Fantasy

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

arrows-of-the-queenLast year, Melanie @ GrabTheLapels mentioned that she was planning on reading 15 books written by Mercedes Lackey – she talked about the story behind those books in this lovely post. I got immediately intrigued – books that feature magic always draw me in and I wanted to give the world of Valdemar a chance.

Melanie and Jacky @ DeathBySundoku decided to co-host an official read along called #ReadingValdemar – its schedule can be found on their picture below. True to my inner rebel, I somehow did not quite stick to the schedule (hey, I’m only a few days late!). I am glad that I took part in reading The Arrows of the Queen as it turned out to be an enjoyable read.

For those interested, here are also Jacky’s review and Melanie’s review of The Arrows of the Queen.reading-valdemar-v2Let’s start with Goodread’s blurb first:

Follows the adventures of Talia as she trains to become a Herald of Valdemar in the first book in the classic epic fantasy Arrows trilogy.

Chosen by the Companion Rolan, a mystical horse-like being with powers beyond imagining, Talia, once a runaway, has now become a trainee Herald, destined to become one of the Queen’s own elite guard. For Talia has certain awakening talents of the mind that only a Companion like Rolan can truly sense.

But as Talia struggles to master her unique abilities, time is running out. For conspiracy is brewing in Valdemar, a deadly treason that could destroy Queen and kingdom. Opposed by unknown enemies capable of both diabolical magic and treacherous assassination, the Queen must turn to Talia and the Heralds for aid in protecting the realm and insuring the future of the Queen’s heir, a child already in danger of becoming bespelled by the Queen’s own foes.


What did I think of Arrows of The Queen? I was entertained by it despite thinking it was probably not the best written book I have read. However the characters as well as carefully added social issues wan me over in the end.

I could not help myself but to compare Lackey‘s with Tamora Pierce‘s books. Both of these female authors write fantasy books featuring strong female protagonists and their messages promote gender equality.

Pierce‘s Alanna: The First Adventure from the Song of the Lioness quartet was first published in 1983, and Lackey‘s Arrows of The Queen in 1987. If you enjoy Pierce‘s books, I think Lackey‘s books may be worth checking out as well.


As mentioned already, I had some minor issues with the way Arrows of The Queen is written. This could be that it was Lackey‘s first book. I would have probably preferred it to be edited a bit more and for it to omit the somehow slightly confusing change in narratives, which at times felt a little disjointed.

On the other side, I absolutely enjoyed reading about the main character, Talia. If you have been following my blog for a while, you may know that I have a special place in my heart for ‘coming of age’ stories. And Arrows of the Queen certainly fitted that category. Talia, who is 13 at the start of the book, is going to a magic school to learn how to become a Herald (I was sensing strong Harry Potter vibes there, but Lackey‘s book was written a decade before HP was published!).

Talia is certainly a likeable character. She is not perfect though – she struggles with asking for help, bottles up her feelings, doesn’t trust others and is quite shy. She is therefore having problems forming friendships and connections with other and finds it hard to belong. She is a fellow dreamer with a kind heart that compels her to contribute and to help others. Despite her flaws, she is willing to grow and learn – something I find crucial when deciding if I care about a character or not.

I was really impressed how carefully Lackey embedded many social issues into the book. Gender equality, homosexuality, casual sex – it was all there and there was no judgement attached to any of these messages. Diversity is nowadays quite common in many YA books but I dare to say it wasn’t that well represented during the time this book was published and I do applaud the author for doing so!

As I absolutely adore animals, I also appreciated the Companions – magical horses, that choose their Heralds. Reading about those special bonds between Heralds and Companions made me so happy. I do believe that animals talk to us, especially when we listen very carefully.

Overall, it was a fairly slow coming of age story that introduced me to Valdemar as well as its very likeable heroine, Talia.

I have bought the other two books in this trilogy as I do want to know what happens next. I will not be reading them on schedule though as I’m currently swamped with compulsory reading for my course but I will give those books a chance later on in the year. I am really looking forward to it! 🙂

Recommended? Yes if you enjoy slower paced coming of age fantasy that feature likeable heroin, magic schools and beautiful horses.


Over to you!

  • Have you read The Arrows of the Queen?
  • What’s your favourite coming of age story?

Fancy sharing it with me? Thanks for reading! ❤️

Fantasy

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch

I’ve taken a week to formulate my thoughts about the mesmerising finale of Arden‘s Winternight Trilogy. I’m afraid my emotions are still all over the place and I do apologise in advance for extensive gushing.

Let’s first back up a bit. The Winter of the Witch is the third book in the series and I do not recommend reading it as a standalone book as it heavily leans into its previous instalments. On the flip side, if you haven’t read any of these books yet, you have quite a treat waiting for you. There are full of magic, highly atmospheric and I do dare to agree with Amalia and her beautiful review of this book – I also think this trilogy is ‘making its way to be a classic‘.

The Bear and the Nightingale started this magical series with a highly atmospheric, coming of age story. I got to meet Vasya and I immediately fell in love with Arden‘s writing, her clever story telling and all that Slavic folklore, which always screams ‘HOME‘ to me whenever I am exposed to it.

The second book, The Girl in the Tower, turns darker. The innocence of youth is long gone and Vasya, a young adult, is determined to travel the world. Its tone is different – it’s not only that darkness but also its faster pace that contrasts the first book. It’s a roller coaster of events and I could not put it down.

The Winter of the Witch starts exactly where The Girl in the Tower ended. You can sense the torment medieval Moscow is experiencing, you can feel the fear her people are immersed in. The beginning is DARK…. and it gets darker, much much darker.

It’s rare to be amazed by all books in a series but that is the case of Winternight Trilogy – I do not know how it’s possible that every book makes me so sad when it’s over and every time I read those books I keep on thinking ‘this is why I read‘. It makes my heart sing, it makes me happy on so many levels. Arden‘s characters are believable and complex. Vasya is not beautiful and her appearance is utterly irrelevant. It is who she is as a person that counts. She is set on a quest, makes mistakes, asks for help, admits her flaws and owns all of it.

The Winter of the Witch explores Vasya‘s dark side. What I enjoyed in particular was her interaction with Medved (the Bear). Medved is a clear antagonist. In a perfect hero / anti-hero tradition, Medved almost completes Vasya and despite him behaving terribly and doing unacceptable things, you almost get to like him. Something I always appreciate when reading about villains.

And then there is Morozko (Frost Demon). Not portrayed as a monster but rather as someone, who can feel human emotions and who can care despite being terrified of it. A very minor spoiler ahead: yes, he is featured in this book and yes, Vasya doesn’t forget him. 😊

‘’I am a witch’’, said Vasya. Blood was running down her hand now, spoiling her grip. ‘’I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.’’ She caught his knife on the crosspiece of hers, hilt to hilt. ‘’I have crossed three times nine realms to find you, my lord. And I find you at play, forgetful.’’

This book is full of action, features battles, moments of sadness when lives are lost, moments of hope when Vasya steps into her power and utterly charming moments of magic when Vasya travels the Midnight road to start her new quest.

I appreciate how Arden mixes old and new beliefs together. How this book is not just about what you believe in but how strongly you believe it. Fans of Gaiman‘s American Gods will enjoy this messaging for sure!

I also enjoyed reading Arden‘s parting comments, in which she shares Russian history and explains how some of her characters got to be. Some of them are based on real historical figures. I do recommend reading this section as it is a fascinating read.

I loved everything about this book, its pace, well developed characters, that feeling of bittersweetness and Arden‘s gorgeous writing. Russian folklore, medieval setting, atmospheric descriptions… it will all steal your hearts.

To me, it’s an utter perfection. I could have easily read it in a day but forced myself to read it over seven days to prolong this magical journey. I cherished those evenings I could read yet another chapter of this book.

I’ll leave you with a question: “if someone lives in our thoughts, does it mean that person still exists”?

I firmly believe so.

I would like to thank both the publisher, Penguin Random House UK as well as the author, for proving me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ❤️


Over to you: have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? If not, are you planning on doing so?

Happy reading and thanks for stopping by. 📚❤️

 

Fantasy

Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce

Emperor Mage

Emperor Mage is the third instalment in The Immortals series and when I was reading it, I kept on thinking: “we are back in business“! I loved the first book (review here) but ended up having mixed feelings about the second book (review here). I am happy to report that Emperor Mage brought back that wonderful feeling of joy, I so enjoyed experiencing, when I started reading this series.

Before we look at the book, I’ll start somehow randomly.

Pierce’s books finish with her parting comments. I loved hearing about how her characters got to be and who, in particular, she saw in her mind, when creating them.

During early 90’s, Pierce pictured Jeff Goldblum whilst imagining her mage Numair, and Ozzy Osbourne has been behind Emperor Mage Ozorne. What a lot of fun she must have had! 😊

Anyhow, back to the synopsis. Goodreads says:

Daine Sarrasri’s power is growing, and her bond with animals is ever stronger.

Along with her mentor, Numair, and a delegation from Tortall, Daine is sent to the Emperor Mage of Carthak in hopes that she can help to smooth international relations between their lands before discord bubbles over into war – by helping the emperor’s ailing birds.

But Carthak’s emperor Ozorne is charmingly treacherous, and Carthak itself built on the labour and suffering of slaves. No matter her choices, Daine finds herself at the centre of a terrible crossroads: she cannot turn away from animals in need, but to help this man could place those she loves in the greatest danger and make a mockery of all she values.

All the while, her magic is flourishing, leading her to answers and abilities beyond what she ever could have dreamed … but also to incredible danger.


This was such a quick read. I finished it in less than a day – it was compelling and I could not put it down. 🙂

I’ve been trying to pin point why I enjoyed books 1 and 3 so much yet the second somehow felt short. I think it’s the humans – the middle book was more about animals rather than people and despite enjoying those animal interactions a lot, I could not fully connect with the book.

Emperor Mage was again more about human relationships. It still featured many animals, as well as some rather interesting dinosaurs’ fossils. It also included a Goddess called Graveyard Hag – and what a fun character she was! Full of mischief and tricks, the Graveyard Hag got on Daine‘s nerves on an ongoing basis. I loved their conversations and did laugh out loud a lot. 🙂

I also enjoyed seeing what happens when Daine gets crossed. In other words: do not mess with Daine‘s friends. Seriously, don’t! 🙂 It was amusing to see another side of this character. I found it highly entertaining.

I applaud Pierce for continuously blurring the line between good and bad. We know Emperor Mage Ozorne is power hungry and definitely fits the ‘unlikable character’ category yet he cares deeply for his animals and shows a lot of kindness towards them. There are many examples in Pierce‘s books when good people behave badly and vice versa and such massaging makes me so happy. Especially as this book is geared towards the MG audience.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a fast-pace entertaining read. It is full of action and could be read as a standalone book despite being a part of this series.

I would like to thank to both the publisher, Pan Macmillan as well as the author, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. 


Now over to you.

Have you read anything by Tamora Pierce yet?

Thanks for reading and for being here! ❤️❤️❤️

Fantasy

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

Tower of Dawn

Let’s start with a little bit of background first:

Tower of Dawn is about Chaol – a character that behaved somehow questionably in book 2, Crown of Midnight, of the Throne of Glass series (ToG). His side of the story was never told, his character forgotten for following two books. He was featured again in book 5, Empire of Storms, of this series but somehow was really ‘not in it’ so to speak.

Empire of Storms ended up very dramatically. It left me craving its sequel straight away.

Well guess what: we were told that Chaol would have a standalone book and we would have to wait for two more years for the sequel of Empire of Storms. I was not over the moon about it, that’s for sure.

I thought Tower of Dawn was just some form of filler, skipped it and started reading Kingdom of Ash – the final book of the ToG series. Only to realise I forgot majority of its characters’ names and that there were some characters I did not know about. 😉

This also happened to be during the time when I started buddy reading Kingdom of Ash with Leslie. Leslie was kind enough to tell me that Tower of Dawn is a part of this series and is kind of good to read… seriously, I am the worst buddy reader ever, consider yourself warned if you ever fancy buddy reading with me! 😉

Anyhow, off I went and grudgingly started reading about a character that I did not remember much of in order to finish the ToG series. What a great start, eh? 🙂


My thoughts?

It may be that I am just drifting away from Maas in general but I found her overused “manhood” and “maleness” slightly disturbing and it really bothered me how “beautiful” her main characters were. It was really getting on my nerves as it was completely unnecessary. I thought that the focus on characters’ appearances distracted us from their behaviour. I found that to be rather regretful as there were all interesting characters.

Chaol

Chaol is going through a tough inner battle – he is learning how to deal with his relatively new condition as well as his unresolved past. His hate aimed towards himself gets explored.

Yrene, a powerful healer, who is assigned to help him, is fighting her own battles and turns out to be a rather likeable new character. So why focus on how gorgeous she is rather than actually highlight even more her selflessness and her need to help others despite of how she feels about them?

I somehow felt that the purpose of this book is to redeem Chaol and to give him a new love interest. Sure, there was a bit of a side plot going on, but the main focus was on the tension between Chaol and Yrene.

I wanted more of Chaol. He was a soldier his entire life and due to a recently received severe injury, that identity was stripped away from him. That left him with facing a brand his new future, which was uncertain. Which automatically put him into a very vulnerable category. I felt that was a great opportunity to explore.

Yet I felt that it wasn’t explored as much as I would have liked it to be. It only touched its surface. I was also not happy that he got somehow saved by love. Sure, love heals as it connects us with others. But the most important type of love is self-love. Self-acceptance was touched on but again, it did not get fully explored.

I got a sense that Chaol grew though and I really appreciated that. I just wanted a little bit more of that inner battle, exploration of one’s fears and perhaps even a slightly different, a bit more realistic, ending.

On the other hand, Maas has this ability to draw me in. I know she is overly dramatic, her beautification of characters annoys the heck out of me yet I cannot put her books down. And I keep on buying further instalments in her series.

There is something addictive that I always get hooked on. I am saying all of those things above yet I carry on reading her books. 🙂

So I am not judging anyone who enjoys these books because I do as well. I am just purely sharing my thoughts after I had time digest what I just read.

I felt Tower of Dawn was certainly a big improvement from her previous books as it included more diverse characters, started touching on what it means having to rethink our identities and minimised the amount of sex scenes that Maas likes to indulge in and I cannot help rolling my eyes about.

Despite 600+ pages, I finished this book fairly quickly and will definitely be reading its sequel, Kingdom of Ash shortly.


Over to you my friends.

Do you enjoy Sarah J. Maas’ books? 

And if so, what are your thoughts of Tower of Dawn?

Fantasy

Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

Wolf Speaker

Do you remember how much I enjoyed Wild Magic – aka Book 1 in The Immortals series? Just in case, your memory is as good as mine, you can check it out here.

Wolf-Speaker is Book 2 in the series. Before we dive in, let’s take a look at Goodreads’ take on it:

Diane has wild magic: the ability to talk to and sway the actions of animals. When Daine is summoned to help a pack of wolves – friends from her old village – she and her mentor, the legendary mage Numair, travel to Dunlath Valley to answer the call. But when they arrive, Daine learns that it’s not only animals whose lives are threatened; people are in danger, too.

Dunlath’s rulers have discovered black opals in their valley. They’re dead set on mining the opals and using the magic contained in the stones to overthrow King Jonathan. Even if it means irreversibly damaging the land – and killing their workers. Daine must master her wild magic if she is to save the ones she loves – both human and animal . . .

I love Tamora Pierce’s books. They tend to consist of a strong moral message and there is this sense of wholesomeness about them that just makes me so happy.

I enjoyed Wolf-Speaker but didn’t love it as much as I did its predecessor.

I think the main reason is that it felt somehow slow. I sadly found some of its parts quite repetitive, purely because our main character Daine is learning about her powers and the same scene is repeated over and over as she practices her new skill on various animals.

With that said, there was enough sensory information included that kept me engaged. I got to become a bat, a cat, an eagle, a wolf and much more. I felt Pierce really researched various animals and wrote about them very vividly at times. That was the reason why the repetitiveness didn’t feel perhaps as tedious as it could have felt had such sensual information been omitted from the book.

I also felt that villains were not developed. They got introduced but we didn’t get to know them. That made them a little bit one dimensional. I like well-developed villains to understand their motives. To see what drives them, why they became that way. Sadly, I felt this was a little bit of a let-down for me.

Let’s take a look at what worked for me:

I appreciated that this book challenged our perception of good vs. evil. Daine grows in this book again. Not only is she developing her new magical skills but her beliefs about what is good or wrong get challenged on a regular basis.

The messaging is that just because someone behaves questionably, that doesn’t necessary make them bad. And the same applies to the entire group of species, let it be humans, immortals or animals. The so called ‘goodies’ get also questioned – nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes and that’s OK. Given this is a MG book, I think there could be a very powerful lesson for our youngsters to experience.

I also enjoyed the environmental aspect of this book. We only have one planet to look after. Daine cares about the environment and the impact of a possible destruction of wolves’ habitat was explained extremely well. Again, another great learning point, to which I applaud from my end.

Despite some of the points above, I still enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading book three in the series.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves animals as they are pretty much the main characters in this book. 

I would like to thank to both the publisher, Pan Macmillan as well as the author, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. 


Now over to you.

Have you read anything by Tamora Pierce yet?

Thanks for reading and for being here! ❤️❤️❤️

Fantasy

The Lost Sisters by Holly Black

The Lost Sisters

I am a completely whimsical reader – I tend to read in line with how I feel. For example I craved a lot of escapist fantasy early this year, then moved to nonfiction, then had a serious romance / women fiction / contemporary YA stages. I tend to get impacted by how I feel a lot, and my choice of books usually reflects this.

Why am I telling you this?

Fantasy was on hold for a while – I just did not feel like reading about mythical creatures. However I’m happy to report that this particular phase has past and that my fantasy obsession has been renewed.

And I have Holly Black‘s The Lost Sisters to thank this for.

Remember how much I enjoyed The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (review here)?

The Cruel Prince enchanted me with its complex, not entirely likeable characters as well as the exquisite world Black so craftily created. I appreciated how easy it was to dislike all her characters, how their flaws made them relatable on so many levels. And of course how our need to belong was explored.

“I have lied and I have betrayed and I have triumphed. If only there was someone to congratulate me.”  ~ The Cruel Prince

I’ll start with a caveat – The Lost Sisters is a short story and I was a little disappointed, when I realised a chunk of the novella actually belonged to The Wicked King‘s introduction. Don’t take me wrong, I loved reading the beginning of The Wicked King but it was a bit of a let down to realise this book was even shorter than originally anticipated.

The format of the story is an apology Taryn is practising for her twin sister Jude and despite its length, it was marvellous to be transported back to the darkly lush and decadent High Court of Faerie.  I must admit I now crave more Faerie wickedness than ever before! 😊

“Fairy tales are full of girls who wait, who endure, who suffer. Good girls. Obedient girls. Girls who crush nettles until their hands bleed. Girls who haul water for witches. Girls who wander through deserts or sleep in ashes or make homes for transformed brothers in the woods. Girls without hands, without eyes, without the power of speech, without any power at all. But then a prince rides up and sees the girl and finds her beautiful. Beautiful, not despite her suffering, but because of it.” 

The Cruel Prince is narrated by Jude and Taryn‘s actions are described via Jude‘s interpretation of them. Let’s say Taryn did something rather questionable and I did wonder about her motives when reading The Cruel Prince. Reading Taryn‘s side of the story in The Lost Sisters was a very welcome addition to the previous book.

Did I like Taryn‘s apology? Nope, I sort of hated it as it was along the lines of  love lust made me do it’.

What I appreciated though is how complex and flawed Taryn is and how skilfully  can Black dive deep into our souls to draw those little dark demons out and let us face them via her characters.

Taryn desperately wishes to be seen and to belong. She is selfish, cruel even, but underneath her jealousy, we can see her desperate ache to be loved and accepted. Black also explores Taryn‘s fear of abandonment, to the point that I had tears in my eyes for most parts of the story.

I have to applaud Black for her ability to see our darkness and our fears and reflect them not only in the dark and manipulative Fae, but also in her human characters. It would be so easy to go down the ‘evil Fea, good humans’ route and I am so happy that Black continuously chooses not to.

I recommend this novella if you enjoyed The Cruel Prince and cannot wait to read The Wicked King as it is a lovely ‘waiting piece’ and will make the anticipation of the new release even sweeter.


Now over to you.

Can you please help me with my Fae obsession and could you recommend me some darkly delicious Fae reads please?

I loved Moning’s Darkfever as well as Kagawa’s Iron Fey books. Many thanks! 😊

Fantasy, Fiction

Circe by Madeline Miller

I discovered the magical world of Greek mythology during my childhood. I talked about it a little bit here.  I must admit that the Norse myths have always been my favourite ones but the Greek ones have followed very closely behind. Stories featuring Athena, Heracles, Prometheus, Minotaur and others are something I could re-read on a regular basis.

Reading Circe was like re-discovering my favourite soft and cosy blanket. Its story soothed my soul and brought me lots of nostalgia.

Side note: you don’t have to be familiar with Greek myths to enjoy this story by the way. It’s written in a way that no prior knowledge is required whatsoever.

I saw behind Circe a search for belonging.

The wise and wonderful Maya Angelou once famously said: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high, the reward is great. I belong to Maya.” And to me, that’s Circe’s story in a nutshell.

“When I was born, the word for what I was did not exist.” 

I also sensed a very strong feminist undercurrent. The main protagonist faces a lot of discrimination because of her gender and I thought the book managed to address gender issues quite well.

But it’s the writing that really stood out for me. It is truly exquisite. It’s lyrical, extremely quotable and brought me so much joy. The pace is slow. I enjoy gently-paced stories but even I found this a tad too slow at times. If you prefer action, bear that in mind as this book may not be for everyone.

The story follows a nymph called Circe throughout her journey of solitude, explores her dysfunctional family dynamics, and shows her immortal imperfections. All sprinkled with a dash of a romance on the top.

“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.” 

Ever since Circe was born, she hasn’t fitted in. Her voice is weak and her appearance is strange. Everyone from her family makes fun out of her and doesn’t take her seriously. She is not perfect despite being an immortal goddess. I think it’s her flaws and complexity that make her so relatable. She craves to be loved and accepted. As we all do. And she also wants to belong.

Circe, very early on in the book, falls in love and commits an offence, which gets her sentenced into living on her own on an isolated island. There, she starts her journey of healing and self-discovery.

There was definitely lots of loneliness involved but I also saw that Circe, despite being alone didn’t always feel lonely. You see we could be surrounded by people and still feel lonely at times. That’s something I quite appreciated about her story. How she embraces her newly discovered power and decides to follow her own dreams despite her solitude, or maybe because of it.

What’s really wonderful about this story is also how it explores mother / child relationship. How do we let go and let our children roam free? How do we accept that they may get hurt? How do we give them freedom they need, without the ability to shield them from the evil in this world? I thought that was explored beautifully via exposing mother’s fears and seeing her inner torment.

“But perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.” 

There is also a little bit of romance involved. It’s not the book’s main focus but it is there.

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” 

The philosophical questions such as ‘what does it mean to be alive’ and ‘what can we ask for in a relationship’ are imposed and Circe ponders about them a lot. She is an immortal with the strength to stay vulnerable. She is scared because the outcome of her actions is uncertain yet she follows through with them anyway.

She gets laughed at, ridiculed, is told she is an abomination… yet she remains gentle, kind and her spine doesn’t bend. She is a goddess with a very mortal heart.

I could go on, Circe definitely captured my heart and her ability to stand her ground, despite knowing nobody else will be standing there with her, truly impressed me.

Recommended? Yes. The ending is likely to melt your heart.

Possible triggers: Rape, domestic violence