Friday, March 20, 2020

Beyond the Shadowed Earth by Joanne Ruth Meyer {review}

Beyond the Shadowed Earth
by Joanna Ruth Meyer
♦publisher: Page Street Kids
♦release date: January 14, 2020
♦hardcover, 400 pages
♦intended audience: Young adult

It has always been Eda’s dream to become empress, no matter the cost. Haunted by her ambition and selfishness, she’s convinced that the only way to achieve her goal is to barter with the gods. But all requests come with a price and Eda bargains away the soul of her best friend in exchange for the crown.

Years later, her hold on the empire begins to crumble and her best friend unexpectedly grows sick and dies. Gnawed by guilt and betrayal, Eda embarks on a harrowing journey to confront the very god who gave her the kingdom in the first place. However, she soon discovers that he’s trapped at the center of an otherworldly labyrinth and that her bargain with him is more complex than she ever could have imagined.

Set in the same universe as Joanna’s debut, Beneath the Haunting SeaBeyond the Shadowed Earth combines her incredible world building and lush prose with a new, villainous lead.

As the second book that I've read by this author, Beyond a Shadowed Earth didn't fail to astound me with the beauty of Joanne Ruth Meyer's writing. There's something about her method of spinning tales that make them feel like they are ancient and epic and all consuming.  

While I admittedly took a while to really sink into this one, it was more because I personally tend to need someone to root for and for the first long while, there was really not one likeable character---but you start to see that that is the whole point of the story. To see if Eda can improve upon and overcome her horridness, her selfishness, her despicable disregard for life if it stands in the way of what she wants. There's just no rooting for a character who willingly offers up the life of her best friend to be handed power until that comes back at her in a harsh lesson. BUT, the story itself and it's strange and at times surprising turns of events still entrapped me, I was constantly pushed on to find out where Eda's actions would take her, in some cases, just to see if Eda's character would grow---and thankfully she did. 

At it's heart this story turned out to be about finding worth and meaning in life, in love, in belief, and that what makes that up isn't always the most obvious choice. Though the push-through to the payoff may not be everyone cup of tea, I really enjoyed the experience of Eda's journey and hope that other readers will, too. I'll reach for this author's epic stories again and again!

{About The Author}

Joanna Ruth Meyer hails from Mesa, Arizona, where she lives with her dear family, a rascally feline, and an enormous grand piano. When she’s not writing, she’s trying to convince her students that Bach is actually awesome, or plotting her escape from the desert. She loves good music, thick books, looseleaf tea, rainstorms, and staring out of windows. One day, she aspires to own an old Victorian house with creaky wooden floors and a tower (for writing in, of course!).

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon

source: book provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Guest Post: Creating the World of THE WINTER DUKE

 Hello, dear readers! Today I have a spectucular bit of insight into one of my most anticipated reads of 2020! Claire Eliza Bartlett is back with her sophomore title, THE WINTER DUKE.  If you followed along my reading adventures last year, you know I was a huge fan of her debut We Rule The Night.  Well, Claire just keeps on taking ispiration from the moments in history that fascinate us most and weaving magical fantasy twist into them to capture our imaginations! First it was the Night Witches, and now in The Winter Duke, she takes us on a Romanov-inspired royal adventure with a little Sleeping Beauty magic woven in. Doesn't that sound amazing?? Below, Claire shares how she built this magical and romantic ice-laced world, with a little peek into the Pinterest Boards she created to draw inspiration from!


Worldbuilding isn't usually the first thing I think about when I have a great idea for a story. Most my story ideas come with characters, or plots, or the confluence of the two. But I always want to do something special with my settings - whether that means going out of my way to create a strange world, or giving us a world that's similar to our own with a few striking differences.

Some aspects of Worldbuilding come from necessity. In the case of THE WINTER DUKE, these were things like: why is this tiny city state considered important by larger countries? How does the magic work in a way that will serve the plot without taking it over? How do people walk without constantly slipping in a palace made of ice (and HOW WOULD YOU FLUSH THE TOILET? I solved that problem by forgetting to invent plumbing.)? But some aspects of worldbuilding were put in because I thought they were cool. What? If I don't think I'm writing something cool, how will I convince you? Also, sorry for the winter related puns.

THE WINTER DUKE has two big set pieces. The main story takes place above ground in a palace made of ice - in fact, a city made of ice! But part of THE WINTER DUKE happens in the lake beneath, which holds an entire underwater kingdom that lives in synergy with the duchy Above. Here were my favorite parts about worldbuilding:

A palace made of ice
I got hit with this idea when I saw the ice hotels of Sweden. Being a winter girl who never gets enough snow, I rather romanticize cold weather at this time of my life. I was also fascinated by the idea of not just living, but living comfortably in such a place. I had the chance to carve ice reliefs into my palace walls and imagine thick, opulent clothing for my princess, while piling beds and chairs high with blankets and sheepskins.

A fantasy without horses
Well, not entirely without horses. The main villain rides a horse, which is just adding animal cruelty to his general douchebaggery. I actually had horses in initial drafts for some scenes, but quickly replaced them with dog sleds. Horses don't do so well in arctic conditions, and aren't made for long treks across snow and ice. And of course, anything that involves doggos is going to make me happy. Sometimes the logistics of building a world lead to fun changes!

Magic as a physical resource
Lots of novels have magic that comes from an outside source, but it was a lot of fun trying to figure out where, exactly, the magic came from - how one could unlock its power, and how it could guide international policy as a valuable resource.

The Duchy is so small
I really wanted to make my protagonist Ekata feel crowded in, surrounded by strangers and adrift in her own ignorance. I had a great time surrounding her with people she couldn't remember and didn't care about, and making her more and more uncomfortable as she had to pretend to know everything. Keeping the setting small and claustrophobic also helped to give a feeling of freedom when she could escape to Below.

And speaking of Below...

The Duchy Below
I really loved creating a world below the ice that somewhat mirrors the kingdom Above. I had to ask myself a lot of really interesting practical questions. What did my fish people look like, how did they talk, and how connected were they physiologically to people on land? How could everyone see at the bottom of a lake? The underwater buildings couldn't be made of ice, so what were they made of? Don't worry, I answer all these questions in the novel!

And the Relationship between the duchies Below and Above
I wanted two worlds that relied on each other, and I had to figure out how that was going to work. What did the fishmen Below need from the people Above, and what did Ekata and her family need from Below? What political machinations would they put in play to get these things? Ekata's father was a despot prone to temper tantrums, so we enter the book on a back foot where negotiations are concerned...

Worldbuilding might not be the first thing I think of when I'm generating story ideas, but it's one of my favorite things to expand on. Sometimes a simple practical question opens up an entire part of the world that I'd never considered before. And finding ways to layer it into my story is one of the big joys of writing for me. I hope my little dual world has piqued your interests. THE WINTER DUKE comes out March 3rd, and you can check it out below!

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{About The Author}

 Claire Eliza Bartlett grew up in Colorado. She studied history and archaeology and spent time in Switzerland and Wales before settling in Denmark for good. When not at her computer telling mostly fictional stories, she works as a tour guide in Copenhagen, telling stories that are (mostly) true.

{About The Book}

An enchanted tale of intrigue where a duke's daughter is the only survivor of a magical curse.

When Ekata's brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family's icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness.

In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother's warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love...or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family's power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.

Part Sleeping Beauty, part Anastasia, with a thrilling political mystery, The Winter Duke is a spellbinding story about choosing what's right in the face of danger.