Fiction, March 2020

Shadowscent by P.M. Freestone

Shadowscent by P.M. Freestone. November 5, 2019. Scholastic Press, 362 p. ISBN: 9781338335446.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

An Ember in the Ashes meets Indiana Jones in an electrifying, steal-your-breath away, supercharge-your-senses YA fantasy adventure.

Across the Aramtesh Empire, scent is everything. Prayers only reach heaven on sacred incense, and perfumes are prized status symbols. 17-year-old Rakel has an uncanny ability with fragrances, but her skills aren’t enough to buy her dying father more time.

Ash bears the tattoos of an imperial bodyguard. When his prince, Nisai, insists on a diplomatic mission to an outer province, Ash is duty-bound to join the caravan. It’s a nightmare protecting Nisai on the road. But it’s even harder for Ash to conceal a secret that could see him exiled or executed.

Rakel and Ash have nothing in common until smoke draws them to a field of the Empire’s rarest flower. Nisai’s been poisoned, flames devour the priceless blooms, and the pair have “suspect” clinging to them like a bad stench. Their futures depend on them working together to decipher clues, defy dangers and defeat their own demons in a race to source an antidote . . . before the imperial army hunts them down.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 5))
Grades 8-11. In a society dependent on perfumes, oils, and elixirs, all Rakel wants is to use her gift for fragrances to make enough money to care for her dying father—easier said than done if you aren’t born into the right family. Ash’s only desire is to serve his best friend Nisai, the prince and heir to the empire, as his faithful Shield guard—and to protect a secret that could cost him his life. Yet somehow, when the prince is poisoned and left comatose, Rakel and Ash end up on the run to save their lives as well as Nisai’s. Journeying through the five provinces in search of a way to save him, Rakel must use her skills and Ash his swords to overcome the endless challenges before them. In her debut, Freestone crafts rich, fantastical imagery through mythical creatures, magical lands, and mysterious abilities, all tied up in an engrossing plot that will have readers begging for the sequel. Hand this book to fantasy-lovers and mystery aficionados alike.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2019)
A girl who gets mixed up in politics and the crown prince’s bodyguard must work together to save the prince—and themselves. Rakel has an affinity for scents: She can understand what’s in them and how to re-create them. In a world that runs on fragrances and magic, she should be able to care for herself and her ailing father. But when she goes to the city of Aphorai to find work as a perfumer, she learns that things are not so simple. Despite her best intentions, she is accused of a plot to assassinate the First Prince. Her only hope of survival lies in unraveling the components of the poison and concocting an antidote. Joined by the prince’s Shield, Ash, Rakel sets out on a quest through each of the kingdom’s regions, uncovering secrets about each of their pasts along the way. Following standard plot beats, Rakel and Ash confront corruption and conspiracy within their kingdom while exploring relationships, with each other and with others in their lives, both present and absent. While overdramatic at times, with characters painted in broad strokes, the romance and tension will appeal to readers hungry for adventures set against an intriguing, if underexplored magical world. Few physical descriptions make ethnicity difficult to determine in this desert kingdom; homosexuality is briefly mentioned and not stigmatized. A standard fantasy romp built on lush descriptions of fragrances. (Fantasy. 12-16)

About the Author

P. M. Freestone hails from Melbourne, Australia, and now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland with her partner, their Romanian rescue dog, and a collection of NASA-approved house plants. She is a Clarion Writers‘ Workshop (University of California) graduate and a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award winner, and holds degrees in archaeology, religious history and a PhD in the sociology of infectious diseases. She’s only ever met one cheese she didn’t like.

Her website is pmfreestone.com

Around the Web

Shadowescent on Amazon

Shadowescent on Barnes and Noble

Shadowescent on Goodreads

Shadowescent on LibraryThing

Shadowescent Publisher Page

December 2019, Fiction

The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas. September 10, 2019. Tu Books, 348 p. ISBN: 9781620148044.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

CHINA, 484 A.D.

A Warrior in Disguise
All her life, Mulan has trained for one purpose: to win the duel that every generation in her family must fight. If she prevails, she can reunite a pair of priceless heirloom swords separated decades earlier, and avenge her father, who was paralyzed in his own duel.

Then a messenger from the Emperor arrives, demanding that all families send one soldier to fight the Rouran invaders in the north. Mulan’s father cannot go. Her brother is just a child. So she ties up her hair, takes up her sword, and joins the army as a man.

A War for a Dynasty
Thanks to her martial arts skills, Mulan is chosen for an elite team under the command of the princeling–the royal duke’s son, who is also the handsomest man she’s ever seen. But the princeling has secrets of his own, which explode into Mulan’s life and shake up everything she knows. As they cross the Great Wall to face the enemy beyond, Mulan and the princeling must find a way to unwind their past, unmask a traitor, and uncover the plans for the Rouran invasion . . . before it’s too late.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Gore, Alcohol

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
New life is breathed into the ballad of Mulan. The Hua and Yuan families share a legacy: As caretakers of the deftly made swords Sky Blade and Heart Sea, each generation must fight to determine the next guardians of the swords. Hua Mulan has only known a life of being disguised as a boy, trained in weaponry by her father. What her father does not know is that Mulan already spars with her future duel partner. On the eve of the showdown, the Hua family receives a letter citing political unrest threatening the Yuans as a reason to withdraw from this year’s duel. When the Hua family receives a conscription notice requiring one male per household to report for duty, Mulan enlists, quickly being recruited into the princeling’s elite team for her skills. Mulan finds herself caught in a web of sabotage, battles, and strained loyalties, trying to maintain her own cover and handling the growing affection between the princeling and herself. While the resolution may seem too neat for some, Thomas (The Hollow of Fear, 2018, etc.) brings new dimensions to the iconic character, weaving emotional depth and ethnic political issues into the plot. She immerses readers in bustling city streets and freezing swaths of wilderness. Scaffolded by detailed research, the story is based on actual historic conflicts and artifacts. A refreshing new take that pays homage to a legendary character. (author’s note, linguistic and historical notes) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Publishers Weekly (October 14, 2019)
Rich cultural references, intricate political machinations, and thrilling Wuxia elements distinguish this deftly woven Mulan retelling by Thomas (The Immortal Heights), who was born and raised in China. Hua Mulan, who publicly assumes her deceased twin brother’s name, Hua Muyang, fills her days with projectile training alongside her father, caring for her seven-year-old brother, and secretly looking forward to the sporadic training sessions she has with Yuan Kai, a mysterious boy she is fated to duel with over a pair of matchless inherited swords. But mandatory conscription causes the match to be deferred, and Mulan enlists on behalf of her household. Her martial arts expertise earns her a role accompanying the royal duke’s son, a young man who seems strangely familiar. As the Rouran invasion looms, Mulan and her companions must evade danger and uncover a traitor at court while unpacking their preconceived notions about family, fear, and nomadic tribes. Skillful martial arts scenes combine with crucial discourse on power, gender, and the impact of language on history in this gripping, thoughtfully layered reinterpretation.

About the Author

Sherry Thomas is the author of nineteen novels across multiple genres, including the acclaimed Lady Sherlock mystery series, a YA fantasy trilogy that began with The Burning Sky, and more than a dozen romance novels, which have twice won her the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA Award. Born in China, she learned English as a second language, and now lives and writes in Austin, Texas.

Her website is sherrythomas.com.

Around the Web

The Magnolia Sword on Amazon

The Magnolia Sword on Barnes and Noble

The Magnolia Sword on Goodreads

The Magnolia Sword on LibraryThing

The Magnolia Sword Publisher Page