The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

It was just over two years ago that I picked up the first book in the Invisible Library series (reviewed here), intrigued by the cover, title and synopsis, and since then it’s become one of my favourite series as they are such fun stories with compelling characters (from the determined and resourceful librarian, Irene, to her love interest the Dragon Prince, Kai; Vale, the human detective, and even the seductive libertine Fae, Silver), fabulous settings, plenty of action and suspense, humour and lots of original ideas. The Mortal Word is the fifth book in the series, and it’s full of the usual blend of kidnap and assassination attempts as Irene investigates a murder during the negotiation of a peace treaty between the Fae and Dragons.

It’s always fun reading about Irene solving mysteries, uncovering conspiracies and escaping danger, and yet I consider these to be such such cosy, comfort reads. The Mortal Word was full of suspense, atmosphere, humour and a little bit of romance, and I adored the villainous Bloody Countess who was delightfully macabre.

As Irene continues to question her loyalty to the Library and its purpose, this series just keeps gettting better and better, and this was my favourite book so far. As the series progresses, I’m so enjoying seeing the characters (and their relationships with one another) develop, and learning more about the different factions they represent from the Librarians, Fae, Dragons, and, of course, the humans caught in between them all.

In other library related news, this week I learned that our local library, which has been shut since the first lockdown in March, is scheduled to reopen in 2021. I’ve always believed that libraries are such a valuable community resource, and I’m delighted that we’ll have one within walking distance again soon. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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It feels very much like we’re living in a dystopian novel at the moment, like many others I’ve been staying at home, worrying about family and glued to the news over the last week, yet at times it’s been necessary and calming to retreat from our strange, new reality into fiction.

Crooked Kingdom starts just after the events of Six of Crows (reviewed here); betrayed by the merchant Van Eck who hired them for the seemingly impossible prison break in the first book, the Crows are seeking vengeance while Van Eck attempts to eliminate them.

I have such a soft spot for rogues and underdogs who refuse to give up no matter how impossible it seems, and I loved seeing how this band of misfits fought back when Kaz’s carefully laid plans fell apart. What makes this duology so compulsive is that time after time the Crows are outwitted, ambushed and betrayed, yet somehow they always drag themselves out of it and refuse to give up. Although magic exists in the Grishaverse, I also really appreciated that most of the characters rely on a combination of skill and cunning rather than superpowers.

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The romantic subplots are a little bit neat in that all six of the main characters pair off, though not everyone gets their happily ever after. Kaz and Inej in particular have become some of my favourite characters, and I was fascinated watching them circle each other warily, trying to bridge the distance across their personal traumas.

Crooked Kingdom contains the same blend of humour, action, twists and romance as Six of Crows, but I enjoyed the second book even more than the first. When reality seems stranger than fiction, I’m grateful to have stories as absorbing as this to escape into. Hoping everyone is safe and well. X

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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Although I read a lot of fantasy, I’ve outgrown most of the stories about dragons, dwarves and elves, but one aspect that continues to draw me in is ordinary characters who find themselves caught up in epic events and I have a particular soft-spot for rogues and underdogs. Six of Crows kept getting recommended to me based on other books I’ve enjoyed and I regret waiting so long to read it because it was exactly the type of character driven fantasy adventure that I love.

Six of Crows follows a group of teenage thieves, misfits, orphans and runaways lead by the criminal prodigy, Kaz Brekker. Kaz and his handpicked team are hired by the merchant Jan Van Eck for a high risk, high reward heist: break into an impenetrable military stronghold to rescue a hostage – preventing chaos and war in the process.

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For a young adult novel, this was a little darker than I expected containing descriptions of torture and references to sexual exploitation, but it also ticks all the boxes for diversity with a cast made of different races as well as LGBTQ and disabled characters.

Six of Crows contains plenty of unexpected twists, action and suspense, romantic pining and humour, it’s a thrilling roller-coaster ride of a story that ends on a cliffhanger, and I can’t wait to find out how the final part of this duology resolves itself. Have a lovely week. X

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

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Sorcerer to the Crown follows Zacharias Wythe, who has recently been appointed Sorcerer Royal after the sudden death of his foster father who previously held the position, and Prunella Gentleman, a mysterious servant girl with great magical potential whom he agrees to take on as his apprentice. Along the way, they become mired in political turmoil and have to fend off several assassination attempts.

Magic is waning in England, but much to the displeasure of the highly stratified English society, magic does not discriminate and is as likely to manifest in the working classes and women as it is well-educated, English gentlemen from the aristocracy. Racism and sexism are at the forefront of this story as Zacharias is a freed African slave, while Prunella is mixed-race.

It took me a while to get into this as there’s a lot of exposition, it’s written in the style of Regency-era novels, and the plot didn’t really get going until about halfway through. This had some interesting ideas, likable characters and good dose of humour but it wasn’t what I expected and overall I found it disappointing.

Have a lovely week. X

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

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The story begins in Cairo where a young woman called Nahri is working as a thief and con-artist, though she dreams of becoming a physician. During a ceremony to exorcise a demon possessing a young girl, she accidentally summons a warrior Djinn (or rather a Daeva) called Dara, and is pulled into a world of flying carpets, mythical beasts and simmering tensions between the different races of Ifrit, Djinn, Daeva and half-human Shafit. One of the things I loved most about The City of Brass was that it drew from Arabian folklore and mythology which was such a refreshing contrast to the countless medieval European inspired fantasy stories that dominate the genre.

The narrative switches between two perspectives, Nahri, and Ali, a Djinn Prince in the city of Daevabad. The three main characters, Nahri, Dara and Ali are all flawed and victims of circumstance in their own way: Independent and used to fending for herself, Nahri finds herself caught between feuding factions all plotting her future with little consideration for what she wants; Dara was enslaved by the Ifrit to serve human masters and is weighed down by the guilt and shame of all the lives he’s taken and the things he did while enthralled; while Ali – as the second son of King Ghassan – has been trained as a warrior, when he longs to become a scholar and end the injustice and hypocrisy he witnesses.

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The City of Brass is probably the best book I’ve read this year, though it’s not perfect as there are some pacing issues and a few slightly predictable twists, but I was still captivated by this tense, political and character-driven drama as Nahri and Ali discover just how ruthless King Ghassan is and how far he has gone to hold on to his throne and maintain order in the city of Daevabad. This is the first book in The Daevabad Trilogy and I’m looking forward to finding what happens next. Have a lovely week. X

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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Set four months after A Darker Shade of Magic (reviewed here), Kell and Lila have parted ways, as Kell tries to return to his duties as Prince of Red London while the delightfully rogueish Lila has chosen to make a fresh start in Kell’s world and has almost fulfilled her dreams of becoming a pirate (technically a privateer) on board the Night Spire under the charming Captain Alucard Emery. Meanwhile a new King rules White London, waiting and plotting revenge against our heroes.

Kell, who was never completely comfortable with his notoriety and privileges as both Prince and one of the last of the magical race of Antari, is now also struggling with the distrust and suspicion of his family and subjects alike in the aftermath of the night black magic ran through Red London consuming and killing those who came into contact with it.

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A Gathering of Shadows follows Kell, Lila and Alucard as they compete in the Element Games against magicians from across the world to find out who is the greatest, though the tournament at times feels entirely secondary to the slow-burn romance as Kell and Lila try to resist their attraction to one another, yet their eventual reunion is worth the wait and I just love the chemistry between them, like a pair of magnets constantly attracting and repelling each other.

The middle book in a trilogy often has a hard time defining itself but A Gathering of Shadows finds a balance between giving us greater insight into the characters and developing their relationships while setting the scene for the final book, and when the White King finally makes their move, this ends on a cliffhanger that left me desperate to know what happens next. Have a lovely week! X

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

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The Burning Page is the third book in The Invisible Library series and picks up shortly after the events of The Masked City (reviewed here); Irene is still on probation for leaving her post as Librarian-in-Residence to rescue her apprentice Kai (preventing a war between the Fae and Dragons in the process), and they’re still recovering from their traumatic experiences in Venice.

The arch-villain of the series, Alberich, is back and openly threatening the Library; Librarians are being hunted and killed, and portals to the Library are being destroyed trapping Librarians in alternative versions of reality.

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Though these stories are delightfully fun, there is a moral dilemma at the heart of The Burning Page as Irene is forced to contemplate just how far she’s willing to go to save the Library – all the while being haunted by the seeds of doubt Alberich sowed that the Invisible Library might not be the force for good she believes but a self-serving organisation that does little to help the alternate worlds it meddles in.

Irene is as self-deprecating, harassed and resourceful as ever, and it’s genuinely entertaining to see how she uses the Language (a refreshing alternative to magic) and her other skills to get herself out of traps, ambushes and face Alberich in a thrilling duel. Have a lovely week! X

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

I haven’t had much time to read or blog over the last few months as real life events (including caring for a family member and adjusting to a new role at work) have taken up most of my time and attention, but I’ve missed reading and I’ve always found something incredibly comforting about slipping into a story whenever real life feels overwhelming.

One of the best books I read last year was The Invisible Library (reviewed here), and the sequel picks up just a few months after the events in the first book as the resourceful and self-deprecating librarian, Irene, is caught up once again in the eternal battle between chaos and order when her assistant Kai is kidnapped. In The Masked City Irene races to rescue Kai and prevent a war between the fae and dragons that could destroy countless innocent worlds caught between them.

I really love the locations in these stories, and while the first book was set in a Victorian London with werewolves and other supernatural elements, the sequel mostly takes place in renaissance Venice. I also really appreciated the reversal of the damsel saving the prince for a change, but I missed the interplay between the characters who were separated for most of the story, and the villains just weren’t quite as dynamic or threatening as Alberich.

Although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the first book, these stories are so easy to read with a perfect blend of humour, action and suspense that I’m eager to see how the series develops. Have a lovely week! X

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

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The first book in The Gentleman Bastards series follows Locke Lamora an orphan who grows into a criminal mastermind addicted to the thrill of pulling elaborate cons on the nobility. However, the delicate accord that exists between the nobles, law enforcement and criminal factions in the city of Camorr is torn apart when the mysterious Grey King arrives, and Locke and his crew find themselves caught in the middle of the murderous, political machinations of much powerful players.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is as much a story about found families as it is a fantasy heist, with each member of the Gentleman Bastards bringing unique skills to their operations, and the friendship between Locke and Jean (the brains and brawn of the crew respectively) is the emotional keystone of the story.

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I often talk about books being easy or quick to read because many of us lead busy lives and it can be hard to find the time to read, and I tend to have a 100 page rule that if I’m not invested in a story by that point then I give up and move on to something else, but it took me about 200 pages to really get into The Lies of Locke Lamora. There are definite pacing issues, with a lot of verbose descriptions of Camorr and setting up all the rival political and criminal factions before the action begins, yet the endearing characters, witty dialogue, clever foreshadowing and the combination of heart-pounding, nail-biting suspense and thrilling, unexpected twists more than made up for the slow start, and as soon as I finished this I bought the next two books in the series. Have a lovely week! X

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

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The Well of Ascension is set about a year after the events of The Final Empire (reviewed here); the young nobleman Elend is King, replacing the tyrannical Lord Ruler, and the city of Luthadel is besieged by three different armies, all intent on seizing power for themselves, one of which is lead by Elend’s own father.

The surviving leaders of the rebellion are all floundering without Kelsier to guide and unite them. Vin is still testing her newfound abilities and trying to figure out her relationship with Elend. Meanwhile, Elend is struggling with the responsibilities of being King and trying to maintain his integrity and ideals.

While The Final Empire had a tight narrative perspective focusing on Kelsier and Vin (and Elend at the very end), The Well of Ascension follows several different characters’ perspectives and sometimes seemed too diffuse. I also found this slower paced and lacking the momentum of the first book, though it was redeemed by the last 150 pages, which had me riveted and ended on a cliffhanger that made sense of the Lord Ruler’s dying words and left me desperate to know what happens next.

It’s always hard to review the middle book in a trilogy as it has to bridge the first and final parts, and it’s often difficult to judge how well it foreshadows or sets up things for the conclusion until you’ve finished the series – so I may change my mind in the future – but unfortunately The Well of Ascension didn’t manage to live up to my expectations.

Have a lovely week! X