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 House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson. Thank you to Aoifé McColgan at Transworld Books for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation are all she knows. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a strange advertisement in the newspaper, seeking a ‘bloodmaid’.
Though she knows little about the far north – where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service – Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery – and there, at the centre of it all is her.
Her name is Countess Lisavet. Loved and feared in equal measure, she presides over this hedonistic court. And she takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, charismatic, seductive – and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when her fellow bloodmaids begin to go missing in the night, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home – and fast – or its halls will soon become her grave.
Publication Date: 6th October
TW: blood, violence, death, murder, bloodletting, drug use, drug abuse, domestic abuse, gore
House of Hunger is a salacious little story, dripping with blood. This is the perfectly unsettling nightmare fuel you need this spooky season.
Our central character, Marion, made this book spark to life for me. Here is our world-weary, embittered Gothic protagonist. She is someone all too aware of the violence and disgust of the world, yet tries to survive and thrive anyway. Her spirit and determination is amazing to see and really endears you to her. Both her and the other bloodmaids are given such nuance and engaging qualities that made me fall in love with them all.
This is the type of book you simply sit back and let unfurl around you. Henderson’s writing slowly seduces and engulfs you. The lush prose is thick with thorns and ready to bite. I loved how evocative every page was, full of enticing descriptions and sensory writing. This is a book constantly teetering on the edge of ruin. You know something is definitely wrong but cannot quite place your finger on what. I loved how Henderson really leans into the shadows and vagaries of this life, ensuring there is always a tense atmosphere of paranoia and despair.
This contrasts wonderfully with the extravagant depravity and luxury of the court. The vampiric behaviour here is a clear parallel to the class system, emphasising the exploitation of those seen as lesser. Consuming blood is akin to tasting the finest wine, with the whole display and performative nature of this service. Yet it is also one that is incredibly draining and all-consuming.
Despite this intriguing and searing exploration of topical issues, there is a beguiling nature to this book. It is hypnotic, particularly when Henderson turns focus to Countess Lisavet. This is a complex character, albeit one that unnerved me every time she appeared. Her immense power and social status is contrasted with moments of vulnerability and an adoration that appears endless. The chemistry between Marion and her is sizzling, yet there is a darkness to it, an awareness that it may destroy them both.
House of Hunger is a destructive yet tantalising sapphic, Gothic gem.
Next up, I’d like to talk about Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel. Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
The only daughter of a king, Kaikeyi watches as her mother is banished and her own worth is reduced to what marriage alliance she can secure. Although she was raised on stories of the might and benevolence of the gods, her prayers for help go unanswered. She turns to her mother’s library and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat and favoured queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.
But when evils from her childhood stories threaten her world, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak – and what legacy she intends to leave behind.
Publication Date: 27th October
TW: war, gore, death, rape, domestic violence, emotional abuse, manipulation, trauma, fertility issues, child death, sexism
Kaikeyi was a vivid and intimate story, wonderfully reimagining the source mythology by bringing new interpretations to vilified and heroic characters alike.
Kaikeyi was a book that I sat with for a couple of days and allowed this epic to unfurl in front of me. This is a sprawling and immensely complex retelling of a character from the Ramayana. I must admit I knew little about this before reading, but after doing some research, I appreciated the level of detail and craftsmanship Patel poured into this.
On one hand, this is an epic fantasy tale of politics, magic and kingship. Yet at the same, this is a deeply intimate retelling of a nuanced character, focusing on the role of a woman in this world, family and those connections we hold with one another. Kaikeyi was a deeply flawed woman, but one that you could easily resonate with. She is trying to carve a space for herself and other women in a world that wants to destroy this. Her power was a unique and very interesting way of exploring this topic and connecting to traditional expectations of femininity. The way her accomplishments were accredited to others or how her qualities were villainised, but celebrated in others spoke to a sidelining and marginalisation spanning centuries.
I really loved the writing style of this book. Those little moments of character development let the book breathe between heartbreaking action sequences or political machinations. The pacing was consistent and kept me engaged. There is this delicate balance of evocative prose and practical narrative moments that was so wonderful to see. Also, it felt so refreshing to see a non-Western mythology retelling and this is something I hope continues and expands further.
Kaikeyi is a book that truly blossoms if you allow it the space to grow. This is not a book to miss if you love feminist mythology retellings.
Finally, I’d like to delve into Gleanings: Stories from Arc of a Scythe. Thank you to Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
The New York Times bestselling Arc of a Scythe series continues with thrilling stories that span the timeline. Storylines continue. Origin stories are revealed. And new Scythes emerge…
There are still countless tales of the Scythedom to tell. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. For years humans lived in a world without hunger, disease, or death with Scythes as the living instruments of population control.
Neal Shusterman – along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofia Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden, and Joelle Shusterman – returns to the world throughout the timeline of the Arc of a Scythe series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between.
Publication Date: 10th November
TW: death, violence, murder, grief, mass murder, blood, gore, suicide, suicidal ideation
Gleanings transported me back to one of my favourite literary worlds.
This series has a special place in my heart and I was thrilled to hear about this anthology, which I will break down story by story. I loved the quirk of my ARC, where it didn’t say which story is by who in the contents but only reveals this at the end of each story.
The First Swing – I loved the style of this piece with its poetry, emotional power and that beginning step of becoming a Scythe. Formidable was such a cool prequel – insight into one of my favourite characters of the series and an infamous deed they committed. Never Work with Animals was a story playing with expectations and a fair few twists and turns. The horror like touches in some scenes were exceptional. Again, A Death of Many Colours was a bit twisty tale with an interesting take on not believing in scythes. That Halloween atmosphere was delectable as well.
Unsavoury Row showed the impact of actions in the main series, particuarly those affected by gleanings. That rippling effect of repercussions is paired with an intriguing look at the Unsavouries and the life led in that subgroup. A Martian Minute was an incredibly unsettling story, playing with power and the instinct to survive. It was probably one of my favourite stories in terms of thought-provoking content. Contrastingly, The Mortal Canvas was a gorgeous story all about the beauty of art and death. It captures a moment entirely caught in time within this world. Cirri takes us into the aftermath of the series. I loved that cut off, machine narrative voice that is also deeply human and emotional, with tragic stories interwoven of lives lost.
Anastasia’s Shadow was probably another one of my favourite tales. This took a character less focused on in the spotlight of the series and really delved into the politics and back stabbing of scythes. This was a morally complex story about the cost of defeating evil. The Persistence of Memory followed two rival scythes, duelling with their differing philosophies on gleanings. At its core, this was actually a touching story about family and grief. Meet Cute and Die does exactly what it says on the tin, but was quite a sweet love story mired by death and gleanings.
Perchance to Dream was an Inception like story with so many layers and mystery elements that were really captivating. I loved how it took a fascinating and not massively explored aspect of the world and really let it shine. Finally, A Dark Curtain Rises revisited another iconic character from the series and gave us a much needed moment of bittersweet joy. It was such an interesting exploration of legacy.
Gleanings was a stunning anthology, allowing us to revisit beloved and hated characters from the series, but also expanding this endlessly engaging world.
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