Once again, my Kindle screen can't do them justice, so here are some higher quality images of the covers in this series. Photos from Amazon's listings for the books.
The Demons of Muralia books by Mikko Azul so far include The Staff of Fire and Bone and The Rod of Wind and Iron.
This series is an indie YA/NA secondary-world fantasy with rich worldbuilding. It focuses on the main character, Cédron, a prince of a city-state who has cultural heritage from four different peoples and this is described to be everyone. However, he inherited some magical abilities from one of his disliked ancestral groups, which make him an outcast at home and a target for a power-hungry mage. An ancient god-like being is attempting to break free of his cage, and Cédron will either prevent it or cause it.
One thing I like about this series is the Avatar: The Last Airbender vibe centered on Cédron. He needs to collect magical stones for each of the four elements to defeat his enemy. He also ends up collecting a band of friends who help him fight... well everybody, since no one seems to be on his side. The worldbuilding is deep and rich, but very clear. People from different cultures have names that made it very clear who they are in general, even if I forgot some specifics.
On the downside, so many women died in book 1. And each time the death motivated the male MC to do more toward his quest: aka there were multiple fridgings. I also felt like the editor was overpaid for their quality of copyediting.
Overall, this is your jam is you like really hardcore worldbuilding (funky names, different words for the sun and moon, multiple cultures, etc.), soft magic (aka rules not laid out to the reader), and quest stories. Not for you if you need books to satisfy the Bechdel test, if a large cast or multi POV is not your style, or if you're not a fan of fantasy violence.
Have you read either of these two books? What did you think? Let's discuss in the comments!
Transparency note: I read The Rod of Wind and Iron as a beta reader (aka free for me and supplied feedback for free to the author). I purchased The Staff of Fire and Bone and did not ask for or receive compensation for my honest review.
Clue was more enchanted with the bird outside our window than posing for this. Photo by Kate Ota 2022
A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross is the second of my Book of the Month books. It’s an adult secondary-world fantasy with clear Scottish inspiration. The main character, Jack, is a bard summoned to his home island to help solve a problem of missing girls. The island is controlled in many ways by elemental spirits, and is cut in half with one side being Jack’s homeland and the other their sworn enemies. Music can summon and control spirits, plaid fabric can be woven with protection, and swords can carry curses. While Jack teams up with his childhood rival, Adaira, to use magic to solve the problem, other characters try a more traditional method of searching. It’s 464 pages, which kept me entertained for a week of commuting. It also clearly set up a at least a sequel.
I like this book’s Scottish influence; it gave it a more specific and interesting atmosphere. Shout out to the author for making me feel like people had an accent without writing an accent. I appreciated the brother and sister relationship between Jack and Frae, which was very sweet and reminded me of how my uncles treat my mom (who is significantly younger than they are).
One the downside, I felt like the enemies-to-lovers arc was a bit too fast. They went from disliking each other to in love for no clear reason. I also disliked some of the reveals at the end of the book. Some things felt like they came out of nowhere, and some felt like I’d been waiting for them to realize this the whole book. None hit the sweet spot of surprising-yet-inevitable.
This book will appeal to fantasy readers who like Scotland and possibly related Gaelic cultures. If you’re big into the power of music, this may also strike a chord with you. It’s not for you if you want a slow burn enemies-to-lovers or if you don’t want to read about kidnapped children.
Have you read A River Enchanted? What did you think of the series of reveals at the end? Did you root for Jack and Adaira? Let’s discuss in the comments!
I don't like how photos of my Kindle turn out. So instead, here's the cats curled up and vaguely rose-shaped. Photo by Kate Ota 2020
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is a romcom (from 2013) set in Melbourne, Australia. Don, the POV character, is a man with what is hinted as Asperger’s (now we’d call it Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD), however this is never clearly laid out. Don has had trouble finding a life partner and has few friends but enjoys his work as a genetics researcher and professor. He creates a questionnaire for women to help him find his perfect wife. He’s very strict with what he considers the right answers, but still gets hundreds of responses. His friend goes through responses for him, and sends him Rosie, a woman who meets none of Don’s expectations. Don and Rosie get close over a project to find her biological father, and eventually fall in love (not a spoiler—it’s a romcom!)
I liked that a certain womanizing character was called out at the end, though he didn’t get enough comeuppance in my opinion. I also liked Rosie, who stood up for herself and was far from a helpless or clumsy leading lady.
I had many dislikes for this book, however. The romance never really gelled for me. I was SHOCKED, despite knowing the genre requires a happily ever after, that they got together at the end. I felt like I was watching a couple on Love is Blind and wanted to shout, “Don’t say yes, girl!” This is clearly not the reaction I was intended to have to a romcom. I disliked Don, mostly because of all the things Gene had influenced about him and his view of women. And yes, that was the character arc, but it was very hard to root for Don, like a reader is supposed to, when the arc is less of a smooth curve and more of a sudden leap. I disliked how Don commented on the BMI of everyone he met (and as a biologist, he should know BMI is often misleading because it doesn’t account for muscle being heavier than fat.) I also easily predicted the results of the search for Rosie’s father, taking a lot of fun out of it.
My largest complaint is that the author doesn’t have ASD himself, nor did he base Don on anyone who was diagnosed as ASD. It felt very wishy-washy, trying to be able to claim representation while also being able to deny it if there were any problems. I read reviews from people with ASD and they varied from seeing Don as a caricature to feeling like he was fairly close. If the author was part of that community and claimed to only be representing how he himself operates/sees the world, I’d be totally fine with it. As is, this aspect of the book leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Overall, it wasn’t my favorite read. I did finish it though, for my work’s Diversity and Inclusion Book Club. You would enjoy this book if you felt Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory was the type of ASD rep you’re looking for. You may also enjoy it if you’re looking for a romcom told from only the male POV or if you love a good paternity hunt. You may not like it if you are looking for more modern representations of people with ASD, if you get angry at misogynistic characters, or if you want a spicier heat level in your romcoms.
Have you read The Rosie Project or the rest of the series? Do you have ASD and did you feel Don was accurate representation? Let’s discuss in the comments!