The Traitor’s Game




Title: The Traitor’s Game
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Page Numbers: 405
Source ISBN:
Publisher: Scholastic Inc. (February 27, 2018)
Publication Date: February 27, 2018
Rating: 4/5 Stars

“Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won’t stop her from being drawn back into her father’s palace politics. He’s the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip. A group of rebels knows this all too well — and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home.

The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary. As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what — and who — it is they’re fighting for.

Jennifer A. Nielsen introduces us to an unforgettable new heroine in this epic tale of treachery and intrigue, love and deceit.”

This novel was one of my most highly anticipated of 2018’s releases and I’m so thrilled to be a part of the blog tour to celebrate it’s release! Scholastic was kind enough to send me a copy for review so I wanted to share my thoughts with all of you!

This novel is packed with the classic elements of a great fantasy tale – mysterious family secrets, unknown family bloodlines, a prophecy depicting the future of a nation of people, an evil overlord taking power by force and an epic battle to find the one thing that could save them all. If you love fantasy that mixes in magical elements into the everyday world, you will love this story.

Antora is a place that is filled with secret magical beings, capable of manipulating elements depending on the level of their specific power and abilities. Lord Endrick is an evil ruler who is determined to eradicate all of those with magic in order to keep it all for himself. This story in many ways reminded me of the dynamic we see throughout the Grishaverse when it comes to siphoning the powers of the Grisha, each gifted with magic that falls within different categories. Ironically enough, much of what takes away from this novel is the same thing that, for me, took away from the story in Bardugo’s novels — the romance.

Nielsen has an incredibly captivating story that is filled with mysteries and twists that will keep readers on the edge as they discover how the prophecy will be fulfilled and who can wield the Olden Blade to save Antora. This content is where the novel shines, as Nielsen has woven characters throughout the novel giving small tidbits of information scattered throughout the story that ultimately come together for the large reveal at the end that will have readers quickly turning the pages for more. For me, what takes away from this portion of the novel is the way in which our romance develops between our main characters.

Romantic sub-plots have come to be second nature in epic fantasy tales but they can sometimes distract from the overall feel of the novel, in my opinion. Our main characters shared a traumatic childhood past, only to grow to hate one another as adults. Though it is clear from the beginning that they dislike each other, it takes a total of 3 seconds for our male hero to begin questioning his feelings for Kestra. Much of this is done through an internal dialogue that aims to be sarcastic and quippy, but in my opinion comes across as predictable and a bit corny. In many ways, the internal questioning of feelings from Simon and Kestra follow a dialogue style that isn’t consistent with the rest of the novel and made it difficult to look past. It was actually very difficult to make it through the first 100 pages of the story because so much of the content focused on their conflicting feelings with one another while not revealing much content.

After that, the writing seems to find itself again and readers are less distracted by the romantic sub-plot and are catapulted into a dangerous game of secrets, lies and betrayal. The second half of the novel totally changed my outlook on the book and guaranteed that I’ll pursue reading the second installment. Characters like Darrow and Gerald enhanced the story for me and helped me to invest in the overarching goal of saving Antora from Lord Endrick. What I appreciate is that even though we know Lord Endrick is bad, it is still unclear what path Kestra will take in order to save the people of Antora. Divided into three sub-groups who all have different beliefs of the world, Kestra is faced with finding not only her path, but her place among this world and her new responsibilities.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and I was excited to see it take hold of me after while. It’s a relatively quick read and I think fantasy lovers of the Grisha world will find this to be a captivating new land to discover and explore.



What do you see when you look at me?

Sometimes I wonder what people would say at my funeral.
Is that weird?

You see, I’m too scared to know the truth of this world I live in.
I wonder what would people say if there was nothing left to fear, no moments left to change the course of our lives, no self-esteem left to protect.

Can you see the girl inside
broken and bruised but still struggling to survive?
The girl disgusted by her anger,
tormented by her lack of self-control
exhausted with holding on each day
wanting desperately to let go
to embrace the easy way out, for once
to rest for just a moment
to put down her responsibilities and just live.

Or do you see her twin?
The sarcastic heroine always there to put a smile on someone’s face
The determined worker who pushes to finish the job
even when others have gone home
The confident and stubborn will that fears nothing and no one
the warrior who won’t back down
the winner who gets back up
the daughter who always shows up.

I’d wager most of the world sees my twin
a bright and shining spirit even amidst her muddled, messy life.
But inside still lives the bruised and tired sister
a mere shadow on the side of the light you see burn so brightly in her smile.
She’s harder to find
more difficult to talk to
and impossible to believe in.

I wonder who’d remember her when the other girl is gone.
I wonder what things people would say if they knew there wasn’t another day.

I’m made up of two parts, you see
and I sometimes worry that I’ll one day leave this world never knowing which twin the world saw
Never knowing what people wished they had said.

I worry more that if I asked right now,
you’d see the broken, bruised shadow

And still say nothing.


My heart is a ghost.
It haunts my dreams with visions of things past and those yet to come.
I chase my ghost in my dream, longing to know the face of my nightmare but I only find memories of you and dreams I know will never come true.

Years go by and still I search, plagued by fitful dreams of loneliness.
Loneliness has left me longing to meet my ghost once more because at least then I wouldn’t be so alone.

Dawn comes and reality sinks in, it’s weight crushing my chest.
My heart shatters again as I realize for what feels like the millionth time that..

My heart is a ghost.
You haunt my dreams each night because you are my heart.

But you are gone.

2 AM

It’s 2 AM and the air seems to shift.

Silence with us has grown comfortable but there’s always a change the longer we sit on this old, green couch.
The light from your laptop illuminates your face as we talk from across the cushions and I can’t imagine any place on earth feels more like home than this.
I shift casually closer to you as the night progresses, hoping you don’t notice.

I know you notice.

You shift too – not closer, but down into yourself as though you know you’re vulnerable and may say too much.
Your hood goes up around your face and your chest curves in as though it’s become too heavy, filled with the weight of a thousand unspoken thoughts.

You laugh.

Not your usual, cocky and animated laugh – a child-like giggle followed by a groan as you seem to hold yourself together.
I smile at you and roll my eyes asking the question I already know the answer to, hoping maybe this time you’ll say something different.

You don’t.

You smile again turning your head away and inch down more, closer and more vulnerable as you try to hide from the world.
Lonely and frustrated, you’ll ask me the question you always do and my heart will shatter but I stay on that couch because I can’t break apart so close to you.

What if our broken pieces got mixed together? Touched? Leaned on each other?

I laugh, I joke, I feign annoance as I tell you again the words you long to hear from someone else.
It’s 3AM now and you’re leaning closer or at least not moving away.
I’ve crossed the miles of couch that separated us at midnight and I can feel the buzz in the air, the tangible shift of tension.

I swear you can hear my heart beating.

I turn to my left and you turn to your right.
You grin the way you always do, reveling in your attempts to feign arrogance but I can see so far into the depths of who you are that I know if I got any closer I might actually drown with you.

You grin again and my heart swells.

I could lean closer, stroke your hair like I’ve done before, raise my eyebrows at your grin and challenge the boundaries of the electric air surrounding us.
You could move away or tell me to go, but neither of us dare to act on what we could.

It’s been 2 hours since I said I should go home.

It’s 4AM and we’re drifting to sleep so I get up and leave, immediately woken to the harsh snap of reality as the air changes back in the room.
I start my car. I arrive home. I go to bed.

Tomorrow I won’t wait for the shift before I leave.

The shift will make me stay.
Your grin will make me stay.
Your laugh will make me stay.
Your eyes will make me stay.

I spend years trying to walk away before that shift.
We change each year but somehow that couch is always the same.
The air in that room knows us and always pulls us back.
But time is cruel and soon we move to different couches in different states with different air.

It’s 2AM and I can’t sleep, but no one is here on this couch.

It’s 2AM and my mind can’t stop thinking of the groan that reminded me I had someone to talk to.

It’s 2AM and the glow from my phone stings my eyes and feels too harsh.

It’s 2AM and my chest aches from the hollow depths longing to be filled by that devilish grin.

It’s 2AM and I sink in my chair and look to my left but no eyes greet me.


The air in the room does not shift.

A Poison Dark and Drowning


Title: A Poison Dark and Drowning
Author: Jessica Cluess
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 4/5

The magicians want her to lead.
The sorcerers want her to lie.
The demons want her blood.”

Cue intense trailer music! In all seriousness, this book is a formidable sequel to it’s predecessor and definitely continues to impress and shock readers. We see young Neville, I mean Henrietta, (read my review of book one to get that joke) in the aftermath of her defeat of Korozoth, living as a sorcerer (technically sorceress, I suppose, but I don’t think they ever refer to her that way in the book) and adjusting to life after training. The war on the demons continues, Rook gets worse by the day and Henrietta still carries that damn world on her shoulder.

I found this book to be very interesting with a lot more depth than the first. I enjoyed getting to know family secrets, more about the prophecy and the origins of how this war against demons began. I honestly wanted to give this a 5 star rating but I just cannot do that in good conscious because of the romantic subplots!

Okay look — I know that 16 year olds are hormonal little monsters but why did we have to introduce ANOTHER romantic sub-plot into an already overplayed love triangle scenario? We’ve got boring mcshadows, sassy mccharming and now we throw in brooding mcmiserable into the mix? Ugh. Like, can Henrietta just live for a second? Girl is trying to save all of London from horrific demons who plan to destroy everything all while dealing with a horrible family history realization and now she’s got a man telling her “oh hey… you’re gonna be with me” as though she would ever agree to that crap. Witch, please. (Also — if I thought this reminded me of the Mortal Instruments before, it’s basically Clary/Simon/Jace/Sebastian with different names and less incest…maybe…I’m still not convinced that Henrietta isn’t tied to the Blackwood family in some way — also Blackwood is literally the name of a family in TMI…. okay I’m done.)

Though I understand her connection to Rook, it seemed like their relationship really progresses out of nowhere, as well. They went from awkward, friend-zone flirting to unyielding love and adoration in a hot minute. Meanwhile, Henrietta is getting her flirt on with literally everyone while Rook is ya know, becoming a horrific demon monster. It was hard not to be frustrated with her blatant neglect when it came to Rook’s condition and when everything goes down at Eliza’s party, I seriously was ready to stab her myself after what poor Magnus endures because of her stupidity.

Overlooking the irritations I have with the above paragraph, this book was filled with a lot of awesome mystery and backstory that gave more meaning to the impending doom surrounding London. As I said before, the tropes in this book are not something readers haven’t seen before, but I think this author does a good job of taking ideas readers have seen (and loved) from other book and making them their own within the world and narrative of this story.

The introduction of Maria is perhaps the best part of the whole book and is definitely the most intriguing mystery left unanswered at the end. Maria reminds me of Amren from ACOMAF in that she’s mysterious with secrets of her own, but is resourceful and able to fend for herself. She’s a loyal ally and someone who chooses words carefully. She’s not experiencing the dramatics of being a 16 year old caught in a love nest, but she has just as much riding on this whole war as everyone else, yet remains a calm and strong force throughout.

As we learn more about the prophecy, I think this story is going to end differently than readers will assume. Comparing again, you get Voldemort vibes with the whole “the girl and women two in one, one must die to unite the three” situation but I don’t think that’s going to play out as black and white as it seems. Admittedly, the prophecy has been pretty literal up to this point so what do I know.

Again, this book is great and it’s done well. It’s hard for me not to compare it to Harry Potter and The Mortal Instruments because honestly it’s so similar in so many ways, but it definitely is enthralling and worth your time to read. I loved those other stories so I can’t knock it for having elements that remind me of those books. I’m hoping I’ll see a lot more originality in the next books and get surprised a lot more than I did in this one, but no matter what, this author knows how to write a fantasy that will appeal to her readers and give them what they crave.



A Shadow Bright and Burning

Title: A Shadow Bright and Burning
Author: Jessica Cluess
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Rating: 4/5

“Henrietta can burst into flames….But Henrietta is not the Chosen One”

Admittedly, anytime I see the words “chosen one” I immediately roll my eyes and say to myself “of course…. I bet they’re sixteen too”. Spoiler alert: Henrietta is sixteen.

What’s awesome about this book is that it actually follows a lead character who ISN’T the chosen one. Now, Henrietta doesn’t know that right away so you still get your classic young girl has magical gifts, moves from a horrible life to a lavish world filled with magic and wonder and brooding men blah blah blah but it’s honestly well done and I loved every minute of this book!

This book gets a 4 star rating from me mostly because I wasn’t totally blown away by the writing. The story and the characters are fantastic, but stylistically I think this writer has room to grow and create a more immersive experience for world building. I also knocked off a few points because I called the “which boy do I choose?” dilemma from the moment I met two of the characters and I got PTSD thinking of Alina, Mal and Nikolai (and the Darkling) all over again.


This story is filled with magic and the classic elements of fantasy that readers love most: prophecies, faeries, impending war, demon monsters, witches, magicians, sorcerers, corsets, a girl who hates being a lady and would rather be one of the boys… oh wait… Henrietta is a character many readers will instantly identify with because she truly has a heart for the underdog and cares about others. Naturally, she carries the weight of the world and she struggles to be the hero they all need and often makes things worse for herself by lying or hiding things rather than just being honest. But hey — if she did tell people things and ask for help, would she even be a lead fantasy heroine?

I feel like my review seems more critical than it is — I loved this book. It had Harry Potter meets the Mortal Instrument vibes and those are two of my all time favorite series. This story is like reading Harry Potter from the perspective that everyone thought Neville was the chosen one and was also a lady. If you like either of these series, you’ll love this book.

What I appreciate about this book was that it focuses so much on all the ways Henrietta isn’t the chosen one, but still shows her as a heroine and someone who sparks change within a demon-controlled London. The girl can literally LIGHT ON FIRE and she still has the mind to be afraid of the unknown before just agreeing to things. So many stories have people all excited to learn they’re gifted in some way and they just accept that as truth and jump right into whatever they’re told. Characters like that annoy me because it seems so careless to just not have questions about the people coming to claim you as their magical savior. Henrietta is relatable in this way. She doesn’t just jump right in and get really excited at the prospect of learning sorcery or fighting demons or learning about magicians. She questions. She argues. She snaps back at people. She ultimately does whatever the **ck she wants because she is a boss.

Overall, if you’re looking for a fantasy that will give you everything you loved about your favorite fantasy books, this is the book for you. Will this become your new favorite world with brand new ideas? No, probably not. Not everyone can just dream up Hogwarts in a coffee shop. This book will have you interested, questioning, rooting for the underdogs and fearing what will happen next. I’m looking forward to the next one, for sure!




One Dark Throne


Title: One Dark Throne
Author: Kendare Blake
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 464
Rating: 5/5

I hope you’ve fastened your seat belt because you’re about to be take off on an epic roller-coaster ride from the very first page of this book. Where the first book in this series started out slow, ending with the biggest plot twist I’ve ever read in a book, this book takes off like a rocket. I was enthralled from the moment I began and the anticipation only built as I kept reading.

The battle for the throne continues as Katherine, Mirabella and Arsinoe face their fated destinies to battle each other to the death until one is crowned the true Queen of Fennbirn. With the advantage of her secret poisoner abilities, Arsinoe seems to have a leg up on her sisters, but never underestimate a woman scorned. Katherine comes back from the pit stronger than ever with a sinister secret and a raging heart for revenge.

Initially, in Three Dark Crowns, the writing style of the 3 different points of view was hard to follow but I found myself appreciative of that style in this book. Blake’s use of this narrative style allows the anticipation and mystery to build slowly and keeps the reader at the edge of their seat, desperately awaiting each turn of the page. I found the pace of this book to be balanced and fitting to the events happening around the three queens. If you struggled to adapt to the first novel or found yourself bored in the beginning, I promise that will not happen here.

This book gives us much more insight into the relationship each sister has with one another and their respective “families”. We learn that Mirabella’s kind and meek nature is not to be underestimated, as she is genuinely loyal and will protect her friends and sister Arsinoe at any cost, when threatened. Mirabella continues to surprise me in her ability to be both gentle and destructive. I enjoyed getting to see more of her relationship with Bree and Elizabeth as well . I hope we will see more of them in the future.

Katherine was the queen I was most drawn to in the first book because of her struggle with her poisoner abilities and the cruel training she was forced to endure. The Katherine we knew in book one is long gone and has been replaced by the ruthless and truly vile person who emerged from a pit of betrayal and despair. Consuming poison at every turn, though still not truly immune to it’s effects, readers are left to wonder what Katherine’s abilities really are and what happened in that pit. Blake does a excellent job keeping Katherine’s new personality a mystery. We are given explanations but yet still know very little about what the future holds for Katherine and what she’s become. Her moments with Pietyr show us that the tender hearted girl who craves love still lies buried beneath her newfound bloodlust and rage.

The most interesting and mysterious characters come from the Naturalists. Now that we know Arsinoe is truly a poisoner, so many questions emerge as to why she was given to a naturalist in the first place. We have some of these questions answered, but we see through Jules’ family tree that there is much more unspoken behind the Naturalist line and events at the Black Cottage. Jules’ family is riddled with secrets and betrayal, leading me to think that there is yet another major plot twist still to come in future books. Jules alone remains the most interesting character in the series, as we learn of new powers and her mothers secrets. I would be willing to be that our next book will feature Jules at the center of what’s to become of Fennbirn and the future of the Goddess’ plans for the island.

As far as romantic sub-plots, I was so pleased to see the relationship development with Billy and Arsinoe. After everything Arsinoe has to go through to pretend she’s a naturalist and having to have someone as strong as Jules by her side, I was glad to see her get the forefront in this romance and have things actually work out (so far). I found myself annoyed with Jules and Joseph, however. I just felt like it was unnecessary and annoying, especially after everything he did in book one. I understand the purpose behind it, particularly the role in plays in the end of the book, but given that this book is supposed to focus on the story of the queens, I could have done without the focus on Jules and Joseph. This is yet another reason I believe we will see a lot more focus on Jules in upcoming books. I would argue she is as much a main player in these stories as the 3 queens are.

Overall — the writing style, the characterization, the mysterious unknown backstories and the open-ended futures make this book a delightfully exciting sequel to the first book. I am anxiously awaiting the next installation to immerse myself back into the magical and deadly world of Fennbirn to see what lies in store for our queens, Jules, and the remaining parts of Fennbirn.