Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Scarlet – Book 1 of the Scarlet series by Genevieve Cogman – release date 11th May, 2023
#historical fantasy adventure #feisty heroine #French Revolution setting #vampires
BLURB: It is 1793 and the French Revolution is in full swing. Vampires—usually rich and aristocratic—have slaked the guillotine’s thirst in large numbers. The mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, a disguised British noble, and his League are heroically rescuing dozens of aristocrats from execution, both human and vampire. And soon they will have an ace up their Eleanor Dalton [sic].
Eleanor is working as a housemaid on the estate of a vampire Baroness. Her highest aspiration is to one day become a modiste. But when the Baroness hosts a mysterious noble and his wife, they tell Eleanor she is the spitting image of a French aristocrat, and they convince her to journey to France to aid them in a daring scheme. Soon, Eleanor finds herself in Paris, swept up in magic and intrigue—and chaos—beyond her wildest dreams. But there’s more to fear than ardent Revolutionaries. For Eleanor stumbles across a centuries-old war between vampires and their fiercest enemy. And they’re out for blood. . . .
Scarlet is the first book in a wildly engaging new series from Genevieve Cogman, which reinvents the beloved tale of the Scarlet Pimpernel. This time around, it was the author’s name that snagged my attention. I loved The Invisible Library series – see my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, The Dark Archive, my mini-review of The Lost Plot and my review of the final book in the series – The Untold Story. So when I saw she’d just started a historical fantasy adventure, I jumped at the chance of getting hold of an arc. I am rather behind with my TBR pile, but there will be a review to follow in due course…
Being a huge fan of books, a story about a mysterious race being able to actually eat them seemed an intriguing premise, so I was delighted to be approved to read this one.
BLURB: Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.
Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.
REVIEW: I enjoyed the prospect of reading a book about beings who snacked on books to become their own walking libraries – though the premise that Dean presents is less cosy than the one I envisaged. Essentially, these are vampiric creatures whose superior strength and speed make them formidable opponents. And while they do absorb the knowledge of the books they read, there isn’t a sense that they put it to particularly good use. Indeed, they are portrayed as a dying breed desperately trying to avoid extinction as the handful of surviving Families farm out their rare daughters in arranged marriages to try to ensure the next generation. As for the girls, they are force-fed a diet of fairy tales featuring princesses waiting for their princes in an attempt to make them compliant about their fate.
However, Devon has never been the compliant sort – and when she produces a son with undesirable traits, she refuses to allow the patriarch to tidy him away according to the custom. She is an engaging protagonist – headstrong, courageous and passionate in her loyalty and love. It was refreshing to come across a book where the love story is all about the maternal bond – even if that takes Devon into some very dark places. I am always fascinated by the dynamic of power – who has it, the lengths they go to in order to keep hold of it, and who also craves it. So it was a huge treat for me that one of the major themes of this book is an exploration of power.
This dystopian fantasy proved to be a gripping read, full of tension and drama. But do be warned – it does tip into horror and there is an upsetting scene where a baby is harmed. While it was difficult to read in places, I liked Dean’s unflinching refusal to ever tip into sentimentality regarding the relationship between Devon and her young son, Cai. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Book Eaters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I’ve been needing some series escapist charm in my life ever since I was first smitten with long COVID well over a year ago – and this one looked just the ticket. Indeed, the cover reminded me of the wonderful Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster. Would my expectations be fulfilled?
BLURB: Ever since she was cursed by a faerie, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear or embarrassment – a condition which makes her prone to accidental scandal. Dora hopes to be a quiet, sensible wallflower during the London Season – but when the strange, handsome and utterly uncouth Lord Sorcier discovers her condition, she is instead drawn into dangerous and peculiar faerie affairs.
If Dora’s reputation can survive both her curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world. . . but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.
REVIEW: To be honest, the blurb makes this quirky, enjoyable offering sound more ordinary than it actually is. Dora is an interesting heroine, given that she has sustained a terrible injury right at the beginning of the book and throughout, she is successfully portrayed as someone who is slightly at odds with social expectations. It’s technically a tricky characterisation to pull off – if she is too weird, then it just gets embarrassing and a tad annoying, yet if she isn’t odd enough, then the whole premise falls flat. I think Atwater does a really fine job in portraying someone who is constantly struggling to find the appropriate social persona without compromising the character, or silting up the pace.
I also enjoyed the anger against the yawning gulf between rich and poor that is expressed within the story. There were, indeed, well-born men and women of the day who felt outraged at suffering of those less fortunate than themselves and it’s refreshing to see a social reformer as a main protagonist in a Regency romance. It certainly gives the story a bit of heft, especially when we come to the fae and their reactions to the land of mortals. This became a real page-turner that I couldn’t put down until I reached the end – which tied up the story very satisfactorily. I’m delighted to note that there are other books available in this entertaining series, which I’ll certainly be tracking down. Highly recommended for fans of historical romance with a fantasy twist. While I obtained an arc of Half a Soul from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I absolutely loved the Spellslinger series – see my reviews of Spellslinger, Shadowblack, Charmcaster, Soulbinder, Queenslayer and Crownbreaker. So I jumped at the opportunity to catch up with crafty old Ferius Parfax in this second slice of her adventures, in this spinoff of the original series, where we discover where Ferius comes from and what happened to her, before she encountered young Kellen.
BLURB: New to the ways of the Argosi, the tribe of wandering philosophers who seek to defeat evil by wit and guile, Ferius Parfax encounters a hideous plague – the Red Scream. Highly contagious, caught by the hearing of a deadly verse, it turns its victims into mindless monsters that destroy all human life they come into contact with. With the help of a deaf boy whom she has saved from two horrifying victims of the plague, she sets out to find the source of the Red Scream and overcome it’s terrifying power. Along the way she is joined by another Argosi, Rosie, who purports to be so much wiser and more adept than Ferius, but who turns out to have her own dark secrets.
REVIEW: It turns out that I’ve missed out on the first book charting Ferius’s adventures – Way of the Argosi – something I’ll need to rectify soon, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the Spellslinger novels so far. But I didn’t flounder too much as Ferius is an old friend. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading the Spellingslinger books, I don’t really think it matters. As this adventure takes place well before Kellen comes onto the scene, you certainly won’t have any trouble working out what is going on. And for those of you who do know the series, then there are all sorts of little gifts along the way – mostly to do with Ferius’s mannerisms that drive her pupil crazy a lot later on.
Back to this adventure – I absolutely loved it. The author knows the protagonist inside and out and it shows. There is a heady mix of major danger, huge emotional stakes and snarky humorous dialogue to lighten the load. I also enjoyed the constant references to the principles of the Argosi way of life, as well as the difficulty in attaining them. It provided an interesting philosophical backdrop to the ongoing drama – where someone who thinks they’re doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, up until they fall off a moral ledge and plunge into terrible evil. Given the stakes, I enjoyed the ongoing discussion throughout the book as to what is the right way to cope with evil.
I’m conscious that I may have given the impression that this book gets caught up in major questions of Right and Wrong – but there’s so much more going on. The story cracks along at a fair pace, so that I kept waiting for the action to ease up a tad, allowing me to put it down and get some sleep. And I didn’t… One of the main reasons why this book is such a page turner, is that we don’t just have one strong female character, but two. Given what a vivid, arresting personality Ferius is, I was also impressed at just how much Rose jumped off the page. She could so easily have been a thoroughly wicked character, instead of the interestingly nuanced, flawed personality that was depicted. Add to the cast list a mute child who only signs in an archaic language, and a stubborn horse – and the adventure has the same quirky humour that I’d come to expect from de Castell’s Spellslinger series, despite the very high body count and bloody action.
I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Ferius and learning more about this infuriating, enigmatic character who dominated so much of the early Spellslinger books. And whether you’ve read them or not – this fantasy adventure comes highly recommended. While I obtained the arc of Fall of the Argosi from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review. 9/10
I love The Iron Druid series – see my reviews of Hounded, Hammered, Shattered, Staked and Scourged. Atticus is a fabulous hero with his adorable dogs and the steady humour they provide prevent the series from getting too dark as his enemies get angrier and more powerful. So I was delighted when Ink & Sigil, the first book in a spin-off series, appeared. Would I enjoy Paper & Blood as much?
BLURB: There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.
But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.
The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries. REVIEW: I really have rather fallen in love with Al. It’s such a refreshing change to find a sympathetic, enjoyable protagonist who also happens not to be in the full flush of youth – and yes… I’m aware that Atticus is two thousand years old. But he looks like a twenty-something, whereas Al doesn’t. The extra weight of years and wry wisdom has completely won me over. It doesn’t hurt that I also enjoy the company he keeps, especially his foul-mouthed hobgoblin companion, Buck Foi and Nadia. And yes… there is a lot of swearing in this book, so if you find that offensive, then this won’t be for you. It was the one thing that, at times, slightly niggled as I wished that Al had reported that Buck Foi cursed, rather than giving me the benefit of all the sweariness. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker, because I enjoyed the characters and the action.
And the great big bonus for me is that Atticus and his dogs also heavily feature in this adventure. I’ve really missed tucking into yet another amusing story featuring Atticus since the Iron Druid series finished, so I was delighted that he has such a big role in this book. And it is also fascinating to see him filtered through Al’s viewpoint. As ever, Hearne tells a cracking tale, full of action and suspense. As the mystery of the missing sigil agents deepens, Hearne’s warm-hearted, larger-than-life characters are genuinely concerned. When we meet the horrible monsters intent to tearing apart everyone they meet, I did wonder if we’d ever see them again. Because for all his folksy fun, Hearne isn’t afraid to kill off a likeable, affectionate character if it fits the plot.
A large part of the story is set in the Australian outback, which is effectively evoked and certainly adds to the vividness and tension, while Al and his gang attempt their desperate rescue. As ever with Hearne, I didn’t see the denouement coming – but that didn’t stop it being entirely satisfying. While there is lots of action and humour, I also appreciated the discussions and stories between the characters and the philosophical deliberations. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and is highly recommended for urban fantasy fans with a liking for their fantasy with a strong Celtic twist and lots of quirky humour. While I obtained an arc of Paper & Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
A very happy Father’s Day to those of you who are celebrating. This year, it won’t be a major thing in our house, as we’re still coming to terms with the death of my lovely father-in-law, Derek Higbee, who lost his battle with cancer on 6th May. He was a remarkable man, whose education was hampered by WWII and despite being dyslexic, he went on to have a successful career, ending up as Managing Director of an engineering firm, with several inventions to his name.
A keen cyclist all his life, he embarked on several major sponsored cycle rides once he retired, including riding the length of Britain, from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and the other where he rode from the tip of South Island in New Zealand and ending in Auckland on North Island. All proceeds went to charity. He also took up pottery, passed exams and became good enough to have his work displayed for sale at the prestigious annual exhibition in the Bishop’s Kitchen at Chichester Cathedral. And his abiding passion for the last decade, was his involvement with the Ringwood Junior School, where he ran an Engineering afterschool club. He rounded up a team of like-minded friends and between them, they designed and constructed projects appropriate for 10 and 11-year-olds that could be successfully completed within a term. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Indeed, he received a national award in recognition of his efforts to introduce STEM subjects to schoolchildren. When he was in Christchurch Hospice, one of the nurses immediately recognised him, as her daughter had been one of the hundreds of children who had attended the club over the years.
All of this would be noteworthy and impressive – but he was also a charismatic, kindly, outgoing person with a lively intelligence and quirky sense of humour. And a very strong family man. Himself is the eldest of three – two boys and a girl. I came into the family rather unexpectedly, having divorced with two young children, and being determined never to get involved with anyone else ever again. Until Himself and I realised our strong friendship had become something deeper… I and my children were welcomed wholeheartedly by both Derek and Marie. When we first moved into our house, it was in a sorry state. Derek and Marie travelled up to help us fix up the house and we went away on holiday with them several times, first with the children – and then later, we took our eldest grandchild to stay with them and my sister-in-law’s family in a holiday cottage in Wales, back in 2008. So many happy times… We always knew they were there for us, and that was such a comfort.
His funeral service was on a lovely sunny day and although I wasn’t well enough to attend, I was able to watch it live online. I’ve promised myself that once I’m better, I’ll pay my respects by putting a posy of wild flowers on his grave. Derek was keen on wild flowers and nature – his final project was making a nestbox for owls, which he didn’t quite manage to complete. The celebrant at Derek’s funeral commented on just how much he had managed to pack into his life – not just with achievements and material success, but with past-times that made the world a better place. He is missed by all who knew him.
Last week I read: Chains and Memory – Book 2 of the Wilders series by Marie Brennan Last autumn Kim and Julian stood at the center of that storm. Now they face a challenge closer to home: a battle over the laws governing wilders, the closest genetic relatives of the sidhe. Many feel that change should wait until the current upheaval has ended . . . but Kim sees opportunity in the chaos, a chance to free Julian and all his kind from the chains of the deep shield that locks their gifts away.
The roots of that shield run deeper than she knows. The quest to destroy it will lead her and Julian back into the world of the sidhe, where they will uncover ancient lies, face betrayal on all sides — and gamble everything on the possibility of freedom. This was a real page-turner. Having recently read the first book in this engrossing series, I was completely on board with Kim and Julian – and the twisty plotting has left me hoping for more…
Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of A Trash n’Treasures mystery series by Barbara Allan Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming. But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.
Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on. This quirky whodunit is something of an acquired taste – but I was charmed by the tension between mother and daughter, who write alternative chapters. And along with the murder mystery is all sorts of high jinks that largely appealed to my humour. Review to follow.
Love’s Labor’s Won – Book 6 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall Two families, alike in dignity…and armed with powerful magic.
The Magical Families of Ashworth and Ashfall have been feuding for countless years, ever since something happened to split one family into two. Now, they have been invited to Cockatrice Faire… when no other magician would dare invite them both. And when it becomes clear that the Ashworth Heir and the Ashfall Heir have fallen in love with one another, Emily finds herself caught in the middle between two powerful families, each one capable of destroying her once and for all… This isn’t the best book in this gripping and unusual school adventure series – but I was interested to see Emily’s ongoing progression as she makes her way in this different world a portal away from the universe where she was born. And negotiating the customs and manners of the highest echelons of society was bound to trip her up…
Deathmaker – Book 2 of the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker When Lieutenant Caslin Ahn joined Wolf Squadron, she was prepared for the reality that she might one day be killed in the line of duty. She was less prepared for being shot down, assumed dead by her own people, and dragged off to the Cofah Empire as a prisoner of war.
As if being thrust into a dungeon and interrogated wasn’t bad enough, the sadistic commandant decides to give her a cellmate: the notorious pirate Deathmaker. Given the crimes he’s committed against Iskandia, Cas owes it to her people to try and kill him… That cover belies the sheer energy and humour that pings off the page as feisty Cas finds herself hauled into a criminal underworld against her will. I love Buroker’s writing and I’m looking forward to reading more in this entertaining fantasy series.
AUDIOBOOK – Soul Music – Book 16 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett Young Susan has always suspected that her Grandfather was different, as though all the time he spent riding a white horse and wielding a scythe weren’t enough of a giveaway. Now that her worst fears have been confirmed, Susan learns that she’s expected to take over the family business when she grows up, even though most people mistake her for the Tooth Fairy.
But as attractive as Death can be to many people, Susan is drawn into something else: the exciting, addictive heavy beats of ‘Music with Rocks In,’ Discworld’s latest dance craze. Nigel Planer does a fabulous job of narrating this one. I read the paperback a lifetime ago, and listening to this one was still a treat. Though I got a tad tired of the running joke regarding the Klatchian foreign legion – but that’s a niggle. It might not be Pratchett at his best, but that’s a very, very high bar to scramble over.
Unfortunately, as I’ve been ill again most of the week, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or article. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.
I’ve been reading some excellent historical murder mysteries recently, so this offering on Netgalley caught my eye. As usual, I didn’t research it properly before requesting it. So I was slightly surprised to discover it was Book 11 of a long-running series. Oh well – it’s been a while since I crashed midway into a series with such style!
BLURB: February, 1390. The Church seethes with rebellion. Newly elected Pope Boniface faces a challenger: the anti-pope Clement, who sows discord from his power base in France.
The quarrel threatens the very survival of the Cistercian Order. So when suspicions grow that distant Beaulieu Abbey may turn traitor, Hildegard’s prioress summons her with a mission she can’t refuse: travel to the isolated royal abbey and spy out their true allegiance. The public reason for Hildegard’s trip is more prosaic. A young Cornish heiress, promised in marriage to the son of local aristocrat Sir William, needs escorting to her new home. It’s not often Hildegard joins a betrothal party, and she’s looking forward to meeting the girl.
But little does Hildegard know, death and danger wait at Beaulieu – and even the protection of her travelling companions, the monks militant Brother Gregory and Brother Egbert, may not be enough to keep her safe from harm . . .
REVIEW: As luck would have it, I know this part of the world rather well. In another life, we owned a yacht and Beaulieu River was a favourite destination when cruising up and down The Solent. So I was especially keen to read this murder mystery set in this beautiful, atmospheric part of the world.
Hildegard is a sympathetic protagonist, who is clearly intelligent and courageous. I also liked the fact that she is a widow with grown children that brought a steadiness and experience she demonstrated throughout. It makes a nice change to have a female protagonist who is a bit older and past her physical prime. However, this murder mystery is clearly action led, despite being told from the viewpoint of a single protagonist. There are so many twists and turns and so much going on that at times Hildegard’s thoughts and reactions – other than those about the mystery – aren’t apparent, so by the end of the book I didn’t know her as well as I wanted. While she is in some very dangerous situations. I didn’t ever get the sense of her real fear, or her ongoing dialogue with God, which would have been the case in those days.
However, Clark’s depiction of the surroundings, infrastructure and all the topographical features are spot on. Once I realised the limits of the characterisation, I was perfectly happy to relax into the story and appreciate the plotting, which was very well done. Though three- quarters in, I was a bit dismayed to have worked out exactly what was going on – until the denouement when I realised that I was completely wrong. And that is always the mark of a cracking good plot. Checking back, I realised that Clark has not cheated her reader in any way while achieving such a volte-face, which is the mark of an experienced, skilled writer.
All in all, this whodunnit is a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted read. Though I would have preferred more insight into the character, it certainly wasn’t a dealbreaker and I would happily go on to read more books in this entertaining series. While I obtained an arc of Murder at Beaulieu Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…
MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.
One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.
The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .
Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.
MINI-REVIEW:I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world… 8/10
I was looking for some escapism when I encountered the blurb for this offering, so I was delighted to be approved for a copy of this one.
BLURB: Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling. In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.
The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?
REVIEW: Beatrice is a desperate young woman, who dreads losing her magical power once she is married and forced to wear a collar that will subjugate her abilities in order to protect her unborn children. Her dream is to become a ‘thornback’ – a spinster who will keep in touch with her magic so that she can advise her father in his investments and help him regain the family fortune that he recklessly squandered on an ill-advised get-rich scheme to popularise orchids. However, her father’s idea is to take advantage of her sorcerous talent and set her up to make an advantageous match that will help restore the family and open more doors for her ambitious younger sister, Harriet. And he won’t hear of Beatrice’s alternative ideas that will allow her to keep in touch with her magic.
She isn’t alone in her yearning to hold onto her talent – Ysbeta Lavan is in a similar hard place and when they find themselves vying for the same information, Beatrice undertakes to help Ysbeta attain the same skills that she has managed to finesse. Unlike Beatrice, Ysbeta’s mother is wholly unsympathetic to her daughter’s hopes. Beatrice, in particular, takes some jaw-dropping risks that pulls down some unwelcome attention. I teetered on the edge of continuing, as I began to feel that the story was becoming unrealistic with some of the stunts she pulls. But fortunately Polk managed to bring the story to a suitable conclusion. The pacing is a tad uneven, particularly near the end, where it suddenly speeds up. But I enjoyed the ending, which wrapped everything up satisfyingly, and found the world and the magic wholly convincing. I just wished I’d liked Beatrice more, but some of the risks she took were stupid and monumentally selfish, as she wasn’t just risking her own life – but also pulling others into harm’s way.
That said, I found the story engrossing and largely enjoyable and I’ll definitely be tracking down more of Polk’s writing. Recommended for fans of Regency-style fantasy romances. While I obtained an arc of The Midnight Bargain from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
If suffering from flame-bowel disorder, it’s vital you don’t fly over anything flammable – or anyone you care about…
Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.