3.5 star, YA

Review: Once a King by Erin Summerill

Series: Clash of Kingdoms #3

once a king -erin summerillAodren: A lonely, young king, searching for a way to dismantle his father’s dark legacy.

Lirra: A girl with the power to control the wind, torn between duty and following her dreams

For twenty years, Channelers—women with a magical ability—have been persecuted in Malam by those without magic. Now King Aodren wants to end the bloody divide and unite his kingdom. But decades of hatred can’t be overcome by issuing decrees, and rumors of a deadly Channeler-made substance are only fueling people’s fears. Lirra has every reason to distrust Aodren. Yet when he asks for help to discover the truth behind the rumors, she can’t say no. With Lirra by his side, Aodren sees a way forward for his people. But can he rewrite the mistakes of the past before his enemies destroy the world he’s working so hard to rebuild?


3.5 Drink Me Potions


Finishing the Clash of Kingdoms series had me wondering this exact thought: what would the king of Malam do now that his crush chose someone else and there’s a whole kingdom to restore in unity and reputation.

Thankfully, Erin Summerill clearly heard my thoughts. And this, my friends, was the answer to that question.

While Once a King was marketed as a separate standalone from the Clash of Kingdoms series, I wouldn’t recommend it necessarily to be read before the others. It’ll still mildly make sense but a) there are spoilers as to what happened with the plot and some characters from the prequel series and b) there isn’t as much background information of the world building here so it would make the experience less enjoyable in a way with so much scrambling to catch up.

Much of the book (if not it’s entirety) was spent in the kingdom of Shaerdan, a kingdom that celebrated its channellers (women with magical abilities) while Malam was known in the past for hunting them down for their differences. Being king of that kingdom here? Not such a fun position to be in.

Aodren was an amazing protagonist. I loved his POV as you really get to see what’s inside. He felt so deeply, especially for his people, yet no one else could seem to understand how hard he was trying to restore Malam in the eyes of the rest of the world. And even among its own people who were still being prejudiced against Channellers.

Meanwhile, I can’t quite say the same for his love interest, Lirra. I liked her POV but I’m not sure I could stand her at times. She was initially the epitome of judgmental towards Aodren, listening to all the stereotypes about his character, calling him the bloody king o’ Malam. Yes, she changed over time, and really came through for everything that tied the plot together, but something about her just still sets me apart from truly loving her.

Aside from the characters, I must say that the plot line was leaning towards the simpler side. A counterfeit product has been released among the different factions of warriors from the different kingdoms that came to celebrate the festival. Marketed as an elixir of energy and strength, it unfortunately has lethal consequences that point towards Channeller magic, further fueling the still-remaining hatred and prejudices among the people of Malam. Wow, Aodren has his work cut out for him.

It was kind of fun hunting down the culprits with the clock ticking down as the contest and festivities came to an end with Aodren no closer to regaining trust and union for his kingdom. I didn’t quite guess who it was, although in hindsight I probably should’ve.

While I always love a good high fantasy with many twists and turns that are usually unpredictable by nature, sometimes a nice simple fantasy is also great for a quiet day in. It was a little slow sometimes but overall, it was a cute and heartwarming story of individuals learning to reach out to those who are different and not cower in fear ’cause of it. I definitely stand by the moral of the story, and that’s the most important part.

Overall Recommendation:

Once a King continues the storyline from the Clash of Kingdoms series with King Aodren as the protagonist. At its heart is a mystery for the supplier of a deadly product that has fueled more hatred against magical women in Aodren’s kingdom. But around this central storyline is a heart for those who are different, and a man who starts the call for change by humbly doing what he can for the people he loves. If that speaks to you, regardless of the simplicity of the plot, you should pick this book up (maybe after the other two books).

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3.5 star, adult

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Series: Shades of Magic #1

A Darker Shade final for IreneKell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.


3.5 Drink Me Potions


The world sits in balance, humanity in one hand, magic in the other. The two exist in every living thing, and in a perfect world, they maintain a kind of harmony, neither exceeding the other.

With all the hype that surrounds this series, I was a bit intimidated picking up V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. But everything they say about this book is absolutely true.

Be prepared for a world – or should I say worlds – of creativity as you enter even the very first page. While it was a bit confusing at first, readers soon get the gist of how this society is run. 3 parallel worlds exist and only those with very special magical abilities can traverse between the worlds. Kell, our protagonist, is one of the only two that still exist.

[Kell] was, after all, Antari.

Magic is described similarly to how we see it in many other novels. Elemental magic exists, with control of the elements like water, air, fire, rock, etc. But there’s a difference with Kell and the kind of magic he possessed. To be short, blood magic. And who can’t say they’re slightly thrilled when hearing just those words put together? It could spell trouble, or it could just mean there’s great power and potential.

And Antari could speak to blood. To life. To magic itself. The first and final element, the one that lived in all and was of none.

Aside from the magic system, the parallel worlds is a fun addition. And aptly, Kell has named each of the worlds he can visit by a colour that represent the society.

I don’t normally explain a fantasy world so in-depth in a review but I can’t help but marvel at the uniqueness and enthralling way this world building has touched me. 3 worlds. 3 colours.

Whitea world falling apart and dying as its ruthless citizens fight for control and hold back any dangers magic may have once presented. It has somehow lost some vitality – hence colour – to it

Greya world without much magic, and its citizens have almost forgotten about its existence. It is dreary and kind of boring without the essence of magic filling up the place – probably the closest world to what you can imagine as our Earthly version of London

Reda world brilliantly flourishing with different elemental magic among its citizens, and a fairly content way of ruling and continuing as it is. Maybe that is why it’s associated with the scent of flowers and red as it reminds us of life and growth

Yet, there is more. There was once a fourth world. One that has been sealed off from the rest. But something has come into Kell’s possession from that lost world and it opened up a world of trouble right into his lap.

If that world building description and the main plot arc of the book/series didn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will. This is imaginative fantasy making at its best, with the brilliant Victoria Schwab standing at the helm.

Even the prose is beautiful in its elegant yet simple descriptions. Not just of the world around the characters, but the individuals themselves. There were a number of names and characters to sort through – let alone which worlds they hail from – but no one else aside from Kell was as important as Lila Bard. For all her thorny masks and thievery, she was someone I came to admire. ‘Cause isn’t inside every hardened shell some experiences that made them that way? Something deep and vulnerable that doesn’t want to be seen by the light of day?

And for the first time, Kell saw Lila. Not as she wanted to be, but as she was. A frightened, albeit clever, girl trying desperately to stay alive. One who had likely frozen and starved and fought – and almost certainly killed – to hold onto some semblance of a life, guarding it like a candle in a harsh wind.

With the book broken down into several parts and short chapters in each, it was fairly easy to breeze through, especially for those who are daunted by long and complicated fantasy novels. While I have many praises to extol on this first book, I will admit that it started off quite slow. Some of it may be due to the natural progression of acclimatizing us readers to the world Schwab has built without overwhelming us with pages and pages of information dump. I certainly never felt that as I am still very much in awe of the story, even days after I’ve finished it. But the excitement and the main storyline took its time in coming and developing.

However, I have very high hopes for the rest of the series. As first books go, A Darker Shade of Magic is more than an excellent start to an exciting series. It excels at making itself stand out in a sea of such similar fantasy tropes.

The danger may seem to have been dealt with, but I get the feeling something is still stirring and there’ll be more for Kell and Lila to deal with soon.

“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” Kell asked Lila now.

She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply.

Overall Recommendation:

Excellent prose, brilliant plot and a world beyond your imagining, A Darker Shade of Magic is everything that people have been shouting about these past years. In a land where parallel worlds exist and only certain magical people can travel between them, danger lies when things that don’t belong in some worlds show up and remind everyone of the dangers imbalanced magic can bring. Protagonists Kell and Lila embark on a crazy quest to save all their worlds as trouble comes to them, all the while fighting something dark that may fester inside each of them. Even if you aren’t normally a fantasy lover, this book explains its world building well and will guarantee to satisfy fans of action, adventure and a tease of romance. While it can be slow-going at first, trust me, you’ll want to get through this, and feast your senses on a world with Antari.

2.5 star, YA

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Series: Flame in the Mist #2

smoke in the sun -renee ahdiehFor weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her would-be murderer to justice. She didn’t expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.

Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the sovereign’s brother, saying goodbye to a life with Ōkami forever.

As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami’s rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most powerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.

Set against the backdrop of feudal Japan, Smoke in the Sun is the breathless, romantic, not-to-be-missed fiery conclusion to a spell-binding adventure.


2.5 Drink Me Potions


Set in feudal Japan with samurais and codes of honour, Smoke in the Sun continues the story of a girl trying to save the life of a boy she loves at any cost to her own life.

The novel picks up pretty closely to where book 1 ended. With the newly unveiled identity of Okami and his capture by Mariko’s brother and her betrothed’s soldiers. Jumping straight back into this Japanese inspired realm, the world and sense of magic and mystery enveloped me again like an old friend.

Most of the book was spent trying to figure out how to release Okami from capture. Through the eyes of Mariko, the wonders of the palatial life – on the surface – and the hidden secrets and gossip among its upper class were revealed in manner. I liked the lush setting and descriptions, yet at times, this really slowed down the pace of the book. A lot.

Meanwhile, other elements of intrigue unfolded as people in the land started falling into some deep sickness that inhibited the control of their own body and mind. Was this linked to Mariko’s attempted murder? Maybe something exciting was finally happening.

But as some things are, it was kind of a letdown. It was in no way a mystery (we literally see from the POV of the bad guy why this was happening – and mind you, the why wasn’t very exciting either), and how it was revealed to our main characters was neither clever nor surprising. The climax that was being set up took a swift turn for a happy ending that left me wondering if any of it was that bad before at all.

I wanted to desperately love the only element of intrigue this book seemed to have. While I fell in love with the Black Clan initially in book 1 out in the wilds, the relationship between Mariko and Okami felt more real there than it did now. Here, it’s just the aftermath of strong love but I didn’t really feel it. Maybe I forgot a lot of what it was like in the time since I read Flame in the Mist but I couldn’t care as much as I wanted.

Not all of it was a downer though. Secondary characters like Raiden made things more interesting. He wasn’t the typical person you’d necessarily cheer for (at first) or a wounded soul to save, but there’s something redeemable in some way about him that intrigued me. I don’t know about you, but I could totally wish for a book about him. Maybe with a certain someone’s sister guiding him away from less noble influences? You with me?

While I still enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of a time of old in Japan, I can’t help but overlay and compare it with the recent book by Julie Kagawa, Shadow of the Fox. In my heart I know they’re different in their own way, but I can’t help but see this series in a new light – and where it could do better.

Some action, dramatic romantic overtures, and a land falling to chaos, Smoke in the Sun was lovely on its cover but digging deep into its story left me somewhat disappointed at the potential it could’ve been. I love Renee Ahdieh but maybe I came at this book with my expectations a little too high.

Overall Recommendation:

Smoke in the Sun delightfully drops us back into the world of Japanese samurais and magic. On a grand scale, it’s about a rescue mission for the love of Mariko’s life, with other elements swept to the side in the plot. While it set itself up for potentially exciting action scenes and an explosive conclusion with a battle for the empire, it all gets wrapped up too quickly in a nice bow to ever really feel tense about the situation at all. A decent wrap up if you enjoyed Flame in the Mist, but I suggest you read this before any other similar story set in feudal Japan.