Review: Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

I’ve been taking advantage of all this time home to pick up some new books, and my latest find is a YA fantasy series by an indie author living in Ohio.

Intisar Khanani heads her website with the tagline “Writing mighty girls and diverse worlds,” and that’s exactly what she delivers.  I have not read a lot of YA fantasy recently because I’ve been disappointed by the quality of recent releases, but I can tell that’s going to change with the discovery of her Sunbolt series.

I cannot say enough about the amazing worldbuilding in this series.  The world features many diverse fantasy cultures with roots in real-world cultures, which you may recognize by names, foods, clothing, and phrases. (Even if you don’t recognize them, the cultures are rich.) The main character Hitomi is mixed race; based on context clues her parents would be Arabic and Japanese, though she begins the story living on a warm island populated by darker-skinned people. There are also several races of beings similar to things like fairies and vampires.

The series begins with Sunbolt, a novella that is the kind of book you can read in one gulp.  The pacing is great, the characters are memorable, and the events are exciting.  It does read like it’s only the first part of a story, so you will want to be ready to go straight on to Memories of Ash, the full novel that follows.  This installment is even stronger, continuing to develop an interesting system of magic and new regions of the world.  Old friends reappeared in just the right spots, while introducing great new characters that I can’t wait to see more of.  Some details of the escape plan were a bit meandering, but overall I was on the edge of my seat following Hitomi through one adventure after another.

I really have very few criticisms of these books; they are better than many traditionally published YA fantasies I have read, and I will definitely go back to revisit them again.  (This is basically more what I was hoping We Hunt the Flame would be.)  The only tedious parts are that most of the plot revolves around people that keep getting captured and planning how to escape.  

These books also avoid most YA tropes.  There is no instalove. There are no love triangles.  In fact, here is no romance of any kind! It focuses exclusively on the deep relationships Hitomi has developed with those around her, basically her surrogate family members.

This doesn’t mean I’m not shipping characters.  Because I’m totally shipping some characters. But it’s still great to read quality YA without romance!

I guess I do have one criticism of the series: it’s not complete!  The author has said it was meant to be four books in total, but there seems to be no news on when the last two might be out.  I need book three! Pleeeeease.

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In the meantime, I’m going to check out Khanani’s other novel, Thorn, which is a Goose Girl retelling (have I mentioned I love fairy tale retellings?).  Thorn was originally self-published in 2012, but was picked up by HarperTeen and re-released by them this March.  This kind of thing rarely happens to indie authors, so I think that really speaks to the quality of her writing.  I have the digital version on hold at the library, but the wait list is 16 weeks long! I guess that also speaks to the quality of the writing.

I was able to get both Sunbolt and Memories of Ash on Kindle from my library through Overdrive, but they are of course also available from Amazon for only $2.99 and $4.99 respectively.

I really hope you guys will check her stuff out; if you are a fan of YA fantasy, you will not be disappointed.

Review: Sorcerer to the Crown series by Zen Cho

Don’t you just love it when you find a book that combines your favorite genres?  Fantasy is what I read the most, and Regency romances are my go-to when I want to relax; I get so excited when the two come together!  Historical fantasies set in the Regency period of England are such a treat, and Zen Cho has written an engaging pair of them as her first foray into novel writing.

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Sorcerer to the Crown introduces the troubling state of magic in England during the Napoleonic Wars: the land of Fairy has closed its borders, drying up England’s source of magic, and it is up to the Sorcerer Royal Zacharias Wythe to keep magic from dying.  But that’s not easy for the country’s first black sorcerer, especially one being accused of murder and dealing with mysterious health problems, not to mention the appearance of a troublesome mixed-race orphan named Prunella Gentleman who may just change the course of magic forever.

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The True Queen follows up as a companion novel, following a young amnesiac woman from Malaysia whose sister has been lost in the Fairy realm.  Muna turns to the magicians (well, particularly the magiciennes) of England for help and finds herself entangled in Fairy legends with the fate of both worlds at stake.

Overall, this is a solid duology and I’d be happy to read any further books that Cho writes in this series.

Pros:

  • POC and queer main characters that feel natural to the time period
  • Slow burn romance that is kept as a side plot
  • Themes dealing with the colonialism and sexism of the time
  • Dragons!
  • The prose does not feel modern, but rather more fitting to the period
  • A bit of mystery/suspense, but doesn’t try too hard
  • Sorcerer has Cinderella motifs (with Malaysian witch Mak Genggang as a crazy fairy godmother…)
  • Either novel could stand alone, but they also fit well together

Cons: 

  • Both books can be slow, even in the action-y parts.  It took me a while to get through them.
  • The magic system is interesting but not laid out as clearly as I would like, and so one of Sorcerer’s magic-related plot twists came out of nowhere to me 
  • Sorcerer has a terrible cover that is neither appealing nor informative.  True Queen greatly improved in that regard, but I would love a reprint with better, coordinating covers.

Hope you guys can check these out; happy reading!

 

Two Monarchies Sequence by W.R. Gingell

You may have noticed that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings.  So how about a whole series of them?!  W.R. Gingell delivers with the Two Monarchies Sequence, a lovely fantasy series with many fairy tale inspirations.  For the most part, these are not straight retellings, but rather stories that take a recognizable fairy tale concept and twist it all around.   The result is a series that feels comfortably familiar yet at the same time keeps you on your toes.

Also, if you judge books by their covers, these ones are gorgeous.

The series is set in the titular two monarchies, Civet and Glause, two countries whose history is…complicated to say the least.  There is also some time travel involved in several spots, which does not help clear things up! The series begins with Spindle, obviously inspired by Sleeping Beauty, in which Polyhymnia is awakened not by a prince, but by an absentminded-genius enchanter named Luck…and that’s just the beginning of her troubles.  Next follow Blackfoot (with some hints of Puss in Boots) and Staff and Crown, which follow unlikely hero Annabel’s path to the throne of New Civet.  

The last book, Clockwork Magician, will be released this week; it features Annabel’s friend and budding magician Peter, who is in truth a fairly annoying person, yet the author somehow manages to make him lovable.  That’s a kind of magic all on its own!

Also in the sequence is Masque, a murder mystery inspired by Beauty and the Beast; though this one is chronologically last, I actually read it first!  It’s one of my favorite BatB stories of all time. There is also a Little Red Riding Hood story, Wolfskin, in the same setting, though it does not cross over with any of the other stories.

What do all these great stories have in common?  Excellent quirky characters that will come to feel like friends, an intriguing system of magic, some mystery and thrills, and some lovely romance.  Occasionally it feels like the story or characters are moving a bit too fast to catch, but a touch of confusion is part of the charm of these books.

This series was my first introduction to Gingell’s writing, and it quickly made me a fan.  I’m sure it will do the same for my fellow fairy tale-lovers!

Fan Art Friday: Celestial Balance

Elf

Here is a fun little elf sketch from my high school sketchbook!  I drew this in conjunction with a short story I wrote around the same time, “Celestial Balance.”  The elf in the story has curly hair, but there was no way I was going to be able to draw that!

Keep reading for the story!

Continue reading

Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy by W.R. Gingell

I’m back with further recommendations from Tasmanian indie author W.R. Gingell.  I’ve already raved about her urban fantasy series, but if you prefer good old classic fantasy with elves and magic, check out her Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy.

This entertaining series of short novels has a lot to recommend itself.  It’s a very solid fantasy series, with a good system of magic and worldbuilding.  You’ll see some fairy tale tropes mixed in, but the stories give them some twists so that it feels more like original fantasy than a retelling.  In addition to fantasy, each has a bit of mystery/intrigue and romance. To break down each book a little further…

Twelve Days of Faery 

To start the series, an enchantress agrees to help a king stop the deadly curse that is being laid on any lady who catches his son’s eye. Her reward will be the prince’s hand, but is that what she really wants?  This book sets the stage for the trilogy by establishing some conflict between humans and fae, and uncovering the first shard of the titular broken sword. It’s also an engaging mystery with charming characters.

Fire in the Blood 

Next, a prince and his dragon must solve level after level of puzzles to free a princess from her imprisonment in a tower…but not all is quite as it seems at first. This one is my personal favorite, mostly because I loved all the puzzles in getting through the tower.  I also really liked how the dragons were done, as well as the subtle Asian/Middle Eastern influence. And I adored the princess’s crazy family and would love more stories about them.

First Chill of Autumn 

An epic conclusion that brings together characters from the first two novels, as a young woman tries to save her kingdom from a Fae invasion.  This one is the most complex, and the ending is bittersweet. For that reason I didn’t like it quite as much, though I think it is probably a stronger story for it.

As you may have inferred, each of the first two books can be read as a stand-alone, while the third one brings together themes and characters from each of the first two.  The characters are so engaging you will definitely want more of them. You can get the books individually or buy the whole series together (plus a short story) on Smashwords for $6.99.  There’s even a paperback version available on Amazon (but it’s expensive😢).

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Happy reading!