House of Salt and Sorrows (HoSS) is a Young Adult fantasy novel written by Erin A. Craig. It is a dark and twisted fairy tale retelling, with elements of mystery and horror woven through that keep you wondering what’s really going on the whole time.
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.
HoSS is one of the best standalone YA Fantasy books I’ve read, and is one of my top picks so far for this year. Unsurprisingly, I was first drawn to the book because of the title and the beautiful cover. The blurb also had me hooked – it seemed full of mystery and intrigue, and I immediately wanted to know more.
I had high expectations for this story for a few reasons, mainly because of the amount of positive reviews on Goodreads, but also because I’d heard so much about it from other fans in the genre. I’m very happy to say I was not disappointed. HoSS is a beautiful read that incorporates elements of magic effortlessly. These elements become so infused with the story as your progress that it’s easy to miss when this book goes from a creepy thriller to a full-on low fantasy novel, with mischievous forces hovering nearby, wreaking havoc.
Even if the novel is aimed at a YA audience, it deals with very real and very raw issues, such as the loss of a sibling (or rather, several siblings), the death of a parent, and what to do when the remaining parent remarries.
Craig masterfully created tension, friction and emotion through the character of Morella, new wife of Orton Thaumas and now stepmother to his collection of daughters. Morella instantly ignites frustration within the reader, after co-opting the funeral of one of Annaleigh’s recently deceased sisters to announce the happy news that she is pregnant with Orton’s child. She then continues to spark ire when she assumes that her son – as she is positive she is pregnant with a boy – will inherit the Thaumas fortune and estate.
Morella becomes an early target of dislike, however, as tragedy strikes the Thaumas household over and over again, it becomes apparent that there is more to this tale than just an evil stepmother. Soon, Annaleigh finds herself at the center of a high-stakes game played by mischievous divinities, where the veil between what is real and what is imagined wears thinner and thinner.
And as Annaleighs comes closer to solving the mystery of what evil is beseeching her family, her grip on reality also begins to loosen, leaving the reader confused as to what is actually happening. This is emphasized by the fact that Annaleigh is the only character through which we see the story – meaning her perceived reality, be it true or false, is the only one we are subjected to.
As mentioned, HoSS is a wonderfully crafted story with a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. One note, however, is that is can sometimes be confusing to remember which sister is which, and distinguish between their personalities. But even with this confusion, it isn’t terribly difficult to keep the characters separate from one another.
How far would you go to follow your ambitions, regardless of how grand?
That’s the question that Roh, a cyren in Saddoriel, must ask herself after hearing that there will be another Queen’s Tournament, the first in 50 years. The tournaments are deadly, ruthless. But the winner – should anyone survive – will be crowned the next ruler.
A Lair of Bones (YA fantasy) by Helen Scheuerer is the first story in the upcoming Curse of the Cyren Queen Quartet. I had the absolute pleasure of reading an ARC in exchange for an honest review of the story. Here’s the synopsis:
A deadly contest. A vaulting ambition. How far will one cyren go to win?
Mighty cyrens have ruled the ancient lair of Saddoriel for centuries. A cavernous fortress, a subterranean labyrinth of tunnels and levels, powered by magic and music…
From the moment she was born, Roh, the daughter of an infamous criminal, has been despised by her own kind. Restricted to the Lower Sector and forced to work as a common bone cleaner, she has always believed she belongs above: where lies adventure… and power.
Opportunity arises in the form of the Queen’s Tournament, a treacherous set of trials that could see the victor crowned ruler of the entire lair. Up against the most cunning, dangerous cyrens in all the realms, does Roh stand a chance?
I absolutely loved this story, and had a hard time putting it down. It is dark, delicious, and filled with intricate culture and lore. One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most was that sirens (referred to as cyrens in the book) were the focus of the story. The beginning of the book was a tad slow, as there was a lot of information that needed to be conveyed to readers on the hierarchy, culture and society of the cyren characters portrayed. But the story quickly picked up, and as soon as the action ramped up, I raced through the rest.
These creatures, portrayed in Greek mythology as being half human and half bird, would lure sailors to their deaths through their song. The cyrens in A Lair of Bones are equally as ruthless, except that instead of being half bird they have more aquatic traits, such as the ability to breathe underwater and scales that appear on their skin. I’d never read a story featuring cyrens as the main characters before, and so it was very interesting to have them be the focus of the story.
Roh and her cyren folk are cunning and ambitious, with a deep appreciation for music and melody. They also have a healthy distaste of humans. Their lust for music and song often send members of Talon’s Reach up to the surface, to kidnap humans that display particularly gifted musical ability so they can play for them.
A Lair of Bones focuses on Roh and her ambition to win in the Queen’s Tournament. Roh wants nothing more than to don the coral crown and lead her people. She is the lowest of the low – the daughter of one of the worst criminals in history. Roh hopes that winning the crown will bring her the respect and appreciation she wants so badly. But to win the crown, Roh will need to be more cunning, ruthless, and brutal than all of the other competitors, who want the crown just as much as she does. The trials are designed to test participants in the most brutal ways possible, both physically and mentally. And for this edition, the designers of the trial have thrown in an extra twist by giving each cyren a human to take care of. Should the human die or become injured, then that means expulsion for the cyren.
At first, Roh is loath to take care of Odi, her designated human. She, as all cyrens, views humans as weak. Inferior. Easily dupped by the magic that surrounds the Lair. She grudgingly protects Odi from the wrath of other contestants. But with time, Roh comes to appreciate Odi’s presence – and his surprising insight.
One of the aspects that I appreciated the most about A Lair of Bones was the intricate culture and world that author Helen Scheuerer created. The cyrens have an intricate class system, a rich and vibrant culture, and an appreciation for music that runs so deep that it heavily impacts how cyrens live their lives and form their societies.
I highly recommend this story to readers who enjoy stories with fantastical creatures, dark storylines, and strong female characters. Roh is a well-rounded protagonist who is cunning, ambitious, and willing to do anything to achieve her goal. But she is also empathetic and kind, even though she doesn’t necessarily want to be.
A Lair of Bones will be available on Amazon as of July 20. You won’t want to miss the epic Dark Fantasy story!
There’s no rulebook for what to do once you finish a series that’s so epic that you question your abilities as a writer. At least, that’s how I felt earlier this week after finishing Kingdom of Ash, and therefore, finishing the entire Throne of Glass series for the first time. And let me tell you, it has been a wild ride.
Warning: this series review has spoilers. So if you haven’t read every book, from The Assassin’s Blade to Kingdom of Ash, I strongly recommend you stop reading this review, and instead read the series. Then make sure to tell me once you did, so I can talk to someone about it!
I’ve been very open about the fact that I had a ten-year long reading slump while I was finishing school, and that finally, mercifully, ended last year once I dove head-first into the publishing world and saw the wonderful books, especially in young adult fantasy, that had come out while I wasn’t paying attention.
Throne of Glass was one of the fantasy series that immediately caught my eye, for many reasons. The covers were neat. I heard good things about a strong female lead, whispers of a romantic interest, and a very good friend of mine confirmed it was one of the best series she’d ever read. And that for me was the final push I needed. Plus, the hardcover set was on deep discount, so…
The memory of reading the first book brings back a chuckle, because although I was fairly confident the story would be good, based on the hype I’d noticed for the series, I really had no idea of what to expect. An assassin? A king’s tournament? Alright, fine.
Now here’s an important point I want to clarify. As much as the series was amazing, it wasn’t perfect. But I truly believe that the merits of this series far outweigh any negative points. And the progression of Maas’s writing was something that was also really interesting to see.
It would be impossible to write a fully comprehensible review of the entire series while only having read it once. But there are several aspects that I really enjoyed that I want to focus on, so let’s do that.
The first is a little obvious, but let’s talk about the story for a minute.
The series begins with Celeana Sardothien imprisoned in Endovier, where she undergoes forced labor and whippings for bad behaviour – which is often. It ends with Aelin Galathynius Whitethorn Ashryver, in her palace in Orynth, overlooking a field of Kingsflame flowers – a divine approval of her as ruler of Terrasen.
And there’s a lot that happens in between.
The story, from start to finish, was always engaging and interesting. And it was really refreshing that the series had an ever-evolving goal, that changed with the information that was made available to the reader. It made sense for the goal to change, because our understanding of the world of Erilea changed. And while the goals themselves were lofty and grand (killing the king, bringing magic back, wiping Erawan out of existence), the obstacles that were in the way of the goals were equally just as insurmountable.
One thing I also appreciated about the series is how everything tied in together. Characters that we met in passing in The Assassin’s Blade suddenly became really important in Empire of Storms. Conversations and threads that were spun in Throne of Glass kept re-appearing throughout the series, such as the Wyrdmarks, Wyrdstone, or tales of great shadows and evils of the past.
So yes, the story remained fresh over the course of eight books, which is a huge undertaking. And each book was its own self-contained narrative, while also fitting into the broader series ecosystem. The planning that author Sarah J. Maas had to do before even laying pen to paper must have been incredible to see.
Now on to the second part of what made this series so awesome: the characters.
As with most fantasy stories, there are a ton of characters in the Throne of Glass series. Some are part of each book, some only make a brief appearance. And then some come to play a much larger role than anyone would have thought. But there are two particular strengths that applies to all of these characters that I was to draw attention to.
For one, each of these characters is vastly different. Aelin is a much different person than Sorscha or Elide, for example. And Chaol is different from Aedion and Rowan. This is really a testament to Maas’s character-building skills. It’s difficult to write so many characters and have each one feel like a real person with goals and aspirations. And in a world with as many characters as the Throne of Glass series, it can be difficult to remember each of their names. But if each of these characters feels like its own unique person, then it’s easier to distinguish them.
For example: I cannot remember each name of the Khagan’s children. But I recognize their personalities enough to know who the Ruk-rider one is versus the horse-rider one. And that in itself is an important accomplishment, because it is difficult to make an entire cast of characters all feel different from one another. Some characters are deeply flawed, but those flaws make them who they are and help in turn to advance the narrative.
Secondly, nearly every single important character goes through a change. If characters did not change over the course of eight books, then the series would have been stagnant. But miraculously, every single character goes through a drastic arc, some even going through multiple changes over the course of the series.
This development, to me, was crucial in keeping me glued to the series and reading as fast as I could. Character arcs like Manon’s, for example, made me feel invested in the series. And her redemption arc, if you will, was one of the strongest. Even Aelin goes through a host of changes, some brought about by internal goals, some by external circumstances. These character arcs kept the reading fresh and went hand in hand with what they were experiencing around them in the story.
So what does one do, after reading an epic series of this magnitude?
I’m asking for myself, because I’m not sure what the answer is. As a reader, the series was incredible in ways I never could have anticipated. But as a writer, a not insignificant part of me is jealous. Jealous of how this series came together, and concerned that I might never be able to tell as good a story.
Oh well. Brooding on that point won’t accomplish anything. I’m better off honing my craft and sharpening my skills.
Do you read books by indie authors? The blockbuster hits are, of course, incredible. Who can forget A Song of Achilles, or Throne of Glass?
But recently, I’ve gained a huge appreciation for indie books, and by extension indie authors. There are so many good stories published by small presses, or self-published by authors themselves. As a small-press author myself, I know how even just a little recognition can go a long way.
Here are some indie reads that you should absolutely check out:
The Soft Fall, by Marissa Byfield
Genre: YA Fantasy / Roman Myth retelling
Demon wolves roam the forest, the villagers all said. Dianna had been warned to stay away. She didn’t listen. Now every full moon Dianna slinks into the cellar beneath the barn. Into the cage made by her brother to protect her secret. One that would get her burned at the stake by the village leaders if discovered.
The heirs to the throne disappear just as their enemies lay siege to the empire. Famine hits the village as it struggles to survive. Dianna does what she can to hunt and help. But her secret is discovered when she transforms during an attack. Captured and imprisoned, Dianna must find a way to escape. If she does, she has only one direction to go. Into the heart of the forest where she was cursed.
The Soft Fall is a refreshingly new take on the werewolf genre that mixes classic tenets with new ideas. In Byfield’s world, the wolves are prisoners of their own bodies. They are not inherently evil, just cursed.
The plot to the book is well-paced, and the features a diverse set of characters. Byfield writes with a poetic eloquence that makes it hard to put the story aside. It’s incredibly well-written, and an absolute must-read for any fantasy or Roman mythology fans! Dianna is a strong, independent young woman who will not bend to the expectations that others have for her. She is her own person who fights for those she loves while desperately trying to understand her place in the world.
Aubrey Hartmann left the Imperial battlefields with a pocketful of medals, a fearsome reputation, and a clockwork leg. The Imperium diverts her trip home to investigate the murder of a young druwyd in a strange town. She is ordered to not only find the killer but prevent a full-scale war with the dreaded Fae.
Meanwhile, the arrival of a sinister secret policeman threatens to dig up Aubrey’s own secrets – ones that could ruin her career. It soon becomes clear that Aubrey has powerful enemies with plans to stop her before she gets started. Determined to solve the mystery, Aubrey must survive centaurs, thugs and a monster of pure destruction.
The Clockwork Detective was the first Steampunk novel that I read, and I loved it! I have the highest praise for McCandless’s book. Aubrey is a nuanced protagonist, who is both strong yet vulnerable, with flaws that make her human and relatable. The story itself kept me on my toes, as political interests weave in with the magical. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and anything in between.
Steampunk and fantasy come together in this heart-stopping detective novel that hits all the right tones. There’s mystery, hints of romance, and controversy afoot. Aubrey must solve the mystery of the murdered Druwyd, and fast, before the Imperium decide to go to war with the fae roaming the ancient woods near Aquilinne.
The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, by Tiffany Lafleur
Genre: YA Fantasy
Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Useful, but not as flashy as some. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people.
Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who supposedly died years before. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.
A Forgotten Past is the first book in The Sapeiro Chronicles trilogy. Lily is a complex character who finds herself in the middle of a years-long secret conflict, a conflict she wants nothing to do with. But Lily will need to weigh her resistance to adventure with the consequences of not partaking. A whole kingdom hangs in the balance while she decides which side to take.
Sapeio is a grand land, where everyone has inherited a touch of magic. A Forgotten Past is a fast-paced novel that is at heart uplifting, at times heart-wrenching.
Forget life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… Surviving is a feat in and of itself.
Seventeen-year-old Ellie Hudson immerses herself in the few things the Supply Wars haven’t destroyed—her ranch work and secret baseball games with her best friend. But her power-hungry stepmother is leading a group of domestic terrorists in an effort to start another Civil War and frame Ellie as the instigator.
Ellie’s lost her father, her home, and her country, but nothing can rob her of her need to preserve the American dream…or what’s left of it.
I had the absolute pleasure of being an ARC reader for L. Blaise Hues’ Legacy of Debris series, which includes three books, the first of which is Republic of Ruin.
An EMP attack has completely obliterated what we know the modern world to be. No more power, no more technology, only you and your skills. In the power vacuum left in the dust, some want to rise from the ashes and elect themselves as rulers. What I found most enthralling about the Legacy of Debris series was how realistic it was. This is not a story where you need to suspend your understanding of reality. The circumstances that led to the apocalypse are unfortunately not that far-fetched.
Republic of Ruin has all the makings of a classic in the genre: a heroic heroine, a nation holding itself together by a thread, a budding romance. But it also has elements that make it unique. Each book in the series is also a fairy-tale retelling. And let me tell you, it works surprisingly well!
Mckenna’s never thought much of her nightmares, but on her seventeenth birthday, a vivid dream of burning at the stake awakens her dormant abilities, thrusting her into a world where faeries are real, spirits hold a grudge, and a High Priestess obsessed with a 16th-century prophecy is tracking her every move.
Now, her overprotective dads, Seán and Andre, are forced to tell her the truth—they know who her birth mother is, and her life is not the surrogate story she’s always been told. Abigail, Mckenna’s mom, is some sort of mystic, and Mckenna a Wise One. Whatever the hell that means.
With the help of a persistent little wren and company of a newfound friend, Mckenna journeys to Ireland in search of her mother and real answers. Along the way, she learns to harness her innate magic and trust her intuition, as best she can anyway—Cillian, a kind and passionate delegate who crosses her path, is proving much harder to read. Only her mother could truly help her halt her ill fate and prepare her for what’s to come…before she gives in to the darkness she knows is buried deep within.
The Wise one was a wonderfully witchy read, with strong elements of friendship and powerful family bonds that span oceans. Oh, and the best part? It’s set in the 90s!
The Wise One is a beautifully written book that takes us cross North America all the way to Ireland, where McKenna was born. As she embarks on her adventure of self-discovery, she makes friends along the way that help her in her search for her mother. But their motives might not be as genuine as they appear to be.
I read the whole book in like, two days. I had a very hard time putting it down, and I loved all the 90s references! An absolute must-read for anyone who enjoys reading about witches, friendship, magic and prophecies.
A witch’s magical orbs. Clan Wars that have lasted centuries. A heritage shrouded in secrecy. Welcome to seventeen-year-old Banon Andreeta’s world.
Banon is a child of Clan Genae and can do things most people can’t. Which might account for her rebellious behavior. Or maybe she’s just a magnet for trouble. Either way, she’s in hot water more often than the average teen. When she rejects Fred, a random creep at the mall, she makes an enemy who will bring unwanted attention from Clan Julae, her own clan’s mortal enemy.
She also makes a friend in Clan Julae – the intriguing Hadley. Drawn to each other, neither understands the forces behind the attraction. Or that they are from opposing clans. Hadley only knows Banon is in danger and he must protect her. But the long-standing Clan War is not as much in the past as the Genae thought. Their very existence is threatened by enemies known and unknown. And the only thing between them and death is Banon. A secret weapon even they don’t know they have.
Time to Live is a beautiful story of love that spans hundreds of years. But it’s also a story of betrayal and the power that lies have when they become perceived truths. The characters were well developed and I found myself unable to put the book down as I rooted for them to achieve their goals!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and was impressed with how the author was able to jump between timelines seamlessly. I look forward to the sequel! Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading urban fantasy.
Question time: how many platforms should authors have to promote their books?
Answer: it’s up to the author, and what you’re comfortable with. But whatever you do decide to do, make sure to do it well. It’s better to have two or three channels that are updated frequently than six or seven channels that you barely use.
My book, The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, officially launched in June 2020. To prepare, I had my newsletter with a growing number of subscribers, a Facebook page that was active and updated often, and my website. I was comfortable with those channels and didn’t particularly see a reason to add anything else.
Then my brother, who works in marketing, suggested I add Instagram to my repertoire. I dug my heels in at first. Social media engagement doesn’t come naturally to me, and I’m much happier lurking on all these different platforms, rather than engaging with them. I had a hard time wrapping my head around it and didn’t really see the point of adding another platform.
But then a conundrum that I was facing became apparent. Most of the people following me on Facebook were friends and family. It was very difficult to reach out of my social circle without paying for ads, so the reach I had was limited.
I revisited my brother’s advice and took a closer look at Instagram. Finally, in August last year, I bit the bullet and started a page. And boy am I happy that I did!
Just like with any social media platform, Instagram has different communities where people with like-minded interests can gather and peruse each other’s content. There are audiences for cooking, home improvement, cats, dogs, and of course: books!
The book community, affectionally referred to as Bookstagram, boasts tens of thousands of user who are exceptionally active and engaged. It’s a thriving and supportive community of book lovers who share their interests and favorite reads. Since joining Bookstagram, I’ve made friends with people around the world and added more books than I will ever have time to read to my To Be Read (TBR) pile.
The platform is wonderful for many reasons. From a reader’s perspective, there are recommendations galore, beautiful bookish posts that draw the eye, and honest reviews of the hottest picks. If you curate your followers well, you can build a nice bubble of like-minded readers who also enjoy the same genres as you.
So here’s the thing: Bookstagram is a fantastic resource for readers, therefore, as an author, you can leverage the platform to reach an audience of hungry bookish individuals in the specific niche that you write in. With a little time and effort, you can build an audience that has an interest in your specific genre and market to them over time. As well, you can exponentially increase visibility of your book, meet with other authors in the same genre as you, and help find ARC readers for your next bit hit!
Here are a few things to keep in mind when starting your bookstagram, and tips on building engagement.
Learn how to use hashtags
First thing’s first: Instagram’s main draw over other platforms like Facebook is that it uses hashtags, like Twitter. Unless you specifically set your profile to ‘private’, your content can be viewed by anyone, without needed to be ‘friended’. This means that users can tailor their feed by subscribing to specific hashtags, or using said hashtags to find people sharing the content they want to see more of.
For example: someone interested in bookish things can follow #Bookstagram, which is a high-volume hashtag with billions of tagged photos. Now let’s say you want to see bookish content, but only for fantasy books. All you need to do is add in #fantasy.
By appropriately using hashtags on your images, you’re increasing the likelihood of reaching an audience that is interested and already engaged on the specific topic you are promoting. Not to mention that by following these hashtags yourself, you can connect with readers and other content creators in your genre, and maybe find opportunities to collaborate.
Instagram only allows you to use 30 hashtags per photo. This may seem like a lot, but it’s fairly easy to use them all up quite quickly! So choose carefully.
Engage with your audience
Posting a well-curated Bookstagram feed is one good step in fostering engagement and building a following. But what really makes a difference is how much you engage with other people. This means one of two things: either commenting on other people’s photos, or responding to comments on your own.
The more you engage with other users, the more likely it is they will follow your page and engage with your own content. And that, more than anything, is what you want on your page. It’s one thing to have a ton of people following your page. It’s another thing entirely to have an engaged audience that interacts with your content.
In the fight between having a large following or an engaged audience, always opt for an engaged audience. A large audience that doesn’t interact with you isn’t worth much, and won’t help you in promoting your book.
Participate in engagement-building activities
There are plenty of opportunities to participate in engagement-building activities that allow you to meet awesome people around the world. Some are public, some are private, and some ask you to forward information.
Personally, I prefer the public ones, also known as follow loops, follow chains, or follow trains. Whatever the name attached, those are where I have met the most awesome bookstagrammers and have made the most friends.
Not all engagement-building activities are built the same. I’ve found the ones where I was invited to join in complicated follow chains to be largely not worth the effort, and not resulting in any actual engagement.
Ultimately, you need to decide what types of activities you enjoy the most and stick to what you feel most comfortable with. I regularly participate in, and host my own follow trains. It allows me to gain and meet bookish users, interact with an already engaged audience, and helps from an analytics point of view, to ensure my content is seen by the people I want to see it.
Plan your content, post frequently
The one downside (or upside, depending on how you look at it!) of any social media platform is that you need to make sure you post frequently to stay relevant. The more you post, the more likely it is people will interact with your page, and therefore the more likely that you’ll continue to be featured in people’s feeds.
When you create a Bookstagram account, I highly recommend that you pick a ‘creator’ account. It comes at no additional cost, but the major benefit is that it allows you to see your audience insights and see when your following is most active. Pick the three or four most active days, along with the times where your audience is most active and keep posting religiously.
It might seem like a headache, but the more frequently you post, the more likely you are to stay relevant. I find it helps to plan my posts in advance so I’m not scrambling at the last minute.
Obviously, there’s a whole lot more that goes into managing a bookstagram account than what I’ve included here. But consider it a baseline of knowledge to start from! And hey, if you do end up on Bookstagram, make sure to give me a shout.
Great news! For a limited time only, The Sapeiro Chronicles, A Forgotten Past is ON SALE at the Kindle store for $0.99. Get yourself a copy, or better yet, get a head-start on some Holiday shopping and get a copy for the Fantasy fan in your life. It is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, with a tinge of Hunger Games and a dash of Throne of Glass. A perfect holiday read!
Here’s what readers have to say so far about A Forgotten Past:
“When I say, I was hooked… I mean, procrastinate, stay up late, could not put it down hooked! Jumping into the Sapeiro world has been one of the best highlights of quarantine life. I need to know more; Lily is an amazingly written heroine who is both strong and vulnerable. I was kept guessing the entire book and NEED THE SECOND BOOK TO COME OUT ASAP!!!!! Highly Recommend!”
“Fast-paced story with lots of twists and turns. Very exciting read. Can’t wait for book 2.”
“A very well-written novel with an intricate story and surprising, unexpected twists! The author introduces a lot of different characters in this first volume, but still manages to establish each of their distinct personalities without entirely revealing their motivations; I found myself rooting for, suspicious of, or despising certain characters before I was even halfway through. The sheer scale of the world is also impressive; I felt like we only got a small glimpse of Sapeiro in this book, even though we’re introduced to many different places. Can’t wait for the second book to come out!”
Curiosity piqued? Here’s the blurb:
Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who is supposed to be dead. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.
Few stories manage to fit in elements of romance, tales of myth and legend, terrifying beasts and a strong, bad-ass woman in the way that The Soft Fall by Marissa Byfield does. I’ve had the immense pleasure of reading her Young Adult Fantasy novel, which also has ever-so-slight elements of paranormal fantasy in it. It’s one of the most creative retellings of the werewolf genre I’ve seen in recent years. It will make you feel deeply for the main character, Dianna, as she navigates a whole new world of demons and beasts who’s intentions are unknown.
I could go on and on about the narrative arc and incredibly well-detailed scenes, but instead, I’ll turn it over to Marissa so she can tell you about it herself.
Marissa, over to you!
What is The Soft Fall about?
If you love Wonder Woman, Princess Mononoke, or Beauty and The Beast, then The Soft Fall is for you. Set in a fantasy world, it’s a retelling of the myths of the goddess Artemis and the imperial twins raised by wolves, Romulus and Remus.
Bitten by a wolf as a girl, the young huntress Dianna must do anything it takes to survive her oppressive village — even if that means trespassing the forbidden woods where the wolves roam. What happens next will bring the lives of five outcasts together and change the course of an empire at war.
I always joke that it basically started as an AU (alternate universe) fanfic of Greco-Roman mythology, but it is! With a twist of lycanthropy.
I’m fascinated by wolves and werewolves alike. But throughout myth and story, they haven’t exactly been represented in a positive or even neutral light. I know there are many readers who feel like once you’ve read one werewolf story you’ve read them all. And there are plenty of werewolves in romance or horror — but the fantasy genre is surprisingly lacking in them.
I always knew I wanted to write a fresh and more nuanced werewolf tale, and that started with thinking about things I didn’t like about existing ones, and how I could go about subverting them.
Instead of hierarchy, I thought, let’s depict wolf packs as they really are: dynamically structured, highly social and communal groups. What if there was a found family of werewolves who fought not for dominance, but against another territorial pack and hunters bent on exterminating them?
Instead of wolves being shown as a menace and a threat, let’s show how wolves are essential to the ecosystem. What if these werewolves had special powers over the earth?
Instead of werewolves symbolizing toxic masculine aggression, let’s explore werewolves as a symbol for the transformations of womanhood, including being caged and repressed by a society that calls you monstrous for the desire for bodily autonomy.
Dianna’s village calls the wolves “demons.” It begs the question: Who is the real monster?
What are you working on currently?
The Soft Fall is the first book in the Lunar Siege duology. I’m writing the sequel, Echelon Rising, which follows the pack as they seek to bring peace to the empire…but there are forces at play beyond their imagining.
Without spoiling you, the narrative is split between Dianna and Eccka. They’re two incredibly empowered women, and I wanted to get an even more intimate look at their thoughts, motives, and backstories. The Soft Fall was about finding agency, and Echelon is about taking control of it. There’s a war to be fought, fates of former characters to be revealed, and new characters to meet — including a warrior based on the goddess Athena, an alchemist who may hold the key to defeating the enemy, and (of course) lots more werewolves. I think there will also be more moments of humor and lightness than readers expect. Some character developments have been waiting in the wings a long time, and I’m so excited to finally visit those.
I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching battle formations and legionary strategies against the odds. Here in America we’re facing a dire political situation, and in addition to the pandemic, it’s given me a lot to process about how interconnected and volatile survival can be. My aim is to bring messages of perseverance onto the page, and hopefully bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.
Excerpt from The Soft Fall:
The first sensation was cold.
Its numbness embraced her, settled clean and raw in her lungs with her awakening breath. The sharp teeth of it needled at her nose and cheeks.
Dianna lay still, blinking. One by one, like flower buds unfurling in spring, each of her senses returned to life.
The silence was broken only by the faintest of sounds – the soft skitter of nocturnal animals, the tumble of melting snow from a tangle of branches, the wind’s dull susurration. She saw darkness above; white below.
She smelled the earthy spice of pine.
She looked at her body and thought it had somehow disappeared, that she’d dissolved into the snow itself. But a bitter gust unsettled her hair, making the ends whirl about her face. A white nightgown flickered around her legs.
Dianna clenched her hand experimentally. A warm rush of blood prickled through her. She tried the other hand.
No, this is real, she thought.
“No,” she found herself saying. She rubbed the back of her head, tearing clumps of snow from her hair. “No . . .”
She sat up, squinting into the night. The farmhouse was a distant speck on the horizon. The slope below it was draped in a clean, blank canvas, smudged only by a trail of her own footprints. They stopped in a spray of powder at her stocking feet, where she’d tripped and woken. She moved her ankle away from a knotted tree root and looked up.
Snow-laced pines loomed tall and motionless as sentinels around her.
Something moved among them, half-smothered in the dark. Dianna glimpsed slivers of its lupine form. A chill slithered through her as she rose to her feet.
The demon went still, watching her.
Behind latticed branches, its molten yellow stare was unfaltering. Dianna’s heart was a bird beating its wings against the cage of her ribs. Though her instincts screamed to run, she dared not move.
Both girl and wolf stood with the impasse of strangers, each studying the other. Time seemed to suspend. The sounds of the woods calmed to a hush.
It began to snow.
The snow fell like fragments of moonlight, silver-flecked, before blinking out in the darkness. Dianna stood like a shivering fawn on feeble legs as the cold nipped at her skin, pushing its icy fingers through her hair. It touched her nose, swelled in her fingertips and toes. Snowflakes caught in her eyelashes.
The wolf’s expression seemed serene, even curious, fringed in a soft halo of fur. Its auric eyes remained fixed on hers as if waiting for something to happen.
As Dianna stayed rooted to the spot, the grip of fear began to slacken. And slowly, a profound wonder filled her.
The wolf crept forward with a tentative grace, despite its sheer mass. It loomed over her, tall as a grown man. There was a subtle deadliness in its deliberate steps, like a snake twisting through grass, like smoke curling from a slow-burning fire.
Dianna’s breath deepened. She visualized it killing her in one smooth movement – seizing her neck in its jaws, throwing her to the ground with ease.
But still she could not find the strength to move as the snow crushed under its heavy footfalls, closing the distance between them.
The wolf’s head was low, flame-eyes level with hers. Something human stared out from their depths.
The realization tingled on her skin, shivered deep into her bones.
“I see you in there,” she whispered.
It was so close she could feel its hot breath wash over her, strangely welcoming in the winter chill. For one mad second, she wanted to reach out and stroke its fur, just to know the feel of it.
Its muzzle furrowed, revealing glazed, sharp teeth.
Dart-quick, its fangs pierced the soft flesh just above her elbow, sinking in, drawing blood. The white-hot pain shattered through her arm like glass. She buckled to the ground, convulsing.
The wolf turned in a flash, vanished into the veil of snowfall and beyond the clustered pines, a memory to be forgotten.
The Soft Fall is available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook at this link!
This weekend is Thanksgiving in the Great White North, and for a limited time you can get The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past for less than a toonie! Better hurry though, sale ends on Monday, October 11th.
Curious to know more about the land of Sapeiro? Here’s the book blurb:
Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Useful, but not as flashy as some. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who supposedly died years before. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.