The Faerie’s Bargain: Chapter Five: Training, Waiting

“Come on! Stop trying to fight and fight!” Gwen cried as she brought her practice sword up to meet her opponent’s. 

The sound of metal rang throughout the forest meadow as they clashed and whirled. She ducked to one side as he pivoted and swung his sword, narrowly missing her leather-armored side.

“What are you waiting for?” she snarled as his blade met nothing but soft grass. She twisted to one side, her arm raised to meet his attack. 

Steel clashed against steel. Gwen’s blood sang in her veins.

Parry. Step.

Parry. Lunge.

Pivot. Thrust.

Again and again, the movements so ingrained in her muscles that she didn’t even think as she raised her sword to defend against her brother’s strike. 

Ronan’s face twisted with effort as the side of her blade came within inches of his face. Their blunt-edged practice swords wouldn’t cut skin, but they would leave a nasty bruise.

Sweat poured down Gwen’s face. They’d been at it for so long that the sun had made a wide arc across the clearing. Their shadows stretched long over the grass. Neither of them had given so much as an inch since the duel began. 

Ronan’s chest was heaving, his movements growing heavier with every clash. Although a year her junior, he had more than a foot in height over Gwen. And with it, the benefit of reach.

But Gwen had the advantages of speed and determination. 

As did her refusal to wear any sort of armor. 

Ronan’s heavier practice gear weighed him down, and several times she had been able to get within his range to deliver quick, brutal blows to his torso and kidneys.

Now she spun, adrenaline coursing through her veins, to meet Ronan’s latest blow. The steel sang as their swords rippled against each other, bringing their faces close together.

“Yield,” Gwen hissed.

“Never,” Ronan panted.

She was unwilling to go back to the castle. Not just yet. Not until the sun had finally completed its lazy descent into the horizon. 

Ronan knew it too, had skipped all of his lessons this afternoon to come out and fight with her until Gwen’s limbs ached and her mind was finally too tired to think.

One day closer to her eighteenth birthday. A landmark she could not bring closer merely by sneaking off with a stableboy.

What was to say the Fae would come for her two days from now? 

What’s to say that they wouldn’t?

There hadn’t been an ambassador to the realm of the fae in more than a century. The rumor was that the last one had been sent back alive, but missing his eyes, tongue, and thumbs. 

So he could not speak or write about what he had witnessed.

An icy shiver ran down Gwen’s spine and she redoubled her efforts, pushing back hard enough that Ronan was knocked off his feet and tumbled to the ground.

With a guttural cry Gwen launched herself at him, knocking aside flailing limbs and shoving one knee into his chest, the dull tip of her sword poised an inch from her brother’s throat.

Ronan rolled his eyes and released the grip on his weapon, admitting defeat. The sword clattered onto the damp grass.

“You fight–like a madwoman,” he said, groaning as Gwen pulled the sword from his neck and stood aside, pressing a hand to the stitch in her side.

“You fight–too much–like a knight,” she managed to gasp between breaths. “You just–stand there–hoping your armor will protect you.”

Ronan raised himself into a seated position and tenderly felt his ribs and torso. They would both be stiff and dotted with bruises the next day, as they always were after one of their more ferocious training bouts. 

Four years ago, when Gwen had first expressed interest in learning to fight alongside her brother in the training yard, Ronan had balked. 

Then only thirteen, it had wounded his young pride to have his sister train beside him in skirts. 

But the king’s master swordsman, had recognized in Gwen an apt and hungry pupil.

Lorcan Wolfsbane had gotten his nickname at the age of twelve, when he had been attacked by a pack of four starving wolves in the forests outside his native Andorral. He had slaughtered them all with only a small dagger, and dragged their pelts back into his village.

Perhaps it is because he knew what it meant to face great odds, but Lorcan did not object to Gwen’s desire to fight. Knowing that King Cormac’s guilt-riddled leniency might not extend to the sight of his eldest daughter sparring with grown knights twice her size, Lorcan arranged for she and Ronan to practice outside of the castle grounds, in a wide meadow surrounded by a thick copse of trees.

Here they could wail on one another until they were both drenched with sweat, Ronan’s natural competitiveness having long ago won out over his reluctance to strike a girl. They would battle for hours, at first with clunky wooden swords and later, once Gwen had improved, with blunt-edged practice swords.

No one expected Gwen to be a knight, or to fight in battle alongside the men of her father’s armies, so her training differed vastly from Ronan’s. 

Recognizing within his young female charge a deep-seeded desire to fight, to survive, Lorcan vowed to do all her could to teach her to defend herself. Where Ronan was taught to face an oncoming force without flinching, Gwen was trained to know when to flee. Unburdened by the heavy hammered-metal breastplate and helmet of a warrior, she learned how to protect vital areas and to keep her body turned to the side, to present a smaller target. 

She made up for her lack of height with speed and a calm head, essential tools to surviving battle that few soldiers possessed. 

She was also ruthlessly single-minded, unwilling to give up while there was a shred of fight left in her. 

All of this, however, only served to help even the odds against her brother. Ronan had been raised to lead legions, to command the armies of Dunnhawke in war, and he had been raised as a warrior from the time he could walk.

He might be slower than Gwen in his armor, but the extra weight had also developed his muscles. He was far, far stronger than she could ever hope to be.

But for the moment they were both utterly exhausted. Gwen’s red curls dripped sweat down her neck under the tightly-fitted cap she wore for training. 

She extended a hand towards her brother, and Ronan grasped it tightly, pulling himself up with a grunt. 

“Filthy wench,” he hissed, rubbing his backside.

“Stupid jackass,” she grinned back at him. 

Once she had put on some weight and muscle through training, Gwen showed no mercy during Lorcan’s supervised training bouts. Ronan’s initial sullen attitude wore down quickly when he realized he was going up against an actual rival, not just a sister.

“I would have beaten you in the end,” her brother grumbled.”

“As you say, Prince Ronan,” she said with mock obeisance. 

“Both of you were shoddy in your footwork,” Lorcan interjected, dragging at his stubbly cheeks. “And Ronan, you’re so focused on the short-term jab that you forget the killing shot. You had Gwen three minutes before she pinned you. But you were too focused on taunting her to see it.”

“I saw it!” Ronan snarled. “I was just…trying to see if Gwen could get there on her own.”

“Well, that was very grand of you indeed, your highness. I’m sure your backside will be thanking you for your sacrifice in the morning.” Lorcan couldn’t hide the grin from his face.

Ronan’s furious expression flickered, then vanished, and he let out a snort of amusement.  “That it will,” he said, rubbing his tailbone. “Well struck, Gwen.”

“Well struck indeed. But if I don’t get you both back to the castle, it’ll be hell to pay. ‘Specially for you Gwen,” Lorcan said with a dismal look. “I reckon the Queen has noticed your absence.”

Gwen looked at the sun, which was far lower in the sky than she wished.

She should have been back at the castle hours ago, to begin the arduous process of bathing and washing her riotous hair into some semblance of order.

They turned towards their horses. Gwen felt a chill as the sweat began to cool on her skin.

The thoughts she’d been trying to keep at bay all afternoon began to force their way back into her mind.

Everyone was saying the Fae would come for her tonight.

But they’d said that before.

Click here to read Chapter Six: The Birthday!

Song of the Siren: Chapter Four

If you are interested in reading a free fantasy romance novel, be sure to check out chapters one, two, and three!

SONG OF THE SIREN

CHAPTER FOUR: The High Priestess

The endless chasm of the abyss appeared out of the darkness, like a great yawning mouth waiting to snap up unsuspecting prey.

Which, of course, it was. Syra’s people were not the only predators lurking in these depths. 

They weren’t even the largest–compared to the sluggish six-gilled sharks that roamed the ocean floor, or the terrifyingly clever sperm whales that dove down from the Realm Above, Syra’s people were positively tiny.

But they had two advantages over their fellow deep-sea hunters. The first was that the  Sereen–for that was the formal name given to the People of the Abyss–worked together in coordinated packs to take down their prey. The second was that they had nimble fingers, with thumbs capable of grasping and manipulating objects. In a world of fins and flukes, the Sereen alone were able to fashion tools.

Syra’s own weapon, her hard-won krakana, was clutched tightly in her hand, the shark’s teeth catching flickers of her bioluminescent flashes as she neared the edge of the abyss and dove inside.

Sheer walls of stone plunged endlessly down, their outlines impossible to discern against the overall darkness. Her bioluminescent flickers went black as she descended, aiming for a spot on the western edge of the canyon.

Only the specialized sensory tendrils in Syra’s hair, combined with years of memory, allowed her to find the narrow crevice in the side of the trench. Even for her thin-boned frame, it was a tight squeeze, and there was a familiar, heady moment of breathlessness as her gills became temporarily obstructed by the unyielding rock.

She emerged into a cavernous space of light and beauty. The city of Tessai was lit from above, where its domed ceiling twinkled from the lights of millions upon millions of incandescent glow worms. Below, the rough-hewn houses of her people beckoned. As always, Syra’s heart lifted at the sight of her home. 

The bioluminescent worms, known as teora, were the lifeblood of the Sereen. Not only did they provide illumination, which allowed them to develop culture and religion far beyond that of their fellow deep-sea dwellers, but they also provided seasilk. This sturdy, weavable fiber was harvested from the worms and woven to create rope, nets, baskets, and garments.

The teora were worshipped as the divine light of the Gods. They that reigned from the kingdom of eternal darkness had provided the Sereen with the single source of light in the abyss. And the Gods guarded it jealously. 

Despite the efforts of Tessai’s best cultivators, the worms refused to grow in any other environment but this one. In the one experiment that had been allowed, the transplanted teora shriveled and died within days, which led to the priestesses declaring that they had provoked the displeasure of the Gods. The experiments had quickly been discarded, and the scientists punished. 

Privately, Syra wondered if the attempts to farm the teora in foreign environments had been disbanded too quickly. After the first batch died, her grandmother had intervened. The High Priestess claimed that a sacrifice was needed instead to appease the wrath of the Gods. It had taken a long time to find a suitable offering, and even now the worms had not fully recovered.

But if she had doubts, Syra kept them to herself. The priestesses did not abide dissension. Even from the one who would eventually become their leader. Syra’s grandmother, the High Priestess Furae, held reign over the spiritual lives of the Sereen, as she had for more than two hundred years. And when she eventually passed and her body was given to the Abyss, it was expected that Syra would take up the honored position. From the moment of her birth, she had been destined to be the High Priestess.

At only nineteen seasons, she was incredibly young for the role, but it couldn’t be helped.

Syra’s mother had been caught by a fisherman when Syra was but a few months old. Though she’d managed to escape the fisherman’s net, she had been mortally wounded by the barbed spear through her lungs.

Syra could still remember the coppery scent of blood when her mother had finally been retrieved from the Realm Above. The way the beautiful purple scales of her tail fins had faded to a pale white. Her mother had died from the pointed hooks of the monstrous humans who dwelt on the surface.

Even now, the memory was enough to fill Syra with rage as she swam towards the Temple. It was a towering structure, encrusted with shells and barnacles, and given heat by the very breath of the Gods themselves. It was from here that the life of Tessai flowed, bestowing energy and heat to the glow worms, to the city itself. It was because of the Temple that the city continued to grow and thrive, unlike so many neighboring clans which had succumbed in recent years to plague and famine.

The guards at the Temple entrance stood up their arms as they saw her approach. Both women were loyal servants, who had known Syra for most of her life. Her grandmother was waiting in the sacrificial chamber. 

When Syra first saw the High Priestess, she had to stop herself from flickering blue in surprise. I was in the city only a few months ago. When did grandmother grow so old?

Furae had ruled over the temple for generations; she was as much as part of the city as the glowing teora, or the stone roof of the cavern itself. Syra herself had been raised at her grandmother’s tail fins, had learned the ancient traditions of the Sereen, the necessary prayers to the Gods Below. It was because of the High Priestess’ teaching that she had grown to respect her duties, her responsibilities as the heir to the Temple of the Abyss.

But now Furae’s sensory tendrils were fading, losing their luster and becoming limp and gray. The same with the lustrous purple scales on her tails, which were now nearly translucent. It was no surprise–at more than two hundred seasons the High Priestess Furae had lived longer than any Sereen could remember. She had born hundreds if not thousands of young through various male breeders over the years, and of those, nearly sixty had survived into adulthood. An astounding feat, in these dangerous waters.

The weight of her position settled around her shoulders, and Syra raised her chin as she swam forward and bowed low. “You sent for me, grandmother?”

“You have been gone a long time, my child,” Furae said. Syra’s heart gave a surge of relief to hear her grandmother sounding tired, but strong. “The Gods are growing restless.”

Syra nodded. “Not to worry. My warriors are already on their way with a mighty gift for the Abyss. The eyes of a giant squid. And the meat will feed our people for many months.”

“The offering will not be enough. Two hundred eggs have died in the past month alone.” Furae’s bioluminescent flickers went dark as she conveyed the news.

Syra clutched a fist to her forehead in grief. Her gills fluttered as she tried to comprehend this devastating truth. “Have the acolytes come any closer to determining the cause of this plague?”

“The ancient prophecies say nothing of this wave of death,” Furae said, her pale face a grim scowl. “The usual sacrifices are no use here. I fear for the survival of the Sereen, if we have no youth to carry on our bloodlines. We must beseech the Gods. Grant them a sacrifice of old. If we are lucky, this will appease them.”

“But grandmother, is it worth the risk?” Syra cried. “Think of what happened the last time the Gods demanded a sacrifice from the Realm Above!”

The last time a Sereen attempted to lure an offering from the surface had been the night Syra’s mother died.

“You are strong, child. You can face this task. But you must face it alone,” her grandmother said. “Only then will you be ready to inherit the role of High Priestess.”

Furae’s sash of pearl-encrusted seasilk glimmered on her chest, illuminated by the glow of the teora. “Are you prepared to do what is expected of you?” she asked, more out of formality than as an actual question.

Syra had no real choice but to answer, “Of course, High Priestess. I will carry out my duty. I will bring the offering down to the Gods of the Abyss.”

Furae’s satisfied chuckle vibrated through the water. “See that you do.”

 

***

 

“Are you sure we can’t accompany you?” Mara asked, twitching her fins in irritation.

“You know you cannot. It is my sacred duty and mine alone,” Syra replied, sorting through the supplies she might need for her journey.

It would have to be quick. Suitable offerings weren’t often found. 

Young human males were required. But only those old enough to be considered as worthy offerings–that is, those having lived to at least eighteen years of age.

But the Gods preferred the ones who had a certain–innocence about them. 

Difficult enough to find among the sailors and tourists who cruised these waters. Harder still to find one that stayed in the vicinity more than a day or two. Long enough for the Sereen to learn of the potential offering, and gather the magic needed to draw him in.

“Have you ever been to the surface?” Mara questioned, so filled with questions that she lost her usual respect for Syra’s high-ranking position. Not that Syra minded. It was nice, actually, to have a distraction as she braced for the long journey upwards.

“Only once. When my mother died,” she answered.

Immediately, Mara flashed blue lights of submission. “I’m so sorry, my leader. I had forgotten…please forgive me.”

Syra placed a thin-fingered hand on her Beta’s shoulder. “There is nothing to forgive, my friend. All of Tessai knows the story of my mother’s death.”

“Do you look forward to luring the human to its death? To finally avenging the death of your mother, Princess Syrnae?

 

Tonight it would be her duty. Her opportunity. Her life’s dream. To swim the perilous miles up through the night-dark waters to the surface. To undergo the change that only the females of her bloodlines were capable of. And to sing the young male down to his death in the black water of the Abyss.

His kind, the ~humans~ were the ones who were responsible for the death of her mother. She would enjoy watching this sacrifice die. Kyla slung a long, whale-bone dagger into the seasilk belt at her waist. 

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for years.”

Click here to continue reading!

 

The Faerie’s Bargain: Chapter Two: The Sealed Bargain

Click here for Chapter One

KING CORMAC

Cormac took none of his usual guards with him.

No one must know of this night.

He entered a copse of birch trees and continued, certain of his route due to his mother’s constant folk tales and his own youthful wanderings.

After half a mile, the stately trunks gave way to a thick tangle of scrub pine and briar bushes.

Cormac was forced to walk his horse, and eventually, when the thorny bushes coated the ground like a carpet, to leave the animal tied to a low branch and make his way on foot.

Unlike the thick heat of Dunnhawke Castle, a thick, cold mist was ettled on the forest, giving a damp chill to the air.

Out of the fog, Cormac began to make out looming shapes. Weathered gray stones, more than twice the height of a man, formed a rough circle in the small forest meadow. 

An icy trickle shivered down Cormac’s spine. The faith of the priests had no power in this place. 

These stones had stood for aeons before the gods of the outsiders came to this land.

Before the Fae, his crown meant nothing. He was just nothing but a pile of flesh and bone that decayed in a blink of their ageless eyes.

He had no authority between those rings of stone. The immortals had inhabited this land long before the rise of man.

The power of the ancient stones held them within their shadow realm. If a man wanted to converse with the Fae, he must enter their circle.

And he must do it unarmed. To do otherwise was to court death.

With a shudder, Cormac loosened the scabbard across his back that held his axe in place.

 The two-sided blade fell with a dull thud onto the dry grass.

I am a king. I cower before no one.

Cormac kept his shoulders straight, his chin held high, as he passed within the outermost ring.

A tingle, electric as lightning, ran all the way down his spine. It passed as quickly as it had come, but it still left him shaking.

From the pocket of his cloak, he withdrew a hammered-silver bracelet of such superb craftsmanship that its worth could have fed a peasant family for a year.

An offering.

Cormac’s heart thundered within the chest.

He crossed the threshold of the innermost stones.

Make no bargain you cannot bear to keep.

His mother’s parting words, said as he mounted his horse and charged off into Hawkthorne Forest.

The atmosphere around him quivered with magic.

Before his courage could fail him, Cormac said the words, the ancient words tripping on an unfamiliar tongue.

Hear my name and answer my plea.”

He laid the silver bracelet upon it, then turned to face the silently watching eyes of the forest. 

“I am Cormac Setterwind, King of Dunnhawke. I offer precious goods in exchange for the peaceful continuation of my reign.”

His words came slowly, haltingly. He’d learned the old language at his mother’s knee, but hadn’t spoken it aloud since long before his father’s death.

Cormac swallowed hard, then continued. “I beg of thee, O’ Mighty Ones, end the drought that has plagued my kingdom. Spare my–” here he stopped, swallowing back his desperation.

 “Spare them. Spare my wife and unborn child from certain death.” A tear drifted down his cheek.

He slipped back into the modern tongue, but he was far too consumed in his panic to notice.

A king does not beg.

Nevertheless, Cormac dropped to his knees before the stone tablet, burying his head in his hands. 

“Please. Accept my offering.” 

“And do you think it a worthy offering, King Cormac, for the mighty gift that you ask?”

A silky voice sounded, and Cormac’s pulse jumped as he spun around.

Cormac’s pulse jumped as he beheld a member of the Fae for the first time in his life.

It was a youthful male with jet-black hair that glinted softly under the rising moon.

He looks so human.

 “We were wondering when you would come, King Cormac,” the young man said. 

He was dressed in simple hunting garb, a green leather tunic and brown pants. 

Like the king, he appeared to be unarmed.

To the casual observer, the Fae could have passed as a rather beautiful young man.

But there was nothing human whatsoever in the Fae male’s eyes.

They gleamed in the moonlight, an unnatural, emotionless violet that froze the blood in Cormac’s veins.

The Fae knelt down and picked up the silver bracelet, examining it carefully from all sides. 

“Its value is great, I assure you. It was part of my wife’s dowry.”

“Ah yes. The little queen from Peralorne. Tell me, Cormac Settermind, do you think if we listen hard enough, we will hear her dying scream?”

The Fae put a hand to his ear mockingly, as if trying to make out a distant sound.

Even though the creature’s words were meant to be taunting, they gave Cormac a fierce burst of hope.

His queen yet lived. At least for now.

“Will you accept the offering?” Cormac asked. The words were nearly squeezed out by the fear in his throat.

“You ask much, King of Dunnhawke. Life and life and life again.”

The Fae’s face barely moved as he spoke. It was as if his immortal features had been carved from marble.

 “And yet you offer only metal. Pretty, to be sure. And yet dull. Lifeless.”

He clucked under his tongue, as if in disappointment. “I think that this is not enough. Not for all that you ask.”

“But you can do it!” Cormac insisted.

The Fae scoffed. “Of course I can. I can save them both, and bring prosperity to this land.”

Run. While you can.

“What do you ask?” Cormac’s voice shook when he asked. 

“The rains will be restored to your kingdom, and your wife restored to health,” the fairy said. 

His kingdom. 

His queen.

His…

“What of the child?”

The Fae lips curled ever so slightly. “She would be given to us.”

Hot, violent rage washed away Cormac’s fear and despair. “Get back to hell you demon. You will not harm my child!” 

“We have no intention of harming the girl, the Fae said, his smile growing.

“A girl,” Cormac shuddered. “You know this for certain?”

Not a son, but a daughter.

Useless when it comes to inheriting the throne.

Perhaps if Bronnagh could live–we could try again.

As if reading his churning thoughts, the Fae quirked a dark brow. “Your wife is of fertile stock, Setterwind. If she lives, the child will be the first of twelve born to you.”

“Twelve?” Cormac felt weak in the knees at this prediction from the future.

The Fae nodded. “Seven of them boys.”

Seven sons. 

A dynasty to carry on my name. 

Cormac felt sick. His stomach clenched and roiled. 

“What would happen to the girl?” he asked, hating himself for asking.

The male picked idly at a fingernail, seemingly bored with the proceedings.

“She would no longer be of your concern.”

“She is my blood!”

“Setterwind blood.” the Fae’s eyes gleamed with sudden hunger. “Yes, King Cormac I know. It is an ancient and noble bloodline. I assure you, your daughter would be treated with all the respect due her rank.”

Cormac’s heart wrenched with guilt. How could he ever know that were true?

“If you agree,” the Fae continued, “once the girl was ready she would be escorted to Erilea, to live out the rest of her days in the realm of the Fae.”

~Erilea.~ Cormac’s skin crawled at the word. The land beyond the winds. A place of desolation and death from which no mortal had ever returned.

It was spoken of only in children’s stories, meant to frighten young ones into bed on a cold winter’s night. 

The Fae stepped forward. “The time has come to make your choice, Cormac Setterwind. Your young wife will not last much longer.”

“When will you come for the child?” Cormac said, knowing his decision had already been made.

The Fae knew it as well. A wide grin came to his lips. 

“Who can say? The people of the winds have long lives, and long memories. Perhaps it will be a year. Maybe twenty? Perhaps she live out her entire life without anyone in Erilea even remembering she exists. Immortals have such a poor concept of human lives, after all.”

“Why my daughter? Why are the Fae be interested in my child?” Cormac, asked, still unable to resign himself to what he was about to do.

“That is not your concern,” the Fae said. His eyes narrowed. “And your time is up. What is your answer, Cormac Setterwind?”

Cormac closed his eyes, begged his unborn daughter for forgiveness, then opened them again. “Yes,” he said, feeling his soul shrink with the small, cowardly word.

The Fae’s mocking smile slid away. From within his tunic he drew out a shining silver dagger and used it to cut a line down his palm.

Ancient blood dripped onto ancient stones.

His face inscrutable, the Fae held the blade towards King Cormac. He held a shaking hand out, and the Fae ran the blade along his palm, cutting a thin ribbon.

Blood welled from the cut and fell to the ground.

It gleamed crimson on the weathered stones of the fairy circle.

“I sweat it,” Cormac said again.

“So be it, Cormac Setterwind,” the Fae said, his eyes gleaming triumphantly.

END OF CHAPTER TWO

KEEP READING

Book Review: Tiger Lily by Jodie Lynn Anderson

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Review 2.29

Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair…

Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell. [Source]

The world of YA fantasy is largely dominated by romances that are painfully trite. Too often the relationships in these books can be boiled down to a collection of tropes. We have the obligatory love triangle, the dangerous stranger with a secret softness, and my personal favorite, “the heroine predictably falls in love with the first man who is described in any detail whatsoever”. Even my some of my favorite authors of the genre, like Sarah J. Maas, fall entirely into this pitfall.

For a book that is marketed towards the under 16 crowd, Tiger Lily, the short novel by Jodie Lynn Anderson tells a very mature story. Not in the sexual sense, but in the way it approaches its characters. Tiger Lily is a fierce, competent warrior who knows the risks and the threat inherit in her choices and makes them with calm certainty. For all her ferocity, Anderson captures the vulnerability of Tiger Lily with all the insecurities and passions of youth.

Peter Pan has been portrayed by boys and girls, men and women of all ages for nearly one hundred years. J. M. Barrie’s original source material left so much of Peter’s true motivations up to interpretation, which in my opinion is part of the enduring magic of the story. Here Anderson has made him a complex and romantic boy on the very cusp of manhood; older than in most iterations, Peter is meant to be around seventeen. And while there are no overtly explicit scenes, Peter Pan has always carried sexual undertones and Anderson does not shy away from the sensuality of the story and its characters.

If I had to describe Tiger Lily in one word, it would be enchanting. Every once in awhile there comes a novel that so truly encapsulates the feeling of first love and first heartbreak that it sweeps its reader away on a river of shared experience. The emotional power of Tiger Lily took me completely by surprise, before I even knew what was happening I was lost in Neverland.

My rating: 4.5/5

You can find Tiger Lily here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Note: By far, the best film adaptation of Peter Pan is the 2003 version, starring Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, and Jason Isaacs. It is the only one to adequately capture the magic in a similar way to this novel.

 

Book Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Folk of the Air #1)

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Review 2.22

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself. [Source]

 

I first heard about Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince last year, and had been meaning to check it out for ages, but wanted to finish Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series before embarking on another journey into YA fantasy. I’m really glad I finally got around to reading it; I was almost surprised by how much I liked this novel. It manages to avoid a lot of the more glaring tropes that have become disappointingly commonplace in YA fantasy.

The Cruel Prince immediately pulls away from the cluttered pack with its heroine. Jude is a mortal who has grown up in constant fear and danger; she dreams of becoming a knight in order to gain a stable position in the Faerie court. The best thing, she isn’t an archer. I am so tired of women being assigned the bow again and again as their weapon of choice; it’s become a tired and overused cliche. But Jude fights with sword, dagger, and crossbow. And poison. And subterfuge. She never stoops quite low enough to enter “antihero” territory, and her motives are generally honorable, but her actions are decidedly less so, which made for a refreshing change of pace.

The world of the Fae has been described in detail by countless authors, and the immortal lands are limited only by the creative limits of the writer. Is it a dreadful and haunted land of twisted and depraved individuals, like in Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call? Or is it an eternal land of beauty and impossibly gorgeous men, like A Court of Thrones and Roses? Holly Black has taken aspects from both interpretations; her Faerie Court is beautiful and deadly, where immortals live a life of luxury but humans are often bewitched and enslaved. It is also filled with one of the most diverse group of Faeries I can recall. Their skin is in every shade from cerulean to sienna; they have horns or tails or goat’s hooves in place of feet. I particularly liked the figure of Jude’s stepmother, whose cold demeanor covers hidden secrets.

I also enjoyed that Black stayed away from yet another overused cliche; Jude is not motivated by romantic love. She isn’t pining after a lost love, or sacrificing herself to save a lover. She also is not driven by any kind of familial duty. Her relationship with her sisters is largely unexplored, something I hope is remedied in the recently released sequel.

Jude is motivated purely by ambition.

She wants to become a knight simply because she wants to be acknowledged as the best. She has been powerless her entire life, and when the opportunity for power presents itself, she seizes it without hesitation.

Ambition is a heady thing, and I will be interested to see where Jude’s ambition leads her.

My rating: 4.5/5

You can find The Cruel Prince here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Book Review: Kingdom of Ash (ToG #7) by Sarah J. Maas (2018)

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Review #103

The long-awaited conclusion to Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Kingdom of Ash sees Aelin and her friends risking everything they have to fight against the dark armies of Morath and the vicious Queen Maeve. Effort was made to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but some key plot points may be revealed.

Aelin has risked everything to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. Aware that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, though her resolve begins to unravel with each passing day.

For her final installment, bestselling fantasy author Sarah J. Maas wants to make sure that she harnesses every available drop of tension and substance from the world she has worked so long to build. I commented in an earlier post that the first installment of ToG felt rather flat and one-dimensional, with the heroine boasting about her prowess a hell of a lot more than demonstrating it. In the six books following Throne of Glass, the world of Erilea has taken on sharp definition and an emotional weight that builds satisfyingly to a final conclusion.

As always, Maas gets major props for having a diverse cast of kick-ass female heroines at the forefront of her novel. Aelin’s journey comes full circle here, and the readers have been with her for so long as she struggled towards her destiny that to see her reaching her potential was a wonderful moment. Maas has a tendency to use very dramatic writing when narrating Aelin’s point of view. It gives the proceedings a very operatic feeling, but occasionally goes too far to where it begins to feel like self-parody. The character arcs of other important female figures such as Elide and Manon Blackbeak are also brought to a satisfying conclusion.

As strong as all these characters are, Maas certainly does make sure that they are all happily settled in their committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationships by the end of the novel. I wasn’t necessarily bothered by the very traditional “happily ever afters”, but I definitely did notice that the plot would not allow for such-and-such characters to end up apart from one another. It ended up giving the final climactic scenes a predictable feel, since I knew that any of these matched-up characters would not be permitted to die.

At nearly one thousand pages, the rising action of this novel encompasses nearly two-thirds of the book’s length. There are periods when Kingdom of Ash spins its wheels a bit, and feels the need to check it with various characters even when there is no new information to report. It takes nearly seven hundred pages for all of the main characters to finally get together, which gives the middle section a bloated feel, like some of the slower episodes of Game of Thrones.

Overall, I have fully enjoyed my time in Erilea. These novels aren’t perfect but they’re a lot of fun and creative addition to the YA fantasy genre. I continue looking forward to reading more from Sarah J. Maas.

Full disclosure: I skipped Tower of Dawn, the sixth installment in the ToG series. I didn’t want to spent six hundred pages with Chaol, who I always thought was completely boring. I did not regret my decision, and was able to follow the plot of Kingdom of Ash without difficulty.

My rating: 4/5

You can find Kingdom of Ash as well as the rest of the Throne of Glass novels here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch Trilogy #2) by Rin Chupeco (2018)

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Review #39

The second installment of Rin Chupeco’s Bone Witch trilogy continues the story of the dark asha Tea. War and treachery are looming among the kingdoms. Given her newfound connection with the daeva monster, Tea must try to unravel the plots against her while trying to fight the dark power that seeks to engulf her. The plot interlaces the past with the present as Tea begins her ultimate mission to defeat those that she feels have wronged her.

Last month I read The Bone Witch and came away with mixed feelings. The fantasy world that built by Chupeco is both elegant and intricate, and the majority of the first novel is devoted into building the Nine Realms into a solid and believable place. The downside is that so much time and effort was spent on detailing politics, music, and fashion that it felt as though the novel ended before anything significant had happened concerning the plot. I said in my review of the first book that a better title might have been Memoirs of a Magical Geisha.

Following that vein, the second novel could easily be renamed Avatar: The Last Corpsebender. The action that was lacking from The Bone Witch is definitely made up for in The Heart Forger, as we see Tea and her fellow asha wield the four elements (as well as the dead) to defend their allies and defeat their enemies. These sequences rely heavily on the reader being able to follow the action, and here Chupeco succeeds admirably. The long fights between the forces of good and evil could easily have become bogged down and difficult to visualize, but instead they are clearly imagined and conveyed through her writing style.

Our heroine, Tea, is finally given something more interesting to do than marvel over her pretty new clothes and pine after the prince of Kion. She comes into her own in The Heart Forger, and begins questioning the strict rules and traditions that dictact the lives of her and her fellow asha. The bone witches are often scorned and looked down upon by the elders of her guild, and Tea is the one who begins to wonder if this is because they are feared for their powers. There is still a light romantic element to the story, but it is there to empower Tea as opposed to chain her down.

Just as in The Bone Witch, each chapter is preceded by a short flash forward which shows Tea raising an army of monsters and preparing to exact revenge on those who have wronged her. These short previews are used much better here than in the first novel. There, they were somewhat useless and kept pulling me out of my enjoyment of the main narrative. In The Heart Forger they are used to heavily foreshadow events to come. They slowly built a level of suspense that left me eager to find out what was going to happen next.

Overall, this novel was superior to the first installment in many ways. The final book in the trilogy is due to be released next year, and I am greatly looking forward to it.

My rating: 4/5

You can find The Heart Forger here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber (2017)

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Review #9

 

Having spent her entire life on the island of Trisda and under the thumb of her bullying father, Scarlett Dragna has dreamed for years of Caraval. A yearly game run by an enigmatic man known only as Legend, Caraval entices participants with the prize of a single magical wish. With the help of a renegade sailor, Scarlett and her sister Tella escape their island and arrive at Legend’s magical island. But Scarlett quickly learns that nothing in Caraval is what is seems, and the consequences could be deadly.

The last two books I read for this blog were both about horribly dysfunctional families and the lasting scars they leave on their children. Having been through the emotional wringer, I wanted my next book to be something a little lighter. I chose Caraval because its cover is gorgeous and I knew it was YA fantasy. Turns out I might have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

Caraval is a fantasy that exists in a vacuum. The novel opens on the “Conquered Isles” in “Year 50 of the Elantine Dynasty”. Yet we are never told why these Isles were conquered, or by whom. What is the Elantine Dynasty, and what happened fifty years ago to set it in place? A lot of the place names are derived from Spanish such as the hotel La Serpentiene and the Castillo Maldito. Even the name of Scarlett’s home island, Trisda, comes from triste, the Spanish word for sadness. So we’re on Earth? In the past or the future? None of these questions are addressed which made it increasingly difficult to envision this world as a place that has weight and meaning.

Caraval is also a fantasy that exists without any meaningful character description. The only thing we know to be true of Scarlett is that she loves her sister. This is repeated twice a page, lest we should forget. When the generic love interest is introduced, we are subjected to the familiar “I hate him but he’s so intriguing”. Which of course changes without warning to “I cannot live without him”.

Then there are descriptions such as this:

“He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded.”

What does that even mean? What the hell does midnight taste like? But that’s not the only example:

“The world tasted like lies and ashes when Scarlett woke.”

“Every touch created colors she had never seen. Colors as soft as velvet and as sharp as sparks that turned into stars.”

“She remembered thinking falling for him would be like falling in love with darkness, but now she imagined he was more like a starry night: the constellations were always there, constant, magnificent guides against the ever-present black.” 

None of that makes a bit of sense, and it kept pulling me out of the novel because I had to roll my eyes. I can get on board with a bit of purple prose, but when you use it at the expense of actual character development it becomes tedious.

The biggest problem was that, at the end of the day, this book was not written for me. It was written for thirteen year old me. Thirteen year old me would have bathed in all of those overly romantic descriptions. She would have reveled in the countless descriptions of gorgeous ball gowns. She would have relished the oh-so passionate and yet determinedly chaste romance between Scarlett and Julian. This book was written for thirteen year old me. Thirty year old me is just too savvy (cynical?) to fall for it.

In the immortal words of Agent Murtaugh, I’m getting too old for this shit.

My rating: 2/5

You can find Caraval here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Throne of Glass (Books #1-5) by Sarah J. Maas

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Over the summer I discovered Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) trilogy on a Buzzfeed list of fantasy novels. I read the entire series in a few days and thoroughly enjoyed it. The second installment, A Court of Mist and Fury, was one of my favorite books of the year. When I learned that Maas had another fantasy series out, Throne of Glass (ToG) I quickly downloaded them from my local library and got to work.

I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but there may be important plot points given away. You’ve been warned!

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Magic has been banished from the continent of Erilea. The king of Adarlan has expanded his empire by overthrowing the nearby kingdoms, leaving thousands either in poverty or in slavery. Celaena Sardothien is in the latter category. An infamous assassin, she was sentenced to life in a labor camp after she and her partner were betrayed and caught. After a year of struggling to survive, a man shows up with the power to change her life. The king of Adarlan is holding a contest to find a new Champion. He is recruiting thieves and killers from all of Erilea to compete against one another, the winner to receive riches and a position in the court of Adarlan. Celaena must now compete against others just like herself or risk being thrown back into the horrors of the slave camp.

Aelin Galathynius is a princess without a throne. After the king of Adarlan had her parents slaughtered, she has been running and hiding for most of her life. She journeys across the sea to Wendlyn, the kingdom of the Fae, to beg for help from the ruthless Fae Queen, Maeve.

I love a badass heroine, and there is no more heroine more badass than Celaena Sardothien. I’m going to be very frank right now, the first novel does not do her justice. I noticed something similar with the first installment of ACOTAR. Maas struggles to get her characters on their feet and behaving like people as opposed to paper dolls. Had the series as a whole not gotten such rave reviews I might have stopped reading midway through Throne of Glass. The other characters spend an awful lot of time referring to Celaena as a dangerous, bloodthirsty, heartless killer…but we are often treated to long descriptions of her pretty dresses or the books she likes to read. Celaena frequently muses on how quickly she could kill the people she is interacting with, but we never actually see this happen throughout the duration of the first novel. I got the sense that Maas was trying to make sure her deadly killer could still be seen as likable, but she somehow managed to declaw Celaena in the process. This problem is quickly solved in the next few books, so I would encourage readers to at least get to Crown of Midnight before making any final judgments.

It must be acknowledged that ToG is YA fiction. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I really enjoy YA fantasy, however; it still is reined in by the limitations of its genre. Parts of the series get overly hung-up on various love affairs and relationships. There were times when you want to roll your eyes and tell two of the characters to please just f*ck already so we can move on with the plot. And Aelin Targaryen – I’m sorry –  Galathynius’ journey to reclaim her kingdom takes a lot of time to get off the ground as she weebles and wobbles her way from place to place. ToG shares many themes with GoT except that, for me anyway, it lacked a little of emotional resonance. I never doubted that the characters were going to end up where they wanted to be, and with the impossibly good-looking people they wanted to be with. This isn’t necessarily a criticism; there are few authors in world who can match George R. R. Martin’s malevolent delight in killing off his main characters. It does, however; take away a certain amount of suspense. Who knows, perhaps the next novel in the series will make me eat those words. One can only hope.

After the underwhelming first novel, ToG shakes off its early sluggishness and begins fleshing out its characters and their various story arcs. Our primary focus is on Celaeana, and her journey builds momentum at a blistering pace. Once she gets into her groove, Maas is an expert at hooking her readers and keeping them on the edge of their seats. I recently finished the fifth novel and am livid that I have to wait a few months until the sixth installment becomes available for checkout at the library.

Overall, I would definitely recommend these novels to anyone who is a fan of high fantasy in general and YA fantasy specifically. Yes, there are some moments when you are going to roll your eyes. But overall, the Throne of Glass series is a fun and riveting set of books that is perfect for those days when you want something that is generally uncomplicated but still capable of packing a punch.

Note: I will mention that this series is on the mature end of the YA genre. Some of the scenes get very steamy. I wouldn’t recommend this series to anyone under the age of sixteen. 

You can find the first book of the series here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

My Rating: 4/5

Happy reading everyone!