The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani

Theft of Sunlight


Goodreads: The Theft of Sunlight
Series: Dauntless Path #2
Source: Purchased
Published: March 23, 2021

Official Summary

I did not choose this fate. But I will not walk away from it.

Children have been disappearing from across Menaiya for longer than Amraeya ni Ansarim can remember. When her friend’s sister is snatched, Rae knows she can’t look away any longer – even if that means seeking answers from the royal court, where her country upbringing and clubfoot will only invite ridicule.

Yet the court holds its share of surprises. There she discovers an ally in the foreign princess, who recruits her as an attendant. Armed with the princess’s support, Rae seeks answers in the dark city streets, finding unexpected help in a rough-around-the-edges street thief with secrets of his own. But treachery runs deep, and the more Rae uncovers, the more she endangers the kingdom itself.

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Note: Although this is being marketed as a companion book, I would highly recommend reading Thorn first. I have read Thorn, but didn’t remember some of the details, and I found parts of the book confusing because of that. I cannot imagine picking up The Theft of Sunlight while being completely unfamiliar with the characters and events of Thorn.

Intisar Khanani’s Thorn was one of my favorite books of 2020, so it was with great enthusiasm that I picked up The Theft of Sunlight to read more of Khanani’s work. Not only does the book deliver an engaging story with a sweet developing romance and a protagonist that had me admiring both her kindness and her sass, but it also tackles one of the threads I thought was bizarrely left hanging in Thorn: the fact that dozens of children are being snatched from the street each month.

I wrote in my review of Thorn that I guessed I could see how the characters had a lot to do in terms of reforming the country and maybe mass kidnappings was just on the list of things they hadn’t gotten around to yet, but I am actually really relieved to see that plot point taking center stage and getting the attention it deserves here because….MASS KIDNAPPINGS! It was truly weird it was almost a side point in Thorn. I love that readers are given a new protagonist to deal with the issue, as well, Rae, who is determined to get to the bottom of the issue to help the children she knows who have been snatched and the ones she doesn’t, no matter how dangerous her inquiries become. The princess cares, of course, but she doesn’t care the way Rae can because, for her, the problem is personal.

Readers also get to see more of the local thief lords mentioned in book 1, and who doesn’t love reading about thief lords and all their machinations and murders and schemes? Khanani does this really well; her thieves truly seem both skilled and dangerous. I believe they know what they’re doing and they know what they want, and they will be ruthless to get it. But we also see some of the softer sides of the Red Hawk gang, which is fabulous and makes me think I might have have missed something in not having ever having had a budding romance with a high-ranking thief. (Ok, never mind, actually. That would clearly be a terrible idea in real life, but it works great in fiction!)

The Theft of Sunlight is basically everything I like in YA, or just in a really enjoyable story. Strong, nuanced characters. A plot that hooks me and then keeps bringing surprises. Questions about life and morality and one’s own identity. I spent a long time thinking about this book once I finished it, which for me is always the mark of a good read.


Quintessence by Jes Redman

Quintessence by Jes Redoman


Goodreads: Quintessence
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Official Summary

Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped — even though she told her parents that they did. Every day she feels less and less like herself.

Then Alma meets the ShopKeeper in the town’s junk shop, The Fifth Point. The ShopKeeper gives her a telescope and this message:

Find the Elements.
Grow the Light.
Save the Starling.

That night, Alma watches as a star—a star that looks like a child—falls from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to be lost and afraid, to long for home, and with the help of some unlikely new friends from the Astronomy Club, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of astronomy, a little bit of alchemy, and her whole self.

QUINTESSENCE is a stunning story of friendship, self-discovery, interconnectedness, and the inexplicable elements that make you you.

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Quintessence by Jes Redman seemed like exactly the type of book I would love: a whimsical middle-grade fantasy with a whole lot of heart. Unfortunately, however, poor characterization combined with awkward plot elements and an over-the-top effort to be mystical meant the book did not meet my expectations. I persevered through the end, but Quintessence simply does not possess the magic I had hoped for.

The problems I had with the book were evident from the start, with the narrator desperately trying to sound deep by using a series of short, simple sentences; talking about stars and the main character’s inner “Alma-ness,” and going on and on about our interconnectedness. Normally, I would appreciate a story about a young girl finding herself and finding friends to rely on, but there is a point where a book can lay on the messages a little too thick. I wanted to say, “Yes, I got it. We all have an inner essence that needs to shine! I got it!” But the book simply does not trust readers to get it. Not without being reminded on nearly every page.

Perhaps the characters or the story could have redeemed the poor writing, but, unfortunately, they did not. The characters are only very sketchily drawn, making it difficult to understand them or sympathize with them. And there are some strange choices made in regards to the characterization, too, that do not make a lot of sense. Alma, for instance, has panic attacks, but the book refuses to name what her mysterious “episodes” are until nearly halfway through, making them seem scarier and more abnormal than they have to be. Her one friend is described as socially inept and sounding like a “robot,” but nothing more is explained here. Her other friend seems to be having trouble fitting into her “perfect” friend group of pretty, popular girls–but this thread is left unexplored. The fourth main character is a bully and his actions are ultimately excused/glossed over because he has a troubled home life, as if that is enough to mean that the others should forgive him and accept his behavior. (It’s not.) In the end, I really had no idea who any of these characters really are, or why I should care about them.

And then there is the bizarre plot. Of course, books with fantasy elements or quests often have the protagonists going into danger to save someone else. Quintessence…does this in a bit of a concerning way. Essentially, the whole quest to save a Starling (young star) and send her back into the sky is set up by the mysterious Shopkeeper, an old man dedicated to sending stars home. He encourage the kids to go into dangerous situations and the whole quest is framed as necessary for Alma to find herself and, ultimately, to overcome her panic attacks. This awkwardly means the book seems to be saying that Alma needs to put herself in danger and lie to her parents in order to heal herself.

And some of these dangerous situations are a little too realistic to read as just a fantasy quest. For instance, Alma sneaks out of her room almost every night (lying about it) to do things like explore a cave in the dark with no equipment and no map, get on an unscheduled bus with a sketchy-looking bus driving to travel to a mountain in the dead of night, and hold a glass aloft with a little lightning rod in order to I guess catch lighting in her hands. The Shopkeeper condones all this and even sets it up. It is suggested that he is actually the weird-looking bus driver in disguise. He’s also the “therapist” who writes a cryptic note to Alma’s parents about her need to see someone. He then lures her into a school broom closet alone with her to “give her advice.” This would be less concerning, again, if the story did not set this all up as good and proper and necessary because Alma’s parents just do not understand her, and she simply has to do these things in order to be whole again. But there is a difference between taking risks and living life to the fullest, and endangering one’s life by being foolish. I’m sorry, but walking into broom closets with strange men and trying to get struck by lightning on purpose are not ways to find one’s self.

Quintessence means well. After all, a sympathetic portrayal of a girl with panic attacks who moves to a new town and finds a friend group who appreciate her is the type of thing most readers would applaud. The execution of the vision, however, leaves something lacking. In the end, the book did not win me over.

2 star review

What Periods of Classic Literature Get a Bit Overlooked? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)


Is there a period of literature that you think gets overlooked when classics are discussed? Why or why not?

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My initial answer to this question is (predictably, if you know me) is:

Medieval literature!

Half the time when I mention medieval literature to people, they don’t even know what time period I am referring to. A lot of people are under the impression that Shakespeare counts as medieval literature and/or that his plays are written in Old English. I told a friend I’d written my thesis on a “medieval romance,” and she genuinely thought I meant something like a Julia Quinn novel. If someone does get the time period correct, they are likely to mention one of only three things: Chaucer, King Arthur, or Robin Hood. Suffice to say, I think medieval literature could grow a bit in popularity among people who aren’t actually medievalists.

And I’ve already written a couple posts about that:

So I’d like to offer a second time period I think is overlooked:

The 17th century!

Seriously, when is the last time you heard someone say they were reading something written in the 17th century. Or that they ever had? (As a full disclaimer, I don’t exactly go around reading texts from this period that frequently myself.)

However, this century offers us some great authors, including:

  • John Milton
  • Alexander Pope
  • Jonathan Swift
  • Moliere
  • John Dryden

And some Shakespeare.

What do you think? What are some books you’ve read from the Middle Ages or from the 17th century?


Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd, Michelle Mee Nutter (Illustrations)



Goodreads: Allergic
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: March 2021

Official Summary

A coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel featuring a girl with severe allergies who just wants to find the perfect pet!

At home, Maggie is the odd one out. Her parents are preoccupied with getting ready for a new baby, and her younger brothers are twins and always in their own world. Maggie loves animals and thinks a new puppy to call her own is the answer, but when she goes to select one on her birthday, she breaks out in hives and rashes. She’s severely allergic to anything with fur!

Can Maggie outsmart her allergies and find the perfect pet? With illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter, Megan Wagner Lloyd uses inspiration from her own experiences with allergies to tell a heartfelt story of family, friendship, and finding a place to belong.

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Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd is a fairly standard coming-of-age story with a small twist: when protagonist Maggie seeks to find comfort and understanding in a new pet, she finds instead that she is allergic to anything with fur or feathers! Readers of middle-grade graphic novels will recognize the basic plot structure and the themes of finding one’s place in one’s family, but they will likely appreciate the humor and the cuteness nonetheless. Allergic may not be a standout book, but it will appeal to the crowd who loves books such as Smile, the Babysitters Club, and Roller Girl.

Writing a review for a book that is generally good but also unremarkable always proves difficult. Allergic possesses all the elements that should please readers of this type of story: a winning and sympathetic lead, a dash of humor, some friendship drama to liven things up, and some cute animals to melt some hearts. Even so, the book does not really distinguish itself from the many similar offerings on the market. I think the target audience will enjoy it for what it is, but rave reviews from adults or awards being bestowed seems more unlikely.

The art style, too, is appealing, but unremarkable. It feels appropriate for the tone of the story, it has that cartoony vibe that will please fans of Raina Telegemeier, and it gets the job done. Perhaps individuals who know more about art could comment more but, as a general reader, I mainly found I did not notice the illustrations at all, either in a good way or a bad way.

Allergic is the type of book likely to be enjoyed by tween readers who enjoy similar fare or who are willing to pick up just about anything, as a long as it is a comic. Adult readers who are more familiar with all the similar books on the market may be harder to impress, though they will likely find it pleasant, as well. In the end, Allergic does not stand out from its competitors, but it is a nice enough way to spend a few hours.

3 Stars

10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in April 2021

Post Round-Up

Around the Blogosphere

  1. Amanda recommends diverse cozy mysteries.
  2. The Orangutan Librarian offers some tongue-in-cheek advice for running a book blog!
  3. Michael discusses The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the Weight of the Shield.
  4. Marie shares 10 YA books that will make you cry.
  5. Julia asks: Does Crooked Kingdom Deserve the Hype?
  6. Aayushi shares a look into the first year of blogging.
  7. Mere Inkling shares Christianity, Science, and C.S. Lewis.
  8. Jane lists books to read if you love North and South.
  9. Sammie highlights books for early reluctant readers featuring animals.
  10. Aria discusses how reading affects mental health.

Highlights at Pages Unbound

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant


Goodreads: The Court of Miracles
Series: Court of Miracles #1
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie).

When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

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Calling A Court of Miracles a retelling of Les Misérables is a bit of a stretch. Yes, there is a character called Eponine who has an adopted sister named Cosette, and a few other characters appear whom readers will recognize from Victor Hugo’s work. Readers should, however, throw out all expectations. This is a YA novel set in an alternative history where Eponine is one of the prized cat burglars in the infamous Guild of Thieves, and her main goal is to break every law of her Guild in order to save Cosette from being sold as a prostitute. Comparisons to Six of Crows likewise are pretty superficial, and only make sense insofar as that both books are set in a criminal underworld. Really, this is a YA novel with a kickass heroine willing to go to extreme lengths to save her sister–and while it contains elements of other stories, it ultimately is its own.

I tend to enjoy books with complex plots involving plenty of politics and intrigue, and this delivered. While its supposed historical setting is all but irrelevant, the dynamics between the various Guilds were enough to keep me engaged. Eponine is committed to breaking the Tiger’s rule over the Guild of Flesh–as well as over the other Guilds–but, to do so, she needs to convince the other Guild leaders that it is worth their while to rebel. Her efforts at time lead to too easy results. But the book is entertaining, if nothing else.

And that critique of everything being too easy is the main one I have for the book. This not only makes the story feel unrealistic, but also lessens some of the drama. For example, while the crew of Six of Crows spends an entire book leading up to their final, grand heist, Eponine manages a spectacular prison breakout in the span of only a few pages. And that is after walking up to the prison with no trained allies and no plan. A bunch of kids simply lead her to the prison and ask her to break someone out of the supposedly impenetrable fortress, and she does, within the space of ten minutes. An episode like that either makes it seem like the prison was not that impressive after all or that the others who tried and failed were just terrible at their jobs. It does not really make Eponine a star thief because there is no struggle–and the struggle is what lets readers know that she is the best.

Other episodes also undermine Eponine’s credibility as a thief. For example, she is lauded as having stolen from the crown prince himself. But the crown prince happens to have a crush on her, and he just lets her steal from him repeatedly. This does not make Eponine a legendary thief. It makes the crown prince a fool. In other episodes, Eponine casually refers to the Guilds and their practices, even though the Guilds are supposedly a huge secret that the law and the aristocracy have no idea exist. (Even though they gather in broad daylight in matching clothes? I don’t know. Try not to question it too much, I guess.) One would think that the Guild’s best cat burglar would guard her tongue more closely.

There are other sundry flaws in the book: too many love interests (three), some weird changes made to Les Misérables (Javert is pursuing Jean Valjean because….she is a scorned lover? Maybe?), a lack of historical detail that makes the story feel a bit ungrounded and the student rebellion feel like it is not that important, after all (one would think it would be–at least to the students). Overall, however, if a reader is more committed to enjoying action and drama than in enjoying a fully-realized world, or if they do not particularly care about how faithful the story is to Les Misérables these flaws might be overlooked. It all depends on what one wants out of a story.

I enjoyed the action and the intrigue of A Court of Miracles. While it is not a perfectly executed story, it does provide entertainment. And, while I was reading it, that was largely what I wanted. Further, I am not overly attached to the storyline of Les Misérables, so I was able to take the many changes in stride. Readers looking for a YA book that provides plenty of action, drama, and intrigue will likely find this book a winner.

3 Stars

Namesake by Adrienne Young

Namesake instagram photo


Goodreads: Namesake
Series: Fable #2
Source: Purchased
Published: March 16, 2021

Official Summary

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

With the Marigold ship free of her father, Fable and the rest of the crew were set to start over. That freedom is short-lived when Fable becomes a pawn in a notorious thug’s scheme. In order to get to her intended destination, she must help him to secure a partnership with Holland, a powerful gem trader who is more than she seems.

As Fable descends deeper into a world of betrayal and deception, she learns that the secrets her mother took to her grave are now putting the people Fable cares about in danger. If Fable is going to save them, then she must risk everything—including the boy she loves and the home she has finally found. 

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Fable was one of my favorite books I read in 2020 (though I didn’t review it because Krysta did here), so it was with much excitement I picked up Namesake to finish this duology about a young sailor/dredger/trader and her quest to figure out her past and her future. While Fable is the better book, in my opinion, Namesake still delivers action, excitement, and incredible world building that makes me wish I actually knew something about sailing and liked being on the sea.

Namesake has a bit of looser structure than Fable, as the story opens with Fable on the ship she was sailing away on at the end of book 1 but then proceeds to follow her through discovering more about her family history, working through her relationships with the crew of the Marigold, looking for legendary items, and having various adventures that all kind of work together into one major scheme by the end of the novel. There were parts of the book where I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening or why certain things were important, which had the odd effect of being slightly annoying but also making me want to keep turning the pages so I could figure it out. Overall, it was a positive experience, however.

The romance, I think, is the weakest part of the book. I wasn’t entirely invested in it in book 1, and I didn’t love it as it continued to develop here. However, Fable’s other relationships more than make up for it: readers see her continue to deal with her conflicted feelings about her father and her dead mother, and we also learn more about the former navigator of her father’s ship, whom Fable grew up with.

Namesake is just such a wonderful mix of action and adventure with a bit of heart (and a lot of backstabbing and scheming and burning other people’s ships, actually…) that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who loves a good story.

4 stars

What YA Fairy Tale Retelling Should You Read? (Flow Chart)



*Click the title to read a full review.

Valiant by Sarah McGuire

Saville hates sewing. How can she not when her father, the Tailor, loves his bolts of velvet and silk far more than he’s ever loved her? Yet, when he is struck ill shortly after they arrive in the city of Reggen, Saville must don boy’s clothes in the hopes of gaining a commission from the king to keep them fed. The kingdom is soon on edge when stories spread of an army of giants led by a man who cannot be killed. But giants are just stories, and no man is immortal. And then the giants do come to the city gates, two larger-than-life scouts whom Saville cunningly tricks into leaving. The Tailor of Reggen is the hero of the kingdom, the king promises his sister’s hand in marriage, and by the time Saville reaches the palace doors, it is widely known that the Tailor single-handedly killed the giants. When her secret—that she’s a girl—is quickly discovered by Lord Galen Verras, the king’s cousin, Saville’s swept into the twists and turns of court politics. The deathless man is very real, and he will use his giant army to ensure he is given the throne freely or by force. Now, only a tailor girl with courage and cunning can see beyond the tales to discover the truth and save the kingdom again. Valiant is a rich reimaging of “The Brave Little Tailor,” artfully crafting a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.

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Fairest by Marissa Meyer

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

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Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.

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Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad’s old costume, Elle’s determined to win – unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons – before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake – until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

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Thorn by Intisar Khanani

A princess with two futures. A destiny all her own

Between her cruel family and the contempt she faces at court, Princess Alyrra has always longed to escape the confines of her royal life. But when she’s betrothed to the powerful prince Kestrin, Alyrra embarks on a journey to his land with little hope for a better future.

When a mysterious and terrifying sorceress robs Alyrra of both her identity and her role as princess, Alyrra seizes the opportunity to start a new life for herself as a goose girl.

But Alyrra soon finds that Kestrin is not what she expected. The more Alyrra learns of this new kingdom, the pain and suffering its people endure, as well as the danger facing Kestrin from the sorceress herself, the more she knows she can’t remain the goose girl forever.

With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Alyrra is caught between two worlds and ultimately must decide who she is, and what she stands for.

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Blanca y Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer (Spoiler Review)

A Vow So Bold and Deadly


Goodreads: A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Series: Cursebreakers #3
Source: Library
Published: January 2021

Official Summary

Face your fears, fight the battle.

Emberfall is crumbling fast, torn between those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and those who are eager to begin a new era under Grey, the true heir. Grey has agreed to wait two months before attacking Emberfall, and in that time, Rhen has turned away from everyone—even Harper, as she desperately tries to help him find a path to peace.

Fight the battle, save the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Lia Mara struggles to rule Syhl Shallow with a gentler hand than her mother. But after enjoying decades of peace once magic was driven out of their lands, some of her subjects are angry Lia Mara has an enchanted prince and a magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.

As the two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and a dangerous enemy returns, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.

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After the ending of book two, I knew A Vow So Bold and Deadly would likely disappoint me. While Kemmerer shines as a writer of contemporary romance, the need to create a fully-realized fantasy world with its own internal politics and intrigue was clearly proving a struggle. A Vow So Bold and Deadly highlights how underdeveloped this world is, while also depicting confusing characterization in what appears to be an attempt to make the characters more complex. In the end, A Vow So Bold and Deadly reads like a bit of a mess, with Kemmerer belatedly trying to convince readers that characters who did wicked things are really good, and that characters with a moral compass are just as bad as the people they are fighting. I am not entirely sure what to make of the book because it quite simply does not make sense.

Jumping into book three without a recap of the prior books was admittedly confusing for me. I could not quite remember why Grey and Lia Mara were going to war with Emberfall since they both claimed they did not want to, but “had to” “for peace.” (They kept referencing the need for a trade route, which seemed more like national self-interest to me, but who am I to discredit their high moral-sounding talk?) I did not understand why Grey, who was initially reluctant to be king, so much so that he went into hiding, was now determined to take his throne by force. I did not understand why Rhen, if he was convinced of the legitimacy of Grey’s claim, would go to war to preserve his status as king. (His manipulation by Lilith did not seem to account fully for his actions, in my opinion.) I did not understand why Harper, who was supposed to be the character who recalls Rhen to his better self, was now aiding him in apparently propping up a false claim to the throne–an action that would cost the lives of soldiers. And, wow, I did not understand how Harper could spend the entire book wondering if she was in an abusive relationship and then justify everything Rhen did. I mean…it seems like she is, but the book is trying to tell us that she is not?

Perhaps the characters never had a chance to seem reasonable when they were set up in a scenario as bizarre as this. However, it really bothered me that readers were apparently meant to see Grey’s decision to go into hiding once he learned his identity as the true heir as on par with Rhen’s putting two men up against a wall and publicly flogging them. Considering Rhen’s extreme reaction to learning he might lose the throne, Grey seems entirely justified in trying to disappear. In an ideal world, yes, he would have gone to Rhen and maybe they could have privately worked out a peaceable solution, but Rhen comes across as so volatile that avoiding him certainly seems like the safer option.

Things only get worse when Rhen and Harper mutually agree that Rhen “had no choice” but to whip Grey because “hard decisions must be made for the good of the country.” Harper, who once was Rhen’s moral compass, has sunk to his level and now helps him justify imprisoning and whipping people. Suddenly, what was initially depicted as an outrage in book two is being depicted as part of the necessary duties of an effective leader.

This emphasis on the need for violence to rule is reiterated in the depiction of Lia Mara, who, in book two, seemed poised to be an effective, yet gentle queen, but who is now shown to be struggling to keep her crown–all because she is too nice and does not have the guts to hurt and kill people to prove a point. Readers never get to see how Lia Mara’s gentleness could be her strength. Instead, she needs her sister and Grey to do the dirty work for her, so she can keep her throne. Maybe the goal here is to suggest that there is no good, right way when one has a country at stake, but it just feels disorienting for the book to suddenly switch sides, so to speak.

Rationalizing Rhen’s current behavior because he was tortured by Lilith does not help much, either. Suggesting that he should be forgiven for terrorizing people because he apparently is suffering from trauma is not exactly as nice as it was probably meant to sound. Rhen is still responsible for his actions. And he needs help, not people rationalizing his poor life choices, thereby enabling him to continue. I guess his final actions were meant to redeem him, but he has a history of being all over the place, so one useful action does not make me understand Rhen to now to someone I would cheer on or want on the throne.

My best guess is that A Vow So Bold and Deadly is meant to depict how leading a country is hard, and sometimes there appear to be no right choices. And, normally, I would find such a book fascinating. In this case, however, the characters were not shown to be trying to do right, but sometimes failing or making a hard call. They were more like different people every time we met up again with them. The way they acted in book one seems very different from how they acted in book two and again in book three. The characterization was everywhere! And normally characterization is Kemmerer’s strength. In the end, it seems rather like Kemmerer was not quite sure how to create her own fantasy world that has rules and politics that make sense–and the whole book suffered as a result.

Read Briana’s review.

2 star review

Recommend a Diverse Classic: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


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Recommend a Diverse Classic

Star Divider

Zora Neale Hurston was both an author and a folklorist, whose research influenced many of her writings. Her best known novel is perhaps Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), which centers on Janie Crawford and her three marriages. Janie’s tale recounts how she initially was married off to an older man for protection, only to find that he doesn’t love her. She then runs off with another man, who only wants to use her. Finally, she marries for love, but again finds her relationship with her husband to be unstable. Through her three marriages, Janie (and Hurston) explore the gender roles and the expectations society places on women.

Though published in the 1930s, Their Eyes Were Watching God still feels incredibly relevant. The issues it grapples with, from domestic violence to the role of men and women in marriage are issues that society continues to grapple with. In many ways, the novel feels a bit ahead of its time, with Janie seeking love and self-fulfillment, while being open to her own sexuality, in the face of a disapproving society. The book, however, presents no easy answers. While Janie’s third marriage appears to be her happiest, because her husband Tea Cake sees her as more of an equal than her previous two husbands, the novel also suggests that Janie is not fully realized as an independent woman until after Tea Cake’s death. In this way, Their Eyes Were Watching God illustrates an intriguing tension that many readers may find relatable. Janie wants to find her identity in a happy marriage, but, if she cannot be seen as an equal to men, she may ultimately not be able to do so. She wants both love and respect, but can women truly have it all?

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a powerful novel by a talented author–one whose work was not always appreciated in her own time. If you have not read it yet, maybe now is the time to give it a try.