The Mirror’s Truth (Manifest Delusions #2) by Michael R. Fletcher

Welcome back to the sick and twisted world full of insane people, debauchery, violence, and delusions. We have our favorite trio back from the Afterdeath: a nice place to take a vacation if you like the color gray, tasteless food, and monotony. No? Doesn’t sound like much fun? Well, you’re lucky then, because Morgen, the boy-god has Ascended, and can bring you back to the “real world.” It’s not much more fun, but at least there is real booze and the food tastes…marginally better?

Morgen finds our trio separately and makes separate deals with them. Our “hero,” Bedeckt (huge guy with battle axe who refuses to acknowledge his insanity and may be a bit of a berserker) just wants to make things right.

Stehlen, the psychotic Kleptic, just wants revenge on Bedeckt, because she loves him and he rejected her. She also might be in love with Wichtig, although she has no idea why. She also gets to keep her lover, the great swordswoman Lebendig. Nobody is allowed to take ANYTHING from her!

Wichtig, the Greatest Swordsman in the World, is just thrilled because he’ll get to have sex again, drink good ale, and resume his quest to best all swordsmen everywhere! For all time! Because he is the best. And cutest. And the best. Of all time. And really attractive and charming and the wenches be all up in his shizz. (I love Wichtig, lol.)

So, there is tons of brutal violence:

We see a LOT of the insides of people. There is also lots of betrayal:

Because that’s the way this world rolls.

Our trio spends most of the book trying to find each other, to pay each other back for all the wrongs and imagined wrongs. The boy-god Morgen is trying to expand his kingdom, but finds out it’s a messy, dirty business (and he can’t stand messes). He might be a bit OCD about cleanliness.

There is also a crazy dragon, a chick who is so deluded she has convinced herself she speaks to the earth and can move dirt and rocks, and some other crazy guy who is convinced everyone has a demon inside of them he has to exorcise.

I LOVE this series so much! I can’t put my finger on what it is. In a way, it’s meandering and we spend a LOT of time in the various characters’ minds (and that can be a crazy place to be), but the writing is so darn good, and the humor is so dark and twisted, it just warms my shriveled up heart.

I think my favorite character is Wichtig. Somehow he is just likeable, even though he’s such a POS! One of my favorite scenes is where he tries to train his new apprentice.

“The facts don’t matter. Facts are a hindrance. Unless they support whatever it is you’re saying, in which case they are the most important thing in the world and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.”

“Your opponent doesn’t matter. The crowd matters. Convince the crowd. Never fight without a crowd if you can avoid it. If there’s no crowd, then you have to convince your opponent. If that fails, you might have to actually rely on skill with a sword. That should always be a last resort. Now, talk to the crowd. Look at the pretty girls or boys or whatever your preference is. Ignore your opponent. Nothing pisses Swordsmen off more than being ignored.”

“You don’t care what they think about you, you care what they think about the fight. What they think about your opponent.” Wichtig closed his eyes. “I’m tired. Keep practicing in your mind. Imagine the crowd. Imagine what you’ll say and what your opponent will say. Wake me if the dragon comes to eat us.”

Man, he gets put through the wringer in this one! It’s horrible, but yet I couldn’t stop reading! Poor Wichtig! LOL

Don’t expect these characters to have nice and tidy HEAs. lol

This is an anti-happy-ever-after world and “dark” fantasy at its best! Hands down. I will read anything by this author! I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

My review at Goodreads. My review for the first book, Beyond Redemption, is also at Goodreads.

7ya8izz

 

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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First things first, more Fetch please.

Here we have a book that dares to cross genres. It’s a fantasy/dystopian blend that is mostly-vague about the origin details. We know there was a world very similar to ours, same country names, technology, books, and culture. Then, “something happened” in an event known as The Crossing and we lost technology, electricity, advanced medicine, and were reduced to living in a world with torches, swords, archery, farming, hunting, villagers and nobles, etc. etc.

This is the story of a 19-year-old girl who is the heir to the Tearling throne, had been hidden and raised by foster parents until she came of age, and then has to suddenly become a queen. Her kingdom has been brutalized by her uncle, who was Regent, and by a neighboring evil queen who demands a repulsive monthly tithe of Tear slaves.

Kelsea is the new, young queen and she immediately begins making changes and struggles to earn the respect of her guards and citizens. This was a book that ended without a cliffhanger, but there were plenty of pieces that are still to be resolved.

What I really liked:

  • Kelsea was great. She is one of my new favorite female characters. She is no Mary Sue and has to fight and earn her place. She is assertive and confident and yet still has the realistic self-doubt of any young woman concerning her looks and desirability. I thought there was a lot of girl power in this!
  • As I mentioned, no cliffhanger. The first part of the story ends satisfactorily, but makes you want more because there are still at least two people that Kelsea will potentially have an epic showdown with.
  • No romantic angst or manufactured drama! (There is no romance in this at all, actually.)

The only minor issue I had was that the book felt a bit over-long, but the pacing was still pretty even.

I would not classify this as Young Adult. There was no smut, but there were graphic descriptions of sex, rape, and abuse to women and children. People got their throats cut and were gutted. The main character is 19 when the story starts and everyone else is older than her, so if anything, it’s “New Adult.”

I enjoyed this enough that I am putting it on my favorites shelf and would buy a physical copy and re-read it at some point.

Buddy read with the MacHalo group. My review at Goodreads – five stars! 🙂

7ya8izz

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

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I’ve loved Juliet Marillier since reading Daughter of the Forest.  She’s one of my bucket list authors that I hope to read, or at least attempt to read, all of her works. She has such an amazing way with weaving a tale, of creating emotions and atmosphere. Her books all feel a little bit like magic. I seriously love her style. So, when I discovered that she had written a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast it immediately went on my TBR list. Unfortunately, I have way too many books on that list with not enough time to read them (book reader problems, am I right?) so it waited patiently for me for 2+ years to get around to it.  This past weekend, we had no plans so it was the perfect opportunity to cozy up to a book and spend the weekend reading.

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“But hope is such a tenuous quality. To feel it and then to be denied what one most longs for…Better, surely, not to hope at all, than to open the heart to a hope that is impossible.”

Heart’s Blood maintains the feeling of what I consider the classic telling of Beauty and the Beast, having derelict castle whose curse encompasses all those who live within its borders, including its “beastly” master. But as with all her works, Mrs. Marillier was able to add her own spin to the story. Caitrin, our young protagonist, is the on the run from her wicked aunt and cousin. After the death of her father, the two of them swooped in like greedy vultures and claimed inheritance to the estate. Lost in her own grief, Caitrin was in no position to defend herself against them. She suffered at their hands, both mentally and physically, for nearly a year before finally finding the courage to get away. Her escape led her to Whistling Tor, with a village surrounded by a formidable barrier, with tales of a forest filled with whispers and manifestations, and with a warped and twisted chieftain who ruled over it all. Despite the warnings from the villagers, Caitrin gains employment as a scribe at the castle, home to an interesting array of characters, from the gnome-like Olcan and his giant dog Fianchu, to the austere lady but not quite Lady Muirne, to the bickering Rioghan and Brother Eichri, and at the heart of it all, Lord Anluan, the misshapen master.  It doesn’t take long for Caitrin to realize there is more to the story than just superstitious gossip and as she grows closer to this family of oddities, she knows that she must do everything in her power to help them.

 “Patterns could be broken; paths could be changed. All it took was courage.”

And hope.  That’s really what this story is about. It’s the hope that we can control our futures, that there is, even in the darkest of times, a way back into the light.

I loved the supporting cast, including the host. Give me a good, haunted, creepy forest any day.  I also really like the way the relationship between the castle inhabitants and the village was handled in the end, that they come together to fight a common enemy versus becoming the enemy to one another.

I think there were a few things that she left open, such as Olcan and his back-story (which hints at a fae ancestry though it is never expounded upon) as well as the history of the mirrors, which could have been explained a little more fully. Especially the mirrors. What’s the origin? Did Nechtan really create them all? And to what purpose? And one mirror is a little different from the rest. Why?

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I also found Anluan sending Caitrin away a little messy. If he really wanted her to leave and believe he did not want her, why send what he did with her? It doesn’t make sense. And the real reason behind the banishment seemed a little bit immature. It just didn’t quite click for me.  Plus, the “bad guy” reveal was definitely no shocker. I knew almost from the onset who it was.

However, I don’t read her works to be shocked, I read her works to be swept up in the characters stories and their emotions. Did she deliver here? Yes and no.Like I said, I loved the secondary cast, but I felt a little ambivalent when it came to Anluan and Caitrin. Don’t get me wrong, I always want the beast to end up with the beauty (or to end up with another beast, so long as he’s happy), but I found them both to be a little flat, a little dull, a little bit boring.

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So where does that leave me? I loved the setting, the atmosphere, and the secondary characters. I liked the story well enough, though the two main characters were a little on the meh side. I’m not disappointed, per se, but I do think there was something lacking. I’m giving it 3.5 stars, but I’m rounding it up to 4. Bam.

Sam Says (1)

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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From the blurb at Goodreads:

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around–and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries–including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

 

A review by Kira and Shelly, interview-style.

What was your overall view of the book?

Kira: I loved it! It wasn’t a perfect book, but it was the theme that drew me in. It was about how no one is good or bad because everyone is good and bad. They way it was depicted was original. I’ve never read a story quite like it. The world building was amazing!

Shelly: I have very mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it was just gorgeously written and so imaginative. I felt the author did a magnificent job of creating the world and executing an unforgettable, slow-burn fantasy. The romance was well-done and I have no issues with the overall plot.

On the other hand, the ending just ticked me off. We’ll get to that in a moment.

(I listened to the audio version, narrated by Steve West and he owned it like a boss! I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much had I not listened to the book!)

Who were your favorite and/or least-favorite characters?

Kira: Lazlo and Sarai were my favorites. They were different but complemented each other well. Lazlo really was strange. Life had not been kind to him but he remained optimistic and kind. Sarai was strong but sad. I loved her because she managed to love the people who made her life miserable.

Eril-Fane was fascinating because he depicted human nature in a way it rarely is. He truly was the best and worse of humanity all in one person. I wanted to hate him as I learned more about him but couldn’t stop liking him.

Minya was the one character I truly hated. She was so heartless.

Shelly: I adored Lazlo and Sarai. Lazlo was a fantastic male protagonist and I loved watching him go from the orphaned, nobody librarian to the confident blazing hero. I felt so bad for Sarai and her circumstances and was emotionally attached to her feelings of conflict over her ancestry and her melancholy yearning for a more fulfilling life (instead of being trapped in the floating citadel).

Eril-Fane was great as well. He is a multi-layered heroic male supporting character who brings Lazlo and some of his people to the city of Weep to help him solve the citadel “problem.”

I loved the rest of the godspawn (of which Sarai is one) and even the despicable Minya was intriguing. Thyon was a well-developed villain and even he was great! (Although I hated him.)

Let’s talk about that ending (no spoilers).

Kira: I didn’t like the ending but didn’t hate it. It was shocking. In some ways it throws an interesting twist into the plot. OTOH it prevents so many things I was hoping would happen from happening because I don’t see how this can be undone. Even if things can be somewhat rectified it’ll never be the same. I’m still looking forward to the next book but don’t know what to expect from it either.

Shelly: Okay, so the ending made me rage. I wish I would have been warned there was a HUGE cliffhanger with MAJOR shocking events. I felt a little bit like I was being emotionally manipulated. Who knows how long we will have to wait to see how it is all resolved. Sigh. But, instead of being too angry, I have decided to trust that there will be a satisfying conclusion. Fingers crossed.

Is there anything that stands out for you, pros or cons?

Kira: Pros…

  • The writing
  • The city of Weep
  • Great character development and characters
  • The excellent depictions of human nature

Cons…

  • It was too slow especially in the beginning
  • The devastating ending

Shelly: Pros…

  • Awesome world-building.
  • Great characters. There is so much that could still be done in this world.
  • The writing is beautiful and emotional. 

Cons…

  • A bit too long and the pacing was a little slow in sections, although a lot of this was offset by the fantastic narration.
  • That ending.

Are you looking forward to the next book?

Kira: I am, but I have mixed feelings. I’m not feeling optimistic about it. It’s not that I think it’ll be bad, but it’s not going to be happy. I will read the next book as soon as I can get my hands on it. I am dying to know more about the world and the fate of the characters.

Shelly: I am looking forward to the next book. I am so curious about the Mesarthim, the brutal blue-skinned, magical beings who took over Weep. I hope we get to find out more about them and their history. That could be a whole other series!

I do recommend this book, with the caution about the cliffhanger and to expect an emotional ending!

 

7ya8izz

Shelly’s review at Goodreads.

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Kira’s review at Goodreads

Curing My Gamophobia: Authors and Series that Deserve a Second Look

GAMOPHOBIA- the fear of commitment.

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I’m sure I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: I’m REALLY  bad at series. Any series. Book, television, movie, it doesn’t matter. I have this really deep seated anxiety for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because I’m afraid they’ll disappoint me in the end or if I’m just worried that while reading/watching the next installment I’m missing out on something even better. I do know that it seems totally irrational, but I’m such a commitment-phobe when it comes to reading.

This is totally not a new phenomenon for me. No, unfortunately I’ve been like this since I was a kid. I stayed away from TV shows with a continuing story arc, and I didn’t read books that required you to read others in order to understand the storyline (with very few exceptions.) It drove my mom crazy. She always wanted me to read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern , but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even as a teenager I knew that I would probably love it.  I mean, what’s not to love about dragons and their people who help save the world from an otherworldly menace (that is the basic premise, right?)? ‘Til this very day, I have a secret desire to pick up the first book, but at that time the very idea made my soul clench. It broke my mom’s heart it did. She just couldn’t understand why I was adamantly against starting the series. This commitment phobia is especially hard for me since almost any book produced in the literary world of fantasy and science fiction is almost guaranteed to be part of a series. And science fiction and fantasy books are my jam, people.

I’d like to say that as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better, but that wouldn’t be the whole truth. I still tend to read only the first, and sometimes if it was really good, the second book in a series before moving on. Something that is true, however, is that I’ve come to realize there are many authors out there who write amazing books (series), books that drag you into the world they’ve created and make you wish that you never had to leave and by my not reading those books out of some misguided (though totally involuntary) apprehension I actually will be missing out on something spectacular. To that end, I’ve made a list of a few authors who’ve made me reconsider my unwillingness to enter into a long term, committed (literary) relationship.

1. ROBIN HOBB

Now, I know that she’s been around for some time, but remember me saying I didn’t want to get involved with a serialist? Practically EVERYTHING she’s written had been in this one particular world, though it is broken up into trilogies for the most part. After much back and forth, I  finally caved and read The Assassin’s Apprentice  and friggin LOVED it (my son has now read the entirety of the first series and he also loved it!) After that first successful book, I then read Ship of Magic and surprise, surprise….another amazing book was added to my read list. She creates such a wonderful world and characters, especially the villains. Man, her villains make you want to carve their hearts out with a spoon. If you like character driven stories, you should definitely give her stuff a try. It’s SO good! I need to read them all.

2. JULIETTE MARILLIER

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I read Daughter of the Forest and was not prepared, not at all. It gave me all of the feels and is now one of my all time favorite books. I immediately read the the second in the series, Son of the Shadows and was not disappointed. Juliette Marillier’s work is like reading a fairy tale, only the type of fairy tale where not every princess is rescued by a prince and sometimes wicked stepmothers are well and truly evil. Her stories are a bit like magic, and I kind of love her for that. I need to read all of her works, or at least attempt to read them all.

3. R. Lee Smith

Once upon a time, I was just a young woman who never thought, in a million years, that she would grow to love alien romance (aka erotica.) Actually, let me clarify this, I should say human/non-human erotica. That is until I read this little (haha) book entitled The Last Hour of Gann and it changed my life. After reading this book, human/human interactions seemed so basic. There needed to be more. When you read about two people (just to keep it simple) who come together under such fantastical conditions, who, despite language and physiology, manage to find a way to look beyond and fall in love, well it’s hard to top that in the romance category y’all. All of her books feature this type of character diversity and crazy obstacles to overcome. Yes, there’s usually some violence and abhorrent behavior, and yes, some of her books could be edited down a couple hundred pages, but anyone who can suck a reader in so fully, who can make a reader fall in love with a lizard man, must be doing something right. I NEED to read everything of her’s one day. NEED to, folks.

4. MARTHA WELLS

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Last year our MacHalo GoodReads group had a TBR clean-out challenge. It had to be a book that we had added to our “Want to Read” before the start of the summer (or was it calendar year??) Anyway, that’s not important. What is important is that I happened to read Martha Well’s The Cloud Road and was totally blown away by how good it was. I loved the world she created, with the dragon people and their ways of life (though they aren’t actually called dragons). Again, this is another case of intimidation because there are quite a few books/novellas that take place in this world and she has several other series that may be worth taking a look it. Gah!!! There goes my anxiety meter! However, I think it would be totally worth it to read them if they are anything like the first book of her’s that I read. She’s made my bucket list.

5. NEAL SHUSTERMAN

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Last year I read Unwind and right then and there I vowed to continue that series. It hasn’t happened yet, of course, but that first book still stays in my mind. It had one of the most disturbing and heartbreaking scenes I’d ever read. Ever. The…and then he…then the doctor…and then it all fades to black. Thinking about it now still gives me the chills. If you haven’t read it yet and enjoy dystopian novels ( I know I still do!) you should absolutely check it out. And I should absolutely revisit my vow to read the entire series and maybe check out Scythe while I’m at it.

6. HUGH HOWEY

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I loved Wool SO much once it was finally released as an omnibus (I was aware of the serials… but again, my serial commitment hangup kept me from reading them). I tried to convince everyone I knew (in real life-this was before my book social media days) to read it. I’m not sure how many actually did end up reading it, but those who didn’t then and still haven’t now are missing out. I can honestly say it’s still one of my favorites. However, since then he has gone on the release a ton of other additions to the story. I was little confused at first and have never been totally sure in what order they should be read, but I do know that judging by my love for his first published novel that his other works deserves my attention as well. It’s going on the list.

Honorable Mentions (with specific series):

7. MICHAEL MCCLUNG with his Amra Thetys Series (the first book was really good!)

8. PIPPA DACOSTA with her The 1000 Revolution Series 

9. LINDSAY BUROKER with her Emperor’s Edge Series because Sicarius is bae. 

10. M. C. A. Hogarth and her extensive works in the Pelted Universe

Sam Says (1)

Alright, now I think I’ve said enough…for now. What authors or series will make it on your bucket lists?

Roar (Stormheart #1) by Cora Carmack

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Aurora/Rora/Roar (she has got a lot of names in this) is a princess with no power. She comes from a line of Stormlings, the elite who protect their kingdoms from violent storms of all types that ravage the world.

Twisters, hurricanes, thunderstorms, fires, any storm you can think of… they seem to be alive and even sentient. They have “hearts” that only Stormlings can take and extinguish, giving them more power and protecting the people.

Only it’s not quite so perfect and things have been kept from Rora. She has lived a sheltered life and discovers there’s a whole new world out there, after she sneaks out and follows her sketchy betrothed Prince Cassius. Stuff happens and Rora takes on a new identity as an apprentice with a rag-tag group of storm-hunters.

So, this started strong for me and somehow just fizzled out by the end. The world-building was fairly interesting, although this kind of magic is not my favorite.

I think my biggest issue was the romance. :/ There is a weird sort of maybe-love triangle, although not really? The main romantic interest was Locke and I just couldn’t get into the lust/hate relationship between him and Roar (as she is known to the hunters). Instead of fun bantering, it felt too angry and argumentative to me. I didn’t really feel any chemistry.

Cassius was the most intriguing, although I find it hard to believe there is a way to redeem him. He did some pretty crappy things in this. But the ambiguous villain is a personal favorite and we are never quite sure if Cassius is full-on bad guy or just warped from the upbringing and being forced to play palace politics.

There were several scenes with Cassius and Nova, who was Roar’s childhood friend and maid servant (whatever you call them). I think I saw somewhere that someone mentioned a ship between her and Cassius, but I don’t see how she could ever forgive him for being such a douche to her in this book. :/

I also felt there were too many “training” scenes, which are never a favorite of mine, and also, I dislike the plot device where the heroine is sick or mysteriously weakened by forces we don’t discover until the end of the book – and that happens to Roar.

I did appreciate how Roar is mostly capable of handling herself and wasn’t a damsel in distress (outside of that mysterious condition she developed around storms). She wasn’t run over by the cute men in her life, although there is a fairly good amount of angst (do I like him or do I hate him, why do we fight so much when all we really want to do is kiss, argh lol).

Overall, a decent fantasy that reads more Young Adult (even though the heroine is 18). It doesn’t quite read as “New Adult” either, and regardless of the genre, I just wasn’t able to push this from “liked” into the “really liked” category. 🙂 Three Stars. Review also found at Goodreads.

7ya8izz

The Black Witch (The Black Witch Chronicles, #1) by Laurie Forest

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People see what they expect to see,” he says sharply. “Through a filter of their own hatred and prejudice.”

The Black Witch is the debut YA fantasy novel by Laurie Forest, released last month, that brazenly tackles extremely polarizing topics such as racism, bigotry, homophobia, and prejudice. There has been a humongous amount of controversy which I feel is overblown and unwarranted. This is a positive review based on my enjoyable experience reading the book.

Elloren comes from a powerful magical bloodline, but has been raised in the woods and sheltered by her well-meaning Uncle. When it comes time to go to University, Elloren meets her Aunt, who is an elite member of a ruling mage council made up of ultra-conservative religious zealots who are intolerant of other species. Her people are called the Gardnerians and they view the Lupine (wolf shifters), fae, selkies, and Icarals (a winged species prophesied to bring about the apocalypse) as inferior, and in most cases, “less than” human.

All in all, this is not so different than your typical Young Adult fantasy. A powerful, tyrannical group threatens the freedom and will of other oppressed groups. Originally, Elloren is mesmerized by her Aunt’s glamour, beauty, power, and attentions. She blindly agrees with her views and is desperate for validation from a female member of her family (both parents died and she was raised with two brothers by the aforementioned Uncle). But slowly, Elloren begins to see how wrong her Aunt and the mages are and chooses to fight back.

If you’ve read any of the following books, you know the type of story portrayed here:

Red Rising
The Diabolic
Flawed
Red Queen
The Winner’s Curse
Under the Empyrean Sky
Unwind
Vampire Academy
Gilded Cage
Alive

Yes, some of the characters are racist, homophobic bigots. However, the entire point of the story is about a young girl who transcends her roots and learns that racism is WRONG. She befriends many people who are NOT Gardnerian.

I thought the author was brave and handled Elloren’s growth well. She realized her views were ignorant and that she was wrong. Her beliefs were shaped by her upbringing and extremist community. She came from a very conservative background with relatives that were hateful, war-mongering extremists. Her uncle tried to raise her away from all that, but when she went to University, she was confronted by the shocking knowledge that she knew nothing, was woefully unprepared, and that what she was taught was wrong.

I found this to be an exciting first book in a series and I can’t WAIT to read the next one!

 

Elloren is not a Mary Sue or a Special Snowflake and is bullied by several characters. In my view, that was harder for me to read than any extremist behavior by other characters. Although I will not disagree that there are some heavy themes addressed here that will most likely make you uncomfortable.

We can see that the world is about to be shaken up massively and there is HOPE to be found. Several characters fall in love and most of them do not agree with the ways they have been taught.

The supporting characters are fantastic. There is romance and a rag-tag band of diverse friends that forms, and each and every one of them stole my heart. I am looking forward to seeing the revolution and the new world that will inevitably be formed by these trailblazers!

I implore everyone to make up their own minds about any controversy by doing the research and not just blindly accepting the words of a reviewer, blogger, or person they follow on Twitter.

7ya8izz