Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tag: historical fantasy Page 1 of 3

Quick Reviews – August 2022

Husband Material by Alexis Hall, published 02 August 2022.

The sequel to Boyfriend Material is not just as good as the first book, it's better. Knowing the characters already, it's seeing them grow and struggle and overcome obstacles, which makes it so much better. There were lots of LOL moments for me, but just as many moments where I empathised with both main characters and their struggles. 

Hall clearly knows how to write stories and how to play to the strengths of the English language. 

Caveat: The structure of the book kind of made the ending obvious, but it's the best ending for Oliver and Luc.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, published 18 May 2021.

Yes, another Alexis Hall book. I read this first book in the Winner Bakes All series in preparation for the upcoming sequel, Paris Daillencourt is about to Crumble (publishing day 18 Oct 2022). 

Does Hall know how to play with tropes? Yes! This novel features a love triangle, which is extremely well-executed; compared to all those cringe-y YA love triangles. Furthermore there's a sesquipedalian eight year old, witty banter and lots of cake since the love interests meet at a national baking competition.

Eventually though this is a story about personal growth and standing up for yourself. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole, published/released 19 December 2019.

An A.I. hotty who has to figure out his humanity, a woman suffering from PTSD following an accident, and an interesting (though not entirely unexpected) twist towards the end of the story. 

This audiobook-only sci-fi romance story was more interesting than I had expected. I thought this would be far more sizzling romance than sci-fi, but the SF parts of the story were well thought through. 

The dual point of view narration by Regina Hall and Feodor Chin is enhanced by the addition of a whole cast of narrators. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


Grand Theft Astro by Scott Meyer, published 29 July 2021.

The Audible Originals audiobook-only story is about Baird, a thief, who, on her latest heist, had been infected with a virus that has no cure yet. She has seven days to live. Her 'handler' tells her that in order to ensure a proper medical treatment Baird not only has to steal certain components of the cure, she also has to remain in stasis while she's not actively stealing. While in stasis she's being transported to her next place of 'work', which often takes several years. 

So far I was on board, if a bit sceptical about how gullible the protagonist is; accepting and relying on all information necessary provided by the handler only. 

Then the book seemed to turn to middle-grade level without being for that audience. While scoping out the places Baird has to rob, she's told everything about how the security systems work by the security people themselves. The way she then executes her heists is supposed to be funny/comical; I thought not. But that might be me. 

I gave up after the second heist. It read too much like an underdeveloped middle-grade book with way too much tell and very little show. 

1/5 Harpy Eagles


Belladonna by Adalyn Grace, published 30 August 2022.

The audiobook of this YA gothic/paranormal fantasy novel was good. The narrator, Kristin Atherton, did a good job giving each character a distinct voice. Especially Death's voice was rather sultry.  

To be honest, I might have bailed on the book had it not been for the audiobook. Why would I have bailed? It was a bit too long-winded for my taste. There was too much woe-be-me by the main character, Signa. And the mysteries were, given I had paid attention from the start, obvious to me. Add jarring anachronisms and I'm normally out. So kudos to the narrator.

If you liked Kingdom of the Wicked, you will certainly like this book. After all, it's a story of romance between a not-so-mere mortal and Death. 

2.75/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick reviews – March ’22

A.J. Hackwith’s The God of Lost Words, first published 02 November 2021.

This is the last book in the Hell's Library trilogy. Even days after finishing it, and I savoured it slowly, I am still what the title says: lost for words that is, not a God/dess; just in case you were wondering. It's the perfect ending to the trilogy. Claire, Hero, Brevity, and Rami are trying to save the Library from falling into the clutches of Hell's demons. The dream team have to  outsmart Malphas by showing a united force to be able to save the Library of the Unwritten, or face obliteration. 
Hackwith poured her love for her characters and books into this story. She wrapped up this truly unique trilogy nicely, giving it a fitting ending. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles

The Drowned City & Traitor in the Ice by K.J. Maitland, published 01 April 2021, 31 March 2022 respectively.

It's 1606. James VI/I sits on the British throne. Daniel Pursglove sits in his majesty's prison suspected of performing witchcraft. 
On the anniversary of the foiled Gunpowder Plot a huge tidal wave destroys large parts of Bristol. Enter Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to the king, who offers Daniel a chance to win his freedom. Daniel is to go to Bristol to find one of the members of the Gunpowder Plot who managed to escape arrest and is now recruiting Jesuits. 

Unfortunately, the pace of the book is rather slow, and the verbose descriptions -although creating a wonderful atmosphere- slog down the story further. 
Just one year later, 1607, and paranoid Kind James sends Daniel to infiltrate a Catholic household that is said to be full of supporters of the pope; among them the traitor Daniel already pursuit in the first book. Soon the bodies start piling up and Daniel is determined to uncover the killer, in a house where no one is who they pretend to be. 

The second book in this series couldn't hold my attention to the end. I kept skimming pages, because of the slow pace. The writing is good, but too descriptive for my taste. 

2/5 Harpy Eagles for either novel

19th century Edinburgh in two novels

Books are perfect to travel to different places and different times; I don’t need to tell you this, I know. My recent reading took me to Edinburgh in the 19th century. Both books not only had the setting in common, both books also dealt with the study of the human body and the supernatural. Now that I think of it, both even offered a spot of romance.

The first novel was Anatomy by Dana Schwartz. The cover hooked me, the blurb got me:

Edinburgh, 1817.

Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

Well, this should have been my jam – apart from it being a YA novel: Gothic tale, a mystery, a romance. It wasn’t. But it sure has a great cover.

It’s the autumn of 1817, our teenage heroine, Hazel, is a smart red-head who lives in a castle. She’s read every medical book in her father’s library and knows how to distinguish the humerus from the femur, but doesn’t know that becoming a female physician – that is a woman who’s a medical professional – is not in her future. And no, before you think something along the lines of, but this girl will use her strong will to show the patriarchy what’s what, forget it. She’s the kind of girl who’s flabbergasted when she find out that her future husband will determine whether she might practice medicine, given that she first has to be allowed to study and pass the exam. Basically, we have a 21st century girl in a 19th century setting.

Jack is a dull character. He snatches bodies out of graves and sells them to anatomists. He has a crush on an actress. He snatches bodies out of graves… Oh, I said that already. Well, you get the picture.

The pacing of the novel is off. The blurb is a summary of the first 40% of the book. The mystery was a no show until about 75%. Then we get the story going, wrapped up, and a potential sequel hinted at in the remaining quarter.

While I was waiting for the (not really baffling) mystery, I realised a lot of inconsistencies with the time and place of the story: Word of mouth goes round about a teenager performing medical procedures alone in her house – but no authority cares. A pregnant woman in labour is walking for hours to get to Hazel instead of finding a midwife near her. A policeman treating Hazel like he has no care in the world about her socially higher standing. Anachronistic language and no distinction in speech between the different social classes. I could continue. There was so much more. Just thinking Edinburgh, late September, sunrise and sunset times, and my hackles rise again. Dear author, how much research did you really put into this book?

One more thing about the romance: Hazel and Jack hiding in the grave of a mutilated body and kissing and falling asleep with said body only feet away – so romantic.

1/5 Harpy Eagles


The second novel that brought me to Edinburgh was set at the other end of the century. It’s Craig Russell’s Hyde, a retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson story.

Edward Hyde has a strange gift-or a curse-he keeps secret from all but his physician. He experiences two realities, one real, the other a dreamworld state brought on by a neurological condition.

When murders in Victorian Edinburgh echo the ancient Celtic threefold death ritual, Captain Edward Hyde hunts for those responsible. In the process he becomes entangled in a web of Celticist occultism and dark scheming by powerful figures. The answers are there to be found, not just in the real world but in the sinister symbolism of Edward Hyde’s otherworld.

He must find the killer, or lose his mind.

A dark tale. One that inspires Hyde’s friend . . . Robert Louis Stevenson.

It is always a problem for me to write a long review about a book that I enjoyed.

Hyde is a dark-ish character. He’s not the monster Stevenson painted, but works for the Edinburgh police force. He’s been hiding his episodes since his childhood, recently they have become more severe. So severe, that Hyde fears he might be the brutal killer himself. Coming out of his “spells,” he finds himself close to the murder victims too often for it to be coincidence.

The occult dark part was a tiny bit predictable for me. I have read similar stories and knew who the puppet master pulling the strings was early on. This did not diminish my enjoyment of the story, though.

Russell played with the original duality of Stevenson’s story, but gave it a different twist. Setting, characters and plot development made sense. Add a few cameos and they made me overlook the few inconsistencies.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay is one of the books that has been sitting on my shelves for some time. Patiently waiting. Or more likely silently judging me. Like most of its kind, it turned out to be a “Why did I wait so long” kind of book.

Set in a fantasy version of Renaissance Italy, it is alive with really effortless world building. Because it does not hide the fact that it is kind of Italy but different, everything already feels kind of familiar when you enter the story.

It boasts a big cast of characters, changing perspectives frequently. Sometimes storytelling like this can really annoy me, but in this case it made every aspect more interesting. While parts of the story are told by a first person narrator, he is not necessarily the main character of the story. I’m not even sure there is one. Instead, complex political and personal relationships take the main role.

The writing style was compelling, and at times even a bit self-aware. It felt like the author was winking at you, right before dismantling typical storytelling tropes.

Ultimately, this is a book about the ways people both glorious and seemingly unimportant can shape history. Its place is somewhere between fantasy and historical fiction. But the fantasy elements are more an underlying feeling than, you know, dragons. It still scratches the high fantasy itch. With this book, Guy Gavriel Kay has immediately become an author I need to read more of. Seems like historical fantasy, if we want to call it that, is right in my wheelhouse.

5/5 Magpies

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

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

Robespierre might have been a magician?

Or, what if the French Revolution wasn’t just fueled by monetary inequality (I’m over-simplifying it), but also by the inequality of use of magical power?

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry, publishing day 23 June 2020.

In this alternate history set in the late 18th century, spanning the abolitionist movement and French Revolution, magic is hereditary, but only aristocrats are allowed to use it; unless it’s necromancy or stems from vampirism. Dark magic is forbidden and the Knights Templar police the use of magic rigorously.

At more than 500 pages, this novel is on the thicker side. What makes it hard to read are endless pages of dialogues or debates with no action. There was hardly any female character other than the family members of the protagonists, well-known figures of that time like Robespierre, Pitt, Wilberfur. Furthermore I felt that although the story starts with the kidnapping of a young African girl by slave traders, her story wasn’t very well represented – at least not until I DNF’d at about 50%.

The reading experience reminded me of Clarke’s Strange & Norrell [DNF’d], and history lectures at uni [finished that degree]. In other words, I found it interesting, but boring.

2/5 Harpies – purely for research into the historical facts well-done

16 Ways to Defend a Walled City

After reading K.J. Parker’s novella Prosper’s Demon in January, we decided that 16 Ways to Defend a Walled City should follow soon.

The main character Orhan, a colonel of engineers, is widely out of his depth when the city faces an approaching siege. But he has to take command, since nobody else is willing to do it. What follows is a series of events he would probably never have bargained for. He proves to be cunning and resourceful, and is a great character to spend time with.

The plot of the book is built up in a very entertaining and clever way, and even the enemy on the other side of the wall proves to be a surprise for Orhan. Since the story is told as Orhan’s account of the events, the narration is pleasantly unreliable.

Parker’s writing style once again managed to delight us. Cleverly crafted shenanigans (yeah engineering!) are mixed with scenes that hilariously highlight the absurd paths bureaucracy can take. In one scene Orhan has to hunt down this book’s equivalent to permit A 38. Compared to Prosper’s Demon, the main characters feel quite similar. Which is a very good thing, if you share our fondness for smart, flawed characters and a dry sense of humour. There is also a sequel (How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It) following a different main character. We think it is a good idea to take some time between those books so that Parker’s style does not feel too repetitive.

Not so invisible

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab, published 06 October, 2020.

Addie LaRue was born in the late 17th century. On the day of her wedding, or better after dusk has fallen, she strikes a Faustian bargain with an ancient god. A bargain that will grant her immortal life, but she will not be able to be remembered by anyone. And then, after 300 years of being unremembered, Addie meets Henry, and Henry remembers her.

I’m going to be honest here. I wanted to read the book so very much. Schwab herself said, she’d been working on the story for about ten years. So, as soon as the first ARCs were made available, I requested one. I was actually very sad when I first didn’t get an ARC and then didn’t even get a pre-ordered signed copy, because somehow the book-gods effed up.

Now, I have to say, I am no longer so sorry that I didn’t get a signed copy. The story was okay. But after all the raving I had read about it, after all the anticipation that Schwab herself built up with her posts about how much she loved the characters and the story, I was quite underwhelmed.

Throughout the book, Addie points out over and over that people meeting her have a sense of Déjà-vu. Just like these minor characters in the book, the whole story reminded me of so many other books I had recently read, but also of books/stories I hadn’t thought about for a very long time. It’s a story of possibilities, not unlike The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, or Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Addie’s musings about the advantages of men’s clothes and her wearing a tricorn hat that she pulls low over her face reminded me of Lilah Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic; only to realise a second later that this novel was also by VE Schwab. I gave myself a face palm and a huge eye-roll while chuckling. Furthermore and moreover, Addie and the Darkness and even Henry reminded me of Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

It will not come as a big surprise when I say that I anticipated the big plot twist and the ending of the book long before I got there. It was as predictable as Addie’s memories of her life throughout the 323 years of her existence. The reader is constantly reminded that she had encounters with people who forget her soon after meeting her.

Although the writing of the book is good, and clearly shows how much affection the author has for her main character, a blatantly obvious historical inaccuracy kept throwing me out of the story. No, I don’t mean the anachronistic white wedding dress. I can forgive this blunder since it might have been white for a thousand reasons other than wedding dresses today being white. My peeve are the chapters set in Paris in the 18th century.

Soon after becoming immortal, in 1714, Addie goes to Paris. There Addie at first lives a life on the margins of society. All of this is depicted relatively historically accurate, but Addie mentions Paris’s Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre. In one scene she even sits on the steps of the church. A church that wasn’t built until the late 19th century though. It kept hurting my brain every time it was mentioned. I understand that rewriting those scenes would have thrown the whole story, but it was an avoidable mistake from the start. Or should have been worth a mention of the author taking artistic license.

On travelling the Continent

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss, published 10 July 2018. The second book in “The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club” series did not disappoint at all. If you’ve got the chance, get the audiobook version. (I’m going to rave about it further down.)

Let’s shortly recap [spoilers for book 1 ahead!]. The first book was about Mary Jekyll, daughter of the famous Dr Jekyll, who’s assisting Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in solving the Whitechapel Murders. This leads to her finding out about the secret Alchemical Society her father was a member of; and she finds the daughter’s of other Gothic mad scientists: Diana Hyde (her half-sister), Justine Frankenstein, Catherine Moreau and Beatrice Rappaccini.

The second story picks up a short while after the ladies have settled in the Jekyll household, calling themselves the Athena Club. From a telegram, they learn that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped. Of course they have to rescue yet another daughter of a mad scientist from being experimented on. This time though, they have to travel to Vienna and Budapest for their rescue mission.

The story is told by Catherine Moreau, with lots of interjections throughout the writing process from the, sometimes bickering, young ladies and the household staff. It took me some time to get used to it in the first book, but I was actually looking forward to it in this second book.

Book 2 leaves us with a cliffhanger for the final story (really?) The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl, published in 2019. I’ve already added it to my TBR in the audiobook version, because s.b.

What I truly loved was the audiobook. The narrator, Kate Reading, does an amazing job with all the different characters’ voices, but much more with the languages involved. It was fun listening to this story, and should I ever meet Ms Reading in real life, I’ll have to bow to her. Especially because, as a native speaker of German, I have to say, she managed 99% of the German words accurately – not once did her German sound false. Neither did her French or Italian – I should not comment on the Hungarian and Latin, but I am fairly certain she did those well too.

In short, get the audiobook. It’s 24 hours long, but it’s fun to listen to.

Addition by LadyDuckOfDoom: I love this series! I’ve read all three books, and now I am jealous that I did now listen to the audiobooks.

Addition in response to LadyDuckOfDoom: But I’m fairly certain you’ve got the print editions on your shelf, which I don’t have. So we’re both jealous. I’m not going to punch you in the arm for it. And I hope you’re not going to kick me Diana-style under the table.

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