Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.
But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.
On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.
Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.
Fierce, funny, and frank, Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy, and finding love in unexpected places.
I picked up this book because I was desperately in need of something different to read than the heavy fantasy books I was reading. I’m so glad I did what I did because this was such a wonderful story with an exploration in identity, persona, and really finding and being your authentic self.
Chloe Green is one of the top students in school. She’s been head-to-head with her biggest school rival, popular and pretty Shara Wheeler. But one day Shara kisses Chloe in an elevator and then disappears a few days later. In hopes of finding out what happened to her, Chloe sneaks into Shara’s bedroom only to meet Rory, another person Shara kissed. From there, they find the first note in a series of letters that lead them to Shara’s whereabouts.
I loved the level of mystery this book had. Shara wasn’t kidnapped. Nothing terrible happened to her. She ran away and created a puzzle for Chloe, Rory, and her ex-boyfriend, Smith, to uncover. With each letter they find, they learn a little bit more about where Shara may be as well as a little bit about Shara.
The story itself was super lighthearted with some serious conversations throughout. I knew that there would be big laughs and joking moments, but I also really appreciated the honest parts discussing gender identity, sexual identity, and just truly finding out who you are.
Another part that I truly appreciated was the consistency in the story. I always read YA stories where the characters are in school, but they never go to class. I loved that Chloe was still going to class everyday, showing up for final exams, and that part of their world was incorporated into the bigger story. It felt genuine for the kids to juggle their real lives with the mystery behind Shara.
This is definitely one of those propulsive books that make you keep reading. You want to find out what happened to Shara. You’re on this big scavenger hunt with Chloe, Smith, and Rory. You want to see what the next letter says and learning more about the kids (as well as the adults) in this book makes it feel more realistic. Although, I will admit there were some parts that really require you to suspend your disbelief, but it still made you laugh.
There’s a lot of play on persona in this novel and I commend Casey McQuiston for diving deep into Jungian psychology throughout the book. I think the only person in this book who didn’t have a persona was Chloe, who came to the school much later than the rest of the main characters in the story. Shara Wheeler was most definitely a study in persona and even Chloe was fooled by the multiple masks she wore. I won’t go any further into it because it might spoil the story, but once you think you’ve figured Shara Wheeler out, a new little twist appears revealing deeper layers behind her.
I went into this book thinking it was a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but what I ended up with is a book that combines all the great parts of that story plus Beauty and the Beast and Howl’s Moving Castle. Oh, and there’s some blood-drinking trees in it too.
The first daughter is for the Throne. The second daughter is for the Wolf.
For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.
As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.
Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.
But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a dark fantasy book and it was thrilling, adventurous, romantic, and mysterious. It really holds all the contents of an expertly written fantasy story within its pages.
I think the first thing I want to talk about is Red. She’s resigned to her fate, kept people at a distance to avoid growing overly attached, and when the fateful day comes for her to enter the woods, she does it without any protest. Her sister, Neve, is also a major character in the story as she doesn’t want to see her sister sacrifice herself and wants to find a way to help her from the grips of the Wilderwood. But when Red finally meets the Wolf, things change. Suddenly, Red isn’t sacrificed. She actually has a chance at life and while she may not be able to leave the woods, she definitely takes this opportunity to have one.
I really love the care Hannah Whitten puts into her characters. They weren’t flat or two-dimensional, but characters who struggle through some horrific ordeals, who are so dynamic that even the woods themselves play a character on their own. I love it when characters are so believable in the way they act that you find yourself invested in what happens to them.
I think readers will really love Eammon (aka The Wolf). While he reads a bit like an alpha male, he’s definitely not the kind that makes you want to punch a wall. Instead, you understand that he’s strict because he cares and while Red may not listen to everything he says, he doesn’t lash out at her with anger like the infamous Beast of Beauty and the Beast.
This story is an amalgamation of that one plus Little Red Riding Hood and Howl’s Moving Castle. I saw so much of Howl in Eammon, a beast because he’s forced to be, a man who slowly changes as the story goes on, and a romance that I didn’t even see coming! I guess romance is a part of Beauty and the Beast and Howl’s and you can see the attraction between the two, so I don’t know why I was so surprised when they finally connected. Perhaps it’s because I’m so used to reading fantasy stories without a lot of romantic entanglement in them. But if you do love a little romance in your reads, then you’ll really enjoy this one.
However, I couldn’t really understand the magic. There’s a lot of inferring language Hannah Whitten uses throughout the story so it almost felt like a giant puzzle to understand what’s going on. Of course, it’s blood magic because it’s not a dark fantasy without it, but it was difficult to understand how it helped to feed the woods and protect them from the shadows. I understood the motivation of the villains and the antagonist was such a reveal, but when it came to the sentinels and the final battle scene, I just felt confused.
Overall, I can see why fans love this book! It’s truly an intriguing fantasy story filled with blood magic, romance, suspense, and some very big twists. If you’re a fan of dark fantasy stories that twist on some classic literature, then this is for you.
Nothing beats being swept away to a desert world filled with magic, jinn, deep political intrigue, and a group of four very different people coming to find a magical lamp. Thanks to Orbit Books for a gifted copy of the book.
Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.
With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.
Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, The Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.
I’m going to try my best to write this review because this is the first book in a long time where there’s so much to cover and so little I can share because it would spoil way too much. Yes, there’s a journey into the deserts to find a magical lamp. But aside that is a much deeper look into the magic, the world, the politics, and the secrets that the book will slowly reveal throughout. It’s a slow burning epic fantasy with fun interludes throughout the book that tell the real tales from One Thousand and One Nights. It takes a little time to get into, but will blow you away by the end. It will make you want the second book as soon as it’s available (I know this because that’s me right now).
The Stardust Thief is definitely a book that puts emphasis more on the journey than the destination. The story begins introducing the four characters you’ll be well acquainted with by the end. Loulie is The Midnight Merchant, a thief and a seller of jinn relics she finds alongside her jinn bodyguard, Qadir. Mazen is the third prince to the sultan and forced to stay in the palace, but the sultan doesn’t know that Mazen sneaks out to hear the stories being told in the souk. Aisha is a thief and a member of the palace’s forty thieves. Her loyalties lie with the first son, Omar, who is the leader of the forty thieves. Each of these characters is different in their own ways and while I started off liking only two, I ended up having an affinity for all four by the end.
These four people from varying backgrounds and worlds are about to embark on an adventure across the desert to find a mysterious jinn relic; a lamp that houses the most powerful jinn ever. The sultan is dead set on removing all jinn from existence and with the help of the most powerful jinn, he hopes to eradicate them from this world. Why? Because according to the sultan, they are evil. They are devilish things that don’t deserve to exist. I mean, it doesn’t hurt that they also make magical relics that humans can use and manipulate magic for themselves. You just need to kill a few jinn to get them.
That comes to one of the big themes of this book; the good vs. evil theme. For people like Omar, the sultan, Aisha, and many of the humans that live here, the jinn are nothing but scary demons come to hurt and kill any humans they come across. Their fear motivates their hatred and without any hesitation will take out any jinn they come across. However, for people like Loulie, the jinn have been nothing but a godsend who saved her when her tribe was destroyed in a terrible fire. This push/pull between who is right/wrong, what is good/evil really brings a powerful dynamic to the story especially since it’s interwoven into the politics, the beliefs, and the decisions each of these characters make.
As the bigger secrets of this story start to reveal themselves, you see that these jinn are no different than humans. The only major difference is that they have magic and we don’t. The magic in this book is also huge. I think it’s one of the most magical books I’ve read in a really long time. Shapeshifting jinn, shadow jinn, jinn who can raise the dead, compasses that can show you the way to what you’re looking for, and so much more. I honestly loved how much magic existed in this world and how well it was incorporated into the story. That alongside the epic world building will just put you right into the heart of this story.
I’m a huge fan of desert fantasy books, so this one was right up my alley. But the descriptions and world building Chelsea Abdullah puts into her book are so vivid that you can actually smell the spices wafting through the souk. You can truly imagine the life happening throughout the towns. You can feel the heat of the desert sun on your face and the cool, dark breeze of the hidden caves. It was truly a magical place that swept you away. Chelsea Abdullah’s writing is poetic, secretive, and mysterious. You’ll be scratching your head at certain passages, but trust that she will reveal all to you as the story progresses.
While the story starts off slowly, it definitely picks up with all the fighting, mystery, and political intrigue that takes place. I was so surprised by how much politics and intrigue this story had because I thought it would be a very straightforward retelling. But Chelsea Abdullah took this story and really made it her own. And while it definitely has its fair share of betrayal and revenge, once you see the truth behind everything you understand that it’s a much deeper plot hidden underneath. Although this is the story about retrieving a magical lamp, this is in no way Aladdin and it really shouldn’t be compared to it. It’s much deeper than that and as I mentioned before, it’s all about the journey and not the destination with this one.
Overall, an incredible start to a new trilogy that I will happily continue reading. The book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but it will still make you clamor for the next one.
Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.
Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.
Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?
This was such a whirlwind of a book and truly, I mean that. The book was less than 100 pages and while it’ll sweep you off your feet with its romance, you’ll also finish reading this book in one sitting. The story drops you in immediately providing information through Thanh’s perspective on what happened to her for the past few years; the court she was told to live in, the romance she had with Eldris, and the terrible fire that caused her mental and emotional harm.
In this new world, she’s her mother’s diplomat forced not only to work with the kingdom she was hostage to, but also with her first love. It felt like this story focused more on the romance than the fantasy and I wasn’t mad about it. I assumed the story would be more about the fantasy, but romance never hurts. Thanh’s relationship with Eldris seemed both desirable but also forbidden since Thanh’s position in Eldris’ court was as a hostage.
It’s also about the mental and emotional struggle of surviving a massive fire. Thanh’s survival guilt is obvious as she remembers a young servant she helped to escape the palace only to lose her before it was too late. It was definitely a huge part of the story as she finds out more about the servant she held hands with and the surprise behind that story was totally different than I imagined.
While I really loved this story, there’s always pitfalls when it comes to a novella. One mainly is that I want to see this world expanded with much deeper lore and worldbuilding and watch the romance between two main characters really come to life. I really loved the backstory for Thanh, the romance between her and Eldris, the mysterious person she meets during the fire, and the surprise behind her story. I think this story could easily transition to a 500-page fantasy romance filled with indecision about her romance, powerful magic, and so much growth for Thanh. Because even though this book is a novella, you see Thanh go from being a quiet observer to a vocal decision maker. It was truly an interesting story and would definitely make for a bigger tale.
Overall, this is a great romantic fantasy that’s super short to read and easy to follow. I just wish there was more.
Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This month, there’s plenty to celebrate and many folks to celebrate with. But I wanted to celebrate by sharing a few reads I’ve loved recently written by Asian American authors.
If you’ve been following me for a while, then you may know that I have an affinity for Asian authors. I especially love authors who write fantasy or sci-fi fiction because those are the genres I enjoy the most. So any time I see a new SFF story by an Asian author, then I’m taking some special measures to read them.
I loved each and every one of these books for the different worlds they created, the stories they shared, and the characters that always remind me that I’m not alone. It makes me so excited that they’re all fascinating stories and I know there will be more that I’ll read in the future.
“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”
So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.
Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.
But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak—and what legacy she intends to leave behind.
Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers wrong. He’s sick of being haunted by his family’s past mistakes. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, a supernatural wind, and the bewitching girl at his new high school.
Luna Chang dreads the future. Graduation looms ahead, and her parents’ expectations are stifling. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by the strange new boy in her class, the arrival of unearthly fireflies, and an ominous crack spreading across the town of Fairbridge.
As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, everything around them begins to fall apart. All they can depend on is their love… but time is running out, and fate will have its way.
For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.
When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.
But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.
The Alexandrian Society is a secret society of magical academicians, the best in the world. Their members are caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity. And those who earn a place among their number will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Each decade, the world’s six most uniquely talented magicians are selected for initiation – and here are the chosen few…
– Libby Rhodes and Nicolás Ferrer de Varona: inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds. – Reina Mori: a naturalist who can speak the language of life itself. – Parisa Kamali: a mind reader whose powers of seduction are unmatched. – Tristan Caine: the son of a crime kingpin who can see the secrets of the universe. – Callum Nova: an insanely rich pretty boy who could bring about the end of the world. He need only ask.
When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they must spend one year together to qualify for initiation. During this time, they will be permitted access to the Society’s archives and judged on their contributions to arcane areas of knowledge. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. If they can prove themselves to be the best, they will survive. Most of them.
Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.
Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.
Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.
But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…
Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.
When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.
Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.
Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.
To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
Friends, it’s with a heavy heart that I write this book review. Truly because while I truly enjoyed reading Record of a Spaceborn Few, I was saddened by the fact that this wasn’t an instant favorite of mine.
Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.
Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.
Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.
Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.
When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:
What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?
I’m a huge fan of Becky Chambers and I’ve read almost everything she’s written (aside from whatever short stories and articles she may have written on the Internet). But from my count, I’m pretty much up-to-date with all her books. There’s something so cosmically fantastic about her reads. Perhaps because it’s not solely about people in space or robots meeting each other, but that deeper emotional connection that draws me into her books every single time.
However, I found myself a little bit bereft with Record. I wanted to like it way more than I did by the end. Oh, it’s still a deeply enchanting story with intriguing characters living in a space station-style ship that took the place of Earth a long time ago. But it didn’t have the extra glow of magic, action, and adventure that made A Long Way and Close and Common instant favorites of mine.
But if you need to complete the series like me and on your way to the final book, I would recommend it. The book takes place in the final moments that A Long Way… happens and while it doesn’t feature any of the crew from that book, it does share a different kind of existence among the stars. I think I’ve finally accepted that this series will not take place all on the Wayfarer’s ship, but within the same world. Ok, I can live with that.
Instead of it being a crew of people who want to be on the same spaceship as each other, this one is a group of people who have lived and died generations over in this one spaceship. It’s big enough to fit an entire society and it’s been floating in space ever since its escape from Earth. It reminded me a lot of Battlestar Galactica except without the vicious androids coming after humans to destroy their very existence. Instead, it’s more about the mundane lives they lead and how one particular event changes the course of their lives from then on out.
One of the major themes of this book is the discussion of existence. I feel like this theme is very close to Becky Chambers’s heart since it makes its way into many of her works. From To Be Taught to even the discussions between Mosscap and Dex on how important existence is, it’s something that you see weave itself throughout her novels and Record is no exception. And while I do love a philosophical discussion on our existence and what it means to die, it ended up triggering my anxiety a little too much and I spent some time sitting and trying not to have a full blown anxiety attack.
However, if this doesn’t bother you like it does me, then you’ll welcome these discussions. It’s the questions we all ask ourselves at one point or another and it’s poignant when it’s written in a sci-fi story. I mean, the story follows four people who’s lives have always been in space and wondering what it all means definitely should come up every once in a while.
Let’s discuss the characters for a moment while we’re here. This story has four unique perspectives. I thought each of these characters brought something different to the table and coming from unique backgrounds whether by age, by occupation, by identity, you see their seemingly separate lives come together towards the end. I think that’s one of the best benefits of Becky Chambers’s writing; you meet characters that would normally never associate with each other, but through some strange and not-so-strange circumstances, their lives intertwine with each other. I guess you can say that their existence feels more relatable once they meet people who can associate with them. The humanity of their lives is what brings them together and while the event that brings them together is tragic, they become better human beings than they were.
However, the only issue I had with this book is its lack of movement. It felt passive. It felt character-driven. There wasn’t enough movement in the story to compel you continue reading. And while I absolutely loved the existential discussions Becky Chambers brings to all of her stories, this didn’t thrill me the way her other books do. It felt exactly as its title suggests; a record of a spaceborn few.
But don’t let that hinder you from reading the book. Because in the end, it’s quite a story and well worth the read. If I knew this was a more character-driven story when I first went into it, I might have approached it differently.
The Chosen One trope is most definitely the oldest trope in fantasy fiction. I’m making this up, but I’m pretty sure Frodo was chosen to be the destroyer of the one ring and a young Arthur was considered the next King of England. The idea that someone is destined to do something big is something that doesn’t really exist in real life, but it most definitely exists in fantasy books.
I’m a huge fan of the chosen one trope mostly because they take ordinary people and turn them extraordinary. Perhaps it was my steady diet of Sailor Moon and Naruto that the idea bounces around in my head hoping one day that I would be chosen. Maybe it’s because it makes someone feel special to have such a destiny set out for them.
But from reading fantasy fiction, I definitely know that being the chosen one isn’t all that great. Not only do you have an intense battle to fight at the end of the story, but your journey there isn’t all too fun filled with lost friendships, lost fights, betrayal, and even some internal struggle with maybe not being the right choice for the task at hand. It humanizes its characters and their hesitancy to fight is one of the most human traits I could think of. Who wants a destiny that they didn’t even choose!
So I put together a list of some of my favorite chosen one stories. Granted, the list is massive when you think about it but these in particular always stand out to me.
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.
Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.
In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.
Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.
So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.
The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.
Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.
Fifteen-year-old Sloane can incinerate an enemy at will—she is a Scion, a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods.
Under the Lucis’ brutal rule, her identity means her death if her powers are discovered. But when she is forcibly conscripted into the Lucis army on her fifteenth birthday, Sloane sees a new opportunity: to overcome the bloody challenges of Lucis training, and destroy them from within.
Sloane rises through the ranks and gains strength but, in doing so, risks something greater: losing herself entirely, and becoming the very monster that she abhors.
Well, Seanan McGuire’s gone above and beyond to create another story of alchemy and mystery set in the same world as Middlegame. It’s a companion novel, so you can read it alone. However, I think you’ll really benefit more if you’ve read the first. Thanks to Tor dot com for a gifted copy of the book.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I started this book. I knew that there was going to be some wibbly wobbly timey wimey-ness to it because if it’s a companion to Middlegame, then there’s definitely going to be talk of the Impossible City, the Up-and-Under, and maybe even appearances from the A Deborah Baker books she’s written.
And this book does all of those things and more. One of the reasons why I love reading Seanan McGuire is her ability to create these incredible worlds. A place where real life huamsn can dream of places they’ve only read in books or seen on TV. Portals to worlds that coincide with ours, energies that exist that shouldn’t exist. And this one explores these concepts just as much as any of her other books. Alchemy is supposed to be the study of science and magic and I think Seanan McGuire does an excellent job throughout this series with creating her alchemical world.
Seasonal Fears features two main characters, Harry and Melanie, but if I’m going to be honest, this is Harry’s story. Melanie has been sick since she’s been born and Harry is the jock football player with a huge sense of humor. In many ways they’re different, but they’ve loved each other for as long as they’ve known each other. But when both of them collapse one day, only one came back alive and thus began their journey on the improbable road to the Impossible City.
I absolutely love the play on seasons in this one. Seanan McGuire’s creativity is one of the reasons why I come back to her stories. Using the same concepts in Middlegame of embodying intangible things and making them human plays itself out in Seasonal Fears as Summer and Winter. It’s so beautiful to think about; how a person can embody a season and their emotions contribute directly to how the season will play out. On top of that, the corruption and lies behind the seasons and the people who embody them. It was part political, part emotional, and just really blew my mind.
Harry and Melanie were also the kinds of characters you rooted for. While both of them come from different backgrounds and lived very different lives side-by-side, you can relate to either of them in any of the ways. Harry is naive and hard-headed, which makes it difficult for him to understand the alchemical concepts that are being explained to him numerous times. Melanie is made for the season she was built for, which made it easier for her to accept what’s happening. Their relationship was sweet and the kind of young love that makes readers sigh with joy for them and make you fiercely protect that innocence from any outside parties.
And throughout the story, there were numerous outside parties; people who were trying to kill Harry and Melanie for their candidacy as Summer and Winter. I also loved this part of the book because Harry and Melanie weren’t technically the chosen ones. They are candidates for the position and they were on their way to claim the crowns for themselves, but so were a few dozen other people. It was interesting to see them on their journey, but I also felt like it was unnecessarily long. I honestly felt like the journey was too long and the destination scenes were too short. I would have loved the reverse.
Seanan McGuire definitely puts in a lot of effort to make sure every reader understands clearly what’s going on. Perhaps there was some feedback from Middlegame being too difficult in its concepts, so she doubled-down on this one. In some ways, it was a little too much becoming more repetitive than informative. But I can also understand her frustration with receiving “I don’t get it” feedback from her first novel. I truly appreciate that she took the time to really flesh out these ideas creating a much more robust world that’s a bit more digestible. It wasn’t as good as Middle game, in my humble opinion, but it was still something I devoured.
Of course, this book isn’t complete with a few surprises around each corner. I loved seeing the characters from Middlegame make an appearance and also a lot of understanding behind what happened to them, the parallels of the story to the stories by A Deborah Baker, and deeper understanding of the entire alchemical world created by Seanan. I appreciate this book for finally bringing to light some of the more confusing aspects and while it wasn’t perfect, it was definitely the perfect companion.
Yes, a process that took me forever to come to terms with and then figure out for myself, I’m finally ready to share with you how I annotate my books.
I do want to preface by saying that I don’t annotate every book. Aside from a funny or prolific line in general fiction, I find that annotating books works best for my sci-fi and fantasy reads. There’s a lot to digest in these stories and annotating helps me not only remember my thoughts, but also dive deeply into the themes and ideas behind the book. It’s actually made me a much better reader.
There’s many ways you can annotate your books. Lots of folks use colorful tabs to separate out their reactions and thoughts. Others strictly use post-it notes and pen. It’s entirely up to you how you want to annotate and starting with someone else’s way of doing it and then creating your own method after trying it out really helped me nail down the process. After much trial and error, I’ve finally found the winning combination that works for me:
I use tabs to note parts of the book I want to look back on. I try not to go overboard with the number of tabs because I found it difficult to remember which tab represented what and whether or not it was important for me to note. So, I keep it to three specific parts:
Well-written prose and quotes: this is pretty self-explanatory. If I come across something beautiful or a quote that ruined me, I want to remember it, so I go ahead and mark it
Important info: This is a catch-all for a lot of different things: character introductions/development, plot points, world building, themes
Moments to remember: This is different than noting quotes because this is to remember big scenes. If something surprises me, made me laugh, made my cry, ripped out my heart, I want to remember it so I use this to note that
I use post-it notes to write down bigger thoughts or themes I want to explore more. The post-it notes are mostly there to help me write down stray thoughts and ideas that float through my head while I’m reading. If I don’t write it down it will flutter out of my head or I’ll become too distracted trying to remember what I was thinking that I will lose focus on the book. This allows me to get those thoughts out of my head, but it also helps to look back on when I’m ready to write the review.
I underline and write reactions to sentences and passages throughout the book. This is probably the most crucial part and the part that keeps me engaged in the story because I need to pay attention to what I’m underlining. Interacting with the book by underlining passages and writing my reaction (either with a quick abbreviation or even draw an emoji) actually helps me retain the story better. I guess being a part of the book by writing down my reactions actually helps me be more active in the reading process. When I want to note things, I find myself paying much more attention to the story than letting my brain drift off.
I love the way my books look after I’m reading. This was an expected effect because I was sure I would be annoyed by the way my books looked after I finished reading. It was quite the opposite. Similarly to the characters in the book, I feel like I went on this journey with them. I also have been rereading books I’ve dabbled in annotating with and it’s so interesting to look back and see what I thought during a different point in my life.
I have no clue if this is a habit I’ll continue to do, but for now it seems to be working wonderfully for me. Do you annotate your books? What do you like to do?
While this was my second time reading the book, I’m counting it as my first. I read this the year it came out (2020) and suffice it to say, the events of that year were more on my mind than reading and I don’t remember much of what I read. However, this second time around now made it one of my favorite books of 2022 and probably one of my all-time favorites as well.
A god will return When the earth and sky converge Under the black sun In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Wow. From beginning to end, this book captured me heart and soul. Fast-paced, energetic, witty, and hopeful, I couldn’t get enough of this book the second time around.
Falling into this world made me think of authors like Sabaa Tahir and VE Schwab where you’re immersed in a world where magic exists, gods are listening, and the politics are tired of one group always leading the charge. The characters play a huge part of the story and Rebecca Roanhorse does an exceptional job of connecting the characters with the readers. I don’t know much about Pre-Columbian America, so this book really showed it through the food, the politics, the gender identity of some of the characters, and the myths and lore. The characters in this story were also so well developed and different. I loved getting to know Serapio, Naranpa, Xiala, Ithak, and Okoa. I found myself really wanting to read more about Xiala and Serapio throughout the story, but I found Naranpa’s character also so intriguing. I really do hope that Rebecca Roanhorse goes into her character deeper in the second book.
But this is Serapio’s story and definitely the most important part. He’s the “chosen one,” born to be the vessel of a god and enact a revenge set in motion years before he was even conceived. Within the first chapter, you see his mother imbue him with the power of a god. As brutal as that was, Serapio understands his position, understands what he needs to do, and accepts his destiny without even considering otherwise.
One of the central themes of this book is the chosen one trope. I thought a lot about this because while Serapio is the “chosen one” of this story, it almost felt like it’s an un-chosen destiny. It surprised me when I realized this and how Rebecca Roanhorse writes the character. The downside of being the chosen one is that you’re designed for a destiny you didn’t choose. You’re stuck with having to meet some bigger prophecy or need within the story. For the most part Serapio is fine with his destiny. He’s chosen to be the god the cultists want him to be, but I do believe that there are small moments throughout that make him consider otherwise, which make for such a deeper and richer character.
And that’s what’s incredible about Roanhorse’s writing. You know that Serapio needs to make some great sacrifice at the end, but he doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The people he meets along the way, the influence they have on him, it affects him and getting deep into his psyche to read what he’s feeling is where I felt an emotional pull to his story. There were times where I wanted his destiny to be wrong or something different happen at the end because I’d become so emotionally attached to him and wanted the best for him. It’s a sign of good writing when you’re feeling things for a fictional character.
Each chapter begins with a timeline that rushes down to the Convergence; a moment when the sun and the moon come together bringing good luck to the people of Tova. And as you’re reading, you see a lot of events leading up to this. First, there’s Serapio’s mission, then there’s an attempt at assassinating the Sun Priest, Naranpa. And then on top of that, there’s a political shift taking place that all come together. You may think that none of these components work together, but the way that Roanhorse writes the story cleverly combines them into one. You watch as all these pieces come together to its inevitable end and while you see it coming, the characters don’t. I might have been yelling at my book a few times hoping that someone would finally see the bigger picture. But it’s just you and your book yelling out loud and people are staring.
The second central theme is the idea that people can overcome adversity. From Naranpa to Xiala, these characters faced challenges based on their upbringing and their race. It was interesting to see how both of these characters faced it. One pushed against it to the point of denouncing her family. The other fights against the adversity and isn’t ashamed of where she comes from. And the interesting part is seeing how these play out for them throughout the story. Both are judged by outsiders for who they are; one is met with some form of acceptance to a degree while the other is met with adversity at every point she made. Nothing came easy for either of these characters, but I loved their juxtaposition and how some folks embrace their culture while others push it away.
And all top of that, it’s an excellent plot-driven story with a ton of character development and world building. It’s seriously on another level and this book truly made me a fan of Rebecca Roanhorse for life. I couldn’t get enough of this book. I know I’ll definitely be reading book two soon and so surprised at myself for not remembering what I read the first time. I’m so glad I came back and read it again.