The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty

My most anticipated book of 2021 was the final part of the Daevabad trilogy, The Empire of Gold. Having been in a bit of a rut before this arrived, I was relieved and delighted by how quickly I was pulled into this wonderful story full of romance, suspense, betrayals, revelations and Arabian mythology.

Set almost immediately after the end of The Kingdom of Copper (reviewed here), the narrative switches between the three protagonists Nahri, Ali and Dara. When Nahri and Ali fled Daevabad, they find themselves transported to Cairo, while Dara has helped Nahri’s long presumed dead mother, Manizheh, to slaughter her enemies (including Ali’s family) and reclaim her throne. The stakes couldn’t be higher as Manizheh turns out to be every bit as ruthless and tyrranical as the King she replaced, forcing Dara into slavery again, and Nahri and Ali to ally with their enemies.

I’ve loved watching these characters evolve and The Empire of Gold is full of bargains, sacrificies and betrayals as the protagonists fight to save the city they all love. Nahri has always been a firm favourite, growing from a con-artist and thief who only dreamed of practicing as a physician to a gifted healer and surgeon, and a brave, compassionate leader, and it was so satisfying to finally learn her identity and parentage. Ali has changed from the idealistic and self-righteous Prince to a self-sacrificing warrior and wise leader. Finally the redemption of Dara, the most loyal warrior of Manizheh and her people who committed unforgivable attrocities in their name, was genuinely moving.

The Empire of Gold was such a bittersweet read in that I’ve fallen in love with these characters and their world, and I was desperate to know how it all ends, but didn’t want to be over either, The Daevabad trilogy has become one of my favourite fantasy series and one I’ll definitely reread. The Empire of Gold is about destruction and healing, love, friendship and family, loyalty and slavery, revenge, sacrifice and redemption, and it’s an incredibly satisfying conclusion to a brilliant trilogy. Have a lovely week. X

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education is the first part of The Scholomance trilogy which follows Galadriel “El” Higgins a student at a boarding school for witches and wizards that is a bit like Hogwarts except that there are no teachers, no holidays and the school itself and about half the other students are trying to kill you before graduation. El has an affinity for spells of mass destruction but is trying her hardest not to become the evil sorceress fate seems to have cast her as. Rude, sarcastic and terminally unpopular, she finds an unlikely ally in her ridiculously and infuriatingly heroic classmate, Orion Lake.

I adored El with her extensive range of creative insults (“you tragic blob of unsteamed pudding” is a personal favourite), she’s such an outsider and outcast who is just trying to survive high school in the most literal sense, and I was rooting for her the whole way as she finds her own little circle of friends and a slow-burn romance, and starts questioning the wizarding enclaves that hoard power and resources leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.

There’s quite a lot of exposition throughout the story explaining the rules of magic, generating mana for spells, the maleficaria (wizard-eating monsters) and maleficers (wizards that kill others for mana), but it didn’t really slow the story down and the plot – covering just a couple of weeks in the school year – trots along at a brisk pace.

The narrative cleverly combines the painful and awkward adolescent experience of trying to fit it and social rejection with the high stakes of constantly scheming students and monster attacks, as well as the rather more mundane stress of trying to pass exams and coursework. The Scholomance seems like the antithesis of Hogwarts, and really captures the loneliness and homesickness of boarding school life.

A Deadly Education is a really refreshing twist on superpowered teenagers and boarding school stories, I was hooked from start to finish and this is easily one of my favourite books this year. Have a lovely week. X

3rd Quarter in Books

Evenings have been cold, dark and dreary lately in our part of the world, good for nothing except curling up under a blanket with a cup of something warm to drink and a book to read. Earlier this month, I hit my reading target for the year ahead of schedule and thought I’d share a round up of some of the books I read between July and September.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I’ll preface this review by saying that I loved Practical Magic, it was one of my favourite books last year, and at the end I wanted to know more about the aunts that raised Sally and Gillian, and more about their parents, which is exactly what The Rules of Magic is about. Unfortunately, this had a very different mood and atmosphere from Practical Magic, and I found it quite heavy as the aunts, Franny and Jet, and their brother, Vincent, try to navigate the family curse that love leads to ruin against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. I was disappointed by this prequel which lacked the charm and suspense of Practical Magic.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Set on board a steamboat cruising the Nile, this murder mystery seems like a simple crime of passion with the jilted ex-lover murdering the rich, beautiful and charming rival who stole her man, except that the most obvious suspect also has the most solid alibi and the victim had other enemies among the passengers. One by one the murderer picks off the witnesses before they can expose them, but the retired Detective Hercule Poirot is there to investigate. I thoroughly enjoyed this clever mystery that kept me guessing until the end with plenty of clues and misdirection.

This Poison Heart by Kaylynn Bayron

A young adult fantasy about a girl with the ability to grow plants and a natural immunity to almost all poisons finds herself caught up in a family legacy to prevent a very rare plant falling into the hands of people who would use it for their own nefarious purposes. This Poison Heart was like a cross between The Secret Garden and Poison Ivy and a dollop of Greek mythology thrown in too, I enjoyed the mystery but found it too slow paced and I probably won’t read the sequel.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer is very likely to be one of my Top 10 favourite reads this year, and I read the sequel as soon as it came out to find out if Tarisai succeeded in annointing her own council as the first Empress Raybearer and survived her journey through the underworld to end the sacrifice of hundreds of children to appease the spirits who threaten to bring war, disease and chaos to their lands if they don’t. I found Redemptor a little bit too meandering in places and I missed some of the supporting characters from Raybearer who drop in and out of the sequel, although I enjoyed getting to know a few new characters too. Tarisai’s journey through the underworld was the highlight of the story, a true physical, mental and spiritual challenge with sacrifices and betrayals that me gripped up to the very satisfying conclusion.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown since watching her TED talk on shame several years ago, and have been working my way through her books ever since. Daring Greatly is a book about how to recognise and overcome shame, and practice vulnerability in different spheres of our lives in order to cultivate connection, creativity and integrity. I didn’t think this is one of her best works, and it didn’t have the profound effect on me that I Thought It Was Just Me or Rising Strong did but I did appreciate the blend of research and personal experience, and how Brene practises and models vulnerability, courage and empathy for her children and in her family were the highlights for me.

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn is the most charming and captivating story about a young woman, Maia, who pretends to be her brother in order to become the Emperor’s new tailor – a role forbidden to women. At court, Maia finds herself drawn into the political intrigues between the young Emperor, the Lord Enchanter and the Warlord’s daughter reluctantly betrothed to the Emperor in order to restore peace between the North and South following the Five Winters War. With the gift of her grandmother’s enchanted scissors, Maia embarks on the Warlord’s daughter’s seemingly impossible challenge to create three wedding dresses made from the laughter of the Sun, the tears of the Moon and the blood of the Stars. I simply adored this story that is as much a romance as a coming-of-age quest, though unfortunately I didn’t find the sequel, Unravel the Dusk, as charming or gripping.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games is a fast paced and gripping YA mystery about a seemingly ordinary girl, Avery, grieving her mum and trying to get the money and grades to get into a good college whose life is turned upside down when Tobias Hawthorne – a billionaire she’s never met – disowns his entire family and leaves his fortune and estate to her instead. This reminded me of Knives Out and Rebecca as Avery tries to solve the mystery of why Tobias Hawthorne chose her and finds herself caught up in the scheming Hawthorne family, working with and against Tobias’ four charming and clever grandsons to solve an elaborate treasure hunt with a few assassination attempts along the way. The only thing that let this story down for me was the fairly predictable love triangle between Avery and two of the Hawthorne brothers, but this was a fun mystery with plenty of suspense and I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the trilogy.

Have a lovely week. X

Three Bookish Things Tag

I don’t normally do these types of posts but I had fun thinking up the answers for this one, thanks to Hundreds & Thousands of Books for nominating me. I can’t find a comprehensive list of rules or the original prompt creator so I’ll just press on. Feel free to have a go!

Three Bookish Goals for 2021:

Read 50 Books (22/50)

Read at least 5 Non-Fiction books (1/5)

Read What I Own (Failing miserably at this one, my TBR is already an avalanche risk, and I keep adding to it)

Three Favourite Authors:

Leigh Bardugo

Emily Bronte

Daphne du Maurier

Three Characters I Love:

Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom) – I love that Inej is a survivor who overcomes some really traumatic experiences and finds a new purpose. I also love that she expects her love interest to try to overcome his own traumas if he wants to be with her, and she’s willing to walk away rather than settle.

Father Chains (the Gentleman Bastards series) – this mysterious figure adopts orphans (including Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen) in order to educate and train them into becoming the most cunning con artists, he also appears to know everyone worth knowing and everyone from the nobility to criminals respects him. Father Chains is only shown in flashbacks in the series, but I’d love to read more about him.

Irene Winters (The Invisible Library series) – Irene is such a lovable and relatable heroine, a member of a Secret Society of Librarians travelling around alternate worlds collecting rare books, she’s resourceful, brave, principled and self-deprecating.

Three Weirdest Things I’ve Used for Bookmarks:

Receipts, tickets and a pressed leaf.

Three Favourite Covers:

Three Titles I’ve Watched But Not Read:

The Lord of the Rings

The Umbrella Academy

The Never Ending Story (this was my favourite film as a child and it’s a short book so I really don’t have any excuses)

Three Series I’ve Binged:

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Hunger Games

Shadow and Bone

Three Unpopular Bookish Opinions:

It might be because I worked in a bookshop for years but rainbow shelves, and worse, books with the spines hidden and pages facing out, make my fingers itch, sure it looks good but how on Earth do you find anything?!

I’m a paperback reader and while I appreciate the aesthetic value of a special edition hardback, it really annoys me that hardbacks and ebooks are usually released at the same time but the paperback comes out a year later, grrr.

I’m put off by long-running series. There are obviously exceptions, but I much prefer a concise little trilogy, duology or even a standalone novel to a series that goes on and on. I think stories should leave you wanting more, not wondering if the author will finish the series before they die. ☠️

Three Nominations:

Laura at Freedom and Flour

Jess at Beyond the Front Cover

Nicole at Nicole’s Book Thoughts

Have a lovely weekend! X

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

I watched the film adaptation of Practical Magic starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman many years ago, but picked the book up from the library recently when I was in the mood for something witchy to read in October.

Practical Magic follows sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, raised by their aunts who practice witchcraft. Sally and Gillian are as different as could be, sensible to a fault, Sally just wants to be normal, while Gillian is a free-spirited drifter, but both are trying to escape the Owens’ legacy and the family curse of doomed romances.

After nearly two decades apart, Gillian turns up at Sally’s door with her dead boyfriend in the car, and the plot revolves around what happens when he continues to haunt them after they bury him in the backyard.

I really appreciated that it captured the complexity and intensity of female relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, and even aunts and neices, the love and loyalty, the rivalry and jealousy, and even the sense of duty and obligation that characterises so many familial bonds.

I was hooked from the first page, the prose is descriptive and atmospheric, and the story wrapped itself around me like a blanket. Practical Magic is a tale of love, heartbreak, family, superstition and witchcraft, and it was a perfect choice for October and Halloween reading. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

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The Fifth Season is the first book in The Broken Earth Trilogy and it’s the kind of gripping story that swept me along before I had the foggiest idea what it was about.

Set in a dystopian future, The Fifth Season follows three protagonists, Essun, Damaya and Syenite, all members of a race of humans called orogenes with the ability to control seismic activity. Essun, who has been living in hiding, is searching for her husband after he murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Damaya is taken to an organisation known as Fulcrum to be trained in how to control her abilities and serve the human population, while Syenite is an ambitious and talented orogene sent on a mission by the Fulcrum, frustrated but resigned to the injustices and unfairness of the world she lives in.

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Each perspective is unique and intriguing, and how the characters intersect with one another adds another level of mystery and suspense. When the characters and timelines finally coalesce at the end, it sets the scene for the next part of the trilogy which I’m looking forward to reading.

The world building is brilliant, though the brutal dehumanisation, exploitation and subjugation of the orogenes is uncomfortable reading in places, and I wasn’t suprised to learn that it was inspired by the real history of slavery and the oppression of black people. The Fifth Season is a thought-provoking, absorbing and original read. Have a lovely week. X

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Gods of Jade and Shadow was one of a few books that I bought to help get myself out of my lockdown reading slump. Set in Mexico during the 1920’s, the story follows a young woman called Casiopea who happens to be the downtrodden member of a wealthy family, until one day she frees the ancient Mayan God of Death, Hun-Kamé, who has been imprisoned in a locked chest in her grandfather’s bedroom.

Casiopea agrees to accompany Hun-Kamé around Mexico as he attempts to restore himself to full power, and it’s a race against time as while he exists in mortal form, he draws strength from her, draining her like a battery. Their quest to retrieve Hun-Kamé’s essence (his eye, ear, finger and jade necklace) takes them across Mexico encountering all manner of ghosts, demons, witches and other supernatural beings before the final confrontation in the underworld, Xiabalba, itself, it’s delightfully sinister and macabre in places.

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Hun-Kamé and his treacherous twin, Vucub-Kamé pit Casiopea and her cousin, Martin, against each other as they battle for supremacy over the underworld; it’s an interesting dynamic as all four characters’ positions were determined by chance as firstborn Hun-Kamé became the ruler of Xibalba with his younger twin destined to serve him, while Martin is the heir to their grandfather’s fortune soley because of his gender with Casiopea assigned to a position of servitude.

Given that Gods of Jade and Shadow is just over 300 pages in length, I found it slow to start and if not for my 100 page rule I might have given up before it started to get interesting, I also thought the romantic subplot felt flat and predictable, however, I found the setting and Mayan mythology a refreshing change, and the final test of the champions and the ending itself were particularly satisfying. Have a lovely week. X

A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos

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A Winter’s Promise is the first in ‘The Mirror Visitor Quartet’ and follows Ophelia, a member of the Animist clan who is betrothed against her wishes to Thorn, a stranger from another clan on a different Arc (one of the floating islands featured on the cover). No sooner does Ophelia arrive on Thorn’s Arc than she finds herself caught in the midst of political intrigues between feuding clans, with her future in-laws proving to be every bit as devious and vicious as their enemies.

Ophelia has the unusual abilities of being able to read the history of an object by touching it and to travel through mirrors. Despite her abilities, Ophelia is such an unlikely heroine, a mumbling, clumsy and socially awkward slip of a girl, but she proves to be brave, determined, resourceful and honest, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she develops through the series.

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This was originally written in French, and the translation is generally very smooth with a few exceptions where the author used terms like trompe l’oeil that don’t have a clear translation and remain in French, which felt slightly jarring.

A Winter’s Promise is such a strange and whimsical story that it’s hard to describe; it’s not typical fantasy, there aren’t any great battles or epic quests, yet the plot trots along and there were enough twists to keep me hooked until the end. This quirky story is populated with such eccentric and scheming characters that it reminded me of a cross between Jane Austen and Gormenghast. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed A Winter’s Promise and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens next. Have a lovely week. X

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Following the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race was widely recommended, and I was drawn to it because it offers a British perspective on race relations.

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The book starts with history, describing the British role in the slave trade, the whitewashing of the World Wars, decades of police brutality and racial profiling, the election of the first black MPs in 1987 (including Diane Abbot), the Brixton riots and many other significant events leading up to the present day. It’s as fascinating as it is disturbing, British history is often ugly and violent but necessary to understanding racism and discrimination in the U.K.

Eddo-Lodge argues that racism is more insidious than abusive language or flag waving nationalist mobs marching, it’s the influence of people (predominantly white male) in positions of power to impact the life chances and circumstances of others. Very few white people will openly admit to being racist, yet many become defensive when confronted with evidence of white privilege.

It’s uncomfortable reading in places, the way that readers and viewers assume fictional characters are white unless otherwise described (as the furore caused when a black actress was cast as Hermoine Granger in the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, or when there was a rumour that a black actor was being considered as the new James Bond demonstrate), the backlash against intersectional feminism (black women are doubly discriminated against by being both black and female), how racism and class intersect with the idea that “white working class” are a marginalised minority that deserve support and special consideration, and how many white people ignore or accept discrimination and racism instead of challenging it.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is well-researched, thought-provoking, and a great place to start learning about systemic racism and how to be actively anti-racist. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé by Joanne Harris

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I enjoyed The Lollipop Shoes (reviewed here) so much that I dove straight back into the third installment of the Chocolat series. Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is set eight years after Chocolat (reviewed here) when Vianne recieves a letter from a deceased friend in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, she decides to return to the village with her daughters. Vianne finds Lansquenet has changed dramatically in the intervening years with an influx of Muslim immigrants, and the atmosphere in the village is tense as the French villagers clash with the newcomers.

Like Chocolat, the narrative switches between Vianne and her old adversary, the village priest, Francis Reynaud, who finds himself under suspicion from both his own congregation and the Muslim community when a school for Muslim girls burns down.

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Unlike Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes, which had a certain timelessness, I suspect Peaches for Monsieur le Curé will be easier to place in time as it reflects the real-world political tensions and suspicions between Muslim immigrants and the native French. Lansquenet is as rife with secrets and discord as ever, yet there is reason and tolerance, as well as prejudice and hypocrisy on both sides of the conflict.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find Peaches for Monsieur le Curé quite as charming or captivating as its predecessors but I did enjoy returning to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and it had enough suspense and mystery to keep me guessing until the end. Take care, and have a lovely week. X