Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance, YA Fantasy

My Review: Fire Heart (The Dragon of Umbra #1): by Emma Hamm

Publish Date: January 31st, 2022
Number of Pages: N/A
Publisher: N/A
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance, New Adult, Young Adult

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

‘Lady of Starlight,’ he murmured, then stepped so close she could count the gold flecks in his eyes. ‘My fire heart. Live for me, and I will lay a kingdom at your feet.’

– Emma Hamm, “Fire Heart”

What It’s About:

The official synopsis:

They handed her a sword and bid her to take a throne…

Lorelei is half elf in a kingdom where that bloodline is synonymous with “slave”. The Umbra King holds everyone captive with his pet dragon who knows no mercy. She hides in the shadows and steals to stay alive, until a rebel group gives her an offer she can’t refuse.

The King seeks a bride. If she can get close enough, she could drive a dagger into that wicked man’s heart. But the bridal games are more difficult than most. Lorelei must prove herself not only beautiful, but talented, poised, and deadly as the king. However, the closer she gets to saving her kingdom, the more she realizes a singular problem stands in her way.

The dragon.

The King’s bodyguard is more than a slathering beast. He’s a man. And the longer she’s near him, the more she realizes that perhaps the king isn’t the most dangerous person in the kingdom. Perhaps she had to guard not only her body, but her heart. For a dragon mates for life, and they’re hard pressed to give up their treasures.

~~~

It’s always disappointing when a book that has all the variables, all the tools, all the story aspects, or whatever you want to call them…it’s disappointing when a book has all these that you love in a book, but it doesn’t end up being as good as you’d hope it to be.

I was made aware of this book when it was chosen as the adult book for Bookish Box–a monthly subscription box for fantasy and paranormal romance genres–under their adult box from earlier in 2022. The premise drew me in, and it sounded like a good enemies-to-lovers fantasy-romance title from an indie author who upon doing a little research, had quite a following!

I eventually got my own copy with the hopes of reading it ASAP because I was really drawn to this story by the premise that had me excited because it sounds right up my alley, and the gorgeous cover to boast too! It was giving me Throne of Glass vibes with the badass blonde heroine on the cover with a ferocious dragon just behind her.

I’m not saying this is a bad book by any means, I never say a book is outright bad unless the author does something that is so tone deaf that I wonder how their book ever got published…but that isn’t the case here. The author knows how to write and she obviously knows her craft; her following especially on Amazon reviews show for it, but I just didn’t connect with this book anywhere close to what I was hoping I would. The story just had too many clichés that I couldn’t look past, the characters felt so stiff and wooden to me that I didn’t connect with them either, the villain was very one-dimensional, and there just didn’t really feel like there was a sense of urgency in this story at all either.

I go more into these reasons why later on in my review.

I’m also trying to not judge the book too harshly…it is the first book in a series, and as a fan of many YA Fantasy title, I have seen many times before where the first book is usually the weakest book in a series because it’s merely setting the scene and then the series grows and becomes its own thing as you keep reading. Case in point, the Throne of Glass series. I can see readers not wanting to read on because of that book and the many things that are considered cliché in that book, and those of us who have read that series know that SO SO SO much happens after that, so here I am hoping that this may be the case for this series as well too.

~~~

You are a thousand questions and a million truths just out of my reach.

– Emma Hamm, “Fire Heart”

~~~

What I Liked:

  1. An Interesting Premise! The synopsis gave me much hope I’d really like this book! I mean, an enemies-to-lovers fantasy romance book with elves and dragons?! Yes please!
  2. A Twist I Did NOT See Coming! I’ll admit the author added in one twist that I didn’t see coming at all, and I’ll happily point it out whenever an author manages to do this! I won’t give any spoilers, but just remember that not everyone is as they seem…

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A LOT of YA Fantasy Clichés…nameless mean girls, the competition to win the heart of the king, the one-dimensional villain king, the “I’m not like most girls” mentality of the main character, instalove…I don’t know, but the clichés definitely overtake any original ideas this book had, I think this is why I found myself so bored with this book.
  2. Characters Felt Very Stiff and Wooden…I really did not connect with anyone at all. They all felt so one-dimensional and stuck within the familiar character archetypes that I’ve seen before. There was hardly any personality shown, or really any slower scenes to merely show them as actual people. the plot merely drove them forward without really giving them a chance to really breathe and show them as actual people in my opinion.
  3. The Enemies-to-Lovers Could’ve Been Stronger…The fact that instalove happened between Lore and Abraxas made it feel like a very weak Enemies-to-Lovers storyline…this could’ve been drawn out for their romantic feelings to happen later, and maybe not feel so forced…
  4. The Stakes Could’ve Been Raised…I didn’t really feel a sense of urgency with this book as Lore infiltrates the castle and tries to kill the king. Very little consequences happen with what happens in the book, and I think this also adds to why I struggled with this book.

Conclusion:

Overall, Fire Heart was an underwhelming book that I didn’t connect with, much to my disappointment. It had all the things I love in my favorite books, but just didn’t deliver as strongly as I was hoping it would. I was just bored a lot of the time, and the list of clichés with a lack of adding much of anything new to the table made me not excited to keep going with the book.

As for right now, I recommend this book for someone who’s maybe not as familiar with fantasy genre books and wants something to ease into it before diving into much heavier, and more dense material. It’s a good beginner level fantasy read for someone just starting out in this genre.

However, I want to take all this negativity towards the book with a grain of salt and keep going because I’ve seen several instances where the first book in a series is the weakest, and the story gets much more engaging as it develops with each and every book. Plus, I already preordered the next book because I’m a sucker for pretty book covers, so I’ll at least give book 2 a try before I decide to bench this book series.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult Romance, Paranormal, YA Fantasy

My Review: The Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2): by Kerri Maniscalco

Publish Date: October 5th, 2021
Number of Pages: 448 Pages
Publisher: Little Brown & Company
Genre(s): Paranormal, New Adult Romance, YA Fantasy

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers from this book and the previous in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Kingdom of the Wicked – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series so far – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

‘Tell me,’ he whispered, his voice sliding like silk over my flushed skin.

‘What?’ My own voice came out breathless.

‘I am your favorite sin.’

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Cursed”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

After selling her soul to become Queen of the Wicked, Emilia travels to the Seven Circles with the enigmatic Prince of Wrath, where she’s introduced to a seductive world of vice.

She vows to do whatever it takes to avenge her beloved sister, Vittoria… even if that means accepting the hand of the Prince of Pride, the king of demons.

The first rule in the court of the Wicked? Trust no one. With back-stabbing princes, luxurious palaces, mysterious party invitations, and conflicting clues about who really killed her twin, Emilia finds herself more alone than ever before. Can she even trust Wrath, her one-time ally in the mortal world… or is he keeping dangerous secrets about his true nature?

Emilia will be tested in every way as she seeks a series of magical objects that will unlock the clues of her past and the answers she craves…

One sister.
Two sinful princes.
Infinite deception with a side of revenge… Welcome to Hell.

~~~

I sincerely apologize readers, as I’m typing this review, I’m noticing how much longer it’s taking me to post more often here on my blog…all I can really say to explain myself is life is crazy, I’m really tired a lot, I’m trying to have a social life because sitting at home in bed with depression doesn’t help, I’ve gotten back into drawing. I’ve started a bookstagram account (@goodyreads) and actually because I’ve been reading up a storm for the last few months too! Like I can’t even keep up with typing up reviews with all I’ve read so far! But anyways, onto my review…

The Kingdom of the Cursed is the sequel in this series, but the second book syndrome is (thank god) NO WHERE to be found…in fact, it’s the total opposite because I loved this book way more than the first one! It’s so much deeper and richer and sexier, and I’m so glad that the author decided to go the more New Adult path for this story instead of keeping it in Young Adult. I think it serves the story so much better!

We start off immediately how book 1 ended, and that was such a big cliffhanger so you’re right back in the thick of it as Wrath and Emilia travel to Hell together. Emilia is still feeling the sting of betrayal at how Wrath seemingly tricked her and made her soul the one he needed to free himself from the Devil and give him a bride…BUT she can’t help but still feel very much attracted to him, even if she has to do all she can to hide that little tidbit for what it’s worth…

As they get into Hell, there’s the preparation of a celebration that they must attend at some point, and it’s not exactly confirmed right away, but Emilia will most likely be the guest of honor. In order to get into Pride’s manor and learn if he’s for sure who’s behind her sister’s murder, she reluctantly turns to Wrath to train her on all mind-games and mental/emotional abuse the other princes may take upon, but let’s just say things get pretty heated in more ways than one….

Everything about this book is just bigger when compared to the previous book…and no, it’s not just about what Wrath is packing underneath his breeches. The plot thickened so very much, as did the sexual tension between our two main characters, it was a surprisingly hot read! And there’s so much more mythology and lore explored this time around surrounding Emilia’s lineage to add as well!

The plot itself may feel slower at some points, especially with the training and Emilia’s repetitive inner monologues about either finding her sister’s killer or how much she either hates Wrath or wants to get naked with him, but it is more character-driven this time around, and I personally didn’t have a problem with it, but I can see others might. Either way, it was a perfect book for spooky season!

You see a shift in both characters and definitely some growth; Emilia has definitely grown some thicker skin and isn’t as naive and innocent; she’s kind of turned into a scheming Slytherin-esque heroine if I do say so myself. Wrath also shows a lot more emotion this time around as he fights his own urges and admits to his attraction at some point or another, but isn’t afraid to be a cold and ruthless ruler of his realm all the same!

There are lots of twists at the end of this book, some you may be able to guess, but some I honestly wasn’t expecting, so the surprise of it all definitely adds to my appreciation of this book. And of course, it ends on an even bigger cliffhanger in multiple ways that I won’t spoil (duh) and that you’ll have to read to find out for yourself!

~~~

Your longings will taunt and tease you into oblivion if you can’t control them. This is a realm of sin and desire.

— Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Cursed”

What I Liked:

  1. The Mature NA Shift! I am sooooo glad that the author decided to up the maturity on this story and make it a more New Adult level of reading because, let’s be honest, Wrath is WAY too sexy to stuck in Young Adult, and this book DEFINITELY proves that! Sexy Demon Prince can freakin’ get. It!
  2. How Much Thicker The Plot Got! I was surprised at how much deeper this mystery goes and how the story went from being a simple murder mystery to what exactly are Emilia’s abilities, what do they mean, and raises plenty more questions about her lineage as a witch too! The author also helps this by diving deeper into the mythology and lore behind this world and the history of the seven realms of hell, the first witch, and the 7 princes of hell!
  3. Wrath & Emilia’s Sexual Tension! Holy….shit! This book was freakin’ hot! I mean, it wasn’t as smutty as a Sierra Simone or Lorelei James novel, but I wasn’t expecting the amount of spice this book had! Kudos to the author on upping the sex appeal in this regards! It makes me think how well other YA authors would do if they decided to write more mature content…
  4. All the Secrets and Mistrust! One thing that continues to drive this story is all the intrigue and all the omission of truths that Wrath and Emilia keep from each other…I mean, it makes sense since they’ve gone from enemies-to-lovers-andbackto-enemies in these books, and it is oh so juicy to see them at each other’s throats (and other body parts here and there 😉)

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Why Are The Demons So…Non-demonic?…So there’s a couple side characters in this book who are all demons of Hell, and part of me was a little turned off at how…civilized it all was! Call it cliché, but I was hoping for more chaos and monstrous creatures to fight against or outsmart. There weren’t even werewolves and vampires like in the previous book! Fauna is an excellent example; she seemed just way too sweet and innocent to be a demon in all honesty…she was pretty much just the voice in Emilia’s head to remind her of how good Wrath could be when she was particularly upset with him about something.

Conclusion:

Overall, I really enjoyed this sequel tremendously more than the previous book by a long shot! The romance was added much heavier and much more steamier too, which I am incredibly happy about, but even the plot got much deeper too and with an ending like this one, you can bet there are LOTS of questions I have for what can happen next! It showed how little we truly know as an audience, and I’m only sad I have to wait another year to get more answers!

If you love the romance dynamics of Poppy and Casteel in A Kingdom of Flesh & Fire, or Feyre and Rhysand in A Court of Mist and Fury, you’ll devour this book!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

Beautiful Book Covers Appreciation Post!

Hello fellow book lovers!

Now all of us here know how much we love to read—heck, that’s why you’re on this site to begin with!—and one thing that I love about them are all the gorgeous cover designs out there! I mean, it’s like owning your own little art gallery in your reading space, and there are so many different styles out there that are effective and just absolutely outstanding to look at. I mean, I’ve totally been guilty about just staring at book covers in bed just because I love the artwork or the calligraphy or the overall look of it. I’ve even caught myself buying books that I may or may not need but was solely based off the cover alone. We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” but let’s be real, we all do it…A cover is supposed to initially draw us in, but then the story is responsible for keeping us there.

Just because I love covers so much, I created this post as a way to just collect some of the most gorgeous covers/editions of certain books I’ve read over the years, and even quite a few I haven’t touched yet, but definitely plan to! Take in all the different styles and aesthetics and ask yourself how it makes it an appealing or effective cover!

Do you see your favorite titles on here? If not, what’s your favorite book/series cover or edition? Let me know in the comments!

Enjoy!

~~~

There are also plenty of gorgeous book covers of books I haven’t even touched yet!:

Thanks for Reading (and Viewing)!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult Romance, Paranormal, Romance, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1): by Kerri Maniscalco

Publish Date: October 27th, 2020
Number of Pages: 372 Pages
Publisher: JIMMY Patterson
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, New Adult Romance, YA Romance, Paranormal Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Pages

There are victors and victims. Decide who you want to be. Or the choice will be made for you, witch. And I doubt you’ll like it.

I threw my head back and groaned. ‘It’s a game of scopa, not a battle between life and death. Are you always this dramatic?'”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

Kingdom of the Wicked was a slow burn of a book for me; the beginning started off like any other YA Fantasy title, but once you get further into the story and discover more and more myth and lore in the world that the author of the Stalking Jack The Ripper series has created, I can really say that the book takes off with a jolt in some witchy delight!

This is actually my first novel by Kerri Maniscalco, and after reading it I can say I’m definitely more and more interested in reading her other series I mentioned above because there are still some familiar themes of murder, mystery, romance, and historical settings to make the reader engaged and wanting to stay up late to see what happens next. What I’m noticing with this newer series, however, is that the author seems to have more room for fun and creativity to take her story even further!

The romance was a huge draw for me, and for the most part, it certainly didn’t disappoint! I easily got into the chemistry that oozed between the two main characters, Emilia and Wrath, and loved their whole dynamic; I never get tired of an enemies-to-lovers dynamic. While both characters weren’t anything brand new or entirely unique to the genre, I can say they’re still fun to read as they argue and (attempt) to ignore their growing attractions for each other as they work together to solve a murder mystery.

It wasn’t a perfect read; The the overall pacing with the chapters and how they’re set up was a little strange for my liking, and some of the ending needs to be clarified for me—or I need to go back and reread it for myself and make sure I pay more attention!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Two sisters…

One brutal murder…

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance…

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe—witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin… desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked Princes of Hell that she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…

‘One day you might beg me to kiss you.’ He stepped close enough for me to stab him.”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

What I Liked:

  1. The Many Food Descriptions! Several other reviewers pointed this one out, but there are some seriously delicious italian dishes that get mentioned in this book since the main character’s family owns and operates a restaurant. Cannoli’s are amazing, and I had some major cravings for some once I arrived to that part within the story…yum!
  2. The Romance Between Wrath and Emilia! This book is a great addition to the enemies-to-lovers romance trope as Wrath and Emilia have some immediate sexual tension that builds and builds between them as they reluctantly work together to solve the murder of her twin sister. They irritate each other and start verbal lashings from each other, but underneath it all is an obvious attraction that neither can ignore the closer they become. Their dynamic also grew rather realistically as they slowly begin to trust each other—at least until certain things happen—and rely on each other’s strength into a begrudging respect for one another.
  3. The Worldbuilding! I actually liked the class systems of demons the author presented us, there are also the seven demon princes of hell representing the seven deadly sins, the witches living amongst the normal folks and the witch hunters who are secretly members of the church, even werewolves; it’s all mixed together to create an interesting world that may or make this series an incredibly memorable one!
  4. The “Whodunnit” Murder Mystery! I always love a good mystery where the main character is on the hunt for a killer who leaves a bloody trail of bodies behind.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Beginning Felt Very Generic…This book was pretty boring at first and felt like any general YA Fantasy title out there, but once Emilia and Wrath run into each other and meet for the first time, that was when things really begin to take off!
  2. Not Enough Steam…I know this is a YA Fantasy book so the sexual content (a.k.a. smut) is supposed to be very limited, but really do feel like this story would be even better if there were more steamy scenes. I mean like let’s see truly how “wicked” Prince Wrath can be *wink*wink.* Maybe there’ll be more scenes like this in later books, but again, I know it can only go so far within the YA reading level.
  3. The Ending…Okay, so this one may be on me because I maybe wasn’t fully paying close enough attention and missed something, but part of the ending kind of went over my head. For most of the book, it felt like a pretty light read that didn’t require my entire attention, but then all of a sudden SO MUCH was happening at the end and I blinked and missed some vital information I think…if someone sees this review and wants to message me to fully explain it all to me, you’d officially be my favorite person!!
  4. The Short Chapters…Some chapters were only like a page and a half long, and I was wondering to myself why a single conversation was sometimes three whole chapters when it could’ve been just one? It was weird pacing to me and kind of annoying at times…

Conclusion:

This is my first Kerri Maniscalco novel, and this book really does make me interested in reading her Stalking Jack The Ripper series that put her name on the map!

Like the romance between the two main characters in this book, the story was a slow burn that definitely left me interested to keep reading on once the next book arrives later on! It wasn’t the next binge-worthy series for me to become obsessed with, but this book shows that the series has a whole lot of potential to become a huge fan favorite among the many other incredibly popular YA Fantasy series most of us readers know and love!

A reckoning awoke in me. The more I gave, the more he returned. We traded kisses like blows. And if this were a fight, I wouldn’t know who was winning. I understood why some thought kissing one of the Wicked was addictive. Each time his tongue touched mine, it felt as if the ground beneath me quaked. Like we were a cataclysmic event that shouldn’t be.”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

I recommend this book to those that really enjoyed other titles like Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin or the Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black; the dynamic between Wrath and Emilia for sure gave me some impressions of Jude and Cardan with the whole enemies-to-lovers, then back to enemies dynamic!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy

My Review: A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes #4): by Sabaa Tahir

Publish Date: December 1st, 2020
Number of Pages: 516 Pages
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for this book and the whole series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!***

To see my full review of book #1 – An Ember In The Ashes – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #2 – A Torch Against The Night – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #3 – A Reaper At The Gates – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the whole series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

You are broken. But it is broken things that are the sharpest. The deadliest. It is broken things that are the most unexpected, and the most underestimated.”

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Sky Beyond The Storm”

Let me start off by saying OOWWWWWWWW, this book punches you right in the heart! It’s certainly been awhile since a book has made me as emotional as A Sky Beyond The Storm has, and that’s the case for multiple reasons: it’s the final book of one of my favorite book series, but also because Sabaa Tahir once again knows how to torture her characters in some of the most brutalistic ways that even though I know they’re fictional, my heart absolutely aches for all they go through. I think the last time I was affected by a book this much was when I read Kingdom of Ash, the final book of the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. Both hold a special place in my heart, and it was a little sad to see the story end.

A Sky Beyond the Storm was definitely one of my most anticipated books of 2020, but it wasn’t the easiest to get into this book as I’d hoped. With a lot weighing me down in my personal life at the time of this book’s release, I was in a bit of a reading slump—part of me feels like I still am—and it really showed with how slowly I was getting through this book at first. I think it was that along with how I also think the beginning of this book through a good chunk of the midpoint was just kind of slow. Not a whole lot was grabbing my interest, it’d been since June 2018 when the previous book came out, so it was a little distancing to reacquaint myself with the characters and the world and all that had happened before; a reread of the series would’ve been beneficial if only I’d had the time! However, strange as this may sound, but once a character sacrificed themselves for one of the main characters was when things really began to pick up.

Similar to A Reaper At The Gates, the back half of this book was when the stakes were at their highest and everything was coming together and PLENTY was happening. A lot of dark, horrible, traumatizing, heart wrenching things that I absolutely applaud the author for making me feel because once again that proves to me what an effective storyteller she is, or Kehanni as she puts it in this book! I know there’s the piece of advice to torture your characters as a writer, but man…Sabaa knows where to make it hurt the worst! My friend who also read the book said it was some Game of Thrones level torment and pain, and I can’t disagree with her on that.

Of course with this being the final book in the series, I’m trying to not only review this book in itself, but also kind pay homage to the whole series too, and I want to do that by giving the characters their own little spot and my honest thoughts about them below:

Laia:

Throughout the course of this entire series, it was astounding to see the amount of bravery a girl like her, who came from so little and had just as much, could show when face to face with the many dangers she had to confront. Laia’s tenacity and courageousness along with her ability to show her true self and be vulnerable and still feel like she was a young girl after everything she’s dealt with and suffered through, although I must say it also felt like she didn’t really grow as much as a character about halfway through the series. I could be totally off on that and may rediscover more things about her in the future whenever I plan to reread these books back to back, but for now these are my thoughts. In a way, her ending was perfect for her and how she is able to honor so many with how she’s able to move forward onto the next chapter.

Elias:

To be honest, Elias was a very conflicting character for me throughout. He was perhaps my favorite character (or at least top three), but I was also not the biggest fan of his whole story arc for the second half of the series. As soon as it became clear that he was to become the Soul Catcher, I found myself becoming less and less interested in his storyline and thought his chapters were boring when compared to Laia and Helene. He was a soldier born from violence and raised to become a master of death in his own right, but instead he longed for more and for a brighter future, and his willingness to put the needs of his loved ones way above his own needs was what made me love him as a character. I Still adore him, he’s def’s still on my book boyfriend list, and his storyline definitely picks up again for me in this final installment, I’d say he also had a great way to wrap up his story and end up in a good place as the story drew to a close.

Helene:

Arguably one of the greatest character growth storylines in all of fiction, I totally had Helene pegged wrong when I met her in the first novel. Back then, she seemed like just another pretty blonde who was elitist, shallow, selfish and not worth my time caring about because of how she looked down on people like Laia and the rest of the Scholars. As we learn in the ending of the first book, she gets the title of being the Blood Shrike to the Emperor, and from then on is when her character develops so beautifully, I want Helene to have the world and now I believe she truly deserved more than what she got. If anyone was put through the wringer in these books, Helene had lost so much and had seen some truly horrifying things that most people wouldn’t recover from, yet there she was in the middle of almost countless battles and holding her own against the powerful forces that work against her and her friends. Helene was proof that there can be so much more going on beneath the surface and how first impressions don’t mean almost anything. Her and Harper were perfect for each other!

The Nightbringer:

A truly magnificent villain for this series, but it didn’t always feel that way. Like Helene, his whole being felt rather one dimensional and was just evil for the sake of being evil. That dramatically changed when you learn so much more about him in the third book and witness more of his tragic backstory that lead him to being where he was and why he was doing all that he’d done. He’s still evil and needed to be stopped, but the best villains are always the ones that you still feel something for and can relate to what their reasoning behind their plot is. They’re the manifestation of our darkest thoughts and wishes and show us why we shouldn’t go as far as they do in order to achieve their wishes, but understanding them like that makes it all that much better of a story overall. I felt so bad for him as I discovered all that he’d been through, everything about him and the pain he’s endured just really makes my heart heavy.

The Commandant:

I’ve praised her plenty before and it’ll mostly be the same of that right here, but Keris is one of the best villains I’ve come across in literature if not all entertainment media like books, movies and tv shows. She was always so cold and calculating and made my skin crawl with her lethal calm and how little emotion she showed with every heinous act she performed, I said in one review that she’s scarier than Cersei Lannister and I stand by that statement! It was interesting to get inside her mind a little bit in this final book and—of course—have my heart go out to her and how her part in the story came to be. Looking at other reviews to see what others thought, I saw that others were pretty torn about it and wanted her to remain the cold and distant and cruel leader that she was. While I partially agree, the fact that I was still able to feel things like pity and sorrow for her after all she’d done before shows how great a storyteller the author is.

Cook:

A hidden in plain sight treasure of a character, I had no idea the significance she was going to play in this series when I first met her in the start of it all. She seemed like the typical old, grumpy, mentor-like character whom Laia was going to eventually bond with, but boy was I way off on that! Well not totally, but like a lot of things in these books, it was in a way that I was certainly not expecting. She was in and out of the story for quite some time, and with good reason, but I think her storyline also wrapped up nicely that played well into the type of person she was and how things came to be.

Harper:

Another character I didn’t really think much of at first, but once this soldier began to question the orders he was given, I caught a glimpse of something there that drew me in. The tension that built up between him and Helene starting in the third book definitely piqued my interest further until I couldn’t believe it, but I wanted more than anything for them to get together somehow, but knowing both of them and they way they are, it wasn’t going to be easy to get there. Loved him in this last book, it was obvious how perfect him and Helene were with how he’d wordlessly know how to help her best in certain situations, heck even sacrificing meeting his own half-brother sooner than he did shows the dedication and loyalty he had to her. I only wish Harper and Helene had more simpler and happier moments than what they got.

Musa:

LOVED HIM FROM THE START! I’m a sucker for characters like him: handsome, charming, sarcastic, roguish, deadly, and has all the hilariously snappy one-liners. He was a great addition that I didn’t know I needed for these books, I wish he’d shown up sooner! Even Musa experienced some major trauma and loss in this final book, but the glimpse of possibility for happiness we also see for him warms my heart for him!

As I wrap up this section of the review, it’s just still crazy to me that I randomly selected the first book off the Barnes & Noble shelf one day to keep my entertained for a long plane ride back in 2015 when it first came out. I didn’t look on Goodreads or Amazon, saw no reviews or knew about it beforehand, I just randomly snagged a copy and gave it a chance. Maybe I need to do that more often because nowadays it feels like I almost rely too much on those things in order to select what I might read next, but that’s just because there’s so many amazing looking stories out there that I want them all! How do you choose which ones to invest your valuable time on? Everyone has their own answer to that, but part of me feels like maybe it’s a good thing to just give a book a chance before taking out your phone and looking up it’s score before deciding to read it. Who knows, you might just find one of your favorite books that way!

Would that we all knew the cracked terrain of each other’s broken hearts. Perhaps then, we would not be so cruel to those who walk this lonely world with us.”

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Sky Beyond The Storm”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Prepare for the jaw-dropping finale of Sabaa Tahir’s beloved New York Times bestselling An Ember in the Ashes fantasy series, and discover: Who will survive the storm?

Picking up just a few months after A Reaper at the Gates left off…

The long-imprisoned jinn are on the attack, wreaking bloody havoc in villages and cities alike. But for the Nightbringer, vengeance on his human foes is just the beginning.

At his side, Commandant Keris Veturia declares herself Empress, and calls for the heads of any and all who defy her rule. At the top of the list? The Blood Shrike and her remaining family.

Laia of Serra, now allied with the Blood Shrike, struggles to recover from the loss of the two people most important to her. Determined to stop the approaching apocalypse, she throws herself into the destruction of the Nightbringer. In the process, she awakens an ancient power that could lead her to victory–or to an unimaginable doom.

And deep in the Waiting Place, the Soul Catcher seeks only to forget the life–and love–he left behind. Yet doing so means ignoring the trail of murder left by the Nightbringer and his jinn. To uphold his oath and protect the human world from the supernatural, the Soul Catcher must look beyond the borders of his own land. He must take on a mission that could save–or destroy–all that he knows.

What I Liked:

  1. The Ending For Each Character! Each character’s arc conclusion felt natural and made sense for them in where each of them have been and how things came to be. It may not be the brightest or happiest endings for some of them, but it was all fitting for each of them.
  2. The Depth of All The Characters! Sabaa Tahir is so effing amazing at making complex and well fleshed out characters. Each have so much depth so long as you pay attention, especially the villains. The author honestly writes some of the best villains you’ll ever read in any book EVER! The Nightbringer and the Commandant were so cold and cruel, but when the author sheds some light on their tragic backstories, it not only totally pierces your heart but almost makes you really understand where they’re coming from.
  3. The Themes! I’ve said it in past reviews for this series, but what really makes me appreciate it is how dark these books got when compared to other YA Fantasy series. The usual themes remained consistent in this title as with the previous books, but one that really stuck out that felt more new to me was the theme of mothers and daughters. It was amazing how this was shown in so many different ways in the final battle of all places, it’s truly a highlight of the whole book!
  4. How The Plot Progresses! It was the same thing in A Reaper At The Gates, but it amazes me how the author was able to tie everything together and how she uses prophecies but plays with the wording really well. They always end up coming true, but not always in the way you’d expect. Simply brilliant! *chef’s kiss*

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Magic System…To be honest, thinking back on the magic system throughout these four books, I wasn’t a big fan of it because to me it felt like it was just there and there wasn’t really a strict set of rules or guidelines to it at all. The series totally worked with it, but sometimes it felt like it was used out of convenience with the plot, but again, the overall story didn’t require a more tightly knit system.
  2. The Slower Start/Midpoint…It may be because I’ve been in a reading funk as of late, but this book was hard for me to initially get into. The beginning and most of the midpoint were just slow for me and there were days where I just couldn’t bring myself to want to open the pages to read on, but again, take this with a grain of salt because lately no books have been working for me as much as they have in the past.

Conclusion:

It should have been him dancing with you”

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Sky Beyond The Storm”

Overall, A Sky Beyond The Storm wasn’t the perfect book, but it was a highly satisfying way to wrap up one hell of a YA Fantasy series that should be given more props than it really does. A lot of heart wrenching scenes and words are spoken as to show how the author really knows how to hit the readers right in the emotional gut and keep your interest, even if the series hasn’t gone in the direction you’d hope it go in.

A slower beginning and midpoint are what makes this just a four star rating for me, but let it still be known that this ended up being a magnificent book and had a satisfying series ending that seems to be so rare in most of the media we consume lately; it left me feeling a mix of emotions like happiness with how everything wrapped up for most of the characters but also sadness of all they had to endure, and like I said earlier, that this series is now over.

One thing that is certain is that Sabaa Tahir can freakin’ write a story. Her storytelling skills are undeniable and is able to really emotionally invest a reader should they choose to stick with this story all the way through. No book or author is perfect, but if this is her first series that she’s written, lord knows what else she may come up with.

If it wasn’t obvious by now, I can’t recommend this series enough to anyone who’s looking for an epic adventure filled with danger, surprising twists, fatal decisions, burning romance, and magic. I’ve been having that definite book hangover after this one because of all the years I’ve spent with this series, and once again a truly amazing story has come to an end.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell