To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human. 

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

So I was a middle-grade reader of the Inheritance Cycle and at that point in my life I absolutely loved it. Rereading it recently opened my eyes to some of the flaws that I may not have noticed all those years ago, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. That being said, when I heard about this new book, I was incredibly excited to see how Paolini had evolved, despite my being less enthusiastic about sci-fi.

Turns out this kind of sci-fi is definitely my style. It took Paolini years of rewrites to come out with the final product…and it shows. This was an adventure of epic proportions, and I am still stunned at how he managed to build such an intricate story with philosophical themes about what it means to be human and the value of life in general. This was an 900-page behemoth that kept me turning pages nonstop.

This novel isn’t just “pew pew” back and forth until the bad guy is dead (although there is a lot of that); there are elements that I wouldn’t have expected to see in a sci-fi like this. The character development of our main character, Kira, is pretty astounding. She’s smart and brave while still having moments of doubt and anguish. She’s the perfect companion for this sort of adventure, and I was so proud of who she had become by the end of the book. I don’t think the other characters were nearly as well-developed, but honestly I’m ok with that since everything was from her perspective anyway. Her character arc encompassed a lot of the aspects that brought depth into the story; her exploration of morality and self took this to another level for me. Seeing her struggles of being human juxtaposed against the alien lifeforms/technologies made her decisions relatable while still leaving room for the wonders of the universe.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the prose. The Eragon series is a bit notorious for its lack of artistry, and I think Paolini has come a long way in that regard. He has always been a strong storyteller, and this time I think the language was able to reinforce that skill. It wasn’t flowery or especially individualistic, but I think that’s ok for a novel of this length. Having streamlined (but well-written) prose for 900 pages is definitely preferable, at least in my opinion.

There were a few plot points that kind of fizzled out without any bearing on the main direction of the story, which was a bit frustrating. I wish these hadn’t been included because they just made the plot drag a bit. In addition, I think there was a bit too much extraneous description that could have also been trimmed away (descriptions of walking from point A to point B, etc.). Overall, though, I think To Sleep followed a nice arc that wrapped up with a perfectly ambiguous ending. It left a lot of room for thought while still being satisfying.

There are a few things in the afterword that really just made me want to read this again, including affirmation of Eragon Easter eggs as well as a hint towards deeper meanings of certain things in the book. Maybe someone will do an analysis of this one day so that I don’t have to…

Anyways, that about sums up my initial thoughts. I would highly recommend this to Paolini lovers, even if sci-fi isn’t your cup of tea. I think the story was really well done, and I’m so glad I got to see the universe from Kira’s eyes. It’s clear that there is a true love for the beauty of the unknown parts of the vast world we live in. While I may not understand all of the technical jargon*, the wonder and trepidation of being such a small piece in the universe is something I have a lot of appreciation for.

*For those of you who are not comfortable in sci-fi settings, I was in the same boat (ship?) and I don’t think it detracted from my experience. While there is a fair amount of technical jargon, I found that it was fine that I wasn’t able to follow it exactly (also, I’m not sure if it was actually logical technicalities or if it was a load of baloney). I thought that the culture/dialogue was built up well enough that I could understand the gist of what was happening during the especially tech-heavy scenes.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s CircePiranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Piranesi is definitely best read without any prior knowledge. I didn’t know much about it before I started it, and I’m glad that I got to discover the world on my own.

For that reason, I don’t intend to seriously analyze any part of the book, just deliver my opinion in the case that it will help you make the decision about whether or not you want to pick this up.

First of all–it’s weird. Like really weird. Random things are Capitalized with No Apparent Reasoning behind it. It makes the book choppy and quite difficult to flow through, at least for the beginning. The characters are quirky and parts of the plot do not Make Sense. You will be confused for about a third of the book, and by that point you might find it a bit monotonous. Based on other reviews I’ve read, most people speed through it (me included), but I can see how others found it a bit of a drag at times.

Luckily, all of this weirdness resulted in a lovely atmosphere. For the most part, the book was utterly captivating, and I agree with praise that compares its tone to Circe by Madeline Miller. It felt dreamy and ethereal, hard to grasp but also a bit nostalgic. Unfortunately, I think Clarke’s attempt to explain things towards the end was a bit disenchanting to me. It was almost The Secret History-esque in how it lost its air of mystery with explicit “here’s why this happened” dialogue. Which leads my to my next point:

I think it’s one of those books that has to simmer. My first conclusion upon finishing it was that I was not impressed. I thought the plot was predictable and a little conventional, at least as far as other similar magical-realism-type fantasy goes. However, after sitting on it for a while, I’ve come to appreciate its nuances and subtleties a bit more. It has some themes that are relevant to things many of us have experienced during the past year, and for me it provided a little hope and comfort regarding that. It was surprisingly wholesome and will provide food for thought for a while. It’s quite short, so really there’s not much of a downside in giving it a go.

Happy reading,

The Forgotten Kingdom by Signe Pike (Release Day & Review)

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

AD 573. Imprisoned in her chamber, Languoreth awaits news in torment. Her husband and son have ridden off to wage war against her brother, Lailoken. She doesn’t yet know that her young daughter, Angharad, who was training with Lailoken to become a Wisdom Keeper, has been lost in the chaos. As one of the bloodiest battles of early medieval Scottish history scatters its survivors to the wind, Lailoken and his men must flee to exile in the mountains of the Lowlands, while nine-year-old Angharad must summon all Lailoken has taught her and follow her own destiny through the mysterious, mystical land of the Picts.

In the aftermath of the battle, old political alliances unravel, opening the way for the ambitious adherents of the new religion: Christianity. Lailoken is half-mad with battle sickness, and Languoreth must hide her allegiance to the Old Way to survive her marriage to the next Christian king of Strathclyde. Worst yet, the new King of the Angles is bent on expanding his kingdom at any cost. Now the exiled Lailoken, with the help of a young warrior named Artur, may be the only man who can bring the Christians and the pagans together to defeat the encroaching Angles. But to do so, he must claim the role that will forever transform him. He must become the man known to history as “Myrddin.”

Bitter rivalries are ignited, lost loves are found, new loves are born, and old enemies come face-to-face with their reckoning in this compellingly fresh look at one of the most enduring legends of all time. 

Hi all!

I just want to with a big happy release day to one of my most anticipated releases of 2020, The Forgotten Kingdom by Signe Pike. Huge thanks to Atria Books for sending out an ARC so I could get in on the action a little earlier.

For those of you who haven’t read the first novel of the planned trilogy, I’d highly recommend you check out The Lost Queen. The book follows Lailoken, the man who is supposed to have inspired the legend of Merlin, and his “forgotten” sister Languoreth as they navigate religion, politics, and love in 6th-century Scotland. The novel is a heavily-researched historical fiction with a lush setting, beautifully rich characters and culture, and incredibly sweet love stories (of the sibling, romantic, and platonic variety). I’d recommend it for fans of Outlander (although, unpopular opinion, I think Outlander is overrated and this is much more appealing to me).

But moving on to the second book…wow! I won’t give any spoilers for either of the books, but this one picks up about twenty years after the first one ends. I was a little sad to see how my favorite characters fared (*ahem suffered*) as they grew older, but they continued to develop beautifully in this installment, and we got insight into some amazing new faces as well.

My favorite part of any historical novel is the portrayal of culture and how the author adapts it to the story and modern perspectives, and this book was no different. There is a continual development into the belief system of the early Scots, with emphasis on the cultural prominence of priestesses & Celtic Wisdom Keepers and how they practiced their religion. One thing that I found fascinating was that Signe Pike mentioned classifying this novel as historical fiction rather than historical fantasy in her Author’s Note. She discusses how she writes the characters with the second sight as they would have actually had it in the past–it is more about interpreting signs and meditation/spirituality than fantastical magic. Because these ideas are rooted in a polytheistic (“pagan”) belief system, they are generally given less credence than something like prayers in Christianity. I loved seeing how this played out, and, reading the Author’s Note, I was impressed by the level of thought and research that went into portraying this.

This book was, however, a little more focused on the bloody physical wars of Scotland’s history rather than the more idealogical wars between the “old Gods” and Christianity. For that reason, I think it was a bit less of a pull for me, since that is a topic I am incredibly interested in. I think the battles started to lose my interest at times, which is why this book is a bit less successful than the first (in my opinion, of course). Still, the plot was intriguing and still very much a page-turner.

The writing was rich and atmospheric, and Pike’s love and respect for the setting really shone. Pretty much everything was spot-on for me, and for that reason, I think this novel is something the author should be proud to have next to The Lost Queen. The series is especially impressive considering the historical basis that Pike has compiled as the foundation for this world. I can’t wait to see where this story takes us next.

Happy reading,

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.


Gideon the Ninth was…uh, I don’t even know. How to describe this book? It takes place in an ambiguously far future, in an ambiguous solar system full of necromancers. The emperor of said solar system, needing some necromancers, calls them to his big spooky gothic castle on a lonely sea-scaped planet. There is one necromancer from each House (of which there are nine), and accompanying them are their cavalier primaries, aka their parabatai, aka their sworn protectors and partners in crime. In this big spooky gothic castle, the necromancers search through the secrets that will allow them to ascend to Lyctorhood, a fancy immortal-type necromancer (who are incredibly powerful).

Gideon is decidedly not the cavalier primary of Ninth House, but her excellent swordsmanship and the trickiness of Harrowhark, Ninth’s necromancer, lead to her accompanying Harrowhark (Harrow for short) to the Lyctor trials. AND SHIT GOES DOWN.

I really can’t express how big of a finger this book gives to any genre stereotypes or tropes. It’s a science fantasy (?), but also gothic, oh and also, Agatha Christie. It is laugh-out-loud funny (like, genuinely hilarious), and incredibly chilling at times. There is some pretty brutal gore one page, and on the next our lovely Gideon is ogling girls through their too-thin nightgowns. The plot is an unpredictably wild ride across planets and skeleton-filled dungeons, with a nice dash of swimming pools in between. The story doesn’t follow a typical arc, so it may come off as a bit slow in parts for some readers. I didn’t mind it at all–I enjoyed getting to know the quirky cast of characters and just soaking up the atmosphere.

The characters are the main attraction of this show. Harrow, Ninth’s necromancer, is a skeleton queen, a snarky softie, and overall a major badass (in all black. all the time). Gideon is the strong and (unwillingly) silent type, but readers, privy to her inner monologue, get to see some other sides of her. She’s equally as soft as Harrow but with a goofy sense of humor, despite her giant sword. She laughs at all manner of puns and enjoys a good old “that’s what she said” punchline. Harrow and Gideon have a lovely frenemyship with lots of death threats and the occasional awkward hug. It was interesting to see them grow together when they weren’t fantasizing of ways to kill each other.

The overall tone, like the genre, was unique and riveting. Muir’s prose consisted of lovely descriptions punctuated by abrupt and occasionally raunchy humor. I thought this was a great combination because it created a sense of that lush, gothic, deep-space atmosphere while still keeping it genuinely entertaining. Five hundred pages flew by, and I was sad to see it end.

Luckily, the sequel comes out next week! If you are looking to binge some overdramatic sword fighting and skeleton servants, now is the perfect time to pick up Gideon the Ninth.

Happy reading,