Readers' Favorite

June 5, 2023

3 Fantasy Novels for Your Beach Bag

by MK French

If your idea of a great summer beach read involves folklore, magic, and fae, then I have a round-up of books that you will want to add to your beach bag.

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

Queen of Roses by Briar Boleyn

book cover of fantasy novel Queen of Roses by Briar Boleyn
April 2023; Indie; 979-8391907367
ebook, print (348 pages); fantasy

Morgan Pendragon is the oldest child of Uther Pendragon, but her mother was rumored to be fae. As soon as her cruel father declared her brother Arthur legitimate and his heir, he also promised her to the temple. Arthur has grown up as cruel as their father and now orders her to travel and find him a fae weapon of legendary power. Along the way, she sees more than the kingdom of Camelot and learns that the fae weren't driven away from the world after all. Her potentially fae blood could find Excalibur, but it also makes her a threat to the kingdom she loves.

The warnings say this is a series that has a tame beginning, but this is a world that owes more to Game of Thrones than the courtly Arthurian legends most are used to. We open book one of the duology with a scene of domestic violence, Uther killing Ygraine in front of a hidden Morgan. This tells us what life in the kingdom is like right away. Arthur tends to be aggressive and cruel, reveling in the power he has and the worsening conditions of the people that he created. Everything must be done at his command, and minor issues are an affront to his sense of power and self. He's vicious, prejudiced against the fae, women with authority, homosexuality, magic, and even the three major goddesses of the land. Instead, he venerates a god of war that once was worshipped with bloody rituals and sacrifice. He was fully aware of the cruelties heaped on Morgan's head because of the rumors that she was part fae and shares in the same belief that she's a born traitor and after his throne.

Once on the road, the tone of the book doesn't change right away, but there's an uneasy alliance with the assassin leading Morgan to Excalibur. Of course, this brings on the forced proximity and enemies-to-lovers trope, but it's a slow burn and complicated by the addition of another guy into the group. We know who the better match is, but Morgan was sheltered enough in some ways that she has no idea what healthy relationships look like. She sees the outside world and learns how much worse Camelit is, and the final third is where the stereotypical fantasy adventure party enters the dungeon and battles magical creatures. The ending is something of a cliffhanger; we don't know why Morgan is so important or why her heritage was hidden, who last-minute additions really are, and what to make of changes in her love interests. I'm sure these questions will be answered in the next book of the duology, but it left me a bit unsettled to have so many unanswered questions about what was really happening. 

Buy Queen of Roses at Amazon

Mortal Follies by Alexis Hall

book cover of historical fantasy novel Mortal Follies by Alexis Hall
June 2023; Del Rey; 978-0593497562
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); historical fiction

A lady in 1814 had to contend with propriety and balls, in addition to the fairies and wizards in the land. Miss Maelys Mitchelmore is cursed, causing her dress to unravel at her first ball. It goes all downhill from there, forcing her to seek help from Lady Georgiana Landrak, who is nicknamed the Duke of Annadale and is rumored to have murdered her father and brothers to inherit. Miss Mitchelmore is desperate for help with her curse, and the Duke is rumored to be a witch as well. But the Duke has secrets of her own, and they could be dangerous for Miss Mitchelmore.

Narrated by Puck himself, the story begins with the unraveling dress catching his attention. His voice is fantastic by the way, and he makes tons of fun asides all throughout the book. He follows as a shadow or animals as Maelys tried to figure out what was going on with the help of friends and family. This puts her in close proximity with Georgiana, as well as those her cousin and best friend try to figure out are the culprits. It's kind of hilarious watching them all play detective while maintaining social civility in Bath, visiting witches and non-conforming people. Maelys figures out she actually likes women and not men in talking with her friends and what her fascination with Georgiana really is. The two are attracted to each other, but Georgiana tries to push Maelys away. Even figuring out who cursed Maelys isn't necessarily the end of things, as the two must determine what their relationship is, and Maelys isn't the only one that is cursed.

I loved the mix of magic, fae, and Regency romance, as well as the casual acceptance that Maelys has around her. No one really cares that she is falling for a woman outside the fact that society won't allow them to marry. They only want to make sure she's certain of what she wants, and that she doesn't want to eventually marry. The sheer love in the book is clear, and carries through between all the characters and their comedy of manners, even with Puck's sarcastic asides and commentary on humanity. I really enjoyed the mix of styles as well as the way they moved around London and polite society.

Buy Moral Follies at Amazon

A Crown of Ivy and Glass by Claire Legend

book cover of dark fantasy novel A Crown of Ivy and Glass by Claire Legrand
June 2023; Sourcebooks Casablanca; 978-1728231990
audio, ebook, print (560 pages); dark fantasy

Lady Gemma Ashbourne's family was Anointed by the gods and given abilities, but she's been sad ever since her sister Mara was taken to the Middlemist to guard against treacherous magic and her mother abandoned the family. Her father and eldest sister are feuding with the Bask family and often forget she exists. On top of all that, she has no magic and her body rejects it. When she meets Talan d'Astier, the only survivor of his family's destruction by a demon, Gemma strikes a bargain: She'll help Talan navigate high society if he helps her destroy the Basks. According to popular legend, a demon called The Man With the Three-Eyed Crown is behind the families' blood feud—slay the demon, end the feud. It sounds simple, but attacks on the Middlemist worsen and the plot against the Basks gets out of control. Gemma also seems to be developing some kind of power, which could destroy her or show her who she's meant to be.

A Crown of Ivy and Glass is the first book of the Middlemist Trilogy. In this world, the death of Gods scattered magic into the world. Some were chosen for gifts and were Anointed, and some accidentally came upon fragments of magic and passed along that gift to their descendants. The Mist in the middle of the continent was a place creatures slipped through from another dimension, and the Roses are the girls taken from families to transform into partly avian creatures to fight them. The fae and demons also exist, but mostly as stories from the Old Country and as tales of what lay beyond the Mist. Gemma was too sick by magic and too prone to devastating panic attacks to fight as was traditional, so her sister was taken. Gemma grew up a protected socialite, subject to her father's cutting remarks and being used to further his feud. There's the undercurrent of secrets everyone else carries, but she can't get it out of them. My heart went out to her early on, especially when her father makes thoughtless comments to her that are almost designed to wound, however unintentional he says them. She is told early on that she has no magic, that isn't good for anything but the social whirl, and she internalized that along with her panic attacks and the tendency to dig her nails into her leg hard enough to draw blood.

At first, the story seems to be a simple exchange between Gemma and Talan. There's the first (literal) whiff of oddness when Gemma is told that Talan smells like something rotten by her perfumier best friend, and the sense of wrongness in the world slowly becomes more amplified from there. By the time the book hits the halfway mark, a whole new plot thread emerges that forces Gemma to consider the wider country of Edyn and the problems with the Mist. Not everything was as it seemed, with more secrets coming about who she is and what it could mean being explained more toward the end. I very much had the feeling of "But wait! There's more!" at that point, because a whole other plot arc for Gemma started that wasn't linked back to her first arc until later, then that triggered another sequence of events. All of those nested threads more or less get tied off, with some lingering questions to be answered in the next book.

I really enjoyed the world-building and the implications of the magic gone rogue, then the later discussion about the nature of the gods' offspring. The book was very much a fun read that I kept going back to, though some characters seemed a bit flat in spots. With so much going on, it's not too much of a surprise; I'm sure we'll see more of them in the next book. I already have guesses as to why some characters behave the way they do, but I don't want to spoil it for the rest of you.

Buy A Crown of Ivy and Glass at Amazon

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.

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us. Get even more book news in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter today! Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.


Post a Comment