ARC Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest
An Unwanted Guest
by Shari Lapena

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

An edge of the seat who dunnit that’s reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. It kept me guessing until the very end and had just the right amount of creepiness and tension to keep me reading late into the night.


THE BLURB

We can’t choose the strangers we meet.

As the guests arrive at beautiful, remote Mitchell’s Inn, they’re all looking forward to a relaxing weekend deep in the forest, miles from anywhere. They watch their fellow guests with interest, from a polite distance.

Usually we can avoid the people who make us nervous, make us afraid.

With a violent storm raging, the group finds itself completely cut off from the outside world. Nobody can get in – or out. And then the first body is found . . . and the horrifying truth comes to light. There’s a killer among them – and nowhere to run.

Until we find ourselves in a situation we can’t escape. Trapped.


MY REVIEW

Oooh I liked this. A story with a group of strangers trapped together, isolated from the outside world and a killer on the loose is always my idea of a great read and Lapena does a brilliant job with it. It’s packed full of tension, has some genuinely creepy moments (which I probably shouldn’t have read while on my own on a dark and stormy night) and there are enough twists and reveals to keep you guessing till the very end.

It’s a classic who dunnit that reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None but brought right up to date. I do love a good who dunnit and I had so much fun trying to figure out which of the guests (or staff) was the murderer and what their motive could be (or if in fact there was someone else behind it all). There are lots of hints and clues along the way but with lots of red herrings thrown in and a mix of characters who all seem to have some kind of secret it’s almost impossible to figure out. I did have an inkling but considering I guessed pretty much everyone at some point or another I don’t think I can really say I had it sussed.

The story is told from the pov of almost every one of the characters which I have to admit I’m not sure was a wise decision in this story. I do like how it showed the reader the events from various different perspectives and helped you to get to know each of them better but I think the author made her job of keeping it a mystery harder than it needed to be.

With the necessarily fast paced nature of the story there’s not a lot of depth given to the characters and I can’t say I really connected with any of them but it didn’t spoil any of my enjoyment of the story which had me completely gripped until the very end. There are quite a good mix of different personalities and while some are a little stereotyped and some are not very nice I did love watching them under pressure and trying to guess who would do something stupid, who would get themselves killed and who would be the killer.

I’m obviously not going to say how it does end or who the killer is but I will say that I felt a little bit disappointed in the big reveal. It’s not that it wasn’t good or that I disagreed just that with the build up I was expecting something more. It was over a little too quickly for me.

The writing throughout however is wonderful and the author does create a very tense and atmospheric setting. I loved the sense of isolation, the bleakness and threatening nature of the environment and the very primal fear it creates in both the characters and the reader. I read a lot of it late at night and can honestly say it was giving me the creeps. I wanted to put it down and hide under the covers but my need to find out what happened next overrode this.

There were a couple of sections, mostly giving characters backstories which were a little clunky but otherwise it’s pitched just right.

This was an edge of the seat (or hide under the covers) read that I found incredibly difficult to put down. Would definitely recommend to anyone who loves a good who dunnit in a creepy setting.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance reader copy. As always all thoughts are my own.

An Unwanted Guest will be out on the 26th July

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Review: Us Against You (Beartown #2) by Fredrik Backman

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
Us Against You
by Fredrik Backman

I loved returning to this community and its wonderful cast of characters. Backman truly has a gift for making you care about the most unexpected of people. This is another emotional read that will make you laugh and break your heart.

Please note: I’ve tried to keep the spoilers to a minimum but as this is a sequel there are some mild ones for the first book Beartown.


THE BLURB

After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.

Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

As he always says, we only pretend hockey is complicated, because it isn’t really. When you strip away all the nonsense surrounding it, the game is simple: everyone gets a stick; there are two nets, two teams. Us against you.

In theory this is a book about ice hockey and all those involved in it but it’s really not. Like the first book, Beartown, this is much more about people and a community that’s struggling. Hockey is just the thing that gives them hope and a sense of identity. As you can probably tell from the title this is a book that focuses on the divisions between factions that can tear a community apart.

The story picks up not long after the first book (which you really should read first) and despite it seeming that the community were starting to come together there are in fact more divisions than ever. Beartown’s star hockey player has left town for good and most of the other key players have moved to rival team Hed. The council struggling for money and wanting to distance themselves from “The Scandal” want to get rid of what remains of Beartown’s team, something the pack are unhappy about and hold General Manager Peter Andersson responsible for and there’s an ambitious new politician in town who’s stirring things up as much as possible to boost his own position. Essentially tensions are rising and it’s only a matter of time before it escalates out of control.

Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We’ll end up saying that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that would be a lie; the violence was already here. Because sometimes hating one another is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else.

Similar to the first book this is not an action packed read, but rather a slow build to some truly devastating events. It’s very much a character driven story which is good as that’s where Backman really excels. He has this incredible ability to create characters you can’t help but care about and oftentimes it’s the one you least expect or the one you don’t really like that you end up caring about the most.

There are a lot of the same characters from the first book and it was both wonderful and awful to catch up with them again and see how they’re doing. Some are moving forward but it has to be said the majority are still having a rough time of it and dealing with the aftermath of the events of the first book. They do however all grow and develop over the course of the story and I felt like I really came to know them. I was incredibly proud of some of them, some frustrated me and made me angry and some of them broke my heart. All of them left an impression.

I will admit I continue to have the biggest soft spot for hockey player Benji, he’s just such a mess of emotions and secrets but always tries to do the right thing. He breaks my heart and I found myself constantly worrying about what he would do. I loved the close relationship between him and his family but I couldn’t help but feel so sorry for his poor mother and sisters.

While it was good to catch up with the characters I knew and loved the new characters made for some welcome additions. The new Beartown hockey coach is possibly my new favourite character. I’m not going to say too much about them other than that they are definitely different and shake things up a lot. The relationship between coach and general manager Peter is just hilarious and some of the dialogue is just brilliant. A much needed bit of lightness in what is occasionally a very dark and depressing story.

There’s also a lot more on the elusive “Pack” (a group of dedicated and loyal fans you don’t mess with) and it’s members which really showed how they’re more than just thugs and criminals (although there is a bit of that too), why hockey is so important to them and how much they really do for the community despite their reputation.

I have to say too that while politician Richard Theo is a horrible character who deliberately causes problems and stirs up trouble for his own ends he is brilliantly done and makes for a truly Machiavellian villain and gives the author the chance to have a little dig at the current political situation.

The writing style is pretty similar to that in Beartown, something I both love and hate. It’s told almost like a story from a narrator reflecting back on the events. There’s a lot of foreshadowing of what’s to come something I have to say really frustrates me. It’s difficult to enjoy a story when you’re constantly being warned of the violence and tragedy to come. I was terrified my fave character would be the victim of this tragedy. There are also short sections from multiple povs to contend with which does take me a bit of time to get used to. It’s a little harder to connect to one character when you’re only with them for short time and then it’s on to the next, and the next.

Somehow however I did find myself connecting with each and every one. Even those who’re only very briefly featured felt like very real people. I laughed a lot, I cried a lot more and I fell in love with this community even with all of it’s problems. It may be set in a country I’ve never even visited and center around a sport I know next to nothing about but it’s just so incredibly easy to relate to and could be the community I live in (if you switched the sport to football).

Overall this is another incredibly emotional and wonderfully written story from an author who is quickly becoming one of my favourites. Given how it ends it feels like everything has been wrapped up but I would very happily read more in this series.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

Review: How To Keep A Secret by Sarah Morgan

How To Keep A Secret
How To Keep A Secret
by Sarah Morgan

This may be a little different from Morgan’s usual stories but it’s every bit as enjoyable and addictive.


THE BLURB

When three generations of women are brought together by crisis, they learn over the course of one hot summer the power of family to support, nourish and surprise

Lauren has the perfect life…if she ignores the fact it’s a fragile house of cards, and that her daughter Mack has just had a teenage personality transplant.

Jenna is desperate to start a family with her husband, but it’s… Just. Not. Happening. Her heart is breaking, but she’s determined to keep her trademark smile on her face.

Nancy knows she hasn’t been the best mother, but how can she ever tell Lauren and Jenna the reason why?

Then life changes in an instant, and Lauren, Mack, Jenna and Nancy are thrown together for a summer on Martha’s Vineyard. Somehow, these very different women must relearn how to be a family. And while unraveling their secrets might be their biggest challege, the rewards could be infinite…

Heartwarming and fresh, Sarah Morgan’s brilliant new novel is a witty and deeply uplifting look at the power of a family of women.


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always look forward to a new Sarah Morgan book and while this was a bit of a departure from her usual style I very much enjoyed it.

Rather than being a romance focusing on one couple this is much more about family and tells the story of three generations of women, Nancy, her daughters Lauren and Jenna and Lauren’s daughter Mack. Each of them facing a crisis and in need of the support of their family, if they can find their way back to each other and reveal the secrets that have kept them apart.

While this is a little bit different from Morgan’s typical books it does feel like a natural progression and hangs on to all of the things I love about her writing. Her romances always had a little bit more depth, dealt with difficult issues and had strong friendships and family relationships. This is just a little lighter on the romance and a little heavier on the family relationships, what brings them together and what pulls them apart.

That’s not to say there’s no romance in this story because there most definitely is and as you would expect from a Morgan story it is wonderful. Sweet, funny, emotional and with quite a bit of heat. What’s particularly good about it is the way that the author looks at the different types of relationships and romances. We have Nancy who’s in her 60’s, 5 years a widow and trying to deal with betrayal and move forward in her life, 35 year old Lauren whose seemingly perfect life with her husband and daughter falls apart forcing her to return home as a single parent where she runs into an old flame, first grade teacher Jenna who’s very happily married to her childhood sweetheart but desperately wants children of her own and 16 year old Mack who’s having a hard time at school, doesn’t know who she is and just wants to fit in.

I really loved the way all of the different relationships within this story were portrayed and how realistic both they and the characters felt. I have to admit I had a particular soft spot for Lauren but by the end of the novel I think I came to love them all even Nancy who initially seemed very self centered and cold.

It was good to have chapters from the point of view of each of the women in the story. They each had very distinctive voices and you could tell even without the chapter headings whose head you were in. It made them very real and I have to say the chapters from Mack’s perspective in particular were very well done. I can’t really remember what it was like to be a teenager but I think the author captured it so well.

The story is a little bit on the predictable side, the secrets are pretty easy to guess, but I still enjoyed reading it. In fact as always I found it an incredibly addictive read and ended up finishing the whole thing in a day, although this is normal for me with Morgan’s books. They’re just too likable and easy to read.

Overall therefore while this is a little different from Morgan’s usual style I very much enjoyed it and I will be hoping for more of the same.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own.

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun (Flame in the Mist, #2)
Smoke in the Sun
by Renee Ahdieh

The author creates a truly magical and beautiful world in this, the conclusion to the Flame in the Mist duology, however there was just a little too much going on for me to really connect to this story. It has some wonderful moments but I’m sorry to say didn’t quite live up to expectations.


The Blurb

The highly anticipated sequel to Flame in the Mist—an addictive, sumptuous finale that will leave readers breathless from the bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn.

After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice—to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor’s ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead.

With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.


My Review

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I can’t believe I’m only giving this book 3.5 stars. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and having loved Flame in the Mist I fully expected this to blow me away but it just never happened.

I’d love to say it was me and not the book but I don’t think that’s the case I’m afraid. It’s true that I picked this up having just read some absolutely brilliant books and it was always going to struggle to compete but I’m sorry to say that this is a book with some problems and my more recent reads just highlighted them to me.

It did begin well and I loved the similarities in the first few pages to the opening scene in Flame in the Mist. My immediate thought was “YES!!! This is going to be so good” but within the first couple of chapters my hopes began to sink. It was wonderful being back in the beautiful, magical and dangerous world the author created but I just got so confused. In fairness this was, at least in part, my own fault as I couldn’t wholly remember the first book so should maybe have had a quick re read but it took me a while to figure out who was who again, what relation they were to each other and how they’d ended up in their current positions. It probably didn’t help that at the end of the last book there was a big reveal that certain characters weren’t who you thought and this book began with trying to recap that as well as introduce a few new(ish) characters. My poor brain which is rubbish with names and relationships at the best of times just couldn’t keep up.

I think the story just became too big for me and the author tried to bring in too many storylines and characters. There wasn’t enough space for it in one book and as a result it became too thin and lost focus. There are a lot of characters and it’s told from multiple pov’s so I struggled to connect with it or really feel anything. It’s so frustrating because I love the author’s writing, the world she has created is brilliant and there is potentially a great story there but I couldn’t get to it because it’s trying to do too much all at once. I kind of wish it’d just stuck with main character Mariko and let her be the star.

Mariko is a wonderful character and I love how she has developed over this duology. It’s great to see a female lead who doesn’t have any special powers or super fighting ability but instead uses her intelligence and wits. She has her doubts and her insecurities and that makes her incredibly relateable. I wish she’d been given a little more page time as she begins this story in enemy territory (the palace) and has to play a game she lacks skill in (lying and deceiving) to save the person she loves. The most memorable scenes in this are in fact when she’s either lying and scheming or with Okami, but then I do love Okami and the relationship between them.

The other characters are interesting and there are some welcome additions, Raiden and Kanaka for example, but I’m not sure all were necessary and it became confusing (for me at any rate). I loved when Mariko was amongst the Black Clan but they feature very briefly and instead we have a lot of new characters within the palace. We get to meet the new emperor Roku and his brother (and Mariko’s betrothed) Raiden. There is the old Empress, Roku’s mother and her ladies, Raiden’s mother, the various Lords and advisors and even some servants and soldiers. It’s a lot and there just isn’t the time to fully develop all of them, and to be honest I’m not sure they serve much of a purpose to the story.

The story itself felt quite slow to me but when I think about it there was a lot of action. There are twists and turns, political intrigue, betrayal, torture, battles and even executions/murder but for some reason I just never felt any excitement or emotion from it. Even deaths which should have triggered some kind of reaction passed me by and when I suddenly realized it was all over I felt a little let down. It seemed very rushed and not the ending the story deserved. So much was left incomplete and unfinished and it was just so unsatisfying.

Anyway, it isn’t all bad. The world the author creates is wonderful and there are some very lovely moments I just think it could have been more. I have however been a little down on YA fantasy lately though so please don’t let my review put you off. It is still a duology worth reading for the world building alone.

Thanks to NetGalley and publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne : I Loved It

How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne
How Do You Like Me Now?
by Holly Bourne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow..this book!!! I read an ARC of this back in December and I am so happy I can finally start gushing over it.

Have you ever read a book that just speaks to you? This book was that for me. There is so much about it that is so real and so relevant and that I could really relate to. I wanted to just shout “YES!!!!”, it’s so completely and totally spot on. I like to highlight quotes as I read and can honestly say I’ve highlighted half of this book. It’s just so well written.


THE BLURB

‘Turning thirty is like playing musical chairs. The music stops, and everyone just marries whoever they happen to be sitting on.’ 

Who the f*ck is Tori Bailey?

There’s no doubt that Tori is winning the game of life. A straight-talking, bestselling author, she’s inspired millions of women around the world with her self-help memoir. And she has the perfect relationship to boot.

But Tori Bailey has been living a lie.

Her long-term boyfriend won’t even talk about marriage, but everyone around her is getting engaged and having babies. And when her best friend Dee – her plus one, the only person who understands the madness – falls in love, suddenly Tori’s in terrifying danger of being left behind.

When the world tells you to be one thing and turning thirty brings with it a loud ticking clock, it takes courage to walk your own path.

It’s time for Tori to practice what she’s preached, but the question is: is she brave enough?

The debut adult novel by bestselling author Holly Bourne is a blisteringly funny, honest and moving exploration of love, friendship and navigating the emotional rollercoaster of your thirties.


MY REVIEW

This was my first book from Holly Bourne (and the first adult book she’s written) but it won’t be my last. From the blurb I was expecting the standard chick lit or romcom type book that is all too common but this has so much more depth and realism to it than I ever could have anticipated.

As someone who is single and in their thirties (Edit: I was in my thirties when I read it so it still counts) I could relate to so much of this story. How it seems that at a certain age everyone suddenly starts getting married and having kids and how this creates a barrier between you. How scary the thought of being on your own, or never having children can be and how sometimes it feels like you’re losing at life if you’re not blissfully happy, married and popping out babies. How you can feel judged and inadequate for putting your career first, or for those with kids, for not being the right type of mother.

I don’t really like making comparisons but for me this had echoes of Bridget Jones Diary. It’s less of a romance but while Bridget was made to feel like there must be something wrong with her for being single by the smug marrieds, Tori is made to feel the same for not being a mother. Some of the things said to her are truly awful but I know from personal experience that it does happen. I could completely understand her jealousy and the feeling she had that she was trapped on the wrong side of a wall.

There are a number of other very relevant themes prevalent throughout this story. Our obsession with social media at the expense of enjoying the moment (if there’s no pictures on insta it didn’t happen), the endless quest for validation from a bunch of strangers on the internet, how success is determined by how many likes or comments something gets. It really made me question my own obsession with twitter and instagram. Tori may have driven me nuts with how obsessed she was with presenting the best image of herself, the idea that she has the perfect life and all the answers but really she was just an exaggerated version of a lot of us.

I did love the strong feminist vibe that runs through this book. I may not have loved Tori but I loved how she challenged those claiming to be feminists. One of my favorite moments was when she was on a panel with a man claiming to be a feminist, she may have been drunk but she was hilarious and absolutely spot on.

Her relationship with Tom made for some difficult reading and I absolutely hated it and kept praying she would end it but as the book points out starting over in anything is a much more daunting prospect in your 30s than in your 20s. There’s a definite feeling that you’re locked into the decisions and the path you’re on and just have to make the best of it.

If I had one minor qualm about this book and it is minor it’s that I just couldn’t understand Tom’s behaviour. He was just so horrible and manipulative. I can’t believe it was deliberate but I can’t accept that he didn’t know what he was doing.

I’ve probably made this sound like quite an intense read, dealing with heavy and depressing issues, but it’s not like that at all. There was the odd heartbreaking moment but there were more than a few that were hilariously funny, many of which involved best friend Dee (and often some kind of celebratory event). My personal favorite was a baby shower and some discussion over landing strips, I’m saying no more except that Tori is truly gifted at saying exactly what I would be thinking.

Thank you Holly Bourne for creating such a wonderful book and if you’re still reading after all of my waffling thank you too. If you can’t tell I absolutely loved it and would recommend everyone read this immediately. I kind of hope it’ll encourage women everywhere to maybe be a little less judgmental about how others choose to live their life.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

Review: The Last Family in England by Matt Haig

The Labrador Pact
The Last Family in England
by Matt Haig

Beautifully written but possibly a little too upsetting for me


THE BLURB

Meet the Hunter family: Adam, Kate, and their children Hal and Charlotte. And Prince, their black Labrador.

Prince is an earnest young dog, striving hard to live up to the tenets of the Labrador Pact (Remain Loyal to Your Human Masters, Serve and Protect Your Family at Any Cost). Other dogs, led by the Springer Spaniels, have revolted. As things in the Hunter family begin to go badly awry – marital breakdown, rowdy teenage parties, attempted suicide – Prince’s responsibilities threaten to overwhelm him and he is forced to break the Labrador Pact and take desperate action to save his Family.


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Phew I made it through to the end. I never would have picked this book up if I’d known what it was about (I really should have read the blurb). Books like this just upset me too much and I prefer not to put myself through the trauma.

The fact that the story begins with dog Prince being taken to the vet to be put down was a very early hint that this was probably not going to be a happy read and it’s not. From the vet’s office we flash back to the preceding months to discover how Prince’s attempts to protect his family resulted in his current situation.

I do have to give Haig a lot of praise for this book despite its storyline. His writing is wonderful and he really captures real family life with all of its ups and downs. I loved the unique way the story is told and I thought the way he used the dogs POV to show each member of the families insecurities and emotions was genius. The family open up to him in a way they don’t to those around them baring all (both literally and figuratively) in front of him.

I also loved the philosophy and belief system he created for the dogs (and cat) and the conflict between the different breeds and I would love to think it true. It certainly reflected the characteristics of the various breeds and I could easily imagine Labradors being the voice of reason and responsibility in the dog community.

The story is not particularly fast paced or action packed but it is a fairly easy and quick read. It’s the story of a family falling apart and includes issues such as infidelity, death and grief, teenage insecurity and anger and attempted suicide. As you can imagine there are a lot of sad moments but there are also a few laughs too (mostly Prince’s incredibly keen observations of the behavior of the family members when they’re on their own in front of a mirror).

Prince is an absolutely wonderful character and I kind of wish he was my dog. He’s so desperate to hold everything together and blames himself when things go wrong. He’s naive and innocent and occasionally hilarious.

Despite all being told from Prince’s point of view you do get a real sense of the other characters too, dogs and humans. Each and every one is well rounded and believable and the interactions between them are spot on.

This was a little too emotional for me to say it was an enjoyable read but I am glad to have read it.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy.

Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Ash Princess
Ash Princess
by Laura Sebastian

The story was a little too familiar for me to really love it but this was an enjoyable enough read and a promising start to a new series.


THE BLURB

The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot to seduce and murder the Kaiser’s warrior son with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels. But Theo doesn’t expect to develop feelings for the Prinz.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.

From author Laura Sebastian comes Ash Princess, a nail-biting YA fantasy debut full of daring and vengeance.


MY REVIEW

I wanted to love this but despite some edge of the seat moments this just never really hooked me. It’s not bad, in fact once I hit the halfway point I found it incredibly difficult to put down, it’s just that there’s nothing particularly new or exciting about it. I felt like this was a story I’d read before, more than once, and those parts that were original I wasn’t sure I wanted.

It’s a common story, a young princess whose kingdom was taken over by an evil tyrant has to fight to free herself and her people. Add in special magical powers, a love triangle involving the princess, her best friend from her childhood (boy next door) and the son of the tyrant and this is essentially the same story we’ve heard a number of times (it reminded me a lot of Red Queen).

There are of course some differences, the author has created an intriguing and well set out magic and belief system and I really liked how the main characters religious beliefs played into her actions. I loved how the ideas of one culture being overtaken by another were reflected. There are elements of eradication (bans on using the language for example) but also cultural appropriation and the impact of this on a “native” of the kingdom were very well presented.

What I wasn’t so keen on however was the level of abuse towards women within the story. I do understand why it’s there (and the author has been open in why she included it) but I’m not sure it was necessary to have main character Theodosia (Theo/Thora) being beaten regularly and subjected to mental torture from the age of 6. I generally don’t mind a bit of violence in books but this felt too much to me and while it did bring an edge to the story it was uncomfortable to read (even though very little occurs on the page).

I also think it raised questions over how believable Theo was as a character. I thankfully haven’t had her experiences but her general attitude, actions and responses just didn’t feel right considering the level of abuse she’s been subjected too. As a character there were aspect of her I liked, how she tried to hang on to her memories and beliefs, how she manages to survive and the insecurities she has but there was a lot about her that frustrated me. She’s too hesitant and too trusting and loyal and I just wanted her to act.

As I alluded to there is quite a bit of romance in this and yet another of those dreaded love triangles with one love interest the boy she was best friends with as a child and the other the son of her enemy. I don’t really mind a love triangle and this one is pretty inoffensive. There are some very sweet moments and I particularly loved the relationship between Theo and the Prinz with all of the questions over how much is real and the conflict between love and duty.

What I found especially intriguing romance wise in this book was Theo’s mothers life. She was romantically involved with a number of different men (leading to the question over who Theo’s father was) but committed to no one. It did make me wonder about her kingdom’s attitudes to love and romance and I would have loved for this to be developed further.

As far as the other characters go some were a little cliched but for the most part they were inoffensive. I didn’t really have strong feelings towards any of them with the possible exception of best friend Cress. She was just terrible and honestly I don’t know how Theo couldn’t see it (this was maybe my biggest frustration in this story). The characters I did find intriguing (the Kaiser’s wife for example) didn’t get enough time and I would have liked to see more from the women in the palace.

Story wise I did find this a little slow in the beginning but it does really pick up around the halfway point and from that point on I did find it difficult to put down. There aren’t a lot of surprises, a lot of it has been done before so you kind of know what to expect but I did still enjoy it.

The writing is pretty good and while there is a little bit of info dumping at the start as the author develops the world, the magic system and the religion, there is some real emotion conveyed. I found myself on the edge of my seat at times with the tension created, horrified with the violence and on one occasion I may have shed a tear.

Overall therefore I’d rate it as good but not great. It’s just lacking that little spark and bit of originality to make it something special. I will however no doubt read the sequel when it’s released as now the world building is largely out of the way I think it could really take off.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.