ARC Review – Heart of the Sun Warrior

Hello, everyone! It has been a couple weeks since I’ve gotten a review posted. I seem to be finding my groove again, though, and have staved off a long-term slump (hopefully). Today I’m reviewing a book I’ve been waiting to read for almost a year, Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan. I enjoyed the first book of this duology quite a bit, and you can find my thoughts on it here. So, I was excited to return back to this world to see what Xingyin gets up to next.

After her perilous quest to free her mother, Xingyin thrives once more in the tranquility of her home. But her fragile peace is threatened by the discovery of a strange magic on the moon and the unsettling changes in the Celestial Kingdom as the emperor tightens his grip on power. While Xingyin is determined to keep clear of the rising danger, the discovery of a shocking truth spurs her into a treacherous confrontation.

Forced to flee her home once more, Xingyin and her companions venture to unexplored lands of the Immortal Realm, encountering legendary creatures and shrewd monarchs, beloved friends and bitter adversaries. With alliances shifting quicker than the tides, Xingyin has to overcome past grudges and enmities to forge a new path forward, seeking aid where she never imagined she would. As an unspeakable terror sweeps across the realm, Xingyin must uncover the truth of her heart and claw her way through devastation–to rise against this evil before it destroys everything she holds dear, and the worlds she has grown to love… even if doing so demands the greatest price of all.

The stunning sequel to Daughter of the Moon Goddess delves deeper into beloved Chinese mythology, concluding the epic story of Xingyin–the daughter of Chang’e and the mortal archer, Houyi–as she battles a grave new threat to the realm, in this powerful tale of love, sacrifice, and hope.

***Thank you to Harper Voyager for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

NOTE: There are some spoilers in this review! Turn back now if you haven’t read the book yet… unless you don’t care about stuff being spoiled.

I was very excited to finally get to this sequel, and I’m happy to say that the things I loved about the first book were present in this one too. The writing was exquisite. Reading the descriptions felt like stepping into a vibrant painting. The quality of the writing seemed to have even improved since the first book, which also displayed beautiful craftsmanship with its words. After this duology, there’s no doubt that Tan can craft otherworldly prose that easily transports the reader into her imagined worlds.

The world-building was just as stunning here as in the first book. There were a couple new places that I enjoyed visiting, and the narrative returned to many of the wondrous set pieces previously introduced, including the moon, Celestial Palace, and Cloud Wall. New and old creatures played a part in the story, and it was all just so fascinating. I loved the mythology and the way the author used it to tell a gripping story of loss, love, and forgiveness that felt very intimately human despite the divine nature of the participants.

I liked the plot in this book a bit more than the first. It felt less disjointed and the pace was more even. Where the first book felt like several distinct stories mashed together because of all its side quests, this one seemed more cohesive with a single major story thread and clear villain from start to finish. Speaking of the villain, I really enjoyed Wugang and thought his motivations were believable. I even felt a bit sympathetic to his cause given how horrible the Celestial court treated him and literally everyone else. I wish there had been more of the court intrigue in this one, though. I would have loved to read how the coup happened from the emperor’s or Wugang’s POV. I’m sure the emperor’s reaction was priceless.

Now to the part I think some people won’t really like: the love triangle. That’s right. It’s back again. lol. I didn’t hate it in the first book because I found the two men worked well as avatars of the warring parts of Xingyin’s psyche. I was REALLY ready for the story to move past that, though, and it didn’t. Xingyin went through a lot in this book and had to come to terms with some major, gut-wrenching losses. I loved her journey, and she was no less persistent here in her convictions despite the enormous scale of the opposition she faced. The whole time I was loving her strength and fortitude and wondering why she was putting up with these two whiny guys constantly trying to get her to love them while all this terrible stuff was going down. One of them, Wenzhi, started out with serious stalker vibes and had some major making up to do for the brutal betrayal in the first book. Although, he grew on me again as the story progressed, and I liked his redemption arc and Xingyin’s journey to forgiveness. Liwei still had as much personality as a piece of stale bread, and it just felt like he was sort of there only as a foil to keep Xingyin from falling right back into Wenzhi’s arms. I’m sure some people will love this dynamic, but I just found it distracting.

Just some final notes… I loved getting to see more of Xingyin’s family dynamic. I honestly wanted much more of it than I got. There was so much focus on the love triangle that her relationship with family, which was her driving force in the first book, was relegated to only a few scenes and seemed like somewhat of an afterthought. I also was a bit annoyed at first that most of what Xingyin worked so hard to obtain was stripped away again fairly quickly. Although, this is a problem I often have with duologies when the first book ends on a mostly settled note. Things kind of have to blow up again for there to be a reason for another story. I got over that nit-picky annoyance pretty quickly with this one, though, because the plot was different enough that it didn’t feel like a pointless retread.

I know this review probably sounded fairly negative, but I really did enjoy reading this book. I have pretty strong opinions about the characters and the story because I’ve come to care about them, especially Xingyin. This was a good conclusion to her story. If you enjoyed the first book, definitely be sure to pick this one up too. Even if you didn’t, this one may surprise you because the storytelling definitely improved as the author gained more experience. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Mini Review – Soul of the Deep

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Soul of the Deep by Natasha Bowen, the sequel to Skin of the Sea. I enjoyed the first book and its blend of African mythology with The Little Mermaid. So, I’ve been looking forward to seeing how the story wraps up.

The highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestseller Skin of the Sea, in which the world must pay the price for one mermaid’s choice, and a dark force reverberates across realms. Perfect for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and those eagerly anticipating the live-action film adaptation of The Little Mermaid.

One life.
One choice.
One sacrifice.

To save those closest to her, Simi traded away everything: her freedom, her family, and the boy she loves. Now she is sworn to serve a new god, watching over the Land of the Dead at the bottom of the ocean.

But when signs of demons begin to appear, it’s clear there are deeper consequences of Simi’s trade. These demons spell the world’s ruin . . . and because of Simi, they now have a way into the human realm.

With the fate of the world at stake, Simi must break her promise and team up with a scheming trickster of a god. And if they succeed, perhaps Simi can also unbreak her heart along the way, and find herself again.

***Thank you to Random House Books for Young Readers for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

This was an action-packed adventure full of fascinating African mythology and terrifying creatures galore. It also tackled some darker topics, including the corrupting influence of power, and introduced fearsome new entities bent on wiping out humanity. I should have been riveted by all of it, but I just wasn’t. I struggled to stay focused and found myself skimming a lot. The plot was full of conveniences and proceeded at a pace that left no room for the characters. It seemed like the author packed in confrontations with all of her favorite mythological creatures at the expense of the story. I also found it annoying that the events of the last book were swept under the rug and the ending effectively undone within the first quarter of this book. Olokun got shafted big time. It seemed like he was going to be an important character and then his story went pretty much no where. The romance in this story also didn’t really work for me. The relationship between Simi and Kola felt tense in a way that wasn’t there in the first book. It was missing their chemistry, and they felt disconnected and aloof for most of the story. Overall, this sequel just wasn’t for me, and I kind of wish the author had wrapped up the story in the first book instead. It is rare for me to dislike a sequel so much that it sours my opinion of the first book, as well, but this one managed to do it. Therefore, I rate it 2 out of 5 stars.

Mini Reviews – Daughter of Sparta/Blood of Troy

Hello, everyone! Today I’ve got two mini reviews. The first is a review of Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews. I’ve had this one on my shelf since last year, and I was happy to finally get to it.

Sparta forged her into a deadly weapon. Now the gods need her to save the world!

Seventeen-year-old Daphne has spent her entire life honing her body and mind into that of a warrior, hoping to be accepted by the unyielding people of ancient Sparta. But an unexpected encounter with the goddess Artemis—who holds Daphne’s brother’s fate in her hands—upends the life she’s worked so hard to build. Nine mysterious items have been stolen from Mount Olympus, and if Daphne cannot find them, the gods’ waning powers will fade away, the mortal world will descend into chaos, and her brother’s life will be forfeit.

Guided by Artemis’s twin—the handsome and entirely-too-self-assured god Apollo—Daphne’s journey will take her from the labyrinth of the Minotaur to the riddle-spinning Sphinx of Thebes, team her up with mythological legends such as Theseus and Hippolyta of the Amazons, and pit her against the gods themselves.

A reinterpretation of the classic Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo, Daughter of Sparta, by debut author Claire M. Andrews turns the traditionally male-dominated mythology we know into a heart-pounding and empowering female-led adventure.

This was a very unique retelling of several classic myths that centered the exploits of Daphne as the main protagonist. She was enlisted by the gods to assist in finding stolen items crucial to the power of Olympus and its residents. Apollo joins her on the journey to save Olympus, and they have a myriad of adventures that take them from Crete to the depths of Tartarus. I liked both of these characters a lot. Daphne was determined to be a great warrior despite everyone discounting her for being a girl, and Apollo was haunted by his past mistakes and hiding behind a mask of glib cockiness. Their relationship was my favorite thing about the book, and their banter was fun to read. Unfortunately, the writing was lacking and seemed very unpolished. Some of the transitions between scenes/chapters left me scratching my head wondering if I’d missed something. I also found all the secret-keeping really annoying, and the way the relationship between Daphne and Apollo left off at the end was incredibly unsatisfying and felt like it yanked away much of the character progression. It was also a bit weird that Daphne worked so hard to save the existing social order of the dominance of the gods when much of the rest of the book was inherently feminist in its approach to the story. Overall, there were some fun moments and clever re-imaginings of the source material, but the lackluster writing and annoying ending left me wanting more. Therefore, I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars.

My second review of the day is about Blood of Troy by Claire M. Andrews, which is the recently published sequel to Daughter of Sparta.

The Sparta you know will be gone forever on the bloody fields of Troy.
 
A year after Daphne saved the powers of Olympus by defeating Nyx, the Goddess of Darkness, she’s haunted by still-looming threats, her complicated feelings for the god Apollo, and the promise she made to the Olympian gods that she would help them again when they called upon her. When their command comes, it is deceptively simple: secure herself a spot as one of Queen Helen’s guards.
 
A war is coming, and all of Sparta must be prepared.
 
In the midst of a treaty summit among the monarchs of Greece, Daphne and Helen uncover a plot of betrayal—and soon, a battle begins. As the kingdoms of Greece clash on the shores of Troy and the gods choose sides, Daphne must use her wits, her training, and her precarious relationship with Apollo to find a way to keep her queen safe, stop the war, and uncover the true reason the gods led her to Troy in this thrilling sequel to Daughter of Sparta.

I’m honestly at a loss for words in regards to how disappointed I was by this book, which is weird because I went in with super low expectations after not really loving the first one. I think that it comes from the fact that this book did so many things much better… until it didn’t. The writing significantly improved in this book compared to the first one, and the pacing felt much more deliberate and less frantic. Many of the secondary characters got more time to shine, especially Helen, and I enjoyed many of this author’s unique twists on the Trojan War and the Titanomachy. The focus on the politics of Olympus and the machinations instigating the Trojan War was probably my favorite thing about the book, and I loved that it took the time to give a closer look at the culture and politics of Sparta and Troy. Daphne’s journey navigating both the Olympian and human squabbles was also interesting, and I appreciated the depiction of her PTSD and the real impacts the events of the previous book had on her psyche. My favorite thing from the first book was missing, though. Apollo had a much smaller presence in this story, and his relationship with Daphne was insufferable. I missed the easy banter between them a lot. So, why was I so disappointed in this book? Put simply, the ending. It felt like a rushed mess. There were so many ‘shocking reveals’ it made my head spin, and there are some things I still don’t understand because the deliberate nature of the rest of the book was thrown out the window at the end. I’m honestly not even sure if all the things that happened in the end make any sense at all, but I’m at the point of not caring. Needless to say, I won’t be picking up the third book despite enjoying most of the book quite a bit. I thought this was going to be a solid 4 star read for most of my time reading it, but the mess of an ending drops it down to 3 stars.