Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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Steampunk Fun

Elizabeth Chatsworth’s The Brass Queen will be published 12 January 2021.

Comedy, romance, and adventure light up this delightful gaslamp fantasy set in an alternate Victorian age.

THE BRASS QUEEN was a 2018 Golden Heart® finalist, was showcased in Pitch Wars 2017, and won numerous contests including The Far Side Contest 2018 (Light Paranormal category), The Molly Contest 2018 (Paranormal category), Put Your Heart In A Book Contest 2018 (Paranormal, Science Fiction, & Fantasy category), The Best Banter Contest 2018 (Paranormal category), and The Catherine Contest 2018 (Wild Card category).

Elizabeth Chatsworth on Goodreads

Let me tell you, Ms Chatsworth, whom I virtually met on Litsy ages ago, is not boasting. She knows how to write, and the ARC I read clearly showed all the hard work she has put into the book. It was relaxing to read something that had a well thought through timeline and plot, AND there were no inconsistencies whatsoever – something to bring out the champagne for, actually.

What’s the story about? The story is about Constance Haltwhistle, daughter of a baron who’s been absent from his estate for ages, and arms dealer to a company called Steamwerks. And Mr Trusdale, a Stetson wearing American who is and is not the person he pretends to be.

Although Constance lives in an alternate Steampunk Victorian age, she still can’t inherit her father’s estate. Since her father has been absent for a very long time, her uncle is threatening to seize the estate from under Constances bustle, if she can’t manage to snag a decent husband within the next week.

Her coming out ball is a big success until the three exo-suits that were meant as pure decoration start moving seemingly on their own accord and abduct three scientist friends of Constance’s. That’s when Constance decides that, although she is on the planning committee for the royal visit of the Queen, taking place in a few days, and actively looking for a husband, she needs to rescue her friends at all costs.

Aided by the cowboy Mr Trusdale, her coach man and her butler, Constance is on a mission to bring her big plan of rescuing her friends to fruition. Which means, the reader may settle in for a mad-cap ride through a well-designed and thoroughly thought out world-building with weirdly funny characters and excellent pacing.

Burning Roses – Buddyread Reveal

The Sceptre Buddyread selected from the trusted booksellers at Otherland is S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses, published 29 September 2020.

To me, this came as a total surprise. Not only had I been looking at lists of books published at the end of November or in early December, but I hadn’t heard the name of the author before. My bad, definitely. My fellow Sceptres reminded me of other books by Ms Huang, like Zero Sum Game, which I have, obviously, missed out on, too.

So, we’ll be diving into a story where a middle-aged Little Red Riding Hood and middle-aged Archer go on a quest together. Sounds perfect for the time before Christmas. The book has about 150 pages, so we’ll probably fly through it in no time. We’re starting with Part 1 next Monday, December 7th that is. If you’d like to join the buddyread, leave a comment. You’ve already read the book? Great, tell us about it in the comments, spoiler free please.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water

You may know Zen Cho from her books Sorcerer to the Crown, but with The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, she proves that her writing also shines in a shorter novella form. And you can’t help but get interested with a beautiful title and cover like that.

The book follows Guet Imm, a votary of the titular order. She joins a group of bandits after being fired from her job in a coffee house because of a commotion one of the bandits started. While Guet Imm befriends the right-hand man of the group’s leader, trouble is on the horizon because of the items they are planning to sell. From the outset, you would expect something really action-packed. It starts with a martial arts fight scene, after all. But what you get is a warmhearted novella about a found family with strong themes of acceptance. Devotees of the order also have some tricks up their sleeves, and there may or may not be magic involved.

The audiobook was done really well, and it was easy to keep track of the characters. I think listening to it really added to my enjoyment of the story, as it provided an easier access to the Asian names for me.

Once there were three witches

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow, publishing date October 15, 2020.

After reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January, I was happy to be approved for the ARC for Alix Harrow’s next book. A book about witches.

Yet, it is so much more than just about witches. Set in 1883, in New Salem, a town a few miles away from Old Salem, which was burned down in the witch trials about a hundred years ago. Women are fighting for the right to vote. And three sisters need to get to grips with their past and survive the present to allow a future for strong women and witchcraft.

Apart from (feminist) witches and devious witch hunters, this book contains badass librarians, sisters and Sisters, powerful depictions of birth and motherhood, and a gorgeous cover.

The prose is excellent. This is why the rather slow parts in the story are still a pleasure to read. Still, at about 60% of the story I was wondering what else might be coming, I thought everything had been said by then. I was wrong, obviously.

4/5 Goodreads stars


The Once & Future Witches was also our Buddyread this month, picked by our most trusted bookshop, Otherland. TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle skipped along a second time, while TheMarquessMagpie and TheLadyDuckOfDoom discovered the magical story of the three sisters. Here is what we think:

TheMarquessMagpie was very much in awe of the writing style. It felt like fairytales came alive, some of them old, some of them new, all of them feeling like a warm blanket on a cold day. She felt part of the family, one of the sisters herself. There was longing, to be one of the future witches and to believe her familiar is out there, waiting in the dark with red burning eyes until she is ready.

TheLadyDuckOfDoom fell in love with the book, sometimes every page all over again. She especially loved the part on page 399 – 401, which her imagination wants to paint rather badly. It’s the part where old meets new, and no further spoilers will be heard from her, because she loved every part of the story deeply and will not take anything away from potential readers.

Going once, twice, sold!

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk, published October 13 2020.

We’re looking at a fantasy world that’s similar to the British Regency Period. The higher classes meet during a season that’s called Bargaining Season, to basically sell off their eligible daughters to the highest bidder. These daughters are sorceresses. They could perform magic, but -as is so often the case- they are not allowed to. The practice of magic is restricted to initiated men. Young sorceresses learn a few spells, but never get a real chance to outgrow the nursery rhyme phase. Upon their marriage an enchanted collar will be fastened around their necks blocking their magic, so that no malicious spirit may enter and inhabit the soul of any possible unborn child. Magical women’s sole purpose, until menopause, is producing offspring.

The female lead of the story, Beatrice Clayborn, is such an eligible young sorceress. Her father, a non-magical merchant, has indebted the already financially unstable family to give Beatrice the perfect Bargaining Season. Beatrice is to find a wealthy husband so that especially her younger sister might profit by being able to go to an esteemed finishing school.

But Beatrice doesn’t want a husband. Beatrice wants to become a full Magus. Since women aren’t allowed to practice the magic that is necessary to become a magus, Beatrice had to learn to summon a spirit in secret from hidden encrypted books.

When Beatrice meets the handsome heir to a wealthy family of magi and his sister, she at first thinks she’s made enemies for life. In fact, she’s managed to make the best allies in her fight for equal rights for sorceresses. A difficult course, since neither sibling must know that the other is working to find a way for women to embrace both, magic and family.

Although the happy ending was predictable, I quite enjoyed the way it came about. A very enjoyable cosy read that had quite a lot of commentary on women’s oppression.

Black Sun

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, published 13 October 2020.

Had I read the blurb to this book, I would have read it later. Not because it’s bad, but because I now have to wait for the next book in the trilogy.

What can I tell you about this book without giving too much away? It’s been prophesied that the Crow God will come to the city of Tova on the Winter Solstice, which this year coincides with a solar eclipse. This will allow the dark forces to unbalance the world.

The story is told in different points of views: there’s Serapio who has to get to Tova before the Winter Solstice; there’s Xiala who, as captain of a ship, has to make sure that Serapio gets to Tova in time, which means embarking on a near impossible sea voyage using all her human and magical abilities; there’s Naranpa, the sun priest who’s life is threatened by assassins. Following the three characters to the cliffhanger of the story was so interesting, I could hardly put down the book.

Black Sun is set in a fantasy world inspired by pre-Columbian American indigenous peoples. We have cities built on cliffs, societies where men seem to be excluded entirely, magic, gods, priests, different genders, different pronouns for non-binary genders, and so much more. A lot of thought went into the world-building and it does not disappoint. It adds to the characters’ stories and doesn’t distract from them.

If you have this on your TBR already, read it. Read it now, read it later when book two is in sight.

If you don’t have Black Sun on your TBR yet, put it on there, stat!

I’m defnitely going to put Roanhorse’s other books onto my TBR now. The woman can write!

Hell’s Librarian is a badass!

I managed to squeeze both of A.J. Hackwith’s Hell’s Libary books into this week. I listened to them, I confess.

Book 1: The Library of the Unwritten, published 01 Oct 2019.

The Library of the Unwritten had been on my radar for a while, but I wanted to wait until the second book was out before I started. It was well worth waiting a year before reading it.

This Urban Fantasy is mostly set in Hell, but also in Seattle, and some other realms of the dead. Hell has a huge library, where librarians serve as punishment for their sins in life. When an unwritten book escapes to Earth to haunt its author, the librarian, her apprentice and a newly arrived demon have to travel to Earth to bring the book back. At the same time, a scrap of the Bible of Hell arrives at the Pearly Gates, which prompts two angels to be dispatched to find the whole book and bring it to Heaven. Of course, all hell breaks loose when their paths, inevitably, cross.

The world-building is fabulous. Just the idea of a library in Hell, where all the unwritten books stay, need to be repaired over time, become restless, their characters becoming corporeal and wandering the aisles of shelves. Perfect. Add the different realms, based on different religions/pantheons.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s POV. This is well-balanced and allows the reader to get more familiar with the whole cast. May I say, I loved Claire the Head Librarian, and Hero, and Leto, but I might have just lost my heart to Walter. Must be a Pratchett thing. You’ll know when you read the book.

Book 2: The Archive of the Forgotten, published 06 Oct 2020.

The Archive of the Forgotten picks up a few months after the end of The Library of the Unwritten. Since anything I might write now could end up being a huge spoiler for the first book, I’m going to just say this. It’s just as good as the first book, it has new plot twists ready for you, it shows the characters growing, evolving and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling at the end. Not to mention, lots of ideas to possibly explore, because Hackwith has added a few more wings to the library.

The audiobook narration was good – it’s just, I hate it when a “library” turns into a “liberry”, but this might be due to listening to the audiobook on 1.75 times the normal speed.

If you liked Six of Crows…

… you might want to give this a pass. This being Adrienne Young’s latest YA fantasy book Fable, published 01 September, 2020.

Fable is the 17 year old heroine of this story. Left stranded on an island four years ago, she eventually has managed to scrounge away enough money to leave the island. Where to? In search of her father, who had left her on the island, right after his ship drowned with Fable’s mother on board; who had carved a mark into her forearm; whom she wants to prove herself to as a worthy member of his pirate crew.

In order to reach the island where her father has his home port she joins the crew of the Marigold under it’s helmsman West. A vessel Fable had been trading jewels with for the past years.

The premise for the book is great: female heroine, pirates, ships, a crew of misfits, found family, and romance. The delivery though.

Neither character feels fully fleshed to me, they are all rather shallow. Yes, of course Fable’s character has a bit more flesh than the secondary characters, of whom West and Willa are the two memorable ones. I have already forgot the names of the three other members of the crew.

The plot is slow paced and rather boring. Nothing much happens for the first two thirds of the book. The crew sails the ship from island to island to trade. There is banter, there are shenanigans, but it’s all just foreplay for the last third of the book. Then suddenly so many things happen at once that it is difficult to keep up and then we are left with a cliffhanger.

The romance also happens from zero to sixty. First West hardly interacts with Fable and then, after one kiss -granted that underwater kiss was well-written- there are confessions of love? That’s way too fast.

Other reviewers have compared this book to Bardugo’s Six of Crows. I cannot see the connection. Yes, we do have a crew of misfits. Yes, West might be the brooding type with a rather dark streak. Yes, there is two-facing, there is cunning, and there is “sleight of hand” involved in this story; but, in my opinion, it doesn’t even come close to Six of Crows.

Devils and Witches in Sicily

Kerri Maniscalco’s The Kingdom of the Wicked, publishing date 27 October 2020.

Kingdom of the Wicked is set in Sicily in late 19th century. We meet Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria, who are witches following a long tradition in their family. From birth on they have been inducted to protect themselves by charms and wards to avoid falling into the hands of the wicked princes of hell. Something they’ve heeded nearly always. Nearly always. When her twin is killed Emilia feels responsible. She raises a demon to help her find the killer and take her revenge on him, but she is in for a surprise.

Her ally soon turns out to be one of the seven princes of hell himself. Do I need to spell it out for you how close the two of them might become? Or will she keep holding up her torch for her childhood friend turned monk?

You might think it is a bit predictable. It is, but it has a very inventive magic system and the world building is executed quite well. If you like Kerri Maniscalco’s writing, you’ll certainly enjoy this first in a new series.

3.5/5 stars so that’ll be 4 Goodreads stars

Alchemy might just drive you mad

A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe, published 13 October 2020.

I was drawn to this book the moment I saw the cover of the ARC on NetGalley. It’s gorgeous, don’t you think? Add to this the premise: Thea is a young female alchemist trying to make the Philosopher’s Stone. Although fully aware that the Alchemist’s Curse might hit her, as it did her mother, she pursues the idea even if the price might be her sanity or life.

It’s 1792 in France, Thea feels underappreciated by her mother. Her mother is close to finding the solution to making the Philosopher’s Stone, but the curse that follows every alchemist attempting to make the stone has made her mad. Thea has to flee to Oxford, to find her father, who doesn’t even know that she exists. She writes to her friend Will, her mother’s former apprentice, who had to leave for Prussia several months ago, hoping he’ll find her in Oxford rather sooner than later.

Trying to make the Philosopher’s Stone from her father’s laboratory in Oxford proves difficult. Soon Thea and her father’s assistant have to run for their lives, meeting up with her mother’s former apprentice in London. They aren’t safe there either, because, of course, the Philosopher’s Stone attracts attention from unsavoury characters.

I had trouble with the rather shallow characters, the pacing of the different parts of the novel is off, and I think not going deeper into the sexism towards women in science of the time is a missed opportunity.

3/5 Stars

Thank you to the publishers St. Martin’s Press and Wednesdaybooks for the review copy that I received through NetGalley.

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