Review: Jade Fire Gold

Review: Jade Fire Gold

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Ahn is a village girl with no family and a secret that will break the world. Altan is a lost heir of a dangerous empire. When their paths cross, Ahn finds a key to her past, and Altan sees a way to his future. But when the price of magic is far deadlier than both of them can handle, can they survive when their homeland is on the edge of destruction?

Jade Fire Gold was exhilarating. June C.L. Tan has really hit it out of the ballpark with her debut. I personally went into this book with zero expectations, and I left feeling so satisfied. It has a lot of fun tropes and utilises them in a way that is entertaining and hilarious. But it also keeps to its dark roots and the danger that Ahn and Altan face in their journey. 

The narrative is split into two POVs, Ahn and Altan. With Ahn, you follow her journey being a simple village girl, hiding her abilities in a dead-end town, working to afford the medication her grandmother so desperately needs. Suddenly, she is thrust into the life of royalty, her powers gaining the attention of even the Crown Prince. Altan was the heir to the throne until his family were murdered; now, he has spent years trying to get revenge. He never would’ve expected the answer to be found in Ahn, and the closer they get, the harder he finds it to go through with his plans. I had so much fun reading Ahn and Altan’s journey. Tan does a great job differentiating their voices where I couldn’t even decide whose perspective I enjoyed more. 

Not only did I love our main protagonists, but even the supporting characters were also unforgettable. Tang Wei is Atlan’s closest confidant and skilled with her weapons. Their banter and not-so seriously rivalry were brilliant. Linxi is a spy planted in the courts and becomes a great source of friendship for Ahn when she desperately needs it. Leiye is Ahn’s mysterious saviour and Altan’s old friend. There is so much detail that Tan incorporates so well into her words. A beautiful world inspired by Chinese mythology, from deserts to mountains, villages to palaces, the expanse from just this novel alone makes me really excited to see how the series will continue 

Jade Fire Gold was an absolute gem of a read! Sometimes you just need a good book to enjoy, and this is one of them. The banter, plot and sense of adventure left me unable to put this down—a definite recommendation for anyone interesting in the xianxia genre. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: The Red Palace

Review: The Red Palace

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Through years of study, seventeen-year-old Hyeon has finally earned her place as a palace nurse, having worked through every obstacle an illegitimate daughter could face. But everything she’s worked for is threatened when four women are murdered in a single night, and the only suspect is Hyeon’s personal mentor. And Hyeon cannot do anything without jeopardising her position, and any mistake will have her father’s sight set squarely on her. Determined to prove her teacher’s innocence, Hyeon risks it all and in her hunt for the truth comes Eojin, a police inspector with his own hidden agenda. As their search begins to point the blame to the Crown Prince, the two find themselves uncovering the dark secrets behind all the bloodshed. 

In her newest release, June Hur returns to the Joseon era, now following the life of palace maid Hyeon. The Red Palace was gripping and mysterious as Hur paints a memorable image of Joseon Korean in another historical mystery. Hur has a knack for highlighting the lives of women in the Joseon era. I felt really immersed in the lives of these women who were considered lower class while playing a pivotal role in running the government. In a similar vein to The Silence of Bones, Hyeon must think on her feet to discover the truth. As an illegitimate daughter, her position is both a hindrance and an opportunity to find information that no one else can. While I found Silence of Bones to be more emotional, Red Palace was far better plotted and well-crafted. 

The plot was fascinating, and I loved how the mystery grew as Hyeon and Eojin involve themselves in dangerous business. Not everyone can be trusted, and even Eojin brings an air of danger around him, but Hyeon can’t help but be enticed by his mystery. The romance between them was unexpected but so sweet. 

If you’ve read any of Hur’s previous works, then you’ll already know that this one cannot be missed. Hur has improved in her craft, and it shows. The politics and intrigue keep you gripped for hours—a well-developed mystery within a vivid setting of 1700s Joseon Korea. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Midnight in Everwood

Review: Midnight in Everwood

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Marietta Stelle was born to dance, but she must put her dreams aside after Christmas as obligations must take precedence. Struggling to maintain a balance between her traditions and goals, the answer comes in the form of an eclectic toymaker who moved in next door. Dr Drosselmeier is charming and has her entire town wrapped around his finger. When Drosselmeier promises Marietta an elaborate set for her final performance, the last thing she ever expects is to be transported into a snowy forest and rescued by a guard who escorts her to a palace made from sugar and dreams. Marietta is enchanted, but the thrill doesn’t last long when she realises she is now held captive by King Gelum. And Marietta’s only choice is to dance or starve. Now confined to her sugar prison, Marietta must work with the King’s other captives if they want to escape alive. And in this sugar-coated world, Marietta can’t trust anyone. 

Oh dear, I had such high hopes for this one. Midnight in Everwood is sweet and dream-like, but I was not a fan of the overall story. Reading this was a rollercoaster of emotions of being set up to witness a thrilling tale, only to reach the end and find out it really wasn’t all that memorable. 

The story begins in Edwardian society, and it is evident how restricting the world is for Marietta. The Christmas performance is her last time before she must give up her pointe shoes. When she is transported to Everwood, the change is instant. The influence of the Nutcracker really shines through in worldbuilding. Whimsical barely scratches the surface of what Marietta witnesses in Everwood. I really loved the detail and information we see about Everwood and its surrounding areas. There is lore and knowledge that captivated me, and it’s such a shame that much of it isn’t particularly relevant to the story. 

I can see what Kuzniar was trying to do when she was building Marietta. A girl who is desperate to keep her passion alive in a very restrictive world. I wanted to feel proud and empowered by her decisions, but the execution falls flat. Her attitude is very inconsistent, and her judgement is all over the place. The plot is just repetitive: Marietta gets in trouble, someone else taking the fall for her actions while she moans about her position. The growth of her character feels like it was just dumped towards the end. The supporting characters almost seem to be propped up like cardboard, with no voice or life of their own except to deal with Marietta’s moaning. The villain had so much potential to be much more terrifying if the story even focused on him. The best way I could describe Marietta’s journey is incomplete. She doesn’t feel completely present in the story, which is such a shame because the level of detail we receive about the world doesn’t feel fully utilised in the story that is told here. 

Overall, Midnight in Everwood is a sweet reimagining, but I have to admit it was definitely not my style. But I can see this book finding a home in another reader, someone who is more passionate about winter fairytales and sugary whirlwind adventures. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Iron Widow

Review: Iron Widow

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

In a world devastated by monsters, humanity must persist through the use of giant mecha machines. Male pilots are treated like heroes, and their female pilots must serve as their concubines and often die quicker from the mental strain. Eighteen-year-old Wu Zetian volunteers to become a concubine in hopes of her avenging her sister’s murder, and she gets her wish. She kills him through the psychic link that should’ve killed her and emerged the victor. As the military becomes unnerved by her abilities, she is immediately paired with Li Shimin, a convicted murderer and the most vital male pilot in Huaxia, whose female pilots never survive a battle. Zetian refuses to count her days and uses this new position to leverage her survival and figure out why the system fails the girls before it can take any more of them away.

Any book that is inspired by Pacific Rim will always immediately capture my attention. Throw in a sci-fi world inspired by Chinese history and a love triangle that ends in a satisfying polyamorous relationship? I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I decided that Iron Widow would be epic, and Zhao does not disappoint. 

What I loved the most about Iron Widow was the immense amount of passion you could feel resonating off the page. It was so much fun reading about Zetian as she grows from being a village girl to one of the most influential people in Huaxia. Revenge plots are usually a hit or miss with me, but Zetian takes it out of the ballpark. She is fueled by revenge for her elder sister, who died at the hands of one of Huaxia’s best male pilots, but her anger doesn’t stop there. Once the pilot is dead, she turns her wrath to the military of Huaxia, the ones who declared that girls were weaker than boys, their energy simply not strong enough to survive when in battle. It’s bullshit, and Zetian knows it; she’s been through too much to be told she is worth nothing and risks everything to prove she is everything. 

The mechanism behind the mecha machines can be a little confusing, but Zhao’s writing is straight to the point. No messing about, and their writing abilities just illuminate the world. Personally, I would’ve loved more world-building detail but what we have is impressive and, simply put, a lot of great fun! 

The characters are where Zhao and their writing really shines for me. Zetian is one big ball of anger, and justifiably so. Her anger might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I lived for it.  She is unwavering in her stance, refuses to take no and the status quo as the answer to everything. From her family to the higher-up of Huaxia, she will prove to them all that their misogyny will be their downfall while she plans to re-write history for everyone the world has abandoned. Shimin was a character who grew on me. The best character comparison I could give is Altan from The Poppy War. A boy raised to be a weapon and so entirely misunderstood by everyone around him. Yizhi seems like the typical first love interest, the one who knew the protagonist first, but he’s brilliant. He uses his wealth and influence to help Zetian and Shimin navigate the upper-class societies who lean onto the pilots are a source of entertainment while they risk their lives. Polyamorous relationships are not common in Young Adult, and Zhao did a great job with their relationship. The story is very heavily invested in its remarkable fight scenes, but I would’ve loved to have seen the trio interact a lot more on the page. Knowing that the first draft of this was more Adult orientated, I can’t help but feel it’s also the one who got away. Zhao teased some pages on Twitter, and I’ve never been so jealous of anyone who got to read that early version. 😂

Nonetheless, Iron Widow was action-packed and tremendous to read. The epilogue teases an even more dangerous journey as Zetian discovers the danger isn’t just the people at the top. Pitched as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, Zetain’s story is about a girl who is driven by revenge and her journey to offset her patriarchal society leads to an even more significant threat that pushes her to the limit.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: A Master of Djinn

Review: A Master of Djinn

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

When a wealthy businessman and his secret brotherhood are all slaughtered in the dead of night, it is up to Fatma el-Sha’arawi, an agent for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, to discover the truth. What she doesn’t expect is that the murderer is claiming he is Al-Jahiz, the very man who opened up the veil between the seen and the unseen almost 50 years ago. Al-Jahiz is announcing his return to condemn the modern era for its lack of social decency. His dangerous abilities threaten to disrupt the peace between the humans and djinns. With the help of her mysterious girlfriend, Siti, and her Ministry colleagues, they must work together to prevent this imposter from moving to global devastation.

I had read P. Djèlí Clark’s short fiction piece in preparation for A Master of Djinn. You can read it for free here! The events, in short, are mentioned briefly in A Master of Djinn and do not need to be read to understand the plot.  I had found the original short piece fun and exciting, definitely interested in what this steampunk Cairo had to offer. But I had not expected A Master of Djinn to blow me away in the way that it did. Do not be surprised when this book takes its rightful spot in my Best Read of 2021 list later this year. 

We start off with Lord Worthington, who brings together his Brotherhood of Al-Jahiz, a select group of men who are tasked with uncovering the wisdom of Al-Jahiz. Over the years, they have collected everything from clothing to papers that the man might have touched. That is a mysterious man who can seemingly duplicate himself slays them all in the middle of the night, and Agent Fatma might be one of the few people who can figure out why. Fatma’s journey takes her into the depth of Cairo, from the towering Ministry building that houses a librarian Djinn, who never seems to be interested in her, to the streets where humans and djinn live together. It has been a long time since a book has enthralled me in this way. The conflict, climax and resolution all fell into place and were executed with such detail and power. A unique, exciting tale about an agent who is not paid enough to deal with the drama of djinns. 

Agent Fatma is our brilliant lead. She is one of the few female Agents at the Ministry and is a lone wolf who prefers to work silently and, most importantly, alone. While she does enlist the help of her girlfriend, Siti, Fatma knows her best work comes alone.  So imagine her surprise when she’s knee-deep in a murder investigation; here comes Agent Hadia, her new partner. She immediately does her best to push away the new Agent, adamant that Fatma takes her under her wings, even as doing far to reject working alongside the most profiled agents at the Ministry. I loved Hadia; she is by far my favourite character in the series already. Hadia is fresh off the academy and ready to save the world. Her knowledge aids Fatma in places she never knew, and her story about her never-ending list of cousins had me laughing for days. Their relationship is an excellent mentor/mentee bond, and their development is satisfying as hell as they both navigate their male-dominated workplace.

Overall, I adored this one. A Master of Djinn is set in an alternate 1920s Cairo. After Al-Jahiz opened the veil and vanished and with the aid of the Djinns, Egypt forced out the British colonisers and re-established themselves as a world power. Clark’s worldbuilding is vibrant and magnificent. The magical setting with political and social issues while also figuring out a murder mystery was top-notch and a journey to read. And with a satisfying conclusion that paves the way for more exciting stories.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: The Unbroken

Review: The Unbroken

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Stolen and raised as a soldier for an empire that will see her people dead, Touraine and her company have been sent back to their motherland to squash a rebellion before it can take flight. Princess Luca needs a spy and Touraine is the perfect match. Disconnected enough from her people to betray them and loyal enough to tiptoe the line between treason and order. Someone who can dirty their hands while she works to remove her uncle from her throne. Even if it means betraying the very foundation of Balladaire. However, Touraine finds herself questioning her decisions and is forced to betray everyone she loves to protect them all. Who will survive in the end, the soldier or the spy?

The Unbroken truly broke through one of the worst book slumps I’ve ever had in my life. A passionate and powerful debut about a soldier who must find out who she truly is before it is too late. A political fantasy novel that takes you on a slow burn of a journey with an ending that rewards its reader with a satisfying promise of what’s to come. Touraine and Luca are complex and so is the system around them, the novel set in a fully fleshed out world that has been so severely affected by the actions of the colonising state of Balladaire. The first half of the book takes its time but the end result is worthwhile. 

The Unbroken takes place entirely in Qazāl, a country colonised by Balladaire and on the cusp of rebellion. Luca hopes to quell the dissent as proof of her right to rule and to uncover the magic within the land to save her people back home. Touraine doesn’t know what to think. She keeps her head down, hoping to one day gain the favour and respect of the commanders before her. But returning to Qazāl gives her the wake-up call she truly needed. After a false accusation, Touraine finds herself ripped of her hard-earned status and saved by the grace of Princess Luca in exchange for a much perilous role. We navigate the diplomacy and political landscape through the lens of Touraine, a soldier with no “home”.

Thematically, The Unbroken hides no secrets about the core message. The series is undoubtedly about empire rule and the lingering effects of colonialism on the people left behind. Initially, Touraine recoils at the memory of her people, the Qazāli, determined to prove to them that the so-called aid that Luca and her diplomats bring can elevate their status. But it is the emotion and experience of the people left behind that reminds her that the machine behind Luca does not care about their well-being and she is stripped bare of her complacency and the identity she had worked so hard to build and survive her environment. Luca might give Touraine everything she needs, but Touraine must decide where she stands or risk losing everything. 

As the dust settles and they are all left tending to the wounds of colonial violence, The Unbroken is a journey on its own, but Touraine’s story is far from over. I adore this book and would definitely recommend to any reader who really wants to sink their teeth into a gritty military-political fantasy that deep-dives into the nuances of imperialism from a multitude of perspectives.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR