Tuesday, October 31, 2023

#Review - Dead Mountain by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child #Mystery #Thriller #Suspense

Series: Nora Kelly (#4)
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: August 22, 2023
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Source: Library
Genre: Mystery / Thrillers / Suspense

#1 New York Times bestselling authors Preston & Child return in the latest installment of the bestselling series featuring renowned archaeologist Nora Kelly and FBI Agent Corrie Swanson, who investigate a mystery so enigmatic it may have no solution.
 
In 2008, nine mountaineers failed to return from a winter backpacking trip in the New Mexico mountains. At their final campsite, searchers found a bizarre scene: something had appeared at the door of their tent so terrifying that it impelled them to slash their way out and flee barefoot to certain death in a blizzard. Despite a diligent search, only six bodies were found, two violently crushed and inexplicably missing their eyes. The case, given the code name “Dead Mountain” by the FBI, was never solved.

Now, two more bodies from the lost expedition are unexpectedly discovered in a cave, one a grisly suicide. Young FBI Agent Corrie Swanson teams up with archaeologist Nora Kelly to investigate what really happened on that fateful trip fifteen years ago—and to find the ninth victim. But their search awakens a long-slumbering evil, which pursues Corrie and Nora with a vengeance, determined to prevent the final missing corpse from ever coming to light. 



Dead Mountain, by co-authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, is the fourth installment in the Nora Kelly series. Key characters: FBI Agent Corinne "Corrie" Swanson has spent the past 4 months attending various boards of inquiries, debriefings, and lie detector tests after her last adventure. Nora Kelly, Chief of Archaeology at Santa Fe Archaeological Institute, along with her brother Skip Kelly who is in charge of collections. Supervisory Special Agent Clay Sharp who becomes Cori's mentor but allows her to take lead in a shocking case that goes back 15 years.

In 2008, nine experienced mountaineers failed to return from a winter backpacking trip in the New Mexico mountains. At their final campsite, searchers found a bizarre scene: something had appeared at the door of their tent so terrifying that it impelled them to slash their way out and flee barefoot to certain death in a blizzard. That has led to a lot of conspiracy theories involving yetis, avalanches, aliens, government coverups, etc. Despite a diligent search, only six bodies were found, three remain missing. The case, given the code name “Dead Mountain” by the FBI, was never solved.

15 years later, two drunk frat boys seeking shelter in a prehistoric cave, damage prehistoric artifacts and discover two very old bodies. Because this falls on federal lands, Cori and Sharp take lead on the case. Thanks to Cori's relationship with Nora, the two end up taking point on uncovering the bodies, as well as notifying the proper Indian authorities because of the prehistoric Indian ruins. The curious thing about the discovery of these bodies is that they are located a stones throw from Kirtland Air Force base where the largest storage facility for nuclear weapons exists.

The other curiosity is that one body remains missing and finding the body is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Corrie believes the answer lies with finding the ninth backpacker who may hold the answers they need to solve the mystery including the journal and camera said to have been used. No easy task. It has been 15 years, and there are those who appear to be blocking her investigation for fear of national secrets being exposed. While Cori and Nora are working together, things get bad for Nora and her brother thanks to an overzealous Sheriff named Hawley who ends up arresting Nora's brother Skip for assault and battery and other trumped up charges. 

So, while Cori is investigating other angles to the Dead Mountain mystery, Nora has to find a lawyer to help Skip, and hope that he doesn't end up going away for 15 years. Later, Corrie, without Sharp around for guidance, is determined to learn the truth about what happened on Dead Mountain on Halloween 2008 and bring closure for the families of the nine backpackers. Even if it means taking Nora away from helping her brother stay out of prison. Even if it means exposing national security secrets in the process.

*Thoughts* The premise of the story is closely related to Douglas Preston's "Dyatlov Pass" article, which was called one of the most popular articles The New Yorker published in the year of its release 2021. The story is based on the strange fate of 9 cross country skiers in the Ural Mountains who died in 1959 under bizarre circumstances of a remote masif called Height 1079. The strange fate has generated endless speculation. For decades, conspiracy theories entwined around this incident until 2021, when scientific findings brought the probable solution to the events.

Because of the Russia invasion of Ukraine, the authors decided to change the setting to New Mexico's Manzano Mountains near Kirtland Air Force Base. In the late 1940s a facility began to be constructed inside the mountains on the eastern boundary of Sandia Base that became known as Manzano Base, or Site Able, one of six such sites located around the US built to stockpile the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. After the Russians exploded a bomb called Tsar Bomba, the most dangerous nuclear weapon ever created, the Government shuttered the bunker which was supposed to protect the US President.   





Monday, October 30, 2023

#Review - Queen of Roses by Briar Boleyn #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Blood of a Fae # 1
Format: Kindle, 357 pages
Release Date: April 15, 2023
Publisher: Starwater Press
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Fantasy / Romance

A doomed love, a dangerous mission, and a kingdom on the brink of war...

A cast-off princess…

Born into a life of duty and sacrifice, Morgan Pendragon’s destiny has never been her own. Rumored to carry the tainted blood of the fae in her veins, her birthright is stolen from her when she is a mere child. Growing up in the shadow of her brother the king, she has been promised to the goddesses when she comes of age. So, when her brother commands that she seek out a fae weapon of legendary power, Morgan seizes the chance to break free from the chains of her fate.

A dangerous temptation…

As she travels, Morgan finds herself drawn into a strange group of outcasts, led by a dark and enigmatic warrior whose sharp wit and fierce beauty set her heart ablaze. But while Morgan struggles to reconcile her desires with her duty, she and her new comrades discover dangers that await them beyond anything in their wildest nightmares.

A slumbering kingdom awoken by blood…

Believed to have vanished generations ago, a fae kingdom dreaded by mortals is ascending once more, bound to reclaim what was lost by violence and bloodshed. As the fae world, with its intricate web of lies and mysteries, is slowly revealed to Morgan, she is led to the terrible realization that the secrets she carries in her blood make her a greater threat than she could ever have imagined.

The first in an action-packed new series brimming with magic, danger, morally gray characters, and spellbinding slow-burn romance, Queen of Roses is perfect for fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout, Raven Kennedy, Rebecca Yarros, Carissa Broadbent, and Sarah J. Maas.

Queen of Roses is the first installment in author Briar Boleyn's Blood of a Fae series. It is a loose retelling of the Arthurian legend. When Morgan Pendragon was 5 years old, her mother Ygraine was murdered by her own father. 15 years later, Morgan, the eldest of the Pendragon's who was expected to become Queen of Camelot, has been brushed aside for her younger brother Arthur. Morgan is a half-blooded Fae, who knows very little about her Fae heritage. In this world, both Merlin, High Priestess of the Three Sisters, and Lancelot, are both women. 

Born resented by her family for her mother’s heritage, Morgan is forced to suppress her part-fae side for as long as she can remember by taking an unknown medication. She's also been promised to take over the role of Priestess of the Temple of the Three Sisters when she comes of age which is 1 year away. So, when Arthur entrusts her with a quest to retrieve a Fae weapon of legendary power: the sword of Perun, Excalibur, in a far off land that likely will take months to find, Morgan seizes the chance to break free from the chains of her fate.  

Accompanied by men she loathes, Captain Kairos Draven and Ragnar Whitehorn, she embarks on her long and unbeknownst perilous journey, only to find that things she once believed to be myth are in fact very real. Draven is dangerous as we slowly discover after Morgan is brutally attacked and disfigured by a psycho attack who I refuse to name because I hate rape scenes. But while Morgan struggles to reconcile her desires with her duty, she and her new comrades discover dangers that await them beyond anything in their wildest nightmares. 

It is fair to say that most of the male characters, except Galahad, who is apparently gay, and Sir Ector who has been training Morgan for years, and her brother Kaye who is innocent as they day he was born, are really awful. Arthur is not the legendary figure that most of us have read in the past. What he allows to happen to Morgan is indescribable, and for what? Power? The story is filled with betrayals and danger and some truly unexpected reveals before everything then comes to its thrilling conclusion in a delicious cliffhanger.

*Thoughts* This is a very dark book with lots of trigger warnings that I won't post in this review. Because of the fact that Morgan has been kept in the dark about her heritage for 20 years, and tried to remain in the background while learning how to help herself, she is a bit on the naive side. Arthur is truly deranged. The lengths he goes to keep her from knowing the truth about herself and her mother, goes to show that you can easily make a hero a villain in a flip of a script. As for Draven, there is some very understandably twisted things about him that I won't share. As the book ends on a cliffhanger, I am hoping to learn more in the next book which the author gracelessly sent to me.




Friday, October 27, 2023

#Review - The Unmaking of June Farrow by Adrienne Young #Thrillers #Suspense (Magical Realism)

Series: Standalone
 
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages 
Release Date: October 17, 2023 
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Magical Realism / Thrillers / Suspense

In the small mountain town of Jasper, North Carolina, June Farrow is waiting for fate to find her. The Farrow women are known for their thriving flower farm—and the mysterious curse that has plagued their family line. The whole town remembers the madness that led to Susanna Farrow’s disappearance, leaving her daughter, June, to be raised by her grandmother and haunted by rumors.
            It’s been a year since June started seeing and hearing things that aren't there. Faint wind chimes, a voice calling her name, and a mysterious door appearing out of nowhere—signs of what June has always known is coming. But June is determined to end the curse once and for all, even if she must sacrifice finding love and having a family of her own. 
            After her grandmother’s death, June discovers a series of cryptic clues regarding her mother’s disappearance, except these only lead to more questions. But could the door she once assumed was a hallucination be the answer she’s been searching for? The next time it appears, June realizes she can touch it and walk through the threshold. And when she does, she embarks on a journey that will not only change both the past and the future but also uncover the lingering mysteries of her small town and entangle her heart in an epic star-crossed love.
            With The Unmaking of June Farrow, Adrienne Young delivers a brilliant novel of romance, mystery, and a touch of the impossible—a story you will never forget.


Adrienne Young's The Unmaking of June Farrow is the story about a woman who risks everything to end her family’s centuries-old curse, solve her mother’s disappearance, and find love in this mesmerizing novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Spells for Forgetting. In the small mountain town of Jasper, North Carolina, June Farrow is waiting for fate to find her. The Farrow women are known for their thriving flower farm—and the mysterious curse that has plagued their family line going back to Esther Farrow.
 
The whole town of Jasper remembers the madness that led to Susanna Farrow’s disappearance in 1989, leaving her daughter, June, to be raised by her grandmother and haunted by rumors. It’s been a year since June started seeing and hearing things that aren't there. Faint wind chimes, a voice calling her name, and a mysterious door appearing out of nowhere—signs of what June has always known is coming. But June is determined to end the curse once and for all, even if she must sacrifice finding love and having a family of her own.
 
After her grandmother’s death, June discovers a series of cryptic clues regarding her mother’s disappearance, except these only lead to more questions, including a picture from 1911 of her own mother married to a man named Nathaniel Rutherford. A man who was found dead in 1950. Could the door she once assumed was a hallucination be the answer she’s been searching for? The next time it appears as she is driving, June realizes she can touch it and walk through the threshold. 
 
And when she does, she embarks on a journey that will not only change both the past and the future but also uncover the lingering mysteries of her small town and entangle her heart in an epic star-crossed love. Here she finds a man, Eamon Stone, who is June's husband. Here she finds a little girl named Annie who is June's daughter. Here she finds a Sheriff named Caleb Rutherford, son of Nathaniel, looking answers to why his father was murder, and why June disappeared for a year while the investigation was still under way. Here she finds Esther Farrow as well as a teenaged Margaret Farrow who in 2023, is her grandmother. 
 
*Thoughts* June is a curious character, and for the most part, an unreliable narrator. She's basically seeing things that most people can not which makes her an oddity. Just like her mother. Just like her Grandmother. Even Annie aka Birdie has secrets. June has been living in fear of the future, dreading what it has in store. The fear has been with June for as long as she can remember, shaping her life choices such as her decision never to have children so that the curse would die with her. And yet, despite all her preparations, the onset of the first symptoms still managed to catch her off guard.  
 
Following June’s venture through the strange door, she finds herself transported to 1951, which at least provides some possible theories on why her mother would be in a photo dated back to the turn of the century. In this past timeline, June realizes she’s lived another life, one that she doesn’t remember because she hasn’t lived it yet. One that she learns she is basically fraying the ends of two timelines. The journey she embarks on is a roller-coaster ride that will challenge her every belief and force her to confront the deepest parts of herself. The novel weaves together elements of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and romance.
 


ONE


When Margaret Anne Farrow died in her sleep on June 10, 2023, I became the last living Farrow on earth.

The setting sun fell behind the hill that overlooked a wide expanse of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a rolling sea of soft violet peaks. Only a few of those who called the town of Jasper, North Carolina, home had gathered to bid Margaret farewell.

Put me to sleep with the fiddle at sunset, she’d said, because she’d known she was dying. We all did. We hadn’t planned to say any words because she hadn’t wanted that. There weren’t many things that were clear, especially in those final years when Gran’s mind had all but slipped away, but a burial on this hill at sunset with a fiddle playing in the wind was one of them.

The headstone was made of simple, rough-­cut white marble to match those of the other Farrow women who were laid to rest only feet away. Mildred, Catharine, Esther, Fay, now Margaret. One day, my own name would stand beside them—­June Farrow.

To the town of Jasper, I was first known as the Market Street Baby, words made eternal the day the Chronicle put them on the front page. Just before daybreak on October 2, 1989, Clarence Taylor was on his way to open the cafe when he heard the sound of a baby’s cry coming from the alley. It took only hours for the whole town to hear about the baby girl in the basket with the birthmark beneath one ear and the locket watch tucked into her blanket.

The necklace was an heirloom that had been passed down in the Farrow family for generations. The last woman to wear it around her neck was my mother, Susanna. Susanna—­the only name missing from the cemetery because Gran had refused to raise a headstone over an empty grave.

There was no mistaking who the baby was when they found that locket watch. It had been almost fourteen months since my mother disappeared. There was no shortage of theories on the matter, but no real answers. Susanna had simply walked into the woods one day, her belly swollen with child, and never returned. There were those who thought she’d met a tragic end. That she was a victim of some unspeakable crime. Others believed she’d lost her way in the deep woods and was never found.

The easiest and most widely accepted explanation for my mother’s strange disappearance was madness—­the same affliction to befall every woman in my family for as far back as anyone could remember. We were cursed—­the Farrow women.

By the time night had fallen, the sheriff was knocking on my grandmother’s door, and that’s where the story ended. My mother was gone. She wasn’t coming back. So it was just the two of us, Gran and me.

Two finches arced across the darkening glow of the horizon, drawing my gaze up from the headstone as Malachi Rhodes drew the bow down his fiddle. The notes stretched deep and long, sending a melody into the air that made my heart twist painfully inside my chest. The same tweed flat cap he wore fly-­fishing on the river every morning was pulled low over his wrinkle-framed eyes, but he was one of the few in town whom Gran had considered a true friend, and he’d made the effort of wearing his nice jacket.

The windows of the little white wooden church at the bottom of the hill were still lit. On Sundays, it was filled for service, when everyone in Jasper piled into the pews. Most everyone, anyway. I’d never set foot in the place; neither had Gran. That was one of the reasons the young minister, Thomas Falk, had pretended not to watch as we’d made our way through the cemetery gates. It was also one of the reasons that only four other souls stood on that hill besides me and Malachi.

Ida Pickney, our next-­door neighbor, dabbed at the corner of her eye with the tissue balled in her fist. Her daughter, Melody, was at her side, and Mason Caldwell stood a whole head taller than her only a few feet away. He’d had the misfortune of being the only kid in grade school foolish enough to sit beside me at lunch, and he’d eventually grown into the only fool who’d jump from the river bridge with me in the summers or cut class with me our senior year. Then there was Birdie Forester, Gran’s oldest friend, who was more like family than anything.

Her hand found mine, squeezing, and it was only then that I could feel how cold my fingers were. I blinked, pulling my eyes from the narrow steeple of the church to look over my shoulder. Birdie stood at my back, the lace neckline of her black dress fluttering along the curve of her collarbones. Her silver hair was pulled into old-­fashioned pin curls, making her look exactly like the photographs of her and Gran when they were young. There were dozens of them in the basement. Arm in arm in front of the soda shop. Perched like chickens atop hay bales on the farm. Standing knee-­deep in the river in only their underwear.

“Made it to holy ground after all,” Birdie whispered.

A smile pulled at the corner of my mouth, my eyes flitting again over the five white headstones of the Farrow women. There was a time when this corner of the cemetery didn’t exist. When Gran was little, the Farrows were buried outside of the fence because they weren’t baptized. But eventually, as the need for more burial plots grew and the fences of the churchyard were moved, the banished graves fell within its borders. Gran had found an endless humor in that, saying she’d make it to holy ground after all.

There were things that made this town what it was. The scent of honeysuckle blooming along the black tar roads and the rush of the Adeline River, which cut through the land like the scrape of a knife. The curious gazes that followed me and Gran on the street and the rumors that skipped in the air no matter how much time had passed. Their stories were nothing compared to the ones that Gran had regaled me with when she tucked me into bed as a little girl. The town of Jasper had no idea just how different and strange we were.

The wind picked up, and goosebumps surfaced on my skin, tracing from my wrist to my elbow when the feeling of eyes crept up the back of my mind. I swallowed hard before I followed the movement at the corner of my vision back down the hill. The square of golden light on the lawn beside the church was painted with a sharp black shadow.

My gaze rose to see the silhouette of a man framed in the window, shoulders squared to the cemetery. Even from here I could feel those eyes focused on me. But the parking spot where the minister’s car had been an hour ago was now empty. So was the church.

It’s not real, I told myself, tearing my eyes away. There’s nothing there.

When I blinked, he was gone.

The notes of the fiddle slowed, drawing out against the wind as the last bit of light disappeared in the distance. The trees swayed in a balmy summer evening breeze that made my skin sticky to the touch, and a moment later, there was only the sound of the footsteps on the damp grass as the others made their way through the headstones and back to the road.

I stared at the dark, crumbled earth that filled the grave. Gran had taught me how to work the farm, to weave flower crowns, and to make her grandmother’s biscuits. She taught me how to ignore the whispered prayers women uttered beneath their breaths when they came in and out of the flower shop. How to read the coming seasons by the intuition of the trees and predict the weather by the look of the moon. I hadn’t let myself really think about the fact that it was what came next that I most needed her for. But she wouldn’t be there.

Birdie and I waited for the last of the headlights to bleed away before we finally started the walk back, following the bridge over the river to the single block that was downtown Jasper. I chanced one more look at the church and found the window still empty, like I knew it would be. But that sick feeling still swirled in my belly.

I unbuttoned the top of my black cotton dress, letting the cool night air touch my skin before I pulled off my shoes, a pair of black slingback heels Gran had probably had in her closet since 1970. The same was likely true for the pearl earrings I’d fished from her jewelry box that morning.

The crickets woke with the darkness that fell over the thin strip of town that lined the road, not a car in sight. Small communities like this one usually went to sleep with the sun, and Jasper was mostly farms, which meant its residents would be up when the roosters crowed.

The main street had some other name no one ever remembered, a combination of four or five numbers that only showed up on maps. In Jasper, it was known as just the river road, the only way to town from the remote stretches that were tucked into the surrounding mountains. South took you to Asheville. North took you to Tennessee.

A banner for the upcoming Midsummer Faire was stretched out across the only intersection, catching the wind like a sail. The redbrick-­faced buildings were more than 150 years old. They snaked along the Adeline River, which, that time of night, with the moon waning, just looked like a wall of black. The only reminders that it was there were the hiss of it running over the rocks in the shallows and the distinct smell that the churn of mountain water put into the air.




Thursday, October 26, 2023

#Review - The Lotus Flower Champion by Pintip and Love Dunn #YA #Fantasy #Romance #Folklore


Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: October 31, 2023
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance / Folk Lore

Description: Squid Games meets Peter Pan with folktales from Thailand in this contemporary thriller with a fantasy twist, featuring a Thai heroine and hero.

Seventeen-year-old Alaia knows one thing for sure: her mama is going to die. She and her family are on vacation in Thailand, the last chance for Mama to find peace before she succumbs to cancer.

Alaia’s final holiday with her mama is interrupted when she’s forced to evacuate a snorkeling cruise. Floating away to safety, Ali watches the boat explode with her father still onboard. Ali passes out on the lifeboat and wakes up on an island. Although beautiful, the fruit on the island is poisonous, no fish swim in the waters, and the lifeboat is gone. She, Mama, and the survivors are all trapped. The survivors journey across the island in search of food, finding a cave with a maze, swirling red waters, crocodiles, and a magic crystal. To save himself from falling to his death, a young boy manifests the arms of a gibbon.

Xander, the boat’s captain, announces that they have all been brought here for a purpose. The island has been outfitted with horrific games and they must participate in them to win rewards that will aid in their survival. With no food, water, or shelter, Alaia has no choice but to win the games to keep Mama alive.

As the survivors compete in the games and are pushed to their emotional limits, their abilities manifest. With the handsome and enigmatic Bodin by her side, Alaia must access her latent power. Her ability is rare, mind-blowing, and downright terrifying — but it just might save them all.

The Lotus Flower Champion is a story written by the mother daughter duo of Pintip and Love Dunn. It is being marketed as Squid Games meets Peter Pan with folktales from Thailand in this contemporary thriller with a fantasy twist, featuring a Thai heroine. Seventeen-year-old Alaia knows one thing for sure: her mama is going to die of cancer and there's nothing she can do to stop time. She and her family are on vacation in Thailand, the last chance for Mama to find peace before she succumbs to cancer. Alaia has a goal of making her smile 121 times.

Alaia's final holiday with her mama and father is interrupted when she’s forced to evacuate a snorkeling cruise due to an explosion. Floating away to safety, Ali watches the boat explode with her father still onboard after he stayed to help a woman in labor. Ali drinks water and passes out on the lifeboat. She wakes up on an island with 11 others. Although beautiful, the fruit on the island is poisonous, no fish swim in the waters, and the lifeboat is gone. She, Mama, and the survivors are all trapped. 

The survivors journey across the island in search of food, finding a cave with a maze, swirling red waters, crocodiles, and a magic crystal. To save himself from falling to his death, a young boy manifests into a crocodile. Xander, the boat’s captain and mad scientist who reminds me of Dr. Moreau, announces that they have all been brought here for a purpose. The island has been outfitted with horrific games and they must participate in them to win rewards that will aid in their survival. With no food, water, or shelter, Alaia has no choice but to win the games to keep Mama alive.

The survivors must manifest their abilities or everyone dies. As the survivors compete in the games and are pushed to their emotional limits, their abilities manifest. With each passing day, Alaia seems to be the only one who hasn't manifested any sort of latent power. With the dangerous scientist looking for the fabled Lotus Flower Champion who is said to be able to bring back the dead, as well as other powerful abilities, it seems as though it will take a miracle for her to survive and save herself and her Mama. 

*Thoughts* This story is told using Thai folklore in which key characters discover that they are somehow linked to past glory and it is up to each of them, including Alaia, (not Alisara) to manifest before they are all killed by Xander. In many ways, the story is predictable since we all know that Alaia is the Mary Sue of the book and that she will find a way to manifest no matter what. The romance between Alaia and Bodin was cheesy to say the least. No matter how many times Bodin breaks her heart, or betrays her, they always seem to come back to each other. Also, I am not a fan of how this book ends. You struggle for days to get this great power, and then? (NO SPOILERS!) In many ways, I liked the fact that the co-authors used Alaia to be one with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It's a really thing, and many people look down on people who have this condition.

PS- The spelling of the characters name is not Alisara but Alaia. The date of release for this edition is October 31, 2023, not October 3, 2023 which should be edited on Goodreads and other places. 




Tuesday, October 24, 2023

#Review - The Innocent Sleep by Seanan McGuire #Urban #Fantasy

Series:
 October Daye # 18
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: October 24, 2023
Publisher: DAW
Source: Publisher's Finished Copy
Genre: Urban Fantasy

For one bright, shining moment, Tybalt, King of Cats, had everything he had ever wanted. He was soon to set his crown aside; he had married the woman he loved; he was going to be a father. After centuries of searching for a family of his own, he had finally found a way to construct the life of his dreams, and was looking forward to a period of peace—or at least as much peace as is ever in the offing for the husband of a hero.

Alas for Tybalt and his domestic aspirations, fate—and Titania—had other ideas. His perfect world had been complete for only a moment when it was ripped away, to be replaced by hers. Titania, Faerie’s Summer Queen, Mother of Illusions and enemy of so many he holds dear, has seized control of the Kingdom, remaking it in her own image. An image which does not include meddlesome shapeshifters getting in her way. Tybalt quickly finds himself banished from her reality, along with the Undersea and the rest of the Court of Cats.

To protect his people and his future, Tybalt must find the woman he loves in a world designed to keep her from him, convince her that he’s not a stranger trying to ruin her life for no apparent reason, and get her to unmake the illusion she’s been firmly enmeshed in. And he’ll have to do it all while she doesn’t know him, and every unrecognizing look is a knife to his heart.

For Tybalt, King of Cats, the happily ever after was just the beginning.


The Innocent Sleep by Seanan McGuire is the 18th installment in the authors October Daye series. For one bright, shining moment, Tybalt, King of Cats, had everything he had ever wanted. He was soon to set his crown aside; he had married the woman he loved in front of the King and Queen of all Faerie; he was going to be a father. After centuries of searching for a family of his own, he had finally found a way to construct the life of his dreams, and was looking forward to a period of peace—or at least as much peace as is ever in the offing for the husband of a hero.
 
Alas for Tybalt and his domestic aspirations, fate—and Titania—had other ideas. His perfect world had been complete for only a moment when it was ripped away, to be replaced by hers. Titania, Faerie’s Summer Queen, Mother of Illusions and enemy of so many he holds dear, has seized control of the Kingdom, remaking it in her own image. An image which does not include meddlesome shapeshifters or changelings like Toby getting in her way. Tybalt quickly finds himself banished from her reality, along with the Undersea and the rest of the Court of Cats.
 
Not only has Toby memories been erased of who she really is, but the Luidaeg is missing. Arden has been replaced as Queen and is now helping changelings escape to another friendlier Kingdom. The old Queen who once banished Toby is back on her throne. Dean, and Rayseline have disappeared to another realm; and May has been forced to hold up in the Library of Stars fearing that if she leaves, she won't remember her lover, Toby, and her friends. To make matters worse, Quentin, Toby's squire, is a hateful bigot who can't stand the sight of Toby or any other changeling.
 
To protect his people and his future, Tybalt must find the woman he loves in a world designed to keep her from him, convince her that he’s not a stranger trying to ruin her life for no apparent reason, and get her to unmake the illusion she’s been firmly enmeshed in. And he’ll have to do it all while she doesn’t know him, and every unrecognizing look is a knife to his heart. With a little help from Raj, Ginerva, Dianda Lorden, Patrick, Simon, August, Arden and Nolan, plus Garm and Grianne, Tybalt will go on his own quest to stop Titania from permanently changing history
 
*Thoughts* Even though the stories basically take place concurrently, I absolutely recommend that you read Sleep No More and The Innocent Sleep as close together as possible. Why? Because there are a few points in the story that overlap. At one point in this series, I wasn't a fan of Tybalt's, but I have since changed my mind. You can tell the love that he has for Toby, and the fact that he's gotten comfortable around May, Jasmine, and Quentin, as well as accepting Raysel spending one year under Toby's guidance. We also get a bit of Tybalt's former life in Londinium.
 
The new relationship between August and Toby will hopefully last. The two of them became close when Toby didn't know who she was, and that she was a hero of the realm who has saved so many lives over the course of this series. August was very protective of Toby until each learned the truth about Titania's plans. No spoilers, but as Luidaeg says, we have definitely not seen the last of Titania and I do hope that the author explains what really happened to Maeve and if she too is hiding out in the California area like Titania was and whether she will be another thorn in Toby's side. 
 
This story is once again followed by a short novella called Doubtless and Secure. It is told from the point of view of Helmi, a Cephali who has been around for a very long time. The story starts in 1612 and ends during the course of The Innocent Sleep. It is the story about Dianda Lorden, the ruling monarch of the Duchy of Saltimist (an undersea kingdom off the coast of California) plus when Dean and Peter arrived, and how she met her husband Patrick Twycross, son of Eira Rosynhwyr, and later how she agreed to add Simon and August to her growing family.  

Monday, October 23, 2023

#Review - The Scarlet Alchemist by Kylie Lee Baker #YA #Fantasy

Series: The Scarlet Alchemist # 1
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Release Date: October 3, 2023
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

New from the author of The Keeper of Night comes a dark YA fantasy duology set in an alternate Tang Dynasty China, where alchemy has flourished but so has income inequality, and a poor biracial girl with the ability to raise the dead gets caught up in the dangerous political games of the royal family. Perfect for fans of Julie Kagawa and Chloe Gong.

Zilan dreams of becoming a royal alchemist, of providing for her family by making alchemical gold and gems for the wealthy to eat in order to stay young forever. But for now, she’s trapped in her impoverished village in southern China, practicing an illegal form of alchemy to keep food on the table—resurrecting the dead, for a price.

When Zilan finally has the chance to complete her imperial exams, she ventures to the capital to compete against the best alchemists in the country in tasks she’ll be lucky to survive, let alone pass. On top of that, her reputation for raising the dead has followed her, and the Crown Prince himself seeks out her help, suspecting a coming assassination attempt.

The more Zilan succeeds in her alchemy, the more she gets caught in the dangerous political games of the royal family. There are monsters lurking within the palace walls, and it’s only a matter of time before they—and secrets of Zilan’s past—catch up with her.

The Scarlet Alchemist, by Kylie Lee Baker, is the first installment in the authors newest duology by the same name. The story is set in China beginning in the year 775. 100 years ago, royal alchemists discovered the secret receipt for gold that stopped you from aging, and made you blood the color of sunlight. Those who can afford the gold of immortality have basically been locked away in their mansions, while the poor continue to struggle to survive. Those like Fan Zilan who works in her families mingei store crated ghost vessels for those who passed.

Zilan has been experimenting on alchemy for years and hopes to follow in her father's footsteps. A father who came from Gaelic, Scotland to marry a Chinese woman. Zilan can tell you the ins and outs of various stones: Moonstones for healing and repair. Woodstones for manipulating plant and animal life. Metalstones for reshaping objects. Earthstones for transforming the mind. Firestones which are agents of destruction or great chaos. She's also been warned that you can not create good without creating evil which she temps every time she tries to bring someone back from the dead.

Something she has done twice before. Zilan dreams of becoming a royal alchemist, of providing for her family by making alchemical gold and gems for the wealthy to eat in order to stay young forever. But for now, she’s trapped in her impoverished village in southern China, practicing an illegal form of alchemy to keep food on the table—resurrecting the dead, for a price. When Zilan finally has the chance to complete her imperial exams, she ventures to the capital along with her cousins Wenshu and Yufei to compete against the best alchemists in the country in tasks she’ll be lucky to survive, let alone pass. 

On top of that, her reputation for raising the dead has followed her, and the Crown Prince Li Hong seeks out her help, suspecting a coming assassination attempt. The more Zilan succeeds in her alchemy, the more she gets caught in the dangerous political games of the royal family. The more she gets closer to her end goal, the more there are people willing to stop her in her tracks and try to embarrass her. But there are monsters lurking within the palace walls, and it’s only a matter of time before they—and secrets of Zilan’s past—catch up with her.

*Thoughts* This is a series that is set in an alternate Tang Dynasty China where alchemy has flourished, this world is decadent with gold and gems but teeming with death underneath the glitter. In some ways, the author comes close to having this be a historical fiction novel since key characters like Empress Wu Zetian, the first and last female emperor of China. Zilan is a curious sort in that she had no clue what happened to her parents until one of the Royal Alchemists makes her understand her own history that makes her unique. Like the author herself, Zilan is half Chinese and Half Irish who has the ability to raise the dead, a power that ends up pushing her to levels she could only dream of when all is said and done. Kylie is a master at crafting plot twists that surprise at every turn, and readers will be shocked to learn some of the details of Zilan's past and how they've come to haunt her in the present.





Friday, October 20, 2023

#Review - The Queen of Days by Greta Kelly #Fantasy #Epic

Series: Unknown
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: October 24, 2023
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Epic

Description:

From Greta Kelly, the author of the Warrior Witch duology, comes The Queen of Days, an epic adventure that weaves together a flawed-but-lovable family of thieves, a battle between fallen gods, and stakes high enough to cause vertigo—perfect for fans of The Lies of Locke Lamora and Six of Crows.

For Balthazar and his family of thieves, stealing a statue during the annual celebration of the god Karanis was just a good bit of fun . . . and a way to stick it to the governor who murdered his parents. And, yeah, the small fortune in reward doesn’t hurt—even if his boss also hired the mysterious Queen of Days to join the crew as “the weapon of last resort.”

Whatever that means.

But Bal doesn’t know the ceremony isn’t simply empty words and dusty tradition; it’s true magic. The kind of magic that rips open a portal for the god himself. Only the idol that Karanis planned on using for a body now lies broken at the feet of the Queen of Days. And half of it is missing.

With the aid of a lovable brawler, a society lady turned bomb maker, a disgraced soldier, and a time-eating demon, Bal must hunt down the missing half of the statue if he has any hope of earning his money, keeping his crew alive . . . and perhaps even saving all of humanity. But as his journey sends him racing through the city—and across realities—he discovers that doing all this might just doom his home.

The city be damned. It’s time to kill a god.

Greta Kelly's The Queen of Days is allegedly a standalone novel that includes a classic magical heist crew fantasy adventure, with a rag-tag group of characters, inevitable betrayals, and some fun twists and turns. This novel definitely has vestiges of YA as well as everything an epic fantasy needs, but with a fresh coming-of-age narrative hitting all the notes popular in the genre today—especially since this story includes a cast of lovable, witty misfits fighting for survival and acceptance. 

As the story opens, Balthazar Vadalen (who grew up wealthy until his family was betrayed, and destroyed by a man called Paasch, is now leader of a rag tag group of thieves called the Talion Crew after 5 years of self exile), has accepted a job from a very powerful patron. Balthazar's crew of thieves is hired to steal a temple idol and is required to take The Queen of Days as part of his patron’s desire. The Queen of Days, aka Septiniri Tassiel Janae, stays hidden behind a mask and black hood. She seems to be more shadow, mystery, and magic than human.  

She has a knock of being able to get in and out of places that nobody else can. In return for her help, all she requires is a little bit of time from the crew. Tassiel has robbed a museum, breached the Bastion in the middle of the ocean in order to get what she came for, and walks out of prison with Bal and Kai alongside her. Tass is 1/2 human and 1/2 Septiniri Warrior from the Nethersphere who was once abandoned and betrayed by her own family. With Tassiel along for the ride, the mission has a great chance at success. 

But right from the start, it seems as though things are being rushed, and his crew gets worried that someone is going to betray them, or something will go wrong. The author mostly uses Bal to tell the story, however, there are parts that are told from Tass's point of view which gives the book a deeper and must needed addition to what his actually happening in this world. Tass’s mysterious past and nebulous and notorious family connections explain much of her power. Her alienation from her own family makes a good counterpoint to the effort Bal makes in crafting his own family.

*Thoughts* Right from the start, Bal has turned his crew into family including his sister who believes that Bal is not taking her seriously. Bal has tried for 5 years to gain revenge on the man who destroyed his family, and his life. Add a few so called Gods to the mixture, and you have an action packed story with some interesting twists. The use of alternating points of review was much needed so that readers get a better understanding of who these characters really are and the world they live in. Point to me in that I really found one of the secondary character distasteful and knew this person was going to hurt the crew if they could. Honestly though, this could use a sequel. There is too much happening in Tass's former home world that seems to be on the brink of affecting the Human realm. So, why not write a sequel?




Thursday, October 19, 2023

#Review - The Queen's Crown by Jennifer Anne Davis #YA #Fantasy

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Series: League of Rulers # 1
Format: Kindle, 303 pages
Release Date: October 19, 2023
Publisher: Reign Publishing
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Fantasy / Romance

Synopsis:

Eighteen-year-old Princess Sabine Ludwig of Backley thought her biggest problem was finding a man remotely interesting to dabble with while trying to fill her days with something other than knitting or drinking tea. But when her dear sister is brutally murdered in a foreign kingdom a week before she’s to be married, Sabine suddenly wishes for boring, ordinary days again.

Seeking retribution, Sabine decides to take her sister’s place and marry the mysterious king of Lynk. It’s the only way she can hunt down and find the killer. It’s the only way she can get revenge. When she finds the king far more appealing than she’d intended, it becomes difficult to keep her wits about her and remember why she’s there.

Thrown into a world of lies, power struggles, and seduction, Sabine must learn to navigate through the foreign kingdom’s dangerous court as she seeks her sister’s killer. The closer she gets to discovering who it is, the more she questions who she can trust—including herself.

 

The Queen's Crown, by Jennifer Anne Davis, is the first installment in the authors League of Rulers series. 18-year-old Princess Sabine Ludwig is the youngest daughter of the King and Queen of Bakley. Sabine thought her biggest problem was finding a man remotely interesting to dabble with while trying to fill her days with something other than knitting or drinking tea. Then the unspeakable happens. Alina, who was supposed to marry another, accepted a marriage bone with the King of Lynk.

But when Alina is murdered a week before she’s to be married, Sabine suddenly wishes for boring, ordinary days again. Instead, she is fast tracked into learning everything there is to know about Lynk and the King that will be her husband and King after she steps up for Alina and accepts the marriage contract. She also learns how to protect herself as well as the most dangerous poisons. Things don't exactly go as planned. Before she arrives, she is attacked, and nearly killed. 

She arrives with her protector Lieutenant Markis Belle, who is ordered home, but refuses since Sabine's life is once again on the line, and any small mistake will likely end in tragedy. Thrown into a world of lies, power struggles, and seduction, and three siblings who have their own agendas and secrets, Sabine must learn to navigate through the foreign kingdom’s dangerous court as she seeks her sister’s killer. The closer she gets to discovering who it is, the more she questions who she can trust—including herself.

*Thoughts* First, yes, the book ends on a brutal cliffhanger ending. Unfortunately, the author kind of mentions the League of Rulers, and may include several characters who we do meet, and it seems this group has way too much power over the actions of the various countries who are always at each others throats. Rainer, the ruling King of Lynk, and his family are an interesting bunch. Sabine turns from a reckless teenager who is looking for fun, to someone forced to grow up in a hurry. When she has to face death at every turn, that's pretty easy to do, especially when you have a loyal bodyguard like Markis.

Rainer seems to honestly be trying to keep things together, including finding out who murdered Sabine who he apparently became close to. He knows that he is on a deadline to either marry, or abandon the throne. The brothers Axel and Anton are either part of the League, or have answers that Sabine needs to survive. Then there is the sister Lottie who I never trusted from the moment she was introduced. This story left me with a lot of unanswered questions, especially with all of the games and power play moves that are happening within the ruling family of Lynk. Will I continue? Of course!





Tuesday, October 17, 2023

#Review - The Fragile Threads of Power by V.E. Schwab #Fantasy

Series: Threads of Power # 1
Format: Hardcover, 648 pages
Release Date: September 26, 2023
Publisher: Tor Books
Source: Library
Genre: Fantasy / Gaslamp

From #1 New York Times bestselling author V. E. Schwab comes a new adventure set in a beloved world—where old friends and foes alike are faced with a dangerous new threat.

A new door opens...

Once there were four worlds, nestled like pages in a book, each pulsing with fantastical power and connected by a single city: London.

After a desperate attempt to prevent corruption and ruin in the four Londons, there are only three—Grey London, thriving but barely able to remember its magical heritage; Red London, ruled lately by the Maresh family, flourishing and powerful; and White London, left to brutality and decay.

Now the worlds are going to collide anew—brought to a dangerous precipice by the discoveries of three remarkable magicians.

There's Kosika, the child queen of White London, who has nourished her city on blood and dreams—and whose growing devotion to both is leading her down a dangerous path.

Then there's Delilah Bard, born a thief in Grey London, who crossed the worlds to become a legend far from there. She's an infamous magician, a devious heroine, and a risk-taking rogue, all rolled into one unforgettable package. Having disappeared to seek new adventure, an old favor now calls Lila back to a dangerous port, to join some old friends who need more help than they realize.

Last there is Tes, a young runaway with an unusual and powerful ability, hiding out in Red London while trying to stay out of the limelight.

Tes is the only one who can keep all the worlds from unraveling—if she manages to stay alive first.


The Fragile Threads of Power, by V.E. Schwab, is the first installment in the authors Threads of Power series which takes place in the same world as the authors The Shades of Magic universe. This book is a monster at 640 pages with a variety of older characters and younger newer characters who have been mixed together. Some are allies, some are unknown, one may be the destruction of everything that happened 7 years ago. Once upon a time, there were four worlds, nestled like pages in a book, each pulsing with fantastical power and connected by a single city: London. 

A span of seven years has elapsed since the portals bridging the realms were sealed shut. A septennial milestone since Kell Maresh, Lila Bard, and Holland Vosijk joined forces to confront the threat of Osaron, destroyer of Black London, an act of dire bravery that safeguarded the realms of Red, Grey, and White London. These seven years have also seen Kell's magic sundered and Holland's life tragically extinguished. In the realm of Red London, Rhy Maresh reigns, his newfound family—Queen Nadiya, their daughter Ren, and his partner Alucard—by his side. 

However, beneath the surface of prosperity simmers a conspiracy and rebellion, rumors suggesting that Rhy's rule is sapping magic from the world. After a desperate attempt to prevent corruption and ruin in the four London's, there are only three—Grey London, thriving but barely able to remember its magical heritage; Red London, ruled lately by the Maresh family, flourishing and powerful with hints of a rebellion; and White London, left to brutality and decay. Now the worlds are going to collide anew—brought to a dangerous precipice by the discoveries of three remarkable magicians.

There's Kosika, the child queen of White London, who has nourished her city on blood and dreams—and whose growing devotion to both is leading her down a dangerous path. Kosika became Queen when she found the body of Holland Vosijk.
The queen guides her subjects in rituals of sacrifice and blood, paying homage to the altar of Holland, yet the burgeoning power she wields might prove beyond her command. But there are stirrings in the works, and Kosika seems to be lost in her mind where Holland is actually alive, yet not really, and trying to rekindle a fire that was put out 7 years ago.

Delilah Bard, born a thief in Grey London, who crossed the worlds to become a legend and savior. She's an infamous magician (Antari), a devious heroine, and a risk-taking rogue, all rolled into one unforgettable package.
Lila and Kell, now living as free spirits upon the waves onboard Alucard's ship now called Grey Barron. Their lives are about to change once again when she receives a summons from the captain of the Floating Market who she made a bargain with to replace her lost eye. Lila is ordered to recover a profoundly potent artifact, pilfered by enigmatic forces, before bad people do something that may destroy life as we know it. Lila is the only known person to be able to cross into the remaining worlds as the the most powerful Atari in existence. But a mysterious rebellion called the Hand, and a young blood thirsty Queen may destroy all she, Kell, and Holland worked for.

Tesali (Tes) ran away from home after her powers awakened, and her mother was afraid she would be sold into slavery. Tes, who is 15, has been hiding out in Red London while trying to stay out of the limelight. Tes is the only person in the known world who can see the threads of magic and put them together. She is brilliant in the way she can fix any broken item. 
Tes becomes unintentionally involved in a plot against the crown when a thief brings a stolen magical object into her repair shop, only to find two assassins at her door wanting her to recreate the box that could change the course of the worlds. Tes may very well be the only person in any of the world's who can stop the unraveling of worlds. 

*Thoughts* It's surprising when an author decides to write more books in the world that she created, especially after so many years. This book is different from the previous series in that the different characters are shown in various times along the way. Flashbacks pop up every other chapter and jump around seven years ago, two years ago, five years ago, three years ago in a way that after a while became difficult in some ways to parse out what was happening. My favorite character in this book is Tes and her inanimate owl who she cobbled together to be her companion. 

Lila is once again the most interesting character because everyone is afraid of her, and she really doesn't care who likes her, or who doesn't. The mysterious characters in this book are the Queen, who loves to create things, and a mysterious priest who may or may not be leading to the destruction of the Maresh family. As I have stated many times in the 13 plus years of reviewing books, the best way to keep track of characters is to keep good notes. Write each character down, and what important scenes they are part of and why that's important to the story. 




RED LONDON

NOW

Master Haskin had a knack for fixing broken things.

The sign on his shop door said as much.

ES HAL VIR, HIS HAL NASVIR, it declared in neat gold font.

Once broken, soon repaired.

Ostensibly, his business was devoted to the mending of clocks, locks, and household trinkets. Objects guided by simple magic, the minor cogs that turned in so many London homes. And of course, Master Haskin could fix a clock, but so could anyone with a decent ear and a basic understanding of the language of spells.

No, most of the patrons that came through the black door of Haskin’s shop brought stranger things. Items “salvaged” from ships at sea, or lifted from London streets, or claimed abroad. Objects that arrived damaged, or were broken in the course of acquisition, their spellwork having rattled loose, unraveled, or been ruined entirely.

People brought all manner of things to Haskin’s shop. And when they did, they invariably encountered his apprentice.

She was usually perched, cross-legged, on a rickety stool behind the counter, a tangle of brown curls piled like a hat on her head, the unruly mass bound up with twine, or netting, or whatever she could find in a pinch. She might have been thirteen, or twenty-three, depending on the light. She sat like a child and swore like a sailor, and dressed as if no one had ever taught her how. She had thin quick fingers that were always moving, and keen dark eyes that twitched over whatever broken thing lay gutted on the counter, and she talked as she worked, but only to the skeleton of the owl that sat nearby.

It had no feathers, no flesh, just bones held together by silver thread. She had named the bird Vares—prince—after Kell Maresh, to whom it bore little resemblance, save for its two stone eyes, one of which was blue, the other black, and the unsettling effect it had on those it met—the result of a spell that spurred it now and then to click its beak or cock its head, startling unsuspecting customers.

Sure enough, the woman currently waiting across the counter jumped.

“Oh,” she said, ruffling as if she had feathers of her own. “I didn’t know it was alive.

“It’s not,” said the apprentice, “strictly speaking.” In truth, she often wondered where the line was. After all, the owl had only been spelled to mimic basic movements, but now and then she’d catch him picking at a wing where the feathers would be, or notice him staring out the window with those flat rock eyes, and she swore that he was thinking something of his own.

The apprentice returned her attention to the waiting woman. She fetched a glass jar from beneath the counter. It was roughly the size of her hand, and shaped like a lantern with six glass sides.

“Here you are then,” she said as she set it on the table.

The customer lifted the object carefully, brought it to her lips, and whispered something. As she did, the lantern lit, the glass sides frosting a milky white. The apprentice watched, and saw what the woman couldn’t—the filaments of light around the object rippled and smoothed, the spellwork flowing seamlessly as the woman brought it to her ear. The message whispered itself back, and the glass went clear again, the vessel empty.

The woman smiled. “Marvelous,” she said, bundling the mended secret-keeper away inside her coat. She set the coins down in a neat stack, one silver lish and four red lin.

“Give Master Haskin my thanks,” she added, already turning away.

“I will,” called the apprentice as the door swung shut.

She swept the coins from the counter, and hopped down from her stool, rolling her head on her shoulders to stretch.

There was no Master Haskin, of course.

Once or twice when the shop was new, she’d dragged an old man from the nearest tavern, paid him a lin or two to come and sit in the back with his head bent over a book, just so she could point him out to customers and say, “The master is busy working now,” since apparently a man half in his cups still inspired more faith than a sharp-eyed girl who looked even younger than her age, which was fifteen.

Then she got tired of spending the coin, so she propped a few boxes and a pillow behind a mottled glass door and pointed to that instead.

These days she didn’t bother, just flicked her fingers toward the back of the shop and said, “He’s busy.” It turned out, no one really cared, so long as the fixing got done.

Now, alone in the shop, the apprentice—whose name, not that anyone knew it, was Tesali—rubbed her eyes, cheekbones bruised from the blotters she wore all day, to focus her gaze. She took a long swig of black tea, bitter and over-steeped, just the way she liked it—and still hot, thanks to the mug, one of the first things she’d ever spelled.

The day was thinning out beyond the windows, and the lanterns around the shop began to glow, warming the room with a buttery light that glanced off the shelves and cases and worktops, all of them well stocked, but not cluttered, toeing the line between a welcome fullness and a mess.

It was a balance Tes had learned from her father.

Shops like this had to be careful—too clean, and it looked like you were lacking business. Too messy, and customers would take that business elsewhere. If everything they saw was broken, they’d think you were no good at fixing. If everything they saw was fixed, they’d wonder why no one had come to claim it.

Haskin’s shop—her shop—struck the perfect balance.

There were shelves with spools of cable—copper and silver, mostly, the best conduits for magic—and jars full of cogs and pencils and tacks, and piles of scrap paper covered in the scrawls of half-worked spells. All the things she guessed a repair shop might keep on hand. In truth, the cogs, the papers, the coils, they were all for show. A bit of set dressing to put the audience at ease. A little sleight of hand, to distract them from the truth.

Tes didn’t need any of these things to fix a bit of broken magic.

All she needed were her eyes.

Her eyes, which for some reason saw the world not just in shape and color, but in threads.

Everywhere she looked, she saw them.

A glowing ribbon curled in the water of her tea. A dozen more ran through the wood of her table. A hundred delicate lines wove through the bones of her pet owl. They twisted and coiled through the air around and above everyone and everything. Some were dull, and others bright. Some were single strands and others braided filaments, some drifted, feather light, and others rushed like a current. It was a dizzying maelstrom.

But Tes couldn’t just see the threads of power. She could touch them. Pluck a string as if it were an instrument and not the fabric of the world. Find the frayed ends of a fractured spell, trace the lines of broken magic and mend them.

She didn’t speak the language of spellwork, didn’t need to. She knew the language of magic itself. Knew it was a rare gift, and knew what people did to get their hands on rare things, which was exactly why she maintained the illusion of the shop.

Vares clicked his beak, and fluttered his featherless wings. She glanced at the little owl, and he stared back, then swiveled his head to the darkening streets beyond the glass.

“Not yet,” she said, finishing her tea. Better to wait a bit and see if any more business wandered in. A shop like Haskin’s had a different kind of client, once darkness fell.

Tes reached beneath the counter and pulled out a bundle of burlap, unfolding the cloth to reveal a sword, then took up the pair of blotters. They looked like spectacles, though the gift lay not in the lens, but in the frames, heavy and black, the edges extending to either side like the blinders on a horse. Which is exactly what they were, blotting out the rest of the room, narrowing her world to just the space of the counter, and the sword atop it.

She settled them over her eyes.

“See this?” She spoke to Vares, pointing to the steel. A spell had originally been etched into the flat side, but a portion of it had scraped away in a fight, reducing the blade from an unbreakable weapon to a scrap of flimsy metal. To Tes’s eyes, the filaments of magic around the weapon were similarly frayed.

“Spells are like bodies,” she explained. “They go stiff, and break down, either from wear or neglect. Reset a bone wrong, and you might have a limp. Put a spell back in the wrong way, and the whole thing might splinter, or shatter, or worse.”

Lessons she’d learned the hard way.

Tes flexed her fingers, and ran them through the air just over the steel.

“A spell exists in two places,” she continued. “On the metal, and in the magic.”

Another fixer would simply etch the spell into the blade again. But the metal would keep getting damaged. No, better to take the spell and weave it into the magic itself. That way, no matter what happened to the sigils on the steel, the power would hold.

Carefully, she reached into the web of magic and began to mend the threads, drawing the frayed ends together, tying tiny knots that then fell away, leaving the ribbons smooth, intact. She got so lost in the work, she didn’t hear the shop door open.

Didn’t notice, not until Vares perked up, beak clicking in alarm.

Tes looked up, her hands still buried in the spell.

With the blotters on, she couldn’t see more than a hand’s width, so it took her a moment to find the customer. He was large, with a hard face, and a nose that had been broken more than once, but her attention went, as it always did, to the magic around him. Or the lack of it. It wasn’t common to see a person without any power, and the utter absence of threads made him a dark spot in the room.

“Looking for Haskin,” he grunted, scanning the shop.

Tes carefully withdrew her fingers, and tugged the goggles off, flicking the burlap back over the sword. “He’s busy,” she said, tipping her head toward the rear of the shop, as if he were back there. “But I can help.”

The man gave her a look that made her hackles rise. She only got two kinds of looks: appraising, and skeptical. Those who saw her as a woman, and those who saw her as a girl. Both looks made her feel like a sack of grain being weighed, but she hated the latter more, that way it was meant to make her feel small. The fact, sometimes, it did.

The man’s hard eyes dropped to the sword, its hilt poking out from beneath the burlap. “You even old enough to handle magic?”

Tes forced herself to smile. With teeth. “Why don’t you show me what you have?”

He grunted, and reached into his coat pocket, withdrawing a leather cuff and setting it on the table. She knew exactly what it was, or rather, what it was meant to be. Would have known, even if she hadn’t glimpsed the black brand circling his left wrist as he set it down. That explained the lack of threads, the darkness in the air around him. He wasn’t magicless by nature—he’d been marked with a limiter, which meant the crown had seen fit to strip him of his power.

Tes took up the cuff, and turned it over in her hands.

Limiters were the highest price a criminal could pay, shy of execution, and many considered it a harsher punishment, to live without access to one’s magic. It was forbidden, of course, to bypass one. To negate the limiter’s spell. But forbidden didn’t mean impossible. Only expensive. The cuff, she guessed, had been sold to him as a negater. She wondered if he knew that he’d been ripped off, that the cuff was faulty, the spellwork unfinished, a clumsy snarl in the air. It was never designed to work.

But it could.

“Well?” he asked, impatient.

She held the cuff between them. “Tell me,” she said, “is this a clock, a lock, or a household trinket?”

The man frowned. “Kers? No, it’s a—”

“This shop,” she explained, “is licensed to repair clocks, locks, and household trinkets.”

He looked pointedly down at the sword sticking out of the burlap. “I was told—”

“It looks like a clock to me,” she cut in.

He stared at her. “But it’s not a clock…?” His voice went up at the end, as if no longer certain. Tes sighed, and gave him a weighted look. It took far too long for him to catch it.

“Oh. Yes.” His eyes flicked down to the leather cuff, and then to the dead owl, which he’d just realized was watching him, before returning to the strange girl across the counter. “Well then, it’s a clock.”

“Excellent,” she said, pulling a box from beneath the counter and dropping the forbidden object inside.

“So he can fix it?”

“Of course,” Tes said with a cheerful grin. “Master Haskin can fix anything.” She tore off a small black ticket with the shop’s sigil and a number printed in gold. “It’ll be ready in a week.”