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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett


I can't remember when I first heard about Grace Year by Kim Liggett. I think I might have heard a review on YouTube. In any case, when I first heard the plot summary for it, I was instantly intrigued. It sounded like Handmaid's Tale for young adults, which should be right up my alley. As usual, I bought a copy but then stuck it on my shelf and ignored it for years. I made it part of my 22 in 2022 Challenge this year so I could finally get around to reading it.

The story is set in a society where women are viewed a wives first and people second. They have no rights and are the property of their husbands; their sole purpose is to produce offspring, preferably sons. The population is very superstitious, believing that young girls are capable of magic that can be used to ensnare men or cause other kinds of trouble. To prevent this, they make all young women that turn sixteen participate in a ritual called  the "grace year." The ritual consists of being sent away to a remote camp in the woods for an entire year. The thought is that when the girls return to the village, they will have burned all their dangerous magic off and be ready for marriage. Many don't return at all, succumbing to the harsh conditions and other dangers in the woods. It is a brutal custom, and the townspeople are forbidden to speak of it in casual conversation. What exactly happens there is shrouded in secrecy, but the women of the village all return haunted from the experience.

As the story begins, a young girl named Tierney is about to embark on her own grace year with a group of other young girls. She is different from most of the other women in the village. She has no desire to be a wife and no interest in a life of homemaking. She prefers to be outside, working with her hands, and enjoys whatever independence she is able to carve out for herself. She also rejects a lot of the town's superstitions and is relentlessly curious about the grace year, but as it's forbidden to speak of it, all she has heard are whispered rumors. She's determined to survive it though, and possibly help support the group through it. 

When she arrives at the camp with the other girls, however, she quickly realizes that surviving the grace year is no simple matter of sharing her wilderness survival skills. Complex social structures emerge almost immediately, and Tierney quickly finds herself on the outside of the group by refusing to believe in the magic they are supposed to possess. To make matters worse, something strange does appear to be going on with the girls; some bizarre and frightening behaviors start to manifest shortly after they arrive, and it's impossible to determine if its a symptom of their trauma or really some kind of supernatural occurrence.  In order to make it back home, Tierney must figure out how to break the girls free from the toxic ideas they've been indoctrinated with since birth and teach them to work together.

I thought this book was pretty good and I enjoyed reading it. Liggett's writing was suitably dark and creepy, matching the subject matter well, and the society she created was downright frightening. As with any dystopian novel, it contained snatches of real world issues driven to their extremes. In Tierney's world, women are placed into arranged marriages by their fathers and judged solely on their obedience and their ability to bear children. I couldn't help but draw some parallels to the current situation with abortion rights being whittled away in the U.S. Could women losing more and more rights over time lead us to a society like this one? It's chilling to think about, and I think it's good for young adult readers to grapple with questions like these. 

The themes in the book centered around human rights, independence, thinking for yourself, and the power of working together, which are all very worthy ideas to explore. The journey of Tierney and the rest of the girls was a sad one, but it was ultimately one of hope. The way Liggett spoke up for women's rights while weaving in these universal ideas that are important for everyone to understand was excellent, and the plot of her story drew much-needed attention to the troubles women have faced throughout history and could face again one day if their rights continue to be eroded away. For those reasons alone, I rated the book at four stars.

It wasn't a perfect read though, and what held it back for me was the ending. I think the story should have been left a bit more ambiguous, with the girls returning from their grace year back to the village to face an uncertain, but different, future. Unfortunately, however, the story continues on for a bit and reveals something that I thought was too convenient and unrealistic. It didn't feel quite right to me after the gritty reality of the rest of the story.

Ending aside though, The Grace Year was an interesting read about an important topic. I think young adult readers will enjoy thinking about the big ideas in its pages and connecting bits and pieces of it with our real world. I'm glad I finally took the time to give it a try.

Challenge Tally

22 in 2022: 11/22

Total Books Read in 2022: 44

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim


I first heard about Miracle Creek through a YouTube review. The reviewer really seemed to like it, so of course, I was interested. Courtroom dramas aren't usually my type of story, but this one sounded really intriguing. I decided to give it a go. I picked it up at Barnes and Noble a while ago, but didn't get around to reading it back then. I made it part of my 22 in 2022 Challenge, and finally started it this week.

The novel centers around the murder trial of a woman named Kitt and a child named Henry, who were both killed while undergoing medical treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. Someone set a fire near the oxygen tanks and caused the chamber to ignite, setting off a deadly explosion. On trial for this crime is Elizabeth Ward, Henry's mother. She was bringing Henry to these treatments to try and improve his autism, and her behavior before and during the fire appears to point to her committing this act of arson to release herself from the struggle of caring for her son. She claims to be innocent, but the circumstances of the crime definitely cast suspicion on her. The prosecution's case isn't as straightforward as it may seem though, and several of the other people that were around during the incident are hiding secrets about what really happened.

The narrative shifts perspective with each chapter, and each person that narrates reveals more information about that night. We hear from Pak Yoo and his wife Young Yoo, who run the hyperbaric treatment facility, Mary, their teenage daughter, Matt, another patient receiving treatment, Teresa, a mother of another young patient, and Elizabeth herself. Throughout their pieces of the story, a larger picture gradually begins to emerge of a group of people dealing with a variety of complex issues including grief, racism, abuse, and loneliness. All of these factors eventually come together to create the explosion, and each person's actions, both intentional and unintentional, have a part to play in the resulting tragedy.  

I really enjoyed this novel and flew through it in just a couple of days. Kim does a nice job of creating a suspenseful and well-paced plot - she gives you information in bits and pieces that make you want to keep on reading to figure everything out. The plot was sufficiently twisty enough to keep me guessing and I liked how all the varying perspectives came together. The story was designed well and it was a solid reading experience. 

I think its best element, though, was the emotional honesty. Kim doesn't shy away from having her characters express ugly thoughts, and that made everything feel more genuine. In particular, the feelings of the parents in this story towards their children were sometimes shocking, but very honest. Providing long term care for children with profound disabilities is an exhausting and frustrating business, and the resentment, loneliness, and depression of the characters in these situations was clearly described. The endless love they felt for their children was there as well, and the difficulty of dealing with all these feelings really humanized the characters. The way the characters grappled with real world issues like autism, child abuse, sexual assault, living as an immigrant, and infertility were portrayed well too. The story felt deeper than a typical courtroom drama story. It was a page-turner full of mini-cliffhangers and surprising twists, but it was about real things as well. It was more complex than I was expecting. I think it would make a great movie or limited series.

I wasn't too sure about a few aspects of the story. The way autism was portrayed left me a little uneasy - a lot of dubious "treatments" for it are discussed, and their inclusion is a necessary part of the story, but some of them appeared to actually be effective, which I wasn't too sure about. It felt weird that some truly kooky stuff was given a feeling of legitimacy. I know that the whole idea of autism being something to "treat" or "cure" is a huge point of contention within that community in the first place, and I found myself wondering what parents of children with autism would think about some of the stuff in this book. To be clear, I don't think that Kim did a poor job of presenting the issue, but something about it felt weird. Maybe that was the point. After all, Elizabeth was shown to be obsessed with trying to "cure" Henry, but this obsession was also shown to be based in her love for him. The push and pull of feelings between her being abusive and her just being a concerned parent was constant and messy to sort through, so maybe leaving the effectiveness of the treatments ambiguous was intentional. It just didn't sit quite right with me. 

The ending of the story fell a tiny bit flat for me too. It relied on people feeling guilty and confessing to various things, which I didn't find to be terribly realistic. I didn't dislike the ending or anything, but I felt like it could have been more exciting. The build up to everything was fantastic, and then the resolution just didn't totally match up. 

Overall though, I really did enjoy Miracle Creek and I'm glad that I put it on my reading list for this year. It was a surprisingly deep read with a lot of complex emotions and issues woven into its plot. I am looking forward to seeing what Angie Kim comes up with in the future.  

Challenge Tally

22 in 2022: 10/22

Total Books Read in 2022: 43

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Storm of Echoes by Christelle Dabos


**This review will contain some spoilers for the earlier books in the series**

For the past several weeks I have been making my way through Christelle Dabos' Mirror Visitor Quartet. I was finally up to the last book and I had really been enjoying everything so far, so I decided to charge full steam ahead and finish the series off. I started in on The Storm of Echoes looking for a satisfying conclusion to Ophelia and Thorn's strange and dangerous adventure, or at least a conclusion that I could somewhat understand. The plot of these books had gotten increasingly complex, and I knew that I was in for a wild ride, but I was really hoping that the story would end in a way that made sense to me.

The plot of the novel picks up soon after where the last book left off, with Ophelia and Thorn reunited, passionately in love, and ready to continue their investigations into God and The Other. They don't have any time to waste. Increasingly large chunks of arks have been falling from the sky, and it's clear that their entire world is in danger of collapsing if they don't figure out a way to stop it. Their clues point them towards the observatory of the Deviations, a medical facility shrouded in secrecy that specializes in treated "inverted" people. As Ophelia and Thorn have to keep their relationship hidden to protect their true identities, they infiltrate the observatory from different angles. Thorn enters in as a government inspector, and Ophelia admits herself as a patient.

Once inside, Ophelia is subjected to all sorts of strange and scary medical experiments that push her to her limits and help her recover some memories. The process helps her piece together some important information, and slowly, the mysteries of God, the Other, and the ancestral spirits become more clear. Merely figuring things out isn't enough to stop the imminent destruction of the world though. Ophelia and Thorn must work together to take what they know and use it to turn everything back to the way it should be.

I did enjoy The Storm of Echoes, but it ended up being my least favorite of the series. I still was amazed by the creativity and world building that Dabos included and I continued liking Ophelia and Thorn as characters. Reading this series is such a vivid, rich experience that the sheer amount of imagination employed throughout its pages makes up for a lot. There were definitely some aspects of the story that disappointed me though, the biggest of which was exactly the thing I was worried about - it was very confusing.

The last quarter of the novel contained a lot of information that was meant to answer all the questions the series posed. This information, however, was very difficult to understand. Things became so cerebral, metaphorical, and complex that most of it didn't make sense to me. The way the world in this story operates follows a very complicated system of rules. Mirrors, echoes, reflections, codes, black holes, alternate universes, and magic all interact with each other in ways that are not predictable or logical. At no point throughout the conclusion could I tell what was happening or what might happen next, and not in a good way. I think if I read the series again (and a few more times after that), I could make better sense of it, but I don't like having to do that. I like complexity in a series, but this was a lot, and I think it would have benefited the story as a whole if some of these plot elements were toned down a little.

Aside from the confusion, I was also a bit disappointed with the choice to spend most of the story in the observatory. I would have liked to see some of the characters we got close to in books one and two more. Most of them were there, but only very briefly, and I got the feeling that they were only included at all out of a sense of obligation. Thorn falls in this category as well--he's there, but only in a few chapters, and I wished for more of him. The characterization in this novel has consistently been one of its strongest points, and it felt like a waste to push so many great characters aside. There's also a big twist in the story that comes too late and concerns a minor character that I didn't really care about or remember that well, so it didn't hit as hard as it should have. 

The ending of the story was very bittersweet. It was well written, but I wanted it to be different. I'm not sure how I feel about it.

So while I thought this was still a very good fantasy novel, these issues held it back from being a truly great conclusion to the series. It was definitely memorable in the sense that it was extremely unique and imaginative, but the complexity was too much at the end. I just finished reading it, and if you asked me to explain the plot right now, I couldn't do it clearly. That's not ideal. However, despite these issues, I am still very glad I experienced the whole quartet of novels for the sheer creativity of them alone. I'll definitely be hanging onto these books and possibly revisiting them in the future. There is certainly room for other stories to be told in this universe. I'm curious to see if Dabos will ever bring us back there again.

Challenge Tally

Finally in 2022 - Series Edition: 17/28

Total Books Read in 2022: 42

Saturday, April 30, 2022

April Wrap Up

Image by oprisco photography


It feels like time has moved both slowly and quickly this April. Looking back now, it seems like it flew by (especially the portion of it that contained my spring break). However, the past few weeks felt interminably long while I was actually experiencing them. I'm in that terrible stretch now that is the last few months of school, and time tends to stand still throughout those weeks. I did manage to get quite a bit done though, for both my work life and personal life, so I was relatively happy.  

As far as my reading goes, I managed to continue my streak of 100 pages a day. I read a total of 3,897 pages and finished ten books. I had a crazy amount of four and five star reads mixed in there too - it was pretty lucky. I picked a lot of winners. Here's everything I finished:

My favorite read of the month is really difficult to determine. I think Strange the Dreamer takes the top spot this time around, but I was really torn between that one and Cress Watercress. Those were two very different books, but both were clever and full of heart. 

My least favorite read was Exit, Pursued by a Bear, a young adult contemporary novel about sexual assault. I appreciated its sensitivity towards its difficult subject matter, but several things about the writing irked me.

I didn't end up hauling that many books this month, which is a very good thing because I bought way too many in February and March. I only ended up adding two to my shelves:

An Arrow to the Moon by Emily X.R. Pan (young adult, fantasy, physical book)
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (literary fiction, physical book)

I decided to donate Alone, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, meaning that three books left my shelves.

Next month, I plan to stay the course with all my challenges. I'll read another series, some books from my 22 in 2022 list, and more middle grades fiction. My plans are:

Storm of Echoes by Christelle Dabos
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. by David Levithan

I continued to work on my physical reading journal this month, but I didn't do as much with it as I wanted to again. I need to settle into a better routine with it, but I have to figure out the timing. 

I did pretty well with my non-reading activities too. I made a lot of progress on my diamond painting over spring break. I only have six sections left to go on it. I'm really looking forward to finishing it so I can start in on some other projects that I'm more interested in. I should be able to get it done in May.

I also finished a handful of jigsaw puzzles. The first was an image of a whole lot of flamingoes from Blanc Puzzles. This was my first time trying this brand out and I really loved it. I was surprised by the quality, because this was just a cheap buy from Target. The pieces inside came in a resealable bag (which is not common, but should be), and they fit together very nicely. They kind of "clicked" together when I placed them, which was extremely satisfying. This was 500 pieces, so it didn't take too long to finish.

I made another 500 piece puzzle from Blanc as well, this time of a snowy lantern scene. It was similarly satisfying.

I think my favorite puzzle of the month though was Lazy Sundae from Piecework Puzzles. This was 500 pieces too, and everything about it screamed quality. The pieces were thick and heavy and they had a velvety feel. I found myself constantly running my fingers over them - the texture was that good. The only downside was that the image made me crave ice cream big time.

I watched a bunch of movies and TV shows throughout the month too. In the theaters, I saw Everything Everywhere All At Once, which was amazing and probably one of the best movies I've ever seen in my entire life, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which was unusual but a lot of fun. I finally saw Black Widow on Disney Plus too, and wasn't super-impressed. For series, I binged my way through Inventing Anna on Netflix, which started off really promising and then got stupid at the end. I finished two documentaries as well - Bad Vegan, which was about a con man that messed up the life of a notable restaurant owner and White Hot, which was about the rise and fall of Abercrombie and Fitch. Both were very good.

I did pretty well on my ukulele throughout the month. I learned Chim Chim Cheree from Mary Poppins and You've Got a Friend in Me from Toy Story. I'm still working on Once Upon a Dream and Surface Pressure, and playing around with A Whole New World and Bare Necessities. It was a very Disney kind of month, obviously. I am also starting to learn Baby One More Time by Britney Spears.

Next month is going to be tough. The kids' behaviors at school are really ramping up. Things always deteriorate as summer break approaches, but this year was more difficult than usual to begin with, so it's really bad now. I'm going to have to focus a lot on self care and be very organized to get through it. I just have to keep reminding myself that before long I'll be on my break and have lot of time to read and do whatever else I want. 

The Memory of Babel by Christelle Dabos


**This review will contain spoilers for the previous books in this series,  A Winter's Promise and The Missing of Clairdelune.**

For my next read, I continued making my way through The Mirror Visitor Quartet with The Memory of Babel. This is the third book in the series, and I was excited to get started since I really enjoyed the first two. I was the most curious to see how the relationship between Ophelia and Thorn would continue after his last moment declaration of love in the previous book. I settled in with some pretty high expectations, hoping to enjoy another trip into Christelle Dabos' magical, mysterious world.

The plot of the novel picks up about two years after The Missing of Clairdelune. Thorn is still missing after his miraculous escape from prison and Ophelia has been living back on Anima with her family, waiting impatiently for a chance to go find him. Her wish is granted one day when Archibald appears and whisks her away to a compass rose, a sort of magical crossroads enabling her to travel to many distant locations instantaneously. Rather than choosing to go back to the Pole, she decides to head to the ark of Babel, a place she has never been, to follow up on the only clue she has to Thorn's whereabouts. 

Arriving at Babel, Ophelia immediately discovers that the only way to potentially get closer to Thorn and further investigate the mysteries of God is to become an Aspiring Virtuoso, a position akin to being a research assistant, at their massive library. This position would give her access to important documents and artifacts that she could mine for information. Her skills as a reader help her get accepted into their training program, but the competition for Virtuoso positions is intense and the other students in Ophelia's group find creative and painful ways to sabotage her as she tries to impress her superiors. The work she is expected to do is difficult, and she struggles to balance the demands of her lessons with her secret investigations into the spirits, God, and Thorn. Eventually, she stumbles onto some information that unlocks a key piece of the puzzle connecting the spirits, the arks, and the being known as God, and she is left with the daunting task of figuring out what to do with the knowledge.

I really enjoyed this novel, and I thought that it was a return to form after I struggled a little bit with the pacing in book two. The Memory of Babel is shorter and the narrative was a little more focused and easier for me to follow. It also had a dark academia vibe that I really liked. Looking at the reviews on Goodreads, I can see that lots of readers preferred book two to this one. I think the biggest determining factor in which one you like more would be whether you gravitate more towards political intrigues versus the dark academia trope. Since I prefer the latter, I enjoyed this entry more. 

I continued to be impressed by Dabos' worldbuilding throughout the story. In changing the setting to Babel, there is a whole new world to explore. It's an an interesting blend of new technologies and dystopian elements. The governments of Babel strictly forbids all forms of crime, including innocuous lying, and strictly monitors what people wear and say. They have replaced nearly all of their human workforce with automatons, claiming that men performing menial labor is unjust when a machine could do it. This has caused unrest among the worker class, as there are suddenly very few jobs available for them and they have nothing to do. Expressing dissatisfaction with their government, however, is illegal, so there's a lot of tension continually bubbling under the surface. I found it more interesting than the courtly intrigues of Clairdelune, but that's purely a personal preference. 

I still enjoyed the characters as well. Ophelia and her steadfast determination has found a place in my heart, and Thorn's prickly personality continued to be fun to read about. The relationship development I was waiting for between the pair of them did not disappoint either. In addition, we are introduced to a slew of new characters, including some ancestral spirits, some new friends, and a few new enemies too. I did miss some of the characters from the previous books that did not appear in this one, but as this novel is set in an entirely new place, that made sense. 

One issue throughout the text was the way one character in particular was described. I gather that she was supposed to look like a person of Asian decent, and she was described using some outdated terms repeatedly throughout the story. As these books are translated from French, I'm not sure if this is a cultural thing or a translation issue, but it was very noticeable and very cringeworthy. It was a minor enough character that it wasn't too disruptive, but it was odd to see.

Overall though, I definitely really enjoyed The Memory of Babel and I'm excited to pick up the final book next to see how everything ends up. The plot of these is getting pretty complicated, so I'm sure I won't fully understand it, but I still want to go along for the ride. 

Challenge Tally

Finally in 2022 - Series Edition: 16/28

Total Books Read in 2022: 41

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Missing Of Clairdelune by Christelle Dabos


*This review will contain spoilers for the first book in this series, A Winter's Promise.*

After enjoying A Winter's Promise last week, I decided to carry on with The Mirror Visitor Quartet and read The Missing of Clairdelune next. Since the first book ended on a cliffhanger, I was very interested to see how Ophelia and Thorn's story would continue. 

The plot of the novel picks up right where the first story left off, with Ophelia going off to the court in Citaceleste to meet Farouk, the ancestral spirit of the Pole. When Farouk discovers her ability to read objects, he unexpectedly promotes her to Vice-Storyteller, thrusting her into the spotlight and exposing her even more to the evil machinations of the jealous denizens of his court. In exchange for her services, Farouk agrees to place her under his special protection until her marriage to Thorn can be completed. This marriage will transfer some of Ophelia's reading abilities to Thorn, and these powers, combined with his prodigious memory, will hopefully allow him to read Farouk's mysterious book. Farouk, Ophelia, and Thorn all desperately want to learn the secrets of this book (although for different reasons), so it is imperative that everything goes to plan. Ophelia struggles with her new role. She isn't much of a storyteller, and Farouk's protection is spotty at best. No one would dare attack her openly at court, but she is still receiving threatening letters warning her that something bad will happen to her if she does go through with her wedding. 

Eventually, Ophelia is drawn into a new and dangerous plot. Some key figures at court have suddenly gone missing, and Farouk orders her to take the lead on the investigation. The consequences for failing to unravel the mystery are steep, and she must combine her reading abilities with her observations and memories to try and figure everything out. Thorn quickly becomes the only person she can trust, as her quest for the truth brings her into contact with disreputable characters and shady parts of the city. Together, they must work to find the missing people before Farouk's patience runs out and their mission to decipher his book falls apart completely.

This was another enjoyable entry into the series, and I was happy to get lost in the world Dabos created again. Similar to the first book, I really appreciated the creative world building and the characters. The magical setting of these books is so unusual that it is difficult to describe it to someone that hasn't read them. It blends mythology, and magic together in a very unique way that is definitely worth experiencing. It has some Harry Potter vibes to it, but it's weirder than that. I really enjoyed learning more about the Arks and the different cultures in their society as the story developed. Dabos is certainly very skilled at coming up with interesting details and making her fantasy worlds feel like real, magical places. 

Ophelia and Thorn continued to be engaging and well-developed characters too. Their relationship with each other develops deliciously slowly, with little bits of romance sneaking in here and there. They both grow as individuals throughout the story, and it was nice to learn more about them. I continued to appreciate Ophelia in particular, as she was still a quiet and firm character. Dabos continued to characterize her as both refreshingly normal and extraordinary at the same time. She got stronger and more confident throughout the story, but she still gave off the feeling of being a regular, relatable young woman. I really liked being able to see a little bit of myself in her. Thorn continued to be wonderfully eccentric and moody. He gives off the feeling of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, and that's one of my favorite tropes, so I have a soft spot for him.

That being said, I did think this novel was a little bit weaker than the first in the series. This is purely due to plot issues, mainly pacing and clarity. As I mentioned before, I think the world building and characters are fantastic, but the plot is a definitely confusing and the pace is slow. This isn't always a bad thing, but in the case of this story, the main plot event of the missing people isn't even introduced until around page 300, and all the exciting mystery solving elements are concentrated into the end. Everything that happens before that is mostly court intrigues. All of those details contribute to the story, of course, but there were times when I felt very bored while reading. I think the action could have been spread out a bit better or maybe the events of the first half of the book could have been more streamlined. The story itself started becoming difficult to follow here too. There are a lot of people and details involved, and while everything makes sense in the moment I was reading it, putting it together in my head was difficult. My husband asked me what the book was about, and my answer was extremely rambling and not very coherent. I wish the story itself was a little more focused and easier to follow.

Even so, The Missing of Clairdelune was still a great read and a good addition to the Mirror Visitor Quartet. This one ends on a cliffhanger again, so I'm heading straight into the next book to see how the story will continue to unfold. I'm guessing it will only get more complicated from here.

Challenge Tally

Finally in 2022 - Series Edition: 13/28

Total Books Read in 2022: 40

Sunday, April 24, 2022

A Winter's Promise by Christelle Dabos


I decided to start a new series for my next read. I settled on A Winter's Promise by Christelle Dabos, the first book in a young adult fantasy series from France. I don't read many young adult works from other countries--not for any particular reason, just because I haven't come into contact with many of them. I heard good reviews for this one on YouTube though, so I wanted to give it a try.

The novel is set in a world where the earth has been rendered uninhabitable in some sort of environmental disaster long ago, and the remaining families live spread across several floating chunks of land called Arks. Each Ark is the home base of a different elite family, each of which have different magical gifts. The plot of the novel follows a young woman named Ophelia, who lives with her family on the Anima Ark. She is a reader, meaning that she can trace the history of an object by touching it. She also has the ability to travel through mirrors, a rare gift among her people. She spends her days working in her family's museum, in which she uses her skills to record the histories of various objects from the ancient world.

At the start of the story, Ophelia's quiet life is upended when the Doyennes, Anima's ruling body, arrange for her to be married to Thorn, a man from a distant Ark. It would bring disgrace to her family to refuse, so she complies, and soon finds herself carried away to Citaceleste. Her new fiancĂ© couldn't be more different from her. She is clumsy, small, and quiet. He is tall, gruff, and abrasive. He barely shows an interest in her, and the home he brings her to is completely alien to her. Citaceleste is full of high society snobbery and endless political intrigue. She is completely out of her depth and struggles to adjust to her new life there. 

As her wedding to Thorn draws closer, Ophelia begins to realize that there is a lot more going on under the surface of things than she initially thought. Her betrothal to Thorn had ulterior motives, and many of the new nobles around her will do anything to prevent their union from taking place. To survive, Ophelia must keep her wits about her and learn how to function surrounded by vipers while staying true to herself.

I thought this novel was pretty special. Dabos' story was incredibly creative, and the world and magic system she created with the Arks was complex and fascinating to read about. This was definitely one of those novels that took me away to a different world, and I was consistently engaged trying to figure out all the little details of how this society functioned. Ophelia starts off the story knowing nothing about the place she is moving to, and as readers, we get to follow along with her as she tries to figure everything out. Dabos reveals information at a good pace, and the high society world of Citaceleste is full of enough danger and intrigue to keep things interesting. It's got everything from illusions to telepathy, to spatial distortions, to invisible claws, and I was basically hooked from page one.

The element of the story I enjoyed the most though were the characters, and especially Ophelia. I've read a lot of young adult fantasies where the protagonists were incredibly tough warrior women. That's great and all, but it's nice to see something different every once in awhile, and Ophelia was definitely that. She was quiet and clumsy, with a mop of wild hair, thick glasses, and absolutely no fashion sense. She's not great at a party and uncomfortable ordering others around. She's the last person you'd pick to succeed at political intrigues. What she does have going for her, however, is her sense of morals, her no-nonsense approach to problem solving, and her resilience. I loved her and could relate to her on many levels. It was nice to have a heroine that felt somewhat like a normal person, despite her magical powers. I liked watching her sort through her problems in her own way throughout the story.

Thorn was similarly interesting, albeit in a more moody, mysterious kind of way. He's more like a storm cloud than a person, but I still enjoyed him for his competence and intelligence. There's obviously a lot more to him than we learn in this book. The very beginnings of a slow-burn romance start in this story too, and I'm looking forwards to seeing how that develops as the books continue. The other characters were interesting as well. Dabos did a nice job making everyone unique and memorable, and the variety amongst them helped to make the setting of the novel feel more real.    

So clearly, I really enjoyed A Winter's Promise and I think it's a very promising start to the series. These books are a quartet, and I already have them all, so I'm going to start book two next. The ending of this one is a true cliffhanger, so I basically have to. I'm excited to see what comes next for Ophelia and Thorn. 

Challenge Tally

Finally in 2022 - Series Edition: 12/28

Total Books Read in 2022: 39