomes damp dirt underfoot, then sticky mud, then shallows. I trudge out to my shins and throw down the buckets, listening to the glorious sound of water gurgling into their depths before I heave them back out. The flags along the dam are whipping like mad now, and the hazy cloud to the west is looking more like a wall of dust.
“Rot,” I mutter. I can’t run with the buckets full, but I’ve perfected a straight-legged scuttle over the years, and I start back as fast as I can.
Once I’m up the bank, I can see the huts clearly. Our pack is scrambling—pulling scrub-woven blankets over the struggling crop, yanking clean clothes from the lines, ushering our four goats and lone mule into the stable, and tying down sheets of scrap metal to shield the animals from the worst of the dust. Flint was supposed to bring fresh meat soon—jackrabbit, he’d promised—but the trader’s not going to make it in this storm.
The wind picks up, pushing at my back. Instinctively I angle my head down, wishing for my goggles. They go everywhere with me and are a prime good pair. Real Old World tech, nothing like the cheap, slapdash ones the traders carry that are made of glass and fraying binds. Mine fit true, practically adhering to my face and blocking out all debris, and though the eyepiece can fog like glass, it won’t crack or break like the ones the traders peddle. I’m not sure what sort of magic they’re carved from. The leather head strap’s failing for the first time in all the years I’ve owned my pair, and I started patching it this morning. Should have waited until sundown and repaired them from my bed mat. It’s not worth going anywhere without them during the day. You never know when a storm might hit, and here I am without them, having dropped them on the table, half mended, as I raced for the buckets when the wind kicked up.
Squinting through the dust, I can tell most of our pack has retreated to the safety of their huts. Old Fang is barking orders at his granddaughter, Pewter. “Just leave it,” he shouts from the mouth of his home. At barely thirteen, Pewter’s no match for the heavy sheet of scrap metal she’s trying to use to smother the central bonfire. “The dust’ll see to it.”
True, but there’s always a chance the wind will knock embers into a hut first, and then the scrub and straw-packed roof would be ablaze in minutes.
Pewter’s eyes cut across the camp to me, my buckets. Water would kill the flames instantly, but it’s too precious to waste. I give her a curt nod, telling her I agree with Old Fang. She leaves the scrap metal flopped over the bonfire and runs for her grandfather. I watch her long braid duck past him, and then he’s inside too, lowering the blanket across the hut’s doorway and cinching it tight.
“Delta!” Ma is waiting in the mouth of the place we call home, waving her arms feverishly.
Water sloshes down my side as the strengthening wind batters my frame and rubble pelts my back. I’m nearly to the hut when a crack of lightning strikes the scrap metal Pewter had been struggling with. Sparks fly. I flinch with shock, lose my footing. My knees hit earth, and I reach out instinctively to stop my fall. That’s all it takes. With the weight of the buckets off kilter, one of them plummets and hits the ground. I lose the other trying to save the first.
The greedy soil soaks up the water.
“No.” My hands fly over the damp dirt, patting, slapping, as if I can will the water back into the bucket.
“Delta!” my mother yells again.
I scramble to my feet, grab the empty buckets, and stagger the last few strides to our hut. Ma grabs my arm and hauls me inside.
“Right foolish of you,” she scolds. “What good would water do when we can’t even boil it under the hold?”
“The lake’s cleanish. Some water sounded better than none.”
“We’ve got plenty of purified water stored.”
“Last I checked, we had four jars.”
“It’s enough.”
“Not if the storm lasts more than a day, and with Indie being pregnant, I fig—”
“Delta!” There’s a crease in her brow, an edge of fire in her tone. I suck my bottom lip to keep myself from saying any more, and I taste dirt. “Just get under with your sister.”
I leave her to securing the door and head into the cellar, which isn’t much more than a crawlspace. We’ll spend the next few hours—maybe even days—hunched to half-height beneath the hut, old sheets pinned overhead to keep rubble and dust from falling on us. Only thing this cellar is good for is storage and sleeping. It’s cool, this far into the earth. I especially don’t mind it on summer evenings. But being stuck down here when you’re not sure when you can go back up is a kind of torture.
At the bottom of the wooden steps, I find Indie reclining on her mat, the curve of her belly heaving as she breathes. “Thanks for trying with the water,” she says. “It was kind of you.”
“It was foolish,” Ma repeats, coming down the steps behind me and yanking the door shut. The cellar is swallowed in darkness until Indie gets a candle going with the flint.
Overhead, the storm front crashes into the hut with a howl. Dust filters through the door, and pebbles gather in the hanging ceiling sheets with soft pfffits. Someday, one of these storms is going to cause the hut to collapse on us, or maybe just last so long that we suffocate in the cramped, clouded air.
Rotten place. Rotten weather. Rotten land.
We need to move.
We can’t move.
Like always, there’s no good answer.
Ma pulls our jars of water from the shelves—bottled just yesterday after boiling—and passes them out. One for me, one for her, and two for Indie. Skies damn her for getting pregnant. It’s one thing to want a romp and another to do it when the window’s not right. And with Clay, of all people. That trader couldn’t keep his mouth shut if his life depended on it, and half of what he says is a farce. I bet he jawed her ear off even during the act.
Curse him and Indie. The pack doesn’t need another mouth to feed. A fresh set of hands, sure, but the babe won’t be any real help for at least five years, probably more.
I take a tiny swig of water—just enough to clean the dust from my lips—then screw the lid on, marveling at how it fits perfectly, even after all these years. I spend a bit of time hobbling together inventions for our pack—like the lake trap or bone chimes—and I can’t even guess at how you’d make these jars and their locking lids. I could say that about all Old World tech, though.
“Did you talk to Astra yet?” I ask as Ma settles onto her mat.
She breathes out a tired sigh. “It won’t help.”
“If anyone can change Old Fang’s mind, it’s her. She’s his niece.”
Our pack is mostly female, but Old Fang still has the final say on all decisions because he’s the oldest.
Indie raises a brow, then says, “Old Fang won’t move us unless the Gods’ Star fell into his hands and instructed him where to travel, and even then, he’d probably be suspicious.” I snort, and Ma shoots us a look. Indie smoothes her skirt. “Besides, nothing good comes of leaving.”
“Yes,” Ma agrees. “Think of Alkali Lake.”
I don’t need to think about it. It haunts my dreams, and my back prickles at its mention even now, the brand on my skin seeming to burn. But nothing good comes of staying, either.
I was a kid when we left to settle at Dead River—just nine years old—and the half of the pack that stayed behind didn’t live longer than another week. According to a trader, it was a raid. He trudged into our camp with his rickshaw and the gruesome news, and Old Fang’s been spooked ever since.
I used to think it was cowardly, giving in to fear like that. But lately, every time traders come through, they bring stories of grisly deaths and broken homes. There are bands of raiders roaming the wastes. The only safe place is one you can defend. We can barely do that, but no one wants our dying chunk of land. There’s no future here.
“We won’t have enough water to make it through another summer,” I argue. “This one, maybe, but not next. The well’s practically dry, and the lake will follow. Maybe if we knew how to read the map . . .”
“No one knows how to read it.”
“Then if we just tried Powder Town, found someone there who can.”
“We show that map to no one, Delta. Not unless—”
“We trust them with our lives,” I finish. “I know.”
I don’t add that it’s been ages since I believed the map led anywhere. If it did, our pack would have found it long before the markings were branded onto my skin. But at this point I’m willing to say anything—propose anything—that might spring us to action.
“Besides,” Ma goes on, “Powder Town is a good fifty clicks north, and there’s no guarantee we’d even make it there alive.”
“The traders make it,” I point out.
“The traders are young. Healthy. One lone man, with nothing to defend but himself and his goods, and even then, think of how many times Clay has shown up here telling us that his most valuable wares had been robbed.”
“Because he’s a rusted idiot,” I mutter.
Indie shoots me a wounded glance, and I fall quiet.
“We are fourteen people, mostly women,” Ma continues. “Old Fang is nearing seventy. Brooke’s girl is just four, and Indie will have a newborn in a matter of weeks. That is no herd fit for moving. We’d be easy prey.”
“We’ll be easy prey here, too, once we’re dehydrated and starved. We’ve gotta go someplace better. Anywhere but Dead River. The crops are struggling. Potatoes and turnips smaller than we’ve seen in years. And the corn should be taller by now, right Indie?”
She opens her mouth to answer, but Ma cuts her off. “We’re not leaving, and that’s the end of it. The stars say a bounty is coming. The earth will be fertile again soon.”
“They’ve said soon for years and could say it for decades more.”
“Where is your faith?” Her eyes bore into me, sharp and vicious. “This is why the gods deserted us. This is why we’re stuck on this dying earth. We are being tested, Delta. If we prove we are worthy, they will return, as will the riches of water and crop.”
The wind howls outside, as if to agree. Rubble plinks above, joining what’s already gathered on the blankets.
“I’ll have no more talk of this.” Ma turns to the shelves. “Here. Eat.” She passes a strip of jerky to each of us.
“Delta only wants what’s best for us, Marin.” Ever since Indie got with child she’s been calling Ma by her given name, as if it proves she’s not a kid herself anymore. I don’t think we’ve been kids for a very long time. Certainly not since Alkali Lake.
Ma just humphs and lies down on her mat. I gnaw on my jerky and take another small sip from my jar. Smack dust from my limbs. Unbelt my boots by their leather straps and kick them off so they can dry.
When Ma falls asleep, Indie says, “I grabbed your goggles. Thought you’d want to work on them while we’re stuck down here.” She passes them over, along with the tools.
“Thanks,” I say, and immediately go to work, punching holes through the leather head strap with the awl. Indie watches me in silence.
“Think if we polished a piece of quartz real good, we could convince Old Fang it’s a fallen star?” she says finally. “Argue it’s a sign from the gods that we need to move?”
“He won’t buy that.”
“You’re right. We should polish a turd instead.”
I snort again, and she giggles, one hand on her belly.
“So, are you going to do the honors of gathering patties from the stable, or is it on me?” she asks.
We snicker together until Ma mutters in her sleep. Indie pats the mat beside her, and I scoot nearer.
We sit shoulder to shoulder, our backs against the dirt wall. I set the awl aside and move on to stitching. I can still remember when I was smaller than her, my head only coming up to her shoulder. She’d tell me stories passed down through the pack, or on clear nights, when we weren’t stuck underground from a storm, she’d point at the glinting sky and marvel at its beauty.
It still amazes me, how it can be so beautiful while everything down here dies.
As though she can hear my thoughts, Indie whispers, “In all seriousness, Delta, we shouldn’t talk about the stars that way. The gods might hear.”
“In the cellar? When we’re half buried in dirt?” I raise an eyebrow, and she smiles. It’s not a real smile, just an I’ll-humor-you one. She’s been doing that a lot since she got pregnant, still making jokes but then seeming to regret it, forcing herself to be the parent between us. Her green eyes glimmer, and I’m struck by how unalike we are. We share a mother, but our pas are different, and in the candlelight it’s obvious. Her with green eyes, me with brown. Her nose broad and mine a narrow bridge. Her hair a shade of straw and mine as dark as the night. We’ve never met our fathers, though, and in this way, we’re the same. Tied to Ma. Tied to the pack. Tied to Dead River.
“They’ll come back for us—the gods. You have to believe that.”
“I believe it, Indie.” I tighten a stitch. “At least I’m trying to.”
Her eyes go wide.
“Blasphemous, I know,” I tease, but she’s not laughing. She’s looking only at her lap, her mouth twisted in concern. “It’s just hard to accept that they’ll return before it’s too late. I know what happened last time we lost faith. I’ll never forget what happened to Asher, or all the others we left behind at Alkali Lake, but if we—”
Indie’s hand clasps over my wrist, stopping my work on the goggles.
“Delta?” she says, her voice small against the raging wind. “I think my waters just broke.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

#Review - Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft #YA #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

A gorgeously gothic, deeply romantic YA debut fantasy about two enemies trapped inside a crumbling mansion, with no escape from the monsters within.

Honor your oath, destroy your country.

Wren Southerland is the most talented healer in the Queen’s Guard, but her reckless actions have repeatedly put her on thin ice with her superiors. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate to cure his servant from a mysterious disease, she seizes the chance to prove herself.

When she arrives at Colwick Hall, Wren realizes that nothing is what it seems. Particularly when she discovers her patient is actually Hal Cavendish, the sworn enemy of her kingdom.

As the snowy mountains make it impossible to leave the estate, Wren and Hal grow closer as they uncover a sinister plot that could destroy everything they hold dear. But choosing love could doom both their kingdoms.

Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched, gothic, romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night.


Down Comes the Night is author Allison Saft's debut novel. Told in the third person point of view, the story follows Wren Southerland who is a brilliant healer and Queen's Guard and unwanted niece of Queen Isabel. After 300 years of war, Isabel brokers an armistice with Vesria. Her hopes is that things could get back to normal. That is until soldiers, including Wren's only other friend, go missing while patrolling the borders with Vesria. Wren and Una Dryden, her commander and best friend, capture a possible spy holding a book with notes on the missing, only to have Wren heal the prisoner who then escapes. Unfortunately for Wren, the Queen really doesn't like her. She feels betrayed by her sister falling in low with a low born. She grows impatient with Wren's carelessness and threatens to send her back to the Order of the Maiden where she was sent as a baby. 
For Wren, magic and medicine provided Wren with an escape from the loneliness of growing up alone and being ignored by Isabel her own flesh and blood. She's really good at both. After her mistake, Wren is banished back to the Order of the Maiden where she receives an interesting request from Lord Alistair Lowry of Cernos. Cernos has ignored all requests for aid for years. But now it seems that Alistair has a major problem on his hands, and since Wren is at the top of the list of healers and surgeons, she's the answer to his problem. After Isabel orders Wren to the mines to heal the miners, Wren chooses a different path. Wren decides to take up Alistair's offer and travels to Cernos. Things at Alistair's mansion are desperate. Servants have died. Another lies dying. The weather outside is downright frightful.  
But the most shocking moment comes when Wren comes face to face with the monster known as Hal Cavendish, aka Reaper of Vesria. The same Hal who was listed as missing. The same Hal who has terrorized Vesna for years.  She's trapped in the snowy mountains with a murderer, but soon realizes something even more sinister is just around the corner. As a healer, Wren is a bleeding heart. She needs to do what she's good at even though Hal is her enemy. What's really interesting is that Cernos has a technological advantage over both its neighbors and now claims to want to work with Vesria. They could easily have declared war on both countries and more than likely, won. To make matters even more interesting is that Alistair wants Wren to be his official liaison to Queen Isabel after she finds a way to cure Hal.  
Wren tends to bare her heart to the reader: choosing to show an enemy kindness when it would be much easier to follow orders and ignore his pain. Hal is brooding, angsty, and above all, is seeking answers and redemption. Some have labeled this as LGBT and that is because Wren is in love with her best friend Una. But in the end, it is her connection to Hal and her desire to do good that drives the final chapters of this book. Down Comes the Night is a dark tale full of nods to some classic horror tropes like the mad scientist, haunted mansions, romanticism versus enlightenment, body horror, and more.