Winter season is fantasy season. There, I said it. Who wouldn’t want to sit by their window with a cup of hot chocolate, snowflakes falling weightlessly while teleporting into a world of magic, dragons, fates or anything that your mind fancies? 

Recently, I have been working my way through four fantasy books whose positive reviews on Booktok have caught my attention while book browsing. Some left me heartbroken that no technology could whisk me out of this world and place me into the fantasy world of the novel, while others were simply books I could check off my radar and move on.

In modern-day New York, two rival witch families become entangled in a web of romance and crime. On one side of the city, the Antonova family, consisting of seven sisters, is led by their enigmatic mother, Baba Yaga, who runs a shop specializing in magical skincare and premium intoxicants. On the other side, the Fedorov empire, led by three brothers and their father, Koschei the Deathless, continues to expand through magical extortion.

After twelve years of coexistence, a new trigger ignites a magical war between the two families, unleashing chaos and curses. As they grapple with the conflict, they also find themselves contending with burgeoning feelings between the Fedorov brothers and the Antonova sisters. How will they navigate the war while dealing with these unexpected emotions?

(Fantasy Fiction, Romantic Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy)

Olivie Blake is famously known for her previous novels, “The Atlas Six” and “The Atlas Paradox” which blew up on Tiktok for their intricate plots, hence when I saw this book on the shelves of my local bookstore I decided to purchase it. I went into it without any expectations set by TikTok, where I usually get my book recommendations.

Blake marketed this novel under the niche genre of retelling fantasy, and this novel promises a Romeo and Juliet retelling, only with witches, and, oh my lord, does she deliver.  Not one but two romances are going on in the same beautifully tragic and forbidden style as Shakespeare’s original play. The novel starts off introducing one of the couples, but later the audience realizes a secondary tragic story awaits. I can’t say I didn’t shed a few tears here and there for both couples. Olivie Blake’s take on the tragic ending, weaving the two love stories together into one tale of love and tragedy was truly fascinating and meticulously planned out.

Although questionable, the element of witches was an ideal addition to the classic play as Romeo and Juliette. If a character seems to turn sour with another, you don’t fear just violence, you fear curses and magic potions capable of destroying lives. Here’s an insight into this fabulous usage of witchery: “Stas yanked his arm free and gave Ivan a hard shove, a blow, the impact of both sending Ivan to the floor. ‘You’re a liar,’ he raged, ready to turn on Roman, and in rapid succession—so quick he nearly didn’t see, nearly blinked and missed it all—Stas spun, throwing out a hand, and felt the curse that left his palm aim true.”( Blake 186)

All the characters are varied and each were there to represent a different perspective on how a witch might use its power. Some were like Lev, which I personally resonate with, forever sewing his heart on his sleeve, or Roma, overconsumed with power and blinded. And, well, of course, just like Yelena were just ‘living laughing love’ their life because, well, they are witches so life is amazing anyhow. I guarantee you will resonate with at least one character and see your reflection in a witch’s alternate universe. 

All throughout the book I felt educated and fancy reading this work of fiction. Blake did not go easy on the big words such as “corporeality” or “vestige,” therefore keeping true to her promise of retelling a classic English play. Blake’s choice of words was a key element to this novel’s success, but also its downfall. The extensive descriptions using metaphors and educated adjectives suited the atmosphere of New York (Witch Edition), thus adding to the fantasy element of this novel and making it feel like a witch’s world. For example: “Hate and love were so very similar. Both were intestinal, visceral. Both left scars, vestiges of pain. Hate could not be born from a place of indifference. Hate was only born from opposite sides of the same coin.” (Blake 272)

In my opinion, the only downfall of this book was the excessive philosophical and metaphorical trains of thought the author included.  I cannot count on one hand the amount of times I had to re-read pages just to get the gist of what was going on. For example, the following excerpt is a beautiful piece of literature that induces introspection in the audience, however at times it is overbearing: “People believe shadows represent darkness, but that isn’t technically true. For one thing, a shadow can’t exist without light. A shadow, which is itself a slice of darkness, can only be seen when light persists, which is to say it can only be seen in the context of something brighter.” (Blake 291). Nevertheless, if you are looking to overlook the occasional confusion and are looking for more than just a casual fiction read, pick this novel up.

Evangeline Fox has always dreamed of a storybook ending, a love that lasts forever. So when she discovers her precious boyfriend, Luc, is to marry her stepsister, her world splits into a million pieces. Impulsively, while drowning in sorrow and anger, she pursues the cruel Jacks, Prince of Hearts, in hopes of thwarting the wedding and patching her broken heart. In a desperate exchange, Jacks offers his assistance in thwarting the wedding in return for a seemingly modest request: three kisses. An instant agreement is struck – what are three kisses in exchange for eternal love with the man of her dreams? But it’s never that easy. Jacks’s demands of Evangeline rapidly turn out more extreme than expected and it seems that the three kisses are part of a meticulously planned narrative Jacks is hoping to craft.

(Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Fantasy, Retelling)

I loved this book so much that I went back, proceeded to read it again, then went to the astounding number of five or six stores to find the exact shade of pink tabs that would fit the cover, then of course annotated almost every page. So, do I like it? YEAH, A LOT.

Where do I start? Hmmmm. Maybe plot? Maybe the author’s creative thinking? Or maybe, just maybe, let’s talk about Jacks. He is one of the best leading male characters in a novel. At first glance, he is cocky and cold-hearted. But as the readers and Evangeline get to know him, he becomes beyond hilarious and intelligent. Playful, to the point where it almost became cruel, but not quite. Full of unhealed trauma which he hides behind very well-executed self-deprecating jokes. And extremely ingenious when faced with any chaos or trouble. You will love everything about him. I swear.

Now, the real review starts. This novel can only be described as an adult fairytale. There was not one moment when I didn’t feel as though I was reading a magical and alluring tale. From the magic potions that could save Evangeline’s first love to the Cinderella-like ball thrown by the palace in order for the prince to find a wife, I constantly saw sparkles floating around me while reading. Garber’s way of turning mundane items such as apples into other-worldly fruit to be consumed took the contents from a fantasy novel to a fairytale. The imagery within this novel had all my five senses transporting me right there along Jacks and Evangeline

Setting a  fast pace throughout the novel, Garber does not let her readers rest their heartbeat even for a millisecond before introducing a new plot twist. What took me by a whirlwind was the introduction of vampires, which, while unexpected and possibly doubtfully belonging in a fairytale, were sewn into the plot like silk. It further added to the fantastical elements of a world where everything is possible of existing and accentuated the danger of Evangeline’s journey. 

You must read this book this winter season. The novel does end on a cliffhanger, of sorts, but thankfully, the sequel of this book is twice as good, so if you like this book, then you are in for a secondary magical entry into the world. Read this book for the fairytale elements! Read this book for fast-paced writing! But most of all, read this book for Jacks!

 In the realm of Navarre rests the prestigious Basgiath War College renowned for its reputation as a place where many enter, but few come alive. The institution is divided into four distinct quadrants: the scribes, the healers, the infantry, and the most demanding and esteemed of them all – the riders. 

Violet, from a young age, seemed destined to become a scribe, diligently preparing herself through voluminous reading and the meticulous memorization of the realm’s history. However, her life takes an unexpected turn when her mother, the realm’s general, and a legendary rider, coerces her to change course and enroll in the rider quadrant.

The already flustered Violet is left unsure about her life when she faces a formidable challenge in the form of the son of the revolution leader, whose life Violet’s mother took in a heroic act to save the realm. Now seeking vengeance, he is not only capable of ending her life but is determined to do so. Violet’s journey is bound to be fraught with danger and complex choices.

(Fantasy, Romance)

I introduce to you, ladies and gentlemen, my current favorite book of all time: Fourth Wing, by Rebecca Yarros

It is unbelievable how an adult version of How to Train Your Dragon has taken the world by storm. In less than two weeks after its release date, Fourth Wing was sold out in bookstores all over the world. Even in Romania’s Carturesti, you could not find it in stores or online. I had to wait until late September to see a copy or two of the shelves of Carturesti. So, is all this madness worth it?

The excitement for this book is beyond deserved. Off the top of my head, I can list a couple of elements that make it a near-perfect read: the fast-paced, perfect mix of high-stakes adventures and emotionally triggering moments, but most of all a perfect subplot with a perfect love interest. I could not put this book down. And mind you I was reading this book in the last two weeks before Christmas break, therefore I was beyond drowning in summatives and homework. The propulsive action played my heartbeat like a string instrument. 

Yarros wasted no time introducing readers to the action and the world. In mere pages, we went from wondering ‘Who the heck is Violet?’ to ‘How in God’s name is she going to survive?’ 

The risk of not understanding the world is high when fantasy authors go this fast, but Yaross gradually allowed her readers to grasp what the magic system was in a way that felt natural, and not forced. Similarly, her depictions of Violet’s emotions every time she was faced with a challenge were intoxicatingly rich. My favorite quote is a perfect example: “‘Going for blood today, are we, Violence?’ he whispers. Metal hits the mat again and he kicks it past my head and out of my reach. He’s not taking my daggers to use against me; he’s disarming me just to prove he can. My blood boils. ‘My name is Violet,’ I seethe. ‘I think my version fits you better.’”(Yarros 106) There was no doubt at any point in the book that we didn’t know our protagonist or didn’t care for her. I might even say that I cared for Violet more than I cared for the plot, but that’s just my issue.

Now, the main stars of this book were the dragons. As the characters continuously remind the audience: “A dragon without its rider is a tragedy. A rider without their dragon is dead.” (Yarros 43). They all were described meticulously with care, making it clear how varied both physically and emotionally they were to one another. While the names of the dragons are impossible to pronounce by a non-Gaelic speaker,  a language of Scotland, I could still describe to you each character and identify them without any necessity for a name. Also, this is not a spoiler, but the dragons have a way of communicating with our protagonists. But that’s all I am saying. Find out for yourself.

As for the famous subplot of this book, the slow-burn, sworn-to-death enemies-to-lovers romance between Xaden and Violet: it is a romance done to perfection. Honestly, I heard about the romance of this book even before hearing of the dragon fantasy element. When Yaross says she will provide enemies to lovers, you should expect enemies to be lovers. There were secrets, there were fights—and I do mean daggers—and a little element of a secret bond, so what else could one wish for?

I found myself shedding actual tears every time not only a protagonist but one of my dear side characters got injured or faced with danger. Not once, not twice, but around ten times I found myself wishing they could kidnap me to their world of fantasy.

The end of this book is a thrilling, adventurous and romantic novel that left me reaching for a sequel. Luckily for you, the sequel came out on November 7th, so grab them both, lock your bedroom door for one or two days and allow yourself to binge these works of fantasy perfection.

Nobody has ever survived the Festival of Predictions – millions have tried, to no success. Every year, the citizens are promised by joining the festival they will get the chance to either win the king’s immortality -if they are able to survive the month-long death quest- or be just another stray soul turned to mere fuel powering the king’s and his witch’s powers.  All her life Selena Somniatis’s known her sole purpose in life was to succeed her mother as the King’s Seryth, his dutiful witch. Bound by her bloodline which originates from the renowned Somniatis Witches, she is capable of harvesting souls and foreseeing one’s passing moment. Nox Laederic – a spartan soldier of the king’s brutal army- was supposed to be just another death date to Selena, however, a twist of fate occurs when Selestra foresees her own demise entwined with his. The hunter becomes the prey once Selena must join forces with Nox to survive the Festival of Predictions and save herself.

(Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy, Romance, Retelling)

I received Alexandra Christo’s novel in a monthly subscription box for book lovers, like myself, and dipped into it blindly, without any reviews on Tiktok clouding my judgment or creating expectations from the contents. I have to say it was refreshing to experience a book so mysteriously because it helped me see the book “nakedly” and make my own opinions surrounding it.

Now, that being said, it was a decent book. Nothing to write home about, but also not worth calling it a waste of trees. It was purely decent. I had a fun time following the characters throughout their journey. It kept me on my toes from the perspective of the never-ending obstacles, but also from the little moments of romance sprinkled throughout. Nevertheless, I had to go back and read the synopsis, as well as a few pages of the book to even vaguely remember the contents of the story. It was a fun time reading, but not something worth reading again or annotating.

I will have to give it the benefit of the doubt and tell you honestly that I read this book over the course of two weeks. And no matter the time between reading chapters throughout the period of time, any time I picked the book back up it felt smooth and easy to get back into the world of fantasy. It’s beyond impressive considering the author not only introduced their audience to a whole new world and magic system but constantly shocked its readers with plot twists and trials. Thus, being able to reintegrate into the book at any given moment no matter the point in the book is an accomplishment worth noting.

Now, on the other hand, there were definite lacks. For example, the lack of originality. If I am being honest the plot was not something that branded my memory. It was a mediocre plot which I am sure you could have found in any other fantasy book.

 It’s a classic journey of ups and downs spent with two characters. But, if that’s what you are looking for, then pick this book up.

Conclusion

Winter is a magical time of the year on its own—of course—but why not double its witty gifts and crack open a fantasy book? Soooooo, choose whichever world you would most like to be kidnapped into from the ones above and get to flying, riding dragons, chasing elves and so on.