Tuesday, November 21, 2017

#Review - The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury #YALit #Fantasy

Series: The Sin Eater's Daughter # 3
Format: Paperback, 376 pages
Release Date: October 31, 2017
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fairy Tales & Folklore

The stunning conclusion to Edgar Award nominee Melinda Salisbury's internationally bestselling The Sin Eater's Daughter trilogy.The rebellion is in peril. The dangerous Sleeping Prince, once thought to be nothing more than a fairy tale, has awoken from his enchanted sleep and is set on vengeance. As he tightens his hold on the kingdoms of Lormere and Tregellan, the net closes in on the ragged band of rebels desperately trying to defeat him. After surviving their harrowing journey, Twylla and Errin are separated, leaving them isolated, and running out of time. The final battle is coming, and Aurek will stop at nothing to keep the throne . . . forever. Explosive, rich, and darkly addictive, The Scarecrow Queen will lure you into a startlingly-original magical world you'll never want to leave.

The Scarecrow Queen is the third and final installment in author Melinda Salisbury's The Sin Eater's Daughter Trilogy. This story picks up right where The Sleeping Prince left off. This is a different sort of story. The author intermingles narratives between Twylla, and Errin. Twylla, who survived the brutal attack on the Conclave by the Sleeping Prince gets the first part of the story, while Errin, who finds herself at the mercy of the Sleeping Prince, gets the second part. The third part is mostly Twylla's.

Each has a fight on their hands. Twylla who is marked for death by Aurek because her blood can kill her, and Errin who is alone trying to find a way to bring down Aurek. If anyone can discover a way to defeat Aurek, Errin is the most likely candidate. Let's start out with Twylla, who is now the Sin Eater of Lormere after the events of the previous installment. Twylla is an entirely different character from the first installment. She refuses to accept the title of Sin Eater, and instead focuses on surviving. She is a survivor who has managed to stay alive despite horrible odds from book one forward. 

I had a few minor issues with Twylla in the first installment, but found myself impressed that she's able to pull up her boot straps, and gather a group of like minded individuals to fight against Aurek. Her group includes Hope, Nia, & Kirin. With help from Hope, Twylla becomes the groups leader and pulls even more people to her cause. I especially liked the Red Rising particulars that Salisbury creates. One could actually think about the movie Red Dawn, where a group of kids fought back against foreign invaders who took their homes and families. Twylla really stands up and becomes the leader that I have been hoping for since we learned that she was being groomed to become Queen.

Meanwhile, Errin has struck up a nice relationship with Merek, the real King of Lormere. Nobody knows who Merek is except Errin who is only alive because of Silas. The same Silas whose blood is used to keep Aurek in his Elixir. Errin is brilliant and intelligent and has found herself in a situation where she has no control over her destiny or even her life thanks to Aurek. Her family has been twisted by Aurek. Her brother Lief, is a traitor, her mother is too far gone, and she has no idea whether or not anyone survived the destruction of the Conclave. Even though Twylla is the leader of this group, Errin is the one who holds the key to defeating Aurek.

Finale's can be the bane of my existence. But, Salisbury really did her best to wrap up things in a manner that really keeps the reader turning the pages and, above all, makes the story entertaining. My only disagreement with this story is the angst that existed between Twylla and her once fiance Merek. They are both strong willed individuals which means that more often than not, they will butt heads until one or the other realizes how ridiculous they are being. It is apparent that Salisbury was trying to send some sort of a message without the Happy ending that most readers enjoy. 

I can honestly say the most heartbreaking parts of this story were Errin's. If you were a fan of Errin's in the previous installment, I think you will be a bit saddened that she doesn't get a bit of her own payback. This book is a bit on the dark side. It has to be considering everything that Aurek has done since ripping Lormere apart and brutalizing anyone who stood in his way. Can villains be forgiven for their trespasses? Too bad we can't ask Lief what his thoughts are on the subject.

Early #Review W/Excerpt - Ever the Brave by Erin Summerill #YALit #Fantasy

Series: A Clash of Kingdoms Novel # 2
Format: E-Book, 464 pages
Release Date: December 5, 2017
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Ever the Divided. Ever the Feared. Ever the Brave.
After saving King Aodren with her newfound Channeler powers, Britta only wants to live a peaceful life in her childhood home. Unfortunately, saving the King has created a tether between them she cannot sever, no matter how much she'd like to, and now he's insisting on making her a noble lady. And there are those who want to use Britta’s power for evil designs. If Britta cannot find a way to harness her new magical ability, her life—as well as her country—may be lost.
The stakes are higher than ever in the sequel to Ever the Hunted, as Britta struggles to protect her kingdom and her heart.

Ever the Brave is the second and final installment in author Erin Summerill's Clash of Kingdom's duology. In this installment, the author has chosen to feature three distinct characters to tell her story; Cohen Mackay, Britta Flannery, and King Aodren. Let's talk about Britta. After saving Aodren's life at the conclusion of Ever the Hunted, Britta finds herself linked to the king, aware of his presence, and his well-being, and that connection is hard to ignore. Britta hasn't really come to terms with her growing magic, & what she's capable of.

Her fear of being around other people is still an issue as well. It doesn't matter that she saved Aodren's life and is a hero for doing so, the people still don't like her because she's part Shaerdan on her mother's side. It doesn't matter that Aodren wants to introduce her as royalty when the noble's despise her for the same reason. It also doesn't help that he heaps presents on Britta that she doesn't want and shows up at her cabin unannounced. Plus, it would take just one person to charge her with being a Channeler, and everything that she's worked hard for, will come crashing down on her head. 

The plus is that she has opened herself up to a friendship with her lady-in-waiting Gillian Tierney. Gillian is adamant at making Britta more impressionable & more ladylike instead of hiding away at her cabin. I talk more about Britta than anyone else in this book because of what her own father taught her. He taught her how to become one of the best trackers and hunters around. He taught her how to ride a horse, use a bow & arrow, but unfortunately he had no clue about how to teach her about magic that has grown stronger. 
Britta is a character after my own heart in one aspect. She loves being in the middle of nowhere with no one else around where she can be who she wants to be without people pointing fingers at her. 

Meanwhile, Cohen, the King's Bounty Hunter, along with his younger brother Finn, have traveled to Shaerdan in search of the woman, Phelia, who was responsible for controlling Aodren. Along the way, Cohen meets Lirra Barrett, the Archtraitors daughter, & discovers that there are dozens of girls missing throughout Shaerdan. Girls who, by all indications, are Channelers. Since magic is outlawed in Malam, the identity of the kidnappers is puzzling. 

Is someone trying to start a war between Malam and Shaerdan? Or, is there something more nefarious about to happen? Cohen isn't a terrible character, but he has hard edges. His relationship with his brother is a nice change from the ever present sibling rivalries that somehow manage to find their way into this genre. Having Lirra around is another change for Cohen who is used to working solo. Cohen's relationship with Britta is one of over-protectiveness and a bit of jealously. Cohen's relationship with Aodren is cold as ice because of the jealously factor. 

I mentioned the third character who is featured already, King Aodren. Aodren is drawn and obsessed with Britta, especially after she saves his life not once, but again in this book which leads to a rather enlightening revelation and the identity of the woman known as Phelia. Aodren's isn't like any other King that you are probably expecting. He actually wants to do away with the antiquated and bigoted law known as the Purge which has seen women of all ages taken from their families and killed just because they wield magic. Aodren, Cohen, and Britta really do get tested to the ultimate in this book. Not only do they have to fight a known enemy, but they also have to deal with the connection that Britta has with Aodren while still loving Cohen. Ugh!

In the end, the last half of this story is by far the best because so many things happen that force all three characters to dig into their very souls and find a way to survive against all odds. I appreciated the introduction of the Channeler Council as well as characters who end up being part of a dangerous move by Lord Jamis and Phelia against the King. I like that the story ends with Britta in a good place, and not just walking out stage left without any hopes of a HEA with either Cohen or Aodren.

A minute spent in a shaerdanian tavern is a minute too long. I motion for Finn to fall behind as the creaky door slams closed, leaving us in the loud, crowded, lantern-lit room. We garner a few glances, but most turn back to their cups. Only a one-eyed cat perched atop an ale barrel keeps my younger brother and me in its sights. I don’t mind the surly types who hang around these places, the wenches with their skirts tied up and colorful shifts showing, and the bawdy songman accompanied by a guitar-plucking fellow. All are rightly pissed—?eyes blurry, smiles toothy, and voices gratingly bright. It’s the smell that gets me every time. The rain in Shaerdan makes scents stronger. Makes taverns a pungent mix of moldy floor planks, vinegar, and fermented despair.
I hold my breath and slide a folded piece of parchment into the pocket on my belt. Finn watches me. He’s seen me pull it out more than a few times in the last month. Probably noticed the action has increased the farther we’ve traveled from Malam.
He knows not to mention it.
Finn and I walk through the tavern and sit at the bar. After the long night and half day of riding, it’s good to rest. If I dropped my forehead into my hands, I’d be asleep in a blink. Tempting if we weren’t so close to the end of the hunt. And if we weren’t still on Shaerdan soil, where being identified as a Malamian will get you gutted. A vision of a pale blond, freckled girl with a smile that has to be earned spurs me on, pierces me with longing.
A card game plays out on the nearest table, Shaerdanian silvers piled high enough to entice hungry onlookers. Pushing away the fatigue, I sit taller. Force my hands to relax, one resting over my left trouser pocket full of coins. My other hand is splayed on the bar. I fight to look the part in this tavern. Mistakes cannot happen today, not when we’re so close to finding Lord Jamis’s mistress.
The barkeep is a big man, no taller than me, but thicker through the gut like he’s packing a barrel of ale. Busy talking to patrons, he gives no heed to Finn or me. Typical tavern kinsmen. They love their gossip as much as a Malamian market-goer.
I scowl in the man’s direction and rap my knuckles on the tacky surface of the bar.
“Coming, coming,” the barkeep grumbles. He moves in front of me, arms resting on the bar between us. His eyes, yellowed whites surrounding black irises, take in my little brother and me. “What’ll ya have?”
This town, Rasimere Crossing, in the remote southern plains of Shaerdan, isn’t one I’ve been to before. Since both countries backed down from the war, tension is mountain high. Harder to navigate too. Hardly a contact in Shaerdan will speak to me without drawing a sword. Yesterday, a barkeep up north confirmed that Lord Jamis’s mistress, Phelia, was only a half day ahead of us and headed here. Within days after Jamis’s arrest, the high lord had squawked about the Spiriter’s identity. Course, it took a bit of Omar’s torture to get it out of him.
It’s not uncommon for noblemen at court to have mistresses. The women keep to themselves. For this reason, I doubt anyone would’ve thought her a threat. Especially since association with a high nobleman comes with some protection. Still, it’s not a mistake that I, or the few men who know the harm the Spiriter inflicted, will make again.
As soon as she was identified, King Aodren sent me after her. I’ve followed Phelia’s trail across Malam and into the dangers of Shaerdan. And now, finally, Siron’s speed has bought us enough time to cross paths.
The bloody hunt’s had me noosed for a month. That’s a month longer than I’ve wanted to be gone from Brentyn and Britta. And damn if I haven’t felt off the entire time we’ve been apart. Like distance has set me adrift.
Today the hunt ends.
Most barkeeps won’t suffer a man who’ll fill a chair and not pay to fill a cup or four. Even so, I’ve no time for primer drinks. “We’re looking for our mother, who came south to find work.” In a Shaerdanian lilt, I go on with the fib, explaining that we’re soldiers returning from the war—?or almost war since it ended a little over a month ago, before it officially began. “Light brown hair, blue eyes, about this tall. Goes by the name Phelia.” I hold my hand up, providing the description that the castle attendants gave me. “Seen anyone like that?”
The man pushes his tongue into the side of his cheek and then slides it over half-blackened teeth. “Aye. Perhaps.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Yeah. Might’ve seen someone matching that description earlier.”
“How long ago?” Finn cuts in. I shoot him a look. His Shaerdanian accent wouldn’t fool a deaf goat. Told him as much in the last town.
The barkeep doesn’t seem to notice. He plunks a couple mugs on the counter. “Before we get too chatty, let me get you fellas a drink.”
It’s a fight to keep the easy smile on my face, knowing he likely holds information about Phelia. My hand shifts to my belt, to cover the parchment hidden in the leather. The motion usually centers me.
“Or, if you’re aiming to take off sooner . . .” The man taps a glass on the counter. “You can pay for a drink and leave with some answers.”
Right. Should’ve thrown money at him in the first place. I withdraw some coins, dropping them to plink on the wood. “Good enough?”
“Cohen.” Finn’s sharp whisper snags my attention. He reaches for the coins.
The man’s fist slams Finn’s hand flat against the bar.
My brother yelps.
Confused, I shove my chair back and lean into the barkeep’s face. “Get your hand off my brother.”
The music stops. Every eye in the tavern cuts to us. A few men rise to their feet.
“No Shaerdanian would pay with Malam coins,” the barkeep says.
My jaw ticks, insides seizing like Siron’s kicked me in the gut.
Bloody seeds.
“You think I’m one of those scrants?” I spit, leaning heavily into a Shaerdanian accent that sounds loud but flat in the silent room.
Finn’s eyes volley around the tavern and back to his trapped hand. The kid hides his panic as well as a tabby cat in a wolf den.
“Your brother looks like he’s about to toss his last meal. Doesn’t seem soldierly to me.” He grips Finn’s fingers, ripping away my brother’s hand to pick up the damning coins.
Three prayers Finn doesn’t open his mouth.
“Must’ve forgot those were in my pocket.” I lean back in my chair. Shrug. “Needed some Malamian silvers at the border. Nothing to spoil a man’s drink over.”
Boots scratch the plank floor. Men step closer.
The barkeep cocks his head. “A fortnight back, two teenage girls went missing. Upset a lot of kinsmen ’round here. A town over, a girl was taken just a week ago. Her pa saw the men who did it. Tried to fight them and lost his life. Poor man’s wife caught sight of the raiders as they were shoving her girl in a carriage. Heard ’em speak. Said they sounded Malamian. Now, why would a few ball-less scrants from Malam want our girls? Maybe they’re itching to rekindle the war they almost started. What do you know of that, traveler?”
“No more than tavern hearsay.” During my travels I’ve caught a few stories similar to this man’s. Daughters taken at night. Some snatched during the day. No women, just girls. It’s enough to raise concerns, but that’s something to focus on after I’ve got Phelia manacled.
“Now, I can see you’re a smart man,” I tell the barkeep. “You don’t really think my brother and me have something to do with that. Coins don’t mean anything. Collector’s items.”
“Your brother’s awfully silent.”
“He’s shy. You scare the piss out of him.”
A shadow shifts over my left shoulder. A giant of a man glares down at us. “Yeah, speak, boy.”
“Leave him out of this.” My unspoken warning is clear.
Another person moves behind Finn, blocking the path to the door. “Maybe we’ve caught us two of their spies. Maybe we pry loose answers about where they been hiding our girls.” His bush of a beard barely moves when he talks, the comment sliding from the slits of his lips like snakes from under a briar. He must not really think we’re the kidnappers, or he’d have gutted us already. Still, I eye his hand as it moves to the dagger tucked into his belt. “Explain yourself, boy.”
In Finn’s fourteen years, I figure I’ve seen every one of my brother’s expressions. The wide tooth-and-gum smile he flashes when he catches a river trout. How tight-knit his brows get when he’s frustrated or angry. The somber set of his eyes before we part for months on end. None of those expressions match the look he’s giving me now. Panic and fear and something more. Something like disappointment.
I put a hand on Finn’s shoulder, squeezing. Reassuring. “He’s a boy. One who needs to get back to tending fields. Not sit around in taverns. Time to go, Finn.”
“You aren’t leaving so soon” comes from the Goliath behind me.
“It’s the truth.” Finn misses the accent target by a league.
“He’s from Malam!” the barkeep yells.
Bloody seeds!
Someone reaches for Finn, but my brother skitters out of his seat. I slam an elbow into the man behind me before he can grab Finn. “Get out of here,” I rasp.
My brother jerks away, maneuvering for the door before more kinsmen come at me. Four to one aren’t bad odds, considering the barkeep is blocked by the counter.
The bearded man charges. I jump back, grab my stool, and shove it into his gut. Angling for the door, I slam a shoulder against another fellow. Fend off a punch. Take a fist square to the chin. Bludger.
I block a hit, bob out of reach from someone coming at my side, and narrowly avoid a crashing stool. Cheers erupt over the fight. A few voices shout to end it. Or end me. The tavern is chaos.
I manage to push someone onto the playing table. Cards scatter. Money falls to the floor. The diversion leaves one mountain of a man between the exit and me. He’s easily a half-head taller and a half-body bigger. The zing of his drawn sword has me cursing.
The man swings. I grasp a stool, thrusting it between us to catch his blade before it takes off my limb. My arms rattle from wrists to elbows. I use all my strength to twist the stool and shove, a move that sends the man off-balance and gives me the opening I need to flee the tavern.
Finn’s across the street, headed for an alley. I scramble after him, my breath running hard. The tavern thugs chase us around town, but they’re drunk and we’re sober. We wind through shops and hide in shadows until we’ve lost any followers.
On the northern outskirts of Rasimere Crossing, an old barn sits unused. We settle against the wall that faces the forest and catch our breath.
Sweat slides down Finn’s temples. “Cannot believe that.”
“I nearly got you killed.” I’m so angry, it comes out choppy. I promised Ma and myself I’d keep him safe. Piss of a job I’ve done.
“Nah, you made me leave before it got to the good part.”
I rub my thumb over the scar that starts beneath my cheekbone and hides in my short beard. “The good part?”
“I didn’t get any punches in, but still . . .”
“Shouldn’t have been in a situation for you to throw punches.”
“My first tavern fight,” he says, awed.
“Don’t be a fool.”
He grins, teeth and gums shining under the sun.
Footsteps clap against the ground around the corner. I grab my dagger as a girl holding a sword steps into sight. There’s something familiar about her raven hair and tan face. Irritated that she was able to sneak up on us, I gesture with the point of my blade. “Stop there and state your business.”
Her lips twitch. “Nice to see you too, Cohen.”
My frown sets. I rack my brain. Who’s this girl?
She lets out a short, squeaky laugh that sounds like it’s being pressed through a windbag. “You don’t remember who I am? We met once . . .” She trails off, as if hoping I’ll pick up the scent. “In Celize.”
“I meet a lot of people.”
Her grin fades. “At Enat’s home.”
A memory surfaces of a log home outside of Celize. My scowl shifts into surprise. “The Archtraitor’s daughter. Lirra, right?”
Her father is infamous for openly opposing the Purge Proclamation—?a decree that eliminated most Channelers in Malam—?and defecting to Shaerdan after his wife and small child were killed because of his outspoken defiance.
Lirra cinches up straighter than an arrow. “Don’t call him the Archtraitor. Around here, he’s just Millner Barrett.”
“No offense intended.”
She eyeballs my dagger. “Lower your blade, hunter. I know where you can find the woman you’re hunting.”

Monday, November 20, 2017

#Review - Spartan Heart by @Jennifer_Estep #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Mythos Academy: Colorado # 1
Format: E-Book, 279 pages
Release Date: December 5, 2017
Publisher: Jennifer Estep
Source: Author
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy

New school year, same old problems . . . 
At Mythos Academy, everyone knows exactly who I am: Rory Forseti, Spartan girl and the daughter of Reapers. 
Even though I fought alongside my cousin Gwen Frost to save the mythological world from Loki and his evil Reapers of Chaos, I’m still the most hated girl at the academy because of all the horrible things my parents did. I had hoped that this school year would be different, but the other kids just won’t let me forget about my parents. 
But something strange is going on at the Colorado Academy. First, I run into a Viking guy who dislikes me more than most. Then I notice some odd artifacts in the Library of Antiquities. And worst of all, I start hearing rumors about a new group of Reapers who can summon mythological monsters. 
I might be the most hated girl at Mythos Academy, but I’m also the only one who can save it 

Spartan Heart is the first installment in Jennifer Estep's Mythos Academy: Colorado series. With the author's permission, I am going to say that I recommend readers have at least some knowledge of Killer Frost before jumping into Rory's new series. The original Mythos Academy books featured Gwen Frost, a Gypsy girl who has the gift of psychometry, or the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it. Gwen and her friends, with assistance from Rory Forseti, faced a determined Loki and his Reapers in Killer Frost. 

That being said, we have now moved into the future away from the North Carolina Academy, and to Colorado's Mythos Academy. For 17-year old protagonist Rory Forseti, that means we are one year past the darkest day of her life. The day her parents were killed. The same parents who were Reaper assassins which neither Rory nor her aunt Rachel had any knowledge of. While Gwen is getting all of the accolades, and for good reason, Rory is returning to school to face push back, hatred, and being shunned by her fellow students who only see her for being the daughter of Reapers, not the amazing girl she really is.

Rory is a Spartan. In this universe, Spartan's are as rare as an honest politician in Washington, D.C. She can make any object into a weapon and determine a course of action quickly. After watching a new girl face off against a Typhon Chimera and stepping in with a curious weapon, Rory soon discovers that old enemies may not be gone after all and that she may be in their diabolical plans. These enemies are focusing on powerful artifacts that could change the tide of everything that Gwen and her friends fought for. And, what better weapon to have on your side than the daughter of two former Reapers? 

But, let's not give away all the fun, shall we? With a new series, comes new secondary characters. Please meet Viking Ian Hunter, Roman Mateo Solis, Valkyrie Zoe Wayland, and Samurai Hiro Tanaka who are part of a secretive group which Rory ends up working with. Spartan Heart has plenty of action to keep even the most mundane reader happy. From Reapers, to adorable Gryphons, to dangerous Typhon Chimera, Rory and her new group of friends must stand together against a threat that might actually big greater than anything Loki could ever bring.

While I have stated that I do recommend that you read Killer Frost first, Estep does a good job of summarizing the events that have led Gwen to being a hero, and Rory's turn in this crazy, mixed up mythology strong series that has more twits than a rollercoaster ride. There are slight similarities between Gwen and Rory. Let's just say that both have been called to do things that others might not be suited for and both are surrounded by a team of friends. In Rory's case, Team Midgard. In case you were wondering, yes there is a Gwen sighting as well as several cleverly placed Easter Eggs along the way that I will be curious to see how many of you pick up. See if you can guess where they come from. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

#Stacking the Shelves #264 (Week Ending 11/18/2017)

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

Thanks for Shopping by!
With Thanksgiving coming up, I am seriously considering shutting down for 4 days and returning for my Blog Tour on the 27th. No, I probably won't be going anywhere this year. This is a much larger haul than I was expected. I do hope you find something you like!
Hope you have a great weekend!

This Weeks Reviews: 

Tuesday - Black Goat Blues by Levi Black (Fantasy)

Thursday - The Rebel by Gerald Brandt (YA, SyFy)

Saturday - Malice of Crows by Lila Bowen (Fantasy/Western)

*REC'D VIA Publishers, Author, Library NETGALLEY *

Upcoming Blog Tours

This Book Is Now Called Spartan Heart.

Friday, November 17, 2017

#Review - Malice of Crows by Lila Bowen #Fantasy

Series: The Shadow # 3
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: October 31, 2017
Publisher: Orbit
Source: Library
Genre: Fantasy / Action & Adventure

The sequel to Conspiracy of Ravens and third novel in Lila Bowen's widely-acclaimed Shadow series.

The Ranger known as Rhett has shut down a terrible enterprise running on the blood of magical folk, but failed to catch the dark alchemist behind it. And now the Shadow refuses to let him rest.

Rhett must make the ultimate transformation if he has any hope of stopping the alchemist or fulfilling his destiny; he must become the leader of a new Rangers outpost. 

To save his friends, and the lives of countless others, he'll first have to lead them on a mission more dangerous than anything they've ever faced. 

Malice of Crows is the third installment in The Shadow series by author Lila Bowen. Bowen's western landscape is home to some really strange supernatural beasties (Gila
monsters, gorgons, giant scorpions & spiders) as diverse as the human inhabitants. Malice picks up right where Conspiracy of Ravens left off. Rhett Walker (formerly Nettie Lonesome) is the Shadow, as well as a Durango Ranger scout who is pulled to fight evil where ever it might be.

When we last left Rhett and his crew of Sam Hennessy, Coyote Dan, his sister Winifred, and Earl the Donkey who showed Rhett how to unleash his other side, Rhett had just faced off against necromancer Bernard Trevison and won. But, it came with a cost. Trevison skedaddled with 6-year old Meimei, the younger sister of Cora. Cora just happens to be a dragon shifter and healer. Now, Rhett and crew must put an end to Trevison and save Meimei while also facing all sorts of dangerous challenges that are made of wax, gold, and bone.

Rhett's adventures are always interesting with plenty of twists and action. Rhett, as the Shadow, has a tendency of calling trouble no matter where it is. Rhett's crew may not like where the Shadows path takes them, or understand the Shadows path, but none of them have ever expressed a desire to leave and go out on their own. Rhett has come more comfortable with the fact that there his has several personalities pulling in different directions. But, there is a gut punch ending that has left me wary of where this series will go from here. The plus is the addition of Ines, who is a Gorgon. Whether or not she becomes a permanent part of Rhett's posse, we shall see.

#1. Wake of Vultures (2015)
#2. Conspiracy of Ravens (2016)
#3. MALICE OF CROWS (2017)
#4. Treason of Hawks (2018)

#Review/Excerpt - Siege of Shadows by Sarah Raughley #YALit #Fantasy

Series: The Effigies # 2
Format: E-Book, 448 pages
Release Date: November 21, 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Contemporary

Maia and the other Effigies seek out the true origins of the Phantoms that terrorize their world in this thrilling follow-up to Fate of Flames, which Elise Chapman calls “an immersive and monstrously fun read.”
There’s nowhere to hide. 
Not when you’re an Effigy. No matter where they go, Maia and the other Effigies can’t escape the eyes of the press—especially not after failing to capture Saul, whose power to control the monstrous Phantoms has left the world in a state of panic. It’s been two months since Saul’s disappearance, and there’s still no sign of him, leaving the public to wonder whether the Sect—and the Effigies—are capable of protecting anyone. 
When Saul suddenly surfaces in the middle of the Sahara desert, the Sect sends Maia and her friends out after him. But instead of Saul, they discover a dying soldier engineered with Effigy-like abilities. Even worse, there may be more soldiers like him out there, and it looks like the Effigies are their prime targets. 
Yet the looming danger of Saul and this mysterious new army doesn’t overshadow Maia’s fear of the Sect, who ordered the death of the previous Fire Effigy, Natalya. With enemies on all sides and the world turning against them, the Effigies have to put their trust in each other—easier said than done when secrets threaten to tear them apart.

Siege of Shadows is the second installment in author Sarah Raughley's The Effigies series. 16-year old Maia Finley has taken her place as the fire Effigy alongside Lake, Chae Rin, and Belle, who has been an Effigy for 6 years. Each of the Effigies have the power of different elements like fire, earth, water, and air. Each one of the Effigies can also summon weaponry unique to each of their elements. There are four Effigies at any time. When one dies, one replaces them almost immediately. For Maia, her time came after an encounter with the villain, Saul, in NYC.

Outside of her rugged training alongside her teammates, Maia is also expected to be a public figure in the fight to re-capture Saul, the man who has managed to harness the power of the phantoms and their destructive nature. That means that she and the others are expected at different events, parties, and yes, even an awards show in Toronto. But, things aren't at all normal these days. 2 months ago, the Effigies stopped Saul, but he escaped with some inside help from those they work with. They also have to scurry round from place to place to discover the origins of the phantoms, as well as their own beginnings since Maia is apparently the center of Saul's new world order.

Right out of the gate, Raughley sends her Effigies into a mystery that just can't be explained. Maia and her team are out to capture Saul who has somehow managed to avoid being detected for two months. But, instead discover a mysterious boy who tells Maia that there are other Effigies she has no knowledge of, it sets up a test of wills, skills, shocking revelations, and a broken trust between not between the Effigies & the Sect, but the council who oversees the Sect, and her own teammates, especially Belle, who hasn't been the same since the loss of Natalya who Maia replaced. Belle believes that Maia knows who killed her friend and mentor and is like a bulldog refusing to let things go until she gets an answer. 

Siege of Shadows does a lot of traveling from place to place including Prague, Madrid, & Toronto. There is a lot of curious situations, betrayal, revelations, and a shocking ending. I will say that it would be best for you to read the first book in the series before jumping into this story. I am just going to come out and state that this book nearly ended me. The author takes a step into the strange and unusual with one of her characters, no spoilers, and I am really shocked that she ended the book in this fashion. I am one who isn't a fan of killing off characters for the sake of entertainment purposes. It makes zero sense to do so in the middle of a series like this. Now, the author has to explain why she did what she did and then come up with a way to fix the situation since the series would have to be completely changed if she doesn't.  

Siege of Shadows



Not the kind of words that inspired confidence before a secret mission. Still true, though.

Our helicopter’s electromagnetic armor protected us from the phantoms outside, but I could still hear them thrashing in the sky, screeching through the violent Saharan winds that battered the metal. Between the howls and my motion sickness, my stomach was lurching. “No, really, I feel nauseous.”

“Oh, so it wasn’t just me, then?” On the opposite bench, Lake laughed nervously as she finished strapping on her parachute with the help of the agent assigned to monitor us. “It’s actually kind of funny, but my lungs seem to be having a hard time, um, inhaling.” Lake pulled at the maroon fatigues she wore under the vest, the same as mine, then turned to the agent. “Are you sure this parachute vest thingy is supposed to be on this tight?”

Mine was definitely a bit too cozy, but then one did have to be serious about safety measures before taking suicide jumps out of a flying vehicle.

“God, you two are so pathetic.”

Chae Rin. For the purpose of the mission, she and Belle were in other helicopters, but I could still feel her biting presence. Her laughter battered my skull through my inner earpiece. “Like, is this your first mission? Suck it up.”

“Excuse me for showing a bit of humanity,” Lake bit back. Somehow it sounded even more dramatic in her British accent.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m seriously throwing up now.”

“Swallow it,” a voice snapped at us through my earpiece.

It was the glorious lack of compassion I’d come to expect from Sibyl Langley, director of the Sect’s European Division. The woman had spent the last two months unapologetically delivering me directly into harm’s way, so I knew it was stupid to expect anything else.

“You’re a mean lady,” I complained.

“So I’ve been told. But I’ll get over it, and so will you.”

She was at the London facility, monitoring us from Communications, which meant every stupid thing I said would be heard by an entire room full of people who were probably endlessly thankful that they were several thousand miles away from danger. Lucky bastards.

“Now,” Sibyl continued, “we only have five minutes before we get to the drop site. This is a sensitive mission. We’re going over the mission details one more time.”

“Seriously?” Chae Rin sounded annoyed. “You know I typically like to relax before flinging myself headfirst into danger.”

“We’ve got one shot here to capture Saul, so I want to make sure you are one hundred percent clear on what you need to do today. Now stop talking.”

Only one shot. But that’s how it was with Saul, the man who’d somehow managed to harness the power of the phantoms to reign terror upon the world. Under his command, phantoms had attacked cities, including mine, and murdered thousands. I’d seen it with my own eyes, seen the bodies left in the wake of his cruelty. We Effigies—Lake, Belle, Chae Rin, and me—came together in the first place to stop his murderous spree, to find out who he was and why he was wreaking havoc. We captured him, yes, but we weren’t able to uncover all of Saul’s secrets. Maybe we would have if he hadn’t escaped.

We almost had him. Two months ago in April, we stopped Saul from blowing up a train full of innocents, but he still managed to get away. The Sect had been trying to track his frequency all this time. Didn’t have a lead for weeks—until today. In that respect, Sibyl’s urgency was understandable. Needless to say, since Saul had escaped from Sibyl’s custody in London, she was under immense pressure from the world’s governments and Sect higher-ups to deliver his head on a platter.

Which is where we came in.

I peered at Lake, who busied herself by fiddling nervously with the pair of goggles the Sect had given us to guard against the sandstorm. Neither of us was particularly keen to face Saul again, but this was our job. We were the Effigies. He was the terrorist. No-brainer.

I gave her my best reassuring nod anyway. “Okay, so this is a simple grab mission. We capture Saul and get out, hopefully with our limbs still attached.”

“With Saul, nothing’s that simple,” said Sibyl, and I could almost see her straightening her back, brow furrowed. “On the one hand, according to our intelligence, Saul’s hideout should be at these coordinates.”

They flashed on the monitor bolted in the corner, just above Lake’s head. She twisted around to see it too—the blinking red square above a satellite image of desert dunes.

“Nice to see Saul found a hole to hide in,” I said. “With all the other dirt-dwelling creatures.”

“Fitting for him, annoying for us, since we’re the ones who have to ferret him out.” Chae Rin’s voice came through loud and clear in my inner ear. “Scratch that—I’m the one who has to ferret him out.” She paused. “None of you pay me enough.”

“Yes, Chae Rin will dig out the hatch,” Sibyl said. “His bunker should be approximately one hundred feet below the surface. Lake will aid in the descent from the helicopter.”

“You guys don’t pay me enough,” Lake muttered under her breath.

Sibyl’s sigh was enough to quiet them both down. “We have a lock on his spectrographic signature, so we can confirm that he’s still at the location.”

Spectrographic signatures were how the Sect was able to trace phantoms—and, when they needed to, Effigies. The Sect could trace the frequency of a special mineral, cylithium, existing naturally in both. For us, it pops up on the Sect’s radar whenever we use our powers, even if they can’t tell from the signature itself exactly which Effigy they’re tracking. But Saul wasn’t like the rest of us Effigies. Somehow, he’d found a way to mask his frequency. If we’d kept him in Sect custody for a little longer, we might have been able to find out how. But for now all we could do was chase him down along with the questions he’d left in his wake.

A shiver suddenly tightened the muscles in my arms. I guess I was still getting used to thinking of Saul as an Effigy like us.

“On the other hand, like I said, with Saul, nothing’s that simple. For several days after the train incident, Saul’s spectrographic signature had been unstable, as if he couldn’t control his ability to mask it from us. Your encounter with him may have destabilized his psyche.”

“Well, you did kind of cut off his hand,” Lake said.

I sure did. Not that he didn’t deserve it.

“Then the trace went dead—until now. But we can’t let our guards down,” Sibyl continued. “Even though we’ve traced him to these whereabouts, there’s a risk he could—”

“Disappear,” I finished for her. One of the many perks of being able to vanish at will.

“Hang on.” Lake fidgeted against her parachute straps. “If he ends up poofing before we get there, then wouldn’t this whole thing be a waste of time?”

She sent a worrying look past me, and I knew why. Following her gaze, I turned and peered through the window behind me, into the sunset peeking through the torrent of dust.

Where the phantoms were waiting.

“We knew it was a risk,” Sibyl answered. “But we may not get another chance. Capture Saul. And if the situation doesn’t permit, then gather as much information as you can from his hideout. I want to know what he’s been doing and, more important, who’s been helping him.”

Right. Saul didn’t have his ring anymore, which meant he couldn’t control phantoms. So why would he pick a hideout in the middle of a Dead Zone? Surely an area protected by society and technology would have been the safer choice for someone who didn’t want to get ripped apart in a phantom free-for-all. The only way he could last for so long in an unprotected area was if he’d had help from the kind of black-market tech commonly used in illegal Dead Zone trafficking networks.

Speaking of tech. I dug my hand into the lower left pocket of my thick vest and pulled out the sleek metal ball that had been nestled inside—one of three antiphantom devices we’d been given. Lake and I had this one. Belle and Chae Rin each had their own.

“We can only do so much to keep the phantoms at bay as you’re reaching your drop sites,” Sibyl said. “Once you land, it’ll be up to you to activate your handheld APD at your specific coordinates by entering in the code.”

“Hopefully before we get eaten,” Chae Rin added.

On the monitor, three little blue lights flashed around the blinking red square indicating Saul’s hideout, each four hundred meters away from the site. Together, they made a perfect triangle. The three APDs—or antiphantom devices—worked as a trio. It was why we were in separate planes. Each antiphantom device had to be set up at its respective corner of the triangle. Lake and I took the southern coordinate, Chae Rin the northeast, and Belle the northwest. Chae Rin and Belle had to activate their devices at their respective coordinates within the same time frame that Lake and I activated ours. As long as we didn’t screw anything up, we’d be able to triangulate a protective field around Saul’s hideout. It would be large enough for us to maneuver and bring in extra troops if need be. With Saul, we had to be ready for anything.

“We’ll be monitoring you from here in Communications via satellite.”

The agent came back in from the cockpit. “Thirty seconds to the drop site,” he said. “Get to your positions.”

Her dark brown skin graying by the second, Lake pulled the goggles over her eyes and motioned at me to do the same. “This is just bloody fantastic. You know, I just got my first Teen Viewers’ Choice Awards nomination since leaving that evil girl group. The damn awards show is in a couple of weeks, and those hags are going to be there because they got several nominations they clearly don’t deserve.” She said this all in a single breath. “I’d better not get killed before then, I swear to god.” She fitted the goggles around her eyes. The strap pinned down her long black ponytail. “No way am I giving them the satisfaction of my death.”

“Technically, we got nominated,” I corrected her, putting on my goggles. “Didn’t think you’d be this excited over a Canadian awards show. Honestly, I forgot it was even happening.”

Vancouver resident Chae Rin snorted through my earpiece. “I’m not even mad at the shade you just low-key threw at my country.”

“You’re going to be okay, though, right, Lake?” I asked her.

Lake hesitated. “Yeah. I think. Maybe. You?”

I hesitated too. The past few weeks had been a learning experience for the both of us. We were both stronger now, but we’d always been paired with one of the other girls if we weren’t fighting in a group. This would be a test for both of us.

“We can do it,” I said, and despite the painful pounding in my chest, I think I actually believed it. “Yeah. We can. You, me. All four of us. We can do this.”

Lake’s gaze drifted to the window. “Sure about that? It’s looking pretty bad out there.”

“Yeah.” I squeezed my hands tight. “We’re a team.”

We were a team now.

Lake seemed a little taken aback, but she gave me a resolute nod nonetheless.

“At least let’s try not to die,” I added with a half smile.

One minute to the drop site. It was go time.

“Remember,” Sibyl said. “You have to activate the three APDs at the same time. We haven’t found any evidence of other human hostiles in the area, but stay on your guard. Gather up whatever information you can, and then give the signal for retrieval.”

“Roger that.”

Belle. She’d been so silent this entire time I’d almost forgotten about her, but she was in her own chopper, listening, quietly preparing. Her voice had the serenity expected of an Effigy who’d been handling suicide missions since childhood.

How I wished, as I wiped my sweaty palms on my fatigues, that I could have siphoned even a tenth of that confidence. But I’d spent the last two months away from home training for situations like this. I couldn’t wuss out now.

Lake and I nodded at each other. Twenty seconds. Ten seconds. The hatch opened.

“Begin the mission.”

At Sibyl’s word, I leapt out of the helicopter. The long snouts of serpent-like beasts snapped in my direction, baring their ivory teeth. Dark smoke sizzled off their black, rotting hides, their ghost eyes shining against the dimming light of the darkening sunset. They knew us intuitively. Effigies, creatures of magic like them.

But we were their enemy.

They launched at us, but the helicopter’s EMA did its job. The Sect’s protective electromagnetic armor was top-grade, stronger than what even rich people could afford for their cars and yachts. The field stretching out from the helicopter’s armor had a wide enough circumference to keep us momentarily safe from the phantoms even as we descended, but I knew that if they didn’t tear us apart, the desert winds would. The wind whipped past my skin, battering against my goggles, tossing my clothes and my thick, curly hair relentlessly. The force was so great, it was all I could do to keep my lips pressed against the onslaught.

A few seconds of falling and I could already start to see the Sahara desert below.

“Deploy your parachutes,” Sibyl ordered.

We did. The upward force hoisted me up with a jerk so violent I thought I would snap in two. The wind was too gusty for an easy descent. I could feel it veering me sideways.

“Lake,” Sibyl yelled.

Through my goggles, I could see Lake’s arms raised in front of her, her long, thin legs kicking in the air. I could almost imagine her closing her eyes, her breath straining under the pressure of maintaining the delicate balance needed to control her element.

Trap and release.

The words Lake always used whenever she trained me in elemental control. For Lake, it came naturally, but controlling a torrent like this over such a wide area would be difficult even for her.

She did the job; the air around me calmed and I could breathe normally again. But I knew it was only a moment of respite. Even with the darkening sunset reflecting off my goggles, I could see them through the glare: the phantoms twitching and twisting in the desert wind, their long, serpent-like tails floating behind them. Waiting. The helicopter’s EMA had good reach, but soon we wouldn’t be able to rely on it anymore. The second we were out of this protective bubble, we’d be on our own. Survive or get eaten.

Eventually, a male voice from Communications confirmed what I knew and dreaded. “Thirty seconds until the subjects leave the EMA circumference.”

“You’re close enough to the ground for a safe fall,” said Sibyl, “but you’ll need to detach your parachutes immediately once you’re out of the safety zone.”

The horrible minutes between now and the time we set up our APDs would be a free-for-all. We’d have to be fast.

We’d have to fight.

Twenty seconds. Ten seconds.

“Good luck, girls.”

The phantoms’ cries pierced the skies. They were ready. So were we.