YA Weekend: Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (February 28, 2023)

Length: 512 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

A haunted house sits in the center of Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury, a young adult horror novel following the lives of two young black women whose stories unfold a decade apart.

In the beginning we meet Daisy Odlin, a seventeen-year-old who can see dead people. Living in Toronto, a bustling city home to millions, encountering ghosts everywhere she goes has been an unavoidable reality for as long as she can remember. Negative vibes seem to attract them, as Daisy believes, and unfortunately, there’s little for her to feel happy about these days. Her older boyfriend has just dumped her and, completely new to love and naïve to the toxic signs of an abusive relationship, Daisy is left feeling lost, sad, and angry. But then one day, a phone call changes her life. Her mother has just inherited a mansion in rural northern Ontario, offering a fresh start and a chance to escape. Having spent her childhood summers there, Daisy’s mom has plans to turn the house into a luxurious AirBnB, but strange things start happening almost as soon as they arrive. The two of them are also staying in the separate bunkie on the property, and for no reason she can fathom, Daisy is forbidden to ever set foot in the main house. Why is her mother being so secretive, and why do their neighbors, a family of self-proclaimed psychics, keep insisting on coming over to do a spiritual cleansing?

Ten years later, the house is again at the focus of a popular investigative web series called Haunted, whose creator Brittney wants the new season to be about the missing and forgotten black girls who go ignored in the media. But Brittney has a personal stake in this story as well. Her cold, disparaging mother, who had stayed at the house as an AirBnB guest, later claimed in her bestselling book that the experience turned her life around. Brittney, however, believes it all to be a sham. She wants to debunk the “Miracle Mansion” myth by shining a light on the tragic events surrounding a young black victim that occurred there, and also to expose her mother for the liar and scam artist she knows her to be.

This novel was a great read, which I actually enjoyed more than my last book by Liselle Sambury. Don’t get me wrong, Blood Like Magic certainly had its moments, but it was still at its heart a rather run-of-the-mill YA paranormal fantasy while Delicious Monsters told a much more sophisticated story that explored themes and topics going far deeper than its YA horror label. In fact, despite its haunted and ghostly trimmings, this book wasn’t conventionally frightening or even that creepy at all. The monsters our main characters deal with are of the more earthly sort, as both Daisy and Brittney wrestle with their emotional demons while looking for the truth in different ways.

As with most stories told via dual perspectives though, Delicious Monsters occasionally runs into issues related to pacing and balance. While efforts were clearly made to split the attention between the two protagonists, I felt that Daisy’s chapters were not only more eventful and detailed, but they were also infused with more intellectual and emotional depth.

Granted, Brittney’s role as a filmmaker might have put her into a more secondary role than her subject, who was Daisy herself, but I never really understood the former’s deep and unbridled bitterness for her mother. Meanwhile, in Daisy readers got more of a coming-of-age narrative exploring the ups and downs of a girl trying to navigate relationship problems, mom problems, moving-from-the-city-to-a-small-town problems…all the while struggling with the fact she sees dead people. Not to mention it can be a callous world with some of its more hideous realities—such as a one-sided relationship with an older man exhibiting predatory behavior by taking advantage of an inexperienced and moonstruck teenager.

Likely that also explained why I was more willing to give Daisy a pass when it came to the excessive hostility wafting off her character, as I felt that she had been badly treated in the past, and as a seventeen-year-old still trying to figure out life, the angst might have been slightly warranted. On the other hand, I had a much tougher time connecting with Brittney whose approach to life with a massive chip on her shoulder got old pretty quickly. I just find it hard to sympathize with judgmental characters who think that feeling crappy entitles them to be nasty to their friends or people they don’t know. Like I said, it might have something to do with the fact I felt readers didn’t get to know Brittney as well as Daisy, but generally, there is a lot of anger and resentful coming off from both characters in this book, where the supporting characters are definitely more reasonable and likeable.

Its flaws aside though, I would still recommend Delicious Monsters. This feels like a very personal book, which can be gleaned in moments especially from the Daisy chapters, and despite the uneven pacing and slower first half, the ending with its revelations and emotional punches made it all worthwhile.

Thursday Thriller Audio: The Angel Maker by Alex North

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Angel Maker by Alex North

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 28, 2023)

Length: 8 hrs and 1 min

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Rosalie Craig

If you could see the future, would you want to?

At 17 years old, Katie Shaw didn’t know what to say to her boyfriend Sam when he asked her that question. What if you didn’t like what you saw, and there was nothing you could do about it? Life is a series of decisions, and if you could see the future but didn’t know which choices led you there, then how could you even begin to know how to change it?

The day she and Sam had that conversation also ended up being the worst day of Katie‘s life. One moment of impulse was all it took, a single irresponsible decision by our protagonist which led to her beloved little brother Chris having to walk home from school by himself. It meant that the young boy was all alone and defenseless when a knife-wielding madman named Michael Hyde ambushed him from out of nowhere and almost took his life. This attack changed the Shaws’ lives forever. The trauma left Chris with scars both physical and mental, sending him down a path of darkness which led to drug abuse in his adult years. Katie never forgave herself, and now almost twenty years later, she is still living with the guilt. Estranged from Chris, she instead pours all her love and attention into her own family which includes Sam, now her husband, and their young daughter Sienna.

But then one day, Katie receives a phone call from her mother. Sounding very distressed, she claims that Chris has turned over a new leaf in recent years, but now she’s worried because he’s gone missing. Aware of her mom’s massive blind spot for anything that has to do with her youngest child, Katie has some doubts, but promises to try and see what she can find out. But what neither of them know is that Chris has caught the attention of a serial killer with dangerous delusions of being able to see the future, who will stop at nothing until he catches his prey. Meanwhile, a pair of detectives investigate the murder of wealthy philosophy professor Alan Hobbes, who had mysteriously put all his affairs in order just hours before his death—almost as though he’d known his killer was coming. In Alan’s possessions, the detectives also find a collection of notes and items related to a serial killer from the 1950s and 60s known as the Angel Maker.

Gradually, the story begins to weave together the threads connecting the police investigation into Alan Hobbes’ death with Katie Shaw’s frantic search for her brother. Along the way, the events of the past and present are revealed through the eyes of multiple characters, showing that the plot actually goes much deeper than previously realized.

The Angel Maker featured some great writing, and in fact it may be my favorite of Alex North’s novels that I’ve read so far! I would describe the pacing as slow burn, but definitely balanced enough that it was never boring. That said, the amount of setup in the first half of the book can be quite daunting and demanding on the reader’s patience, mainly due to the shear amount if background context involved as well as the not-so-linear format of storytelling.

Ironically, I found the detective chapters to be the driest, as their sole purpose appeared to be revealing the history of the Angel Maker murders and the backstory for our killer (speaking of which, North also seems to have a penchant for writing over-the-top villains and this was no exception). Thankfully though, to make up for this we have Katie’s chapters which were always running a mile a minute as she pretty much solves the mystery of her missing brother on her own, thank you very much.

This novel was also a good listen, as I had the pleasure of reviewing the audiobook edition read by Rosalie Craig. It was my first experience with her as a narrator and I thought she did a fine job with all the characters’ voices which ranged from young to old with very diverse backgrounds and accents.

Part police procedural, part psychological thriller, The Angel Maker blends mystery, horror and even a dash of the supernatural as it explores the doctrine of determinism and questions whether our fates are written in stone or alterable. Throw in a hefty dose of heart-wrenching family drama as well, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a compelling read. If that sounds like what you’re looking for, I wouldn’t miss it.

Waiting on Wednesday 03/08/23

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Malevolent Seven by Sebastian de Castell (May 16, 2023 by Jo Fletcher Books)

“‘Seven powerful mages want to make the world a better place. We’re going to kill them first.’

Picture a wizard. Go ahead, close your eyes. There he is, see? Skinny old guy with a long straggly beard. No doubt he’s wearing iridescent silk robes that couldn’t protect his frail body from a light breeze. The hat’s a must, too, right? Big, floppy thing, covered in esoteric symbols that would instantly show every other mage where this one gets his magic? Wouldn’t want a simple steel helmet or something that might, you know, protect the part of him most needed for conjuring magical forces from being bashed in with a mace (or pretty much any household object).

Now open your eyes and let me show you what a real war mage looks like . . . but be warned: you’re probably not going to like it, because we’re violent, angry, dangerously broken people who sell our skills to the highest bidder and be damned to any moral or ethical considerations.

At least, until such irritating concepts as friendship and the end of the world get in the way.

My name is Cade Ombra, and though I currently make my living as a mercenary wonderist, I used to have a far more noble-sounding job title – until I discovered the people I worked for weren’t quite as noble as I’d believed. Now I’m on the run and my only friend, a homicidal thunder mage, has invited me to join him on a suicide mission against the seven deadliest mages on the continent.  

Time to recruit some very bad people to help us on this job . . .”

Book Review: Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Del Rey (February 21, 2023)

Length: 240 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Nocturne by Alyssa Wees weaves a compelling story and it’s quite imaginative for a retelling. That’s why it pains to say I found it quite disappointing.

In this strange and very different reimagining of the Beauty & The Beast fairy tale, we follow a promising young ballerina in 1930s Chicago who suddenly finds herself standing at the crossroads of fate when her talent attracts the attention of a wealthy patron. Growing up in hard times following the Great War, Grace Dragotta only had one dream: to dance for the Near North Ballet Company and become their prima ballerina. After losing her family, the ballet becomes her life, and through hard work and dedication she finally achieves her goal.

But as it turns out, things aren’t that simple. Grace finds out that her new coveted position comes with strings. It turns out that Master LaRosa, a enigmatic prince and philanthropist of the arts had arranged for her to become prima ballerina after making a hefty donation to the company. As part of the arrangement, Grace must also travel to LaRosa’s estate and live with him there, but for what purpose, she has no idea. All she knows is that her new master’s mansion is as otherworldly and mysterious as the man, and that she must unlock its secrets in order to discover her purpose.

While I really don’t want to knock Nocturne too hard because in truth the story is quite creative, admittedly this book can also be a little confusing. The beginning is the most straightforward and easiest part to understand, but unfortunately it is also the slowest. With a mother who wasted away from illness and a brother who was gunned down in the streets, Grace has a backstory that is both tragic and traumatic, but it also takes forever to unfold.

By the time she makes prima ballerina and is whisked away to some rich prince’s palace, the pacing starts to pick up, but this is also when things start to get weird. Once Master LaRosa’s true nature is revealed (and It’s honestly quite predictable), we next start down this endless winding path of him telling Grace what to do—what to eat, how to dress, when she can leave the house and only to go where he wants her to go. He’s a “Beast”, that’s clear enough, but then he also shows her his creepy portal which is a gateway to the realm of death and asks her to marry him, making it clear he will not stop until he gets the answer he seeks. For Grace, the situation is complicated, and not only because he is her patron. In spite of herself, she finds herself drawn to the master and his proposal because of the power only he can give her, even knowing that accepting it will cost her everything. Only her love of life and dancing prevents her from saying yes.

But issues surrounding this whole disturbing scenario aside, deep down I know the author is only trying to mirror the original source material. Truth be told, what I actually struggled with the most was the writing style, which was purple to the extreme—one of the worst examples of overly flowery and convoluted prose I’ve ever seen. Wees seemed more interested in showcasing her ability to come up with fancy metaphors and use a thesaurus than anything else. It became almost unbearable to the point where it took a lot away from my enjoyment and any interest to follow the plot or connect with the characters, when so much of the text is just insubstantial fluff. It’s hard to relate to or sympathize with Grace and her troubles when it’s all being overshadowed by the over-the-top prose.

Ultimately, I can’t say I would recommend Nocturne. It’s a unique take on a fairy tale classic for sure, but the execution was somewhat marred by the flowery writing style which negatively impacted my ability to engage with the story and characters. I wanted to like this book so much, but it just wasn’t for me.

Audiobook Review: Murder at Haven’s Rock by Kelley Armstrong

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Murder at Haven’s Rock by Kelley Armstrong

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Book 1 of Haven’s Rock

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 21, 2023)

Length: 10 hrs and 33 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Therese Plummer

When the Rockton series ended, I was relieved to learn that it won’t be the last we’ll see of Casey Duncan, Eric Dalton, and the gang. Enter Haven’s Rock, the new spinoff that’s really just a continuation of Rockton under a new name, though given all the new changes it’s easy to see how a rebranding might be in order.

Theoretically, Murder at Haven’s Rock could work as a jumping point for new readers, but I wouldn’t recommend it. While the mystery plot itself may be able to stand alone, you’ll still be missing out on years’ worth of character histories and dynamics. More importantly, Rockton is just so good, you would be doing a disservice to yourself not to start from the very beginning.

On that note, please also be aware this review may contain spoilers for the Rockton series—especially the ending. As certain events ultimately led the closing of the original town, Casey and Eric have decided to oversee and finance the building of a new one, and they have named it Haven’s Rock. Like its predecessor, it is meant to be a refuge for those who don’t wish to be found. Even now, construction is being carried out with the utmost secrecy, taking place in the middle of the Yukon wilderness.

However, things are not off to a great start. Before the town can even officially open its doors, two members of the construction crew suddenly go missing in the night, and Casey and Eric are called in to help track them down. The situation only goes downhill from there when a body of a woman is found in the woods, confirming Casey’s worst fears. They thought they had chosen the perfect place to build Haven’s Rock, a safe place to start over. But soon, as her investigation leads to more death and more foul play, the mounting evidence leaves no room for doubt: there is a murderer on the prowl, leaving the future of their new town in question.

I really enjoyed Murder at Haven’s Rock, but to fully understand why, we must go back to my reviews of some of the later Rockton books. Namely, I’d noted things were starting to feel a little stale, given how we were six or seven books deep in a series that took place in the middle of nowhere and we were starting to see some repeating patterns in the storylines or plots that became increasingly ridiculous just to keep things fresh. Well, this series fixes all that, shaking up the status quo and ensuring everyone gets their chance at a brand new start. Meanwhile, all the things I loved about Rockton, like the fantastic setting and the locked-room style mystery plots, are happily preserved.

My favorite part though, is that feeling of limitless potential. I’ve missed that. Hats off to Kelley Armstrong for all the work she put into the set up of Murder at Haven’s Rock to ensure that it ends with a lot to lead into the next book. These characters are amazing, though if you already were a fan of the Rockton novels, I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but it still fills me with delight to see Haven’s Rock giving Casey and Eric a new purpose, taking them to another level of their game.

I also had the pleasure of reviewing the audiobook edition, and if you haven’t been initiated to the voice talents of Thérèse Plummer yet, I highly recommend her narration. She became one of my favorite narrators after listening to the original Rockton series and I was so thrilled to listen to her again in Murder at Haven’s Rock. I look forward to the next book.

Waiting on Wednesday 03/01/23

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Defiant by Brandon Sanderson (November 21, 2023 by Delacorte)

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson comes the final book in an epic series about a girl who will travel beyond the stars to save the world she loves from destruction.

Spensa made it out of the Nowhere, but what she saw in the space between the stars has changed her forever. She came face to face with the Delvers, and finally got answers to the questions she’s had about her own strange Cytonic gifts.

The Superiority didn’t stop in it’s fight for galactic dominance while she was gone, though. Spensa’s team, Skyward Flight, was able to hold Winzik off, and even collect allies to help with the cause, but it’s only a matter of time until humanity–and the rest of the galaxy–falls.

Defeating them will require all the knowledge Spensa gathered while in the Nowhere. But being Cytonic is more complicated than she ever could have imagined. Now, Spensa must ask herself: how far is she willing to go for victory, if it means losing herself–and her friends–in the process.

The final book in the Skyward series will free humanity, or see it fall forever.”

Book Review: Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Books (February 21, 2023)

Length: 128 pages

Author Information: Website

Not gonna lie, I probably should’ve been paying more attention in high school when my Lit class did Antigone, but hey, apparently enough got through. There’s a lot to appreciate about Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth, not least of which is how closely this sci-fi retelling hews to the original Athenian tragedy by Sophocles.

The setting is the distant future. We are on Earth, but the planet has become a wasteland. To preserve what’s left of humanity, the genetic material of those who die are extracted and stored away in a repository called the Archive. Every person still living is a gift, every viable womb precious, but women no longer have children naturally. Instead, most choose to procreate by selecting desirable traits for their offspring from the Archive, with those who were conceived the natural way shunned for being soulless.

For this reason, Antigone and her siblings are considered outcasts in their society, despite their parents Oedipus and Jocasta being the leaders of the last city where the remnants of humanity still cling to life. When her parents are murdered, however, Antigone and her sister are taken in by their traitorous uncle Kreon who keeps his nieces alive even after seizing the throne because of the value they represent: vessels to bring forth the future generation.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of challenges to writing a sci-fi reimagining of an ancient classic, which requires bringing together elements that by all accounts should not mix well or readily. Yet Roth manages to pull it off, using the setting to her advantage. Important details of people, events, and places from Antigone are woven into the greater dystopian backdrop which includes exploration of subjects like love, freedom, duty and power, both on personal and societal levels. While it may help if you are familiar with the original play, it is also not a requirement, as I believe the larger themes and ideas can speak for themselves.

As you may have noticed, Arch-Conspirator is also a thin volume coming in at a little over 100 pages, which made for a quick read. That said, the advantage of its brevity is somewhat offset by the sparsity of detail, and I mean, this story is lean. On the one hand, I don’t think an Antigone retelling needs much extra padding; you want to hit that sweet spot where you let knowledge of the source material fill in any gaps, and any overwriting may in fact get in the way and prompt unnecessary questions. But still. Some of the themes could have been made more impactful if we’d had more time to expand and ruminate on them, and I think I would have felt a stronger connection to Antigone if her character had been developed further.

Still, the fact that I looked forward to seeing how the conflict will resolve and that the story still managed to surprise me speaks volumes. I felt invested in the plot, I cared about what happened to Antigone and her sister, and I was never given the chance to be bored. Veronica Roth has come a long way since her Divergent days, this is not your usual retelling or paint-by-numbers dystopian sci-fi where everything is spelled out for you. Arch-Conspirator is a compact but sophisticated novella that takes the general framework of Antigone and brings forth an in-depth exploration into hard questions and tough choices in an unsettling futuristic world.

Bookshelf Roundup 02/26/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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Received for Review

My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

Another short update this week. With thanks to Subterranean Press, I received a couple of new ARCs: H’ard Starts: The Early Waldrop by Howard Waldrop edited by Geroge R.R. Martin and Bradley Denton is a collection of works from the author’s long career; Under the Hollywood Sign by Tom Reamy is a gathering of short stories including two previously uncollected pieces.

Also thank you to Orbit Books for the exciting arrival of Paradise-1 by David Wellington, a new sci-fi horror coming out this spring. The book’s tagline reads: “Endless dark. Endless terror.” Enough said.

Speaking of terror, my thanks also to Gallery/Saga Press for an ARC of The Reformatory by Tananarive Due, a Jim Crow era horror set at a segregated reform school said to be haunted from the boys who have died there.

And last but not least, courtesy of the team at Minotaur Books I received a surprise copy of Good Dog, Bad Cop by David Rosenfelt, the newest novel from the K Team series. I don’t know too much about these books but they look perfect for police procedural fans and dog lovers.


Wait, I reviewed two 5-star books in a week?! Crazy, right? Meanwhile, I only gave five books in 2022 that distinction. What can I say, but 2023 is off to a strong start and I just hope that momentum carries into spring and beyond.

The Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan (5 of 5 stars)
Sea Castle by Andrew Mayne (5 of 5 stars)
Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder (3.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Been Reading

This week, I devoured Tyranny of Faith and it was totally awesome. Meanwhile, all I can say about Nocturne is…oof. Okay, the story wasn’t bad, certainly a very creative retelling of Beauty & the Beast. My problem with it was that it had the worst purple prose I have ever read, and I mean it is so over-the-top flowery that I can’t even. Review to come.

Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read!

Book Review: The Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of Empire of the Wolf

Publisher: Orbit (February 14, 2023)

Length: 560 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Exhilaration and heartbreak—and everything in between. That’s what I experienced reading this sequel to my favorite book of 2022, the stunning fantasy debut by Richard Swan that was The Justice of Kings, and I’m happy to say the Empire of the Wolf series is in no way slowing down with The Tyranny of Faith.

For one, we pick up almost immediately following the events of the last book. The Battle of Galen’s Vale may have ended, but the work has just begun for Justice Konrad Vonvalt, whose duty as the Emperor’s lawkeeper means tracking down the perpetrators of this growing rebellion. Once more, the narrative is told through the eyes of Helena Sedanka, who is looking back into the past and recalling her time as a much younger woman traveling with the legendary Justice and her companions Dubine Bressinger and Sir Radomir. As they make their way to the capital city of Sova following the whispers of sedition, Vonvolt is also wracked by a mysterious illness exacerbated by what he has come here to do—root out those who are said to have been conspiring with Bartholomew Claver and his templar knights, some of whom have been Vonvolt’s closest friends and colleagues.

Loathe as she is to believe it though, Helena cannot deny the Emperor’s allegations as more evidence mounts of the city’s nobles speaking opening against his rule. Vonvolt does what he does best, purging Sova of those alleged to be traitors, but just as he is about to make headway on the hunt for Claver, the Emperor’s grandson is kidnapped. Sensing a distraction, Vonvolt wants to continue on his path but the Emperor will hear none of it, ordering the Justice and his team to focus on rescuing the young prince.

If this series is a trilogy, then we have now reached The Empire Strikes Back point of the story arc. The plotting is near-perfect as the tensions surrounding the rebellion builds and readers are transported to the heart of the rot, where dissidents have been slowly chipping away at the authority of the Emperor and throwing the government of Sova into chaos.

But my favorite part of the book, not surprisingly, was the character development. Helena, oh how I love Helena! Barely out of her teens when this story takes place, she still has much to learn about the world, not to mention plenty of idealistic beliefs yet to be shattered. One of these is her faith in Sir Vonvolt’s infallibility, which is challenged again and again as she realizes her mentor can make mistakes like anyone else. Her trust in the system is also tested when she is faced with morally gray questions that she can’t answer by falling back on the rule of the law. Happily, older Helena, the version telling this tale, is refreshingly candid and unabashed about her youthful naivete, going into unflinchingly honest detail about everything from her humiliating misadventures to her awkward and ineffable feelings towards Sir Vonvolt. We also clearly see how she has grown both physically and mentally between the two books. I’ve rarely felt such a strong connection to a character, but the way Helena was written made her feel completely genuine and believable.

The supporting characters were also superb. From The Justice of Kings, we already know Bressinger quite well, but in The Tyranny of Faith our traveling party is joined by Sir Radomir, a lawman who has decided that Vonvolt’s cause is a worthy one to join. Both men struggle with their own demons, but together with Helena the trio form an unshakeable friendship that can weather any storm.

There’s absolutely no brakes on the plot either. There’s mystery, action, and intrigue, with every development expertly crafted, each revelation building upon the last. I can’t remember the last time I read such an invigorating epic fantasy blending magic and adventure, war and treachery, tender love and heart-wrenching tragedy, all this and more in one mind-blowing package.

In the end, I finished The Tyranny of Faith feeling both exultant and emotionally destroyed. Like The Justice of Kings, this sequel was also masterpiece in worldbuilding and storytelling, and I simply cannot recommend this series enough. How Richard Swan will follow up this volume remains to be seen, all I know is I can hardly wait to read the next book. If you’re a fan of the genre, you must check out Empire of the Wolf.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Justice of Kings (Book 1)

Thriller Thursday Audio: Sea Castle by Andrew Mayne

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Sea Castle by Andrew Mayne

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Book 4 of Underwater Investigation Unit

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (February 21, 2023)

Length: 7 hrs and 57 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Susannah Jones

Sea Castle is probably the best book and my favorite in the Underwater Investigation Unit series so far, but ironically, it also features the least amount of underwater investigation. That’s right, UIU is taking a break, at least the time being. When the book starts, the unit has disbanded, and Sloan McPherson has been reshuffled to another part of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement when the body of a young woman washes up on shore, and our protagonist is called up to the scene for a consult.

And that’s pretty much all the wetsuit action you’ll see in Sea Castle.

Still, while her new colleagues are ready to rule the case an accident or suicide, Sloan isn’t so sure. There are certain elements that don’t add up, making her suspect that the victim was murdered.

Unfortunately, the only other person who can help her find the killer is Gwen Wylder, a curmudgeonly old detective with a reputation for being difficult to work with, and sure enough, Gwen makes Sloan jump through all sorts of hoops before she would agree to hear her out. Happily, our girl aces all the tests, even making headway on a couple of Gwen’s cold cases, impressing the older woman and setting the two of them on the trail of a crafty serial killer who may have hunted the Florida coast for years without detection.

Author Andrew Mayne is back on form with this fourth installment in a series that I’d been concerned was starting to fizzle out. Truth be told, I wasn’t crazy about the last book, Sea Storm, which I felt was weak on plot and lacked the typical levels of excitement I’d come to expect from the author’s work. To be fair though, Sea Storm also relied heavily into the internal politics of law enforcement and government for its intrigue, and to each their own, but I just wasn’t a fan. I’d much rather my mystery thrillers be about solving cold cases and chasing serial killers, thanks.

And that’s what Sea Castle was all about! I loved everything in this book from its twisted, unpredictable plotline to its dastardly mastermind villain. It didn’t even matter to me that we got hardly any underwater action, though I can see how the lack of it might jar some readers considering it’s the main hook of the series. Characters we’d gotten to know from the first three books, like Scott Hughes or George Solar, were also largely absent, which might be another point against Sea Castle.

For me though, all that was definitely a plus. Taking Sloan away from her comfort zone and the people she worked with gave new life to this series, and allowed someone like Gwen Wylder to come into the picture. Despite her cantankerous ways, I really liked Gwen’s character and her relationship dynamic with Sloan. While their personalities can’t be any more different, the two worked well together, no doubt because they’re both incredibly intelligent and driven. Even if their partnership ends up being a one-off for this book, I really hope this won’t be the last we see of Detective Wylder.

Lastly, everything that makes Sea Castle such an atypical UIU book also means that it can work great as a standalone. If you’re curious about the series and find catching up with the first three books daunting, you may find this one very accommodating to newcomers as a place to jump on board. Speaking as a big fan of Andrew Mayne who reads all his books, I also think this is one of his best in years.

Audiobook Comments: Hats off to Susannah Jones for another wonderful performance as narrator, giving the perfect voice to a strong female lead like Sloan McPherson. I love her work and she never disappoints.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Girl Beneath the Sea (Book 1)
Review of Black Coral (Book 2)
Review of Sea Storm (Book 3)