4 star, YA

Review: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Series: Kingdom of the Wicked #1

Two sisters.

One brutal murder.

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance.

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe—witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin… desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked Princes of Hell that she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…

Equal parts tension-filled chemistry and terrifying mystery, Kingdom of the Wicked proves that Kerri Maniscalco is amazing at writing stories that have me on the edge of my seat! I loved her Stalking Jack the Ripper series and I knew whatever she wrote next would have big shoes to fill. But this has impressed me more than I had anticipated.

Set in a Sicilian landscape of an older time period, Emilia and her family run a restaurant together while secretly being witches among ordinary humans. She and her twin were always warned of dark magic and evil beings who’d try to lure their souls, but at some point, was there any grain of truth in these warnings or just childish stories meant to scare? Things change drastically when Vittoria, the wilder twin, is found dead by Emilia which sets her on this dangerous and reckless path of vengeance.

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4 star, YA

Review: Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox #3

Master storyteller Julie Kagawa concludes the enthralling journey into the heart of the fantastical Empire of Iwagoto in the third book of the Shadow of the Fox trilogy. As darkness rises and chaos reigns, a fierce kitsune and her shadowy protector will face down the greatest evil of all. A captivating fantasy for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Sarah J. Maas and Marie Lu.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has given up the final piece of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers in order to save everyone she loves from imminent death. Now she and her ragtag band of companions must journey to the wild sea cliffs of Iwagoto in a desperate last-chance effort to stop the Master of Demons from calling upon the Great Kami dragon and making the wish that will plunge the empire into destruction and darkness.

Shadow clan assassin Kage Tatsumi has regained control of his body and agreed to a true deal with the devil—the demon inside him, Hakaimono. They will share his body and work with Yumeko and their companions to stop a madman and separate Hakaimono from Tatsumi and the cursed sword that had trapped the demon for nearly a millennium.

But even with their combined skills and powers, this most unlikely team of heroes knows the forces of evil may be impossible to overcome. And there is another player in the battle for the scroll, a player who has been watching, waiting for the right moment to pull strings that no one even realized existed…until now.

The final conclusion to the Shadow of the Fox series, and boy was it a wild ride to its crazy finish. Andge and I both rate it about a 4 Drink Me Potions here. Full of rich Japanese lore (all the books had this), and the climactic finish to the whole journey, it certainly was a dramatic ending. This was the final culmination of all the characters we have met, and the final ending for all of them.

Night of the Dragon is the last book in the Shadow of the Fox trilogy. In this final part, Yumeko and her motley crew are on the last part of their journey to the summoning site. Of course, the evil Master of Demons, Genno, will already be waiting for them there, with blood magic fueling an entire army to prevent Yumeko from stopping him making his wish. Certain to sustain many losses in the journey, she nonetheless bravely ventures forth to prevent the world from falling into darkness under Genno’s rule.

This was quite a finish to this epic tale. I would say the biggest strength is the use of Japanese lore: the samurai and their code, the famous greater and lesser kami spirits, and even yokai (demons) from their lore as well all making an appearance. Creatures of all kinds felt like they were themselves being summoned from Japanese scrolls into this novel. I found that extremely enjoyable and it was awesome to have a closer look into these Japanese historical myths and stories. It goes beyond just the regular surface level concepts that everyone knows and the research really added an extra depth in the story to sink us in.

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3.5 star, YA

Review: Soul of the Sword by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox #2

One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.

Now he has broken free.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.

Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.

Part two of the trilogy of Yumeko’s adventure with the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers is yet another exciting journey to the undoubtedly epic showdown that will happen in the last book. Although perhaps that makes it fall a bit victim to middle book syndrome, which I’ll discuss below. Andge and I both agree that it is probably only about a 3.5 Drink Me Potions level; this book wouldn’t be very exciting at all as a standalone, in my opinion.

Soul of the Sword, follows young half-kitsune, Yumeko, as she and her motley crew try to make their way to Steel Feather temple to protect the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers from the evil clutches of anyone hoping to use their one wish to change the fate of the land. As the title might suggest, the story also revolves heavily around the struggle between Tatsumi the Kage shinobi and Hakaimono the demon general who’s soul is bound to Tatsumi’s sword. Now that Hakaimono is released from his sword prison (though still bound), what cunning plans does he have to maintain his former glory?

Although the story is slightly predictable in terms of where it was going to end and what was going to approximately transpire, I still found myself quite excited as I went along the journey from all the different POVs. There is still good suspense – the destination might be clear, but the journey still held a lot of surprises. The characters are wonderfully lovable and it is easy to get invested quickly. I feel like I raced through the chapters quite quickly and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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