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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