Elektra: A Novel of the House of Atreus

Elektra by: Jennifer Saint
Published on: May 3, 2022
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Number of Pages: 289

Description

The House of Atreus is cursed. A bloodline tainted by a generational cycle of violence and vengeance. This is the story of three women, their fates inextricably tied to this curse, and the fickle nature of men and gods.

Clytemnestra
The sister of Helen, wife of Agamemnon – her hopes of averting the curse are dashed when her sister is taken to Troy by the feckless Paris. Her husband raises a great army against them, and determines to win, whatever the cost.

Cassandra
Princess of Troy, and cursed by Apollo to see the future but never to be believed when she speaks of it. She is powerless in her knowledge that the city will fall.

Elektra
The youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Elektra is horrified by the bloodletting of her kin. But, can she escape the curse, or is her own destiny also bound by violence?

Review

The House of Atreus carried a curse. A particularly gruesome one, even by the standards of divine torment.

Three women. Three different stories. In Elektra, the author weaves the stories of Clytemnestra, Cassandra, and Elektra together, allowing us to witness events during the Trojan War from their perspective. Life is rarely kind to the women in Greek tragedies as they live in fear of either the whims of the gods or of men.

When I read Ariadne, the previous book by the author, I would grow frustrated with the main character for not taking more control over her own life. Looking back, I was probably harsher on her than I should have been. But I cannot say the same for the women in Elektra. Unlike Ariadne who I wished took more control, the women in Elektra took decisive actions that forever changed the course of their story. But as much as I appreciate how they took more initiative, it is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore how some of those choices are just simply flawed and come with terrible consequences.

Every word I speak is unwelcome.

– Cassandra

In thinking about the three women, I hate to lump Cassandra together with Clytemnestra and Elektra. Cassandra is much more sympathetic and I found myself growing frustrated on her behalf. Seeing the future, but never believed. And if someone did believe her, the future remain unchanged due to that individuals own obstinance. My only concern regarding her story is that I couldn’t make sense of why everyone thought she was mad or disturbed. Or perhaps it is more appropriate to say I never could figure out why she couldn’t provide a reasonable voice to what she was seeing. You don’t have to know everything that will occur in the future in order to say “This small thing is what I saw.”

But for Clytemnestra and Elektra… Where does one even start. The author does an excellent job of showing all the steps that led to the path this mother and daughter took and to the consequences that you know are inevitable. But still…Elektra. Her singular focus on a father she barely knew. Her fixation and devotion to the idea of a man that clearly did not exist, I could never understand. But what struck me at times was how little regard she had for women experiencing cruelty at the hands of the gods and men. Her lack of empathy and sympathy shows how small her emotional range is and I can’t help but wonder if she is a caricature of herself and not fleshed out or if it is the best way to explain what is potentially a mental disorder. It is clear that Clytemnestra ignored her, which added to Elektra’s problems, but I find that Elektra should have been able to reach some reasonable conclusions to past events that she willfully chose to ignore.

The book evokes so many thoughts and emotions that I never could pin one thought down in regards to the characters. I would feel so incredibly sad for Clytemnestra and then several pages later so frustrated with her. The women are complex and it shows by their decisions and with the rationale and motives behind those decisions. In the end, the stories of each of the women and the build up of all the pieces kept me thoroughly engaged. Often I found myself reading longer than I had originally planned.

Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Flatiron Books for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

The Devil and the Dark Water – Book Review

The Devil and the Dark Water by: Stuart Turton
Published on: October 6, 2020

Surviving isn’t winning. It is what you do when you’ve lost.

The Devil and the Dark Water is a paranormal mystery inspired by the Batavia shipwreck of 1628. The true story of the Batavia is horrific. A shipwreck by itself would be terrifying, but it takes a further insidious and sinister turn even after the survivors find their way to a nearby island. If you ever happen to read the true account, you might actually think it is a bad plot of a horror novel, except in this case it happens to be true. Drawing on this, the author uses people/roles, names, and places to create his story. And while there are similarities The Devil and the Dark Water is not a retelling or accounting of the actual shipwreck, but is its own unique story.

Continue reading “The Devil and the Dark Water – Book Review”

Ariadne – Book Review

Ariadne by: Jennifer Saint
Published on: May 4, 2021

“I am Ariadne, princess of Crete, though my story takes us a long way from the rocky shores of my home.”

Description

Ariadne, Princess of Crete, grows up greeting the dawn from her beautiful dancing floor and listening to her nursemaid’s stories of gods and heroes. But beneath her golden palace echo the ever-present hoofbeats of her brother, the Minotaur, a monster who demands blood sacrifice.

When Theseus, the Prince of Athens, arrives to vanquish the beast, Ariadne sees in his green eyes not a threat but an escape. Defying the gods, betraying her family and country, and risking everything for love, Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. But will Ariadne’s decision ensure her happy ending? And what of Phaedra, the beloved younger sister she leaves behind?

Hypnotic, propulsive, and utterly transporting, Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne forges a new epic, one that puts the forgotten women of Greek mythology back at the heart of the story, as they strive for a better world.

Review

I cannot help but feel for Ariadne. Daughter to King Midas, a contemptable human who enjoys human sacrifice, and Pasiphae, a woman who never recovered from a curse placed upon her by Poseidon. As the daughter of a powerful man, she has few options available to her. Her only solace is her younger sister Phaedra. But when the day comes that Ariadne and Phaedra find a way to escape, this too comes with lies and abandonment.

While I empathize with Ariadne and applaud her for the courageous decisions she did make, she could also be frustrating. Far too often she was content in her own naivety and seemed afraid to face unpleasant truths. An example, is in her relationship with her sister whom she had been parted from. Why didn’t she visit her sister? Why didn’t she ask who her sister had married? Wasn’t she curious, even a little? As much as she endured or had seen, she should have known to be more actively engaged in her own life. After all, it is her life and if she doesn’t engage who else will?

Ariadne tells not only the life story of its heroine, but explores the darker sides of the gods. Their thirst for revenge, their need for adoration. Their hubris. Little thought or care is given to how their choices and curses affect others. Women get the brunt of their wrath, often the object of displaced anger. Instead of inflicting their rage and disdain on the one who actually insulted them, the gods instead inflict the pain and suffering onto those within their circle.

While the story was well written, it was also a little depressing. There is a little bit of hopefulness in the Epilogue, but not enough to overcome the entirety of the story that I had just finished reading. I both listened to this on audio and read the book. Typically, I love audio books more, but not this one and I do not recommend it. The voice and emotions portrayed felt wrong. Every time I began the audio I couldn’t wait for the story to end. Picking up the book instead, breathed new life into the story for me.

Age of Ash – Book Review

Age of Ash: Daniel Abraham
Published on: February 15, 2022

Description:

Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold.

This is Alys’s.

When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why.  But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives. 

Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything.

Review:

“Longhill’s always Longhill.”

The strength of this story lies in its world building. It takes only a second to realize the world Daniel Abraham has created is rich with history and is well-developed. The characters reference that history time and time again. They know which district they have come from and what it means. It means that “Longhill’s always Longhill.” No matter where you go – you’re always a Longhill. It’s the type of story that gives you the distinct impression that the author has not only every street mapped out, but that he also knows every stall and business on the street as well as who runs it.

But to me, its weakness is that the story holds you at arms length, never giving you a chance to truly feel anything about the characters. I wondered several times why this was. Part of it was that it often felt as if I were being narrated to by someone watching the events. Other times I wondered if it was because I didn’t feel properly introduced to Alys’s backstory for a while. The story itself has a different pace to it and takes time to fully unwind and reveal itself. Little by little we learn quite a few things about Alys, however, it is a while before we spend a full chapter on what life was like when it was just her and her mom. But as I write this – maybe that is the point. Alys’s rough life has forced her to protect herself at whatever the cost and that includes not opening up to others and letting people in. Perhaps that includes us. Her brother Darro was her rock. While she couldn’t count on much, including her mother, she had him. With his death, her grief takes over in it’s various stages as she tries to stay connected to him any way she can. Perhaps that grief pushes not only Sammish out, but us out as well. Whatever it was, I never felt connected to Alys as well as other characters.

On the other hand, Sammish was a character I felt the closest to. Not many of us have lived the type of life these girls have. But even with that, what made Sammish’s character more relatable was that her feelings, issues, and vulnerabilities are ones that many people have encountered at some point in their lives. Somewhere we’ve had to work through that feeling of being left out or left behind, that feeling of wanting more from someone than we are being given. And it is working through these and coming to terms with these issues that we become the individuals we are today through. Overall, the exploration of her loneliness and desire to help the friend she knew (and not who she was becoming) was very well done and is why she became my favorite character.

There’s no doubt in my mind that some will like the style and really enjoy the book. It’s well written and full of the type of world-building that fantasy readers really enjoy. The character explorations into grief and loneliness will draw people in as well. I also rather enjoyed the ins and outs of pickpocketing as we get descriptions of who all is needed and what is involved to pull off this type of thievery. However, the main plot takes a while to get started and it isn’t until about half-way in before you start receiving information on what is going on and where the story is taking us. This may frustrate some readers, as it did me, if you aren’t expecting it.

Rating: 3.75

Thanks to Netgalley and Orbit for the advanced review copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

A Dragonbird in the Fern – Book Review

A Dragonbird in the Fern: Laura Rueckert
Published on: August 3, 2021

In some regards, the story is your typical YA fantasy – there is a kingdom, a romance, and an evil plot. It is an enjoyable read and wouldn’t necessarily stand out as much, except for the fact that the author created a main character with dyslexia. But moreso it is that this fantasy novel doesn’t just have a character with dyslexia, but that it becomes a central plot point to the story. In fact, I would go as far in saying that this story would not exist if the dyslexia had been left out.

The book starts off shortly after Princess Scilla’s assassination. Scilla had been betrothed to the King of a neighboring country. She had spent many years learning the King’s language and customs, but upon her death the betrothal transfers to Princess Jiara. But unlike her sister, Jiara has always had difficulty with letters and words and reading. As a result, Jiara does not know the King’s native language. As the marriage starts with the newlyweds can only communicate through an interpreter.

If all there was to this story was a princess who had dyslexia and didn’t know the language of her new husband, it would never have left an impression on me. I would have wondered why the author bothered to tell us at all if she wasn’t going to use it. But that is not what happens here. Instead Rueckert has carefully plotted an entire story around the difficulties of learning new languages and the main character’s dyslexia.

Through Jiara and King Raffar we explore the effort and amount of time needed to learn even the basics of a language. This couple is so cute. The most memorable scenes for me are of them eating dinner and Raffar helping Jiara learn the language. Instead of immediately graduating to Shakespeare level dialogues, the two of them stick with Dr. Seuss conversations: short, simple sentences. “I like rice.” “I like sweet potatoes.” There is a lot of miming going on too to help each other understand. I suspect this couple would have been great at charades.

With A Dragonbird in the Fern, Laura Rueckert has not only created a delightful book to read, but one that is also memorable. It’s not perfect – I saw the ending/villain coming. But it is a nice read and one I can recommend if you are looking for a light-hearted YA fantasy.

Thank you Netgalley and North Star Editions for the advanced review copy and opportunity to provide an honest opinion. 

Daughter of the Moon Goddess – Book Review

Daughter of the Moon Goddess: Sue Lynn Tan
Published on: January 11, 2022

Time to an immortal was as rain to the boundless ocean.

A lovely debut by Sue Lynn Tan inspired by the story of Chang’e, the moon goddess that stole the potion of immortality gifted to her husband by the gods. For her theft, the celestial emperor punishes her by imprisoning Chang’e to the moon. The Daughter of the Moon Goddess story spans several years focusing on her daughter, Xingyin, and her quest to acquire the Crimson Lion Talisman, which would allow her to request anything from the emperor. With it, she hopes to free her mother from her imprisonment.

Although the series is identified as a duology there is so much occurring in this story that I was surprised it wasn’t broken out into additional books. If you have ever seen a xianxia drama, such as Ashes of Love or Eternal Love, you might have a good sense of how this style of story flows as characters go from one realm to another focusing on defeating magical creatures, obtaining magical items or weapons, and of course romance. The plot is fast-paced and is a surprisingly quick read given its size and is a terrific representation of all that makes this fantasy genre special. I would classify it as late young-adult/early new adult book. It spans a few years so it kind of falls in-between the two.

At the same time, the fast-paced plot is also what kept me from completely falling in love with it. Sometimes it felt a little too fast, especially in Part 1 where it introduces the main story and most of the major characters. These were the times when I wished it would slow down and let us fully experience the moments with Xingyin. An example of this is during one of her first experiences outside the moon where she works as an attendant to the daughter of a wealthy family that didn’t always treat her the best. I often feel a character needs a little adversary to make them into a well-rounded, more relatable character – someone you can cheer on when life finally gets better. But the story moves past that so quickly that I couldn’t fully appreciate the new freedom and happiness she had been given at her next home. Along the same lines, the romance felt sped up too. I knew feelings were developing, especially in our male lead, but the story was going so fast that I hadn’t quite bought in yet to where the characters were emotionally. So that when the romance occurred, I wasn’t especially invested in them as a couple.

Despite the issues mentioned above, I enjoyed the time spent in the immortal realms and their kingdoms: immortal, demon, mortal. There is something intriguing to me about a world with different realms and the author paints a lovely portrait of it with descriptions of the moon goddess lighting lanterns to illuminate the night sky or fights with nine-headed serpents.

Rating: 3.75

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians – Book Review

A Shadow Histories Book 1 By: H.G. Parry
Published On: June 23, 2020

Blending real historical moments with fantasy and magical realism, H.G. Parry creates a story spanning the abolitionist movement through French Revolution set in the late 18th century. Taking historical facts and altering them just enough to fit inside a world where the governance of magic is established by laws and where men such as William Pitt argue on behalf of the commoners who should have more rights and freedom in regards to magic use.

The breadth and scope of the what the author is undertaking is amazing. To research such a political span of time in European history and to adjust it in such a way to where parts of known history are now integrated with magic was truly phenomenal to read. Undeniably A Declaration of Rights of Magicians is an intelligent and well-thought out the book and I am left wondering if my knowledge of the actual subjects will forever be changed.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

However, merging the two together also comes at a cost. At times, I was drawn into an incredibly intriguing story and other times I felt like I was back in history class waiting for the bell to ring. It was during these times that I felt the story dragged a little or at least my excitement for the story diminished as we saw things occur off screen, but not on. I thoroughly love and appreciate the concept of the book, but there are other historical events or points in time I enjoy more than than the late 1700s. Maximilien Robespierre, William Pitt, Toussaint Breda, George-Jacques Danton, William Wilberforce among others were names learned long ago – mostly for a test.

Politics can be quite an intriguing subject none more so than the events leading up the French revolution and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction from an alternative world perspective or at least one that is slightly altered. But unfortunately for me, this story didn’t work out as much as I had hoped.

Rating: 3 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Redhook Books for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a genre-defying story of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom in the early modern world.

It is the Age of Enlightenment — of new and magical political movements, from the necromancer Robespierre calling for revolution in France to the weather mage Toussaint L’Ouverture leading the slaves of Haiti in their fight for freedom, to the bold new Prime Minister William Pitt weighing the legalization of magic amongst commoners in Britain and abolition throughout its colonies overseas.

But amidst all of the upheaval of the early modern world, there is an unknown force inciting all of human civilization into violent conflict. And it will require the combined efforts of revolutionaries, magicians, and abolitionists to unmask this hidden enemy before the whole world falls to darkness and chaos.

The Vine Witch – Book Review

The Vine Witch #1 By: Luanne G. Smith
Published On: October 1, 2019
No. of Pages: 263

Sometimes it’s all in the timing of when you read a book.

Initially, I picked The Vine Witch as one of my Amazon First Reads. They don’t always offer fantasy or science fiction, mostly it is thrillers and a non-fiction memoir. So when it was offered, I grabbed it. Except, I didn’t read it. I’m a mood reader and the mood wasn’t right. The first reviews I saw had it between 3 and 4 stars. They weren’t bad, they just didn’t inspire me to read it, so I put it on the back burner. But, The Glamourist (Vine Witch #2) is coming out soon and I really was drawn to the cover. So in addition to being a mood reader I am also someone who reads a book based solely on cover – I picked it up. But you can’t read book 2 without reading book 1, so that’s where I started.

Continue reading “The Vine Witch – Book Review”

The Obsidian Tower – Book Review

Rooks and Ruin #1 By: Melissa Caruso
Published On: June 2, 2020

Can things be any more chaotic for Ryx as she attempts to negotiate peace between two lands, de-escalate a Shrike Lord’s desire for vengeance, learn how to bring her own broken magic under control, and deal with the aftermath of unexpected guests, all the while trying to identify what danger a secret artifact possesses and identify a solution to fix it without anyone finding out and starting all-out war? That’s not to mention what I am intentionally leaving out of this list just to keep from spoiling anything.

Gloamingard was really several castles caught in the act of devouring each other.

– Melissa Caruso, The Obsidian Tower

It all begins when the Shrike Lord’s fiancee, Lamiel, unexpectedly arrives at Gloamingard Castle one day before diplomats are scheduled to arrive to negotiate a treaty. Eager to secretly discover what Gloamingard protects and keeps hidden, Lamiel trespasses where she shouldn’t and starts a chain of events with consequential outcomes.

Set in the same world as Melissa Caruso’s Sword’s and Fire series, we are introduced to Ryx who is the Warden of Gloamingard. Ryx’s bloodline is one of vivomancers, but due to an illness when she was young Ryx’s magic is broken and instead of life and creation, her magic brings death. She is the family embarrassment, except to her grandmother who believes in her.

Around 20-30%, I almost stopped reading the book. Something about where the story was at the moment wasn’t keeping me interested. Eventually, what I came to realize is that the story centers around us watching Ryx juggling all the different chaotic events going on around her and that’s when I settled in. It’s not necessarily action-packed all the time and that’s ok.

As much as I enjoyed all the disastrous events exploding around Ryx it did at times become a little overwhelming. This was especially true in the latter part of the story when I would pick the book back up after being away from it and had to remember all that was going on. Don’t get me wrong – I liked that there was a lot of moving parts, but it still took time to remember. I also suspect there are some thinner plot moments in how some of the political maneuvering and decisions get resolved, but because it could be a little dizzying I haven’t had a chance to work through all that yet.

Description:

The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers.

Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall her: Ryx accidentally kills a visiting dignitary in self-defense, activating a mysterious magical artifact sealed in an ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle.

Ryx flees, seeking a solution to her deadly magic. She falls in with a group of unlikely magical experts investigating the disturbance in Vaskandar—and Ryx realizes that her family is in danger and her domain is at stake. She and her new colleagues must return to the family stronghold to take control of the artifact that everyone wants to claim—before it destroys the world.