Phoenix Flame – by Sara Holland (Review)

Havenfall #2

Fantasy, YA, Romance

Bloomsbury YA; March 2, 2021

320 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Bloomsbury Young Adult and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

In many ways, Phoenix Flame manages to improve upon the mistakes made by its predecessor, shaping up both the interactions and the character development, while also maintaining the elements that I most enjoyed. Namely (somehow) the romance.

It was quite a summer for Maddie Morrow. After taking over temporary management of the Inn at Havenfall, she was able to disrupt the soul trade, humanize the Solarians, and prevent a coup. Now, with Marcus awake and back in charge, Maddie has been demoted back to #2—an move that she was equal parts crushed and relieved by. Yet with her uncle still recovering, her input is now more important than ever before. And she must do what’s best for Havenfall—no matter the cost.

And yet it’s a price she may not be willing to pay. After all, Maddie is in love with a Fiorden soldier. Mostly. There was a certain girl that made her heart skip a beat…—but she’s gone, locked away behind the Solarian gate. And Brekken is at Havenfall. Brekken, the boy that Maddie grew up and played with. Brekken, the boy that has become a man, one whom has expressed his interest in being with her. If the Inn falls between her and Brekken, what will Maddie do?

But more pressing concerns highlight the end of Maddie’s summer. The black-market trade of soul-bound silver has been disrupted, but is far from over. But now she has a lead on the illicit trade network, one that requires her to go undercover inside Fiordenkill, a winter wonderland that she’s always wanted to visit. But this visit will be rife with danger—despite the presence of a particularly distracting soldier—and Maddie must use all her cunning if she’s to end the trade, once and for all.

Too bad Maddie doesn’t have any cunning.

Seriously, it might’ve been a more interesting read if Maddie was a bit brighter, a bit more cunning, a bit darker, a bit more riské. But she’s not, and that’s that. But she’s still a teenager—young, immature, immortality-complex, dumb, all the realistic stuff. Phoenix Flame highlights a coming-of-age series, and part of growing up is learning to fail and overcome your mistakes. And Maddie makes a lot of mistakes. And that’s fine.

The story is a decent enough adventure; containing enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, yet it never blew me away or surprised me with its choices. As I’ve said before, Maddie’s maybe not the best narrator, but she’s what we’ve got, and tells the story well enough. I enjoyed the glimpses we got of Fiordenkill, but ultimately found them too few and lacking in any interesting detail. Literally all I can remember now is that the land was snowy and cold—the description and world-building really could’ve delivered more of a punch.

The magic system of Havenfall is… a letdown. To be honest, I forgot that magic was a thing for a great portion of the text, only for Maddie to use it once near the end and immediately drop the subject. I remember in the first book how she discovers her ability and uses it to overcome the Silver Prince. It was a surprise and a joy to her. Not so much in Phoenix Flame. No “she practiced to improve her skill” or “she still marveled in her use of magic”. Not even “oh, she had magic, too”. It’s just not mentioned. As for what and how it works… I dunno. That’s never explained, either. It’s just another missing piece in what could’ve turned out to be a great story.

The romance continues to be the main draw of the series, a phrase that continues to baffle me. Young love burns bright—and Maddie’s love life is achingly familiar, in an awkward teenage sort of way. It reminded me of my first love: the prickle of heat surrounding every stolen moment; the burning embarrassment of pretty much anything else; the indecision, the constant turmoil of emotions, the lack of anything approaching experience akin to being tossed in the ocean with a tiger strapped to your chest. Instead of the gawky, awkward, cringey, will-they won’t-they of normal YA romances, so far Sara Holland has managed to capture the nostalgia that comes with your first crush, your first love (at least, for me). There’s still plenty of awkwardness, but it’s all on a learning curve. And both Brekken and Taya create plenty of opportunities to learn, though each in different ways.

TL;DR

Phoenix Flame is the second book in the Havenfall series, and manages to build on the relative successes of Havenfall, while simultaneously correcting some of its mistakes. The story is solid but won’t blow you away with its inventiveness. The plot is interesting, with a few twists and turns and decent character development. The world-building and description continues to leave something to be desired, and the whole fantasy aspect of this fantasy book needs some serious work. As in Book #1, the main allure of Phoenix Flame lies in its romance. A bundle of emotions and no idea what to do with them made me nostalgic for my youth—but unlike the cringe-worthy, awkward, fumbling experience I’m used to seeing in YA lit, this provided something more thoughtful, more delicate, more unique. And I’m completely surprised that I continue to recommend this serious for its romance. While the story and description and characters still could use some improvement—young love continues to impress.

One Day All This Will Be Yours – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

Standalone, Novella

Scifi, Time Travel

Solaris; March 2, 2021

192 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Solaris, Rebellion and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own. All quotes are subject to change in the official publication. Don’t blame Rebellion, or me if they do.

One Day All This Will Be Yours is a love story for the ages.

Kinda.

I mean, there’s some sort of romance within, along with plenty of ages (since time travel and all), and it’s definitely a story, so there’s that. The rest of it basically answers the question: What would happen if a sentient nuclear warhead fell in love? Could it forever deny its baser instinct to eradicate life, or would it… boom?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Stalin and Hitler is cheating.”
“I don’t see why. Achilles is cheating, he never even existed.”
“Says the woman with three Jack the Rippers.”

The fight’s begun by then. It is…
Strangely hilarious.

Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s literally no one to remember—except for me. And I’ve forgotten.

See, the thing about screwing with causality is that eventually, it’s really hard to remember where the start of things and the end of things actually was. And that was before we broke time.

While I don’t remember who started the war—much less whose side I was on—I was the one to finish it. Then I tidied things up as best I could and came here, to the end of time itself. There was no place left for me where I’d been. Or should I say, “when I’d been”. But with time irreparably broken, there was only one place to go. And only one thing to do: see that it never happens again.

This is one of those stories where we never learn the narrator’s name. But his name’s not all that important, to be honest. Probably doesn’t even remember it himself. That’s the thing about causality and time-travel; it really messes with the old noodle. Sufficient to say he’s a time warrior—the last of his name.

The concept works really well. A time warrior, trying to prevent another time war before all of time is destroyed. Or, MORE destroyed, I guess. It being a time travel story, it made my head hurt if I tried too hard to sort everything out. The good news is: the book never tried very hard to sort everything out. Didn’t even really take itself seriously. Oh, there’s a plot, and a story, and they’re both lovely to boot. But it’s filled with tongue-in-cheek, sarcasm, and dark humor. Combined with the detailed, if not intricate, plot—it makes for an entertaining, intense, and often hilarious read.

[We] have a fine old hoot watching Hilter get chased round and round a field by an allosaur. It’s very therapeutic. And the thing about allosaurs is they can run really quite fast, and the thing about Hitlers is that they can’t, not really, or not for very long.

And that’s all before the love story kicks off.

I won’t say much about that, just that… it’s certainly something. I mean, I would totally read more romance novels if they were like this.

While the ending makes for a bit of a letdown (again, no spoilers), One Day All This Will Be Yours is another excellent example of the author in novella form; quirky, creative, unique, and incredibly entertaining.

TL;DR

One Day All This Will Be Yours is the idea time-travel novella—not too intense, not too serious, not TOO hilarious, but just enough of all those combined. Also, entertaining. Very entertaining. My personal choice for the greatest love story of all time (pun intended), the time warrior’s adventure is by no means boring before he meets his perfect match. And while there is a bit of a slump at the very end, ODATWBY provides a unique, amazing take on time travel, and causality itself. Definitely recommended!

And if you haven’t read any of them by now, Tchaikovsky is making a habit of putting out one or two novellas a year through Solaris/Rebellion. My most recent favs have included Walking to Aldebaran and Firewalkers. Look for him later this year with Shards of Earth, a full-length novel from Orbit, and Elder Race, a novella from Tor.

March 2021

Hey, it’s my favorite month of the year! Should be pretty obvious as to why;) A majority of the new releases I was excited for come out in the first couple weeks of the month, leaving the remainder of March for an advance start on April and other catch-up reads. But as usual my plans aren’t always my best ideas so… we’ll see.

ARCs

One Day All This Will Be Yours – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (3 • 02)

Goodreads

Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.

Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time.

I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.

Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.

Phoenix Flame – by Sara Holland (3 • 02)

Goodreads

Maddie thought her problems were over. She saved the Inn at Havenfall—a sanctuary between magical worlds—from the evil Silver Prince. Her uncle the Innkeeper is recovering from a mysterious spell that left him not quite human. And there are still a few weeks of summer left to spend with her more-than-friend Brekken.


But there’s more work to be done to protect the Inn—Maddie must put an end to the black-market trading of magical objects and open the Inn’s doors to the once feared land of shapeshifters.

As she tries to accomplish both seemingly impossible tasks, Maddie uncovers secrets that could change everything. What if saving everyone means destroying the only home she’s known?

The Second Bell – by Gabriela Houston (3 • 09)

Goodreads

In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. This child is called a striga and is considered a demon who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest. The child’s mother must then decide to leave with her infant, or stay and try to forget.

Nineteen year-old striga, Salka, and her mother, Miriat, made the choice to leave and live a life of deprivation and squalor in an isolated village. The striga tribe share the human belief that to follow the impulses of their other hearts is dangerous, inviting unspoken horrors and bringing ruin onto them all.

Salka, a headstrong and independent young woman, finds herself in a life threatening situation that forces her to explore the depths of her true nature and test the bonds between mother and child…

Somehow I lost my previous ebook of the Second Bell. I know I had it, but it’s gone now. Somehow. Anyway, if I manage to chase down another copy, hopefully I’ll be able to get a review of it out on time, but we’ll see. As for the other two—they’ve already been read and enjoyed, so you can expect reviews of them in the next few days.

Other Releases

Bridge of Souls – by Victoria Schwab (3 • 02)

Goodreads

Where there are ghosts, Cassidy Blake follows … unless it’s the other way around?

Cass thinks she might have this ghost-hunting thing down. After all, she and her ghost best friend, Jacob, have survived two haunted cities while travelling for her parents’ TV show.

But nothing can prepare Cass for New Orleans, which wears all of its hauntings on its sleeve. In a city of ghost tours and tombs, raucous music and all kinds of magic, Cass could get lost in all the colourful, grisly local legends. And the city’s biggest surprise is a foe Cass never expected to face: a servant of Death itself.

Cass takes on her most dangerous challenge yet…

The Sword Falls – by A.J. Smith (3 • 04)

Goodreads

A man of the Dawn Claw will be the Always King. It will ever be so. They will always rule . . . but they will not always lead. Prince Oliver Dawn Claw, heir to the Kingdom of the Four Claws, is thrust into a world he doesn’t understand as he waits for his father to die. Away from home, with few allies, and too many enemies, he faces a new and otherworldly threat to the Eastron from across the sea. Alliances break and masks fall, as the Dark Brethren reveal their true master. Meanwhile, Adeline Brand, called the Alpha Wolf, refuses to wait, and becomes the edge of the sword that swings back at the Dreaming God. Assembling allies and crushing resistance, she enters a fight she doesn’t know if she can win, as the sea begins to rise.

Namesake – by Adrienne Young (3 • 16)

Goodreads

With the Marigold ship free of her father, Fable and its crew were set to start over. That freedom is short-lived when she becomes a pawn in a notorious thug’s scheme. In order to get to her intended destination she must help him to secure a partnership with Holland, a powerful gem trader who is more than she seems.

As Fable descends deeper into a world of betrayal and deception she learns that her mother was keeping secrets, and those secrets are now putting the people Fable cares about in danger. If Fable is going to save them then she must risk everything, including the boy she loves and the home she has finally found.

I doubt I’ll get to all these three this month, but I might get to one or two. And while the Sword Falls ebook comes out this March, its physical release isn’t for another couple months—so you shouldn’t expect a review before then. If I get a copy, of course.

Music

Hestia – The Rumjacks (3 • 12)

Hestia is the only new album I could find by a band I recognized in March. In April there are a bunch, but March… just the Australian celtic punk group, advertising their new lead singer, Mike Rivkees. Their old singer (McLaughlin) wasn’t bad, but his lyrics weren’t super… creative. He was a big fan of repetition. Also—apparently—domestic violence and assault, which finally got him removed from the band in 2020. So, I guess he was kinda bad.

Additionally, I’ve found out that a few more bands I’ve enjoyed have broken up, mostly back in 2020. Most notably both 7 Mazes and Five Crumbs (both of Germany), Delain of course, In Waves, and more.

Currently Reading

Cage of Souls – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Sun is bloated, diseased, dying perhaps. Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbours fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilisations, surviving on the debris of its long-dead progenitors, Shadrapar is a museum, a midden, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity.

Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new, is Stefan Advani, rebel, outlaw, prisoner, survivor. This is his testament, an account of the journey that took him into the blazing desolation of the western deserts; that transported him east down the river and imprisoned him in verdant hell of the jungle’s darkest heart; that led him deep into the labyrinths and caverns of the underworld. He will treat with monsters, madman, mutants. The question is, which one of them will inherit this Earth?

Shorefall – by Robert Jackson Bennett

Having narrowly saved the metropolis of Tevanne from destruction, Sancia Grado and her allies have turned to their next task: sowing the seeds of a full-on magical-industrial revolution. If they succeed, the secrets behind scriving—the art of imbuing everyday objects with sentience—will be accessible to all of Tevanne’s citizens, much to the displeasure of the robber-barons who’ve hoarded this knowledge for themselves.  
 
But one of Sancia’s enemies has embarked on a desperate gambit, an attempt to resurrect a figure straight out of legend—an immortal being known as a heirophant. Long ago, the heirophant was an ordinary man, but he’s used scriving to transform himself into something closer to a god. Once awakened, he’ll stop at nothing to remake the world in his horrifying image.
 
And if Sancia can’t stop this ancient power from returning? Well, the only way to fight a god…is with another god.

The Queen’s Road – by R.S. Belcher

Ramon “Ray” Cosa’s life is not what he expected it to be. Living in a small Texas town ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, Ray has suffered many losses in his young life, and he has little hope left that anything will ever change or get better.

That is, until the vintage Ford Galaxie and its strange, dying owner enters Ray’s life. Given a jeweled ring he cannot remove and a desperate mission, Ray is plunged into a universe of secrets, wonders, and terrors he never dreamed exists.

Now, he travels the Queen’s Road – a hyper-space highway that connects all the planets and galaxies in creation – in search of one man, one of the Queen of the Universe’s Rangers. That journey will put Ray on the front lines of an eons-old cosmic war between the primal forces of order and chaos.

And probably make him late for his next shift at the Chug-n-Lug.

Still working through Cage of Souls, which is a bit denser than I’d originally thought. Good, but wordy. And I have had to take some time off to make it through a few ARCs first. Just started Shorefall and the Queen’s Road, but so far so good (the Queen’s Road especially is very immersive)!

Currently Playing

Contains spoilers for Hitman & Hitman 2

Hitman 3

IO Interactive • 2021

22% Completion

Hitman 2

IO Interactive • 2018

61% Completion

Hitman 3 serves (as far as I know) as the completion of the Hitman trilogy, which tells of the origins of 47 through stories and glimpses, all found while helping his childhood friend, Lucas Grey, take down the shadow organization known as “Providence”. While Hitman 1 saw 47 enter the ICA, soon he and his handler, Diana, became very aware of the suspicious assassinations he was being tasked with completing. It first introduces “Providence”, but as the agency fighting the corruption in the ICA itself. The second game introduces Mr. Grey as its surprise twist, and sees 47 turn on “Providence” in recompense for what the cabal did to him as a boy. The third game features more of the same in the way of surprise twists, as well as the same great gameplay that focuses on stealth, discovery, exploration, and innovation. Think about your assignment, plan out your route, or just wing it. Explore and you can find unlockables, easter eggs, lore, and new and interesting ways to accomplish your tasks. Rewards are greater if they limit collateral damage and focus on stealth. If you haven’t played these games before, I’d definitely recommend them. And if you decide to get 3, you can purchase DLC to play all the missions of 1 & 2 at the same time.

While I’m currently working through the story of 3, I’ve also gone back and replayed 2, especially the DLC locations of the Bank and Haven Island which I didn’t dive too deeply into before.

Life

If you missed it, Michael J. Sullivan recently wrapped up a Kickstarter for his latest book, Nolyn, which follows the child of Nyphron and Persephone as his legend unveils. If you missed it but want in on the action, you can still back it HERE. I was thinking about posting something to alert y’all to it, but tbh I almost missed it myself, so that didn’t happen. If you haven’t read any of his other books—it’s cool. The great thing about his novels is that you can begin wherever. Whenever you want. If you haven’t seen the cover, you’re in for a real treat: the thing is AMAZING. In fact, the entire Nolyn trilogy is beautiful. As, I’m sure, the text itself will be.

Hmmmmm…

Haven’t got much else, if I’m honest. I’ve mostly been reading, watching sports, reading WHILE watching sports, and going to work. I’ve been getting into a good routine.

I hate routines.

I’m going to have to change things up.

Also, hopefully at some point it’ll stop snowing and actually get above freezing. March (late March) usually marks the waning of winter, and April the beginning of spring. So, maybe some freezing rain, or some other hobby or something? Any ideas?

I’m sorry if I haven’t gotten around to replying to your comments or posts this week. I’ve been busy, not sleeping well, and it’s kinda taking a toll on me. I’ll try my best to catch up this weekend, but forgive me if I’m a little behind, eh? I’ll catch up soon enough, hopefully!

Hope everyone’s doing well this year! Better than last year, at least. Hopefully it continues well enough, otherwise—only 10 more months til 2022!

Moonbathers (2016)

Often viewed internationally as another step back, this 5th full album was released in 2016 and charted reasonably well in the Netherlands, topping out at #15. Though it had the best artwork of the bunch (in my opinion), I’d probably name Moonbathers the weakest album. While there were still a handful of songs that I liked, there wasn’t the same appeal of listening to the whole thing on repeat over and over and over. Preceded out in 2016 by the Lunar Prelude (which I’ve previously mentioned (Sunday, I think)), Moonbathers included five original good songs, plus one cover, and the two put out by the previous EP.

Danse Macabre

This album I actually scrapped my original two songs in favor of two more that appealed to me more when I went back later to review the post. While the Monarch is a great song, it comes at the tail end of the album and is mostly an instrumental track—nothing wrong with that, just not what I felt like this week. Danse Macabre seemed more fitting for the band’s swan song.

Fire With Fire

Fire With Fire replaced the cover of Queen’s Scandal on this list. Both are strong, appealing tracks, but again, I just ended up enjoying Fire With Fire more when I listened midweek.

The Human Contradiction (2014)

If We Are the Others was Delain’s first major step onto the scene, The Human Contradiction was its first step back. Personally I loved it, but critics noted that it didn’t push the envelope like the previous albums did, instead settling into a niche and focusing on crafting its product. The album, released in 2014, didn’t chart as high as its predecessors, despite some beautiful lyrics from Wessels and a combination of metal themes, heavy ballads, and lovely vocals. Apparently, the album’s title was inspired by Octavia E. Bulter’s Dawn (which still sits on my TBR).

Sing to Me

With so many albums, I’ve an impossible task trying to pick out my favorite song. Occasionally, there’ll be one constant that sticks head and shoulders above the rest. But with others—especially the kind of bands like Delain—there’s more of a rotation of songs that I run through depending on my mood. And so, for all these albums (minus maybe the next one) I had a difficult time choosing even two songs to use and another dozen to exclude. So if you maybe like them, try just listening to the whole album. Or if you don’t, maybe skip the next two days (lol).

Stardust

We Are the Others (2012)

The third full album from Delain was its first international success. While already proving popular in the Netherlands and on the Symphonic Metal scene, We Are the Others attained appearances on several international charts, including #3 on the UK’s Rock chart. This 2012 release was also a big hit at home, securing its first Top 5 position in the Dutch chart and topping the Dutch Alternative one once again. We Are the Others was the first album to feature the core of Delain’s personnel—with Timo Somers and Otto Schimmelpennick joining Westerholt and Wessels.

Babylon

Electricity

April Rain (2009)

The second album from newly fully-formed Delain proved to be a great success. Released in 2009, it reached #1 on the Dutch Alternative and #14 on the overall Dutch charts. Instead of the focus relying heavily on guest contributions like Lucidity, April Rain featured only a couple, instead focusing primarily on the fully-formed band, and vocals by Wessels to power the album.

April Rain was released maybe a month after I first listened to Lucidity. I remember immediately loving this one, even more than Lucidity before it. I also remember the girl I was seeing at the time hated it. Honestly… not much else. It’s funny what you remember, innit? As happens with me, I now associate her with one of the songs (not saying which one, but) (I do that—some people, particularly those I’m closest to get their own theme song kinda—dunno why, but it’s a thing). So there are certain songs I now avoid due to the sometimes unwelcome memories they bring. This album is awesome, but it just so happens to have one such.

April Rain

Go Away

Well, tomorrow’ll be We Are The Others, the album that really helped sell Delain as an international success.

Lucidity (2006)

Lucidity was the first full-length album released by Delain, back in 2006. At this point the band was just a collaboration between Westerholt and Charlotte Wessels—with studio musicians to fill out the ranks. The album also relied heavily on guest appearances, the success of which prompted Westerholt to flesh out the band rather than calling it a one-off.

Forget the first time I heard this, though I remember it was in connection with Within Temptation albums. I do remember I immediately enjoyed it, and binged the album on repeat over the next few weeks.

The Gathering

Note: I’ve never watched the any of these videos and am not about to start now. I just like the songs. Music, awesome; music videos, meh.

Shattered

Sleepwalker’s Dream

Congratulations if you reached the end of this successfully! Whether you read and listened your way down, or just skipped to the end doesn’t particularly matter to me, I just hope you enjoyed it. Delain has brought me so much joy over the years I figure this is almost the least I can do to honor them. Tomorrow, April Rain.

Delain: End of an Era

Delain has been one of my favorite bands since I discovered them back in 2008. They inhabited the interesting genre known as symphonic metal, which combines the raw sound of metal with classically gothic vocals. Formed back in 2002 when Martjin Westerholt left Within Temptation, Delain started as a solo project where Westerholt collaborated with different musicians to produce his demo. Then in 2005, he met Charlotte Wessels, and the pair became the framework for Delain. Sixteen years, six full-length, and two EP albums later and Delain is once again becoming a solo project, as everyone but Westerholt has departed the band to pursue other avenues. It’s incredibly disappointing, but I know people have to live their lives how they see fit. I just can’t help but feeling that 2020 hath claimed another victim. While fans have been repeatedly reassured that everyone from Delain will remain in the music industry in some form, I can’t help but compare this to the last great disappointment in symphonic metal when Manda Ophuis left Nemesea in 2016 (granted, she left to pursue her passion of working with special needs children, so it’s kinda hard to fault that).

Hunter’s Moon is also probably my favorite piece of album artwork, though I can’t tell you exactly why.

For the following six days, I’m going to be posting a brief on each of their six albums, along with my favorite song (or two) off them. So if you don’t enjoy this first post, maybe just skip the next six, eh? I won’t be offended—promise.

Hunter’s Moon was an EP (extended play) released in 2018. It featured four brand new, unreleased songs, along with ten additional live performances of existing songs. The following is one of my favorite tracks from the album. Later, there’s Invidia, off the extremely popular April Rain album.