Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

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.*

Storms have ruined Mina’s homeland for generations. Her people believe that once the Sea God has found his true bride, he will end his people’s suffering. Shim Cheong is fated to be the true bride, but doing so means leaving Mina’s brother forever. So on the night, Cheong must be sacrificed, Mina and her brother break the rules and follow her to her fate. Desperate to save her brother and her friend, she throws herself into the water instead. Stranded in the Spirit Realm, Mina finds the Sea God trapped in an endless sleep and to wake him; she must face every lesser god and beast who wishes to keep him asleep.

I’ll be honest; the story starts in not the strongest footing for my taste. Mina is already boarding the ship destined for Shim Cheong’s demise, and her sacrifice is made so quickly it feels like we almost miss the moment. Her descent into the spirit realm is fast, and in moments, we’ve already made it halfway through the book’s own synopsis. I have been highly anticipating this book, so I was apprehensive it would go downhill from there. 

I can gladly say I was very wrong. Once in the Spirit Realm, Mina really takes off. With time ticking, she must figure out how to wake the Sea God and return her homeland to prosperity only a month before she is stuck forever. And the only person who can give her any information is the mysterious god named Shin and his rogue men, Kirin and Namgi. She is also momentarily accompanied by other spirits who you will love and mourn all the same. 

The crumbs Axie Oh drops in the story slowly come together in the most heartbreaking way. The world-building is in the same vein as Ghibli movies, whimsical and childlike. Mina is strong and compassionate who continues to grow in each chapter. It’s kind of a shame this is standalone because the potential to delve into other folklore through the Spirit Realm is vast. If anything, the only remotely disappointing aspect was that the romance could’ve been developed a lot more in the beginning. Still, towards the end, I was rooting for Mina’s happiness like my life depended on it. 

Spirited Away meets Korean folklore in this standout retelling from Axie Oh. A world of gods and beasts can’t compare to softspoken Mina, who steals the show in her honourable journey to save her homeland.  


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

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 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

Review: Dial A For Aunties

Review: Dial A For Aunties

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When Meddelin Chan accidentally kills her blind date, she enlists the help of her mother and aunties to get rid of the body. Things become tricky when the body is accidentally shipped to the wedding destination that her family business is working on. The wedding that is supposed to skyrocket their reputation, and Meddelin must make sure that not even a dead body can get in the way of her aunts’ antics. They are almost out of the woods until Meddy’s college love re-enters her life. Can Meddy fix her relationship, pull off a wedding and get away with murder all in one day? 

This book is a weird one. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book this ridiculous. But I loved every moment of reading this. Meddelin Chan is a 26-year-old photographer working for her family’s wedding business run by her mother and aunts. Meddy believes in the Chan Family Curse, where all the men in their family end up leaving and is adamant not to abandon her family like her father, uncles and male cousins. Even if it meant giving up Nathan during university, but now her mother thinks she’s ready to get married and poses as Meddy on an online dating site, snagging a date with the local hotel owner, Jake. 

Meddy agrees to go on a date, and when Jake goes too far, Meddy tases him while driving, causing them to crash. Panicking, she tells her mum the truth, who brings in her aunts, and they begin to work on dealing with Jake. One mistake sends the body to the island resort, and not only does Meddy have to deal with the wedding and the blood on her hands, she learns that her ex-boyfriend Nathan is the owner of the hotel that is hosting the wedding, and he’s ready to try again. 

Dial A For Aunties is a mish-mash of things that usually wouldn’t work for me. But somehow, Sutanto makes it work, and it’s hilarious. When I reached that final page and read the author’s note, I’ve never been so excited to see that there’s already a film adaptation in the works. This book is pure chaos that I hope translates well into film. 

The comparison to Crazy Rich Asians is apt. Meddy can hardly believe they snagged the wedding of billionaires Tom Cruise Sutopo and Jacqueline Wijaya. A guest line goes into the thousands and gifts that could pay off Meddy’s college debt in a single swipe. Amid the chaotic storyline, the story’s heart lies in the sacrifices Meddy and her aunts make in the name of family. Sutanto delves into the familial relationships of the Chan family line and the difficulties most immigrant families face for the betterment of their loved ones. Meddy is constantly thinking about her family, even choosing to break up with Nathan despite her own wants. She undergoes some serious character development and begins to understand how to speak up for herself.  

Overall, Dial A for Aunties was hilarious and entertaining. The story is so strange that I found myself speechless at the absurdity of this entire plot. Despite the chaos, it is a story of family, sacrifice all wrapped up in an absurd murder mystery that will have you shaking your head at every turn of the page. I couldn’t even believe there is a sequel to this mayhem. I’ll be waiting for the return of the Chans.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating

Review: Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating

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.*

When her friends question her bisexuality, in a panicked state, Hani Khan tells them she is dating someone: overachiever Ishu Dey who is the complete opposite of Hani. But Ishu agrees to help on the condition that Hani would help her become Head Girl in hopes of convincing her parents she will not become like her sister. The guide made and rules set down; all they need to do is last a couple of weeks. As the weeks go on, Ishu can’t understand why Hani allows her friends to mistreat her. Hani can’t understand why Ishu won’t trust her older sister. But when they really start falling for each other, things get messy, and rules are broken. 

I was not the biggest fan of Jaigirdar’s The Henna Wars, so I went into Hani and Ishu’s story quite hesitant, but I can definitely say my expectations exceeded a lot. Jaigirdar has improved a lot, and it shows in Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating because this was such an adorable read! 

Hani and Ishu take the fake dating trope and gives it a fun, refreshing (and desi) twist. Despite being out to her parents, her friends give her trouble when Hani decides to finally come out as bisexual to them. She already struggles to explain her religious and cultural background to them, so they aren’t too supportive when it comes to her sexuality. There she decides to blurt out that Ishu Dey is her girlfriend. Coming from similar backgrounds (They are both desi, Hani is Bangladeshi, and Ishu is Indian), Hani soon convinces them it’s real; now she just needs Ishu to get on board. Ishu Dey is top in her classes, low on the social pecking order. When her sister returns home and shatters their parent’s expectations, she is desperate to not look like a failure under their eyes. And dating Hani gives her the attention she needs to boost her social standing. 

I loved how wholesome this story was. Hani and Ishu are trainwrecks in the best way possible. They appear incompatible, but Hani helps Ishu open up in ways that she never thought was possible after spending some time together. Even telling her why she feels like the need to compete with her older sister. Ishu opens Hani’s eyes to the way she’s been mistreated by her friends and begins to make her realise that she doesn’t need to hide parts of herself, her religion and culture because they chose to not listen. Her friends will frustrate, but it’s so natural for a lot of young Muslim teens.

Overall, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating was a fantastic read. So wholesome and highly entertaining! A story of two girls discovering themselves and becoming more comfortable in their own skin. A great quick read for young teen readers!


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: The Descent of the Drowned

Review: The Descent of the Drowned

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.*

Raised as a vessel for the goddess Lamia, Roma finds herself questioning the path set out for her and must fight for survival without condemning her fellow sisters. Leviathan, the bastard son of an immortal tyrant, was raised to kill in his father’s name. But they both cannot run from their past forever as they find themselves inexplicably linked as the tyrant’s search for power threatens the world as they know it. 

When finishing The Descent of the Drowned, my first thought was the books’ blurb really does not do this book justice. The catalyst event that the blurb suggests (Roma’s brother being sold) does not occur until well over the story’s halfway mark, which may confuse some readers. The story does take some time to take off truly. That being said, I still really enjoyed this book. Lal Din paints a brutal world. This book is hefty in terms of the story, touching upon rape, suicide and human trafficking. (see Halla’s content warnings for more) The story highlights the caste system, abuse of the trans community, ethnic cleansing and colonisation. And Roma is just one of many women suffering under its harrowing grip. 

The Descent’s story is split between Roma and Leviathan (Levi) as their paths slowly converge together. Roma is counting down the days until she is given to another male patron. Her last time being a few years prior, which resulted in her harming herself. She finds herself questioning her position and whether her spot is truly divine given or not. But when everyone around her is adamant in their belief, she must be careful where she treads or risk endangering her temple sisters and brother’s lives. Levi was raised a killer but found himself struggling to forget his past when most of the blood he sheds are members of his mother’s clan. He tries his best to help, but the persecuted clan wants nothing to do with him. When a rescue plot turns awry, Levi finds himself chasing up on the elusive White Wolves, an opposition group working towards taking down Levi’s father.  

It takes some time for the two to meet. I found it fun reading their perspectives because it felt like reading two different stories, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. Roma’s story highlights the lives of the oppressed and casteless. At the same time, Levi’s strengthens the worldbuilding beyond what Roma is never allowed to see. I, personally, preferred Roma’s side of the story, partly because it had taken me some time to warm up to Levi. Roma grows more in the story in a consistent way, while Levi takes some time to appreciate. He’s not a bad character; he just makes some decision that I didn’t agree with that soured my opinion of him. 

What I loved the most about their story is each protagonist’s respective group. Levi has his own brothers-in-arm. As mentioned, Levi does not make good decisions, deeply affected by his past trauma, but his friends, Junho and Malev, will do anything to help reel him back in. Roma’s side consists mainly of her temple sisters. Despite her conflicting opinion, Roma truly cares for her sisters. Her actions are rooted in making sure they face the least amount of harm, but she can’t stay silent forever, and one wrong move puts her entire family at risk. I personally found the story very slow, but the characters make up for it in abundance. 

Inspired by Pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, The Descent of the Drowned is a thrilling yet terrifying read. Roma’s journey is powerful and heartbreaking. If anything, the story ends too soon, with its worldbuilding taking up most of the page. Regardless, I’ll anticipate its sequel because this story feels like the stepping stone to something extremely remarkable. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR