Reviews: White Pawn and Black Pawn by Ingrid Seymour

A double-review this week, of the first two in Ingrid Seymour’s new Vampire Court series.

About White Pawn:

Bianca is a Trove. Her blood is so powerful it allows vampires to stroll in the sunlight.
She lives a socialite life of masquerades, governesses and flirting with eligible men like the handsome thief, Nyro Stonehelm, who openly defies the vampire King and Queen.

Soon a visit from the King brings Bianca face to face with a terrible reality—her father has gambled away everything, and still owes the King’s Court more. To set an example, the King executes her father. That one fateful morning, Bianca loses everything she ever knew.
With his last breath, her father confesses she’s a Trove and begs her to run. Instead, she swears revenge and joins the Queen’s Court, determined to destroy the King one day.

But how is a Trove to live amongst vampires without being discovered and made a blood slave? And how is her life linked to the handsome thief?

About Black Pawn:

Nyro lives in Acedrex, a city ruled by two vampires: the White Queen and the Black King.
No one can leave or enter Acedrex and, for the majority of people, that is fine. It’s a safe place, far better than the outside world.

Unless you’re a Trove.

The curse runs in Nyro’s family. His father was a Trove and his willful eight-year-old brother, Timotei, is one too. Their blood can make a vampire powerful enough to walk in sunlight.

Nyro works hard to keep him safe. He promised his now-dead parents he wouldn’t let the vampires find him. But when Timotei is captured by a member of the Black Court, Nyro joins the King’s ranks in hopes of protecting his brother from within. There, he finds himself in a world of intrigue and machinations that promises to steal more than his family.

The King wants Nyro to be his Pawn and tries to take the last thing Nyro thought he might lose.

His soul.

Reviews by Katy Haye: White Pawn

I’m reviewing these together because they are very much intertwined stories, and I gobbled them up back-to-back on my week off last week. White Pawn is told from the perspective of our heroine, Bianca, while Black Pawn is hero Nyro’s story.

The world Ingrid Seymour has created is delightful. As well as vampires, we have a country founded on a chess game that left a single king and queen ruling over their halves of a land turned into a chess board. For humans, political power in the court is reliant on moving up the chessboard, from a pawn, to a rook, a knight and finally a bishop. The premise was fascinating and it really worked.

White Pawn saw Bianca lose everything when her father is murdered by the black king, and her servant/companion taken by the king as a blood slave. To gain revenge, Bianca seeks a place in the court of the white queen, with the plan to eventually face and destroy the king who has destroyed her life.

The story then followed classic YA lines of train-and-face-a-challenge. Bianca found helpful friends as well as a horrible enemy I was rooting to get his come-uppance. I enjoyed watching Bianca develop from a feeble lady of leisure to a determined and capable candidate for pawn, although I would have liked a stronger bond between her and the friend she wants to save, because their relationship didn’t seem close enough for Bianca to risk discovery for her.

Black Pawn

Nyro’s motivation wasn’t a problem in Black Pawn. The bond between the orphaned brothers was clear and Nyro’s need to free Timotei was compelling.

Again, we had fascinating insights into the world of Acedrex, the vampires and their blood slaves. Nyro took a parallel route to Bianca, forced to compete for a place at the court, although this time at the court of the black king.

Nyro’s story had a glorious finale (if you hate these things – beware because both stories end on cliffhangers) and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Roll on White Rook and Black Rook!

Grishaverse giveaway

There’s still time to enter Piranha Katy’s Grisha giveaway: you can win a collector’s edition of Six of Crows, and a *signed* edition of King of Scars.

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Review: Internment by Samira Ahmed

About the book:

Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying ‘fifteen minutes in the future’ United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin is forced into an internment camp for Muslim-Americans along with her parents.

With the help of newly-made friends also trapped within the camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment questions the imaginary boundaries that separate us and challenges readers to fight the complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Review by Katy Haye:

I liked Internment, but I didn’t love it. Internment was described as dystopian (to be fair, it was described that way on social media – that word does not appear anywhere on the cover), but it didn’t read like a dystopian YA novel. It read like a contemporary novel that’s only a few years ahead of where we are currently. Now, that’s of course a compliment to the writing and the writer, because that’s how it’s meant to read. But that in itself exasperated me. It felt like something I’d read before, because I’ve read things like Anne Frank’s Diary, or Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The frustration was because the setting and the story was so convincing – and it convinced me that humans are emotionally incapable of learning from history and we just move in circles repeating the same mistakes.

But the entirely of twentieth century western history is probably too much weight to put on a single book, so let’s move on from Internment’s existence to the writing. It’s a very well-written book; I was utterly absorbed. Layla was a wonderful, complex character and I really felt her hopes, fears, and anger. The relationship with her parents was beautifully drawn with their worries colouring their actions, and the dynamics of how the pressures of internment change relationships was fascinating.

I wasn’t fully convinced by either Jake or the Director. Jake’s true allegiance was fairly clear to the reader from the start, and I thought he took far too many risks, which left the Director looking stupid because he couldn’t see what was going on underneath his nose. I just kept thinking that it’s dangerous to portray those responsible for oppression as fools, because that runs the risk of underestimating them, which is surely exactly what leads to oppression tightening its grip while the rest of us feel like we blinked and missed it.

Jake’s recklessness, however, did make me challenge my own thinking – was I more worried that the “safe”, white character might venture into danger than that the “at-risk” Muslim character stayed in it? I really hope not, but if the purpose of Internment is to make you think, then it certainly worked!

I guess, to my shame, I liked but didn’t love Internment because it wasn’t a comfortable, enjoyable read. But for that and other reasons, I’m very glad I have read it.

Grishaverse giveaway

If you’re a lover of all thing grisha, check out Piranha Katy’s giveaway: you can win a collector’s edition of Six of Crows, and a *signed* edition of King of Scars.

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Review: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo (and a giveaway!)

 

About the book:

Face your demons . . . or feed them.

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war – and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried–and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Review by Katy Haye:

Words are magic. You’re never going to persuade me otherwise. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, from which we create thousands of words. And in the right hands, those words go straight through my eyeballs into my brain and my heart and my stomach to give me ALL the feels.

Leigh Bardugo is one of those “right” pairs of hands. I love her stories and the grishaverse world she’s created. King of Scars was every bit as wonderful as I might have hoped (okay, so I’ve got a particularly soft spot for Nikolai from Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, but even given that, King of Scars was amazing).

All the characters sprang to vivid life within a sentence or two. Nina made me cry; Nikolai and Zoya made me laugh; I wanted to give David and Genya a hug; and punch Brum hard in the face.

The plotting was immaculate, and I just loved the way both big, significant and tiny offhand elements came together beautifully (12 vs 18 strings, I’m looking at you!). Leigh Bardugo’s writing is perfection, I want to live in her books.

If you haven’t yet read a book by Leigh Bardugo, start today – you won’t regret it!

Grishaverse giveaway

Piranha Katy Haye is obsessed with Leigh Bardugo’s books. If you’re a fellow lover of all thing grisha, check out Katy’s giveaway: you can win a collector’s edition of Six of Crows, and a *signed* edition of King of Scars.

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Review: Alizarin Crimson by Erica Millard

About the book:

Van Gogh’s madness has found her.

While attending a prestigious summer art school in New York City, seventeen-year-old Aya’s red paint attacks her skin, tattoos her, and enables her to manipulate the color red. The red takes over Aya’s passionate emotions, making her volatile. Color stole Van Gogh’s sanity, now it’s come for hers if she can’t gain control.

Aya is thrown into the dangerous world of Aolians, people like her who can manipulate the world and people around them. Dune, a glass-wielding Aolian, threatens to kill Aya if she doesn’t lead her to the Aveum, an ancient and dangerous artifact that Dune thinks Van Gogh hid. The Aveum could save Aya’s sanity, or, if Dune finds it, could destroy humans and Aolians alike. On top of all that, she’s crushing hard on a thoroughly human boy who can’t know her secret.

Aya must choose between retaining her sanity, or saving the world from Dune.

Review by Katy Haye:

The premise of Alizarin Crimson grabbed me from the moment I read the blurb. I don’t know much about art, but I love Van Gogh’s work and his story is absolutely heart-breaking. Alizarin Crimson weaves a fabulous story that gives a nod to Van Gogh in a way that’s gloriously empathetic and entertaining.

Erica Millard’s writing is utterly absorbing. I was immediately in Aya’s world. I particularly liked the friendships and male-female relationships because boundaries were respected without question and without anyone needing to fight or argue about the matter. And the girl who tried to make boys an issue with the girls is shown to be not a friend.

Starting in our “ordinary” world, Alizarin Crimson introduced its otherworldly aspects convincingly and evolved into a fast-paced thriller that made my heart beat faster. I knew there had to be a twist coming, but I wasn’t quite sure what it would be – and I was throroughly satisfied by the denouement.

And a wonderful side-effect: I now love Van Gogh even more than I did before.

Katy Haye’s Princess Witch series is progressing. Book 1, Dragon Thief  and sequel Dragon Flight are both out now. If you like forbidden magic, dragons and a romance strewn with obstacles, this is the series for you!

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Review: Slay on Tour by Kim Curran

About the book:

SLAY do two things and they do them well: They play killer music and they slay killer demons.

After Milly’s rescued from mortal danger by the hottest band on the planet, she hardly expects to join them… But now she’s headed to Tokyo, ready to track down a hellraising demon. And when SLAY are invited on tour with a super-cool band of holographic girls, it’s Milly’s turn to step into the spotlight.

Except strange things start happening on the SLAY tour train. Suddenly it seems it’s not just SLAY’s fans following their every move, but something very, very evil. Play time is over… Now it’s SLAY time.

Review by Katy Haye:

Kim Curran is one of my few “auto-buy” authors, and she’s at the top of her game with Slay on Tour.

The band – with Milly – are on tour in Japan and as ever they come face-to-face with terrifying mythological monsters. The characters are wonderful and I’m in love with the whole of the band. What I enjoyed most is that the band members are all changed by what happened in Slay (what do you mean, you haven’t read Slay? It’s excellent: check out my review, grab a copy and settle down now). There are some really satisfying character arcs unfolding before my eyes.

And the writing is so lively and vibrant I felt as though I was really there with them. There was a real roller-coaster of emotion: some laugh-aloud moments; some tense gasps, and an excellent reveal as well as a fabulous resolution that made me want to cheer. I loved it; can’t wait for more.

And something slightly different from me this week, a limerick to celebrate the book:

Milly and the boys are touring,
Life with Slay is never boring,
Demons beware,
For Slay have a flare,
Fighting evil they won’t be caught snoring.

Loved it; highly recommended.

Katy Haye’s Princess Witch series is progressing. Book 1, Dragon Thief  and sequel Dragon Flight are both out now. If you like forbidden magic, dragons and a romance strewn with obstacles, this is the series for you!

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Review: A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

About the book:

He killed three hundred girls before he came to my village, looking for a wife.

When a powerful and dangerous king arrives in the desert to take one of the village girls as his next wife, one girl will stop at nothing to save the life of her sister – even if it means sacrificing herself.

At his palace she is sure death awaits. But the king’s fascination with her keeps her alive night after night, as the tales she weaves for him create a strange magic between them and her words come to life before her eyes. As her stories become more intricate and beautiful, her magic becomes more powerful, but will it be enough to save her?

Review by Katy Haye:

I seem to have a thing about Arabian Nights retellings, but there are worse hobbies one could have!

E K Johnston’s interpretation of Sheherazade’s story was glorious. The sense of place was utterly vibrant – I was there in the desert with our heroine.

The relationships between the different characters were beautifully drawn, with even minor characters being complex and well-rounded. I often find themes of sacrifice to be troubling when it comes to female characters (maybe I’m being over-sensitive, but they often seem to contribute to a narrative of victimhood rather than power), but the bond between sisters was so well depicted that the sacrifice was completely convincing. Strong female relationships were shown again and again, with light shone on the differences between how men and women (and by extension the powerful and powerless) view the same situation.

The resolution was gorgeous – filled with agency, strength and good sense that showed how wonderful female power is.

I’ll be watching out for more from this very talented writer!

Katy Haye’s Dragon Thief is out now. If you like forbidden magic, dragons and a romance strewn with obstacles, Dragon Thief is the book for you!

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Review: Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais

About the book:

Mireille, Astrid and Hakima have just been voted the three ugliest girls in school by their classmates on Facebook. But does that mean they’re going to sit around crying about it?…

Well, maybe a little, but not for long! Climbing onto their bikes, the friends set off on a summer roadtrip to Paris. The girls will find fame, friendship and happiness on their journey, and still have time to eat a mountain of food (and drink the odd glass of wine) along the way. But will they really be able to leave all their troubles behind?

Piglettes is a hilarious, beautiful and uplifting story of three girls who are determined not to let online bullying get them down.

Review by Katy Haye:

I didn’t get into this immediately. For me, the relationship between Mireille and her mother didn’t ring true initially. And the writing was a little spiky and detached, but I soon realised that was a deliberate echo of our viewpoint character (Mireille herself).

Once I got over the first few pages (and especially once the three girls got together), I fell in love with Piglettes. Mireille might be spiky, but she’s also smart, dry and very witty and I’d happily sit down and chat with her for hours.

Piglettes itself was also very smart. It’s a small story about three particular girls and their particular response to bullying, but it encompassed so many big topics, like bullying at school and where responsibility lies for stopping it, like how standards of beauty are created and used to exploit people (generally, women), and feminism and toxic masculinity (I had a strong urge to slap Malo, even though I could see intellectually that he was a victim, too – it’s just hard to sympathise with victims who lash out at others). But the reader is never bashed over the head with these themes, they are simply there (as they are in life).

I adored Piglettes – it’s a glorious, joyous road trip through France with three wonderful girls who demonstrate just how extraordinary “ordinary” young women are.

And I don’t usually do quotes, but some real treasures dropped from Mireille’s mouth. I especially loved her life tip: “take whatever insults they throw at you and knit them into a lovely big hat.” Perfect response!

Katy Haye’s Dragon Thief is now available. If you like magic, danger, deadly royals and a heroine who won’t accept her fate tamely, Dragon Thief is the book for you!

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