Legendborn – by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn Cycle #1

Fantasy, YA

Simon & Schuster; September 15, 2020

503 pages (format)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

—A review by KK—

Hey, so this is Will, just a quick note here. This is the review of a friend of mine, essentially a trial for this site. If she likes doing it, if it’s not too much a strain on her time—then you might be seeing more of these! Albeit with her tag rather than my own. Pretty much I just asked her to rant about some book and I’d post it and we could take it from there. Hopefully it works out, because I absolutely loved this review!

Recap

Sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews choses a school, argues with her mom about that choice, and then finds out her mom died in an accident. With grief still fresh and heavy, she rushes off to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, an institution for bright scholars and also the setting of the argument with her mom. It’s supposed to be a new and exciting place where she and her best friend, Alice Chen, can learn and grow (and most importantly not be surrounded with her mother’s death). However, her first night there leads to an encounter with magic and a secret society of “Legendborn” who protect the unsuspecting population from demons and their like. That fateful moment unlocks a memory from the day her mother died, and suddenly there are unknowns surrounding her loved one’s death that Bree must solve. And this secret society holds the key to the truth she seeks. The question is, does she join their fight? Or take them down from the inside?  

Rambling Review (unspecific spoilers ahead)

Before I ever read a book, I view the cover, and the cover for Legendborn is fantastic. I love the colors, the prominence of the main character, and the font. As I took it in, I remember asking myself, what is the significance of the red and blue covering her arms? The answer is “Both…and…” I was then pulled into the book through a famous story “that everyone knows”. What I especially enjoyed was the book does this remarkable job of weaving in a second extraordinary component that, I’d argue, is even more compelling than the familiar fairy tale. Tell me more about that in the second book.

Having recently lost a close family member, the struggles of wanting everything to be normal and not dealing with the grief felt extremely real to me. There’s a moment in the book where another character makes a poignant observation to Bree and while she tries to deny it, ultimately realizes what this other character is saying might be true. I realized that I might share this denial with Bree. Death of a loved one is hard, and the entire book felt like a voice for my own loved one’s passing. I was empathetic to the emotions Bree goes through as she navigates knowing that her mother is no longer in this world.

I get that YA novels tend to have this “Oh they’re cute” moment followed by almost instant attraction/getting together, and I’m more and more finding that these whirlwind romances take away something from the story for me. You’re telling me that a 16 year-old can find someone attractive, hang out with them, begin a relationship AND find feelings that strong for them?!? So, if I have an issue with this title, it’s Bree’s romance and the romantic moments she has. Perhaps that’s unfair and it’s the ol’ curmudgeon in me poking through. Boo young love! But also… might be shipping a different couple…

Representation in stories is so important. Bree is a young Black woman. Her best friend, Alice, is a lesbian Asian-American. The initial lure of the book may be the well-known fairy tale, but the strength is Bree and the secondary power she discovers about herself. I really enjoyed how Bree smashes through the gatekeepers of the fairy tale in both specific and unintentional ways.

Overall, I would recommend this book for readers of YA and urban fantasy and I’m definitely excited for the sequel. 

Reader Remarks

I read quite fast. To the point where I will miss important points hidden in long paragraphs because I don’t feel compelled to read the entire section. If it takes more than an inexplicable amount of time to get through a paragraph, or the flow of the sentences is wordy and unexciting, I’m likely skimming it. Also if I’m really looking forward to some character interactions, I read fast to get to that part. I think my reading style does affect my enjoyment of books and should be mentioned to other readers who peruse this summary.

5 Stars!

A Spindle Splintered – by Alix E. Harrow (Review)

Fractured Fables #1

Fantasy, Retelling, Novella

Tor.com; October 5, 2021

3hr 20m (audiobook)
128 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Tor.com and Macmillan Audio for the ARC (ALC?)! All opinions are my own.

Zinnia Grey is a normal 21-year old—one that has but one year to live. Born with a rare illness, she’s grown up knowing that no one has ever lived past the age of 22. In spite of this—or perhaps because of it—Zinnia has developed a full-on obsession with Sleeping Beauty. Not the Disney version either, but the older, darker, Grimm’s one. And as such, it should be no surprise when her best friend Charm throws Zinnia a sleeping beauty bash, complete with a tower and spinning wheel.

But when Zinnia accidentally pricks her finger on the spindle, something strange happens. Something that sees her awaken in a strange tower, in a strange world, with a strange honest-to-god princess also keen to escape her own fate. Something Zinnia can relate to.

And, maybe, something she can help with.

A funny and entertaining retelling that unfortunately suffers from holes in its story, setting, and otherwise short format. What A Spindle Splintered does have is a full cast of badass heroines, and if that’s what you came for—that should be enough to see you through. A love-at-first-sight romance complete with a fully fairy tale ending, whereas the subject itself goes in an entirely different direction.

I rather enjoyed Zinnia’s POV (which is the only one in the book), particularly her wit and sarcasm, and the fact that she totally owns her disease enough to constantly refer to herself as “the dying girl”. This title even comes with its own set of rules of living—complete with swearing off distraction, romance, and school. The humor of this is pretty heavily self-deprecating, as Zinnia attempts to grapple with the reality of her own mortality, one that is now looming over her. It’s one thing to hear that you’ll never make it past 22—but when you get to 21 it all suddenly gets real. The way she copes with this (mostly through humor), and how her journey into a faerie tale makes her confront it again is quite the thing.

The story wasn’t a complete hit with me, I’m afraid. The setting is incomplete, something I feel the short format (as a novella) worked against it. There just wasn’t enough time to build up the faerie tale, little alone for the real world or Zinnia’s place in it. What might’ve otherwise been little details became glaring missteps when you realize that the entirety of the plot is resting on them. Like Zinnia’s cell working from a faerie tale. Or her friend just up and accepting this without comment.

A Spindle Splintered may not have blown me away, but it’s done more than enough for me to recommend it, particularly to those that need a competent, badass heroine role-model, have a love for retellings, LGBTQ+ stories, novellas, and/or Alix E. Harrow. Where I have trouble recommending this is its price. $11 for a 120 page ebook? Ridiculous. Heck, the audiobook is cheaper, and that way you get to listen to the honeyed tongue of Amy Landon—something which I did, by the way. Landon did an excellent job bringing both Zinnia Grey, and the rewritten Sleeping Beauty fable to life. Still, maybe get it on sale.

Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords – by Benedict Patrick (Review)

Again, I adore the cover, courtesy of Jenny Zemanek.

Yarnsworld #3

Dark Fantasy, Horror, Fantasy

Createspace Publishing; October 17, 2017

286 pages (ebook)

4.2 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

When Arturo was a small child, his mother used to tell him stories of the Mistress of the Wilds, of the Black Shepherdess, but especially of the Bravadori of Espadapan. The Bravadori were painted as the Queen’s heroes, protectors of the weak and innocent, saviors of the helpless, monster slayers extraordinaire. As he grew, Arturo always dreamt of becoming one of their number. Occasionally, Bravadori traveled to his father’s estates in search of coin and renown. Upon seeing them, Arturo knew his path was set. He trained hard and dreamed big, until one day he developed his very own Knack in sword-fighting. One day he was finally ready. Packing his blade and mask, Arturo set out for the City of Swords—and destiny.

Yet upon finally reaching Espadapan, Arturo learns that his heroes are nothing like the heroes his mother painted them as. Selfish and ignoble, the masked vigilantes are nothing more than thugs, running unchecked through the city. Unwilling to give up his dream so easily, still Arturo attempts to join their ranks. He is repeatedly mugged, mocked, and beaten. But when he hears tell of bandits terrorizing a nearby village, hope swells in Arturo. For while these swordsmen were nothing like he’d imagined, surely they would line up to defend those oppressed, like he’d seen them do as a boy. And Arturo would finally join their number, defeat the bandits and forge his own legend. Together with a disgraced Bravador and an honorless swordsman, Arturo sets out once more—for destiny.

Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld mixes dark fantasy with faerie tales, adding a splash of horror for taste, and adventure for the heck of it. While his debut—They Mostly Come Out At Night—divided me on its effectiveness at combining all four, I assumed that with experience and practice he could hammer out most of those imperfections.

Which he has.

Sadly, it’s not yet perfect, but still a marked improvement upon his earlier work. The POV characters of City of Swords—split three ways between Arturo, Yizel and Reuben—each could solo the story, as all three are strong, fleshed out leads, with depth, backstories, and even development. Unlike Come Out At Night, these characters delivered. Thoughtful, entertaining, and ambitious, I was never sure who was on whom’s side, as each showed mixed loyalties and complex emotions. They felt human in a way that no one did in Yarnsworld #1.

As before, the faerie tales play as interludes between each chapter, something that both entertained and annoyed me in equal parts. Sometimes it was an extra bit of vital lore, but other times it was a distraction from the plot at hand. While most of the time I appreciated the extra bits of world-building, I really could’ve done without them between EVERY chapter.

While the format annoyed me, the aspect of was most torn on was that of the world-building. The initial setup—the land and its backstory—was just lazy. It’s a carbon-copy of the New World exploration by Spain (or, well, most European powers), complete with Spanish-sounding names and places. That being said, the New World is just a backdrop for the tale. While the faerie tales bring the world to life. Admittedly, I’m not too well versed in faerie tales. I’m familiar with some of the most popular ones, and have a working knowledge of folklore from all over the place. Anyway, these tales seem pretty unique to me. And they really help bring the story to life.

I was caught up picturing the masked Bravadori when Arturo first arrived in the City of Swords, and felt his disappointment as if it were my own. I actually shook upon reading through the Black Shepherdess tale, and she haunted my dreams that night. I could hear her wails, her cries; feel the ash as it fell from the sky; the world itself seemed to grow darker when she blacked out the sky. These faerie tales aren’t just good reproductions, they’re incredibly raw and vivid, dark and haunting and… well, REAL. They feel real. Really real.

TL;DR

Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords may be a mouthful, but the where the title draws on, the story itself manages to be gripping, dark, and packed with detail. The number one strength of Yarnsworld continues to be its faerie tales, which alternately had me awed or shaking depending on which terrible or heroic figure was being portrayed. Where They Mostly Come Out At Night fell flat, City of Swords delivered with its characters, its language, and its realism. Though the format of including a faerie tale between every chapter ofttimes annoyed me, I also usually appreciated the dark, interesting snippets of lore they provided. It’s a good, dark read just in time for Halloween. More importantly, City of Swords tells a completely different tale from any of the others found in Yarnsworld, so there’s no reason you can’t just skip right to it. I’d definitely recommend this one, and look forward to continuing my trip through the Yarnsworld saga!