Mini Review Monday #74

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 Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi. Thanks to HarperVoyager for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Empire rules by blood.
Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.
Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.
Clear is the blood of the servants, of the crushed, of the invisible.

The Aktibar – a set of trials held every ten years to find the next Ember rulers of the Empire – is about to begin.

All can join but not just anyone can win; it requires great skill and ingenuity to become the future wardens of Strength, Knowledge, Truth and Duty.

Sylah was destined to win the trials and be crowned Warden of Strength. Stolen by blue-blooded rebels she was raised with a Duster’s heart; forged as a weapon to bring down from within the red-blooded Embers’ regime of cruelty. But when her adopted family were brutally murdered those dreams of a better future turned to dust.

However, the flame of hope may yet be rekindled because Sylah wasn’t made to sparkle, she was born to burn. And it’s up to her whether she rules the empire or destroys it.

Publication Date: 23rd June

TW: detailed drug abuse/addiction, drug withdrawal, mass murder, death, familial death, violence, gore, executions, discrimination, kidnapping, manipulation/ gaslighting, police brutality/ corruption, fatphobia, physical/ emotional abuse, familial abuse, trauma

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

The Final Strife is a book designed to be savoured. The action is fast-paced and thrilling, but I loved the deft, subtle and quieter character work and attention to detail. 

This was such a stunning book. I loved how deftly the groundwork for future books was set out, with an in-depth peek into the politics and history of this brutal world. There is just so much material here, but it never feels overwhelming or like exposition. Instead, you are just fully immersed into this incredibly rich world. In particular, I loved the excerpts at the beginning of each chapter, which added little hints of world-building throughout the book and weaving that rich tapestry. Books like this just pull me in and allow me to lose myself in the imaginative dexterity of the writer. El-Arifi has set the standard for what promises to be an excellent fantasy series. 

I am a sucker for some morally ambiguous and ever shifting characters. Sylah  and Anoor are two vastly different people, but they are equally driven by the compulsion to survive in a system determined to crush them. Their alternative viewpoints offer such different insights into the world around them, opening up some thought-provoking discussions and brutal examinations of issues. This is not a book that shys away from the bloody havoc of the world around them. Yet El-Arifi takes her time, allowing the intricate character work to shine through in order for you to really connect with these complex people. The relationship between the two of them was endlessly fascinating as well. The tension, the dialogue and the way they interacted was incredible. I love a slow-burning shift in dynamic and we are treated to a great one here. 

The Final Strife is a thunderstorm of a book. It is a fully fleshed-out, epic fantasy that will capture your mind.

Next up, I’d like to talk about Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert. Thanks to Penguin for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

In our family, we keep our magic close, but our secrets closer…

Ivy’s summer kicks off with a series of disturbing events. As unnatural offerings appear on her doorstep, she’s haunted by fragmented memories from her childhood, suggesting there’s more to her mother, Dana, than meets the eye.

Dana’s tale starts the year she turns sixteen, when she embarks on a major fling with the supernatural. Too late she realizes that the powers she’s playing with are also playing with her.

Years after it began, Ivy and Dana’s shared story will come down to a reckoning between a mother, a daughter and the dark forces they never should have messed with.

Publication Date: 30th June

TW: animal mutilation, animal death and sacrifices, decapitation, sacrifice, parental neglect, blood, gore and dark witchcraft 

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Our Crooked Hearts was like a shiver down my spine. It was haunting, chilling and mysterious in all the best ways. 

This is a book that just unnerves you with its fragmented, haunting style and chilling atmosphere. It is exquisitely unsettling, reminding you of that just beyond your vision. Magic collides with trauma and secrets here to concoct what I think is Albert’s strongest story yet. I was totally captivated by this twisty, bloody and enrapturing book. Albert’s writing perfectly encapsulates this atmosphere, with a lyrical feel to it in its gorgeous evocative nature. However, it also had such a sharp edge to it. I loved the slow burn of the mystery and how past and present collided in contrasting narrative threads. There is always something more than what it seems here. That glimmer of danger that manifests on every page is startling and yet undeniably alluring. You cannot help but what to know exactly what lurks in the dark. 

Ivy herself is a shadowy protagonist to follow along. She’s fierce, determined and smart, but there’s an undercurrent of rage within her and a tangled relationship with her family. Albert offers you little hints that create this shocking larger picture later in the book and are sure to reward the reader with a knowing smile upon a reread. Her journey is definitely one that will surprise you, but it is fascinating to follow along. Alternatively, we get an insight into her mum Dana’s perspective in the past. These two storylines come to intersect in many unexpected ways that illuminate a discussion of temptation, damnation and death. Magic always has a price and the one presented here just might be too high. 

Our Crooked Hearts offers up its bloody, beating heart of witchcraft, family and long buried secrets in a shadowy spell cast upon the reader.

Finally, I’d like to delve into The Silence That Binds Us by Johanna Ho. Thank you so much to Harper 360 YA for sending me an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Maybelline Chen isn’t the Chinese Taiwanese American daughter her mother expects her to be. May prefers hoodies over dresses and wants to become a writer. When asked, her mom can’t come up with one specific reason for why she’s proud of her only daughter. May’s beloved brother, Danny, on the other hand, has just been admitted to Princeton. But Danny secretly struggles with depression, and when he dies by suicide, May’s world is shattered.

In the aftermath, racist accusations are hurled against May’s parents for putting too much “pressure” on him. May’s father tells her to keep her head down. Instead, May challenges these ugly stereotypes through her writing. Yet the consequences of speaking out run much deeper than anyone could foresee. Who gets to tell our stories, and who gets silenced? It’s up to May to take back the narrative.

Publication Date: 7th July

TW: suicide, discussion of suicide, depression, grief, racism, police brutality, death

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

The Silence That Binds Us was a book that I will truly never forget. This was a stunning book in every way. 

May is a fantastic protagonist and her voice completely surrounds and immerses you. Her emotional vulnerability and authentic voice makes it impossible not to connect with her. The situation facing her is an impossible one and Ho ensures you see every aspect of her journey. The depiction of grief in this book was nothing short of incredible. It felt so authentic and accurate, showing the range of grief responses. The emotional intensity and veracity presented by Ho was perfect. This is a heavy book, but one that really mires in the lived experiences of grief, suicide and racism. It is a book designed to sit with you and for you to sit and truly consider after reading. In particular, the representation of grief after someone has died by suicide was astounding and rang true for me. The emotional tapestry is layered and infused with a biting truth that really resonated with me. There are no straight answers here, rather a focus on an individual journey. That being said, I really enjoyed the surrounding cast of characters and how fully fleshed-out they felt. 

Beyond this, the book really delves into experiences of anti-Asian racism, which is particularly prevalent in the wake of coronavirus. The experiences depicted are horrific and compound the pain already caused that much more. However, I really appreciated how Ho explored an intersectional approach and the ‘model minority’ myth. The movement of Black Lives Matter is also explored and how we may often only confront racist ideologies when they come to directly affect us. This is a book about weighing up silence and the consequences of speaking out. Ultimately, Ho encourages us to use our voices and rally against the systems of oppression surrounding us. 

The Silence That Binds Us was a phenomenal book that will stay with me forever. 

5 thoughts on “Mini Review Monday #74

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