Friday, 16 June 2017

BOOK REVIEW - Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

Title: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
Author: Ruth Emmie Lang
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication date:  November 7th 2017
Format: Kindle

Source: ARC (Netgalley)

Magical realism that I actually enjoyed?

Surely not???
Though this gem of a book does feature far more of the 'magic' than the 'realism', so that's probably why it was a winner for me!

During this tale we follow the life of Weylyn Grey through the memories and stories of the people that knew him.Weylyn isn't like other people.
He has lived with wolves, can stop storms, owns a horned pig, collects light in jars, and is under the impression that his very presence puts the people he loves in danger.

We get to visit dense woodland, travel through thick snow, and enter a house covered in spiders webs.

This book is such a magical, fantastical, touching story.

I really connected to every character we met along the way and was facinated with the life of Weylyn.
I couldn''t wait to turn the page and find out what was going to happen next!

I really enjoyed the way the story was told - from the POV of different characters and their views of the things that happened around Weylyn.It was lovely to see how Weylyn had touched peoples lives and how they each coped with having to change their views about reality and how the world worked.

We also get to see how Weylyn himself deals with being different, his struggle with the fact that he possibly puts the people he loves in danger, and how he ultimately copes with that fact.
I loved his character so much and just wanted to give him a big hug!

It was magical, funny, touching, and at times quite sad.

It was perfect.



Saturday, 15 April 2017

M is for... Mouse, Bird, Sausage


Once upon a time, in a little cottage in the woods, there lived a mouse, a bird and and sausage. They lived together for many years in harmony and friendship, all helping each other and sharing the daily chores.

The bird flew out into the woods every day to fetch wood. The mouse would set the fire, collect water and set the table for meals. The sausage would cook all the meals.

One day, while out collecting wood, the bird came across an old friend who laughed at him for working so hard when his friends did so little. The bird thought about this and became quite mad, so he flew home and insisted that they all swap jobs the very next day. The mouse and the sausage argued against the change, but the bird would not back down, so eventually they all agreed.

The next morning the sausage headed out to collect wood from the forest but he did not return. Fearing something may have happened to his friend, the bird flew out to see if he could find him. He eventually found the sausage in the mouth of a dog. The bird begged the dog to let his friend go, but the dog claimed that the sausage had been carrying forged papers and so would have to die.

Filled with grief and sorrow, the bird flew back home again to tell the mouse what had happened. However, when he got inside he found that while trying to cook a meal the mouse had accidentally fallen into the pot and boiled to death.

The bird was devastated and flew about the house in a rage. In his carelessness he scattered the wood from the fire around the house and soon the little cottage was engulfed in flames. The bird quickly rushed to get some water to douse the flames, but he fell down the well along with the bucket and drowned.



This strange tale was collected by the brothers Grimm and included in their published collection 'Kinderind Hausmärchen' in 1812. 
It went on to be featured in all seven editions.

Friday, 14 April 2017

L is for... Leshii


The Leshii is the sprit of the forest in Slavic folklore.

Every forest has its own Leshii who lives deep within the trees with his wife and children. The Leshii normally takes the form of a man with hair and beard of leaves, grass and vines, but he can also take on the shape of any animal or plant - from a tall tree, to a single blade of grass.

The Leshii is the guardian of the forest and protects all the animals living there. He is thought to be an evil spirit by some but is, in fact, more like a tricksy fairy in nature. 
He does enjoy misguiding travellers and leaving them lost within the woods, but if he is befriended, however, he will pass on his vast knowledge of magic.


If there is more than one Leshii in a single forest then they will fight violently to claim the territory as their own, leaving a trail of fallen trees and scared animals. 

When travelling through the forest it is sensible to take a gift of bread for the Leshii to ward off his troublesome nature.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

K is for... Kodama


Kodama (木霊) are small forest spirits from the folklore of Japan.
They are thought to inhabit trees and make strange echoing sounds. If you hear the sound of a falling tree at night, this is also thought to be the sound of a Kodama. 

They are said to take on the appearance of atmospheric ghost lights, beasts, and sometimes they can even take on human form.
Some believe that Kodama look just like real trees and are rooted to the ground.

Kodama are beilieved to have magical powers and if someone tries to cut down a tree in which one of these little spirits lives they will be badly cursed.

However, if a Kodama is treated well it will be kind and protect houses and villages.

In some areas of Japan small shrines are created at the bases of trees to honour the Kodama. These shrines are still worshipped at today by some people - showing that a belief in the little tree spirits still exists in some places.


In Hachijo-jima, in a village called Mitsune, they still celebrate the "Kodama-san" with an annual festival where they give thanks and show their respect. During this festival they ask for forgiveness and the Kodamas blessing when they cut down trees.



Kodama also appear in the anime movie Princess Mononoke which was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
In this movie they are shown as cute little bobbled-headed creatures who run around in the forest. (as shown above)
All of Miyazaki's movies are really beautiful with wonderful storylines and characters, with Princess Mononoke being one of his very best! So definitely check it out if you haven't already seen it.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

J is for... Japanese monsters

For the letter J we're heading back to Japanese Yōkai!

These interesting illustrations come from the book Yōkai Daizukai by manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, and they show cross sections from 85 'Yōkai' - the traditional monsters and demons from Japanese folklore.

The illustrations show each of the monsters internal organs and gives information about their functions and about the creatures themselves. 
I only wish that I was able to read Japanese so that I could buy myself the book, and read all of these fascinating entries!

Here are a few translated exerts for you to enjoy:

The Hyōsube, a child-sized river monster (a relative of the kappa) from Kyushu that lives in underwater caves, ventures onto land at night to eat rice plants. The monster has a relatively small brain, a nervous system specialized in detecting the presence of humans, thick rubbery skin, sharp claws, two small stomachs (one for rice grains and one for fish), a large sac for storing surplus food, and two large oxygen sacs for emergency use. A pair of rotating bone coils produce an illness-inducing bacteria that the monster sprinkles on unsuspecting humans.


The Mannen-dake ("10,000-year bamboo") is a bamboo-like monster that feeds on the souls of lost travelers camping in the woods. Anatomical features include a series of tubes that produce air that causes travelers to lose their way, syringe-like fingers the monster inserts into victims to suck out their souls, and a sac that holds the stolen souls.


The Kuro-kamikiri ("black hair cutter") is a large, black-haired creature that sneaks up on women in the street at night and surreptitiously cuts off their hair. Anatomical features include a brain wired for stealth and trickery, razor-sharp claws, a long, coiling tongue covered in tiny hair-grabbing spines, and a sac for storing sleeping powder used to knock out victims. The digestive system includes an organ that produces a hair-dissolving fluid, as well as an organ with finger-like projections that thump the sides of the intestines to aid digestion.


The Kijimunaa is a playful forest sprite inhabiting the tops of Okinawan banyan trees. Anatomical features include eye sockets equipped with ball bearings that enable the eyeballs to spin freely, strong teeth for devouring crabs and ripping out the eyeballs of fish (a favorite snack), a coat of fur made from tree fibers, and a nervous system adapted for carrying out pranks. The Kijimunaa's brain contains vivid memories of being captured by an octopus - the only thing it fears and hates.

Which Yōkai is your favourite?

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl of Ink & Stars

Title: The Girl of Ink & Stars
Author: Kiran Millweed Hargrave
Published by: 
Chicken House
Publication date: May 5th 2016
Format: Paperback

Source: Own copy (Amazon)


I was so excited to read this one. 
I was hoping for magic and adventure, myths and legends, friendship and bravery. 
And while a did get all of that (ish), there just wasn't enough of it. 

Not enough magic by far. 

I understand that this was kind of a magical-realism novel, but apparently that genre is just not for me. 
They always leave me wanting so much more. 

The plot was intriguing but ended up being a bit dull unfortunately.
We follow Isabella as she embarks on a dangerous journey to find her friend. 
She travels through unknown territories, getting attacked by strange creatures and eventually finds out that the whole island is in danger of being destroyed. 
I LOVED the idea of an ancient fire demon living under the island and how the stories and myths that Isabella loved so much seemed to be coming true. 

But it fell flat. 
(I hate the 'realism' part of magical-realism!)

I did enjoy the friendship between Isabella and Lupe though. 
I thought it was sweet and fierce and they were just so lovely together!
And I'm glad there wasn't any romance featured in this story. I panicked that it would be for a second there, but it's all clear! *phew*

I also really enjoyed the cartography - the information given about it, the stories that were told, the design of the pages which featured beautiful cartography illustrations throughout, and both of the maps at the beginning and end of the book.
This book really is very pretty.
Cartography has always facinated me, so it was nice to see it featured in a book.

Unfortunately, I just felt like this book was lacking that special something. 
It didn't ever grab me.
Some parts dragged. 
It shouldn't have been as dull as it was. 

I wanted more!



I is for... Invunche


The Invunche are legendary creatures from the folklore of Chile in South America. They guard and protect the entrances to witches caves.

Legend says that an Invunche is a child who was kidnapped by a witch and hideously transformed into a deformed hairy monster. 

To make an Invunche the witch would brake one of the child's legs and twist it over his back, apply a cream all over his body which would cause a thick hair to grow, and split his tongue to give it a snake-like appearance. 

They would first feed their new Invunche on milk from a black cat and eventually on the flesh from an adult human which is stolen from fresh graves.

The Invunche can only communicate by howling and grunting, and walks awkwardly on its hands and one good leg. 


To gain access to the witches cave the beast must either be killed or kissed on its ass.

Which method would you choose?

Monday, 10 April 2017

H is for... Hans My Hedgehog

Illustration by Maurice Sendak
Once upon a time there was a childless merchant who wished so hard to have his own child that he said he would even be happy with a hedgehog.

When the man got home he found that his wife had unexpectedly given birth to a baby boy. However, the child had the body of a hedgehog from the waist up. The couple decided to call their child 'Hans My Hedgehog'.

Poor Hans was far too prickly to hold, so he had to sleep behind the stove on a bed of straw. He was loved very much by his mother, but his father was deeply ashamed to call Hans his son.

When Hans was 8 years old he asked his father to saddle up a rooster so that he could leave home and seek his fortune. So Hans headed off into the woods astride his rooster.

A few years later a lost King finds Hans playing the bagpipes in the woods. Hans makes a deal with the king, saying that he will help him find his way home as long as the King promises to give Hans whatever greets him when he first arrives home. The King agrees to the deal, as he is sure that Hans cannot read. He writes an order saying that Hans is to receive nothing and then Hans gives the King directions home. Upon his arrival the King's daughter runs out to greet him and the King tells her about his deal with Hans and how he tricked him. The daughter was glad, saying she would never go away with a hedgehog who rides a rooster.

A little while later a second lost King comes across Hans in the forest and agrees to his deal. Hans gives him directions home and the King's daughter comes running out to greet him when he arrives. The second King tells his daughter about his deal with Hans and the daughter happily agrees to go away with him for the sake of her father.

After a year has passed Hans goes to the first kingdom to claim his reward and is attacked by guards at the gate. He flies over them on his rooster and demands that the king send out his daughter. The king reluctantly agrees and sends out his daughter. Hans forces her to remove all of her clothes and pierces her all over with his quills. He then sends her back to the King in disgrace.

Hans then travels to the second kingdom to claim his reward. When he arrives the second King sends out his daughter right away and she marries Hans the same day. 

On their wedding night Hans asks the King to build a big fire. He quickly removes his hedgehog skin and has the guards throw it into the fire where it is burnt to ash. Hans' new skin appears black, as if he had been burnt, but once he is cleaned he is shown to be a very handsome young gentleman.



The tale of Hans My Hedgehog was collected by The Brother's Grimm and published in their second edition in 1819.

This may have been a charming tale of love an acceptance when it was first in circulation, but in our time it comes across as a tale of how women can be used as currency and fathers using their own daughters as objects to trade in order to save themselves.
I'm totally on the side of the first daughter. 
No one should have to marry someone they don't want to!

It would be nice to see a re-write of this where Hans can be accepted for who he is, but no daughters have to be married off against their will.

Someone write this for me?

Saturday, 8 April 2017

G is for... Green Children of Woolpit

This strange tale takes place sometime between the years 1135 and 1154, in the village of Woolpit in Suffolk, UK.

It is said that during one harvest the villagers of Woolpit came across two children who appeared to be lost.
The children had green skin, wore strange clothing and only spoke in an unknown language.

The mystery children were taken back to one of the villagers houses where they refused all food except raw broad beans, which they gobbled down quite happily.

The children stayed in the village where they slowly started to eat a more normal diet and gradually lost their strange, green colour.

Once they had learned to speak English, they explained that they had come from a land where the sun never shone and the light was always like twilight. It is also said that everything was green in their homeland and that they said it was a place called St. Martin's Land.

The children couldn't quite explain their arrival in Woolpit, as they didn't fully understand it themselves. They were apparently herding their father's cows which they followed into a cave, where they became lost. They followed the sound of the cows bells and eventually emerged right where they had been found by the villagers.

The two children were eventually baptised, however, the boy became very sick and died soon after.

The girl went on to be employed for many years as a maid in a local house, but was often described as being '"wanton" and "impudent". 
It is thought that she eventually married a man from Kings Lynn, which was 40 miles away from Woolpit and had taken the name of 'Agnes'.

The village sign for Woolpit,dating from 1977, still stands today and depicts the two green children. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

F is for... Father Frost

The character of Father Frost appears in the tale 'The Story of King Frost'; a traditional Russian fairy tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev.

This chilly tale tells of an old woman who has two daughters. One of them is her own daughter by blood, whom shes loves very, very much. The other is her step-daughter, whom she hates passionately.
One very icy day the woman orders her husband to take her step-daughter out into the winter fields and leave her there to die.
Of course he obeys, because fathers always seem to be especially useless in fairy tales.
So the poor girl is led out into the snow, and left all alone with nothing but the very thin clothes she is wearing.
After some time has passed Father Frost (also known as Morozko) turns up and finds the girl sitting in the snow. 
She is very polite and kind to him despite being frightened and freezing cold. In return for her kindness Father Frost gives the girl a chest full of riches and some beautiful, warm clothes.



Back at home, the old woman sends her husband out again to bring back the girls dead, frozen body so that she can be buried (nice of her, huh?).
When her husband brings back her step-daughter still alive and happy, the old woman is shocked and furious. She becomes even more enraged when she sees the presents that were given to the girl by Father Frost.
Sure that if Father Frost met her own blood-daughter he would bestow even finer gifts, she orders her husband to take the other daughter out into the winter fields and leave her there.
The husband obeys yet again, because apparently he has no backbone or sense.
This time when Father Frost shows up, the second daughter is extremely rude to him. Offended, Father Frost freezes the girl to death and leaves her there.
The husband goes out again to bring back the girl and all the gifts the old woman is expecting to recieve, but instead brings back a poor, frozen dead body.
The old woman breaks down into tears.



The moral of the story?

  • Fathers are generally useless. (At least fairy tales ones anyway)
  • If you're polite people give you pretty things.
  • Never anger an ice spirit unless you want to be turned into a popsicle.

Books containing Father Frost:




Thursday, 6 April 2017

E is for... Eloko


The Eloko are people eating dwarf-like creatures from Africa who live inside hollow trees in the rain forest of central Zaire (Now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). They are thought to be the ancestors of the people living there and legend says that they exist because they have a grudge to settle with the living.

Eloko are covered in a coat of grass which grows over their face and bodies, and they wear clothes which are made from leaves. Their eyes are said to glow like fire and although they are quite small creatures their jaws can open wide enough to devour an entire grown man.

The vicious Eloko bewitch their victims by ringing magical bells which are impossible to resist and they protect their treasures of game and rare fruits ferociously. Certain amulets can be used to avert the spell of the Eloko, but only professional hunters with magic powers can safely travel through the forest and survive.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

D is for... Daidarabotchi


In Japanese folklore, supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons are called Yōkai.
Daidarabotchi is perhaps the biggest Yōkai of them all!

He is said to be so big that his giant footsteps formed the lakes and ponds that now cover Japan.
He is able to move whole mountains and place them wherever he wishes.
He is even thought to resemble a mountain range himself when he is sleeping.



The Great Forest Spirit.
In one legend Daidarabotchi decided to pick up both Mount Fuji and Mount Tsukuba in order to weigh them and see which was heavier. 
However, when putting Mount Tsukuba back down again he accidentally dropped it and spilt the mountain's peak - giving it its double peak for which it is now known.

Another tale says that Daidarabotchi lived on a hill near a post office in Hiratsu Ogushi. He ate lots and lots of giant clams from the local beach and piled the shells on top of a hill.

Daidarabotchi also appears in the animated movie 'Princess Mononoke' where he is known as The Great Forest Spirit.

In this movie he is tasked with protecting the forest and is also the God of life and death.

The Great Forest Spirit is also aided by little creatures called Kodama (木霊)

These Kodama also have a base in real Japanese folklore, but we will be visiting these little forest sprits in more detail later in the month.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home

Title: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home
Author: Catherynne M. Valenta
Published by:
 Feiwel and Friends
Publication date: 
March 1st 2016
Format: Hardback

Source: Own copy (Amazon)

Oh Fairyland...
I shall be so sad to see you go!
I know you must, but it doesn't make saying goodbye any easier *sobs*

This whole series of books was so magical, whimsical, cosy and delightful!

"Let us take a great swaggering knife between us - it will take both our hands - and slice it open to see what we can see inside. For that is all a story is, my dears: a knife that cuts the world into pieces small enough to eat."
I'm so glad that this installment goes back to having September, Saturday, and Ell as the main characters. 
While I enjoyed the previous book (The Boy Who Lost Fairyland), it just didn't thrill me as much as the other books have. I much prefer to have September as my adventuring partner while I run and skip through Fairyland, thank you very much. 
Hawthorn and Tamburlaine do make great side-characters in this one though, if you loved them very much and are worried about missing them! So fear not!

This was probably my second favouite of the Fairyland series (with the first book coming in a solid first place long before the others have even started the race or even tied their shoes)
The plot was interesting and kept me glued to the page throughout.
loved the idea of a race through Fairyland! It meant that we got to visit so many new places, meet wonderful new friends, and even meet up with old ones again for a spot of tea!
It was wonderful :) 

I won't spoil the ending for you, but I thought it was quite delightful.
I don't think I could have asked for the series to have been ended in a better way!
I makes saying goodbye to all these lovely friends, who I've spent so much time with, that little bit easier.

"A thing is hardly real if no one's written about it. It's the writing that makes a thing proper and solid and true in the first place."
And who knows, maybe one day we'll find our way back to Fairyland once more?

C is for... Changeling

Have you ever know a strange, quiet, otherworldly child?
Were you that strange child?

If so, you might just be a changeling!

A changeling is thought to be a fairy child that has been secretly swapped and left in the place of a normal, human child.

This changeling child is normally the offspring of a fairy, elf or troll. Though in some cases an enchanted piece of wood is sometimes left instead.
This fake, wooden child will quickly become sick and die soon after the swap takes place.


Vigilant parents can ward against a fairy swap by leaving iron scissors near where the child sleeps or by dressing the child with their clothes on inside out.
This clothes method can also be used to ward against fairies if you are passing near to where they may live - such as walking through the woods.



It can be extremely difficult to spot a changeling child as they normally look exactly like the child that they have replaced. However, a keen eye may be able to spot a slight change in height, weight or the colour of the eyes.
If a parent starts to suspect that their child may have been swapped then there are a few tests that they could perform in order to make sure. 

Many of these tests were designed to trick the changeling child into revealing that it might not be quite as human as it was pretending to be - either by doing something a normal child wouldn't be able to do, or by saying something which would show what they really are.
Sometimes the parents would just leave their child alone in a dangerous place, such as a dark forest.



This idea of a 'swapped fairy child' is a very common theme throughout history and can be linked with parents concerns over children in ill health or suffering from strange, unknown diseases and disorders back when medicine held very few answers.
When medicine fails you, turn to magic for the answers!
It was easier to assume your real child had been taken far away and replaced with a fake one, than admit that they might be seriously ill.

Books with Changelings:




Monday, 3 April 2017

B is for ... Black Shuck

Good old Black Shuck!
He's a demon dog that's close to my heart *sigh*


We both hail from the area of East Anglia in the UK and I grew up hearing his stories.
He's a bit of a celebrity around here. 
A terrifying, demon celebrity. 

If you didn't grow up with Black Shuck like I did, then you might not know too much about this scary, phantom hound.



Black Shuck was said to terrorise the area of East Anglia in the 16th Century.
He is described as a HUGE, black, ghostly dog with a single, firey eye in the middle of his head. His howl is said to make the hearers blood run cold, yet his footsteps make no sound at all. He is said to be an omen of death and you should squeeze your eyes tight shut if you think he might be close.

In a pamphlet from 1577 a terrorfying attack by Black Shuck is described as happening at St Mary's Church in Bungay:
"This black dog, or the devil in such a linenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all,) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in somuch that even at a mome[n]t where they kneeled, they stra[n]gely dyed."
*shudder*

A similar attack also is said to have happened in Suffolk and there are even burn marks left on the church door that were apparently made by Black Shuck as he made his exit.


Burn marks made by Black Shuck on a church door in Suffolk.
 The word 'Shuck' is thought to come from an old English word meaning 'demon' - scucca.
Or possibly an old local dialect word that meant 'shaggy' or 'hairy' - shucky

More recently in East Anglia, the bones of a very large dog were discovered in the ruins of an Abbey. This Abbey is only a few miles away from where the Black Shuck attacks were said to have taken place!


The remains of a large dog found in the ruins of Leiston Abbey, Suffolk.

The skeleton that was uncovered is thought to belong to a male dog who would have stood at 7 foot tall on his hind legs, and weighed in at 200lb!
What a monster!
Pottery fragments found alongside the skeleton date from the time of Black Shuck's alleged rein.

Do we need more proof that Black Shuck is real?
I. THINK. NOT.


Books featuring Black Shuck:


Saturday, 1 April 2017

A is for ... Alderley Edge

The area of Alderley Edge in Cheshire, England, is steeped in anchient myths and folklore.

This part of England is said to be the home to King Arthur and his men, who are thought to be sleeping under the sandstone cliffs.
It also has strong links with the wizard Merlin.

The legend of Alderley Edge tells of a farmer who was on his way to market with the aim of selling his horse.
As the farmer passed the sandstone cliffs that make up Alderley Edge, he came across an old man with a long white beard who was wearing strange, dated clothes. The old man asked to buy the farmers horse, but he refused as he was sure he would be able to get a better price if he sold the horse at market
Once the farmer reached the market, however, not a single offer was made on his horse so, feeling rather sorry for himself, he set off back home.
The old man appeared to him again and asked if he could buy the farmers horse. This time the farmer agreed and the old man asked him to follow him through some trees. 
The pair came to the foot of the sandstone cliffs and the old man touched the rock with his staff.
There was a deafening rumble as the rock parted to reveal a huge, dark cavern.
The old man told the farmer not to be afraid and asked him to follow him inside.
Once the farmer's eye adjusted to the dark he was amazed to see that the cavern was full of hundreds of warriors all in a deep sleep, each with their own horse asleep next to them.
The farmer suddenly realised that the old man must, in fact, be a powerful wizard.
The wizard explained to him that all the sleeping warriors were ready to awake and fight for their country, should they ever be needed. He then led the farmer further into the cavern and showed him a large pile of jewels and gold, telling him to take as much as he wanted as payment for his horse.
The farmer picked up handfuls of gold and coins and filled up his pockets to bursting. He then walked back outside and, feeling overwhelmed, took off running for home. 
The cavern closed behind him with a thud and was never seen again.

In the area where this magical tale takes place there is a well. And near this well there is the face of a man carved into the rock, above an inscription which reads:
"Drink of this and take thy fill, For the water falls by the wizard's will"
The date and origin of this carving is unknown.

Could it be one of the sleeping warriors, keeping watch over the land?
Or maybe it's the mysterious wizard himself? 



Thursday, 30 March 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Mask Of Shadows

Title: Mask Of Shadows
Author: Linsey Miller
Published by: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: 5th September 2017
Format: Kindle
Source: Netgalley ARC

I have mixed emotions about this book. 

It's probably more of a 3.5 stars for me. 
I hovered over 4 stars for a while, but ultimately it was lacking a certain something that would have pushed it higher. 

It was interesting and gripping at times, yet also quite dull and confusing at others. 

These are our characters:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23. 

And:

Ruby, Emerald and Amethyst. 

Confused?
I was!

Characters 1 through 23 also wear masks over their faces, so we are given no recognisable physical features either. (Except for 23, who is our main character)
Throw in some background characters with long, similar names and my brain just gave up. 
I mostly skimmed over who was who, and who was doing what until I got further through the book and we had less characters to deal with. 
A tournament to the death will do that thankfully!

The plot was interesting though. 

The story focuses on an audition for the job of 'Opal' - one of the queens skilled, deadly protectors and assassins. 
23 people are trying to win this job and to do so they must attend lessons on fighting, poisons, healing, archery and such, all while trying to kill each other off and not get caught doing it. 
The rules kept being changed and new tasks were thrown into the mix constantly. This kept the story interesting and tense. 

The main character, 23, was also quite interesting. 
I enjoyed how the book dealt with and explained the characters gender fluidity:
"Most everyone else wanted me to pick one, make addressing me easier on them my denying myself. I was already dressing so they could get it right. The least they could do was try. I didn't see why I had to choose."
"Address me however I look." I was both. I was neither. I was everything, but that wasn't exactly a friendly conversation between strangers trying to kill each other."
I haven't come across this in a book before and it was refreshing and nicely done. 
(at least in my opinion, but I have no real-life experience of this so please correct me if I'm wrong)
Yet, I felt like it didn't really add anything at all to the story. It didn't effect anything or anyone in any way. 
It was simply mentioned a few times and then forgotten about. 

23 also came across as quite big-headed and arrogant to me. This may have been totally intended, but I didn't like this aspect of the character so much. 
"Emerald and Amethyst would fail. But I was more... I was a thief and a killer, trained by a childhood of fear and violence."
Yes... because you're obviously going to be more skilled and deadly than the two characters who have shown throughout the whole book that they are better at everything than you. 
The characters that have been training you. 
23 needs a reality check!

I didn't feel like there was much character growth for the main character throughout the book, which I would have liked to see. 
23 goes into the audition arrogant and overly sure of themselves, and they come out of it exactly the same way. 
And I would have liked the chance to get to know some of the other auditioners a bit better.
I wanted to know who they were, why they were there, what their motivations were. 
I understand this is probably hard when everyone is dying with masks on, but it would have been nice. 

I am kind of excited to see what will happen in the next book though, so I'll definitely be checking that out in the future. 
And hopefully it won't be full of numbered characters with sacks on their heads. 
*fingers crossed*