REVIEW: Vampire Hunter D #1

The last few days I had a reader’s craving for vampires but no love story. I was also hoping for something with a darker aesthetic while still being light. Despite how overly specific that want is, I was able to check all of the boxes with the Japanese classic, Vampire Hunter D by Kikuchi Hideyuki with illustrations by Final Fantasy‘s own, Amano Yoshitaka.

Originally published in the 80s, Vampire Hunter D is a sci-fi western featuring the ever classic story of humanity against the creatures of the night. Ten thousand years have passed since the human race destroyed itself in a nuclear arms race and regressed to Frontier times. But vampires and artificially created other monsters are trying to regain control so it is up to the various classifications of Hunters to wipe them out by the request of their employeers.

This first book follows the plight of Doris Lang and her brother, Dan, who hire the mysterious D to act as protector after Doris is attacked by the local Count Lee. But there’s more to the job than a simple vampire slaying as Doris is also plagued by the ruffians of her town and D has unknowingly attracted some negative attention from a gang of especially skills bandits. With a lot of strangeness on the line, both D and Doris may be in over their heads. Or are they?

I loved the ol’ fashion Western vibe of this first book and the way it combines the classic aesthetic of the traditional vampire story just made me so happy. The story is action packed but still light enough to get through without having to think too hard about what’s going on. Doris was a sweetheart and the mystery surrounding D is too intriguing to stop here. The translation was so incredibly smooth, I would have thought it was originally written in English so a major shout out to translator Kevin Leahy. I loved the combination of traditional vampire lore with new additions due to the crazy world building. The idea that the vampires are scientific geniuses who can create their own servants through genetic engineering as well as robotics, was super cool to me and I look forward to hearing more about that side of the story as the series continues.

Needless to say, it was just what I wanted right now and I’m so happy to have found something that fit my incredibly niche reading wants.

ARC REVIEW: Solo Leveling #1

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for a copy of the eARC

For the last few months, I have been following closely along with YenPress and their marketing for the official translation for the incredibly popular manhwa for South Korean series Solo Leveling. Based on the best selling webnovel by Chugong, I’ve been very excited for both.

Solo Leveling follows Sung Jin Woo in an alternate reality where “gates” full of monsters are opening up around the world and people have awakened as hunters to clear and close them. The ranking system goes from E (the bottom rung where hunters are little more than regular citizens) to S class and Jin Woo is at the bottom, known around his city as “the worst hunter ever” for his habit of constantly getting himself into trouble. When a raid goes wrong, Jin Woo awakens with unmatched abilities right out of a video game – leveling system included.

Japanese light novels have been my jam lately, so the chance to review a Korean light novel was definitely something I was excited to do. It took me a brief second to adjust to the name format (it always throws me off when I try to figure out if translations put the names in traditional order or adjust for English readers) but I was sucked into the story right away.

I love the characters and the way Jin Woo stumbles his way through figuring out the new leveling system is so original. I do find it interesting how light novel fantasy (whether isekai or otherwise) seem to be very focused on video game like levels and the way those levels are incorporated into a story is always neat to compare. Having never read the manhwa I had visions of this being similar to Sword Art Online, but believe me when I say this is entirely a brilliant original story. I love Jin Woo, a protagonist who is equal parts sweet and cocky, and Jin Ho is so adorable I just want to give him a hug for trying his best.

With an ending that is the calm before the coming storm, I can’t wait for volume 2 of the novel. At least in the meantime, I have YenPress’s edition of the translation for the manhwa to look forward to reading.

Volume 1 of both the light novel and the manhwa are available now!

REVIEW: The Blackstone Ritual

What’s a better feeling than choosing to support an debut indie author in the early days of 2021? That was my thought going into The Blackstone Ritual, book one in Swearigen Durham’s Tales of the Bardenwood series. The book came out last autumn and I was very excited to get my hands on my copy.

The story follows Arden Ford, a small town prankster, as he starts going through strange changes that reveal he is a magical key known as a Thorn. When his small town is attacked by a band of murderous barbarians, Ard is pushed onto a quest that very much might get him killed. But that’s a risk he is willing to take to avenge those he cares about.

This book came out, as I said, towards the end of 2020, but there is something instantly nostalgic about not only the setting but the writing style as well. As a huge lover of vintage fantasy, especially unknown titles discovered in the basements of tiny used bookstores, The Blackstone Ritual would definitely be in good company. To continuing with this unhelpful review of hyperspecific associations, this book is honey-glazed chocolate chip pastries eaten in the French countryside, this book is the original Hobbit video game, this book is classically animated not-Disney film.

Durham’s writing style gives the impression of cross-level reading. The way The Hobbit can be found in the adult section of a bookstore as well as the middle-grade section. I would put his style in line with classic authors such as Tamora Pierce (specifically with the Song of the Lioness quartet) and Mercedes Lackey (specifically with the Elvenbane trilogy co-written with Andre Norton). He doesn’t dumb anything down for readers as I sometimes find with fantasy geared towards YA or MG levels, but also doesn’t bog down the reader with info-dumping like so many adult fantasy books. It’s an accessible read with goofy, kind characters and plenty of action.

If you’re looking for a bit of fun and an indie author to support, I definitely recommend checking this book out.

REVIEW: The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life #1

One of my 2021 goals is to read more light novels and honestly, one thing that always makes me laugh are the series with overly long titles. When it comes to The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, the long title was half of the reason why I picked it up, but the other half was the cute art for sure.

For those unfamiliar with light novels, it’s a genre of Japanese novels that are a more serialised format that also tend to feature full-page illustrations with varied frequency throughout the novels. It’s basically a genre made from anime-in-book-form without being manga. The majority of the light novels I’ve read have fallen into the action-fantasy genre but there are also slice-of-life romance novels as well. But back to reviewing this one.

The Alchemist Who… follows Mariela, an alchemist who put herself into a magical state of suspended animation in order to survive a huge monster attack on her home city only to wake up 200 years later. Realising that she is now alone in the world with no home, no friends, and no knowledge of what has happened while she was “asleep”, Mariela is in a bit of a fix. Even when she makes friends out of a group of adventurers, she learns quickly that there are hardly any alchemists in the world, and none within her old home city.

The synopsis makes it sound like a typical action-packed fantasy novel, but this series is definitely more slice-of-life, at least for the time being. The story is about Mariela’s loneliness and her fears from being asleep for so long. It’s about her kindness and generosity towards others that may stem from her naivety, but deep down all Mariela wants is to care for others. The guards she befriends look out for her, knowing that she’s just a young woman, but more than that is the man, Sieg, who she saves from a death sentence of slavery.

I know the inclusion of slavery is very off-putting for many readers even in “English” fantasy novels. What I will say is that I think it is more of a translation thing here. In this world, those with massive debts have the option of being a debt-labourer, given the option to sell their labour to nobles or other wealthy folk in order to pay off those debts. However, if the person in question commits a major crime or violates the terms of their contract, they are condemned to being a penal labourer until the end of their days. Sieg falls under this category, but is saved from his fate as a penal labourer when Mariela sees how unwell he is and how abused he is at the hands of the other guards.

Her kindness towards this man who feels he is unworthy of such generosity is so heartwarming and as we learn more and both of them, I found myself adoring Sieg and Mariela with my entire being. The book on the whole is so sweet and stress-free with how soft it is and how tender the characters are. The only issue I really took with it was that at almost 400 pages long, it could have been shortened significantly had all of the repetition been cut out. The herbs and plants Mariela requires for her secret alchemy get a little complicated, but the constantly repetition of three of the plants’ effects does get tiresome.

What I have found interesting though about reading as many light novels lately as I have been, is how the fantasy genre specifically still tends to be very video game or TTRPG (table-top roleplaying game – think D&D). By that I mean in three separate light novel series that I have stuck my nose into, there is a levelling system and a magical power system that feels very much like it would in a game. It’s curious to see in novels that are not game based (such as Sword Art Online) and I’d love to do more readings into why this might be such a common trope with light novels. I also wonder if that kind of system is common in other Japanese fantasy novels that don’t necessarily fall under the light novel categorisation.

All in all I really loved this book and look forward to getting deeper into the series. As of right now, there are five volumes of 350+ pages each translated into English by YenPress, and I’m looking forward to reading them. I definitely had to fight the urge to immediately jump into the second book once I finished this first one. Mariela and Sieg are just so perfect I need to read more about their relationship as I hope it moves from a budding friendship into something more.

REVIEW: The Last Wish

I’m sure everyone has heard of The Witcher series from the Netflix adaptation that came out recently, or else you know it from the video games. While more and more people tell me they love the books, I fell into the category of knowing it from the video games and being only vaguely aware of the books.

Given the Netflix series, the first book was on sale a while back so I figured, what the hell. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories and a novella, originally publishing in Poland as all separate stories, before being collected and spliced together to form this book. I really appreciated this set up as the stories were stand-alone while also flowing nicely into one another. Given that so many fantasy novels are 400 – 800+ page epics, I really liked how not-intimidating this book was. There was no major commitment to remembering everyone or trying to learn maps, and the stories were all at a length where things kept moving. A handful of them are vague fairytale retellings, and the Beauty and the Beast short was by far my favourite, taking things in a direction that was so new for a retelling of this kind and then breaking my heart.

For those who want a little more context about The Witcher, the series follows Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, as he travels across the world fighting monsters and helping people who have the coin. However, he isn’t a cold-blooded person and will do what is right if he feels it is truly the right thing to do. Geralt isn’t always a welcome sight, though, as a Witcher is someone who has undergone rigorous training, poisoning, and mutation to become more than human. Many see him as a ruthless demon and others lock themselves away in fear, thinking their children will be taken to go through what Geralt has been through.

I’m sure there will be more information regarding that in the other books (my knowledge of it comes from playing Witcher 3 on Switch and they don’t go into much depth about the transformation process) and I look forward to reading more in the second collection of short stories.


The reading order was screwed up in translation so for those who are interested in reading the books, here is a guide:

  1. The Last Wish
  2. Sword of Destiny
  3. Season of Storms
  4. Blood of the Elves
  5. Time of Contempt
  6. Baptism of Fire
  7. The Tower of the Swallow
  8. The Lady of the Lake

REVIEW: The Starless Sea

The only book I really managed to read cover to cover within the month of February was Erin Morgenstern’s novel, The Starless Sea. Having gone to see her book tour event in Toronto a few months back, I found it was the time to get to this at long last.

This book is so hard to sum up my feelings for. I’ve tried again and again to write this review but the words I need just won’t come to me. I saw myself so much in Zachary and in Dorian and in so many others. The way the story unravels slowly and twists back on itself time and time again, it’s like trying to explain the plot of Inception in a language you don’t even understand. It’s not nearly as complicated when you read it for yourself but to explain it… Yeah, I don’t think I can do that.

The Starless Sea is a love letter, a light in the dark, a saving grace, to anyone who loves to get lost in something away from themselves. It’s a reminder that it’s okay and you’re not alone as well as a reminder of the good things in the world around us, the untold stories that pass us by every single day. This book punches you in the stomach to remind you of reality before patting you on the head and reminding you how wonderful you are.

“Important things hurt sometimes,” is a quote in the book that hit me so hard I was reeling from it and it’s only one of the many, many lines in the book that brought me to tears. And I wouldn’t exactly say that this is a sad book.

The magic of reading radiates from every page of The Starless Sea and I’ve been struggling to find a new book to read ever since I finished it.

I don’t think this review makes any sense whatsoever, but it has been a long time since I book has taken my breath away the way that this one did. I’m not one of those people who ever thinks, “I wish I could go back and read this for the first time” but this book has changed that. I wish I could experience this book for the first time every time I pick it up, because I know I will be picking this up again and trying everything I can to make it come to life around me the way it did when I was reading it this first time.

 

DNF Review: Infinity Son

So my first fresh read of 2020 (meaning I didn’t start it in 2019) was meant to be Infinity Son by Adam Silvera. I’m a big fan of Adam’s contemporary work, so when he said he was releasing a fantasy novel I was so excited! However, I’m sad to say that this was not what I was hoping for at all and it’s also become my first DNF of the year.

Over the last several months I kept seeing tweets referring to it as an “epic fantasy novel” which I took to mean high fantasy (think Lord of the Rings) when it turns out the use of the word “epic” was meant to be used as a word for “cool” and in reference to the book rather than the genre. Part of this is my own fault for not looking more closely at the back of the ARC, but I’ve got to say I was disappointed at the “urban” level of the genre.

On a good day, I’m not a fan of urban fantasy. It takes a lot for me to be interested in a fantasy novel that is set in the real world, so that was already a mark against this novel. Strike two was that not only was it urban fantasy, it was a superhero story; yet another subgenre element that I’m not interested in. Had I known that’s what this book was going to be I wouldn’t have requested the ARC in the first place.

To me, the biggest problems were in the first two chapters. And by problems, I mean the entire plot of the book is so easily guessable. In this world, it seems that people have until their 18th birthdays to discover if they have superpowers or not. It is also mentioned that there are “villain” characters who do something with phoenix blood to force superpowers on themselves. Now, this is a decent enough concept (with more PG-rated Vicious vibes) but quickly becomes boring when you consider that the main characters are twin boys, one of which just wants to be a normal boy and the other who wants to be a hero. I didn’t even make it past 13 or so pages but I can basically guess that Normal Boy Twin gets powers on their birthday while Other Twin goes after phoenix blood to become a hero.

I’m so sad that this book is miles away from what I was hoping for, but as a result, I will be hosting a giveaway on my Instagram for this ARC. I’d really love if it went to a good home with a reader who would actually enjoy a book like this.


Giveaway post
(Giveaway open to North American residents only, see post for details)

#countdowntodarkdawn: Godsgrave

Throughout August, I did my best to keep up with the #countdowntodarkdawn event hosted Instagram’s @sammaybereading, @grumplstiltskin, and @amandasnoseinabook. After the weight of the density of Nevernight, I felt a little intimidated by Godsgrave but after a month and a half I finally got through it (with a little help from the audiobook).

Godsgrave picks up a few months after the ending of Nevernight, but does get into it rather quickly. After learning what she’s really up to, Mia teams up with the traitor, Ashlinn, and the two formulate a plan to help further Mia’s want for revenge against Duomo and Scaeva. The plan? To sell herself into slavery in order to fight in a gladiator-style death match known as the Venatus Magni and kill the pair when they declare her the winner.

If y’all thought the first book was not meant to be in the YA section, then this one definitely should never be considered YA. In the most delicious way possible, this book was violent, graphic, and smutty. I loved the way all of it tied together in the most devastating and gruesome ways, showing sex as another kind of chess game in this world of master players. Topping it all off with some of the most wild reveals I’ve ever read, this book had me cheering one moment, and cussing it out the next. Especially towards the end.

Again, this was a rather dense read, so listening to the audiobook in small doses was a big help in getting through it but that doesn’t make me enjoy it any less. I loved the tidbits of more information we get about the darkin even if it’s the most vague nonsense you’ve ever been given. Eclipse and Mr. Kindly were scene stealers amidst the chaos of Mia’s slave life and their little interlude brings up so many questions! I’m like Oliver Twist standing before Jay Kristoff begging for more and knowing full well he’s not going it give more over (and I’m not even mad about it).

I didn’t throw this book across the room once I finished it but that had more to do with not wanting to chuck my phone across the room. While I do need a break before reading Darkdawn, I’m itching to get my FaeCrate hangover kit for it so I can see if I get any of the answers I’m looking for thanks to Godsgrave.

Damn you, Mr. Kristoff.

We love you so much.

#countdowntodarkdawn: Nevernight

So as many of you have noticed, I didn’t do any posts for my Throne of Glass read-a-long this month, but that was because I was balls-deep into the #countdowntodarkdawn read-a-long hosted by Instagram’s @sammaybereading, @grumplstiltskin, and @amandasnoseinabook. I have never read a Jay Kristoff work before now and wow am I feeling a lot of emotions here.

Nevernight is the first book in the series, following the rise of Mia Corvere as she stabs her way into a religious institution set on training the most masterful of assassins. Mia’s is a story of violence and vengeance. Having lost her family to the opposing religious community that rules her home and yet also possessing a mysterious ability of the very dark itself, Mia hopes to avenge her fallen loved ones by burying those who took them from her.

It is hard to give a synopsis without spoilers as, like I said, this book is full of emotional turmoil. While I enjoyed the story from cover to cover, it took me a solid month to get through it and I really only finished on time thanks to the audiobook. Kristoff does not hold back when it comes to stomping on your heart with the sole of his boots until there’s nothing more than a bloody smear on the ground, and his unique style of writing is hypnotic. With winding, flowery prose as the regular narrative and then footnotes ripe with history, backstory, and enough sass to rival the author himself. But this also made the book far denser than I was expecting.

I knew going into it that this was not a YA novel, but considering the audience as well as the 16-year-old protagonist, I was expecting something…different. It is not a complaint, but the writing style is wordy as all hell and the footnotes range from single sentence one-liners to several paragraphs of lore that – at times – made reading slow. Given my headspace lately the weight of this book made me not want to pick it up at times, so perhaps that’s a warner that this is the farthest thing from light reading.

The twists and turns legitimately had me gasping and all of the murder came close to turning even my stomach in the best of ways. The word sensual comes to mind in more ways than one if I’m being honest.

When it comes to the characters, I loved Mia. She is a strong little bitch who refuses to be put down no matter how much anyone wants her dead. And yet, Mia makes mistakes. She makes friends. She gets betrayed. It’s nice to see a cold-hearted female character fail and yet still come out on top without it being predictable while also being able to truly care for those around her. Tric was this beautiful, young Jason Mamoa-esque beauty who I will not forgive Mr. Kristoff for. I even loved the nasty characters like Jessamine and Diamo.

But the best character of all, you ask?

Mister freaking Kindly.

I love this little shit of a not-cat and I would gladly kill in the name of Niah to have a not-cat like him pooled in my shadow. He’s the right level of comic relief mixed with wise guide and Kindly stole every scene he was a part of.

Was this book a tough one to push through? Absolutely, and I can 100% understand the reasoning behind the mixed reviews. Was this book worth every second it took to read? Absolutely.

I give Nevernight a four out of five while also being hyped as hell for Godsgrave!

The Assassin & The Empire

I don’t have a review for this one, or much of a synopsis. Although anyone who started the series prior to reading the novellas will know what happens. As I felt it would be after reading the previous novella, The Assassin and the Empire is about how Sam died and Celaena ended up in Endovier.

I had to DNF this one.

Having heard time and time again about Sam being killed in the main books, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the details in this novella. I didn’t care that Arobynn was a dick, because we already knew that, and I didn’t care about how it broke Celaena.

Having really liked the previous novella, I was hoping for more, but I’m sad to say I was disappointed in how bored I was with this final one. Perhaps if I’d read the novellas before the actual books I would have gotten more out of it, but instead I found it repetitive.


Today’s photo prompt was ROYALTY but I forgot my crown is in storage (oops!) so here’s a beautiful dagger. Be sure to tag me on Instagram at @lucieninthestars and use the hashtag #TWOTOGCountdown so I can see all of you’re beautiful photos!

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And finally, be sure to check out the wonderful A.K. Lee over on her site! There would be no read-a-long without her support and she’s an incredible author and friend.