Review: Hexslayer by Jordan L. Hawk

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Hexslayer is a historical urban fantasy M/M romance set in New York near the turn of the twentieth century featuring witches and their familiars, with a mystery running through it. It is the third full length novel in the Hexworld series, though the books can be read out of order. (Though, personally, I wouldn’t recommend it.)

Hexslayer on Goodreads
Hexworld series on Goodreads

But witches didn’t give. They took and they took, nothing more. They dangled a promise of food and safety, of money…in exchange for everything a familiar had to give. Body, soul and magic. The chance to live a life they wanted, instead of trailing behind their witch.

Unbonded familiars are being killed, murdered in what looks like a ritual killing, and Nick, an angry horse shifter, does the one thing he swore he never would: bond to a witch. It’s all in an effort to investigate the killings, but what he doesn’t expect is Jamie, his witch and a genuinely good person.

Nick and Jamie must put away their differences and learn to work together (Nick must learn to trust a witch) if they are to save New York City from a plot to topple it.

I love this series. I’ve always loved stories that deal with people that aren’t quite human and the mistreatment that they can suffer for it. (ESPECIALLY when they come out on top in the end.) People that are more talented than the average and are feared because of that. And that’s what the familiars are.

Besides that, you have the familiar/witch bond – which kind of works like soulmates. You have THE perfect match, and while familiars and witches can bond even if they aren’t a perfect match, the bond is strong and the duo is more powerful if they are a perfect match. (Considering that this is a romance series, there’s no major examples of it, but the bonds can also be simply platonic.) (There’s a nice little mention that asexual and aromantic are things in this setting, too.)

Nick is a very compelling character, because he has so much anger and hatred for the witches. Not all of it is for good reason though, and it’s a lot of fun seeing him come to terms with the fact that not all witches are the villains he’s painted them as.

Jamie is a bit less compelling and doesn’t have as much to overcome in the story. What he does have, though, is a prosthetic leg. (And suffering from PTSD, even if they didn’t have a name for it.) What’s nice about this is how references are made to him having trouble climbing steps and the way people look at him differently than they did before he lost his leg. Jamie is very well adjusted though, and is understanding enough and sweet enough that he balances out Nick wonderfully and they complement each other very well. (And Jamie calling Nick ‘sweetheart’ is just made of win.)

Besides what worked well for this story (that whole enemies-to-lovers thing is such fun if done well and I think this book did a good, if understated, job) I love the world that the author has built up. I know a lot of people would argue that there’s no such genre, but to me this is a historical urban fantasy. I takes place in a city, it has paranormal elements and it is most definitely a historical. (And this is one of my favorite sub-genres.)

What didn’t work so well for me was the mystery. I thought it was obvious who was in on it – even if I didn’t know why – and, at one point, I was practically screaming at one of the characters to not trust this person.

5

Content advisory: Explicit sex. Some cursing. Moderately graphic depictions of death, dead bodies and violence. Talk of phantom pain from an amputated limb.

Diversity featured: LGBT+ characters, racial diversity, (Samoan/Native American) physical disability.

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Review: Alice, the Player by A.W. Exley

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Alice, the Player is the sequel to Ella, the Slayer. Although this says book three, it is the direct continuation of Ella’s story. Book two is a side story prequel to the main tale that is not necessary to read second.

Alice, the Player on Goodreads
Ella, the Slayer on Goodreads
My Review of Ella, the Slayer

It wasn’t just the boys who liked to see stuff blow up, and it sounded far better than marking latitudes and longitudes on our maps.

This time around, we zombie-fy Alice in Wonderland. When Ella’s best friend Alice is kidnapped by newly turned queen Elizabeth, Ella travels with Seth to the underground hive to rescue her.

I can’t really comment on the retelling aspect this time, because I have never read Alice in Wonderland. There are a few specific notes that even I recognized, like croquet, and a few more direct references to the story.

There’s also several reveals about the vermin along the way that has Ella wondering if science or magic will explain them.

This series is so much fun. I like the slow revelations concerning the zombies. Even as they’re being killed, they’re being investigated and studied. I don’t usually deal with zombies much in the stuff I read or watch, but I love the way it seems like there’s actually going to be an explanation.

Ella and Seth are concerned as much – if not more – about how the vermin/Turned were created and why as they are will actually killing the individuals. It’s not just a case of ‘well, we have zombies…somehow’ and I really have high hopes for the answers in the finale.

But, for as much as I love that, the characters are what I really adore. Ella is great, she’s no meek, timid Cinderella. She’s tough, a strong fighter, will defend those she loves at any cost and for all that, she’s still very much a person. She gets sad and angry, she worries about romance. She’s a person, a teenage girl that was thrown into something she wasn’t prepared for and made the best of it she could.

It is so great seeing her and Seth work together, because they are true partners in this. Seth trusts her, relies on her, and even seems to appreciate her strength and abilities. She does the same for him, loving him more for the way he stands beside her, lets her do what she’s good at and they both know she can. (Seeing Ella with a flamethrower was priceless!)

This book also deals more with Alice and her boyfriend Frank. I think it was wonderful to see Alice come into her own and, while she’s not really a fighter, she has different strengths that she’s decided to use. I, much like Ella, don’t know if the relationship between Alice and Frank will stand the test it’s been put under, but it is nice to see a beta couple instead of a love triangle.

4

Content Advisory: About the same as the previous one, maybe a bit less. Let’s see, some violence, gore and moderately graphic descriptions of zombies as decomposing bodies. References to the use of flamethrowers in the war and thoughts/conversation on the effects on humans.

Review: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

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Long May She Reign is a standalone, young adult fantasy novel with a book smart leading lady trying to survive and hang on to her throne after a mass poisoning.

Long May She Reign on Goodreads

I was done pretending. The court had been shattered, and we couldn’t rebuild it, not without a million cracks showing through. I had to be honest. I couldn’t trust my advisers, and the murderer might have been on my side, so what else could I do, in the face of all that, except stop playing any sort of game and just be? Be queen as I wanted to be queen, in the court and out. Be myself, be Queen Freya, be whatever sort of person that turned out to be.

As twenty-third in line to the throne, Freya would much rather spend her days in her laboratory than in court. Her life changes on the king’s birthday though, when a mass poisoning sweeps the party.

Now queen, Freya must navigate court life, attempt to be true to herself and rule a kingdom, all while investigating the murders.

Freya is pretty darn unique, especially for YA fantasy I’d have to say. She suffers from social anxiety and panic attacks. She’s smart, analytical and rational, always needing answers and asking lots of questions.

What I think I love most about Freya is that she suspects everyone in the book at least once. (Except for her best friend, Naomi.) She suspects her advisers, her servants, her court, even her own father. No one is ruled out immediately – a la ‘oh, it couldn’t possibly be them’ only to have them turn out to be the killer.

I adore Freya, Naomi, Fitzroy and Madeleine. It’s so nice to see their building friendships and all the twists and turns that they take. Granted, some didn’t take the twists and turns that I would have liked, but what can you do?

The plot is, at it’s core, a mystery. There’s plenty of other trappings going on, but it’s really Freya sleuthing around to figure out who killed the court – mostly just as a way to keep her safe. And I liked that. She’s aware that she’s interested in finding the guilty party to protect herself at least as much – probably more – than to get justice for the dead. (Honestly, the resolution to the mystery was something that I never expected/saw coming, so it gets bonus points for that.)

I only have a couple small problems. First, around page one hundred, the book lags. It starts off brilliantly, once we hit about a third through, it takes off, but there is a stretch that just doesn’t move.

Also, it’s frustrating. I can imagine it was supposed to be because it’s frustrating for Freya and it’s frustrating as a reader. I want the mystery solved. I want the advisors to quit treating Freya like a nincompoop. I want respect for the queen. Sure, I get it all, but it was just frustrating caring so much and getting soundly trounced.

Which, now that I think on it, may actually be a good thing because that does at least show that I truly care about the characters. And I do care about Freya. The rest of her inner circle a little less, but I do adore the girl. (And this is very definitely Freya’s story.)

4

Content Advisory: Mild descriptions of poisons and their effects. A few brief panic attacks, mostly brought on by too many people, too close.