Mini-Review | The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns cover
Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

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This collection of incredibly inventive, dark, and atmospheric short stories was completely enthralling, to the point where I didn’t even mind that I had already read a few of the included tales. Where the stories draw inspiration from classic fairy tales, such as The Little Mermaid and Hansel and Gretel, it’s just that: inspiration. This collection frequently subverts the source material in unexpected ways, creating a world where true love isn’t the solution to all problems. It’s one of the rare anthologies where I loved every single story and can’t wait to give it another read.

Review | The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass cover
Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armoured bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal–including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavours? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want–but what Lyra doesn’t know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other.

A masterwork of storytelling and suspense, Philip Pullman’s award-winning The Golden Compass is the first in the His Dark Materials series, which continues with The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

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I read The Golden Compass for the first time when I was about 10 years old – while I didn’t understand a lot of the themes, I loved the armoured bears, witches, and Lyra. Naturally, when I came across a beautiful hardcover copy in Shakespeare and Company, I just had to pick it up again and see if it was as magical as I had remembered.

Lyra was just as much of a treasure as I had remembered. She’s precocious and clever, a compulsive liar (this behaviour is reflexive enough to earn her the nickname “Lyra Silvertongue”), and is filled with such love.

It’s also very easy to get sucked into the magical world that Pullman created: the daemons, witches, armoured polar bears, and mysterious energy called “Dust” are vividly imaginative and completely enthralling. I was pleasantly surprised that I remembered so many of these magical details (including one rather intense scene involving Iorek), although as a child their associated religious undertones went completely over my head.

Overall, I loved The Golden Compass just as much as (if not more than) I did when I was a kid and can’t wait to re-read the rest of the series.

Review | La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1) by Philip Pullman


Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy…
Malcolm’s father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.
He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust–and the spy it was intended for finds him.

When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; an Egyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl–just a baby–named Lyra.

Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

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I read His Dark Materials when I was about 10 years old, and it left as large of a mark on me as both the Harry Potter series and A Series of Unfortunate Events. To say I was excited for a prequel series was an understatement; that being said, I can’t help but be slightly disappointed by La Belle Sauvage.

The main area where La Belle Sauvage fell short for me was its pacing: not much happens, making it feel like it served merely as a introduction to the His Dark Materials series instead of being able to stand on its own. There was never a sense of urgency given that I knew exactly where Lyra ended up, and a surprising lack of magic (both in terms of mystical elements and my overall engagement).

That being said, I did enjoy several aspects of the book, including the nostalgia that Pullman’s writing brought; Malcolm and his daemon, Asta; seeing young Pantalaimon; learning more about the alethiometer; and the brief appearances by my old friend Lord Asriel.

Overall, La Belle Sauvage felt like an unfinished draft that just happened to contain characters that I loved. It doesn’t work as a standalone story, but if its primary intention was to convince me to reread His Dark Materials, it can be considered a success.

Review | The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

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The Crown’s Game had been on my radar for a while since its description sounded like a YA version of The Night Circus – a book that is easily in the top ten of my #absolutefavourites list. My love for The Night Circus combined with my love for Russian history gave me very high hopes for The Crown’s Game, and I’m sorry to say that it was not even close to meeting them.

Here are just a few of the ways that The Crown’s Game disappointed me:
The characters lacked depth and never really developed
All the instalove = too many forced love triangles
– A lack of worldbuilding, especially as it relates to the magic system
– There are a few neat magic tricks, but the stakes feel far too low despite the whole “duel to the death” aspect

Its redeeming features were that it was a quick, light read that was (mostly) entertaining. I did enjoy the ending, although since there is a sequel, I’m sure that the finality of only one enchanter being able to survive the Crown’s Game will be modified.

Overall, The Crown’s Game had a promising premise but very poor execution. If you want to read a book about dueling enchanters, pick up The Night Circus instead.

Review | Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

When Rachelle was fifteen, she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless—straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as they become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption.

4.5 cupcakes

“You always have to choose between the path of needles and the path of pins.”

I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about Cruel Beauty, but it’s safe to say that I loved Crimson Bound. It borrows elements from Little Red Riding Hood and The Girl Without Hands, creating a dark, captivating story that is a fairytale in its own right. The inclusion of the bloodbound, the forestborn, and the Devourer added a creepy, otherworldly atmosphere to the France setting that was already rich in its own history.

As I mentioned in my review of Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge has a way with words. Her writing is gorgeous and lyrical, and her vivid descriptions served to amplify the dark and imaginative world that she created.

I absolutely loved the cast of characters that make upCrimson Bound. Rachelle, in particular, is fierce, prickly, and haunted by guilt. She’s selfish and self-pitying, yet still desires to stop the Devourer and save the world. I loved that she acknowledged her dark moments, where she admitted that she didn’t believe she deserved to live, but still found reasons to live anyways.

The romance was the one aspect of Crimson Bound that I didn’t love, since it felt forced in the early parts of the novel. That being said, each male balanced a different side of Rachelle so it was well-integrated and didn’t feel like it was thrown in just to create drama. I did prefer the half of the love triangle containing the “bad boy” Erec, though, as it had banter and banter is my weakness when it comes to shipping.

Overall, Crimson Bound was a darkly imaginative fairytale that I devoured in one sitting. It’s beautifully written and home to complex characters, and I highly recommend giving it a read.

Review | Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Love burns. Worlds collide. Magic reigns.

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying many of the experiences that other teenagers take for granted…which is why she is determined to enjoy her first (and perhaps only) high-school party. But Lily’s life never goes according to plan, and after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly Lily is in a different Salem – one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruellest of all the Crucibles is Lillian . . . Lily’s identical other self in this alternate universe. This new version of her world is terrifyingly sensual, and Lily is soon overwhelmed by new experiences.

Lily realizes that what makes her weak at home is exactly what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. It also puts her life in danger. Thrown into a world she doesn’t understand, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can’t hope to shoulder alone, and a love she never expected.

But how can Lily be the saviour of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?

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Having heard so many wonderful things about the Starcrossed series, I decided to give Trial by Fire a try; after all, if everyone loved her earlier series, her writing can only have improved from there, right? Well, given how disappointed I was in this one, I kind of hope that isn’t the case…

The first few chapters of Trial by Fire made me consider DNFing the book, mostly due to the fact that Lily prioritized a boy over her health and then decided that her life was no longer worth anything because of that same boy. Unfortunately, Lily wasn’t much better once she entered the parallel universe – she automatically learned how to use magic, despite having no actual training, quickly became the most powerful witch in Salem, and captured the attention ofevery male in the story.

The primary relationship in Trial by Fire, between Lily and Rowan, was your typical instalove ft. brooding boy. It also paved the way for a potentially awkward love triangle (square?) involving the parallel universe version of Lily’s ex-boyfriend (though, admittedly, they were only dating in her mind).

The one aspect that I did enjoy was the parallel universe. I loved the idea of a matriarchal society run by witches, where the magical system is closely tied to science. And the witches hunting scientists (instead of society hunting witches) made for an interesting twist. A lot of the information that readers learn about the world is a result of infodumping, but it was interesting enough that I can forgive that.

Overall, I liked the scientific explanations for magic, but was far less enamoured with the instalove filled romance & potential love triangle, and how Lily immediately became a powerful witch after doing absolutely nothing to earn it.

Review | Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen


For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the mountain. When Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she realises that the trolls are relying on her to break the curse.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind: escape. But the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time…

But the more time she spends with the trolls, the more she understands their plight. There is a rebellion brewing. And she just might be the one the trolls were looking for…

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“‘I think it is our nature to believe evil always has an ugly face,’ he said, ignoring my question. ‘Beauty is supposed to be good and kind, and to discover it otherwise is like a betrayal of trust. A violation of the nature of things.'”

Objectively, Stolen Songbird is a very strong debut, and has all the makings of a novel that I would love: the “chosen one” trope is turned on its head when Cecile fails to break the age-old curse; there is no slut-shaming; society doesn’t treat females as “inferior”; and there is no true love triangle (though there is miscommunication that leads to far too much jealousy). Unfortunately, at 469 pages, it is a very long read, and I was prone to mind wandering/having to put the book down due to boredom throughout the few days that it took to read this.

While the characters are not particularly memorable, they are well-developed and even the secondary characters have been given a backstory. Cécile, in particular, is fierce, hopeful, rebellious, and autonomous – exactly what I like in a protagonist. I enjoyed the banter between her and Tristan, though I was never able to form an emotional connection with either character, making it difficult to feel invested in their eventual relationship.

I wish I could say that Stolen Songbird became more enjoyable as it neared the end, but that wasn’t the case; however, I believe that this series will get better with time, and look forward to seeing how the cliffhanger ending is resolved.

Review | Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

15839984Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl’s journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

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Cruel Beauty had been on my radar for a while, as I can never say no to retellings, and Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite fairy tales (in part because I wanted a library like the one in the Disney version). Unfortunately, I’m still on the fence about this one – I think I liked it, but I’m also still kind of confused about what happened?

Things I liked:
Gorgeous and lyrical writing. I loved Hodge’s word choices – whether used in vivid descriptions or as the names of characters.
Flawed, wicked characters. Nyx, in particular, is angry, contemptuous, and not particularly likeable, but her actions definitely reflected her situation. And the Gentle Lord has a penchant for deceiving those who make bargains with him, making for some interesting curses.
The mythology. The addition of Hermetic magic and Demon Princes was intriguing, and put an interesting spin on the Beauty and the Beast tale.

Things that didn’t work for me:
The mythology. It was interesting and ambitious, but it felt like Hodge was trying to do way too much at once, and it ultimately left me confused.
The world-building left a lot to be desired. The magic system, in particular, was not very well-developed, and I can’t help but feel that it could have been stronger if a new religious system was put into place instead of relying on the Greek Gods.
The romance. There was so much and the story was quickly bogged down by a love triangle that I was not invested in.
The ending. Nyx had a lot of revelations, but unfortunately, I didn’t; I honestly don’t know what happened or why, and I can’t really be bothered to re-read it to find out.

Overall, Cruel Beauty was beautifully written and ambitious, but the confusing nature of the story and the overwhelming romance made it difficult to enjoy at times.

Waiting on Wednesday (December 23)

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, which spotlights upcoming releases that are eagerly anticipated.

This week, I’m waiting on The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, which has an expected publication date of May 3, 2016.

Cursed with a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, sixteen-year-old Maya has only earned the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her world is upheaved when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. But when her wedding takes a fatal turn, Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Yet neither roles are what she expected. As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds friendship and warmth.

But Akaran has its own secrets – thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Beneath Akaran’s magic, Maya begins to suspect her life is in danger. When she ignores Amar’s plea for patience, her discoveries put more than new love at risk – it threatens the balance of all realms, human and Otherworldly.

Now, Maya must confront a secret that spans reincarnated lives and fight her way through the dangerous underbelly of the Otherworld if she wants to protect the people she loves.

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN is a lush, beautifully written and vividly imagined fantasy inspired by Indian mythology.

This sounds so good – it was pitched as a Hades and Persephone-style romance in the context of Indian mythology, which sounds really intriguing! Plus the cover is gorgeous.

Which books are you waiting on? Leave me a link or a list to your Waiting on Wednesday post below.

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Review | Fairest by Marissa Meyer

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

4.5 cupcakes

I tend not to get along with novellas, but I just had to make an exception for Fairest – after all, The Lunar Chronicles is one of my new favourite series. While you don’t have to have read the first three books to appreciate Fairest, since any potential spoilers are fairly subtle, it’s more fascinating to learn about Queen Levana’s past when you know who she’s become.

As the title suggests, Fairest encompasses elements of the Snow White story. While there is an “evil queen” with a lovely stepdaughter, I was most intrigued by how Levana’s hatred of mirrors and obsession with beauty were explored. And what Levana looks like under her veil – not really Snow White related, but the reason for why her glamour looks the way it does is just… whoa.

I have a weakness for sympathetic, complex villains, and (surprisingly) Levana fits that bill. She has an incredibly low opinion of herself as a result of her sister’s abuse, and desires attention and affection more than anything else. As a result, she latches onto the first source of kindness that was shown to her: a married guard, Evret Hayle. This is unrequited love at its finest, and through it, we’re shown the lengths that Levana is willing to go to to hold onto her twisted ideas of love, power, and hope. This glimpse into Levana’s head was both sad and slightly terrifying, and I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her; while it doesn’t excuse any of her actions, it’s hard not to pity someone who has (mostly) good intentions, but accomplishes them in the most self-destructive ways possible.

Overall, Fairest was a lot darker than the rest of The Lunar Chronicles books, but just as addictive. It painted Levana as a more real character without making her likeable, so I’m interested to see if knowing her backstory will colour my re-read of the series in any way. And, of course, I’m even more excited about Winter after those teaser chapters. Is it November yet?