Book Review: Greenwing & Dart series by Victoria Goddard

So I have already squee’d about my love of Victoria Goddard with The Hands of the Emperor, and over about a week I voraciously read my way through the Greenwing & Dart series. There’s currently six:

So, they are: Stargazy PieBee Sting CakeWhiskey JackBlackcurrant FoolLove-in-a-Mist, and Plum Duff. A seventh is due…sometime! (I am very excited about this.)

Jemis Greenwing came home from university nursing a broken heart and a bad cold, both of which quickly turn out to have far more significance than he’d ever expected.

His hometown of Ragnor Bella is reputed to be the dullest town in the continent. That just means it’s very good at hiding its secrets. Or it was, until Jemis and his best friend Mr. Dart start blundering around unravelling what they think are very small mysteries.

Fortunately both of them learned a thing or two at university … even if it’s the more arcane parts of their degrees that prove the most useful. It’s one thing to illicitly attend extravagant dinner parties, and another to start answering riddles set by dragons…

The thing I love about this series (all right, one of the many things) is that it starts off small, and just gets more and more chaotic – in a wonderful way! Jemis needs to get a job, and then stumbles into a mystery when a random pie is left on the town fountain. Then an old friend (possibly? Maybe not a friend? Who knows, with the events at the end of his university career) turns up. And there’s a cult that might be up to no good – or could be covering for something else. And then the dragon turns up, alongside an ancient, grouchy relative…

And they have to win the local cake-baking competition too, of course.

Over the course of the series, the events build and intertwine, and everything links; it’s wonderful how the contacts and friends (and enemies) that Jemis makes all make his life wonderfully, brilliantly complicated. It’s a brilliantly ridiculous, fantastic, crazy series that highlights the friendships and relationships, and it’s absolutely fantastic fun. I love that some of the characters from the rest of the world turn up, too – and if you’ve read The Hands of the Emperor and then The Return of Fitzroy Angursell, you’ll recognise some of the people who turn up. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the wider world there, and I love the way the stories combine.

This series feels very derring-do, and it’s a fun romp – with some more intricate and serious undertones, but it’s definitely more on the “adventure” end of the scale. A lot of fun, and definitely worth a read.

Review: Good Neighbors by Stephanie Burgis

Good Neighbors by Stephanie Burgis

When a grumpy inventor meets her outrageous new neighbor in the big black castle down the road, more than one type of spark will fly!

Mia Brandt knows better than to ever again allow her true powers to be discovered. Ever since her last neighbors burned down her workshop in a night of terror and flame, she’s been determined to stay solitary, safe, and – to all outside appearances – perfectly respectable…

But Leander Fabian, whose sinister castle looms over her cozy new cottage, has far more dangerous ideas in mind. When he persuades Mia into a reluctant alliance, she finds herself swept into an exhilarating world of midnight balls, interfering countesses, illicit opera house expeditions, necromantic duels, and a whole unnatural community of fellow magic-workers and outcasts, all of whom are facing a threat more ominous than any she’s confronted before.

Luckily, Mia has unnatural powers of her own – but even her unique skills may not be enough to protect her new found family and help her resist the wickedly provoking neighbor who’s seen through all of her shields from the beginning.

Ok, let’s be honest here: this is ADORABLE. It’s fluffy, cute, filled with the sweetest characters, and also filled with sparks, snark and romance – and a love interest (ok, Really Annoying Neighbour) that you’ll want to throw things at. It’s a perfect wet-day-sofa-read, preferably with chocolate and a cat to hand, and you’ll get through the entire thing and be left with that warm feeling when you’ve read something that’s just *so good*.

I specifically loved Mia’s various inventions (I want her ball gown!) and the sheer variety of characters – and the reveal of who her father is dating is SO CUTE. The stories all flow nicely into one another, although each of the four is self-contained, and they’re all very easy reads. Definitely pick this up if you want cute, adorable and fun romances that are the perfect escapism reads.

(Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review; but I will also very happily point you towards Stephanie’s other series, starting with Thornbound and Scales & Sensibility – both excellent reads!)

This novel-length collection includes all four stories and novellas originally published on Stephanie Burgis’s Patreon in 2020-2021: Good Neighbors, Deadly Courtesies, Fine Deceptions, and Fierce Company.


A Basket of Magical Reviews

A bundle of reviews for fairytales, magic and romance!

Half a Soul (Regency Faerie Tales Book 1) by Olivia Atwater

It’s difficult to find a husband in Regency England when you’re a young lady with only half a soul.

Ever since a faerie cursed her, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear, embarrassment, or even happiness-a condition which makes her sadly prone to accidental scandal. Dora’s only goal for the London Season this year is to stay quiet and avoid upsetting her cousin’s chances at a husband… but when the Lord Sorcier of England learns of her condition, she finds herself drawn ever more deeply into the tumultuous concerns of magicians and faeries.

Lord Elias Wilder is handsome, strange, and utterly uncouth-but gossip says that he regularly performs three impossible things before breakfast, and he is willing to help Dora restore her missing half. If Dora’s reputation can survive both her ongoing curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world… but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.

This is a really sweet Regency romance, with a lovely dash of magic and danger, plus a protagonist who is not so much plucky as mostly oblivious (but with a firm sense of morality, which at least usually lands her in the right sort of trouble) and a romantic entanglement that is firmly in the Mr Darcy camp of stubborn and unexpected. It’s an easy and fun read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

It reminded me a lot of Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series (highly recommended if you like Regency politics plus magic and a fierce dose of feminism) and the next one in this series is Ten Thousand Stitches, which follows some of the same characters.

The Seventh Bride by T Kingfisher

Young Rhea is a miller’s daughter of low birth, so she is understandably surprised when a mysterious nobleman, Lord Crevan, shows up on her doorstep and proposes marriage. Since commoners don’t turn down lords—no matter how sinister they may seem—Rhea is forced to agree to the engagement.

Lord Crevan demands that Rhea visit his remote manor before their wedding. Upon arrival, she discovers that not only was her betrothed married six times before, but his previous wives are all imprisoned in his enchanted castle. Determined not to share their same fate, Rhea asserts her desire for freedom. In answer, Lord Crevan gives Rhea a series of magical tasks to complete, with the threat “Come back before dawn, or else I’ll marry you.”

With time running out and each task more dangerous and bizarre than the last, Rhea must use her resourcefulness, compassion, and bravery to rally the other wives and defeat the sorcerer before he binds her to him forever.

An easy read, but The Seventh Bride is a fierce and different take on a mix of fairytales, with a lovely blend of many tropes; the unexpected bride finding out that her husband-to-be isn’t what she thinks he is, and that she is trapped in a strange house.. and then turning all of her ingenuity to how to free the others, trapped with her. Some of the wives are horrifying (more for what has been done to them, than the wives themselves) but the allies and friends that Rhea finds along the way are sweet, and the relationships between the wives, Crevan and allies are all very different. A fun and unexpected read.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

When Nora Fischer stumbles, quite literally, into a magical world where everyone is glamorous and life is one long party, she’s immediately captivated. What she doesn’t realise, because everything is such fun, is that there’s a darker side to her new friends. In fact, it’s only after she agrees to marry the charismatic, masterful Raclin that she discovers she’s a prisoner in this new world.

If Nora is to escape, then she has just one hope: the magician Aruendiel. And if she can also persuade him to teach her the art of real magic, then she might just be able to return home. Is that what she wants, though? Aruendiel has a biting tongue, a shrouded past and no patience, so there’s no way Nora could be falling for him… Is there?

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from this book, but it wasn’t what I got. I’m not entirely sure what I got, though, so there’s that. It reminded me a little of Thomas Covenant (although thankfully without the horribly rapey bits, which was nice…) and I think I was expecting more dramatic fantasy? More cute, more romance, more flair?

This is quite plodding in places, and quite pedestrian – which honestly does fit with the world, because once Nora is out of the control of her new friends, she realises that their lives are mostly illusion, and she’s actually in a medieval-style world – and that doesn’t lend itself to anything dramatic. Especially as magic isn’t the big fantasy gestures, but is hard work (and again, that makes perfect sense for the world.)

Nora herself is a modern, educated woman pushed into a place where woman aren’t expected to be educated (or intelligent, really) unless they can do magic – so she promptly pushes to learn magic, partly for status and partly for attempting to get home. Her story and character development is interesting, and the other characters are interesting, but…

I dunno. The book just fell a bit flat for me, I think. I didn’t love the story, although I ploughed through it. I don’t have any particular desire to pick up the next one. I suppose I feel that this one could have been cut in half quite happily, and then we might actually see more of whether Nora’s desire for Aruendiel goes anywhere.

Shades of Milk & Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

In Regency England, Jane Ellsworth of Dorchester is a woman ahead of her time.

Not only is she highly skilled in the manipulation of glamour – plucking strands from the Ether to create genteel magical illusions – she’s also ambitious for her art, and dreams of being recognised as a glamourist of note in her own right, as men are permitted to.

First and foremost, however, a lady of quality must marry well, and alas Jane’s ambitions do not extend to her romantic prospects. Compared to her beautiful sister Melody, Jane feels invisible to suitors, and is resigned to a life of spinsterhood.

But when her beloved family comes under threat, Jane uses her magical skills to put things right, which attracts the attention of professional glamourist Mr Vincent . . . and unwittingly wanders in to a love story of her own.

Another Regency romance with magic, and I loved this one! Full of wonderful characters, well-realised situations, romantic drama… the perfect cosy sofa read. I really loved the way glamour was described and explained as well; it lent some nice depth to Jane learning more about her ‘hobby’, and made the relationship between her and Mr Vincent more complex than just that of a suitor realising the spinster sister was actually interesting. A really well-written and fun read.

I think the sequel is Glamour in Glass, and it’s on my list to pick up!

A Sci-fi of Reviews: Dec 2021

It’s a bundle of cuteness and romance this time, with a battle or two mixed in… cute sci-fi, here we come!

Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott

It has been eight centuries since the beacon system failed, sundering the heavens. Rising from the ashes of the collapse, cultures have fought, system-by-system, for control of the few remaining beacons. The Republic of Chaonia is one such polity. Surrounded by the Yele League and the vast Phene Empire, they have had to fight for their existence. After decades of conflict, Queen-Marshal Eirene has brought the Yele to heel. Now it is time to deal with the Empire. Princess Sun, daughter and heir, has come of age.

In her first command, she drove a Phene garrison from the beacons of Na Iri – an impressive feat. But growing up in the shadow of her mother – a ruler both revered and feared – has been no easy task. While Sun may imagine that her victorious command will bring further opportunity to prove herself, it will in fact place her on the wrong side of court politics. There are those who would like to see Sun removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

I was a bit worried that this would be hardcore sci-fi, but it’s not; there are battles, but it’s very focused on the characters, and the relationships between everyone. The main core is Sun, along with her companions – I really loved how the relationships (both old, from her long-time companions, and new from ones introduced to the mix) changed and developed. I also really enjoyed the political fights, and the way that the choices and decisions influenced everyone else – and how Sun’s own choices made her character develop. It’s a really well-paced, well-written book with lots of interesting (and cute!) characters, and I’ve got the second (Furious Heaven) on my wish-list!

Space Opera by Cathrynne M Valente

Once every cycle, the great galactic civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix–part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Species far and wide compete in feats of song, dance and/or whatever facsimile of these can be performed by various creatures who may or may not possess, in the traditional sense, feet, mouths, larynxes, or faces. And if a new species should wish to be counted among the high and the mighty, if a new planet has produced some savage group of animals, machines, or algae that claim to be, against all odds, sentient? Well, then they will have to compete. And if they fail? Sudden extermination for their entire species.

This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick, and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny–they must sing.

Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes have been chosen to represent their planet on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of Earth lies in their ability to rock.

Hum. Ok, I have to admit I didn’t get on with this. It is very HitchHikers, and is very good – and if you’re into that style of writing (quite jerky, but also very weird, in an amusing way) then I’m sure it’s great. But it’s not my sort of thing. I did read (well, skimmed) all the way through and if you like the first chapter, then I’d say it’s worth the read.

The Seven Brides-to-be of Generalissimo Vlad by Victoria Goddard

A promise is a promise… Portia MacArthur is possibly the best courier in the galaxy. Severely scarred from a training accident, she prefers the solitude of space to social interactions, especially ones involving her family. Vlad Millington, new Generalissimo of the Kinrod Syndicate, is a noted rake of galactic fame about to choose his bride. When Portia and Vlad were ten, she promised him she would be there on the day of his betrothal with a fleet of spaceships. Nothing-not social disgust, not her brother’s idiocy, not a mysterious interstellar predator, not even the black hole in the centre of the galaxy-will stop her from keeping that promise. She just hopes Vlad’s still worth it.

A short novella by my current favourite author (The Hands of the Emperor! SQUEEEE) but a standalone from any of the other series. A lovely short read, and a sweet story – I really like Portia’s solution to the spaceships! I do agree with another reviewer, though, that it would have been really good to see more of the other brides; what is their background? Why are they there? And what happens next?

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

Years ago, Old Earth sent forth sisters and brothers into the vast dark of the prodigal colonies armed only with crucifixes and iron faith. Now, the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are on an interstellar mission of mercy aboard Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, a living, breathing ship which seems determined to develop a will of its own. When the order receives a distress call from a newly-formed colony, the sisters discover that the bodies and souls in their care – and that of the galactic diaspora – are in danger. And not from void beyond, but from the nascent Central Governance and the Church itself.

A short-novel or long-novella (the next one, Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, is out in Feb 2022) which focuses on the slightly motley crew of nuns who travel the stars to bring faith and healing to colonies. The focus is very much on the trials and decisions that they make, and the faith behind it; and how faith might warp and change out in the void, or how a central authority might try to control it. It’s a good read, and the characters – and their choices – are all interesting; I’m not sure if the next one is on my TBR, but this one is worth a read if you’re into the slightly more philosophical-concept sci-fi – and living ships.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

The Iskat Empire rules its vassal planets through a system of treaties – so when Prince Taam, key figure in a political alliance, is killed, a replacement must be found. His widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with the disreputable aristocrat Kiem, in a bid to keep rising hostilities between two worlds under control. But Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and when Jainan himself is a suspect, he and Kiem must navigate the perils of the Iskat court, solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war . . .

Well, this is frankly adorable. The sci-fi setting is a good backdrop for the political scenery that makes this relationship so good and interesting, and the tensions – and interweaving problem/solutions – between Jainan and Kiem are wonderful. The characters themselves are brilliant; both complex and flawed, and both bouncing off each other in a series of misunderstandings/understandings/tropes that work perfectly. I absolutely loved this, and it’s a very sweet story. It also looks like there might be a further two (!!) in the series, which would be fabulous!

Book Review: The Hands of the Emperor

The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard

An impulsive word can start a war.
A timely word can stop one.
A simple act of friendship can change the course of history.

Cliopher Mdang is the personal secretary of the Last Emperor of Astandalas, the Lord of Rising Stars, the Lord Magus of Zunidh, the Sun-on-Earth, the god.
He has spent more time with the Emperor of Astandalas than any other person.
He has never once touched his lord.
He has never called him by name.
He has never initiated a conversation.

One day Cliopher invites the Sun-on-Earth home to the proverbially remote Vangavaye-ve for a holiday.

The mere invitation could have seen Cliopher executed for blasphemy.
The acceptance upends the world.

Where do I even start with this?


This is also highly recommended for anyone who liked The Curse of Chalion or A Memory Called Empire, or wished GRRM’s stories were a bit less sprawling and murderous and just a bit nicer.

On the surface, this is a story about a Chancellor putting his head on the line to suggest that his Emperor, the Radiant and Illustrious One, might like to take a holiday.

(The Emperor does not Do holidays. Or emotions, really. Or anything beyond huge works of magic, overseeing court functions and occasionally wrangling committees.)

And the Emperor says yes.

The slight issue with this, of course, is they then have to navigate how that all works, when you’ve got a bunch of rituals (and some small issues like; if the Emperor touches anyone, it could mean death) and strictures and prohibitions and courtly ceremonies and… he just wants to go snorkelling?

This is a story about an Emperor going on holiday, and the friendships that come from that; and how those friendships change both the people involved, and change the world.

And underneath, there are some absolutely wonderful undercurrents. It’s a story about political change and how one person, in the right place, can move mountains. It’s a story about culture and self, and how to carry it with you, and what you give up when you leave or return. It’s a story about family and friends and assumptions and bias, and what we value, and learning to value others and ourselves. It’s a story about racism and prejudice and navigating cultural differences and change alongside personal and political change. And it’s a story about friendship, and love, and how connections make the world.

In short; it’s a book that I have read and re-read, alongside The Goblin Emperor. It’s absolutely huge (969 pages in print!) but also keeps the story very tightly told; it’s just long, rather than being complicated, and it never feels boring or slow. It’s about people, and it’s so sweet and good while also taking you on a rollercoaster of emotions – and all over the Empire in terms of cultural expectations! There are a wonderful set of characters, from the main quartet around the Emperor to Cliopher’s (very large) family, to the Princes and politicians, to the scholars, to those lost and gone but not forgotten. It’s a beautifully-told story, and is absolutely on my favourites list.

There is also a sequel – The Return of Fitzroy Angursell – and it’s a wonderful sequel; I bought it straight after finishing Hands and plunged straight in, and it’s both a wonderful change of pace and an excellent continuation (plus I did almost scream when I figured the name out, and then had to go and re-read Hands with new knowledge in mind!) It is shorter, but there are more stories about the characters; The Bride of the Blue Wind follows Pali, and Stargazy Pie is set in the same universe.