Blood Spells by Alicia Ellis - SPFBO7 book review 07, Jun

*I was assigned this book for SPFBO7*

*TW - graphic suicide


Blood Spells caught me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to be what it turned out to be, and that’s a good thing. I expected a typical YA fantasy with lots of romance and teenager angst and a hunky guy who the girl pants over. What I got instead was a well-done whodunit, set in a very unique world, with deep themes of grief, loss, friendship, and a girl struggling with her identity. 


The story is told from the first-person POV of Madison, a POC teenager who has lost her mom and dad. The book opens at a very graphic suicide. Maddy finds her stepmother with her wrists slashed, in a bathtub. Almost immediately, the reader is immersed in Maddy’s world turned upside down. She’s already lost her parents, and now she’s lost her stepmom, too. They had a loving relationship, and Maddy’s world is rocked. The reader gradually gets the sense that this world is modern, yet the existence of magic is a given. There is very little telling, which I appreciated. You experience the world as Maddy does - so some things are assumed. 


The worldbuilding was done quite nicely. There are fault lines underground that house water, and inside these water lines live those who can practice magic. Also within these lines, magic messes with technology, making it almost unusable. Cars shut off, cell phones don’t work, especially the farther into the magic side you get. There are particles of magic that float within this boundary. Users create spells using their blood. Those who can practice magic are viewed with a healthy dose of fear, yet for the most part magic is seen as something to avoid unless you have the proper training. There is a Bureau that monitors magic users, and decides who can practice and who can’t, depending on their training. One spell, that of summoning the dead, is dangerous, and comes up quite often in this book. 


Maddy strongly suspects her stepmother was murdered. The rest of the book is about how she and her two friends, Lauren and Marshall, investigate her death. Maddy is determined to figure out what is going on, and rushes headlong into it, putting herself and her friends at risk. What I found particularly different about this book than most YA books is that her friends push back on this erratic behavior instead of simply going along with Maddy’s often risky and irrational decisions. Marshall is often uncomfortable with Maddy’s illegal use of magic, challenging her on it. Lauren also challenges Maddy when she places their lives at risk, insisting to be treated with respect, and that her life matters. This theme of healthy friendship is played out throughout the book. Yes, Maddy’s friends are loyal and courageous. But they don’t let her walk all over them. 


One theme I also found insightful was that of grief and loss. Maddy struggles with who she is now, apart from her parents and stepmother. She longs to summon them, and tries to a couple of times, providing a few powerful scenes of closure for Maddy as she gets to interact with the dead. She is better able to mourn them. It doesn’t make it easier for her - if anything, it’s harder for her - but the reader can’t blame her for wanting to see them again. 


My only complaint with this book was the rushed and predictable ending. I don’t want to give anything away, but it ends exactly how I thought it would. Other than that, this was a good read, and fans of YA, urban fantasy, and strong themes are certain to enjoy it. This is perhaps one of the best YA books I’ve read in quite a while.

Bound Fairy by Lorain O'Neil - SPFBO7 book review 05, Jun

I have mixed feelings about this book. I'll say from the outset that I'd never pick up a book such as this, simply because I'm not a fairy fan, and also not a fan of forced servitude where the "slave" falls in love with the captor (think Beauty and the Beast). This story, although I mostly didn't enjoy it, has some redeeming qualities to it. And I'm sure it will be more interesting to others than it was for me. So I hope people do read this review and pick it up if it sounds like their cup of tea. 

Bound Fairy follows the story of Urre, half Orphic (fairy) and half human. We find her at a Calming House, a place where females are sent to be broken down and then sold to the highest bidder. This world we find her in is in disarray; females have mostly been driven to extinction. Most humans blame the magic of the mysterious fairies, while the fairies claim it's something much more mundane. The humans burn a certain type of rock for energy, and the theory is that the excess of these rocks has messed with the DNA in men, so that they can only produce males. The way humankind has survived it mostly by cloning. There is a humanoid species called bordettes who produce eggs, that when mixed with a man's blood, produces a clone. It's all very strange. On the one hand, the science - especially cloning - didn't really seem to fit with this world. Even the fact that it was called cloning - a very modern term and idea - threw me a bit, especially since it involved the subjugation of a different species. The way the author seemed to excuse it was that the bordettes were quite tame and opposed to violence. It didn't sit well with me, however. 

Urre is bought by Jozef, a clone himself, who is determined to treat her well and love her. However, this also didn't sit well since the beginning of their relationship started with him owning her. But i digress. Jozef messes with a master plan - he wasn't supposed to be her buyer. She was meant for someone else. Kippin, the leader of the fairies, and a Vezerine woman, Liotheca, have determined to destroy the fuel rocks and make men able to produce females again. And Urre was the key to their whole plan. For across the world is a society that is powered by steam. And quite by happenstance, most of this society's men have been killed off in war. So on one side, you have only men, and on the other side, mostly only women. 

The book follows this plot, and only Urre can destroy the mine that produces fuel rocks (for various reasons that don't necessarily bear explaining). In this process, Urre falls for Jozef, they have rollicking sex, so on and so forth. It was all pretty cut and dried. 

What I did enjoy about this book was Kippin, who was an intriguing character. I wish we had spent more time with the fairies and learned more about their culture and magic. However, the story sticks mostly with Jozef and Urre in the human world. 

This book wasn't for me, but those who enjoy captivity-to-love, fairies, and don't mind male-dominated societies who prey on the weak, then you might like this one. 

Flames of Rebellion (The Broken Gods #1) by Aaron S. Jones - SPFBO7 book review 01, Jun


*This review contains spoilers*


This book was assigned to me for SPFBO7. I purposefully did no research before starting it, so I had no idea what it was even about. The cover is compelling, so I was excited to dig in. 


This story is told from several POVs. First there is Arden, a teenager being raised in the Borderlands, a harsh, snow-filled land that’s perpetually at war. The tribes of the Borderlands - a Norse-like culture - keep the barbarians at bay, who are even farther north. I really enjoyed Arden’s story. He’s got the golden eyes of the mages, but doesn’t seem able to wield magic. It marks him as different, and generally people in this world view mages as dangerous. Arden has somehow become part of a particular group of Borderland warriors, making a name for himself as an archer. As time progresses, it becomes clear he is more than what he seems.


The next POV is that of Katerina Kane, an Inspector in the southern city of Archania. This is the capital city, whose King is ailing and soon to be replaced by his eldest, stuck-up son. Kane is a bit older, which I liked, and has spent most of her life solving crimes and putting the criminals in the dungeon. She has recently lost a lover, a Borderland warrior named Braego. He was murdered, and she is determined to find out who did it. In the process, she becomes enmeshed with the Doctors, a group of people who keep their identities unknown, and who are working to set the kingdom aright. Archania has two distinct groups of people: those with money and power who live in the Upper City, and the dregs of society, the poor and working man, in the Lower City. It is clear in Kane’s POV that the unrest in the Lower City is causing problems. The world is breaking, so to speak. There are earthquakes, and the city is gradually being overtaken by an Empire, whose religious leader has started to gain influence in the Upper City. The religious leader - Mason - is stirring up religious fervor, particularly against the mages, hunting them down and burning them in the name of the One God. The Lower City is still following the Four Gods, and isn’t taking this new Empiric religion very well. The city is reaching a boiling point, and the book builds the tension quite nicely. 


Another POV is that of Sly, a Borderland warrior who is tasked with joining Raven Redbeard, a tribal leader, whose brother was the murdered Braego. They are heading towards Archania to find out what happened, along with two other warriors. They are of another tribe, and the tension between these two tribes is also building. 


Then there is Cypher, a true sociopath. He is a torturer in the dungeons of Archania, who is pulled into the Doctors’ plots of rebellion against the King. He switches sides for various reasons, but is after only one thing: satisfying himself by killing as many people as possible. 


Lastly, there is Aliester. He’s a sellsword who finds his way back to Archania after several years in the company of his sister and good friend. He finds the city much changed - rebellion is in the air, and he’s trying to find out why. 


In general, this was a well-written book. There are several grammatical mistakes, such as missing words or quotation marks, or commas where there should be periods, and vice versa. There is also one scene where the names of two female characters are switched. It could have used another editing pass. However, I really did enjoy reading it. The pacing is good, the plot is thought out, and the characters, although sometimes a bit overdone, are interesting. The best part, in my opinion, is the politics. The clash of religions, the way the Upper City and the Lower City are dealing with it, and the various groups fomenting rebellion was outstanding.  


Perhaps my biggest peeve was the modern vernacular thrown in. It really jerked me from the world to read terms like “testosterone-filled” or “you almost gave me a heart attack!” among several other phrases that just didn’t fit the setting. However, this being a debut novel, such things can be forgiven. You really get a sense that the author put a lot of work into making this a complex, interesting story. The various characters come together in a seamless, breathtaking ending that was quite satisfying. Kudos to the author for weaving a compelling tale of what happens when the poor and downtrodden finally rise up to take their place in a society that is committed to maintaining the status quo.