Furyborn by Claire Legrand

A prophecy nearly a thousand years old is coming true. Rielle knows she’s one of the two queens – the Blood Queen to bring ruin to the kingdom of men, or the Sun Queen to save them when the Angels return – but she’s not allowed to tell anyone.

She’s spent her whole life training to control her gifts. She can control all seven of the elemental magics, something the original saints couldn’t even do. When she loses control, it has devastating consequences for the surrounding people.

Eliana, the Dread of Orline, lives nearly a thousand years after Rielle. She makes her living as an assassin, but with a strange power: she heals from all wounds almost instantly. She doesn’t think much of it until her mother goes missing and the Wolf, a captain in the rebellion against the Empire that rose with Rielle’s fall a thousand years ago, contracts her for a mission to smuggle a foreign princess home.

First of all, this was the first book I finished in the time of COVID-19, so I want to genuinely thank that author (and all authors). It was much-needed entertainment while I’m social distancing. Without your art, we’d all be going insane, so thank you.

My biggest complaint is the ending. I understand that this book was always intended to be the start of a trilogy, but the prologue set up a lot of specific dramatic events, and we don’t get to see them in this book. It feels like an unfulfilled promise. I spent the entire book wondering why Rielle would kill Audric, and it never comes. I kept wondering how Rielle knew Simon was a marque and could save her daughter, and was never given the information to figure it out. The prologue was incredibly effective in capturing my interest, but it’s taking too long to follow through with that.

My struggle with books that switch point-of-view like this is that it’s often too jumpy to get invested in either character’s arcs. I almost wish the first book had been about Rielle, the second about Eliana, and the third about the Second Angelic War (which I’m positive is what is coming up, but have not confirmed). That probably isn’t the perfect solution, but it might’ve helped the plot feel less jumpy.

I like both characters (Rielle and Eliana). I’m not all that invested in what happens to either one of them, but I like them. They feel like acquaintances whose stories I’m happy to listen to when I see them out and about. They’re both strong and opinionated, so I like listening to them. I have a lot of confidence in their ability to solve their respective problems, which may not make them more compelling, but does make me like them better.

Corien provides a useful tie across both timelines. It’s interesting to see how he fleshes out in both realities. I also like the addition of other angels that are not interested in revenge for being trapped, but I do wonder at their motivation, though? I understand not being angry, but why actively help the humans? And why actively press out of the Gate to aid the humans?

Again, my biggest complaint is that everything feels unresolved. I understand that it’s a purposeful lack of resolution, but it still feels unfulfilling. Furyborn gets 3 out of 5 stars from me because it’s fun, but not stellar. People who like Red Queen will like this a lot (in fact it’s strongly reminiscent of Red Queen, but with much better writing), but folks who are uncomfortable with sex scenes may find some events uncomfortable to get through. I look forward to reading the second book and hopefully getting some closure.

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

The pond in Lynn’s backyard is both their lifeline and their greatest liability. She and her mother have been protecting it with deadly force for as long as Lynn has been alive. They trust no one but each other. They don’t need anyone else.

Which is all well and good. This part of the book is pretty phenomenal. It’s a cross between a frontier novel and dystopian. We learn that the world Lynn and her mother, Lauren, live in is harsh. There’s no room for softness. There’s no room for error. This is interesting to read because the circumstances are so dire all the time. We learn more about what makes Lynn in these moments than in any other part of the book.

When Lauren dies and Lynn is alone, she’s more than capable of surviving on her own. She knows how to hunt, she knows how to defend herself, and she knows how to purify her pond water. But she also knows that dangerous strangers sit to her and south.

I like the relationship between her and her neighbor Stebbs. Stebbs takes care of Lynn out of a sense of duty to her mother at first, but the two of them develop an uneasy friendship. They begin to trust each other. I like Lucy too. She humanizes Lynn (though I do wish the author would lay off all the L names). Without Lucy, this becomes a story about what we sacrifice to survive. With Lucy, we learn about Lynn’s want for connection and found family.

The ending doesn’t sit well with me. The major confrontation is fine, I get it. But the consequence of Lynn’s decision to confront the men to the south feels sudden. There’s no lead up to it, and I’m not emotionally affected because I haven’t spent all that much time with the character we lose. I never got why or how Lynn was so attached, so I didn’t care when they died. I also don’t like that this character’s death was actively our protagonist’s fault. Stebbs made a suggestion for how to take out the men to the south’s supplies, and I knew it was a terrible idea. It seems ridiculous that they didn’t. It’s like they were looking for the easiest way to create a casualty.

The writing was phenomenal. There were nights I couldn’t sleep, not because I couldn’t wait to read more or whatever, but because I was so tense from the writing in this book. There wasn’t a moment that I felt safe because there wasn’t a moment that Lynn felt safe. The author managed to communicate the seriousness of these circumstances well.

Those that enjoyed Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Last Survivor’s series will find a lot of similarities here. It’s important that you don’t come in expecting this to be super action-packed, fight the man, dystopian. This is a harder story – they’re just trying to make it in a world that doesn’t want them to.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Alex is the son of President Ellen Claremont and Congressman Oscar Diaz. He’s America’s heartthrob, and one of the White House 3 – the power trio of First & Second Families. He also has a long-standing feud with the Prince of England, which is usually easy to avoid, except for when his mother sends the trio to the Royal Wedding. After a very public altercation, Alex and His Royal Highness must convince the world that they’re best friends, have been for years, and definitely don’t want to kill each other. Eventually it becomes less about convincing everyone else and more about hiding their secret romance.

Holy hell. First of all, I borrowed this book from the library on accident. I thought it was another book with the word Royal in the title and a startingly similar cover. However, I was not disappointed (well, I’m a little disappointed that I have to wait 4 weeks for the book I originally wanted, but I’ll get over it). This book was really good! I was shocked it was McQuiston’s debut. It was really well-written, easy-to-follow, quick-paced and quick-witted.

The characters really were the crowning jewel of this novel. There was such a diverse group of people in every possible way. It featured a Latino protaganist and several Latino lawmakers. They were diverse in sexual orientation – from Nora, the decidely not-straight BFF; to Henry, the very gay love interest; and Alex, who waves the bisexual flag proudly. Oh, and did I mention? A FEMALE POTUS! It was really refreshing to read stories from these perspectives, and it really differentiated this book from others that I’ve read recently.

It was a really character-driven story. Instead of being pushed forward by different things happening to them, Alex and Henry really drive the story. Their joy at being together created an environment where they both could find comfort in their respectively difficult lives. Alex’s determination and boldness pushes Henry to find his own strength. Henry’s self-awarness and assuredness helps Alex figure out what he wants and reach for it.

This book also featured a lot of politics, which I’m sure we’re all tired of by now. But really politics isn’t just law-making and dirt-throwing, it’s how people live their lives. Alex gets it, and his passion is helping people. It’s refreshing to read that perspective.

One of the biggest criticisms that other people have voiced for this book is that it views its politics through rose-colored glasses. Everything and everybody is too nice, there are too few consequences for their actions. But honestly, do you pick up these books because you’re expecting a realistic view of current US Politics? I’m not. I’m looking for something nice and fun to escape to. Anti-imperialist prince and diverse characters with power? Gimme all you got.

This is definitely a New Adult book. There are sex scenes in it, most of them are fade-to-black style, but it’s still pretty obvious that they’re having sex. Beyond that, it’s definitely targeted to a more liberal audience. Those politics I talked about up there? You’ll likely disagree with them if you’re more right-wing. What I read as a hopeful story about love and overcoming adversity, may come across differently through your lens.

An Anatomy of Beasts by Olivia A. Cole

An Anatomy of Beasts follows Octavia English as she runs from her past in N’Terra and learns to embrace the ways of Faloiv. Her mother has been killed, her grandmother has been hiding, and the N’Terrans are doing their best to destroy the planet. In the coming conflict, Octavia will have to choose between the home she has always known or her family.

We get to see even more about Faloiv in this planet than we did in Conspiracy. There’s a lot of emphasis on symbiotic relationships, which are relationships between species that are beneficial for both species. Symbiosis is the foundation of Faloiv, and the Faloii’s purpose is to promote that symbiotic relationship, so much so that they travel to other planets to learn what they can do to develop better symbiotic relationships between certain species.

In this book, we get all the answers we’re looking for. We learn the history of Faloiv, of N’Terra, and of the Origin Planet. There’s an emphasis on how these histories tend to rhyme with each other and affect the future peoples.

It’s so interesting to see the differences between the Faloii and the humans. The Faloii exist to improve their planet, while the human live to serve themselves. In the coming conflict, the Faloii chose to shield those who had chosen to live with them and learn their ways, while the N’Terrans convinced their children to fight their wars.

While Octavia is conflicted on her stance for much of the book, her choice in the end is obvious. Would she choose the cold distant father she’s known her whole life, or this new life on the planet that has always been her home? Would she choose the friends she cherished in N’Terra, or would she choose to spend her life being so shielded she doesn’t know who she is anymore?

Again, I really enjoyed this book. I preordered the kindle book online as soon as it was available because I liked the first book so much. This is rare for sequels, but novel improved upon the first. I’m excited to read the conclusion of this trilogy.

A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole

Forty years ago, the Vagantur crashed onto the planet Faloiv. Ever since, the humans aboard have been making a home for themselves on Faloiv. They formed a community based on scientific discovery, using traits from the plants and animals that inhabit the planet to make it survivable for them. But some of them have never let go of the idea of going home, back to the Origin Planet.

The world-building in this novel was remarkable. There are so many pieces to consider when starting on an alien planet, and the author hit on each of them. She made a world that felt magical, but was still controlled by science. There were rules and consequences to the actions of our characters. The aliens were sufficiently

I was left frustrated by the many things left unsaid during the length of this book. We still don’t know a lot of backstory that feels important. To be fair, Octavia doesn’t know it either, but sometimes it feels like I’m being strung along for an unnecessarily long period of time.

Everything in this novel felt like it was developing toward an inevitable conclusion: war. People really haven’t learned anything from the collapse of the Earth. They just want to continue to exploit Faloiv like they exploited Earth, but the Faloii will not let them. They take what they want regardless of whether or not it belongs to them.

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the parallels you can see between our time on Earth and the people of N’Terra. The Faloii give me hope: their strength and devotion to their planet is refreshing and I like that they are committed to attempting peace before violence becomes inevitable. I like Octavia. She’s a well-written character who is strong in her own way. I’m very excited to read the sequel and can’t wait to share those thoughts with you.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Let’s be real, you do not need me to tell you to read the long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. June is no longer our protaganist, that title has fallen to the three women of The Testaments. The men of Gilead spend so much time worrying about which of them is in charge and how they can curry favor, but all it takes is three women to bring their empire crumbling down.

The reader figures out pretty quickly that our protaganists are familiar faces. We get to Hannah-now-Agnes grow up on the Gilead side of the wall. In many ways her life is easy: her expectations are laid out for her and she knows the rules. Baby Nicole, who was smuggled away to Canada as an infant, is now a symbol both for and against Gilead. The zealots of Gilead use her as a ploy for pity, while she embodies what the people of Canada believe should be done for all women and children of Gilead. She’s grown up on the free side of the Wall and has lived a relatively normal life until her foster parents are killed and she becomes part of the Mayday operation.

Aunt Lydia survived the original take over and she’s been keeping score. As an Aunt, she’s afforded the special privilege of reading/writing, and she’s been using it to track the crimes and Bloodlines of every person she’s dealt with. In Gilead and in the free world, knowledge is power, and Aunt Lydia needs Baby Nicole (now grown) and Agnes to deliver that knowledge.

Even after everything Aunt Lydia has done, I still found a way to be impressed (and sympathetic). She’s been gathering the information needed to trigger Gilead’s fall for years and she’s really just needed the opportunity. From the beginning she’s been playing the long-game. Her wit is impressive, and her recognition of her actions is palpable.

What’s most remarkable about this novel is that I’m equally excited to learn what’s happening with each woman. Typically when reading a book with multiple points of view, I hate one of the characters and can’t wait for my favorite to come back into focus. But each time we focused on a different character, I was immediately drawn into what was happening with them. Agnes taught us more about what growing up in Gilead was like, Nicole/Daisy/Jade became deeply involved in a terrorist plot, and Aunt Lydia has been playing in a political drama for decades. There was so much to be interested in.

The novel did much more to inspire hope than it’s predecessor did. While The Handmaid’s Tale does present a (rather unnerving) view of the Gilead Academic Sessions, it does little to reassure that people get out. The television show (if you watch it), does a better job of that. But The Testaments really showcases the structure of the resistance. It may not be sanctioned, but there were many who were involved in smuggling people and information out, including Aunt Lydia herself.

This novel is beautiful, it’s fast-paced and it’s smart. Gilead remains terrifying because of it’s plausibility and realism. Atwood stands by her resolution to include only horrors with historical precedence, and it carries the same weight it used to. It’s impossible to say I loved this book. It is impossible to love Gilead. But I did find hope in it. We get the happy ending we were looking for in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Go support your local independent bookstore and buy this book. I won’t be linking to Amazon for a while because of some issues with broken embargoes on this book. If you’re interested, read more about it here, but I got my copy from Literati. If you’re in the area, I’d suggest the same.

The Final Six by Alexandra Monir

We’ve finally destroyed the Earth, and the international space agencies have declared that our only hope is escape to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. An international draft has been declared to decide who will man the first mission to Europa, who will terraform the planet so it is habitable, and who will start the first colony on a foreign surface.

Leo is Roman. Most of Italy is underwater now, including his family. He’s made his living by scavenging, selling, and diving for valuables. Before the floods Leo was a championship swimmer, which makes him a prime candidate for the underwater specialist on this mission. Naomi is an Arab-American and a scientist at heart. For her whole life, all she’s wanted is to find a cure for her brother Sam. But it’s her expertise at communications that brings her into the draft.

This book was definitely a worthy premise, but it could’ve been handled better. There was a lot going on in a world that very much tried to act as if it were one of those “20 minutes in the future,” kind of novels. We were tackling issues of colonialism, climate change, bioethics, corruption, and advanced technology. With all of that packed in, it’s understandable why a lot of it fell flat.

We know almost from the beginning that there is likely intelligent life on Europa. Naomi thinks that the leaders of the mission also know that, that they plan on wiping out that life to make room for the humans. The view of this issue is made to seem much simpler than it actually is. Naomi wants to call the mission off in terms of safety of for the Final Six, others want it called off for the sake of anti-imperialism, and still others try to cover it up because it’s the only hope left for the human race. In reality, this is a

Leo & Naomi develop a connection. They come from vastly different backgrounds and have very different reasons for being at the training center, and I’m genuinely unsure why they go together. But Leo follows Naomi’s lead during much of the book, and Naomi falls for the goofy Roman boy. I’m interested to find out what Beckett’s deal is. He’s the nephew of the President, he’s a dick, and I’m unsure what his motivations for his behaviors are. Over all, a very strange character.

I guess, that’s how I’m feeling overall: unsure. There are a lot of questions left unanswered, and the pace of the novel is manufactured to go as quickly as possible without answering any of them. I’m sure it was meant to make things more interesting, but it was just frustrating. It left me underwhelmed, though I’m looking forward to see where the sequel goes.