Review: The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

Alexis holds a library copy of The Stardust Thief and a gingerbread latte.

Alexis:

So I’ve read more books in 2022 than in any past year. And this month, I finally felt like I was getting into a reading slump. I wasn’t sure what I was in the mood to read, and I picked up two different books, only for them to feel like a chore.

But then I remembered I checked out The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah, a One Thousand and One Nights retelling, from the library. 

The Stardust Thief is an adult fantasy that follows Loulie, who is also known as the Midnight Merchant. With the help of her jinn bodyguard, Qadir, Loulie finds and sells magical jinn relics on the black market. But when the sultan blackmails her into going on a quest for him, Loulie treks across the desert to find a magical lamp and realizes not everything is as it seems.

This was just such a fun book to read. It reads like part adventure story, part myth, and part revenge story. It has multiple POVs—Loulie, Prince Mazen, and one of the eldest Prince Omar’s forty thieves named Aisha. At first, I only wanted to read from Loulie’s perspective, but by the end, all of the characters stole my heart!

All of the characters were so well-rounded. Their distinctive personalities and motivations carried me through the story. I especially loved Qadir and Loulie and their familial-type relationship, and I enjoyed learning about their pasts.

The beginning does start off a little slow, but I like how it allowed Abdullah to set up the scene and really make me root for the characters. Plus, there are still plenty of action scenes!

The worldbuilding is excellent. The different settings shine on the page. There’s also an emphasis on storytelling in The Stardust Thief, and I loved “listening” to Mazen’s stories. Overall, Abdullah’s writing style worked really well for me. 

The ending has some great reveals, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the sequel!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

A Kindle copy of Spice Road sits on a bookshelf next to a tea tumbler and a box of tea samplers.

Alexis:

Dune meets An Ember in the Ashes

Spice Road is a YA fantasy that follows Imani, a Shield warrior with an affinity for iron. When she discovers her supposedly dead brother is actually alive, she ventures outside of her homeland, the hidden desert city of Qalia, to bring him home. Outside the city limits, she discovers a world that she never knew existed, and grapples with her worldview, herself, her understanding of her brother, and the group she travels with. 

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding. Ibrahim does a great job describing the lush world. I love her use of sensory imagery, especially smell. It brings the world to life.

I love the tea magic! The people of Qalia access their affinity through drinking misra, a tea that allows them to access their magic. The first line of the book is, “We will fight, but first we will have tea.” Which is awesome.

I also really enjoyed the themes that Ibrahim presents. One of the main themes is truth and honesty, as Imani deals with the many lies she’s been told over the years. Another main theme is colonialism, which comes into play in the latter half of the book. I also appreciated the emphasis on family as Imani struggles to handle her rebellious little sister and hold onto hope that her brother is alive and well.

My favorite character is Qayn, a djinni that becomes Imani’s ally. He is the most complex and expressive character of the bunch, and I’m interested to learn more about him and his past!

But unfortunately, I didn’t like Imani’s character. She starts out as very naive and bullheaded…and ends the story being slightly less naive and bullheaded. She tends to be downright mean to anyone who helps her in the slightest and makes a lot of really dumb decisions. It doesn’t help that she’s also known as the Djinni Slayer…but besides obviously slaying a lot of djinni, we don’t really get an insight as to how she got that nickname at the age of seventeen. She also has a very confusing and lackluster enemies-to-lovers romance with a character who accompanies her on her journey. 

I found her to be unlikeable in general, and I had to push through certain chapters because I wasn’t rooting for her the way I should. However, I really loved the tea magic, the Arabian-inspired world, and the mythology aspects of Spice Road. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐ 💫


Special thanks to Delacorte Press for sending me an e-arc for review.

Spice Road is expected to be published on January 24, 2023!

Review: Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn

Alexis holds a copy of Bloodmarked over a pile of fallen autumn leaves and her black Chelsea boots.

Alexis:

I’m not kidding when I say I sat down and devoured Bloodmarked in one day.

Bloodmarked, book two in the Legendborn Cycle, was one of my most anticipated sequels, and let’s just say if you’re worried about middle-book-syndrome/sequel syndrome, don’t be!

So much happens in this book that I already feel like I need to re-read it. The plot really thickens.

I loved learning more about Bree. I loved learning more about her root and her ancestors. I loved getting to know the secondary characters even more. I especially enjoyed getting to know Sel and Alice better. A decent number of new characters are also introduced, but Deonn does such a good job of balancing everyone out that no character feels flat.

Bloodmarked also dives into important themes such as racism, white privilege, and identity. This is such a well-fleshed out series so far, and I can’t wait to see where Deonn takes it next.

Overall, there’s not much else I can say about this book without spoilers! If you still haven’t picked up Legendborn and you’d be into a King Arthur retelling (or even if you’re just looking for a great and multi-layered YA fantasy read), I recommend picking it up.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the dove rests on a white and gray marble table next to a Harvest Festival fall candle.

Alexis:

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove follows Katyani, a bodyguard who has had a forbidden soul bond with the Queen of Chandela since she was a child. Along with the two princes of Chandela, Kayani is ordered to travel to a monastic school—the gurukul of the famous Acharya Mahavir—in the middle of a forest that’s crawling with monsters. It’s both at the school and her return home that leave Katyani reckoning with everything she’s ever known. 

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is an upper YA fantasy inspired by medieval India. I enjoyed the setting, especially the monster-ridden forest (since, as you all know, I’m a sucker for a creepy forest). The story has political intrigue, a slow-burn romance, and plenty of monster hunting.

I especially liked Mehrotra’s writing style and the humor she sprinkles into the story. I found Katyani to be an enjoyable main character; she’s definitely the female version of a himbo, but had a great character arc. There are a lot of layers and reveals in this adventure story that kept me wanting to keep reading.

Some of the characters, especially Daksh, Acharya Mahavir’s son, could have been a lot more fleshed out. Daksh and Katyani’s relationship also felt too underdeveloped considering it takes up a decent chunk of the story. Some character motivations seemed a little too easy, as well, which made me hesitant to give this book a full 5-star rating. However, I really enjoyed this story and definitely recommend it if you’re looking for an action-packed, adventurous story with Indian mythology. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫

Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Alexis wears a pirate Halloween costume and holds a copy of The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy in front of fall foliage.

Alexis:

Happy belated Halloween!

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy was the perfect read to finish out October.

Hart is a demigod who’s a marshal for a wild land called Tanria. Mercy is an undertaker for her dad’s funeral home, Birdsall & Son, where Hart sometimes drops off bodies he finds in Tanria. But the two, who take their jobs too seriously sometimes, hate each other. But then Hart, who has been lonely for years, pens a letter to “A Friend,” it ends up in Mercy’s hands. When she anonymously responds, the two strike up a tentative friendship. 

I just had so much fun reading this book. It has fun fantasy elements like animal mailmen who used to be the messengers to gods and zombie-like creatures, yet the story also feels very contemporary. 

I don’t have anything negative to say about this book. Sure, the romance between Hart and Mercy happens a little suddenly, but there is a build up through the letter writing, which is an aspect I realized I’m loving in novels lately. I loved learning more about the characters’ backstories, and I especially loved Mercy’s relationship with her family. 

If you’re looking for a book that’s pure, weird fun but also has a macabre sense of humor that doesn’t shy away from the brutality of death, then this is for you.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

The Sunbearer Trials rests on a marble table next to a white stuffed pumpkin and two candles.

Alexis:

The Sunbearer Trials follows Teo, a 17-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds.

This book is described as Percy Jackson meets The Hunger Games, and that’s the perfect description. 

Synopsis from Goodreads: 

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all—they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body used to fuel the Sun Stones that will protect the people of Reino del Sol for the next ten years.

In The Sunbearer Trials, I really enjoyed Thomas’ trademark voicy characters and fun writing style. The story is nice and fast-paced, and everyone’s outfits and superpowers sound so cool. I also like how this Mexican-inspired fantasy world is very diverse and inclusive, and how Teo’s wings play a role in the story and his trans identity.

While this was a fun read, there are some aspects that keep me from rating this higher.

For one, I never feel like the stakes are high enough. I mean, sure, one of the contenders will be sacrificed at the end, but the trials themselves don’t feel big enough to me. The games in The Hunger Games are thrilling to read because the stakes are so high, but in The Sunbearer Trials, Teo doesn’t even want to be there, much less take them very seriously. His motivation is to just…get through the trials so he can go back home. His lack of motivation plus the lack of high stakes meant I skimmed certain sections of the trials.

At times, this story feels more like Percy Jackson, aka middle grade. Now, I’m aware that I’m saying this as an adult reader who mostly reads YA, so maybe younger readers will feel differently. However, Teo is 17-years-old, and oftentimes, I thought he sounds like he should be closer to 14. Keep in mind reading is a personal experience and everyone interprets and reads things differently, but that’s how I perceived the character while reading this book. 

My last point is that the blurb makes it sound like this is going to be a high fantasy story, so imagine my surprise when the characters have phones and are watching TV. While I definitely think more fantasy worlds need modern technology and this is a cool aspect, moments of it took me out of the story. The world has its own version of Instagram and TikTok, and there’s also a reference to furries (what is up with books mentioning furries?? I read another one earlier this year that did the same thing).

That being said, the ending cranked up the stakes, which is exactly what I wanted! This is only the first book in a series, and the series definitely has a lot of potential. I’m interested in getting to know the large cast of characters better and to see what happens next. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐

Review: Book of Night by Holly Black

Book of Night rests on a coffee shop table next to a Starbucks cup and a pumpkin

Alexis:

On a whim, I picked up Book of Night from the library. I haven’t read a Black book (unless you count The Spiderwick Chronicles when I was a kid) and I’ve heard conflicting reviews of Book of Night

Which I now understand.

The first half of this book is slow. The worldbuilding is minimal, there are too many chapters that take place in the past, and the world itself suffers from what I call adult fantasy book syndrome—the world is cold and dreary, depressing and dark. For example, Ninth House has adult fantasy book syndrome, meaning everything about it is unnecessarily dark. While Book of Night isn’t quite as dark, it still has a criminal main character, lots of references to drugs and alcohol, kidnappings and murder, self harm, trauma, etc.

Which makes me wonder…why can’t we have an adult fantasy book that is both dark yet fun? 

That being said, the second half of this book takes a turn. The inciting incident doesn’t happen until around page 50 or 60, and then the plot gets rolling. I became more intrigued by the plot and the characters, especially as the world’s shadow magic and manipulation was explored a little more. There was also a plot twist that worked really well for me.

The beginning of the book is 2 stars, and the latter half 4, making this a 3 star read overall. (Or crescent moons, if you will).

VERDICT: 🌙🌙🌙/5

Review: The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell

Alexis holds a fall kombucha bottle next to a library copy of The Vanished Queen.

Alexis:

The Vanished Queen is an adult fantasy that starts off with a bang. The prologue delves into a theft: a slightly drunk Anza breaks into a locked room in a library to steal a journal. 

The Vanished Queen follows three different POVs. Anza is an archer and a part of the resistance. After the king put her father to death and she found the missing queen’s journal, Anza is dead set on fighting against the cruel and tyrannical king, Karolje. 

Prince Esvar is the younger son of Karolje and Mirantha, the vanished queen who is presumed dead. He hates his father’s regime and is desperate to find a way to defy him.  

And the third POV is Mirantha, the vanished queen herself. Her story is set in the past, leading up to her disappearance.

To be honest, I considered DNFing this about 100 pages in. The plot was very slow, and despite the synopsis mentioning that Anza and Esvar end up working together, that doesn’t even happen until the halfway point of the book.

But after that, the plot picks up. Schemes and planning happen. The political intrigue thickens and the stakes grow higher. In the beginning, a lot of the characters feel flat, but once the plot picks up, they come to life a little more and I became fully invested in the story. Karolje was such a terrible king and soulless person that I was ready to see him be brought down.

What I liked about this book:

-High stakes

-Mirantha’s chapters

-Themes of love and justice

-Esvar gives me Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender vibes/Dorian from Throne of Glass vibes 

-Bisexuality rep: Anza is bisexual 

-High fantasy world without magic  

What I didn’t like as much:

-I often felt like the characters were being held at a distance; I wanted to be more in their heads

-Slow pacing 

The first half of this book is three stars and the latter half is higher.

VERDICT: 👑👑👑👑/5

Trigger warnings:
Death, including hangings, mentions of suicice, rape, violence/blood, torture, coded anti-semitism, domestic abuse, forced abortion 

Review: Kingdom of the Feared by Kerri Maniscalco

Alexis holds Kingdom of the Feared in front of a bookshelf

Alexis:

Kingdom of the Feared was the perfect way to kick off October. ⁣

It’s the third and final book in the Kingdom of the Wicked trilogy, which follows Emilia, a witch in late 1800s Sicily who accidentally binds herself to one of the wicked princes of Hell who calls himself Wrath. 

⁣The thing I appreciated the most in Kingdom of the Feared was the plot. While I really enjoyed the first two books, they were a little lacking in plot, but made up for it in atmosphere. But in this third book, the plot ramped up a lot. Maniscalco added plot twist after plot twist while answering a lot of lingering questions and mysteries. Plus, the overall atmosphere/vibes were still as good. 

⁣Yet…the second book, Kingdom of the Cursed is definitely my favorite of the trilogy. ⁣

Kingdom of the Feared had one particular trope that I really don’t like. Sure it was resolved, in a way, by the end, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. 

Another point worth mentioning is that this book was a little too spicy and repetitive at times. I found myself thinking, We get it! They’re wicked and they’re attracted to each other. And while Emilia’s character arc was good, I found myself wanting more from Wrath’s character. 

This, plus the trope issue, knocked my rating down a star.

Note: This book is definitely a new adult/adult book. While the first book in the series could be classified as YA, the series in its entirety is an adult series and should NOT be marketed as YA. 

VERDICT: 💀💀💀💀/5

Alexis’ September Wrap-Up

A stack of books rests on a bookshelf next to a pumpkin candle. A small white pumpkin sits on top of the stack.

Alexis: 

It’s time for my September wrap-up!

⁣I can’t believe it’s almost October, but I’m also so ready for it to be full-blown autumn. I already started diving into my spooky/fall reads.

September was an amazing reading month for me (recovering from surgery will do that to you). I read 10 books and 1 novella.  ⁣

⁣Overall, I had a lot of hits and a few misses. ⁣

📚 The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren—⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood—⭐⭐⁣

📚 Unraveller by Frances Hardinge—⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Hall of the Hopeless by Haley D. Brown—⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis—⭐⭐⭐💫⁣

📚 The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton—⭐⭐⭐💫⁣

📚 Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen—⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Defend the Dawn by Brigid Kemmerer—⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna—⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Stuck with You by Ali Hazelwood—⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross—⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

Have you read any of these? What did you think? I hope October is a great reading month for you all!