Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: A Game of Tropes Page 1 of 3

Who needs plot, when there is sex?

Kingdom of the Cursed, the second book in Kerri Maniscalco’s Kingdom of the Wicked series, published 05 October 2021. This is not a YA book, there are a lot of very explicit scenes.

Spoiler alert – I’m going to recap book 1.

Short recap of Kingdom of the Wicked: “Picture it, Sicily…” not 1912, but the late 19th century. Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are witches in a long line of witches. There is a prophecy about the birth of the twin witches, they are supposed to break an age old curse.

But Vittoria is murdered and Emilia summons a demon to help her find who killed her sister. She soon finds out that the demon she summoned is one of the seven princes of hell. One of the monstrous, deceiving, lying beasts her grandmother had warned the girls against ever since birth.

Since Emilia is a good granddaughter she definitely heeds her grandmother’s advice and does not strike a bargain with the devilishly handsome prince Wrath. She’d rather hold up a torch for her childhood crush, now turned monk, Antonio. Well, you guessed it, she didn’t. The charming Wrath might have got under Emilia’s skin – quite literally even, they have magical matching tattoos that grow larger with every day.

At the end of the book, a bargain between Emilia and Wrath has been struck. And Wrath takes Emilia to the Kingdom of the Wicked, where she will become the Devil’s wife.


Book 2, Kingdom of the Cursed, starts with Emilia and Wrath making their way through the underworld. It’s not how Emilia had expected it to be. Especially not because she is in the company of the deceitful, lying prince of hell, Wrath, on the way to being married to his brother Pride. In case you forgot, Emilia will remind you just how untrustworthy, lying and deceitful Wrath is, and how inhospitable the underworld is over and over. Just as often she might tell you that Wrath is also a yummy prince of hell. It got annoying pretty fast.

At Wrath’s castle, information happens to fall into Emilia’s hands left, right and centre. She doesn’t have to work for it. There’s a conveniently located book here, or a visit with a minor demon, or a witch that will tell her what she didn’t exactly needed to know, but what turns out to be vital information for her anyway.

Wrath doesn’t feel like a fully fleshed out character. He’s that overly sexy man Emilia is lusting after, which she shouldn’t because he’s a deceitful,… yada, yada. In his favour, he goes out of his way to let Emilia make her own decisions. The relationship between Emilia and Wrath is supposed to be an enemies to lovers relationship, but are they enemies? They seem to be working towards a common goal.

The last 30 percent of the book were the most interesting. Suddenly plot happened. The big plot twists though? If you paid attention in book one they did not come as a surprise.

Definitely middle-book syndrome. I suppose this book, condensed down to novella size, would have been much better.

I’m still looking forward to book three, but my expectations are low.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Better late than never #2

As I had promised, felt eons ago, I’d catch up with some of the books recommended to me by my fellow sceptical readers. Fortunately, my son asked me for Sci-Fi books for his birthday. That prompted me to not only get recommendations, but also to buy books and eventually read the books myself.

The first book that I tackled was Skyward by Brandon Sanderson, published 06 November 2018.

Although this is a YA book with some of the usual YA tropes, I found it quite a refreshing read. No love triangle. Yeah!

The MC is your average-not-so-average girl. The setting is a space-flight academy, on a human inhabited world that is not Earth, where you’ve got your Malfoys and your Rons and… NOOO! Epiphany! We have Maverick and Goose and Iceman and… If you’ve seen Top Gun, you know what I mean. [Hell that’s it! To be honest, this ‘déjà-vu thing’ has been tickling my brain since I started reading the book and I just couldn’t remember until Top Gun popped into my head just now. Kinda dates me, right?] So, you get the picture: Teenagers, flight school, lots of competition, lots of pressure from higher ups, drop outs, danger, overblown egos, aliens, strange and not so strange fauna, and a space ship with a sassy AI.

You could certainly read it as a stand-alone, but I’m going to get book two of the series, Starsight, soon; book three, Cytonic will be out in late November 2021.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

The next book on my son’s birthday pile was/is Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, published 28 January 2014.

I think one of the first comments I made about this book was “yet another YA novel set in a school setting; I’ve identified the Malfoys already.” [See, that’s why I was thinking of Hogwarts.]

Darrow’s story, the MC of Red Rising, is not like Harry Potter’s. Although, him living in caves below Mars’ surface doing dangerous menial labour for scraps of food might be comparable to Harry’s cupboard-under-the-stairs-life with the Dursley’s. Might being the operative word. I digress. Darrow is a Red. The Reds are the first people on Mars trying to terraform Mars for all of humanity. What Darrow and his fellow Reds don’t know, Mars has been terraformed already and the Reds are slaves that make life for the other colour-coded members of society so much more better.

So, in order to bring about the downfall of the current society Katniss, sorry, I mean Darrow, has to die and get himself resurrected and physically and mentally enhanced to enter a life-or-death school for the upper echelons of society. In order to one day be powerful enough to destroy the caste system of colours. Before he can do that (in book two and three?) he has to go through Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies.

As you might have guessed already, I wasn’t as enamoured with the book as lots of other people. I’ve said it before, maybe I’m getting too old or too cynic for YA. Or maybe YA has become so generic that the same-old, same-old bores me from page one.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Lastly I opened Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger, published 15 September 2016.

Look at this cover. A black ship with black solar sails. It practically shouts Space Pirates.

I had heard lots of good about Reynolds’ writing. Revenger was recommended to me/my son by both TheLadyDuckOfDoom and TheMarquessMagpie. After Red Rising I was looking forward to an adult Sci-Fi with a non-school setting. Space pirates sounded perfect.

I opened the book and was confused from the start. The beginning reads steampunk-y in a space setting. We get to meet our YA (!!!) MC and her sister, who run from a social event, get their father’s last remaining piece of financial worth busted, believe a lady in a tent and sign themselves to a space ship captain as (apprentice) ‘bone readers’ in search of ‘baubles’ and ‘loot’.

Okayyyy?! This doesn’t make much sense, but it gets the story going. I do get my action. I’d love some explanations, though. What’s ‘baubles’? What’s a ‘bone reader’?

Piece by piece the things are not really explained in the next chapters. Instead I get more strange pirate-y words, clunky dialogue, an even stranger story of kidnapping, and … I gave up at around 47% of the book. I just couldn’t deal with this 17 year old know-it-all MC in a world full of dumb adults. [BTW, I got an explanation for ‘baubles’ reading the blurb on Goodreads just now when I looked up the publishing date for the book.]

What I took away from that first half of the book is that I got the impression Mr Reynolds didn’t care much for this story, or handed in a first draft that was mysteriously accepted by the publishers without any editing. I wanted to read an adult story. I got a book that read like a middle-grade with some blood splattered and a hint at horror.

1/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews for July ’21

Without further ado, here are short reviews of books I’ve read this month.

How to Mars by David Ebenbach: A group of six scientists, three women, three men, won seats on a one way trip to Mars. They’ll be the heroes of a new reality TV show. And it is just as boring as it sounds. Even after two of them broke the cardinal rule of not having sex and managed to get pregnant. The book tried to be funny, but it wasn’t. The story was mainly about pregnancy and childbirth on Mars. 2/5 Harpy Eagles

Dustborn by Erin Bowman: Delta, the MC of this YA novel, will bring change. That’s clear from her name alone. An interesting mix of Mad Max Fury Road and Waterworld. Delta, needing to protect her pack/herd (why not tribe? are they animals?), has to go looking for the promised land; that land where there’s water and lots of plants and no one goes thirsty or hungry. Luckily she has a map on her skin. 1/5 Harpy Eagles

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: They say third time is the charm. Not when it comes to certain things, though. This was my third book by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and I still don’t really gel with her writing style. I couldn’t connect to the female MC, she was too naive for me. And I still can’t believe she never tried her telekinesis when she was a child. Who wouldn’t do that? 2/5 Harpy Eagles

The Final Girl Support Club by Grady Hendrix: Another book that was not for me. Not because I don’t like slasher films, but because I just couldn’t connect to the MC. Furthermore, the book soon felt like a Thelma&Louise kind of road trip to me, and that’s definitely not my jam. 2/5 Harpy Eagles

Daughter of the Salt King

Daughter of the Salt King by A.S. Thornton, published 2 February 2021.

The description on the cover caught my attention:

A girl of the desert and a jinni born long ago by the sea, both enslaved by the Salt King- but with this capricious magic, only one can be set free.

This description rings a bit YA, but the book has been hailed as adult and I soon found out why. Within the first two chapters, actually.

The titular Salt King is what it says on the tin, the king of a desert kingdom/village who has accumulated the most salt. His riches enabled him to stock his harem with lots of wives, which gave him lots of children.

His male offspring is carted off to the army. The girls are hidden in tents that may not even been opened for some ventilation in order to keep them secluded form the eyes of possible suitors. They are being wed off to form fortuitous alliances.

For shock value – and possibly to alleviate this novel above YA – the girls aren’t just wed to a suitor. Possible future sons-in-law may take the girl they’ve cast their eye on and spend three nights with them. If she performs to his satisfaction, he might marry her. Or test drive one of her sisters/half-sisters.

The MC, whose name I’ve already forgot, has been hoping to leave her father’s compound for some time. She dreams of being set free by being wed and joining her husband’s harem ever since her first night pleasing a man at age fourteen. Time’s pressing, she has to snag a hubby, especially, since she’s twenty-two already and unwed daughters will be cast/thrown out of the compound at age twenty-three.

I managed to read the first three chapters. There might be a rather good fantasy story about a young woman rebelling against her father, saving her people and falling for a jinni, but I just couldn’t do with the non-consensual sex with minors; the father pimping out his daughters.

0/5 Harpy Eagles

Give me a break

Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace, published 04 May 2021.

This action packed, gaming dystopia, in a world where two corporations are at war with each other and the general population has to suffer from it is good, but nothing outstanding. The cover is great, though.

Unfortunately, the whole book reads like YA in the vein of Divergent, the few added “fucks” don’t elevate it to adult Sci-Fi.

The MC is an orphan, she lost her parents in the war when she was eight. She’s an introvert, yet needs to broadcast her gaming stream to earn money. She helps strangers, but is bristly towards her friends – she shares her hotel room home with eight other people. When she finds information about one of the corporations at war, she’s the only one who … yada yada yada

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Let’s eat Grandma!

Star Eater by Kerstin Hall, published 22 June 2021.

This dystopian-esque fantasy novel has an MC fit for a YA novel, hereditary magic based on cannibalism, a Sisterhood of nuns running the government, a resistance movement, zombies, food shortage, and big cats.

This review is based on an ARC of the Recorded Books audiobook.

Where do I even start?

I’d have liked some pointers as to where we are, what kind of period of human history this might be similar too. The only information I get on that is there are horses drawing carts and cabs. Also gas lamps are mentioned once. So, probably somewhere similar to the late Middle Ages with gas lamps?

The main character El/Elfreda is a 22-year-old acolyte of the sacred order of sisters that is ruling Aytrium. She became an acolyte about a year ago when her mother went into her martyrdom. She is, [let’s say it together:], no one special and yet the chosen one to save the world. Add a love triangle or two to the mix,… Yet, the book is hailed as not YA.

The magic system: Magic is called Lace. It is used for protection and defence against Haunts (zombie men created through the Renewal ceremonies performed by acolytes, see below) mainly, but can also be used for compulsion of others. Furthermore, it is used to keep Aytrium afloat. [It’s not quite clear to me whether Aytrium is a country or a city with a few villages surrounding it. Also, it wasn’t clear to me that Aytrium was a floating landmass and has been floating for more than 500 years. It was first explicitly mentioned at about 60% of the audiobook; let’s hope the print edition will have a map that shows this.]  

The following paragraphs will contain spoilers. Frankly, I didn’t very much like this book. It is a non-YA YA novel with YA characters, having YA relationships, YA dialogues and affects, and the adults have betrayed them.

[Spoiler alert!]

Only the members of the Sisterhood have Lace. It’s hereditary magic, which means, it is passed on from mother to daughter after the mother starts her martyrdom. The martyrdom means, the mother falls in some form of coma after her own mother dies and her daughter now has to make weekly visits to her mother in the facility where martyrs are stored. This is a kind of morgue where the still breathing corpses are stored so that daughters can eat some of their mother’s flesh to replenish their Lace. In the flesh and organs, the magic is stored, hence the extremities are eaten first, the organs, especially the heart, last.

In order to keep the Lace within the Order, the members of the Sisterhood cannot have heterosexual relationships. How do they procreate then? The acolytes must perform monthly Renewal ceremonies where they have to have sex with a convicted murderer or rapist. If they get pregnant and the child turns out a boy, the child is given away, and the acolyte has to continue the renewal ceremonies. If the child is a girl, the acolyte keeps the child, raises it, and is henceforth released from renewal duty; grandmothers go into martyrdom and mothers and daughters now have the clock ticking for when they will ‘level up’ within the Sisterhood.

These renewal ceremonies create zombie-like creatures. The men the nuns have sex with catch some form of STD that turns them into Haunts that will, if they aren’t “sent over the edge” (can’t be killed, can’t stay in Aytrium either), haunt the Sisters in order to kill and eat them. Sometimes, men catch this zombie disease without having to have had sex with a member of the order, this means they are used in the renewal ceremonies until the disease is so far advanced that they have to be “sent over the edge.” [The term is mentioned early on in the book, but it doesn’t mean that the listener/reader automatically knows that Aytrium is a floating landmass. Could refer to a cliff-face over, say, an ocean, too.]

As it happens, the Haunts are exactly how the Chosen One story-line gets going. El, our doormat of an MC, hates having to eat the flesh of her mother, hates the Renewal – for obvious reasons – so when a cabal approaches her with the promise to get her out of renewal ceremonies, she agrees to spy for them. Like in every dystopian YA story, she learns about how the ruling class is cheating and suppressing critical information, she wants to support the resistance without actually betraying her vows to the order, her best friends are in the midst of it. And of course, her best friend, from when they were kids and who El has a crush on, caught the zombie disease from one kiss they shared. And of course, the sister of this guy, also El’s best friend, is someone who not only El has a crush on, but who secretly has a crush on El too – hello love-triangle. Luckily this is kept at a minimum. When El and some other members of the Order find themselves in a trap (one with a capital T, predictable from a mile ahead), El finds out that she is the one child born every 70 years that could make or break the Order. Either the Order will gorge themselves on El, because she has lots of Lace. Or El has to bring the Order down by sacrificing herself and her magic. Sacrificing herself will somehow bring her boy back from zombie-dom, so… the last 20% of the book are about how she gets to sacrifice herself.

Just FYI: The resistance see the Sisterhood as a tyrannical order of outsiders and want to get rid of them. The Sisterhood was able to crush all attempts so far, but the resistance is gaining ground, not least because some members of the Order are secretly working with them?

The food shortage seems to be a regularly occurring problem the Aytrium is facing, based on draught years and rain seasons. El works for the department that is responsible to find alternative food supplies. But, once the Chosen One plot gets under way the food shortage is no longer mentioned. I assume it is all resolved due to the way the story ends. Still, this subplot took up a lot of pages, just to be ignored in the end.

Also, there were big cats that were used for long distance travel. They were kept in stables and were probably only for the use of members of the Sisterhood. They can cover ground fast and they are warm in a chilly night.

The titular Star Eater is someone who might have eaten an actual star or someone who was considered the star, or ruler, of the people. Anyway, this eating of the star made the Star Eater so powerful with Lace she managed the ascension of Aytrium all on her own. How? Why?

To be honest, this book left me with a lot of questions about heredity, about the magic system, about the Haunts, about the original Star Eater and how and why Aytrium became a floating land, about what the rest of the world looked like, about why there is a resistance to the Sisterhood when we never get to see what’s so bad about it and know nothing about whether the general public is actually observing the Sisters’ religion, the (forced) bi-sexualism, and so much more.

1/5 Harpy Eagles – lots of unused potential, lots of predictable twists, reads YA although it is not supposed to be.

Why’s there a pirate ship on the cover?

That’s more or less what I am taking from reading The Beholder by Anna Bright, published 19 June 2019.

This YA just shows me, again, that YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi should no longer make it onto my TBR. In other words, I had so many issues with this book, …

The main character, Selah, is the Seneschal-Elect of Potomac. That means she’ll be the leader of her people once her father dies. Her task is it, as the future leader, female but definitely NOT feminist, to find herself a husband. Since The One she fell for at home doesn’t want her, her stepmother is sending Selah to Europe to find her match. Fairy tale retellings ahead. Selah seems to see herself as Snow White, since her step-mother will certainly kill her father now that she has sent Selah out to never come back home one way or another. Either she’ll marry one of her suitors and then stay in Europe, or the Baba Yaga will eat(?) her; that irrational fear is based on a fairy tale and a nursery rhyme Selah keeps repeating.

Selah is the perfect pawn of her story; literally, plot happens to her not because of her. She’s naive and trusts people too easily. She wears her feelings on her sleeve, and her tongue, unwisely telling everyone and their grandmother what she thinks and feels. And she feels a lot, especially very fast for the members of her crew and the suitors she meets. Hello insta-love.

The story is supposedly set in something similar to the late 18th or early 19th century. Which means, I was annoyed at the anachronistic use of words like “barf”. I was further annoyed at how ignorant Selah was. For a YA heroine she had no backbone whatsoever. She ranted about one of her suitors being nine years older than her, but a nearly arranged marriage for diplomatic reasons was obviously alright to her; why then is the age difference important? And why, oh why, do we see a tiny sliver of feminism when her friend wants to choose her own husband, but Selah is unaware that her situation is the same?

The writing is nothing to write home about. There’s more tell than show throughout the book, and the retellings of fairy tales do not always work advantageously.

To come back to my initial question. Why is there a picture of a ship on the cover? Especially an artfully carved one that immediately reminded me of the TV series Black Sails, and hence of pirates. Not to mention the title of the book being the name of the ship, yet most of the story doesn’t even take place on the ship. I was definitely blindsided by the cover. Shame on me!

1/5 Harpy Eagles

Little Red Riding Hood Retelling

For The Wolf by Hannah F. Whitten is the first book in the Wilderwoods series and was published on 1st June 2021.

As some of you might know that I am struggling with fairy tale retellings, especially YA, it might come as a surprise that I picked this up. Well, I picked it because it was hailed as a dark fantasy fairy tale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that is not Young Adult.

Does it deliver? A resounding no! On so many levels. Quite contrary to some YA fantasy stories, where the characters seem to be much more mature than their late teenage years, this book’s heroine is supposed to be 20 years old but behaves like a moody teenager. Also, the story is more of a Beauty and the Beast retelling than LRRH. The parallels are very limited the heroine’s name, Red(arys), who wears a red cloak when she enters the Wilderwood to encounter the wolf; who’s actually just a young man.

I was very underwhelmed by this book. The characters are rather flat. The plot is not fully developed, neither is the magic system; the author seems to have added to the magic system whenever she needed another twist to the story, and so at around 90% I still hadn’t quite grasped all of the aspects. Furthermore, the writing, although good, is convoluted with a lot of repetitions of certain actions (people were slouching in door frames, or rubbing their faces with their palms,…) – this might have been added out of the final version, though.

1/5 Harpy Eagles for at least trying to write a Little Red Riding Hood retelling that’s not YA.

A bunch of quick reviews

Without further ado…

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, publishing date 27 April 2021.

Murderbot being Murderbot, it is not easy for it to interact with humans. But it has to find out about the dead human. A dead human it did not kill, thank you for asking. So, it’s playing Sherlock on a space station. Making new friends along the way, of course.

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes, published 02 March 2021.

This collection of fantasy and contemporary fiction short stories was a bit ‘yeah and meh’. Some of the Jewish ‘own voices’ stories were really really good. Yet reading some of the more speculative fiction stories, I felt a bit lost. Strong stories nonetheless even if they might make you feel uncomfortable.

The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme, published 02 March 2021.

This was surprisingly good for a rather generic YA fantasy romance. Boehme managed to make her characters and their love story believable by letting them both acknowledge that they had known each other only for a short time. A further plus: it’s a standalone that delivers a solid story in less than 350 pages.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, published 02 March 2021.

A historical fiction using the split timeline trope. I liked the storyline about the apothecary set in the late 18th century. Nella has a secret apothecary shop, she’s helping women who find themselves in ‘tricky’ situations. Until a chance encounter with 12 y/o Eliza sets the wheels of fate in motion, which lead to Caroline from Ohio. On a trip to London she finds an apothecary bottle while mudlarking in the Thames. She starts researching about the bottle and the apothecary. The story would have been just as interesting without the contemporary storyline, which was rather ‘meh’ compared to the historical story.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark.

Both short stories are set in an alternate Cairo in the early 20th century. Otherworldly beings are just as normal as the Ministry of Alchemy. In A Dead Djinn in Cairo, Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi is trying to solve a murder disguised as suicide and finds herself digging so much deeper that she encounters clockwork angels and a plot that might implode time itself. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 brings us back to Cairo, this time “Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.” I enjoyed both short stories and I am looking forward to reading the full novel A Master of Djinn (expected pub date: 11 May 2021), which has been idling on my ARC shelf for some time.

Golden Girls

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, published February 2021 (in the US).

The story is your obvious YA story. A young girl who used to be not very popular in her village, due to her heritage, has hidden powers with which she can help the emperor’s army defeat the demonic creatures that befall the land. Of course, everyone, even the emperor, has a hidden agenda. Soon it’s clear that Deka, the main character, has to become the saviour of all, especially of oppressed girls and women.

In this case the story has a west African background. The world-building is good. The main character, Deka, is strong and her character arc is interesting. But, sorry to say, it is a YA fantasy that distinguishes itself only by not being based on European or North American fantasy blueprints.

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