Wednesday, September 28, 2022

#Review - The Curse of the Blessed by C. Tarkington #YA #Fantasy

Series: Unknown
Format: Kindle, 364 pages
Release Date: August 14, 2022
Publisher: C. Tarkington
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Lady Maela Llewelyn loves her family and her land. Every year she sees her people growing weaker and sicker as the kingdom demands more and more resources from them. All the while, she hides inside her a magical power in fear she will be taken away by the High Holy Council.

After saving a young girl working in one of the orchards, she is seen using her power by her uncle, who sits on the High Holy Councile and other priests with him. Her uncle convinces her to go to the palace to participate in an event meant to find the crown prince’s bride and the next queen of the kingdom. Mae has no desire to wed the prince, but she sees a chance to speak to the king about her land’s problems and train with her mystical powers.

She travels with her uncle to the palace, where many look down on her because of where she comes from. She befriends the young highest lord of the city and finds herself often in the company of the prince. As she tries to focus on helping her people, she begins to see she is in the middle of more intrigue than she could have imagined.

The Curse of the Blessed, by author C. Tarkington, is apparently the first installment in the authors The Curse of the Blessed series. The story is told in the third person narrative featuring Lady Maela Llewelyn. Mae comes from a place called Adaria where the country of Gelardia gets all it's produce and lumber from as well as livestock. Maela doesn't think much of the magic that flows in her veins. In fact, she calls it the curse and tries hard not to use it so that others don't take her away from her mother and younger brother.

This is a country where magic was in everything and many were born with magical abilites thanks to the Goddess Auralia until it seemed to fade into obscurity. Thanks to misogynistic laws, her brother of 3 years of age is considered the heir while Mae tries to pick up where her father left off in helping make sure her people can feed themselves. Mae's life is turned upside down when she saves a girl from falling out of a tree. Her Uncle, a High Priest of the Temple of Auralia, as well as several priests watched with gleeful gleams in their eyes.

Why? Because the Crown Prince of Gelardia, Prince Cadel is about to turn 18 and he will be expected to find a wife to carry on the Callages legacy. Over the past 400 years, magic has been disappearing, but those with a bit of wealth are finding themselves with a variety of magical ability. Usually it is someone from the Gold Row or wealthy people, but this year's contest will feature girls from throughout the land. So, Mae, along with a variety of other young women like Olivia, & Leanna, who she befriends as well as teased non-stop, all travel to the palace where they will be tested, watched, and sorted until only one young woman is left standing.

One could say that Mae is brash and hot-headed. She knows that this game comes with a high cost for those who don't end up being chosen to become betrothed to the Prince and eventually become the next Queen. She knows that the Highest One seems to have an agenda of his own; one that would see Mae be part of some diabolical plan to remove the King and the Prince from power. Of course, there's the usual snarky commentary from those like Henrietta who honestly believes that she is the only one who should be standing when all is aid and done.

Mae has no desire to wed the prince, but she sees a chance to speak to King Mascen about her land’s problems and train with her powers. After all, her little country is the one that is keeping Gelardia going for a very long time with nothing seemingly going to end any time soon. Mae is likely the most powerful candidate with magic that the Kingdom has seen in a very long time, but she also has to protect her heart from her best friend Felix who refuses to go home, the Prince himself who tries to warn her about dangerous at the Palace, as well as Lord Aimon who seems to be everywhere she goes, and makes it impossible not to call this a twisted 4-way love triangle.

I picked up this book because, honestly, the title and the cover. I was looking for a quick book to read to fit in before I will shut down for Hurricane Ian. I will likely keep an eye out for when the alleged sequel will be released since there are way too many questions left unanswered and we probably should.

NOTE:  If you are reading this, and you are in Florida, I pray that everyone who been told to evacuate has done so. Please don't play with your life or the life or your loved ones, or that of your pets. Ian is a bastard with zero feelings about your feelings. As I live in Jacksonville, I am going to stay where I am and batten down the hatches, as it were. I am in a place where normally we get a whole lot of wind, and a whole lot or rain, and we will likely lose power for a few days unless Ian passes by quickly. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

#Review - Bound by Bloodsong by Sandy Williams #Paranormal #Fantasy

Series: Kennedy Rain # 2
Format: Kindle, 312 pages
Release Date: September 13, 2022
Publisher: Brimfire Press
Source: Amazon
Genre: Paranormal / Fantasy

When Kennedy bans the werewolves from The Rain Hotel, she threatens the stability—and secrecy—of the entire paranormal world.

Tragedy forces Kennedy back to The Rain Hotel, a magic-free haven for vampires and werewolves and all things other. She might have been reluctant to return to her ancestral home, but now that she’s running things, she will use all her resources to discover who betrayed her family and why.

As the clues pile up and evil forces threaten Kennedy and her friends, three powerful individuals compete for her trust. But things aren’t what they seem, and each man has ulterior motives. She’ll need to build strong walls against their magic and manipulations, and she’ll especially need to be cautious around one charismatic werewolf who seems determined to tempt her into his bed.

Can Kennedy unravel the mystery and find her place in the paranormal world? Or will her decisions lead to The Rain’s destruction and the loss of innocent lives?

Bound by Bloodsong is the second installment in author Sandy Williams Kennedy Rain series. When Kennedy was 18, she turned away from her family business and decided to live a normal life. But a normal life also included helping paranormals who owe no loyalties to either Arcuro, the vampire caretaker, or Lehr, the werewolf Alpha. After learning about her parents murder by unknown paranormals, Kennedy has taken a stand against the werewolves and vampires. 

She has chosen not to allow any paranormal on her property called The Rain during Turnover until those responsible for her parents murder are found. Kennedy feels the werewolves are behind the murder and demands that Blake either help her, or get the hell out of her way. Blake can be a bit on the clingy side when it comes to Kennedy but I think he means well. Things change when an evil enemy who wants access to the Treaty becomes a major threat. Kennedy is also determined to keep her human roommate friends safe, as they never knew about the hotel. 

She’ll need to build strong walls against their magic and manipulations, especially by Blake, Arcuro, and Lehr. What makes the Rain Hotel unique you ask? Excellent question! The hotel is a null zone for paranormals, with a treaty that has been in effect for hundreds of years; a place to recover, be at peace, or just time to relax with no pressure. A werewolf can avoid the full moon or a vampire can see the sun, or recover from an injury. 

Plus, some other unknown species like Sullens, Pehdra, and Thords have signed a contract to work for the hotel for 5 years. It also includes Jared, a vampire who used to be Arcuro's second in command after he fell in love with Nora, a werewolf. The treaty is also supposed to protect the Rains, but for some reason or the other, someone found a way to get around the treaty to kill her parents. We also get the return of Astrid, a witch who disappeared with her mother over 10 years ago, and may hold answers to what happened to Kennedy's parents.

This story really is twisted. The story moves from The Rain to Cincinnati, and a wild action packed scene where Kennedy and Astrid and friends try to lure those responsible for her parents murder. One could say that this story ends on a cliffhanger since Kennedy has all but declared war on both vampires and werewolves, and it's only a matter of time before that conflict comes to a head one way or the other. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

#Review - The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes #YA #Mystery #Thriller #Suspense

Series: The Inheritance Games (#3)
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: August 30, 2022
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Thrillers & Suspense

Avery’s fortune, life, and loves are on the line in the game that everyone will be talking about.

To inherit billions, all Avery Kylie Grambs has to do is survive a few more weeks living in Hawthorne House. The paparazzi are dogging her every step. Financial pressures are building. Danger is a fact of life. And the only thing getting Avery through it all is the Hawthorne brothers. Her life is intertwined with theirs. She knows their secrets, and they know her.

But as the clock ticks down to the moment when Avery will become the richest teenager on the planet, trouble arrives in the form of a visitor who needs her help—and whose presence in Hawthorne House could change everything. It soon becomes clear that there is one last puzzle to solve, and Avery and the Hawthorne brothers are drawn into a dangerous game against an unknown and powerful player.

Secrets upon secrets. Riddles upon riddles. In this game, there are hearts and lives at stake—and there is nothing more Hawthorne than winning.

The Final Gambit is the final installment in author Jennifer Lynn Barnes' The Inheritance Games trilogy. This book picks up after the second one and is filled with more mystery and puzzles like before. For Heiress to be Avery Kylie Grambs, the countdown grows closer to when she will inherit billions of dollars from Tobias Hawthorne's trust fund. But one more challenge remains and a surprise visitor and an enemy from the past may cost her everything. For years, Tobias raised his grandsons (Xander, Grayson, Jameson, and Nash) to play puzzles, and riddles.

Over the course of this series, Avery, Xander, Grayson, and Jameson have pooled their research to not only reveal things about the family itself, but Avery's connection to the family. This included properties across the globe which may or may not contain more clues for Avery and the brothers to solve in order to understand Tobias mindset. It has even become a game between Avery and the brothers to reveal things about Hawthorne House that nobody knew about, including the number of secret passaways. A game that includes Ferris Wheel Leapfrog, to a Death Match, to uncovering clues in a swimming pool, and underground. It hasn't exactly been easy. 

Avery has made plenty of enemies along the way including Skye Hawthorne, the mother of the four brothers. She now has to worry about her security being targeted with offers of employment, while Tobias businesses face a slew of investigations. The media has offered big money for pictures of Avery with one of the brothers. And, it appears that someone from Tobias past may have set a new game in motion. But it is Eve's appearance that shakes the Avery and the Hawthorne brothers, especially Grayson, to the core and makes the games finish even more twisted. 

Eve reveals that Toby is missing and that she is his secret daughter who looks like Emily Laughlin. Eve who seems to be holding the missing card as to who is attacking Avery and why. Eve who seems to be everywhere she isn't supposed to be. It soon becomes clear that there is one last puzzle to solve, and Avery and the Hawthorne brothers are drawn into a dangerous game against an unknown and powerful player. Secrets upon secrets. Riddles upon riddles. From secretive USB drives. To a game called Queen's Gambit, to an event that happened prior to Avery being born, secrets will be revealed. 

We even find out the secret behind Alexander aka Xander's father who may be holding yet another piece of the puzzle that Avery needs to defeat her newest nemesis. Avery is a character who hasn't exactly had things easy. She has a half sister, Libby who tried to raise her right. Her mothers sister Kaylie Rooney was a victim of Hawthorne Island fire. She met and played chess with a mysterious stranger, yet she isn't afraid of playing Tobias Hawthorne's games if it means helping others like her sister. When a new nemesis comes along, Avery knows that she is a pawn in a dangerous game, but run away from the challenges that are given to her.

My only real complaint is how predictable the ending is. When I started this trilogy, I could have told you how things would play out if Avery was to meet every condition that she was required to follow to the letter. My only regret is that I could have literally been okay with either Grayson, who was a major disappointing in this story when Even appears or Jameson, who literally goes to the ends of the Earth to find clues, ending up with Avery in the end. Have to say that once again, Xander is my favorite character. He's adorable and makes the story that much more entertaining to read.

Friday, September 23, 2022

#Review - Poster Girl by Veronica Roth #Dystopian

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Release Date: October 18, 2022
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Source: Publisher
Genre: Dystopian

For fans of Anthony Marra and Lauren Beukes, #1 New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth tells the story of a woman's desperate search for a missing girl after the collapse of the oppressive dystopian regime—and the dark secrets about her family and community she uncovers along the way.


Sonya Kantor knows this slogan—she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation.

And then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. And its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives.

Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past—and her family’s dark secrets—than she ever wanted to.

With razor sharp prose, Poster Girl is a haunting dystopian mystery that explores the expanding role of surveillance on society—an inescapable reality, even if cracked.

Veronica Roth's Poster Girl tells the story of a woman named Sonya Kantor aka Poster Girl in her desperate search for a missing girl after the collapse of the oppressive dystopian regime—and the dark secrets about her family and community she uncovers along the way. 10 years ago, 17-year old Sonya Kantor was the Poster Girl for the Delegation who required everyone to be implanted with Insight technology that could track their every movement, as well as DesCoin which paid citizens for their good behavior, and deducted coins for bad behavior.

After the Uprising, the Delegation fell and its most valuable members were locked away for life in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city of Sea-Port. Everyone else is now free from the Insight’s monitoring and went on living their lives. Thanks to a new law called The Children of the Delegation Act, the Triumvirate who replaced the Delegation has decided to release certain individuals who were young adults 10 years ago when the Delegation fell during the Uprising. Sonya was the only member of her family that was caught and set to the Aperture. 

Losing every member of her family, and a decision she made that day to safe herself, still hangs over everything she does. Even though she's self taught herself how to fix things, she knows that it is unlikley that she will ever leave thanks to her name and face and notoriety. Until Alexander Price, the boy who betrayed her family, shows up claiming that Sonya is being given a chance at her freedom by the Triumvirate. All she has to do is find a girl who has been missing for 10 years. A girl who was taken because she was an illegal second child unlike Sonya who was given special permission from the Delegation to be born and not taken from her family.

The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past—and her family’s dark secrets—than she ever wanted to. She finds that Alexander hasn't exactly had the best lives after he betrayed her family and may be her only friend. She also finds that the new regime is not as squeaky clean as they've told people, and that secrets will eventually bite Sonya in the ass if she doesn't watch her back. Because of her past, Sonya is liked by almost no one, not really even her fellow political prisoners.

Reason for my review: First, there is literally no world building. We are told of an uprising. We are told that the Delegation was bad, and the new regime is more people friendly. We later learn that there's a rebellion gaining traction right under the new regime's noses, and they, along with Emily Knox, a hacker who Sonya uses to find the missing girl, are not exactly ready to open their arms to Sonya. The story also ends flat and there's a whole lot left to be explained. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

#Review - Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: September 27, 2022
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

From New York Times bestselling author Adrienne Young comes a deeply atmospheric story about ancestral magic, an unsolved murder, and a second chance at true love.

Emery Blackwood's life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings. But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years.     
August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother's ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery. But the town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises spanning generations threaten to reveal the truth behind Lily's mysterious death once and for all.

Adrienne Young's Spells for Forgetting is a story that is set in the Pacific Northwest, notably, Saoirse Island. For the first time in 14 years, August Salt returns to the island to bury his mother's ashes at her request, but many old feelings resurface as well as many of the island's secrets. Saoirse is where he grew up, the island where he lost his true love, the island that would love to see him pay for a death that almost everyone thinks he was responsible for, to bury his mother who recently passed away. 
Saoirse is a place where no one comes to stay, but those who leave the island, feel the pull from the island to return. Emery Blackwood now runs her mother's Blackwoods Tea Shoppe and Herbal Tonics shop after she passed away several years before. Emery has only left Saoirse a few times after August disappeared, but always came back when she couldn't find where he ended up. Emery was taught to read omens, and some magic by her mother and grandmother. So, when dozens of starlings start hanging around, it seems like a message to Emery. 
18 years ago, Emery and her boyfriend August secretly made plans to leave the Island and never look back. 18 years ago, after graduation, Emery's best friend Lily was found dead. Because of Lily's death, Emery soon lost her boyfriend August when he, and his mother chose to leave the island behind rather than put their lives in the hands of those who feel as though he got away with murder. Now, with August back on the Island wanting to sell his mother's home, and bury her in the cemetery, strange things start happening the moment August steps foot on the island.  
His presence opens up old wounds and the never solved murder of Lily comes to the surface again. As the mystery unravels to what happened that night so long ago, there are parts of this story that take the reader back in time to various events that happened leading up to Lily's death, and the bizarre twisted town council that appears to be more than caring citizens. It also appears as though the Island has a mind of its own, and nobody is safe no matter how far they move away or make plans to never return.
I definitely recommend this book just because of all the twists and surprises. I also recommend this book to those who love magical realism books with a bit of romance thrown in.



There were tales that only the island knew. Ones that had never been told. I knew, because I was one of them.

I stood at the bow of the ferry as Saoirse emerged from the mist like a sleeping giant tucked into the cold waters. The biting wind had numbed my fingers clutched around the railing and they tightened as I swallowed. I’d imagined that moment a thousand times, even on days that I wasn’t completely convinced the island had ever existed. But there it was, as real as the skin that covered my bones.

I tucked my hands into the pockets of my jacket, turning my back to the sight of it. As if that would somehow erase all the darkness that had happened there. The last time I’d stood on the deck of that ferry, I was eighteen years old, and instead of watching it grow bigger in the distance, I’d watched it disappear, along with the life I’d lived there. My mother had kept her face turned away from me just enough to hide the tears striping her reddened cheeks, but I could feel in the center of my chest the words she wasn’t saying. That I’d f***ed everything up. And that deep down, she would never forgive me for it.

My eyes dropped heavily to the pack at my feet, where the smooth emerald face of the urn was visible through the cinched opening. Even in those final days, she’d never spoken a word of any of it. We swore we’d never go back to Saoirse, and we hadn’t. That was one of many promises we’d kept. So why, after all these years, had she broken it?

The only answer to that question was one I couldn’t stomach.

“Sir?” The voice was half drowned in the wind pouring over the deck and I blinked, squinting against the blinding morning light. A woman buttoned up in the heavy nylon coat that bore the emblem of the ferry charter stood before me, hand extended and waiting. “Your ticket?”

“Oh, sorry.” I reached into the bag slung over my shoulder, rooting around until I found it.

Her hand brushed mine as she took the ticket, reading the stamp that marked the date and time.

“Headed home?” Her pink nose stuck out from over the collar of the coat, her voice muffled.

The word was like ice in my throat. Home.

“What?” I stiffened, searching her face for any hint of recognition. But she was several years younger than I was, probably more. If she was from Saoirse, she wouldn’t know my face. She definitely wouldn’t know my name—not the one on the ticket.

“Sorry, don’t mean to pry. It’s just . . .” She handed it back to me. “It’s not a return ticket. Don’t see many of those on this ferry.”

I cleared my throat, slipping the paper into my pocket. “I’m just visiting.”

The island wasn’t home, even if it once had been. And she was right. No one came to Saoirse to stay.

Though her mouth wasn’t visible behind the scarf, I could see the frown in her eyes and the look edged too close to suspicion. I’d been given that look many times before.

“Well”—her gaze trailed over my jacket and down to my boots before snapping back up to my face—“enjoy your trip.” There was a stiff uneasiness in the way she stepped around me, following the railing down the deck.

Beyond her, the island was now a sharp figure against the sky. A pair of white gulls glided over jagged black cliffs, catching the freezing wind that had carved the land into the shape of hungry teeth. It didn’t matter how many years had passed, the memories hadn’t faded.

I’d grown up being told that the people on the mainland were different from us, but living among them was the first time I really understood it. Mom had gotten better through the years at blending in and appearing at first glance like other mothers. But she still spent the equinox in the woods and the solstice at the sea. She still whispered old words over her teacups and I’d caught her muttering a curse as we passed the front door of our neighbor’s house more than once.

It was clear almost as soon as we left Saoirse that she didn’t want to talk about the island. That those years would be locked away in some secret place we pretended didn’t exist. It wasn’t the first time I’d broken my mother’s heart. It wasn’t the last, either.

In a blink, a single moment, every summer in the orchard, every storm over the dark sea, every night in the fishing cabin was entombed inside me like a body beneath a shroud, sealed away from the sunlight. It was for that very reason that I hadn’t believed it when I read the handwritten letter folded into the will, just days after I watched my mother take her last breath.

After so many years of staying away, of never speaking of the place, she’d parted this world with only one wish—that her ashes be buried on Saoirse Island.

It had taken me four months to actually book a flight to Seattle so I could make good on her request. I’d closed the window shade as we landed, my heart in my throat. I didn’t want to see the listless chain of black islands in the distance or the silvery blue of the water that only existed in the Sound. There were things that the taste of the salt-laced wind resurrected, whether I wanted it to or not, and I was already dreading the months or years it would take to put those memories back to bed.

My phone buzzed beneath my jacket and I pulled it from my back pocket, squinting as I read Eric’s name on the screen. I let out a heavy exhale before I picked up my pack, hauling it onto one shoulder. I tapped to answer.


“You make it?”

I pushed through the doors to the ferry’s linoleum-floored cabin, where green bucket seats were set in fixed rows. Behind the counter in the corner, a short man with a stained white apron draped over a thick fleece stood awkwardly, watching me over a stainless-steel coffee maker.

“Just about.” I ducked low to glance out the hazy window, where the sunlight was a smear of white on the scratched glass.

“Well, I got your message. All you’re really looking for is any important paperwork that might have been left there. You’ll need the deed to the house in order to sell it. Titles, marriage licenses, bank accounts, whatever. And we need to get someone local to handle the sale unless you want to get stuck going back and forth to deal with all of this.” Eric’s gruff voice on the other end of the line was a tightly pulled tether between this world and another—my simple life in Portland and my less than simple history on Saoirse. “Any other loose ends there?”

I bit down, following the stark outline of the island with my eyes until it disappeared into the sea. There were a hundred different ones I could think of, but only one I gave a shit about.

“No. The orchard was taken care of in Henry’s will.” I answered, my voice catching just slightly on my grandfather’s name. I hadn’t spoken it in years. “It’s just the house. Maybe a few pieces of old farm equipment left on the property or something.”

“When do you have to be back to class?”

Class. I hadn’t thought about my classroom on campus for weeks, and the view of the orange-hued wooden risers in the light streaming through the tall arched windows made me feel even farther away. “Not until next semester. I took a leave to take care of my mom.”

“That’s right.” His tone shifted just slightly. “Well, get all of this sorted and then get the hell out of there.”

“That’s the plan.” I breathed, eyeing the windblown faces that filled the deck outside. It was almost the end of the season, but there were still dozens of tourists on the early ferry, headed for the orchard. “And Eric?”


I lowered my voice. “Thanks for your help with all of this.”

“Pretty handy when your college roommate turns out to be a lawyer.” He half-laughed. “Anyway, I’m sure I owe you for one thing or another.”

But he wasn’t just a college roommate. He was a friend. Maybe the only one I had. He was also the only person I’d ever told about Saoirse Island, even if I’d never uttered a word about what happened there. “I mean it. Thanks.”

“You can buy me a beer when you get back.” He paused. “How’s that?”

“Sure thing.” The door opened again as I leaned into it, and I swallowed hard when I spotted the tipping masts of the boats in the harbor. “Better go. I’ll probably lose service any minute.”

“See you next week.”


The ferry horn rang out as I hung up, and I pushed back out onto the deck. Below, the bow of the ship was carving through the dark blue sea, churning up a splitting trail of white foam on either side of the vessel.

I wanted to hate my mother in that moment, as I felt the deep grow shallower, the island creeping closer. I wanted to be angry or think her selfish for sending me back here. But I owed her this. After everything, the very least I owed her was this.

A few days, and then I was gone. I could turn my back on the island like I had fourteen years ago. But this time, I would never go back. I’d lived enough years now to know that there were some ghosts that haunted you forever.

Saoirse had secrets, yes. But so did we.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

#Review - Last of the Talons by Sophie Kim #YA #Fantasy #Folklore

Series: Talons (#1)
Format: Ebook, 416 pages
Release Date: September 27, 2022
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Korean Folklore

After the destruction of her entire Talon gang, eighteen-year-old Shin Lina—the Reaper of Sunpo—is forced to become a living, breathing weapon for the kingdom’s most-feared crime lord. All that keeps her from turning on her ruthless master is the life of her beloved little sister hanging in the balance. But the order to steal a priceless tapestry from a Dokkaebi temple incites not only the wrath of a legendary immortal, but the beginning of an unwinnable game…

Suddenly Lina finds herself in the dreamlike realm of the Dokkaebi, her fate in the hands of its cruel and captivating emperor. But she can win her life—if she kills him first.

Now a terrible game of life and death has begun, and even Lina's swift, precise blade is no match for the magnetic Haneul Rui. Lina will have to use every weapon in her arsenal if she wants to outplay this cunning king and save her sister...all before the final grain of sand leaks out of the hourglass.

Because one way or another, she'll take Rui's heart.

Even if it means giving up her own.

Last of the Talons, by Sophie Kim, is the first installment in the authors Talons trilogy. Think of Last of the Talons as Labyrinth with Six of Crows, but with Korean mythology and goblins called Dokkaebi. This story is set to the backdrop of the fictional Kingdom of Sunpo. After the destruction of her entire Talon family one year ago, 18-year-old Shin Lina; the Reaper of Sunpo, is forced to become a living, breathing weapon for the kingdom’s most-feared crime lord, Konrarnd Kalmin. 

All that keeps Lina from turning on Kalmin is the life of her beloved little sister, Eunbi, which hangs in the balance if Lina betrays him in anyway. Kalmin orders Lina to steal a priceless tapestry from a Dokkaebi temple which has been abandoned for centuries. A tapestry that is said to be woven with priceless jewels. When Kalmin is kidnapped, his second Asina gives Lina 30 days to bring him back or her sister will face the consequences of her failure. 

After she fails for a game called Mouse Trap, Lina ends up in Gyeulcheon, the land of immortals, where the terrible Emperor Haneul Rui makes her an offer she can't refuse. She has 14 days to kill him, or he will kill her and she'll never see her sister again. The catch is that Rui is actually the Pied Piper who has lured humans to his realm where they are mostly servants to the immortals who live there. Now a terrible game of life and death has begun, and even Lina's swift, precise blade is no match for the magnetic Haneul Rui. 

Lina will have to use every weapon in her arsenal if she wants to outplay this cunning king and save her sister...all before the final grain of sand leaks out of the hourglass. This is also an emotional story. Both Lina and Rui have tragic backstories. The plot is literally unpredictable. In every chapter we have Lina and Rui with their conversations that lead to something really unexpected. He teases and taunts her and slowly begins to care for her, wanting to support and be there for her and is in awe of her strength and bravery. 

This is literally an enemies become something more with a little betrayal and some surprises thrown in to keep your attention. I wasn't aware that this was going to be a trilogy, but heaven help me, and the sun doesn't stop shining, I'll continue the series to see what happens next in Lina's adventures.

Monday, September 19, 2022

#Review - Defend the Dawn by Brigid Kemmerer #YA #Fantasy

Series: Defy the Night # 2
Format: Hardcover, 448 pages
Release Date: September 20, 2022
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

In the eagerly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestseller Defy The Night author Brigid Kemmerer continues her electrifying series with more royal intrigue, more sizzling romance, and shocking twists that will leave readers breathless.

What will they sacrifice to save their kingdom?
Their honor?
Their love?
Their lives?

Tessa Cade has gone from masked outlaw to palace advisor, but even with her newfound power, she can't stop the sickness still raging. And the kingdom's supply of Moonflower elixir dwindles all the while. Prince Corrick is trying to find a new way to lead, but it isn't easy to repair the rift between the royals and the people--or the one growing between himself and Tessa.

When an emissary from a neighboring kingdom arrives with an intriguing offer, Tessa and Corrick set out on an uncertain journey to find a new source of the lifesaving elixir. But with tensions brewing on deck and the sea swirling below, Tessa and Corrick must decide who they can trust--including each other. But they're shocked to discover that a craven betrayal may be much closer than they think . . . 

Defend the Dawn is the second installment in author Brigid Kemmerer's Defy the Dawn series. The story's main characters are Tessa Cade, and Prince Corrick, brother to King Harristan, but there are chapters from Harristan's as well which will surprise readers. Tessa Cade is the apothecary girl who has gone from masked outlaw to palace advisor after she climbed up the palace walls and confronted Harristan and saved his life. But even with her newfound power, she can't stop the sickness still raging. She also misses the boy she knew as Wes Lark.

As the kingdom's supply of Moonflower elixir dwindles, and the fight over who should get the flower bordering on a revolution by Consul members, an emissary named Captain Rian Blackmore arrives from a neighboring kingdom of Ostriary with an intriguing offer of an alliance, along with a supply of moonflower. In turn, Kandala will provide the country a much needed supply of steel to help rebuild a country that has seen too much war and bloodshed.

Corrick is trying to find forward in helping Harristan as well as his feelings for Tessa. But it isn't easy to repair the rift between the royals and the people who are with the rebellion or the one growing between himself and Tessa. Rian offers to take Tessa, Corrick, and Lochlan with him to Ostriary as a proof of his sincerity. Lochlan thinks this is a trap to kill him and throw his corpse to the sea. Corrick has doubts about Rian’s intentions and he doesn’t want to leave his brother vulnerable. 

The brothers haven't been parted since their parents were assassinated 4 years ago. But with a new source for elixir that will help to heal more people and prevent the inner conflicts inside kingdom, Harristan can't just say no and neither can Tessa. With tensions brewing on deck and the sea swirling below, and the rebel leader Lochlan along for the journey, Tessa and Corrick must decide who they can trust--including each other. But they're shocked to discover that a craven betrayal may be much closer than they think.

Meanwhile, Harristan has chosen a curious path. A path similiar to his brothers in being known as the Fox. The Fox sneaks out at night and leaves coins behind for his people who still don't trust that he's the person who needs to lead them from the virus that is only suppressed using the Moonflower which certain consuls, like Allisander, hold onto like a lifeline, refusing to give up their powers. After being separated from his brother for the first time since their parents deaths, Harristan finds that he will need to step into a new role isn't as easy as he thought.

In closing, I will say that this is a book filled with surprises and betrayals. You literally can not trust anyone to stab you in the back. Yes, there is a cliffhanger ending in several parts. One from Tessa's, one from Corrick's, and one from Harristan's. Each of them have a hard road ahead which I am looking forward to seeing to the end.  

Friday, September 16, 2022

#Review - Becoming Crone (The Crone Wars #1) by Lydia M. Hawke #Fantasy

Series: The Crone Wars # 1
Format: Ebook, 260 pages
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Publisher: Michem Publishing
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Urban Fantasy

She wanted purpose. She found dark magick and war.

For Claire Emerson, there is nothing ordinary about turning sixty.

First, there are the crows. Then, a pendant that unlocks a gate to a house in the woods--which comes with a snarky gargoyle, an entirely too-sexy wolf shifter claiming to be Claire's protector, and a legacy that turns her reality upside down.

Because divorced, menopausal grandmothers with creaky hips and hot flashes? They don't just randomly discover they're next in a long line of powerful women protecting the world from the dark magick of Mages.

Claire's first instinct is to turn tail and run back to the safety of baking cookies and reading bedtime stories. But when it becomes clear the Mages have targeted her, she may have no choice but to accept her calling. There's just one problem: she never got the lifetime of training she was supposed to have, and her magick is... well, unreliable would be an understatement.

With the Mages threatening everything she loves, can Claire learn what she needs to in time to become Crone? Or will she be the one to lose an ancient war—and her life?

Becoming Crone, by author Lydia M. Hawke, is the first installment in the authors The Crone Wars series. It's Claire Emerson 60th birthday and her entire world is about to be tuned on its head. She's alone thanks to husband who cheated on her. She needs reading glasses, and is worried about that 15 extra pounds that she's gained along with the hot flashes and menopause. But what's most disappointing is that Claire is not living her own life. She's living her life for someone who didn't have the courage to stay and make things right. 

Even her friend Edie James has told her she needs to loosen up and bit and curse once in awhile. When her grandson, Braden, gifts Claire with a pendant that is supposed to help her read, to Claire's surprise, the pendant actually opens the gates to a house where she discovers a snarky gargoyle named Keven (female), and shifter named Lucan who claims he's her protector. Having spent her life denying her magic because of her own struggles, she's woefully unprepared and has to learn if she is going to be responsible for saving the world or condemning it. 

When Claire struggles with her magic, her first instinct is to turn tail and run back to the safety of her home and her cat named Merlin. But when her next door neighbor is adamant about giving the pendant back, and a stranger man is seen in her neighborhood, Claire starts to realize that nothing is normal or will be ever again. When her home is burned to the ground, and her best friend is murdered, Claire realizes that years of ignoring her magick has put her in a difficult role as the so called Crone who is supposed to lead others in a war against Morok.

In fairness, I don't believe that Claire is a Mary Sue. If you read the back story, you will learn some key facts about her, and how she really should have known about her best friend, and others in town who could have helped her. I would love to see what happens next, and hope that the publisher who gave me access to this title also puts the next installment up for request. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

#Review - Kingdom of Broken Iron by Mallory McCartney #Fantasy

Series: Black Dawn # 3
Format: EBook, 340 pages
Release Date:  September 19th 2022
Publisher: MM Books
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Fantasy

Something sinister is sweeping across Kiero, and war threatens to rip apart the remains of Black Dawn Rebellion.

Distraught by the decisions she made while in the Draken Mountains with Adair, Emory Fae, Queen of Kiero, is hiding a deadly secret, and now, Emory is seeking aid from Marquis Maher, King of the Shattered Isles, in the looming war.

With Brokk by her side, they search for answers and aid from the Shattered Isles, a country that has remained protected from Adair's wrath across the Black Sea. While there, Emory will learn the weight of what it means to be Queen, but what will she sacrifice to save the ones she loves?

Since the Academy fell and the Black Dawn rebellion scattered, Brokk Foster's past and the truth about his lineage has come to light. Brokk and his newly found immortal fey warriors are skeptical of Marquis and his terms to a new alliance. Being torn between love and Brokk's loyalty to the rebellion, he will have to decide whether to remain true to his cause or follow a destiny he never wanted.

Together, can Emory and Brokk make an alliance in time to return to Kiero and aid the rebels?

Nyx Astire, new clan leader to the raiders in the Risco Desert, has lost everything. With no word on if the town of Pentharrow has survived under Azarius Walsh's command, Nyx tries to rally the Dust Clan and prepare them to ally with any remaining members of the Black Dawn Rebellion. But tradition and her past throws Nyx into a dynamic ruling. Will she do anything to ensure Kiero's survival from her new point of power?

Kingdom of Broken Iron is the third installment in author Mallory McCartney's Black Dawn series. I would recommend that readers ensure that you have read the first two books (Heir of Lies and Queen to Ashes) first before jumping into this book or wait until all four books have been released and read them back to back. My reasoning is that unless you've been lucky enough to read the new version books with the new covers, thanks to the author or various blog tours, you will likely have been waiting since 2019 for this book to be released.
This story picks up right where Queen to Ashes ended. The Black Dawn Rebellion is in tatters thanks to the Dark King aka Declan. Emory Fae and Brokk Falkov made it to the Shattered Isles hoping for help from Marquis Maher in their fight against the Dark King aka Declan only to be tested upon their arrival and asked to do a task for Marquis before he offers his army to take back Kiero. In the meantime, Emory is being taunted by Declan in her dreams, and Adair is trying to tell Emory about her new magic flowing in her veins. 
Even though she is clearly trained on how to fight, she has a whole lot of emotional baggage to deal with, especially after learning about what really happened to her family. Emory will never be free unless she can convince Marquis to stand with her against Declan and the Oilean. Brokk and his newly found immortal fey warriors Kiana and Riona are skeptical of Marquis and his terms to a new alliance. Being torn between love and Brokk's loyalty to the rebellion, he will have to decide whether to remain true to his cause or follow a destiny he never wanted.
Brokk has made his feelings known to Emory, but Emory has been keeping secrets, and those secrets are filled with twists and surprises, as are Brokk's origin story which blew my mind. Meanwhile, Marquis has his own reasons for dragging Emory's hopes of an alliance to the final moments and that includes facing internal threats head on. Nyx Astire, who watched her friend die, has no clue where any of the other members of the Black Dawn Rebellion are. 
Little does she know that Brokk and Emory, who is supposed to become Queen of Kiero, have made it to the Shattered Isles and are fighting for their lives against much more dangerous enemies from Declan to the Oilean as well as cursed immortals. Nyx has become the new clan leader to the raiders in the Risco Desert thanks to a fight to the death. She is trying to rally the Dust Clan and prepare them to ally with any remaining members of the Black Dawn Rebellion but it not all that it's cracked up to be after meeting a woman who may be immortal.
Apparently, we will need to wait until next year for the fourth installment and conclusion of the series called The Cursed Throne to be released. It should be fun since the author left all of these characters in a huge life or death struggles against an evil that seems to be unbeatable. I am curious if the author is going to bring the readers to Daer, where the Fey allegedly came from. It would be a good place for Emory to face off against Declan and has allies. We shall see.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

#Review - Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah #YA #Fantasy #Dystopian

Series: Unknown
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: September 6, 2022
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

She grew up battling the monsters that live in the black seas, but it couldn't prepare her to face the cunning cruelty of the ruling elite

Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers—the ruling elite, have indentured Koral's family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others—if they're lucky—survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family's financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can't afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral's only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against contenders who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. When riots break out and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose—her life or her sister's—before the whole island burns. 

“This is the ocean, and you’re a Hunter. You swim with monsters, these people cannot scare you.”

Tanvi Berwah's Monsters Born and Made is the authors debut novel and what appears to be the first in an unknown named series. The author herself has called this story The Hunter Games meets The Scorpio Races which is appropriate. The story takes place on the Island of Sollonia where 6,000 people call home. It is a place surrounded by the Ocean and it is also separated by Landers, Renters, and Hunters. The story is told by 16-year-old Koral Hunter who along with her elder brother Emrik, capture maristags, breed them, train, them and sell them to the upper cast.

On the final day of hunting, Emrik is hurt trying to catch the last maristags before they disappear for Ten months and blames Koral. Thanks to some unfortunate incidents in the recent past which has cost them nearly everything they own, Koral's family is in dire straights. It is also dire because of Koral's younger sister's failing health which they don't have the money to pay for. The Landers―the ruling elite, have indentured Koral's family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. 

The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others―if they're lucky―survive. In an act of desperation and rebellion against her father, Koral takes her maristag Stormgold, and sneaks into the The Glory Race which could change Koral's family's fortunes for the best if she wins, or the worst if she doesn't survive against the brutal competition. The competition includes Dorian Akayan, the boy she helped train to race with his own maristag and who is getting abused by his own father to ensure that he wins, and that Koral doesn't get the chance to either entire, or finish the race.

The Glory Race is the islands biggest event that takes place every 4 years. There is betting, and killing, and only Ten chosen will start the race. The race features chariots and three stages, and a variety of dangers, including monstrous sea creatures. Thankfully for Koral, she's been training with maristags all her life. She has known all her life that if she doesn't Hunt, her family doesn't eat, and they have no money to live on, and no medicine for Liria. She is scoffed at, she is abused, and pushed around, yet is her love for her sister and Stormgold's determination, that guides Koral throughout the story and the race.  

Fans of dystopian action-packed adventures will definitely enjoy this tale of a high-stakes competition with mythical creatures in an oceanic world. Danger lurks everywhere and the odds are stacked high against Koral in this world where your place in the caste system means everything and no one can be trusted. Even though Dorian tries hard to get Koral to bow out of the race for fear she will be killed by one of the contestants, it is the group Freedom's Ark who might be the one to make Koral's life unbearable.

When I finished this story, there was a huge, twisted cliffhanger ending. I said to myself, well that sucks! There's nothing that indicates that this is part of a series, but allegedly, others have told me that yes, this is a series. In that case, I would request that Goodreads librarians discover if that is true or not, and update the posting for this book so others don't get upset by the ending.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

#Review - Furysong by Rosaria Munda #YA #Fantasy #Dystopian

Series: The Aurelian Cycle # 3
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Release Date: August 9, 2022
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Dystopian

In this explosive conclusion to the epic trilogy that began with Fireborne, Annie and Lee are fighting for their lives—and for each other—as invading dragonfire threatens to burn their home to the ground.

A new revolution is underway, and nobody will emerge unscathed.

In New Pythos, Griff is facing an execution by the dragonborn, who are furious at his betrayal. He has allies on both sides seeking to defy his fate, but the price of his freedom might come at a dear cost. And Delo will have to make a choice: follow his family, or finally surrender to his conscience.

Meanwhile, Annie must race home to hatch a plan to save her Guardians and their dragons. With Callipolis on the brink of collapse and the triarchy set to be reinstated, she may be the one person who can save the city—if she can overcome her own doubts about her future.

Lee is a revolutionary at heart, but now he’ll have to find a way to fight with diplomacy. Going up against the dragonborn court and a foreign princess, he faces a test of loyalty that sets his head against his heart.

As the fate of Callipolis darkens, Annie and Lee must determine what they are willing to sacrifice in order to save each other, defeat their enemies, and reclaim their home. 

 "But sing me first her vengeance and her reckoning.
Sing me now your fury-song.
Furysong is the third and final installment in author Rosaria Munda's The Aurelian Cycle trilogy. This book picks up where Flamefall left off. The story alternates between four main characters: Antigone, Lee, Griff, and this time, Delo. Griff is a peasant on New Pythos called a humble rider because he was claimed by a dragon. Leo Stormscourge aka Lee Sur Paller is Dragonborn. Antigone aka Annie is First Rider and Fleet Commander of Callipolis Dragon fleet. Annie and Leo grew up together after she was orphaned.

The story also alternates between New Pythos and Callipolis. Lee has been blindsided. He must put aside thoughts of rebellion in favor of diplomacy when Ixion arrives on his shores with Freyda, a Bassilean princess with a dragon that is impossible to fight against. Ixion first acts are to get rid of Annie's Guardians while putting a bounty on her head until she agrees to face him in battle. Annie has no knowledge of what’s going on at home because she’s in New Pythos, trying to incite a rebellion there. Annie, who lost her entire family to dragon scourge, doesn't want to return to the days where she would be a common folk with no rights.
After surviving being dropped for treason, Griff paves the way for a revolution in New Pythos, but devastation of his family brings his happiness to a halt. He feels adrift, but everyone is looking to him for leadership. Delo struggles with how much he loves his family and his conscience, with his feelings for Griff contradicting the former and reaffirming the latter. It is fair to say that both Ixion and Freyda are as important to the story as Annie, Lee, Griff, and Leo due to the fact that Ixion is all about bringing back oppression to Callipolis, while Freyda has her own surprising agenda that culminates in an entertaining finale to the series. 
Annie realizes that a counterrevolution has devastated Callipolis thanks to Ixion and Freyda. When she heads back, she must keep her wits about her if she has any hope of helping her fellow Guardians and country regain their freedom they won 10 years ago. Annie grapples with returning to save a country that has turned against her and constantly vilified her, no matter her best effort and intentions. What's more, she struggles with her own future with Lee, especially since he's expected to warmly welcome Ixion and his plans for Callipolis. Same could be said with Griff, who is expected to lead his country, and Delo, whose family was dethroned by Griff's revolution.
I am not displeased by this finale. I only wish that Annie had been more like she was in the previous installments. It wasn't until she faced an untenable situation, that she wakes up and rises to the occasion. I don't care for the whole not having a family as long as you are a dragonrider. That seems archaic at best. I wasn't really a fan of Griff's for most of the book either. He has some issues, but who doesn't have issues in this book? 



New Pythos

It's the eve of the Long-Awaited Return, and I'm about to lose everything.

Everything. That is what he's become for me, this boy who kneels beside me as I stare down my family, my court, as if I were alien to them. Griff Gareson, the humble-rider, the peasant, whom I never was supposed to love. I look down at his damp curls, at the burns that glaze the muscles of his neck, and wish we were alone so that I could kiss them one last time. I marvel at how steadily he holds his head.

Does he not realize what is happening?

"Why did you give it to him?" Lady Electra asks.

My crime: I gave Griff Gareson the key to his muzzled, chained dragon, which he used to find Antigone, Firstride of the Callipolan Fleet, and turn spy against us.

Tonight, Griff's crimes have been uncovered even as our plan proceeds unfoiled. Ixion still sets out to bring Callipolis to its knees with the help of a foreign princess and a promise of bread. I'm closer to returning to my home now than I've been in these ten long years of exile. I should be glorying in our triumph.

But all I can think is that the one I love is about to be dropped.

The dragonborn exiles in this room look at me, look at him, and make their assumptions. They assume I was a lovestruck fool, too smitten to ask what he did with that key.

I was smitten. I am smitten. But I was never a fool. I didn't ask what he did with that key, but I knew.

I let him.

Why? That is the question that turns over and over, like sea-smooth stones knocking in my hand. Why did I enable this treachery?

I have prepared for the Long-Awaited Return to Callipolis as eagerly as the rest of them. I long to go home. I feel the absence of the Skyfish Summer Palace like the ache of a missing limb, still waking up, ten years later, from dreams where I smell the Medean wafting through sunlit marble halls and hear the ghostly laugh of a mother the usurpers took from me.

"It's been a pleasure serving all of you," says Griff, bowing low, before he is dragged from the room.

Once he's gone, Father makes the one demand commensurate with my failure.

"You will be the one to drop him."



Hours later, in my chambers where I wait for dawn, a knock sounds on the door and my surroundings return to me. The tomes spread across my desk contain the old poems with their heroes; I've been staring at them, unseeing, since I lit the lamp and slumped in this chair hours ago. The childhood comforts have not worked tonight.

Outside the door, I find a young Norcian woman holding a note.

Mabalena, called Lena, was once a humble-rider, like Griff. Her limp, her strangely angled limbs, and her lopsided face are a reminder of the punishment she suffered six years ago. Found guilty of sedition and dropped, as Griff will be-though only an idiot would believe sweet, bumbling Mabalena capable of anything they accused her of. She's served in the citadel ever since. Her quarters are in the dungeons, in an unlocked cell; there's no point locking Lena in. She has nowhere left to go.

For her, the drop was a life sentence of pain. For Griff, it will be an execution.

"A message from Lord Rhode, my lord."

Rhode has written: Do not despair so soon, brother. There are plenty more peasants to warm your bed.

Moments like this, I strain to remember the childhood in which Rhode and I were friends.

I look over the letter at Mabalena, who waits with eyes downcast, her face placid, her usual matted hair limp as if a coarse brush had been recently forced through it. It's hard to believe, looking at this broken girl, that she ever rode on a dragon's back. The unasked questions shriveled on the vine years ago: Do they touch you? Do they hurt you? The same questions I learned not to ask Griff when Julia started summoning him and laughing about it afterward. What could I do with my knowledge? Nothing. And when nothing can be done, discretion is the last decency.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me, for caring. Whether it's me who is perverse, or my family, remains a matter of opinion. But with Griff about to drop, it's a little late for my cure. I take two steps to the fire and drop the note in it. Mabalena watches the parchment burn with flames reflected in her eyes.

"How is the Callipolan prisoner?"

Mabalena's eyes dart from the fire to my face. What tearstains she sees there, she doesn't linger on. "He struggles with sorrow spells still," she says. "Missing his skyfish. But he is kind. We speak a little Dragontongue. Daily he improves; his wounds heal."

All the prisoners are Mabalena's charges, but I noticed, when I surrendered Duck Sutter into her care two months ago after finding him improbably alive in the rubble of a blazesite, that she took particular interest in his rehabilitation. The Callipolan's sorrow at the loss of his dragon is something she understands, just as she knows what it is like to survive a fatal drop, and live with a shattered body, as Duck Sutter has had to do.

I hoped they would help each other. All the same, I'm not prepared for what Mabalena murmurs next. "The Callipolan has been . . . sunlight to my darkness, my lord."

She sounds as if she isn't sure it's a good thing. Her expression is, for a moment, so vulnerable it looks naked.

Sweet Mabalena, who fell so hard. Doesn't she know that happiness is something we're not allowed?

I gesture at the armchair between us, and Lena eases into it like a perching bird. I take the seat opposite. The expression on her scarred face grows all the more disconcerted as I pour wine into two goblets and offer her one. She drinks when I drink.

"Griff has been found guilty of treason."

Her fingers tighten on the goblet. Understanding, as only Mabalena could, what that word forebodes.

"Father has ordered me to do it."

"Then you should," she says.

Only when she says it, and I feel no surprise, do I realize this is what I needed her to say.

Because I've been thinking it, too.

Lena's eyes are ice gray. Like they've been drained of color. "You can assure that it is done well, for the sake of his family. You can assure that his family is-spared."

Last time, Rhode did it. He was the one who decided to drop Lena's family and then her.

I've closed my eyes. A soft pressure cools my face: Mabalena has placed her fingers on my cheek. "Before Rhode gave me his message to deliver," she murmurs, "I saw your Griff, in the cell where they've put him. He had a message, too."

I look at her, and now my heart is racing. "What did he say?"

"He said to take Gephyra out before the drop. Take a long flight. Summon your courage, make your vigil, and when you come home-do your duty."


They intend to drop Griff at dawn, but we're ready long before that.

The pillars of karst surrounding New Pythos are black fingers against a gray sky when Aela and I leave the lairs of the ha'Aurelian citadel. On the crown of Thornrose Karst, among winter-dead brambles overgrowing their shrine of standing stones, Griff's sister, Agga, hides with her two children. They were moved here for their safety in the night. The three of them emerge when Aela lands, and the little boy, Garet, beckons me to a place on the edge of the cliff where I can watch for sunrise.

Garet. The same name, and nearly the same age, as my brother when he died. Our languages, Callish and Norish, share roots like they share damp winters and long hungers. I can't help feeling that I've got more in common with this peasant family on the other side of the sea than I do with the Callipolan elites who've been my classmates for the last ten years. Agga's barely older than me.

Her daughter, Becca, watches from a pace apart, her eyes traveling slowly from me to the dragon and back. She blinks very little, as if we might vanish if she doesn't keep her eyes wide open.

"It's done," I tell Agga.

Her voice is pitched low. "The poison?"

The lairs were still dark when Aela and I left them. The smell of smoked fish and charred leather was identical to that of the nests in Callipolis, though the murmured Norish of the squires, Griff's friends, was too quiet for a semester's worth of study to understand. I did not know these dragons, but they did, and they were the ones I gave the amphora of drachthanasia to and told to divvy it up.

"The squires did it. Aela and I took care of the muzzles."

With a squire named Fionna leading the way, Aela and I wormed our way down the damp corridor of the lairs, Aela taking each iron muzzle into her mouth, one by one, and breathing fire on it until the metal glowed and snapped. When we freed Fionna's, a tawny aurelian with deep black eyes, the woman's shoulders slumped in relief and the dragon whimpered.

Agga's eyes are rimmed white in the gray light. "They can fly free? They can fire?"

I nod. "The squire on duty will release them on our signal."


I ask Agga to show me where the drop will take place on the silhouette of the main island. Her trembling finger identifies Conqueror's Mound, a sloping hill at the center of the Norcian villages opposite the ha'Aurelian citadel, overshadowed by the statue of an invading lord. The Norcians will be summoned to witness and learn the lesson.


Griff Gareson, dropped for treason.


Griff Gareson, dropped for conspiring with the Callipolan Firstrider.


Dropped for conspiring with me.


And we will turn this moment into the opportunity Griff needs to stage his revolution. Agga's grandfather Grady is rallying the four trusted clans now, waking village elders, and spreading word to prepare for war.


"I don't think you poisoned all of them," Agga says.


I'm about to ask her how she knows. There were empty stalls where some of the dragons should have been, leaving us all with a lingering unease. Ixion's stormscourge, Niter, was not among them, nor was the dragon that belongs to Freyda, the Bassilean princess he's courting. Her goliathan, a great breed from the continent, is rumored to be large enough to blot the sky. The squires filled the troughs of the missing dragons with poisoned feed anyway, assuring me that those absent must only be on patrol and would be back before dawn.


When I follow Agga's gaze now, I realize she means a specific dragon.


A skyfish has breached the clouds a few miles out, her slender silhouette a gray line against the wisps of fog hanging low in the morning, her narrow wings a crossbar as she glides. Her rider looks like a tiny toy soldier atop her back.


I stretch a hand toward Aela, stilling her. "Everyone get down."


We slide to our knees in the bracken as the skyfish streams overhead.


Garet's shrill voice hisses as his neck cranes for a glimpse of the dragon. "Isn't that Gephyra? It's Delo sur Gephyra. We don't have to fear Delo."


Agga forces Garet's head down and breathes her answer. "Today, we do."


I feel a small hand slip into mine, and find Becca crouched beside me. She looks up, not at the dragon, but at my face. Her tiny nails dig into my palm. Beside us, Aela's amber wings hug her sides and her neck twists so that one slitted pupil can take in the dragon passing overhead.


With a flick of her tail, Gephyra vanishes into the streaks of fog above us.


Becca's fingers untwine from mine. Garet shrugs off his mother's arm. We unfold from our crouches, and Agga's gaze lingers on the clouds into which Delo sur Gephyra vanished.


"Poor boy," she murmurs. "They'll make him do it."


I remember the way Griff's voice caught when I taught him how to write his family's names and he asked to add a single more. The way he carefully spelled Delo Skyfish in a practice notebook. I get to my feet, brushing twigs from my knees. "I thought the dragonborn were accustomed to taking peasants into their beds."


"Their beds, yes. Not their hearts."


So, less like the dragonlords of old and more like Lee and me. Or like we would have been if his father were still alive, and Lee's loyalty still to his people, when he learned to love me.


Come back to me, Lee said.


And I will, as soon as I get this job done.


"At least Griff will be the only one he'll have to drop."


The squires told me that the last time a Norcian rider was dropped in punishment, her family was dropped too. They whispered her name: Mabalena. The story, and their awed horror, was too familiar for comfort. Across miles, with a sea between us, with fire or without, the dragonlords punish families in the same way. I was my village's Mabalena.


So I was the one who insisted we move Agga and her children here, for their safety, until the plan is completed.


Because this has been my concern, I'm a little surprised at what Agga chooses to say next.


"I am grateful for your help today." Her children can't hear her low voice over the whistling wind. "But I want you to know, when I heard he had been meeting with you, I wept."


There is a fire in her eyes not unlike Griff's as she holds her son's shoulder and dares to look me in the eye. It has taken her courage to say this: I can see how her gaze darts to my dragon, then my face.


There must have been a moment, when my father imagined the cellar he could dig and decided to make the gamble that would bring dragonfire down on our heads.


Agga knows, and I know, that I was that gamble for Griff.


I am the recourse to violence. I am the last resort. At best, I am the lesser evil.


I'm a dragonrider, and I'm here to do my job.


"You were right to weep."