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,

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

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

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

Continue reading “The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson”

Mayhem by Estelle Laure

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else. But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good. But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

Hey all, another ARC review for my little challenge to reach an 80% reviewed ratio on NetGalley.

Mayhem is a book about the struggles and heroics and magic of the Brayburn family, who, for generations, have been tasked with protecting their city by a mysterious curse/magical water (it never really gets explained beyond this). Mayhem, our protagonist, and her mother, Roxy, have finally left Roxy’s abusive husband after years of marriage and returned to Roxy’s childhood home in Santa Maria. There, Mayhem begins uncovering the truth behind her biological father’s death and the strange force that drove her mother to leave all of those years ago.

Mayhem talks of magic and deep family roots, but the atmosphere that Laure created felt flat to me. I can’t really describe it in any other way–it’s almost as if this world was a 2D painting that Laure was trying to convey as a sculpture. I feel extremely harsh putting it this way, but I can’t tell you that it was something that it’s not. The characters also felt a bit static to me. They were archetypes of the usual YA personalities, and though there was some attempt at character development, it was pretty shallow and didn’t feel organic.

I should address the fact that this book includes some serious topics, namely rape, murder, domestic violence, and drug addiction/abuse. I really appreciate the way Laure handled these topics, and from her foreword, I know that this book was her way of addressing her personal relationship with them. While these topics did drive some aspects of the story, they weren’t particularly descriptive so it would be manageable for a more mature young adult audience.

This review is going to stay pretty short since I really don’t have much to say. Unfortunately, this is another book that fell a little flat for me. I think the concept itself was strong and exciting, but Laure didn’t execute it to its full potential. All in all, I’m not sure I would recommend this. It was kind of all over the place in terms of themes, dialogue, setting, and pacing. The storyline didn’t flow super well and was also pretty anticlimactic. It was entertaining, at best. The cover is also pretty.

Happy reading (but maybe not this book)

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

Trust us, you belong here.

A gothic-infused debut of literary suspense, set within a secluded, elite university and following a dangerously curious, rebellious undergraduate who uncovers a shocking secret about an exclusive circle of students . . . and the dark truth beneath her school’s promise of prestige.

I received a copy of this from NetGalley; this in no way has influenced my opinion.

So this book. I read it all in a single sitting, and I’m really still trying to gather my thoughts and opinions about it. As soon as I finished, I thought “5 stars”, no doubt. As you can see, I’ve lowered that to 3.5 stars, albeit reluctantly.

This is a story about a girl in a house. She and her peers cannot leave; they can have no connection to the outside world. They have chosen, and been chosen by, Catherine House for one reason or another. They are there to learn, and work hard, and excel in a rigorous interdisplinary education. This is dark academia at its most oblique; it is moody and mean and introspective.

I will warn that this book put me in a funk. The main character is pretty severely depressed. Her environment is completely toxic and her thoughts tend to pull her deeper into her surreal and nightmarelike state of mind. It felt extremely real, which was both the highest achievement of the novel and the biggest trigger warning. It felt especially relevant in this strange time in the world right now, where the days are bleeding together and the passage of time is marked only by when our bodies need to eat.

I’d like to talk more about the introspective tone I mentioned in the previous paragraph. In the book, one of the characters describes the main protagonist, Ines, as having a “sideways” perspective of the world, although she wasn’t particularly academically intelligent. I think that applies to the book itself, in a strange way. Ines takes us through the story in a haze of depression and drunken glee; she overlooks important things and focuses intently on insignificant details. We learn about the setting, the all-powerful Catherine House, in small bits and pieces as Ines pores over details about wallpaper or bouncy houses. No writing in this book is what you will expect it to be. There is nothing typical about the dialogue or the tone or the plot or the characters. It is strange because it seems like everything we learned felt so trivial, but when added together, the details form a more complete whole than most other books can hope to achieve. We know the characters by their quirks and mannerisms instead of the color of their eyes or where they are from.

This book feels like the strange nostalgia of dusk near the end of summer, or the unsettling emptiness of an airport early in the morning. It’s driving down a deserted road in the night or returning to a temporary home when traveling abroad. It’s not that the book described these feelings, exactly, but the emotions it made me feel were similar. It was rich and all-encompassing, a beautiful sort of sadness.

Where the book is, I’d say, nearly flawless in terms of atmosphere, it falls a bit short when it comes to the plot itself. It is a bit mysterious and strange, but quite predictable, even as someone who doesn’t read a lot of thriller-type novels. This is why the star-rating has been reduced. Honestly, I don’t mind books that are all moodiness and little plot (see also: my complete devotion to Murakami), but for the sake of this being advertised around a “dark truth”, I think it won’t quite meet some readers’ expectations.

This review ended up being several paragraphs longer than I intended, so if you made it all the way here, thank you for sticking with me. This book made me feel icky and sad, and I really loved it for that. It’s been a while since a book has made me feel so deeply, and as a reader, I don’t care how dark those feelings are.

I would highly recommend this to fans of Murakami. A few other points of comparison I can offer are The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin and (strangely enough) Fallen by Lauren Kate, with a dash of Roshani Chokshi’s beautiful prose.

Sad Happy reading 🙂