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

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! ❤️❤️❤️

Fiction

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

Wild Magic

Let’s start with GoodReads‘ summary:

Wildness is a kind of magic

Discover a land of enchantment, legend, and adventure in this first book of The Immortals series, featuring an updated cover – perfect for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

Daine has always had a special connection with animals, but only when she’s forced to leave home does she realize it’s more than a knack . . . it’s magic. With this wild magic, not only can Daine speak to animals, but she can also make them obey her. Daine takes a job handling horses for the Queen’s Riders, where she meets the master mage Numair and becomes his apprentice.

Under Numair’s guidance, Daine explores the scope of her magic. But she encounters other beings, too, who are not so gentle. These terrifying creatures, called Immortals, have been imprisoned in the Divine Realms for the past four hundred years – but now someone has broken the barrier. And it’s up to Daine and her friends to defend their world from an Immortal attack.


Do you remember that time when you read a book and it made your heart sing? That’s what Wild Magic did to me. I felt so wonderfully absorbed whilst reading it and all I wanted to know was what was going to happen next.

I fully agree with Saraj J Maas’ statement of Tamora Pierce‘s work: “Tamora is a pillar, an icon, and as inspiration“. There is something about Pierce‘s books that just makes me so happy.

I’ll start with a caveat– Wild Magic is not a Young Adult (YA) book anymore. It was written when YA was slightly differently classified than how it is today. I would classify it as Middle Grade (MG) as there’s a lot of innocence in it and it’s that coming-of-age story that grabbed me and stole my heart. The content is much less mature than what YA is these days but please don’t be put off by that by any means!

Wild Magic is wonderfully charming and utterly warmed my soul. For starters, our main character Daine talks to animals. How cool is that? Ever since I was a little child, I have always pretended I could understand animals and have always ‘voiced’ their opinions.

I notice a trend in YA fiction these days that delivers those ‘I can kick anyone’s butt and I don’t need anybody’s help’ heroines, which can become after a while rather tedious and bland. I suppose they are the response to those traditional damsels in distress and frankly, I am rather fed up with both of those types.

Daine is different because she fits neither category. I so wish I read this book whilst growing up as she could have been a brilliant role model for me then. I immediately warmed to Daine as she is my definition of strength. She is happy to think for herself, decides to face her fears, asks for help when needed and is also shy and modest. Her strength is this quiet quality that doesn’t scream ‘look at me, I’m so awesome’ but rather says ‘that didn’t work, I’ll try again tomorrow’. She grows and her, sometimes naïve opinions, get slowly questioned and shaped whilst she still stays in charge of those final decisions. She decides what she will think but is also willing to listen and learn. How beautiful would that be to share such message with our youngsters?

I also appreciate how Pierce dives into breaking stereotypes – her characters teach us that it’s absolutely OK not to be able to fit in. That belonging is much more than ticking certain boxes and that family, regardless if it’s our blood one or a chosen one, doesn’t care about what we are but rather who we are as people.

Daine is flawed but also likeable. She goes through many lessons – my favourite one was what to do, when someone wants to help us but we don’t want them to as ‘they may get hurt’. The lesson from this book tells us that it is the decision for them to make, not us, despite of how much that may pain us.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a charming and well-written story. There is so much wisdom and soul in Wild Magic. It’s a wonderful story full of magic that features brave and likeable characters, varying from humans, horses, dogs, cats, whales, dragons and many more.

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 Wild Magic?

If so, what did you think?

If not, have you read anything by Tamora Pierce yet?

As always, the fun part is the one when I get to talk to you. Thanks 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

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

spinning silverSummer is coming my friends. As a winter person, I’m trying to survive it with books that will make me feel cold. I recently finished Norse Mythology and now I am about to tell you about another cold tale of winter in the wonderful story of Spinning Silver.

Before I tell you my thoughts, here’s what Goodreads have to say:


Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.


Novik stays true to her Uprooted’s Slavic theme. Spinning Silver craftily mixes Slavic folk stories with a hint of Rumpelstiltskin retelling. In case you are wondering: Uprooted is not related to Spinning Silver. These are two standalone books.

Spinning Silver takes us to wintery Lithuania. Frost covered wings of cruel winter bring mysterious riders to its villages. They travel to the human world via their winter road; steal people’s gold and kill whoever / whatever gets in their way. They are called Staryk (the ancient / old ones). And people fear and hate them equally.

Meet Miryem – our first protagonist, a moneylender’s daughter trying to revive her father’s dying business to save her ill mother. She is smart but is starting to close herself off emotionally to do what is ‘necessary’.

Then there is Wanda, a servant girl who is trying to get by. Her future is looking bleak as her abusive drunken father has one thing on his mind: how to sell her off so he can get more money for his alcohol.

The third protagonist, Irina is smart and scheming, but also compassionate and protective. She would do anything to save people from Winter’s reign. Will she succeed?

All these there females have following in common: they are happy to think for themselves and to make their own destinies. Their actions are not full off ‘roaring and screaming’ but are rather more subtle – their bravery is demonstrated by them showing up. They follow through with their smart but also uncertain plans whilst forming unlikely alliance. Novik’s beautifully crafted females are brave whilst remaining vulnerable, smart but also afraid. They show range of emotions that deeply resonated with me.

What is slightly unusual about Spinning Silver is that there are three supporting characters as well which we get to hear talking now and again. They are added gradually and because of that, they don’t overpower the narrative. They only add their unique perspectives from time to time.

There is always an element of danger whenever introducing multiple POVs. That is that us, readers, may prefer some over others. I did struggle connecting with these three characters but appreciated the part they played. Spinning Silver is narrated in first person and using this technique gave me an additional insight into the storyline.

There is a touch of slow burning romance (‘kindling’ kind of slow), which is weaved in extremely carefully. I enjoyed the main focus being on both characters’ motives as well as their mission without them being distracted by romance thoughts. Also, the slow burn is something I personally take over instalove any day.

Novik’s language is exquisite – deliberately chosen words, eerie mood, skilfully built tension. It’s all there. I was pulled into the story from the beginning, it’s a fairly slow paced one but it’s extremely atmospheric and you will appreciate it either whilst curled under a warm blanket on a cold winter day or like me, craving some cold shade on a hot day whilst dreaming of icy winter roads…

I saw in Spinning Silver a story of underdogs and a strong message of brain over brawn. 

I also thought Novik‘s exploration of Rumpelstiltskin being portrayed via a Jewish moneylender, as well as being a woman, was intriguing. I am trying not to reveal too much as spoilers are my major pet peeve. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts though if you read this book.

Recommended? Yes!!! Especially if you have enjoyed Uprooted! Also, if you have enjoyed other Slavic themes books such as Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale or Bardugo’s The Grishaverse Series.

Possible triggers: child abuse and antisemitism

Many thanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Verdict: Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple  (4/5)


What do you think? Do you want to read Spinning Silver or have you read it already?

And do you like Slavic folk tales?

Bookish

T5W – Auto-Buy Sci-fi & Fantasy Authors

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam@Thoughts on Tomes over on Goodreads.

In this week’s topic, let’s talk about my auto-buy Scifi and Fantasy Authors.


Firstly, let’s start with a caveat:

I tend not to auto-buy much these days. 🙂 I am quite a moody reader and like to choose / pick books depending on the mood I am currently experiencing.

With that said, there are a few fantasy writers, whose books I would gladly auto-buy.

Leigh Bardugo

six of crowsOh Leigh, her books really speak to me.

I enjoy both her skilled writing as well as her deep understanding of human nature.

She creates complex characters and certainly knows how to spin a highly addictive story whilst building wonderful worlds.

I also appreciate her Russian spin on most of her books even though I also loved her take on Wonderwoman.

Her books are my auto-buy books without a shadow of a doubt.

Katherine Arden

bear and nightingaleI discovered her books during the end of last year and promptly declared her one of my favourite authors.

Her writing is poetic and I need more of it. 😊

Her books are inspired by Russian folklore and have a medieval feel to them.

I enjoy her story telling, world building and that her focus is on the plot rather than romance.

Sarah J Maas

empire of stormFast-paced stories, many complex, not entirely likable characters and lots of humour = I am a fan of this author.

One second, I am laughing out loud whilst reading some banter between characters and the next one I am biting my nails as suspense is building up.

Holly Black

cruel princeAfter I finished The Cruel Prince, I started reading the Curse Workers series and found another favourite author.

Again, her characters are complex, not entirely likeable and I enjoy her writing style as well as her craftily built worlds full of scheming and politics.


I am aware that those are four, not five authors.

As this topic relates to fantasy and sci-fi, that’s it my friends.

There are many other fantasy writers, whose books I enjoy, but equally, whose books I would never auto-buy.

I would gladly auto-buy anything from Brené Brown but that’s non-fiction.

After discovering Liane Moriarty last month, I would also consider buying anything from her but that’s fiction.

Tolkien or Pratchett no longer write so I am sticking with my list of four my friends.


What about you?

Are you a loyal fan and auto-buy or do you prefer to do a bit of research first?

And if you do auto-buy, who is your favourite author?