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ARC Review: Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

Publication Date: October 25, 2022

***You can find my reviews of the previous books in the Singing Hills Cycle here: The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain.

Synopsis:

The Hugo, Locus, Igynte Award Finalist and Crawford Award-Winning Series

Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themselves far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be.

Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story—beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel—bears more than one face.

The Singing Hills Cycle

The Empress of Salt and Fortune
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
Into the Riverlands

The novellas of The Singing Hills Cycle are linked by the cleric Chih, but may be read in any order, with each story serving as an entrypoint.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this from the first sentences and it’s my favorite by far of the Singing Hills Cycle. It has more adventure and action than the first two volumes, and it also has a bit more contemplation of what makes a story. Or perhaps it’s just a different lens to view story through.

The first focused on the story of a pair of women, slowly revealed in pieces through objects and fragments of memories. The second contemplated how the same story told by two different cultures could end up very different. This took a broader look at how the stories and legends told by many people could weave together just enough truth to give a glimpse at the true story underneath.

The writing was as gorgeous as Nghi Vo’s writing always is, sharp and incisive and true. The story unfolded beautifully, and it was terribly fun to piece it together along with Chih. I highlighted so many passages of beautiful writing, as I always do when I love a book as much as I loved this one.

Over the course of the story I came to love the Riverlands, and to fear them, and to be glad that I do not actually live there. They might be a nice (if terrifying) place to visit, but I do not think my heart could take that kind of excitement every day. I was sad to leave them behind, and sad to have to leave these very intriguing characters that I have only partly glimpsed. Mostly though, I am left anticipating Chih and Almost Brilliant’s next adventure and the stories they will discover along the way.

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

Favorite Quotes:

Chih swallowed hard and nodded. They weren’t brave, and despite the shaved head and the indigo robes, they weren’t particularly virtuous, but more than anything else, they were curious, and sometimes that could stand in for the rest.

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

She was known to be kind, which you should never confuse with being gracious or beautiful or courteous.

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

Chih walked the permimeter of the campground until the sun was up, and as they did so, Almost Brilliant, her breakfast forgotten or simply foregone in favor of her favorite stories, told them about the fighters and fools and freaks of the Riverlands, who may have lived in truth but certainly lived in fiction.

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

I’ll remember that I was terrified, Chih thought. I’ll remember what it was like to see a battle between people who don’t fight like people, who are what legends come from.

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

Book Review: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Publication Date: December 8, 2020

***You can find my reviews of the other books in the Singing Hills Cycle here: The Empress of Salt and Fortune and Into the Riverlands.

Synopsis:

The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Nghi Vo returns to the empire of Ahn and The Singing Hills Cycle in this mesmerizing, lush standalone follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was a rather interesting journey. I first tried to read it via audiobook while still pretty out of it from the flu shot and covid booster. That… didn’t go so well lol. I fell asleep quickly, slept through almost the entirety of the story, and wound up with a hazy mix of memory of the story and dream-memory of the “story.” When I was feeling more myself, I listened to it again. I stayed awake through it, but I came away unsure of how I felt about it. So I listened to it a third time and read along with the audio, and I feel like I absorbed it better that way. Or maybe it just required a second (fully conscious) listen.

Regardless, this is a lovely story that is both larger and smaller than Empress of Salt and Fortune. We again follow Chih as they journey, recording stories and histories. En route to their destination (via mammoth, because as Chih says, why wouldn’t you travel via mammoth when given the opportunity?) they encounter a trio of were-tigers and things begin to go downhill.

At its core, this is a Scheherazade story (only with tigers and mammoths). Chih stalls for time before being eaten by telling a story of the marriage of a human and a were-tiger. Only the tigers disagree with how it is told and correct it by telling their own version. This back-and-forth goes on for a while and we are given what is at its heart the same story but told through two lenses. One shaped by the culture and values of humans, and one shaped by the culture and values of tigers. It is a fascinating study of how two cultures can take the same story bones and tell two radically different stories if you focus on the details.

I am glad I both read and listened because Nghi Vo’s writing is gorgeous as always, and Cindy Kay’s narration is very well done, with believable human and tiger voices and appropriate emotion and emphasis.

Favorite Quotes:


She was a handsome woman, but the animal impassivity of her eyes and the way her teeth looked a little too large for her mouth gave her a menacing look, the tiger in her sitting in wait beneath her human skin.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

When you love a thing too much, it is a special kind of pain to show it to others and to see that it is lacking.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

They lived well-fed until they were only bones, and even their bones were happy, turning white and sharp as teeth in the moonlight.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Up close, the bull was overwhelming, a wall of solid muscle and fur that could trample an empire flat.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Book Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (Singing Hills Cycle #1)

Publication Date: March 24, 2020

***You can find my reviews of the other books in the Singing Hills Cycle here: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and Into the Riverlands.

Synopsis:

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a gorgeous puzzle of a story, with the words spoken only the surface layer, hinting at what’s underneath. I loved it. It’s short enough to read comfortably in a sitting and sharp enough to make you sit and think. I look forward to the sequel.

Update 2022:

I love the structure of the story, with a cleric come to study and record for history an estate that has been locked for decades, and the deceptively simple old woman she meets there. As she moves through the house, discovering objects and recording their details, the old woman slowly reveals the history and significance of each, and along the way tells the empress’ story and her own, entrusting the cleric with the means to ruin not only herself and the previous empress, but the new empress as well – and many reasons not to do so.

Each time she finishes relating a tale or a portion of the history she asks, “Do you understand?” And slowly the cleric comes closer and closer to doing so. Brilliantly written all around.

This time I listened to the audio version and it was narrated beautifully. Even though it is a complicated story, I never felt lost as I listened. The narrator’s low, rather deep speaking voice gave the impression of someone relating secrets and gave the subject material more weight.

Favorite Quote:

“Save that anger,” Mai said with a sigh. “Angry mothers raise daughters fierce enough to fight wolves.”

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

ARC Review: A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

Cover of A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Synopsis:

Award-winning author Malinda Lo returns to the Bay Area with another masterful coming-of-queer-age story, this time set against the backdrop of the first major Supreme Court decisions legalizing gay marriage. And almost sixty years after the end of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Lo’s new novel also offers a glimpse into Lily and Kath’s lives since 1955.

Aria Tang West was looking forward to a summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her best friends–one last round of sand and sun before college. But after a graduation party goes wrong, Aria’s parents exile her to California to stay with her grandmother, artist Joan West.Aria expects boredom, but what she finds is Steph Nichols, her grandmother’s gardener. Soon, Aria is second-guessing who she is and what she wants to be, and a summer that once seemed lost becomes unforgettable–for Aria, her family, and the working-class queer community Steph introduces her to. It’s the kind of summer that changes a life forever.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was emotionally devastating. That’s the best word I can think of to describe it. I turned the last page and read the author’s note through my tears, and then I ugly cried for a while. It’s poignant and nostalgic and gorgeously written so that you feel everything Aria feels and live breathlessly in the moment with her. Every time I opened the book I was sucked in and forgot about everything else.

Malinda Lo is exceptionally good at capturing a moment in time, especially a moment where the character is right on the cusp of something. I don’t remember Last Night at the Telegraph Club being quite so devastating, but I think part of that is my own emotional resonance with this story.

For most of the book, it’s like she captured one perfect golden late-summer Northern California afternoon. The kind the stretches on and on, where the light showers everything in gold and you could believe that the moment could last forever. It meshes so well with that last endless summer between high school and college, when you’re just beginning to discover yourself.

Aria is on the cusp of adulthood, the cusp of realization that she’s maybe not as straight as she once thought. Her crush on Steph simmers just beneath the surface, warring with the impossibility of it all and the electric novelty of her newfound queerness opens up a previously unseen world to her.

At the same time she’s having her ideas of her grandmother, her parents, her friends, and her past reshaped as she grows out of her childhood assumptions about them.

The ending circles back to the beginning in a wholly satisfying way that makes everything seem more profound and gives every moment, every gesture weight and meaning.

I love the exploration of time and memories and grief and art, and how they interconnect and weave together. The characters leap off the page, so full of life and well-rounded are they, and I felt them tugging at my heart more insistently than many.

This is a book that everyone should read and that I will probably never read again, because I don’t think it would have the same breathless impact the second time through and I’m not sure my heart could take it.

The cover is stunning and complements the story SO well. The cover artist captured the essence of the story perfectly.

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

Audio Arc Review: Fraternity by Andy Mientus

Publication Date: September 20, 2022

Synopsis:

A queer, dark academia YA about a mysterious boarding school, a brotherhood that must stay in the shadows, and an ancient evil that could tear it all apart.

In the fall of 1991, Zooey Orson transfers to the Blackfriars School for Boys hoping for a fresh start following a scandal at his last school. However, he quickly learns that he isn’t the only student keeping a secret. Before he knows it, he’s fallen in with a group of boys who all share the same secret, one which they can only express openly within the safety of the clandestine gatherings of the Vicious Circle––the covert club for gay students going back decades. But when the boys unwittingly happen upon the headmaster’s copy of an arcane occult text, they unleash an eldritch secret so terrible, it threatens to consume them all.

A queer paranormal story set during the still-raging AIDS crisis, Fraternity examines a time not so long ago when a secret brotherhood lurked in the shadows. What would Zooey and his friends do to protect their found family?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This started slowly but little by little it picked up steam until I was on the edge of my seat. It hits hard, blending magic and all-too-real topics in a way that feels wholly natural and right. This wouldn’t be the same book if you removed the witchcraft and black magic, and it wouldn’t be the same book if you removed the talk of AIDS and conversion therapy and queerness and race. It’s queer and it’s unapologetic and it’s set so specifically in time. I was too young in 1991 to pay attention to the news, but even growing up later in the 90s I felt a sense of kinship with these characters and a sense of recognition.

The characters are distinct and well-rounded. They can be summed up in a few descriptors, or so it seems, though they are revealed over the course of the book to be more than they first appear. I enjoyed the multiple POVs, which helped me feel closer to each boy.

The villains are monstrous (in more ways than one) and the monstrous future they were pushing toward felt all-too-real, especially in light of recent events. We may be a far cry from shadowy political cults and the AIDS epidemic… but in many ways we aren’t.

This is not a happy book, and it’s not an easy one to read. There is bullying and intolerance and bigotry and evil. But there is also friendship and queer joy and community and love.

I took a while to warm up to the characters and story, and I even questioned whether I wanted to continue a few times. But by about 40% in I was thoroughly hooked and for the last several hours of the audiobook I couldn’t tear myself away from the story.

The audiobook narrators were really excellent and delivered a gripping and emotional performance. The voices they used for each character were believable and felt right, and I was more invested in the story than I would have been if I were reading it to myself.

I’m not often a fan of an author narrating their own book because they so rarely deliver a riveting performance — it’s a different skillset, narrating a book rather than writing it. But in this case Andy Mientus did a fabulous job and I highly recommend getting the audiobook version.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Recorded Books for providing an audiobook arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

She took one of us on each arm and, as we walked to our seats, I felt the kinds of looks I used to get at Blackfriars and had an unexpected pang of nostalgia. In a weird way, I’d missed feeling like a freak. Being a freak alone is tough, but being a freak arm-in-arm with your fellow freaks can feel pretty punk.

Fraternity by Andy Mientus

If we’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that history lets us carry the work of those who came before us forward so that we might finish it.

Fraternity by Andy Mientus

Audio ARC Review: Valiant Ladies by Melissa Grey

Publication Date: June 14, 2022

**This Review can also be found on my tumblr book review and fandom blog (also called Whimsical Dragonette) here.

Synopsis:

Two teen vigilantes set off on an action-packed investigation to expose corruption and deliver justice in Valiant Ladies, Melissa Grey’s YA historical fiction novel inspired by real seventeenth century Latinx teenagers known as the Valiant Ladies of Potosí.

By day Eustaquia “Kiki” de Sonza and Ana Lezama de Urinza are proper young seventeeth century ladies. But when night falls, they trade in their silks and lace for swords and muskets, venturing out into the vibrant, bustling, crime-ridden streets of Potosí, in the Spanish Empire’s Viceroyalty of Peru. They pass their time fighting, gambling, and falling desperately in love with one another.

Then, on the night Kiki’s engagement to the Viceroy’s son is announced, her older brother―heir to her family’s fortune―is murdered. The girls immediately embark on a whirlwind investigation that takes them from the lowliest brothels of Potosí to the highest echelons of the Spanish aristocracy.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this book so much. I have had high hopes for it ever since I first heard it announced — seventeenth century teenage Latinx vigilante sword lesbians? sold! — and it vastly exceeded my expectations.

Kiki and Ana were such great characters, and I loved their dynamic and their escapades. It was clear from the first pages that they meant everything to each other and loved each other very much. I loved their bond and the way their relationship and friendship strengthened as the events of the story unfolded. I also really appreciated their love of weaponry. The other characters were also very well-fleshed out and I came to feel strongly about all of them.

The villains were villainous (but not always obvious, which was nice). It was very satisfying to see Kiki and Ana stand up to them, especially when others didn’t always do so — for social or political or monetary reasons.

It was also really refreshing to see sex workers treated as regular people who are just as worthy of being rescued as anyone else? There was never any judgement or negativity toward them, which I loved.

The setting felt very real and… immersive, I guess? Like I totally believed I was there in 17th century Peru while reading.

Most of all, I had the best time while reading this. It was so fun and adventurous and it was like I was there alongside Kiki and Ana as the events of the plot unfolded. They were totally kick-ass and there was never any doubt in their minds about that fact. I will definitely be reading this one again.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Recorded Books for providing an audio arc for review.

ARC Review: The Big Book of Pride Flags by Jessica Kingsley and Jem Milton

Publication Date: June 21, 2022

Synopsis:

Celebrate and learn about the LGBTQIA+ community with this colourful book of Pride flags!

Featuring all the colours of the rainbow, this book teaches children about LGBTQIA+ identities through 17 different Pride flags. With fun facts, simple explanations and a short history of each flag accompanying beautiful illustrations, children will uncover the history of Pride and be introduced to different genders and sexual orientations. There’s also a blank Pride flag design at the back of the book so that children can create their very own Pride flag!
With a Reading Guide that provides a detailed History of the Pride Flag and questions for further discussion, this inspiring book is a must-have for every child’s bookshelf, library or classroom.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was such an affirming and joyful read!

This book contained a lot of information but it didn’t feel like an info-dump or overwhelming. Each flag had a brief but thorough rundown: a bit of history (who designed it, when it was designed, some background) and a matter-of-fact explanation of what each color stripe stands for. I learned a lot and look forward to reading it with my second-grader.

The colors are bright and cheerful and definitely made me want to read more. The art style was cute while still allowing for lots of detail and individuality of the characters. The illustrations are diverse and welcoming, showcasing diversity of race, disability, gender presentation, age, and body size.

Overall this was a warm, welcoming, joyful and engaging read and I absolutely loved it.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: The Awesome Autistic Guide for Trans Teens by Yenn Purkis and Sam Rose

Publication Date: June 21, 2022

Synopsis:

Calling all awesome autistic trans teens! Yenn Purkis and Sam Rose want you to live your best authentic life – and this handy book will show you how!

With helpful explanations, tips and activities, plus examples of famous trans and gender divergent people on the autism spectrum, this user-friendly guide will help you to navigate the world as an awesome autistic trans teen.

Covering a huge range of topics including coming out, masking, different gender identities, changing your name, common issues trans and gender divergent people face and ways to help overcome them, building a sense of pride and much, much more, it will empower you to value yourself and thrive exactly as you are.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is a really great starting point for people just learning about autism and gender diversity. It does a good job explaining complex terms in a simple and easy-t0-grasp way. Most people who have done even a little reading about gender diversity will know most of what is covered in this book, but as a starting point I think it works well for adults and teens.

However some of the terms are defined too simply or breezed past which can lead to confusion. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this as the only source of information. As a starting point and supplement to the journey, it works well. I am even thinking of giving it to my mom as a way to help her understand me better (even though I am an adult instead of a teen).

I found the second half of the book less interesting and helpful for me mostly because I am not a teen. If I were a teen just beginning to explore my gender identity then the information about hormones and how to access therapy and how to come out would be very helpful. In fact, if I had had this as a teen it would have been amazing and saved me a lot of stress and confusion during high school and college.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian (The Queer Principles of Kit Webb #2)

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Publishing Date: June 7, 2022

Synopsis:

Cat Sebastian returns to Georgian London with a stunning tale of a reluctant criminal and the thief who cannot help but love her.

Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, just shot her husband. Of course, the evil, murderous man deserved what was coming to him, but now she must flee to the countryside. Unfortunately, the only person she can ask for help is the charismatic criminal who is blackmailing her—and who she may have left tied up a few hours before…

A highwayman, con artist, and all-around cheerful villain, Rob Brooks is no stranger to the wrong side of the law or the right side of anybody’s bed. He never meant to fall for the woman whose secrets he promised to keep for the low price of five hundred pounds, but how could he resist someone who led him on a merry chase all over London, left him tied up in a seedy inn, and then arrived covered in her husband’s blood and in desperate need of his help?

As they flee across the country—stopping to pick pockets, drink to excess, and rescue invalid cats—they discover more true joy and peace than either has felt in ages. But when the truth of Rob’s past catches up to him, they must decide if they are willing to reshape their lives in order to forge a future together.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book is EVERYTHING. I live and breathe books and I would be happy to never read another book and just live in this one. It’s that good. But more than that it’s the perfect book for me. Like Cat Sebastian knew it’s been rough lately and wrote it just for me. I’m predicting it makes it at least into my top 5 books this year.

It’s a cleverly disguised Robin Hood and Marian book. It’s the perfect Robin Hood and Marian book. I want to paper my walls in quotes from this book (and I probably highlighted enough to do just that – a full 11 single-spaced pages of them!!) and just live in this story from now on. Is this because I love Robin Hood stories? Yes, partly. But also I love queer love stories and Cat Sebastian’s writing in general, and the Queer Principles of Kit Webb in particular, so this was just the happy convergence of all of my favorite things.

This is an excellent queer love story. Both leads are bisexual and Marian is probably some flavor of asexual and the dynamic is very much a dominant/aggressive/in charge Marian and a submissive Rob who only wants to please her. That stable scene! She pins him against the wall! Flip the gender status quo of historical romance why don’t you? I LOVE it.

I love how Marian is the prickly and closed-off and responsible one in this relationship, and Rob is friendly and charming and is distracted by kittens. And, now that I think of it, this is yet another case of me falling completely for a grumpy / sunshine trope.

Another reviewer pointed out that this book in a nutshell is ‘disaster bisexuals’ and ‘be gay do crime’ with a side of ‘eat the rich’ and if that isn’t Marian and Rob I don’t know what is. I can’t top that as a description.

I see hints of future books of ‘be gay do crime’ and i just want to say YES PLEASE. And baby Eliza will be raised by four doting queer parents and immersed in planning of heists before she can talk. I desperately want more books in this world, with these people.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Avon and Harper Voyager for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

**Note: I highlighted literally 11 single-spaced pages of quotes so obviously I can’t include them all here. I have consolidated as much as possible but it will still be rather long. But trust me – you want to read these. They will absolutely make you want to read this book.

Although, if you don’t want to read them, that’s fine too. This is the last section of the review for a reason.

What a trick it was to be able to say I beg your pardon in a way that meant fuck off and die, and to look serene and saintly while saying it.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The memory made him feel both wistful and somehow homesick, in the way that happy memories too often did.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“I think we’re still in the cave, hitting one another with sticks,” Rob went on. “I know that I broke the law when I stole from those arseholes at the tavern this afternoon. But how is what I did any different from putting poor men into debtors’ prison? What I did is comparatively gentle. A targeted tax on rich men who behave badly. It’s very civilized, actually.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He was lost, and he had been from about the first time she sent him a scathing letter –what kind of person did that to a man who held her future in the palm of his hand? – and followed it up with trivia about that Italian fellow and his peculiarly organized version of hell.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“In the winter, you can imagine that the land could become anything. In the summer, all that’s left is for winter to come.”

Rob had never heard anyone express anything of the sort and didn’t know what to say, or even to think, beyond reflecting that if anyone were to enjoy an uninterrupted view of mud and dirt it would have to be Marian.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

She moved so slowly and deliberately it was as if she were inventing the concept of kissing right there on the spot, as precisely as if she were counting change in the marketplace. He kissed her back with none of those qualities, with nothing but profligacy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He wore rainwater and mud the way other men wore silk coats, only better, and she wanted him.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

And now he was looking at her as if she were a cake, if cakes were also religious icons, and she was possessed of a mortifying certainty that she was looking at him in precisely the same deranged manner.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

Rob knew better than most that sometimes nothing could salve your conscience. You just had to live with the guilt and find other ways to be the kind of person you wanted to be.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

But when she looked at him, what she felt wasn’t attraction. Or it wasn’t only that. It was a bright spark, something warm and glowing that took up residency in her chest and refused to budge. It was something like contentment, only sharp and with teeth. It was the urge to wrap her hand around his arm and not let go. It was the knowledge that he would let her.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The idea that she was planning to go into mourning for a man she had killed with her own hands, while – regardless of what she said – robbing, extorting, or otherwise dealing feloniously with another man, made Rob feel faintly dizzy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Gentlemen typically don’t extort money from their tenants,” Marian retorted.

“That is precisely what gentlemen do,” he pointed out, exasperated. “It is practically the entire point of gentlemen.”

She opened her mouth as if to protest, then frowned. “Fair.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

It was a dark day indeed when he wanted to congratulate an aristocrat for simply remembering that servants were human beings.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

In his arms she felt as sharp as a knife and as sure as a promise and he never wanted to take his hands off her.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

And he didn’t try to hold it back, either. His friendship was like a creeping ivy – all one had to do was let it be, and it covered the whole barn.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

From where she lay, she could see at least half a dozen scars on his arms and back. He spoke of them as if he didn’t mind them, and she thought she understood – what were the pair of them, after all, but a collection of things gone wrong and then, slowly, made right again.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Well, she did leave me tied to a bed all night,” Rob offered as an explanation.

“It’s how I make all my friends,” said Betty.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Running away?” Rob scoffed. “I’m not running away from anything. I’m refusing to participate in inherited wealth.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“They’d suit you perfectly well if it were twenty years ago.” He sank into a chair by the fire. “And if you were a provincial spinster who drank tea without any sugar and terrified all the neighborhood children.”

Marian, momentarily impressed with this aesthetic success, preened a little before remembering why she needed to speak to Percy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He wore a blue suit of clothes so fine that Rob wanted to set things on fire.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

 It would not, however, accommodate Marian’s father and his household, and indeed the idea of cramming an elderly earl, a highwayman, a baby, the bigamous wife of a duke, and whatever on earth Percy considered himself these days under one roof was too farcical for Marian to take seriously.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

She was certain that most women felt something warmer for their children, something less sharp and jagged. Marian wasn’t much given to warmth, but whatever she felt now – a champagne lightness mixed with the usual knife-sharp protectiveness – felt like enough.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

Her laughter was rare and precious; it was the sound of church bells, the sound of coins dropping into a pocket, and he wanted to save it in a bottle and wear it close to his heart.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

ARC Review: Vows of Empire (Bloodright Trilogy #3) by Emily Skrutskie

Publication Date: June 14, 2022

Synopsis:

Two young princes on opposite sides of a war must decide between loyalty and love in this galaxy-shaking finale of the Bloodright Trilogy.

Gal and Ettian have never been farther apart. Once, they were roommates and best friends, each suffocating under a secret of galactic consequence. When Gal’s came to light—that he was heir to the Umber Empire and all of its brutal conquest—the two were forced to flee their military academy, fall in with a brewing rebellion to reclaim the Archon Empire from Umber’s grasp, and face their long-held feelings for each other.

Then the rebellion discovered Gal’s identity and to save his life, Ettian had no choice but to unveil his own secret: that he was the long-lost heir to the Archon throne. With Gal as a political prisoner, Ettian began the fight to restore his own empire—and to open Gal’s eyes to the possibility of a galaxy reclaimed from Umber’s greed. But just when Gal was starting to come around, a team of Umber operatives rescued him from Archon’s clutches and dragged him home to take up his crown.

Now, separated for the first time and in full command of the might of their respective forces, the star-crossed rulers find themselves truly at odds. And with the war reaching a tipping point, the time has finally come for Gal and Ettian to confront what they owe their empires, their friends, and each other if they’re ever to forge a universe where the two of them can be together.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Now THIS is how you end a trilogy that’s been nothing but one plot twist and con after another with a bang.

I fell in love with Ettian and Gal and Wen from the very beginning of Bonds of Brass. The writing style employed in these novels is easy and conversational and personal, making incredibly good use of first person perspective. The story races along at full tilt with plots and secrets and betrayals and counter betrayals and ‘wait-that’s-not-actually-a-betrayal’s slotting into place and never quiiiiite spinning out of control, but only just.

The first book was Ettian-focused, and the second Gal-focused, but in this one there’s a nice balance of the two and also a look into Wen and a growing familiarity with the utter chaos that is the Wraiths.

If I can just quote from my review of the second book in the trilogy (Oaths of Legacy) for a moment:


“…if I could read about Wen going off-script with a mad slap-dash plan and Ettian caring too much and Gal “fed up to here with these two idiots but don’t anyone dare touch them” emp-Umber attempting to manipulate everyone forever I totally would… “

Same, past self. Same.

After absolutely flying through this final book at a breakneck pace I can say that I am completely satisfied with the ending. It’s the best ending these characters could have dreamed up. It is everything I wanted (and several things I didn’t know I wanted). The plot twists and surprises and long cons nearly killed me several times over as I read, in the best way possible.

I love a good twisty plot where the characters are pulling multiple cons on each other and ALSO on the reader, and this trilogy definitely delivers, with moments that made me gasp and moments that made me want to cheer as things fell into place.

I am in awe of Emily Skrutskie’s plotting skills and also will read absolutely anything she writes because this trilogy and these characters have completely stolen my heart.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I open the door, and there he is. The person I took a crown for. The person I’d take another bullet for, knowing exactly how agonizing it feels to have your guts shredded.

Vows of Empire by Emily Skrutskie

I’m not an emperor. Not overseeing a system that encompasses. billions of lives and hopes to reclaim billions more. I’m just a dumbass trying to close a goddamn door.

Vows of Empire by Emily Skrutskie

“What do you think I’m asking?” she replied—always with that tone of mischief. Pissed me the hell off when we first met. I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and go We can’t both be the fun one.

Vows of Empire by Emily Skrutskie

But that little taste of humanity was never meant to be permanent. We were always going to be dragged back to our higher destiny. It’s another thing entirely to be a man with nothing but a ship and the love of your life, standing on the shore of just one of the galaxy’s many oceans, wondering what the point of you is.

Vows of Empire by Emily Skrutskie