Review: Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis

Series: The Harwood Spellbook #2
Published by: Five Fathoms Press
ASIN: B07N1R1MSP
Published: February 2019
Pages: 186
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Spellswept – The Harwood Spellbook #0.5 | Snowspelled (The Harwood Spellbook #1)

We’re back with Cassandra and her supportive small family, with the new edition of her niece.

We rejoin them right on the cusp of the opening of the Thornfell College of Magic to see that she’s realised her dream and made it a reality. If Angland is still going to stick so firmly to tradition and expect women to run the world and the men to deal with magic then the Harwood family will break the ice themselves – with Cassandra’s brother being the first in the family to not study magic, and Cassandra being the first woman to not only attend the stuffy main college all men of good standing do, but then to also open her own, and train other women.

Only nothing is ever easy, especially when it comes to Cassandra. Several delegates from the Boudiccate arrive to follow each lesson and make note of whether the school is safe, and in amongst the delegates is a woman who bullied Cassandra when she was young and seems to be hellbent on ensuring no one in the Harwood family has any happiness. Including Amy, Cassandra’s older sister-in-law.

The themes throughout the novel continue to revolve around family, and bucking tradition, especially when tradition doesn’t suit as many people as it maybe did once long ago. It’s empowering that we see adults putting differences aside and being able to understand and forgive, whilst also supporting those who have to make tough decisions.

The fey feature again in this story, and I love how we get real descriptions of them – their hair, their fingers, all seeming made of the forest, and much better than the ‘more beautiful than anyone can stand’ line I’ve seen in novels I’ve read lately, which, while true is harder to picture.

We also have everyone’s least favourite weather-wizard back but like I said, nothing around Cassandra is ever easy. Let’s hope some woman taints him irreversibly sometime soon and he settles down to be a good house-husband somewhere soon.

My favourite line in the novel is sadly a spoiler so I won’t post it here, but I will say that it’s said by Wrexham and bucks expectation by gender yet again, as we can always rely upon when it comes to this series. I love it!

Most importantly is the friendship between Cassandra and Amy. You don’t often get to see good matches between sisters-in-law – they usually hate each other for some strange reason – but here we have two women who care deeply about each other, and I love that, too.

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Review: The Dragon with a Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Series: Tales from the Chocolate Heart #2
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 1681196972
ISBN 13: 9781681196978
Published: August 2018
Pages: 240
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Related Review: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Tales from the Chocolate Heart #1)

We return to the Chocolate Heart, the best chocolate shop in the kingdom of Drachenburg, however where the first book followed our favourite young dragon, Aventurine, this time we follow her friend, Silke. Silke, who also works for the chocolate shop (when she’s not helping her older brother at the small stall they have) who has a silver tongue and could either be an excellent media mogul or perhaps a conwoman… however, she is soon hired by the royal family instead.

When Silke first came to Drachenburg it was as an orphan. She and her brother had been travelling with their parents and a caravan of others when they had to cross a forest that was known for mysterious and terrible things… but they were desperately fleeing their home, so they enter anyway. And Silke never saw her parents again, and now lives on the riverbank in a tent that gets burned down every so often (the people of Drachenburg really do seem awful). So when Silke finds a better paying job in the Chocolate Heart (as we saw in the first book) she’s overjoyed (especially as hot chocolate is amazing generally, but even moreso when made by Marina and Aventurine) but even she can’t say no when the royal family offer her a challenge that, if she were to succeed, would result in her having a home within the castle walls forever.

The only problem is… it’s to do something quite terrifying. And means Silke will have to confront her past and her parents disappearance… something she hasn’t spoken about with anyone. Not even Aventurine.

In this book we get to see more of the royal family – the highly intelligent and ruthless older princess Katrin, as well as her younger sister who wants to be valued far more than she currently is, Sofia. We get to see other races in this world other than dragons, and we basically get nothing but excellent female characters getting things done, no matter what their age is.

This is a fun, middle-grade romp of an adventure. It’s sweet and sassy, and it reaaaally makes you want a super thick hot chocolate while you read.

Review: Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

Series: The Harwood Spellbook #1
Published by: Five Fathoms Press
ISBN: 1999725409
ISBN 13: 9781999725402
Published: September 2017
Pages: 168
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Spellswept – The Harwood Spellbook #0.5 | Thornbound – The Harwood Spellbook #2

Snowspelled is the first book in the Harwood Spellbook series, although there is a recent novella (Spellswept, link above to the review) set as a prequel where we get to meet a younger Cassandra, though the book focuses on Amy and a bit of Jonathan also.

We now meet Cassandra as a young woman – firmly a magician rather than a political player, and Amy is now pregnant with her and Jonathan’s first child. They receive invitation to a week-long house gathering however the man Cassandra broke off an engagement with shall be there… so she doesn’t want to go. Amy, with her fancy political ways of talk and swaying people, prompts Cassandra to see this is exactly what they need to attend in order to show Wrexham and the rest that Cassandra is firmly over all of this.

However, things are never that simple. Upon arrival they are immediately dispatched to try to find other newcomers who may have been lost in the snow on the way. Oh, and the magic we see Cassandra wield so expertly in the novella Spellswept? It’s gone. The very thing that makes her love life, and what tied her excellent mind to Wrexham’s is lost to her forever; unless she wants to end her own life.

And then out in the snow looking for the missing members of the house party, of course the first person she runs into is Wrexham himself.

There’s been a recent thing going around twitter about how many books make no sense as if the two characters had simply talked to each other (as you really would in reality) then there wouldn’t be a plot. This makes it all highly plausible, and there’s nothing better than two excellent characters who are highly intelligent and utterly mad for each other. You just want to grab them, shake them, yell JUST KISS ALREADY. There really is nothing better.

Oh, also tricky elves. They are also handled excellently.

It’s evident in the novel however reading it with fresh eyes from the novella you get an even firmer understanding of how brilliant Cassandra’s mind is, how important magic is to her (well that could barely have been made any clearer), and how much family really does matter in this political and sassy world.

We may get the second book – Thornbound – later this year. As at May Burgis was 1/4 of the way through the first draft. I can hardly wait!

Review: Spellswept by Stephanie Burgis

SpellsweptSeries: The Harwood Spellbook #0.5
Published by: Five Fathoms Press
ISBN: TBA
ISBN 13: TBA
Published: October 2018
Pages: 101
Format reviewed: epub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Snowspelled – The Harwood Spellbook #1 | Thornbound – The Harwood Spellbook #2

These are trying times that we’re currently in. Besides all the current shite that’s going on in America and in Australia and everywhere else that seem to be morally bankrupt I have some personal things going on in my life, and at the end of the day sometimes all we have are books. Stephanie Burgis is beyond kind and offered free copies of this prequel novella in order to spread some comfort where she can – and it worked. I leapt at the chance as Snowspelled was one of my instant favourite reads – and I highly recommend both to you – anyone – and your co-workers and their neighbours.

This world is so excellent. We see woman as the heads of their family, and men as the more emotional of the sexes, and it is they who are proposed to, and treated sometimes as trophy-husbands, while it is the women to control their urges and run the world of politics and so on. It is also however the men who are socially accepted and allowed to learn and wield magic, and a lady must request a mage for help from time to time – whether it be enchanting something, or using a charm to enhance ones’ voice to address the masses.

Even with all the above, Burgis reaches out to turn their norm on its head. We meet a young Cassandra in this novella – someone we center on in the first book of the series that came out last year. This one focuses on Amy who is rising through the ranks of the Boudiccate (the political party) as assistant to Cassandra’s mother – and in such few pages we meet all our characters in stunning definition as one can rely upon with Burgis.

And Amy is excellent, of which there was hardly any doubt. We get to see a younger Jonathan who is still earning the wedge of life he wants for himself, but most importantly we get to see Cassandra. In tears about who she wants to be, too, and how she was as a young lass before the firey woman we meet in Snowspelled – and I do love how we repeatedly get to see the characters make their own choices for their lives even in a time and society that wants to dictate otherwise.

This novella is due to come out alone in October 2018, but for now you can read it as part of the wonderful anthology The Underwater Ballroom Society.

Review: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

dragonchocheartburgisPublished by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN 13: 9781408880319
Published: February 2017
Pages: 249
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Aventurine is a young dragon and horrified at the idea of having to wait until she’s thirty before she can go out of the family network of caves and see the world. Until then, her scales aren’t strong enough to protect her from humans and their bullets and spells. It doesn’t help that her older siblings are utterly perfect – Citrine could speak and write twenty other languages by the time she was Aventurine’s age, where Aventurine can only speak six. Their brother, Jasper, studies philosophy and waits quietly and patiently until he can safely leave the cave.

Aventurine, true to her name, isn’t one for waiting. She squeezes out of a small bolder-filled tunnel that leads to the outside world – injuring herself along the way, exactly as her mother warned. Furious, Aventurine doesn’t let this hold her back and makes her bid for freedom, finally finding herself under blue skies and able to smell food and sets off to prove she can look after herself – if she can manage to hunt and bring something back, this will prove she’s more than capable and ready for the outside world at large. Though of course, nothing’s that easy.

The plot throughout the book is unexpected, varied, and pretty damn perfect in every way. The expansive character list is easy to keep track of, even though I think it’s slightly more than we usually see in a middle grade book (proving it can be done, and done well), and the end, while perfect, made me wish we had more to go on with! I don’t want to leave Aventurine just yet.

This is a beautiful and whimsical middle-grade book, absolutely spell-bounding and perfect for a cosy weekend read so you can lose yourself in its pages. I confess I haven’t read anything novel-length by Burgis before, though I have read her short fiction that’s been in Twelfth Planet Press or Fablecroft collections and I’ve always commented in these past reviews that her piece in particular has always been one of the few I wish we got to see a novel-length of, because she has a way of introducing us to characters that we then don’t want to leave. I wanted to devour this book in a night, but then I also didn’t want it to be over so I kept it close, reading a few chapters here and there, drawing it out over a weekend.

Much like the book Chocolat by Joanne Harris is all about the beauty of chocolate, this is the same for younger readers, utterly delightful and leaves you desperate for some good Italian dark hot chocolate – especially if it has a little cinnamon and chilli mixed along in it.