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. 


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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: Cinderella Is Dead

Review: Cinderella Is Dead

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Two hundred years after Cinderella met her prince, every young girl of Mersailles must appear at the Annual Ball, where the Kingdom’s men select their future wives. All the girls know that they risk disappearing, never to be heard from again if they’re not chosen. Sophia yearns to marry her childhood best friend, Erin, who fears the repercussions their union would bring. An incident at the ball sends Sophia on the run, the King’s men hot on her heels. When she finds safety in Cinderella’s abandoned mausoleum, she comes face to face with one of the last descendants of Cinderella’s family, Constance. The two girls must work together to defeat King Manford’s reign of terror or risk their story be rewritten. 

Cinderella Is Dead is perfect in its concept. A dark, imaginative reinterpretation of the well-loved fairy tale.  Prince Charming turns cruel, and his successors follow his actions two hundred years later, forcing girls to appear at an actual ball searching for their future spouse. Once married, they are nothing but property to their husbands. They all must abide by a curfew, and nothing they own is genuinely theirs. Sophia has despised this system for a while and finally has a chance to escape during the ball. But the execution of, quite frankly, everything in this novel left me disappointed and underwhelmed. 

To start, the story was doomed from the very beginning. It begins strong with Sophia begrudgingly preparing for the Ball; she makes a point whenever she can that is very much against the system, while her parents dissuade her from speaking too loudly in fear of being accused of treason. She plots her escape and takes a chance during the ball and meets Constance, who confirms that the Cinderella story that the Kingdom has passed down generations is false. From then on, the story takes on a very tepid journey of Sophia and Constance journeying through a forest and plotting to take down the King. No tension and sadly really dull. If anything, I enjoyed the smatterings of fights scenes and seeing Constance and Sophia work smart to evade capture. But the rest of the plot fails to capture any good attention. I felt like I was being dragged from one plot point to another and told to deal with it. 

The characters were highly disappointing. Sophia is a selfish character who continually acts first and thinks later, leading to other people getting harmed. She’s aware that her actions can get her in trouble, but plot armour saves the day for her while everyone gets hurt. We also know nothing about her. Her likes, dislikes, quirks, nothing makes her stand out aside from her decision to go up against the King. Erin is rarely on-page but was the most interesting for me. She wants to be with Sophia, but her fear of the society around her creates an internal struggle that I would have loved to develop. And then comes Constance, mysterious and funny, but the possibility of what could’ve been is squandered for insta-love and no development. 

I’ll end this review with a disappointing sigh. Never have I seen a book with such potential fail to follow through on its promises. It’s an easy read, albeit grim in some select scenes. Sophia’s journey barely goes beyond its surface level, and the characters are wasted and discarded just as they’re introduced. A promising premise that needed to go back to the drawing board. 


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

Review: The Jasmine Throne

Review: The Jasmine Throne

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.*

Princess Malini finds herself banished to the Hirana, a once-powerful temple, now a decaying ruin after refusing to bow down to her dictator brother. With each passing day, she grows sick, waiting for the opportunity to be free finally. When Priya agrees to be one of the very few who make the treacherous journey to and from the Hirana to attend to Malini, she doesn’t anticipate revealing the secret and power she holds to her own enemy. And the two must work together for any chance for freedom or lose everything that is dear to them. 

The Jasmine Throne blew my expectations out of the water. Such a powerful and sweeping read. While I had some difficulty settling into its fantasy world, it more than makes up for it with its thrilling plot and impeccable characters. Suri writes with a desirable writing style that makes every dialogue and emotion come off the page. 

The characters in this are incredible. I loved how truly complex they all are. Malini, a princess turned prisoner, is slowly being poisoned to fit her brother’s plan. But her influence still lingers, and she must escape before it’s too late. Priya wants nothing but to save her people from genocide, and when she returns to the Hirana, the temple where she was born and raised, she feels the magic within her awaken. But when her powers turn her into a target, Malini might be her only choice for survival. Anyone looking for a morally grey sapphic couple, you’ll find it with them. They stand on opposite ends, Malini’s people caused the downfall of Priya’s, and they should want nothing more but the other dead. Malini is pragmatic and willing to do and risk anything to fight her brother’s claim to the throne. But she is haunted by the past, and those ghosts continue to hover. Priya was the main highlight for me. Her resilience and her desire to reconnect with her people, even if it means betraying her own loved ones, were nothing short of inspiring to me. Her desire and motivation were realised and fascinating. I am excited to see what becomes of her in the series. 

Chapters are interspersed with others’ perspectives: Ashok, a key to Priya’s past, Bhumika, a fellow temple sister who had once saved Priya’s life. Rao, a follower of the Nameless God, an ally to Malini,  whose true name is concealed until the time is right. 

This is my first time reading a book by Suri, and I definitely know it won’t be the last. The Jasmine Throne is one book you will need to get your hands on. You are accompanied by unique perspectives, a charming yet complex cast, and an immersive writing style that hits all the right beats—a start to an epic fantasy trilogy that undoubtedly will be a staple in people’s bookshelves. Expected release for July 8th!


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