The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

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Unaware that she is gifted with magic, Tea raises her brother from the dead during his funeral. Tea discovers that she is a bone witch, one who controls the dark magic. Though they use their abilities to banish monsters, bone witches are often reviled by the kingdoms they protect. Under her new tutor, Tea must learn how to harness and hone her power while playing the political games that come with it. She must learn quickly, though, because dark forces are culminating which will require all the strength she can gather.

This book starts slowly, but really, really picks up. All characters are entertaining and strong, especially the cranky old woman who runs Tea’s boardinghouse. Fox, Tea’s zombie brother, also brings a lot of humor to the story. The structure of the novel is unique; Tea’s story relating to her training is told in flashback form, with a present-tense story-line hinting at what’s to come — and it’s big. The end of the book leaves a TON of questions that I’m desperate to know, so you’ll definitely be reaching for the sequel. Add this to your TBR for an awesome new fantasy/supernatural series.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

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Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oaks

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In this twist on the classic Alice in Wonderland, Oaks examines the origins of Wonderland’s villain, the Queen of Hearts. Dinah, just a princess, is caught in the web of court life. Her father, the reigning King of Hearts, is volatile and often swayed by his wavering favor and the opinion of his venomous advisers. Her brother, considered mad and obsessed with hat making, is confined to his rooms. Though Dinah is expected to ascend to the throne and rule beside her father, the king treats her as though she is worthless. When the king brings in a long-lost, illegitimate daughter, Dinah knows she has a rival. As the situation continues to escalate, Dinah must figure out who she can trust in the court, as well as a way to keep her head.

I recently read and loved Heartless by Marissa Meyer. As great as that book is, Queen of Hearts is better. It’s a darker read, which is maybe why I like it more, and it takes a unique spin on the Wonderland characters. The mad hatter, for example is Dinah’s brother, a young boy with a mental illness (maybe autism) who loves to make hats. Cheshire, instead of being a disappearing cat, is a conniving adviser with a sly smile. Aside from these creative twists, the plot is also riveting, and I love that Dinah is not a beautiful young princess who needs to be rescued. I’m definitely reaching for the sequel! If you like fractured fairy tales or retellings, don’t miss this one!

Rating: 5/5 

 

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

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At twenty-third in line to the throne, Freya may technically be part of the court, but doesn’t feel it worthwhile to invest much energy into her court life. Instead, Freya prefers to conduct science experiments aimed at inventing a device that will make her independently wealthy. When she is invited to the King’s birthday party, Freya reluctantly attends, but ends up sneaking out in order to finish and experiment. In her absence, someone poisons the king’s cake and nearly everyone at the party is killed. So many, in fact, that Freya is next in line to be queen. Completely unprepared to rule, Freya finds herself the center of a decimated court, surrounded by those who suspect her of the murder. Freya must find the true murderer before she loses her new throne and her life.

Wow! This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. The premise itself is fascinating — basically an entire court dies leaving one obscure relation as queen? Yes, please. I also loved how much Freya was obsessed with science and finding her own way in the world. So many female heroines (even when they’re strong!) stand around waiting for a prince, convinced they’re not worth anything. Not Freya! The story also features excellent female friendships and a healthy romantic relationship. If you’re looking for a fantasy standalone (rare, I know), don’t miss this!

Rating: 5/5

Court of Fives by Kate Elliot

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Though Jessamy’s mother is of “common” birth, Jessamy and her sisters are raised as ladies. Ladies are expected to remain pleasant and demure until they marry. Jessamy hates the life of a lady. Instead, she wants to run the Fives — and obstacle course on which both high-born patrons and commoners can win glory through victory. But, as a lady, Jessamy is not allowed to run the Fives and must do so in secret. When the hierarchy of the court shifts and Jessamy’s family finds itself in a precarious position, her father must make an impossible choice. The fallout from his choice changes Jessamy’s life forever, and she must use the Fives to save her family at any cost.

While the world-building in this book is truly remarkable, the plot itself is kind of boring. I think the problem is that the author tries to incorporate too much into this one story. There are two major plot-lines, both of which are exciting, good plots. But including both in this book gave me a bit too much to keep up with. The ending is great, though, and gives an excellent set-up for the second book. There are also very relevant undertones of racial/class/gender discrimination that could be tied to events of today.

*Lonestar, 2017 

Rating: 2.5/5

 

The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine

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Elli is selected to be the next Valatia, the queen of her land who holds an extraordinary amount of power. She must use this power to defend her people against enemy threats. Elli cannot become Valatia, however, until the reigning queen is consumed by her magic and is destroyed. When the queen does die, her magic does not enter Elli. A powerless and therefore useless Valatia, Elli flees the kingdom and hides in the outlands. Here, the lawless barbarians she believes reside in the mountains turn out to be more than the criminals she imagined. Elli must gain their trust in order to find out why the Valatia’s magic did not enter her and save her kingdom from ruin.

File this book under “good, not great”. Based on its premise, I was really excited about it, but the plot can be slow, especially in the beginning. When it does pick up, there’s plenty of action and adventure — even some twists I didn’t expect. I also liked the inclusion of an LGBT love interest. If you’re looking for a new fantasy series with a strong female lead, definitely try this one. Just be ready to hang in for the slow parts.

Rating: 3/5