The Mark of the Tala (The Twelve Kingdoms #1) by Jeffe Kennedy

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A quarter of the story I really thought it was a Young Adult Fantasy novel by the writing style until I realize it was a Fantasy Adult Romance novel. I am not sure whether it was significant to me knowing it but I think the book reminded me too much like Kristen Ashley’s Fantasyland series which further reduce my initial acceptance of the book because it is a fantasy novel with an emphasis on romance between characters that are too sparsely crafted to be enjoyable.

Princess Andromeda aka Andi was the middle child of a high-king who controlled several kingdom with a deep prejudice against the magical folks called the Tala who inhabit the neighbouring country beyond the mystical border. She was the invisible princess who was supposed to be a wallflower until the moment when she was assaulted by one shapeshifting Tala who turns out to be the King of Tala who tasted her blood by biting her lips and recognized her as his mate. Basically, half the story was about Andi arguing and hiding against the Tala and half of it was her embracing her lineage and becoming the focus of everyone’s attention because she’s the chosen one. You can assume the rest of the story at this point.

One of the things that really bothers me was the character inconsistencies and the insta-romance. I just don’t buy the ‘romance’ between Princess Andi and King Rayfe. The basic premise of this book around that plot was he assaulted her and she fought him and they tasted each other’s blood and immediately they think they’re meant for each other except that she knived him and he aggressively stalked her in her dreams and wanting to kidnap her afterwards and in her dreams, he continuously sexually assaulted her until she relented and basically gave herself up to him despite it being a bad idea for both of the kingdom and her family. That being said, I also don’t suddenly buy into this mysterious prophecy between two kingdom and her father irrational hate and her sisters treating her like an insect and actually describe her as a cross between butterfly and the crawling feels you get from a spider.

But I was remain interested with the worldbuilding and the whole irrational hate thing which never fully explain in this book because its a trilogy and despite the superficiality of the plot and characters in this book, I actually like Princess Ursula more and kinda wish the next book was about her (so I might read the third book instead of the next book). But if you like mostly romance or sex in a shallow confusing fantasy novel without character development whatsoever like Fantasyland, maybe you’ll enjoy this book more than I did. It wasn’t that bad but its too darn predictable for me.

The ARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Clockwork Lies: Iron Wind (Clockwork Heart #2) by Dru Pagliassotti

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This book is the continuation of Clockwork Heart which was published on 2008. Despite having a six year gap between the prequel and this sequel, I didn’t notice any timeline discrepancies between the books and Clockwork Lies is enjoyable as a stand alone Steampunk Fantasy novel. Since I didn’t exactly wait six years for this book to happen as I only found the series from a book sale recently, I do think this book was worth the wait.

Much like the last book, Taya Icarus was again involved in a political conspiracy that threatened her country and the lives of her loved ones. This time, she was happily married with Cristof Forlore, a clockmaker slash secret spy slash an exalted who was formerly outcaste but resume his role as the head of his family after the events that lead to his brother’s betrayal and exile. Despite his heroic act to his country, Cristof was still being viewed suspiciously by the Council but was allowed to assume the role as an Ambassador which suited with his wife’s added role as a diplomat which a role she had pursuit before she met him. At the beginning of this novel, a trip on an airship with the neighbouring queen of Mareaux was disrupted when Taya found a box filled with incendiary fluid which and Lieutenant Amcathra who disguised as Cristof threw off the ship. Turns out might have been one of the assassination attempt toward Cristof who was sick prior to the event. When the Marceaux trip had become more dangerous after Taya was poisoned and a bookseller was murdered which might have something to do with Cristof’s exiled brother who secretly provide Cristof with information from the outside world. Amcathra decided for them to return home but along the way, it became more apparent that someone didn’t want anyone of them to survive.

Unlike the first book, it was a fast paced novel since the characters was constantly on the move and the story didn’t set around the heavily cultured and socially-oppressive Ondinium which allowed a degree of expansion around the world inside the book. We get to know more about Mareaux, the political climates and differences in complex diversity and culture between the neighbouring countries. The story is also layered in political strife and war, deception and betrayal and love. The book added more depth to the relationship between Cristof and Taya. Previously, we found out how they met and how they fall in love but this time we see another comfortable side of their love story and how their love strengthened their bond overtime. Of course, their relationship in this book wasn’t to a degree that many would mislabel the story as a Romance Fantasy like many did in the last book. 

One can always wonder what made a book a legit steampunk but for me this series fits the bill. It was easy to lose yourself with difficult and boring tech writings but the details in this book was linear and pretty layman for general readers. It depend on your level of enjoyment really but I love the Ondinium technology especially Taya’s ability to fly as an Icarus and the airships, transportation and communication system and the weaponry. It was fantasy with some touch of tech in it. Then the story became more layered when added with the technologies from the surrounding countries and more when several political elements began to launch a war upon the isolationist Ondinium. I don’t know about you, I always adored airships/dirigibles and fight scenes with airships.

Luckily, the next book Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire will be published within the end of this year and I can’t wait for the epic conclusion of this wonderful steampunk series (which are obscure for some reason… then again, I love the covers)

Thief (Sevy #1) by Sarah-Jane Lehoux

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If you ever love Arya Stark, you gotta love Sevy. “Thief” began with a story of teenage Sevy live together with her friend Trena inside a stable  in the city of Eloria. Its a hard life for children living in city where girls sell their bodies or living a criminal life. Then fate lead her to Jarro, a young man who lead one of the city’s notorious criminal gang who save her and was kind to Sevy. She fall in love with him but he never seem to notice her and instead he was occupied by the beautiful elf, Irea. But things never went as it should be. Interestingly enough it took until the middle of the book that everything in the blurb happen and yes, its painful as it sound.

Sevy is a very enjoyable character and somewhat mysterious. She’s determined, crass, intuitive and also bad ass. In the unforgiving environment she’s in, against all odds Sevy survive only to lost things she hold dear to her. The story is quite dark even when the first part held the vein of most YA Fantasy and reminded me of Tamora Pierce’s Allana series. The worldbuilding was quite minimal for a fantasy but recognizable enough with its own cultures, religion, magic, politics and its magical creatures that held some realism.  Sort of like Skyrim. In fact, Eloria have some similarities with Winterhold with Dark Elves at the bad part of the city and the Nords racism with the elves and of course, the crimes.

Although there’s some awkward phrases and weird use of words but most of it aren’t distracting. There were some moments inside like prostitution, polygamy, incest and rape which added a dark vein in this book and does enhance the storylines by realism and its struggles but it can be offensive to casual immature readers. That does sound like Game of Thrones right? But GRR Martin uses these elements for shock and titillating the audience while women authors tend to be more subtle and at times thought-provoking while  tackling the issue. I understand Sevy’s frustration with Trena and there were moments with character selling their body made me cringe but at its core, it does not skimp at the reality of it and how woman are being treated. Overall, the story is very well-written, well-edited and enjoyable even if it’s a self-pub.