New Releases Wednesday

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected on Water by Zen Cho

Published: June 23, 2020 by Tor.com Publishing

Goodreads

Synopsis: Zen Cho returns with a found family wuxia fantasy that combines the vibrancy of old school martial arts movies with characters drawn from the margins of history.

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

Why I’m Excited: First off, the cover looks more like a painting than a book cover. I could stare at it all day. I was not familiar with the term “wuxia” when I happened on this book. But I looked it up and it means “martial hero”, so a hero of the martial arts. This just sounds so good! I want to read this so badly.

Sisters of Sword & Song by Rebecca Ross

Published: June 23, 2020 by Harper Teen

Goodreads

Synopsis: From the author of The Queen’s Rising comes a thrilling YA stand-alone fantasy about the unbreakable bond between sisters. Perfect for fans of Ember in the Ashes, Sky in the Deep, and Court of Fives.

After eight long years, Evadne will finally be reunited with her older sister, Halcyon, who has been proudly serving in the queen’s army. But when Halcyon appears earlier than expected, Eva knows something has gone terribly wrong. Halcyon is on the run, hunted by her commander and charged with murder.

Though Halcyon’s life is spared during her trial, the punishment is heavy. And when Eva volunteers to serve part of Halcyon’s sentence, she’s determined to find out exactly what happened. But as Eva begins her sentence, she quickly learns that there are fates much worse than death.

Why I’m Excited: The synopsis of this one made me want to learn more, so I did a little research. Turns out this book is an alternate history Ancient Greece. All of the gods/goddesses have left behind powerful relics that the Queen is on the hint for. Something goes wrong and Halcyon ends up charged with a murder. That sounds so good. And it sounds like a very good sibling story, where both siblings are good people who want to protect each other from the world. That appeals to me.

Review: The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

Published: October 1, 2019 by Ace Books

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell … and Earth. 

Review: I think I fell in love with this book, and with Claire and Brevity and Hero and Leto. I feel such much emotion for all of them. Every single character is layered and deep, which is severely lacking in fiction these days. The plot was similarly complex and layered. Just when I thought the story had peaked it was raised to another level entirely.

Claire was one of the single best characters I have ever read. We are introduced to her as the surly, prickly Librarian of the Unwritten Wing of Hell. She takes no crap and expects everyone to follow commands without question. She is 100% certain that the role of Librarian is to prevent characters from rising from their novels because who knows the damage they could inflict on the world. She is steadfast, she has an iron will on this issue. But it’s not that simple. There is a heartbreaking reason why she feels this way. When it was revealed, I cried with her and for her.

Leto was a mystery when we are first introduced to him. He is a human who recently died and, for some reason, he has condemned his own soul to hell in the form of a demon. And he refuses to tell anyone why. Again, as we revealed the whole of his story, I fell in love with him too. I cried with him, I cried for him, and my heart rejoiced when he found his way.

My only minor complaint is that the story meandered quite a bit. I feel like this could have been a lot shorter but not sacrificed anything that made it wonderful. This world had so many layers and I loved exploring them.It is a very unique take on heaven, hell and all things in between. I also glanced rather uneasily at the unfinished manuscripts on my computer throughout this book, maybe I should work on those. I hope to further explore the different areas of this world in the next book, which I pre-ordered as soon as I finished this one.

Review: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Published: February 4, 2020 by Tor

Buy this novella at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: In Upright Women Wanted, award-winning author Sarah Gailey reinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.

The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

Review: ***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a free review. Thank you NetGalley and Tor!***

This was a fun little novella and certainly a lot better than the one I reviewed from Sarah Gailey last month, River of Teeth. The biggest issue is that it was just so short. The hardcover is 176 pages and it came out to 99 pages on my Nook. There was almost no world or character building as a result. I liked the characters and I liked the premise but it had zero depth.

This dystopian world is one that is intolerant of lesbian or non-binary women. Some of these women choose to work as “Librarians” and deliver “approved” media materials for the masses. And they occasionally lead insurgencies and smuggle people to safer areas. But because of the lack of world building I have no idea why the world is this way. Is it just non-straight women that society objects to? What about gay men? What about transgender individuals? Are there racial issues there too? Usually intolerance is not limited to just one thing. Because we don’t touch on anything except that one aspect at all and since they haven’t explained the world to me then I can’t even make an educated guess.

Esther was a good character and I found her to be very sympathetic. Though it was a bit undermining to my sympathies that within a few months of watching her first love hang for the crime of having unapproved materials Esther is making starry eyes at the Assistant Librarian Cye. I felt a lot of deep emotion for Esther and her story initially. But then we immediately start mooning over Cye and I felt that sympathy fading because apparently she had gotten over it, so why shouldn’t I?

This was a good little story but I really wish it had been given more time and more pages. It would have been less tropey and been able to explore this world in a lot more depth. That would have only improved it for me.

New Releases Wednesday

The Prisoner’s Wife by Maggie Brookes

Published: May 26, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis: Inspired by the true story of a daring deception that plunges a courageous young woman deep into the horrors of a Nazi POW camp to be with the man she loves.

In the dead of night, a Czech farm girl and a British soldier travel through the countryside. Izabela and prisoner of war Bill have secretly married and are on the run, with Izzy dressed as a man. The young husband and wife evade capture for as long as possible–until they are cornered by Nazi soldiers with tracking dogs.

Izzy’s disguise works. The couple are assumed to be escaped British soldiers and transported to a POW camp. However, their ordeal has just begun, as they face appalling living conditions and the constant fear of Izzy’s exposure. But in the midst of danger and deprivation comes hope, for the young couple are befriended by a small group of fellow prisoners. These men become their new family, willing to jeopardize their lives to save Izzy from being discovered and shot.

The Prisoner’s Wife tells of an incredible risk, and of how our deepest bonds are tested in desperate times. Bill and Izzy’s story is one of love and survival against the darkest odds.

My Thoughts: This sounds like a thrilling journey spurred by love and surrounded in tragedy. World War II historical fiction seems to be having a moment right now and I am very excited to see what it brings.

The Lady Alchemist by Samantha Vitale

Published: May 26, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis: In a land torn between magic and alchemy, Sepha is an exceptional alchemist, able to bend the rules in ways no one else can. But when a slip of the tongue lands her in prison with a mountain of straw, even she has to admit that she can’t transmute straw into gold.

With the threat of a death sentence hanging over her, she’s forced to make a deal with a conniving magician. Sepha escapes with her life – but at a cost: she has one year to alchemically create a body for the magician, or else her firstborn child will be his.

As Sepha’s deadline approaches, she uncovers a deadly secret. How can she save her country when the body she owes the magician will be used to destroy it?

My Thoughts: Fairytale retellings are quite possibly my biggest guilty pleasure. I love the new take on a familiar story. Not to mention this cover is absolutely spectacular. I really want to read this.

Take My Money! Sunday

This feature now has a better name. I’ve been thinking of one for awhile and then it hit me. These are the books that make me want to yell, “Just here’s my wallet! Take the money and gimme gimme!”

A Mother’s Lie by Sarah Zettel

Expected Publication date: April 7, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis:

A compulsive family drama about a mother’s desperate search to reclaim her daughter from the horrors of her own past, perfect for fans of Then She Was Gone.

Beth Fraser finally has her life together. She’s built a successful career in the tech sector, has a bright fifteen-year-old daughter, and she’s completely erased all evidence of her troubled past. At least that’s what she thought.

Dana Fraser always wondered why she’s the only kid with two backup phones, emergency drills, and a non-negotiable check-in time every single day. When a stranger approaches her on the street claiming to be her grandmother, Dana starts to question what else her mother has been hiding. 

Soon Beth’s worst nightmare is coming true: Dana is in grave danger, and unless Beth is willing to pull one last con job for her parents, she may never see her daughter again.

Why I’m Excited: This sounds really good. A child who grew up surrounded by secrets and has to piece things together when it all comes crashing down around her. I really need to hurry and read the ARC I have of this one.

Hush by Dylan Farrow

Expected publication date: October 6, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis:

How do you speak up in a world where propaganda is a twisted form of magic?

In the land of Montane, language is literal magic to the select few who possess the gift of Telling. This power is reserved for the Bards, and, as everyone knows, the Bards have almost always been men.

Seventeen-year-old Shae has lived her entire life in awe of the Bards—and afraid of the Blot, a deadly disease spread by ink, which took the life of her younger brother five years ago. Ever since, Shae fears she’s cursed. But when tragedy strikes again, and her mother is found murdered with a golden dagger—a weapon used only by the Bards—Shae is forced to act.

With a heart set on justice, Shae journeys to High House in search of answers. But when the kind, fatherly Cathal, the High Lord of Montane, makes Shae an undeniable offer to stay and train as a Bard, Shae can’t refuse.

Through this twisty tale, Shae endures backbreaking training by a ruthless female Bard, tentative and highly-forbidden feelings for a male Bard with a dark past, and a castle filled with dangerous illusions bent on keeping its secrets buried.

But sometimes, the truth is closer than we think. We just have to learn to listen.

Why I’m excited: I have always loved the idea of words having actual power, so this seems to play on that theme. It begs the question of how much more careful would people be if they knew there was real world consequences for the things they say. Or would they be more reckless?

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

26032825._SY475_The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Published: January 2, 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Readers

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Rating: 5 star

Review: I admit that the only reason I picked up this book was because I keep seeing the cover for the upcoming third book in the series, and it is absolutely gorgeous. But I didn’t want to start with the third book in a series, so I started from the beginning. And it was glorious!

For the first half of this book it was a pretty typical YA book. A human girl who was spirited away to Faerie as a young child. She desperately wants to fit in and make it her new home, but gets relentlessly bullied by the other faerie kids because she’s human. She strives to be more than “just a human” but isn’t sure exactly how to do that. So far all of this is pretty typical and it was good. I enjoyed reading about Jude and the book was well written. I also loved that the world of Faerie was depicted in such a dark and cruel way, it was refreshing from how most faeries are portrayed in YA books.

Then, around the halfway point of the story, things took a drastic turn for the darkness. I was shocked. My jaw hung open and I proceeded to read the final half of the book in one sitting because I HAD TO KNOW! The deceit and deception got so much deeper and darker the longer I read. It was fantastic.

Just when I thought I had Jude’s plan all figured out, things took another turn that I did not see coming. I loved every second of this plot. I love that it lulled me into a false sense of security that this would be just like all the other YA books I’ve read and then yanked that dream away from me in a split second, and with no remorse.

Also, Taryn is possibly the worst person in the entire book. I knew I didn’t like her much from the beginning but she is just downright awful. At one point I just kept thinking “that #&U%(#, Jude stab her!” I know I would have.

This book was fabulous. I will be picking up the second book just as soon as I can, because I have to know what happens now.

Review: The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

51024058The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Published: April 7, 2020 by Orbit Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Harriet Bishop, descended from a long line of witches, uses magic to help women in need — not only ordinary women, but also those with powers of their own. She must intervene when a distant cousin wields dangerous magic to change the lives of two unsuspecting young people… one of whom might just be a witch herself.

Frances Allington has used her wiles and witchcraft to claw her way out of poverty and into a spectacular marriage with one of New York’s wealthiest new tycoons. She is determined to secure the Allingtons’ position amongst the city’s elite Four Hundred families by any means necessary — including a scheme to make a glorious aristocratic match for her headstrong and reluctant step-daughter, Annis, using the same strange power with which she ensnared Annis’s father.


To save Annis from this dark magic, Harriet reveals to her Frances’ misuse of their shared birthright and kindles in Annis her own nascent powers. Together, Harriet and Annis must resist her stepmother’s agenda, lest she — and the dashing young lord she suspects she could come to love — lose their freedom, and possibly their lives.

Rating: 3 star

Review: This book started as a 4-star book, then dropped to a 2-star book and finally by the end is an “it was fine” 3-star. The writing of this book was lovely. I found myself entranced by the prose and would look up to find that several hours had passed. Just last night I was so enthralled with the plot and the writing that I stayed awake reading until 2 a.m. It’s not surprising that the book only took me 3 days to finish.

I love books about witches, probably because I am one. I love books that explore the role of witchcraft in history and how women have historically used this knowledge to empower themselves. The characters were rich and I enjoyed them all. The basic premise is that Harriet and Francis are descended from a witch named Bridget Bishop. Bridget was executed in the 1600’s for witchcraft. Harriet’s side of the family tree has adopted the gentler side of the craft, using it mainly for herbalism and assisting locals with their various ailments and ills. Francis’ side of the family tree had adopted the “bad” side of the craft, manipulating and magically forcing others to do their bidding in order to gain power for themselves. Annis is a young girl from the family tree who is just coming into her powers and for whom Francis has nefarious plans. Harriet endeavors to stop this plot and it culminates in a clash between the two witches with Annis as the prize.

This book was a slow burn with not a lot of action to it, and I was fine with that. The information being presented was largely interesting and once we did get the showdown between Harriet and Francis it was really refreshing and exciting. That portion is what kept me up most of the night.

***Spoiler alert:*** From this point on there will be spoilers.

The biggest problems I had with the book are the ending and that this book didn’t know what it wanted to be.

Is it the story of Annis? A girl ahead of her time, bucking the norm, and determined to make her own way with her newfound powers. Is it the story of a 200 year old battle between two sides of a family to ultimately decide if they are bad witches or good witches? Is it a story of the temptations of good and evil and the blurry gray area in between? Unfortunately it could have been all of these things, but ended up being none of them. None of these things are explored in any depth and I was really disappointed by that.

The ending was very plain. James and Annis decide that they didn’t just have feelings for each other because of magic, they actually do love each other and want to get married. How boring. How predictable. And then we are subjected to a very long lecture about how James might seem like a good man, but we should keep his manikin around just in case he decides to start behaving like an ass later. Because he’s a man after all, so you just never know and a woman can’t be too careful. Why can a novel not show us strong women without equaling telling us about how all men are asses? Even ones who aren’t asses but they might decide to be later because….well they’re a man. I am weary of it. It is possible to tell a story about strong, empowered women without demeaning men. I promise it is.

There was also an unintended moral problem in the story. We are told early on that good witches use their powers to help, bad witches use their powers to compel. Bad witches will always succumb to darkness and be lost to a lust for power. But on at least 3 occasions the “good” witches use their magic to persuade people to give them things. A horse, money, and then more money. All for their own benefit. So while those people may not have been harmed, the man was reimbursed for the horse and the money was plentiful and wouldn’t be missed, does that make it okay? What is the difference between magically persuading someone to give you something and just outright forcing them to give you something? Unfortunately, I don’t think the author intended for this issue to be presented and so we never get the answer to that question. In the end, even evil magic can be tucked away in a corner for safekeeping…just in case, and one will still be a good witch.

Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

35702241The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Published on February 25, 2020 by Feiwel & Friends

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

Rating: 4 star

Review: This book was so much fun! I have never read the author before but I enjoyed her style very much, so I think I might pick up some of her other books after this one. This one had a bit more romance than I expected but it had a lot of adventure and twists and turns that kept me entertained.

Alessandra is delightfully scandalous. She is witty and funny but also slightly sociopathic. She delights in using men and bucking the patriarchal system she lives in. She figures that if men can have a thousand lovers then the women must not be being very chaste either so why not. She killed the first boy who broke her heart and is determined to not make herself vulnerable ever again. Instead she has a mission to seduce the king and then kill him and take over his kingdom. She finally sees her opportunity with the engagement of her older sister, since she was not allowed to attend court until that time. She catches the Shadow King’s eye immediately and away we go.

I fully expected for the plot of the story to be a romance. I knew going in that Alessandra would fall in love with the king, and he with her, and she would no longer want to go through with her plan. So, I didn’t really mind when the story started taking me that way. Especially since the romance was handled with a lot of snark and lots of nefarious plotting and teasing. There was so much sexual tension in this book and it was delicious. Kallias set my heart pitter pattering and I hoped beyond hope that he was getting through to Alessandra too. He’s just so delightfully bad!

The only downside I had with this book was that I found the rules of the world building to be a tad inconsistent. We are told from the outset that this is a very Victorian world. Women are expected to be demure, chaste, and never be found in a compromising situation that could ruin their opportunities for a good marriage. Women cannot go to court to attempt to woo a husband until all of their older sisters are married off. The males of the family make the marriage arrangements. All of this is extremely typical. But then, it’s also okay for the nobles to be engaged in homosexual or bisexual relationships. Openly and at court. That certainly does not fit with the world you have built. At all. I am okay with either world. I am okay with a very straitlaced Victorian world. And I am okay with a slightly more liberal world encompassing people of all sexualities. But the two things don’t work well together.

This small gripe aside, I loved this book. It was wonderfully wicked and very sexy. I was sad it was over.

Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

44218347._SY475_Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Published on January 14, 2020 by Feiwel & Friends

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.

Rating: 5 star

Review: I believe this book earns the distinction of my first 5-star book of 2020. It was phenomenal. I have not read a book by this author before, but if this is any indication then I am going to have to read some of their other offerings. I honestly don’t have enough good things to say about it.

The contrasting stories were so expertly woven that when the two were merged in the final chapters I just sat in wonderment at the dichotomy and similarity of the two narratives. I found both of them enchanting. The world presented by the 1500’s France era of suspicion and fear at things the people did not understand and, as a result, were more than willing to blame the “other” people for. And the present day world of Emil and Rosella in which strange happenings are accepted as part of the culture but that the “other” group of people is still to be considered with suspicion for other reasons.

And through all of it you have two women, Lala and Rosella. Both of them struggling with the roles assigned to them by the society they inhabit. And there was also a lesson in these pages, but not quite the one the author explained in her Author’s Note. Personally, I found that a bit annoying. I don’t like being told by anyone what the point of the story is supposed to be. Their bottom line may not be my bottom line. And, to me, it treads dangerously close to telling me how to “properly” read the story. But since it was at the end of the book, I could only get mildly annoyed because I had already formed my own opinion about the book by that point.

Anyway, back to the message that I took from the story. This is a story about women. The roles that are assigned to them by the various people in their life; family, lovers, friends, and society as a whole. All women are told by the world who they ought to be. But the message of the story is that you can either accept that role or craft a new one. That it is within your power to take all the things that people tell you that you are and embrace them to a new end like Lala, or spit in the face of them and use their power to fuel your own like Rosella.

Frankly, this is a book that I would pass on to my daughter when she’s older as an example of the power she inherently has as a woman and the ways she can use that power to whatever end she desires. I loved it.

Review: The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

45046552The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

Published: February 11, 2020 by Tor Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

Rating: 2 star

Review: I must say it has been a long time since I was as disappointed in a book as I am in this one. My expectations for this book were sky high. I had seen a lot of good buzz about it and the premise sounded amazing. A high fantasy with orcs and elves, mages and assassins? And brought to me by Tor Books? Sign me up! Here just have my money!! Then, in the end, it was just a giant feeling of “whomp whomp”. That makes me sad. Especially because this book had a ton of potential.

Csorwe had the potential to be an amazing character. She was raised her entire life to know that she will be sacrificed to her god on a specific day and that is her only purpose. And then, at the last moment, she is offered an alternate destiny. A chance to become an assassin, a sword hand for a wronged wizard who wants his power back. And she just so happens to be an orc priestess too. Unfortunately, she was also incredibly boring. I had no emotional connection to her at all. Probably because we only see her in action packed moments. We only see her in the moments preceding battle, the midst of battle and the immediate aftermath of battle. Characters are created in the little moments. The moments that the character spends training, planning, preparing, and theorizing about what is to come. There was absolutely none of that in this book. We go from Csorwe leaving behind her destiny to several years later when she’s already largely trained. We are told that she really enjoyed training with a mercenary group, but we never actually see that happen. We are told that she is a remarkable fighter and assassin. Except she only does this actual task one or two times, neither of which could be considered wildly successful. Mostly she gets her ass kicked. To the brink of death. Seemingly every day.

Tal’s character was slightly more fleshed out but I got the feeling that he was there purely as an adversary for Csorwe and occasional comic relief. That was a shame because I felt like there was untapped potential there. Shuthmili was a good character and I found myself connecting with her at times, but since she isn’t a major factor in a lot of the book it was hard to develop any lasting feelings about her.  And her romance with Csorwe was very sweet.

The most memorable character was Oranna. I had some deep feelings about her and thought she was the best character as a whole. She actually felt like a real person instead of a cardboard stand-in for a real person. She was wonderful although I don’t think that I ever completely grasped her motivation behind everything that she did. I know what she told us her motivation was but it seemed hollow and shallow. I suspect it wasn’t entirely the truth.

The writing was technically solid and I found myself reading large swathes of pages at a time without realizing the time was going by. That was the good part. The problem was the disjointed nature of the narrative. We start with Csorwe at 14, then we jumped a few years to about 17 or 18, then jump again to her at around 22. Every time we arrive in a new time period, things are already figured out and a plan is already well underway for what needs to happen. It was confusing. I never got a chance to get invested in a particular narrative before it was over and we moved on to the next thing. There was also absolutely no showing in this book, just telling. We are told that people felt a certain way. We are told that things work a certain way. We are told that this is the answer to the entire thing. We are told that this is what will happen next. It made things very boring and without a connection to the story.

I am not sure why the author tried to make different races of beings. I forgot that Csorwe was an orc for most of the book because it is never mentioned and it doesn’t influence how she behaves, speaks or her interactions with others. Similarly, I completely forgot that Tal was an elf until I was writing this review and remembered some tidbit about his ears and skin color. I don’t need Tolkien levels of race building here. Frankly I am glad it wasn’t because Tolkien’s 4 page narratives about a tree bore the bejesus out of me (I know, I pronounced myself a heretic on that one, haha!). But you need to give me something because these characters were painfully human.

Because of all this showing and not telling, I also have no idea how this world looks or how it works. I got some vague stuff about gates that remind me of Stargate and some kind of ship. It is alternately described as a wooden ship or a barge, and has an “alchemical engine” which gives me steampunk airship vibes. But I have no idea if any of these interpretations are correct. The world itself was not fleshed out well. So as interesting as a Maze that eats dead worlds is, unless you can describe it for me then it’s just an interesting idea and nothing else.

One aspect that I loved was the pantheon of gods, how they are worshipped and the magic system of this world. That was all completely stellar. I am always on board with some good ole fashioned god worship, complete with sacrifices. I also really enjoyed the rules for using magic in this world. Magic comes with a price, exacting a physical toll on the user. So there is a delicate balance that must be struck and maintained. That was all fabulous and one of the big things that kept me going on this book.

My final issue is that I have no idea why this book was called The Unspoken Name. We have the Unspoken One, Csorwe’s patron god. But they are only referred to as the Unspoken One. Never as anything else. The term unspoken name weren’t actually in the book until page 435 and it seemed to be mostly used as an exasperated expletive. “We need to think. We need to – Oh, by the twelve hundred Unspeakable names, what in hell is that?” This probably shouldn’t get on my nerves but it did.

In the end, this book was okay. It shows some signs of brilliance and I can see that the author is very talented. But that brilliance was not curated properly and so the final result ends up being messy and disappointing.