Memories of Ash
by: Intisar Khanani
The Sunbolt Chronicles #2
Publication Date: May 30th, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.
Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.
If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.
My rating: 5 stars
Memories of Ashes takes place a year after Sunbolt – Hitomi has been learning under Brigit Stormwind. Until one day a rogue mage hunter visits to escort Stormwind to the Council for a trial. Knowing Blackflame is behind the charges Hitomi decides to break Stromwind free.
MoA is one of the best books I’ve read this year; I am still on a high from it. I cannot even begin to describe my love for it. This high fantasy is nothing like I’ve read before – it probably has to do with romance usually playing a major role – but in this there was hardly any. A full length novel about a girl travelling the land with the help of allies.
Hitomi is a really likeable protagonist – she’s strong, witty, loyal, intelligent, and flawed. Hitomi has a habit of getting into situations without much planning, and while that may usually seem annoying it isn’t with Hitomi – she acknowledges that it is a flaw – and to do the right thing is more important to her. Despite regaining some of her memories she was still haunted with the deaths she caused and refuse to take anymore; it was very humane of her.
The political plot was quite interesting as well, usually I steer clear of politics but Khanani’s writing made it really fascinating. The fight for power, the will to save one’s own skin even if it means losing one’s soul, the deception and manipulation, were really well immersed with the story. There was so much to learn – if something is not fully unveiled it is best to trust one’s gut.
While this was not heavy on the romance, this did have some really beautiful bonds – whether they’re familial, friendships, or alliances. This was a breath of fresh air from the usual fantasy books I’ve read. The bond between Hitomi and Stromwind gave me some paternal feels, and it was nice for Hitomi to have someone to guide her after being alone so long. I didn’t realise how much I missed Kenta until he showed up; I loved their relationship in Sunbolt and I love it even more after MoA. Val and Hitomi’s relationship is so unique and special – the trust between the two is beautiful.
I know I said I’m happy that this barely had any romance, but I’m a romantic at heart and I need to share my opinion. In Sunbolt we were introduced to the Ghost, and I feel in love with them after reading their first scene. Hitomi and Ghost give me so many Kaz and Inej feels. Though there was only mentions of the Ghost I’m hoping we’ll meet him again in the next book. I’m definitely rooting for these two, and I hope we get like a secondary/tertiary romance plot with them.
Khanani’s writing is remarkable; she kept me on the edge of my seat, fully immersed in the story, without a care of what was going around me. She has the perfect mixture of plot, world building, and character development. We were introduced to many new characters and they weren’t without reason, everything tied up. I am in awe with her writing.
I received an arc of this from the author in exchange of an honest review.
About the Author
Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters.
Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, following the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles, an epic series following a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, a dark mage intent on taking over the Eleven Kingdoms.
Rebel of the Sands
by: Alwyn Hamilton
Rebel of the Sands #1
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.
Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.
My rating: 4.5 stars
Rebel of the Sands follows Amani, an orphan stuck living with her aunt and uncle. Dustwalk, her hometown, is a dead place and she finds herself suffocating in it; she’s dreamt of running away to Izman for a long time. Soon she finds herself in an unexpected journey with an unexpected companion. Without realising her plans change and so does she.
I LOVED AMANI! She is a kickass protagonist; when everything was crumbling she didn’t whine or cry, she took it in her hands to find a solution. Reading about her dressing up as a guy to earn her way out of Dustwalk was some of my favourite parts. Ahh, my blue eye bandit won me over from the start. And, I loved how she wasn’t one of those sacrificial lambs who always thought about how the outcome of their decisions would affect others. She was selfish, tough, and somewhat naïve, to watch her grow was truly amazing. Even though watching her leave some people behind made me churn a bit, I loved how she didn’t continue to do so in the future – I just really love her development.
The world building was alright, I felt it was a mixture of Middle East and Wild Wild West, not entirely Middle Eastern. Also, the world building could have been executed better – something was missing. (Maybe a map like Six of Crows could have helped.) The magical aspect was interesting as well, it doesn’t come into play until the second half of the book, but when it shows up it does not disappoint at all.
I loved the comrade between Amani and Jin, but I felt the romance on and off. The fact their relationship was built on lies didn’t help. However, I did enjoy their friendship. I kind of felt their feelings for one another were kind of rushed, but they haven’t exchanged I love you’s or made unreasonable/rash decisions for one another, so that was a plus point. I’m hoping in the next book their relationship develops more before they get together. I just really want a slow burn.
The secondary characters were fabulous and I’m eager to see more of them in the future. Shazad is also a strong female character I grew quite fond of rather quickly. Hala was a sweetie pie and I wanted to keep her protected (just like Ahmed). Bahi and the twins were cute as well. I enjoyed Ahmed’s character as well, I’m hoping he as a bigger role in the next book. I loved how Hamilton was able to execute an amazing development with them – they tied perfectly with the story.
And, I almost forgot, the writing is glorious. Hamilton sucked me in with her captivating plot and beautiful writing. I need the second book soon, I really don’t know how I’m supposed to wait. (This is why I like reading series that are complete.)
The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross
(Fourth Element #1)
Publication date: May 10th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
They are the light against the darkness.
The steel against the necromancy of the Druj.
And they use demons to hunt demons….
Nazafareen lives for revenge. A girl of the isolated Four-Legs Clan, all she knows about the King’s elite Water Dogs is that they bind wicked creatures called daevas to protect the empire from the Undead. But when scouts arrive to recruit young people with the gift, she leaps at the chance to join their ranks. To hunt the monsters that killed her sister.
Scarred by grief, she’s willing to pay any price, even if it requires linking with a daeva named Darius. Human in body, he’s possessed of a terrifying power, one that Nazafareen controls. But the golden cuffs that join them have an unwanted side effect. Each experiences the other’s emotions, and human and daeva start to grow dangerously close.
As they pursue a deadly foe across the arid waste of the Great Salt Plain to the glittering capital of Persepolae, unearthing the secrets of Darius’s past along the way, Nazafareen is forced to question his slavery—and her own loyalty to the empire. But with an ancient evil stirring in the north, and a young conqueror sweeping in from the west, the fate of an entire civilization may be at stake…
Interview with Kat Ross
So where did the idea for the Fourth Element series come from? And why ancient Persia?
Well, I really wanted to write a fantasy, and I wanted to have supernatural creatures that no one had seen before. Delving into mythology is a great way to spark ideas, and that’s where I learned about daevas. They’re the demons of Zoroastrianism, a religion founded some 3,500 years ago and that’s still practiced today (Freddie Mercury is one of its most famous followers). I thought it would be interesting a tell a story that flipped this moral judgment on its head and asked, what if they were actually good? What if the whole demon thing was a justification for their enslavement by human priests? So I gave them some cool magical powers and threw in a healthy dash of sword-fighting and forbidden love, and The Midnight Sea was born.
What’s your writing process like?
I’m not especially fast, and I can be really hard on myself for having a relatively paltry wordcount at the end of several hours’ hard labor. Rachel Aaron Bach is my hero in this respect, and she has a great book out called 2,000 to 10,000 that I highly recommend. That said, I do write every day, and I write in the mornings before anything else because it’s the most important thing to me and I’ll be cranky if I get sucked into other things and end up blowing off my manuscript. But even if I only turn out a thousand words, it adds up pretty quickly! Honestly, I think you can do it any way you like, the main thing is to not worry too much about what others think and to keep believing in yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will.
I’m also a heavy-duty plotter and outliner, which means that my final draft is generally pretty clean. Most of the editing tends to be adding quieter scenes where the characters reveal themselves in more subtle ways, since the full-tilt action bits come quickly to me.
Any tips on how to vanquish writer’s block?
There’s usually a reason why I’ve lost my enthusiasm for a project. Sometimes it’s a very real problem in the story that a nagging little voice in my head is already aware of and that I need to listen to. If I’m bored, the reader will definitely be bored. So I work on identifying the problem. I take long walks, I scribble out flow charts, I consult wise people like Beth Revis, whose Paper Hearts is just awesome for plotting and structure. What worked for me recently on another project was to write a new, one-page summary. I realized there just wasn’t enough suspense building toward the final third. The fix required some work, but it was completely worth it in the end.
And sometimes you try all that and it doesn’t work because there isn’t a real problem: the storyline is brilliant, the characters are loveable/hateable, the prose is exquisite. Your head just isn’t in the game for whatever reason. If so, sit down and write as often as you can anyway. Otherwise, the not-in-the-mood excuse will get too comfortable and you won’t ever finish anything.
Finally, whether you are working on a self-imposed deadline or one set by an editor, take a breath and remind yourself that this is a first draft. You can—and will—go back later and polish, adding scenes, deleting others, and generally reworking the whole thing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be the best thing you’ve ever written, and in fact you wouldn’t want it to be, because that means it’s all downhill from here, right?
What are you reading right now?
Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan, The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, and A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. I keep a pile next to my bed and graze depending on my mood. It’s probably a terrible habit, but I can’t seem to break it.
Do you write in more than one genre?
Yes! I think because I’ve always read pretty widely in more than one genre (mainly fantasy and mysteries of all stripes, with a side of sci-fi and thrillers), it’s natural for me to try my hand at writing different kinds of stories.
My first book was a YA dystopian thriller, this series is solid fantasy, and I have another Sherlockian mystery series in the works that’s set in the Victorian era. The first book, The Daemoniac, is available for free right now in serialized form on the Radish app for iPhone (and Android later this month), and I’m planning to publish it this year once I get a breather from working on the Fourth Element series.
So where is the series headed?
I have two more books planned to conclude this story arc (there’s still an evil queen to contend with, among other things), so the first set will be a trilogy. Then the idea is to jump forward a couple thousand years, although probably not all the way to the modern era. After spending so much time immersed in Victoriana for The Daemoniac, I would love to return to that period. Daevas and their bonded live a very, very long time, so I don’t have to say goodbye to my most beloved (and despised) characters from The Midnight Sea. I looked it up and there is a mash-up called gaslight fantasy (adore that!), which sounds just my speed. (:
My eyes flew open at the crack of dawn. I groaned and rubbed my forehead. My scalp tingled, an icy, unpleasant sensation. I knew right away where Darius was and what he was doing. It was another side effect of the bond, I’d discovered. I could feel his heart beating. I knew that one of his boots was too tight. I could shut my eyes and tell you exactly where he was, even if he was hundreds of leagues away.
Why had no one told me what it would be like? I supposed Tijah did, but this was much worse than I’d expected. Much, much worse.
I threw on my new scarlet tunic and marched down to the river. Tendrils of mist swirled through the dead reeds at the edge. It was late autumn and the air had a dank chill that promised snow.
My daēva stood there, stripped to the waist, pouring water over his head with his right hand. He wore a gold faravahar on a chain around his neck, its eagle wings spread wide. His left arm lay at his side, grey and dead. I stared at his shoulder, at the juncture where smooth skin met rough. His Druj curse.
It slowed me for a moment, seeing that pathetic arm, but I wasn’t yet ready to forgive him for waking me. That was my excuse, anyway. Of course, what really angered me was the terrible realization that I was burdened with a sorrow not my own, but that bled me nonetheless. What really angered me was him—everything about him.
He was calmer this morning, but I wasn’t. I stopped about twenty feet away. He didn’t turn around although he knew I was there.
“It’s nice that you’re so pious,” I said. “But don’t you think it’s a little early to be down here performing the morning rites?”
He paused, then dumped the last of the water from the bowl. I felt the cold trickle down my spine and my lips tightened.
“I was taught by the magi to come at first light,” Darius said. “Did you expect to sleep in? I’m afraid that’s not the way it works for Water Dogs.” He smiled, and we both knew it was fake. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you in some way.”
I stared at him, at the dark hair plastered across his forehead, his stubborn mouth. He looked so human. And yet there was something in the way Darius held himself, perfectly at ease in his own skin. Still but coiled, like the wolves I’d seen in the mountains.
“You haven’t offended me in the least,” I said. “I suppose you need the blessing more than I do.”
I spun on my heel and walked away, knowing I had wounded him. A small stab to my own heart. And I felt slightly ashamed. But that wasn’t the end of it. Then I felt his satisfaction at my shame. And my own anger that he knew and was glad.
And then his amusement at my anger!
I stalked off, determined to think nothing, to feel nothing, ever again.
If only it were that easy.
Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.
Six of Crows
by: Leigh Bardugo
Six of Crows, #1
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.
OH.MY.GOD! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? I don’t know how I lived so peacefully knowing this book has been released for months and not bothered to do anything about it. I was merely surviving before this. One may think I’m overreacting, but I am not. My reaction is completely justified. If you don’t believe me just read the book.
I am still hungover from it. Kaz, Inej, Nina, Matthis, Jesper, and Waylan were all amazing. I’m in love with each and every one of them. It was so easy to get sucked into this. Bardugo kept me hooked from the first page. Had it not been for life I would have finished this in one go. I felt anxious every time I had to put it down. I usually don’t re-read fantasy but this is an exception; I have an urge to re-read it already. IT IS THAT BEAUTIFUL. Urghhh I need my own copy now, and it will be painful to wait 6 more months. On the plus side, Crooked Kingdom is releasing a day near my birthday. (I know what I’m getting for my birthday :D)
I went into this book completely blind. I was awestruck with the cover, plus the hype around this book made me want to read it even more. When I found out my sister’s friend owns it I knew I couldn’t waste such an opportunity. I asked her if I could borrow it and she being the sweetheart she is let me.
From the writing to the plot to the characters to the setting, everything was marvellous. Usually having many different perspectives would have been a hassle, however, Bardugo annihilated it. Each and every perspective was important and it added a certain grace to the story. Half the magic is from the various perspectives. It was glorious reading one’s thoughts and then their actions through another’s perspective. I, especially, enjoyed Kaz’s thoughts vs. his behaviour.
Kaz narrowed his eyes. “I’m not some character out of a children’s story who plays harmless pranks and steals from the rich to give to the poor.”
Kaz is the perfect anti-hero. He is much more than just being just Dirtyhands. It was incredible reading his character unfold. Inej’s strength is admirable, after everything she’s been through she still has hope and belief in her religion. Jesper’s wit and sarcasm made me laugh quite a few times. He’s the perfect dose of lightness needed in such intense heists. Nina is bold, loud, and immensely loyal. Her loyalty may not always come across as loyalty, but her heart is in the right place. I love her unabashed nature. Matthias’ character development is definitely one of my favourites; the hate being replaced with logic and compassion. Wylan is someone you don’t think of much until later on and then he becomes a cinnamon roll that needs to be protected at all costs.
“Kaz leaned back. “What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”
“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.
“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.
“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.
“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.”
I absolutely adored the unlikely team’s dynamic. They were an odd team but one that worked really well. I love how their trust and respect grew for each other. And their interactions never failed to amuse me.
“Jesper knocking his head against the hull and cast his eyes heavenward. “Fine. But if Pekka Rollins kills us all, I’m going to get Wylan’s ghost to teach my ghost how to play the flute just so that I can annoy the hell out of your ghost.”
Brekker’s lips quirked. “I’ll just hire Matthias’ ghost to kick your ghost’s ass.”
“My ghost won’t associate with your ghost,” Matthias said primly, and then wondered if the sea air was rotting his brain.”
I also enjoyed all the romantic relationships.
“What do you want then?”
The old answers came easily to mind. Money. Vengeance. Jordie’s voice in my head silenced forever. But a different reply roared to life inside him, loud, insistent, and unwelcome. You, Inej. You.
I adore Kaz and Inej’s relationship. I loved their partnership from the start (way before I shiped it romantically). Despite Kaz keeping a lot to himself there is a certain level of trust he has with Inej that he doesn’t with anyone else. She keeps him grounded – she’s his rock.
“He needed to tell her…what? That she was lovely and brave and better than anything he deserved. That he was twisted, crooked, wrong, but not so broken that he couldn’t pull himself together into some semblance of a man for her. That without meaning to, he’d begun to lean on her, to look for her, to need her near. He needed to thank her for his new hat.”
See what I mean. She means more to him than he anticipated and that terrifies him. When Inej was injured in the ambush Kaz’s worry broke me. It was the first clue to there being romantic feelings and I was a goner.
“I will have you without armour, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.”
This is one of my favourite lines in the whole book. I love how strong Inej is and how she refuses to settle for less. She knows Kaz wants to be with her but she can’t let herself be with him if he’s always going to have an armour. As much as I want them together, I want them together fully not in some half-baked way.
“It’s not natural for women to fight.”
“It’s not natural for someone to be as stupid as he is tall, and yet there you stand.”
Matthias and Nina were really pleasant to read about. I enjoyed their banter and care for one another (even when they tried hiding it). I was really curious about their history, I had a few guesses but nothing came close to reality.
“I have been made to protect you. Only in death will I be kept from this oath.”
I loved how Nina showed Matthias there is more to the Grisha than the hate he had been taught and opened his eyes about the truth of what was happening to the Grisha. And, when he finally gave up the hate he’d been harbouring my heart melted. At the end of the day Nina was it for him as he was for her.
“Stay,” she panted. Tears leaked from her eyes. “Stay till the end.”
“And after,” he said. “And always.”
“I want to feel safe again. I want to go home to Ravka.”
“Then I’ll take you there. We’ll set fire to raisins or whatever you heathens do for fun.”
“Zealot,” she said weakly.
“Nina,” he whispered, “little red bird. Don’t go.”
My heart broke when Nina starting feeling the symptoms. I could feel Matthias’ helplessness and his love for her. I really hope they make it in the next book and get their happily ever after.
“Jesper!” I’m going to kill that little idiot. “What do you want?” he shouted down. “Close your eyes!” “You can’t kiss me from down there, Wylan.” “Just do it!” “This better be good!” He shut his eyes. “Are they closed?” “Damn it, Wylan, yes, they’re—” There was a shrill, shrieking howl, and then bright light bloomed behind Jesper’s lids.”
Jesper and Wylan were really cute. I love how Jesper would tease Wylan and how Wylan would continue to surprise Jesper (and the readers).
“Nina might not be able to put you back, you know. Not without another dose of parem. You could be stuck like this.”
“Why does it matter?”
“I don’t know!” Jesper said angrily. “Maybe I liked your stupid face.”
I love how despite their initial meeting and flirtation Jesper grew to have genuine feelings for Wylan.
I had a feeling the exchange would not be pleasant but I did not expect it to go down the way it did. Now that it’s over I don’t know what to do. I just really need the second book. Why must it release in about 6 months? If only it would release earlier.