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.

5 cupcakes

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.

Advertisements

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.

4 cupcakes

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.

3 cupcakes

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.

2 cupcakes

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?

2 cupcakes

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…

2.5 cupcakes

“‘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.