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.

Witchtown ★★★☆☆

30971734A mother-daughter witch duo that pulls heists as they travel across the continent seems like it would have been exciting, magical and engrossing. Instead, Witchtown was slow, vague and a bit of a let down.

When sixteen-year-old Macie O’Sullivan and her masterfully manipulative mother Aubra arrive at the gates of Witchtown—the most famous and mysterious witch-only haven in the world—they have one goal in mind: to rob it for all it’s worth.

But that plan derails when Macie and Aubra start to dig deeper into Witchtown’s history and uncover that there is more to the quirky haven than meets the eye.

Exploring the haven by herself, Macie finds that secrets are worth more than money in Witchtown.

Secrets have their own power.

That blurb alone made Witchtown, the haven Macie and her mother arrive in, sound like it was going to be creepy or deadly or something more than the dusty, plain small town it ended up being. Witchtown promised a lot but my expectations sort of fell immediately when the opening to the book started with a history lesson that toed a lot of lines, particularly when it referenced a massive systematic oppression that hearkened to a lot of what we’re seeing both today, regarding queer people and people of color, and what we’ve seen in the past, like in the times of Nazi Germany or the colonization of America and the subsequent, and still going, oppression of Indigenous peoples.

There’s a lot to unpack that wasn’t even mentioned in the first few pages of the book, and we haven’t even met our main character yet.

It took me a long, long time to get into the book. Call it what you will: a slow and boring start, a main character I wasn’t interested in, lackluster worldbuilding; but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Macie or the story until I was halfway through the book.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t like WitchtownIt was a decent book, but it felt all over the place, tied through several unfinished and unexplored subplots, rather than one main thread.

I had expected a heist story, but that fell through almost immediately. Then I expected a mystery, where Macie tried to find out what was causing all the accidents and attacks. Then I expected Macie to start coming into her own power, but that never happened until the literal last few pages.

So little is actually explained and we’re only given poor vague reflections to try and orient ourselves. Not to mention that the town is so lackluster, I only imagine the town square and then a void surrounding it all. This is a town that’s supposed to be full of nothing but witches, it’s supposed to be quirky and different and full of people who come together as refugees from the outside world of non-witches, but it’s so boring.

Throw in a creepy, lying Prince Charming looking love interest and you have Witchtown.

If the story was really about Macie breaking from her mother’s heists to be with her new found friends, I might have liked it more. But it felt like a mishmash of different ideas hastily tied up that just sort of falls apart if you look at it too long.

I wanted to love Witchtown. I love magic and witches and twists and fun quirky towns. But it had so little of that, that I’m not quite sure what to call it. My favorite, though, definitely not.

Witchtown publishes July 18th, 2017. Pre-order it here!