Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “This Gilded Abyss” by Rebecca Thorne

Full Title: This Gilded Abyss
Author: Rebecca Thorne
Published: June 6, 2023 by self-publishing
Genres: Fiction, LGBTQ+ Horror, LGBTQ+ Fantasy
Edition Details: 287 pages, ebook
Source: ARC – requested directly from author
Rating: {5/5 stars}

This is a spoiler-free review. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

I thoroughly enjoyed Thorne’s writing style in her cozy fantasy novels, but I’m glad she decided to try a different genre here. I like a variety of genres, and cozy fantasy limits you on the amount of action and trouble the characters can get into.

There’s a detailed list of content warnings for the book, and I believe they cover all of the topics you might find triggering.

Positive Bits

This story handles worldbuilding with a deft hand, keeping us from drowning in details but also providing enough information for us to come along for the ride. Anytime I found myself curious about a royal title or a historical reference mentioned, it was explained just pages later for us.

The enemies to lovers relationship between Nix and Kess (referenced in the description) feels authentic. The reason they fell apart in the past makes sense, allowing us to experience Nix’s hurt and grief as well as her processing of those emotions. I find many romance plots lean on misunderstandings in a way that feels silly or frustrating, but Thorne made their conflict feel real and important. We get to watch the tension of the main plot and the romance grind forward in ways that can’t be ignored.

In the intro of the book, Thorne left a note for her mother that there was spice in Chapter 23. This is true, but I wanted to make note for those who aren’t as interested in spicy stories. The intimacy between Nix and Kess isn’t just spice – it’s so well done! It feels necessary to the plot, showing us their connection and using their actions (spicy and not) to show us how they’re feeling.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I don’t like cliffhangers! The story ends without resolving the major problems at hand (at least a few of them), and we’re not safe and sound when the last page turns. I’m eager for book 2 in 2024, but I’ll admit I often avoid series of books for this reason.

Without ruining any plot points, there are details about the world’s conflicts (war, different countries, etc) that I just didn’t get enough information about yet. This plays a large role toward one of the main plot points, and it’s largely on purpose as a device to build tension. I enjoy more info dumping than most people, though, so perhaps this is just a me thing.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Not yet, little speck.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – Rebecca Thorne’s book is fast-paced and imaginative. Assuming none of the content warnings are huge red flags for you, I think this book is a fun ride worth taking.

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Hunted by the Sky” by Tanaz Bhathena

Full Title: Hunted by the Sky
Author: Tanaz Bhathena
Published: Upcoming Release Date – June 23, 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genres: Young Adult, Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction & Dystopian Romance
Edition Details: 384 pages, Hardcover
Source: {Advance Readers’ Edition}
Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

This is a spoiler-free review. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

The gods of reading took pity on me, and I once again found a book in my Facebook feed. Fierce Reads promoted this novel via ads that allowed viewers to request an advanced readers’ edition. After reading the description, I had to take a chance:

Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.

Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl—Gul—in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance—and discovers a magic he never expected to find.

Dangerous circumstances have brought Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort…a world with secrets deadlier than their own.

Added to that, the book is specifically mentioned that it explores identity, class struggles, and a world inspired by medieval India. I couldn’t resist!

Positive Bits

As someone who enjoys YA, I still find myself frustrated by characters who act a little too immature or naive. Thankfully, Gul and Cavas (the main characters of our story) manage to find that balance between youthful folly and energetic luck.

The chapters pivot between the viewpoints of Gul (female) and Cavas (male), which is one of my favorite methods of telling a multi-POV story. We even get a chapter at the end in the POV of an antagonist who will obviously be around for book 2.

The magic and beings in Ambar are built well, obviously steeped in a familiarity with mythology and a heavy dose of creativity. I admire the way Bhathena sketch out our experience, using a first person POV to allow us to really experience each location ourselves.

I love a good revenge scheme, especially if nothing goes according to plan. I won’t say more, as I’m not willing to share any spoilers, but I enjoyed being wrong about where the story takes us.

Less Enjoyable Bits

Some of the side characters should’ve been given more depth, in my opinion. The story isn’t made less by their flatness, but I think it could’ve been made even richer if we saw more of those people.

For example, the three main people Gul interacts with from the Sisters of the Golden Lotus are slightly 3-D, but I found myself disappointed to not get more out of their backstories and actions. We get bits and pieces, enough for their presence to make sense and be important, but we don’t get a full picture of their character.

I also wish more characters were given depth, largely because that tends to leave you wondering who is important to the plot. It’s not essential, but I prefer a little less lead-by-the-hand reading. When there are multiple fleshed out characters, you end up guessing (and sometimes being wrong about) who will play a key role in the story. When only a handful of specific people get full descriptions, you know they’re the important players and all of the guess work is lost. (Again, that’s a personal preference.)

Tidbits Worth Repeating*

* Without spoiling the plot, but giving you a taste of the mood…

“You have to eat sometime, princess.”

I look up from the plate full of lotus sabzi, dal, and rice and into Amira’s dark eyes.

“No one cares, do they?” I ask. “About girls like us.”

Something shifts in her gaze, something I don’t quite understand. “Eat,” she says again before leaving the room.

I don’t.

One kindness for another, the mammoth tells me as I cling to it. You did not let me die in the market; I will not let you fall.

Do not judge yourself too harshly, Savak-putri Gulnaz. Subodh’s voice feels like a gentle breeze in my mind. I am older than you are and have made mistakes that are even bigger. There are always ways to make amends. 

Is it worth the coin?

Yes! I recommend this book if you like big worlds based on various real world cultures (other than European). I’ll be keeping an eye out for book 2.