Book Review: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

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

One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Shepherd King

Publisher: Orbit (September 27, 2022)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

It might be the spooky season, but just because the nights come earlier and there’s a chill in the air, sometimes a book needs a little more than mood to help get it off the ground. One Dark Window is certainly an ambitious debut that strives for those Gothic fantasy vibes and romantic allure, but the polish just isn’t quite there.

The story follows Elspeth Spindle, who survived a mysterious illness in her childhood which left her with magical abilities. Fearing persecution, she goes in hiding to live with her aunt and uncle, keeping the secret of monster trapped inside her head—an ancient spirit she calls Nightmare. Sometimes Nightmare controls her, but sometimes, it also protects her.

In addition, Elspeth gained the power to absorb the essence from the Providence Cards, twelve magical playing cards that give their owners special abilities. But this magic also has a cost. When the Providence Cards were created, this also destroyed Blunder, the world in which the book takes place. It’s a dreary existence, and nowhere is safe. One day, Elspeth runs afoul of a highwayman while in the forest, and discovers that the bandit is in fact Ravyn Yew, the king’s nephew in disguise. Ravyn also happens to be the Captain of the Destriers, the kingdom’s fearsome law enforcers and the very people Elspeth hopes to avoid.

Fate has other plans, however, as our protagonist unwittingly becomes the key to the Yew family’s mission to reunite the Providence Cards and cleanse the blight from Blunder. This unfortunately requires her to get close to Ravyn, to whom she feels a connection growing in spite of herself. Meanwhile, the Nightmare inside her mind is also becoming stronger, and Elspeth wonders how much longer before it takes over her mind completely.

No doubt with all these elements, One Dark Window had the potential to be the dark and eerie novel it aspired to be, but due to a few missteps and questionable stylistic decisions, it fell short of those expectations. Mainly, we have a story here that struggles with an identity crisis. For one, rather than Gothic, things felt more melodramatic. We’re clearly going for an atmosphere that’s dark, violent and bloody, yet this is somewhat sabotaged by the cringey Young Adult vibes not to mention the cheesy, riddle-me-this way the Nightmare speaks.

I also feel that while author Rachel Gillig is obviously talented and has a way with words, she stumbles with the narrative and pacing. Momentum was very slow to build, and even once we had achieved it, the plot struggled to maintain it. Then there was the slow-burn romance between Elspeth and Ravyn, which to its credit was a luxuriant and seductive, but it was also hard to see self-indulgence or shake the feeling that Gillig prioritized their romance arc even though it was only supposed to be a subplot. No other relationship between Elspeth or any of the other characters got nearly as much attention, and the glossing over of other parts of the story also made some the big reveals at the end very predictable.

Ultimately, my feelings for One Dark Window were as mixed and confused as the novel’s direction and themes. There’s a sense that it tries to be too much and so it doesn’t quite meet any of the goals that it set for itself, and as you know, books that are neither here nor there are always the hardest ones to review. Bottom line, I probably would have enjoyed this one a lot more had I been in the mood for a YA fantasy romance, which I’ve been known to crave on occasion. This time though, I’d been expecting something more mature and a lot darker, and while there were hints of that which came through, it just wasn’t enough.

Bookshelf Roundup 10/23/22: 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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Autumn is in full swing, and I love this time of the year. The frigidly cold days are still some ways off, and sunshine plus a brisk breeze equals my idea of the perfect weather. We also get some decent leaf change where we are, so it’s pretty gorgeous. Earlier this week, my family took a drive to the Shenandoah Valley area and stayed overnight in Luray, home of the famous caverns. Though it was a very brief trip, I definitely needed it! I’m feeling a lot more rested and mentally refreshed.

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!

Big thanks this week to Nightfire Books for an ARC of The Spite House by Johnny Compton, because who can resist a haunted house story? Certainly not me. With thanks also to Tor Books for a review copy of The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal and their YA imprint Tor Teen for a finished copy of The Luminaries by Susan Dennard. The latter also came with this gorgeous enamel pin!

Earlier this month I also received In the Shadow Garden by Liz Parker from the awesome team at Grand Central Publishing. This one’s new to me, but after some research I found out it’s a paranormal fantasy about witches, so count me in! And from the kind folks at Harper Voyager, I received an ARC of Conquer the Kingdom by Jennifer Estep, the final book of her Gargoyle Queen trilogy. I can’t wait to see how things end.

With thanks to Macmillan Audio for my haul of listening copies this week! They’re reissuing the audiobook of My Darkest Prayer by S.A. Cosby this fall, so I couldn’t resist jumping on the opportunity. I’m also super excited about The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson, the conclusion to the Wax and Wayne books of the Mistborn saga. For my thriller fix, I also received The Prisoner by B.A. Paris, as well as White Horse by Erika T. Wurth for when I’m in the mood for some horror.

Reviews

Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce (3.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Been Reading

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!

Audiobook Review: Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

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

Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Penguin Audio (October 4, 2022)

Length: 9 hrs and 8 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Kristin Sieh

I’ve been a fan of Rachel Harrison since her debut The Return, and it’s fantastic to see that she’s continuing to solidify her reign as the queen of chick lit (witch lit?) horror with Such Sharp Teeth. This Halloween season, those looking for a different kind of werewolf story will be in for a treat.

In this story, we follow Aurora “Rory” Morris, a young woman who reluctantly makes a temporary move back to her hometown to support Scarlet, her pregnant twin sister whose boyfriend had recently left her. There are a lot of bad memories associated with this place, which has always felt much too small and much too slow for Rory who prefers the hustle and bustle of the big city, but for Scarlet, she would be willing to walk through hell and back. And right now, her sister needs her. Rory can’t remember the last time her twin was on her own, and now with a baby on the way, Scarlet will need someone she is close to and can depend on.

One night, while still settling into, Rory decides to hit up a local joint for a drink and runs into Ian, an old childhood friend whom she knows has been harboring a crush on her since their school days. Ian makes it clear his feelings haven’t changed, but physically and emotionally, it is clear he has matured. Certainly he is no longer the awkward lanky teenager Rory remembers, and in spite of herself, she wonders if the relationship might lead to more if she agrees to date him. Later that night though, our protagonist hits a large animal on her drive home—something so large that at first she thought it was a bear. But after getting out of her car to investigate, she is attacked. After that, nothing in Rory’s life is the same again.

From developing unusual cravings for red, raw meat to suddenly gaining super strength and incredible healing abilities, Rory knows something is changing inside her, but doesn’t know exactly what is happening. She does have some suspicions though, and believes the attack has something to do with it. But if she’s right, then she’s in real deep trouble, because the next full moon is coming up fast, and the people closest to her and who are most dear to her have no idea they are dealing with a monster.

With three of the author’s novels plus a short story collection under my belt, I think I’ve figured out the winning formula which makes her books so fun and engaging to read. One, the story plots are generally rather simple, and by not being overly complex they are easily relatable to most readers who understand the importance (and sometimes the stresses and drama) of having to deal with everyday obligations and sudden life changes. The struggles of relationship and dating woes, navigating difficult social situations, working hard to pay the bills, getting over past traumas, and taking care of family in need—we’ve all been there and done that.

Two, sisterhood and female friendships are especially prominent and often recurring themes in the author’s work, and this is definitely true for Such Sharp Teeth as Rory’s love and concern for Scarlet’s wellbeing provides the very impetus for her to move back to her hometown. You can always depend on Harrison’s stories to be an exploration of feminine themes and celebration of friendships and the ways they can change us, empower us, and turn us into what we want to be.

Three, once she’s lulled you in with in all this mundane, Harrison likes to shake things up with a huge dose of the paranormal, often dropped upon us with the force of a cannonball. For all that though, the horror aspects never feel too over the top. There’s gore, but it’s not gratuitous, and the frightening scenes are just the right amount of disturbing and spooky. Most of the time, they are even treated with humor, and it’s not uncommon to see a character’s confusion at the uncanny things happening around them turn into a comedic situation, like when Rory starts looking up werewolves on the internet and ends up hitting upon all kinds of kooky results and absurd advice.

For a good mix of creepy-chills-up-your-spine horror, dark humor, and heartwarming family vibes, Rachel Harrison’s books are the way to go, and I would recommend Such Sharp Teeth if you are a fan of lycanthropy stories especially if you’re interested in checking out one from a female werewolf’s point-of-view. Rory was a well-written character with an engaging voice, brought to life by the talented Kristin Sieh, the narrator for the audiobook edition which I received for review. I tried to pace myself with this book and failed, as the compulsive drive of the story along with the winsome narration made this one hell of an addictive listen.

Waiting on Wednesday 10/19/2022

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

The Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan (February 14, 2023 by Orbit)

The Justice of Kings is currently leading on my list of favorite books of 2022 and I have been eagerly awaiting news of this sequel since early in the year. I’m so excited that the cover was just officially revealed and it is glorious, I can’t wait to read it!

“From a major new debut author in epic fantasy comes the second book in a trilogy where action, intrigue, and magic collide. Sir Konrad Vonvalt is an Emperor’s Justice: a detective, judge, and executioner all in one. But these are dangerous times to be a Justice….

A Justice’s work is never done.

The Battle of Galen’s Vale is over, but the war for the Empire’s future has just begun. Concerned by rumors that the Magistratum’s authority is waning, Sir Konrad Vonvalt returns to Sova to find the capital city gripped by intrigue and whispers of rebellion. In the Senate, patricians speak openly against the Emperor, while fanatics preach holy vengeance on the streets.

Yet facing down these threats to the throne will have to wait, for the Emperor’s grandson has been kidnapped – and Vonvalt is charged with rescuing the missing prince. His quest will lead him – and his allies Helena, Bressinger and Sir Radomir – to the southern frontier, where they will once again face the puritanical fury of Bartholomew Claver and his templar knights – and a dark power far more terrifying than they could have imagined.”

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson: 10th Anniversary Giveaway!

***The giveaway is now over, thank you to everyone who entered!***

Today, I’m excited to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of one of my favorite novellas by one of my favorite authors, The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson, by hosting a very special giveaway with the help of the find folks at Tachyon Publications! Can you believe it’s been ten years?! Me neither! Releasing today, this new special tenth anniversary edition will contain some all-new content including:

  • Deleted prologue “The Imperial Fool” by Brandon Sanderson (alludes to Sanderson’s bestselling Mistborn series)
  • Prologue commentary from the award-winning podcast Writing Excuses
  • An original introduction from the publisher about the origins of the book

Check out below for more information on the book and how you can win your own copy!

When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan comatose, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in fewer than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai’s only possible ally is the emperor’s most loyal councillor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.

Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape…

About the Author

Brandon Sanderson grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. He lives in Utah with his wife and children and teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University. He is the author of such bestsellers as the Mistborn trilogy and its sequels, The Alloy of LawShadows of Self, and The Bands of Mourning; the Stormlight Archive novels The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance; and other novels, including The RithmatistSteelheart, and Skyward. In 2013, he won a Hugo Award for Best Novella for The Emperor’s Soul, set in the world of his acclaimed first novel, Elantris. Additionally, he was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time® sequence.

The Emperor’s Soul: 10th Anniversary Edition Giveaway

And now it’s time for the giveaway! With thanks to our friends at Tachyon Publications, we have a copy of The Emperor’s Soul: 10th Anniversary Edition up for grabs to one lucky winner. With apologies to our international readers, due to geographical restrictions, this giveaway is only available to addresses/residents in the US only.

As to how you can enter, this part’s super easy. All you have to do is fill out the form below with your name and email address. A winner will be randomly selected and notified by email once the giveaway entry period ends in one week. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize.

So what are you waiting for? Enter now for your chance to win! Good luck!

Book Review: The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce

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

The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Books (October 4, 2022)

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

In a small town in the Norwegian countryside, childhood friends Elena and Cathy grew close to each other over many summers of vacationing there. Now adults, the two have become bitter rivals after discovering that both have decided to start a writing project about the same topic: Isbeth Clark.

A local woman who had been denounced as a witch back in the nineteenth century, Isbeth was drowned in a well by a mob of angry townsfolk who believed her responsible for the disappearance of several children. Stories of her have since become entrenched in the history of the town as well as many local legends. In the present day, having returned from the city to get her family’s estate ready for sale, Elena is reminded of her bucolic summers spent here in her youth and is suddenly struck with an inspiration to write a tribute to Ilsbeth’s spirit. A bestselling author of a spiritual self-help book, Elena also hopes to use her reach as a social media influencer to spread the word about the infamous witch in the well.

This does not sit well at all with Cathy, who has remained in town after all these years and earned herself a bit of a reputation as the local kook. Obsessed with the subject of Ilsbeth Clark, Cathy has dedicated years of her life researching the woman’s life for a novel about her, and now feels anger towards Elena for encroaching upon what she perceives is her area of expertise. The story is told in the epistolary style, opening with a news report on a tragic death followed by excerpts from Elena’s journal, entries on Cathy’s blog, notes purported written by Ilsbeth herself, as well as other documentation.

After writing out the book’s description, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities to another one of Camilla Bruce’s novels, You Let Me In. There’s first the blending of horror and paranormal elements with smalltown history and folklore. Then there’s the aspect of the unreliable narrator. And finally, thanks to the vagueness created by the combination of all these ingredients, the result is an eerie uncertainty of what is real and what is imagined.

The author also seems to have a penchant for characters who are writers. But while both Cathy and Elena in The Witch in the Well are hoping to write about Ilsbeth Clark, their visions for their respective works couldn’t be any more different. And much of it has to do with the differences between the two women themselves. Cathy has always been the quiet, somber, and introverted one who struggles socially with expressing how she feels. Elena is the opposite, making friends easily with her bubbly and bright personality.

Due to the structure of the novel, these character differences became an invaluable way to tell their voices apart. However, here’s where I think Bruce’s writing falters a bit; the story is supposed to be told through the characters’ own writings such as journal entries, notes, etc. but in fact the writing style varies very little. Sure, we had personality quirks come through that were used to tell the voices apart, but in general these were rather shallow affectations.

The Witch in the Well also had the feel of a “here’s what happened” story where the major crux was revealed right from the start, leaving the rest of the novel to go back and fill in the details. Without spoiling anything, I will say that in a way we already know the fates of our characters very early on so there’s no big shock, especially with a big reveal of what happened to one of them right off the bat. As a plot device, I wasn’t exactly turned off by it, though I can’t say it did the story any favors either. It simply left the rest of it with little wind in its sails to carry the mystery or intrigue all the way through.

That’s pretty much how I feel about the book overall—smooth sailing but generally an uneventful ride. Not bad at all, though after my stellar experience with the Camilla Bruce’s two previous novels, You Let Me In and In the Garden of Spite, it’s hard not to see The Witch in the Well as a slight downgrade. Still a good book and a worthy pick if you are a fan of the author, but if you are just starting out with her work I would recommend starting elsewhere, like with either of the aforementioned novels which are much more impressive in terms of storytelling, atmosphere, character development.

Bookshelf Roundup 10/16/22: 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!

Thank you to the William Morrow team for sending me a review copy of Marple: Twelve New Mysteries featuring a dozen stories inspired by Agatha Christie’s legendary detective character Jane Marple written by an incredible lineup of powerhouse authors including Leigh Bardugo, Lucy Foley, Ruth Ware and more! I would definitely be willing to put aside my misgivings for anthologies to give this one a try.

Also thank you to Tachyon Publications for sending me a copy of the tenth anniversary edition of The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson. This is one of my favorite novellas of all time, and I can’t believe it’s been ten years! I’ll be hosting a special giveaway later this week for this book, so keep an eye out for that for your chance to win your own copy.

With thanks also to Jo Fletcher Books for a review copy of Sorcerer’s Edge by David Hair. This lovely gem is the third book of The Tethered Citadel series and was a surprise from across the pond, and I have the first novel but must have missed the release of the second one somehow! Once I can track down a copy and catch up, I look forward to starting this.

As well, a big thanks to Redhook for the following ARCs: The Magician’s Daughter by H.G. Parry and Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie are both high on my anticipated book releases for early 2023. I still haven’t read either author before, and hope to change that soon.

In the digital haul, with thanks to Penguin Audio for a listening copy of Ghost 19 by Simone St. James, which I hit the download button on as soon as I saw the author! From HarperAudio I also received a listening copy of Across the Sand by Hugh Howey, his new standalone novel set in the world of Sand. And finally thank you to Tantor Audio for Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi, a collection of four horror novellas which I plan on listening to later this month as part of my challenge to read as many dark fantasy and horror books during the spooky season.

Reviews

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Final Equinox by Andrew Mayne (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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!

Audiobook Review: The Final Equinox 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.

The Final Equinox by Andrew Mayne

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Book 2 of Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (September 13, 2022)

Length: 10 hrs and 9 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Jennifer O’Donnell, Will Damron

I have certain expectations from an Andrew Mayne novel. That I would have to big time suspend my disbelief, perhaps. Or that things would be over-the-top bonkers or off the wall insane. What I didn’t expect, though, was to feel—GASP!—bored?

But that’s exactly what I thought of The Final Equinox. Not all of it, fortunately, but there were good chunks that left my mind zoning out and thinking of other things. It’s quite possible that the subject matter and themes might have been a factor. Because for the first time, a Theo Cray story got away from the murder mystery and hunting down a killer format to focus on something a bit more science-fictiony and out there—literally. The story begins with our favorite computation biologist and weirdo genius being summoned to a mysterious facility out in the middle of nowhere in the Nevada desert. No one will tell him anything about why he’s there until he agrees to sit through a presentation by the facility’s director, and out of sheer curiosity, Theo agrees.

And what he ends up learning is mind-staggering. For years, a billionaire named Thomas T. Theismann has been pouring his vast fortune and endless resources into his obsession of finding and making contact with alien life. At long last, it appears he has succeeded. A signal has been detected at the outer edges of the solar system, and now, along with group of other experts and supersmart individuals, Theo has been asked to help find the source. Later on, he discovers that he’s also there to replace another scientist, who recently killed himself. Feeling out of his depth, Theo covertly contacts his girlfriend Jessica Blackwood to ask her to look into the suspicious death. As their separate investigations gradually come together to form a larger disturbing picture, Theo and Jessica wonder how all of these strange happenings could be related.

At first, I was excited at the premise of The Final Equinox. Granted, it seemed a little outside the scope of Theo Cray’s usual adventures, but ever since he got together with Jessica Blackwood, his horizons have been broadened and I could hardly resist a story related to the search for first alien contact.

However, I ended up being less than impressed by the results. But first, let’s start with the positives. The globetrotting aspect of this series is one thing I’ve been enjoying greatly, and the trend continues here, with Theo and Jessica each setting off on their own assignments which take them to some fascinating, uncanny places. And for all that Theo and Jessica may seem like an odd pairing, I do like their unique dynamic, which makes for some interesting and witty conversations. Their different backgrounds also lead them to bring different strengths to the series. Theo, who is socially awkward, is at his best when he’s dealing with data, and not people. Jessica, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Being raised in a family of magicians have taught her how to be a master of deception and play to a crowd’s emotions, skills that make it possible for her to blend into any social situation. Together, they make a formidable team.

And now for the not so great. I mentioned losing interest during certain parts of the story, and this was not exclusive to just one character’s POV. Overall, I enjoyed Theo’s chapters slightly more than Jessica’s, simply because I prefer his voice (audiobook narrator Will Damron had a lot to do with that too—he’s superb). Despite her unconventional childhood and extraordinary background, Jessica has always struck me as more of your standard mystery series heroine. Contrast that with Theo, whose personality makes his POV very distinctive and engaging to read. That said, even Theo’s chapters let me down this time. We’ve gone deep diving into heavy science and technology topics before in previous books, but the info-dumping and techo jargon in one just got waaaay out of hand. As I was listening to this audiobook, more than once I found my attention drifting, the first time this has ever happened to me with an Andrew Mayne book.

Don’t get me wrong, ultimately The Final Equinox was worth reading. Obviously, I’m not going to give away anything about the ending, but it was a good one. But boy, I do hope the author will go back to stories more in the vein of murder mysteries with his brand of wild action and fun shenanigans. I just hope this book isn’t setting the trend for future Theo Cray & Jessica Blackwood novels or I just might start regretting the two of them ever getting together! The good news is, the audiobook edition, which I was lucky enough to review, was a decent listen. Will Damron always delivers, he’s the perfect Theo Cray, and Jennifer O’Donnell also does a fantastic job as Jessica Blackwood.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Mastermind (Book 1)

Waiting on Wednesday 10/12/2022

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

A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher (March 28, 2023 by Nightfire)

A contemporary Southern Gothic from award-winning master of modern horror, T. Kingfisher. A House With Good Bones explores the deep, dark roots of family.

Sam Montgomery is worried about her mother. She seems anxious, jumpy, and she’s begun making mystifying changes to the family home on Lammergeier Lane. Sam figures it has something to do with her mother’s relationship to Sam’s late, unlamented grandmother.

She’s not wrong.

As vultures gather around the house and frightful family secrets are unearthed under the rosebushes, Sam struggles to unravel the truth about the house on Lammergeier Lane before it consumes her and everyone else who stands in its way…”

 

Book Review: The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

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

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 3 of Scholomance

Publisher: Del Rey (September 27, 2022)

Length: 496 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The Last Graduate was one of my favorite books I read in 2021—a huge comeback from my less than impressed reaction to the first book, A Deadly Education. A sequel that manages to rectify or improve upon all the flaws of its predecessor is a rare thing indeed, which was why I was optimistic that the upwards trend would continue with the final installment of the trilogy, so I was very excited to pick up The Golden Enclaves.

Since the story begins in the immediate aftermath of the previous book (which ended on a killer cliffhanger), it is highly recommended that you are caught up with the series before continuing with this review, as references to events and spoilers from the first two books will be all but inevitable. For years our protagonist Galadriel “El” Higgins has been attending Scholomance, a school for magically gifted children. In order to graduate though, students in their senior year must pass a final test which involves running a gauntlet against a swarm of maleficaria, or “mals”, which are monsters that feed on magic. Every year some students fall to the mals, but this year El had an idea to change things. For weeks, she and her fellow classmates had been training hard to pull off her plan of ensuring everyone succeeded in completing the gauntlet. There should have been no more death, and everyone was supposed to graduate.

Except something went wrong at the most critical moment. Our protagonist’s former nemesis-turned-boyfriend Orion Lake had stayed behind to make sure everyone else got through, then shut the magical gates on El before she could save him from his sacrifice. Now she is heartbroken and filled with guilt, thinking herself to blame for her true love being tortured and devoured for eternity by a soul-sucking monster. El knows she’ll never be able to rest until she puts an end to Orion’s suffering, but to do that, she will need a way to regain entry into the crumbling depths of Scholomance, a feat that will take some powerful allies, not to mention an astronomical amount of mana.

After reading The Golden Enclaves, I’m probably placing my rating for it slightly above A Deadly Education, but still far below The Last Graduate. I had some pretty high expectations going into this one, but ultimately my hopes for a five-star ending to this trilogy failed to materialize, though granted, this wasn’t a bad book. There were some high points in the story, including getting to know more about El’s family as well as Orion’s family, but more on the novel’s strengths later, as I want to first touch upon its weaknesses.

Perhaps my biggest issue with The Golden Enclaves was the pacing. While I understood El’s need to grieve, the beginning of the book ended up being a dreadful slog of just watching our protagonist as she brooded up the place. She quickly became the girl I disliked again, a step back from all the progress she made in the previous book, highlighting the positive impact that other characters like her friends (especially Orion) had on her personality. Alone again, and without her boyfriend, El retreated back in herself, becoming ill-tempered and self-absorbed once more. Whether it’s her sadness or desperation affecting her motivations, El also made a couple of questionable decisions and interactions with other characters that made little sense to me. Needless to say, these changes in her character hardly made me feel as sympathetic towards her for this book.

As for the positives, as I said, I liked how The Golden Enclaves expanded the world-building, essentially throwing open the doors to the greater international network of magical organizations out there. Not only did we get a glimpse into how magic users lived day-to-day, but the story also explored consequences of the different social classes and how all the enclaves, schools, and other powerful magical communities were connected to each other, including how El herself and her family fit into the overall picture. Then there were the surprising revelations about Orion’s family, which led to some major repercussions for the plot. I’ve always loved the world-building for this series, and the only negative I can level on this front is how I wished there had been less info-dumping, which isn’t normally an issue for an experienced author like Naomi Novik, so that was a little surprising.

Still, all in all, I enjoyed being able to complete the Scholomance trilogy, despite it not being everything I’d hoped for. While I wouldn’t exactly call it a tidy ending, it worked in its own way, and it was an interesting and rewarding conclusion overall even if we had to go through a bit of a struggle to get there.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of A Deadly Education (Book 1)
Review of The Last Graduate (Book 2)