Review: Binding Shadows (Minor Spoilers)

FeaturedA brown skinned woman is held by a brown skinned man with his arm around her, holding her from the back. A wolf howls in the background.

Its another wintery day here at NJB and we’ve got a lovely treat for you, a review of ‘Binding Shadows’ by Jasmine Silvera! But first, as always.

Content warnings/trigger warnings: violent death of secondary character on page, sexual harassment of main character, misogyny, rape culture, viscera of animals described, deception between main characters about their pasts, some power imbalance at the beginning of the romantic arc, but resolved. As always if you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me here or on Twitter for more information on content.

We’ve got some amazing tropes to play with to start the book off and it was part of why I snatched it up. Its also so amazing to meet new diverse voices, especially in paranormal romance.

Binding Shadows has two main characters, the lovely Barbara and her counterpart, Tobias. Barbara is a witch who grew up without teaching for the most part and views her powers as a small ‘grace’ that she can do in limited spurts. Tobias grew up in a family of werewolves, but had a less than pleasant introduction to the wonders of growing fur and fights his nature with all his might.

They meet in the university where they both work. Barbara however is being stymied in moving forward in her career after an unwanted advance from a senior faculty member gets her labeled as ‘difficult’ and sees her career slowly swirling down the drain. Tobias enters the picture as the new faculty member who everyone is a little afraid of with his terse words and brusk demeanor (that our readers eventually learn covers his stutter). They spark together instantly, but its a complicated situation, especially after Tobias learns of her skills at research and taps her to work on his team.

I have to say, the author handles the power dynamic imbalance that occurs beautifully. I was super worried when I began that part but she found a way through that thorny mess that helped me breathe easy. I won’t spoil how, but fear not, its not as bad as it looks when you get there.

They navigate the world of academia with all of its politics and in and out groups well, while also slowly becoming more and more interested in each other. However, they both have their secrets to keep and this world is not a kind one for magical people. Its ruled by necromancers who keep a rather tight grip on any other magical activity and hunt down other magical individuals.

The romance continues, with a memorable hotel stay with only one bed, a beautiful backless velvet dress (the description made the costumer inside me die in the best way), some thrilling heroics and close misses and a distinct love of old books and history that pervades the whole piece. The librarian part of me was very pleased.

Its a true romance, with a HEA and a lot of sweet moments. I loved the scenes with Tobias’s family and can’t wait to see more of them and his brothers in the next books. I can see some of the dynamics already. His mother particularly really crept into my heart and found a space to stay. Her desire to protect her boys while also knowing her own strengths hit home and her feelings about being a witch who’d made a home on soil her ancestors hadn’t grown from really resonated with the diaspora part of me. I also loved the choice of Prague as a setting and the author’s clear research and enjoyment of the space. Having been there once in college, I found myself enjoying all the little details and tidbits.

My biggest complaint is that I felt the story occasionally wandered a bit or felt like it took a while to get where it was going. I also wanted more concrete detail on the necromancers and how they interacted within the world. I can feel the edges of great world building but I definitely wanted more.

All in all, a great first book in a series and I will definitely be looking for the next two. Here’s to more great works!

All the best,

NJB

Review: ‘The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting’ by K. J. Charles (Mild spoilers)

Its a beautiful day in Romancelandia and I’m here to review a book that has blue birds of joy tweeting all around me like I’m a fairy tale princess. Yes, its true. The new K.J. Charles is coming out soon and its glorious as ever. But first, the big things.

Content warnings and trigger warnings: Discussion of past physical, financial and verbal abuse of main characters and secondary characters, financial insecurity, deception between main characters and secondary characters, discussion of past deception between main and secondary characters, retelling of slurs used against main characters, internalized homophobia, periodic specific sexism, discussion of secondary character’s past enslavement and slavery in general and class disparity between main characters that results in some complex consent discussions. As always, feel free to reach out to me via twitter if you need more description or clarity on any of these before diving into the book.

I didn’t quite know what to expect, as K.J had said on Twitter that this book had essentially abducted her muse and run off with it while she was trying to write another book. But clearly, it knew what it was about.

Robin Loxleigh (obviously not his real name) and Marianne Loxleigh (also so not her real name) have come to London with one goal: to marry rich and finally be secure. By hook or by crook or by heated look, they will make it happen.

There’s just one problem: feelings. Those pesky things. Oh and consciences and also the fact that the wealthy person Marianne eventually ends up going for is an absolute turd of the finest water by the name of Lord Tachbrook, a wealthy marquess. Robin sets his eyes on a slightly less elevated mark of young Alice Fenwick, a plain girl with a secret fortune that will be bestowed upon her following her marriage. However, Robin begins to like Alice and finds himself somewhat conflicted about his decision to marry her, knowing that he is not attracted to women.

Enter Hartlebury, Alice’s uncle by marriage who senses that perhaps not everything is as it should be with Robin. Though a peer himself, Hartlebury manages the brewery for his sister after her husband’s passing and enjoys himself far more spending time with Cits and those of lower class than himself. He begins the process of finding out why a handsome, charming man like Robin all of a sudden wants to hover around his plain, bookish niece. In the process, he finds himself looking a bit closer at Robin than is really comfortable for both of them, until its quite comfortable.

I won’t go into too much more detail, because frankly the fun of this book is watching it all unfold, but its utterly spectacular. A true Happily Ever After at the end for all involved, with trouncing of classist jerks and freedom to be who they are for others. If you’re feeling a bit stifled by the world and wanting a way out, I can’t recommend this book enough. It hits all the right points and leaves one slightly unable to start another book afterwards cause you know it won’t quite live up until the book high wears off.

As always, I received this book in exchange for an honest review and cannot tell you how happy I am to own it. I’ll probably reread it later this week, just for fun, but snag a copy, you won’t regret it.

Until next time,

NJB

Review: K.J. Charles’s ‘The Sugared Game’ (Spoiler free)

I often say that the highest amount of praise I can offer a book these days is saying I lost sleep reading it in the wee hours of the night. What with having a toddler at home these days, sleep is the most precious of currencies, only outweighed by alone time.

I woke up 2 am randomly and decided to finish this book if that tells you anything. I am currently typing this review at 4:45 am.

Its really good. Like really good.

Ok, so some TW and CW: Death, dismemberment, period typical homophobia, deceit, conflict between family, misogyny, health difficulties, survivor’s guilt, discussion of prior self harming habits, and a great deal of lying on many people’s parts.

So, if you read the previous book, you will know that Kim Secretan, our erstwhile protagonist’s love interest, is the truest meaning of a disaster. At the beginning of the book, we find out that he has scampered off after a lovely time with Will Darling, our protagonist and failed to call.

Clearly, he has issues. But Will, while good naturedly stomping around his bookshop and attempting to take his best friend out for drinks, stumbles back into his world by chance and the whole merry go round starts again.

We’ve got Zodiac back in the picture, a lot of skulking about, smooching in shadows and, from my part, the intensely desperate desire to get Kim into therapy if it exists at this time.

The book is also a fascinating look at how damaging the Great War was to England and how it changed ideas of class and proper behavior. I always love K.J.’s attention to detail and period.

Its very much got the feel of some of the later Feximal books, so fans of that will likely enjoy it. I would say its blood and gore content is roughly equivalent to a modern mystery show, like Elementary.

However, if you love mystery, suspense, figuring out your sexuality on the run and being slightly too attached to your weapons for anyone’s comfort, you will love this book. I can’t wait to read the next one and god I hope someone gives Kim a nice holiday and some books on loving yourself or something cause he is going to make me cry at this rate.

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

Temporary Hiatus

Hey friends!

I’m sure you’ve noticed its been a bit quiet here. I’ve been doing a lot of juggling with childcare and the pandemic lately, along with lots of other things and unfortunately, haven’t been able to get much done on ARC’s and reviews.

So I’m announcing a temporary hiatus, hopefully lasting about 2-3 months for the blog. I’m hoping with a little time, I’ll be able to get back on the horse and start giving you quality content again.

As always, thank you for all your support and I can’t wait to be back squeeing over delicious books with you all soon.

All the best,

Shivani of Not Just a Buzzword

Review: Ink in the Blood (Spoilers!)

So this was a long awaited book for me, cause tattoos and magic? Plus a queer friendly world? Sign me up!

However, before we delve in, I have to give you the trigger and content warnings cause holy hand grenade Batman, this book has a lot of them.

Content and Trigger warnings: torture, murder, blackmail, systemic oppression, self mutilation, alcoholism, family abandonment, body possession, children being sold into religious based slavery and supernatural haunting. I sincerely recommend a warm blanket and a good friend on speed dial if any of these things hit your brain in a rough way, cause this book is graphic in its description in places. 

Also, for those coming from Romancelandia, I will warn that this book, in my opinion, does not have a HEA or a HFN. Its one of my biggest gripes about the book and part of why my rating is lower.

Now on to the meat of the book.

The setting is super interesting, based in a world with a religion based on a child who had the power to create magical tattoos that helped guide people and make decisions. However, the child is (spoiler alert) murdered in said legend of the beginning of the faith. She eventually returns, but its complicated, as you can find out in the book.

What is left behind is a huge chest of magical ink and small children are ‘called’ into the service of this faith at a very young age by the presence of a tattoo.

Unfortunately, as we look further into the system and meet our main characters, Celia and Anya, we discover that this system is distinctly crooked and exploitative. There is little to no chance to escape and extensive torture of the children and teens for any possible infraction.

I won’t lie, I almost stopped reading at some of these places.

Frankly, it got a bit much for me. At certain points, it almost felt as if it was trying to keep being as shocking as possible and didn’t seem to serve as much of a narrative purpose. I get proving that this temple and the faith are totally horrible, but after a bit it felt overdone.

But we move on as our main characters escape, through a series of cunning maneuvers. They join up with a local circus troupe and find their found family. This piece was some of my favorite parts of the book. Lots of trying to learn how to trust others, be with people and dealing with trauma and the realness of having to keep a secret when you want to share with people you care about. Tons of fascinating characters as well and amazing found family vibes as well as queer finding yourself vibes.

I could have read a whole book about just the circus troupe.

However, their safe place becomes compromised and our two main characters become embroiled in a conflict that takes over the rest of the book and segways into the second. I won’t spoil this portion for you, as its a fairly significant part of the book.

Though this book has such incredible potential, I found myself disappointed. The gratuitous nature of the pain inflicted on the main characters and side characters really put me off at times. Maybe its because of 2020 or just life in general, but I’m so tired of seeing characters tortured to prove…something? How bad a place is? I don’t know.

Also, the queer and gender affirming stuff I had been sold on the cover? Sadly seemed somewhat perfunctory and only seemed to exist in the beginning part of the book. The friendship between Celia and Anya periodically seems like it might verge into a love story but never manages to make it there. The love story that does play out has major enemies to lovers vibes and is pretty interesting, but I wish we could have had less sidelining of Anya.

Gender wise, there are aura like creations called tenors that are part of how people read each other’s gender. However, most characters appear to be along the cisgender spectrum and minus one character, no one is shown as having a nonbinary or mixed tenor presentations.

Lastly, the ending. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that I found myself upset that what felt like the potential for a HEA or HFN is pulled out from under the reader’s feet at the last possible second to make room for a sequel. I felt cheated. All that pain, all that struggle and such a huge, intense final fight against the main villain with loss and intense feeling only for things to be unresolved at the very last second.

For that reason, though I love parts of this book, I’ve given it 3.5 stars. Such potential but it didn’t deliver how I hoped.

Your mileage might vary, especially if you like intense angst. And as always, I received a free copy of this book in exchange for writing an honest review.

 

Review: Slippery Creatures

Two white men are pictured. One is blonde, thin and seated in a yellow suit on a chair. The other is thin, with dark hair and sideburns and is wearing historical evening wear and standing in front of him holding a book.

Hello happy readers! Its good to see you, even if the world is a dumpster fire these days. But books are good and that’s why we’re here. Cause joy is lovely.

We’re on to KJ Charles new masterpiece of twists and turns, ‘Slippery Creatures’! But first, some content and trigger warnings. They will be in italics below if you wish to skip them.

Trigger warnings: Described graphic violence, torture scenes, discussions of trench warfare, use of improvised weapons, near death experiences, imprisonment, denial of food and water, fear for safety in home environment, use of guns.

Content warnings: Unclear motivations of one main character, some deception around motives around sexual encounters, period specific homophobia and legal consequences thereof.

Can’t say too much more without spoilers, but if you have any need for more specific CW or TW, feel free to ping me on twitter @ShivaniSWriting and I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

So, with all that out there, let me tell you how much I loved this. I’ve been having the worst time reading new books. I’m sure many of you have been in the same boat. The only ones I’ve managed to get through so far are Nalini Singh’s Psy Changeling series, Cat Sebastian’s ‘Two Rogues Make a Right’ and this one. But they’re all of such variety that I found myself wondering why. Part of it was just the realization that I trusted the authors to not hit me with more than I could handle.

But part of it was just that I never seem to get bored with their plots.

For example, this book is a great example of some of what K.J. does best, which is work within tropes and still manage to surprise the reader. I continuously think I know exactly what’s going on and find myself surprised by motivations, character choices and the commitment K.J. has to having her characters be fleshed out, real people. Even her minor characters, like Phoebe and Maisie in this book (please, let them get their own book, it would be so good) have lovely bits and pieces of their own world brought in.

I especially loved that Phoebe, while being femme and young, is not placed in some kind of lower position but is seen as having her own value. She’s not a project for someone, nor is she helpless.

While it is slightly stereotypical for Maisie to be of a lower class than Phoebe, I loved that she was a suffragette and highly devoted to her family. She’s also clever and loyal. I would love to see more of Maisie as I am never satisfied with the amount of time women of color get in historical works but hopefully that will be addressed later in the trilogy.

The one caution I will give is that this is a 3 book trilogy and the HFN at the end of the book is distinctly complicated. We have a lot more to learn and unpack with these characters, which is utterly thrilling but may not be what some are looking for in a lighter read.

However, if you want an utterly engrossing book, with twists and turns all over and romance that makes your spine tingle, I cannot advocate for this one enough.

I read it in one day and I think I might need to go back over it to find all the little reveals and tells. I can’t wait for the next one.

And if you’d like to support my work and Not Just a Buzzword, feel free to purchase the book through the link band we’ll receive a small percentage of the sale. Thank you as always for your support!

https://books2read.com/u/4NLQJx

Review: Two Rogues Make a Right (Spoilers!)

Ok, its been a while due to the upheavals of Romancelandia and many other unfun things we will not address in this blog, cause no one wants that. But we’re back here at NJB and we have an amazing book for you. This ARC came in the other day and it promptly jumped the line and demanded to be read and who am I not to listen?

(A person with bad impulse control at the moment, clearly.)

But my failing is your gain, because you get to hear about this book way before it comes out in June and you can preorder it because oh my god, its like a kitten cuddle in book form and you are going to want this.

But first, content warnings and trigger warnings: Discussion of addiction and recovery, long term parental neglect, trauma, abuse of power against a MC by an authority figure mentioned after the fact, scarring, period typical medical conditions, possibility of death, and sexual abuse committed by a relative of one of the MC’s. 

Though the warnings sound bad, Cat is a master of putting tough things on the page without pulling them straight into your subconscious and messing you up. She’s gentle with it and its more of an explanation of what the characters have been through than gritty, gory details. But your mileage may vary.

Will and Martin are two characters we’ve been circling around for the Sedgewick series, hearing bits and pieces about and meeting in spurts. I’ve been waiting for their book since Cat said she was writing it. If you read ‘A Gentleman Never Keeps Score’, you will have seen a bit of both of them and some of the events referenced in this story. Though it could be a standalone, I definitely recommend reading at least that book as there is a lot of reference back and forth between the two.

(Its also fantastic.)

Martin and Will have been friends for a very long time, through a great deal of struggles. Finally though, they are figuring out through their thickheaded, horribly communicating ways that they really actually love each other as more than just friends.

The problem is, they keep being maudlin, self sacrificing, not communicating and even have one great trope of a badly worded letter to confuse everything before the HEA. Its nearly Austen-ian levels of misunderstandings and I loved every minute of it.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but the pining is distinctly present, as is the lovely trope of the grumpy one loves the sunshine one. I never expected to like Martin much but I really warmed to him in this book. He makes so much sense in the context of Will and you really start to understand his decisions and his manner so much better through this book.

This book also has a particularly delicate and beautiful dedication to discussing the importance of choice, both in bed and out. Will and Martin navigate how to express consent without hitting any of each other’s personal difficulties and its honestly beautiful and feels so natural. If you loved Courtney Milan’s ‘A Governess Affair’, and its dedication to active, informed consent, you will find this to be a new favorite to put alongside that one.

So in conclusion, its adorable, gorgeous, bumbling, slightly frustrating in the best way sort of romance between two people who’ve known each other forever. If you need a small slice of comfort in your life, I intensely recommend this book. I will promptly be rereading it, because frankly, the world is short on comfort right now and I need fluff.

Until next time,

NJB

*I received an arc in exchange for an honest review and I don’t think they were prepared for the level of squeeing I planned.

NJB Time Travel Edition: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan (Spoilers!)

A light skinned woman in a large red dress stands with her back to the viewer and her face in profile. She has brown hair and a spray of pink flowers in her hair.

So its been a wild week in Romancelandia, but my patrons choose this amazing book for our next Time Travel review, so let’s jump into the magic that is Courtney Milan’s first published book in the Brothers Sinister series!

Trigger warnings and content warnings: family estrangement, reference to rape of secondary character, misogyny directed towards main character by secondary character, reference to memories of being attacked by a mob of people, period typical sexism and classism. 

Wilhemina Pursling (not her real name) looks to the outside world like a quiet, spinster in waiting, who’s hoping against hope for an offer from some man so she can live a life of relative comfort and obscurity. However, she has a complex and dangerous secret and she’s not interested in catching anyone’s eye in case its found out.

Enter Robert Blaisdell, the 9th Duke of Clermont (but you can call him Robert). They meet hilariously in a library behind a set of curtains and a davenport when they are both hiding for different reasons and he can’t quite seem to take his eyes off Minnie.

But Minnie’s past is catching up with her and she has no time for the Duke of Clermont or his conversation. She needs safety and security, not men who tell her to look them in the eye. Even if she’s very much into the outwardly confident and attractive Duke of Clermont.

I won’t go into more detail about how things progress, cause its such a stunning book and the love story is so real and believable. I love how Minnie and Robert handle their insecurities, difficulties and pasts with so much grace and reality. There’s no shoving down or repressing to make it work. Robert and Minnie’s difficulties are managed and seen. Courtney does a great job writing PTSD and anxiety representation. Minnie and Robert care for each other along with their difficulties, not in spite of them.

One of the things I also love about this book is the banter, the wit and the push and pull between the two main characters. It never feels like someone is losing, but rather that they are playing a game together and relishing the feeling of having someone match them.

Lastly, Minnie has a facial scar that doesn’t get washed away, diminished or transformed. Its just part of her and Robert accepts it as part of her. There’s no need to try to change it or hide it. I appreciated this, because it seems like so many romances try to make things like this magically disappear. It seemed like another push back on pretty privilege and I’ve been looking to find more works like that in romance.

So if you are looking for a book about two people who’ve given up on love and been knocked around by the world finding each other and making it work, I can’t recommend The Duchess War enough. Its a frequent reread for me and I hope it’ll end up on your shelf as one too.

Until next time,

NJB

NJB Time Travel Edition Review: Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J. Charles (Spoilers!)

A black man in a cravat and blue fitted coat poses with a cane on a country road. His face appears serious and he looks directly at the viewer.

Its time for a spin in our lovely NJB time travel machine! Today, we’re going back to visit a gorgeous book. ‘Wanted, a Gentleman’ is one of the first K.J. Charles books I ever read and it definitely filled my soul with love for it, because of its commitment to diverse characters, A+ character development and its tendency to make me write all the quotes down, cause they are just so damn good.

But first, content/trigger warnings: racism, discussion of slavery, internalized homophobia, mentions of physical violence, discussion of marital rape, extortion, planned physical violence towards a MC with consent of all parties.

Some historical books try to run away from the realities of slavery and emancipation while doing romance. But K.J. Charles always looks straight at the difficult moments, without flinching and without marinating in them to an extent that feels overdone. Martin St. Vincent is a freed black gay man, living in London, doing a favor for the family who previously owned him. Theodore Swann is a white gay man who makes his living by publishing novels (which he claims are bad, but aren’t really that bad) and by running a small newspaper where individuals can advertise for romantic connections.

The only child of the family has been carrying on a love affair with someone via letters and using Theodore’s newspaper and thus we have our meet cute.

Theodore is a charming, desperately frustrating, scamp of a human, trying to get out from under the yoke of a particularly awful debt. Martin is a decent, caring man who wants to do this favor for the family that formerly owned him because it puts them on more of an equal playing field and because of some complex internal feelings about debt he was towards them, as well as caring for the young child he once knew.

Through a series of hilarious and realistic methods, they end up in a coach together, hurtling towards the Scottish border in an attempt to stop a hasty wedding. On the way, Theodore learns a great deal about being a black man in England (the stares, the suspicion, the moments when people assume a thousand things about you) while Martin learns a great deal about inconvenient lust. They cascade together eventually, with a great deal of snark and awkward moments.

Its just so god damn believable. Some of their interactions are so real and hit right in the heart. Moments when Martin corrects something so simple about what Theodore is assuming and Theodore takes it to heart. Moments when they realize both how little they know each other and yet how much they want to. It hits me, right in the chest, every time with this book.

Because the book doesn’t assume that everything is hunky dory since Martin is free, nor does it focus on the micro aggressions of strangers around him. Instead, it focuses on the real and complex moments between him and someone he’s coming to care for, who is trying to do and say the right thing and inevitably messes it up. And as someone with a marginalized identity who loves others with different intersections, this is exactly how it goes. You never know how bad your blindspots are til you slam right into them. The most important thing you learn is how to apologize and own it right.

And Theodore learns and does it well. Its part of why they work together, along with a thousand other things.

I won’t spoil the twists, turns and loveliness of the later part of the book for you. I could talk about this book for far too long, but just know that if you need:

-hope on a bad day

-two people trying to figure out how to open their hearts to each other

-hijinx

-great dialogue

Then you need look no further than ‘Wanted, a Gentleman’. I give it five stars and it lives in my frequent reread shelf, which is the highest honor I can give anything.

Until our next time travel edition,

Not Just a Buzzword

Review: The Good Luck Girls (Spoilers!)

A black woman with natural hair stands in profile to the viewer. The skin on her neck and creeping up to her cheek has a difference in color from the rest of her skin. She is wearing a leather jacket, a bandana and a bandolier. Presumably pants as well.

This book’s a bit out of the ordinary for me, being more fantasy and action than pure romance, but its so fantastic I definitely had to review it. A note that this one’s content and trigger warnings are a little harder and more intense than my usual fare.

Content and trigger warnings: Attempted rape described on the page, telepathic intrusion, physical assault, murder, auctioning off of people’s first sexual experience, trauma, near death experiences, death of secondary character, description of traumatic event involving a gun, MC and SC’s dealing with traumatic experiences. The overall feel and intensity of violence is that of a Western, but with more described violence against women. The main character has distinct flashback experiences and disassociative like episodes due to trauma. 

Ok, so this book is not your average bear, either for this review site or in general. But oh my god, its such a beautiful breath of fresh air, both in fantasy, world building and in amazing survivor works. The core crew of this book is survivors of assault in one way or another and watching them band together and fight their way to freedom was cathartic and gorgeous.

The rough plot is this: in this particular universe, the equivalent of the ‘Wild West’ was settled by two groups of people, fairbloods and dustbloods. Dustbloods have in some way traded away their shadow in the past and have a legacy of being defined in this way. In this universe, sometimes girls who are part of families who are deeply poor are sold to brothels and become known as Good Luck Girls. They are kept by these houses until around 16 and then become sex workers, with their first sexual experience being auctioned off to local wealthy individuals in town.

Good Luck Girls are tattooed with a magical tattoo that blooms as they move towards puberty, which they are unable to cover without immense pain over time. When the tattoo reaches maturation, that’s when their first night is auctioned off.

I will not lie, the first quarter of this book is pretty massively trigger filled for survivors of sexual assault. It gets better, but its part of why I want to definitely stress the warning. 

Aster and her sister Clementine were sold to the Good Luck House several years ago. Aster’s already moved to working as a ‘Sunset Girl’, the term used for a person whose services are being sold by the house. Clementine is just about to go through her first night, after being auctioned off to a local big shot. A series of events which I won’t spoil for you (but can provide via DM if you are concerned about triggers) has them and several other Good Luck Girls on the run from the house, chasing the possibility of freedom.

Along the way, they meet up with the lovely and enterprising Zee, who works as a guide through the area known as the Scar and helps them find their way to the best possibility they have for freedom. There’s bank robberies, discussions about vengeance, learning about each other along the way and tons of revelations about life, each other and trust.

Mostly what I love about the book though is the camaraderie between the whole crew, how they stick together and the real and intense look at how survivors can band together to help each other out. Its inspiring, lovely and real. There’s a lot in here about healing as well and learning how to deal with the parts of trauma that stick with you.

So if you’re looking for a book that makes you want to cheer as people try to have healthy relationships in the wake of trauma and learn how to cope, as well as be one heck of a thrilling ride straight to the end, I’d highly recommend this book.

I give it 4 stars, not because of problems with the writing but because some of the setting bits could have used some more fleshing out and there were times the fantasy bits felt thin in places. I still don’t entirely understand what dustblood means and it felt like something that disappeared as the book went on. Also, though there is some discussion of how one secondary character is from an indigenous culture, I felt the backgrounds of some of the other characters were a bit more sketched than laid out. More time in the world might help and I hope we get to see more in this setting.

Until next time,

NJB

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and it was so utterly magical. Books are amazing y’all.