Book Review: The Return of King Lillian

The Return of King Lillian by Suzie Plakson

The Return of King Lillian is a mythic journey tale – a metaphysical fantasy for dreamers and nonconformists of all ages.

So, why the manly moniker in tandem with the womanly name?

“The Firstborn Child of The Emperor-King Inherits the Ruling Crown, the Title of Emperor-King and All Powers Thereof.” (Item 37, The Royal Manual)

Enter Lillian, the firstborn child of said Emperor-King. Cast out of her Kingdom by malevolent forces, mysteriously waylaid by Destiny, the spirited, self-reliant Lillian sets off on an exuberant journey to find her way home and claim her birthright. As she travels through marvelous and mystical lands in search of her origins, Lillian encounters and befriends a kaleidoscopic cast of characters. Most of the tale is told by Lillian herself, as she chronicles her extraordinary adventures.

Review:
This is a fun story about Lillian, who doesn’t know who she is and is on a quest to find her home, and these are her adventures.
This book is told in a fairy tale like way, full of imagination, magic, talking horses, and fairies. It is reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for its childlike stories that speak to a larger audience.
Each of the chapters is another adventure and something that Lillian must learn to become the person she needs to be at the end. Lillian herself is, for the most part, a good character, and I enjoyed Hank, the horse.
I did find the book a bit slow at times and, I hate to say it, didn’t love the ending. First there was the idea that she enjoyed being a damsel in distress and and was happy being saved by a man (even though she had been a strong, take care of herself kind of character up until this point and this wish was joltingly strange), and then there was the idealization of her father who actually had treated her quite badly.
Overall, this is a cute book and I can see why many people like it, but, ultimately, it was not for me.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy.
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Book Review: The Women’s War

The Women’s War (Women’s War #1) by Jenna Glass

In a high fantasy feminist epic, a revolutionary spell gives women the ability to control their own fertility—with consequences that rock their patriarchal society to its core.

When a nobleman’s first duty is to produce a male heir, women are treated like possessions and bargaining chips. But as the aftereffects of a world-altering spell ripple out physically and culturally, women at last have a bargaining chip of their own. And two women in particular find themselves at the crossroads of change.

Alys is the widowed mother of two teenage children, and the disinherited daughter of a king. Her existence has been carefully proscribed, but now she discovers a fierce talent not only for politics but also for magic—once deemed solely the domain of men. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, young Ellin finds herself unexpectedly on the throne after the sudden death of her grandfather the king and everyone else who stood ahead of her in the line of succession. Conventional wisdom holds that she will marry quickly, then quietly surrender the throne to her new husband…. Only, Ellin has other ideas.

The tensions building in the two kingdoms grow abruptly worse when a caravan of exiled women and their escort of disgraced soldiers stumbles upon a new source of magic in what was once uninhabitable desert. This new and revolutionary magic—which only women can wield—threatens to tear down what is left of the patriarchy. And the men who currently hold power will do anything to fight back.

Review:
I absolutely loved this book! I loved the fantasy and the magic and how it was used to explore the roles of women and men and the power between them.
When three generations of women perform a radical spell, they give women the ability to control their own fertility. The change takes place immediately and has far reaching consequences in a world where women are treated as commodities and are valued for the heirs they bear. This one change gives women new power and forces society to examine the patriarchy under which it has lived for generations.
Stories that make one change in the world and pushes to see the far reaching outcomes really appeal to me, and The Women’s War does not disappoint. Glass examines many aspects of how women have or gain power or how they lose it. Unfortunately, these situations are often terrible and violent and Glass chooses not to shy away from this, including some particularly terrible scenes (just so you are warned).
I also enjoyed the world that Glass created. It is rich, epic, detailed, and the characters are compelling. The magic and the elements it uses are wonderful and beautifully add to the story’s themes. I couldn’t wait to turn the pages to find out what the characters would do next. Alys and Ellin, two of the main characters, are each truly formidable in their own ways and I am eager to see what they do in the next book.
Thank you to Penguin Random House for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Bird King

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

New from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson

Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

Review:
I absolutely loved this book. The synopsis and the wonderful cover drew me in and once I started reading, I could hardly put this book down.
The writing itself is beautiful and, at times, poetic. Wilson knows how to use words and phrases to paint a vivid picture without getting too flowery or long winded. I found myself stopping at times just to re-read her writing. The world is gorgeous and is seamless between the real world and the fantasy world. The terror of the Spanish Inquisition was captured in a horrific way.
The story was fantastic, filled with adventure, friendship, history, magic, life-and-death situations, and characters that I cared about. Fatima and Hassan were both interesting and grew as the book went on. Even if I didn’t agree with them, I felt for them because I could understand where they were coming from and how difficult things were for them.
And the Bird King. I loved how it played in the story and how it was resolved at the end.
Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Press for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Witches of New York

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

The beloved, bestselling author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure is back with her most beguiling novel yet, luring us deep inside the lives of a trio of remarkable young women navigating the glitz and grotesqueries of Gilded-Age New York by any means possible, including witchcraft…

The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (‘Moth’ from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and “gardien de sorts” (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients.

All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind?

Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches’ tug-of-war over what’s best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.

As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they’re confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?

Review:
I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the three great main characters, Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice. They each brought interesting aspects to the book and shone a light on how women, especially women outside of the norm, were treated in the 1880s, something which appeals to me.
McKay has created a wonderful and rich world in this book and has brought historical New York to life with interesting detail, but not so much as to get in the way of the compelling story. There were a times where the story dragged briefly, but not enough that I wanted to put the book down — I was invested in finding out what would happen with our heroines, and Eleanor’s pet raven whose mystique I loved.
I love books that portray friendships between women and this one did not disappoint. I am anxious to pick up the novella that comes after this book so I can immerse myself in this world and its characters again.
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