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ARC Review: Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Publication Date: February 28, 2023


In a dazzling new fantasy world full of whispered secrets and political intrigue, the magic of women is outlawed but four girls with unusual powers have the ability to change it all.

The Nightbirds are Simta’s best kept secret. Teenage girls from the Great Houses with magic coursing through their veins, the Nightbirds have the unique ability to gift their magic to others with a kiss. Magic—especially the magic of women—is outlawed and the city’s religious sects would see them burned if discovered. But protected by the Great Houses, the Nightbirds are safe well-guarded treasures.

As this Season’s Nightbirds, Matilde, Aesa, and Sayer spend their nights bestowing their unique brands of magic to well-paying clients. Once their Season is through, they’re each meant to marry a Great House lord and become mothers to the next generation of Nightbirds before their powers fade away. But Matilde, Aesa, and Sayer have other plans. They know their lives as Nightbirds aren’t just temporary, but a complete lie and yearn for something more.

When they discover that there are other girls like them and that their magic is more than they were ever told, they see the carefully crafted Nightbird system for what it is: a way to keep them in their place, first as daughters and then as wives. Now they must make a choice—to stay in their gilded cage or to remake the city that put them there in the first place.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a lot twistier and heavier than I was expecting. It’s full of secrets and lies and betrayals and political machinations, and centers on four incredibly strong young women. I found myself just along for the ride as I was breathlessly hurtled through the twists and turns of the plot, never knowing who to trust or where danger might spring from next.

The magic is darker than I expected but also quite beautiful. There are moments of light throughout the novel but it is a heavy read and a very dense one. The writing is gorgeous and I highlighted several passages that I found beautifully written and very profound.

Sometimes you find a story that is a cracking good story but also gets at an underlying truth. This is one of those stories.

Also the sheer feminist rage I felt whilst reading this was something else. These four women are incredibly strong and resilient and so, so angry at being torn down and persecuted and caged by the men in their lives.

The book leaves off on not-quite-a-cliffhanger, but certainly nothing is settled. The four women are finding themselves and their inner strength but there is still a long way to go before they, and the other magical girls of Simta, can be safe.

I absolutely cannot wait for the next book.

*Thanks to Bookishfirst and Penguin Teen for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes

Matilde slips on her Goldfinch mask. It’s like a second skin: her truest face and best lie.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Sit tight, be quiet, stay secret: It’s all they seem to hear lately. Fold your wings and close your pretty eyes.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Fenlin tips back her mask, revealing a sharp jaw, a green eyepatch, and a devastating mouth. A kissable one, if you like a dash of lethal with your trysts.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

It isn’t posed as a question, but an answer, writing over any she might give. He sounds like Enis when he said they were meant for each other, like the man in Leta’s ballroom when he commanded her to dance. All different men, but their words served the same purpose. To tell her who she is, what she is for. To drown her voice.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Her grandda always said she had a sheldar singing through her. Just listen for her tune and have the courage to answer. Perhaps courage is a thing you choose, like friendship. It’s choosing to have faith in the voice within.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Arc Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

The Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor, #2)


Katherine Addison returns to the glittering world she created for her beloved novel, The Goblin Emperor, in this stand-alone sequel.

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honestly will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered.

Now Celehar’s skills lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

Katherine Addison has created a fantastic world for these books – wide and deep and true.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this book so much. On the surface it’s a murder mystery, or rather several murder mysteries, but really it’s a study of Thara Celehar. And Thara Celehar is SO relatable. He is humble and honest and prefers helping the commoners who petition him to involving himself in the politics he nevertheless gets drawn into. He has a deep-seated belief that he is somehow less worthy than others, and in some ways he is serving penance for what he perceives to be wrongs from his past. That most people wouldn’t see them as wrongs doesn’t matter, because he does. He cares for people and goes out of his way to help anyone and everyone, expecting nothing in return. Much as Maia was humble, honest, and hopeful in the Goblin Emperor, Celehar is humble and honest, though not hopeful. He is rather a pessimist.

I loved the journey of it, the way the story meandered from mystery to mystery, as Celehar followed his calling to help anyone who asked it of him. Along the way he finds several unexpected friends and people who obviously care for him, though he seems unable to believe it.

It is satisfying, in a way, to see all of these people who clearly value him, as the reader must value him after following him through his journey, and at the same time him not value himself. I hope that many good things are in store for Celehar, and I hope we get to continue on his journey to accept that maybe he’s not as terrible as he thinks he must be.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan Tor-Forge for providing an e-arc for review.

Audiobook ARC Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor (The Goblin Emperor, #1)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I listened to the audiobook of this, and the narrator did an amazing job; he just glides smoothly through all the ridiculously long and difficult names and I would not manage to be that smooth.

I was occasionally confused about which minor character was which (partly because I listened to it over several weeks because I had little time to devote to it each day), but overall I found the story compelling and fascinating.

I love how Addison thrusts us into the unknown world of the Imperial Court with a language and set of societal rules that are complicated and unfamiliar and just leaves us to figure it out — much as she dumps Maia into the same situation. I felt an intense kinship with Maia because of that, and because of his background and temperament, and it was immensely satisfying to watch him coming into his own as emperor and slowly making friends and finding his place.

All of the conflict is Maia’s internal struggle and his determination to be a better person and emperor than his father was – which of course pits him against those members of court who are still loyal to his father. There was no great outside conflict as one generally expects in a fantasy novel, and I love it for that, and for the way the entire novel is infused with Maia’s hope and determination to be good.

This second re-listen I’ve found I love it just as much, and am just as awed by the narrator’s smoothness and ability to wrangle complex names. I see more of Maia’s fight to keep himself from acts of pettiness against his cousin Setharis (who quite frankly deserves all of Maia’s pettiness and more after what he put Maia through over the course of his childhood) because he is so determined to be good. That goodness is Maia’s underlying character trait and despite what people in the court keep telling him, it serves him well.

*Thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan Audio for providing an audiobook arc to review.