Friday 28 September 2018

The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli: Blog Tour Review!

I am so ridiculously excited to be taking part in The Caged Queen blog tour - I was honoured to be a part of The Last Namsara's too and you can check out my interview with Kristen here!  I loved this book so much and I'm so excited for everyone to read it! 


Series: Iskari, Book Two
Publisher: Gollancz
Format: Paperback
Published: 27th September 2018
Number of Pages: 400
Book: For Review* 
Genre:  Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Action-Adventure, Paranormal, Mythical, YA
Recommended Age: 13+
Contains: Violence, Death, Swearing, Alcohol References
Author's Site: Kristen Ciccarelli

What would you sacrifice for love
Roa and her sister, Essie, were born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever.  It was a magic they cherished – until the terrible day Essie died and her soul was trapped in this world.
Dax, the heir to the throne of Firgaard, was responsible.  Roa swore she would never forgive him – yet when he came begging for her help to dethrone his cruel father, Roa made him a deal.  She’d give him the army he needed if he made her queen.
Now she is royalty, but an outlander; far form home and married to her enemy.  And even after everything she has sacrificed, Dax’s promises have gone unfulfilled.  Roa’s people still suffer.
Then a chance to right every wrong arises – an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister.  During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.
All she has to do is kill the king...

 “You can save her, Roa.  You can save all of us.”
She looked up at him miserable.  “By killing the king.”
“By removing the next tyrant from the throne.”
Once upon a time, there were two sisters who were so close, not even death could separate them...
Roa was heartbroken when her twin, Essie, died and her soul became trapped in the body of a hawk.  She hated, hated, the boy responsible.
But now... now she’s married to him.  Because the only way to save her people from starving to death, was to sign a devil’s contract with the newly crowned King of Firgaard.
But Dax is not keeping the promises he made to her.  Roa’s people are still suffering, Roa herself is an outcast and Essie... Essie’s soul is slipping away more and more every day.
Roa has one opportunity to fix everything.  To save her people.  To bring her sister back.  To get herself out of this absolute mess.
And all she has to do?
Kill Dax...
I loved The Last Namsara so, so much.  I am mildly obsessed with dragons (ok, ok, utterly obsessed: I would give my soul for a dragon) and I just could not get enough of Ciccarelli’s world building when I read The Last Namsara because, guys, there be dragons!  And that was why I just could not wait to get my greedy little hands on a copy of The Caged Queen.  And so when it was so kindly sent to me (thank you Gollancz!) I just dived right on in.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from it, though.  Because it isn’t a direct sequel, more like a following book in the same universe following a newish set of characters on their adventures.  I loved the leads from The Last Namsara, Asha and Torwin, and knew The Caged Queen wouldn’t be focused on them – and would sadly have less dragons.  But from the very beginning of The Caged Queen, I honestly just fell in love all over again.  Because wow.  I adored the slightly different mythology and beliefs, loved the political drama and manoeuvrings, and just fell utterly head-over-heels for the very complex relationship between Dax and Roa.
Those two I honestly loved to pieces.  They were both so much more than they appeared to be, and seeing them from Roa’s perspective rather than Asha’s was intriguing.  Plus their relationship just had me enthralled from the very beginning – because while the two were legally married, it was very much a marriage of mutually beneficial terms and wasn’t built on any kind of emotions, especially not on Roa’s side.  But watching them argue and distrust and disagree and grow together was just amazing and so very brilliantly done.  Ciccarelli is really just the queen of complicated as hell relationships.
Roa was pretty prickly but steadfastly loyal to those she cared about – especially Essie and her people.  She was strong both mentally and physically and wasn’t afraid to fight for what she wants.  She was also totally badass and you all know I love that in my leading ladies.
Dax I just adored. He’s such a clever boy, that one – charming and charismatic and kind of adorable, he really knew how to play the political game.  Plus I just knew there was so much more to him than anything I saw in The Last Namsara.  And, now I am seeing him as someone not the sibling to the narrator, I think I love him. 
I also loved seeing Safire again from The Last Namsara – I really liked Dax’s coousin in the first book and just admire the hell out of this badass lady.  There were also cameos from my babies from Namsara and I loved it.
Also I just have to mention the bond between Roa and Essie.  Because it was just heartbreaking and beautiful.  Can you just imagine being born a twin, as close as could be to one another, so connected you can physically sense one another?  Now imagine your sister dies and you’re all alone, but you don’t want to be because what are you if not her sister?  Do you see why this bond made me cry?  I just felt how much Roa loved her sister, how desperately she wanted to save her, how terrified she was of Essie slipping away from her for good.  It’s one of the most unorthodox and touching sisterhood I’ve ever read about before and I just love the two of them so so much.
Ok I’ve rambled about the characters enough – why do I always do this?  Anyway, in The Last Namsara we got these snippets after chapters – little stories from the world’s mythologies, memories of the characters, that kind of thing.  And I just loved that we got the same in The Caged Queen.  We got to see more of Roa’s homeland and her relationship with Dax when they were children, before everything fell apart.  Plus Ciccarelli just has this way of storytelling that’s utterly enchanting and absorbing and I can’t get enough.
And seriously.  That plot.  Wow.  I honestly did not see a bunch of the twists coming – I blame a certain character for many of them, that wily fox – and I was hooked from start to finish.  Hell, I stayed up stupidly late after being exhausted from uni just to finish it because I just had to know how it ended.  Also I need another book, please.  I need more.
This world... I just love it.  I love Asha and Dax’s kingdom, but I really loved learning more about Roa’s.  I adored the beliefs there – especially about Relinquishing, which was just such a brilliant idea that I’m sure has taken root from some belief in the real world and is brilliantly brought to life in The Caged Queen.  Also just the thing about Essie... it’s honestly enough to make a girl cry.  Two sisters who love one another so deeply and totally that not even death could separate them, and one returned as a bird just so her sister would not be alone.  I really don’t know where Ciccarelli came up with that idea, but I adore it and she owes me a packet of tissues.
So seriously, if you haven’t read The Iskari Series, read it now.  There be dragons and spirits, kings and queens, love and heartbreak, loss and laughter, betrayal and forgiveness.  It honestly just has everything I could possibly want in a fantasy book and I’m really, really hoping there will be a book three!  There’s still so much of this world to explore, and hopefully more dragons to ride.
Please.  More dragons to ride.
I need more dragons in my world, Kristen.  Please.

Star Rating:
5 Out of 5 

Read this book if you liked:
The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli
Before I Ignite by Jodie Foster
And I Darken by Kiersten White

Happy Reading
* This book was received from Gollancz in exchange for an honest review


Also check out Words From A Reader and The Untitled Book Blog because they have more The Caged Queen goodness up today too!


Ah, I love this series so much!  If you haven't read it, check it out ASAP because it is amazing!
Everyone, definitely check out Kristen's website, follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and add The Caged Queen to your Goodreads TBR ASAP list! 

Wednesday 26 September 2018

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

Series: Iskari, Book One
Publisher: Gollancz
Format: Hardcover
Published: 12th October 2017
Number of Pages: 432
Book: For Review* 
Genre:  Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Adventure, Paranormal, Mythical, YA
Recommended Age: 13+
Contains: Violence, Death
Author's Site: Kristen Ciccarelli

Blurb From Goodreads:
In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.
These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.
Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

“The old heroes were called Namsara after a beloved god, he said.  So she would be called Iskari, after a deadly one...”
Once there was a girl who was drawn to old stories.  The stories with power.  The stories the dragons craved.
She told stories to Kozu, the first dragon.  And he grew to crave her, too.  But when she refused to tell him another story, he grew angry with her.  He burned her with his fire and then he destroyed much of her kingdom, killing many of her people.
It was all Asha’s fault.  She should have known better – after all, the old stories killer her own mother.  
Now, her people loathe her and to restore the honour she lost the night Kozu’s fire scorched her people, Asha goes out and hunts dragons, bring their heads to her father, the dragon king.
But that is not enough to redeem her.  No, she must now marry Jarek – a cruel man she despises like no other.  There is no escaping the binding – until her father offers her a chance of escape: if she can kill Kozu and bring him the dragons’ head, she will be free.
But amid rising tensions and the defiance of Jarek’s slave, Torwin, can Asha find a way to save herself and her people?  Can the old stories reveal the truths that have been hidden for so very long? 
Anyone who knows me is all too aware of my dragon obsession.  They are my absolute favourite fantastical creature and I would literally sell my soul for a real one.  My mum actually calls me Hagrid from time to time due to my dragon mania.  So when I was offered a chance to read The Last Namsara, how was I meant to say no?  In fact, The Last Namsara has probably been my most anticipated debut of the whole year and the instant it landed on my doorstep, I just dived straight in.  And I fell instantly and irrevocably in love.  Because I’ve read a lot of books about dragons, but none like this.  The Last Namsara just pulled me under a spell – stories truly do have power, especially ones as magical and beautiful as this one.
Asha was such a stronger character – and my very favourite type of princess: a badass with swords and an axe.  To begin with, she was all kinds of broken – a hunter desperate for forgiveness, who could not forgive herself.  A girl who killed dragons to try and clear away the other deaths on her hands.  It would have been so easy to dislike her – but I never did.  Because Asha was brave and tough as nails and funny and so very alone it made my heart ache for her.  And then she goes on this journey over the book – I’ve never seen such character development in a single book and I just loved it.
Torwin – oh my sweet Torwin!  He was just the sweetest, loveliest thing and I spent a lot of the book just wanting to wrap him up in a hug.  He was loyal and devoted and kind to Asha, even when no one else would even look at her face.  
I just loved the two of them together.  I’ve never read a story where a princess fell in love with a slave – and I never thought I could love such a romance so much.  The two of them were just perfect together and I loved watching their relationship grow.  It felt utterly real to me and was just the sweetest, most wonderful thing.
I loved all of the minor characters too, especially Safire, who was just as much of a badass as Asha – maybe even more.  The child of Asha’s uncle and a slave, Safire was an outcast and seen as easy prey despite her royals blood – but she never let it break her.  And Dax was a really lovely big brother – a bit of a dreamer, he was kind and strong and quick witted.  Roa was awesome!  These two are the main characters in The Caged Queen and I’m so excited to see more of them!
Jarek was an epic arsehole – I loathed him, even when I felt pity for the boy who lost his parents to dragon’s fire and yet saved the girl responsible for their deaths.
I simply have to mention the dragons – even if I have to watch what I say for risk of spoilers!  The dragons in this book were characters in their own right (the main two especially) and they were written in such a way it took my breath away.  The dragons in this book can be terrible and destructive and ruthless.  But then so can humans.  And like humans the dragons can be so much more – and though they do not speak our language, they could tell stories of their own – such beautiful stories.
I absolutely loved the way Kristin wrote this book – I loved the main plot line and story of Asha and her journey.  And I loved the old stories interspersed throughout the book.  I can see why Asha was drawn to the stories – they were just so very beautiful.
This plot was just nonstop!  Just when I thought it was time to take a break and get some much needed sleep, a new twist threw me and simply made me read on.  Kristen will be responsible for many sleepless nights and her books are always going to be so worth it.
My god, this world!  The very idea that stories could hold such power – and that depending on who was telling the story and how it was told, each could be so utterly different.  As a book addict and a devourer of fantasy books, I know how powerful a story can be.  I know how a story can transport you to a whole other world, can let you be a dragon rider for a few hundred pages.  Alas, thus far stories have not called a dragon to me. I even read to my dog a lot of the afternoon (she’s recovering from surgery and is going a little stir crazy – reading to her seems to calm her down a bit) and no sign of a scaled friend for myself.  I’ll keep trying.
I don’t like slavery – I think it’s utterly abhorrent, as most do!  But I thought Kristin handled the subject in a truly delicate way, weaving the slavery of skrals into the story effortlessly and enabling yet more plot twists to cause my jaw to drop! 
If you haven’t guessed yet after reading so far through my long, rambly review, I absolutely adored The Last Namsara.  As a dragon lover, this book was heaven to me and I cannot wait to see what Kristin brings out next.  I’m especially excited about the second book in the series, which will focus on Roa and Dax – I loved both characters and can’t wait to get to know them better!  Kristin Ciccarelli is now added to my list of auto-buy authors – and The Last Namsara is one of my favourite books of 2017.  If you love dragons like I do or just want to read about a badass princess, please pick up The Last Namsara.  You won’t regret it!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go stand in nature and tell an old story to the world.  Because I just really really want a dragon.

Star Rating:
5 Out of 5 

Read this book if you liked:
Grisha by Leigh Bardugo
Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Happy Reading
* This book was received from Gollancz in exchange for an honest review