Book Beat quick takes with dragons, creepy thrillers, Afro-futurism, alternate history and more!

Soooooo many books! October is another HUGE book month and I have a wide variety of books to talk about! Dragons? Check. African fantasy? Check. Asian fantasy? Check. Supremely creepy psychological thrillers. Check.

The Last Namsara by Kristin Ciccarelli

Pitch: Terrific fantasy with dragons and ladies who slay

Story: “In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.”

Quick take: I thoroughly enjoyed this book which has something for everyone. A kingdom on the brink of war, magic, mystery, romance and unexpected twists. Extra points for interesting and complex characters that don’t fall into easy stereotypes.

Available: October 3rd

 

Akata Warrrior by Nnedi Okorafor

Pitch: The long-awaited sequel to Akata Witch continues to expand its fantastical world while Sunny searches for her identity

Story: “A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book.

Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysteries town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity.

Much-honored Nnedi Okorafor, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, merges today’s Nigeria with a unique world she creates. Akata Warrior blends mythology, fantasy, history and magic into a compelling tale that will keep readers spellbound.”

Quick take: If you’re looking for a magic series with tons of action and plot twists, this isn’t it. (That’s not a bad thing.) This book is a bit dreamier and more violent than the first book but both emphasize the world-building and Sunny’s growth over tons of plot. Sunny explores what it means to be a Leopard Person and how to rely on herself and not just the ancient power she holds.

Available: October 3rd

 

This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis

Pitch: Hypnotic, dark and super creepy psychological thriller

Story: “Sasha Stone knows her place—first-chair clarinet, top of her class, and at the side of her oxford-wearing boyfriend. She’s worked her entire life to ensure that her path to Oberlin Conservatory as a star musician is perfectly paved.

But suddenly there’s a fork in the road, in the shape of Isaac Harver. Her body shifts toward him when he walks by, her skin misses his touch even though she’s never known it, and she relishes the smell of him—smoke, beer, and trouble—all the things she’s avoided to get where she is. Even worse, every time he’s near Sasha, her heart stops, literally. Why does he know her so well—too well—and she doesn’t know him at all?

Sasha discovers that her by-the-book life began by ending another’s: the twin sister she absorbed in the womb. But that doesn’t explain the gaps of missing time in her practice schedule or the memories she has of things she certainly never did with Isaac. As Sasha loses her much-cherished control, her life—and heart—become more entangled with Isaac. Armed with the knowledge that her heart might not be hers alone, Sasha must decide what she’s willing to do—and who she’s willing to hurt—to take it back.

Edgar Award–winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a dark and gripping psychological thriller about a girl at war with herself, and what it really means to be good or bad.”

Quick take: This is twisted, creepy, beautifully written, intricately plotted with well-drawn characters. If you like psychological thrillers, definitely grab this. If you don’t (like me) this is still a hypnotic read. The story moves at a rapid pace as the stakes get higher and heads towards a startling and gruesome end.

Available: October 10th

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

Pitch: A quirky and usual story in an alternate history where Victorian England set out to integrate with the world and not colonize it

Story: “Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.”

Quick take: This is really a story about three young people and the friendships they form. I liked the representation and daring endings but. I think this will resonate mostly with readers looking for something different.

Available: October 3rd

 

Seize Today by Pintip Dunn

Pitch: Satisfying conclusion to a complex science fiction dystopian series

Story: “The third book in the New York Times bestselling and RITA award winning Forget Tomorrow series is a thrilling conclusion to an epic trilogy.

Seventeen-year-old precognitive Olivia Dresden is an optimist. Since different versions of people’s futures flicker before her eyes, she doesn’t have to believe in human decency. She can literally see the path to goodness in each person—if only he or she would make the right decision. No one is more conflicted than her mother, Chairwoman Dresden, and Olivia is fiercely loyal to the woman her mother could be.

But when the Chairwoman captures Ryder Russell, a boy from the rebel Underground, Olivia is forced to reevaluate her notions of love and faith. With Ryder’s help, Olivia must come to terms with who her mother is in the present—and stop her before she destroys the world.”

Quick take: When you mix time travel and parallel worlds together, the science in science fiction can get rather trippy. This ambitious series layers in so many concepts, it’s amazing that the plotting works out with interesting twists and surprises that still sort of make sense. This series is strong on world-building and plotting and the big finale ends with lots of answers and a satisfying conclusion.

Available: October 3rd

 

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao

Pitch: An origin story of the Evil Queen from Snow White dressed in Chinese imagery

Story: “An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.”

Quick take: This is a tough one to rate because there are some good parts in the book, but it really doesn’t come together until quite late. The author is holding back major story beats for a big reveal, but the first half suffers as a result. So overall, there are some good things here, but you’re going to have to work to get to them.

Available: October 10th

 

Gray Wolf Island by Tracey Neithercott

Pitch: A hunt for buried treasure on an island that may (or may not) have mystical powers

Story: “Right before Sadie died, she begged her sister, Ruby, to do the one thing she could never do herself: Find the treasure on Gray Wolf Island.

With just a mysterious treasure map as a guide, Ruby reluctantly allows some friends to join her on the hunt, each of whom is touched by magic: a boy allegedly born to a virgin, a girl who never sleeps, a boy who can foresee his own death, and a boy with deep ties to the island. Each of them is also keeping a secret—something they’ll have to reveal in order to reach the treasure.

As the secrets come to light, Ruby will have to decide: Can she make peace with her friends’ troubled pasts and continue to trust them? Can she forgive herself for doing the unspeakable? Deep in the wilderness of Gray Wolf Island, Ruby’s choices will determine if they make it out with the treasure—or merely with their lives.

From debut author Tracey Neithercott comes a darkly compelling tale of profound friendship, adventure, and finding the strength to tell the truth.”

Quick take: It’s a fun adventure story and who doesn’t love a treasure hunt filled with puzzle-like clues? It’s an entertaining enough read, but I was hoping for more.

Available: October 10th

 

Uncanny by Sarah Fine

Pitch: Futuristic psychological mystery

Story: “Cora should remember every detail about the night her stepsister, Hannah, fell down a flight of stairs to her death, especially since her Cerepin—a sophisticated brain-computer interface—may have recorded each horrifying moment. But when she awakens after that night, her memories gone, Cora is left with only questions—and dread of what the answers might mean.

When a downward spiral of self-destruction forces Cora to work with an AI counselor, she finds an unexpected ally, even as others around her grow increasingly convinced that Hannah’s death was no accident. As Cora’s dark past swirls chaotically with the versions of Hannah’s life and death that her family and friends want to believe, Cora discovers the disturbing depths of what some people may do—including herself.

With her very sanity in question, Cora is forced to face her greatest fear. She will live or die by what she discovers.”

Quick take: There is so much set up that the first half is a bit clunky. The second half of the book is more successful as it focuses more on the story and we finally a suspenseful mystery.

Available: October 3rd

 

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

Pitch: Asian-inspired fantasy about the relationship between 2 people

Story: “Even gods can be slain….

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.”

Quick take: I couldn’t finish this one because It several pet peeves of mine: LENGTHY world-building discussions, second person narrative (in the form of letters so it’s second person past which is too off putting) and a mix of Asian-inspired that didn’t feel Asian to me. For these reasons, I just couldn’t get into the book.

Available: October 3rd

 

Thanks to HaperCollins (The Last Namsara, This Darkness Mine), Penguin Random House (Akata Warrior, That Inevitable Victorian Thing, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, Gray Wolf Island), Entangled (Seize Today), Skyscape (Uncanny) and Tor (The Tiger’s Daughter) for providing the books for review. Want more details on my impression of these and other books? Check out my ratings and full reviews at Goodreads.

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