The Winding Maze by K.A. Dowling

e-ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest review

1.)  The Changing Tide ★★★★
2.)  The Forbidden City ★★★★★

“Prison of gold or prison of iron, it doesn’t make a bit of difference, does it?” 

The Winding Maze is the heart-stopping, page-turning, epic conclusion of The Rogue Elegance series. With a throne and the fate of Chancey on the line, all of our main characters are thrust together in a world where everyone has a hidden agenda and magic and prophecies have more power than anyone had anticipated. The Winding Maze is an all-consuming race that made me laugh and cry and shook me down to my core—I loved every moment of this incredible book and Emerala and Nerani’s journeys.

“This entire battle—this bloodshed, this hate—all hinges on a single beating heart. And hearts, he’s learned, are a terribly easy thing to break.”

Epic in scale an importance, there’s so much I could say about this story. It’s a story that transcends the island of Chancey and will be relevant for all people of all cultures within any historical context. It is a story about overcoming persecution, of fighting back and rebelling,  a story of identity and friendship, of family and what we’re willing to do for our loved ones. It is an adventure with swoon-worthy romance, tear-jerking sacrifices, and side-splitting laughter.

“I view everything in life as a game, you see? It’s the only way to stomach it. Without a little bit of fun, the whole world turns rotten.”

To say that I love the world in this series would be an understatement. If The Forbidden City shows the reader the scope of the world, then The Winding Maze takes us back to Chancey, where this amazing story all began, and shows us the intricacies of the island’s political and social dynamics. Oh, and did I mention we learned more about the other pirate lords and the rules of the sea? It was epic.

“You should see what I see. You should see how lovely you look, your skin all painted in moonlight.”

If there’s anything I love more than the world of The Rogue Elegance series, it would have to be its characters. Emerala has grown so much from the spitfire we meet in The Changing Tide and has transformed into a bold, courageous, and intelligent woman who refuses to let anyone stop her from conquering the world. She still has the fire and spirit that made me fall in love with her from the beginning, but has grown infinitely and learned how to channel her rebellious nature to make a difference in the world. Nerani too has grown so much and she had my favorite character arc in the series, transforming from the quiet and responsible girl who keeps her head down and cleans up after her cousin’s messes into a powerful and commanding woman who fights for what she believes in. There are so many other characters I could go into depth about because they’re all so wonderfully complex and fleshed out, but just to name a few I’m going to say that in addition to Emerala and Nerani, Evander, Peterson (I would die for him), James, Alex, and Frederick have my heart—but ESPECIALLY Evander.

“He’d loved her then. He loves her now. It’s the simplest thing in the world—so simple that it makes his gut ache to think of it.”

Thank you so much K.A. Dowling for taking me on this ride and sharing Emerala and Nerani’s stories with me. Words cannot express my love for this book, the characters, and their world. This is a series I’m going to return to for years to come and EVERYONE needs to fall in love with Emerala and Nerani’s stories as much as I have.

“No prisoners, no mercy.”

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The Forbidden City by K.A. Dowling

1.) The Changing Tide ★★★★

“Which is better, do you suppose? To dive or to jump straight down?”

Book 2 of the Rogue Elegance series, The Forbidden City, takes place shortly after the events of The Changing Tide. With the prophecy set in motion and our main characters scattered throughout Chancey, The Forbidden City, and in Emerala’s case—the world, the stakes are raised and the reader is left in a state of uncertainty, unsure of who will survive, who will succeed, and how all of the characters’ storylines will intertwine.

“The world has never stayed still. Even boys with hearts of ice find themselves melted down into something new.”

Atmospheric. Vivid. Cinematic. The world has always been my favorite part of this series, and in this book we see it expanded in ways I hadn’t thought possible. With Emerala at sea, James’ life in Chancey further explored, and the Forbidden City introduced, we learn more about the the harshness of the world these characters inhabit and how that has shaped them, as well as are introduced to more lovable characters—my favorite being Peterson.

The new characters and setting added another layer of richness to a world that was already extremely detailed. By the end of The Forbidden City, I felt as though I knew the world as well as I had known Chancey by the end of The Changing Tide. I loved seeing the world both through Emerala, who, like the reader, is experiencing it for the first time, and through The Hawk and Alexander who have traveled the seas and seen it all before.

Speaking of those three…

“She looks inhuman—otherworldly—like some ancient, wild thing. He could love her for it if things were different—if he was a man with the luxury of romance.”

The love triangle(s) in this book were AMAZING! I’m usually the first person to say I’m not a fan of love triangles, but Dowling handles them masterfully, sprinkling in the romance and sexual tension, without ever allowing them to overtake the main plot. Both Emerala and Nerani are strong and complex women whose stories are not defined by the men they end up with—I’m personally on team Hawk for Emerala, as he’s a pirate to the core and I’ll always be rooting for the morally ambiguous characters and team James Byron for Nerani because I’m a sucker for star-crossed lovers. But I’m not counting Alexander or Topan out of the running yet!

“Tonight I will sleep with my regrets. Tonight I will spend another midnight choking on my cowardice. Perhaps tomorrow will be the day the fates finally catch up to me. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll finally be able to rest, even if that rest shall be at the bottom of the storming sea.”

There simply aren’t enough words to describe my love of this story, the characters, and their world. Dowling has managed to capture everything I loved about The Changing Tide and heighten it all in this book. The magic is elevated while the real world themes of prejudice and social justice are still explored in depth. After the events of this book I am so uncertain as to what will happen next and am eagerly (and nervously!) awaiting the release of the third and final installment in the Rogue Elegance series, The Winding Maze (available May 18th!) If you are a lover of the sea, adventures, pirates, magic, and complex characters, then this is the book series for you—I will never not recommend it!

“We can’t live in fear just because there might be death at the end of an adventure.”

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The Changing Tide by K.A. Dowling

The Changing Tide.jpg

“She recalls the endless summers—recalls standing waist deep in the waves and waiting for a ship that never came. She has spent her entire life dreaming of escape.”

Emerala the Rouge has spent her life dreaming of the sea and escaping her life in Chancey. For in Chancey, her Cairan people are persecuted by the king and his Gold Cloaks. As the years have gone by, things have only grown worse for the Cairans. A city balancing on the edge of a sword, a girl with the power to set an ancient prophecy in motion, and newly arrived pirates set the stage for the beginning of an epic adventure.

“He is a man of the law, and justice is his duty. He thinks of the body that hung limp in the square. He thinks of his father wringing his cap in his hands, turning away. He thinks of the bear king—of the man who would-be-god—kneeling on the floor and praying for luck. Pulling up his dead wife’s flowers by the roots.
What is justice?” 

Told from multiple perspectives, The Changing Tide offers a wide cast of characters, all of whom have faced struggles that have made them the people they are today. All with their own motives, these characters become entangled in a story that is larger than each of them individually and are forced to reevaluate everything they were taught to believe and determine for themselves who they want to be.

In particular, I loved the characters of Emerala the Rouge and Captain James Byron. Emerala is brave, stubborn, passionate, and has a strong obligation to do what is right, even if it gets her into trouble—and this girl has a penchant for attracting trouble. James has such great character development. Watching his internal struggle between what he was taught to believe in and what he knows deep down is morally right was incredibly powerful and I cannot wait to see the rest of his character arc in the later installments of this series.

“You cannot change the hearts of men.”

Beautifully told, this story is fast paced and I found myself flipping through each page to learn what would happen next. Throughout the novel Dowling uses vivid descriptions to create a rich world I felt as though I were a part of while reading.

“Gold blood bleeds red.”

The Changing Tide is the beginning of a grand adventure that tackles issues of identity, prejudice, and hate that is passed down through the centuries. I cannot wait to read the next book in this series, The Forbidden City!

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To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

To Kill a Kingdom

“It started with a prince, as most stories do. Once I felt the thrum of his heart beneath my fingers, I couldn’t forget it.”

Wow. I’m ready to forsake my entire life, find a pirate crew, and live on the seas hunting for my next read because this book was SO GOOD. It should be named To Kill a Reading Slump, because after The Wicked King I thought I’d just slowly wither away until The Queen of Nothing and never be consumed by another book. But, To Kill a Kingdom was un-put-downable, true candy, a pearl amongst other lackluster YA books.

Known as The Prince’s Bane, Lira is a siren, who, every year on her birthday, steals the heart of a prince. And no, we’re not talking make him fall in love with her steal, more like rip his still beating hearts out of their body as he drowns steal. This a LOOSE Little Mermaid retelling, and Lira is, thankfully, no Ariel—She doesn’t want to be where the people, doesn’t want to see them dancing, walking around on those, what do you call them? Oh, feet! (okay I’ll stop now). When Lira breaks one of the most important siren rules, her mother, the Sea Queen, gives her the worst punishment a siren can receive, turning her into a *gasp* HUMAN!!!

Left for dead in the middle of the ocean, now with two legs instead of her tail and no siren song (but she can still talk), Lira is rescued by none other than Elian, our other POV, the golden prince, the pirate captain with a jawline that can cut glass, and who just so happens to be a siren hunter set on killing the Prince’s Bane. Do I sense enemies to lovers??? Yes, yes I do, and I am so here for it.

“It’s like holding a story rather than a person; she feels wild and infinite in my arms.”

Did I already mention how much I love To Kill a Kingdom and want to shout about it from the rooftops? Well too bad because I LOVE TO KILL A KINGDOM. Lira and Elian are one of my new favorite ships. What begins as murderous intentions on Lira’s end and extreme distrust on Elian’s—he doesn’t yet know they’re enemies and she’s the Prince’s Bane—evolves into a dynamic of playful and sarcastic banter with murderous undertones (THE GOOD STUFF) and Lira and Elian fighting side by side and risking their lives for one another (ALSO THE GOOD STUFF.)

Aside from Lira and Elian’s relationship—which is amazing and wonderful—this book also has a cast of side characters with fully developed personalities and stories that I completely adored and an immersive world. I’d love to see a spin off book set in the same universe so we can explore more of the world!

“They celebrate love as though it’s power, even though it has killed far more humans than I ever have.”

If isn’t apparent already, I love this book. Anti-heroines, enemies to lovers, slow-burns, murderous banter as flirting, pirates, fairytale/folklore vibes, what more could I want in a book? If you haven’t read To Kill a Kingdom, do yourself a favor and pick it up and then proceed to not be able to put it down. In the meantime, I’ll be sailing across the seas in my pirate garb, hunting for my next book, and demanding Alexandra Christo write another book set in the same universe.

“Love and madness are two stars in the same sky. You cannot build a roof to keep out last year’s rain.”

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