Review: No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland

Review: No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarlandNo Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Ten Again #1
Pages: 272
Published by Diversion Books on May 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A supremely geeky murder mystery perfect for Whovians, gamers, and Muggles alike.

Autumn has everything she could possibly want: Loving friends, a successful business, and a gaggle of nerds in her store every day.

Welcome to Ten Again, a tabletop gaming store that attracts nerds of every kind and fosters a community Autumn’s pretty proud of—a community that also keeps business afloat. And now that Autumn's in the running for a grant, Ten Again’s future is looking bright.

That is, until one of Autumn’s gamers is mysteriously murdered. With everyone in the mall as a suspect and accusations flying, Autumn is going to have to do some sleuthing of her own to save her shop. And to save her gamers from what seems to be an increasingly more dangerous fate

My Review:

You may be wondering exactly what a “saving throw” is, why Autumn Sinclair doesn’t have one – and why she needs one so very badly.

If you are familiar with role-playing-games like Dungeons and Dragons, you are already familiar with the concept of a saving throw. In those games, characters often stroll, walk, skulk or stride into danger – all of it controlled by rolls of multi-sided dice.

(All dice have multiple sides, the standard die you’re probably thinking of is a d6 – a six sided die.)

But if the person controlling the game so decides, the player may have the opportunity to roll a separate die to see whether or not their game-character, well, dies. That’s a saving throw.

Come to think of it, real life might be a bit easier if we all had a few chances to make a saving throw. Although loving this book is probably a bit easier if you didn’t need the above explanation.

Autumn is a business owner in her small community. The business she owns is Ten Again, an actually fairly successful gaming store. She’s just opened her doors this evening for what is supposed to be a multi-day, popular and profitable tournament for her store

Instead, tragedy strikes. One of her gamers, one of the members of her community, is killed in her building while the gaming event is going on. Pretty quickly, it looks like two of the other gamers are responsible for his death. And that a whole deck of really bad publicity is going to fall on the gaming community in general and Autumn in particular.

She’s completely right about the terrible publicity, the threats to her store, her community and herself. And while a bit far off about who really done it, she’s on the money about who didn’t, even if she has no clue about the whys and wherefores – at least not yet.

It’s up to Autumn and her friends to level-up their skills in detection and investigation before their game is over. Permanently.

Escape Rating B: No Saving Throw, the book, doesn’t need a difficult saving throw of its own. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a very twisty-turny little small town mystery. While it is extra special fun for those of us who have spent a lot of time on the geeky-nerdy side of the force, at its heart it’s basically a cozy mystery where everybody knows everybody else and where the long-standing relationships in the community provide a lot of the heart as well as a lot of misdirection on the path to solving the murder.

More than a bit of that misdirection is provided by the enmity between Autumn and Meghan. Autumn and Meghan are long-standing rivals, and have been since high school. Now in their early 30s, that rivalry has just added more depth as the years have gone by, moving from fighting over a cheating boyfriend to fighting over a potential renovation grant for the struggling mall that both of their retail shops occupy – at opposite ends, of course.

In the end, they’ll have to get over each other, and everything that has happened between them, to figure out who is using their feud to threaten both of them.

Part of the fun of this one was that I thought I knew whodunnit – only to discover that I was completely off base. And that successful misdirection makes the a-bit-too-neat typing up of all the little mysteries definitely worth playing – or reading – toward.

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Life is a Beach Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the fourth annual Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

It’s time to ask that perennial summer question: What is a beach read anyway? Followed immediately by “Which ones should I read THIS summer?”

Pro tip: A good book is a good book forever. Just because something came out last year, last decade or even last century doesn’t mean it can’t be a good beach read this summer of 2019. It also doesn’t mean you can’t take a beloved book down off the shelf to re-read. As the saying goes, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” and a great book can be, too!

So for you chance at either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 book from the Book Depository to help you stock up on YOUR summer beach reads, answer the question in the rafflecopter. May your summer be full to the brim with relaxing days, good friends and wonderful books!

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For more fabulous prizes be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

Guest Review: Sworn to Forget by Maria Imbalzano

Guest Review: Sworn to Forget by Maria ImbalzanoSworn to Forget by Maria Imbalzano
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Sworn Sisters #1
Pages: 340
Published by Wild Rose Press on July 18th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

By all appearances, Nicki Reading is a star. PR director at a major music label, Nicki is sharp, successful, independent, and confidently calls the shots. She dates whom she wants, when she wants, with no strings attached. But beneath that shine, loneliness flickers. Events from her past prove love leads only to pain. Commitment is not an option.

Until Dex Hanover, a classy, principled, and prosperous CPA, enters the picture. Undeterred by his unhappy childhood, he has an amazing capacity to be both caring and generous, giving his free time as a mentor for a child from the projects. Dex wears his paternal yearnings on his sleeve, and he is at a point in his life where commitment is the only option.

Despite their opposing views, Nicki and Dex ignite each other. But will events from their pasts ruin their challenging relationship and prevent them from experiencing everlasting love?

Guest review by Amy:

I’m in the habit of saying nice things about books, even books that other reviewers might find questionable; sometimes, however…well, this time, about the nicest things I can say about this one is that I didn’t spot many typos, and I feel accomplished from actually getting to the end. Reader beware: I’m gonna bring the snark out for this one.

Nicki Reading is on a cruise with her soon-to-be-ex, and meets Dex Hanover, also on the cruise with his soon-to-be-ex. Okay, that sounds like nice spicy fare from the get-go, although both of them are happy to explain at tedious length why they are on a cruise with this other person, and their reasons for dumping their exes are perfectly viable. Because they don’t have any real private space, they hold off on the steamy bits until they return home – convenient, isn’t it, that the two lovebirds live in the same city, not at all far from each other? This would have been a short story, otherwise. Come to think of it, that might have been a mercy, really.

They start seeing each other, the sex is magnificent, things are ticking along pretty well, until abruptly, they aren’t. Dex proposes, and she turns him down flat. You see, Dex wants kids, and Nicki just doesn’t.

Escape Rating: D+: We spend fully half of a way-too-long book exploring why there is this disconnect–Dex wants a big family, and to be the father of several kids, because his father abandoned him and his family when Dex was a youngling (huh?). Nicki was a teen parent, who gave her baby up for adoption, and cannot – CANNOT, I TELLS YA – tolerate being around kids, knowing what a crappy parent she was to her own child by giving him up (again, I say, “huh?”)  I mean, I get why those things in their past hurt them, I really do. But both of them are letting it drive their personalities in weird directions, and they’re not even bothering to tell each other. If they would just communicate with each other, so they could understand each other better, but no, both of these folks are way, way too self-centered, almost to the point of narcissism, and way too determined to make themselves miserable over something that happened ages ago. At many points in the front half of the book, I almost gave up. These characters are nothing at all that I can identify with.

52% in (according to my book reader app), we hit on something resembling some plot:  Turns out that the child Nicki gave up fourteen years ago is not all that far away after all. He was adopted by one of her best gal-pal Denise’s brother-in-law and his wife, who were raising him fine until they were killed in an auto accident. The gal-pal and her husband now have Bobby with them, and are looking to adopt him.  But (PLOT TWIST!) he turns up with leukemia. So another gal-pal, Sam, an attorney, works to get at the real birth records, so they can maybe find a bone marrow donor for the boy.

You can probably write the next chapter or two, can’t you? Sam shows up at Nicki’s office to break the news to her, there’s a fit pitched, drama drama drama. And we know who the father is – Michael, who was “just a friend” to Nicki way back when (grin grin wink wink nudge nudge), and disappeared right as they got out of high school, never to be seen again (my eyes are rolling up in my head here) until recently…when he’s involved with Sam.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Through this whole hot mess, Nicki is still pining over Dex, but nope-not-havin’-kids-and-that’s-what-he-wants…until she starts to come around to the idea of maybe possibly…so she hits him up.  Yep, he’s still interested. (PLOT TWIST!) and she gets pregnant.  So they’re gonna get married, happily-ever-after, gosh I’ll try my best even though I’m not keen on kids, all for you, baby.

(PLOT TWIST!) Until she miscarries.  And dumps poor Dex, right before the wedding.  It takes us a couple more really contrived twists and turns to get to a happy ending. But for me, the happy ending was not the honeymoon in Bermuda, but simply finishing this one and seeing THE END.

Other people have given this book good reviews, in several venues, and I had truly hoped for better.  It’s the first in a series about these four friends, the Sworn Sisters, but right now, I just can’t wrap my head around reading the second one (Sworn to Remember), which was recently released.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-19-19

Sunday Post

It’s  hard to believe that Memorial Day is next weekend. It feels early somehow. Also this is the first year that we haven’t lived in Duluth, GA. The town lines all the major thoroughfares with commemoratives for relatives and ancestors of current residents who served in one of this nation’s armed services, whether that service was during wartime or not. It does bring the significance of the holiday home as you drive by. I say that even though I have a serious problem with all of the markers being crosses. I understand that a simple wooden cross is really easy to create (and inexpensive for the town) but also feels like a slap in the face to anyone who served and was a member of another faith – or no faith at all.

I’ll get down off my soapbox now.

Our black cat, Lucifer, has finally started coming downstairs again during the day. We’re beginning to wonder if the poor baby has seasonal affective disorder as he kind of hibernated for most of the winter. But he’s been increasingly out and about in the house, and its wonderful to see him when we can actually see him. After all, he has the perfect camouflage to hide in the shadows at night. He’s still my nighttime reading buddy, but I love seeing him during the day!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the May of Books Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the May Flowers Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the You May Win Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

B- Review: Shadowblade by Anna Kashina
A+ Review: The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning
Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop
You May Win Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms
Stacking the Shelves (340)

Coming This Week:

Sworn to Forget by Maria Imbalzano (guest review by Amy)
Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop
No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland (blog tour review)
Mission: Her Safety by Anna Hackett (review)
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker (review)

Stacking the Shelves (340)

Stacking the Shelves

I know, I know, I already had an eARC of The Women’s War – but it’s a big book and I was hearing good things and the so many book, so little time conundrum is becoming a force of nature. SOOO I got the audio and I’m in the middle of it and it is SO GOOD that I’ll probably switch to the eARC just to find out what happens next faster. But the audio sure does make the time on the treadmill fly by!

For Review:
Beyond the Horizon by Ella Carey
The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
Death in a Desert Land (Agatha Christie #3) by Andrew Wilson
The First Girl Child by Amy Harmon
The Gossamer Mage by Julie E. Czerneda
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
The MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowell
The Mage-Fire War (Saga of Recluce #21) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Mission: Her Safety (Team 52 #5) by Anna Hackett
The Passengers by John Marrs
Playing House (Uptown #1) by Ruby Lang

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (audio)
The Women’s War by Jenna Glass (audio)

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Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly HarmsThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 332
Published by Lake Union Publishing on May 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Overworked and underappreciated, single mom Amy Byler needs a break. So when the guilt-ridden husband who abandoned her shows up and offers to take care of their kids for the summer, she accepts his offer and escapes rural Pennsylvania for New York City.

Usually grounded and mild mannered, Amy finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps. She discovers a life filled with culture, sophistication, and—with a little encouragement from her friends—a few blind dates. When one man in particular makes quick work of Amy’s heart, she risks losing herself completely in the unexpected escape, and as the summer comes to an end, Amy realizes too late that she must make an impossible decision: stay in this exciting new chapter of her life, or return to the life she left behind.

But before she can choose, a crisis forces the two worlds together, and Amy must stare down a future where she could lose both sides of herself, and every dream she’s ever nurtured, in the beat of a heart.

My Review:

Even those of us who don’t need an actual #momspringa (because we’re not actual moms) can relate to Amy Byler’s need to take a vacation from her own life to see what’s working, what’s not, what might have been and what might be.

Not that Amy WANTS that vacation from the real, but she certainly does need it. Watching her embrace it makes for a fun and fascinating book, a story about friendship and sisterhood and learning that while having it all may be a myth, having all you really need is definitely possible.

And that “all” is different for each of us – as it is for Amy and her two best friends, Lena and Talia.

Our story begins when Amy spots her “ex” husband at her local small-town pharmacy. John left 3 years ago for a business trip to Hong Kong – and never came back. Leaving her with their two school-age kids, their historic fixer-upper of a house, a library degree that she hadn’t dusted off in ten years and not much else.

She ranted, she raged, she cried but most of all, she coped. Now he’s back and she’s sure that he’s going to disrupt her fragile but workable apple-cart. An apple-cart that has meant that she has turned over her entire life to being the “best” mother possible to make up for the dad who ran away to find himself with a younger woman.

Now he’s back in an attempt to “fix” his relationship with his children. And Amy knows she has to let him try – even though she rightfully doesn’t trust him at all. The kids will be better off with him in their lives – if he sticks this time. He doesn’t need to stick in Bucks County, but he does need to stick to his relationship with them.

He has one chance. She’s letting him have the kids for one week. The kids, who are not fooled by any of this, decide to take him for all he’s worth while he’s around. Not in a bad or entitled way, but making his responsibilities crystal clear – especially since he hasn’t paid a dime in child support while he’s been living it up in Hong Kong.

But that week leaves Amy with a giant-sized hole in her life. For the past three years she hasn’t done anything for herself. She doesn’t know what to do with herself without being constantly needed by her kids, who are now in their teens.

In desperation, she decides to go to New York City, the city she loved when she was single in her 20s, a lifetime ago. She finds a library conference to use as an excuse, and plans to spend a week with a friend she hasn’t seen in years.

When the week turns into an entire summer, and when her friend’s dying magazine uses Amy’s vacation for one last hurrah before they go all digital or fold, a new hashtag is born – #momspringa.

Amy’s #momspringa is both the breaking and the making of her – all at the same time. It makes her question her life and her purpose. Because if she’s not a mother 100% of the time, then who is she? And if she doesn’t take some fulfillment for herself, is she anyone at all?

Escape Rating B+: In the end, I loved this book, but I’ll confess that it had a hard start. And a slightly sticky bit near the end. At the beginning, Amy is extremely invested, understandably so, in being both a mother and more than a bit of a martyr about it.

While the situation makes total sense under the circumstances, I had a difficult time identifying with her until she starts breaking out of the concrete-lined rut she is stuck in – even though that rut is far from being all her own making.

In other words, I had a hard time relating to her intense investment in being a mother and sacrificing herself to that, because it’s not merely not my experience but not an experience I ever wanted.

Her problems with and resentments of the douchebag ex I was completely on board with. Even those of us who have met the “handsome prince” have kissed (and sometimes married) more than a few frogs along the way. And there’s no question this guy was a frog of a husband. Whether he’s also a frog of a father is a big part of the story.

But after the first third of the story, it’s all about Amy’s empowerment, Amy’s steadfast female friendships, and Amy’s journey to find a way to have a fulfilling life that is not 150% wrapped around her kids. Not that those kids aren’t supremely important, but Amy having some life just for Amy is important for them too.

There are also a lot of fun conversations between Amy and her daughter, and between Amy and the colleagues she meets at the conference, about the joys of reading, and about the love of books in general and some books in particular. There’s also some lovely feels about just how marvelous it is to match the right book with the right reader that I really identified with – after all, that is part of the reason that I started this blog and have kept up with it for so many years.

In the end, or rather in the middle, this was a book where I absolutely had to skip to the end to find out whether, after everything, Amy went back to the douchebag ex. Because if she did I was going to die.

I lived. And so does Amy Byler.

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You May Win Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the You May Win Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

“You May Win” is the opening line to many a giveaway. (Also many a scam, but this is not a scam, this is a bloghop. You really might win.)

Sometimes the prize is something you really, really would love to have. Sometimes its a castle in the air, a dream come true. Sometimes it’s something small but nice that you wouldn’t get for yourself. Usually it’s somewhere in the middle. Of course, there’s always one of the Disney giveaways that feature a night or two in Cinderella’s castle. That really IS a castle in the air.

Whenever I enter a big giveaway, I NEVER expect to win. Even if the game isn’t rigged – like the old McDonald’s Monopoly thing – the odds are really, really, REALLY long. Still it would be nice if it happened once.

The odds here are not really THAT long. You really might win. As per usual, here at Reading Reality you may win your choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. Just answer the question in the rafflecopter for your very own chance!

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And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Love In Bloom Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop, hosted by BookHounds.

It’s more or less the end of Spring here in the Atlanta area. Planting season (according to friends who plant stuff – I have the black thumb of death) is just about over as it will soon be too hot for new plants to survive. But there are plenty of flowers in bloom right now. And the trees are all fully leafed out, turning the view from our kitchen table back into the treehouse perspective that we bought this house for.

What about where you live? Is everything in bloom, or are there flowers you are still waiting to see this late-Spring? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at either a $10 Gift Card from Amazon (more seeds or other gardening stuff) or a $10 Book from the Book Depository (more gardening books, perhaps?)

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And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop:



Review: The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

Review: The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty ManningThe Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 480
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 14, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kirsty Manning makes her US debut with this gripping historical novel that tells the little-known story of Jewish refugees who fled to Shanghai during WWII.


1939
: Two young girls meet in Shanghai, also known as the “Paris of the East”. Beautiful local Li and Jewish refugee Romy form a fierce friendship, but the deepening shadows of World War II fall over the women as they slip between the city's glamorous French Concession district and the teeming streets of the Shanghai Ghetto. Yet soon the realities of war prove to be too much for these close friends as they are torn apart.


2016:
Fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm. Her grandfather is dying, and over the coming weeks Romy and Wilhelm begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. As fragments of her mother's history finally become clear, Alexandra struggles with what she learns while more is also revealed about her grandmother's own past in Shanghai.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents' past. Peeling back the layers of their hidden lives, she is forced to question what she knows about her family—and herself. 

The Song of the Jade Lily is a lush, provocative, and beautiful story of friendship, motherhood, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage that can shape us all.

My Review:

As this story opens, Alexandra Laird is lost. She is 36 years old, she has just broken up with the man she expected to marry, after eight years of a relationship and three years of living together. She is planning to take up a new post in Shanghai after years in England, first at Oxford University and then as a commodities trader in London.

But she is on her way to Melbourne, taking family leave between job postings to spend six weeks with her grandmother and grandfather. Her beloved grandfather is dying. She is going home to see him one last time, and to help her grandmother after the inevitable.

The circle of her family, once consisting of her mother and father, her Oma and Opa, and herself, is now reduced to just two. Her parents died when she was a child, and her grandparents raised her. Now that Opa is gone, it is just her and Romy, her Oma.

Or is it?

Alexandra’s mother, Sophia, was Chinese, adopted by her parents in Shanghai where they fled after Kristallnacht. Her grandparents were Jews, forced to flee their native Vienna after the Anschluss.

Sophia, so different from her neighbors and classmates, always wondered where she came from and why her birth parents gave her up. But her parents didn’t discuss the war, the subject was painful and taboo, as it was for Alexandra when she asked the same questions. Her parents and grandparents loved her, and it was supposed to be enough.

But now, grief-stricken and at loose ends in her personal life, Alexandra takes the opportunity of her job in Shanghai, the place where her parents fled and her mother came from, to discover the truths about her own origins.

They say that the truth will set you free. It just doesn’t happen until after it chews you up, spits you out and turns you into something new.

Escape Rating A+: This is an absolutely marvelous dual timeline story about family and love and war and survival. And the power of friendship. And it’s utterly beautiful every step of the way.

Alexandra’s story is the contemporary story, and it takes up most of the narrative. She’s lost and kind of alone and losing her anchors to her past while not sure of her present and her future. When the holes start opening in her heart she looks backward, not to her own past, but to the past of her much-loved grandparents, and to the war that shaped their lives.

And that’s the other timeline. Not as Alexandra discovers it, but as it happened. Just as we follow Alexandra in 2016, we see the life of her grandmother Romy. Romy’s story begins in 1938, the morning after Kristallnacht, the infamous Night of Broken Glass. Romy and her family lived in Vienna, and they need to get out. While they still can.

In desperation, they travel to Shanghai, China, one of the few places that will let them in. Europe under the Nazi sway had become deadly for Jews. Most countries around the world shut their gates and restricted Jewish immigration to a tiny trickle. Palestine under the British Protectorate could neither take in nor support the tens of thousands who wanted to leave.

The door to Shanghai was open, and they took it. But that chapter of their lives seems to have been a closed book to their adopted daughter Sophia, and Sophia’s daughter Alexandra as well. As the Alexandra’s story moves to her new job in contemporary Shanghai Romy’s story moves from her initial explorations of her new city, her burgeoning friendship with her best friend Li Ho, and her budding romance with Li’s brother Jian.

Until tragedy strikes again, Japan takes over Shanghai, and the horrors of war find Romy yet again. The story becomes Romy’s story of survival – and Alexandra’s story of renewal.

This is a story that touches the heart every step of the way. And breaks it. And mends it again. Just as it does Alexandra’s.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Shadowblade by Anna Kashina

Review: Shadowblade by Anna KashinaShadowblade by Anna Kashina
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 432
Published by Angry Robot on May 21, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young sword prodigy must impersonate a lost princess and throw her life into a deadly political game, in this kinetic epic fantasy novel by the author of the award-winning Majat Code series

Naia dreams of becoming a Jaihar Blademaster, but after assaulting a teacher, her future seems ruined. The timely intervention of a powerful stranger suddenly elevates her into elite Upper Grounds training. She has no idea that the stranger is Dal Gassan, head of the Daljeer Circle. Seventeen years ago he witnessed the massacre of Challimar's court and rescued its sole survivor, a baby girl. Gassan plans to thrust a blade into the machinations of imperial succession: Naia. Disguised as the legendary Princess Xarimet of Challimar, Naia must challenge the imperial family, and win. Naia is no princess, but with her desert-kissed eyes and sword skills she might be close enough...

My Review:

This was another book that I read at least a couple of weeks before I wrote this review, and for the same reason as the last time – because I was a bit disappointed.

(I’ve discovered that this happens for one of two reasons – either because the book disappointed me and I don’t want to write about it – or that I loved it so much that I need a few days to let the urge to squee tone down a bit. I’ve also discovered that the disappointment generally lingers while the squeeing does not tone down very much at all – but I try.)

The reason that I expected to love Shadowblade was that I absolutely adored the author’s previous series, the Majat Code. The books in that series, Blades of the Old Empire, The Guild of Assassins and Assassin Queen, were among my very favorite books in the years they were published.

But I didn’t love Shadowblade. I did like it, but I just didn’t love it. And the why of that feels like it’s in direct consequence to both that previous epic series and to another book with a somewhat similar storyline, Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep.

And the key difference is that the previous epic series was just that, an epic SERIES. And that Kill the Queen, while it hits many of the same plot beats as Shadowblade (or the other way around) is the first book in a SERIES, emphasis on series if that wasn’t obvious by the ALL CAPS.

Shadowblade has an epic story to tell. It begins with the death of one entire ruling house at the hands of a rival, and one baby brought miraculously out of the slaughter. It picks up years later, with that baby now a young woman, a young trainee swordswoman who is about to be ejected from her training, her guild, and any possibility of a halfway decent life.

That’s the point where the political machinations that maneuvered her escape so long ago come back into her life and begin meddling. Not, of course, for her own good, but for theirs.

And possibly everyone else’s. But there’s a secret puppetmaster hiding in the shadows, determined to wrench the future into a pattern of their choosing – no matter what – or who – it costs.

Escape Rating B-: I’m putting the rating here so I can continue talking about the story and my disappointment with it.

Shadowblade is a standalone epic fantasy, but the story it has to tell is too big and too, well, epic. In order to fit into a single volume it feels like too much worldbuilding and too much story ended up on the virtual cutting room floor.

This should have been at least a duology. It feels like there might have been more than enough story for the author to have even committed trilogy – and I’d have happily signed up for all of it!

Instead, Naia’s training years, which should have had plenty of drama, are reduced to a few brief scenes at long intervals. There was so much to explore even at the point where she is introduced to readers as a near-adult. There seems to have been an awful lot wrong at the Blademaster “Academy”, Naia seems to have been at the heart of it, and yet we don’t know how she got into the fix she’s in. While information supplied later gives us the gist of the immediate issue it feels like Naia’s difficulties with her trainers have much deeper roots that we don’t get to see.

Another place where the story gets very short shrift is the romance. Because there is one. But we’re supposed to accept Naia’s HEA without seeing the relationship building that leads to it. That part of the story felt rushed, but then so did a lot of it.

There was just so much fascinating story lurking in the background that just didn’t seem to make it onto the page. I wish it had. That trilogy would have been epically awesome, while the single-volume we got is just OK.

Shadowblade should have been a truly epic story – but whatever caused it to be a single-volume rather than the longer work it needed to be means that the epicness fell short.

As always, your reading mileage may vary.