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Review: Below

Book: Below

Author: Alexandria Warwick

Year Published: 2020

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

Below was a tale of love, brutality and how love can survive despite brutality. It was inspired by Inuit mythology, and it engulfed me in an unceremonious world of snarling frost and piercing cold and took me on the most enchanting ride.

How do we define our identities? Is it our faces? Our families? Our heritages? Our cultures? Our names? The legacies we leave behind? The lies and truths we tell ourselves? It’s all of these things and more. This book explored the idea of who we are when all of these fundamental things are stripped away from us, what is left to cling on to, what kind of lives we can lead if we don’t know who we are or have people around us to witness their passing.

The protagonist was Apaay, who was constantly trying to prove herself to the world and never feeling as if her efforts were enough. She wasn’t the strongest hunter or the most skilled tracker in her village, she wasn’t the cleverest or the kindest or the most beautiful. All she wanted was to be recognised and praised for something- to prove that she wasn’t useless. She loved her family and she wanted to make them proud and be able to support them no matter what.

One day, the mysterious demon called the Face Stealer struck her village and stole Apaay’s sister’s face, leaving her with only two tiny slits on her face for breathing. Torn apart by grief, sorrow and anger and the desperate desire to prove her worth, Apaay set off across the tundra to find the Face Stealer’s lair and retrieve her sister’s face. However, to accomplish her mission, she must play the games of a twisted girl named Yuki and the Face Stealer and navigate her way through a magical labyrinth.

Apaay was an amazing character and I admired her strength and determination. She was physically and emotionally battered, bruised, burnt and broken in every way but she never gave up. Her love for her sister very literally sent her to the ends of the earth. Along the way, she also went on a journey of self-discovery and realised that she was enough as she was. She didn’t need to be the best tracker or hunter or the kindest person in her village. She didn’t need to try to be someone she was not because she already was formidable in her own right- she just never realised it. She was fierce, courageous, resilient, resourceful and she persevered no matter what.

Below was an original and imaginative novel- it was impossible to predict what fantastically terrifying predicament would befall Apaay next. It’s a book that I would definitely recommend and I’m so excited for the next book in the series!

Thank you to the author for providing me with an arc of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Review: We Hunt the Flame

Book: We Hunt the Flame

Author: Hafsah Faizal

Year Published: 2019

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

“We hunt the flame, the light in the darkness, the good this world deserves.”

We Hunt the Flame was a book about discovering and owning your own identity against the backdrop of a world inspired by Ancient Arabia. I liked it but I still felt underwhelmed by its…. ‘averageness‘ especially because it was one of my most anticipated releases of the year.

It was set in a fictional country called Arawiya that was divided up into caliphates. It used to have magic but had it no longer. Overall, the world building was good and we were gradually fed bits of information about Arawiya and its history. As someone with a fair bit of knowledge surrounding Arabic and Arab culture, it was lovely to see it incorporated into the book. However, some of the Arabic words in the book were used in a clunky and disconcerting manner.

There were two POV characters: Zafira and Nasir.

“You are the compass in the storm, the guide in the dark. You will always find your way, Zafira bint Iskandar.”

Zafira hunted for the people of her village in the magical yet perilous forest called the Arz, which crept closer and closer to her village- threatening to engulf it- every day. She was the only one who could go into it and come back out alive, with her sanity intact. However, she shrouded her identity in secrecy under the mysterious name The Hunter’ and made sure that no one- except her close family and friends- knew that she was a woman as she feared that no one would value her achievements if they knew her gender. During the novel, she embarks on the quest of a lifetime to restore magic to the world by retrieving an ancient book called the Jawarat on the dangerous island called Sharr. Zafira was an alright character. She wasn’t particularly interesting but she wasn’t annoying either. She had a strong sense of duty towards her people and wanted to use her skills to better the world.

Nasir was the crown prince of Arawiya and a notorious hashashin often called, ‘The Prince of Death‘. His father was horrible to him and in general Nasir was a miserable, mirthless person. He was tasked by his father, the sultan, to go on the quest to find the Jawarat, retrieve it, and kill all the others involved. Torn between the desire to please his father and the need to listen to his conscience he goes to Sharr along with Zafira and a few others but ends up going on a journey of self discovery more than anything else. Honestly, I didn’t like Nasir that much. I just found him to be really bland and monotonous. He did show some growth in character by the end and he stopped allowing other people to define him and his actions and tried to do what was right instead of what he’d been told to do.

In conclusion, I found this book to be alright but still a bit dull. I still want to read the sequel in the hope that the author will introduce some more engaging ideas and themes. Don’t let my review put you off because I know that lots of other people loved it, however, if you’re tired of reading the same tropes again and again I don’t think We Hunt the Flame is for you.

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

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Review: Crown of Feathers (the one with the phoenixes!!!)

Book: Crown of Feathers

Author: Nicki Pau Preto

Year Published: 2019

  • Plot: 4.5/5
  • Characters: 4.5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Overall: 5 feather-crowned stars!

When I realised that this book was not only about phoenixes but also phoenix riders I knew I had to read it. I probably love phoenixes just as much (or maybe even more) than I love dragons and I really hoped this book would do these ferocious, fiery creatures justice. It sure did. It probably increased my love for phoenixes tenfold. If I could, I would definitely become a phoenix rider without hesitation.

“Like poetry on wings, soaring through ash and flame”

Crown of Feathers told the tale of a people still recovering from the aftermath of a brutal war and trying to live in peace in the face of oppression and discrimination.

Apart from the phoenixes, I loved the world building and the history of the novel. It was clear that the author took her time to fully flesh out her world and all that happened in it. I’ve seen other people complaining about there being too much info-dumping in the book which ruined their reading experience, however, I actually liked it. It didn’t feel like info-dumping to me because the extra information was relavant to the story line and was actually really intriguing.

The plot was quite slow-paced and character-focused which was interesting but some parts felt a bit unnecessary and could have easily been taken out. The book was from three character perspectives which I think was handled pretty well.

“I am a daughter of death….From the ashes I rose, like a phoenix from the pyre”

16 years before the start of the book there was the Blood War between two sisters: Avalkyra and Pheronia. Avalkyra was an animage and a phoenix rider. After the war, animages were feared by the Empire and any known animages had to pay a tax or become a debt-bonded slave.

POV Characters:

☆ Veronyka was an animage who lived in hiding with her sister Val. Val’s love for Veronyka was twisted and she showed it by controlling her life and never allowing her to settle in any place or form long lasting friendships with anyone- all apparently for Veronyka’s own good. After having been betrayed by Val, Veronyka left her to join a group of phoenix riders. However, there was one problem: they only accepted boys and men. Therefore, Veronyka disguised herself as a boy to gain entry and fulfill her greatest wish of becoming a rider.

I liked Veronyka- she was definitely my favourite character and the POV character I connected the most with. She was brave and strong without hurting or controlling people, she was compassionate and would never force an animal to do something for her, she would just kindly request. Despite everything that had happened, she was always full of hope that the future would hold better things and her determination to make that future happen knew no bounds. Out of all of the POVs, she seemed to get the most, ‘screen time’ which was good because her story was fascinating but it also would have been good to give the other two perspectives more time to develop.

“Some families you were born into. Others you made along the way.”

☆ Tristan was an animage and an apprentice phoenix rider who was the son of the commander of the phoenix riders. He never felt like he was good enough for his father because no matter how well he did his father would always pick out the one thing he had done wrong and make him suffer for it. I thought he was a kind and understanding character. He valued honesty and tried his best to change the things he thought were wrong. However, he was the POV character I felt the most distant from and it was harder for me to empathise with his emotions in comparison to the other characters. Also, I feel like his relationship with his phoenix could have been portrayed better.

☆ Sev was an animage in hiding who was a soldier for the empire. His parents were phoenix riders who had died in an attack when he was young and ever since that tragic event, Sev spent his life running away from who he was and living in fear. He buried his animage identity deep in favour of living in peace and out of slavery while his fellow animages suffered. During the book, his character develops so much and he realises the importance of having people he belonged with and people he would do anything to protect. He realised that instead of hiding his identity he should embrace it and use it to help others like him. I found him to be a really interesting character and I wish we got to see his perspective more in the book. Also, his relationship with Kade was so briefly mentioned and never got time to develop which is something I hope happens in the next book.

I know this book wasn’t perfect in every way but I enjoyed reading it so, so much. What really differentiates a four star book from a five star book for me is the emotions it evokes from me. Whilst I was reading it, every plot twist shocked me to the core (there were so many and I didn’t predict some of them!) and I felt the pain, sorrow, happiness and anger of the characters as if it were my own. Crown of Feathers was a truly magical read for me and deserves five fiery, feather-crowned stars!

Thank you to Black & White Publishing and Nicki Pau Preto for providing me with a digital arc of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

The quotes I used are from an arc of the book and may change upon publication.

If you’re a fellow phoenix/ dragon fan, let me know in the comments!
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Review: The Bird King

Book: The Bird King

Author: G. Willow Wilson

Year Published: 2019

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

The Bird King was a historical fantasy book set in 1491 in Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain. There were many things I liked about it, however, there were also many things I disliked- that’s why I gave it three stars.

It was about Fatima, a Circassian concubine who fled from the palace of Granada with her childhood friend, Hassan, who could make magical maps that altered the layout of places in real life. They were escaping from the Spanish Inquisition who wanted Hassan dead as they claimed he was a sorcerer. They went on a sprawling journey through Spain with the help of the jinn and people they met along the way to seek refuge in Mount Qaf, a mythical place which they had read about in a poem called The Conference of the Birds that was supposedly ruled by The Bird King.

I liked the way Fatima pursued the hope of a better life and took her life into her own hands. She definitely came a long way in the book as she went from a sheltered girl to a fierce woman who knew her own worth. However, she was a bit annoying at times and the entire book was from her perspective so that did frustrate me slightly.

The plot of the book was very, very slow-paced and although the writing was simply gorgeous there were lots of things that happened that just felt a bit unnecessary and could have easily been missed out without affecting the understanding of the story and characters. Also, many parts of the book were really confusing and even when I reread the same bit again and again I still had no idea what was going on! The magic was barely explained and the ending happened so quickly I barely understood what was happening.

I loved the message of the book though. It was a message of tolerance. Whether you’re searching for Mount Qaf or Avalon or Antillia, it’s all the same, we all just want to have peaceful, safe lives no matter which name you give it. The book showed people from all corners of the world who were completely different living in peace without any hate and that’s the kind of world we have to try to create. We’re all humans- no matter what we believe or look like- and that’s what matters most.

Thank you to Grove Press and G. Willow Wilson for providing me with an e-arc of this book via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

The Bird King is being released tomorrow so look out for it! Although I gave it three stars it is still a book I would recommend due to its important message.

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ARC Review: Descendant of the Crane

Author: Joan He

Date Published: 2019

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

The Descendant of the Crane was an intricate Chinese fantasy full of treachery and about a relentless hunt for the truth. I was constantly in suspense and it kept me guessing until the very last page.

The writing was exquisitely vivid, each word weaving a net that captured my attention and didn’t let go. Sometimes, I even felt as if I were a part of the story. The first half of the book was quite slow-paced, gradually building up and setting the scene. However, the second half was a constant stream of mind-shattering revelations and plot twists– my poor heart didn’t know what to do with itself!

The characters were all brilliant and multi-faceted. Hesina was the protagonist, a young woman convinced that her father, the king, was murdered despite the fact that everyone else believed it to be a natural death. Determined to deliver justice, she decided to start a trial to find the murderer and become the next queen. Even though she didn’t always make the right decisions and she had many misconceptions about her kingdom, it was admirable how she believed in herself and had the courage to pursue the things she thought were right. There were times when she wavered but when she made up her mind to do something, she did it formidably.

I also thought the relationships in the novel were well crafted. There wasn’t a heavy emphasis on romance (which I thought was good) but there was a lot about family. Hesina had a brother called Sanjing and although they loved each other they weren’t very good at showing it and had a strained relationship. On the other hand, she was very close to Caiyan and Lilian, who were her adopted siblings. I thought the way these relationships were contrasted was very well done. Also, there was Akira, the convict that Hesina asked to help her in the trial. He generally remained shrouded in mystery but we do get to learn small things about him here and there in the novel. I’m interested to see what his role will be in the next book.

A really important detail of the book was the sooths. They were people with almost magical powers who could do amazing things like seeing into the future. Due to previous historical events, the sooths were generally despised and shunned from society and there were terrible punishments for them and those who sympathised with them. Another reason I liked Hesina was that although everyone was telling her that the sooths were evil and deserved to be punished, she made up her own mind about them and wanted to bring equality to her society. Which is also something that we should all do today.

I adored this book, it’s definitely a new favourite. Honestly, it’s the kind of book that deserves to be a movie. If you like complex fantasies that constantly keep you guessing, then this book is for you!

Thank you to Albert Whitman Company and Joan He for providing me with an e-ARC via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review!