Reviews · Uncategorized

Trust No Witch: Review of Witches Steeped in Gold

Thank you to Ciannon Smart and HarperTeen for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Witches Steeped in Gold

Summary (click for dropdown)

Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.

This Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut about two enemy witches who must enter into a deadly alliance to take down a common enemy has the twisted cat-and-mouse of Killing Eve with the richly imagined fantasy world of Furyborn and Ember in the Ashes.

Author: Ciannon Smart

Year Published: 2021

  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 4/5
  • Writing: 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4/5

When I picked up this book I had no idea what to expect but I was extremely excited to read it- luckily, it definitely delivered. A Jamaican-inspired young adult fantasy full of intrigue, action, scheming and compelling characters, Witches Steeped in Gold bewitched me from the first page until the very last.

The plot revolved around two witches who belonged to enemy orders: Jazmyne who belonged to the Alumbrar order and Iraya who belonged to the Obeah order. The story alternated between both of their perspectives as they entered into a precarious alliance to achieve a shared goal. 

Jazmyne started off quite indecisive and afraid of taking action against her mother who was the doyenne of Aiyca- despite finding her rule unjust. As the story progressed it was interesting to see her realise that she had power and watch her learn how to wield it and stand her own ground. What was more interesting still was how her taste of power obscured her initial noble intentions and she sank lower and lower to hold onto it at any cost. She pretty much had a corruption arc and the irony wasn’t lost on me that she became exactly what she started off fighting against. I didn’t like Jazmyne much at all by the end but that isn’t a criticism of the book- she was extremely interesting to read about. I have to say though, Jazmyne’s romance sub plot was extremely lacklustre and boring– I feel like the book would have been better of without it.

For me, Iraya was a more likeable character despite her tendency to act rashly (it was honestly painful to watch her keep acting impulsively and making the worst choices) and avoid responsibility in the misguided belief it will keep people safe. Her constant internal conflict revolved around her trying to reconcile people’s expectations of her and her own desires and hopes, her duty to honour the dead and her duty to do right by the living. Unlike Jazmyne, I feel like she had more selfish motivations in the start but as the book progressed they became more selfless as her sense of responsibility towards her people grew. Iraya’s romance sub plot was a lot more interesting and while it definitely was a bit cliché, I found the way her relationship with Kirdan developed very entertaining.

Both Iraya and Jazmyne’s perspectives had distinct voices and personalities and switching between them made the tone of the book more dynamic. As the book progressed, Iraya began to realise that she could let people help her and that she didn’t have to carry the burden alone to succeed whereas Jazmyne began to realise that she couldn’t rely on the people she trusted. I thought it was clever how Iraya surrounding herself with more people and opening up was contrasted with Jazmyne becoming more isolated and closed off. It was chilling how by the end of the book they had both become what they were most afraid of at the start.

My favourite aspect of the book was that we are shown the perspectives of both the Alumbrar and Obeah in a way that makes it impossible to ‘pick a side’ because neither is fully good or evil. Whilst I was reading I felt quite anxious wondering if they would put aside their differences or if one side would come out on top in the end and how I would feel about the possible outcomes. The story emphasised how subjective notions of heroism and villainy are as Jazmyne and Iraya walked the knife edge between the two, thinking that they were breaking the cycles of hatred and violence while unknowingly perpetuating them. A part of what makes this story compelling is that there are no heroes or villains… there are just people like you and me doing what they think is best for themselves and those around them.

I adored the world Smart created. It was nuanced, exciting and full of vicious beauty. I loved the Jamaican influences, the intricate lore and traditions and it all felt very immersive and put together with love and care. I liked how the Obeah and Alumbrar magic systems were contrasted and the way these systems directly influenced and were influenced by the wider society- I especially liked the idea of gold being the conduit for magic.

Overall, the plot was twisty- driven by scheming and betrayals. However, the first half of the book was quite slow paced and the plot took a while to really get going. I do think this was necessary to set up the world, the characters and the stakes but if you dislike books structured like this then I don’t think this book will be for you. The main reason that this was a four star read not a five star read was that while I was engaged in the story and wanted to know what would happen I wasn’t as emotionally invested as I wanted to be.

Witches Steeped in Gold was a compelling read that I highly recommend, perfect for fans of An Ember in the Ashes. The book ended in a strong place and set everything up nicely for the next book so I think the sequel has a lot of potential to be a five star read and I’m very excited to read it!

Have you read Witches Steeped in Gold? Are you planning on reading it? Let me know in the comments!

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Reviews · Uncategorized

A Gift and a Curse: Review of Reaper of Souls

Thank you to HarperTeen for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Reaper of Souls

Summary (click for dropdown)

After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted—at a terrible price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom in shambles, and long-buried secrets about who she is.

Desperate not to repeat her mother’s mistakes, Arrah must return to the tribal lands to search for help from the remnants of her parents’ people. But the Demon King’s shadow looms closer than she thinks. And as Arrah struggles to unravel her connection to him, defeating him begins to seem more and more impossible—if it’s something she can bring herself to do at all.

Set in a richly imagined world inspired by spine-tingling tales of voodoo and folk magic, Kingdom of Souls was lauded as “masterful” by School Library Journal in a starred review. This explosively epic sequel will have readers racing to the can’t-miss conclusion.

Author: Rena Barron

Year Published: 2021

  • Plot: 3/5
  • Characters: 3.5/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 3/5

I was so excited to read Reaper of Souls as I was completely enthralled by the first book in the trilogy. I have to admit, while the book had a lot of strong points, it didn’t fully live up to my expectations and pales in comparison to Kingdom of Souls. I think my problem is that objectively it is exactly the sort of interesting, twisty book that I usually love but it just failed to engage me and all the aspects of the first book that I loved weren’t as compelling to me in this one.

In this book Arrah was a lot more mature and also much wearier and worn out by all that she had been through and all that she had yet to do. Haunted by her past actions, it was interesting to see Arrah realise that the magic she had sacrificed so much for was a double edged sword that she couldn’t trust herself to wield only for the good of others. Comparing her decisions at the end of this book to her decisions at the start of Kingdom of Souls it was clear how far she has come and how her outlook on the world has changed. The only thing that didn’t diminish for me in this book is how much I love Arrah. She wasn’t perfect, she made reckless decisions and did morally questionable things but she was also strong and loyal and in her heart she wanted the best for everyone. I like how she was at one with herself and owned her mistakes even as she often walked the fine line between hero and monster in the eyes of others.

This book was also Rudjek’s time to shine– he even had chapters from his perspective. In the previous book I felt like he was less self-assured so I liked how he stepped up in this book and came into his own, taking on leadership and initiative. I liked how the barriers between Arrah and Rudjek being together were explored and how they communicated about it but I didn’t love their relationship as much as I did in book one. As I was reading I became less and less engaged in their romance and cared less and less about whether or not they’d get to be together.

I read most of Kingdom of Souls in one sitting unable to stop and desperate to find out what would happen next. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Reaper of Souls. For most of the book I wasn’t engaged by the plot and there were many points whilst reading where I was so close to DNFing but didn’t because I remembered how much I enjoyed the first book and convinced myself it would get better. However, near the end of the book there were some good plot twists and I think the book ended on enough of a strong point to convince me to read the final book in the trilogy when it comes out. The thing I disliked the most about the plot was Dimma and the Demon King’s story. I can’t really explain why without spoiling too much but even though it was an important part of the storyline I didn’t like the focus being taken off of Arrah and Rudjek because they were the ones I cared about.

Although it built on the same ideas as Kingdom of Souls- magic being a gift and a curse, the corrupting nature of power and love that destroys as well as heals– I liked Reaper of Souls but nowhere near as much as the first book. However, I would recommend fans of book one to give the sequel a chance because I know for a fact that there are a lot of people who enjoyed it more than I did. 

Have you read Reaper of Souls? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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