Book Review: Firekeeper’s Daughter

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team.

Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source. But the search for truth is more complicated than Daunis imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. At the same time, she grows concerned with an investigation that seems more focused on punishing the offenders than protecting the victims.

Now, as the deceptions—and deaths—keep growing, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go for her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

Barnes and Noble website

Review

Read: April 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

Before I begin this review, I just want to point out that this book is not fantasy, despite its categorization on Goodreads. My best guess as to why is the role that the Little People and Anishinaabe medicines play in the story, but I see these as religious and cultural elements rather than ones of fantasy. If Christian fiction is not classified as fantasy, Firekeeper’s Daughter should not be either. (Please note that I am equating the two faiths, not disparaging Christianity.)

Spoiler-free!

I didn’t even know about this book’s existence until a week or two prior to its release date, but as soon as I did, I knew I absolutely had to read it. A Native American protagonist from Michigan? An author from Michigan? A Native author from Michigan? Yes, please.

Guys, this book has everything a Michigander like me could ask for: hockey (bonus: Detroit Red Wings references), the Great Lakes, smaller lakes, beautiful woods, Yoopers, and insights about a community I only really know in passing, if I can even say that.

Angeline Boulley does a phenomenal job crafting her characters. Daunis is a complex, spectacular protagonist. She is magnificently intelligent, she is loyal to her loved ones, she is fierce, and she struggles with her ties to both her white roots and her Anishinaabe roots. Her observance and acuity render her a spectacular first-person narrator for a mystery of any kind. Jamie is Daunis’s crush, but he too stands on his own. He is sweet and smart, and he’s mysterious in a way that comes of as guarded rather than edgy just for the sake of having an edgy character. Like Daunis, he also grapples with his identity as part-Native, but his heritage is much less clear. Boulley doesn’t neglect her supporting characters either. From Lily to Levi Jr., from Seeney to TJ, from Travis to Teddie, they’re all evocative and lifelike. You will hate certain characters; you will love others. And yes, you will hurt when certain characters die. (I’m not telling you who.) Also, shoutout to Herri the cat. I love you.

Really, Boulley is simply an amazingly talented author in general. The plot is riveting and complex without seeming contrived; the events of the story are realistic. Boulley doesn’t include certain matters for shock value: The darkest, scariest happenings of Firekeeper’s Daughter are there either for the purpose of the plot or to depict vividly what it is to be Daunis Fontaine – and what being a Native American woman can entail. Additionally, Boulley has avoided the all-too-common pitfall of infodumping. The details about Anishinaabe culture are woven skillfully into the material of the story, so that readers to whom Anishinaabe culture is unfamiliar can comprehend the context of the book without getting the sense that they’re reading a textbook. Readers can lose themselves in her book. I can attest to this from personal experience.

Firekeeper’s Daughter has earned a spot in my list of top reads this year. The characters are fascinating and the plot is enthralling, and Boulley has a beautiful writing style that is at once concise and detailed. Boulley spent ten years chipping away this masterpiece, and the final product is a testament to her efforts. I can only hope that the world doesn’t have to wait another decade for her next book. Hopefully, she’ll write about Jamie and Daunis a few years down the road, or perhaps even a prequel novel about Teddie or Levi Sr. Even if she writes a book with all-new characters, I’d still read it. With a debut novel this successful, I think we can expect wonderful works from her in the future.

Book content warnings: racism/colonialism, drug use, sexual assault, murder, gun violence, sexism.

Book Review: The Storm Crow

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Synopsis

In the tropical kingdom of Rhodaire, magical, elemental Crows are part of every aspect of life…until the Illucian empire invades, destroying everything.

That terrible night has thrown Princess Anthia into a deep depression. Her sister Caliza is busy running the kingdom after their mother’s death, but all Thia can do is think of all she has lost.

But when Caliza is forced to agree to a marriage between Thia and the crown prince of Illucia, Thia is finally spurred into action. And after stumbling upon a hidden Crow egg in the rubble of a rookery, she and her sister devise a dangerous plan to hatch the egg in secret and get back what was taken from them.

Review

Read: July 2019

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It’s difficult not to have high hopes for a book with such a breathtaking cover and such a propitious premise. When my expectations are so lofty, the disappointment when a book fails to meet them is all the more disheartening. 

That’s not to say there’s nothing to like about Kalyn Josephson’s debut novel. For her story, she has clearly crafted a colorful setting with rich backgrounds. At the end of her novel, Josephson even provides two brief appendices: one summarizing the culture, politics, and economics of each country; the other covering information on the magical crows of Rhodaire. I’m an incurable sucker for this kind of stuff because it indicates that the author really exerted a considerable amount of effort creating their setting and that they bothered to think outside the box. So those of you who enjoy lore-laden worlds might appreciate this. 

Josephson also writes a diverse cast of characters in terms of race and sexuality. Anthia, the protagonist, is heterosexual and brown-skinned. Her sister, Queen Caliza, shares her skin tone but is bisexual (or pansexual, perhaps?) and is wed to the black prince of Trendell, Kuren. Thia’s best friend, Sakiva, is hella pale and hella lesbian, and her romance with Auma, a young Asiatic woman who happens to be a Jin rebel spy posing as a servant in Sordell’s palace, is a prominent subplot. It’s even implied that Thia’s mother is also LGBTQ, and the same-sex partners of a few other characters are referenced. Through Thia, Josephson tackles another aspect of diversity: mental health. If the idea is reminding depression sufferers that they are not alone, two facets of solidarity need to be addressed. Representation is easy enough to pick out, particularly with Josephson’s wise use of first-person narration. A significant portion of the story focuses on Thia’s healing process as she grapples with debilitating depression, a psychological wound stemming from the attack on Negnoch. Although Thia faces some stumbling blocks as the story progresses, she eventually finds the strength to get back on her feet. Knowing that other people wrestle with mental health is a step, but it’s also vital that people feel that they can connect with and rely upon others. Just as important as Thia’s struggle is Kiva’s support. Stalwartly loyal and empathetic, Kiva is the kind of friend that everyone should have. Instead of withdrawing from Thia when she needs her most, Kiva stays by her side, a reminder that friends will not abandon you because of a mental health struggle.

The shortfalls of The Storm Crow truly diminish what could have been a mighty story. In stark contrast to the in-depth world-building, the plot itself sports a detail deficit. For instance, Thia concocts an acid to dissolve an iron lock on a door guarding a room full of crow eggs. There’s no real description of Thia learning how to do this beyond “I decided to help Caylus make this random acid and put on some leather gloves”. Hell, neither the acid nor the ingredients are even given names. Although this might seem like a petty complaint, the use of this acid is rather important to the plot, and it strikes me as lazy to not put more effort into the setup of the plot device. The detail void sucks away the story’s life even as the plot moves forward unhindered by description. The result is a pace that is simultaneously sluggish and rushed. 

Character arcs too suffer when details are scant. Fewer details often mean fewer opportunities to explore characters thoroughly without resorting to infodumps. For some characters, Josephson executes arcs quite well. Ericen and Razel both have strong storylines: Razel’s background, discussed in several conversations, elucidates her motives for her cruelty; Ericen’s actions throughout the book illustrate a conflicted character with a desire to do the right thing. Other characters’ stories are not so skillfully carried out. Caylus in particular stands out as an example of this. The concept of him is adorable, but despite his devastating backstory, he’s still rather flat. Interactions involving him divulge something new about him much less often than they reveal nothing about him. Auma’s arc is hurried and thus has a shallow sort of feel to it; however, I grant more leniency in this case as Auma is meant to be mysterious and Josephson would be unlikely to show much of her hand in the first book of a series for such a character. 

The Storm Crow isn’t a bad book. It’s no masterpiece either. It certainly isn’t good enough for me to want to read it again, nor is it disappointing enough for me to not read the next installment of the series. I mean, come on, there’s an embattled prince whose fate I need to follow and a gazillion crow eggs that need to be rescued. There’s no way I can’t at least try the next book.

Image and synopsis are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: Beasts of the Frozen Sun

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The Blurb

Burn brightly. Love fiercely. For all else is dust.

Every child of Glasnith learns the last words of Aillira, the god-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair sparked a war of gods and men, and Lira of clan Stone knows the story better than most. As a descendant of Aillira and god-gifted in her own right, she has the power to read people’s souls, to see someone’s true essence with only a touch of her hand.

When a golden-haired warrior washes up on the shores of her homeland-one of the fearful marauders from the land of the Frozen Sun-Lira helps the wounded man instead of turning him in. After reading his soul, she realizes Reyker is different than his brethren who attack the coasts of Glasnith. He confides in her that he’s been cursed with what his people call battle-madness, forced to fight for the warlord known as the Dragon, a powerful tyrant determined to reignite the ancient war that Aillira started.

As Lira and Reyker form a bond forbidden by both their clans, the wrath of the Dragon falls upon them and all of Glasnith, and Lira finds herself facing the same tragic fate as her ancestor. The battle for Lira’s life, for Reyker’s soul, and for their peoples’ freedom has only just begun…

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC.*

When I first began reading Jill Criswell’s debut novel, I really wasn’t certain that I was going to love it. Beasts of the Frozen Sun was… just fine, for maybe the first third of the book. But I was well rewarded for reading on. 

This book’s biggest flaw is that the non-main characters simply didn’t feel as animated to me as they should have. Some character introductions and the subsequent interactions with other characters seem a bit abrupt. Quinlan, for instance, is introduced as Lira’s close male friend and someone whom Lira might or might not have feelings for, even though Lira does not mention him until his first physical appearance. Criswell often consigns minor characters brimming with potential to the sidelines, but I hope she will expand their roles in the next book. Right now it feels like she’s focusing so intently on Reyker and Lira that she’s skimping slightly on the other characters. Paying them some mind would, in my opinion, render this tale more colorful.

That’s not to say that the characters are unlikable, or that the main characters are uninteresting – just that there’s room for growth (and perhaps that’s what Criswell has planned for the sequel). While Reyker, a complicated warrior from Iseneld, embarks on a poignant and heart-wrenching redemption arc, Glasnithian Lira grapples with the societal constraints foisted upon her as both a young woman and a god-gifted individual and battles against the guilt she feels over the death of her mother several years prior. Lira’s elder brother, Garreth, proves to be noble and clever – and something of a maverick with a surprise up his sleeve, and Quinlan is a treasure – both as a friend and as a human being.

Although the lore of Criswell’s world isn’t complex, it’s not overly simple either – and that moderation suits this story. Likewise, Criswell is even-handed with her imagery: she doesn’t catapult her readers into a choppy sea of detail, but she provides enough for a reader to conceptualize the surroundings to a satisfactory degree. As far as the romance goes, this is one whirlwind love story. Despite the occasional over-gooeyness, Criswell executes the enemies-to-lovers trope well. Readers will find themselves invested in Reyker and Lira’s blossoming relationship and riveted by the parallels between their love and that of Aillira and the Great Betrayer. And at the end, the villain divulges a revelation that not only sheds a new light on his character but also leaves them bursting with questions.

Beasts of the Frozen Sun might not be a masterpiece, but it’s a solid beginning to Criswell’s series. I had some difficulty tackling the first portion of the book, but that hump was not insurmountable and the story ended up being entertaining. Adrienne Young’s Sky in the Deep has found its kin in Beasts of the Frozen Sun: If you read and enjoyed the former, I enjoin you to pick up the latter (which I’d argue is better).

You can purchase Beasts of the Frozen Sun at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, Indigo, and Amazon. 

Cover is from BarnesandNoble.com.