Strange the Dreamer Blog Tour | Review

Synopsis

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

Review

Content warning: mentions of rape, genocide, slavery, forced pregnancy. Scenes of emotional abuse, explosions, death.

Strange the Dreamer. Where do I even start?

This book is both weird and wonderful, but also really heavy and draining. If you’re looking for something light and fun in a fantasy, maybe leave this one for another time.

Strange the Dreamer is haunting, it deals with topics such as slavery, genocide, and rape, but it also feels enchanting too. The idea of a city that has completely vanished, going on a mission to said city, and then finding what has blighted it for so long. Its the kind of fantasy that has so much world building but you don’t even realise until you know more about the religion and political climate in the book than the ones in our own world.

This would’ve been a favourite for me had it not had such a slow start. Now I understand why it was necessary, to build up the reader for arriving in Weep, but it was a bit of a struggle for me to begin with.

I loved the characters, Lazlo was full of naïveté and a desire for a world of peace. Sarai, who doesn’t know how she should feel towards her father who destroyed her race but did so due to being a slave for many years. Eril-Fane who struggled with nightmares about what he did every single night. Even the side characters were so well developed. Though I did struggle with remembering names sometimes but that’s a me problem.

I’m trying not to talk too much about the plot in this review as I believe it’s very important for this specific book that you go into it not knowing much, because there’s a lot of twists that I either had a feeling about or just did not see coming. It’s very carefully crafted for the reader.

Now the ending I did not see coming and it’s something I want to talk about with people, but it leaves me super intrigued for the sequel and what this means for all our characters.

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Paperback is out now. Sequel, Muse of Nightmares, out 2nd of October.

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Thank you to Jenni Leech for arranging this tour!

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The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

content warnings: same as those for The Wrath and the Dawn

Where the first novel was about getting to know the characters and their world, this one was very much about twists and deception, for both the characters and the reader.

I think it’s pretty obvious that from the first book to this one Ahdieh’s writing already got much better and the same with the jump from this to Flame in the Mist. I love her writing style and feel really immersed in the prose. Whilst I didn’t particularly feel like The Wrath and the Dawn was slow or anything, it was more packed with character development and backstory whereas this had a lot of plotting and action and I really liked how fast it moved.

Some of the characters really surprised me in this novel, they either did things I was not expecting or were just so much worse than I thought they could be. I still love Jamal and he is my soft baby. Shazi is still as fierce as ever.

There was a lot of parts of this that had me literally gasping so hard and I was kinda stressed out, but in a good way.

I’m sorry this is a short review but there isn’t much to say that wouldn’t spoil stuff from the first book. I probably should’ve done a bind up review but I realised that after doing the original review so here we are.

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The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

I saw a lot of buzz from this book on booktube last year and then I read Flame in the Mist and felt like I had to read this series because I really liked Ahdieh’s writing, so I was preemptively excited. And whilst it didn’t quite live up to the hype this was still an enjoyable read.

content warning: whilst I wouldn’t consider their sexual relationship as rape, it could be trigger if you are a victim of sexual abuse, death, uhhhh I’ve forgotten what else there is but if you’re interested and have a trigger, message me and I’ll look into it for you!

Every time the Caliph, Khalid, takes a new wife she is found dead the next morning. Shazi decides that she will be the next bride after her best friend is killed, in a move that she plans to use to take vengeance. To put off getting killed Shazi tells the Caliph a story every night. But there is more than meets the eye with Khalid and slowly Shazi begins to discover that he isn’t the murderous brute she believed him to be.

The best part of this for me is the world building and the writing. The writing itself isn’t poetic, flowery or anything like that, it’s pretty to the point but it was sooo easy to read, and I read it so quickly that I had to read the novellas and take the second book out from the library immediately. The characters are super fleshed out as well. Shazi is a kickass lead who I loved reading from, Khalid is super dark and interesting and whilst I’m mixed about how I feel about him as a romantic leadI loved reading about him and his inner turmoils. I also just loved Jalal, he’s the perfect side character, who cares about the good of everyone involved.

I honestly don’t know how to explain my feelings about the romance in this book. It could be described as insta-love as it happens over the span of a few weeks, but because there is so much happening it feels like longer. On top of all that you have the weird way they have entered the relationship, knowing full well that every woman he has married has died. They have sex a few times before romance even happens, and for both of them it’s very much like procedural, they do it because they feel like they have to, it’s never romanticised at this point. There’s even a point where he asks if she wants to have sex and she’s like “we’ve done it before”, but he still asks. I just have very confused feelings. I was very wary of the sexual relationship before the romantic relationship that I have flagged every time they had sex prior to beginning to like each other, so again if you need warnings or anything let me know and I’ll read over these pages to make sure what’s involved.

One thing I would say is that if the story this is based on is a story you grew up knowing you might not want to read this as Fadwa told me that it’s changed a lot from the original story and what she’d heard about it she didn’t like so just bear that in mind.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton | Blog Tour | Review

Synopsis

In the opulent world of Orléans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful. Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family.

But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.

THE BELLES is the book Dhonielle always wanted to write, a must-read critique of the way teenage girls are taught to think about beauty and body image.

Review

CW: death, people disillusioned with their own looks, mental illness.

I really enjoyed this book. The writing style fits perfectly, a lot of the time I struggle with fantasy because the writing style is too heavy, which is fine if you have the time for it, but I don’t. This isn’t full of flowery language or huge off-shooting paragraphs, it’s straight and to the point and I loved it.

Clayton writes the novel in a way that to begin with you’re a bit confused but she slowly lets you into the world until you completely understand what it’s about and what’s going on without having a big explanation chapter or being taken out from the story to be explained to. My one problem came from this though as I felt that because of the way it was done, the pacing struggled a bit. The last half of the novel was super fast paced but the beginning didn’t have much going on. However I feel like this makes it a really good first novel in a series, I think the next book is going to be super involved and have a lot going on.

The way Clayton wrote the world I am desperate to read more about it. I want to know more about the Belles, I want to find out how the world got to be the way it is, I want to know why people are born grey and discovered how Belles and Arcana existed.

I liked Camille enough, despite growing up in an oppressive environment where you are supposed to do just what you are told she goes against the grain. The character I loved the most, however, was Sophia, she was terrifying. She’s one of the most convincing villains I’ve read in a while. She’s only a teenager but she’s so unbalanced that you literally have no idea what she’s going to do next and it’s actually really scary.

Something else that stood out to me in this novel was how seamlessly LGBT+ characters were in it. People just spoke completely off the cuff about same sex relationships. This shouldn’t be a big thing, but for fantasy this is rare and it made me happy to see that in my favourite genre.

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Thank you to Stevie Finnegan for arranging the tour!

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo – The Conclusion to End All Conclusions

I really don’t know how to talk about this book. Because it killed me. First of all, CW for starving, violence, death and addiction. This review will of course have spoilers for Six of Crows.

I was worried going into this because a lot of people had problems with the pacing, but thankfully I didn’t at all. Everything flowed so wonderfully. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I can’t believe the amount of twists Leigh put into this story that I had no idea were coming. I’m normally pretty good at guessing what happens next, but not with this book.

The character development is truly amazing in this. There is no loss of plot for the sake of characters. Honestly, I just felt so stressed out the whole book and thats a test to Bardugo’s skill in creating characters that I cared about. I was permanently worried about every single character. Not even just worried about deaths but about how anything was going to harm their emotional wellbeing. They’re all my kids who I hold close to my heart. I don’t know how it’s possible to create a character like Kaz Brekker. He’s so ridiculously multifaceted that I almost can’t bear it. I can’t help but love him even though he’s an evil genius.

After Six of Crows, Nina is addicted to Parem and something I absolutely adored in this book was the normalisation of addiction through this. Addiction is often shown in a bad light or treated like it’s something someone will eventually get over which is definitely not the case. People who are addicted to something will always be addicted and they’re still people, they’re not bad because they’re addicted and Bardugo really showed this through Nina.

I felt very emotional during this whole read through and I’m sad that I’m finished it because I want to feel those feelings again, and yes I can reread but obviously I won’t be reading it for the first time.

If you have any doubts about this series, don’t because it’s just absolute magic.

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Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – Yay F/F fantasy!!!! Boo Slow read

Denna has left her home land to get married to the man she has been betrothed to since childhood. However Denna has magic in a world that is so anti magic, and being away from home has put her in so much more danger. She needs to learn to ride a horse, leading her to spending time with the Princess Mare. But then a series of magic related killings take place.

I was in a bit of a slump when I read this. I wasn’t reading it fast enough to my liking and it just felt super sluggish. But I don’t know if that was me or if that was the book. I still enjoyed it but I feel like it took longer than it should’ve done. I will say that something about the pacing was a bit off. At times it felt like it was moving along ok and other times it was just super slow. I didn’t get that “I can’t put this down” feeling.

Whilst I did love reading a fantasy book with an f/f romance, there should definitely be more, I felt like there wasn’t enough of a burn. Obviously I knew who the romance was between so as I knew it was building, but it didn’t feel like anything was happening between the pair. It wasn’t believable for me. Maybe I personally just want more from romances in books.

The world building was great. There was heretics and illegal magic. There were different countries at war with each other and being political and everything I look for in good world building.

This is a stand-alone fantasy novel and I feel like if you’re going to do a stand-alone this is how you do it. And I’m glad it is as well because I’ve started too many series.

I felt like the characters could’ve done with a little bit more development. I think because it’s a stand-alone I couldn’t get the feel for them that I would normally get from fantasy. Denna felt a bit flimsy at times, like I wasn’t sure what she was wanting to do with herself.

In the end though, I am glad I read this because I always need more f/f in my life, especially in fantasy where it’s SO sparse.

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Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Thank you to netgalley and Hodder and Stoughton for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This was also the fairyloot book for May so I was inundated with copies, but I’m not complaining. The cover for the UK paperback has just been revealed as well and I kind of need it to be honest.

After Mariko is attacked in the forest on her way to meet her future husband she assumes a disguise of a male to find out who wants her dead and why and takes up living in the forest with a band of thieves.

This was probably one of my most anticipated books of the year and whilst it wasn’t a favourite it was really good. I really liked the main characters and the world building. It felt really cohesive and Ahdieh had put a lot of thought into the world. I find this applaudable in authors when they write very different fantasy world’s but have such good world building, as I’m aware Ahdieh’s other series is more Middle Eastern in inspiration and this is East Asian/mainly Japanese inspired. The magical parts really intrigued me as we don’t get to see much of it in this novel but there is definite murmurs of it and a bit of build up.

There was some mix up with the PR with this book where some people thought it was a Mulan retelling, which it isn’t, it has some inspiration taken from Mulan and there were definitely a couple parts that I picked up on this and really enjoyed when I realised. Like the scene in Mulan where she’s bathing and the guys all come along, that makes somewhat of an appearance.

There was a lot of Japanese terms in this book but Ahdieh presented then well enough that I rarely found myself going to the glossary because her writing gave enough context for the reader to understand exactly what she meant.

At times the book did feel a little bit slow, but it wasn’t hard to read. The pacing varied a bit so some parts I flew through and some parts were a bit heavier. Now I don’t have a problem with this but I just wanted to note it.

I cannot wait for the next book because I have no idea what’s going to happen but I know there’s gonna be some wild magic stuff in it.

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A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Honestly if you loved ACOMAF don't even bother reading this because it's about 500 pages of waffle and not much else. I was so hyped up for this book when I finished ACOMAF because I had no idea what was going to happen, but then there was a lot of discussion in the community about SJM and her lack of diversity and I gradually felt less and less excited. But when the book came out and arrived at my door I was still anticipating what would happen and how it would end.

And the end was good. The last 150 pages or so were really enjoyable. It's just a shame that the majority of the book prior to that was just a lot of nothing. I love Feyre and Rhysand but there was just so much couple stuff from them that did not need to be there. I found myself rolling my eyes a lot. I feel like Maas has the kind of style that after a while begins to feel pretty repetitive. You seem to notice the same phrases used a lot and whilst it's good to have a grasp on your own style you need to find a balance.

Maas began to pair up everyone as it was coming to a close and for some reason a lot of mainstream fantasy writers do this. They can't bear to have single characters left. What I did find interesting though was that there was unrequited love from one of the guys as Mor comes out as being a lesbian at the end of the novel, or it read like that but I was a bit confused as to what she considered herself. If you consider this a spoiler fight me, people's sexualities are not spoilers. And whilst I was glad that she wasn't straight it kind of felt like Maas was doing it just for the sake of it.

There is a character in the book who is bi though he is not one of the main 6 it's still good to have representation. But I saw a lot of comments on how he as a character was too stereotypical of bi people as he slept around a lot and had threesomes and I completely understand the criticism but that doesn't mean it's not ok to be bi and sleep around. The problem is that Sarah is not bi herself or at least hasn't came out as bi so for her to have a character with that stereotype as opposite to an own voices author writing from experience is harmful.

Something I was quite glad of in this book was that Maas had clearly listened to criticism a little bit and had clarified that the Illyrians were not white and had darker skin. Obviously it's a bit too late on that front but at least it was mentioned at some point. Just a shame it was in the final book and people might have given up on the series before this point.

I still loved the characters they still felt true to themselves and I loved seeing Feyre grow into her powers more and feel better about herself and her place in the Night Court. I also enjoyed getting to see characters from different Courts are the previous 2 books had mainly focussed on Spring and Night. I liked getting to see the different personalities and attitudes cultivated by living in different places.

Honestly I don't think I'm going to buy the next 3 books in this series as I just don't have an interest anymore. Which makes me sad because ACOMAF was so good but oh well.

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The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

This is a retelling of Snow White where the huntsman is a dragon and Snow White is an enchantress. 

There was so much potential with this book but I just spent the majority of it bored. I normally write my reviews like a month or 2 after I finish reading because I have such a build up but also it’s good because it lets me stew things over but I genuinely can’t remember some of what happened in this book. I just feel like I was on autopilot reading it. 

The MC was just so up herself, like think Celaena Sardothien except can’t actually do any fighting but acts like she’s the best ever. 

I felt like the main villain wasn’t scary in terms of she didn’t truly feel like it she fought the MC she wouldn’t really be hard to beat. Her actual villain qualities were how evil she was and manipulative she was. 
One thing that I just felt really agitated about was that all the names for magic and places were just unnecessarily confusing and long. When you have a super long glossary you know you need to chill out with it. It’s one thing to have some weird names but ones that are literally unpronounceable is just trying too hard. 

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

If you’ve read An Ember in the Ashes but haven’t got around to this yet I’m just going to warn you that this book features genocide. If scenes of that nature or talking about it upsets you, you should be aware before reading because it’s brutal. There’s also torture and a bunch of other possible triggers so please be aware and if you want info ask me.

Where the first book was very much about the military parts of the world and getting to know how the world worked politically, this book was about really beginning to get a feel for the magic system, through the absolute nightmare happening to the people.

I felt like I finally really got a feel for the characters in this book. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad for a character as I have for Helene Aquilla; she has to hunt down the boy she’s in love with so she knows he’s okay but somehow along the way figure out a way to keep her job and family in tact that doesn’t require her killing Elias. Elias has to try and figure out how to beat his mother whilst he is slowly dying. And Laia is along with him trying to just live while the rest of her race are being murdered in cold blood. This book is not your nice teen fantasy, there is so much heavy stuff going on. It took me a while to read just because I had to keep putting it down and taking a breath.

The magic system in this book was honestly so strange. Like it felt like magical realism inside a high fantasy world at times. It was dark magic that wasn’t just commonly used, it wasn’t a system I was used to. It mostly dealt with death and destruction whist was really interesting to read.

For a lot of this book I felt it was moving quite slowly but then the end happened and it just completely threw me and I needed to read it all. I’m not really sure about the pacing to be honest, but I’m now desperate to read the next book after it was left off the way it was.

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