A Secret History of Witches

A Secret History of Witches is a 2017 historical fantasy novel by Louisa Morgan. It was released in September 2017 by Orbit. The novel was nominated for the 2018 Endeavor Award. The novel can be purchased here by Bookshop.org

An ancient and dangerous power is being handed down from mother to daughter through some of the most consequential historic events of the last two centuries. After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew. From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.

This novel is told from the perspective of five women, each the daughter of the previous narrator. The five women in order are Nanette, Ursule, Irene, Morwen and Veronica. While each narrator had a different personality, I struggled to connect with most of them, with Veronica being the exception, though this is most likely because Veronica has the longest story of everyone. As a reader, I wasn’t able to get a feeling for any of the women’s personalities and that made me feel less connected with the story. Additionally, most of the women are unlikable in some way, and with the exception of Irene who is “supposed” to be unlikable, it clearly wasn’t an intentional decision by the author. They tend to all come across as self-centered and vain, uncaring of how their actions effect anyone around them.

The story itself felt very repetitive. Each section of the book follows a different witch in the family line, skipping ahead by about a decade in between narrators, however the story doesn’t change all that much when the time period changes. Each woman learns she is a witch and then spends years learning the craft while trying to hide their magic from outsiders. It all felt rather repetitive, and I had hoped this was leading towards something in Veronica’s story, the last in the novel, with the past experiences playing a big role in the conclusion, but that did not happen. The characters seemed to each run into the same obstacles and go on the same journey. Additionally, the story of each character seemed to end just as it was becoming interesting. Since this novel is about mothers and daughters, each part ends with the daughter becomes a mother or is about to. For example. Nanette’s part of the story, called the “Book of Nanette” ends not long after Ursule is born. Ursule’s portion ends shortly after Irene is born and so on. In some cases, this decision fit the story very well, but in others, it felt like a letdown, because some interesting events then happen “off-screen” which made me feel even less connected to the story. There was something that happened in the last section of the book, with a character based on a historical figure, that I had a lot of issues with because it really didn’t fit with the rest of the book. It’s inclusion in the plot felt pretty clunky and it was entirely too convenient the way that both the character and the connection to the plot were handled.

I enjoyed the magic system in this book. The magic often took a backseat to the relationships between the mothers and daughters, but I liked what I did see. The magic itself was very fluid and I enjoyed seeing how, even when the magic wasn’t a focus, it was clearly a major part of each characters’ lives. For parts of the book, the fact that these characters can do magic creates a tense undercurrent in every interaction that they have. The magic was also varied enough that when it was used and how it was used didn’t feel boring. It was written in a way that allowed for surprises to happen.

The writing in this novel is solid. On a technical level, Louisa Morgan’s writing is very good. The plot felt boring and the characters were hard to connect to, but Morgan’s ability to weave the story together impressed me. I’ve said I wasn’t a fan of the plot, but the writing decisions that were made feel intentional. The author did a lot of research about everyday life for women, in different social classes, from 1821 through the end of World War II. She put a great deal of thought into how public opinion in each era might shape each character. However, I wish the plot felt more connected to history itself. The blurb mentions “the most consequential historical events” in the last two centuries, however only the last section, Veronica’s story set during World War II, feels directly connected to any major historical event. It would have been interesting to see how each witch dealt with the trials and tribulations of her era, instead of each witch living in her era and the fact that she is a witch not really meaning much in how she lives her life.

A big problem I had with the novel was the underlying commentary about power and the actions of men against women with power. Each character is told that they must hide their magic because if men found out, they’d kill them. Generation after generation, the same ideas about why the witches have to stay hidden is exactly the same even as society changes. I doubt being burned at the stake was a genuine concern for women in the 1930s. Men, with maybe two exceptions, are shown to be either evil or idiotic. I don’t like this motif for a few reasons. First, this way of thinking gives the book the appearance of being about feminism and women’s empowerment, but it shortly becomes clear that it’s that “lazy” kind of feminism and empowerment that falls apart the more you reflect on it. None of the main characters feel empowered or do anything empowering for the most part. And painting men as “the bad guys” doesn’t make a story inherently feminist. My second issue is that this motif feels hypocritical pretty quickly. The witches fear men, but they are capable, and in some cases do, cause as much pain as men do. In the case of one character, this way of thinking kind of puts the book in the position where it all but states “this is only bad/abusive if a man does it” which just left a bad taste in my mouth.

A Secret History of Witches is a book that, on paper, checked a lot of my favorite boxes. It’s a saga, spanning several generations, about a family of witches and how their witchcraft impacts not only their lives, but also the lives of those around them, and possibly history as we know it. In practice, however, this book felt like a letdown from the characters to the plot to the troubling theme. I don’t regret reading the book, since I refuse to regret reading any book, but it wasn’t the book for me. This novel fits into a very specific niche, however, and I’m not sure what kind of reader I’d recommend this to.

Rating: 1.5 Stars

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November Releases I’m Excited About

It’s almost November, which is a month I’ve been looking forward to for a while. November means new book releases, which is always exciting. Some of these books have been on my radar for almost a year, while others I became aware of in the last few weeks. Without further ado, I’d like to talk about the November releases I’m excited about. I’ve listed the books in order by release date.

November 2

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You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith / Goodreads

No one ever said love would be easy…but did they mention it would be freezing?

Adam Stillwater is in over his head. At least, that’s what his best friend would say. And his mom. And the guy who runs the hardware store down the street. But this pinball arcade is the only piece of his dad that Adam has left, and he’s determined to protect it from Philadelphia’s newest tech mogul, who wants to turn it into another one of his cold, lifeless gaming cafés.

Whitney Mitchell doesn’t know how she got here. Her parents split up. She lost all her friends. Her boyfriend dumped her. And now she’s spending her senior year running social media for her dad’s chain of super successful gaming cafés—which mostly consists of trading insults with that decrepit old pinball arcade across town.

But when a huge snowstorm hits, Adam and Whitney suddenly find themselves trapped inside the arcade. Cut off from their families, their worlds, and their responsibilities, the tension between them seems to melt away, leaving something else in its place. But what happens when the storm stops?

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A Marvelous Light by Freya Marske / Goodreads

Red White & Royal Blue meets Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in debut author Freya Marske’s A Marvellous Light, featuring an Edwardian England full of magic, contracts, and conspiracies.

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.

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A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Rosanne A. Brown / Goodreads

Karina lost everything after a violent coup left her without her kingdom or her throne. Now the most wanted person in Sonande, her only hope of reclaiming what is rightfully hers lies in a divine power hidden in the long-lost city of her ancestors.

Meanwhile, the resurrection of Karina’s sister has spiraled the world into chaos, with disaster after disaster threatening the hard-won peace Malik has found as Farid’s apprentice. When they discover that Karina herself is the key to restoring balance, Malik must use his magic to lure her back to their side. But how do you regain the trust of someone you once tried to kill?

As the fabric holding Sonande together begins to tear, Malik and Karina once again find themselves torn between their duties and their desires. And when the fate of everything hangs on a single, horrifying choice, they each must decide what they value most—a power that could transform the world, or a love that could transform their lives.

November 9

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All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman / Goodreads

After the publication of a salacious tell-all book, the remote city of Ilvernath is thrust into worldwide spotlight. Tourists, protesters, and reporters flock to its spellshops and ruins to witness an ancient curse unfold: every generation, seven families name a champion among them to compete in a tournament to the death. The winner awards their family exclusive control over the city’s high magick supply, the most powerful resource in the world.

In the past, the villainous Lowes have won nearly every tournament, and their champion is prepared to continue his family’s reign. But this year, thanks to the influence of their newfound notoriety, each of the champions has a means to win. Or better yet–a chance to rewrite their story.

But this is a story that must be penned in blood.

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Doctors and Friends by Kimmery Martin / Goodreads

Hannah, Compton, and Kira have been close friends since medical school, reuniting once a year for a much-needed vacation. Just as they gather to travel in Spain, an outbreak of a fast-spreading virus throws the world into chaos.

When Compton Winfield returns to her job as an ER doctor in New York City, she finds a city changed beyond recognition—and a personal loss so gutting it reshapes every aspect of her life.

Hannah Geier’s career as an ob-gyn in San Diego is fulfilling but she’s always longed for a child of her own. After years of trying, Hannah discovers she’s expecting a baby just as the disease engulfs her city.

Kira Marchand, an infectious disease doctor at the CDC in Atlanta, finds herself at the center of the American response to the terrifying new illness. Her professional battle turns personal when she must decide whether her children will receive an experimental but potentially life-saving treatment.

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Noor by Nnedi Okorafor / Goodreads

Anwuli Okwudili prefers to be called AO. To her, these initials have always stood for Artificial Organism. AO has never really felt…natural, and that’s putting it lightly. Her parents spent most of the days before she was born praying for her peaceful passing because even in-utero she was wrong. But she lived. Then came the car accident years later that disabled her even further. Yet instead of viewing her strange body the way the world views it, as freakish, unnatural, even the work of the devil, AO embraces all that she is: A woman with a ton of major and necessary body augmentations. And then one day she goes to her local market and everything goes wrong.

Once on the run, she meets a Fulani herdsman named DNA and the race against time across the deserts of Northern Nigeria begins. In a world where all things are streamed, everyone is watching the reckoning of the murderess and the terrorist and the saga of the wicked woman and mad man unfold. This fast-paced, relentless journey of tribe, destiny, body, and the wonderland of technology revels in the fact that the future sometimes isn’t so predictable. Expect the unaccepted.

November 16

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Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong / Goodreads

The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.

After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on the warpath. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.

Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.

Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.

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The Teller of Secrets by Bisi Adjapon / Goodreads

Young Esi Agyekum is the unofficial “secret keeper” of her family, as tight-lipped about her father’s adultery as she is about her half-sisters’ sex lives. But after she is humiliated and punished for her own sexual exploration, Esi begins to question why women’s secrets and men’s secrets bear different consequences. It is the beginning of a journey of discovery that will lead her to unexpected places.

As she navigates her burgeoning womanhood, Esi tries to reconcile her own ideals and dreams with her family’s complicated past and troubled present, as well as society’s many double standards that limit her and other women. Against a fraught political climate, Esi fights to carve out her own identity, and learns to manifest her power in surprising and inspiring ways. 

Funny, fresh, and fiercely original, The Teller of Secrets marks the American debut of one of West Africa’s most exciting literary talents. 

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Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky / Goodreads

Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way.

But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) and although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it).

But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, for his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon…

November 23

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Forging A Nightmare by Patricia A. Jackson / Goodreads

Unknown to Humanity, the descendants of Fallen Angels live among us. After millennia of living in anonymity, a serial killer has discovered their secret and has marked them for death. FBI Agent Michael Childs is brought in to investigate a series of grisly murders in New York City. The only link between the victims is they were all born with twelve fingers and twelve toes, known in occult circles as the Nephilim, a forsaken people.

A break in the case leads to Marine Corps sniper Anaba Raines who is listed as killed in action in Syria. Michael finds the hardened soldier alive and well, but no longer Human. After getting too close to the truth, Michael refuses to be an unwitting pawn in a 3000-year old vendetta. With the killers closing in, he is forced to confront his own unique heritage or die. Only Anaba can save his life, but at a terrible cost – her freedom.

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The Unwelcome Guest by Amanda Robson / Goodreads

SHE HAD THE PERFECT MARRIAGE. UNTIL HER MOTHER-IN-LAW MOVED IN…

Saffron vowed to love Miles no matter what life threw at them both. But when her mother-in-law moves into their happy family home, Saffron’s shiny life begins to tarnish.

Even as Caprice’s barbed comments turn to something more sinister, Saffron hopes the new nanny’s arrival will shield her from the worst of it. She’s starting to feel paranoid in her own home.

Little does she realise that Caprice longs for a new daughter-in-law – and she’ll do anything to make that happen…

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Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson / Goodreads

Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home.

Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy.

The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return.

To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.

Are you excited for any of these books as well? What’s your most anticipated release of November?

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The Year of the Witching

The Year of the Witching is a 2020 historical fantasy novel by Alexis Henderson. It is the first novel in the Bethel series and was the author’s debut work. The book received great reviews upon release and was nominated for the 2020 Goodreads Choice Award in both the Horror and Debut Novel categories, as well as the BookNest and Ladies of Horror Fiction Awards. The novel can be purchased here from Bookshop.org

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement. But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood. Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

There aren’t a lot of books that I ascribe a certain season to, but The Year of the Witching is what I would unequivocally what I consider a “autumn book”. The story has some intense fall, and specifically Halloween vibes. The creepy woods, the dark magic of witchcraft and the Puritan-esque attitude of Bethel all combine to create a creepy, tense atmosphere. There is a darkness to the story as well as an ominous tone that really drives the story forward and makes the story feel unique to me.

The novel is set in a highly religious, strictly controlled village with pretty much no communication to the outside world. The town is led by the Prophet and his small clique of loyalists and what they say becomes law. It’s known that the Darkwood around the village is evil and demonic witches once resided there, which the village lives in fear of. Women also fear being accused witchcraft, or any other crime, and suffering the ultimate penalty for it. From a world-building perspective, having the town be so isolated and strict was the perfect choice. It explained a lot of trivial details I might have otherwise had, and made certain elements of the plot feel that much more dire as the story progressed. A great deal of the plot is driven by Immanuelle doing something because she has no other option, or sees no other solution, rather than obstacles constantly being put in her way.

The characters within the novel, with one notable exception, had a degree of nuance that I wasn’t expecting. Immanuelle is a character constantly being torn in two by what her society says she should be and the tasks she needs to do. She struggles throughout the story with the conflict between the two parts of herself. Additionally, she’s ostracized due to acts her mother committed before her birth, which the town then pushes onto her. Yet, she still wants to do the right thing and save the town from the threat, even though doing so might seal her fate. Immanuelle isn’t the only character with so much nuance, but she’s the character where it’s the most obvious. Because the village of Bethel is so isolated, nearly every character is bound by the constraints of the position he or she was born into. There is very little opportunity for someone to improve their standing, and it’s not as if characters who feel like they are outsiders can simply move away. In that context, the nuance of the other characters really starts to become obvious. A great example of this is Martha, Immanuelle’s grandmother. At the beginning of the book, Martha comes across as an unlikable character because she’s deeply religious, harsh and often is in conflict with Immanuelle. However, as the story reaches its climax, it becomes very clear that all of Martha’s actions are in an attempt to keep Immanuelle, and the family as a whole, safe in the very strict society that they live in. This is a book where every character, except one, is doing whatever they must to survive. The one exception is the Prophet, since he is the antagonist and, as the person oppressing everyone in Bethel, is depicted as a man who doesn’t care about anyone else other than himself.

I enjoyed the plot of this book. The way the story progresses was handled really well, as things in Bethel become more and more dire and Immanuelle becomes more and more determined to fix the problem. I also enjoyed the way the different elements of foreshadowing came together to give the climax an unexpected outcome. The aftermath was also refreshing. Tied in with the plot is the magic system. The plot is partially driven by the consequences of magic and the lack of understanding in how darkness is harming Bethel. The magic in this story is very soft. The idea of witches is introduced very early in the story, however not much is told to the reader about magic or witchcraft. Partially, this is the result of Immanuelle’s upbringing, where she’s been taught witches and witchcraft are evil. Another reason is that this mystery sets the right kind of tone, as a well-explained magic system wouldn’t fit the overall atmosphere of the story.

I enjoyed the writing in the novel overall, although it wasn’t perfect. There were some parts of the story that I found to be weaker than others. While the descriptions for the most part were very detailed and helped me envision the world, there were some points where I felt the prose was a little too over the top. There were also some plot developments I found to be a little too convenient. Overall, however, I did really enjoy the writing and I’m eager to see where Alexis Henderson’s career goes from here.

The Year of the Witching is a fantastic, well-written historical novel. Alexis Henderson creates a very dark and ominous setting for the story and takes the reader on an intense journey, without making the stakes feel overblown. The characters were complex and the twists and turns taken by the plot kept me on the edge of my seat. All in all, this novel was a fantastic fall read and I would recommend to anyone looking for a book with strong Halloween, witchy tones.

Rating: 4 Stars

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Revisiting My First Fantasy Review

I didn’t realize it back in July, but this blog turned 2 years old on July 22. Now, back in July of 2019, I was a much different reviewer than I am now. For one thing, I hadn’t found my niche of fantasy and science fiction yet. For another, I was trying very hard to emulate what other bloggers were posting and didn’t know my own style yet.

In reflection, I’ve decided to revisit one of the first reviews I ever did. The Scarred God by Neil Beynon wasn’t the first review I ever did, but it was my first review of a fantasy book. At the time, if I wanted to read fantasy, I would re-read something I was familiar with. After reading this book, I decided that, maybe, I should read more fantasy and try new authors. It’s also the only book from that time that I still own. This is not going to be a straight-forward review, more of a revision of my original post and discussing things I missed the first time around, when I was new to reviewing.

Blurb:

To save her people, she must stop a ritual massacre. But how do you kill a god? Anya longs to follow in the fabled footsteps of her warrior grandmother. But when the forces of the corrupt Scarred God raid her village, she fears she doesn’t have the stomach to wield the cold steel. Captured, her only path of escape is to commit an unthinkable act of bloodshed. Guilt-ridden over her first kill, Anya vows to rescue those still held for sacrificial slaughter. But before she can set the captives free, she must survive a bewitched forest by tying her fate to its shadowy guardian. To defeat the Scarred God, the unlikely pair seek a rival deity whose twisted motives could lead to the realm’s liberation… or its doom. Can Anya unleash her inner hero before the vengeful gods destroy the world she loves?

My Thoughts That Did Not Change:

I noted in my initial review that I enjoyed that the author used various gods from different pantheons in the novel. Pan from Greek mythology made an appearance, as did other Greek gods and Celtic and Roman deities. I’m still a fan of this decision by the author, though for a different reason. During my first read, I just thought it was “cool” that there were several pantheons on display. Upon re-read, it’s a decision that makes sense given that so much of the story revolves around belief and the power belief has within the world.

A big criticism I had in my initial review was the lack of world-building. At the time, I was expecting the author to be a little more overt in the world-building and give a more thorough explanation of what certain terms, names and places meant. I still feel like the novel lacks good world-building, but not because I’m expecting everything to be explained to me. A lot of information can be gleaned simply by the context that a term is used in. The issue I had upon re-read is that the world-building is very shallow. There feels like there isn’t much depth to the world and some of the key components needed for good world-building are missing. There is still somewhat of a context issue for certain things, where the author states the same name or phrase repeatedly, but never gives the reader more information about what the term means or the implications.

There are parts of this novel that I initially found confusing that are still confusing to get through. Anya spends sections of the book reliving someone’s memories and those are confusing, and they’re meant to be. Those passages are not the ones I take issue with. The ones I had issues with relate to a reveal that happens around 75% of the way through the book and the conclusion. These passages are clearly significant, however they don’t feel cohesive or connected to one another. Because of the way the story is written, the reveal feels unearned and how that reveal ties into another plot point to reach the conclusion feels clunky and disjointed.

The ending of the book still feels like something is missing, though I can better explain my reasons behind this feeling now. The author introduced a lot of things that are never explored. These are not things that are left ambiguous, but ideas that are mentioned but never go anywhere. Anya’s mother is mentioned repeatedly, and her absence implies she has some kind of significance, but that plot thread isn’t followed. The king of the Kurah, one of the main antagonists, has some kind of plan to betray the Scarred God, but the reader is told almost nothing about it and by the end of the novel, it feels like a waste of words because that thread doesn’t go anywhere. The last chapter of the book implies some bigger plot taking place, but there’s been no prior mention or implication of something bigger happening.

My Thoughts That Have Changed:

In my initial review, I noted that I was impressed that the book avoided certain tropes, Upon re-read, it was more trope-heavy than I thought. I confused the lack of a “Chosen One” with the lack of other fantasy tropes, because it had been a while since I’d read modern fantasy. The tropes have more to do with specific characters than the overall plot, so I missed them the first time around.

I remember liking Anya a lot during my first reading, but I was less favorable to her this time around. I still liked her character and the struggle she went through, but she didn’t feel as unique or dynamic as she did during my first reading. I don’t think she’s a badly written character, just not a very unique one.

While I remembered reading this book, enough time had passed, and I read so many books in the interim, that I didn’t completely remember the plot. With the exception of the beginning and the reveal at the 75% mark, I actually remembered very little of the events that take place before picking up this book again. For me, this was a good thing, because it meant I didn’t remember most of the twists and turns the story took or what happened during the climax. Based on my first review, I found quite a few turns in the story surprising, which I didn’t find surprising this time. The author was almost too obvious in his foreshadowing of certain things. Certain parts that I originally saw as “detours” were very clearly included to get the characters from Point A to Point B or to take the plot from Plot-Point C to Plot-Point D. I wish this had been done in a more interesting way or that it was more cohesive when it really mattered.

In summary, The Scarred God was a book that I originally thought was rather good, but now I’d say it’s rather average. It’s still a fun read and the author had some interesting ideas, but the execution wasn’t great. The story was a bit trope-heavy, the characters were average and the plot itself didn’t feel strong or entirely cohesive.

Conclusion:

Two years have passed between my first reading of The Scarred God and my second reading. In that time, I’ve read a lot more fantasy, and a wider variety of fantasy works. I’ve become more aware of tropes and patterns within the genre during that time. Some things I found unique or refreshing in my first read have turned out to be pretty basic or standard after all. Additionally, my tastes and opinions have changed in two years. I didn’t know what I liked in fantasy then nearly as much as I do now. I was also less skilled back then when it came to explaining exactly how I felt about something I liked or didn’t like in a book.

The Scarred God is the book that got me back into reading fantasy, and reading new (to me) fantasy works, so it will always have a weird significance to me and this blog. I’ll admit, I was concerned that I’d completely hate the book upon reread, but I don’t. I still kind of like the book. It’s entertaining, but average.

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Wicked As You Wish

Wicked As You Wish is a 2020 urban fantasy novel by Rin Chupeco. It was published by Sourcebooks Fire and was released in March 2020. The novel is the first entry in the A Hundred Names for Magic series. The novel can be purchased here from Bookshop.org. I was provided with a review copy, courtesy of Netgalley

When a hidden prince, a girl with secrets, a ragtag group of unlikely heroes, and a legendary firebird come together…something wicked is going down. Many years ago, the magical Kingdom of Avalon was left encased in ice when the Snow Queen waged war. Its former citizens are now refugees in a world mostly devoid of magic. Which is why the crown prince and his protectors are stuck in…Arizona. Prince Alexei, the sole survivor of the Avalon royal family, is hiding in a town so boring, magic doesn’t even work there. Few know his secret identity, but his friend Tala is one of them. A new hope for their abandoned homeland reignites when a famous creature of legend, the Firebird, appears for the first time in decades. Alex and Tala must unite with a ragtag group of new friends to journey back to Avalon for a showdown that will change the world as they know it.

The characters in this book are one of its biggest weak points. Characters like Alex, Tala and her parents are given quite a lot of development and complexity. I enjoyed both Tala and Alex as characters. The issue is that not every character got that same amount of development or even any depth to them. This novel has a pretty big cast of characters, but most of them feel underdeveloped and one-dimensional. I will give credit where credit is due, the cast of this book is incredibly not just in terms of ethnicity but also in terms of sexuality and gender expression. However, I struggled to keep track of which character was which and it felt like, for some at least, I wasn’t remembering the character for who they were or their backstory, but rather for being the gay character or the non-binary character and so on. Since I only really connected with a few characters, it was difficult to feel invested in the story as a whole.

The writing in this novel is very good. The author showed an incredible amount of skill in putting the pieces of the story together and writing an engaging plot. The tone of the novel struck a good balance between being completely serious and having a good sense of humor. I found the chapter titles, for example the first chapter is titled “In Which A Kiss Does The Exact Opposite” to be a good example of that balance being on display. The chapter titles were both compelling and they foreshadowed events without revealing too much. The plot twists in this book were kind of hit or miss. Some twists I found to be unsurprising, while others showed a great deal of forethought and creativity to execute. The ending of this book is fantastic, even if getting there isn’t easy. The reader was also treated to some great, descriptive imagery.

The world-building in the novel is another weak point. The world this novel takes place in is much like our own, but it has a fantasy twist. Wonderland, Avalon and Neverland exist, as does the Royal States of America. I was on-board with the idea, as well as the idea that every fairytale we’ve heard is true, but the execution didn’t quite work. My first criticism is that it didn’t feel like enough thought was put into how “our world” would be different if magic was real. The United States became the Royal States and there are references to major historical events being altered as a result of magic, but not much else. As a result, the inclusion of magic felt like an afterthought at times. There was also an issue of info-dumping. Important information and details that matter to the plot are just revealed through Tala asking a question, and some other character giving a long speech to answer her. That style of revealing details works fine if it happened rarely or was used to just to tell the reader that certain characters exist in this world, like Briar Rose, but not for important and significant things. There was also a lot of information being introduced to the reader very quickly, so it was even harder to get into the world and understand the setting that way.

I’m a fan of most fairytales and “classic” stories, so I enjoyed the magic system. It was nice to see elements from fairytales and mythology and legends all combine within this story. I enjoyed reading about each ability and how they were all able to coexist in the same world. Additionally, there are magic weapons and creatures within the novel and it was nice to see how those fit into the overall story. However, like with the world-building, there is a lot too the magic system, perhaps too much for the author to be able to explain or display in one novel, even if it is the first in a series.

Wicked As You Wish is a novel that I’m not sure how to feel about. I loved the idea and the writing itself was very good. However, it felt to me like the author was trying to introduce too many things, too quickly from the characters to the world and the story suffered from trying to do too much at once. Rin Chupeco put a great deal of work into creating this story and has a clear vision for the kind of story this series is going to tell. There’s an astounding amount of creativity on display in this novel. But the novel didn’t quite work for me. In short, this is a book that I’m not sure what to do with. Some readers will love this, and I might pick up the sequel out of curiosity, but I can’t give a judgement as to whether everyone should read it or not.

Rating: 2 Stars

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Kindle Unlimited Book Tag

I was scrolling through Pinterest the other day, and I discovered a tag called the Kindle Unlimited tag. (I know Kindle, and Amazon in general, is a point of contention among some readers, but it is one of the most affordable ways to read, since KU can be used with the free Kindle app, though I always recommend taking advantage of your local library.) As someone who uses that service, and gets quite a lot out of it, I naturally had to give the tag a try. So, today, I’m going to be completing the tag. It isn’t a very long tag, but as always, I type too much.

This tag was created by HEA Novel Thoughts and her original post is right here.

Why do you love Kindle Unlimited?

The service has allowed me to read and discover so many authors and books that I might’ve never heard of/known about otherwise. It’s also introduced me to a number of indie and self-published authors.

What author(s) have you discovered because of KU?

I’ve discovered a lot of authors as a result of KU. The ones that immediately come to mind are Charlie N. Holmberg, Stacey Rourke, Stacey Reid, Sarah Henning and Minka Kent. It’s also given me a chance to read other books by authors I already loved, like Brandon Sanderson and Dean Koontz

What’s your favorite KU series?

Charlie N. Holmberg’s Numina Trilogy is my favorite as of right now. I think I read all three books in less than a week because I was obsessed with the story/world.

What author have you binged because they were in KU?

Charlie N. Holmberg would be my go-to for this question as well, but lately, I’ve also been binging a lot of books by Blake Crouch that became available on Kindle Unlimited.

What’s the last KU book you read?

Bacchanal by Veronica Henry, which I reviewed on Monday. Before that, my last read was Dinosaur Red by Edward J. McFadden III

What’s the most romantic book you’ve read in KU?

I don’t read a lot of romance, to be honest. And the romance that I do read falls more into the “rom-com” category than anything hot and steamy. That being said, The Accidental Text by Becky Monson.

Tag a KU reader to do this tag.

I don’t really know who else uses Kindle Unlimited, so I’m going to leave this open for anyone who wants to do the tag.

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Payback’s A Witch

Payback’s a Witch is a 2021 paranormal novel by Lana Harper. The novel is scheduled for release on October 5, 2021 and is being published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin. It is the first entry in the new series The Witches of Thistle Grove. I was provided with an advanced copy for review purposes, courtesy of Netgalley. The novel can be pre-ordered here from Bookshop.org

Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams. But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago. On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in? But most concerning of all: Why can’t she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?

The plot of this book is very straight-forward. The story centers around the competition between the witch families and Emmy, Linden and Talia’s plot to get payback against the man who’s burned all of them. While there are plot twists, I liked the fact that those plot twists didn’t change the narrative from the cozy, relaxed atmosphere the author had created from the beginning of the book. The story didn’t change from a tale of somewhat serious, somewhat petty revenge to something a lot more drastic which was perfect. This allowed the story to keep feeling fun to read and didn’t make me feel bad for hoping Gareth gets served some humble pie. In terms of the plot twists, I felt like they were executed very well and had a good amount of foreshadowing without the author revealing her hand too soon.

The magic system in this book is pretty basic, and by basic, I just mean that it’s simple and easy to understand. There are four witch families, and while there are some spells that all the families can do, certain families have a greater affinity for certain spells. It gave enough variety to the characters in terms of power levels without making the magic system too confusing to remember or follow. I thought it was an interesting addition that, in universe, anyone who marries a witch becomes a witch themselves. It was a nice detail that I hadn’t seen before.

The world-building around the town was fine, but not great in my opinion. The story gives some detail about the town founders, the four witch families, but not much beyond that. I felt like I didn’t really have a sense of what the town looked like or how things in the town were effected by magic. There is a spell that prevents outsiders from noticing the magic being performed, but there wasn’t much of an explanation about why the magic needed to be hidden. As a whole, the author doesn’t go into very much detail about the town or its history beyond the founders, though perhaps that is being saved for future novels in the series.

The writing was pretty good overall. The author did an excellent job making the scenes with the three challenges for the tournament feel tense and exciting. She also did a very good job of relaying all of the backstory information the reader needed to know very quickly within the story, without making it feel like heavy exposition. The writing flowed very easily, and while the world-building itself is a little weak, it’s told in an interesting way. At the same time, some parts of the story were overly descriptive, which took me out of the story. In describing the town and its spooky atmosphere in detail, I felt like I wasn’t able to connect as well with the characters beyond a surface level and some small depth into Emmy and Talia. The overly descriptive nature also made the pacing of the book feel off. The first challenge happens and then there is a lull in the story until the second challenge, followed by another, shorter lull and then the last challenge. My issue with the lulls was that it felt in parts like the tournament wasn’t that important to the story, even though it’s the major thing driving the plot. The excitement and momentum wore off between challenges. The pacing felt off, but it could also be a side effect of the author trying to introduce the world and tell the story in fewer pages than she really needed.

The lulls between challenges is used to expand on the world, but it mainly serves the purpose of giving the reader the slow-burn romance between Emmy and Talia. The romance in this book was one that I liked, and I normally am not a fan of romances in my urban fantasy. Emmy and Talia had a lot of chemistry and they fit together really well as characters. I liked seeing the two of them together and growing closer. While the romance feels significant to Emmy, it didn’t hit me very hard. Then again, this is probably the result of the author trying to balance the romance with the plot and an introduction to the world. The romance was significant to the plot, and especially the climax of the story. As an aside, it’s clear from the blurb that this is an LGBT romance, but I appreciated that the author didn’t make it feel like a “big deal” in the story. None of the characters saw the developing relationship as odd and I liked that because it normalizes LGBT relationships in books that don’t center around LGBT relationships.

Payback’s A Witch was a pleasant surprise to read. I enjoyed the plot and the cozy setting, as well as the fun magic system. Harper created a very atmospheric setting and told a compelling story with a great slow-burn romance. At the same time, the world-building wasn’t incredibly deep and the writing struggled in a few areas. The novel was a great introduction to the town of Thistle Grove, but I feel like the author was trying to do too many things with too few pages which caused some things to not quite work. It’s a good first look at the world, and I’m interested to see where Lana Harper decides to take the story in future books. I enjoyed the story overall and would recommend it to paranormal fans, especially with Halloween right around the corner.

Rating: 3.7 Stars

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September Wrap-Up

September is just about over and it was my best month when it came to the number of pages that I read. I finished my re-read of The Lord of the Rings this month, and my first read of First Law. I also expanded my horizons a little bit in September, picking up two historical fiction novels and a horror novel, neither of which I typically read. In addition to all of that, I enjoyed most of the books that I read this month and only DNF’d one book. Without further ado, let’s go over the books that I read.

Please note, any book with an asterisk next to it’s name contains an affiliate link. If you click the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

Books I Read and Reviewed

Iron Widow* by Xiran Jay Zhao- 5 Stars

Gathering of the Four by A.E. Bennett-4.5 Stars

Breakthrough by Michael C. Grumley-1.6 Stars

Bacchanal* by Veronica G. Henry-3.1 Stars

Books I Read, Only Reviewed on Goodreads

Last Argument of Kings* by Joe Abercrombie-4.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

The City Beautiful* by Aden Polydoros-3.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Love Hypothesis* by Ali Hazelwood-4.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Coming of the Old Ones* by Jeffrey Thomas- 3 Stars (Goodreads review)

A Long Petal of the Sea* by Isabel Allende- 4.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Whereabouts* by Jhumpa Lahiri-3 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina*- 5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Out of Luck and Under Lockdown 2 by James Wondrasek- 3 Stars (Goodreads review)

Binti* by Nnedi Okorafor-4.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Return of the King* by J.R.R. Tolkien-4.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Genres Read

Fantasy: 5

Science Fiction: 3

Literary Fiction: 1

Historical Fiction: 2

Romance: 1

Horror: 1

Humor: 1

Figures
Number of DNFs: 1

Total Books Read: 14

Pages Read: 4,666 (Please note: for audiobooks, I used the page count for the eBook version of the book)

Average Rating: 3.84 Stars

What did you read in September? Any recommendations? Did you read any of these books?

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Bacchanal

Bacchanal is a 2021 historical fantasy novel by Veronica Henry. It is the author’s debut novel and was released in June of 2021. The novel was published by 47North. It can be purchased here from Bookshop.org

Evil lives in a traveling carnival roaming the Depression-era South. But the carnival’s newest act, a peculiar young woman with latent magical powers, may hold the key to defeating it. Her time has come. Abandoned by her family, alone on the wrong side of the color line with little to call her own, Eliza Meeks is coming to terms with what she does have. It’s a gift for communicating with animals. To some, she’s a magical tender. To others, a she-devil. To a talent prospector, she’s a crowd-drawing oddity. And the Bacchanal Carnival is Eliza’s ticket out of the swamp trap of Baton Rouge. Among fortune-tellers, carnies, barkers, and folks even stranger than herself, Eliza finds a new home. But the Bacchanal is no ordinary carnival. An ancient demon has a home there too. She hides behind an iridescent disguise. She feeds on innocent souls. And she’s met her match in Eliza, who’s only beginning to understand the purpose of her own burgeoning powers. Only then can Eliza save her friends, find her family, and fight the sway of a primordial demon preying upon the human world. Rolling across a consuming dust bowl landscape, Eliza may have found her destiny.

A quick note before I start this review. This book is set in the American South in the 1930s. Most of the characters in this book are black, and the author doesn’t shy away from that fact when telling the story. There are instances of racism and the use of racist slurs in the story. There are also mentions and depictions of child death and self-harm.

I’ll admit that I’m somewhat torn when it comes to this book. There were certain things the author did very, very well, and others that fell flat for me. One area where I felt like the writing fell flat was when it came to the characters. I didn’t find myself connecting with Eliza, even though she is the main character. I didn’t dislike her either, though. Despite being the main character, she felt like neither the most complex nor the most compelling character. Side characters had much more interesting personalities and backgrounds. The antagonist felt a lot more intriguing than the protagonist in this case. There were good character moments with Eliza, but on the whole, I felt very ambivalent about her character. She felt surprisingly underdeveloped compared to others in the story.

The author really excelled when it came to creating a compelling mystery and an atmospheric story. There is a mystery and a darkness that surrounds the Bacchanal carnival and the author did a fantastic job of making the darkness really come to life and come off the page without overdoing it. The insidiousness of what’s happening behind the scenes is clear from the first time the carnival is shown, but the truth and the depth of the horrors are hidden initially and slowly unraveled to the reader, in a way that kept me turning the page. The descriptions of the setting are lush and detailed. Henry made the story really come to life without resorting to being overly descriptive or relying on “purple” prose. Every detail feels important and lifelike, but they don’t feel overdone.

What really kept me interested in the story, aside from the mystery, was the magic. The story has a soft magic system, as there are several different kinds of magic and paranormal abilities on display. The absence of hard rules on what could or couldn’t be done allowed a lot of room for Eliza to grow and for new elements of the plot to be introduced. While the magic system is rooted in African folklore and culture, I was excited to see that it wasn’t just based off of one country’s folklore. There was a mix of folklore and cultural elements from a variety of African cultures, including Nigeria, Senegal and Zaire, the modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo. Not only was it nice to see other cultures represented, but some of the standard paranormal creatures, like demons and shape-shifters, were explored in this story in a way I hadn’t seen before as a result. There are plenty of fresh ideas about these beings, waiting to be explored.

The pacing of this book isn’t great. It has slow-burning plot, which worked to build up the creepiness of the carnival, but felt unneeded once the supernatural things started to happen and the reader was aware of the carnival being “darker than it seems”. The book cuts away from the main plot at times to shift to another character’s point-of-view, which sometimes furthers the story, but in other cases just kind of pads the story. It really slows things down and makes the book feel like it doesn’t have a plot for pages at a time. I think a lot of this was done to try and build the romantic subplot, which I didn’t care for. There were several points in the story where I felt like a big shift was coming, or a confrontation between Eliza and the antagonist, but it doesn’t come until the very end of the book, in the last few chapters. This made the confrontation and the climax of the story feel rushed. The climax is dramatic but it felt unsatisfying after having to wait for so long. There was a lot of potential in the story, but I suppose the conflict between Eliza and the antagonist wasn’t the story the author was as interested in telling as I expected.

Bacchanal is a book that I feel pretty “middle of the road” about. As I said earlier, some things were done really well, while other aspects fell flat. There was a wide cast of characters, but I struggled to feel connected to the main character. The book is very atmospheric and really encapsulated the creepy carnival vibe it was going for. The magic and paranormal elements were an unexpected, and exciting highlight. The plot, however, felt disjointed and the pacing wasn’t great. I suppose some of this is due to my own expectations going into the novel. I was expecting a different story, a different main conflict, than the one the author wanted to tell. I think it’s a good book, but not a memorable one. I can easily see some readers really loving this book, while others might feel let down by it.

Rating: 3.1 Stars

Check out the podcast episode where I discuss Bacchanal

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Quarterly DNFs

The third quarter of 2021 is now (nearly) over, if you can believe it. I decided that, this year, rather than make one long post in December about all of my DNFs, aka books I didn’t finish, I’m going to talk about my DNFs quarterly. Not only does this make the end of the year slightly less negative, but the books are also fresher in my mind and I remember why I put a book down.

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Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

DNF Point: 50%

This novel had a very exciting premise. It also had a fantastic beginning and the mystery surrounding Wendy and the town was interesting. The issue was that the story lost steam after the first 1/3 or so and I found myself struggling through the book and it felt like a chore to pick it up to read. I think, with better pacing, I could’ve loved this book, but I wasn’t going to suffer through a slow middle to find out.

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Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

DNF Point: Somewhere between 30%-45%

I DNF’d this book for two reasons. The first was that the beginning moved very slowly and I had no idea what was happening or what this book was supposed to be about. On top of that, there were several triggering things that happened or were alluded to, including domestic violence and assaults. While not triggering for me, the inclusion of those things and the way they were handled made my reading experience feel bleak. And I don’t like reading books that make me feel depressed.

Those are the books I DNF’d between July and September of this year. The fact is, not every book is written for every kind of reader. These books just weren’t the right fit for me. I hope you’ll still give these books a try, if they appeal to you.

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