One Good Earl Deserves a Lover

by Sarah MacLean

4/5 stars

“My whole life . . . two and two has made four.”…
“But now . . . it’s all gone wrong.” She shook her head. “It doesn’t make four anymore. It makes you.”

Pippa Marbury appears in Cross’s office in the middle of the afternoon, unchaperoned, asking questions about seduction. She’s getting married in a couple of weeks and there are things she doesn’t know. Being a lady of science she’s not afraid of asking the questions, and Cross’s reputation indicates he will be an excellent source. She doesn’t anticipate her lessons on temptation hitting so close to home. And Cross is certainly surprised by the lady’s appearance in his office. Now he must balance this new acquaintance, and all of her questions, with his attempts to battle his past and save his sister from economic ruin.

The second in MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels series, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover directly follows A Rogue By Any Other Name. I enjoyed this installment more than the first, even if I will grant that I preferred the banter  in A Rougue By Any Other Name. I do heartily enjoy my banter.

I liked our heroine Pippa. Except for that time she ruined parts of Pride and Prejudice for the poor doorman. Still, she was quirky and smart and tough.But she wasn’t perfect. And while she acknowledged that she was somewhat odd, and not what most gentleman were looking for in a wife, I never got the feeling she didn’t like herself. Likewise, I didn’t balk as much at Cross’s backstory as Bourne’s. They were similar, but maybe I had to read Bourne’s story first to get my disbelief firmly suspended. Yes, I did question why he ran a gaming hell that invited others into the a future that includes a past Cross regrets.

I was slightly sad that Bourne and Penelope spent most of the novel in the country. While this was a convenient plot device, I did want to see Bourne and Cross square off. Maybe we’ll get some hints of it in the next novel. Maybe they’ll be super chilly to each other and Temple will just be running around like, “Come on guys we have work to do. We don’t have time for the silent treatment.” And Bourne will just stare Cross down, but he’ll throw out a, “well at least I didn’t steal my bride.” I’m writing a review not a fanfiction, but I hope there’s some element of that going on in the next book.

Slightly ridiculous quote above aside, as with the first MacLean’s writing is spot on, quickly moving me through this world and keeping me engaged throughout. I actually stayed up late to finish this one, and it’s been a while since I’ve done that with a romance novel (after all, I generally know how it’s going to end).

Also, we got plenty of good time in at the Fallen Angel gaming hell. Being now halfway through the series I’m already mourning letting this setting go.

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Music Monday (Belated): The Circus in Winter

First of all, sorry for being late with this post!

Second, today is going to be a little different in that I am going to highlight the Circus in Winter, the musical adaptation of which opens at Goodspeed Opera House on Thursday. When I was a freshman at Ball State University, a group of students worked on creating a musical version of The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day. It has gone on to be performed on the Ball State University mainstage, win awards from the Kennedy Center through the American College Theatre Festival, and be presented at the NAMT new musical festival. And on Thursday October 23rd it will open at the Goodspeed. It’s been a distinct pleasure to watch this musical’s progress. It’s been a long, exciting journey for the show, and it’s changed a lot over that journey. I wanted to take this opportunity to recognize an exciting new musical, and the book that inspired it.

(a promotional image from the Goodspeed production.)

From the description of the novel on goodreadsFrom 1884 to 1939, the Great Porter Circus makes the unlikely choice to winter in an Indiana town called Lima, a place that feels as classic as Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, and as wondrous as a first trip to the Big Top. In Lima an elephant can change the course of a man’s life-or the manner of his death. Jennie Dixianna entices men with her dazzling Spin of Death and keeps them in line with secrets locked in a cedar box. The lonely wife of the show’s manager has each room of her house painted like a sideshow banner, indulging her desperate passion for a young painter. And a former clown seeks consolation from his loveless marriage in his post-circus job at Clown Alley Cleaners.

In her astonishing debut, Cathy Day follows the circus people into their everyday lives, bringing the greatest show on earth to the page.

From the Goodspeed description of the musical: Step right up for a brand-new musical where legend and lore collide under the big top. Love, lust, betrayal, and tragedy unfold in a series of interwoven stories that reveal the private lives of a death-defying acrobat, sideshow African queen, lonely circus owner, disheveled clowns and more. With a rootsy, folk rock score, this is one musical that you must not miss! (Book by Beth Turcotte and Hunter Foster, Music and Lyrics by Ben Clark)

So here’s a preview of some of the awesome music Ben Clark wrote for the show!

“Running To Get What’s Mine” performed by Eli Zatz Zoller, Kate Rockwell, Corey Mach, and Ben Clark

“Elephant’s Eye” performed by Krystal Worrell and Ben Clark

“Never Alone” performed by Ben Clark

If you’re in the Goodspeed Opera House area and are intrigued, be sure to check out the show page and get your tickets!

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This Is Your Afterlife

by Vanessa Barneveld

2/5 stars

There’s more to life and death than football.

Jimmy is the hot quarterback of a small California town, a local celebrity and all-around good guy. But then his ghost shows up in Keira’s room, and she finds herself attempting to solve the mystery of his murder. She must also balance this with her attraction to Jimmy’s brother Dan. While I was super happy that this romance did not eclipse the murder plot of the book, I actually wish it had been expanded more.

This world felt somewhat small. How big was this school? We met very few people, and very few people that could be considered possible suspects. And we met like no teachers or authority figures. The stakes of the plot never feel especially dire, especially after the police force never really fully suspects Keira even after her finding Jimmy’s body, and her shady excuse. I never really felt like we were trying to solve a murder, partially because of the lack of suspects. I also wish the subplot dealing with Keira getting over her grandmother’s death had been further explored. This novel had the space to flush a lot of this out.

The characters here aren’t as well developed as they could be. Jimmy was a walking, dead, cliché, even if he had the potential to be much more. I liked Keira and Dan, and wanted to know more about them. For instance, the “murderer” with no real psychological depth. This was extremely disappointing.

Actually, I would consider the murder reveal slightly problematic. Also it is kind of overdramatic in terms of its writing. These plot points do not mesh with the rest of the narrative. They are not justified and do not really push the story into any particularly interesting place.

Still, Barneveld had a style that’s easy to read, even if it lacks a lot of the nuance that will hopefully come as she develops her voice. The novel brought back good memories of my days reading Meg Cabot’s Mediator series.

 

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Fallen

by Lauren Kate

1/5 stars

The only way to survive eternity is to be able to appreciate each moment.

Luce ends up at a reform school following the tragic death of a boy on whom she’d had a crush. No one really knows what happens the night he died in a fire, but with Luce’s insistence on shadows she’s seen throughout her life being involved, her parents decided she might be better off at Sword & Cross.

I just can’t with Luce most of the time. Like when she tells us she’s attracted to perfect boys, boys without that one flaw that makes them approachable, like that somehow makes her different. Or even moral or something. Or how during one of her “talks” with Daniel after her physical examination she whined in her head about how she’s left out of things despite you know, having friends and being invited to things. This coming after a party the previous night in which she was super glad Cam hugged her in front of everyone because she felt it gave her some number of points, despite the fact she spent the whole party darting looks over to Daniel in the corner. But she does the Sunday crosswords in under an hour sometimes so she’s obviously a smart cookie. Daniel isn’t any better. He exists. He’s kind of broody. That’s about what we get from him as an individual. Good thing Penn is around. She’s okay.

Also, this romance is ridiculous. I’m all for reincarnation and whatnot. I don’t even mind soulmates and fate when they’re done well. Honestly though, I’ve seen this trope work in fanfiction more than in YA. But how many times do we have to talk about that being an instigator not the be-all end-all of the romance, all justification for the attraction of these two people casually swept aside. In fact, when the fate card works the best, it adds conflict to the attraction. I am given not one compelling reason other than “oh he’s pretty” as to why Luce feels so drawn to Daniel. And then when he’s “revealing” their history to her, Luce is like, “but I saw you laughing with a friend that one time so you must be lying to me because obviously you’re not heartbroken enough.” But it’s okay, she’s here now, he explains, so he can no longer laugh like that. Um, what? That is not love. Although, maybe Luce and Daniel deserve each other.

Oh, and don’t forget there’s a love triangle. Or, there’s guy that also decides Luce is worth his time and devotion and obsession despite him, and us really, knowing nothing about her. And then he gets all kinds of problematic when she tells him “no,” and he doesn’t seen to understand that “no means no.”

And this romance, it’s the plot of the book. Don’t come looking for other plot lines. Sometimes those shadows come back around. And there’s a fire and stuff. But don’t worry. Luce goes right back to swooning and pining and obsessing. Maybe if she’d shown more than a passing interest in the others in the school outside of what they could do for her. Admittedly, she did allow Penn to hop in on her parent visit. That was nice. I needed more of that kind of interaction.

All of this is a real shame because I was really interested in the fallen angel aspect of the book. Good thing Miss Sophie, a religious teacher, is around to give us handy exposition, although as an exposition plot device she doesn’t do a particularly good job. She’s certainly no Giles. Except for some bits where she seems to speak my inner thoughts about Luce.

The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette

by Carolly Erickson

2/5 stars

They say the fearsome thing doesn’t always work well.

The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette follows Marie Antoinette from her final days in Austria through her last days as Queen of France. The novel is told in first person through Marie’s journal entries.

If this novel was supposed to present a complicated look at Marie Antoinette it failed miserably. Instead I read self-absorbed, largely uninteresting accounts again and again. Even the scandal of the court was watered down. While the book recounts Marie’s affair with Axel Fersen I never get a sense of why Marie is attracted to him, beyond good looks and an unsatisfactory husband. Which is all well and good, but even that is drawn mostly from reading between the lines (and not in a well laid out, intentional way). I spent most of the novel waiting to get to the good stuff.

Certain blurbs have indicated that as Marie grew up throughout the novel her voice would mature as well. I did not find this to be the case. In fact, the entire novel feels very simplistic to me from a narrative standpoint. The writing did not particularly impress me. Neither did I feel like I was connected to Marie’s voice. The blurb on goodreads promises “Carolly Erickson takes the reader deep into the psyche of France’s doomed queen.” I never felt like I was keep in Marie Antoinette’s psyche. Maybe skimming off the top matter of her mind. This was a fairly frivolous account, and even the dire events that should have been laced with stakes and anxiety never really felt like they mattered.

Most of the problems here come down to Marie not being a well-drawn character. Here we have a first person POV novel, presented as a diary no less, and I don’t feel like she is a fully formed, complex character. Instead she’s a vain party girl. We get to see her show some sympathy to her sister early in the novel, but then that Marie promptly disappears.

There is more interesting historical fiction out there. If you are interested in Marie Antoinette, there are other novels. Or you could catch a production of the new play Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi (Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago has a production upcoming this season). While this play is not perfect either, it gets me to think, and entertains me, a lot better than Erickson’s novel did. I have included some pictures from past productions of the play so you’ll at least have something pretty to look at.

(From the NYT article on the Yale Repertory production)

(from the SoHo Rep production, photo by Pavel Antonov)

(from a U of M spotlight on the design work from the Woolly Mammoth production)

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The Book of Unknown Americans

by Cristina Henríquez

4/5 stars

People do what they have to in this life. We try to get from one end of it to the other with dignity and with honor. We do the best we can.

Alma and Arturo Rivera leave Mexico after an accident leaves their daughter, Maribel, a shell of her former self. Her parents hope that a special school to help children with brain injuries will help bring their Maribel back to them, and they are willing to put their entire future, and a comfortable life in Mexico, on the line for this hope. Soon, they find themselves alone in Delaware, unfamiliar, and unable to speak English. Gradually, they get to know the area, and their neighbors. Maribel makes friends with a neighbor boy, Mayor, and they both open up to each other in ways they are unable to with their family. The Book of Unknown Americans follows the Rivera family, and members of their new community, as they try to make day to day. The novel is told in alternating points-of-view.

I was drawn into this novel from the first. These characters compelled me. I could feel Alma’s fear and anxiety throughout most of the novel. At first, I had trouble with her innate fear of a boy she first sees hanging out outside a gas station. Then I realized that I can be made to feel uncomfortable by the same occurance. How much worse would it be if I felt myself utterly vulnerable without the comfort of language? One of the scenes in the novel that sticks with me most follows Alma getting on the wrong bus in the rain, even as she knows she should be meeting her daughter for the end of school school. The communication barrier makes this all the more terrifying and frantic as she tries to deliberately problem-solve the situation.

The relationships in this novel were beautiful. I mourned for the distance I saw growing between Alma and Arturo, even as they put everything they could into bringing their daughter back for them. I rooted for the emotional intimacy Maribel and Mayor found together that they couldn’t seem to find with their families, even as I was constantly questioning where the borders of this intimacy lay. Mayor’s relationship with his father, left me longing for more for him. These were well-drawn characters capable of interesting and complex relationships that felt real and honest.

I think longing is a good word for this novel. All of these characters are longing, and many of them are actively going after their desires. And when characters come up short of these hopes and wishes, that do not feel like they should be out of reach, it is heartbreaking. And Henríquez displays all of this as the characters simply living their lives, their truth. With the exception of maybe a moment at the end it does not feel like pathos. I do not feel like I am being manipulated as a reader, even as it would be so easy to do this.

I initially wasn’t sure what I thought of the interludes containing the migration stories of other people in the community. I was worried it would break me from the narrative. But they grew on me, even if I wished these characters had an even larger presence in the story to justify their voices interspersed throughout. There were hints at community. At the same time, the feeling of isolation and being away from the familiar is a huge part of the narrative, so the limited community is a very deliberate choice. The last interlude makes them all worth it. Do not peek ahead.

The end of this novel came at me a little fast. But, at the same time Henríquez had been building up to it. I just wasn’t ready. There were times I wanted more from the story.

This story has a strong, beating heart guided by interesting, flawed characters doing the best they can. I loved the story, and I loved the message. I will definitely be on the lookout for further work from Henríquez, and may have to get my hands on her backlist, a short story collection entitled Come Together, Fall Apart and a novel entitled The World in Half.

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The Three Musketeers

*Note: while I read an edition of the Three Musketeers released with a 90s movie tie-in cover, I have included above the cover from the fun Penguin Classics edition. I love Penguin classics covers.

4/5 stars

Everyone knows God protects drunkards and lovers.

Fresh-faced young Gascon d’Artagnan leaves his home to go to Paris and join up with the ranks of Musketeers under the command of M. de Treville. d’Artagnan soon finds himself friends with Musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. They all battle against the whims of Cardinal Richelieu and his spy network.

You know that scene in action movies where people walk away from explosions in slow-mo? That’s kind of what I picture with this book. Except our heroes probably set the fire. Maybe on accident, but they would claim it wasn’t. The motto of the Musketeers may be “one for all and all for one” but it might as well be “I wracked up a large body count over a small, perceived slight. Or because I was bored. You know what? YOLO.” d’Artagnan spends most of the novel notably not working on his anger management issues and working to officially become a Musketeer. Naturally, he makes all his best friends by way of sword fight.

And somewhere in my pop culture conception of the Three Musketeers over the years I got something vastly wrong. I was under the impression that this was a serious, swashbuckling adventure story. Maybe I got this from the watching the film version of the Man in the Iron Mask. Or reading the Count of Monte Cristo. Definitely not from the recent Three Musketeers movie featuring Orlando Bloom which I call “Steampunk Musketeers”. The point is, this is wrong. Yes, there is adventure. But this is a comedy.

Basically, Dumas is making these characters act like fools at every turn. These are people who will fight over a handkerchief. Use their last bits of money on a lavish meal. Languish and contemplate joining the clergy, until their lover comes back around. And the main conflict isn’t even a matter of national security. d’Artagnan professes his undying love for a woman (who is conveniently already married) until she disappears for a while, then he is free to become obsessed with someone else. Mostly because he knows this new woman does not like him. Actions just overall feel free of consequences in this world, except for the good kind. But ignore the first time d’Artagnan is officially made a Musketeer because that’s a fluke. Dumas promptly forgets it by the next chapter. But don’t worry. d’Artagnan will “earn” his place again. Dumas is getting in some great social commentary. Read a profound quote from this novel somewhere on the internet? Might want to check the novel to see what context it was used in. My guess? Ironically. But, there are still some ironic truthbombs scattered throughout.

Let’s get this part straight, these people should be no one’s examples of how to behave in a chivalrous or honorable way. Honestly, d’Artagnan is kind of horrible. Especially to women. Women are treated pretty awfully here. And then Milady the one chick with agency, although still wrapped up in problems, gets a really awful ending. But if you want to see people running around with swords acting like fools and stabbing things willy-nilly, this is for you. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, because it was kind of ridiculous in a lot of ways. I just had to rethink my expectations of the novel a bit.

Needless to say, I was unprepared for the Three Musketeers. I enjoyed it in a much different way than the Count of Monte Cristo, which remains my favorite Dumas as of now. In the Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond has some justification on his side. Additionally, he acts pretty honorably to those who just happen to be caught in the crossfire, the innocents. In the Three Musketeers you’d be hard pressed to find an innocent. But it’s fun and lighthearted. It’s basically the 19th century version of an action movie. I would love to read a good analysis of all the social commentary Dumas is accomplishing with the Three Musketeers.  If you know of one, let me know! Also, as I’ve only seen the steampunk Musketeers, if you know a movie (or stage!) adaptation that gets the tone of this novel right, let me know!

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Illusions of Fate

by Kiersten White

2.5/5 stars

Alliances, how I adore alliances. And weddings. Which are really the same thing.

Jessamin has left her island home to study magic in Albion. Her days are busy with school, in which she must work twice as hard as her classmates, and the work she does at a hotel to support herself. But her life is upended when she runs into Finn, a young lord who instantly compelled by Jessamin. Soon she is drug into the world of magic, and the politics, of Albion’s aristocracy.

All the ideas here are things here are my literary weak points. Fantasy/magic within a stratified society that is basically Victorian England. Political intrigue. Quippy characters. And yet, with everything going for it, Illusions of Fate never reaches its full potential.

I enjoy both Jessamin and Finn, but I wish they had been more developed. Their romance is basically insta-love, but White manages to distract me from this for a good portion of the novel thanks to quippy dialogue. They are given backstories, but they never feel fully developed. And when Jessamin’s past comes calling at the hotel in the form of Kellen, he feels completely unnecessary. In fact, Eleanor and the bird may be my favorite characters in the book.

The plot itself here is kind of haphazard. A fight between two powerful magicians is fine, but the reasons and stakes of the fight between Finn and Lord Downpike are hazy. There was a lot of talk of war and the continent and whatnot, but White did not really convey what this would mean for our characters. I didn’t like that for most of the novel Jessamin was a pawn between the two men, despite White’s best efforts to make her active. And keeping her out of the political intricacies of the conflict, and us, did not help this at all. Add in to this a “reveal” at the end that was unjustified enough to make me a little bit angry. This may have been much more successful as strictly a romance, even if I spent most of the novel conflicted about Finn’s urge to protect Jessamin and how she reacted to this. She fights to keep her normal life, but then we don’t really get to see her living it. So, she stands up for herself but Finn wins anyway? Yay?

In terms of the world, the “Albion” here was so thinly disguised as Britain I don’t even know why we bothered to change the name. And while White began to touch on colonialism, she never really got there all the way. And this “fantasy” world would have been a perfect opportunity to really complicate the victor narrative of Britain at the time. I mean, I know most people recognize it as extremely problematic today, but I don’t think I really had a conversation about this until college. Plant those seeds. One of the places where this part of the narrative lacked is that I never truly felt Jessamin’s connection to her island home. It was something she was good at telling, but not showing.

While I enjoyed this much more than the last Kiersten White novel I read, she seems to continually pull me in with these kick butt ideas that lose something in the execution. Part of it may also be the length. Based on consistency in the length of her body of work, maybe she is writing to a length, and an audience, that just can’t do all that I wan to see explored in these novels. But, regardless of length, it can still be beefed up a bit.

One more thing: good on you whoever designed that cover. 1) It drew me in. 2)  I basically knew exactly what I was going in for with this novel. The only thing I wish about the cover is that it hadn’t been quite so white washed. Jessamin describes herself as an islander, and for sticking out for her skin. The girl on this cover has a slightly darker complexion, or a good tan? She’s gorgeous don’t get me wrong. But can we actually put the main character on the cover?

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Brown Girl Dreaming

by Jacqueline Woodson

4/5 stars

I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.

Jacqueline Woodson was born in the North, then moved to South Carolina, and finally ended up in New York City. In Brown Girl Dreaming Woodson explores her early life.Her glimpses at her family. Friendships.  At the places that made up her early life. She gives hints at the racial turmoil going on in the 60s when she was growing up. She talks about the protests. The Black Panthers offering breakfast to children before school. But her narrative most focuses on growing up. And the fear and wonder therein.

I didn’t know I needed a middle-grade memoir in poetry. I was wrong. I generally don’t consider myself someone with enough patience for poetry. I’m a quick reader, and while I savor words, I don’t think I take enough time with poems. I’m tempted by the next turn of phrase, the next idea, too quickly generally to dwell too long on the one before. But Woodson got me. Her words are simple and beautiful and powerful. There’s really not much for me to say here. Woodson builds up feelings in her poems, creating something both familiar and ethereal.

One of the poems in the book that sticks with me most is when Woodson talks about being compared to her sister in the classroom. Woodson’s sister can constantly be found with a book. She’s smart. When Woodson enters a classroom, teachers expect her to be as quick as her sister. Until they don’t. The expectations set up for her, and her eventual failure,  are heartbreaking. And it makes it all the better as Woodson seamlessly accepts herself, finds contentment in the way she processes and loves stories.

Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen

Brown Girl Dreaming was the Reblog Book club pick on tumblr recently. So if you go over to tumblr and search #BrownGirlDreaming or #ReblogBookClub you’ll find some great conversation surrounding this book. This is a quick read, and one you’ll be glad you gave your time to.

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Grave Mercy

 

by Robin LaFevers

5/5 stars

When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.

Ismae’s father has sold her into marriage. While Ismae isn’t happy about it, she hopes it will at least get her away from the abuse she faces at home. Her home life has never been happy. Her mother attempted to abort her with herbs, but Ismae survived, scars and all. Many in her small village believe this makes her a daughter of death. When her new husband discovers the scars these herbs have left he feels like he’s been tricked. He locks her in the cellar where she is rescued and taken to the convent of St. Mortain, the pagan god of death.

Historical fiction. Political Intrigue. A slow build romance that doesn’t pirate the entire narrative. Well built characters. I’ve had this on my list for a while, and I have no clue why it’s taken me so long to read. I’m glad I decided to go ahead and read the first two books before the last in the series comes out on November 4th (If the second is as good as Grave Mercy, the last installment should prove a pretty great birthday present to myself).

I’m a sucker for some good political intrigue in a court setting. I love that this was Brittany too. This is a relatively small land holding in the modern conception, but this made the stakes higher. Everyone wanted it, and its size made it harder to protect and keep. They are also fighting for their old ways of life and belief. When all this clashes with personal interests it makes for an interesting read. Add to this a female assassin and we’re cooking with gas. Although, I did wonder sometimes how she maneuvered so effectively in her gowns. That’s talent folks. Yes, I did predict some of the political plot points, but I don’t know that any of it was necessarily supposed to be a surprise for the reader.

Were there other parts of the court I wish I could have seen? Yes. But LaFevers does a spot-on job of keeping us focused on what serves our plot while also including details that help set the stage without dedicating pages to descriptions. The characters go on hunts. There was entertainment in the great hall on a pageant day. I wish there had been more detail at times, but I’m glad these details never overwhelmed the narrative.

I was invested in these characters. I love how Ismae gradually grew and changed over the course of the novel. This is a strong female character who also has weaknesses and vulnerabilities. She gets snippy when she is afraid she doesn’t appear strong enough, or looks like she doesn’t know something. She is loyal, even when she feels her loyalties are split. She intrigues me. I also appreciated that while romance was a definite part of the story, it didn’t overtake everything. It made me root for our couple all the harder. And it made their feelings feel more mature.

I enjoyed the friendship between Ismae, Annith, and Sybella, and I wish I’d gotten more than peeks of it. I wonder what their early days at the convent together looked like. Sometimes I feel cheated that I did not get to see these scenes in the convent, others I thank LaFevers’ pacing instincts that she saved us from some literary training montages that really wouldn’t have served the plot in any distinctive way. I hope that this friendship is further explored as the series goes along.

The supernatural world of the novel is somewhat half-formed and confusing, but oddly enough I kind of liked that. For me, it helped set the tone of mysticism in the later middle ages/ early Renaissance when the novel is set. There was no way to really know the rules, or know if it was true, but belief was everything. Watching Ismae grapple with these beliefs as she went from a sheltered girl in the convent that saved her, to an active member of the intrigues at court was interesting and dynamic. I think a lot of people can relate to that shift in early adulthood where you take ownership of your beliefs, and they may or may not match up with what you’ve been taught your entire life.

This is just a well-crafted, fun novel that hits a lot of my literary sweet spots.

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