‘The Sunbearer Trials’ – Aiden Thomas

I’m hugely grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this in advance of publication, and am now excited to read the next instalment.

In what is being touted as a mix of Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games, Thomas creates an action-packed magical competition. We are in a well-established world, where the Gods need to be kept happy. Every decade a competition is held in order to find the winner of the Sunbearer Trials. Their win means that the Obsidian gods can be kept at bay, and the power of the Sol stone can be replenished in order to protect the people of Reino del Sol.

Our focus is the year that proves to be something of an anomaly. For the first time in a century not only Golds – who train for this event – are chosen. Two of the Jades – the lowest in the semidios rankings – are selected, and we see Xia, Teo and his best friend, Niya, collaborate to keep alive and try to be in with a chance of avoiding their intended role as the sacrifice.

Teo is a trans boy, son of Quetzal, the Goddess of Birds, and a large part of the story is about Teo learning to accept his identity and to consider the role he might play in his country’s future. The relationships between the characters were interesting, and I was rather taken aback by the unexpected shift in allegiances towards the end – however, it sets things nicely in place for a most entertaining story in book two.


‘Her Majesty’s Royal Coven’ – Juno Dawson

A solid 3.5 stars, with a story that sweeps you up in its embrace and spits you out at the end…desperately waiting to see what comes next.

Slow to get started (at least it was for me) but our focus is Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, a group of witches, and four key women who have been friends since childhood. There’s a lot of backstory to these witches, and we get glimpses into their past, but key elements of the story focus on a battle between witches and warlocks that is never really explained clearly. Moments are alluded to, and perhaps there is a plan to further expand on these in book two.

A central focus of the story is the prophecy that the Sullied Child will rise and destroy the world. Now that they think they’ve found them, Helena is determined to try and work out how to prevent this prophecy coming true. She enlists the help of her old friend Niamh, an incredibly strong witch, to talk with Theo and establish how much of a threat this will be.

It was clear from quite early on that Theo was more powerful than anyone could predict. This is what prompts the need to investigate. However, we soon learn that Theo identifies as a girl…and so we move into a more political exploration of gender and attitudes to trans children.

Anyone reading this is likely to draw parallels between Helena, our trans-hating coven leader, and a certain female writer whose views on trans-rights are widely criticised. Dawson tries to allow Helena’s views to be aired, but the vitriol she spews and the reactions of those who fight against her establish clearly where our sympathies are meant to lie. In the portrayal of Theo we have a character who is simply fighting to be, and the happiness she radiates as people express their acceptance of her makes it hard not to want to champion her cause.

The background of the coven allows some context to the events taking place. Certainly, as we draw to the close and see Niamh’s sister setting something in motion I found myself very keen to get my hands on the next instalment. Unfortunately, the constant Spice Girls references grated on me and the pacing at the start was too slow to warrant a higher rating.


‘Cackle’ – Rachel Harrison

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this in advance of publication. Cackle is not necessarily what I would deem horror (and I’m unsure why someone might regard it as such) but it does use witchcraft to explore the theme of friendship and it has plenty of good-humoured moments.

Our main character has been dumped by her boyfriend. She moves to a new town, where she knows nobody, and is befriended by Sophie. Sophie is beautiful, glamorous and everyone in the town seems in thrall to her (though some are happier about this than others).

As Annie settles into her new routine, she starts to feel more and more indebted to Sophie. She heard rumours about her new friend, and when she is gifted a spider as a housewarming gift we know there’s something odd about her.

The question soon becomes about how quickly Annie is prepared to accept these changes to her life. She veers between desperate to salvage her previous existence and determined to forge a bright new path. Ultimately something of a middle ground has to be found, but Annie learns what is important to her and what boundaries she is prepared to put in place to live her life.

‘The Weight of Blood’ – Tiffany D. Jackson

Carrie for the modern era, and what a read!

Maddy is a biracial teenager who has lived her life following the rules of her deeply religious father. She passes as white, but when she is caught in a storm during cross-country, her peers learn the truth about her identity. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but in their town it is.

The ingrained racism was tough to read about. This was a town where students were educated together, but any attempts to challenge racial stereotyping are ignored and separate events are held for teens of different backgrounds. While Maddy’s secret caused a fuss, it’s the bigger secret that she’s kept from everyone that is going to cause more of a scene.

Those familiar with Carrie will know the plot. Those who aren’t, may have to suspend their disbelief for the paranormal elements…but this was a solid retelling of a much-loved story.


‘Skin of the Sea’ – Natasha Bowen

Skin of the Sea is a story that grabs you from the outset, with its blend of African mythology and links to The Little Mermaid. Evocative and enchanting, with an ending that had me very relieved to have a copy of book two on hand to find out what comes next.

Our main character, Simi, is a mermaid; someone who was human but rescued on the condition that she played her role in saving the souls of the dead.

Unfortunately, her memories of her human life make it harder for her to fully accept her instructions. When she finds Kola he is injured and she cannot let him die. At risk to herself, she rescues him…and sets in motion a chain of events that could have grave repercussions.

The pair journey to his home as he needs to find his twin siblings. Along the way both are challenged and forced to think about what is important to them. We see a journey fraught with danger, and though we sense things are not going to go quite according to plan there were moments that really took me by surprise.

Though I didn’t quite predict the ending, Simi’s decision makes sense…though I hope she’ll be afforded a better deal in book two.


‘Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match’ – Sally Thorne

Oh, how I needed this book. The Frankenstein story, humour and a romance that you can’t help but become entranced by…all add up to a fantastic read.

Our focus is Victor and Angelika Frankenstein, orphaned at an early age, but determined to pursue their scientific endeavours. Thorne borrows heavily from the Frankenstein story, but with the addition of Angelika and a cast of characters (including Belladonna the love struck pig) this becomes – dare I say it – the story that Shelley might have told if she were writing much later.

Angelika is twenty four, passionate and unorthodox. She wants a husband, but those around her think she’s strange. So, instead of reconciling herself to a life of spinsterdom under the care of her brother, she helps him in his experiments…and makes herself her ideal man.

Fourth time lucky, Angelika and Victor manage to resurrect their experiments. Unfortunately, Victor’s creation runs away and a goodly part of the book focuses on trying to get him to return to their care. Angelika, however, is shown to be just as capable and her experiment survives, stays with her and is cared for.

Will, as he is named, enters into an unorthodox relationship for the times, but the spark between them all was wonderful. There were so many moments between these two that I couldn’t pick a favourite. Even the love triangle served to strengthen their bond. There were worries as Angelika and Will try to uncover the truth of his previous identity, but even this encouraged deeper thought about the role we play in our community and how religion serves us.

I’d started recommending this before I’d finished, and now that I have I shall be even louder in my praise. Huge thanks to the author for this, and to NetGalley for granting me access prior to publication.