Mini Review Monday #49

I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the most recent of which was last week. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve previously read and am now ready to share my full thoughts about.

First up, I’d like to talk about The Hollow Heart by Marie Rutkoski. Thank you so much to Hodder for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Spoilers for The Midnight Lie in the synopsis

Nirrim’s heart is lost, traded to the god of thieves in order to restore her people’s memories of their city’s history. Meanwhile, Sid, the person she once loved most, has returned to Herran to take up her duty to the crown.

But frightening rumours are growing in the Herrani court: of a new threat rising across the sea, of magic unleashed upon the world, and of a cruel, black-haired queen who can push false memories into your mind, so that you believe your dearest friends to be your enemies.

Sid doesn’t know that this queen is Nirrim, seeking revenge against a world that has wronged her. Can Sid save Nirrim from herself? And does Nirrim even want to be saved?

As blood is shed and war begins, Sid and Nirrim find that it might not matter what they want . . . for the gods have their own plans.

Publication Date: 9th September

TW: death, executions, murder, blood, poisoning

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

It’s no secret that I absolutely adored The Midnight Lie and I knew I needed The Hollow Heart as soon as possible after that shocking ending. Luckily Rutkoski more than matches the hype with another gorgeously magical story, though this has a darker heart to it. 

I found this so, so easy to binge with Rutkoski’s writing utterly transporting me into this lush fantastical world. There’s just this gorgeously rich writing filled with magic that I fell in love with all over again. It felt like a really smart build on the first book. In particular, I adored the world-building in The Midnight Lie, but we get even more here. I loved the development of the mythology of the world and the new lands we got to discover. The exploration of the gods and their pantheon was fascinating for me and added this new level of intrigue to the story. What we got glimpses at originally, Rutkoski prises the door open here and it is so much fun to read. Speaking of this, I loved the addition of The God’s perspective, which adds this extra layer to the story. It was a clever way to mesh these worlds together and provide a bit more context to Nirrim’s tale. In fact, they were some of my favourite chapters. 

The clear highlight of this duology has to be our central characters. I really enjoyed how this cohesively felt like Sid’s book, making the two books halves of a whole. Having not read The Winner’s Curse trilogy, I felt like Rutkoski made it accessible for a casual reader but also included enough subtle nods to reward fans of the trilogy. We get to see far more of Sid and their development over the course of the book is phenomenal. They move from a more shadowy, mysterious figure to a three-dimensional, fiercely protective and loyal person. I loved the political intrigue and assassination mystery threaded into their plotline, as well as an exploration of their own complex relationship with their parents and their gender identity.

Of course, I also have to talk about Nirrim. Here, she is fascinatingly complex, brutal and ruthless in her pursuit of vengeance. Her loss of compassion and hardened heart lead to so much violence and bloodshed, but you’re still rooting for that sweet hopeless romantic from the first book. All the way through, I was eagerly anticipating their reunion after those heart-achingly beautiful scenes between the two of them in the first book. They’ve both changed so much, but that spark of love between them remains, if it can be saved. Without saying too much, you do get to see some more scenes that will make your heart sing, but not without darkness and bloodshed. 

The Hollow Heart perfectly builds on the first book to create an original, cohesive and wonderfully written duology that deserves all the love.

Next up, I’d like to talk about Dark Things I Adore by Kate Lattari. Thank you so much to Titan Books for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Three campfire secrets. Two witnesses. One dead in the trees. And the woman, thirty years later, bent on making the guilty finally pay.

1988. A group of outcasts gather at a small, prestigious arts camp nestled in the Maine woods. They’re the painters: bright, hopeful, teeming with potential. But secrets and dark ambitions rise like smoke from a campfire, and the truths they tell will come back to haunt them in ways more deadly than they dreamed.

2018. Esteemed art professor Max Durant arrives at his protégé’s remote home to view her graduate thesis collection. He knows Audra is beautiful and brilliant. He knows being invited into her private world is a rare gift. But he doesn’t know that Audra has engineered every aspect of their weekend together. Every detail, every conversation. Audra has woven the perfect web.

Only Audra knows what happened that summer in 1988. Max’s secret, and the dark things that followed. And even though it won’t be easy, Audra knows someone must pay.

Publication Date: 14th September

TW: abuse, suicide, mental illness, self-harm, murder, violence, gaslighting, emotional abuse

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Dark Things I Adore is the type of book that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let you go. Lattari weaves a dark, intimate and extremely compelling web that almost makes you complicit. 

From the very first page, this is an incredibly tense story. You shift perspectives in a way that feels unnerving, as you get glimpses of the darkness veiled just beneath the surface. The only way I can really describe it is like a trap is about to spring at any given moment. This is a masterclass in suspense and tension that is just unrelenting. You just cannot look away, even though you know nothing good will come of it. Instantly, there’s this predator/prey dynamic but the people behind each label are constantly changing. The underlying feelings and atmosphere are incredibly uncomfortable and unnerving. This only increases as the pages fly by and more and more details are exposed. I really loved how Lattari sustains this taut feeling all the way through, making it almost compulsive reading. 

There’s this driving thread of art as a medium, an escape and a way of channeling your own experiences. It’s something that is so powerful and provocative and Lattari really digs into the entire world. All at once, it’s glamorous but also deeply seedy. She exposes the nepotism and exploitation that drives many of the characters’ successes. It asks what this gorgeous art can really cost and to what extent is someone’s creative genius seen as more valuable than human life. 

In this way, I really loved the interweaving of Audra’s artwork into the main story. Every so often, we get these little snippets of her project, which ties back to the central mystery and allows us glimpses into a tortured psyche. The events enshrouded in her art and the unnerving implications they have add that extra layer of foreshadowing and duplicity into the events unfolding. Similarly, the way the different perspectives and timelines are threaded to is so fascinating and well-executed. You start to question your own complicity and Lattari forces you to interrogate your own position as a bystander, like many of the other characters. 

Without giving anything away, I do just have to highlight what an amazing ending this book has. The entire mystery is cleverly put together, with plenty of twists and turns in store. Between the incredible tension and interesting character snippets, you get invested so quickly. It feels like you’re holding your breath for the entire finale sequence and Lattari’s writing is so immersive that you can practically smell the forest air. The ending also raises questions of what justice really looks like and where the line of vengeance ends. At what point does accountability turn into something darker and bloodier? 

Dark Things I Adore is a bloody, vicious and vengeful story with a masterful use of atmosphere and tension that also allows for an examination of the true cost of artistic success and the notion of the tragic muse.

Finally, I’d like to delve into Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao. Thank you so much to Rock the Boat for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Science fiction and East Asian myth combine in this dazzling retelling of the rise of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history

The boys of Huaxia dream of the celebrity status that comes with piloting Chrysalises – giant transforming robots that battle the aliens beyond the Great Wall. Their female co-pilots are expected to serve as concubines and sacrifice their lives.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, her plan is to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But on miraculously emerging from the cockpit unscathed after her first battle, the Iron Widow sets her sights on bigger things. The time has come to take on the entire patriarchal military system.

Publication Date: 7th October

TW: sexual assault, abuse, torture, suicidal ideation, violence and alcohol addiction

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Iron Widow is an exceptional book. This is an interrogative, imaginative and endlessly interesting retelling that combines a personal story of revenge with an epic sci-fi world. 

I absolutely loved Zhao’s writing. This felt like an incredibly strong debut novel, with the writing flowing so well and completely enveloping me in this creative and immersive world. I’m not always the biggest sci-fi fan, but Zhao has converted me. The entire concept of the mechs was really fascinating. In particular, I loved how it was used to explore the themes of identity, control over sexuality and the disposability of female lives. At every turn, stereotypes are oppressively enforced and used to dictate every action. The marginalisation of women and the pervasive idea of their silence allows them to be seen as lesser and therefore far more expendable. It asks the cost of heroism and celebrity in this patriarchal society.

The characters feel really fleshed out and vivid, with glimpses into their backstories and motivations that allowed for a more layered portrayal. In particular, Zetian was a fascinating protagonist to follow along. Initially, it was interesting to explore her single minded vision of revenge at all costs and how it becomes more complex than that. She is merciless and willing to sacrifice everything to change the system. Her relationships with people allow for more nuance to gradually creep in, though there is still plenty of bloody action. Ultimately, her quest is still brutal and laser focused. This all leads to an incredible ending that had me craving the next book. I can’t help it, I just love morally gray stories that really dig into your heart. 

Iron Widow is a cutting story of vengeance at all costs that strikes back against the patriarchy. This is a firecracker of a book that I cannot wait to discuss with more people.

3 thoughts on “Mini Review Monday #49

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