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: 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: The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis

The Lights of Prague sits on a gray blanket next to a small white pumpkin and a dilute calico cat.

Alexis:

The Lights of Prague is a historical fantasy set in (you guessed it) Prague in the mid 1800s, right after gas lamps are introduced to the city. ⁣

⁣It follows Domek, a lamplighter who also fights monsters—like the pijavice (vampires)—and Ora, a wealthy, badass, and secretive widow.

⁣This book has a will-o’-the-wisp, monster hunting, philosophical musings, alchemy, and beautiful descriptions of Prague. ⁣

While I liked Domek’s character in the beginning, Ora quickly became my favorite. She had an interesting backstory and was flawed and well-rounded. 

⁣My only con was that the plot felt slow moving, which meant I found myself leisurely reading this instead of my usual binge-reading. Despite the high stakes, I didn’t feel like the plot had quite enough urgency. Because of this, I liked this book, but I wasn’t as obsessed with it as I had hoped.

I still enjoyed it overall, and if you’re looking for a historical fantasy with vampires, then check it out; it’s the perfect read to ease into fall.

VERDICT: 🧛🧛🧛.5/5

Review: Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn

A copy of Among Thieves rests on a gray blanket next to a candle and a dilute calico cat.

Alexis:

Among Thieves was actually the last book I read in 2021!

It’s a heist novel set in a dark, gritty world. We follow many POVs, but all of the characters are working for Callum Clem, the leader of the Saints gang. In this world, there are magical people called Adepts who are brainwashed and owned as slaves by the people in power.

There were many aspects of this book that I loved. Kuhn’s writing, and writing style, is great. She writes great descriptions, and she describes people especially well. Each time we meet a new character, we get a very Dickensen description, so that we not only know what the character physically looks like, but we get a sense of what each person is actually like, as well. 

The banter is fun and quick. The magic system is interesting and feels different from other magic systems. 

But there were a couple of things that kept me from being fully invested in the story.

  1. Cursing is realistic in adult fantasies like these, but I often felt like Kuhn could have been a little more choosy about where she inserted swear words, and it would’ve made more of an impact. Instead, the amount of cursing tended to pull me out of the story.
  2. The worldbuilding was thrown at you. I had a hard time getting through the first 100 pages because my brain was trying to play catch up, all while reading from multiple new POVs.
  3. And finally…I wanted a map. I know this is a small thing, but a map definitely would’ve helped me imagine the world a little better.

Overall, this was a fun read. I think if you like heist novels like Six of Crows but are looking for an adult version with a full cast of characters, then you might like this.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐.5 /5 

Review: The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

Alexis:

The Bone Shard Emperor is the sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter, one of my favorite reads from earlier this year. 

Like the first book, it follows 5 POVs: Lin, Jovis, Phalue, Ranami, and Sand/Nisong. Jovis is still my favorite, as well as his talking, bonded otter-like creature named Mephi. But I felt like I got to know Lin’s character better, as well.

I love how Stewart began to reveal more of the world’s history, as well as the mystery surrounding Mephi and some other characters. 

Also like the first book, this was a 5-star read for me. However, I don’t think it was quite as well done as the first. Phalue and Ranami get even less page time in the book, so I found myself not caring about their characters as much as I wanted to. 

But my biggest critique is that there was also a romantic storyline that, while had potential and made sense from a logical viewpoint, didn’t quite work for me. The characters just didn’t have any chemistry on the page.

Despite moving at a slow pace, I love Stewart’s writing, and I love her worldbuilding, and I never felt bored; I was always drawn into the story. 

However, I especially loved the last quarter of the book. A lot of interesting developments are happening, and based on the great ending, I’m excited to see where the third and final book takes the story!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

Alexis holds a paperback copy of The Bone Maker in front of the beach: sand and a wave crashing on shore.

Alexis:

Despite copious amounts of rain, our beach trip ended up being a successful reading trip! While The Bone Maker isn’t the usual kind of beach read, I’m always in the mood for a spooky read.

The Bone Maker follows Kreya, a hermit living in a tower with no one for company but her constructs, little creatures and dolls she created from pieces of bone. Oh, and her dead husband, Jentt, who she raises from the dead as often as she can.

Twenty-five years ago, Kreya and her group of heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor—a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. The heroes reunite to help Kreya on her journey.

The story is primarily told from Kreya’s POV, though we dive into each of the character’s heads at one point or another. I thought the world was super interesting. There are bone makers, who created constructs from bones; bone wizards, who create talismans with powers (think playing an action card in a card game); and bone readers, who predict the future by reading bones. The characters’ successful backstory was great fuel for the plot, and I almost wish I could read a prologue book!

While I liked the plot, I really enjoyed getting to know the cast of characters. This book has the perfect balance of darkness (lots of bones, dead people, war, and death) and lightness (witty dialogue, funny characters). I love when I can find an adult fantasy that also has humor and great dialogue. But what kept this book from being 5 stars is that I wanted to get to know the characters even more! That, and the plot didn’t feel as urgent as it probably should have. 

If you’re looking for a fun book with necromancy, defeating evil, and a journey with loveable characters, then I think you’ll enjoy this.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Alexis:

Jade City was unlike any book I’ve ever read; however, it wasn’t really for me. I honestly considered DNFing it 50 pages in, but I’m glad I stuck with it!

Jade City is described as a high fantasy, and that’s not entirely true. Sure, the world is a fantasy world, based on Japan, but the use of jade, which grants the Kekonese people superhero-like powers, is really the only fantasy element. The rest of the book has a gritty, almost noir feel. The best way to describe this book is The Godfather mixed with martial arts movies.

The writing style is cool, almost business-like, but it flows well. The worldbuilding is intense, and this book as a whole is very dense, so much so that it sometimes felt like a chore to read it. That being said, I did really enjoy certain parts of this book, and Lee is clearly a master worldbuilder. 

My main critique is that I never became super invested in the characters. I enjoyed reading Shae and Anden’s perspectives the most, yet they never really shone on the page. The third person POV was too distant, and it didn’t help that each chapter was from the perspective of a new character, and there were a myriad of characters in this book. 

If you’re specifically looking for a book that’s majority fueding mobsters, with a small dash of fantasy and political intrigue, then go for it. But unfortunately, it wasn’t my kind of read.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐.5 /5

Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Alexis:

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book. There’s no such thing as a perfect book, but there were definitely some major things that made me almost not enjoy this book. (Disclaimer: Historically, I haven’t been a fan of dark academia).  

What I wasn’t a huge fan of:

  1. The first 200 pages are basically a giant info dump. I had absolutely no idea what the heck I was reading for a long time, and while I kept charging through, this will definitely turn off a lot of readers right off the bat. In Bardugo’s past books, her worldbuilding usually improves in book two of her series. But Ninth House has alternating timelines, which doesn’t make the beginning any less confusing. A lot of important worldbuilding information wasn’t explained until late into the book, which made this book a bit of a chore to get through.
  2. The plot is fairly slow moving. Because of the info dump beginning, there is a lot of narration and flashbacks. This gets in the way of the actual plot, which picked up around page 300.
  3. I generally enjoy reading dark books, but Ninth House almost verges on being too dark. Basically anything bad that can happen happens. Alex, the main character, had a hard past, but it’s almost too hard, if that makes sense. There’s a lot of violence that happens that’s almost unnecessary; it feels like violence for the sake of violence, as if Bardugo is trying to prove that she can write an adult book.

But the saving graces were:

  1. Darlington. And from what I’ve heard from other people who have read the book, we’re in agreement! He is definitely the shining character; his backstory resonated with me more than Alex’s. He has a great personality, and a charisma that bounces off of the page. And in a book full of morally grey characters, his character was welcoming. 
  2. Bardugo’s actual writing is great. Her dialogue is always on-point. Her characterization is great. Her descriptions are lush and flow well. She’s clearly a smart writer, and her knowledge of Yale really shapes this book. 
  3. The ending. The ending was the best part of the book, and it made me want to read the rest of the series. I have high hopes for the second book! 

If you like dark academia, intense magic systems, and morally gray characters, then give this one a shot! Pro tip: There’s a small index in the back of the book that I recommend checking out before you start reading. If I knew it was there, the beginning definitely would’ve made a little more sense!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐.5 /5

Trigger warnings: Pretty much everything: violence, gore, rape, murder, sexual assault, drug use. If you don’t like dark books, then I don’t recommend this book. 

Review: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas

Alexis:

“Through love, all is possible.”

Maas has a way of writing worlds that suck you in and make you want to keep reading. While this world is pretty similar to the one in ACOTAR, I loved how the world in Crescent City blends modern technology with magic; we don’t get enough fantasy with modern technology, and it was really interesting and fun to see the characters use both cell phones and magic. It was also loosely based off of Ancient Rome, which was cool.

I really enjoyed all of the characters. I liked reading from both Bryce and Hunt’s perspective. They both have a great mix of admirable traits and flaws. And, as usual, Maas is great at writing characters who have suffered from trauma with care.

The first half of this book did a great job setting up the world, the characters’ backstories, and establishing the main plot, while the second half was more fast paced and action packed. While a lot of readers find Maas’ build up slow, I enjoy how she spends time establishing the world and letting us know the characters before diving deeper into the plot. And I thought the plot of this book was intricate. Honestly, even though this book is so heavy on the details and it took me a while the get all the worldbuilding details straight, it was just so much fun to read!

My cons are pretty small. First, let me just say that if you don’t like Maas’ writing style, just don’t pick up the book? A lot of people seem to be giving this book bad reviews without even reading it because they aren’t fans of Maas’ writing.

I will say, thankfully, this book has considerably less drawn out sex scenes; it still has a decent amount of people flipping each other people off, and a lot of f-bombs, which didn’t bother me. I’m still not a fan of her character name choices (Bryce and Hunt? And I never got over Tamlin’s name from ACOTAR) but honestly, that’s such a small bone to pick, and it boils down to personal preference.

Even though I loved reading the ACOTAR series, I thought this book was far better written. I still don’t think her writing is the absolute best, but what she IS good at is writing characters you will want to root for, and writing worlds that you will become obsessed with. And despite the fact that this book is over 800 pages long, I barely wanted to take any breaks from reading it.

Bottom line: this was so much to fun to read! And considering the fact that the plot centers around a murder mystery, apparently murder mysteries are my new definition of “fun.”

VERDICT: 📚📚📚📚📚