Thank you Turn the Page tours and Simon & Schuster for the review copyand the opportunity to be on this blog tour!
Elisabeth Scrivener is finally settling into her new life with sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn. Now that their demon companion Silas has returned, so has scrutiny from nosy reporters hungry for gossip about the city’s most powerful sorcerer and the librarian who stole his heart. But something strange is afoot at Thorn Manor: the estate’s wards, which are meant to keep their home safe, are acting up and forcibly trapping the Manor’’ occupants inside. Surely it must be a coincidence that this happened just as Nathaniel and Elisabeth started getting closer to one another…
With no access to the outside world, Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and Silas—along with their new maid Mercy—will have to work together to discover the source of the magic behind the malfunctioning wards before they’re due to host the city’s Midwinter Ball. Not an easy task when the house is filled with unexpected secrets, and all Elisabeth can think about is kissing Nathaniel in peace. But when it becomes clear that the house, influenced by the magic of Nathaniel’s ancestors, requires a price for its obedience, Elisabeth and Nathaniel will have to lean on their connection like never before to set things right.
Diving into the Mysteries of Thorn Manor, I did not realize that it was a continuation to Sorcery of Thorns. I’d admit that it was a bit confusing to follow at times, but overall, it was a pretty decent read. I’ve read Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson and was captured by how well the writing was, so I was not surprised when the writing in Mysteries of Thorn Manor was also written well. For the characters and their chemistry, it feels like the relationship was developed between Nathaniel and Elisabeth in Sorcery of Thorns because reading the two, I was bale ot pick up quickly how involved they were. I really enjoyed their sweet banter between each other and the carefree way they show affection not each other.
In regard to the plot, I was pretty intrigued. A manor closing itself suddenly from the outside, leaving those inside no way to leave. Throw in some deadly fighting topiaries, dangerous weather and other shenanigans and you are in for an adventure. It was definitely an interesting concept. I enjoyed following Nathaniel and Elisabeth as they try to figure out how to stop the manor before it causes harm. When it came ot the pace of the story, it started off well but then felt rushed towards the end.
If you plan to dive into this story I’d highly recommend you read Sorcery of Thorns first to get a better understanding of the characters and have overall better context.
About the Author
Margaret Rogerson is the New York Times bestselling author of An Enchantment of Ravens. An Ohio native, she currently lives near Cincinnati. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, and when not busy reading or writing, she enjoys watching more documentaries than most people consider socially acceptable.
Thank you JeanBookNerd Tours and Matador Books for the opportunity to review and to be a part of this book tour!
Constructed of stone and packed earth, the Great Wall of 10,000 li protects China’s northern borders from the threat of Mongol incursion. The wall is also home to a supernatural beast: the Old Dragon. The Old Dragon’s Head is the most easterly point of the wall, where it finally meets the sea.
In every era, a Dragon Master is born. Endowed with the powers of Heaven, only he can summon the Old Dragon so long as he possess the dragon pearl.
It’s the year 1400, and neither the Old Dragon, the dragon pearl, nor the Dragon Master, has been seen for twenty years. Bolin, a young man working on the Old Dragon’s Head, suffers visions of ghosts. Folk believe he has yin-yang eyes and other paranormal gifts.When Bolin’s fief lord, the Prince of Yan, rebels against his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, a bitter war of succession ensues in which the Mongols hold the balance of power. While the victor might win the battle on earth, China’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with a Mandate from Heaven – and the support of the Old Dragon.
Bolin embarks on a journey of self-discovery, mirroring Old China’s endeavour to come of age. When Bolin accepts his destiny as the Dragon Master, Heaven sends a third coming of age – for humanity itself. But are any of them ready for what is rising in the east?
Praise for THE OLD DRAGON’S HEAD
“A stand out novel that ticks all the boxes – murder, mystery, treason, glorious villains, reluctant heroes and more than a touch of the supernatural.” —Discovering Diamonds
“The author is an excellent storyteller.” British Fantasy Society. “History meets magic, culture meets supernatural… I would recommend this story to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a twist.” —Books Beyond the Story
“This is an exceptionally well-written book which takes one back to the China of 1400.” —That’s Books and Entertainment
“I absolutely loved the mix of fantasy elements well-rooted in Chinese history.” —Jessica Belmont
“I enjoyed the different perspectives and the magical realism.” —Rosie Cawkwell
“This book was part murder mystery and part fantasy with some fabulous villains and heroes.” —Over the Rainbow
“This isn’t your typical coming of age story – it’s filled with tough choices, unexpected surprises, and a destiny that’s bigger than anyone can imagine.” —The Faerie Review
“This epic story has it all – adventure, mystery, villains, the supernatural, and at its heart a true coming of age journey.” —Books and Emma
“This is a book of historical fantasy, but in terms of the fantasy, it is subtle, and firmly rooted in cultural beliefs and superstitions within the time period covered in the book.” —Book Mad Jo
“This is not just a fantasy book, this is a fantasy with history, murder, mystery, legend, myth and of course the supernatural. There are villains and heroes and action and adventure.” —Bookmarks and Stages
If you want a fantasy story with a good pace, historical context woven in beautifully and characters that are well developed and super cool, well this is the story you want to read. Set in 1400 China- The Great Wall of China, The Old Dragon’s Head transcends the reader in an epic journey of self discovery, secrets and a looming war to prevent. The pacing of The Old Dragon’s Head was pretty solid. It starts a bit slow like many fantasy novels do to build up on the action. Once the context is establish, you are pulled into the action, the mystery and you are rooting for the main characters. Justin Newland masterfully writes the scenery, allowing the reader to put themselves aside Bolin and Lulli.
I enjoyed the character developed so much in this story. Bolin, a son of a fisherman is living a simple life – well as simple as he can. Bolin has strange visions, has one foot in the natural and super natural world and aching headaches he cant get rid. His headaches seem to worsen the closer he gets to the Old Dragon location. His journey deals a lot with self discovery and being uncomfortable with the visions he is trying to escape. With a Dragon Master gone for 20 years, Bolin may be the person that could fill that spot and summon old Lailong and save his home from a potential natural and supernatural attack. Luli, a single mom full of strength and bravery navigates the world knowing that the people around her see her and her son as outcasts. Luli also has a connection to the supernatural world of ghosts and uses her gift to connect those living with the undead. Through everything, Luli’s ability to fight and survive each day was something I appreciated immensely.
Overall, I would recommend this book to those who want to sink into a story and savor each turn, twists and action scene.
About the Author
Justin Newland is an author of historical fantasy and secret history thrillers – that’s history with a supernatural twist. His stories feature known events and real people from history which are re-told and examined through the lens of the supernatural. He gives author talks and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Bristol’s Thought for the Day. He lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.
Thank you JeanBookNerd Tours and Rosewind for the opportunity to review and to be a part of this book tour!
Book Two in the From Kona with Love series depicting multicultural romance, love, loss, and redemption woven into a family saga set in the beautiful islands of Hawaii. Though connected, each installment can be read as a standalone.
When Maele Moana is paired up with Adam Yates to walk down the aisle together at her friend Andie’s wedding, it isn’t exactly a perfect match. Maele is the daughter of a plantation worker, and Adam is the son of one of the richest men in Oahu.
Their worlds couldn’t be more different. But they have one thing in common.
Dreams that will take Maele back to Kauai while Adam pursues an incredible opportunity in Los Angeles.
Adam wants to be in her life, and slowly, Maele lets him in. He inspires her to face her fears, and she restores his faith in redemption. But with love comes sacrifice, and the goals they’ve worked so hard for may end up tearing them apart.
Book Two in the From Kona with Love series is set on the island of Kauai. Where the Sun Rises is a story about overcoming adversity, the promise of young love, and the valor in letting go.
Praise for Where the Sun Rises
“[An] atmospheric romance … Gomez and Polaha’s descriptions of Hawaii are postcard worthy. The breezy pace and gorgeous setting will stoke readers’ wanderlust.” —Publishers Weekly
“A sweet, closed-door, multicultural romance [that] will resonate with readers.” —Booklist
“Gomez and Polaha craft a compelling, clean romance that centers not just on business ambitions, but the impact of deception, honesty, and change in relationships. Its story of love, not giving up, trust, and reinventing one’s life grips readers with promise and hope for a different future. Moments Like This is highly recommended for romance readers looking for an exploration of the fine line between a woman’s strength and her ability to accept the vulnerability and promise of love.” —Midwest Book Review
Going into Where the Sun Rises, I didn’t know it was a 2nd in a series. IT was well written as somewhat of a standalone that I was bale ot red and enjoy it on its own. Set in Hawaii, the story follows Adam and Maele, two souls struggling to find a piece of themselves. Throughout their journeys they find each other and find a part of what they were searching for in each other as their love grows. The main themes of the story are redemption and healing and it is very prevalent in the storyline of each character. Where the Sun Rises was a good beach read romance. I can picture myself sitting on a beach, with the ocean in my view and diving into this love story. I enjoyed the writing the most because the authors wrote everything so beautifully. The story was filled with vivid details. Maele and Adam as characters didn’t feel rushed as couple and as individuals. You were bale to invest without having he feeling of missing something that wasn’t written in. The pace overall was good, not too quick of a read but one that you can follow through fairly well. While the story didn’t WOW me, it was overall a great story and an enjoyable read.
About the Authors
Award-winning author Anna Gomez was born in the city of Makati, Philippines and educated abroad before moving to Chicago. She is Global Chief Financial Officer for Mischief at No Fixed Address, a consolidated group of advertising agencies. Gomez was recently selected for the 2020 HERoes Women Role Model Executives list, which celebrates 100 women who are leading by example and driving change to increase gender diversity in the workplace. Gomez has championed various ERGs for Black and API colleagues as well as resources essential to address challenges of ageism. She has sat on several boards and served as treasurer for Breathe for Justice and The Jensen Project, both focused on socio-economic issues, particularly violence against women and human trafficking. She was a keynote speaker in the 2020 Illinois CPA Society Young Professionals Leadership Conference, as well as the Northwest Indiana Influential Women’s Association’s Breaking the Glass Ceiling Event in August 2021. FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | WEBSITE | GOODREADS
Kristoffer Polaha is best-known for his long starring role in the critically acclaimed series Life Unexpected (The CW). Other TV series credits include Get Shorty with Ray Romano and Chris O’Dowd, the limited series Condor opposite William Hurt and Max Irons, The CW’s Ringer (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Valentine, as well as North Shore (FOX).
In addition to co-starring with Rainn Wilson in Backstrom (FOX), he had a multi-season role on the acclaimed series Mad Men (AMC) and Castle (ABC). Polaha is also well-known for starring in Hallmark Channel movies such as Dater’s Handbook with Meghan Markle, and the Mystery 101 franchise on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
Polaha first received attention for his portrayal of John F. Kennedy, Jr. in the TV movie, America’s Prince: The John F. Kennedy Jr. Story, opposite Portia de Rossi. He has appeared in numerous independent features, including Where Hope Grows, Devil’s Knot (Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon), and the Tim Tebow film, Run the Race.
Polaha has a featured role opposite Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984 and is in Jurassic World: Dominion.
Thank you Inkyard Press for the opportunity to review and to be a part of this book tour!
Six of Crows meets the Iron Fey series in this high-energy YA fantasy that follows the adventures of changeling Seelie and her twin sister as they embark upon the heist of a lifetime for a mystery legacy. As they evade capture by both human and fae forces, Seelie discovers more about her own Autistic identity, her magical powers, and love along the way.
Twin sisters, both on the run, but different as day and night. As one searches for a fabled treasure, the other, a changeling, searches for the truth behind her origins, trying to find a place to fit in with the realm of fae who made her and the humans who shun her.
Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove looks just like her twin, Isolde… but as an autistic changeling trying to navigate her unpredictable magic, Seelie finds it more difficult to fit in with the humans around her. When Seelie and Isolde are caught up in a heist gone wrong and make some unexpected allies, they find themselves unraveling a larger mystery that has its roots in the history of humans and fae alike.
Both sisters soon discover that the secrets of the faeries may be more valuable than any pile of gold and jewels. But can Seelie harness her magic in time to protect her sister, and herself?
After many months of diving into the romance world, I decided to read a YA book and Unseelie did not disappoint. In Unseelie, we embark on an adventure with Seelie and her twin sister Isolde. Seelie, a changeling goes through a discovery of who she is and why she is different. Seelie finds it difficult to interact with the human around her and it becomes much more difficult when her magic wakes up and she has to navigate what it means for her. With a goal to become rich and powerful Seelie and Isolde meet two new friends who have the same goal in mind. After a heist gone wrong and a powerful magician they need to stop, Seelie is thrown into a world where her normal routine of things is wiped away and she has to , along with her sister and new friends, understand the origin of who she is and where her magic came from. Unseelie is a novel that captivates the reader and leaves us wanting more after the story is done…..for now.
Two things really popped out to me during Unseelie – character development and world building. The world building was so well written. I was able to have enough information to envision the world Seelie was in while still leaving room for my imagination to fill in the blanks. In regards to characters, I really loved Seelie’s character development. If I haven’t mentioned before, Through everything, Seelie remained strong and really gave way to how well the story went. While we did get characters like her sister, I do wish that there was more mention or development of them that would allow the reader to also fully invest in their part of the storyline. There was somewhat of a romance budding in Seelie and Raze, but I think it wasn’t developed enough to root for it. In fact, I think the story would still be great if there wasn’t a romance. In regards to Seelie’s origins and the exploration of that in the novel, the author did a great job in being really intentional on how this was written. That exploration was something I really enjoyed the most in the story.
I always find pace to be important in a storyline because it can make or break the interest of the reader. I enjoyed the overall pace and how the first half of the novel we were given the info needed and then in the second half we get the action and suspense that the information was building up to. The pace gave way to a descriptive world, fascinating characters and an overall immersive experience for any reader, including myself. Unseelie takes you through twists and turns, beautiful scenery and characters you can’t help but hope they got the golden ticket of their story.
About the Author
Ivelisse Housman is a Puerto Rican-American author and illustrator. At all seven schools she attended throughout her childhood, she was infamously “that kid who gets in trouble for reading during class, but refuses to stop.” She was diagnosed with autism at 15, which made everything make a lot more sense. When she isn’t writing, she can be found making soup or tending to her houseplants. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her high school sweetheart/archnemesis and their two rescue dogs.
Here’s a sneak peak of Chapter 1 to pique your interest!
On the night the faerie world collides with ours, anything can happen and wishes come true—and right now, I’m wishing I had stayed home.
I struggle to keep up with my twin sister as we push our way through the crowd. Revelnox is summer’s closing act, when day and night balance perfectly on the edge of the world. In the smaller villages, where people lead calm, productive lives in predictable patterns—back home, I think, with an ache in my ribs—this means that children stay up late, bonfires are built in the middle of town, and offerings are left on the edges of the fields to prevent unwanted faerie mischief. There are special cakes, and the liquor flows freely, but all the merriment is a thin muzzle over the sharp teeth of the truth. You don’t go anywhere alone, and you don’t go into the forest.
Not if you want to come back, at least.
But here in the city—Auremore, the shining jewel between the forks of the Harrow River—here, it’s something else entirely.
I have to fight not to lose my sister in the crowd of faces and languages blending into a waterfall of color and sound. Children call to each other in the streets, even though it can’t possibly be safe for them to be out alone on this of all nights. But they’re not really alone: it seems like everyone in the city is out, despite the late hour. The ever-present sound of voices crashing over each other is even louder tonight, volume rising with people’s spirits (and the amount of spirits they’ve consumed). Music threads through it all, sparkling and twanging in the air.
The bonfires are the same here at least, adding their roar to the commotion. Each city district has its own, and here in the center of Market Square, everything is golden and cheerful, surrounded by dancers and the sweet smell of candies for sale. Here, they welcome the Seelie, the faerie realm of good intentions, of order and politeness—or, at the very least, neutrality. Pouches of herbed salt meant to ward off evil swing from the torches that keep the darkness at bay and paint the whole block in brilliant amber.
I seriously doubt that the faeries of the Unseelie Court will be scared off by what is essentially steak seasoning, but it’s a nice thought.
We squeeze past a man wearing an elaborate mask with goat horns curling around the back of his head. That’s the other thing about the Revelnox celebrations here: everyone is masked, and no one dares to utter their own name. For just this one night, faeries walk among us—and the less power they can claim over you, the safer you are.
It’s all fun and games for the faeries, whose visits to the Mortal Realm are usually limited to one human at a time, in remote forest glens or moonlit crossroads. For changelings, the not-quite-human-but-definitely-not-faerie in-betweens, walking among mortals is less of a novelty. We grow up with humans, hated for being almost like them but not enough. Most of us find our way back to the faerie realms by adulthood. I’ve never felt that pull, though. My magic and I have what you could generously call a troubled history, and if Revelnox is the closest I ever get to the faerie realms, it’ll be more than close enough.
Also—and on a potentially unrelated note—it’s my twin’s seventeenth birthday.
I can’t exactly say that my twin and I have the same birthday, since I’m not sure if changelings even have birthdays. I don’t think anyone actually knows where we come from. For all I know, my essence might have been floating around in a cloud of faerie dust for centuries.
Or maybe I formed out of thin air the moment a faerie lifted Isolde from her cradle, stiletto fingernails digging into her soft, honey-colored skin, to exchange her for me.
I don’t know.
What I do know is that ever since our parents adopted me, Isolde and I share a birthday every year. Back before it was just the two of us on the run, we always had a homemade cake and presents, and we would all sit outside in the grass and watch the stars come out. It was usually uncomfortable, near the end of summer when everything turns sickly sweet and starts to crumble, but that didn’t matter.
It was still my favorite day of the year. And often, that day happens to fall on Revelnox.
The man in the goat mask meets my eye, flashing white teeth at me before turning sharply and disappearing into the crowd of disguised faces.
I shiver, clinging tighter to my sister’s hand.
“Too loud?” Isolde murmurs, pressing close to my side. She wears all-black, as usual, from the tips of her scuffed boots to the roots of her glossy black hair.
I shake my head. It is loud, but in a weird way the overwhelming sensations are soothing. My boots feel more solid on the cobblestones, my body more real and alive than ever. Even the heat—of all the bodies, the radiant glow of the fire, the last warm breezes of summer—makes me feel strangely at ease, instead of just sticky and miserable.
No. If I seem on edge, it’s thanks to the buzz of magic in the air, a living hum that I don’t hear so much as feel, like a mosquito hovering at the back of my neck. I don’t think Isolde can sense it.
Magic is technically a part of me, fizzing in my faerie blood, and this is the one night when it isn’t considered dangerous and wrong. One night when it’s safe to be the thing I have to be every day. But maybe that’s exactly why I’m so terrified of it—because I’ve seen firsthand what magic does.
I stop short, jerking Isolde’s arm back, as a woman with a small reddish dragon draped over her shoulders cuts in front of me, obliviously strumming a stringed instrument and belting out a song that would make the most seasoned escort blush.
My sister smashes into me, and we both pause to make sure our masks are still in place. They’re the cheapest we could find, a simple painted covering of the eyes and cheekbones held in place by a fraying ribbon. I’m pretty sure they’re made of rowan wood to protect against faeries, because mine is starting to itch abominably. It’s a familiar itch, and for a second, I’m ten years old again, being held down by a clump of other ten-year-olds while they take turns pressing charms of rowan bark and iron to my skin to watch it blister.
The moment passes, and I somehow maintain the willpower not to rip the mask off my face.
As I slide it back into place, my fingers twitching nervously over the surface, I pull Isolde closer. I lower my voice, even though it’s so loud in the streets that no one could possibly hear me anyway. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“It’s Revelnox,” Isolde reassures, her easy grin slipping back onto her face. “The manor is empty, and everyone will be too drunk to even notice us. We’ll be long gone by the time they even realize we were there. Trust me, Seelie.”
This is the part where I pause to say I know it’s an unfortunate nickname considering…what I am. I wish that my parents had thought of that before Isolde’s toddler tongue bumbled Iselia so many times that it stuck.
I hesitate, but I’ve never been good at saying no to my sister. The fight goes out of me with a rush of air before I straighten my shoulders and squeeze the soft, worn fabric of my favorite dress in my fist. “Let’s make it quick, then.”
“Quicker than lightning,” Isolde promises.
I glance up nervously at the clear, dark sky as glittering orange sparks drift up from the bonfire, dancing on the breeze.
As we wind our way upriver, the world flashes by in vignettes of chaos.
People push through the crowds in chains with their friends, arms linked, songs in the air colliding with the louder instrumental music. Some wave flags or toss flowers into the air. Yapping excitedly, a small dog chases at the heels of a group of kids who can’t be older than thirteen. The normally drab buildings are draped in garlands of rainbow-hued flowers and tiny pennant flags.
And then there are the faeries.
Even though faeries are an expected part of tonight’s festivities, they slip through the mortals almost unnoticed. But I’m not quite human, either, and I keep finding my eyes wandering to balls of light floating over the crowds, or catching the smell of a meadow in the breeze of someone running past. I accidentally make eye contact with a woman wearing a feathered mask that covers from her cheekbones up to the crown of her head, then realize with a start that it isn’t a mask.
She winks, her blood-red mouth curving into a smile. Then she turns and blows a kiss towards a pair of revelers sitting at a wobbly wooden table in a brewer’s booth. They’re deep in the conversation of close friends, hands wrapped around their cups and separated by exactly the right amount of distance so their knuckles don’t brush. When the faerie’s breath washes over them, the speaker doesn’t seem to notice at first.
The listener, on the other hand, stiffens noticeably, something strange and hungry coming over their expression.
My heart stops. Faerie magic is dangerous, and I don’t know what—
Then the listener, without a heartbeat’s space to think, surges forward, crashing their lips into their friend’s.
I wince. Not deadly magic, at least.
The speaker freezes for a second, mouth still open in the shape of whatever word was cut off by their friend’s lips. Then they melt into the kiss, eyes closing blissfully.
I turn away, blushing hot enough that I worry my mask might burst into flames. The pair will probably regret this tomorrow. They don’t need my invasion of their privacy on top of it.
The feather-faced woman is still staring at me with wide, owlish eyes. Then she turns, and her eyes flash red like a cat’s in the night. If I hadn’t been sure that she was a faerie before, I am now. That gleam in the darkness is the one thing faeries can’t change about their glamours.
The one thing that reveals a changeling’s true nature.
A cold breeze rushes over my skin, trailing chills as we let the scene fade behind us.
Isolde releases my hand, adopting an exaggerated drunken swagger. She crashes into someone with gold leaf painted over their cheekbones and lips and stops, slurring apologies and patting the person’s shoulders.
I roll my eyes as she falls back into step with me. “Can’t you at least save it until we get there?” I mutter, barely moving my lips.
Isolde’s hand slips out of her pocket, withdrawing a silver-plated compact mirror that she definitely didn’t have a few seconds ago. “Where’s the fun in that?”
“You’re not here to have fun. You’re here to get into the house, grab as much as you can, and get out, ideally without getting us arrested.” I know my voice is coming out too harsh, but I don’t know how to fix it, so I settle for nudging her in the ribs with my elbow.
Isolde looks at me sideways for a moment, as if she’s just now remembering the seriousness of our situation, before stuffing her loot back into its hiding spot with a chastened sigh.
I am not a pickpocket.
I don’t mean that in any kind of morally superior way—the truth is that even if I wanted to be a pickpocket, I don’t have the talent for it. Not like Isolde.
Isolde steals, grifts, pickpockets, and pawns. I keep us fed. We don’t need to be wealthy. We just need to survive until we can scrape together enough to reunite, to start over in a place where no one knows my face.
The noise of the festival fades as my fingers drift to the vial on a leather cord around my neck.
Our parents—Mami, a midwife, fierce and tough, with her homemade remedies for everything from a cold to stubborn zits; Papa, gentle and strong and always coming home from his studio with clay under his nails. They wouldn’t want this life for us. They’re good people. Honest people.
And they aren’t safe as long as I’m around.
So we left three years ago to run from city to city, to steal and cheat and lie and scratch out a living, telling ourselves it would be justified. It would all be worth it when we had enough to make our family a new home. When I could walk down the street without flinching every time someone looked at me a little too long, worrying they’d seen my face on a wanted poster somewhere.
We’re coming up to the bridge now, boots pounding an uneven rhythm on the cobblestones as the crowd around us thins. The streets are too choked tonight for horses or wagons to force their way through, leaving extra space on the wide bridge. The sour smells of warm human bodies pressed together and beer subtly ebb away with every step.
This side of the bridge is plain, a smooth transition into the arch of stone over the sluggish water. Weeds poke up through the mortar and along the muddy banks. On the other side, garlands of golden paper flowers curl around the gleaming brass streetlamps, and an enchanted ball of light changes color every few seconds.
“Last chance to back out,” I mutter, as a woman dressed in sky-blue silk passing from the opposite direction stares at us for just a second too long.
“You worry too much.” Isolde catches the woman staring and meets her gaze with a brilliant smile.
I move a half step faster, trying to look casual as the dazzling sights of Gilt Row come into view.
Gilt Row is less of a row and more of a blob-shaped tangle of streets draped in more opulence and wealth than anyone knows what to do with. The houses, like the rest of the city, are pressed tight together, tall and narrow, but here they’re all white stone and pastel-painted brick, with gardens out front and just the right amount of emerald ivy crawling up their fronts.
Entire eight-story houses, each for just one family. It’s hard to imagine what the buildings might look like inside—and I pride myself on my colorful imagination. And presiding over it all, flanked by iron gates and a perfectly manicured lawn, Wildline Manor looms three times the size of any of the others. It’s huge, imposing, and—since Leira Wildfall is sponsoring Gilt Row’s Revelnox celebrations—totally empty. They might as well have painted a glowing target on it.
I haven’t spent much time in this part of the city. Among the perfectly maintained streets populated by well-dressed, respectable families, Isolde’s and my rags stick out like thistles in a bouquet of exotic flowers. Someone who looks like we do can’t just walk around, without someone rich assuming they’re up to no good and signaling the city guard.
To be fair, most of the time we are up to no good…but they have no way of knowing that.
But tonight is different. I can feel it in the air, smell it in the spaces between smoke and sugar and expensive perfume. Tonight, anyone could be a faerie in disguise, and everyone receives equal respect.
Well, besides a few wrinkle-nosed looks from people who think I can’t see them.
Despite that, the crowd we melt into on the other side of the bridge is still almost entirely made up of people dressed in dazzling garments of violet chiffon, tangerine velvet, indigo silk, pure white linen—every color you could imagine and some you couldn’t. Gold gleams on throats and wrists and fingers, in embroidery along skirts and cuffs. Each mask is more impressive than the last, each custom-made and totally unique. Servants, dressed a bit more simply but still wrapped in the decadent midnight-blue velvet of Wildline Manor, mill around serving snacks and drinks.
I couldn’t possibly feel more out of place, with my plain mask, my simple slate-blue dress, my dusty brown boots. For someone like me, there’s no point in throwing away money on a gown that would only be worn for one night—no matter how enchanting it is.
My sister looks even more at odds with our surroundings than I do, but her aura of confidence doesn’t waver, even as tiny beads of sweat trickle under her mask. Isolde is the sweatier twin, but that’s more because she wears layers of all-black every day, no matter the weather, than because of any innate dampness.
Even though we’re identical, I can’t remember a time that we could be mistaken for each other. It seems laughable that the fair folk thought leaving me in her place would be an equal trade. Our olive skin and dark brown eyes are exactly the same, but her wavy hair never falls any longer than her shoulders before she chops it off, and I keep mine in a thick braid tied off neatly at the small of my back. Our identical heavy eyebrows look bold and dashing on her face but almost always seem troubled on mine.
I can feel them bunching into that concerned twist now. “Do you know where you’re going?” My fingers twist in my apron, fidgeting as always. We’ve been planning this for weeks, but we’re not exactly criminal masterminds. Once Isolde sneaks in the servants’ entrance, I don’t think there’s much of a plan beyond grabbing anything that looks shiny.
“Relax,” she replies, taking a flower from a girl dressed in petal-pink handing out bunches to everyone who passes. “Just stay on the lookout, and try to enjoy yourself. This isn’t the kind of party you get to see every day, you know.” The flower twirls between her fingers before she drops it, leaving it to get crushed underfoot.
We follow the trickle of people towards the center of the district and their bonfire. It’s getting late now, and most of the children have been sent to bed.
Which means the party is really getting started.
“Who here’sss try’n’a get…a wisssh granted?” shrieks a faerie, so drunk on Leira Wildfall’s liquor that they don’t even bother hiding the shimmering wings sprouting from their shoulder blades. A shout ripples through the crowd around them. Then there’s a flash of pearly light, and when it fades, the faerie is gone. A stack of gold coins remains where the faerie had been standing, and I don’t know if they intentionally vanished or were banished back home by some Seelie rule about not getting drunk off your ass and offering wishes to mortals.
As people frantically dive for the coins, I lean to speak into my sister’s ear. “Those coins are super cursed, right?”
“Oh, incredibly cursed. For sure.” She squeezes my hand and chuckles. “You know what you’re supposed to do, right?”
I groan. My job, of watching the servants’ entrance and drawing the attention of any guards who might get suspicious, was supposed to be easy. “How can I possibly top that distraction? What goes on around here? There’s something wrong with rich people, Sol. That would have ended the night across town.”
Well, across the bridge. All the way across town, in the Twilight District, I’ve heard rumors that they celebrate the holiday with much more unsavory magic, and a few cursed coins would probably be the least of their problems.
“You’ll figure something out.” Isolde grins, slipping away from me. “See you in an hour.”
Then she turns her drunken saunter back on with all the ease of the highest-quality actor and stumbles into the crowd, ready to dip her hands into their gilded pockets.
I want to preface this post by stating that this is not a goodbye post or a going on hiatus post. This post is long overdue and I have been avoiding it for months. 2022 was a weird reading year for me – I couldn’t read as often as I used to. Books were not giving me the spark and joy I had relied on for so many years. Frankly, I lacked the time to just sit, breathe and dive into a new literary world and my blog suffered for that. I didn’t intentionally allow myself time to read and most of my self care time prioritize sleep which I desperately needed each week. That being said, as the year came to an end I did some deep reflecting. I realized that reading is an essential part of who I am – along with Anime, KPOP, conventions and DIY stuff. I couldn’t give up on reading and I was doing a disservice to myself by not taking the time to enjoy what I loved most about reading – exploring new worlds.
I don’t know what direction I plan to take this blog in 2023, but I do promise to upload at least one blog post a month. I created this blog as a way for me to look back and read why I enjoyed a book, or why a particular book did not suit me. Through that blog, I gained followers who also enjoyed my thoughts. 2023 is already looking good in terms of my reading goals – I’ve read 4 books so far! But this blog may change. Nothing is set in stone but I do want to write about the other joys and interests in my life. For those who stood on after all this time with no recent blog posts from me, I truly thank you and appreciate you.