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Book Review! A Criminal Magic

I saw A Criminal Magic pop up on Goodreads at the beginning of the year, and once I read the blurb, I immediately added it to my list.

“THE NIGHT CIRCUS meets PEAKY BLINDERS in Lee Kelly’s new crossover fantasy novel.

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal. It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine…

A CRIMINAL MAGIC casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.”

How can you say no to that?! I managed to catch it for $2.99 on Amazon right after it released on February 2 (as opposed to $7.99 now), which was an amazing deal.

A Criminal Magic

The blurb is spot on when it says this book is a mix between The Night Circus and Peaky Blinders. I had really high expectations, and I’m happy to say that they were met and exceeded. A Criminal Magic gets one of my rare 5-star reviews.

Although it’s billed as a YA book, I’d classify it as more of a New Adult/Adult book. There’s nothing particularly “adult” in the content, but the tone is still somehow more mature than your standard YA fare. I absolutely see why the blurb mentions The Night Circus, because the magical performance element in both books is very similar. There’s a major difference between the feel of the two books though. To me, The Night Circus excelled because of the very descriptive, lyrical language that drew you into the relationship between Celia and Marco and the world of  Le Cirque des Rêves. A Criminal Magic, on the other hand, has less flowery language with more of a thriller style plot and the romance between Joan and Alex has a very different (but still satisfying) dynamic.

I have a soft spot for the fact that it’s set in a sort of alternate-reality Washington DC in Prohibition Era – but it’s magic that’s been outlawed, not booze. It was fun to read the references to M Street and the National Mall that I walk down on a regular basis :-) There are lots of subtle references that clue you into the time period, nothing overdone or kitschy and not too much slang (I love Libba Bray and her Diviners series, but the slang could go and I’d jump with joy!)

The characters were all very well written and managed to feel real without requiring a ton of backstory or obvious character development devices. There were enough hints in the story that you knew where you were headed, but it never felt like the author had given everything away.

And the ending was perfection. Perfection.

I’d recommend A Criminal Magic to anyone who enjoyed The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (obviously), The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine, Libba Bray’s Diviners series, Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season series (which shares the mechanics of people-with-outlawed-abilities and big-city-gangs) or the musical Chicago.

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My 2016 TBR List (so far)

I discovered a lot of great new (and just new-to-me) authors and series last year, and to my delight most of them have more books coming out this year! There are also some long-loved authors that are adding to some of my all-time favorite series (I’m looking at you, Garth Nix) which makes me deliriously happy. So, here’s what I KNOW I’ll be reading in 2016:-) I’ve organized them roughly by date of publication, although as we all know, those dates are still flexible, particularly for the titles that are set to release in the second half of the year…

Books that are ready to release:

The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen, #1)

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman – The official US publication date is today (1/26/16) but I believe it was released in the UK market last month. I read an excerpt of The Dark Days Club in the Spring 2016 Penguin Sampler, and I really liked it! I haven’t read anything else by Alison Goodman, but the concept of the story is something I thought I’d enjoy – Victorian young lady trying to fit in to society, secrets, and paranormal happenings – this reminds me strongly of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, but with a less flippant tone and no silly slang. I’ve requested it on NetGalley and Edelweiss, but if that doesn’t happen I’ll be buying this for myself:-)

A Criminal Magic

A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly – Coming February 2, 2016. The publisher’s blurb on this is “The Night Circus meets Peaky Blinders.” How can you say no to that?!? It has pretty good reviews thus far on Goodreads, so I’m excited to get my hands on it! This one I’ll buy, because I wasn’t able to get an ARC😦

The Alchemy of Chaos (Maradaine, #2)

The Alchemy of Chaos by Marshall Ryan Maresca – Also out February 2, 2016. I just got access to this on NetGalley today! I haven’t read book 1 of the Maradaine series yet (The Thorn of Dentonhill) so I went and bought that on my Nook so I can read them back-to-back:-) I read Maresca’s A Murder of Mages last year, which is also set in Maradaine but is a different series with some overlapping characters, and I loved it, so I’m excited to read both of these!

A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas – Out May 3, 2016. I’ll probably pre-order this at some point, because I’m not a big enough blogger to get an advance copy of such a popular series! I really enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I am absolutely ready to see more of Rhysand😉 Of her two series, I definitely prefer the Throne of Glass books just because I find the world-building and plot more original, but for a fairytale re-telling (which seem to be saturating the YA market over the past year or two) this series is among the best! Basically you can’t go wrong with Sarah J. Maas.

Tall Tail (Mrs. Murphy, #25)

Tall Tail by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown – Out May 17, 2016. This is the 25th book in this series, and I’ve been reading them since probably middle school (I was a precocious kid – probably not surprising, right?) The last couple of books have been shorter and haven’t had the same spark as the earlier books, in my opinion. That said, this entire series is one of my all-time favorites and is the epitome of a “cozy” mystery. Plus it’s set in Crozet, Virginia, which is practically local to me since we bought our house in NoVA:-) This is already in my NetGalley queue, so a review should be posted close to the release date!

Stiletto (The Checquy Files, #2)

Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley – Oh my god. Finally! Available June 14, 2016. What can I say about this that I haven’t already said in one of my many, many anticipatory blog posts, except that I reaaaaaally hope this publication date stays final. My poor mind can’t handle any more delays. I will be stalking the internet for an advance copy, but if that doesn’t happen you know I’ll be pre-ordering it come around May, and I’ll buy the paperback version once that comes out too, so I can easily lend it out to those who haven’t yet discovered the amazingness that is the Chequy.

The Shadow Hour (The Girl at Midnight, #2)

The Shadow Hour by Melissa Grey – Available July 12, 2016. I loved The Girl at Midnight, but it didn’t end in any sort of super-cliffhanger, so it will be interesting to see where Grey takes the series next!

Books without covers (yet):

Throne of Glass #5 by Sarah J. Maas – Should be out around September 2016. As I said earlier, Sarah J. Maas can do no wrong in my book, and this series just keeps getting better and better, so I’m absolutely ready for the next installment. Keep an eye out on Goodreads for an actual title and cover release and to confirm the publication date.

The Song Rising (Bone Season #3) by Samantha Shannon – Out around November 2016. This is probably the book I’m anticipating most in all of 2016, tied with Stiletto. The ending of The Mime Order *killed* me, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Shannon is an amazing writer and has created one of the coolest, most intricate fantasy worlds ever. Big Fan.:-) Again, keep an eye out for a cover release and to confirm the publication date!

Finally, we have books with no set publication date or cover, that are supposed to be out in 2016:

Abhorsen series #5 by Garth Nix – This book is about Lirael and Nick Sayre and is set after the short story The Creature in the Case, from Across the Wall, Nix’s first book of short stories. The Abhorsen series is one of my all-time favorite reads. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve re-read each book, but my paperback copy of Lirael got so battered that I bought ebooks of them all to lessen the wear and tear on my hardcopies! I bought Nix’s last book of short stories, To Hold the Bridge, and was absolutely thrilled with the Old Kingdom story that was the first entry in the book. Goodreads doesn’t have much info on Abhorsen #5, but EpicReads (from HarperCollins) also has it listed as a 2016 release, so check those two places for more info. later into the year!

An Import of Intrigue by Marshall Ryan Maresca – This is actually the sequel to A Murder of Mages, so of course I’m going to read it as soon as I possibly can (hopefully it’ll go up on NetGalley like The Alchemy of Chaos.) There’s not much to go on – no cover, no ballpark publication date, but I’m guessing it’ll be part of the fall release schedule. Check back with Goodreads if you want to keep tabs on this one!

These books alone will be a good chunk of my 2016 reading goal. What are you all most looking forward to this year – new authors or sequels/series additions? Let me know if there’s anything I should add to my list!

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Books of 2015

Hi friends! It’s been pretty silent over here because even though I’ve been reading plenty, I’m waaaaay behind on putting up reviews. I also haven’t baked anything for ages, other than holiday pies:-/ I got a lovely espresso machine for Christmas though, so now I’m back in an espresso-fueled burst of productivity.

You may notice a slight change in the blog layout as I’ve moved the Favorites and House Tour tabs under the About Me section, to make room for a tab on my review policies. I haven’t had many inquiries, but enough that I wanted to put something down in writing. I’ve also been working behind the scenes to set up an account on Edelweiss so I can keep better track of what’s coming up for 2016 and beyond – and there’s a ton! For those looking ahead, my next post will be all about what I’m excited to get my hands on this year.

I need to update the Horrible Hound tab too, because as those of you following along on Instagram will know, we added another 4-legged member to our family right before Thanksgiving! Our new addition, Rocket (aka Tiny Terror, aka Weasel, aka Skunky) is a little over a year old and full of energy – and he’s a chewer. So there’s plenty going on at the BarksandBaking house.

 

And now, for a long overdue recap of my 2015 reads!

Badge square

You read 54 out of 75 books
72%
Better luck in 2016!

I was clearly a little overambitious when I set my 2015 reading goal. According to my Goodreads stats, I read 76 books in 2014, so I though 75 would be do-able (especially since I’ve been getting so many advance copies!) but life got busy… I’m scaling back a bit and have set my 2016 goal for 55 books, and I’m already 6 books down, so hopefully I can knock the whole list out this year.

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54 books           17,399 pages

MY AVERAGE RATING FOR 2015: 3.4 stars
AVERAGE LENGTH: 355 pages
My favorite reads of 2015 (in no particular order):
The Bone Season & The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin
To Hold the Bridge, by Garth Nix
A Murder of Mages, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
A History of Glitter and Blood, by Hannah Moscowitz

 

 My Daylight Monsters by Sarah DaltonSHORTEST BOOK
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My Daylight Monsters

by Sarah Dalton

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by Libba Bray
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4.39 average

 

 

 

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Book Review! A History of Glitter and Blood

Seriously, that title. If you know of any book with a better, more evocative title, please share in the comments, because I don’t think one exists!

A History of Glitter and Blood

A History of Glitter and Blood will be available in early August 2015 – sorry for the super-advance review, but I was too excited to wait:-) – mark your calendars now!

This book is brilliantly, beautifully f*cked up.

And I’m just gonna say this right up front – this is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of book. There is no in between. Also, although there seems to be an impression out there that this is a YA book, I’d say it’s more along the lines of New Adult or even just plain Adult.

If you like your fantasy fiction to be all sunshine and rainbows or squeaky clean YA, walk away now. Ditto if you need clear narration and lots of detail. However, if you enjoy books that make shivers run down your spine and give you a sense of atmosphere so thick you can imagine that you’re there next to the characters, keep reading!

I was immediately drawn to this book by the title. I mean, “A History of Glitter and Blood?” Hell yes!!! I knew that this was going to be a dark fairy tale type story, which are some of my favorites to read. And the cover art is amazing (although I can see how the cover would also draw in a lot of people who really aren’t going to like this story.)

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Beckan and her friends are the only fairies brave enough to stay in Ferrum when war breaks out. Now there is tension between the immortal fairies, the subterranean gnomes, and the mysterious tightropers who arrived to liberate the fairies.
But when Beckan’s clan is forced to venture into the gnome underworld to survive, they find themselves tentatively forming unlikely friendships and making sacrifices they couldn’t have imagined. As danger mounts, Beckan finds herself caught between her loyalty to her friends, her desire for peace, and a love she never expected.
This stunning, lyrical fantasy is a powerful exploration of what makes a family, what justifies a war, and what it means to truly love.

The narration is unique, and if you don’t realize what’s going on it’s a lot harder to read, but I picked up quite quickly that I was reading a story where the “author” was spazzing out and writing to himself as much as to anyone else. It takes some getting used to, but this is one of the best versions of this device that I’ve had the pleasure to read in a long time. Without the spazzy narration and note-to-self asides, I don’t think the sense of atmosphere would have been nearly as vivid.

I won’t say much about the individual characters or plot, because for me, those actually weren’t as important by the end as the actual feel and atmosphere they all added up to… which might sound bad, but actually I mean it in a very good way. The story touches on particular individuals and particular things that happen before and after a war, the choices they make, and how each character’s individual natures affect their choices, but this story’s brilliance lies in how it adds all those things up to create a very true, resonating portrait of humanity.

All that said, I loved it! If you like Holly Black or dark versions of fairy tales, you definitely need to read this.

Do you like to read books with weird narration and/or changing POVs, or do you stick to the more traditional first-person or third-person style?

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Book Review! A Court of Thorns and Roses

Friends, I tried my hardest to get hold of an advance copy of this book, but I just couldn’t make it happen. Since I was so head-over-heels for the Throne of Glass books, I decided to go ahead and pre-order this one from Barnes & Noble for my Nook app so I could read it right away. Of course, I finished it just a few hours after it landed in my inbox.

It was awesome.

But I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because I was having a hard time writing a review that wasn’t too spoiler-y or too basic and vague… Anywho, here we go!

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

First of all, how amazing is that cover!?! I like that it gives you an idea of what the main character looks like without being the “girl in a formal dress looking over her shoulder” style that’s become ubiquitous. Also, red. Which is very fitting given the plot of this story. To get us started, here is the publisher’s blurb:

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!

First of all, the relationship between Feyre and Tamlin is a slow burn with a few bumps in the road, not an insta-love like the publisher’s blurb might suggest. There are lots of hard choices to be made, and Maas doesn’t pull punches to give Feyre an easy out, which I quite liked. About 2/3rds of the way through the book we learn more about Feyre’s family and a lot of depth gets added to their characters, which really took this book to the next level for me – it would have been so easy to use the family characters as set-up in the beginning and then leave them there, as flat, one-dimensional individuals who were holding Feyre back and had little to no redeeming qualities of their own, but Maas took the time to give them layers and make them continue to be an important part of the story and Feyre’s choices. Bravo.

There are a couple of characters that “help” Feyre out at various points in the story – for a price, of course. We’re dealing with the Fey here. Based on those characters I’m anticipating much more political gamesmanship in the next book, which is great, because Maas does so well with the politics and individual characters’ motivations in the Throne of Glass books. I’m also looking forward to seeing more of Rhysand in the next book, because I’m always a sucker for a tall-dark-and-handsome bad boy😉 Although this is known to be a sort of Beauty and the Beast retelling, Maas very skillfully places the story in the world of the Fey and gives nods to the original tale while staying true to her own writing style and keeping the story fresh. If you know it’s there, you can most definitely see the parallels, but subtle enough that you could miss it if you didn’t already know.

While I really enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses and I love Sarah J. Maas’s writing, I think I like the Throne of Glass books just a little bit more. The two series each have a distinct feel to them, and I find that world and those characters a bit more intriguing. It probably stems from the fact that Throne of Glass is a totally original world from the author. That said, I will definitely be reading the rest of this series.

If you like a darker sort of fairytale à la Holly Black or Gregory Maguire, A Court of Thorns and Roses should be right up your alley!

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Book Review! The Bone Season Series – Books 1 & 2

Holy. YES. (!!!!!)

 

That’s all I wrote in my notes for these books. That’s probably not helpful, though, so I’ll do my best to write an actual, thoughtful review for you guys:-)

Let’s start with the first book, The Bone Season:

The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)

This is one of those books that I picked up randomly, when I was browsing through my local bookstore for a paperback to bring with me on a long international flight at the beginning of February. I had a ton of ebooks on my tablet (most of them from NetGalley, which is pretty much the greatest thing ever for a book-reviewing nerd like me) but I was worried about my battery running out and then having nothing to read. Well… this book didn’t even make it through the first 8 hours of my travel. I started reading with every intention of putting it down once we were in the air and electronic devices were given the OK, but I was totally and completely sucked in and couldn’t put it down! At around 480 pages, it isn’t a skinny book either, so you know I was reading fast to see what was going to happen. I was lucky enough to not get sucked into this series until the second book was already released, and you better believe I bought the digital version of book #2, The Mime Order, as soon as I had internet service.

 

The publisher’s blurb: The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing. It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

My thoughts: The Bone Season is a refreshing, captivating new take on the dystopian trend, and the added urban fantasy/paranormal/magic elements make it absolute perfection. Paige is a well-written heroine – she’s determined, but sometimes unsure of herself or of whether she’s making the “right” decision; she has power, but she needs to learn to use it. The cast of characters is large and diverse enough to keep things moving, but not so large (or so oddly named) that you can’t keep them all straight. Shannon also does a great job of making each supporting character their own person with depth. The set-up of the world and how certain parts of society are structured absolutely ring true as something that could/would/has happened in reality and it lends an aura of familiarity to the world as a whole that allows other more fantastic things to seem less over-the-top. It’s our world with embellishments, not something completely alien or unbelievable.

There is most definitely a forbidden-romance shtick, but I can overlook it given how amazing everything else is. The end of book #1 leaves off at a clear transition point, which I think worked out really well.

Now for book #2, The Mime Order:

The Mime Order (The Bone Season)

The publisher’s blurb: In the internationally bestselling The Bone Season, Paige Mahoney escaped the brutal penal colony of Sheol I, but now her problems have only just begun: many of the fugitives are still missing and she is the most wanted person in London.
As Scion turns its all-seeing eye on Paige, the mime-lords and mime-queens of the city’s gangs are invited to a rare meeting of the Unnatural Assembly. Jaxon Hall and his Seven Seals prepare to take center stage, but there are bitter fault lines running through the clairvoyant community and dark secrets around every corner. Then the Rephaim begin crawling out from the shadows. But where is Warden? Paige must keep moving, from Seven Dials to Grub Street to the secret catacombs of Camden, until the fate of the underworld can be decided. Will Paige know who to trust? The hunt for the dreamwalker is on.

My thoughts: The Mime Order picks up right where The Bone Season left off, with Paige and her fellow voyants sneaking back into Scion London. In this book, there is a ton of information about the inner workings of the Syndicate and how voyants work and get along with each other (or don’t). Paige works tirelessly to try and get the word out about the threat of the Rephaim, but she encounters a lot of trouble from unexpected quarters. The one small, niggling, complaint I have about this book is that for a “mollisher” who’s supposed to be second in command of a very powerful Syndicate gang and as an individual who just went through everything she did to get out of Sheol I, Paige is still very naive. Some of that is probably an effort on the author’s part to make the plot twists more unexpected, but it made me a little irritated that Paige seems to take a lot of things at face value when she clearly shouldn’t.

That being said, the plot twist at the end was absolutely crazy (which is where the five exclamation points at the top of this post came from!) and not at all what I was expecting. Total bombshell. At this point I’m equal parts upset and eager to see what book #3 brings!

Unfortunately, now it looks as though I have to wait until next year for book #3. I’d be mad, except that this appears to be a 7 (yes, 7!) book series. Based on what I’ve read thus far, I have really, really high hopes that Samantha Shannon will be able to pull off a seven book series without being boring or predictable in the slightest.

One thing I will say – a lot of the online reviewers mention that they picked this up because of the blurb that Samantha Shannon is being touted as “the next J.K. Rowling.” DON’T. Don’t even go there. Don’t do that to yourself. Only J.K. Rowling is J.K. Rowling, and if you go into this expecting “the next Harry Potter!” you’ll be sorely disappointed. And that would be sad, because this book is amazing!

If you’re a fan of Holly Black, The Throne of Glass series, The Hunger Games series, or if you just love a good YA dystopian book, you need to get your hands on The Bone Season books now. Trust me:-) Also, if you click the links above to the Goodreads pages, there are previews available for both books!

Have you read any of the Bone Season books? If so, what did you think? 

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Book Review! The Inheritance Trilogy

First, my apologies, friends. I thought I had scheduled this post to go live aaaaaaaaages ago, but apparently not. Secondly, things got a little crazy at work, and then I went on two awesome vacations, so I’ve been pretty absent around these parts. Fortunately, vacation time and 12+ hour plane rides meant lots of reading, so I have several more reviews coming up soon! (You can check out my Goodreads page if you want a sneak peek at what’s coming.)

I’ll probably post a quick edit of some of my favorite vacation photos too, and I thought about maybe doing a post on how I packed for both vacations (China and the Czech Republic/Paris, respectively) and what I forgot/didn’t need. Would you all be interested in something like that? I feel like when I was scouring Pinterest and the internet at large for packing tips, most of what I found was for backpackers as opposed to people staying in hotels/apartments… Let me know!

Now, on to the good stuff!

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

I loved this series. I read the omnibus edition, which has all three and a “half” novels in one. I received this book from NetGalley and read it in my Kindle app, which was super convenient because this omnibus edition is about 1400 pages long! Although the individual books were released a while ago, I had never heard of them, but on NetGalley it stuck out to me for some reason and I decided to give it a go. When I saw in the introductory blurbs that this had Felicia Day’s stamp of approval, I knew I’d like it:-)

Rich in detail, with a complex plot and a good variety of characters and viewpoints, I never felt like this was falling into the standard fantasy tropes. Of the three books contained in this edition, I think the first book was the strongest and would be equally enjoyable even if you read it as a stand-alone, but I enjoyed them all and each story added it’s own interesting details to the world that Jemisin has created.

I particularly love that each of the books visits the same world, but in different places and at different times, narrated by different characters, so you can really get a sense of the whole society, rather than just a snapshot of particular characters in a particular place at a particular time. There is enough continuity of characters and places, though, that the books feel like they belong together and it isn’t overly confusing to the reader. (One of my favorite YA/fantasy authors of all time, Tamora Pierce, is equally good at this aspect of fantasy writing. If you’re going to spend the time coming up with a whole fictional world, and a good one at that, I want to get enough information and perspectives to feel like I’m immersed in it!)

Not everything in these books is sunshine and roses (although it’s not anywhere near Game of Thrones-level bloodshed/intrigue) but if you like fantasy, magic, and political machinations, you’ll like this book. I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a good fantasy read, and I’ll definitely be checking out any of Jemisin’s other works!

What was the last great fantasy book that you read? I’m always looking for new material:-)