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April 7, 2024

6 Fantasy Novels to Read

by MK French

There are some great fantasy novels coming out this month. Whether you like historical fantasy, young adult fantasy, mythology, romantic fantasy, or epic fantasy - you're going to find a great read on this list.

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

The Monstrous Misses Mai by Van Hoang

book cover of historical fantasy novel The Monstrous Misses Mai by Van Hoang
April 2024; 47North; 978-1662517846
audio, ebook, print (347 pages); historical fantasy

In 1959 Los Angeles, Cordelia Mai Yin is the first generation child of Vietnamese immigrants. Cordi wants to be a fashion designer in a city that isn't kind to outsiders, and she's an outsider within her own family. She rents a cheap loft and quickly makes friends with Tessa, Audrey, and Silly. The four share the same middle name, making it feel like fate. They struggle to earn a living, and an acquaintance of their landlord introduces them to magic. Each spell requires a sacrifice, but it seems like a small price to pay for comfort. Their wishes get bigger, and so do their sacrifices.

This tale of magical realism borders on horror, and really plays on immigrant themes as well as East Asian culture. Casual racism and ostracism were far more flagrant in 1959 than now, but any person with immigrant parents will feel the difference in their culture of origin and the American way. They must decide whether to hold to the past or give it all up to become American. These four girls are on their own and essentially are told they aren't good enough or worth any attention by the world around them. This is how Callum gets Cordi and the others to start working with lura, the sacrificial magic to get what they want in life. "What is success, anyway, but privilege disguised as opportunity."

Using magic to get jobs or to look prettier seems like such a small ask for magic, especially when it seems to work for two of the girls right off the bat. Life was still a struggle to make ends meet, and magic seemed like an easy way out. Effects don't last, and it struck me that Callum introducing the girls to magic is rather like a drug dealer pushing his wares. With the first twinges of something going wrong, I started worrying about the girls; Audrey stood out as the voice of reason but was ignored by the others' desire even though Cordi second-guessed their use. As the story reached its crescendo, I hoped that Cordi would pull through even as the transformations affected those with the magic. The magical fallout and family dynamics pulled at me and brought me to tears by the end. It's an amazing story, and I adored every page of it.

Court of Wanderers by Rin Chupeco

book cover of fantasy novel Court of Wanderers by Rin Chupeco
April 2024; S&S/Saga Press; 978-1982195748
audio, ebook, print (448 pages); fantasy

Vampire hunter Remy Pendergast is back on the road with his vampire companions Lord Zidan Malekh and Lady Xiaodan Song. While they won the first battle against the Night Empress, Xiaodan is injured and without her powers. If they can make it to the Court of Wanderers and the Fata Morgana, she might have a chance of regaining them. Along the way, Remy sees his father and has dreams of the Night Empress, whom he thinks is his mother Ligaya Pendergast. Remy must deal with the differing legacies of his heritage as well as the vampire courts as he poses as Malekh and Xiaodan’s familiar. The three also must navigate their relationship as they figure out what is happening within Alluria.

This is the sequel to Silver Under Nightfall and is the second book in the Reaper series. Absolutely read that one first, because it not only lays out the kingdoms and relationships, but the terms used to refer to various creatures and the courts of vampires. We get more about the courts here as Remy accompanies Malekh and Xiaodan first to Malekh's home at the Third Court and then to the meeting of all courts together. Remy dreams of his nanny, fields messages from his father who had risen in esteem within Alluria, and is trying to figure out what he means to his vampire lovers. It's especially difficult for him in the first half of the book, as he's struggling with his mortality compared to their relative immortality. New complications arise with the Night Empress, as they discover more about her and see the damage done after their prior battle with her.

There is the inevitable jockeying for power and position within the vampire courts, as each one vies to keep importance and prestige. The former First Court had incredible strength and had dictated how the vampires behaved. This is the court that the Night Empress wants to reclaim, and Remy discovers more about Ligaya's history and of her background. He fears not only his own mortality but what his heritage is. He's still a strong fighter who prefers to stay in the background rather than rule, and prefers to avoid politicking. I love how he is with his lovers, with his friends, and even with his father; the two have a better understanding now, though I can't say his father's tactics have improved. The concerns about the Night Empress have deepened, and it no longer feels like she's ultimately the one in charge. We learn why it all happened, and the last third of the novel feels like one revelation and shock after another. It is absolutely amazing and I loved the finale. It's fitting for all of the characters involved. This is the conclusion of the duology, but I would happily read books in this world going forward. 

Buy Court of Wanderers at Amazon

Wrath of the Talon by Sophie Kim

book cover of young adult fantasy novel Wrath of the Talon by Sophie Kim
April 2024; Entangled: Teen; 978-1649377210
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); YA fantasy

The Reaper of Sunpo is eighteen-year-old Shin Lina, and almost everyone believes that she's dead. Her little sister and Dokkaebi Emperor Haneul Rui know that she's still alive. The Imugi venom has made her stealthier, more agile, and able to summon scales for protection. She still wants revenge for the deaths of the Talons and plans to slaughter the rival Blackbloods gang. As she does, she hears whispers guiding her through her kills and warns her not to trust any of the Dokkaebi. As far as she knows, if she isn't meant to love Rui, it means that she is meant to kill him.

This is the second book of the Talons trilogy, taking place after Last of the Talons. Lina is still figuring out how her augmented body moves; if it obeys her, she moves fast and more agile, like the serpentine Imugi. If it doesn't, she stumbles, flops about, and has little perception of the world around her. She is working to destroy the Blackbloods and build alliances for Sunpo residents to live without fear of gang violence. It's revenge with a higher purpose, but she also has a Voice in her head that is more than just guilt and grief, commenting on her behavior and egging on the violence. Rui is also continuing to take humans out of Sunpo, breaking his promise to her. He fears something and has more secrets than he's willing to share.

Lina goes through Sunpo killing the Blackbloods from the lowest ranking to the top, with panic attacks intermittently and bursts of grief. Her new allies are interesting as well, and I enjoyed seeing fragments of mythology woven throughout this novel. The Imugi history is presented here alongside Lina's revenge, and we now learn about prophecies and the role that the characters will play. We eventually discover not only how Lina is connected to the Imugi, but to the Prophecy and the kingdom itself. She becomes something other than the lost girl she used to be, and the novel has a devastating conclusion that will lead into the third book of the trilogy. I can't wait to see how it all comes together, and I'm hoping for a positive finale.

Buy Wrath of the Talon at Amazon

Amulet by Kathryn Amurra

book cover of romantic fantasy novel Amulet by Kathryn Amurra
April 2024; Wild Rose Press; 978-1509254095
ebook, print (320 pages); romantic fantasy

Val Nikolov achieved everything he ever wanted thanks to a wish made on his grandmother’s magical amulet. Alex Weaver's life is a mess as she works as a lawyer for hire, wishing for a full-time job as an attorney and for her boyfriend to marry her. Alex is part of the team hoping to buy Val's company, so when the acquisition is at risk she accompanies Val to Israel for a meeting with the decision-makers. The more time Val and Alex spend together, the more they question the things they thought were important.

This is book one of the "Heart's True Desire" series. Val is in a loveless relationship and breaks it off in the beginning as he gets sick and has one of his employees jump ship to the competition. Because that engineer was the heart of the deal Val's trying to broker, the purchase is possibly in danger. Alex is in a stagnant relationship where she's expected to drop everything for him and he won't go out of his way to support her. He never wants to get married, and discounts the fact that Alex does. We know how much family and loyalty matter to Val in the scenes we see of him with his grandmother when young and his family in the present day, getting us to root for him as better for Alex than Billy is. With her engineering as well as law background, she's able to keep pace with Val as well as his buyers, and appears self-confident enough to navigate cultural differences and power imbalances. They grow closer on the trip, but there are still too many other potential obstacles in the way.

The amulet of this story was created by a jeweler father for his twin children along with a ring as the blessed physical manifestations of his love. Val gets the amulet from his grandmother because he is caring and conscientious, and would never misuse his gift. He wishes for success and thinks it's the secret to his business savvy. The rest of his family believes the same, and we see exactly why Val was the one to get the amulet. We get to see how different the directions Val and Alex go in at first, which is rather like the "breakup" beat in most romance novels without the hard feelings. Their lives collide again and we get a happily ever after that fits them, with a hint that the amulet's tradition will live on for someone else. That is the hook for future romances in this series, and it'll be interesting to see who they deem worthy of its help.

Buy Amulet at Amazon

A Sweet Sting of Salt by Rose Sutherland

book cover of historical fantasy novel A Sweet Sting of Salt by Rose Sutherland
April 2024; Dell; 978-0593594599
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); folklore

Jean finds a young woman in labor in the middle of the night during a terrible storm. The woman is barely able to speak English and apparently is Muirin, the new wife of her neighbor Tobias. Muirin's behavior changes around him, sparking Jean's concern and growing feelings for Muirin. She doesn't stay out of it and finds out more than she meant to. Has she endangered herself, Muirin, and the baby?

Jean is relatively isolated from the rest of her fishing village in 1830's Nova Scotia. In part it seems to be from her mother disappearing and dying a month after she was born, then later on for whispers about her and her best friend Jo. Her mentor in midwifery doesn't care that she likes girls, and being dependable has slowed the whispers in town. She worries about Muirin after her sudden appearance and rapid birth, as well as the fact that she barely speaks English, makes no effort to talk to Tobias, and seems to shrink in his presence. Just as they had no words for postpartum depression or lesbians back then, there was also no open talk about spousal abuse in those days. Those of us savvy to myths will take it into consideration that seals are so prominently featured in the story.

I like Jean's tenacity. She truly is interested in friendship and Muirin's well-being in the beginning, and doesn't even have a crush on her until afterward. She cares so much about others, even as she feels ostracized and alienated. Her family is not blood-related, but very much has the bonds of family and is there to counsel her and support her through all of her worries. Even as they didn't understand her reasoning or how stubborn she could be, they were still there for her. The bond between Jean and Muirin gradually deepened, and as it did, so did Tobias' hatred of Jean. The conclusion of the novel is suspenseful, and then we have the full story laid out to understand. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and the characters in it.

Buy A Sweet Sting of Salt at Amazon

To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods by Molly X. Chang

book cover of fantasy adventure novel To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods by Molly X. Chang
April 2024; Del Rey; 978-0593722244
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); Epic fantasy

Ruying's people were conquered by people using technology her world had never seen before, defeating her peoples' magic. She was born with the ability to pull life out of mortal bodies but still fears the invaders. The enemy prince discovers what she can do, and wants her to become his private assassin in exchange for her family's comfort. Doing so involves using powers she fears and shortens her own life. Can she trust that this is actually in service of both their worlds? Or is she betraying her country and her family?

Inspired by history, we see the effect of colonization upon the indigenous people of Er-Lang. Ruying's people scramble for scraps amid extreme poverty, addiction, and their own government bending over backward to appease the stronger military might of the Romans, who invaded and used guns against the magic, bows, and arrows of her people. The stronger technology ground the willpower of the ruling class to dust, and surrounding nations left them to it. Ruying has an addicted sister and grandmother to support, leading her to sell off precious belongings their once well-off family used to cherish or to steal. As with any oppressed people, there are collaborators and those who rebel, and the Romans crush rebellions hard. They also use people, land, and resources to their own benefit, and don't care who they ruin to get it. This is the world that Ruying is born into, and the second prince of Rome soon enough gets control of her power, holding her world and her family as collateral for her help, seeing her tendency toward mercy as a weakness. Power and cruelty are the only things that matter to the Roman throne, and Ruying is caught in their web.

While Prince Antony has moments where shows kindness to Ruying, he pushes her to kill and become his assassin. He plans to rule her world peacefully by eliminating opposition to his plans, as he once knew loss and deprivation. But ends will always justify the means for him, and there are plans within plans. Ruying is conflicted due to her love for her country and people, her heritage, and her desire to do right. It's a battle that goes back and forth, as UT had between the two realms for twenty years. My heart went out to Ruying, who wants so badly to believe she's helping in her own way. We all would in her place, and the choices she makes are very understandable. I howled at the end of this book, immediately wanting more. It's a fascinating dynamic, with characters that drew me in immediately, and it will for you, too.

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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