Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tag: fantasy Page 1 of 5

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

Deffo the cat in the bag

The Octunnumi. Fosbit Files Prologue by Trevor Alan Foris (pseud.) published March 2020. You might remember me mentioning this book back in April. If I remember correctly, I wrote that I had no idea what I was in for and that I applauded the people behind it for their marketing strategy.

The book started off with an action scene, which was intriguing, but at the same time off-putting. Intriguing, should be obvious, you start a book right in the middle of a magical fight and you just want to know what this is about. Off-putting, the two 18 year old MCs are the dog’s bollocks and even if defeated by a bunch of kids, they believe themselves to be superior to everyone around them.

As I read on, this teenaged, hormone riddled, believed superiority of the MCs started to grate. Add to it a story that has virtually no plot, or plot that is drowning in the MCs egos and the world-building, and you know why I had a hard time reading.

Speaking of world-building, the setting is steam-punkish; a bit like Carnival Row. Don’t ask me for details though, because it was convoluted with invented words and concepts that even the added dictionary and pronunciation guide didn’t help with. At page 55 I still didn’t have any idea what the story was supposed to be about, and frankly didn’t care.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – September ’21

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis, published 21 July 2020.

I had been interested in this book since before it's publication; it has aliens and linguistics. Alas, I could not get over the redundant writing and gave up soon after the aliens were introduced, or when part 2 of the book started. The story might be intriguing, but the novel could have done with a lot more editing. Especially since it is written from the POV of a former linguistics major, who should know how to write concise sentences. 

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Barker, published 6 October 2020.

The name Deborah Barker is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire, author of the Wayward Children series; or rather this retelling of The Wizard of Oz is a book within a book. It's been referred to in Middlegame several times. The story is supposed to be targeted at middle-grade students, yet I thought that there was a lot of between the lines commentary directed at more mature readers. The sequel Across the Saltwise Sea is on my review copy TBR. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, published 4 May 2021.

Shortlisted for the Booker Price 2021. This book has two story-lines, one follows Marian Graves, who wants to be a pilot and circumnavigate the Earth from pole to pole. The other story-line follows the actress Hadley Baxter, who's playing Marian in the film based on the latter's logbook found in the Antarctic ice years after her plane was lost on its last leg of the journey. 
I truly enjoyed the Marian part of the story, and although it was interesting to read about Hadley's story, this Hollywood-starlet story-line never really gripped my attention. The last 100 pages of the book, mostly focusing on Marian's circumnavigation, were the best part of the story. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Phosphate Rocks. A Death in Ten Objects by Fiona Erskine, published 17 June 2021.

"The demolition crew found the body."

This is how Erskine's novel starts. A body was found in the ruins of what used to be the fertiliser plant in Leith. A body that was encased in phosphate rocks. Ten items are arranged on the desk in front of the body. And those ten items eventually help the former foreman John Gibson and the police to narrow down the time of death and the identity of the person. 

I really enjoyed this mystery. It was full of lighthearted "nerdy-ness": some of the chemicals used in the process of making fertilisers are explained in an entertaining and not too scientific way. Erskine further has first hand experience having worked at the fertiliser plant herself, which gave her lots of material for the story's characters and their anecdotes.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Two Rivers series by Ann Cleeves.

At last a series of whodunits/mysteries that I couldn't solve right at the start of the books. I really enjoyed the first book of this new series by bestseller author Cleeves. The Long Call (2019) introduces the investigative team surrounding inspector Venn. He and his husband live in North Devon in a small community. When a body washes up on the shore, Venn's investigation brings back memories of his past in an evangelical community. 

Book two, The Heron's Cry (2021), is set only months after the first book. We get to see character development of the investigative team, as well as some secondary characters of the first book make an appearance. A clever mystery that even I had not fully unveiled before the big reveal. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles, for each

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, published 02 February 2021.

This book is hard to review. I want to say it's a Sci-Fi book with an arranged M/M marriage romance on the side, but it's the other way round. This is a romance novel about a M/M arranged marriage set in a Sci-Fi world. In order to uphold the treaty between the Iskat Empire and its vassal planet Thea, the two MCs, Jinan and Kiem, have to get married right after Jinan's period of mourning his late husband is over.
  
Rake Kiem has to be reformed. Uptight Jinan has to loosen up. They both have misgivings about the marriage at the beginning. When they find out about a plan to overthrow the treaty, they have to work together. Which leads to them getting to know each other much better and trusting each other. Cue traps, damsels -well, spouses- in distress, and a happily ever after. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

It has such a nice cover

These days I seem to be reviewing books either as “this wasn’t for me” or “holy shit, you have to read this”. I am sorry for every author whose work falls into the first category; I’m 92% certain it’s a case of “it’s me, not you”.

Along those lines, The Wood Be Queen wasn’t for me. Edward Cox’s novel was promoted during the Gollanz Fest earlier this year and I immediately requested a review copy. I was very happy when I got approved for an ARC, but this is where my happy reading experience stopped.

As I mentioned above, it’s a case of me. It took me felt ages to get into the story. I gave it several tries. The first 20-ish % that I read, and re-read, reminded me of Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Though, where I stuck it out with Morgenstern’s book and actually re-read that one, I just couldn’t get into The Wood Bee Queen. The dialogues felt forced, the arrangement of the chapters/scenes felt weird, which is probably a feature not a bug. I kept wandering off, first in my head then physically by picking other books.

This book might be for you if you like meandering story lines that come together at the end. But more importantly, this book is for you if you are a much more patient person than I am and like to wait for the story to unfold rather than being plunged into the action from page one.

Edward Cox’s The Wood Bee Queen was published 10 June 2021.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

If your pets played Dungeons&Dragons

… it would probably happen exactly as in Campaigns & Companions: The Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets by Alex de Campi, Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett. To be released on 14.09.2021, Netgalley was kind enough to provide me with a digital ARC.

This is not a guide how your Dungeons & Dragons character can also have a cute dog, cat or spider, but a hilarious collection of small scenes, all with very fitting illustrations, about what would happen if your average cat/dog/turtle adventurer would behave like a real world pet. The answer is: they are kind of jerks. But incredibly funny.

4/5 Duckies

Summer Reading – 2 months later – Short Reviews

There was a draft of this post lingering here for a whole month, the first words had been typed here, left dangling. The state of my summer reading is comparable.

It take ages to read a book, mainly because I’m focusing on so many other things right now. But today is day 1 of my reading weekend, I have finished my current read and finally take some time to give you all an update. There were 29 books on my summer reading list, and I’ve read 14 of them. I don’t care if I will manage to read 15 books in a month (I probably won’t, but who knows). You can find our lists here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPlieZ_hTB7/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Making a reading list for the season has helped me tremendously with reading what I actually wanted to read, and helped me decide while still having the ability to choose. The unread books will go back on my TBR shelf and I will pick new ones for my autumn list. Nevertheless, I read a whole lot of books I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time:

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers: It only took the first chapter before I was hooked, like every other book by Becky Chambers, it was beautiful. The whole Wayfarer series can be read out of order, so if you see one in a bookstore, just grab a copy.

5/5 Duckies

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather: Nuns at the edge of the universe in a living spaceship? Count me in. Great novella, and the sequel was just announced, too. Perfect time to go and read it, it’s a short read, too. A perfect weekend read!

5/5 Duckies

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo: I think everyone has heard of the Grishaverse by now. While I loved the Six of Crows duology, I hated the Sankta Alina books, because of Alina. The last book, King of Scars, was ok. This time though, the setting felt too much like WWI in disguise, with extra special effects for the Netflix show sprinkled on top. The Grishaverse ends here. For me at least.

3/5 Duckies

The Relunctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst: Book 2 of the Queens of Renthia surprised me. I liked the first one, but it had a certain YA feel to it. Book 2 drops all of that and becomes a beautiful fantasy story with characters of all ages and professions. Young Queens and mothers. The characters are fleshed out very well, and I do look forward to putting book 3 on my autumn TBR reading list.

5/5 Duckies

Now, I’m off to read The Library of the Unwritten, which is not on my Summer TBR List, but was specifically bought to celebrate my self-care reading weekend. TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle does recommend the series a lot: https://scepticalreading.com/2020/11/hells-librarian-is-a-badass/

Meanwhile, I am already pondering what to put on my autumn reading list. Any suggestions?

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

Quest to steal a stone

The Thief the first book in The Queen’s Thief series by Meghan Whalen Turner, published 27 December 2005. TheLadyDuckOfDoom and myself had this book on our #SeptreSummer reading lists and we accidentally on purpose read it at the same time; or rather we listened to it (see below).

Gen is a thief, currently in prison for stealing from the royal court and then unwisely boasting about it in a tavern.

The king’s magus needs something found, a trinket from the gods, and he needs a master thief to help him find it. So he dregs Gen out of prison and onto a horse and the quest begins.

Like all good quests to find hidden treasure this is a journey through enemy territory, dangerous terrain and with travelling companions who can’t stand each other. It could be very boring, if it wasn’t for the stories of the old gods and goddesses they tell each other to while away the time on the road.

Although the stories might be inspired by the myths, stories and the countryside around the Mediterranean, this series is not a retelling of any myths, it is set in its own fantasy world and has its own unique voice and plot.

Some reviewers classify this novel and series as Young Adult. I’m not so sure about this. The protagonist might be on the younger side and is often described as a boy and not a grown man yet, though the story reads far more mature than your average YA fantasy. Probably because the usual tropes, like chosen one, love triangle, etc, are missing.

The narration by Steve West is excellent and was the main reason for me to pick this book up as an audiobook. In fact, it was so good that I hopped from book 1, to book 2 The Queen of Attolia, book 3 The Kind of Attolia, and books 4 and 5, A Conspiracy of Kings and Thick as Thieves.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

4/5 Duckies

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.

Talk dirty to me

Ha, made you look, right?

I love a good audiobook. What’s even better than a good audiobook? An audioplay. Better than an audioplay? [Yes, yes, there can be a superlative here.] Better than an audioplay is an audioplay based on a story by Neil Gaiman, played by a whole cast of gorgeous voices and narrated by Neil himself. That’s reason enough for me to not fiddle with the speed of my audioplayer, which I usually set to somewhere between 1.75 and 2.5.

The Sandman audioplay is based on the DC comics/graphic novels of the same title. I’m going so far as to say that I enjoyed the audioplay much more than the GNs, because the cast surrounding James McAvoy makes the story/stories really come to life for me.

I can’t say much more without either starting to go all CAPS, or gushing about details. Get yourself a copy of the original version – trust me, I dared to listen into the German version for a few minutes, just not the same feeling – and enjoy it. Each episode is worth your time, and, at the same time, you can pace yourself by at least trying to listen to not more than one episode at a time. Something I failed at spectacularly.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

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