Book Review: My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows

A hilarious alternate historical fiction novel that was just so much fun.

5/5 stars

cover my lady jane

synopsis for reviews 2

The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England

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my thoughts for reviews 1

From page one, this book was hilarious. I have rarely read a book that reveled so completely in being ridiculous. There are references to Shakespeare, The Princess Bride, and the Monty Pythons. (Full disclosure: if you don’t know the source material, this book will be way less funny.) The narrators talk directly to you and sometimes even point out plot holes. I laughed out loud throughout the book.

I loved the alternate historical premise of this book. The authors re-framed the Catholic-Protestant divide under Henry VIII as a conflict between humans that turn into animals (Edians) and those that hate Edians (Verities). From there, they took further liberties with the chronology of history, which the narrators call them out on in a hilarious fashion. Overall, the way that the authors twisted history created a perfect backdrop for the rest of the absurd story. (If you love this time period and will be pained by historical inaccuracies, I don’t blame you, but probably don’t read this one.)

My Lady Jane is told from three perspectives: Lady Jane, the future queen; Edward, Jane’s childhood friend and the dying king she will replace; and G, the cursed aristocrat that will marry Jane as a part of his father’s power grab. I loved that all three perspectives had clear voices and personalities, and that they were all equally important to the story. Also, the switch from perspective to perspective felt natural and never broke up the flow of the story.

I’ll start with Jane. She was bookish and introverted, and she had always known that she would not be important to court life (she was wrong). She got thrust into an arranged marriage, then into a position of power, but all she really wanted was to read. (Relatable.) I loved her optimism and her stubbornness, even if they were frustratingly naive occasionally.

Edward was equal parts infuriating and endearing. Infuriating because he’s a spoiled, sexist prick. Endearing because once the plot knocks him off his feet, he starts to realize just how spoiled and sexist he was, and he grows. He never wanted to be king, and he was surrounded by people that let him have the power without actually doing anything. He hid from responsibility, and in the face of his own mortality, he had to grow up a lot. So while I hated parts of his character, I loved watching him grow into a character that I didn’t hate.

If you’re worried about the sexism, I’ll say two things: 1) the narrators call him out on his sexism, and 2) his voice is not focused on being sexist, so you won’t have it shoved in your face constantly while reading. (If that’s not good enough for you, I don’t blame you.)

G was possibly my favorite character (maybe tied with Jane—I’m indecisive). Cursed to turn into a horse whenever the sun is up, G’s entire life is pretty ridiculous. Still, I loved his a clear, emotional voice. I was able to connect with his character’s frustrations and longings. He was surprisingly down-to-earth and honest, and I loved how those character traits juxtaposed with his horse curse’s humor.

The plot of My Lade Jane was equal parts court intrigue, romance, and rebellion (all of it humorous, of course). Most of the plot consisted of Jane, Edward, and G unwittingly getting caught in a web of power plays and faction rivalries and then trying to survive the mess. The pacing of the plot was just fast enough to keep me reading and to prevent the nearly 500 page book from feeling long, but not so fast that I felt dragged along.

The romance was a large part of the book, but it did not overshadow the political side. Watching Jane and G fall in love was adorable, but it was not the only thing forcing both characters to develop. I appreciated that romance was often used to support and comfort characters, rather than to tear them down. Additionally, Edward’s less-than-perfect love life helped to keep the book from feeling like a rom com.

Still, it would be a lie to say My Lady Jane is not heavily oriented about romance, or to say that the romance never gets cheesy. I let myself get carried away by the story and chose to enjoy the more middle-grade romantic arc, and I had a blast.

I would recommend My Lade Jane to anyone that needs a break from the stress of reality. You have to be able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ridiculousness of the story. This book gets 5/5 stars for being unabashedly hilarious, not for any deep themes or gorgeous writing. My Lady Jane does not take itself seriously—at all—and if that sounds like fun, then you should definitely pick it up.

Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic things: It’s straight and white. There’s no sugar coating it: this is not a diverse story. It’s just not.

Trigger warnings: sexism, violence against people/animals, terminal illness, (recreational) drinking

Book Review: Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2) by Naomi Novik

A lot more emotionally painful than the first book, but in a good way. Combined with a new setting, I am officially 110% in love with this series.

4.5/5 stars


Read my review of the first book, His Majesty’s Dragon, here.

synopsis for reviews 2

When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

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my thoughts for reviews 1

While His Majesty’s Dragon made me fall in love with the Temeraire world, Throne of Jade was the book that captured my heart. It was not like I did not have an emotional connection to the first book, but I had a much stronger (and more painful) one with the second.

Throne of Jade revolves around Temeraire and Laurence’s fight to stay together, despite Chinese tradition that says Celestial dragons must belong to emperors. Politics, customs, and the lure of Chinese dragon culture all come between the two of them, creating an undeniably stressful story.

The world-building was incredible. Though two-thirds of the story focus on the journey to China, Naomi Novik still started to introduce the new characters and customs that they would encounter directly once they reached their destination. She brought the new setting to life and created an entirely different dragon culture than the one she had established in Britain.

Despite the complexity of the world Novik built, the specifics were never hard to keep track of. I easily understood the different perspectives of the Chinese envoys, the power struggle in the royal household, and the different aspects of dragon life. This creative but understandable world-building allowed me to enjoy the new setting without losing the train of the original story.

Temeraire experienced significant growth, becoming an even stronger character. The Chinese had a distinctly different view of dragons than the British, and in the new environment, Temeraire started to embrace different parts of his identity. Though it was painful when those changes brought him away from Laurence, I loved watching Temeraire’s development. He truly was a three-dimensional character, more fleshed-out than most of the human characters in the series.

Laurence changed in his own ways, fully embracing his identity as a dragon captain and fiercely fighting to keep Temeraire. I had not expected the argumentative side of Laurence that appeared, but I enjoyed seeing him come out of his uptight shell. Though he took longer to adjust to the Chinese culture, Laurence did allow it to change how he saw his native country.

The side characters remained somewhat one-dimensional, though the characters that were introduced in Throne of Jade had more layers than those that stuck around from the first book. I did not mind the way the characters were portrayed, because it did not hamper the story. Each character added a necessary element without getting in the way.

Throne of Jade was well paced, with action-packed fight scenes balanced against more emotional scenes of character growth. Though the book was not constantly dramatic, the threat to Laurence and Temeraire’s relationship kept me engaged and eager to read on.

Of course, with the Napoleonic Wars still going on, there are lots of intense fight scenes. One part of this book that separated it from the last one was the complexity that was added to Temeraire’s bloodthirsty nature. Yes, he still loves a fight, but he starts to think about the consequences of his actions and the nature of the battles he is fighting.

I would recommend Throne of Jade to anyone who read His Majesty’s Dragon. If the world-building or characters were not complex enough in the previous book, that problem is solved. If you want more fight scenes and dragons (who doesn’t?) they are just as dramatic and nuanced as before. And if you fell in love with the series in book one, book two will not disappoint.

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik

How can dragons be so cute and so bloodthirsty at the same time?!?!?

4.5/5 stars

cover his majestys dragon

synopsis for reviews 2

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

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my thoughts for reviews 1

Ever since I read Uprooted, I have been dying to read this series. The ninth and final book just came out, so I figured it was time to start.

I loved this book. It’s the Napoleonic Wars with dragons—what could go wrong? But it ended up being so much more than bloodthirsty dragons and fight scenes.

Laurence was the perfect protagonist. He started the book as a naval captain, but then the dragon, Temeraire, chose Laurence to be his companion. Thrust into the Aerie Corps, Laurence had to not only figure out how to be a dragon captain, but unlearn his navy habits and learn new Corps ones.

Older than other captains and an accidental captain, Laurence was a permanent outsider, creating a fascinating POV for the book to be told from. His voice was simultaneously stuffy and empathetic, so if his naval prejudices were ever annoying (which they were), his clear compassion for dragons and his fellow officers made up for it. His character’s arc was nuanced but natural, and though he learned how to be a part of the Corps, he never lost his naval quirks.

While I loved Laurence, I LOVED Temeraire. He was adorable—there’s no way around it. His voice was clear from his first line. He was unabashedly himself and ridiculously loyal to Laurence. Intelligent, inquisitive, and wholly unconvinced about things like royalty, Temeraire was also an outsider in the dragon world. Also, he was freaking bloodthirsty. Like Laurence, his character created a fascinating window into the dragon world because he has one foot inside and one foot outside of it.

The rest of the characters helped round out the novel. None of them had complex characterization, but in their own ways, they added necessary personalities to the story. I especially loved the different dragons that Naomi Novik added to the story and the way they interacted with Temeraire.

The world-building in His Majesty’s Dragon found a rare balance between historical accuracy and fantastical creations. Naomi Novik created an intricate dragon culture both a national level in the Corps and an international one, with different breeds and training systems for countries across the world. Additionally, the Corps’s society was hierarchical but easy to understand.

Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, the book was tied closely to real historical events and details. However, Naomi Novik managed to add dragons to the story without losing the historical fiction feeling. Reading His Majesty’s Dragon honestly feels like reading historical fiction—so much so that I sometimes forgot that dragons didn’t exist in Napoleonic times (not really, but almost).

His Majesty’s Dragon started out a little slow, but after the first quarter of the novel, the pace picked up. Honestly, I didn’t mind the slow pace of the beginning because it gave me time to understand the characters and the world before the intense fighting started. Laurence and Temeraire’s training was dramatic at times, but also light-hearted, giving the book an interesting mood. However, His Majesty’s Dragon got intense, and if you’re looking for heart-pounding fight scenes, this book is perfect for you.

I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a story that straddles the line between historical fiction and fantasy. Though the characters are adults, I feel like this book would be accessible to YA fans. There is no romance, so the story is a celebration of friendship and loyalty, something every reader can connect to.

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

A surprising story of loss and perseverance in a powerful alternate historical setting.

4.5/5 stars

cover wolf by wolf

Goodreads Description

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball.

Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

My Review

I discovered Ryan Graudin at the beginning of this year when I read The Walled City on a whim and was blown away with the vividness of her writing. When I heard her most recent book was an alternate historical fiction exploring a world were Hitler won WWII, I knew that I had to read it.

Wolf by Wolf did not disappoint.

From the first pages, Yael’s character drew me into the story. She’s a strong protagonist. I know that phrase (“strong” character) has become almost useless at this point, but I need to say it—Yael has lived through a lot, but she’s come out the other side determined to do something about it. I liked that her character wasn’t stuck in the past—she carries her experiences with her, but she also lives very much in the present, ready to change things.

Her tattoos, five wolves snaking up her arm, were one of the most interesting parts of her character. The gave insight both into her personality and into her past, providing an easy connection between the current story and flashbacks to her time in the death camp. Each flashback was written well, with a pacing and length that fit well with the rest of the story; I looked forward to the flashback scenes, instead of getting annoyed at them for breaking up the story (which is usually what happens).

Yael’s skinshifting—essentially the ability to make her body look like any female in the world—was interesting. I liked that even though it sounds like a fantasy element, the psuedo-scientific way that it was introduced (through experimentation in Hitler’s death camps) kept the book solidly in the alternate historical genre. Her abilities don’t dominate the story, but they complement it, adding conflicts to her personality and the plot that kept me reading.

Ryan Graudin’s world building was amazing. Without any scenes that felt weighed-down with exposition, Gruadin created a world that clearly felt like a fascist, dictatorial world. Yes, my prior knowledge of fascism and WWII helped me visualize and understand the politics, but I would have been okay without it. The straightforward way that Graudin created the world allowed me to focus on the story instead of complex details.

I loved the Axis Tour motercycle race concept. Again, Graudin left the premise simple and allowed character conflicts to bring most of the action, though there were definitely some tense, purely race-related moments thrown in. Yael’s fears and frsutrations about the pace of the race, especially when she was struggling, really affected me—I felt like I was the one competing in the race.

The pacing is good, though overall slower and more contemplative than I expected from a book based around a race. There are definitely dramatic scenes, but much of the book focuses on the events that occur on the stops between the legs of the race. Still, I enjoyed the pacing, as it allowed the character development to from to the forefront, instead of every second of the race dominating the story.

Each side character added their own layer to Wolf by Wolf. Some of the most minor characters added some of my favorite scenes, giving certain aspects of the book serious thought-provoking qualities. The fact that Yael was impersonating a racer (Adele) that many of them had met before put extra tension into the plot.

Felix, Adele’s brother, was an interesting character, his family-centric values contrasting sharply with Yael’s ends-justify-the-means mindset. There were times that I found him annoying, though, because he basically only exists to stand in the way of the plot. Yes, it created important conflicts, but it was also kind of frustrating.

Luka, Adele’s competitor and former love interest (though the specifics of that are left vague), was a much more entertaining character than Felix. I loved his interactions with Yael. He wasn’t just a ruthless victor, he was a guy with a broken heart—which Yael had nothing to do with. Watching him bare his soul to a confused Yael was both funny and bittersweet. Luka and Felix forced Yael to confront her own emotions, and I loved watching Yael’s character grow.

Unfortunately, the hints of romance that developed between Yael and Luka didn’t work for me. I needed a few more scenes to prove to me that Yael felt anything serious for him, and certain things that happen ended up confusing me because I didn’t believe in Yael’s emotions. Hopefully, this will be expanded on in the second book and their relationship will win me over, because I honestly love the idea of them as a couple—if it were written better.

Finally, the writing of Wolf by Wolf is gorgeous. I loved the way that Graudin wove in metaphors and symbolism without overpowering the story or feeling out-of-touch with Yael’s character. I absolutely love the title as well. And I CANNOT WAIT for the second book. That ending was ridiculously unexpected!!!

I would recommend this book for anyone who loves alternate historical stories, complex protagonists, great writing, or all of the above.

Book Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

This book surprised me with its grown-up Harry Potter fantasy feeling and the social commentary it subtly worked into the gorgeous story.

4/5 stars

Release date: September 1, 2015

cover sorcerer to the crown

Amazon Description

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

My Review

I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House at SDCC. This in no way affected my review.

 I was drawn to this book by the alternate historical setting. Just the name–The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers–made me want to read this story.

I was not disappointed. The historical setting was well-crafted and felt realistic, even with the addition of a hierarchy of magical men. Set in Britain during the Napoleonic times, the political landscape that Zacharias faced was the epitome of “rock and a hard place.” The situation Zacharias found himself in was believable and appropriately complex; it easily connected to the modern political dilemmas faced in the Middle East and around the world. There was no perfect solution, which added depth to the plot and separated it from the YA world (where I would have expected some magical “fix all” to appear).

I loved the fantasy portion of this book. The different levels and types of magicians are briefly described, but they aren’t important to the story. The parts of the world building that you need to understand are clearly laid out, and the rest of the details are left vague, masterfully giving the reader a sense of a complete universe without overloading their memory.

The magic itself is based on compiling and combining magical formulas. I liked the original concept of constructing spells in an almost arithmetic way, and I enjoyed the fact that different magicians would create the same effect with different formulas. I only wish that the mechanics behind the formulas had been explained a bit more; I wanted to understand the magic more, so that I could feel more connected to what the main characters were doing throughout the story. Familiars, sorcerers’ “pets” that provide them with magic, were a great addition to the story, adding both a sinister plot angle and a level of cuteness.

Sorcerer to the Crown is strong in the character department. Zacharias was a good protagonist: duty-driven, reserved, persevering, and clearly intelligent. I appreciated that he didn’t love his job as the Sorcerer Royal; he wasn’t motivated by a love for power or prestige. His down-to-earth scholarly nature made me love him, and provided a foil for Prunella, the female lead.

Prunella was great in her own way–definitely the most surprising part of this book. She is freaking ruthless. She isn’t evil, but she has a strong Machiavellian side. Her moral code–while existent–was focused on different things than normal protagonists. As I said, Prunella was never vicious or psychopathic, but she was willing to go to extreme lengths to have the life she wanted for herself and her loved ones. While she was focused on being a proper English lady and desperately wanted a husband, she also maintained a strong and rebellious side. Prunella shocked me at first (and never really stopped), but she was such a fresh and original personality for a love interest that I ended up loving her. I wouldn’t invite her to Girl’s Night, however.

Prunella’s magical ability was, of course, amazing, and I liked the dynamic it created with Zacharias. Both of them were powerful, though Zacharias had more classical training, while Prunella’s magic was more instinctual. I liked the subtle romance that grew between them. The only problem was that Prunella overshadowed Zacharias, and by the end of the book, she had eclipsed him to essentially take on the role of protagonist.

By far the most interesting part of the story was the discussion of racism and sexism. Zacharias was a slave boy raised by the former Sorcerer Royal as a son. He was freed when he was a young teenager and got the best training and upbringing money could buy, but white English society still viewed him as an outsider and a usurper. Continuing to break barriers, Zacharias takes in Prunella as his apprentice. In this society, women born with magical ability are trained to suppress it, so Zacharias bringing a woman into the most prestigious group of magicians in Britain is unheard of. (It’s kind of an Obama/Clinton situation, to be honest.) While the sexism and racism presented in this book are set hundreds of years ago, the discussion of these social issues remains applicable to society today. These subplots added well-needed depth and originality to the plot. I wish I had read this book sooner, because it would have easily made the top of my TTT list about diversity.

The plot of Sorcerer to the Crown is based mostly on a three-sided political disaster, tied into England’s mysterious decreasing amount of magic. There was nothing addictive or particularly gripping about the plot, but I never considered DNF-ing it. The story was always moving along, just not at any breakneck speed. There were numerous mysteries presented at the beginning of the book that built suspense throughout; the reveals they resulted in were surprising and worked together to create a satisfying climax. Fans of fast-paced fantasy books would probably be disappointed by this book, but people who prefer a complex and nuanced plot to action scenes should pick this book up. 

Sorcerer to the Crown felt underdeveloped for a standalone book–not quite enough happened plot-wise–but I don’t think there should be a second book. Everything was wrapped up very nicely, and if a second book were published, it would have to have an amazing plot description for me to ruin the happy ending that this book left me with.

Though this book is clearly not YA, fans of the YA genre could still enjoy it. (I certainly did.) I would recommend this book to fans of historical fantasies who value plots that explore societal issues over action-packed stories.