Are You the Weapon or the Target?: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Damn you, hype train, and your creation of excessively high expectations!

I was really, really hoping that this book would make all my fantasy-dark-academia dreams come true but, sadly, there were a few too many things missing for it to hit the high notes for me.

Who, What, Where?

Six of the most talented young magicians are chosen by The Alexandrian Society to be given the chance to join their ranks. It’s a secret society of advanced magical academics who act as caretakers for the prized knowledge of antiquity, and whose members usually rise to positions of wealth, power, and prestige. Candidates are to spend one year together with access to the believed lost Library of Alexandria, researching and experimenting in areas of arcane magic. The six include: Libby & Nico, rival cosmologists who control physical matter; Reina, a naturalist with a unique relationship with plants; Parisa, a telepath who relies on her looks and seduction skills to survive; Tristan, the son of a crime boss who can see past illusions; and Callum, an empath with terrifyingly powerful talents of persuasion. However, only five of them will be initiated.   

Playing Favourites

Although it’s called The Atlas Six, this book often feels like The Atlas Four and, even then, there’s an imbalance. While I understand that authors have their favourites, it’s important that other characters’ development doesn’t suffer because of it. Despite the rotating third-person POV, which I really liked, I feel as though I know very little about Callum and Reina and that both were underutilised considering their potential. In Callum’s case it’s problematic because of the villain-ish type role the story wants him to fill. Like, yes, his powers are terrifying, but I need more. With Reina, it’s almost as though she could have been deleted from the book and barely anything would have changed. It’s frustrating because from the small carrots that were dangled, there’s clearly so much more to explore.

Within “The Atlas Four”, I enjoyed Parisa, Nico and Libby (I’m torn on Tristan). They’re not exactly likeable characters – that’s dark academia for you – but there’s depth and intrigue there. The dynamics each of them has with the others are compelling, although often more about a power struggle than emotional connection – something the book could have done with more of. The level of conversation between the characters generally is also somewhat limited considering the story’s circumstances. Still, there’s something enthralling about a group of morally ambiguous magicians constantly alternating between the 3 states of – I want to f*** you, I want to kill you, and I need to remind you that I’m the hottest shit here. Make of that what you will.

Philosophical and Indulgent Prose

I genuinely believe I would have rated TAS a lot higher if I and the writing style had meshed better. There were times when I’d be really feeling it but then, suddenly, a switch would flip and the next thing I knew, everything sounded so overcomplicated, indulgent, and pretentious…The dialogue, especially, tended to quickly veer into this territory. For example:

“Every single one of us is missing something. We are all too powerful, too extraordinary, and don’t you see it’s because we’re riddled with vacancies? We are empty and trying to fill, lighting ourselves on fire just to prove that we are normal – that we are ordinary. That we, like anything, can burn.”

Perhaps I’m too simple-minded or impatient for this type of poetic and philosophising purple-prose. All I know is that if I were to describe dark academia as a writing style rather than just a genre, it’d be this book.

Plot-Lite

If you’re a reader who prefers plot-heavy novels, this won’t be for you. The opening chapters are great – not only as an intriguing hook but a fantastic introduction to the characters. After this, The Atlas Six rests largely on vibes and The Six themselves, at least until towards the end. It’s slowly paced, and most scenes are devoted to the characters reading/conducting research, having subtext-filled one-on-one conversations, and thinking A LOT. To an extent, I was okay with this because the characters were interesting and the tension was high. However, I’ll admit that I expected there to be much more structure to the initiation year – goals, more in-depth lessons, measures of success/failure, etc., but that wasn’t the case, and it felt somewhat odd and empty as a result.

The book does include a couple of plot twists. The first falls kind of flat, mainly because we’re aware of the gist of it from the blurb & prologue, but also because it bizarrely fizzles out by the end. The later twists, on the other hand, are much stronger and tease an exciting sequel.

Vaguely Scientific-Magic

I have no idea what was going on with the magic in this book. At a surface level, I can see that Blake was going for a scientific approach as we get mentions of things like gravity, matter, patterns of thought, and so on. The way these were utilised to explain aspects of magic in specific scenes was fine. However, the problem lies in that there’s no explanation for how magic works broadly. For instance – how are spells cast? Or, what governs the categories of magic magicians can do spells from? For example, others can perform aspects of Nico & Libby’s specialty but no one else seems capable of what Callum or Parisa can do. Honestly, I’m just lost.

Then, we have the world-building around magic, which is similarly vague. We’re made aware that magic users in this world are out in the open but not told much about what the world looks like. How do magic users fit into society? How has history deviated? Are magicians accepted? I feel like there’s so much potential, but I’ll have to wait until the sequel to see if it’s realised.


Overall, not a perfect read but enjoyable enough to convince me to continue with the series.

3 Stars

Getting Hot and Heavy in Hell: Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco

It might seem strange considering I only gave the first book in this series 3 stars, but I was super pumped for Kingdom of the Cursed. I honestly thought this would be the case of a sequel blowing book one out of the water. As it turned out, yes, I enjoyed it more, but at the same time I can’t help feeling like my weirdly high expectations are on the train to disappointment city right now.

Who, What, Where?

KotC kicks off almost immediately after the end of KotW, with Emilia travelling to Hell and taking up residence in Wrath’s kingdom while she prepares to fulfil the bargain she made to marry his brother, Pride. However, when cryptic messages start showing up in her chambers, she begins searching for answers as to what really happened to her sister and the nature of the curse binding the Devil. She comes to believe that locating certain magical objects will assist her in discovering the truth, but as a mortal navigating the dangers of hell, nothing is easy.

Upping the Steam Factor 

The direction and vibe of this book was very different from what I was expecting. KotW was a mix of mystery, romance and fantasy, and I assumed the sequel would be the same. Instead, the first half of KotC is pretty much a straight-up romance novel. A Hades-Persephone type one. Other plotlines pop up eventually but it takes a while before the book deals with anything outside of Emilia and Wrath’s relationship. Also surprising is the series’ sudden jump from slightly sexy YA to Sarah J. Maas-ish New Adult, complete with swearing and a smorgasbord of explicit sexual content. I’m talking parties with orgy buffets. Personally, I enjoy adult romances and believe loosening the content shackles here suits the story better but I’m positive there’ll be fans of KotW who will find this change jarring.

All About that Angsty Romance

I thought the romance in this book was great. Angsty, but pretty darn hot. It’s largely why I rated it what I did and probably higher than I should have, but anything that can get me turning pages that freakin’ quickly gets bonus points. I really enjoyed Emilia and Wrath’s conversations, flirting and occasional fights. It was also nice seeing the relationship evolve as Emilia became more confident in her sexuality and we learned about Wrath & his world. However, I have to mention the black mark that is chapter 17 *sigh*. (BEWARE SPOILERS) During this chapter, Wrath tries to train Emilia to resist the magical influence of his brothers in preparation for a social event. This involves mind control antics that left me with an icky feeling. I might have been able to forgive it had it assisted Emilia later on but nope. While I wish this scene had been cut, it didn’t ruin the book for me so I’m going to carry on and hope the author avoids this type of thing in the future.

Plot Confusion

When it comes to the non-romance plotlines, I have one word for my feelings: confused. Magical artefacts, a magic tree, talking skulls spouting riddles, witch-goddesses, the devil’s curse, the original witch, the witch murders in KotW, the crone…I’m exhausted listing it all. There’s just so much to keep track of, link and contextualise, especially considering most of it doesn’t come into play until the second half. I’m still lost on parts of the ending as well but, then again, I felt similarly about KotW so, what’s new? I really wish these elements had been introduced earlier and developed gradually with more of a mystery/investigative trajectory (like book 1) to better serve the dramatic reveals. I can see the potential, it’s just muddled.

I’ll See You in Hell

Going into this, one of the things I was most excited for was the new setting. I really liked atmospheric Sicily, but Hell?! How could I resist? Different Princes’ courts, demons, plotting, backstabbing…GIMME. In the end, though, I was a little let down on this front. The first half of the book is spent almost entirely between two locations – a passage called the Sin corridor, which Emilia and Wrath traverse on entry to Hell, and Wrath’s castle. As you can probably guess, this wasn’t the exciting and cutthroat backdrop I’d been hoping for. However, once the characters finally started to move around the map somewhat, I had much more fun, despite only really getting to see Envy and Greed’s Houses. Fingers crossed we’ll get further expansion on the world in book three.  

Extra Random Comments

  • Why are there so many clothing descriptions? I love pretty dresses but there comes a point where it becomes overkill.
  • Once again, Emilia flicks back and forth between badass and complete idiot. I still have no idea if I like her or want to yell at her.
  • How Emilia loves romance novels yet has no idea what oral sex is will never cease to confuse me. Then again, maybe she’s just reading Pride & Prejudice type stuff.

Although not one of my favourite series, I’ll definitely be checking out the last Kingdom of the Wicked book when it releases. Not going to lie, it’s pretty much entirely for the romance. Make of that what you will.

3.5 Stars

The Hunger Games But Make Them Magicians: All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

I’m a simple person. I see descriptions of a book that say a The Hunger Games type competition with magic and Game of Thrones family dynamics, I read it. No questions asked.

Who, What, Where?

In the remote city of Ilvernath, seven families are bound by an ancient curse which requires that every generation they select one member to represent them as their champion in a tournament to the death. The winner earns their family exclusive control over the city’s high magic supply, the world’s most powerful resource. In the past, the villainous Lowe family has won nearly every tournament, but the recent publication of a scandalous tell-all book has suddenly thrust the competition into the international spotlight, providing the opportunity for another family to potentially take the crown.

Makin’ Magic

Magic is my literary crack. So, when a book has good magic going on, it gets major brownie points. The magic system in All of Us Villains is interesting. Sure, there are foggy elements, but while I do need more explanation than ‘it’s magic’, I don’t always require a complete scientific breakdown for a system to work. Here, spells & curses are crafted using recipes with specific ingredients and either common or high magic. After, they’re placed inside a vessel, e.g. a ring, until they’re cast by the holder. Spells have different power classes and this impacts their difficulty to craft and cast. Those made using high magic are far stronger, bumping up their class, which is why control of the town’s supply is so desirable. Here, magic fantastically walks the line between requiring planning/skill and still being flexible enough to use quickly in intense situations. You can tell the authors spent time thinking about how it would function within their world and this is great considering how crucial it is to the story.

I should mention though, when it comes to the world building beyond this, things are hazy in spots. It can be difficult to understand how the broader world functions beyond the competition. This is especially the case when you consider the tell-all book revealing the competition to the world.  

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

AoUV spends a good amount of time leading up to its competition. As a result, the book has the space to properly establish each of its major characters, their families, and the tension between them. Yet, it doesn’t linger long enough to kill the anticipation. The competition kicks off around halfway, at which point I was excited for some fast, furious and brutal magical conflict. However, after a few pages, the pacing slows down a lot and focus shifts towards alliances, collecting artifacts, and the personal obstacles facing certain characters. While I didn’t mind this exactly, I wish there’d been a couple more actively aggressive competitors present to raise the stakes for the others earlier on. In other words, there aren’t any deaths for some time, so don’t expect a bloodbath right from the get-go. Although, things do eventually pick up again making for some exciting scenes, one involving a giant sea dragon and another a river of blood.

Alongside the champions fighting it out, the arena also has a few magical extras to keep things interesting – landmarks and artifacts. Landmarks act as bases of operations or strongholds for whoever claims them first. Each has its own unique benefits, so champions need to strategise wisely about which to target. Then we have artifacts. These appear in the competition at random times and bestow special abilities upon the user, such as a cloak that protects the wearer from offensive spells. I loved the idea of these (especially where one’s appearance would force champions into conflict to try and get to it first) and am keen to see more of them in the sequel.

Break the Curse

You might (not be) surprised to hear that the book also involves a ‘break the curse’ plotline. I can’t say much because of spoilers, but my feelings are mixed. I really like the direction being taken into the sequel with regards to the plot itself. However, there’s a connected subplot that arises late in the book which I found frustrating as it seems like it’s only introduced to force a conflict between two characters.

Champions with Something to Prove

For me, one of the best parts of AoUV was its characters. The book is written in limited third person from the perspective of four of the seven champions, and each has their own distinct personality, family backstory, and goals. Our cast consists of: Isobel, a talented spellcrafter pressured into representing the shady Macaslan family after being named champion by the media; Alistair, of the powerful and sinister Lowe family, raised to win from birth and taught to be a monster to survive; Briony, who has always dreamed of being the Thorburn champion and achieving hero status by winning; and lastly, Gavin, the champion of the weak and dismissed Grieves who is desperate to prove himself and regain respect for his family, whatever it takes. All four were compelling leads and I really enjoyed spending time with them. Still, I can’t help but wish they’d been slightly more “villainous” at times to increase the twists and drama.


All of Us Villains is a fun and engaging YA fantasy read that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did. While there are things that could be improved upon, I highly recommend picking this up if it interests you. I know I’ll be looking out for the sequel next year to see how everything wraps up.  

4 Stars

All of Us Villains will be released on November 9th 2021.

**Thank you to Netgalley & Tor for this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review**

Making Vampires the Stuff of Nightmares Again: Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

Until this month, I’d been waiting to read EotV for forever. Okay…in truth, it was more like a few months short of 3 years, but this led to some pretty high expectations – something I generally try to avoid for fear of heartbreak. Yet, to my complete surprise, this book managed to meet them, mostly.

Who, What, Where?

EotV is set in the world of Elidaen – an empire conquered by vampires after its sun disappeared one day twenty-seven years ago. In a prison cell, awaiting his death for murdering the vampire emperor, Silversaint Gabriel de Leon, the last of a holy order dedicated to defending humans against monsters of the night, is compelled to tell his life’s story to a vampire historian. Gabriel details his youth at the monastery of San Michon, rise to fame as a Chevalier of the realm against invading vampire forces, forbidden love, and journey with a small band of allies to find the Holy Grail, prophesised to bring an end to the eternal night.

It’s a Vampire’s World

First off, the world building in this book is fantastic! It’s complex, intriguing, intricate, and somehow JK breaks it down for the reader in ways that are easy to understand without bogging down the story. I was engaged in the world right from the very beginning and really enjoyed learning about its vampire lore and bloodlines, the Silver Order, Elidaen’s religion, and how the loss of the sun and vampire invasion affected people’s lives (a diet involving lots of potatoes, apparently). There were a couple of things raised and not fully explained but there’s got to be material left for the sequels, right? The one thing that bothered me a little was the use of random French words like ‘oui’ or ‘ma famillie’. It’s weird because the spoken language isn’t really discussed so it looks like they’re there purely to try and French-ify things.

Nevernight Vibes

I think it’s safe to say that if you loved JK’s Nevernight books it’s likely you’ll enjoy EotV. While there aren’t any footnotes (thank God), it’s similarly full of violence, revenge, corruption, foul language, moody-vibes, smut, religious themes, and emotional moments. It’s DARRRKKK. Vampires bathing in the blood of babies dark. The kind of dark and scary vampires should be. However, part of my reasoning for dropping that .5 of a star is that some of these things were slightly overdone in places. In the case of gore and violence, over time I felt myself becoming desensitised to the horror described, having read so much of it. Dead children littering the ground? Well, alrighty then! Likewise with the swearing and crassness, in that some lines came off feeling forced and excessive – we get it, they’re badasses with dirty mouths. And for the love of all that’s holy, please, no more ‘your mother/wife’ jokes. The audience is not a bunch of twelve-year-old boys.

Full Steam Ahead

There was no point while reading this book where I felt bored, and for a 700+ page novel, that’s pretty darn impressive. The plot of EotV is like if The Name of the Wind, The Witcher and The Last of Us had a threesome in a vampire nest with a twist from The Da Vinci Code thrown in. I have no idea if that sounds appealing, but it was. Gabriel’s tale switches back and forth between two different parts of his life. The first details his teenage years, during which he studied with the Silver Order and built his legend as The Black Lion. The second looks at more recent events – Gabe’s journey with a small group protecting a teenage street urchin named Dior in connection with the Holy Grail. At first, I was bothered by this structure but after seeing that it didn’t negatively impact the momentum, I realised it was a clever narrative choice. This is because it: a) stopped the book from being stuck in one place for too long, and b) allowed JK to slowly unfold certain plot elements to dramatic (and heartbreaking) effect. My only minor complaint is there were a couple of character-oriented moments in the first timeline which were summarised rather than shown to allow the book to move on to other events that I wish we’d actually seen.

A Grumpy “Hero”, Talking Sword and Scrappy Pickpocket

Talking about EotV’s characters without spoilers is a minefield, but I can safely say I liked a lot of them. Our lead, Gabriel, has been through a great deal and is akin to a more broken, bitter and arrogant Geralt of Rivia. He’s lost his faith and self-respect, and generally adopts a ‘F*** off’ attitude. While Gabe frustrated me early on, I came to understand and appreciate his interesting mix of heroic and asshole-ish qualities. His relationship with Dior was one of my favourite parts of the book and I loved seeing them come to trust and care for one another despite negative original perceptions. The surrounding cast of characters were also good but time with them was limited in some cases. A few standouts for me were Aaron, Gabe’s Silversaint nemesis turned friend; Ashdrinker, Gabe’s crazy, talking sword; Bellamy, basically Dandelion from The Witcher but more battle adept; and of course, Dior, our locking picking, smart-mouthed dynamo.  

Magical Illustrations

It would be a crime not to mention the stunning illustrations by Bon Orthwick in this book. As someone who doesn’t see books play out like movies in their head, these artworks truly enhanced my reading experience and helped me to feel and visualise scenes. HOWEVER, that one piece – you’ll know when the time comes – how DARE you squash my heart like that?


As I’m sure you already know, I had a blast reading this crazy, bloody, vampire ride of a paperweight and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in the series, whenever it finally makes an appearance.

4.5 Stars

Note: Thank you to Harper Collins AU and Netgalley for a large sampler of this book which allowed me to get started early!

The Roads to Greatness and Revenge: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun is an ambitious debut. It’s large in scale, weaves together fantasy and history, involves complex characters, and navigates challenging political and military plotlines. I expected to love this book but, while it does a lot of the right stuff, it just didn’t click with me personally as much as I would have liked.

Rise of an Emperor

SWBTS is a reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty. It’s set in Mongol-occupied imperial China and follows several major characters. One of the most prominent is a peasant girl, Zhu, who, after the deaths of her brother and father, takes on her brother’s identity and becomes a monk. In doing so, she also assumes his foretold destiny of “greatness”. Zhu eventually joins the Red Turban rebellion and works to ensure she makes her mark on history. On the other side of the conflict we have General Ouyang, a eunuch who has served the royals ever since his family’s treason when he was a small child. Despite this, he has formed a strong bond with Prince Essen, second in-line to the throne of the Yuan Empire.

A Large Cast

Due to the range of the story, there are a lot of characters. Unfortunately, I often had trouble keeping track of who everyone was, their roles and allegiances. This was exacerbated by the fact that sometimes people were referred to by their first name, others their surname and then alternatively a special title. There are also multiple characters present from within the same families. Among these, there were only a couple that I grew attached to – General Ouyang and Wang Baoxiang (the Empire’s chief administrator and Essen’s bastard brother). I normally have no problem with books involving morally grey characters, something this book has in spades, but many of the ones here rubbed me the wrong way or just didn’t interest me.

Striving for Greatness

As far as leads go, Zhu is quite a unique and refreshing one. She’s unattractive, gender non-conforming, not really a physical threat, cunning, and willing to do whatever she has to do to attain her goals. Yet, I found it hard to get invested in her journey. For most of the book we’re made aware that she fears falling into nothingness and her aim is to achieve “greatness”. But, it takes until around the 80% mark before we understand what Zhu actually believes greatness to be. Consequently, until that point it seems like she’s running around, gaining power and influence without reason or direction. On the other hand, I did appreciate being able to follow her journey in a more holistic way than Ouyang’s so as to track her evolution as a character.

An Eye for an Eye

Ouyang has a clear goal – revenge. Considering his reasons, I was able to easily get on board with this (burn it all down Ouyang!), but I felt as though the emotional weight of his journey was undermined slightly by the fact that the reader is only told what happened to him. For something that informs his entire journey, we aren’t given many vivid memories of it or detailed emotional reactions, and this created a sense of detachment for me. This aside, I found Ouyang to be a complex, intriguing and flawed character, and the comparisons between him and Zhu were interestingly done. Something else I quite enjoyed was Ouyang’s complicated relationship with Prince Essen. Essen amounts to a confusing mix of friend, ruler, romantic interest, and object of revenge, which makes for some tension and subtext filled conversations. Still, I wish that this bond had been delved into a little bit deeper.

Gender and Sexuality Diverse Fantasy

It’s really important to note that this book involves some complicated gender issues. It’s written by a genderqueer author and features two genderqueer, non-straight leads. These elements of gender identity factor heavily into the themes and plotlines of the novel which is great. I would be interested to hear about the quality of this representation from queer reviewers as I question some aspects of it, but I think it’s amazing to see more variety and representation in fantasy characters.

A War Minus the…War?

When it comes to pacing and plot, my feelings are mixed. For the most part, I found the pacing in the novel to be decent and there was usually a good sense of momentum – political squabbling, training, troops moving around, etc. However, there were several sudden time jumps throughout, some larger than others, and this was disorienting for me. Not only did I have to really concentrate to follow what was happening, but I frequently felt like I’d missed something. Also, for a story heavily based in military conflict, I thought it was odd that the book skipped over so much of the actual battles. For me, this took away from the gravity of events and made things seem choppy. The decision to tell the story in multiple third person POVs was one I really appreciated, though, as it worked well to humanise both sides of the book’s overarching conflict.

Fantasy Light

For those of you going into this anticipating strong fantasy elements, I would advise adjusting your expectations as these parts of the book aren’t super prominent. Perhaps more towards the end, but definitely not for most of the story. They’re also not very strongly explained on a world building level, but I assume they’ll be dealt with in more detail in the sequel.

An Ending to Hook You

While SWBTS is only around 400 pages, it felt longer as I was reading and took more time than I expected to finish. I’m not entirely sure why this was, there just seemed to be an odd disconnect for me. Although, I did find that my interest picked up around the ending, which was big, dramatic and really paved the way for interesting things to happen in the next book. The pathway for each of the main characters is clear and exciting, and will likely hook a lot of readers into continuing with the duology.


In the end, this wasn’t the five star read I’d been hoping for but I can easily see it being popular among fantasy lovers. Especially so for those who love Asian history inspired fiction or are looking for stories featuring more diverse characters.

3 Stars

**Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.**

Witchcraft, Murder and Demon Princes from Hell: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

After a disappointing and frustrating experience with Stalking Jack the Ripper back in 2019, I was extremely hesitant to read Kingdom of the Wicked. But, in the end, there were just too many of my favourite buzz words associated with it to resist.

Who, What, Where?

The story follows Emilia, a Sicilian witch who has grown up being told terrifying stories about the demon princes of the underworld. When she finds her twin sister, Vittoria, murdered, Emilia vows to track down the culprit and get revenge. However, Vittoria is only the latest in a string of dead witches. Desperate for answers, Emilia summons a demon. To her shock, it’s no lower level lackey who answers her call but one of the princes, Wrath, with his own reasons for wanting to investigate the murders. And so, Emilia and Wrath come to an agreement to work together. However, Wrath isn’t the only demon, or member of the royal family, who’s recently appeared in Palermo.

Too Fast, Too Slow

One of the main issues I had with KotW was Maniscalco’s writing style. First up, there’s quite a lot of telling vs showing going on, especially in the first half of the book, and often in the form of Q&A type conversations. Second, there were points where I couldn’t help feeling as though certain scenes/developments were slightly rushed and would have benefited from greater build up or descriptive detail. This would have enhanced the sense of drama and better helped the reader follow what was happening. Prominent examples include the discovery of Vittoria’s body and the book’s end sequence, during which I was muddled as to what exactly was going on. Then, on the other hand, there were other scenes where it felt like we lingered too long. Did I really need to read about Emilia preparing what I’m sure was a lovely bruschetta? Probably not.

All About that Atmosphere

The atmosphere in this book is great. The descriptions of the buildings, food, markets, sounds and smells of Palermo worked wonderfully in not only creating lush Sicilian settings but varying the story’s tone from chapter to chapter. One minute we’re in a sunny, bustling, seaside city with the characters enjoying tasty cannoli, the next Emilia is rushing around ominous, darkened streets with demons potentially around the corner. Yet, I do have to mention that as I was reading I had trouble placing when the story was set. Had I not gone back to check the blurb before writing this review, I still wouldn’t be sure. While KotW is a fantasy, it takes place in a real part of the world and aside from a few references to clothing, there aren’t many era indicators which would have better helped immerse me in the story.

Witch/Detective/Chef

As a heroine, Emilia is a mixed bag. While I appreciated her tenacity, love for her sister, and passion for food, she has a habit of making annoyingly naïve, rash and bad decisions. At first, I was willing to let these slide but there comes a point where you wish you could just shake some common sense into her. She gets fixated on illogical theories despite there being a valid explanation to counteract them and often charges into danger without a proper plan. Here’s hoping for some improvement in book two.

Not So Fairy Tale Prince

In comparison, Wrath is a more interesting and less frustrating character. Mysterious, slightly dramatic, kind of a flirt, and I enjoyed Maniscalco’s somewhat dry approach to his humour. The only problem is that even after a whole book, I still know barely anything about him, which is very disappointing, but I expect that will change drastically in the next book. The interactions between Emilia and Wrath take some time to properly get going but I really enjoyed their conversations and seeing them slowly learn to trust one another, despite their opposition to the other’s species. Plus, the sexual tension is definitely something I’m keen to see more of *winks*.

No Rest for the Wicked

When it comes to the actual plot, KotW took a good while to grow on me. After the original set up, the earlier chapters deal mostly with Emilia attempting to investigate the murders on her own. This isn’t exactly a bad approach, but considering my issues with her as a character, it wasn’t the most exciting time. There’s also the fact that Emilia starts out with very little to go off which results in a lot of her poking around in a somewhat aimless fashion, just hoping a clue will land her in her lap (which it does). The other thing that dampened my enjoyment somewhat is I expected Emilia to team up with Wrath far earlier than she did and this delay was mostly out of stubbornness.

Following approximately the halfway mark, I began to enjoy myself a lot more! The investigation became more focused, Emilia and Wrath were pleasantly bouncing off one another, the interactions with the different demon princes representing the seven deadly sins was fun, and the bigger impending threat of the story was introduced. By the time I reached the climax, I was genuinely disappointed the book was about to be over. While I wasn’t a fan of certain elements of the ending, I’m really looking forward to the exciting change of scenery it creates for the sequel.


As far as a final verdict goes, there were things I liked about this one and others that missed the mark. Still, it’ll likely appeal to a lot of other readers, especially if you enjoyed the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. I will say though, I do feel like it’s set things up for a really good sequel and I’ll be eagerly picking that up later this year.

3 stars

What Happens After You Fulfil Your Destiny?: Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

As much as I hate to say it, Chosen Ones is another one of those books with a great concept but not so great execution. I mean, taking the chosen one trope and grounding it in reality by looking at the aftermath and trauma that comes with it? Such a good idea! If only this fantastic potential had been better taken advantage of.

Who, What, Where?

Fifteen years ago, five teens – Sloan, Matt, Inez, Albie and Esther – were singled out by the government as potential chosen ones, prophesied to defeat a powerful entity known as The Dark One. Following his defeat, the world seemingly returned to normal. Now adults, the group is trying to adjust to living as regular people again. But how can they when they’re the most famous people around? More so, after everything that’s happened to them? Sloane, in particular, has had a hard time moving on – nightmares, PTSD, and secrets about her kidnapping by the Dark One that she hasn’t told anyone. Around the tenth anniversary of their triumph, one of the five shockingly dies and the remaining chosen ones are sent hurtling into another prospective battle with a new Dark One.

Too Long to Reach the Good Stuff

If I had to use one descriptor for this book, it would unfortunately have to be ‘a slog’. The last third or quarter of Chosen Ones is actually pretty enjoyable. Plotlines come together, secrets are revealed, there’s action, our villain develops a backstory…but gosh, does it feel like a trial to get there.

The pacing for most of this book leaves a lot to be desired. My interest would register in short bursts only to disappear again for large stretches of time. The earlier chapters deal with establishing the chosen five (plus their baggage) and the world ten years after the defeat of The Dark One. This was fine at first but after a while I found myself wondering where it was all going. Once part two hit, a major and unexpected shift in the narrative occurred which led me to believe things would start to pick up. Instead, I got some wandering around the city, character squabbling, and boring magic instruction (something I’m normally crazy about). Finally, at long last, some new characters were introduced and I began to get a better sense of the overarching conflict, allowing me to feel more engaged in the story. However, by this point, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was a case of too little, too late.

Not My Chosen Ones

When it comes to slower reads, I’m 100% fine provided I have characters I can connect with and get invested in. This wasn’t really the case here. I enjoy the occasional abrasive, emotionally complicated and typically ‘unlikeable’ character, but for some reason I just didn’t click with Sloane. I’m not sure whether it was the distance created by the third person narration but I never really felt as though the book got as emotionally deep with her trauma as it should have. Regrettably, I felt the same way about the rest of the chosen ones and for a book that I believed was going to focus on exactly this theme, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

In the end, my attitude towards most of the characters in this book can only be explained as indifferent. While I thought Albie was sweet, Ines disappeared for most of the book, Matt was annoying and boring, and Esther was…eh. Both Mox and Ziva were likeable with solid potential but because of their point of introduction in the story, there wasn’t enough time to properly develop them into anything substantial.

Documents and Files

One of the things I quite liked about the book was its use of files, reports, newspaper clippings, etc. to break up the third person narrative. There may have been one or two inclusions that I found a little pointless (poems?), but overall, these were a nice way to provide context to some past events in a different way than the standard flashback. Each excerpt isn’t always relevant at the exact moment it arises, but they do provide useful world building and background information for events further on down the track.

All Grown Up?

Chosen Ones is Veronica Roth’s first adult classified book. Despite it being targeted at an older audience, there’s a definite young adult vibe here. A couple of the themes seem slightly more mature, but the characters and writing often still have that YA feel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I can understand why such an approach would fit this particular story. Here, we have several adults who lost a significant part of their teenage years training to fight a mass murderer magician in a fight they weren’t even sure they would survive. Consequently, they didn’t go through the usual milestones, learning experiences and development of normal teens and this has impacted on how they interact and behave as adults. Sure, it can be a bit frustrating to read about adults acting like bickering teenagers, but it’s believable in the context of the narrative.


The later parts of Chosen Ones give me hope for a more enjoyable sequel, yet I don’t really see myself picking up the second entry in this duology. I’m sure that the big bang ending to the book will pull a lot of readers in on curiosity to see how events play out, but I don’t think I can trudge through another 400 or so pages if I’m wrong.    

2.5 Stars

Threaten, Flirt and Repeat: A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout

To those who said this book was better than the first, you lied. I feel betrayed. Prepare yourselves for an unpopular opinion. A VERY unpopular opinion,

Plot, Wherefore Art Thou?

I have no idea how to talk about the plot of AKoFaF. If I had to sit down and write a summary, I wouldn’t know where to start because, aside from an early kidnapping attempt and a mild skirmish while travelling, almost NOTHING happens for most of the book. While From Blood and Ash had a few action-filled and dramatic events to keep things engaging, this book mostly feels like a million pages of Poppy talking (and “not talking”) to Casteel and side characters. When that’s not happening, it’s pages of inner monologuing about the same tedious things until you want to stab someone. Things start to pick up around 75%, or maybe a bit more, but by the time I was finally interested in what was happening, the book was over.

Keep the Tropes Rolling

I mentioned in my review of FBaA that it was a trope-filled bonanza. Well, it keeps on going in AKoFaF. Clearly JLA couldn’t handle missing a couple in book one. As a result, we get the soulmates, here comes the cavalry, and fake dating tropes. Now, I normally love fake dating but its use here was not only annoying but unnecessary. As we all know, the point of this trope is that by two characters pretending to love one another they actually do fall for each other. My issue is that Casteel and Poppy already love each other. That’s what the first book was for! So this whole ‘fake it til you make it’ layer to their relationship only serves to add frustrating, silly drama and makes Poppy spend ages questioning everything Cas does or says.

More Romance, Less Fantasy

While FBaA felt mostly balanced between romance and fantasy, AKoBaB is more the former. If you were disappointed by the number of steamy scenes in book one, there are certainly more here. A couple feel same-same in the middle, but overall they range from very decent to hot. The whole vampire aspect of the romance is played up more this time, too, which I was super happy about (just give the people want they want, alright?). Yet, I did find that the other interactions between Poppy and Cas got tedious as the book went on, mostly because their exchanges are so damn repetitive, even more so than in book one. Half the time it feels like JLA has hit copy & paste and changed one or two words of dialogue in the hopes we won’t notice.

Cliffhanger Ending

By about 65% of the way through this book, I just wanted it to be over. I was also almost positive that I wouldn’t bother to read book 3. And then…the last couple of chapters came. *sigh*. Damn you, JLA. Why couldn’t the rest of the book be as interesting as the last 20%? WHY? The reveal at the end is predictable as all hell and still, I was like YES, PLOT DRAMA. GIVE IT TO ME. Unfortunately, now my brain keeps thinking it wants to read the next book. Good, God.

Pluck Poppy

Poppy tested my patience in this book. She really did. Her personality can now be narrowed down to just two things – is violent and asks a lot of questions. I also find it ridiculously frustrating that, despite her empathic abilities, she’s a blockhead when it comes to understanding other people’s motivations and feelings. The cherry on top: her repetitive, constant and lengthy internal ramblings which made me want to scream by the end. Just figure your shit out already, girl.

Something I actually liked was that one of the plot points in this book deals with Poppy’s powers beginning to evolve. The reasoning is vague but we’ll allow it. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll be able to guess where that leads us by the end. This plotline really doubles down on the super special protagonist trope but because it feels like the natural progression for Poppy’s story to take (especially since people treat her like a super special snowflake anyway) I’m cool with it.

Other Random Thoughts:

  • Kieran is easily my favourite character. What a bro. His relationship with Poppy is cute, too.
  • I can’t help finding it really weird that Poppy feels people’s emotions as flavours. Like, why?
  • Why is it that people like Poppy or will like Poppy just because she’s stabbed Casteel? Um, how much do you people hate Cas? Poor guy.
  • “Heartmates”. Ugh. Had I been drinking something, I would have spat it all over my kindle.
  • Poppy and Cas getting it on in the back of a carriage right in the middle of a battle was a bit of a WTF moment. Like guys, to quote Kourtney Kardashian: “Kim, there’s people that are dying.”

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire is longer than it should be, mostly filler, and loses some of the funner elements I liked about the first book. After everything I’ve just said, I wish I could say I won’t be continuing with the series but that would probably be a lie because, clearly, I hate myself.

1.5 stars

Vampire Romance Makes a Comeback: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

I may not be twelve anymore (thank god), but for some reason my ears still prick up at the mention of ‘vampire romance’. I can’t help it. It’s like my brain’s been programmed against my will. So, you’ll understand why this + ‘most hyped romance of 2020’ lead to me giving into FOMO and reading From Blood and Ash.

Who, What, Where?

Our protagonist is Poppy, ‘The Maiden’ and chosen of the Gods. Poppy lives her life with strict restrictions on how she dresses and behaves as she waits for the day of her Ascension – a mysterious ritual that will supposedly secure the future of the Kingdom. However, Poppy longs to experience life outside her limited bubble and is drawn to activities and interests that risk her being found unworthy. After a kidnapping attempt, she’s assigned a new guard, the attractive and alluring Hawke who’s like no one she’s ever met before and makes her rethink her destiny. But when things inside the castle turn deadly and a fallen kingdom rises, determined to retake what was lost at any cost, Poppy begins to question whether everything in her world is what it seems.

You get a Trope! And YOU Get a Trope!

If you’re looking for something original, keep walking. However, if you’re a reader who eats tropes for breakfast, step this way. I knew going into this it’d be trope heavy, just not this heavy. Honestly, I wish I’d had a bingo card. Let’s start a list, shall we? Hidden/growing powers, dead parents, “The Dark One”, the servant confidant, ‘Not Like Other Girls’, the chosen one, a secret identity, forbidden romance, the virginal MC and experienced love interest…there’s more, but I’ll stop here.

Don’t Need a Crystal Ball to Predict This One

Tying in with what I said about the book’s reliance on tropes, From Blood and Ash is very predictable. Even going into this 100% blind, I guarantee you’ll work out all the major plot reveals from a mile away. Unfortunately, you then have to sit through the rest of the book questioning why characters (*cough* Poppy *cough*) are so freakin’ stupid that they can’t work it out themselves.

The Maiden & The Guard

In terms of our leads, Poppy is, for lack of a better word, okay. I love the fact that she knows how to kick ass and I do sympathise with her difficulties, but she also feels annoyingly young at times and extremely dense when it comes to seeing things right in front of her face. Hawke feels like many of the fantasy love interests I’ve seen before (especially if you’re a SJM fan). He’s generally likeable, has some depth, but he’s nothing new.

For the most part, I enjoy Poppy and Hawke’s relationship. It’s banter-y, fun, sexy and I love the scenes where they physically face off. Yet, there are a couple of things that bother me. First, Hawke does verge into toxic ‘alpha male’ territory at times and second, there are a few moments where their interactions verge on forced. For example, Poppy says something, and Hawke just has to give an arrogant/teasing/sexy reply even though it doesn’t really suit. They also weirdly have a couple of the same exchanges repeatedly (‘You’re so violent, it turns me on’, ‘There’s something seriously wrong with you’, ‘You love it’). I know they’re supposed to be in jokes but it’s a lot.

Steam Up Those Windows

No complaints here. If you’re in this book for some solid smuttiness just know that you’ll have to wait a long time to get there but it’s worth it. Also, bonus points for actually mentioning contraception. Woo!

Questionable World Building

Ah, world building. I wish I could say this book doesn’t fall into the trap of dumping boring bits of information on you in heaps right from the beginning, but I can’t, and it does. There’s even a chapter in which Poppy reads passages from a history textbook *face palm*. Even with these infodumps, I was mighty confused for a while. It’s probably all the terms – Rise, Rite, Ascension, Atlantians, Descenters, Ascended, Wolven…lord, help me.

This aside, there are elements that I liked. I just wish they’d been handled better than coming together at the end. I enjoyed the idea of the three different types of “vampires” and the distinctions between them – bloodthirsty traditional vampires, not-so traditional vampires, and the vicious, zombie-like Craven. I also enjoyed the reveal of the history between the Atlantians & the Ascended, although it does paint a very basic good vs evil scenario.

Pacing

The pacing in this book is messy at points. While the opening scenes which take place at a gambling den/brothel are engaging, following this, things get slow and take some time to pick up again. After this point though, I found the story pretty addictive and raced through to the end. The latter chapters, however, is where things get out of sorts again, slowing down and speeding up in a weird mish-mash of events that left me feeling serious whiplash and confusion.

Writing Issues

There were a couple of things that bugged me about the writing as I was reading:

  • Ellipses. I’m probably a hypocrite saying this, but boy were they overused in this book.
  • JLA has a weird habit of repeating the exact same information about something in dialogue and Poppy’s thoughts, almost word for word, very close together. It’s bizarre and unnecessary.
  • For a high fantasy book, the language used by the characters is extremely modern. It does make the book more digestible, but the idea of characters using words like ‘totally’ and ‘whatever’ in this context is disorienting.
  • Two words, ‘female’ and ‘male’. Just no. JLA you’re banned from reading Ms Maas.

Now, the two big questions, do I think this book deserves the hype and best romance of 2020? No x 2. Still, despite my massive amounts of complaining, I didn’t mind From Blood and Ash. It’s not amazing or revolutionary but it’s addictive, fun and a good way to shut your brain off. With this in mind, I’ll be reading the sequel.

2.5 Stars

2021 TBR: 24 Books I Want to Read in 2021

A new year, a new probably unrealistic list of books I’d like to tackle before the end of the year. In 2020 I set myself a list of 30 books I wanted to read from a bunch of different genres. I ended up only reading…well, 14 of them. Er, yeah. It could have been better. Anyway, here’s hoping that this year is more productive and less subject to intense shifts in my reading mood.

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte: I bought a Penguin faux leather copy of this and it’s too pretty not to be read. Hopefully I like it a lot more than I did Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier: I’ve been putting this off for YEARS. Now that I’ve watched an adaptation, I feel I really, really need to finally read the book.
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott: Yes, this book was on my 2020 list. Yes, it’s here again.
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson: Lately I’ve been wanting to try my hand at writing a ghost story. I should probably see how one of the experts does it.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benhamin Alire Saenz: I’ve heard so many amazing things about this book and it sounds so good.
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne: Heaps of positive reviews, an interesting sounding blurb and recommended for those who liked A Little Life (which I did). Please don’t make me cry.
  • Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami: I tried reading 1Q84 many years ago and found it super weird. This is supposedly less so. I might hate it, might love it. Trying it for something different.
  • The Comeback – Ella Berman: There’s something intriguing about this book. It just seems like something I’d like. Plus very topically relevant in today’s day & age.
  • If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio: I read The Secret History back in 2020 and really liked it. This has been regularly recommend as being similar in feel. Yay, dark academia & murder!
  • The Boy From the Woods – Harlan Coben: I came across TBFtW while perusing the GR Choice awards noms. I do enjoy a good mystery from time to time and this one certainly sounds exciting.
  • The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager: It’s bizarre, I am so keen on reading Sager’s books despite having this nagging feeling that I won’t love them. This one is set at a camp which is cool yet creepy.
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson: This is my next stop in the search for an amazing YA crime/thriller book. I’ve been burnt before but reviews have been great so fingers crossed!
  • To Sleep in a Sea of Stars – Christopher Paolini: The size is definitely intimidating but as if I’m going to pass up new Paolini, and an interesting sounding one with a gorgeous cover at that.
  • Dark Age (Red Rising 5#) – Pierce Brown: You guys already know how much I love this series. I FINALLY read Iron Gold last year so that means it’s time for Dark Age. I’m preparing my heart.
  • Ready Player Two – Ernest Cline: Reviews on this one haven’t been great but a) I got it for Christmas and b) I really liked the first book. So we’re doing it in 2021.
  • The Midnight Library – Matt Haig: The Goodreads Choice Awards Fiction winner for 2020! This book sounds so good and I’m almost 100% positive that I’m going to love it.
  • The Burning God (The Poppy War 3#) – R F Kuang: I’m legit obsessed with this series. Book two was my favourite read of 2020 and I’m SO keen for the last book. Pain is coming, I can tell.
  • Piranesi – Susanna Clarke: Shiny foiling on covers, I can’t resist it. Piranesi sounds super different from other things I’ve read in recent years and I’ve seen some amazing reviews, too.
  • The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2#) – Brandon Sanderson: I have a sudden desire to go back to this series (blame Skyward maybe?). I read The Final Empire back in 2015 but for some reason didn’t continue onward. I’ll have to reread it before tackling TWoA but I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett: I’ve had Foundryside on my radar for a while now and I think it’s finally the time. Magic, politics, a heist, adventure…sign me up!
  • Layla – Colleen Hoover: It’s been hit or miss with Colleen Hoover reads, but I like the sound of this. Hopefully it’s more Verity & It Ends with Us than Confess. I also got it for $2 on kindle, SCORE.
  • The Two Lives of Lydia Bird – Josie Silver: The concept for this sounds kind of weird but I enjoyed Josie Silver’s One Day in December so I’m keen to give this a whirl.
  • From Blood and Ash – Jennifer L. Armentrout: Blame the hype. I have to see what people are talking about. I’m sure it’ll be tropey and cringey to the max but the FOMO is too intense.
  • Today, Tonight, Tomorrow – Rachel Lynn Solomon: This looks like a solid ya rom-com. It also features enemies to lovers (= my crack). I’m worried about rushed development because of the time frame but we shall see.

What’s on your list of backlist books to read in 2021?