Book Review: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

This review contains spoilers for The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King, the two books in Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air trilogy.

Author: Holly Black
 Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: November 19, 2019
Pages: 308
Type: Hardback

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Official Synopsis
He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne.

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold onto. Jude learned this lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is powerless and left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her twin sister, Taryn, whose life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

And, when a dormant yet powerful curse is unleashed, panic spreads throughout the land, forcing her to choose between her ambition and her humanity . . .

My Review
Jude, now the Queen of Faerie, has been exiled to the human world and isn’t certain she’ll ever see Elfhame again. Jude distracts herself from Cardan’s betrayal by taking odd jobs from the fey living amongst humans. After one such job she comes home and unexpectedly encounters Taryn, whose life is in danger. To save her sister, Jude must return to Elfhame and avoid being caught. But war is looming and her plans go awry, forcing her to confront her feelings for Cardan and ensure the crown doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Still reeling from the end of The Wicked King, I felt very upset for Jude. However, as a reader, it’s interesting to get a look behind the glamor and see how some of the fey live in the human world. It’s not a huge part of the story, but it’s another tendril of creativity that helps to build out this trilogy’s world just a little further. But I semi-digress…

I was equally upset to find Taryn sitting in Jude’s apartment asking for help considering what she did to Jude in the last two books. I wasn’t as surprised that Jude agreed to help, though it would have been nice to see her push back a little bit more. In that same vein, I do feel that overall this series doesn’t have a lot of confrontation between siblings; they all seem so willing to forgive each other. Perhaps that sticks out to me because I unfortunately tend to harbor chips on my shoulder for a little while, but then again, why isn’t Jude more hesitant when it comes to Taryn’s requests?

Anyway, we follow Jude back into Elfhame where she must try to get a pardon for Taryn. Instead, after she arrives, she inadvertently finds herself whisked away to an unfamiliar area of Elfhame. There she must play a game of pretend in order to make her way back to the High Court to thwart a scheme to take the crown away from Cardan. Though I really enjoy reading about the happenings of court life, the stakes of Jude’s predicament made it hard to put the book down for fear she’d get caught. I also appreciate that the author extended our knowledge of Elfhame’s lands and citizens by plopping Jude down in an area wholly unknown to her.

And, you know that prophecy about Cardan that Black casually wrote about in the last book? That fully comes out to play. And perfect timing, too, what with war about to happen. I personally found the culmination of the prophecy to be a little underwhelming. I wasn’t as disappointed as I was with the ending of Ruin and Rising. But I feel like it all happened rather quickly given the three book build up to the end.

Though I enjoyed reading this book overall, I feel like the ending was just a little too perfect. There are certainly hardships, but maybe I’m a glutton for a couple more notches of despair. I also would have appreciated if Black explored Nicasia’s and Asha’s characters a little more, considering their complex relationships with Cardan and Jude.

Ultimately, this series, and particularly this last installment, is about finding confidence in yourself, working towards a personal (or common) goal, and learning that it’s ok to be vulnerable in order to build trust, friendship, and loyalty.

Rating: 4/5
Content warnings: non-graphic sex, battle scenes
Reading format: Paperback

Blog Tour: The Book of Uriel by Elyse Hoffman

Author: Elyse Hoffman
Publisher: Project 613 Publishing
Publish Date: January 26, 2021
Pages: 373
Type: Paperback
Amazon Link: The Book of Uriel*

*This is not an affiliate link and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using this link.

Official Synopsis
In the fires of World War II, a child must save his people from darkness…

Ten-year-old Uriel has always been an outcast. Born mute in a Jewish village known for its choir, he escapes into old stories of his people, stories of angels and monsters. But when the fires of the Holocaust consume his village, he learns that the stories he writes in his golden notebook are terrifyingly real.

In the aftermath of the attack, Uriel is taken in by Uwe, a kind-hearted linguist forced to work for the commander of the local Nazi Police, the affably brutal Major Brandt. Uwe wants to keep Uriel safe, but Uriel can’t stay hidden. The angels of his tales have come to him with a dire message: Michael, guardian angel of the Jewish people, is missing. Without their angel, the Jewish people are doomed, and Michael’s angelic brethren cannot search for him in the lands corrupted by Nazi evil.

With the lives of millions at stake, Uriel must find Michael and free him from the clutches of the Angel of Death…even if that means putting Uwe in mortal danger.

The Book of Uriel is a heartbreaking blend of historical fiction and Jewish folklore that will enthrall fans of The Book Thief and The World That We Knew.

My Review
Thank you to The Write Reads, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As someone who occasionally flits back to historical fiction, particularly of the WWII era, I found the synopsis of this book compelling and unique. Never before have I read a WWII-era historical fiction that incorporates Jewish folklore. As someone who’s unfamiliar with it, the opportunity to learn and read about it really “sold” this book to me.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s start with Uriel, the main character. At 10 years old he’s just lost his mother, father, and entire village due to hate crimes perpetrated by the Polish. Alone, devastated, and injured, Uriel wakes up to find two angels looking for the missing Archangel Michael, guardian of the Jewish people. Eager to help his people and put an end to the violence, Uriel emphatically agrees to help search for Archangel Michael.

Thus Uriel finds himself on a mission that thrusts him into German-occupied Poland. Along the way he befriends Uwe, a linguist and translator who unwillingingly finds himself working for the Nazis, and encounters the Angel of Death, who holds Michael hostage. To free Michael, Uriel makes a deal with Samael, the Angel of Death. If he fails, the future of the Jewish people remains grim.

I appreciated the stubbornness and tenacity of Uriel. Though the attack on his village pulled his world out from under him, he remains a beacon of hope despite the challenges he encounters. Born mute and facing social challenges since the beginning of life (for some school children can be mean), he learned to never let anything stop him. This serves him well in his deal with Samael. At times I thought perhaps his persistent optimism was a bit unrealistic, but it works to balance the dark components of the story.

Uwe is a sensitive soul, recruited by Major Brandt to translate prisoners’ answers during interrogation. The nature of this work introduces him to the jarring realization of the horrors the Germans inflict on the Jews and partisan Polish people. If I didn’t know a little bit about the escalation of the mistreatment and genocide of Jews, I would have thought Uwe ignorant. But it’s important to keep in mind that the hate crimes didn’t immediately start with death camps. This is perhaps a generalization, but it started slowly with Jews being forced to move away, then being put in work camps, and then being sent to death camps. Regular civilians of all ilk weren’t immediately aware of what exactly the Nazis did to the Jews. The important thing is that Uwe becomes aware of the Nazis’ hate crimes and must decide whether to keep his head down or help those in need, risking his own life.

The author does a great job characterizing Major Brandt. He comes off as pleasant, genial, and generous, but there’s something sinister simmering under the surface. Frankly, he made me uncomfortable. Think Christolph Waltz’s character as Colonel Hans Landa from the movie Inglorious Basterds, but not as sadistic or cunning.

Though I found the premise of this story interesting, I thought it unrealistic that the tasks Uriel needs to complete to free Michael are all within easy running/walking distance from the central “rendez-vous” point. Uriel’s tasks are less quest-like than I expected for the things Samael asks him to do. I expected to learn of some sort of religious event that might explain why his tasks are concentrated in the same area. It was almost too easy for Uriel and makes the writing err more on the style of folklore than historical fiction; there aren’t a lot of details to explain the “why.” I also thought it odd that Uwe never pries into why or what drives Uriel to the woods so frequently.

However, while I prefer more realism in historical fiction, I think to try to make the folklore aspect more logical would negate the concept of having and keeping faith. I’m not a religious scholar or Jewish, so I’m sure some of the concepts are lost on me. That said, I still appreciated the introduction to Jewish folklore. Through flashbacks to the past, we see that Uriel learns these stories from his father, for whom he has a great respect. So important are these stories to Uriel that they inspire him to write them down so he can remember them forever. To see how much joy these stories spark in Uriel was a real treasure. My favorite part, though, is the epilogue, which is a fitting finish for Uriel and his tales.

For those looking for a different kind of WWII historical fiction that includes a mythological aspect, look no further than The Book of Uriel.

Rating: 3.5/5
Content warnings: death, murder, fire, guns, genocide
Reading format: Kindle e-book

About the Author
Elyse Hoffman strives to tell historical tales with new twists: she loves to meld WWII and Jewish history with fantasy, folklore, and the paranormal. She has written six works of Holocaust historical fiction: the five books of The Barracks of the Holocaust and The Book of Uriel.

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WWW Wednesday: October 20, 2021

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme revived and hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The idea is to answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses.

What are you currently reading?

What have you just finished reading?

What are you going to read next?

Currently Reading: I’m currently reading The Book of Uriel by Elyse Hoffman since I’ll be taking part in The Write Reads book tour later this month. The description is so intriguing I just couldn’t resist!

Recently Finished: I originally posted about this in a First Lines Friday post. I should have finished it earlier, but instead I devoted time to my first book tour review. I also really wanted to review another approved NetGalley request to increase my review percentage. Nevertheless, I’ve finally finished it and will post my review before the year is out! Spoiler alert: I definitely recommend it!

Reading Next: Next I’ll read The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart. It’s the next book after The Bone Shard Daughter, which I reviewed earlier this year. I’m fairly new to NetGalley so my review percentage isn’t the best right now. However, if you don’t try you’ll never know what could be, so I decided to request it anyway. To my surprise my request was accepted, so I’m very excited to read this ARC!

Book Review: Granted by Kendra Thomas

Author: Kendra Thomas
Publisher: Independent Book Publishers Association
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
Pages: 270
Type: Paperback

Official Synopsis
Sabeara Aigoviel, princess of Aveladon, wants nothing more than for her heart to glow. The Stone-Hearted power that is received at the age of eighteen is her ultimate wish. With a grim curse looming over the realm and a neighboring kingdom’s conspiring plans, contentions arise. Moments of danger summon evil forces, sending Sabeara into a whirlwind of adventure, captivity, and even love.

Rescued by a handsome stranger in a brown cloak, they navigate the kingdoms to bring her safely home. When her rescuer arrives betrothed to her beloved older sister weeks later, it is all she can do to erase their memories. Will Sabeara be able to defeat the curse on the Stone-Hearted race? And will she be able to forget the memories of her epic ventures with her cloaked rescuer?

My Review
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

Granted by Kendra Thomas is a very character-driven young adult fantasy about a princess who stumbles across the existence of a curse threatening her kingdom. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with character-driven (over plot-driven) books and I’ve read plenty of great character-driven stories. However, I picked up this book up because its summary intimates an intriguing magic system and adventure prompted by a looming curse. I was also looking forward to a little YA fantasy romance.

Unfortunately, the magic system, at least in this first book of a trilogy, is somewhat underdeveloped. At the age of 18, the Stone-Hearted people receive their power from a magical tree that houses spirits and magic. Each person’s power is different as is the magnitude of said power, which is indicated by the color of their glowing stone heart.

The author sets up a perfect opportunity to tell us more about this system in that Sabeara’s sister, who’s just turned 18, is about to receive her power. But the door to learn more is literally (in the story) shut and we only learn snippets about it as Sabeara meets new people and learns what they can do with their power. I feel like it was a missed opportunity to tell the reader more about how a Stone-Hearted person receives their power. I can only hope that Thomas elaborates more on this in the next book.

Thomas does, however, spend more time developing Sabeara’s character than she does with the magic system. Sabeara’s mother died when she was young. In his grief, Sabeara’s father, the king of Aveladon, loses sight of the importance of running the kingdom and giving his daughters the attention they deserve. As a result, Sabeara doesn’t feel like he’s been a good father and loses some of her respect for him from his poor governance. This sort of situation is a breeding ground for complicated feelings. Thomas does explore this, but the way Sabeara navigates these emotions fell a bit flat for me. Sure, volatility, glares, and disrespect from Sabeara are to be expected, but the way Thomas writes these actions make Sabeara seem more juvenile than she actually is.

With respect to the promised YA romance, it is a bit trope-y. Guy rescues girl and they end up liking each other. I’m totally fine with that trope. I have absolutely no problem with it and even concede I have a soft spot for it. However, the flirting dialogue was cheesy and forced. There are a lot of sarcastic “sweethearts” (think Han Solo from Star Wars, but not witty). There’s a lot of smirking and a lot of the author describing words and emotions as “sarcastic.” I think the most interesting part of the romance is when [semi-spoiler!] we find out he has a hidden identity, which causes some family drama later in the story.

Thomas also misses an opportunity to tell us more about the curse. She describes Sabeara spending hours reading about the kings involved in this old curse. But as a reader we learn almost nothing from Sabeara or her conversations with others who know about the curse.

The writing in Granted isn’t bad, but in my opinion needs improvement. I feel there’s an overabundance of passive voice for a first person narrative. I also feel that there are unnecessary descriptions of rather mundane topics. The example that sticks out to me is the description of clothes. I don’t need to know what each character decides to wear each day; it’s not important to the plot. I constantly felt like the author used a thesaurus to insert synonyms into sentences. There are many sentences whose structures seem “off” (and I know I’m not perfect, either!), though for the most part I did understand what Thomas tries to impart to the reader. For example:

“The roof gave the resemblance of a tower to my prison…”
“An outside wind drafted into my bastille, causing me to be wracked with more shivers.”
“Unable to control the excitement within me, I fell onto the bed of roses and sunk into their soft contents.”

Overall, I feel like this story needs more copy editing. The magic system and the history of the curse provide a good backbone upon which the author can elaborate. I hope the next book(s) delve more into these story elements. Personally, I probably will not continue this series.

Rating: 2.25/5
Content warnings: kidnapping
Reading format: Kindle e-book

Blog Tour: Ark of the Apocalypse by Tobin Marks

Author: Tobin Marks
Publisher: Boyle & Dalton
Publish Date: March 24, 2021
Pages: 426
Type: Paperback
Amazon Link: Ark of the Apocalypse*

*This is not my affiliate link and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using this link.

About Ark of the Apocalypse
Earth is on the verge of becoming a dead planet.

The polar ice caps melted long ago, and it’s been decades since the last raindrop fell. Ocean levels rise a dozen meters, and forest fires rage on a global scale. Eleven billion people dying of thirst wage water wars against each other as extinction looms.

Humanity needs a new planet. As Earth deteriorates, the nation states desperately work together to build a mechanism for recolonization. And so the Magellan II is born, the first starship capable of interstellar travel.

The future of the human race is tasked to ten thousand colonists-now homeless but for the vastness of space and the decks of Magellan II. A distant planet offers hope of survival, but it’s a strange, watery world inhabited by giant reptiles.

Humanity is starting over, but survival isn’t guaranteed.

My Review
Thank you to Blackthorn Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Before the temperatures started rising and water became scarce, a seemingly unassuming family lived in Crimea. Anatoly Yanbeyev’s life obsession is to finish a curious family medallion while his wife, Tatyana, practices medicine as World War II rages on. One evening the Yanbeyev family suddenly find themselves torn from their home on charges of subversion. Eventually they’re transferred to eastern Siberia where they open a clinic on the remote Kamchatka Peninsula.

As times goes on, the Yanbeyev family business grows and their family prospers. While Siberia becomes more hospitable, the rest of humanity suffers. Political tensions are at an all time high with the everpresent threat of nuclear proliferation. As the world’s superpowers try to avoid another world war, there’s someone behind the scenes pulling the strings and writing the script for humanity’s future.

The Ark of the Apocalypse is a story that spans many decades, wars, and several generations. In Japan, a doctor works on a secret project for the Nazis that the United States believes is a weapons program. We learn early on in the story that certain Yanbeyev family members have visions that help them plan for the future, one generation at a time. As we hop through the decades, the United States and Russia play a game of thrones with China and India. Meanwhile, the Yanbeyevs work to ensure their family survives what’s ahead.

The first 40% or so of this book focuses on political and military strategizing, almost to the point of feeling like a political thriller. To be fully transparent, I expected more science fiction/fantasy through this point. Thus, I felt that the content during this portion was a bit of a mismatch from the book description and cover. I don’t usually gravitate towards heavy political/military content; so, I personally felt this portion of the book was a bit slow. However, though I’m no political/military strategist, Marks describes the tense interactions between heads of state with ease. The author avoids providing so much detail that might bog down a reader who’s not familiar with war strategy and weaponry specifics.

The science fiction aspect of the story comes more into play in the last half of the book. As the situation on Earth becomes more dire, the need for technological advances in off-world travel become increasingly important. Sacrifices must be made to ensure the survival of the human race. I’m not the right person to say whether the tech mechanisms described by Marks are feasible. However, the author certainly seems quite familiar with what could be possible (both with weapons and travel tech). Perhaps this may be related to his time spent observing NASA and NOAA projects.

This is a post-apocalyptic book, so I think we can all agree where the future of Earth is heading. I was genuinely surprised, though, at the events following the Magellan II’s departure from Earth. Specifically, without introducing any spoilers, the concept of fate and choice intrigued me. I quite enjoyed reading about the preparations for interstellar travel and what it’s like after they make it to a distant planet. At this point specific characters have the spotlight rather than world events, which as a readers allows one to connect more with the story.

My only critique is an editorial one. Within the digital copy that I received, there are punctuation errors, accidental word repetition, some instances of incorrect verb tenses, misspelling of some words, and consistent incorrect dialogue formatting (e.g., no commas, misplaced commas, misplaced periods). This didn’t detract from my overall positive experience of reading Ark of the Apocalypse. But as detail-oriented person I often spot these types of things. That said, I think the writing is succinct, yet provides enough detail to allow the reader to envision and world-build in one’s head. Overall, the pacing is good. As a reader, we don’t have an omniscient point of view. This leaves questions hanging and keeps pages turning as we seek to find out what will happen to Earth and the human race.

Overall, I recommend this book to those who enjoy reading post-apocalyptic science fiction, particularly if you’re also keen to read about the political decisions that lead to the demise of a civilization. If you’re interested in reading Ark of the Apocalypse, you can find it on Amazon.

Rating: 4/5
Content warnings: battle scenes, death
Reading format: e-book

About the Author
Marks is a world traveler who grew up in a household of rocket scientists. As a boy he had a front row seat observing many NASA and NOAA projects. He writes science fiction novels from his home in north west Baja, and you can usually find him on Twitter @tobinmarks.