The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back was written by Marie Lu and first published in 2020. It is a historical fantasy novel which focuses on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s older sister, Nannerl. The story stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s previous work to fully appreciate it.

Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart lives to perform, but even as a young girl she knows that her days are numbered. Her skills at the clavier will only seem remarkable while she is still a child. Once she is grown, she will be expected to give it all up in order to get married and start a family. Things become worse still when her younger brother, Wolferl, reveals a prodigious talent for composition. How can she hope to be remembered when Wolferl’s star eclipses her own?

As they travel Europe to perform before nobles and Emperors, Nannerl and Wolferl amuse themselves by telling stories of a magical world called the Kingdom of Back. This is a world where rare edelweiss bloom everywhere and trees grow upside down. It’s not long before strange things begin to appear in the night and the Kingdom of Back seems more real. Although Nannerl at first believes she is dreaming, she starts to doubt this when a Faerie Princeling named Hyacinth reveals himself to her.

Hyacinth advises that he is Nannerl’s guardian and wishes to grant her deepest wish. In order to do so, she must compete three tasks for him. At first, Nannerl is excited to help to him the Princeling, but Wolferl seems to grow weaker with every task that she completes. It is not long before she is forced to question exactly what Hyacinth really wants. Who is he, and what will happen if she completes her final task?

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The Night Country

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Hazel Wood. You can read my review of this novel [here]

The Night Country was written by Melissa Albert and first published in 2020. It is an urban fantasy novel that focuses on a group of refugees from a dying world who are forced to relocate to modern day New York. The novel is a direct sequel to The Hazel Wood (2018), and Albert also plans to release Tales from the Hinterlands – the fictional book of faerie stories featured in this series – in early 2021.

After Alice’s dangerous escape from the Hinterlands, she though that she would be able to build a better life for herself. However, she has slowly come to realise that the Hinterlands never really lets anyone go. Even though Alice has lost her icy powers, she still struggles to fit in. The human world feels unnatural to her, but the other Stories resent her for the roll she played in destroying their world.

While most of the Stories seem to be harmless enough, Alice soon learns that something dark still stalks amongst them. Something is brutally murdering the Stories, stealing a single body part from every one that that it slays. To make matters worse, the killer also seems to be able to freeze people with a touch. The remaining Stories are now starting to believe that Alice is responsible, and she knows that she needs to find out the killer’s true identity if she is to clear her name.

Meanwhile, in the ruins of the Hinterlands, Ellery Finch is trying to find his way home. As the world collapses around him, he strikes a deal with Iolanthe – a girl who knows how to make doors. All he wants is to return to New York and be with Alice once again. Little does he know that his return will not be easy. His journey takes him to a library of worlds where he learns of the existence of a legendary realm called the Night Country, and the terrible price that was paid to create it…

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All the Stars and Teeth

All the Stars and Teeth was written by Adalyn Grace and is due for release in July 2020. It is a fantasy novel that focuses on a sheltered princess who joins forces with a pirate in order to stop a revolution in her kingdom. The novel is the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

In the Kingdom of Visidia, everyone can choose what kind of magic they practice and are permitted to live on one of seven islands depending their decision. The only one who is not permitted to chose is the one who sits on the throne. Only the King or Queen is permitted to practice soul magic – the most dangerous and difficult to control of the magics. This is necessary to keep the balance and ensure that greed does not destroy the kingdom as it did in ancient times.

For her whole life, Amora has trained to take her father’s place and rule over Visidia. However, in order to do so, she must demonstrate that she has flawless control over her powers. Unfortunately, her test does not go as planned and she finds herself thrown in gaol, waiting to see if she will be permitted to try again or executed for her crimes. It is here that she first meets Bastian – a young pirate. Bastian has come from the distant island of Zudoh to seek help. A cruel revolutionary called Kraven is growing in popularity. He has already ravaged Zudoh and has now set his sights on the throne. Trouble is, Zudoh is the forbidden island of curse magic and has been cut off from the rest of Visidia for years.

Escaping aboard Bastian’s ship, the Keel Haul, with her reluctant fiance in tow, Amora sets out on the adventure that she has desired for her entire life. If she is the one to save all of Visidia from Kraven, she knows that her people will eagerly accept her as Queen. However, it’s not long before Amora learns that things may not be quite as clean-cut as she imagined. Her father has been keeping secrets from her for years, and now she is starting to realise that the royal family isn’t quite as beloved as she had been led to believe…

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Scavenge the Stars

Scavenge the Stars was written by Tara Sim and first published in 2020. It is a fantasy story that is loosely inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Although Amaya is only a teenager, she has had everything taken from her. Sold to a debtor’s ship to pay off what her father owes, she risks life and limb pearl diving for her master. It has taken her years, but she is close to earning her freedom. That is, until she disobeys a direct order and rescues a drowning man.

Boon claims to be the wealthiest man in Moray and seems more than willing to share his fortune with his saviour. Amaya is pretty certain that he is lying but is tantalised by what Boon offers her. With such wealth, she can buy a place in Moray’s high society. From there, she can finally have her revenge against Kamon Mercado – the man who stole everything from her family.

Yet Moray has changed a lot while Amaya has been away. Ash fever is sweeping through the populous unchecked, killing more and more each day. When Cayo Mercado’s sister falls ill, he knows that he needs to do everything in his power to prolong her life. His investigations take him deep into the underworld of Moray and reveals uncomfortable truths about his father’s business dealings. They also bring him into contact with the Countess Yamaa – a mysterious newcomer who also seems to have some interest in his family.

Both Amaya and Cayo are playing a dangerous game, and both know that even the smallest slip-up will result in certain death…

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The Stone of Kuromori

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

The Sword of Kuromori | The Shield of Kuromori

The Stone of Kuromori was written by Jason Rohan and first published in 2016. It is the final part of The Sword of Kuromori trilogy and follows Kenny Blackwood’s continuing adventures as he tries to locate a trinity of magical objects. The novel follows on directly from where The Sword of Kuromori (2014) and The Shield of Kuromori (2015) left off. Due to this, I would strongly recommend reading them in sequence if you want to fully appreciate them.

Although Kenny managed to buy some more time for Kiyomi, her humanity still hangs in the balance. If he can’t locate the missing stone within four days, Susanoo-wo will claim her soul and transform her into a savage oni. The problem is that the stone has been lost for centuries. It is believed that it can be found in Dragon King’s Palace. Trouble is that the Palace lies deep beneath the ocean and the Dragon King is reluctant to part with his treasures.

Yet this may not be the worst of Kenny’s problems. Susanoo-wo cannot be trusted and has had a long time to plan his revenge against the gods that imprisoned him. It’s not long before Kenny realises that, in his desperation to save his friend, he has played directly into the god’s hands. His short-sightedness has not only gifted Susanoo-wo with a terrible power but also made it possible for him to permanently open the gates to Yomi – the realm of the dead.

Kenny knows that he can’t allow all of Earth to become Susanoo-wo’s hellish domain, yet victory seems to be futile. His allies are few in number and Susanoo-wo commands a legion of yōkai and oni. If Kenny is to save the day, it is going to take all of his magic and cunning. Will he be able to defeat the storm god, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice?

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The Guinevere Deception

The Guinevere Deception was written by Kiersten White and first published in 2019. It is a fantastical mystery which retells the story of Camelot from the perspective of Queen Guinevere. The novel is the first part of a planned series and the sequel – The Camelot Betrayal – is planned for release in November 2020.

Guinevere has travelled to Camelot for the first time to wed King Arthur – a man that she has never met. At least, that is how it appears from the outside. The truth is that the true Guinevere is dead and this one is an impostor, her identity concealed by Merlin’s magic. It is her duty to infiltrate all levels of Camelot’s society and defend the young king against an unknown threat.

The problem is that Guinevere does not know what form this magical attack will take. While she can sense some kind of witchcraft afoot in in the great city, she does not know what direction an attack will come from. Arthur is also not the easiest man to protect as his duties take him all over the kingdom, frequently leaving him exposed to an assassination attempt.

Guinevere immediately comes to suspect that the Patchwork Knight – an aspirant knight – has some connection to a woman who has been recently exiled for witchcraft, but her investigation into this is hampered by her expected duties as a lady of the court. Guinevere knows that she needs to find a balance and quickly. The woods are starting to awaken and the legendary Dark Queen may be moving against Camelot once again…

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Dreamland

Dreamland was first published in 2015 and is Robert L Anderson’s debut novel. It is a fantasy story that focuses on a teenage girl who has the power to “walk” into other people’s dreams. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Odea “Dea” Donahue has always been an outsider. Ever since she was little, she has been able to walk into the dreams of others. To her, it is as natural as breathing, however her mother has always made clear that there are rules that she must follow. Never be seen, never change anything, and never walk into the same person’s dream more than once. So long as Dea follows these rules, she will be safe.

Dea follows these rules without question until she meets Connor. Once she has tasted Connor’s dreams, she knows that she needs to go back for more. However, Connor is a troubled youth and his dreams are filled with monsters. It’s not long before these faceless creatures seem to become aware of Dea’s presence. And then, they come for her.

When Dea’s mother suddenly vanishes, the police suspect that she has gone on the run. Only Dea realises the truth – the monsters have captured her. Dea knows that she will need to delve further into the Dreamland than ever before if she wants to save her, and the key to doing so lies in Connor’s mind. However, will Connor even want to be close to Dea once he learns what she is capable of?

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Explorers on Black Ice Bridge

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

The Polar Bear Explorers Club | Explorers on Witch Mountain

Explorers on Black Ice Bridge was written by Alex Bell and first published in 2019. It follows the continuing adventures of Stella Starflake Pearl as she heads to one of the most dangerous places on the planet in search of a cure for her ailing friend. The novel forms the third part of The Polar Bear Explorers Club series, following on directly from where The Polar Bear Explorers Club (2017) and Explorers on Witch Mountain (2018 – published as The Forbidden Expedition in the US). Due to this, I would strongly recommend reading them in sequence if you want to fully appreciate them.

Things do not look good for Stella and her friends. Following their adventure on Witch Mountain, Felix has been stripped of his title and banished from the club. To make matters worse, Gideon has falsely accused Stella of using her magic against him, so there is also now a warrant for her arrest. This could not have come at a worse time, as Shay and Koa are growing sicker by the day. The only possible cure for them lies on the other side of the Black Ice Bridge, in the pages of Stella’s long-lost Book of Frost.

Naturally, friendship comes before everything else and Stella is quick to use her magic to escape. Yet, due to the fact that they no longer have any connections to the club, they are less prepared than ever before. No explorer has ever returned from the Black Ice Bridge, not even Beanie’s father in his ill-fated expedition eight years previously. The Explorers do not know what they will find, especially as rumours state that the bridge may lead to the very edge of the world.

Soon, Stella, Shay, Ethan and Beanie find themselves separated from the adults once again. They now can only use their wits, magic and meagre supplies to survive on the deadly bridge. But can they reach the other side in time when who knows what dangers lie in their way?

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The Girl who Speaks Bear

The Girl Who Speaks Bear was written by Sophie Anderson and first published in 2019. It is a fantasy story that focuses on a young girl who is searching for a way to break a strange curse. Although the novel has ties to The House with Chicken Legs (2018), it does still stand alone and can be thoroughly enjoyed if you haven’t read Anderson’s previous book.

Yanka has never really felt as though she belongs in the village. She was found in the woods by her Mamochka when she was a toddler and the other children are not always kind to her. Due to the fact that she is so big and strong, they have started to call her “Yanka the Bear” and Yanka knows that they laugh behind her back. Yet she also knows that she is not like them. Sometimes, Yanka feels the pull of the forest and she does not know why.

One morning, Yanka wakes up to find that she has grown furry bear legs. Although Mamochka is convinced that it some kind of strange infection, Yanka knows that this is not true. She has grown up listening to stories about a family who were cursed to become bears, and now knows that the same thing is happening to her. To find a way to lift the curse, she knows that she must seek out the legendary Bear Tsarina and ask for her assistance.

Yet the forest is dangerous, even with the protection of Mousetrap the house weasel – the self-proclaimed fiercest hunter. Yanka must face hungry wolves, witches, and even a fire dragon if she wants to find a way to restore herself. Even then, Yanka is not certain that it will make her truly happy. The forest is calling to her louder than ever before. Perhaps Yanka would be better off as a bear…

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Frostheart

Frostheart was written by Jamie Littler and first published in 2019. It is a middle grade fantasy novel which focuses on a young boy with an incredible power, as he is whisked away on an adventure with the eccentric crew of a land-ship. The novel forms the first part of a planned series and its sequel – Frostheart 2: Escape From Aurora – is due for release in October 2020.

For as long as anyone can remember, the Snow Sea has been the domain of the Leviathans. The huge monsters hide beneath the ice, attacking anyone who ventures too far away from the safety of their stronghold. At one time, Song Weavers were able to use their powers to quell the rage of the beasts. Unfortunately, these people have now largely been driven away. After all, the Leviathans could also seize control of the Song Weavers and command them to do terrible things.

Ash has never fit in amongst the Fira. Although he has always struggled to keep his urge to Sing a secret, the Leviathans still call to him and people are starting to get suspicious. Since his parents disappeared, he has been passed from guardian to guardian and now only Tobu – an exiled Yeti – is willing to take care of him. Tobu seems to be intent on pointing out Ash’s flaws as a warrior and trying to prevent him from Singing, but Ash does not really understand why. How can being a Song Weaver be so wrong when the Leviathans sound so beautiful?

When Ash uses his power to save the crew of the Frostheart from the Leviathans, he finds himself exiled from the Fira Stronghold. Fortunately, Captain Nuk is more that happy to welcome Ash aboard her ship. While life on the Snow Sea is dangerous, Ash soon discovers that this comes with freedom that he could never have imagined. Finally he has the chance to follow clues left by his parents in the form of a lullaby – a riddle that could possibly lead him back to them!

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