The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

“Only the most powerful and honorable semidioses get chosen. I’m just a Jade. I’m not a real hero.”

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all―they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body used to fuel the Sun Stones that will protect the people of Reino del Sol for the next ten years.

Teo, a 17-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds, has never worried about the Trials…or rather, he’s only worried for others. His best friend Niya―daughter of Tierra, the god of earth―is one of the strongest heroes of their generation and is much too likely to be chosen this year. He also can’t help but worry (reluctantly, and under protest) for Aurelio, a powerful Gold semidiós and Teo’s friend-turned-rival who is a shoo-in for the Trials. Teo wouldn’t mind taking Aurelio down a notch or two, but a one-in-ten chance of death is a bit too close for Teo’s taste.

But then, for the first time in over a century, Sol chooses a semidiós who isn’t a Gold. In fact, he chooses two: Xio, the 13-year-old child of Mala Suerte, god of bad luck, and…Teo. Now they must compete in five mysterious trials, against opponents who are both more powerful and better trained, for fame, glory, and their own survival.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I’ve never read Aiden Thomas’s Cemetary Boys but I’ve heard lots of good things, so I jumped at the chance at reading an ARC of The Sunbearer Trials. Despite its more Middle Grade-like tone, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I found myself enjoying the competitions and the characters.

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Blog Tour: A Venom Dark and Sweet

The enthralling conclusion to Judy I. Lin’s Book of Tea duology—A Magic Steeped in Poison and A Venom Dark and Sweet—is sure to enchant fans of Adrienne Young and Leigh Bardugo.

A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.

Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.

But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…

Content Warning: violence, fight scenes, witnessed torture, death, disturbing events (mutilation,body horror, forced suicide, possession, and fire)

****

I received a copy of this book from the publisher Feiwel and Friends as part of the A Venom Dark and Sweet book blog tour through TBR and Beyond.

This review will contain spoilers for book one, A Magic Steeped in Poison.

Review:

Lin returns to this world of tea magic in a world inspired by the Song dynasty era of Chinese history and what a delight it is. Lin’s lush descriptions of settings, food (omg the food), architecture, and more return just as strongly.

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The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu

It has been foretold: A child will rise to defeat the Eternal Khan, a cruel immortal god-king, and save the kingdom.

The hero: Jian, who has been raised since birth in luxury and splendor, celebrated before he has won a single battle.

But the prophecy was wrong.

Because when Taishi, the greatest war artist of her generation, arrives to evaluate the prophesied hero, she finds a spoiled brat unprepared to face his destiny.

But the only force more powerful than fate is Taishi herself. Possessed of an iron will, a sharp tongue—and an unexpectedly soft heart—Taishi will find a way to forge Jian into the weapon and leader he needs to be in order to fulfill his legend.

What follows is a journey more wondrous than any prophecy can foresee: a story of master and student, assassin and revolutionary, of fallen gods and broken prophecies, and of a war between kingdoms, and love and friendship between deadly rivals.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

This is yet another book I requested for the cover art alone. Look at the way the hair flows, the highlights of gold and red! I’ve yet to uncover the artists’ name (put the name of the cover artist in your book descriptions publishers!), but it kind of looks like a Tran Nguyen piece with how the face is shaded? Cover aside, The Art of Prophecy is a solid start to an epic fantasy series inspired by wuxia, ancient China, with hints of steampunk.

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Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse

There are no tides more treacherous than those of the heart. —Teek saying

The great city of Tova is shattered. The sun is held within the smothering grip of the Crow God’s eclipse, but a comet that marks the death of a ruler and heralds the rise of a new order is imminent.

The Meridian: a land where magic has been codified and the worship of gods suppressed. How do you live when legends come to life, and the faith you had is rewarded?

As sea captain Xiala is swept up in the chaos and currents of change, she finds an unexpected ally in the former Priest of Knives. For the Clan Matriarchs of Tova, tense alliances form as far-flung enemies gather and the war in the heavens is reflected upon the earth.

And for Serapio and Naranpa, both now living avatars, the struggle for free will and personhood in the face of destiny rages. How will Serapio stay human when he is steeped in prophecy and surrounded by those who desire only his power? Is there a future for Naranpa in a transformed Tova without her total destruction?

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

This review will contain spoilers for book 1, Black Sun. Check out my review here.

Review:

We return to the Meridian in Fevered Star, sequel to one of my favorite books of 2020 Black Sun. Serapio is back (yes back, don’t worry) and forced to deal with the outcomes of Black Sun, while Xiala is forced to pick sides in conflict she has no part in and Naranpa works through her new-found confidence.

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Sinopticon 2021: A Celebration of Chinese Science Fiction, translated and edited by Xueting Christine Ni

This celebration of Chinese Science Fiction — thirteen stories, all translated for the first time into English — represents a unique exploration of the nation’s speculative fiction from the late 20th Century onwards, curated and translated by critically acclaimed writer and essayist Xueting Christine Ni.

From the renowned Jiang Bo’s ‘Starship: Library’ to Regina Kanyu Wang’s ‘The Tide of Moon City, and Anna Wu’s ‘Meisje met de Parel’, this is a collection for all fans of great fiction.

Award winners, bestsellers, screenwriters, playwrights, philosophers, university lecturers and computer programmers, these thirteen writers represent the breadth of Chinese SF, from new to old: Gu Shi, Han Song, Hao Jingfang, Nian Yu, Wang Jinkang, Zhao Haihong, Tang Fei, Ma Boyong, Anna Wu, A Que, Bao Shu, Regina Kanyu Wang and Jiang Bo.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I’m always excited to see more Chinese literature make its way into Western canon and Sinopticon, a sci-fi short story collection from a whole host of Chinese authors curated by Xueting Christine Ni, makes an excellent addition. What I love about this collection that I’ve yet to encounter in single-author short story anthologies is the sheer breadth of story and topic. Chinese science fiction, or Kēhuàn, has tended to lean more into the hard science as this collection shows, but Ni has found some extremely interesting “softer” stories as well. Perhaps my favorite component of this collection is not actually the stories themselves (which are excellent) but the author bios Ni adds at the end of each short, briefly explaining the author’s background, their plethora of awards and recognitions, as well as the cultural ties of each story and why she picked that particular story in a collection representing Chinese science fiction to the West. For me, the absolute standout in this collection was ‘Flower of the Other Short’, by A Que: a surprisingly humorous post-apocalyptic zombie story about zombie sign language, deep philosophical discussions of art, and Brad Pitt. Other favorites included ‘Starship: Library’ by Jiang Bo, about an intergalactic librarian, her starfleet of books, and the nightmare of every zoning agent, and ‘Qiankun and Alex’ by Hao Jingfang, about an AI and a young boy who learn life lessons from each other. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5

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A Marvelous Light by Freya Marske

Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it–not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.

Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles–and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Soooo Cute! This book was So Damn Cute! I’ve had Sara from The Fantasy Inn shouting into my DMs about this one since December and I’m so happy to have finally gotten the chance to read it! Featuring both one of my favorite pairing tropes (grumpy and sunshine) and my favorite character tropes (anxious bookish nerd; must protect Edwin at all costs), I adored reading this one.

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Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone

There are monsters in the world.

When Violeta Graceling arrives at haunted Lakesedge estate, she expects to find a monster. She knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.

There are monsters in the woods.

As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn…

There’s a monster in the shadows, and now it knows my name.

Now, to save Rowan—and herself—Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

A quiet, gothic story with a cursed manor, a dark god, and a boy with a curse. With titles like Summer Sons and A Lesson in Vengeance, 2021 has been on a roll with it’s gothic stories. I picked up Lakesedge on a whim, going with with zero expectations and found myself enchanted by this quiet haunting tale

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Solo Leveling, Vol. 1 by Chu-Gong

The weakest of the weak, E-class hunter Jinwoo Sung has no money, no talent, and no prospects to speak of. And when he enters a hidden dungeon that fateful day, he ends up being left to die in the aftermath of a horrendous tragedy. At death’s door, Jinwoo is suddenly invited to be a “player” by a mysterious voice. Desperate to live, Jinwoo jumps at the chance…but what is this strange new leveling system that only he can see?

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

A quick disclaimer: While I haven’t read the Solo Leveling webnovel or manhwa, I’m a long time reader of fan-translated Asian LitRPG/Isekai/SFF webnovels. I’m familiar with the tropes and the general pitfalls of these kinds of webnovels a reader new to this genre may not have. This review will be written from that perspective. As an aside, as a long-time reader, reading an officially translated audiobook version was a very weird experience. Not bad, per se, but like the feeling of two very different, separate worlds intersecting in a way that makes you think, huh. that shouldn’t happen.

I’ve seen the cover of the Solo Leveling manhwa for years, though I’ve never picked it up. Seeing the audiobook up on NetGalley really was the final push to pique my curiosity and I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

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A Radical Act of Free Magic by HG Parry

The Concord has been broken, and a war of magic engulfs the world.

In France, the brilliant young battle-mage Napoleon Bonaparte has summoned a kraken from the depths, and under his command the Army of the Dead have all but conquered Europe. Britain fights back, protected by the gulf of the channel and powerful fire-magic, but Wilberforce’s own battle to bring about free magic and abolition has met a dead end in the face of an increasingly fearful and repressive government. In Saint Domingue, Fina watches as Toussaint Louverture navigates these opposing forces to liberate the country.

But there is another, even darker war being fought beneath the surface: the first vampire war in hundreds of years. The enemy blood magician who orchestrated Robespierre’s downfall is using the Revolutionary Wars to bring about a return to dark magic to claim all of Europe. Across the world, only a few know of his existence and the choices they make will shape the new age of magic.

*****

This review will contain spoilers for book 1, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Orbit. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Despite my complete lack of familiarity with French history, I thoroughly enjoyed book 1 and I was extremely excited to see where the author would take in book two. Napoleon appears! (I cry in excitement, knowing absolutely nothing about Napoleon). I can say I’m thoroughly satisfied with this second book of this duology and still sitting in awe by how complete Parry has construct this life-long story of Pitt and Wilberforce.

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And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

In a far future city, where you can fall to a government cull for a single mistake, And What Can We Offer You Tonight tells the story of Jewel, established courtesan in a luxurious House. Jewel’s world is shaken when her friend is murdered by a client, but somehow comes back to life. To get revenge, they will both have to confront the limits of loyalty, guilt, and justice.

****

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Neon Hemlock. All thoughts are my own

Review:

And What Can We Offer You Tonight is one of the most uniquely written novellas I’ve read this year, with it’s dreamlike, almost surreal stream-of-consciousness prose. In this novella, we follow experienced courtesan Jewel, who, upon discovering the murders of one of her friends, is finally forced to confront her dystopian city’s massive power imbalance. Jewel grapples with the decision of taking revenge for the death of a fellow courtesan and fight for better treatment of her entire house, and protecting herself and the life she’s managed to make from the retribution of her rebellions. Though I initially found the prose off-putting, I quickly found myself sucked into this novella, its unique writing style easily sucking me into this world, the characters fears and pains, their joys and triumphs. I rate this novella a 4/5.

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