Hi all, it’s Sabrina! Back in April, I posted about getting some tailored recommendations from The Storygraph and talked about the ones I was planning to read soon. I mentioned that it was sort of like a 5-star predictions post, because all the books appealed to my taste and what I was looking for at the time. Anyway, this month I actually got around to reading three of them, and I want to revisit them and tell you what I thought before I forget! Plus, you can hopefully expect another of these posts in the future with either two or three more books from that original post.
TARNISHED ARE THE STARS BY ROSIEE THOR
“A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher’s chest: An illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog — donning the moniker Technician — to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner’s tyrannical laws.
Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner’s son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father’s respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father’s elusive affection is worth chasing at all.
Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner’s secrets at any cost — even if it means betraying her own heart.
When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic — before the Commissioner ends them first.”
Why I think it was recommended: I think this will be the case for the rest of the books too, but it fits into my listed preferred genres. It’s also “own voices” for f/f romance and involves (sort of) enemies to lovers.
Initial thoughts: After the first chapter, I was still excited to read this book. I thought there was a strong sense of place, both physically and politically, and I really got a feel for one of the main characters – Anna – after learning her sad backstory. Though I did have some misgivings about one particular choice she made (unfortunately this was foreshadowing for my later reading experience, lol), I figured it was a small issue. I liked the writing style and the sci-fi elements introduced were interesting.
Final thoughts: Unfortunately, by the 40% mark, most of my good feelings for the book had gone away. Anna had started to bore and frustrate me, because sadly, though she is introduced as an outlaw and a person with amazing technology skills, there were very few scenes about that other than the first chapter. It was a bit of a disappointment to me, because it felt that her time helping people with their health was only her backstory and it wasn’t really a part of the story. I didn’t end up liking the main male character either and I also thought the villain was one dimensional and boring.
I did fortunately like the other main female character – Eliza – but sadly she had the least number of chapters so I didn’t get to see that much from her perspective. And even she, who was supposed to be the most worldly of the three protagonists, made some really questionable decisions.
Though I mentioned in my original post that I was interested by the character dynamics, I feel like they weren’t done all that well in the actual book. All three characters start acting like they know each other so very well, when in reality they’ve had approximately three conversations and no off-page time for any more than that, so there’s no way they were as close as their thoughts and words dictated to me.
Another point worth mentioning is that the timeline in the end of the book did not add up, in my opinion, and it felt as though the plot was falling apart.
Though I thought the setting was well done in the beginning and I was interested by the Tarnish epidemic, nothing else about this book really worked for me, so sadly this wasn’t a very enjoyable read.
A SPARK OF WHITE FIRE BY SANGU MANDANNA
“In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.
Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.
It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.
Inspired by the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian stories, A Spark of White Fire is a lush, sweeping space opera about family, curses, and the endless battle between jealousy and love.”
Why I think it was recommended: This has magic, a sentient setting, mythology, “own voices” representation, enemies to lovers and competitions! So many of my requests!
Initial thoughts: The chapters in this book are fairly short, and I was super intrigued by the first few. I loved that there was going to be a competition for a sentient spaceship and the main character was so secretive but obviously had a purpose, and that really drew me in. I think it did a great job of introducing the politics of the world as well.
Final thoughts: Again, I unfortunately grew less impressed with this book as it went on. It was fast paced, but I felt that it was almost too much so, because it didn’t dwell on the action (for example – the competition for the ship was over in mere chapters and only involved one round!) but it did dwell on the protagonist’s thoughts and doubts which I found a little repetitive and frankly, boring after a while. It turned out to be a very politically focused book, which wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I was expecting from the synopsis (I was expecting more of a high action book).
I did like the main character, but I was interested in the other characters too, so I wish the story had spent a bit more time on them. I particularly liked Max and Bear, though I feel I hardly got to know them!
Another thing that bothered me was that by the halfway point, practically all the characters had been exposed for lying about something or other, including the protagonist, and to me, they seemed like the most inconsequential things. It was a little frustrating, because there was no way for me to trust anyone about anything to do with character relationships or even world building. I guess that element had the potential to be intriguing, but it was more annoying to me than anything else.
My last negative is that there were some really cheesy and cliche moments throughout the story. The character of Sybilla in particular embodies this, with her teary-eyed laughter at things that aren’t even that funny and preference for funerals over weddings.
Having said all this, I did really enjoy the last quarter of the book, where the action picked up and the political tension that had been building over the course of the novel became immediately relevant. I figured a few things out before the protagonist due to foreshadowing, but it didn’t disappoint me too much. I did love getting to know and seeing the development of the main character throughout the story, and the way it left off really made sense for her because of this.
Overall, I did enjoy this fast paced book and I may pick up the sequel at some stage, I just wish it had been a little less introspective, a little less cheesy and had more relationship development.
THE AFTERWARD BY E.K. JOHNSTON
“It has been a year since the mysterious godsgem cured Cadrium’s king and ushered in what promised to be a new golden age. The heroes who brought the gem home are renowned in story and song, but for two fellows on the quest, peace and prosperity do not come easily.
Apprentice Knight Kalanthe Ironheart wasn’t meant for heroism this early in life, and while she has no intention of giving up the notoriety she has earned, her reputation does not pay her bills. With time running out, Kalanthe may be forced to betray not her kingdom or her friends, but her own heart as she seeks a stable future for herself and those she loves.
Olsa Rhetsdaughter was never meant for heroism at all. Beggar, pick pocket, thief, she lived hand to mouth on the city streets until fortune–or fate–pulled her into Kalanthe’s orbit. And now she’s quite reluctant to leave it. Even more alarmingly, her fame has made her recognizable, which makes her profession difficult, and a choice between poverty and the noose isn’t much of a choice at all.
Both girls think their paths are laid out, but the godsgem isn’t quite done with them and that new golden age isn’t a sure thing yet.
In a tale both sweepingly epic and intensely personal, Kalanthe and Olsa fight to maintain their newfound independence and to find their way back to each other.
Combining Johnston’s deep affection for the classic quest fantasy and her unwavering commitment to stories centered on women and LGBTQ characters, The Afterward is a thoroughly entertaining standalone fantasy with a remarkably fresh cast of characters and a delightfully optimistic worldview.”
Why I think it was recommended: This book involves magic, swords (well, axes), found family and a happy ending!
Initial thoughts: The first chapter of this book was really dense, to be honest, as it semi-briefly summarises the history of the fantasy world the story takes place in. It told the story of a group of seven (four female knights, one knight-in-training, one thief and one mage) that went on a quest to defeat the old god. It was a bit hard to follow because so much was introduced at once, but it became a handy reference for me when reading the rest of the book. The second chapter drew me in a bit more, being focused on the thief character and her situation one year after returning from the quest.
Final thoughts: I really enjoyed this book, almost the entire way through! Though it is a high fantasy setting, the story is more about the characters and their relationships – specifically, the romance between the thief, Olsa, and the knight-in-training, Kalanthe. There are both “Before” and “After” chapters, so we get glimpses of how their relationship began on the quest, and how it’s going now in the present, along with both their struggles going back to their normal life, now that they’re heroes.
My favourite character in the book was definitely Olsa, the thief. She’s fun and mischevous, but she also has a lot on her plate. Kalanthe was good too, and I enjoyed seeing things from her perspective. She’s a very stoic character that hides her emotions from everyone because she thinks she knows exactly how her life is going to play out anyway. I really felt for her.
I appreciated the atmosphere and pacing this story has – it’s hard for me to describe, but it felt, for the most part, meandering but in a good way. This is going to sound strange, but it almost had Jane Austen vibes. And sure, the magic system and the world aren’t fully developed, but I didn’t feel like that was necessary because the story wasn’t really about any of that, they were just embellishments to the romance.
I did have a few negatives. There were point of view changes that didn’t make very much sense to me and threw me off every now and then. The chapters set in the past were in first person and the present chapters were in third person, though most of the chapters were from the same two characters’ perspectives. I also wish more time was spent with Olsa and Kalanthe together in the past, because most of the present chapters involved a lot of pining. Additionally, there was a bit at the end involving Olsa that didn’t quite sit right with me.
The biggest negative for me is unfortunately a spoiler, however I can say this: part of Kalanthe’s present storyline ended up being much too convenient for my taste. Like, so unbelievably over-the-top convenient that it not only defies belief, but laughs in the face of it.
Something else worth mentioning is that I was a bit bothered by the politics and class structure in the world of the book. It didn’t make all that much sense to me, because one of the knights on the quest immediately became queen (that’s not a spoiler – it’s in the first chapter) and yet she doesn’t seem to have changed any of the bad systems in place. There are hints that she’s working on changing some things, but it still felt a bit off to me, considering how the systems are actively hurting the two main characters that she is supposedly indebted to.
Overall, while I didn’t adore this book, I am definitely very fond of it. I loved this take on a fantasy story, the characters were fantastic and I thought the pacing was phenomenally done.
What do you think?
Have you read any of these books? Have you ever received personalised recommendations? Did you read them? Let me know!