Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Thank you to Titan Books for sending us early copies of Wintersong to review! 
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In the deep woods of Bavaria, Liesl has grown up with stories of the Goblin King and his underground realm. Intertwined with her life, the stories have inspired her musical compositions and been at the head of her Grandmother’s superstitions. As Liesl grows older and begins to help run her family’s inn, as well as looking after her younger siblings, her dreams of music and the Goblin King begin to slip away. However, when Liesl’s younger sister Kathë is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl realises that her childhood fantasies are a reality, and has to journey to the goblin’s underground realm to save her sister. A story of sacrifice, family and mythology, inspired by Jim Henson’s ‘Labyrinth’, Wintersong is a magical, dark fantasy debut from author S. Jae-Jones. 

Wintersong has been on my to-read list ever since I came across it on Goodreads – Labyrinth has always been a favourite film in our house, so when I heard that this was a more adult loose retelling of Labyrinth, I was all for it! 
Wintersong follows Liesl – the eldest of three siblings who has long given up on her dreams of writing and creating music. Cast aside as the ‘ugly, talentless sister’ next to her beautiful sister Kathë, and her brother Josef who has a great talent for playing the violin, Liesl has made do helping her parents run their inn and secretly writing pieces of music for Josef to perform. With a once musically talented and now alcoholic Father, and a Mother who was the beauty of Salzburg until the family had to move to the backwoods of Bavaria, Liesl has become the one to hold her family together. I found Liesl to be a really interesting character and so easy to connect to – usually with this sort of book, you’d find a character with her struggles to be quite whiney, but Liesl carries her burdens willingly and will always be ready to sacrifice herself for the sake of her family. 

“There is music in your soul. A wild and untamed sort
of music that speaks to me. It defies all the rules and laws you humans set upon it. It grows from inside you, and I have a wish to set that music free.” 
Liesl’s relationship with her sister Kathë was far from perfect – Kathë was jealous of Liesl as she was the only member of the family who wasn’t musically inclined, and Liesl jealous of Kathë for being more beautiful than her – but the pair’s devotion to each other really made the character development in this book for me. I would have loved to have seen more of Josef, as I really loved the parts that he was in, and the way that he continually encouraged Liesl to follow her dreams even whilst she was dedicated to helping him start out his musical career in the best way possible. Family was such a key element to this story, and in my opinion this aspect of it was executed so well.
The Goblin King, I absolutely adored. S. Jae-Jones got him spot on – his voice, his internal conflicts, and can we just talk about how perfect his appearance was? I knew that, however he was described, I’d picture him as David Bowie, but he was most definitely based off Bowie’s appearance in Labyrinth – the long, pale limbs, the light fluffy hair, the pointed features – and to be honest, when his ‘mismatched eyes’ were mentioned, I teared up just a little bit – it was such a perfect hidden tribute to Bowie. I was also so thankful that he wasn’t just a typical anti-hero (although, I do love anti-heroes); he has a past and he has character development, and despite his elusiveness towards Liesl for a large part of the book, you do get to understand him more as the story progresses.
“Now the days of winter begin, and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride.”
Plot wise, Wintersong was very much split into two halves – the first, in which Liesl attempts to save her sister from the Goblin King, and the second, where Liesl is staying in the Goblin King’s Underground Realm. Both halves were very different (the first was far more of a journey/adventure style story, and the second followed more of a character growth plotline) but I loved both halves (if anything I think I preferred the second half), and despite their differences, I thought that they fit together so well. Liesl’s voice, attitude and entire character changes from one half to the next; to begin with, she’s still very much submissive to her family’s needs, but after offering to take her sister’s place in the Underground, she decides that it’s time to live as she wants now that she isn’t responsible for her family. She grows more daring with the Goblin King and begins to compare the child she was in the world above to the brave woman that she has become. I couldn’t help but compare Liesl and the Goblin King’s relationship to that of Marya and Koschei in Catherynne Valente’s Deathless: it was an intense romance with both parties battling for their own will before reconciling to the middle ground.
“I surveyed my kingdom. Chaos. Cruelty. Abandon. I had always been holding back. Always been restrained. I wanted to be bigger, brighter, better; I wanted to be capricious, malicious, sly. Until now, I had not known the intoxicating sweetness of attention. In the world above, it had always been Käthe or Josef who captivated people’s eyes and hearts – Käthe with her beauty, Josef with his talent. I was forgotten, overlooked, ignored – the plain, drab, practical, talentless sister. But here in the Underground, I was the sun around which their world spun, the axis around which their maelstrom twirled. Liesl the girl had been dull, drab, and obedient; Elisabeth the woman was a queen.” 

It is quite a long book – 500+ pages – but I found it to be a fairly quick read as both the writing style and the world were just so immersive. In fact, I could have happily read another hundred pages or so of the story – anything to mean that that ending wasn’t so excruciatingly heartbreaking. The companion novel to Wintersong is currently due to be published next year, and even though Wintersong itself hasn’t even been published yet, I already need that next novel…
Wintersong is published in the UK and US on the 7th February 2017. 
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon UK
Are you planning on reading Wintersong? What other 2017 releases are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!

Love Becky @

Kingdom of Sleep by E.K. Johnston

I don’t think I quite enjoyed this book as much as its prequel, A Thousand Nights, but it was still an intriguing, beautiful story!

Kingdom of Sleep, or Spindle, depending on where you live, follows Yashaa, Arwa, Tariq and Saoud, on a quest to return to their crumbling home of Karuf and save the Princess, Zahrah. At her fifth birthday party, she was cursed by a demon who intended to possess her once she had learned everything she needed to be a ruler, forcing her kingdom into ruin and resulting in the banning of spindles (this is where the Sleeping Beauty references come in), as the demon pronounced that once Zahrah learned to spin, she would be ready for inhabitation. Yashaa, Arwa and Tariq’s families, who were spinners, were forced to leave their home at this point, but now the three of them along with Saoud are determined to break Zahrah’s curse. 



A Thousand Nights was very much a slow building story, and whereas Kingdom of Sleep was also slow, there was still a lot more action in it. It was definitely more of a “journey story”, focusing on the development of the characters and their relationships with each other rather than on the plot. I did struggle to get into this book at first, mostly because I wasn’t expecting some of the differences between it and A Thousand Nights (for example, I assumed that the characters would all remain unnamed as they did in the previous book) but once I got into the book I really enjoyed it and began to connect with the characters a lot more. 

Although I thought the ending was a bit too rushed, the very last chapter really made the book for me. With A Thousand Nights, the thing that really stuck with me was how beautiful and poetic the writing was, and I’m so glad that Kingdom of Sleep still had such beautiful writing, even though it was written in quite a different style and voice. 


This definitely isn’t a sequel to A Thousand Nights, but a companion novel – it’s set in the same land, but quite a long time afterwards (hundreds of years, as far as I’m aware) and although key events are mentioned from the previous book, you could definitely read this as a standalone and have no trouble at all understanding what’s happening. I’d also just like to mention something about the Sleeping Beauty comparisons – Kingdom of Sleep is marketed as being inspired by/a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and I think this may have put some people off, but in my opinion, the two stories couldn’t be more different – literally the main similarity is that in both stories, spindles are the triggers in the Princesses curses. Because of this, I would definitely not let the Sleeping Beauty inspirations embedded in this book put you off reading it, as like I say, they’re barely there! 



Have you read A Thousand Nights or Kingdom of Sleep/Spindle? What did you think?

love Becky @ 


The Star-Touched Queen – Roshani Chokshi

“I know your soul. Everything else is just an ornament.”
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. 

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet, who can she trust?

Becky’s rating: 3.5 stars

The Star-Touched Queen wasn’t in any way what I expected it to be. It reminded me, in many ways, of an amalgamation of some books that I love; there were touches of The Wrath and the Dawn in there, and it seemed very similar in some ways to both Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Deathless – these two are very much on my list of favourite books. I also saw bits of A Court of Thorns and Roses and Fallen throughout. However, as a whole, it just didn’t quite click. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed it. Three and a half stars still means that I finished it and liked it a fair bit! I just found that it was one of those books that had sections which I really liked, and other sections that I just wasn’t keen on. 
For example, I enjoyed the relationship between Maya and her sister Gauri. I thought that the majority of Maya’s character development was seen in their interactions, or even just her thoughts and memories of her once she left the harem. The more mystical aspects of the book were perfect, and I wasn’t anticipating the plot twists at the end of the first half of the book.
The writing style was absolutely beautiful, and the descriptions were magical, but some could have gone into a bit more detail, especially when setting the scene.
I’ve seen a few people comment on the instalove in this book, and honestly I just didn’t see it as the biggest issue here. Maya quite clearly does not trust Amar, even after she is given a reason to trust him more – and to be honest, the revelation at the end of part one is a pretty good reason. It’s also one I have seen happen in other books, and in some cases, it worked incredibly well.
Now, to the parts that made me knock down the rating a bit. I understand that, since this was inspired by Indian mythology and culture, the lack of gender equality was probably necessary, but I just didn’t like when Maya’s father commented that she would have been a great leader if she’d been born a boy, and she didn’t say anything. She didn’t even have any indignant thoughts towards him or his statement. Also, I can’t excuse Maya’s comment of “I’d rather spread ideas than legs” to one of the women in her Father’s harem. Yes, there was obviously animosity between the two of them that had already been shown earlier in the book, but I just think the slut shaming was very unnecessary.
As I mentioned before, the world building could have been, well, more built upon. I’m a very visual person so I struggle with books when they try to set the scene but don’t quite go far enough, and you can’t picture what the author is trying to describe. Some of the places in The Star-Touched Queen sounded like they’d be amazing, had they been described more thoroughly. I would also have liked to have found out more about Nritti – she seemed like a really interesting character but just wasn’t developed as much as she could have been, in my opinion!
I do think that, had a few parts been taken out of this book, and had it been a bit longer so that the descriptions could be more thorough, it could have had the potential to be five stars. I’m definitely excited to read what Roshani Chokshi writes next, as I have no doubt that it’ll be beautiful.


The Rose and the Dagger – Renée Ahdieh

“No. He was not here to wreak revenge. For revenge was trifling and hollow.
No. He was not here to retrieve his wife. For his wife was not a thing to be retrieved.
No. He was not here to negotiate a truce. For a truce suggested he wished to compromise.
He was here to burn something to the ground.”

*this review may contain spoilers from The Wrath and the Dawn, but not from The Rose and the Dagger*
The Rose and the Dagger, the highly anticipated sequel to The Wrath and the Dawn and final book in the series, opens with Kohrasan on the brink of war, and Shahrzad separated from Khalid and taken to the desert. Now, Shahrzad must uncover her powers, protect her family, save her country from its imminent war and find her way back to Khalid despite being held amongst people who want him dead – all whilst trying to discover a way to destroy his curse. 


The Rose and the Dagger was the most perfect ending to this duology! Although it maybe wasn’t as fast paced as The Wrath and the Dawn, Renée Ahdieh wrapped up the story perfectly with this instalment in the series, and it ended on just the right note.
As with the previous book, the writing style was exquisite – the descriptions are beautiful and winding, and I could really picture each scene and setting that was being described. 
I think my favourite thing about this book was the development of characters and relationships that is seen throughout it. In The Wrath and the Dawn, we already saw Shazi as an amazingly strong and sassy protagonist, and I’m so glad that her character hadn’t changed in this book – if anything, she just gets even better. I also loved the insight into her relationship with her sister, Irsa, and the development of understanding between her and her father (I can almost guarantee that this part will make you cry, just a warning). 
Although this story is obviously primarily a love story, The Rose and the Dagger didn’t have to rely on forced or cheesy love scenes. Once again, Shazi and Khalid’s romance is perfect and natural and I genuinely can’t get enough of those two. There is also more magic in this book, which I was hoping we’d see more of! 
The last part of the book was just packed full of beautifully heartbreaking plot twists, and at some points I was quite literally on the edge of my seat/in tears/about to scream/cursing Renée Ahdieh for destroying my soul with her literature. I won’t say too much about the ending except that it was absolutely perfect. 

I have loved this duology so much, it literally doesn’t have a weak moment in my opinion and would definitely recommend it to anyone. I can’t wait to see what Renée Ahdieh comes out with next!

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

“It’s a fitting punishment for a monster. to want something so much—to hold it in your arms — and know beyond a doubt you will never deserve it.” 

 

The Wrath and the Dawn (a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights) follows Shahrzad, a girl who has volunteered to marry Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. Every night, Khalid marries a new girl, just to see them hanged by a silk cord the following dawn. After Shahrzad’s closest friend is chosen for this fate and killed, she is determined to break this cycle and distract Khalid until she finds an opportunity to kill him. What Shahrzad doesn’t expect is that the two of them will fall for each other, and she will be sucked in to the many secrets that Khalid is hiding from her and the people of Khorasan.
Becky –
I have to say, I was unsure about reading The Wrath and the Dawn, and at first I wasn’t really getting into it – but I’m so glad I gave it a chance and carried on reading. This book was amazing and the ending blew me away! I’m in the middle of preordering The Rose & the Dagger as I type this.
Usually, I feel as though I would find this sort of plot to be too cringey for me, but I loved Shahrzad and Khalid. Their romance was developed perfectly and with just the right pacing so that it didn’t seem too unrealistic.
Aside from the romantic aspects of this book, the fantasy world is set and created really well, and I love the hints of magic throughout – it does seem as though this is something that will be expanded upon in The Rose & the Dagger as well, which I’m really excited about!

The ending was awfully heart-wrenching and has left me counting down the days until I can read the sequel, but I don’t know why I expected anything different of such a brilliant book.

My one initial problem with The Wrath and the Dawn was the beginning – it seemed to jump into the plot very fast, and I wasn’t too sure what was going on for the first couple of chapters. However, it did encourage me to keep reading so I could work out what on earth was happening and who each character was, and once I’d properly got into it I loved it!
Angharad –
 
I wasn’t sure about this one, purely because I’ve never been a fan of retellings but the beautiful cover and good reviews finally convinced me. I’m not kidding when I say I finished this book in ONE sitting. As in, I didn’t go to bed. As in, I sat still for a few hours until it was done. Why? Because it was so good.
Without mentioning spoilers (which I am prone to do), I will just say that this book was a fantastic and refreshing read. I loved the Arabian setting, I loved the concept and I love how we had to wait until pretty much the end of the novel to find out the reason for Khalid’s actions, making us as desperate to find out his secret as much as Shahrzad.
My criticisms are that I do wish that there had been more world-building so we could learn more about the fantasy aspect of the world. I also wish Shahrzad hadn’t of forgot her thirst for revenge so quickly. I think if the book had been longer, this would have been explored more. 
 
Renee’s writing was spellbinding. I could imagine the atmosphere in great detail and the magic of the book was in the writing itself. The romance was beautiful, really bloody beautiful. I love that it built up slowly but surely and then it just burst into so much intensity and want. “My soul sees its equal in you.” I mean?? It was lovely and I’m not usually a reader who likes the romance being the main point of the book.
Overall, I do recommend this book. As I mentioned, a few things could have been improved but other than that, it was a captivating read and I am very much looking forward to the sequel.
What were your thoughts on this book?
Let us know in the comments!