ARC Review: Unanchored by Stephanie Eding

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in advance of its publication date in exchange for an honest review. It debuts next week.

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Cecily Hastings is a Welsh slave to the man her own parents sold her off to in exchange for food. She doesn’t remember what it’s like to be free, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t crave it. She fears only two things in her pursuit of freedom, the beatings her master hands out at will and the Blood Pirate, the man who burned her village and killed her mistress years ago.

When her master gets drunk and swindled at the gambling tables, Cecily ends up being the payment. She is finally away from her master, but she’s not free. She’s been sold to none other than the Blood Pirate himself. Her worst fear has been realized.

But something doesn’t add up. The pirate who holds her captive treats her better than her master ever did. And she sees him freeing other slaves from around the British Isles as well. How could the man who burned her village and killed her mistress in cold blood be the man who buys her hair ribbons and protects her from harm?

When the British Royal Navy hot on their tails, Cecily has to make a choice. She can go with the soldiers and let them escort her back to her old master and let the fearsome pirate hang for his crimes, or she can grasp the only kind of freedom life has ever offered her and become the thing she hates most–a pirate.

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This book reads as a young YA, in my opinion, but I thought it was fun and adorable. The underlying message of things not always being what they seem is felt over and over again. Sometimes bad guys look like good guys. Sometimes freedom doesn’t look like what you think it will.

It does romanticize piracy a bit, but it does so to make a point and has some fun with it in the process. The biggest drawback to the story is a general lack of diversity. All the characters more or less look the same and most of them blend into the background a little too easily. If you’re going to argue with me about Finnish and Welsh pirates being pretty monochromatic during the general era in question, I’m going to redirect you to the blog Writing with Color that had already addressed the subject (spoiler alert: Europe wasn’t ever actually lily white). 

On the plus side, the book has a clean romance arc and so is great for those teens (or any other age) who want an escapist tale without graphic sex scenes. The main character is a teenager, but her general naivete can sometimes make her seem younger, especially for a girl who has spent most of her life as a slave. In some cases she talks like she has seen things, in others, she seems oblivious. But I think this might suit some younger readers, especially those just crossing over to the YA market from MG, who want to read an older teen protagonist, but aren’t ready for some of the heavier scenes that often entails.

There are references to God and prayer in the book. It is sporadic, and I don’t think it is done in such a way as to be offensive to non-Christians. However, as a Christian myself, I admit that I may have a skewed view of that, since I like the way it was handled.

In the end, I would absolutely recommend this to a tween or younger teen reader (or anyone else who likes fiction for that age market) who likes pirate books and innocent romantic arcs. To be honest, I’d probably read it again myself as a beach read over vacation if my TBR pile didn’t mock me daily. Your mileage may vary.

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

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Hazel lives in Fairfold, a small town at the edge of the forest that the Folk call home. Nobody remembers how the horned boy in the glass coffin came to be in the middle of the forest, but he slumbered through the decades, his handsome face never changing. Until Hazel woke him up.

Now strange and dangerous things are happening around Fairfold–more so than normal. Townspeople are being attacked by a tree monster that renders them unconscious with no way to awaken them, the high school is under attack from an unseen force, and the King of the Folk reveals that Hazel is in it all up to her eyeballs. He gives her a deadline to turn over his son, the horned prince, or all of Fairfold will face the consequences. The problem is the horned prince is a nice guy, and his father doesn’t want to welcome him home with open arms, he wants to kill him. And since Hazel’s brother is in love with him, it’s more than a little problematic.

Hazel has to find a way to hide the prince, defeat the king, and save her fellow townsmen before time runs out. With the help of the prince, her brother, and her brother’s best friend–who happens to be a changeling and Hazel’s lifelong crush, Hazel refuses to admit defeat. After all, she’s one of the best knights the Folk have ever known.

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I don’t read a ton of YA. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against it. On the contrary, I will gladly read a compelling story regardless of the age category. It just so happens that I tend to read more adult-targeted books. This one, though, caught my eye.

It twists some old tropes into something that is both familiar and surprising. The characters are all distinctive and unforgettable. The voice is compelling. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this, but the blurb sounded interesting so I download a sample from Amazon. In the first few pages, I knew I had to see where it was going. The plot was barely off the ground, but the voice reeled me in.

There are some things about the story I was less than thrilled with. Any time there is a scene that breaks down to “I know I kissed your sibling, but it’s really you I’m into” or “I’m with you because your sibling won’t look at me twice” I tend to tap out. There are two such points in this story. However, this is a YA story. A high school setting. And since I witnessed this particular storyline play out more than once in my own high school (back when dirt was young and dinosaurs roamed the earth), I can’t argue that it isn’t realistic.

Overall the story was good, the voice was compelling and I don’t regret diving into it. I’m writing this review more than a week after I finished the story, so I’ve come down from the story high and am less attached to it now. That’s my fault. However, it had a flawed but still kick butt heroine, a beautiful male asleep in the glass coffin instead of a princess, and changeling who would have had me drawing hearts in a notebook during homeroom, so if you like fantasy, ya, or would like to read a story that doesn’t pretend the lgbtq+ community doesn’t exist in small towns in the middle of nowhere this could be what you’re looking for.