Reign of the Fallen ★★★☆☆

DUuNrfuWkAAhYzS.jpgThere are two things you, dear booknerds, should have gathered about me if you listen to our late-night podcast: one, I’m a lover of all things fantasy and two, queer books are my absolute faves. But Reign of the Fallen fell short of my expectations despite being an awesome queer necromancer fantasy.

Odessa is one of Karthia’s master necromancers, catering to the kingdom’s ruling Dead. Whenever a noble dies, it’s Odessa’s job to raise them by retrieving their souls from a dreamy and dangerous shadow world called the Deadlands. But there is a cost to being raised–the Dead must remain shrouded, or risk transforming into zombie-like monsters known as Shades. If even a hint of flesh is exposed, the grotesque transformation will begin.

A dramatic uptick in Shade attacks raises suspicions and fears among Odessa’s necromancer community. Soon a crushing loss of one of their own reveals a disturbing conspiracy: someone is intentionally creating Shades by tearing shrouds from the Dead–and training them to attack. Odessa is faced with a terrifying question: What if her necromancer’s magic is the weapon that brings Karthia to its knees?

The concept alone (and also the sparkly cover. I’m a sucker for sparkly covers) made me request it immediately when it was available on Netgalley. That and I follow Sarah Glenn Marsh on Twitter and she’s mentioned how it was a story about queer girls.

I was hyped. I was ready.

I ended up a little disappointed.

I want to establish how much I loved the concept. The concept was the coolest thing ever. I loved the idea of necromancers working for good, doing their best to keep the dead “alive”. I loved a kingdom that’s had the same king for hundreds of years, a king that outlawed change.

But nothing felt right when I read the book. Maybe it wasn’t for me, that happens. I felt the execution needed work. Few scenes felt tense, and the ones that did were immediately rectified by having the tension swept away. At one point, the main character sacrifices herself to kill a Shade–the undead monsters–by pulling it into a raging bonfire, since fire is one of two ways to kill the Shades.

That’s such a good moment! The main character sacrificing herself, her health, to save the people around her! She’s pulled out of the fire, horribly burned, and I just knew that was going to be a huge tension point for the entire book! She’s burned! She’s hurt, but she’s supposed to be the kingdom’s best necromancer, how will she defend everyone from Shades when she… oh… a healer came up. Okay, sure, he’ll take away the worst of the pain but she’ll still be worse off because of her rash actions… Oh. She’s 100% healed, good as new, like nothing happened. Well. Shit.

That, I think, was the worst that can happen in a story. Characters fall to ruin from their own actions but never feel the lasting consequences. Yes, they spend half a page thinking they’re going to die from the burning, but then by the next page they’re perfectly okay thanks to a healer’s magic and they learn nothing. I wanted to see characters suffer from their own misguided actions and become better for it–that’s how character development works! But it never happened within Reign of the Fallen and it sucked all the fun out of the book for me.

I have to give this one three stars for stellar concept, a pretty cover, lots of queers and badass ladies, a deep look into addiction and grief, and getting me to at least finish the book instead of DNF’ing it. Unfortunately, this won’t be one I’ll be revisiting or picking up a sequel to. Though I’ve seen lots of other people love it, so perhaps it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

The Edge of the Abyss ★★★★★

26219455If there’s anything I love in my YA books, it’s feels and queer pirates. And The Edge of the Abyss threw my feelings through the mouth of a vicious Reckoner, chopped it up and spit it back out to have Emily Skrutskie stomp on it. The point I’m trying to make is that The Edge of the Abyss destroyed me for the rest of the weekend when I finished reading it.

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

I can’t remember the last time I thought the sequel was better than the first book. But The Edge of the Abyss outshone it’s predecessor—which wasn’t easy, since I also gave The Abyss Surrounds Us five stars—and had me staring at a wall for at least fifteen minutes when I closed the last page.

Edge of the Abyss opens a few weeks after Cas promised herself to the Minnow as one of Santa Elena’s protege’s, and we’re immediately thrown into the thick of the plot when a rogue Reckoner attacks the ship. All the illegally sold Reckoner pups were set loose in the NeoPacific and are tearing the ecosystem apart.

So it’s up to Cas and the rest of the Minnow to fix the problem, or die trying.

Skrutskie’s mastery of language left me speechless at the narrative, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to tattoo some of the gems she dropped into the book somewhere on me as a badge of honor. (Which I totally want to do.) I immediately tore through half of the book while sitting at work one morning and I didn’t want to put it down at all. I was sucked in and I needed to know what was going to happen next.

And let me tell you how the last third of the book had me in tears; from the moment they set sail with the rest of the Salt until the very last page, it was Feels Central on my face. I was my own little waterfall with how deeply this book hurt—in all the best ways possible.

If you haven’t already pre-ordered The Edge of the Abyss, or for some silly reason haven’t read The Abyss Surrounds Us, go and buy those right now. I won’t even mind if you stop reading this review to head over to your preferred book shop and bought these books. Not only are they masterfully written and insanely good, the queer characters are my absolute favorites. And if there’s ever a time to read a story about two girls in love and kicking ass, it’s right now.

The Edge of the Abyss releases on April 18th, 2017.

Emily Skrutskie
Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

California Skies ★★★★☆

California Skies by Kayla Bashe is an endearing and exiting Western romance featuring Maggie Valerian, a spirited heiress and author, and California Talbot, the most dangerous bounty hunter in the West, and Maggie’s childhood friend.California Skies

Bandits came looking for the legendary emeralds belonging to Maggie’s family, killing her older brother and scarring her face. She can’t change the past, but finding the jewels will help her injured sister recover. In need of reliable muscle, she goes to an old friend of her brother’s: tough-as-nails nonbinary bounty hunter California Talbot.

While Maggie expected hard roads and violence, given the tragedy that provoked the journey, she wasn’t expecting the bar fights, snakes, and bandits to be the easy part—and the difficult part to be a growing attraction to someone who’d probably never look twice at her mutilated face.

 – lessthanthreepress.com