Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones | Blog Tour – ‘My Favourite Literary Villains’

As soon as I came across Wintersong online, I knew I had to get hold of a copy ASAP. Marketed as being a loose retelling of Labyrinth (one of mine and my husband’s favourite films) aimed at a more mature audience, I couldn’t wait to read this, and was thrilled to not only receive an ARC of it but also be able to be a part of the blog tour! Wintersong was released yesterday and I would highly encourage you all to go and pick up a copy.

Today, I’ll be sharing with you a little insight into the mind of S. Jae-Jones (aka. JJ), author of Wintersong, on a topic close to my heart – favourite literary villains.

{PS. Don’t forget to take a look at the first two posts of the Wintersong blog tour: Day One & Day Two can be found here. If you’d like to follow along, all blogs included in this tour are to the left!}

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I love a good villain; so much so that I love reading books or watching movies told from the villain’s point of view, like The Mists of Avalon or Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. For me, a good literary villain is complex, with motivations that are understandable or even sympathetic enough to be chilling. The following are a few of my favorites:
Melisande Shahrizai from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series
Melisande is one of my favorite characters full stop. What I love most about her is that she isn’t driven by evil or megalomania; she’s a villain because she likes to play games. The prize she’s set for herself is the throne of Terre d’Ange. Matching wits with Melisande is like playing against a chessmaster; she’s always several moves ahead. Yet despite her cool, calculating mind, she’s rather a good sport, acknowledging when she’s been beaten at her own game. There’s no active malice in Melisande, but she is completely terrifying nonetheless, and I love that about her.
The Darkling from Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha books
The Darkling could have easily been the tortured romantic hero in a different series. He’s brooding, he’s tortured, he’s vulnerable, and he’s so, so broken. Yet despite all this, he’s still a selfish, horrible person, and I love that Bardugo resists softening the Darkling’s edges to make him a palatable potential love interest for Alina. I love the Darkling because he’s all wrong, and I love that I love he’s all wrong.

Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials
There is a common thread through nearly all my favorite female villains: they are evil in their subtlety and complexity. Mrs. Coulter fascinates me because she’s amoral and completely selfish, yet also charming and charismatic. Even her love for her daughter seems to be an extension of her selfishness. Despite this, despite an entire life lived for power, she commits an act of ultimate selflessness, and this dissonance is what makes Marisa Coulter an amazing villain.
Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter

I will admit that some of my visceral reaction to Dolores Umbridge is personal. I was educated at an all-girls’ school, and for my first three years, I had a very McGonagall-like headmistress (down to the tartan print!). But in my final year, we had a new headmistress when the previous one retired, and this new one was Umbridge-like in every possible way: a toad-like face, affected girlish voice, and a saccharine manner disguising a terrifying authoritarian philosophy. I think we all know an Umbridge, and the fact that she actually exists in the real world in some form or another is the most terrifying thing of all.

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All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl feels that her childhood dreams are slipping away. And when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. But with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.

Published 7th February 2017 from Titan Books


Read my full review of Wintersong here!



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S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is an artist, an adrenaline junkie, and erstwhile editrix. When not obsessing over books, she can be found jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, co-hosting the pub(lishing) Crawl podcast, or playing dress-up.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, she now lives in North Carolina, as well as many other places on the internet, including TwitterTumblrFacebookInstagram and her blog. Wintersong is her debut novel.



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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 @ 


Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Vassa in the Night, a retelling of the Russian folklore tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, tells the story of Vassa, a young girl living in an alternate Brooklyn that is plagued by dark magic. Residents of Vassa’s neighbourhood have noticed that, whilst the days last mere hours, the nights last for days – and this all started when the local convenience store,  BY’s, was open by Babs Yagg – a shopkeeper who has a tendency to behead thieves. When Vassa heads out to BY’s in need of lightbulbs, she finds herself tied up in a contract with Babs, and her life will be forfeit if she’s unable to work at the store for three nights without making any mistakes. However, Vassa has help – a magical wooden doll by the name of Erg, made for Vassa by her mother before she passed away. With Erg’s trickery, can Vassa survive three nights at BY’s, and maybe even break the curse upon her neighbourhood?

Bookmark from Behind the Pages

I’ve always been a huge fan of Russian-inspired fiction, so when I received Vassa in the Night in September’s Fairyloot box, I was over the moon! I had previously read the tale of Vasilisa the Beautiful, and I would recommend reading it if you’re planning on looking into this novel – if anything, it’ll help you understand what’s going on when the magic gets too much!

Overall, Vassa in the Night is quite a quirky, nonsensical book – but this is often the case with folklore, and definitely isn’t a negative. It reminded me a lot of one of my favourite books, Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, but is written in a much more whimsical style to this. The book is very much written like a fairytale, what with the “things coming in threes” aspect, the overarching quest to save Brooklyn, the hero (Vassa) and the villain (Babs). There were also interludes which took place whilst Vassa was asleep, a little touch which I really liked – and these definitely complemented the plot. 

Vassa as a main character was interesting, but I didn’t fully connect with her. I liked her attitude and sarcasm, but would’ve liked to have got to know her a little bit better. I do feel as though Erg got in the way of this at points, as she could be a very irritating character at times. I sometimes struggle with magic realism as a genre, but it managed to (mostly) make complete sense in this book – it worked well, in any case. It stuck to both the original story and to Russian folklore in general really well, and I appreciated this as the Russian aspects were basically what made me want to read it in the first place. 



The only negatives I had with this book was that it could be a bit slow at times – considering that the majority of it is set in one location, this is bound to happen. I also did get a bit confused at some points, such as some sort of crazy fight scene towards the end (which confused me so much that I genuinely am not quite sure what happened). There was also a bit of a love interest at one point, which I just didn’t understand – it came from nowhere and had absolutely no build up or purpose.

I’m not entirely sure who to recommend this book to, just because it’s written in such a niche style, but if you’re interested in Russian mythology or magic realism, I would definitely recommend taking a look at it! 

Have you read Vassa in the Night? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!

Love,

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!