The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

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“In Innis Lear it was believed that the reign of the last queen had been predicted by the stars–and had ended, too, because of them.”

This is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear unlike any reimagining I’ve ever read before. Tessa Gratton stays very true to the original play, and really makes a feminist statement on all the themes, but she made something so unique, so powerful, and so much its own thing. And every book I read from her ensures that she is becoming one of my favorite authors of all-time. From the themes she creates, to the lyrical writing she weaves, to the beautiful stories she creates, I five star everything by her. And The Queens of Innis Lear was no different, it is a masterpiece.

King Lear is a story about a king who is ready to give up his throne to his three daughters, but they must prove that they are worthy and devoted. But the sisters decide to take their destinies into their own hands, whether that means betrayal of the King or not. And we slowly get to see the king descend into madness. And, again, The Queens of Innis Lear sticks very close to this storyline, too.

Gaela – the oldest daughter – represents ambition. Is a military commander.

“I will wear the crown, and I will get it like a king. Not as a mother and wife, but as the firstborn child, as the strongest.”

Regan – the middle daughter – represents lust. Wants to be a mother.

“The crown of Innis Lear is not made of love […] it is made of dying stars, and lying mouths.”

Elia – the youngest daughter – represents duty. Loves the island of Lear more than anything.

“You’re not the sum of your birth and stars.”

And these three girls, and everyone they’ve ever been in contact with, have had their fate decided by the stars. And they learned this the hard way from their mother, who was destined to die once Gaela turned to sixteen. In this world, the stars are blamed for people’s actions, so that they don’t have to be responsible for the horrible things that happen.

But ultimately this is a story about three girls battling against the futures that their father and the stars have in store for them. These girls are more than the legacy’s that are expected of them. They are more than the sins committed for them and in their name. People with wombs are more than those wombs and the babies they are able to carry inside them. And people are always more than good and bad, because we are complex beings with complex thoughts and actions. Seriously, this the morally grey character book of your dreams.

There are many more characters who equally broke and warmed my heart; Ban, the fox of the forest, Morimaros, the king who has only known how to be king, Brona, the witch of my dreams, and so many more. This is a full cast of players, set up on a stage that they never asked for. And this book inserts flashbacks more perfectly than maybe any other book I’ve ever read. And it creates a storyline that is complete magic.

“Maybe all three of us are cursed. Maybe this is the end of the kingdom of Lear, and the island will become something new. Maybe we never did belong here after all.”

I also want to take a second to talk about the representation. It is heavily implied that Gaela is aroace, but the word is never used on page. And I feel like every side character was implied to be pan or bi. Also, all the princesses are people of color, said to be biracial (black and white).

Overall, I just loved this. I never wanted to put it down. From the beautiful writing, to the important themes, to the enthralling story, this was just a masterpiece. I will say that this very much reads true to an Adult Fantasy, and the writing can be a bit unforgiving at times, but it is so worth it.

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Content and trigger warnings for miscarrying, domestic abuse, thoughts of suicide, suicide, self-harm, grooming, murder, death, blood depictions, rituals, animal deaths, and war themes.

Buddy read with Riley, Amy, Caidyn, Alex, & Jules! ❤

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

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“You can justify anything if you do it poetically enough.”

This book is so haunting, so atmospheric, so gripping, and so perfect. And If you, too, love The Secret History by Donna Tartt then I recommend this book with every single bone in my body. Also, this is such a love letter to Shakespeare and all his work, so if you appreciate that I think you’ll also fall so head over heels for this story. I’m honestly not sure what I expected going into If We Were Villains, but it is now one of my favorite books of all time.

This story follows seven very pretentious theater students, going to a very prestigious and private college. They moved to Ohio to go to the university from all over the world, but they really made a found family with each other, while all living in what they call the Castle on campus. But one night their life completely changes when they all come together on a decision that alters their fate.

“Nothing mattered much after that morning. Our two souls—if not all six—were forfeit.”

Richard – has a bad temper and is the “mean” one.

Meredith – Richard’s girlfriend, and the “sexy vixen” type.

Filippa – The “cool” one, in my opinion. Mysterious home life. My second favorite.

Alexander – Gay, grew up in foster care, and I believe is Latinx. Yet, is the “stoner” one.

Wren – Richard’s cousin, and “the girl next-door” type.

James – The best actor and our main protagonist’s roommate. I’d say the “popular” one.

Oliver – Our main protagonist, who is nice, and who is sweet, and who just wants to keep the peace between his group of friends. Also, Oliver is totally pansexual and no one can change my mind on this.

“My infatuation […] transcended any notion of gender.”

Oliver is for sure the main character, and this book starts out with him getting out of prison ten years after the events of that frightful night. And he is finally telling the story of what actually happened. This book is also broken up in five acts, but we get to see the events of what really happened that night, a decade ago, and we get to see the ramifications of how that altered everyone’s lives in present day.

“How tremendous the agony of unmade decisions.”

And each act, to me, really highlights a different Shakespearean play, that really sets the tone for what is unfolding in that act. From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to Julius Caesar, to King Lear, to Romeo and Juliet, to so many more; the honoring, appreciation, and celebration are all there and it truly makes for a read like no other. This book is a love letter to theater. And this book is structured so perfectly, written so expertly, that I really think that R.L. Rio crafted something beyond genius.

“It’s easier now to be Romeo, or Macbeth, or Brutus, or Edmund. Someone else.”

Friends, I feel like this is a book that won’t be for everyone, but if it is for you then you will love it with the sum of your being. This was perfection for me, and completely made my October this year. If you’re looking for something haunting, and thrilling, and so very atmospheric, then please give If We Were Villains a try. And that last line? It is going to haunt me forever with its beautiful perfection.

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Content and trigger warnings for: death, murder, physical abuse, slut shaming, a transphobic comment, a onetime use of the slur for Romani people, a homophobic comment, drug overdose, PTSD depiction, depression depiction, suicide, self-harm, and mention of an eating disorder (and a poor taste comment about it).

Buddy read for #FridayFrightAThon which I co-hosted with Amy @ A Court of Crowns and QuillsJen @ Pinot and Pages, & Chelsea @ Chelsea Palmer! 👻