Spoiler Review: A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

‘The stories we tell have power, of course. But the stories that go untold have just as much power, if not more.’

Sabba Tahir, A Reaper at the Gates

Hey Booknerds!

I’m back again for another review; this time for A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir. It’s been an age since I read any books in this series, but I totally loved the last two, so I had a lot of hope going into this third story. And, of course, Tahir didn’t let me down!

Be warned: there will be SPOILERS ahead (and sorry for the lengthy post this time – there’s a lot to talk about in this one!)

The blurb reads:

Blood Shrike Helene Aquilla, is surrounded by danger – the Emperor grows increasingly unstable and the Commandant is capitalizing on his madness to bolster her own power. Helene must find a way to hold back the approaching darkness at court: every life in the Empire, including her sister’s, hangs in the balance.

Far to the east, Laia knows the fate of the world lies in stopping the Nightbringer. But while hunting for a way to bring him down, she is threatened by those she hoped would aid her, and Laia finds herself drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.

In the land between the living and the dead, Elias has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. In doing so, he has pledged himself to an ancient power that will stop at nothing to ensure his devotion… even at the cost of his humanity.

Wow. Where do I even begin with this book?! SO MUCH HAPPENED! My emotions are all over the place.

Sabaa picks up the story only a short while after that cliff-hanger ending in A Torch Against the Night which saw Elias dying, becoming a Soul Catcher, and staying tethered to the Waiting Place. Now, two months later, he is forced to make a reappearance when Laia of Serra is captured by his old friend, the Blood Shrike Helene, who hopes to use Elias to bring down his mother: the evil Commandant.

After Elias and Laia manage to escape, Helene is forced to return to the capital of Antium empty-handed. There, the mad Emperor Marcus controls Helene’s sister Livia with an iron-fist, punishing her for the Shrike’s errors.

Enraged that Helene hasn’t been able to destroy his foe, Marcus sends her to the naval city of Navium to put an end to Keris once and for all. If she fails to succeed again, Livia will pay the price.

Meanwhile, Laia is working tirelessly to stop the Nightbringer from obtaining the final piece of the Star and unleashing his jinn upon the Scholars. When she’s told that ‘the Beekeeper’ can help her in her cause, she journeys to Adisa, in the free lands of Marinn, with her brother Darin to find him.

Luckily, he finds her first, breaking her out of prison when the Marinn soldiers arrest her on arrival. He reveals himself as Musa and promises to help her in any way he can – as long as she assists in the Resistance.

However, as Laia draws closer to uncovering the dark truth, the Nightbringer is ready to stop her – most notably by burning down the Great Library of Adisa. Despite her efforts, Laia cannot save all the books, but she does manage to escape with a tome on the history of Augurs. Inside is a prophecy that points her to the owner of the last piece of the Star: the Blood Shrike, Helene!

“Everyone believes that nothing concerns them until the monsters are knocking on their doors!”

Laia of Serra

In Navium, Helene faces dangers on all sides as the Karkuan warlock, Grimarr, relentlessly attacks the city. But once she learns that her sister is pregnant with the Empire’s future heir, she’s more determined than ever to end Keris Veturius.

Sadly for her (and for us readers), Keris is always one step ahead. After undermining Helene in the worst possible way and seizing control, it appears that the Shrike’s chances of success are futile.

But with the help of her friend’s, Harper and Dex, Helene is able to track down the Commandant’s father and plot a countermove that sees Grimarr forced to retreat and Keris finally imprisoned for treason.

The celebration is short-lived, however, when Helene hears that Livia has been poisoned, forcing her to rush back to Antium to cure her.

Elsewhere in the Waiting Place, Elias battles to keep his humanity. After the Nightbringer kills his friend and fellow Soul Catcher, Shaeva, Elias is left to release all the souls of the dead on his own.

Mauth, the ancient power who gives magic to the Soul Catchers, warns Elias about his ties to the human world, but Elias can’t let go of his former life – especially his love for Laia. Every time he leaves the Waiting Place to help someone he cares for, the barriers holding the ghosts at bay grow weaker and weaker, threatening to break.

Ultimately, his undoing comes when Laia needs him most.

After deciding to track down the Blood Shrike on her own, Laia is tricked by the Nightbringer and his jinn who show her the shocking truth that her mother, the Lioness, is still alive. And she is Cook!

TALK ABOUT PLOT-TWIST!!!

Laia is tortured by the visions, almost till the point of death, until Elias rushes to her side and whisks her to safety. But his aid comes at a price when the ghosts eventually break free of the Waiting Place, spilling into the Empire.

With no other way to stop the vengeful spirits, Elias is forced to give up his humanity and finally allow Mauth’s magic to fill him.

‘Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through pain and loss, our hearts torn from our hearts again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.’

Helene the Blood Shrike

The book’s plot culminates when all three main characters head to Antium for a final battle.

After saving her sister, Helene learns that the Karkuan army is coming to attack the city. The Commandant, having escaped prison and weaseled her way back into court, stays eerily quiet. But Helene knows she’s just waiting for the right time to pounce.

That time comes during the heart of the fighting when Livia goes into early labour. Helene rushes to her sister’s side, allowing Keris the chance to help the Karkuans breach the city – her wicked plan all along.

As Livia begins to struggle, it’s Laia who jumps in to save the baby, having slipped into Antium with Cook’s help. She delivers the child safely, then swiftly disappears with the Blood Shrike’s rings which she believes are the final piece of the Star.

Alas, the Nightbringer proves her wrong by turning the rings to dust.

Distraught, Laia turns to Elias, who arrived in the city to expel the attacking ghosts. But without his humanity, Elias merely brushes off Laia’s pleas. In a last attempt to help her people, Laia leads the scholars to a secret escape tunnel.

Livia and the baby also escape through the tunnels, but Helene returns to fight for the city. She discovers Emperor Marcus pinned by blades after the Commandant slaughtered his men. He warns Helene that Keris has set up a new capital and named herself Empress, and then he begs the Shrike to end his suffering, which she does.

It’s the only scene where I felt any pity for Marcus at all and I praise Sabaa Tahir for it’s power.

In the last chapters, Helene is left facing the Karkuans alone, with all her men dead around her. Desperate to let her sister flee, she ultimately calls upon the Nightbringer for help. He agrees to assist if she gives him her Mask – the final piece of the Star.

Helene tears the Mask from her face to do so, but when the Nightbringer vanishes, leaving her to die, Cook sacrifices herself instead to allow Laia and Helene to escape. After thinking her mother was dead for years, it was a tragic moment for Laia to lose her all over again.

Why do you do this to us Sabaa?!

At least there was some slither of hope in the ending as Laia and Helene joined forces in the fight against the Nightbringer and the evil Commandant. The move sets the stage for the final book – and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

The characters went through so much in this story; more so than in any of the other books, and there were plenty of reveals and twists to keep them on their toes.

I was slightly worried when Laia met Musa that his character would become another love interest (like Keenan) to distract her from Elias. But Musa was his own wonderful person with a twisty back-story. It fit perfectly to his personality.

I fully fell in love with Helene in this book. In the past two books I felt like she was just there; another stumbling block between the romance. But in Reaper, she became her own, strong-willed force-of-nature, and I was soooo invested in her story.

I also adored the relationship that blossomed between Helene and Harper, even if they didn’t end up together in the end – damn you Sabaa!! Still, there’s definitely potential for a happy ending somewhere down the line for the pair if Ms Tahir will allow it.

Compared to the women, I rarely cared for Elias in this book. His perspective wasn’t nearly as exciting as Helene’s or Laia’s, and his chapters felt like fillers almost right until the end. He did, however, learn the true story of the Nightbringer (that he and the jinn were once loving Soul Catchers until the Scholars killed his kind), which completely changed my perspective on the hateful villain.

The writing, as always, was beautiful, fast-paced and fierce. Tahir pours her heart and soul into these books, and you can really tell. I’ve seen some people comment on the change in her style, and although the prose in book three may not be as sweeping and lyrical as the first book, I think the essence still burns true.

My only small issue was the timeline. A whole lot of drama happens in Reaper, but months and months seem to fly by in what seems like a few short weeks. For instance, one moment Livia was pregnant, and the next she was giving birth! I understand that for the sake of the plot the story had to be propelled further in places, however sometimes it felt a tad too rushed.

Still, I absolutely loved the action!

Overall, A Reaper at the Gates is a brilliant addition to the Ember Quartet; a whirlwind of twists, jinn and bloodshed. I’ll be counting down the days till Tahir releases the final book!

Rating: 4/5⭐️

With love,

Brandon

Spoiler Review: The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

‘The rules of reason build towers that reach past the treetops. The rules of trust build towers that reach past the stars.’

Mary E. Pearson, The Heart of Betrayal

Hello again, Booknerds!

I’m diving straight into this review for Mary E. Pearson’s The Heart of Betrayal, the second book in the Remnant Chronicles. The first book in the series, The Kiss of Deception, was a slow-burning fantasy-romance that suddenly captured my attention with it’s artful twists and intrigue, and after the dramatic cliff-hanger ending, I was more than ready to get back into the world again. But this time around, the stakes were far, far higher. And I loved every second!

Be warned: there will be SPOILERS ahead!

The blurb reads:

Everything is different.

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save Lia’s life, her erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar’s interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: there’s Rafe, who lied to Lia, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be savages.

Now that she lives among them, however, she realises that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country… and her own destiny.

Picking up almost right where The Kiss of Deception left off, we find Princess Lia entering the dreaded kingdom of Venda for the first time, alongside her captor, Kaden, and love-interest-turned-Prince, Rafe. Despite being ordered to kill her in the first book, Kaden’s own feelings for Lia compel him to protect her at all costs.

Once in the kingdom’s Sanctum, Lia comes face-to-face with the devious and dangerous Komizar. Though quietly surprised to see her alive, the Komizar agrees to keep Lia as a prisoner when Kaden explains that she harbors the Gift.

Eager to stay close by, Rafe pretends to be an emissary sent from his kingdom to negotiate a union between Dalbreck and Venda. Intrigued, the Komizar agrees to keep Rafe as a ‘guest’, though he also sends his men to Dalbreck to find out if his story is true.

In order to keep up the illusion and ensure Rafe’s safety, Lia is forced to feign hatred towards him.

Over the next few days, the Komizar does everything he can to humiliate Lia in front of his court, though Lia fights back at every turn. She quickly realises that staying close to Kaden is her best bet at survival, and with the two of them sharing a room, begins to play on his emotions for her own gain.

After Kaden takes her on a tour of the city, Lia is swiftly welcomed by an ancient Vendan clan when they hear of her holy name: Jezelia. To honor her, the clan create an elaborate dress made of a patchwork of fabrics – a symbol of great respect – provoking the Komizar and the court.

As punishment, Kaden is sent to track down a missing governor, and while he is gone, Lia befriends a young girl called Aster who works in the Sanctum. Aster helps Lia sneak out of her chambers to visit Rafe. He informs her that his men are on their way to rescue them, but Lia remains uncertain.

While sneaking around the Sanctum, she encounters a secret cavern of scholars working beneath the city, though she can’t figure out why the are there. She also starts to see visions of ‘Venda’, the ancient lady that the kingdom was named after, and wonders about the abilities of her Gift.

In the evenings, she begins to sing prayers from the wall of her tower, reciting the archaic stories of Venda, Morrighan, and Gaudrel. Her songs gather crowds of devoted followers, but when the Komizar notices her peak in popularity, he decides to act.

He gives Lia an ultimatum: either marry him or he’ll kill Kaden and Rafe.

With no other choice, Lia agrees, and when the date is set for a few days time, she and Rafe realise that if they want to escape before the wedding, they have to move fast.

I absolutely loved the darker route this story took. While most of The Kiss of Deception was sweet and romantic, The Heart of Betrayal launched straight into the gritty land of Venda without hesitation. And it was thrilling.

Mary E. Pearson is clearly a genius world-builder. Her journey into the history of the different kingdoms, especially Venda, completely swept me up and spun me around; the twists that Lia learned will definitely have repercussions in the final book.

Pearson’s prose was flawless, too. I’ve never come across a YA writer who can weave such vivid and lyrical descriptions as Pearson. Everything was perfect.

One of my issues with the first book was the slow pacing, but there was none of that this time around. The tension and high-stakes didn’t cease for a second, and I felt on knife-edge till the final page.

However, as a result, the romance took a back-seat.

Because Rafe and Lia were separated a lot of the time, the plot missed the passion and fire of their scenes. But with Rafe out of the way, we did get to see some more of Kaden. His troubled backstory and personality were explored much deeper in this book, and by the end I couldn’t decide who I wanted Lia to be with.

Both men had such redeeming qualities, and yet I found myself drawn to Kaden. Maybe I just always love the bad-boy!

As far as villains go, I adored the Komizar. His twisted manipulation of the court and Vendan people was magnificent. He was sly, and tricky, and enigmatic – which is why I found his ending so out-of-the-blue!

In the final chapters of the book, the Komizar thwarts Lia’s plan to escape by locking her in her chambers until the wedding. Lia manages to break out with Aster’s help, but before she can flee with Rafe to safety, the Komizar appears with Aster in tow and kills the young girl for defying him.

Heartbroken and enraged, Lia strikes at the Komizar with her hidden blade, mortally wounding him. As chaos descends, Kaden chooses to defend Lia against the vengeful Vendans, allowing her the chance to escape with Rafe. But as Lia and Rafe reach their getaway raft beneath the city, Lia is struck by an arrow and knocked overboard.

Eventually, Rafe finds Lia’s body downriver, but their future and survival seem terrifyingly uncertain…

Overall, I was thrilled and enthralled by The Heart of Betrayal. Pearson proved again that she is an author to watch; if you’re looking for a series full of twists and turns and bloody-good world-building, you’ve found it here for sure!

Rating: 4/5⭐️

With love,

Brandon

Spoiler Review: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

‘Temper us in fire, and we grow stronger. When we suffer, we survive.’

Cassandra Clare, City of Heavenly Fire

Hello there, Booknerds, and hello October!

It’s official: my favourite month is underway!

Now that the nights are getting colder, it’s the perfect time to snuggle up under the covers and read some more books with a cup of hot chocolate. It’s also the perfect time for writing more reviews! Today I’m talking all things City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare. It feels like forever since I visited the characters of the Mortal Instruments series, but from the moment I picked up the book it was easy to remember why I loved them all so much before.

Somehow I managed to avoid all spoilers for the end of the series (I even stopped watching the Shadowhunters TV show for a few weeks for fear of ruining the books), so I didn’t have a clue what to expect from this sixth installment, however, Clare managed to pull it out of the bag again!

Be warned: there will be SPOILERS ahead!!

The blurb for the book reads:

Lives will be lost, love sacrificed, and the whole world will change.

Darkness has descended on the Shadowhunter world. Chaos and destruction overwhelm the Nephilim as Clary, Jace, Simon, and their friends band together to fight the greatest evil they have ever faced: Clary’s own brother.

Nothing in this world can defeat Sebastian – but if they journey to the realm of demons, they just might have a chance…

This story kicks off in a surprisingly new location with a cast of fresh young Shadowhunters. In the Los Angeles Institute, young Emma Carstairs (a descendant of my beloved Jem from The Infernal Devices) and her best friend Julian Blackthorn come face to face with the villainous Sebastian when he stages an attack upon their home.

With the help of his Infernal Cup, Sebastian has been raiding institutes across the world and turning Shadowhunters into Endarkened soldiers for his wicked army. Though Julian’s father is lost to the Cup, Emma, Julian and the rest of the Blackthorn siblings are able to escape to Idris unharmed.

Once the Council hear about the incidents, they request all Shadowhunters return to the capital immediately to form a plan. Clary, Jace and the rest of the gang are whisked through a portal out of New York, leaving poor Simon back at home.

And it isn’t long till Simon finds himself in trouble (typical Simon Lewis); captured by a love-obsessed child called Maureen who happens to be the leader of the New York vampires. Maia and Praetor Jordan set out to find him, but on returning to the Praetor Headquarters they instead find every werewolf slaughtered by Sebastian. In a tragic, unexpected twist that I DID NOT SEE COMING, Sebastian kills Jordan, leaving a cruel message for Maia to deliver to the Downworlders: all who ally with the Nephilim will meet the same fate.

While the vampires, werewolves, warlocks and fair folk debate this news, the Shadowhunters prepare for war.

After Raphael helps him escape Maureen, Simon reunites with his friends in Idris, including his new kind-of-girlfriend, Izzy. There’s a completely cring-worthy scene where the pair begin to enact a roleplaying fantasy in the bedroom, but thankfully their reunion is cut short when Sebastian orchestrates the capture of Clary’s mother and the Downworld Representatives (damn, this guy keeps busy!!).

He then sends another message to the Council: give Clary and Jace to him or risk his wrath.

While the Consul and the Council argue what to do, Clary enlists her friends help in rescuing her mother instead. With young Emma Carstairs help, they determine the true whereabouts of Sebastian’s lair in the devil realm of Edom and set out to find a portal that will take them there.

Their only hope is to travel through the Faerie Court, but as they do they uncover the Seelie Queen’s betrayal; she’s been working with Sebastian all along. The news is a devastating blow to the Shadowhunters, but unable to turn back, the gang press on to Edom.

Once they arrive, they quickly realise how dangerous their plan is. Demons and monsters roam wild and free in Edom, and the earth is a barren wasteland. But, eager to persevere, they begin to track Clary’s brother.

The journey leads them to a ruined city which looks scarily like Idris. There, Sebastian has imprisoned Jocelyn, Luke, Magnus and Raphael. This prison has an especially strong effect on Magnus as he suffers greatly by being in the demon realm.

Luckily, Clary, Jace, Alec, Izzy, and Simon are quickly on hand to save the day.

There’s been so much character growth over the course of these six books that it’s actually staggering how much all the characters have changed over this six-book journey. Alec was so aloof and cold in City of Bones, yet completely flourished into a caring, loving, and sassy young man in this book. His relationship with Magnus completely warmed my heart, and I’d be lying if I said they weren’t my favourite couple.

Clary and Jace went through yet ANOTHER relationship-block. This time in the form of the Heavenly Fire which ran through Jace’s veins and risked burning him up whenever he got passionate (which always happened around Clary). Thankfully, Clary was able to use her skill of creating runes to bind the Heavenly Fire to her sword instead, and the pair could fiinaaaallly consumate their relationship – though I did laugh at the ridiculousness of Jace packing a condom on his trip to Hell, but hey, safety first guys!

Simon and Izzy were the only couple that I felt were a little underdeveloped. I don’t know why some writers feel the need to pair up every character in a series, but I feel like these two were a love story that didn’t really need to happen. Sure, they’re cute and fluffy and all, but they lack the passion and intensity of the other stronger romances. I still obsess over their characters though; Simon is bae!

I’ll admit now that the ending had me in tears, and any book that makes me cry is a solid book in my opinion.

After breaking into Sebastian’s fortress and trying to rescue the prisoners, Clary comes face to face with her brother. For the last time, Sebastian offers an ultimatum: Clary can stay here in Edom with him or he will kill every last soul in Idris.

With no other option, Clary chooses the former, breaking Jace’s heart. And it’s still not enough to appease Sebastian. In order to keep his sister with him always, he shatters the only doorway linking Edom to Earth. However, Clary always has a trick up her sleeve – and a blade. When she stabs Sebastian with her newly-formed sword of Heavenly Fire, the darkness inside him burns away.

There was a touching moment as Sebastian/Jonathon died that actually brought a tear to my eye, but honestly I was just glad to see him go. Though his death only brought more heartache.

With no other way home, Magnus summoned his father, the demon Asmodeus, who offered a heartbreaking life-trade that would transport everyone back to safety. At this point, I thought I was about to lose Magnus and I was not prepared for my emotions. But my darling Simon stepped forth instead and made a trade to forgo all his memories of the Shadowhunters, including Clary and Izzy, forever.

It was such an unexpected yet saddening sacrifice, and completely took me by surprise. I wasn’t ready for a world where Clary didn’t have Simon.

But THANK GOD FOR EPILOGUES!

With Magnus and Izzy’s help, Simon was able to rekindle some of his memories and rejoin Clary and the gang as they celebrated Jocelyn and Luke’s wedding – with the promise that he can become a fully-fledged Shadowhunter too! It was simply perfect!

Yet, as always, there was a hint that things may not be over for the Nephilim; in the wake of the war, the Council opted to punish the fair folk for siding with Sebastian, a decision that may have deadly consequences for everyone in the future…

While this book was SUPER long, the writing still managed to keep a good pace, leaving me hurriedly wanting more. However, I was a bit disheartened at some of the shift in focus. Maia, who was a prominent figure in the earlier books, was pretty much cast aside in favour of the newer, younger characters.

Though I know that Emma and Julian will be huge players in The Dark Artifices trilogy, Clare’s choice to champion them over much-loved OG characters felt like too much of a plug for the next installment. Their story could have easily been turned into a novella or short companion instead.

Nonetheless, I did adore the little nods to the Infernal Devices series that were dropped through the book. In particular, the transformation of Brother Zachariah into Jem with the help of Jace’s Heavenly Fire. It seemed so fitting that a Herondale would be the one to save Jem’s life and I loved seeing my precious boy back to himself.

Oh, and I SOBBED when Jem and Tessa were discussing Will in the Epilogue. I’m still not over it.

Overall, City of Heavenly Fire neatly wrapped up the Mortal Instruments saga, with a healthy dose of demons, twists and bad-ass blade-wielding for good measure. Clare is undoubtedly the queen of contemporary fantasy. Now onto the next Shadowhunter adventure!

Rating: 4/5⭐️

With love,

Brandon

Spoiler Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

‘When people say impossible, they usually mean improbable.’

Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm

Hello again, Booknerds!

I honestly can’t believe we’re almost at the end of September; where has the time gone?! This Autumn season I’m determined to stay on track with my blogging and reviewing, even if it kills me!

Almost right after I finished Shadow and Bone, I got my hands on Siege and Storm, the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. With such a brilliant journey in the first book, I wasn’t sure where the story would take the characters next, but, of course, Bardugo didn’t disappoint…

Be warned: there will be SPOILERS ahead!

The book blurb reads:

Soldier. Summoner. Saint.

Alina Starkov’s power has grown, but not without a price. She is the Sun Summoner – hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she’s taken. But she and best friend Mal can’t outrun her enemies for long.

The Darkling is determined to claim Alina’s magic and use it to take the Ravkan throne. With nowhere else to turn, Alina enlists the help of an infamous privateer and sets out to lead the Grisha army.

But as the truth of Alina’s destiny unfolds, she slips deeper into the Darkling’s deadly game of forbidden magic. To save her country, Alina will have to choose between her power and the man she loves.

No victory can come without sacrifice – and only she can face the oncoming storm.

Diving right into the story from where Bardugo left off, we find Alina and Mal living far from Ravka in Novyi Zem, having escaped the evil clutches of the Darkling. They dream of heading deeper into the Zemeni frontier, but sadly their hope is short-lived when the Darkling shows up to reclaim them as his prisoners and wielding a dangerous new power. Now trapped upon a whaling ship, Alina learns the villain’s latest plan: to track down a second Morozova’s amplifier (a sea whip) and force it upon her.

As they venture deeper across the True Sea, Alina comes to know the crew of the ship, including the intriguing Heartrender siblings, Tolya and Tamar, and the ship’s enigmatic captain, Sturmhond.

However, when Mal eventually tracks down the sea whip and the Darkling attempts to capture it, a second ship shows up and interferes, stealing the creature from under him. With Tolya, Tamar and Sturmhond’s help, Alina and Mal are whisked to safety too.

On the new ship, Alina humanely kills the sea whip and has a new amplifier fashioned from its scales. She also comes to learn that there is a possible third amplifier hidden somewhere in Ravka in the form of a firebird, but no one has any idea where it could be.

After returning to Ravka with Sturmhond and his crew, Alina and Mal learn that the captain is in fact the second-born son of the King, Prince Nikolai. While Alina is at first enraged at this deception, she eventually agrees to help Nikolai on his quest to become the next ruler of Ravka if he allows her to lead the Grisha in the Second Army.

Once the gang arrive back in Os Alta, Alina tries to convince the few remaining Grisha that she is the right person to guide them, despite her lack of experience. Many reject the idea, but once she shows them the strength of her sun summoner abilities they fall in line.

Her powers continue to grow with the help of her second amplifier, however her gifts come with a price as she starts to see disturbing visions of the Darkling that taunt her endlessly, forcing her into isolation. Mal, believing its him that she’s shying from, begins to distance himself from her even more.

Meanwhile, Nikolai and Alina grow closer as they strategize how to handle the Darkling and his new shadow creatures: the nichevo’ya.

Inspired by her mirror gloves, Alina gets the Materialki, David, to build enormous mirror dishes on top of the Little Palace that she can use to enhance her power in the event of an attack, while Nikolai builds an airship in case of evacuation. But neither of them can imagine what is to come.

I certainly didn’t expect this journey when I picked up Siege and Storm. Compared to Shadow and Bone, this book is WAY darker. Alina, in particular, seemed to grow and change so much over the course of the book. I almost got to a point where I didn’t like her that much; I just wanted her to be honest and explain what was happening with her visions of the Darkling but she wouldn’t and it grated on me. However, the way in which her relationship with Mal deteriorated as she clamored for more power while facing her own demons really exemplified her journey. It’ll be interesting to see how she evolves in the next installment.

The new characters that were introduced totally made this sequel a success. Nikolai was such a brilliant, comedic presence on the page; he filled me with joy with each of his witty one-liners. Tamar, on the other hand, was a badass fighter and the perfect friend to fill the void of Genya in Alina’s life.

My only major sadness was the lack of Darkling scenes. Other than his eerie appearances in Alina’s head, he acted more as an omniscient threat than a solid character, and I missed him (I know, that’s awful to say about a villain).

When the book began in Novyi Zem, I was excited to see Bardugo expand the world-building with other cultures and places, but sadly the characters returned to their Ravka in just over 100 pages. I would have loved for them to stay on the True Sea longer or even explore the surrounding locations, but I’m hoping for some further world-building soon.

As far as the writing goes, Bardugo continued to hold my attention with the perfect blend of action, pacing and description. The tensions rose exceedingly in the final chapters; I couldn’t read fast enough!

In the ending, Vasily, Nikolai’s brother, attempts to undermine Nikolai with a trade agreement, unaware it’s a trap set by the Darkling. Before anyone can stop him, the Darkling and his nichevo’ya attack. They kill Vasily and almost slaughter everyone.

Alina and Nikolai escape, but while Nikolai takes his parents to his getaway ship, Alina rushes to the Little Palace to gather the Grisha. She arrives too late, with many already dead, but the survivors gather to try and use the giant mirrors against the Darkling.

Despite their efforts, it isn’t long until the mirrors are destroyed and all hope is lost, until Tolya and Tamar arrive with help and reveal themselves to be a part of a religious group who worship Alina. They whisk her to a secret passage in a chapel, but before they can escape, the Darkling appears.

He offers Alina the chance to save her friends if she agrees to join him. At first, she refuses. Then the Darkling reveals Genya, who’s body and face has been completely destroyed by the nichevo’ya. Determined not to let the same fate befall her loved ones, Alina surrenders to him.

However, in a twist, Alina uses their shared connection to create more nichevo’ya, draining them both. She commands the nichevo’ya to destroy the chapel, but just before it collapses, Mal saves her.

When Alina eventually awakes, she finds herself in a secret underground cavern where the Apparat has been gathering religious support and hailing her a Saint. Yet in the final pages Alina confides in Mal that after her ordeal she cannot summon her power anymore.

The twist will have HUGE repercussions for her in the last book and I’m SUPER eager to see what’s to come!

Overall, Siege and Storm acts as a brilliant sequel, raising the stakes and moving the characters into position for an epic finale. So long as my precious Nikolai is safe, I’ll continue to champion Miss Bardugo!

Rating: 3.5/5⭐️

With love,

Brandon

Spoiler Review: The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

‘All you can do, Rosemary – all any of us can do – is work to be something positive instead. That is a choice every sapient must make every day of their life. The universe is what we make of it. It’s up to you to decide what part you will play.’

Becky Chambers, The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet

Hey Booknerds!

I don’t know about you guys, but it feels like forever since I’ve read anything set in space. The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet has been on my shelf for EONS, so I definitely felt the time was right to head off into the stars once again.

Be warned: there will be SPOILERS ahead!

The blurb reads:

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much.

The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer.

The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peacefulexactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed…

The book begins with human, Rosemary Harper, joining the crew of a tunneling space-ship, the Wayfarer, as a Clerk in order to swiftly escape an unexplained incident on her home planet of Mars. Upon the ship, Rosemary meets her ragtag, multi-species shipmates: Ashby, the human captain; Sissix, the Aandrisk (lizard-like) pilot; Dr. Chef, the Grum (many, many arms!) cook and doctor; Corbin, the human algaeist (with his own secrets); Jinks and Kizzy, the cooky, human techs; Ohan, the reculsive Sianat Pair and Navigator; and Lovey, the AI who helps run the entire ship.

With a Clerk now aboard, Ashby is able to accept a big contract for the Galactic Commons, which requires him and the crew travelling to a distant planet, Hedra Ka, and creating a wormhole for interstellar travel back to GC space.

The mission takes the Wayfarer on a vast journey across the stars, to planets and environments the occupants have never seen before. From the Aandrisk world with it’s peculiar home behaviors, to the vibrant excitement of Port Coriol, to the planet Cricket with it’s monstrous, aptly-named infestation.

Each different adventure brings the crew closer together and we learn more about them all as individuals: Jinks is in love with Lovey and plans to transfer her consciousness into an illegal body kit; Ohan is facing the Wane, a fatal deterioration of their body that will inevitably kill them; and Ashby is having a frowned-upon romance with Pei, a Aeluon soldier.

But none of their secrets are safe, especially as they near Hedra Ka.

While it seemed like Rosemary was the main character from the blurb, the book actually followed multiple POV’s during its course, and Rosemary’s swiftly became one of the less interesting. Her backstory and reason for joining the Wayfarer ( she was actually the daughter of a famous businessman arrested for illegally selling mass-murder weapons) inevitably bore little importance to the overall plot, and she slipped off my radar.

I much favored the other crew members. Jinks and Kizzy’s back-and-forth banter hooked me right away; their chemistry was electric. And I found Ashby and Sissix’s friendship a sweet one too, especially when the pilot teased the captain over his romance.

Even uptight Corbin ended up having a juicy back-story after being born the subject of illegal cloning!

The writing was descriptive and emotive and surprisingly human. Even when the aliens were molting feathers or using multiple limbs, Chambers wrote each character with such a distinct humanity that none of it seemed out of the ordinary within the constructs of the world.

World-building was where this book absolutely soared. Each environment and race of creature that Chambers introduced was wholly realised and three-dimensional. The level of detail and history, from class-systems to technology, totally took my breath away and had me begging for more.

My only main issue, and the reason why I’ve rated this book low, was the lackluster pacing and plotting. Despite the ‘angry planet’ being in the title of the book, Hedra Ka only featured in the novel for a fleeting few chapters in the climax. Once the crew arrive to begin their tunneling, one of Hedra’s hostile guards decides to shoot at the Wayfarer at the last minute, and the blast throws the ship into the wormhole with severe damage; and that’s pretty much the last we see of Hedra Ka!!!

Luckily, the crew manages to escape the wormhole alive – though not completely unscathed as Lovey is injured. Jinks is forced to try a hard reset in order to reboot her, but sadly the AI is stripped of her bubbly personality and left with no memory of her relationship with the tech.

Following the disastrous mission, Ashby delivers a report to the Galactic Commons, who in turn decide to cut ties with the dangerous planet and cancel all plans to create a tunnel.

But all of this happens SUPER FAST – within around 70 pages!!!

Truthfully, most of the weight of the plot was formed within the episodic adventures that the Wayfarer crew took part in on their journey. I felt like the entire novel read more like a series of short stories than a fully-fledged book, with the looming threat of Hedra Ka and the swirling mess of politics taking a huge back-burner compared to my expectations.

Overall, The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet is a unique, star-filled book that explores the galaxy and our own humanity. While maybe not the space adventure some readers are seeking, it’s definitely a beautiful, character-driven piece of work and a love-story to the Science-Fiction genre.

Rating: 3/5⭐️

With love,

Brandon

Spoiler Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

“Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”

Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo

Afternoon Booknerds!

Have you guys ever been embarrassed to admit you haven’t read a book series? Despite being a MAJOR booknerd, I hate to say that I’ve never read Harry Potter, or touched upon the vamps in Twilight, or even wandered the moors with Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. But there has always been one series that caught my eye whenever I scrolled through Instagram.

Now, after years of stalling, I’ve finally entered the Grishaverse, and I’m sooo excited to share my thoughts on the first book in the Shadow and Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo!

Be warned: there will be SPOILERS ahead!

The blurb reads:

Soldier. Summoner. Saint.

Alina Starkov is a soldier. When her regiment is attacked whilst crossing the Shadow Fold – a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters – Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha – her country’s magical military elite – and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.

But as Alina unlocks secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of the nation...

Luckily, I managed to avoid all spoilers regarding this book, so I knew practically nothing about Shadow and Bone when I began. The story starts with two, young orphans, Alina and her best friend Mal, in the kingdom of Ravka. Taken to be raised in the home of a local nobleman, both were tested as children for magical powers that could determine whether or not they were Grisha – the elite magic-wielding soldiers that form the country’s ‘Second Army’. But when neither show any abilities, they’re sent into the King’s ‘First Army’ instead.

Years later, Alina serves as a lowly cartographer while Mal is a popular tracker. However their simple lives are thrown into disarray when their regiment is called to cross the Shadow Fold, an ominous stretch of darkness that splits Ravka in two.

But after the monstrous ‘volcra’ who infest the Fold descend on the army and attack Mal, Alina unleashes an incredible power she didn’t even know she had; the power of light. Her miraculous display saves everyone around her, but also catches the attention of a the leader of the Grisha, the infamous and alluring Darkling.

Believing Alina to be a Sun Summoner and the key to destroying the Fold once and for all, the Darkling whisks her away to the capital city, Os Alta, and the Little Palace where the Grisha train.

Once there, Alina meets her fellow Grisha, including a unique Tailor called Genya (skilled in changing facial appearance and enhancing beauty) who becomes one of her only friends. She also encounters Baghra, a grouchy trainer who is tasked with helping her hone her special gifts.

At first, it seems impossible, and Alina loses hope of ever becoming as strong as the other Grisha. But when her letters to Mal are seemingly rejected, Baghra helps her to realise what’s been holding her back all this time; her fear of being separated from her best friend.

Now free of restraint, Alina is able to unleash her powers and grow stronger than before. And her improvements don’t go unnoticed. Eager to see how strong she can become, the Darkling sends his men to hunt for Morozova’s stag – an ancient and fabled creature in Ravka – to use as an amplifier that will enhance Alina’s gifts tenfold.

But just as Alina finds herself falling for the Darkling’s charms, Baghra surprises her with some shocking truths; the Darkling is the one who created the Shadow Fold all those years ago, and he plans to use it, and Alina, to seize control of the land. With Alina’s help, the Darkling will be able to push back the volcra (who fear the sun) and enter the Fold unharmed. All he needs is Morozova’s stag’s antlers to control her forever.

Terrified at what bleak future could await her and Ravka, Alina disappears in the night with Baghra’s help, slipping out of Os Alta and heading west for the coast. But while on her journey, she decides to change course and find Morozova’s stag for herself before the Darkling can.

Luckily, she doesn’t have to hunt alone. Mal, being the deft (and handsome) tracker that he is, finds Alina on the road and joins her in her mission. And so the race for the stag begins!

While I’ve read many fantasy books in my years, I can say that Shadow and Bone totally swept me up from the first chapter. Everything from the different rankings of Grisha, to the descriptions of the Saints, to the mythology and landscape felt like something I hadn’t seen before.

Ravka was a wonderful re-imagining of Tsarist Russia, both enchanting and terrifying, like an old fairytale. Even though it’s hot summer while I write this review, the book’s setting made me want nothing more than to curl into a blanket and watch the snow fall outside.

The writing itself was a wonderful blend of emotion and description. Although I didn’t always agree with Alina’s decisions, Bardugo wrote her in such a strong way that I couldn’t help be engrossed in her journey. Her relationships and chemistry with the people around her, namely Mal and the Darkling, had me hooked throughout the slower-paced chapters and kept my interest piqued.

Of all the characters however, I was totally absorbed in the mystery of the Darkling. His enigmatic personality filled the page and had me desperately reading to find out more. I definitely didn’t see his character twists coming – nor his ending for the book.

Once Alina and Mal finally track down Morozova’s stag, Alina can’t bring herself to kill the creature in order to gain it’s power. However, to her dismay, the Darkling arrives and slaughters the stag anyway, fashioning a collar from the creature’s antlers and fusing it around her neck. When Mal’s life is threatened too, there’s nothing Alina can do but accept her fate and return to the Fold where her journey first began.

There, she is forced to use her powers to allow the Darkling to enact his plan, spreading the Fold into a nearby town and killing innocents as a warning to his rivals. But when Mal is tossed overboard as a sacrifice, Alina gathers her strength to break free of the Darkling’s control and uses her power to escape the Fold with her friend, leaving the Darkling and his minions to be devoured by the dreaded volcra (though we later learn he survived the attack).

The final pages see Alina and Mal boarding a vessel to cross the True Sea and escape the Darkling’s grip forever, their futures uncertain. It wasn’t the ending I was expecting at all, but it left me so frantic to know what happens next that I purchased Siege and Storm the very next day.

Overall Shadow and Bone was a thrilling first installment in this fantasy series, full of twists and turns and dark power-struggles. I can’t wait to see where Bardugo takes these enthralling characters and the Grishaverse next!

Rating: 4.5/5⭐️

With love,

Brandon

Spoiler Review: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

I don’t know if we’re a love story or a story about love’

Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, What If It’s Us

Hey Booknerds!

Long time no see! I’ve been moving house and been a bit M.I.A, but I’ve finally finished another bookish review, and this time it’s a young-adult contemporary that I’ve had on my shelf for over a year: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera!

I haven’t read any contemporary romance in sooooooo long. I always struggle with how to review them compared to fantasy or sci-fi, but whenever summer comes along I’m suddenly keen to get my hands on a cutesy romance such as this.

Be warned: there will be SPOILERS ahead!

The blurb reads:

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a show-stopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If it had his back, he wouldn’t be carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But after a chance meeting at the post-office, the boys leave wondering what exactly the universe does have in store for them.

What if they can’t find each other again? What if they do… and then can’t nail a first date?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work, and Ben doesn’t try enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway musical? But what if it is?

Welllll, the premise of this book snagged my attention right away. An LGBTQ+ romance set against the backdrop of NYC in summer? SIGN ME UP! Even though I’ve never read anything by either authors before, I’d heard so many good things about them both that I was eager to see what their styles would be like. But despite my hype, it’s safe to say this book wasn’t my cup of tea.

The story begins with Arthur and Ben, two teenagers who bump into each other at the post-office while Ben is trying to return a box of his ex-boyfriends things. Sadly, after sharing a cute moment, the pair end up separated without any way of contacting each other. But unable to let the meeting go, Arthur begins a search for Ben.

Because of social media and the powers of the internet, it isn’t too hard to find someone nowadays. So after only a few failed attempts, including Craigslist ‘Lost Connections’, Arthur finally manages to track down Ben with a poster stuck up in his local coffee spot.

But things aren’t plain sailing once the boys are reunited.

Still hurting over his recent breakup, Ben takes Arthur to his favourite arcade for their first date (a place where he and his ex, Hudson, used to go). As expected, the date goes horribly, and so, to make up for it, the pair decide to continue planning ‘first dates’ until they finally get it right.

The book was told in the dual perspectives of the boys, but I definitely preferred to read Arthur’s chapters compared to Ben’s. He seemed far more invested in the romance and was such an adorable character to connect with. I also completely related to his love for musicals – although I admit I’ve never seen/heard any songs from Hamilton!

Ben on the other hand had a very different attitude; pessimistic and angsty, and sometimes even down-right rude. Whenever he was late for dates, it made my blood boil, and when he missed the chance to get front-row Broadway tickets I nearly combusted on the spot.

However, my major flaw with the book was the unbelievable lack of chemistry. Beyond the first meeting, there was NO SPARK. I just didn’t understand why Arthur was so desperate to make his relationship with Ben work when Ben didn’t seem to give a damn???

Still, there were aspects of the book I did enjoy.

Ben’s best friend, Dylan, made so many great scenes for me. He was hilarious, and charming, and completely came to life on the page. Sometimes following his love-life was even more interesting than the main romance arc!

At one point in the plot, Arthur and Ben also came face to face with a homophobic man on the train. The entire exchange made my heart race with anger and upset, and served as a reminder of the hate that gay couples still face every day.

I did find the pacing a bit of a struggle; the first half of the book (over 100 pages) was spent with Arthur trying to find Ben, and then once they were together things seemed to move at lightening speed. Two weeks into dating and they’d already met each other’s parents; three weeks and they were practically professing their love to one another! I’m all for whirlwind romances, but this one made my head spin.

And of course, per classic rom-com plots, the boys had to have a big bust-up. So when Arthur learned that Ben had been going to summer school with ex, Hudson, and hadn’t told him, the pair dramatically split.

Thankfully the breakup didn’t last too long. After Dylan ended up in hospital due to a vaguely explained heart condition, the two swiftly reconnected – just in time for Arthur’s birthday and last day in New York.

The last day was easily my favourite part of the whole book. With the help of all their friends (and some strange twins), Ben organised the ultimate scavenger hunt for Arthur, leading him through all the places where they shared their biggest moments. It was totally adorable and if my future-boyfriend doesn’t do the same thing for me someday I’m going to be hella mad.

Most surprising to me was the ending of the story. Set fifteen months later, Arthur and Ben have split up, but remain best friends. However, after Ben finally completes his Wattpad novel, both are still drawn to one another, and the book concludes with the two boys wondering what the universe has planned for them in the future. A slightly bittersweet ending, but one that I unexpectedly liked!

Overall, this was one of those strange books that falls in the middle ranking for me. Not awful, but not mind-blowing; a story that had all the components of a showstopper, but was missing the spark that could bring them all together.

Which means I’m still on the hunt for that perfect LGBTQ+ romance book! If you guys have any ideas of any you think I’ll like, let me know in the comments!

Rating: 3/5 ⭐️

With love,

Brandon