Here we are, the fourth book into SJM’s epic YA fantasy, and this has consistently been one of those series that I’ve been… unsure about the whole time. I’m definitely in the minority with not really falling in love with this series from book one, but I kept giving it chances because people so adore Aelin and her court. In “Queen of Shadows”, Aelin has returned to Adarlan to free her cousin and find out what happened to those left behind as the King devolves into more and more atrocities against his people, and more demons inhabit the bodies of the soldiers. Told in parts, we follow not just Aelin, but get the perspective of several familiar characters: Chaol, Manon, and Dorian (poor Dorian…) to name a few. But we also get the POV of several new characters as well such as Lysandra and Elide, which partially accounts for the sheer size of this book, but it does not account for the reason why it took me so long to finish it.
“I Love You Just the Way You Are” is the story of transformation. Of the main characters coming into their own and living their most authentic selves, and none more so than Maddie, a trans girl who braves going back to high school presenting as female when, just a year ago, she was still closeted. Maddie is incredibly brave, but she also has an amazing support system in her parents and her twin sister, making sure she is safe and able to live her truth. And then there’s Kellan, the star quarterback who has a truly horrendous home situation, but is incredibly popular and can sleep with any woman he wants in a love-them-and-leave-them fashion, until he sees Maddie working in a local café over the summer. He’s immediately smitten by this metalhead with her manga hair, and will not take no for an answer when she spurns his advances. Because while Kellan may not remember Maddie from before she came out, Maddie certainly remembers Kellan! While I loved that Kellan was so instantly attracted to Maddie and desperate to be with her or be her friend, his obsessiveness could be a bit… much at times.
This is my first book by Kova so I didn’t have any expectations going in, but she really does live up to the hype! I was expecting more Beauty and the Beast vibes from this story, but after the first few chapters this leaned more into the Hades and Persephone reimagining instead. Which was fine! I loved watching Luella and Eldas struggle to find balance between themselves and their worlds. Their romance was emotional and tender, with just a little on page spice that kept this from going full NA. It did get a little slow for me in parts as I felt things were a bit redundant with how often Luella reminds the reader that she is a healer and has to get back to her small town. I kind of wish we also got some of Eldas’ POV in this book, but with it written in 1st person, I understand why we didn’t, I just thought he had such an interesting perspective that there was enough of a story there to give him more of a voice, too.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon is one of those fairytales that feels like it gets done all the time, because of how closely Beauty and the Beast resembles this original tale. But “Daylight’s Curse” was a fresh take on an old classic with all the hallmarks of big, epic fantasies that Hackett is so masterful at crafting. We follow Sebrena, an elf woman who struggles with belonging in her tight knit community as the only one without magic. Through a deal to help her family and her people, despite their ridicule, Sabrena agrees to marry the broody fae prince, who is cursed to be a dragon during the day, returning to his true form at night. Like Sabrena, Kiran also makes a deal that puts him at a disadvantage in order to protect the continent. Which makes for such a strong basis for these two characters, forced into a marriage neither truly wants, to build a genuine, and beautiful relationship from. As long as they don’t accidentally trigger the curse that could see their world destroyed by the evil troll sorceress in the meantime, of course.
“Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun” is a perfect blend of fluffy YA contemporary romance, mixed with the heartbreaking reality of what it can be like for gay teens to come out when they have a toxic parent who is forever full of criticisms. Jules is a sweet, young man who longs to live authentically, but is rightly afraid of what his father may do if he were to know the truth. Jules believes the freedom he so craves to live openly exists only in going to college in Los Angeles, far away from his father in Texas. But when Jules accidentally comes out on Twitter while drunk during a house party with his best friends (they’re all seniors in HS), Jules realizes that he didn’t always have to hide—well, not from everyone.
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