Mini Review Monday #86

I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the most recent of which was a little while ago. 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 Cruel Illusions by Margie Fuston. Thank you to Hodderscape for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ever since a vampire murdered her mother, Ava has been determined to get revenge. This all-encompassing drive has given her the fuel she needed to survive foster home after foster home.

But it’s been ten years since anyone’s seen a vampire, and Ava has lost hope that she’ll ever find one . . . until she stumbles across a hidden magic show where she witnesses impossible illusions. The magicians may not be the bloodsuckers she’s hunting, but Ava is convinced something supernatural is at play, so she sneaks backstage and catches them in acts they can’t explain.

But they’ve been waiting for her.

The magicians reveal they’re part of an ancient secret society with true magic, and Ava has the same power in her blood that they do. If she joins them, they promise to teach her the skills she needs to hunt vampires and avenge her mother. But there’s a catch: if she wants to keep the power they offer, she needs to prove she’s worthy of it. And to do so, she must put on the performance of her life in a sinister and dangerous competition where illusion and reality blur, and the stakes are deadly.

Publication Date: 1st November

TW: blood, death, murder, body horror, violence, grief, manipulation

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Cruel Illusions was that immersive, imaginative and inventive escapism you desire from a YA fantasy story. 

This was a surprisingly layered and intriguing story, full of secrets, twists and turns. It sits with that question of absolute power and how it may corrupt people. Also, the line between monster and human becomes increasingly blurred with some murky moral territory. That whole power dynamic and the increasingly sinister nature of the central competition was brilliant to watch unfurl. For me, the magic system was always endlessly entertaining. It felt very visual and cinematic, creating these elaborate spectacles around you. I loved how personalised it was and how different everyone’s abilities were when manifested. Magic is something that has always captivated me and this offers you a peek behind the curtain into a new world. 

Fuston takes that performative nature and steps it up a gear into a high stakes and claustrophobic competition of wits. It is a game where little is truly as it seems and there are layers upon layers of plots, many of which are tinged with blood and death. The personal dynamics really wrap this up, with unknown relationships and connections slowly coming to life. You fall in love with these ragtag found families and their varied personalities. They all have different reasons and method for pursuing vengeance as well, which leads to some really interesting discussions. Where is that line between justice and vengeance and who draws it? 

On top of this, I found myself really connecting to Ava. Here was a fiercely talented and brilliant young woman, caught up in a maelstrom of vengeance and blood and a desperation to find somewhere that she truly belongs in. That mix of vulnerability and needing a survival mechanism cannot fail to draw you to her. The moments when she allows aspects of herself to shine through past that wall are truly wonderful. Beyond that, she is also a badass. 

Cruel Illusions is an endlessly tricksy YA fantasy story, always ready with another trick up its sleeve.

Next up, I’d like to talk about The Wicked Remain by Laura Pohl. Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

At Grimrose Academie, the fairy-tale deaths continue. And unless the curse is broken, one of the girls could be next.

Nani, Yuki, Ella, and Rory have discovered the truth about the curse that’s left a trail of dead bodies at Grimrose. But the four still know nothing of its origins, or how to stop the cycle of doomed fates.

And each girl harbors her own secret. One is learning why she was brought to the school. One struggles to keep her new and deadly power under control. One knows exactly how much time she has left.

And one, trying to escape her dark destiny, will come even closer to fulfilling it.

Can the girls change their own stories and break the curse? Or must one of them die to end it forever?

Publication Date: 1st November

TW: violence, gore, parental abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, cancer, suicide attempt, death by suicide, fatphobia, sexual assault, transphobia, child abuse

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

The Grimrose Girls flipped the script on what you may expect from fairy tale retellings with a dash of murder, mystery and the power of female friendships. The Wicked Remain takes it a step further, drenching the book in even more blood and darkness.

I liked how we delved more into the origin of the curse and the differing impact it has on each of our characters. After the initial mystery of the first book, there is still plenty more to discover and Pohl does not lay it out on the table immediately. Instead, we learn through glimpses and flashes, with a few horrible surprises lurking in there as well. 

Again Pohl captures the essence of the original tales and weaves something entirely new and wonderful out of it. I liked how much this book leaned into the romances established in the first book. There is still a lot to be said for how damn sapphic it is. Seeing that representation in the kind of tales that have been portrayed to embody the cisheteronormative standards of society is still amazing. These dynamics grew fairly naturally from their previous iterations, with plenty of drama and curveballs thrown in. It adds that extra layer of messy complications and also a sense of something else to fight for; that glimmer of hope and happiness in the world. However, there is still an extremely prominent focus on the power of female friendships. These are not straightforward, they are as complicated and fragile as the characters themselves but they are important sources of connection and understanding between one another. I loved all of their arcs of realisation and development, which are so well-executed over the course of the book. 

The Wicked Remain is a brilliant conclusion to an original and exciting duology. 

Finally, I’d like to delve into Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn. Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children’s UK for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Some legacies are meant to be broken.

The shadows have risen, and the line is law.

All Bree wanted was to uncover the truth behind her mother’s death. So she infiltrated the Legendborn Order, a secret society descended from King Arthur’s knights – only to discover her own ancestral power. Now, Bree has become someone new: A Medium. A Bloodcrafter. A Scion.

But the ancient war between demons and the Order is rising to a deadly peak. And Nick, the Legendborn boy Bree fell in love with, has been kidnapped. When the Regents reveal they will do whatever it takes to hide the war, Bree and her friends must go on the run to rescue Nick themselves. But enemies are everywhere, Bree’s own powers are unpredictable and dangerous, and she can’t escape her growing attraction to Selwyn, the mage sworn to protect Nick until death.

If Bree has any hope of saving herself and the people she loves, she must learn to control her powers from the ancestors who wielded them first – without losing herself in the process.

Publication Date: 8th November

TW: racism, death, grief, violence, life-threatening injury, discussed rape, non-consensual drug use, non-consensual memory & perception manipulation, imprisonment, slavery, kidnapping, medical trauma, gore, injury

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Legendborn became a new obsession for me in 2020. It was such an epic tale, with expansive mythology and scale that combines an expert interrogation of societal issues and a tale of reclaiming your own identity in a world that wants to bury it. So to say my expectations for Bloodmarked were high is to massively underplay it. Deonn smashed through them to deliver another meteoric tale that burns bright.

Bloodmarked takes every aspect of the previous book and elevates it to new heights. That deep rooted exploration of grief and trauma expands in an intimate and deeply emotional story. The reconciliation of the generational abuse and trauma Bree faces is immense and Deonn does not shy away from showcasing just how impactful dealing with this legacy is. It is a challenge that threatens to overwhelm Bree, consistently alienating her and providing yet more challenges. She really goes through it in this book. Her vulnerability and moments of release really hit hard, as you fall ever more in love with her. She is a truly phenomenal protagonist. 

Deonn also ensures that her readers go through it with Bree. There are so many twists and turns here that will fully make you want to throw the book across the room. Without spoilers, that ending made me stop everything and just sit in shocked silence for a while after finishing. The stakes also grow ever higher in an intense and atmospheric book. It is so fast paced, but still allows you fleeting moments to breathe and reflect on everything that has occurred. What truly made me ebullient was the sheer scope and level of detail Deonn brings into the book. There is so much new ground covered in this book that was hinted towards in the first book, making me question what else we have previously missed to have it pay off soon. This series is constantly raising the game for all other YA fantasy novels. It is so astute and creative, constantly giving you something new and exciting.

Bloodmarked shakes the YA fantasy scene up once more, fulminating with its brilliance and impact. If this series isn’t already on your radar, you need to change that immediately. 

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