Book Reviews

Review: All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace

Amora and the crew of the Keel Haul return in this sequel to All the Stars and Teeth!

Book: All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace

Publication date: 2nd February 2021

Ownership: E-ARC provided free of charge by Titan Books; paperback was a gift from Justine at I Should Read That

Content warnings: violence, murder and death, including major character death; central thread of grieving a parent’s violent death; blood and bone magic; desecration of corpses for magical purposes; on-page panic attacks and depiction of PTSD.

I’ll make my usual caveat about sequel reviews: this blog post is not the place to start if you haven’t read these books yet! I’ll avoid as many spoilers as I can, but even mentioning a character’s name will let you know they turn up here, so if you’d rather go in completely cold, you can check out my review of book one, All the Stars and Teeth, to see if it will be your kind of thing, and come back when you’re ready.

Almost everything I said about the first book stands: this is an interesting world with a good magic system. Having run through the traditional YA princess-retakes-throne plot in the first book, I was really wondering where this book was going to go next to finish up the duology – and unfortunately it feels like the book was wondering that for a while, too. This is much more slowly paced than book one, with Amora setting off on a tour of her kingdom’s islands with the advertised purpose being finding a husband to rule alongside her, but the surreptitous purpose of finding a magical item that will help her break the curse on her and Bastian. Now, don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed this very much! But compare to the action-packed thrust of the first book, this is meandering at best, and the first three-quarters of the book seem to have little impact on the last quarter, which is where the story as a whole really resolves. That being said, I really enjoyed getting to see around the islands a little more, especially the changes that had occurred to their daily since the major events of the first book.

Amora herself continues to be the weakest character of the cast, which is a little more obvious here as the rest of her crew felt like they were shoved to the background a bit as the plot focuses in on Amora’s reign as opposed to their mutual adventure. There’s hardly any of Vataea, the sarcastic mermaid, and most of Amora’s conversations with Bastian revolve around their relationship and their curse, which means he has way less chance to shine as his cheeky piratical self. My favourite character from the first book, Amora’s former fiancé Ferrick, was still the best of them all – I adore that they let the two of them be platonic friends! – and though he too is a little less present, I really enjoyed his scenes. The trouble with Amora is that while she’s likeable enough to be in the head of, she’s pushed and pulled all over the place by other people all the time, and I didn’t feel like she had a huge amount of agency in her own story. Some of this is down to her obligations as queen, which is understandable, but sometimes she just has plot elements handed to her (even the final climax!) with seemingly little work on her part, and she just sort of does things without much planning. The author attempts to lampshade this with a few news articles discussing her flighty teenage behaviour as an attempt to undermine her authority, but when Amora dismisses these as not knowing the real her, I just sort of thought the articles were right. What I will say about her, though, is that her PTSD attacks are well-written, and really helped me to come back around to sympathising with her – while she does sometimes make frustrating decisions, they do sometimes make sense for someone desperately trying to protect herself from her trauma (still not all the time, though).

The first book never let Amora flinch away from the reality of her subjects’ lives under her ancestor’s rule, and a large part of her arc involved realising how much she, and the parents she loved as people, were complicit in keeping that cruel and selfish regime going. That definitely continues to be a theme here – no matter how other characters try to jolly her into just enjoying life as queen, travelling around the islands and getting to know them, Amora can’t help but see the hatred and frustration of the islanders themselves. This leads to some fascinating tensions in the plot at times, like when Amora’s husband search, which should be fun frothy romance time, but which takes a rather more brutal turn… It’s a fun and interesting subversion of many of the older YA tropes – and while I won’t spoil anything, I think the ending will raise a smile from anyone who’s fed up with the inherent glorification of monarchy in YA fantasy stories with princess leads.

Overall, though I’ve been a little critical, I did have a lot of fun reading this. I think it’s missing some of the sparkiness and action-y adventure style that the first book was, but also doesn’t settle into the learning-to-rule political court fantasy I thought it might, either. It’s a bit of an odd duck compared to the first, is all I’m thinking! I kind of wish the last 100 pages of this book had just been worked into All the Stars and Teeth so it could have been a really satisfying standalone, but I still recommend this as a duology, particularly for its depictions of friendships and its hard look at the ethics of monarchy. Three and a half out of five stars!

Book Reviews

Review: Vampires Never Get Old, edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C Parker

I love a good vampire story, and this anthology of YA short stories has a pretty star-studded list of contributors and some interesting reworkings of classic vampire myth!

Book: Vampires Never Get Old edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C Parker

Publication date: 25th May 2021

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Titan Books. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: violence and death, including parental death; blood drinking; medical abuse and ableism; misgendering. Some of these are only in individual stories – I’m happy to provide more detail if you get in touch.

In this delicious new collection, you’ll find stories about lurking vampires of social media, rebellious vampires hungry for more than just blood, eager vampires coming out―and going out for their first kill―and other bold, breathtaking, dangerous, dreamy, eerie, iconic, powerful creatures of the night.

Welcome to the evolution of the vampire―and a revolution on the page.

I usually begin my reviews of short story anthologies with a disclaimer that they’re always a mixed bag, but while there were some stories here I liked more than others, on the whole it’s a very cohesive collection. Though the stories all explore different aspects of teen vampire life, the general tone is very solid, so if you like the first few stories, then the whole book is likely to be a hit.

Among my favourites of the eleven stories were Tessa Gratton’s ‘Seven Nights for Dying’, which opens the collection, and VE Schwab’s ‘First Kill’, which closes it. The former has all the melancholy angst and languid sex appeal you expect from a classic vampire story, while the latter was a fun and punchy story about a vampire with a sapphic crush. My very favourite, though, was Samira Ahmed’s ‘A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire’, which is written as if it’s part of a self-help website, and has a brilliant voice to it – it’s full of snark and humour and bitterness about colonialism, and it also really cleverly works in the worldbuilding with offhand remarks, with an online network of vampires I really wanted to know more about.

Less successful for me were Laura Ruby’s ‘Bestiary’, which I just didn’t get on with the style of; ‘The Boy and the Bell’ by Heidi Heilig, which I found a little boring, as it’s mostly a single conversation; and ‘Vampires Never Say Die’ by the editors, which I honestly did not understand. This last story reimagines vampires as Instagram influencers, which is a cool idea, but I thought the plot was very weird. There are two perspectives that seemed to me to fit poorly together; this might have been the point, since the story sets up a kind of odd-couple relationship, but flicking between the two characters didn’t work for me.

The rest of the stories in the book were solid four stars for me, if I was going to rate them individually. There’s a fantastic mix of queer, disabled, and non-white authors and stories here, and it’s a great way to pull vampires away from the very white, abled, and heteronormative vampire pattern of much of the YA of the post-Twilight era. While some of the stories edge towards creepy, I don’t think anything here went all the way to outright horror; Rebecca Roanhorse’s ‘The Boys of Blood River’ was the closest, I think, but I’m a verified horror wuss and found everything here okay (which might mean, if you’re specifically looking for horror, it’ll be a bit tame for you!).

One minor gripe: each story has notes from the editors after it, which I found rather off-putting – not in concept, but in style. They’re one part ‘fellow kids’ meme (complete with puntastic titles) and one part GCSE English Literature analysis, complete with a book club-style question at the end like “If you had the choice, would you want to live forever?” and “In what other ways are vampires a symbol of privilege?”. I found this quite patronising, and though I’m always aware that I’m now reading outside my age bracket when I read YA, I’m pretty sure I would have felt the same as a teen. Perhaps this is because I’m very familiar with vampire lore and history and most of what they were saying wasn’t new to me, so your mileage may vary, of course, but I just didn’t think it was necessary – a good story should stand on its own feet, not come with explanation from the editor.

Overall, this is a solid YA anthology! These stories have the teen experience at their hearts, so if you’re a fan of the early seasons of Buffy, this will be right up your street. I’m glad vampires are having a bit of a revival, and this is a great way to read some fun, fresh, diverse takes on their tropes. Four out of five cats, overall!