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March 15, 2023

6 Fantastic Fantasy Stories to Read

by MK French

There are a lot of great fantasy stories coming out this month and I recently finished up an omnibus that came at the end of 2022. If you are a fan of fantasy then you need to check out these books.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai

book cover of romantic fantasy novel Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai
March 2023; Tachyon Publications; 978-1616963842
audio, ebook, print (272 pages); romantic fantasy

Elle is a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency. She challenges herself by covertly outfitting half-elf Luc with high-powered glyphs. Luc is the agency's top security expert but had been responsible for a curse laid. He must perform all duties perfectly to earn time off, so the two begin a dangerous collaboration. Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To be free and find happiness, they'll have to take dangerous chances.

Inspired by xianxia, Chinese mythology, and Western lore, this novel involves a lot of inventive magic. It's also a supernatural friends-to-lovers story, with both Elle and Luc harboring crushes on each other that they don't really act on until halfway through the book. Each carries secrets regarding their past: Elle holds back on her magic to stay off the radar and remain in hiding, and Luc is relentless at his job because he essentially has a geas laid on him. The scenes involving his job are wonderfully written, and I hope we get a screen adaptation so I can see them! There are mythical creatures from many different traditions, which I also really enjoyed seeing.

Buy Bitter Medicine at Amazon

Damsel by Evelyn Skye

book cover of epic fantasy novel Damsel by Evelyn Skye
March 2023; Random House Worlds; 978-0593599402
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); epic fantasy

Elodie grew up in a famine-stricken realm, so she accepts a betrothal to Prince Henry of Aurea in exchange for her family getting wealth. She's taken in by the beauty of her new reclusive home as she goes through the rituals to become an Aurean princess. Odd things happen, then she discovers that Aurea sacrifices its princesses to a hungry dragon. Elodie is to be the next sacrifice, but the prior women left behind a legacy that might be the key to Elodie’s survival.

This story is being picked up by Netflix, and I can see why. Knowing what we do about the plot, we understand the glimpses of others who fear for Elodie even as she tries to be kind and learn about her new homeland. Everyone knows what will happen, and the price of Aurea's bounty; it becomes an ethical question, and even the anti-royal faction can't quite address the problem of the dragon in the kingdom. There isn't even a wedding night, so Henry doesn't get attached. Elodie was a working duchess, however. She had worked hard to protect and care for her people, so she won't go quietly into that good night. Or dragon's maw.

This is going to be an amazing series. Elodie is good at puzzles, languages, and mazes, so she's able to navigate the labyrinth that was the dragon's home inside old lava tubes. She somehow has the ability to see memories in blood when she touches it, maybe because Aurea is soaked with magic from the dragons. She wants to be free and while exploring for an escape learns what happened in the beginning, and tries to figure a way out. The solution isn't what we think it is, and I loved it. That sequence is going to be spectacular when done, it's amazing enough to read. A really fun and exciting book that I look forward to seeing, too!

Buy Damsel at Amazon

The Witch and the Vampire by Francesca Flores

book cover of young adult fantasy novel The Witch and the Vampire by Francesca Flora
March 2023; Wednesday Books; 978-1250220516
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); YA fantasy

A vampire attack two years ago drove friends Kaye and Ava apart. Kaye's mother was killed and Ava was turned into a vampire. Ava still has her power, but her mother keeps her imprisoned to steal her magic. Ava plans to escape and ask vampires for help, but Kaye had been training as a Flame witch to destroy vampires in the meantime. Kaye follows Ava when she escapes, planning to destroy the vampires in the forest, and Ava hopes to rekindle their prior friendship and possible romantic feelings. The forest is incredibly dangerous and they're being tracked, so the two must rely on each other to survive.

Things change between Ava and Kaye throughout the book. At first, Kaye thinks Ava might be the one that killed her mother, and wants to string Ava along to the next village, then capture her as a prize to graduate early from the Flame witch training. Ava was turned young so she still has her Root witch powers as well as her vampirism. She's been tortured by her stepfather, who experiments on her to test the limits of her vampiric abilities. On top of that, a weird rot is in the forest and it bodily swallows up people. This is a world out of balance, and the girls can only try to fix it as best as they can. Kaye wants to find out who killed her mother and get justice; Ava just wants to be able to make her own choices. A larger conspiracy surrounds them, and their home village is just one small part of the world.

I really sympathized with both of them at various places in the story. Kaye thought being a perfect student would help her fit in, but her heritage keeps the villagers mistrusting her. Ava thought her mother at least would protect her, but she's more like a game piece to be manipulated and have magic extracted from.

Determined by Kandi J. Wyatt

book cover of young adult fantasy novel Determined by Kandi J. Wyatt
March 2023; Indie; 979-8385559046
ebook, print (457 pages); YA fantasy

Eighteen-year-old Siobhan is adapting to life as queen, wife, and mother. It doesn't help that her husband would rather be with his dragon than perform his kingly duties. When the Navwood send a kidnapper to steal their daughter, Hest marches to battle, leaving his family under the protection of a palace guard. But war isn't far away, it's at home as well. Siobhan must save herself and her family, and deal with the pressures of court once Hest returns. Can their own bond survive both the pressures of a kingdom and the fears they both carry?

Determined is the fourth book in the Four Stars over Ardatz series, following Uprooted (my review here), Blessed (my review here), and Exalted (my review here). Hest went from slave to warrior to dragonrider to king, and the transitions were not always easy for him to make. The nobility were uncomfortable with his ability to silently communicate with his dragon, and there were other people who took exception to his role. His wife had already been jealous of the bond he had with his dragon, and even after their daughter's birth, their relationship hadn't really improved. They work together for the sake of the people, but both had been traumatized by events from prior books. There are losses and treachery both must face: for Hest, it's on the battlefield, and for Siobhan, it's within the castle and the court. Once separated, they must have an incredible amount of trust to remain safe, but even after Hest's return, there are still problems.

It's almost annoying how they fall into the same patterns of arguments from the start of the book. Now there's additional fear of hurting their daughter and not just Siobhan, though Siobhan is learning to defend herself as well. The continual policking preys on Siobhan and Hest's marriage; coupled with his grief and the horrors of war, Hest can't handle the additional stress. This isn't the conclusion of the series, and there is only more to come for both of them. I liked how we see Siobhan's POV more in this novel, and she has her own resilience. There is a lot of detail here, which makes it a bit slow going in the first half. Of course, the battles and arguments pick up the pace, but it slows down a lot again with the politicking. The close of the novel is a setup for the fifth book, and I do hope it's a bit faster-paced.

Buy Determined at Amazon

Lucha of the Night Forest by Tehlor Kay Mejia

book cover of young adult fantasy novel Lucha of the Night Forest by Tehlor Kay Mejia
March 2023; Make Me a World; 978-0593378366
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); YA fantasy

Lucha wants to be free from poverty or the leering strangers, and that isn't something that comes easily at all in the city. The Night Forest outside of the city is supposedly uninhabitable, and there are tales about El Sediento stealing souls. Lucha has a younger sister, one she can't bear to leave behind despite her desire to escape.

The description of Robado and the forests outside it are fascinating. I love the thought of the forest full of trees and mushrooms as tall as trees, and there are superstitions surrounding components found in said forest. There's also a drug that causes people to forget their problems. Lucha's problems stem from her mother constantly wanting that drug, a younger sister hungry at home, and people she used to know siding with the cartels and military that keep trying to cut down the forest to expand the city. Lucha hunts for plants or monsters in the forest to bring back for cash and must find her mother within a day or they'll be evicted and at the mercy of thieves, soldiers, and the drug runners. Lucha must protect her thirteen-year-old sister as best as she can, and that's best done by finding her mother.

Of course, things are more complicated than that, and Lucha is captured by the military while her sister Lis volunteered to be used by them. It's a terrible situation for them both and was always meant to be a lose-lose situation. If Lucha didn't have some semblance of power that she could bargain with, both girls likely would have been killed and there would be no story. Since she does, Lucha strikes a bargain with Salvador for power. It's not a fair bargain, and he is full of lies, but as the story progresses it's really unclear which of any of the characters is truly honest. We learn about the gods' actual history, how the forgetting drug was developed, and find out the true nature of Salvador's lies. It's a fascinating progression, one I really enjoyed following. There is no singular truth, just reflections upon broken people doing the best they can in an imperfect and broken world.

In the beginning, there's such focus on the evils of the world, on the way that power corrupts so absolutely in the city. We have a reflection of this later, in that protecting a sanctuary can still lead to isolating others and using power to reward loyal followers. This is a corruption of pure intention, but it's always about choices. There's no fate for Lucha to fall back on, everything comes down to the choices she makes and the intention of her actions. This is a story about families, no matter how broken or unable to meet the needs of others, and the power of love and forgiveness. It's a beautiful message within this book and was a lot of fun to read.

Nemesis of the Gods: Trilogy by Catherine Cavendish

book cover of urban fantasy novel Nemesis of the Gods Trilogy by Catherine Cavendish
December 2022; Weird House Press; 978-1957121390
ebook, print (698 pages); urban fantasy

This contains all three books of the trilogy: Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients, and Damned by the Ancients. Adeline dreamt of working for Dr. Emeryk Quintillus in 1913, but there is a presence in his home besides a portrait of an Egyptian queen. In the second novel, Dr. Emeryk Quintillus continues to search for the woman who will take on the essence of the long-dead Cleopatra. In the third, we see the origin of the painting in 1908 Vienna, and a young girl in 2018 who can see the long-trapped Quintillus in the basement of the home. He's still determined to escape, no matter the cost.

In the first book, Adeline is meant to transcribe the late professor's writings, and she was excited to do so. His writings detailed his search for Cleopatra's tomb, and odd occurrences in his home started almost immediately. I was greatly amused that she was reading "modern" novels such as H.G. Wells and met the painter Klimt, who painted the portrait of Cleopatra for Quintillus. It does take place in 1913, after all, and that adds to the positively Gothic atmosphere of the novel. As with other Gothic novels, our heroine is clever and curious, targeted by the presence no one else seems to see or sense. She has a champion to help her, but this is the type of novel where the heroine doesn't always win. Each section of the novel has a different descendant of Cleopatra's in it, with the cursed souls trapped in the house in Vienna.

This brings us to the second book of the trilogy, where Paula and Phil move in while he works in Vienna. The basement is locked and off-limits; while the reader knows why, Paula is determined to figure it out. The spirit of Quintillus remains, still searching for someone to take on the spirit of Cleopatra for him. Her sister Arsinoe wants her condemned to be apart from Marc Antony for eternity, so the two team up. Paula and her sister Dee are troubled by those spirits and discover part of the history with Quintillus and his experiment in bringing Cleopatra back. Arsinoe and Quintillus don't care about other people, and over the course of the book, we see exactly how little they value human life in the quest to get what they want.

In the third book, little Heidi can see exceptionally well in the dark and can see Quintillus' spirit in the basement. Her parents don't believe her at first, but the knocking sounds begin. We've read the other books, and we know what's going to happen to the family. This adds to the tension in the novel until it finally happens and Quintillus is again loose within the house and trying to get Cleopatra back. This is where we get the flashback to the creation of the portrait that is tied with the house and his efforts to get Cleopatra. Heidi is possessed at times, and I was petrified for her safety. The tension ratchets up until the end of the book, and it ends in true horror fashion. I wouldn't be surprised if further books will exist in this universe.

(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read for FREE)

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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