Never before has a television show landed so hard and fast on my Favorites list. On a scale of one to Avatar: the Last Airbender, The Dragon Prince is a solid nine. Which is hardly a surprise, since they're both created by Aaron Ehasz.
The reason the aforementioned assassin--an elf named Rayla--is sent to kill the princes and king is because the king killed the Dragon King of Xadia, Thunder, and destroyed his egg.
Except it turns out the egg wasn't destroyed, it was stolen. Kept in an underground dungeons by the humans.
The three kids find the egg and travel to Xadia to return it to its mother, in the hopes that this will end the war between humanity and Xadia. As such, the biggest themes in the show are forgiveness, the endless cycle of revenge, and how good intentions can lead to the worst villains. Seriously, every villain on this show really, really believes they're a good guy.
Season one is primarily just laying the groundwork, introducing all major characters, and building the relationship between our three heroes. Rayla is an elven assassin who's never actually killed anyone and is primarily motivated by the need for redemption, not just herself but her family. Her parents were part of the Dragon Guard and failed to protect the egg when the humans attacked.
The two human princes are Callum and Ezran, half-brothers from their mother. So even though Callum is older, Ezran is next in line for the throne because he's the one who's actually descended from the king. While this causes zero friction between the brothers, Callum does have a somewhat awkward relationship with his kingly stepfather. One of those "aw, they love each other so much but have no idea how to express it" kind of situations.
Ezran is a little kid who has to grow into his role as new king very quickly. Meanwhile, Callum wants to be a mage, picking up one spell at a time with what limited resources he has on the road.
Fun fact: the voice actor for Callum is Jack De Sena, who also played Sokka. And yes, they do make a boomerang joke.
The biggest villain opposing our trio is Lord Viren, who takes over the human kingdom after the king is murdered and immediately proceeds to escalate the war with Xadia. This at first seems reasonable. After all, his king and best friend has been murdered, and for the first few episodes it looks like the princes are also dead. Why wouldn't Lord Viren take control and strike back?
But after news gets around that the princes are alive--and therefore, next in line for the throne--Viren sends his adult children to steal the egg back and kill the princes, officially putting him in villain territory.
What makes Viren so terrifying is his manipulation. He has almost everyone convinced that he's a genuinely good person, using lies, gaslighting, and, if necessary, dark magic to get his work done.
Each season has nine episodes, although the latest season probably could have benefited from an extra episode, as there was more than one point where it felt a bit rushed. This is most clearly seen in the romantic subplot between Callum and Rayla. It came out of nowhere. The flirting started a few episodes into season three and by the last episode they were already in an established relationship and exchanging "I love you's."
Although I will admit: once those two get together, they are an adorable couple.
What immediately caught my eye in this show was the cast's diversity: Ezran is the most obvious example, being one of the main three characters and black.
Women and men both hold positions of power--queens, kings, soldiers, generals, mages, assassins, etc.--and there are several characters of color.
There are two same-sex couples, which is huge for a kids' show.
Finally, to top it off, there are a handful of minor characters with disabilities. My personal favorite is General Amaya, Ezran and Callum's aunt who is mute. She communicates through sign language, takes none of Viren's bullshit, and spends most of her time on-screen beating the crap out of elves and villains.
So far there are three seasons, and while it doesn't end on a massive cliffhanger, there are a handful of questions that need to be answered. This is good, because we have a confirmed season four. But because it's Netflix we have no idea when that's actually going to happen, and that was before coronavirus screwed everyone's schedule.
Go to your bookshelf.
Take out all the science fiction and fantasy books that you've read.
Look up each author and then divide the books by "white author" and "non-white author."
Once you have your two piles, you'll probably realizing with a sinking feeling that you have a lot more books by white authors than people of color.
This isn't an attack on you. The publishing industry--like most other industries--are skewed to favor white people. Even as there's a growing interest in characters of color, it's often very difficult for authors of color to break into the industry compared to their white counterparts.
I'm guilty of this, too. One look at my Favorites list will tell anyone that I've been lingering in my own comfort zone for far too long.
In light of this--as well as the recent call to support black business owners and authors--I will be expanding my reading list. As soon as I finish the Diviners series and get my new books in the mail (I wouldn't be surprised if my recent order single-handedly makes Bezos a trillionaire), you will see a spike in this blog of reviews of books by authors of color.
I invite any and all white readers to join me in this challenge of purposefully diversifying our bookshelves. I invite any people of color reading this to join in, as well, though you're probably less likely to need it. More often than not, when I stumble on a "new" author of color, my non-white friends will have known about them for years. Same with LGBTQ+ authors and friends. I'm usually slow to the party, is what I'm trying to say.
Anyway, this post is for people hoping to find a good read by an author of color. Here is a list of six amazing science fiction and fantasy books by authors of color that I've already had the privilege of reading and reviewing. Links lead to more in-depth, spoiler-free reviews. These are all in order from young adult to grimdark adult, so you'll hopefully find something to catch your interest.
Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera
Dread Nation and Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
Kingston Cycle Trilogy by C. L. Polk
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James
That's that! Comment with your favorite sci-fi and fantasy authors of color so I can check them out, please and thank you. :)
Note: originally, this was a list of seven authors of color and included G. Willow Wilson's The Bird King. Then it was brought to my attention that she's actually white.
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
Note: while there are no spoilers for Deathless Divide here, there are spoilers for the first book Dread Nation. So if you're interested in Justina Ireland's work but don't want to get spoiled, click on the Dread Nation review here.
A little while ago I reviewed the first book in this series, Dread Nation, which followed Jane and Kate from Miss Preston's zombie-killing school to the wild west racist playground of Summerland, in 1880.
I re-read Dread Nation before getting into the sequel, Deathless Divide, and it gave me whiplash. You would think that Justina Ireland could see into the future: replace "zombies" with "COVID-19," and "Survivalist" with "Trump-supporter," and you've got 2020 in a nutshell. It's a little eerie. But it's a necessary read for any fans of speculative fiction who want to better understand race relations, because Ireland does her research. While there's the obvious fantasy element of zombies that throws American history on a different track, it's still grounded in reality, and there are direct parallels between the heroes' plight and our modern-day racial discrimination.
Deathless Divide picks up right where Ireland left off in Dread Nation: Jane, Kate, and their friends let Summerland get devoured by zombies while they try for the fortified town of Nicodemus. The big problem here is that's where a lot of other Summerland survivors are heading, and you'll recall they're all white supremacists. As soon as Jane arrives she spends the next several chapters in a jail cell for murdering the last book's villains: Sheriff and Pastor Snyder.
Deathless Divide is all about consequences. Not only do Jane and Kate have to wrestle with them, but so does this book's villain: Gideon Carr. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he was one of Jane's allies in Dread Nation, and also helped come up with the ineffective "vaccine." He turns villainous because he doesn't have regard for the consequences of his actions. He's consumed by the goal of finding a cure or effective vaccine for the zombie plague and makes horrible, devastating mistakes that cost Jane dearly.
He has several parallels to Victor Frankenstein: he's sympathetic in that he doesn't mean to be evil, and in fact sees himself as the good guy (re: "it'll all be worth it"). At the same time, I don't feel bad for him in the least because he should've learned his lesson the first time a hundred people died. He's a rich scientist who doesn't care about the trail of bodies he leaves in his wake; the zombies aren't nearly as dangerous as he is.
While Gideon goes full on evil, Jane skirts that line herself. In Dread Nation she was already something of an anti-hero, with all of her lying and not particularly going out of her way to save other people, just herself and her frenemy Kate. But when Gideon triggers a vengeance quest within her in Deathless Divide, she goes a little nuts, turning reckless and vicious. While she never hurts an innocent, she does put a few in direct danger and develops taste for torture.
We also get Kate's point of view. This gets irritating because her chapters, like Jane's, are all first person POV. Dread Nation was told purely through Jane's eyes, which worked beautifully. In Deathless Divide, each chapter alternates: chapter one is Jane, chapter two is Katherine, chapter three is back to Jane, etc, much like the last two books of Tiana Warner's Eriana Kwai Trilogy. And just like that series, it can get confusing as to whose head we're in. As much as I appreciate getting into Katherine's mysterious backstory, there were probably better ways to go about it.
Having said that, Katherine's chapters are just as good as Jane's. We learned already that Katherine is asexual and aromantic, a fact that remains true throughout this sequel--none of that ace character getting "fixed" nonsense. Now we learn that she also has anxiety and fierce loyalty. While Jane's romantic subplot(s) are very light, Ireland goes ham on the Power of Friendship, and I love it.
This is an intense story. A major character from the previous book dies in the first fifty pages. People lose limbs and break hearts. One of the main characters is in very real danger of turning full villain. But it is absolutely worth it.
Deathless Divide is an excellent sequel, tying up all the loose ends from the previous book and building upon the established characters' arcs. We also got to see a lot more worldbuilding in zombie-infested 1880 America: the Wild West, California, and New Orleans. If you like zombies, Westerns, and black characters, you're going to love this.
Instagram Giveaway: Homestead Hunts
A few months ago, I was bummed because COVID-19 cancelled what should have been my first ever book signing at Booklover's Con, 2020.
Luckily, BLC rescheduled for August, so we're back on track! I'll be signing and selling copies of Homestead Hunts. But since not everyone's going to get the chance to go to Tennessee, I thought I'd do a giveaway!
One lucky winner will get a signed copy of my illustrated novella Homestead Hunts in the mail. This is the eighth book in the Earth's Final Chapter series, but you don't have to read any of the other books to know what's going on.
Homestead Hunts centers on the dwindling mega-city, Homestead. The residents follow a totem system that puts them in one of two categories: predator or prey. Predators have the legal right to hunt and kill prey for the purposes of food. But after a particularly nasty hunt, calls for revolution go up, and it becomes impossible to know who's the hunter and who's the hunted.
This is an Instagram giveaway. Here's how to enter:
1) Click here or the button below to go to the right post.
2) Like the post.
3) Tag a friend in the comments who loves sci-fi books.
4) Follow me on Instagram.
This giveaway will continue through June 29th, 2020. A winner will be announced on June 30th and contacted through Instagram direct messaging, where I will privately ask for their mailing address to send the signed book.
Motherland: Fort Salem
What if witches ran the United States military?
That's the question asked and answered by Motherland: Fort Salem. It's set in an alternate America where witches are not only real, but they're running every aspect of the United States military.
Three hundred years ago, the immortal witch Sara Alder told the Founding Fathers "Hey, I'll help you win your little war for independence if you stop burning my friends and family." Now she's the head general of all armed forces, and every witch born in America is forced to serve in her military.
This makes for some spicy ethical issues, because forced conscription is generally frowned upon, especially in a nation that's supposed to be about freedom. But there's one group of witches in particular, called the Spree, that decide murdering hundreds of civilians is the best way to gain them freedom from military service. They're the main villains of the show, since terrorism is even more frowned upon.
This directly affects our main trio of characters, three young witches who spend the season trying to finish basic training and fight the Spree. Raelle is a powerful healer whose mother was killed in combat during her forced service, so she has some personal issues with the military and is only in basic because deserters are hunted down and killed.
Tally genuinely wants to serve, in part because she's the kind of soul who wants to help others, and in part because the witches have had an excellent PR team for the last three hundred years, so she believes all the propaganda about the glory of witch service until it gets dismantled throughout the course of the season.
Abigail is from one of the most famous and powerful witch families in America, her mother being another general and the head of intelligence, so she's been quite literally born and raised for this.
Since all three of them are randomly assigned to the same unit--which fails or succeeds as a unit--there's a lot of friction in the earlier episodes, especially between Raelle and Abigail. It gets worse when Raelle starts dating another witch Scylla, who, as we find out in the pilot, is actually working for the Spree.
The set-up gives for a lot of rich character interactions and conflicts, but occasionally the writers sink to petty cattiness. I'd say that bullcrap is about 10% of the entire show, which could have been used to explore the history and worldbuilding of this alternate America.
General Alder is immortal, and while she never stops rubbing the "I saved your asses three centuries ago" in everyone's faces, we don't know much else about her backstory, which is a shame because she gradually becomes a central figure over the course of the season, even arguably turning into a villain.
In the credits we see this world's map of America that includes a long strip of land called the Cessation, but we have no idea what that is.
Abigail's family is descended from slaves, but obviously such slavery is no longer a thing in the modern day, so how did the witches handle the Civil War and all other parts of American/global history? How does that affect her personally, and all the other black witches we see running around?
However, there is great storytelling going on here. The characters are real and flawed, and the acting is great when the dialogue isn't forcing them to be catty or petty. While the theme never goes into outright "the military is bad" or "government is bad," it does look at these institutions through a very skeptical lens, handling it with care and nuance. None of the individual soldiers are outright evil, and in fact when a soldier dies later in the show it's a tragic, honorable moment.
Better yet: almost all the characters are women and half of them are women of color. The woman playing Raelle has a scar on her face from an incident with an earlier acting job (shattered glass panel) that the make-up artists make no effort to hide.
This show has a lot of potential, so it's a good thing they've gotten the green light for a second season. This is great, because season one finale ended on a plot twist that I genuinely did not see coming, and introduced a whole new set of villains potentially more dangerous than the Spree with a personal vendetta against Alder. And since Freeform hasn't shied away from showing lesbian and gay relationships on this show, I'd like to see some trans representation. What happens if a witch is assigned female at birth but identifies as a man, or vice versa?
Motherland: Fort Salem is definitely a show to look into. If you like girls being awesome, a unique magic system, and interesting worldbuilding, you're going to want to check this out.
A list of my top 10 sci-fi and fantasy books that feature LGBTQ+ characters. List your personal favorites in the comments!
Spoiler-free book reviews:
Trials of Apollo
The Bird King
The City in the Middle of the Night
Mermaids of Eriana Kwai
The Wolf in the Whale
Black Leopard Red Wolf
Special thanks to my patrons on Patreon! In addition to making this blog possible, they get early access to these episodes and sneak peaks at my other works.
Check out my Patreon page here.
Castlevania is a grimdark historical fantasy about vampires in 15th Century Wallachia (historical Romania). And I mean very grimdark. No children should be watching this show, especially in season three. Dracula--all-powerful, terrifying vampire--got married to a woman doctor, who was then burned for witchcraft. Upon hearing the news, Dracula decides humans suck and opens the gates of Hell to completely wipe them out.
This simple plot gets a little more complicated when other vampires get thrown in the mix in season two. They oppose Dracula's plan not on any moral grounds, but because without humans they won't have anything to eat. Then, in the middle of all this, we have our trio of heroes who want to stop Dracula from wiping out humanity because they're trademark heroes, and also the only ones who can.
Trevor Belmont is the last of a noble family of monster hunters who were all excommunicated from the church because they occasionally used magic to do their jobs. Sypha is the designated love interest who serves the greater purpose of blowing up bad guys with magic. And finally Alucard, the half-vampire son of Dracula, knows that his human mother wouldn't stand for any of this and so decides the only thing to do is kill his evil father. They're all pulled together by a prophecy that says they'll kill Dracula, but it's never adequately explained where this prophecy came from, and such handy future-seeing powers are never mentioned again.
Problematic magic systems notwithstanding, I love this show. It's dramatic, it's bloody, it's intense. You're pretty sure that Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard are going to win, and then the show will take a suddenly dark turn and they're back to square one. Alucard especially ended season three in a way that makes me worried he might turn out more like his genocidal father, but he might be able to pull himself back. The side characters and villains are all interesting, for sure, but I can't really root for them because they're horrible people. The main trio is primarily who I root for and why I binged all three available seasons.
Season three brought more women villains, giving the vampire queen Carmilla three kickass advisors who are each deadly in their own way. But so far the only characters of color are either dialogue-less evil minions, anti-villains, or sympathetic villains. Season three added two interesting Japanese good guys, but they only existed for Alucard's narrative development and will not be coming back for season four. Isaac is far more prominent, but he was working with Dracula to destroy all of humanity back in season two, despite the fact that he himself is a human.
As of the end of season three, Isaac is building his own undead army (being a Forge Master he can do that) and gearing up for a confrontation with Carmilla, who is 100% villain. So he's...sort of an anti-hero? Given that everyone he's murdered so far have been worse villains, you could argue he's a Punisher-flavored anti-hero. But he also still wants to destroy all of humanity, so I have no idea how to categorize him. Hopefully season 4 will help with that, and I also hope that we get more diverse characters who exist for their own story rather than to prop up our gloomy, pasty-white half-vampire.
All of the characters are captivating, but the heroic trio is especially fun to watch. This show has a lot of blood and gore, dark themes and bad situations. And then in the middle of all this Trevor will make a jab at Alucard, or Sypha will poke fun at Trevor, and suddenly everyone--characters and audience--will be giggling. Such moments are indicative of a larger theme: the world can be in a really bad place, and the human race can absolutely suck at times. But there are still bright moments, and there are still good people. Little reasons to celebrate humanity.
That's about as subtle as Castlevania gets. Everything else is pretty blatant. Everyone's motivations and intentions are plainly stated so there's very little mystery behind the people. The Christian church as an establishment is not a good thing in this world. They're the ones who killed Dracula's wife because she's smart, then denied any fault when Dracula got pissed, then continued to make matters worse by blaming Sypha's people, the Speakers. Which a cursory glance at a history book will tell you is a pretty in-character move for the Church as a whole. I have yet to see a single good (or at least, not awful) priest or nun in this series.
Castlevania is getting on my Favorites list because of its excellent storytelling, Sypha, and the potential I see in Isaac. I will be tuning in to season four as soon as it comes out. Which, since this is Netflix, will be a long, long while.
The alternative title for this book is How the Spanish Inquisition Ruins Everything. I'm horribly undereducated about Muslim Spain, knowing only that it existed and practiced near unheard-of religious tolerance at the time before Isabelle and Ferdinad showed up. I'm pretty sure they didn't have magic mapmakers, but don't quote me on that.
Fatima is the sultan's concubine, and while she has every luxury imaginable at the start of the novel, she's still a slave. So trigger warnings for that, and an attempted rape later in the novel. She best friends with Hassan, the magic mapmaker who's also gay. They love and adore each other like siblings, so when the Inquisition comes knocking and decides Hassan needs to be tortured to death, Fatima doesn't hesitate to get him out of dodge at the risk of her own life. They then spend the rest of the novel being absolutely terrified, chased across the peninsula and seas by the Inquisitors, talking to jinns with ambiguous morals, and overall being in a hot mess.
Fatima herself is a complicated character. Yes, she loves Hassan and continuously pulls him out of danger at the risk of her own life. But she's also selfish, craving freedom and control over everything else. Not that anyone can blame her, seeing as she's spent the majority of her life as a sex slave. On top of that, her relationship with Hassan is somewhat toxic, especially as the novel progresses and they get more codependent. His friendship is the only thing she's been able to choose for herself, so when he starts flirting with other characters she gets jealous and possessive. Part of her arc is learning to let him be his own person separate from her.
She's also quite a badass. Sure, she has no combat training and zero idea what she's doing. That doesn't stop her from stabbing at various bad guys and jumping off of cliffs. She basically spends the entire story throwing herself into crazy, dangerous situations and hoping for the best, and she survives either because of the magical intervention of her jinn allies, luck, or her own stubbornness.
The magic system is extremely soft, in that there are no clear rules. Narratively it makes sense. Fatima is one of the few major characters with no magic, so it gives the story a very ethereal feel as she navigates both the regular world and magical world, neither of which she understands.
The soft magic system and somewhat cheesy, open ending both combine to keep this book off of my Favorites list. But that's pure personal preference. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fantasy, power of friendship, and women of color being awesome.
Blogging is tough.
Well, that's not entirely true. Successful blogging is tough. You need to come up with, write, and edit at least one blog post a week. You have to promote on social media. Put together and send out a newsletter. Keep the rest of your website updated. Connect with guest bloggers, or other blogs where you can be the guest blogger. And this is in addition to the rest of your life: family, friends, hobbies, a "real" job (or two), maybe even school.
So how do bloggers stay on top of it all? The key is organization.
And I can hear my entire family laughing even as I write this. At first glance, I am one of the least organized people out there. But as I keep telling them, I'm just messy, not unorganized. All my crap gets everywhere, I never do chores, and I have a bad habit of procrastination.
But I love making calendars and schedules, and I've found ways to cheat my procrastination. This is mostly done by creating little deadlines. For example, I usually make one YouTube video/podcast episode a month. I break that entire process down: one week for making the script, one week for recording it, two weeks for editing. I tell myself "I have to have this part done by Saturday the 9th," which means it gets done on Saturday. But hey, it works, because I'm not rushing the entire process at the last minute.
Now, organization is a little different for everybody, and it can evolve over time. I wrote a post back in June 2019 about staying organized for bloggers, and I'm amazed at the differences that've appeared in myself since then. What works for me now may not work for you; everyone needs to experiment to see what works best for them. So I'm going to list some of the most useful ways I've found to stay organized for you to try. And let me know what ways you've found to stay organized in the comments so I can give them a shot!
#1: Bullet Journal
I would be totally lost without my bullet journal. For those of you who don't know, a bullet journal (or bujo) is basically a calendar/to-do list/planner/diary hybrid that you create yourself. Some people turn them into sketchbooks with monthly spreads. Others are bare-bones lists and dates.
I do the whole monthly/weekly/daily spreads to keep all areas of my life pinned down. But there are some spread specific to writers and bloggers that I have found particularly helpful.
My "Books of 2020" spread is a list of all the books I've read this year so far. Not just the ones I've reviewed, but all of them. This is useful for when I do lists (favorite/least favorite books), and when I do a "year in review" style post in December about the best books of 2020.
I have a page of general Writing Deadlines, where I write the due dates for Diary of the Green Snake and my BitchShelf articles. I also keep my yearly writing goals, like getting an agent for my scifi novel Citadel and getting beta reader feedback for my fantasy manuscript.
A page that is quickly running out of room is my Idea Page, specific to blog and YouTube ideas. I saw a vlogger use post-it notes, so that whenever she ditched or did an idea on her page, she just had to remove the post-it note, and that would give her room to replace it with a new idea. But I'm always afraid of the post-it notes falling, so I just write it down traditionally and cross it off when I do it, trying to find little bits of space to cram more in the corner. There's also a section within this page for TV shows and movies I want to watch and review, which should probably be a spread all on its own.
And of course, there's my blog schedule. I tend to plan all of my blog posts out at least a month in advance, which saves me a lot of time and headache. As you can see in the picture above (which was taken in mid-April), I have columns for each month and the post date, with plenty of room to write. If I have to reschedule something, I black it out with marker and use a white gel pen to fix it. (Using a pencil and eraser poses the very real risk of creating a hole in the page, which is why I prefer the pen.)
#2: Story Journals
I am a journal hoarder. Every journal I have has a specific purpose. There's the obvious "dump journal," the ones full of random story ideas and shoved on my bookshelf for when I need inspiration.
But specific to organization, there's an even crazier method. Every book/series I'm working on has its own journal that includes character sheets, overly-detailed histories of the world, and notes on plot and narrative arcs. Diary of the Green Snake has one. Earth's Final Chapter has one. Citadel--my sci-fi work in progress--has a whole binder.
Wasteful? Probably. I've started digitizing this. (Thank you, Scrivener.) But few things beat old fashioned paper and pen.
Point being, everything that I need to know about any project--the religious practices of Citadel, historical notes of the Old West for Green Snake, character sheets for Earth's Final Chapter--are all in their own notebook. Other authors call this "the book bible" or "series bible," a single place for all the necessary notes of a story. I'm not flipping through a dozen dump journals trying to find a minor character's backstory or re-researching something I already looked up. I'm not skimming hundreds of pages of random story ideas to find the one note I need to confirm before I resume writing an important scene. Each story/series has its own book.
For the Citadel binder, I went further and added dividers for characters and cultures. It makes locating key facts much easier.
I don't know about you guys, but unless I have someone or something holding me accountable, the thing I want to do almost never gets done.
Accountability has many different forms. For most writers, it's a terrifying creature known as the editor. Editors give hard deadlines, and if writers don't meet them, it's a shit storm.
Bloggers, on the other hand, don't usually have editors. Most of us are solo. There is no one person, no authority figure, holding us accountable if we post a day late, or even skip the whole week.
Except your readers.
Once your readers get used to a certain pattern from you (in my case, a blog post every Sunday and podcast every month), they will wonder if you don't stick to it. One of the biggest "secrets" to a successful blog is consistency. If you're not consistent, you will lose readers.
This way, if I fail to post on time, my readers--especially the ones who financially support me on Patreon--will know. And that's an excellent kick in the pants.
What are some ways you stay organized? Let me know in the comments so I can give it a shot!
This Mothers' Day, here's something that has absolutely nothing to do with mothers!
Ice Massacre, Ice Crypt, and Ice Kingdom by Tiana Warner
A long, long time ago, I reviewed the first book of this amazing trilogy, Ice Massacre. I even interviewed the author, Tiana Warner.
Then I got distracted by other shiny books for three years until quarantine forced me to face my ever-growing reading pile. Now I'm reviewing the entire trilogy at once.
Mermaids of Eriana Kwai is a "What if flesh-eating mermaids existed in the modern day" story, complete with a forbidden romance, violent war, and a taste of political intrigue. Mermaids exist peacefully all over the world, but for some reason they're targeting this one island--Eriana Kwai--in a ruthless war of extermination. They're overfishing the waters so the humans starve, destroying any and all boats that leave shore, even going onto the beach to kill people who stray too close to the water. In response, the people of Eriana Kwai do the yearly Massacres, where twenty men go out on a war ship to kill as many mermaids as possible. This hasn't had much luck, given that mermaids have a siren-like ability called the lure that hypnotizes men. So, at the start of book one, the island gets over its sexism, wises up, and sends out women.
This is a problem for a variety of reasons, the largest being that Meela--the main character--has a mermaid friend named Lysi who eventually becomes her girlfriend.
As it turns out, the mermaids are being ordered to Eriana Kwai by their tyrant king, Adaro. Lysi and several rebel groups don't want any part in this war and are trying to overthrow Adaro. So after the first book, which is focused on Meela trying to survive the Massacre, she and Lysi try to kill Adaro through a variety of assassination attempts, including unearthing a horrifying living weapon of mass destruction: the Host of Eriana Kwai.
The trilogy is mostly first person POV, but it gets complicated after Ice Massacre. In the first book, it's exclusively Meela's point of view. In Ice Crypt and Ice Kingdom, the POV flips from Meela to Lysi. Then we get a third person POV, an American soldier named Ben, in Ice Kingdom to get the broader, global perspective of the mermaids' actions. It gets a little confusing at times, and I wish Warner--and every other writer who had multiple POV characters--would just stick with third person POV so we know whose head we're in.
Because the POV is also limited to these characters, we miss some of the action in the final book, Ice Kingdom. There are several political factions working to get rid of Adaro and bring peace to the oceans for their own reasons. While Meela and Lysi are doing their mission, these factions are doing their own thing, but we don't actually see it. Which is a small problem, because it's vital to the plot. I'd have liked to see all these interesting, intense scenes myself rather than hearing about it second-hand. But while those scenes are important to the plot, they're not important to the story, so I can see why Warner elected to cut them out.
The emotional center of the story is, of course, Lysi and Meela's relationship, as well as Meela's character development. Lysi doesn't change much over the course of the trilogy, but Meela does. She has to reconcile her people's hatred of and hurt from mermaids with not only her personal feelings for Lysi, but also the fact that mermaids are people, too. Then, when Adaro starts acting more dickish than usual, she struggles between her desire for revenge and what's best for the world, both human and mermaid.
While I have my complaints about this trilogy, I will never complain about Warner's characters or her writing. These books are intense, and as Warner is very liberal with the character deaths, you're very quickly worried about the fate of major characters. She also throws in some excellent plot twists in Ice Crypt and Ice Kingdom, so I'm always kept on my toes.
This is technically a YA novel, but it can be read by anyone ready to see blood, gore, and tyranny overthrown by more than a band of plucky eighteen-year-olds. And it's landing solidly on my Favorite page.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!