3.5 star, adult

Review: A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

Series: Elements of Cadence #1

House of Earth and Blood meets The Witch’s Heart in Rebecca Ross’s brilliant first adult fantasy, set on the magical isle of Cadence where two childhood enemies must team up to discover why girls are going missing from their clan.

Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.

As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.

With unforgettable characters, a fast-paced plot, and compelling world building, A River Enchanted is a stirring story of duty, love, and the power of true partnership, and marks Rebecca Ross’s brilliant entry on the adult fantasy stage.

If I could use one word to describe A River Enchanted, it would be this: folklore. Cue the Taylor Swift music, please.

Although the synopsis makes it sound like there are only 2 protagonists, in reality, we follow 4 individuals pretty equally. This is Rebecca Ross’ foray into adult literature and I wasn’t sure at first what to expect from that. I love her YA fantasies so I hoped it would still be in the same vein but perhaps with different themes.

And boy, it was an interesting read indeed. I will quickly break down a couple of my thoughts that overall led to my rating.

Writing style

Fortunately for me, the writing was just the way I remember it being in Rebecca’s YA novels, so if you fell in love with her writing in her past titles, this one’s still got it and more.

The prose was so descriptive and lush that it really brought forth this magical isle full of different spirits and the people who inhabit it. You can also tell that the author did her research because the language she uses, especially certain vocabulary, is definitely not what we would regularly in modern times. It fit the feel of the world, something separate from what we know here and now, and reminiscent of the Scottish wilds.

In this way, I was really drawn into the story and the characters, which is what I will talk about next.

MCs and their unique characterizations

From the 2 MCs I thought we would follow, it became 4, and I loved it even more that way. Jack and Adaira were childhood rivals and that tension was still somewhat there upon Jack’s return to the isle after a decade away on the mainland. These two are in their early twenties but I can see the influence of the YA tropes in their story. They felt younger and worried more about their relationship and their future in the clan.

On the other hand, Torin and Sidra (in their later twenties or early thirties I believe) really made the story fit into the adult genre more. I actually loved their romance more than Jack and Adaira’s. They wed it seemed out of convenience when Torin’s first wife died, but it didn’t necessarily mean there was love between them. Their worries focused on Torin’s young daughter with his first wife, a particularly important worry as the isle has been losing their young girls recently, a point I’ll get back to later.

While I’m normally a HUGE lover of all the teen tropes and coming of age stories, I rather enjoyed the other themes drawn into the book because we have a range of protagonists. Each voice was unique as each individual struggled with different things. Jack never belonged on the isle, even more so after his absence for so long, and he fought his insecurities all the time. Adaira had the weight of the clan on her shoulders as the heiress, and fought to do what was right by them at even her own personal cost.

Torin struggled to keep his family a priority while also sacrificing so much of himself to keep the entire clan safe from their rival clan across the border. There was a lot of guilt hanging over him and it was an interesting exploration. Lastly, Sidra was probably my favourite character and brought the struggle of faith to the forefront as it seemed the spirits she believed in her whole life, especially for her healing abilities, were letting her down with the loss of each girl.

When I think of adult books, I still want to know the characters instead of just stereotypes. I definitely feel Rebecca carries this in her writing regardless of genre and I’m so grateful for that.

Plot and its downfalls

So why wasn’t this a 5 star read like the last book I read from Rebecca Ross?

Simple. It really ends up at the plot. This is a fantasy book and they’re generally plot-driven. Preferably, the best kinds are balanced with plot and character, and the character component in this book I have already extolled as great.

The plot wasn’t complex, although I did enjoy the mysteries surrounding the missing girls. I loved the world building, don’t get me wrong, and I never felt like a load of information dump was placed on me at any time. Everything felt organic.

It just came about really slow. Essentially, Jack and Adaira attempt maybe 3 things to get a lead on who was stealing the girls, but it’s split apart by a lot of talking. Of course, this lends to the character building but it just didn’t move things along very well.

Likewise, Torin does a lot of searching the entire lands but all it leads to is more questions and some off-shoot tidbits that MAY lead somewhere in the next book. Can a girl just ask for a little more speed?

That’s not to say that the entire plot was bad. It definitely wasn’t, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong about a simple main plot line. I did like the “twists” that came about near the end with secrets starting to unfold. I’m super excited for book 2 to come out to see where it all goes, but as a book within itself, I feel the plot may lose people at times as our 4 MCs meander their way to solving the mystery.

Overall Recommendation:

A River Enchanted marks an excellent adult fantasy debut for Rebecca Ross with its lush storytelling and world building that draws you into this magical isle filled with spirits living among the inhabitants. I was definitely not disappointed to see such amazing characterizations of not 2, but in fact 4, protagonists as they navigate the disappearance of several young girls from their clan. It’s part mystery and part folklore awe that drives you to continue reading, although the pacing was rather slow for a good portion of it. If you can stick through the slower bits, which on the other hand allows for excellent character building, this story delivers a fascinating tale of rival clans, magic that harnesses the spirits, and relationships running deeper than blood.

2 star, YA

Review: A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown

Series: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin #2

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.

TW: grooming, depression/thoughts of suicide, anxiety, self mutilation

A Psalm of Storms and Silence picks up right where its predecessor left off with Karina out of her throne and Malik feeling betrayed. But where the first book was all fire and plot with the Solstasia challenges, this second focused very much on Malik and Karina’s characters.

Split into dual POVs like book 1, most of the book has Malik and Karina separated in their respective corners of the world. Karina is on the run while Malik is apprenticed to Farid back in her home kingdom, Ziran. I have nothing against character-driven stories. Some of my favorite books this year are in fact character-driven, particularly contemporaries. But let’s be honest, nothing much happens in this book.

Continue reading “Review: A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown”
4.5 star, YA

Review: Vicious Spirits by Kat Cho

Series: Gumiho #2

New romance and dangers abound in this companion to the crowd-pleasing Wicked Fox.

As Vicious Spirits begins, Miyoung and Jihoon are picking up the pieces of their broken lives following the deaths of Miyoung’s mother, Yena, and Jihoon’s grandmother. With the support of their friend Somin, and their frenemy, Junu, they might just have a shot at normalcy. But Miyoung is getting sicker and sicker by the day and her friends don’t know how to save her. With few options remaining, Junu has an idea but it might require the ultimate sacrifice and, let’s be honest, Junu isn’t known for his “generosity.” Meanwhile, the events at the end of Wicked Fox have upended the forces that govern life and death and there are supernatural entities lurking in the background that will stop at nothing to right their world.

Rating: 4.5/5 Drink Me Potions

Luscious and rich in Korean folklore, this companion novel (really, more like a sequel) to the events in her first book, Wicked Fox, was more than pleasing to the eye and heart.

I will admit that I barely remember the events of book 1 as I read it way before it even came out as an ARC. And with this book picking up the pieces in the aftermath of events that occurred there, I will warn that this should not be read separately from book 1.

We follow two characters who were first introduced in Wicked Fox, the charming dokkaebi Junu and the sassy, quick-tongued Somin who instantly took a dislike to him.

I love getting the Junu’s backstory from the get go as it gives us knowledge about him as the omniscient reader that the rest of the gang do not have, which really explains a part of why his character is kind of dodgy and selfish. My heart hurt just seeing how the others in the group held a grudge against him (fine, he probably deserved some of that from mistakes he made), but it was like he could never prove himself. I was completely on Team Junu from that point on. I always did love the misunderstood, he’s-not-such-a-bad-guy kinda hero.

Somin, on the other hand, I thought I would like less. Overprotective towards all of her friends and unable to easily change her mind, she had a good heart but I wasn’t certain where the book was going in pairing the two of them.

Oh boy was I wrong there!

The love-hate relationship they had was full of angst from the beginning since they already had run-ins in the previous book that actually led to further tipping towards the hate side of the scale. But they say there is only so much of a distance from hate to love as you could tell the depth of emotion both invoked in one another was surprising. As the two were unwittingly thrown together to solve a devastating merging of the human world and supernatural, maybe it seems love wasn’t so far off after all.

The action was there for sure, with sprinklings of the Korean landscape and culture. Not as much as book 1 but it felt comfortable coming back to Seoul like this and seeing the world through a Korean author. Thank goodness for a glossary at the back to help remind me of terminology I had forgotten!

And if you did read Wicked Fox, there were plenty of POV chapters from Miyoung and Jihoon as they are just as entangled in this mess as Somin and Junu are.

I was pleasantly surprised overall by how fast I swallowed this one up. A romance with all the feels as hate became love and the conclusion to the issues Miyoung launched into the world when she fell in love with a human boy, I am satisfied with the life lessons these characters have earned. Though if I’m totally honest, I kind of wish there could be a companion to this companion? Like, perhaps a certain mysterious new reaper who appeared in this book who seemed to have some kind of a heart?

Overall Recommendations:

Vicious Spirits followed the events of Wicked Fox quite closely, dropping us back into this supernatural landscape of Seoul. A enemies-to-lovers trope running strongly through its pages, you can’t help but fight for Junu and Somin to find strength from one another as they face yet more supernatural consequences their friend Miyoung unleashed previously. The pacing kept my heart beating all the way until the very satisfactory end. With characters you may have already fallen in love with just as present in this book, this companion (sequel, who are we kidding?) novel is a must-read for lovers of folklore and of Kat Cho’s previous book.