Perilous Times by Thomas D. Lee – Review

An immortal Knight of the Round Table faces his greatest challenge yet—saving the politically polarized, rapidly warming world from itself—in this slyly funny contemporary take on Arthurian legend.

Legends don’t always live up to reality.

Being reborn as an immortal defender of the realm gets awfully tiring over the years—or at least that’s what Sir Kay’s thinking as he claws his way up from beneath the earth yet again.

Kay once rode alongside his brother, King Arthur, as a Knight of the Round Table. Since then, he has fought at Hastings and at Waterloo and in both World Wars. But now he finds himself in a strange new world where oceans have risen, the army’s been privatized, and half of Britain’s been sold to foreign powers. The dragon that’s running amok—that he can handle. The rest? He’s not so sure.

Mariam’s spent her life fighting what’s wrong with her country. But she’s just one ordinary person, up against a hopelessly broken system. So when she meets Kay, she dares to hope that the world has finally found the savior it needs.

Yet as the two travel through this bizarre and dangerous land, they discover that a magical plot of apocalyptic proportions is underway. And Kay’s too busy hunting dragons—and exchanging blows with his old enemy Lancelot—to figure out what to do about it. 

In perilous times like these, the realm doesn’t just need a knight. It needs a true leader. 

Luckily, Excalibur lies within reach. 

But who will be fit to wield it? 

With a cast that includes Merlin, Morgan le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and King Arthur himself—all reimagined in joyous, wickedly subversive fashion— Perilous Times is an Arthurian retelling that looks forward as much as it looks back . . . and a rollicking, deadpan-funny, surprisingly touching fantasy adventure.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the eARC of this hilarious yet hard-hitting retelling that takes the Arthurian Legend to all new highs and lows! I thought I knew what to expect; having read many tales of Arthur, the legendary sword, and all the hijinks in between, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Perilous Times delivers a dystopian type fantasy that will knock you off your feet and have you more worried about your own future– and making you laugh the pain away while it’s at it.

We meet Sir Kay, who is resurrected because the country is in dire peril, as he begins on a journey to understand the new land he finds himself in. Mariam discovers him as she attempts to skirt around mercenaries that want her head… and having released a dragon upon the realm with her band of eco-terrorists. The two must band together in order to put their experiences to use; one having lived in the apocalyptic landscape for her whole life, and the other having lived through countless unmentionable wars and seeing just how humans can hurt each other and the planet they live on through millennia. The two band together to help heal the world before the climate change or the terrifying monsters hiding just beyond the veil bring England to its knees for good.

This tale expertly takes history, legend, and uncertain futures and creates a brave and stunning plot that will hit your funny bone while making you think. I very much enjoyed all of the modern aspects of the characters and how diverse they became. Thomas D. Lee has taken a much beloved classic and shone new light on it, and I think readers will not only relate to the fear of the setting but also to the very human protagonists and antagonists. It is an easy read that will have you questioning what you can do to stop this very plot from happening… because our world needs heroes too.

5/5 stars

Pieces of Me by Kate McLaughlin – Review

The next gut-punching, compulsively readable Kate McLaughlin novel, about a girl finding strength in not being alone.

When eighteen-year-old Dylan wakes up, she’s in an apartment she doesn’t recognize. The other people there seem to know her, but she doesn’t know them – not even the pretty, chiseled boy who tells her his name is Connor. A voice inside her head keeps saying that everything is okay, but Dylan can’t help but freak out. Especially when she borrows Connor’s phone to call home and realizes she’s been missing for three days.

Dylan has lost time before, but never like this.

Soon after, Dylan is diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and must grapple not only with the many people currently crammed inside her head, but that a secret from her past so terrible she’s blocked it out has put them there. Her only distraction is a budding new relationship with Connor. But as she gets closer to finding out the truth, Dylan wonders: will it heal her or fracture her further?

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the eARC of this thoroughly researched and compelling novel centered around a young adult woman diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I went into reading this book completely blind; having not even read the synopsis. All I knew is that I love Kate McLaughlin’s writing– having read ‘Daughter’ and ‘What Unbreakable Looks Like’ previously. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement: I love glances into mental disorders and have been interested in DID since watching United States of Tara as a teenager myself.

Kate has done a beautiful job bringing Dylan and her alters to life. When we first meet our protagonist, she is coming to at an unfamiliar place and realizes that she has lost three whole days with her last memory consisting of being at a coffee shop. This begins a journey to figure out why this has happened, and after some run-ins with people who know her face without her being able to reciprocate and other instances of time loss– Dylan is diagnosed with DID. She meets some of her alters: Lannie, Kaz, and Dali to name a few, and begins to understand that something terrible happened in her childhood to bring them all to life.

What follows is an absolutely chilling and heartbreaking voyage into Dylan’s mind to finally piece together what she’s been hiding from herself for years. Thankfully, she has an amazing support system, including her famous mother, her only best friend, and a boy named Connor that she met while she was not in control of her own body. This is a story of self-discovery, but also one of familial and romantic love, and the lengths we go to in order to protect ourselves and the ones we adore. Kate weaves a narrative that you will not be able to put down, and one that will give you new insight on DID itself. This novel is brilliant, and I’m so lucky to have gotten to experience it.

5/5 stars

Ander and Santi Were Here by Jonny Garza Villa – Review

Aristotle and Dante meets The Hate U Give meets The Sun Is Also A Star: A stunning YA contemporary love story about a Mexican-American teen who falls in love with an undocumented Mexican boy.

Finding home. Falling in love. Fighting to belong.

The Santos Vista neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, is all Ander Martínez has ever known. The smell of pan dulce. The mixture of Spanish and English filling the streets. And, especially their job at their family’s taquería. It’s the place that has inspired Ander as a muralist, and, as they get ready to leave for art school, it’s all of these things that give them hesitancy. That give them the thought, are they ready to leave it all behind?

To keep Ander from becoming complacent during their gap year, their family “fires” them so they can transition from restaurant life to focusing on their murals and prepare for college. That is, until they meet Santiago López Alvarado, the hot new waiter. Falling for each other becomes as natural as breathing. Through Santi’s eyes, Ander starts to understand who they are and want to be as an artist, and Ander becomes Santi’s first steps toward making Santos Vista and the United States feel like home.

Until ICE agents come for Santi, and Ander realizes how fragile that sense of home is. How love can only hold on so long when the whole world is against them. And when, eventually, the world starts to win.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the opportunity to read this heartbreaking but lovely story of Ander and Santi and all the obstacles in between. Jonny Garza Villa brings readers a genuine tale of first love– from the honeymoon stage to the inevitable heartbreak that life deals you alongside it. There are hard looks at gender and the roles it plays in our society, peeks into Mexican culture, and of course, commentary on the current politics that preside over the United Sates as we know it. This may be a love story, but that’s far from all you’ll get.

We meet Ander Martinez in their home of San Antonio, Texas. They are getting ready to leave it all behind in order to go to art school, but are taking a gap year to prepare. Ander’s parents give them leave from the taqueria they work at to focus on their murals and creativity in general– and in the process, hire a new waiter. Santiago Lopez Alvarado captures Ander at once, and through the novel we get swept up in their raw and unbridled emotion. While it is mostly positive, things take a dark and heady turn as ICE turns its gaze on Santi. The couple must figure out a way to stay above the water that the world is trying to push them under.

This was such an amazing book to read. I cannot emphasize enough how refreshing it was; how deeply rooted in today’s issues and speaking the truth of the LGBTQ+ community. As a pansexual and gender-questioning person myself– it hit home. I think it will feel like such a safe space for not only young adults who are finding themselves, but for readers of any age who have felt that spark of love, belonging, fear, and angst. You can relate to the witty and free spirited main characters, but also the strength and compassion of the parental roles. There are so many types of people represented here, and it makes it such a fulfilling read. I would recommend it to anyone seeking a place that feels like home.

5/5 stars

Damsel by Evelyn Skye – Review

A damsel in distress takes on the dragon herself in this epic twist on classic fantasy—a groundbreaking collaboration between New York Times bestselling author Evelyn Skye and the team behind the upcoming Netflix film Damsel, starring Millie Bobby Brown.

Elodie never dreamed of a lavish palace or a handsome prince. Growing up in the famine-stricken realm of Inophe, her deepest wish was to help her people survive each winter. So when a representative from a rich, reclusive kingdom offers her family enough wealth to save Inophe in exchange for Elodie’s hand in marriage, she accepts without hesitation. Swept away to the glistening kingdom of Aurea, Elodie is quickly taken in by the beauty of the realm—and of her betrothed, Prince Henry.

But as Elodie undertakes the rituals to become an Aurean princess, doubts prick at her mind as cracks in the kingdom’s perfect veneer begin to show: A young woman who appears and vanishes from the castle tower. A parade of torches weaving through the mountains. Markings left behind in a mysterious “V.” Too late, she discovers that Aurea’s prosperity has been purchased at a heavy cost—each harvest season, the kingdom sacrifices its princesses to a hungry dragon. And Elodie is the next sacrifice.

This ancient arrangement has persisted for centuries, leading hundreds of women to their deaths. But the women who came before Elodie did not go quietly. Their blood pulses with power and memory, and their experiences hold the key to Elodie’s survival. Forced to fight for her life, this damsel must use her wits to defeat a dragon, uncover Aurea’s past, and save not only herself, but the future of her new kingdom as well.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced copy of Evelyn Skye’s fun twist on the damsel in distress trope; which is where I assume the name itself came from! I was so excited to dive into Elodie’s world– full of other such literary staples– the wicked stepmother, the dragon to slay, etc. However, it was clear early on that this tale was not one of a Disney princess. Instead, we find a pair of sisters who wind up being the ‘love story’ (though familial it may be) in a cold and judgmental world.

Elodie is the daughter of a duke in a land that has fallen into famine and drought. This Lady cares so much about the people her father presides over, and goes above and beyond for them time and time again. Though she is sheltered in her castle, that does not stop tragedy from having befallen her. She and her sister, Floria, have been neglected by their remaining parent after their mother died, and have been each other’s rocks ever since. The surprise of a lifetime comes when Elodie is told that she has been betrothed to a prince in another kingdom… one that is flourishing and resplendent. Nothing is as it seems, though, and Elodie quickly realizes she is next in a long line of sacrifices to keep a dragon happy.

The character development here is fantastic. We see Elodie as she goes from naive girl to scrappy fighter; using the strength and memories of the women who came before her to grow and change into the woman who can save herself. The magic system is also easy to grasp and unique– just as distinctive as the language of the dragon itself. I loved seeing the author really play in the space and make this book something to remember. I am very excited for the film version, and to see how it translates. I feel like readers and watchers alike will relate to Elodie and her struggle in a world that looks down on her for her gender.

5/5 stars

Nocturne by Alyssa Wees – Review

In this haunting, lyrical fantasy set in 1930s Chicago, a talented ballerina finds herself torn between her dreams and her desires when she’s pursued by a secretive patron who may be more than he seems.

Growing up in Chicago’s Little Sicily in the years following the Great War, Grace Dragotta has always wanted to be a ballerina, ever since she first peered through the windows of the Near North Ballet Company. So when Grace is orphaned, she chooses the ballet as her home, imagining herself forever ensconced in a transcendent world of light and beauty so different from her poor, immigrant upbringing.

Years later, with the Great Depression in full swing, Grace has become the company’s new prima ballerina—though achieving her long-held dream is not the triumph she once envisioned. Time and familiarity have tarnished that shining vision, and her new position means the loss of her best friend in the world. Then she attracts the attention of the enigmatic Master La Rosa as her personal patron, and realizes the world is not as small or constricted as she had come to fear.

Who is her mysterious patron, and what does he want from her? As Grace begins to unlock the Master’s secrets, she discovers that there is beauty in darkness as well as light, finds that true friendship cannot be broken by time or distance, and realizes there may be another way entirely to achieve the transcendence she has always sought.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House for this eARC of what can only be described as an aria in book form. The blurb promises a lyrical fantasy– and it fantastically delivers with prose that will take your breath away and send you into Chicago in the midst of the Great Depression. It is a retelling of stories like Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera, but it holds so much historical significance– especially in the first chunk of the novel– that it feels like something that could have actually occurred instead of being firmly rooted in an imaginary world.

We meet Grace Dragotta, one dancer in a sea of other pointed toes, as she receives news that those days will be far behind her. She has been chosen as the company’s prima ballerina, which has been her lifelong dream. Grace was orphaned when a plague took her family, and she had been living at the Near North Ballet Company ever since. Her life is turned upside down when she attracts the attention of a patron named Master LaRosa, who invites her to live with him at his mansion. In return for being housed and clothed and otherwise cared for– she is expected only to waltz with him every Sunday at midnight. Grace longs for freedom, but the magic her benefactor provides gives her pause. Should she give up on who she is for what someone wants her to be?

I feel like there is so much in Grace that will speak to readers and inspire them. I know I personally found a light within her tenacity. She acknowledged that she was scared all throughout her life– but that she made the decisions that got her to where she is anyway. Her family died, and she found her way to the ballet. She was given up as a gift to a wealthy man, and she made the most of it. Grace’s journey of finding herself is interlaced with an escape from the cold and deadly Chicago streets into a gateway into the land of the dead where loved ones can be reconnected with and the boon of life brought into focus. This is a beautiful story that will leave you breathless– and I recommend it to all of those with the beat of their own drum inside of their heart.

5/5 stars

Unquiet Spirits: Essays by Asian Women in Horror – Review

From hungry ghosts, vampiric babies, and shapeshifting fox spirits to the avenging White Lady of urban legend, for generations, Asian women’s roles have been shaped and defined through myth and story. In Unquiet Spirits, Asian writers of horror reflect on the impact of superstition, spirits, and the supernatural in this unique collection of 21 personal essays exploring themes of otherness, identity, expectation, duty, and loss, and leading, ultimately, to understanding and empowerment.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Black Spot Books for the advance copy of this stunning collection of essays! I was so happy to get to experience the delving into the experience of the Asian women whose minds were picked for these horror reflections. It shows how alike some of our histories can be, but also the immense weight of how different they have been and still are treated. All of this being wrapped up in my favorite genre was an amazing way to present these stories. It was so easy to get into the mindset of the writers and follow along with their specific journeys.

These essays contain myths and legends such as the White Lady, and more Asian folklore like fox spirits. No matter which one– the writers would weave in their personality and upbringing, making each story a unique beast. Some are formal, others written like a letter to a friend. The prose keeps things flowing in a beautiful way that really sends the heavy topics home. Behind the fictional monsters are ever-present behemoths like struggling with trauma, coming of age, and societal and familial expectations. These things shaped all of the women included here, and their hearts bleed onto the page… opening long-closed scars to share with the readers.

Though I cannot fully relate to the lives of the writers of these essays– the issues they spoke on are universal. I think this is a must-read, not just for horror fans, but for those that are trying to gain insight on cultures that are different than their own. If we listened to more of these stories, the world would be a much kinder and pleasant place. I really respect the editor of this book for getting this group together, and I very much enjoyed hearing all of their voices and finding common ground between us. I hope to read more novels like this one in the future.

5/5 stars

Always the Almost by Edward Underhill – Review

A trans pianist makes a New Year’s resolution on a frozen Wisconsin night to win regionals and win back his ex, but a new boy complicates things in Edward Underhill’s heartfelt debut YA rom-dram, Always the Almost.

Sixteen-year-old trans boy Miles Jacobson has two New Year’s resolutions: 1) win back his ex-boyfriend (and star of the football team) Shane McIntyre, and 2) finally beat his slimy arch-nemesis at the Midwest’s biggest classical piano competition. But that’s not going to be so easy. For one thing, Shane broke up with Miles two weeks after Miles came out as trans, and now Shane’s stubbornly ignoring him, even when they literally bump into each other. Plus, Miles’ new, slightly terrifying piano teacher keeps telling him that he’s playing like he “doesn’t know who he is”—whatever that means.

Then Miles meets the new boy in town, Eric Mendez, a proudly queer cartoonist from Seattle who asks his pronouns, cares about art as much as he does—and makes his stomach flutter. Not what he needs to be focusing on right now. But after Eric and Miles pretend to date so they can score an invite to a couples-only Valentine’s party, the ruse turns real with a kiss, which is also definitely not in the plan. If only Miles could figure out why Eric likes him so much. After all, it’s not like he’s cool or confident or comfortable in his own skin. He’s not even good enough at piano to get his fellow competitors to respect him, especially now, as Miles. Nothing’s ever been as easy for him as for other people—other boys. He’s only ever been almost enough.

So why, when he’s with Eric, does it feel like the only person he’s ever really not been enough for…is himself?

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the advance copy of this joyful debut novel from Edward Underhill. I feel like I have learned so much about the trans experience by taking in the prose in these pages. Edward has put his whole heart into Miles– and you can feel the raw, still-beating heart pulsing between the two. In addition to being a window into the soul of this transmasc teen– the story was insightful, funny, and romantic. I fell in love with the characters immediately and truly cared about each of their journeys.

We meet Miles as he is gearing up for the Midwest’s biggest piano competition. However, that’s not the only glaring problem that he has. He is also finding himself– and that endeavor all started when he transitioned. Thankfully, he has a wonderful support system on his side, but even that isn’t enough to staunch the ache of losing his boyfriend Shane. That is… not until Eric falls into his life. The artist sees the beauty of the pianist, and as their love story begins, so too does Miles’ voyage into introspection. With the help of his new piano teacher, he finds out what it means to be himself and what he wants from his ‘new’ life. He says goodbye to Almost and just Is.

I have made so many changes in the past couple of years. I realized I was pansexual during the pandemic, and I’m now exploring what it means to be nonbinary. So I very much related to Miles and his search for himself. It’s comforting to see characters that aren’t comfortable in their skins and make strides to change it. Many of us stick to what’s comfortable because it’s easier, but then we wind up being terribly unhappy. And that’s the thing I loved most about this novel. It truly was a tale of trans joy. The road there for Miles was bumpy and full of starts and stops– but it ended on such a happy note that I found myself smiling at the very last page. Growing up is hard. Books like this will make it so much less so for people of all ages who really need the representation.

5/5 stars

Such Pretty Flowers by K.L. Cerra – Review

“Get it out of me.”

It was the last message Holly received from her brother, Dane, before he was found cleaved open in his fiancée’s lavish Savannah townhouse. Police ruled his death a suicide sparked by psychosis, but Holly can’t shake the idea that something else must have happened… Something involving another message he sent that night, the one that mentioned a “game” his fiancée, Maura, wanted to play…

Determined to discover the truth, Holly begins to stalk Maura—a magnetic, black-eyed florist with a penchant for carnivorous plants. But what begins as an investigation quickly veers into a darker fixation, one that lures Holly into the depths of Maura’s world: Savannah high society, eerie black roses, and a whisper of something more sinister. Soon, Holly is feeling a dark attraction to the one woman she shouldn’t trust. As Holly falls deeper for Maura and her secrets, she’s left with only one choice: find out what happened to Dane… before she meets the same fate.

A woman investigating her brother’s apparent suicide finds herself falling for her prime suspect—his darkly mysterious girlfriend—in this edgy Southern gothic thriller.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House for the advance copy of this southern gothic tale rife with carnivorous plants and even deadlier humans. If I’m not mistaken, I believe this is K.L. Cerra’s debut novel– and it absolutely stuns. Not only is it written in an easily digested prose (I literally read it in a night), but it is completely original and edge-of-your-seat thriller. Even with the title, I was not expecting the amount of botany knowledge– which after some digging makes complete sense: the author herself is a fan of our leafier species. I was enraptured by the detail of each petal, and that coupled with the immersion in historical Savannah, Georgia brought the book to blooming life.

Inside these pages, we meet Holly. She has just lost her brother Dane to suicide, but something just doesn’t feel right. Holly gets an inkling that she should take a closer look at Dane’s girlfriend of five months, Maura, who had become the focus of his life until his strange illness had taken complete hold of him. It caused him to exhibit mental issues as well as neurological symptoms, and no one could explain its origin. With these mysteries in mind, Holly moves in with Maura and is immediately in way over her head. Maura is intoxicating and despite Holly’s best efforts– she falls for her and lets her guard down just enough for Maura to get under her skin.

This novel takes a look at grief and how desperate it can make you– and how misguided other’s attempts to ‘help’ can be. I really related to Holly and how out of place she felt. Her brother was one of the only things tethering her to the world, and when he left it so unexpectedly and horribly, it left her unmoored and searching for answers. Even as she tries to find them, she is also looking for someone else to ground her. This flaw brings Holly from the frying pan and into the fire– and yet she never loses sight of her goal. This tenacity is the only thing that can save her in the end, and is a message to never stop searching for the truth.

5/5 stars

Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones – Review

December 12th, 2019, Jade returns to the rural lake town of Proofrock the same day as convicted Indigenous serial killer Dark Mill South escapes into town to complete his revenge killings, in this riveting sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw from New York Times bestselling author, Stephen Graham Jones.

Four years after her tumultuous senior year, Jade Daniels is released from prison right before Christmas when her conviction is overturned. But life beyond bars takes a dangerous turn as soon as she returns to Proofrock. Convicted Serial Killer, Dark Mill South, seeking revenge for thirty-eight Dakota men hanged in 1862, escapes from his prison transfer due to a blizzard, just outside of Proofrock, Idaho.

Dark Mill South’s Reunion Tour began on December 12th, 2019, a Thursday.

Thirty-six hours and twenty bodies later, on Friday the 13th, it would be over.

Don’t Fear the Reaper is the page-turning sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw from New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the eARC of this much anticipated sequel to My Heart is a Chainsaw! I have been enraptured with Stephen Graham Jones since reading The Only Good Indians– and he just keeps impressing me with each release. When I read the first book in The Lake Witch Trilogy, I was rocked by how much I saw myself in the Final Girl, Jade. Now returning home as Jennifer, she has the weary and traumatized energy of Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott. And this time? She’s not alone.

This book features many POVs throughout; which I heartily enjoyed. It gives you up close and personal experiences with each death– and trust me, there’s a lot of them. That’s something else I truly admire about Stephen: his literary kills are always unique and grotesquely detailed. There’s something about a dangling eyeball described in at least twelve different ways that will both keep you up at night and make your stomach roll instantly. There are also just as many horror genre references that are sure to please the movie buffs and bookworms alike. It feels– like the first installment– like a love letter to each scary story that has come before.

If you love slashers– I recommend this series to you. In this particular book, you meet the serial killer Dark Mill South. He is on a rampage to avenge the death of 38 Dakota men whose lives were ended by a rope… but he’s not the only danger to the citizens of Proofrock. It’s up to Jennifer and the other survivors of the 4th of July Massacre to rise up to evil once more. It’s truly a story of how resilient humans are, and how trauma shapes and strengthens you even as it tears you apart. And, as always, the Native American representation that Stephen brings to the table is irreplaceable. All in all, this is a successful sequel in a genre that has a curse of falling flat of the first’s set expectations. I can’t wait to read his A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors– which is my favorite third installment of a slasher series.

5/5 stars

Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott – Review

A captivating novel about two sisters fighting for survival in male-dominated Dark Ages Britain that weaves a thrilling spell of magic and myth—from a bestselling author and historian.

In Dark Ages Britain, sisters Isla and Blue live in the shadows of the Ghost City, the abandoned ruins of the once-glorious, mile-wide Roman settlement Londinium on the north bank of the Thames. The native Britons and the new migrants from the East who scratch out a living in small wooden camps in its hinterland fear that the crumbling stone ruins are haunted by vengeful spirits. 

But the small island they call home is also a place of exile for Isla, Blue, and their father, a legendary blacksmith accused of using dark magic to make his firetongue swords. The local warlord, Osric, has put the Great Smith under close guard and ruled that he make his magnificent swords only for him so that he can use them to build alliances and extend his kingdom. 

For years, the sisters have been running wild, Blue communing with animals and plants and Isla secretly learning her father’s trade, which is forbidden to women. But when their father suddenly dies, they find themselves facing enslavement by Osric and his cruel, power-hungry son Vort. Their only option is to escape to the Ghost City, where they discover an underworld of rebel women living secretly amid the ruins. As Blue and Isla settle into their new life, they find both refuge and community with the women around them. But it is all too fragile. With the ruins collapsing all around them, Blue and Isla realize they can’t elude the men who hunt them forever. If they are to survive, they will need to use all their skill and ingenuity—as well as the magic of their foremothers—to fight back. 

With cinematic intimacy, Rebecca Stott skillfully recreates an ancient world steeped in myth and folklore, and the vibrant women who fight back against their patriarchal society. A heart-in-mouth adventure full of moments of tenderness, this is a beautiful, profound novel about oppression and power that puts a female perspective on a historical period dominated by men’s stories.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House for the digital copy of this captivating and feministic novel! It was written by an author who is also a historian, and this expertise really shows within the pages. Rebecca shows an accurate description of Dark Ages Britain, but also puts her own magical spin on it. She brings to life a bygone era, but injects into it living myth and folklore, and it creates a world that you cannot help but fall in love with. You will also instantly connect with the sisters who are fighting so hard to be heard and seen here.

Isla and Blue are our protagonists, and they live in the exile encampment of The Ghost City with their father, who is a blacksmith accused of using dark magic to create his metalworks. He is controlled by the local warlord to only make weapons for him. The girls, however, lived a childhood where they ran amuck– Blue finding her calling within nature, and Isla silently learning smithing from her father; which was, of course, forbidden to women. Everything changes when their father suddenly dies, and then they themselves are enslaved by the cruel warlord himself. Hope seems to be lost until they find bands of rebels like themselves, and these brave women decide to fight back against the system that has pushed them to the shadows all these years.

This is a beautiful and inspiring read– and it has a deep root in history as well as folklore. These elements weaved together create a lyrical but factual fantasy that is not too far from the world we know. As such, it is easy to get lost in. The magical realism gives enough of an escape that it doesn’t feel bogged down by the patriarchy, and Rebecca gives us a group of women to cheer for and relate to. I really enjoyed this novel. It was hard to put down, and a very quick and easy read. I also enjoyed that actual artifacts and dig sites inspired bits of the lore– so I was learning as I went along! I recommend this to Medievalists of all ages!

5/5 stars