Book Review: Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

At the Frenzy Presents event in late August, I learned about Rena Barron’s novel Kingdom of Souls. The fantasy aspect of the novel interested me; and the African theme running through the story intrigued me. Soon after the event, I pre-ordered the novel online.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb:

Explosive fantasy set in a world of magic and legend, where one girl must sacrifice her life, year by year, to gain the power necessary to fight the mother she has never been good enough for.

Arrah is a young woman from a long line of the most powerful witch doctors in the land. But she fails at magic, fails to call upon the ancestors and can’t even cast the simplest curse.

Shame and disappointment dog her.

When strange premonitions befall her family and children in the kingdom begin to disappear, Arrah undergoes the dangerous and scorned process of selling years of her life for magic. This borrowed power reveals a nightmarish betrayal and a danger beyond what she could have imagined. Now Arrah must find a way to master magic, or at least buy it, in order to save herself and everything she holds dear.

An explosive fantasy set in a world of magic and legend with a twist you will never see coming.

My thoughts:

The beginning of Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron was not easy to read as I had to familiarise myself with the unusual names as well as the references to African culture. Often I found myself wishing for a name chart at the beginning of the novel so that I could refer to it and set it clear in my mind who was related to whom, and in what way they were connected.

Once I got used to the unusual names and had a clear picture in my mind where everyone fit in, it was easier to focus on the story. And what a story it was! Details were intricately woven in between the actions of the characters; characters that reflect the range of personalities that are found in the world. Within the Kingdom, there are kind and gentle people as well as people who are cruel and who adversely affect the lives of others.

The heroine, Arrah, is a young woman who tries to rectify the actions of someone she loves. As she goes on her journey, she grows as a person. She is one who perseveres and, as such, is a good role model to any young person reading this novel. Arrah is a character who discovers who she is and who discovers the magic she has within herself. Her journey is difficult but, with the help of her friends, she is able to realise her potential.

Kingdom of Souls is not an easy read and is more suitable for a young person who enjoys a more literary type of novel. Magic is a thread that runs through the story and is perfect for fans of fantasy novels. The ethos of African culture is a bonus and will appeal to those who are looking to connect with or explore the beauty of this culture. As an adult, I enjoyed the symbolism and imagery I read in Barron’s words. This is a novel I would highly recommend.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 92nd in my book pledge for 2019)

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Book Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

On Instagram, I kept seeing good reviews of Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson. As well as being a Fantasy novel, the story featured a library. I could not resist and decided to immerse myself in the story.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb:

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined. 

My thoughts:

From the first pages of the novel, I was swept away by the story and the beautiful imagery. The language definitely drew me in and I often paused in my reading of the story to appreciate it. Rogerson used words to create beautiful pictures in my mind; images that are a perfect fit for a fantasy novel.

Sorcery of Thorns is set within the walls of Great Libraries and features a heroine who works within one such library. Her name is Elizabeth Scrivener. Such a clever last name, don’t you think, especially as she works in a library filled with scribed books. I enjoyed, too, that all books within the library are magical (precisely the way I see books) and are thus labelled grimoires.

The heroine, Elisabeth, sets out on a mission to save the Libraries and, while doing so, sets out on an adventure of self-discovery. The unexpected ups and downs of the story were thoroughly enjoyable for me and I flipped the pages quickly. This was one of those books that I couldn’t wait to continue reading when I got home from work. And it was definitely one that encouraged me to ignore the TV remote!

I enjoyed Robertson’s unusual heroine, as well as her counterpart, Nathaniel. Reading about Nathaniel and his demon was interesting and, even though one should Not enjoy a demon character, I did. Silas is definitely not what one would expect of such a creature.

Sorcery of Thorns is a beautifully written fantasy story that will enfold you in its magic. The bonus is that the novel is set in a bookish environment. I loved this story – as shown by the amount of post-its I placed throughout the novel. This beautiful book is a novel that I recommend to those who enjoy stories about magic and a young woman who grows to know herself better.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 91st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth

At the Frenzy Presents event at the end of August, I was lucky enough to receive one of the books that interested me: A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth. This is her second novel and I wanted to compare the second novel with her debut.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb:

Violet Sterling has spent the last seven years in exile, longing to return to Burleigh House. One of the six great houses of England, Burleigh’s magic always kept the countryside well. And as a child, this magic kept Violet happy, draping her in flowers while she slept, fashioning secret hiding places for her, and lighting fires on the coldest nights to keep her warm.

Everything shattered, though, when her father committed high treason trying to free Burleigh from the king’s oppressive control. He was killed, and Vi was forced into hiding.

When she’s given a chance to go back, she discovers Burleigh has run wild with grief. Vines and briars are crumbling the walls. Magic that once enriched the surrounding countryside has turned dark and deadly, twisting lush blooms into thorns, poisoning livestock and destroying crops. Burleigh’s very soul is crying out in pain.

Vi would do anything to help, and soon she finds herself walking the same deadly path as her father all those years before. Vi must decide how far she’s willing to go to save her house—before her house destroys everything she’s ever known.

My thoughts:

As I began reading A Treason of Thorns, I was pulled right into the story. I loved the magical thread running through the story; and the fact that a house was imbued with a magic of its own. So much happens in a house and so many secrets occur within it walls. I love that this fact is transformed into magic in this story. While reading it, I could imagine the large houses in England of centuries past and the power that they used to have within society.

I felt a connection with the characters in Weymouth’s second novel much more than I did with the characters of her first. The reason could be that I enjoyed the inner strength of Violet – as well as the fact that she is loyal both to her House, Burleigh, and to her childhood friend, Wyn. In the novel, Violet has a series of choices to make and it is not always obvious what it is that she will choose. In order to make her choice, she comes to a few realisations about herself and what is important to her. I am tempted to say that Weymouth’s character development of her heroine is far stronger in A Treason of Thorns than it was in her first novel.

I enjoyed the magical quality of this novel and it is a perfect story for fans of fantasy fiction. The fantasy, however, is not too far removed from human history: readers can make a connection to the not too distant past (or even the present) when thinking of the influences of the Great Houses in society. It is a story that reminds us of the magic of the Great Houses in England. I enjoyed Weymouth’s storytelling and I look forward to reading her next offering.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 89th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Crier’s War by Nina Varela

At the Frenzy Presents event at the end of August, I was lucky enough to receive one of the books that interested me: Crier’s War by Nina Varela.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, LGBT

Blurb:

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

My thoughts:

Goodreads describes Crier’s War by Nina Varela as a Fantasy novel. While reading it, however, it had more of a science-fiction feel to me as it describes a world that is overtaken by human-made creations. The novel describes a possibility in a far distant era on Earth, and not on a mythical land.

The story describes a contrast between the Human and the Automae: two creatures that are at odds with one another and who both want their freedom – the Humans from enslavement of the creatures they created; and the Automae from their dependence on the humans. The politics of the Automae reflects the ideology followed by many humans in today’s world; a worldview that centres on keeping one’s culture and race separate from others.

Crier’s War is not just a story set in a possible future. It is a story that deals with separatism, as well as with being different. It is a story that reflects a realisation – and then acknowledgement – of difference within one’s self. It is a story that hints at the possibility of living in harmony (a possibility that I guess will be explored more in the second novel of the series). And it is a story that explores humanity and what it is to be human.

The two main characters in the story – Ayla and Crier – experience a growth throughout the novel. I enjoyed seeing their own self-realisation unfold as I turned the pages. The more I read about them, the more I grew to understand them and to like them as characters. It is a beautiful thing to see a young person come into their own and Varela describes their unfurling subtly and gently.

I enjoyed the world created by Varela as well as the characters that people her world. The novel ended on a cliffhanger and at that perfect moment. Now I need to wait for the release of the next in the series – and I am hoping that it is not a long wait. I need to know what happens next!

If you enjoy fantasy and science fiction stories, you will enjoy this one. In addition, it is a queer story with beautiful character development of young people. This is a series that I have every intention of completing.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 88th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier

On Twitter, I entered a giveaway to receive an ARC of The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier. I entered as I was intrigued by the synopsis of the novel – and I am always interested in reading novels for young readers that are a little different. I was pleased when I was gifted a copy of the ARC by the Canadian author.

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Middle Grade

Blurb:

In the small town of Griever’s Mill, eleven-year-old Ben Cameron is expecting to finish off his summer of relaxing and bird-watching without a hitch. But everything goes wrong when dark clouds roll in.

Old Man Crandall is the first to change–human one minute and a glass statue the next. Soon it’s happening across the world. Dark clouds fill the sky, and, at random, people turn into frozen versions of themselves. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no one knows how to stop it.

With his mom on the verge of a breakdown, and his brother intent on following the dubious plans put forth by a nameless voice on the radio, Ben must hold out hope that his town’s missing sparrows will return with everyone’s souls before the glass plague takes them away forever.

My thoughts:

The Absence of Sparrows is a well-written story that perfectly suits the 9 years and up age group. The language is clear and not too wordy; the dialogue interesting and easily understood. As an adult, I could not help but become immersed in the story; and I can imagine a 10 year old engrossed in the story in order to find out what will happen.

The novel has a bit of an apocalyptic feel to it as it describes a plague that brings the world to a standstill. The main character, Ben Cameron, is a 10 year old boy who has to work through his emotions and reactions when it affects his own family. Not all his decisions are the correct ones – and these mistakes are what will endear the reader to him. As Ben Cameron goes through the process of doing what is right for him, he learns what is important to him – and how far he will go to stand up for what he believes.

Kirchmeier has written a coming-of-age novel that will hold young readers who enjoy futuristic novels in its grip. The young readers will adore all the facts about birds that have been inserted into the story – interesting facts that they are sure to share with their families. I enjoyed this Middle Grade story and would recommend it to any child looking for a story of courage and hope.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 54th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Rebel Mages by Laurie Forest

Ever since I had finished the second novel in Laurie Forest’s series of The Black Witch Chronicles, I had been waiting for The Rebel Mages to come out. I pre-ordered the novel and, as soon as I received it, I opened the pages and read it.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

The novel contains two novellas which had been previously published as e-books. The book contains the back story to the characters found in The Black Witch: Elloren Gardner and Sagellyn Gaffney.

Wandfasted

Twenty years before Elloren Gardner enrolled at the illustrious Verpax University, Erthia was rent asunder during the devastating Realm War. When Tessla Harrow is driven from her home by the fighting, she discovers a depth of power she never knew she had…and an irresistible draw toward Vale Gardner, the son of the most powerful mage her people have ever known—the Black Witch.

Light Mage

Before Elloren came to possess the White Wand of myth, the Wand was drawn to another bearer: Sagellyn Gaffney. Sage’s affinity for light magery, a rare skill among Gardnerians, makes her the perfect protector for the one tool that can combat the shadows spreading across Erthia. But in order to keep the Wand safe from the dark forces hunting for it, Sage must abandon everything she once knew and forge a new path for herself…a dangerous course that could lead to either triumph or utter ruin.

My thoughts:

I loved delving into Laurie Forest’s world again. The images that she creates in my mind with her words are so beautiful. I adore her characters and enjoyed reading the back story to The Black Witch. The characterisations are on point, and the issues that she addresses run seamlessly throughout the story. There were a number of moments in both novellas when I got goosebumps – the author’s words pulled me in and then suddenly a sentence would take me back to the first book I read in the series – or to a moment in human life that is reflected in the scene.

Reading The Rebel Mages underscored, for me, what it is I enjoy about the fantasy known as The Black Witch Chronicles. The story is more than just a Fantasy set in a world of fantastical characters. Instead it is a critique on society, on oppression, on prejudice. It is also a story of hope and the dream that all peoples, no matter what race or culture, can live together in freedom. Forest is a writer who has woven her experiences of the world into a magical tale that has certainly captured – and held – my attention.

Now I wait impatiently for the third novel in the series. These novellas have only whet my appetite for more of Elloren’s story.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 26th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

My contact at Harper Collins Canada sent me Ogre Enchanted to be a possible book choice at the children’s book club I am starting at school. Fantasy novels are of interest to a number of the members and I thought this one would be a perfect choice.

Genre: Young Adult, Middle Grade, Fantasy

Blurb:

In this prequel to Ella Enchanted, which can stand on its own, young healer Evie is transformed into an ogre by the meddling fairy Lucinda. She’ll turn back only if someone proposes and she accepts!

Returning to the land and many of the characters from her beloved Newbery Honor–winning Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine has written a delightful tale about a clever and endearing heroine who is determined to defy expectations.

Evie is happiest when she is healing people, diagnosing symptoms, and prescribing medications, with the help of her devoted friend (and test subject) Wormy. So when Wormy unexpectedly proposes to her, she kindly turns him down; she has far too much to do to be marrying anyone. And besides, she simply isn’t in love with him.

But a certain meddling fairy named Lucinda has been listening in, and she doesn’t approve of Evie’s rejection. Suddenly, Evie finds herself transformed from a girl into a hideous, hungry ogre. Evie now has only sixty-two days to accept another proposal—or else be stuck as an ogre forever.

My thoughts:

Ogre Enchanted makes one think of the fairy tales we read as young children. The story includes fairies and fairy magic, ogres, and the people who inhabit this magical world. The main character of this novel, Eve, is a young woman who is certain of who she wants to be and who wishes to remain true to herself even though she has been cursed by a fairy. She goes on an adventure in order to lift the curse and while travelling meets up with people that help her realise a little about herself, and what her relationship with her best friend means.

Levine’s storytelling drew me in and I forgot that I was pre-reading the novel for a group of much younger readers. I think that the grade 5s in my book club will love Evie and her independent spirit; that they will enjoy her cleverness in trying to outwit the fairy and her curse; and that they will shout out “Yes!” when they read the ending. I look forward to hearing their thoughts on this story. Ogre Enchanted is a beautifully written story about self-realisation and the growth of friendship.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 21st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

This year I plan to re-read The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling and during February I read the second book in the series: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This novel is available in a beautiful illustrated edition and this is the edition I read for my revisit into the Hogwarts world of magic.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb: 

The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls’ bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley’s younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone — or something — starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects . . . Harry Potter himself?

My thoughts:

I loved Harry Potter’s world the first time I read the series and my enjoyment was not diminished with a second reading. I smiled at the mischief Harry and his friend Ron got up to, and enjoyed reading about their stealthy adventures in the corridors of Hogwarts.

My enjoyment of this book was amplified by the paintings by Jim Kay in the illustrated edition. The paintings are beautiful renditions of favourite characters and he does them great justice. Like a young child, I ‘read’ the images in the book and admired the detail in Kay’s work.

I am reminded again of why children love this story so much: it is full of magic, adventure, as well as relatable characters. I look forward to reading the next installment in the story.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 15th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

When I attended the Frenzy Presents event in August this year at which they announced the upcoming Young Adult releases, I knew I had to read this novel. I can not resist a story that includes dragons and a strong woman character.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb: 

The rite has existed for as long as anyone can remember: when the prince-who-will-be-king comes of age, he must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, however, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon, or what horrors she has faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome prince, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny to sit on the throne beside him. Ama comes with Emory back to the kingdom of Harding, hailed as the new princess, welcomed to the court.

However, as soon as her first night falls, she begins to realize that not all is as it seems, that there is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows–and that the greatest threats to her life may not be behind her, but here, in front of her.

My thoughts: 

I loved this new take on the old story of dragons, a damsel, and a prince who comes to rescue her. It was interesting to read what the damsel feels after her rescue – and the confusion that she experiences. The damsel (named Ama by the prince) slowly comes to an awakening and a realisation of who she is and what she wants to be in the future that has been decided for her by Emory, the man who brought her to his castle.

While reading this novel, my heart was definitely captured by Ama. In her, I could see the representation of women in society – women who are expected to fall in with the men who are in their lives. She questions the role that has been given to her – as do so many women in modern society today. Ama’s character has been written with sensitivity, and with the understanding that a woman slowly comes to a realisation of who she is. The novel may be bringing to the fore the woman’s experience, but it is subtly done within the framework of a story in which the man is seen to be the one who rescues the woman.

I enjoyed this novel for so much more than just for the story. I loved the gentle reference to a woman’s strength and her acceptance of it.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 81st in my 50 book pledge for 2018)