By day Janelle is a nurse, mother to two autistic sons, and writer. By night, she's immersed in other worlds. Reading fantasy is her happy place. And drinking wine. And eating tacos.
Grab her flintlock fantasy series The Rodasia Chronicles, or her epic fantasy series The Steward Saga on Amazon.
I've been ruminating on this review for a while now. Initially, I wasn't sure how I felt about this book, so I sat on it, waiting to see if my feelings changed. After consideration, I decided I really did quite like this read, although there were some things that had me thinking. I suppose that's what makes a book memorable; making readers think, and dwell on, your story.
The Frozen Crown initially caught my interest because of the gorgeous cover, and it was a debut from an author I had never heard of. I really enjoy finding new author's to watch out for, and I'll definitely be following this series.
The Frozen Crown follows the story of Askia, an ousted princess from her kingdom who must win her country back by forging political alliances to keep her country from utter ruin by a horde that has descended on her people. But she carries a secret - she can see and communicate with the dead, a nearly forbidden magic that could mean her death by a religious group intent on stamping out magic whenever and wherever they can. She meets (or rather, re-engages) with a prince from a neighboring country, and convinces him to bring her back to his father's court so she can beg for their aid against her enemies. If she can't find help soon, her people will be annihilated.
The strongest point of this story is the politics. The author really delves into the interweaving court dynamics as Askia must learn to conform and perform to save her people, as well as continue to hide her secret magic. She forges alliances while learning to set aside her normal method of dealing with people - that is, a straightforward personality that isn't quite suited for the life of a politician. She learns secrets of her past that could change everything, she learns to handle her magic, and has multiple ways she could handle saving her people. But which is the best path? One thing that I really liked about Askia was her willingness to do whatever is necessary to save her people, often at her own expense.
As far as characters go, Askia certainly had things going for her. She's bold, tenderhearted, brave. However, one of my main complaints is that she isn't all that... unique. Her voice is a bit stale - typical might be a better word for it. The tone is certainly YA, which doesn't bother me, but like lots of YA female characters, she's got a chip on her shoulder, has to manage several love interests, and as per usual, is beautiful. She is also full of self-doubt, and is in her own head much of the time. She fits the trope, and I would have liked to see something that wasn't so... tropish. My other complaint is the side characters - the prince, the queen, the king, Askia's friends, the politicians... I would have enjoyed it more if they were expanded upon. But since this story is told in first person, one of the downfalls is that we are only in Askia's head, and therefore side characters can be a bit challenging to flesh out.
My other complaint is the ending. I'm sure many people won't have a problem with it, or will be surprised by it, but I could see it coming from a mile away. It's certainly a cliff hanger in some ways, which I don't mind, but I will keep it spoiler free. That is to say, this was just personal preference. Most readers, I'm sure, will like it.
3.5/5 stars for me, and a for a debut author, I was impressed. If you enjoy political YA with a strong female lead, fun magic, typical and maybe not-so-typical romance, then grab this story.
The first book in this series, We Ride the Storm, was on of my favorite reads in 2019. I eagerly looked forward to this follow-up, and it was everything I wanted it to be.
The story picks up almost immediately after the previous book ended. It follows the POV from the previous characters - Rah, Cassandra, and Miko - and adds a new POV with Dishiva, one of my personal favorite characters from the previous book. I was pleasantly surprised that we got a look into her world, and it expands the story in unique ways. Cassandra, however, still remains my favorite character. There are questions answered in this story that were left unanswered by the first book, and mysteries are revealed in utterly satisfying ways.
The characters remain a strong point in this author's writing. There voices are unique, so you always know who you are following. Their character arcs are well done. Miko is on the run, with no solid place to land and followed by her trusty general. She must find allies to help her win her empire back, but who can she trust? She tries to stay hidden from her enemies, and is joined by Rah through happenstance. Rah's character arc remains consistent. He is unwilling to change his Levanti ways, like his brother Gideon has, who has declared himself Emperor of the new combined Empire. Rah is unbending and brittle, stubbornly refusing to give up his identity, and it has far-reaching effects. There is something admirable about his stubbornness, though it does get him into trouble. Cassandra has been sold to a Witchdoctor, who performs experiments on her to try and learn all he can about She, who is living in Cassandra's body. Just who is this She? How expansive are Cassandra's dual souls? Who actually belongs in control of Cassandra's body? Who was there first? I must say, Cassandra's chapters remained my favorites, because time after time, Madson manages to make the unveiling of the mystery utterly captivating, dragging the reader along with some bread crumbs, and making each new reveal so satisfying. Dishiva has been made the head of Emperor Gideon's bodyguards. She's caught up in the political machinations of this new Empire, and is torn between her loyalty to Gideon and her loyalty to the old Levanti ways. Which will win out?
The worldbuilding is, much like the first book, spot on. The magic is unique, especially concerning Cassandra. And the interweaving of politics, cultures, action, moral dilemmas, interpersonal relationships, and character development once again left me in awe. Madson has created an immersive reader experience, one that you don't often find so seamlessly.
A huge 5/5 stars. Do yourself a favor and pick up this series. You won't be disappointed.
I was first introduced to J.A. Andrews when I read Dragon's Reach as a judge for SPFBO. I thoroughly enjoyed that book, and always had plans to dive into The Keeper Chronicles at some point. Well, that point has come. And I wasn't disappointed.
A Threat of Shadows follows the story of Alaric, desperate to find a cure for his wife, Evangeline, who has been bitten by a poisonous snake. Alaric is a Keeper, part of a group who are tasked with preserving the land's histories, and who use magic to do so. From the outset, I identified with his quest. His strong love for his wife is endearing, and Alaric has stopped at nothing to do everything he can for her. The story picks up with Alaric having already done things he regrets, and he has stepped away from his role as Keeper to the queen. He stood at her right hand, involved in the running of the kingdom, and the various political intrigues that naturally come with his role.
But now, it's been a year since he was at court. In the course of the first few chapters, Alaric joins a group of treasure seekers. Yet only he knows the treasure they seek; a stone, with memories hidden. And one of those memories is the antidote to the poison coursing through his wife. Among this group is a young man, an elf with strong magical powers, a dwarf, and a curious wizard. Andrews does interpersonal relationships between characters quite well, and this was one of the best parts of this book, too. The elf in particular was fascinating, funny, and an intriguing character. She is the last of her kind, and for unknown reasons has joined this band of treasure seekers. There is a hint of mystery to her, and the reader is drawn into her story.
The worldbuilding is quite good, although I wish it had been a bit more solid. Andrews' strong point is characters, so the worldbuilding seems to take a back seat at times. There are, however, terrifying beasts and even a dragon (yay!) that make the world more fascinating. At one point Alaric finds himself back at court, and the politics are well done.
The magic system was pretty typical, but I didn't mind. The magic users are drained of strength, as is often the case in fantasy settings, and are viewed with a healthy dose of fear and suspicion by the commonfolk. What I did find refreshing was the ability for users to keep their memories in unique Wellstones, therefore prolonging the histories of the world. I quite liked it.
All in all, A Threat of Shadows is well done, well written, and strong on characters. I plan on continuing this series in the future. 4/5 stars, and fans of epic fantasy with well-developed characters are sure to enjoy it.