Review: Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan

Series: Sword and Verse #1

sword and verse -kathy macmillanRaisa was only a child when she was kidnapped and enslaved in Qilara. Forced to serve in the palace of the King, she’s endured hunger, abuse, and the harrowing fear of discovery. Everyone knows that Raisa is Arnath, but not that she is a Learned One, a part of an Arnath group educated in higher order symbols. In Qilara, this language is so fiercely protected that only the King, the Prince, and Tutors are allowed to know it. So when the current Tutor-in-training is executed for sharing the guarded language with slaves and Raisa is chosen to replace her, Raisa knows that, although she may have a privileged position among slaves, any slipup could mean death.

That would be challenging enough, but training alongside Prince Mati could be her real undoing. And when a romance blossoms between them, she’s suddenly filled with a dangerous hope for something she never before thought possible: more. Then she’s approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slaves—to help liberate the Arnath people. Joining the Resistance could mean freeing her people…but she’d also be aiding in the war against her beloved, an honorable man she knows wants to help the slaves.

Working against the one she loves—and a palace full of deadly political renegades—has some heady consequences. As Raisa struggles with what’s right, she unwittingly uncovers a secret that the Qilarites have long since buried…one that, unlocked, could bring the current world order to its knees.

And Raisa is the one holding the key.

4 Drink Me Potions

“One does not entreat the gods through shouted prayers or offerings, but through their greatest gift to us, writing.”

Sword and Verse was the unexpected read for me this year. A marevellous fantasy with layers of romance, this book focuses not on the expert swordsman as our heroine, but an expert writer.

Raisa is the daughter of a Learned One, part of the Arnath people who knew how to read the language of the gods. However, through extermination over the years by the Qilarites, there aren’t many Arnathim, let alone Learned Ones, that could still read and write this beautiful language. So becoming a Tutor for the future king, she forms an unlikely friendship (that turns into something more) with Prince Mati.

Okay, I will warn that this novel isn’t what you may expect of a high fantasy. Our lovely girl isn’t an assassin (like some YA books) or even wields some kind of power. Oh no, she’s as normal as can be.

Minus the fact that she holds the secret words her father gave her and the courage she has to learn the language of the gods even when it’s forbidden.

This book is entirely focused on the idea of language and how to learn its individual symbols. For that reason, if you’re someone who doesn’t really enjoy the intricate details of such knowledge, this may tire you a little in the middle.

But hold on tight! I swear, this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. In this land, words and writings are just as powerful as any sword.

Beyond that very intriguing premise, the romance is packed from the start. It’s not exactly insta-love, but the thing is, Raisa forms a crush on Mati even before the story really gets rolling as the plot covers approximately a few years. Mati also somehow feels the same way but it all seems quite fast as we as readers don’t get to spend all that much time with them to truly understand the depths of their feelings before they start confessing their love for each other. That was one minor bump I had to get over initially.

You know my opinions on love triangles. I don’t have much patience for them, and so I’m glad to see their romance doesn’t throw in that obstacle. However, it’s not like nothing gets complicated for them. Things happen in the middle that’s understandable but makes me wanna smack Mati in the head. In this way, Raisa has some romantic issues to overcome as well.

With a large cast of characters, this adventurous story draws us into this land of racial and class prejudices, remarkably similar in feeling to The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. It explores the injustices the Arnath people face from the Qilarites, but it also takes a look at how the Qilarites are also trapped in their own roles and expectations just as much as Arnaths are slaves. I thought it covered these issues well, with Raisa being the perfect balance between the two groups. She’s Arnath, but she doesn’t group all the Qilarites into one anomalous blob that can’t be distinguished from each other. Mati helps her see that in each group there is good and bad. They are all human, after all.

The one thing that prevented me from giving it a 5 star rating is the huge secret that Raisa carries and the culminating acts that propels the story into its climax. I guess I was expecting a little more to the secret message, but overall, I’m still very satisfied with how MacMillan tied all the pieces together.

In the midst of Raisa’s story, at the beginning of every chapter, we see the beautiful story of the gods and goddesses of this world unfold and how they interacted with the mortals. The mythology crafted here was detailed and beautiful in its own way. Although they’re only small snippets per chapter, by the end of it, I wanted to weep with the gods as well for all they too had suffered and done wrong. It beautifully meshed in with Raisa’s story.

Overall, Sword and Verse showed that a heroine doesn’t have to be the best fighter or the strongest sorceress. She can be someone true of heart. A teacher. And a writer. As a writer myself and a lover of words, this message resonated with me. Words can be as sharp as a blade. And if you look carefully on the cover, the second symbol of Raisa’s name, Sa, is drawn onto the sword’s blade. Light of wisdom.

Overall Recommendation:
Sword and Verse is a beautiful story of the gods and goddesses of this world that created a rift between the mortal humans below. Raisa, an Arnath, has the privilege of being among the Qilarites in a capacity beyond a simple slave. She’s a Tutor. As the only Arnath to learn the language of the gods without being killed, she also holds a secret of her past. This book focuses on the gorgeous language completely imagined by MacMillan, including the different characters Raisa has to learn. If you’re not all that interested in literacy and languages, this may be a little tiring for you at times, but if you’re a lover of words like I am, it’s just perfect. Among her problems, her HOT but forbidden romance with Prince Mati leads to dire consequences that forces Raisa to be stronger than she ever had to be. Sword and Verse was a surprisingly endearing fantasy novel that crept into my heart. I duly recommend you give this a try.


Review: Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun

heir to the sky -amanda sunAs heir to a kingdom of floating continents, Kali has spent her life bound by limits—by her duties as a member of the royal family, by a forced betrothal to the son of a nobleman, and by the edge of the only world she’s ever known—a small island hovering above a monster-ridden earth, long since uninhabited by humans. She is the Eternal Flame of Hope for what’s left of mankind, the wick and the wax burning in service for her people, and for their revered Phoenix, whose magic keeps them aloft.

When Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom and miraculously survives, she is shocked to discover there are still humans on the earth. Determined to get home, Kali entrusts a rugged monster-hunter named Griffin to guide her across a world overrun by chimera, storm dragons, basilisks, and other terrifying beasts. But the more time she spends on earth, the more dark truths she begins to uncover about her home in the sky, and the more resolute she is to start burning for herself.

3 Drink Me Potions

Where shall I even start?

I guess I had high expectations for Heir to the Sky. A whole community or continent flying in the sky? A gruesome and dangerous earth below? And a strange romance that’s built from the ashes of Kali’s demise?

However, none of what I had expected to love was executed as well as I would have liked.

First, the characters.
We get introduced to Kali and her best friend Elisha right from the beginning. I had so many problems with them both. Kali acts like a spoiled little princess who gets everything yet doesn’t want to shoulder the burden of responsibility for being the leader (or Eternal Flame) to her people . Instead, she likes to run off to hide in the stacks of dusty tomes in the library or to the outcrop, which is LITERALLY the edge of her floating continent. To do what? To hide. To dream of the mysterious land she can see below at her feet.

As for Elisha, I just can’t take her seriously. She giggles like HALF the time. Even when Kali came to her about something strange she overhears, what does Elisha do? She freaking giggles. And then goes to party in the festivities. Are they all really that naive? Don’t listen to their gut about something strange going on?

Anyway, back to our DEAR, dear princess. She’s also very arrogant.

I remember the feel of the grass as it slipped from beneath my fingers. All those times I spent on the edge of my outcrop, never imagining I could fall.
I almost can’t believe it.

To this point when I was reading it, I almost said, Well, that’s what you get for being such a smart-aleck. Maybe you deserve this. I almost said that. But she was just so annoying with that attitude of hers! Her recklessness, especially when she knew people were counting on her as the heir of Ashra.

She’s also pretty dumb or ignorant in thinking that because she’s the heir, people will automatically listen to her reasoning.

“I promise I won’t tell anyone you’re down here.” At least, I think, not until and unless I’m in a position to control Ashra’s reaction. And that won’t be hard, because the Monarch is my father, and he and the people will listen to their heir.

She makes a promise on earth but she doesn’t intend to keep it because she’s the HEIR . You can’t despise your position and believe in its advantages at the same time.

I think by the end of the story, she still hasn’t grown as much in her character. She finds a solution that helps delegate her responsibility for her people, a solution that Sun romanticizes by the way she writes it, but I still think it basically creates a situation in which Kali can do whatever she wants and finally “be free”.

Secondly, the world building was hard to take in at first.
The first 50 pages or so are really slow because you’re assaulted with endless information. How the people believed their little floating continent had come to be; the glorious godlike creature they revere, the Phoenix, and the spiritual worship they endow on her, the different organized communities that have separate roles on Ashra (all written in a way that reflects back on the Phoenix…somehow). The way the people say “Amen” but instead use the phrase “May we/she rise anew.” It was a lot to take in.

The pacing was also incredibly slow in places. It’s never good when you find yourself wondering how much longer until you finish this book. I literally was asking myself this question multiple times. It wasn’t until maybe the last 100 pages where the action really picked up.

I won’t say that this whole world sucked. The earth and the monsters that hunted down here were incredibly well-described. But you can’t survive on this alone to make a lovely novel.

The romance wasn’t very…..much of anything. It was kinda underwhelming. I didn’t feel much of their supposed attraction beyond the fact that they had to rely on each other to survive. Griffin was a nice enough guy, and even when we learn more about his background, it wasn’t fleshed out as much as it could be.

Actually, the whole last 100 pages where it got more epic? It could’ve been 200 pages instead and made for a more satisfactory read. Everything written there was too little. The conspiracy, the battle with the main antagonist, the conclusion in the aftermath, it was all too quick and condensed. This is where the book could’ve gotten a little better . I still give it a 3 stars because this last 1/3 was interesting but honestly, I’m just being generous.

Overall Recommendation:
There was a lot of potential for Heir to the Sky but the best way to describe it is underwhelming. Slow pacing throughout 2/3 of the book, ridiculous and annoying protagonist and rather quick conclusion, nothing really shouts out at you from this book. The monsters on earth were cool, the way this community in the sky was run was intriguing, and so was the conspiracy that could topple the very foundation of Ashra. I thought all these elements would’ve propelled the story to great heights, but Amanda Sun just didn’t execute it well in all the right places. With a very generous rating on my part, Heir to the Sky is a little disappointing because I can see all that it could’ve been.


Review: The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

Series: The Glittering Court #1

the glittering court -richelle meadBig and sweeping, spanning from the refined palaces of Osfrid to the gold dust and untamed forests of Adoria, The Glittering Court tells the story of Adelaide, an Osfridian countess who poses as her servant to escape an arranged marriage and start a new life in Adoria, the New World. But to do that, she must join the Glittering Court.

Both a school and a business venture, the Glittering Court is designed to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies who appear destined for powerful and wealthy marriages in the New World. Adelaide naturally excels in her training, and even makes a few friends: the fiery former laundress Tamsin and the beautiful Sirminican refugee Mira. She manages to keep her true identity hidden from all but one: the intriguing Cedric Thorn, son of the wealthy proprietor of the Glittering Court.

When Adelaide discovers that Cedric is hiding a dangerous secret of his own, together they hatch a scheme to make the best of Adelaide’s deception. Complications soon arise—first as they cross the treacherous seas from Osfrid to Adoria, and then when Adelaide catches the attention of a powerful governor.

But no complication will prove quite as daunting as the potent attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. An attraction that, if acted on, would scandalize the Glittering Court and make them both outcasts in wild, vastly uncharted lands…


4.5 Drink Me Potions

The Glittering Court is unlike any fantasy novel you may have read or expected. Reminiscent to the historical times of colonial settlements and explorations of the New World, this book takes that sentiment and re-makes it into a fantasy world with nobility and Wild West adventures.

Living in Osfrid, our protagonist was the descendant of one of the founders of this land, which is very much similar to the feel of 17th century Europe. Women were meant to be married for wealth and maintenance of bloodlines. It was a men-dominated world.

At the same time, different lands were at unrest, either fighting amongst themselves in a civil war or potentially looking for trouble with other countries. This is where the feel of a regular fantasy world was strongest, although I will say that the world building wasn’t the strongest. There also was no map of all these different places. Names like Lorandy, Myrokosi, Adoria and Sirminica. Like, where the heck are all of them? I was very surprised that the hardcopy book didn’t include a sketch of any kind anywhere. That was one big disappointment, considering this was the biggest point that drove home the genre feel of fantasy .

Ok, back to the protagonist. She was a countess. She had everything she could ever want, right? But her family only had a title and they were trying to secure the wealthiest marriage connection for her. I gotta admire her. The choice to take her servant’s identity to embark on some crazy adventure to the New World (aka Adoria which is like real-life America if you’re still comparing it to the 17th century) was admirable. She was pampered so far in life, but she was brave enough to become an invisible commoner to earn a different kind of place and life. The funny thing that I noticed was peculiar is that you don’t really know what her REAL name is until a lot later in the book, practically near the end. But as Adelaide, the identity she’d taken for this adventure, whatever her heart set out to do, she persevered and did it to her very best ability.

Beyond the different lands in this fantasy world, there was also a rift in people’s religious beliefs. Mead did the most building on this point. Those who believed in 6 glorious angels, and those that believed in all 12 angels, including the 6 wayward ones who had fallen from grace. Liken to heretics in their different beliefs, there was persecution in the land for those who followed such faith.

So that is the world of The Glittering Court. Not quite what you may have expected when hearing “FANTASY“, is it? Well, if all this unsettles you already, this may not be the book for you.

But if you’re still intrigued, keep reading ’cause this is why I gobbled the whole book (which is rather long considering the font is tiny) in one sitting.

The idea of the Glittering Court, a school and business that teaches young girls of common blood to become ladies and brides for the men living in the New world, is familiar to those seen in The Selection and The Jewel. However, this book wasn’t as petty as The Selection as it’s not like each girl is fighting for the same guy. This was truly a benefit from everyone, albeit with a profit for those running the business. And this plotline was conducted WAY better than The Jewel could ever manage (for which I do NOT have a very good opinion of). With this idea being so central, it goes to say that romance was a key element.

Adelaide tried to hide her identity and knowledge as a lady but of course, one guy knew. The one guy who had originally recruited the real Adelaide. Cedric Thorn. Son of the owners of the Glittering Court. University student and overall charming guy. Sweet enough to choose a Sirminican girl to fill a position in their business, considering Osfridians didn’t all look too kindly on these people. And with a smart wit that always had a comeback to Adelaide’s comments.

Let’s take a short moment there to pause and admire Cedric’s traits.

Okay, now as suggested, the witty conversations between Adelaide and Cedric were so amusing and sweet at the same time. They clearly were good friends, but there was also something brewing underneath that even Adelaide didn’t really look too deeply into until they had gotten to know each other more. No insta-love here, guys. The only thing I did wish was that there were moments for their blooming love.

The story doesn’t just revolve around romance though. There was action and adventure, taking on the New World and the dangers presented there. The plot moved from one place to another that it never bored me. Adelaide wasn’t as outstanding of a protagonist as Mead’s other girls, Sydney and Rose, but her voice and narrative never got tiring.

I gotta say, The Glittering Court may not be what you have expected, but it definitely surpassed whatever expectations I had. It helps if you don’t mind a little historical kind of touch to the plot line as it’s hard to not make the connections to our own and very real history in North America. Richelle Mead has a talent for writing stories that draw you in until you just wanna see where she takes us. I’m left with impatience for the next two books as she leaves us with hints of what may be the stories of Adelaide’s two friends. Apparently they will take place within the same time frame but in their perspective. Mead has left a lot of mysterious hints that occur with Mira and Tamsin, both very unique girls, in this first novel that Adelaide noticed. I cannot wait to see what else The Glittering Court was like in the eyes of another strong protagonist.

Overall Recommendation:
The Glittering Court isn’t the kind of fantasy you may have in mind. It has certain world building elements similar to most in the fantasy genre, but it also has huge historical touches throughout the storyline. Adelaide is another fun and easy to like protagonist, and her chemistry with Cedric through their witty and flirty banter was tangible. With a pacing that moves at just the right speed, we follow Adelaide’s brave journey from everything she’s ever known (and all the luxuries she’s used to) to explore the New World of Adoria and possibly find her true self there. I will say that this book may not be everyone, especially if you came in thinking this was some high fantasy or something. It’s not. So if that’s not for you, that’s okay. But at the end of the day, I respect Richelle Mead’s ability to weave another story that’s different from what we’re used to from her, but at the heart of it, still contains characters who come alive and draw us in to journey with them.