Series Review: Beyond the Four Kingdoms by Melanie Cellier

Can you tell I have been hyper fixating on this author? This is the sequel series to The Four Kingdoms that following some of our familiar characters to explore new lands and expand relationships beyond the Four Kingdoms after a storm clears to reveal a pass into a heavily populated continent. The books are a companion series of fantasy retellings. Similar to the prequel series, we rotate through the kingdoms and young royalty as they go through their individual tale.

My Review: This series is highly magical and the fairy tales are much more quest based with romance thrown in to the stories. Still enjoyable, but a very different reading experience, especially by book 2. I think that the retellings were more inventive but I really missed how much relationship building and politics were present in the first series. This series was very romantic with high stakes. Personally, this was less my taste than the original series. On average this series was about 3.8 stars! If you have read this series, let me know what you thought!

Genre: Fantasy Romance that all focus on a general quest or curse.

The Books:

A Dance of Silver and Shadow (Twelve Dancing Princess)

A Tale of Beast and Beauty (Beauty and the Beast)

A Crown of Snow and Ice (Ice Queen)

A Dream of Ebony and White (Snow White)

A Captive of Wing and Feather (Swan Lake)

A Princess of Wind and Wave (Little Mermaid)

Favorite Retelling: One thing that I think was a bonus about this series was how inventive the retellings got. My personal favorite was Snow White or a Dream of Ebony and White. I don’t think I had ever experience a Snow White tale get this deep or political before. I liked how Snow White had to become a real political threat to the throne and a ruler in her own right. This was also the only retelling I have ever read that held the King accountable for some of the catastrophe that comes to kingdom and it was weirdly satisfying. The found family was a happy bonus.

Favorite Couple: Teddy and Isla (A Princess of Wind and Wave). This is my favorite version of a Little Mermaid couple I have experience so far. I like that they actively had to fall out of love with idea of each other and in love with the person they got to know. This was the couple that grew the most together throughout their story. Close second is Lily and Jonathan (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). They are so similar and dutiful. It lead to a fun back and forth of admiration and angst.

Favorite Kingdom: Eldon. I liked the more rigid and traditional kingdom more than I expected. Even though it ended up getting them more trapped in their curse than anything else I found the shift to be a nice change of pace.

Favorite Family: The Duchy of Marin (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). We didn’t spend as much time with them but the three sisters competed (and deserve a short story of their own) and the brother, Jonathan, is the featured love interest. The family is heavily featured as they are the ones who invited the Princesses from the Four Kingdoms to the new land. They are so sweet together and genuinely try to levy their roles as diplomat in every scene they are in.

Favorite Book: A Tale of Beast and Beauty. I think there was a great balance of the relationship and understanding the curse that was on the Kingdom of Palinar. There was a lot of misunderstanding when it came to the Beast (Dominic) and Sophie, but I loved how the relationship developed and that you got to see the type of rulers they would both be. Second place, A Dance of Silver and Shadow. I have loved Twelve Dancing Princess retellings since the Barbie Movie, but I thought the competition was a great introduction. I loved the balance between competition, getting to know a new land and new characters, and an incredibly tense romance.

Series Review: The Twelve by Cindy Lin

The Twelve duology is an own-voices middle-grade fantasy series by Cindy Lin. In this world those born with Zodiac powers need to stay hidden in fear of death or being taken by the Dragonlord, a dictator that has torn apart the land. Personally, I think this is an older middle grade as there is significant brutality mentioned as well as both books are around 400 pages. We follow Usagi, born a wood rabbit, who after losing those closest to her must recognize her own power and realities of the her world. It is an adventurous story of community and rebellion.

The World: The magic that one is born with depends on the coinciding for the timing of ones birth in an element or a sign of the zodiac. We did get significantly more world building in terms of geography, species, and variation of powers in book two which I wish we could have seen more of in book one. Overall there was a lot of variety and it felt like a real country with history, economy, and culture. There are a magic bullet catch-alls called the “Treasures of the Twelve”; while these can magically save the day most are missing and our heroes don’t have access to them.

The Characters: There was a pretty large cast of characters, but we only followed one point of view, Usagi’s. Each character is traumatized from their world and still growing up. Our heroes all have reasonable character flaws and conflicts. While redemption arcs do happen they are not offered to every character that was ever liked during any point during the series. I found that nice to see especially in a middle grade series.

The Verdict: This is a darker middle-grade (TW: mass death, betrayal, neglect, indoctrination). I do think that it is worth it to read. The culture and characters are well developed and unique to a lot of other middle grade fantasies. In my opinion, there is a good split between nuance and good versus evil. It was a solid 4 star series and if there are ever any spin-offs in the world I will be first in line to read them.

Series Review: Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure

Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure (formally Tangled the Series) follows Rapunzel after the events of Tangled. Rapunzel, Eugene, and their friends (Rapunzel makes friends; Eugene already has them) acclimate to life in Corona, new responsibilities, and the magic of the world. Mainly, it is a show about destiny and characters figuring out their place in the world versus what they want it to be. It does this in a really appropriate way for each character and every character is given the support and resources to better themselves when they choose. The soundtrack also slaps.

The Good

  • The relationships
    • Eugene and Rapunzel’s relationship is an incredibly loving and healthy one. Any conflict in the relationship comes from there separate histories and not miscommunication.
    • All the friendships and family dynamics are unique! Cass and Rapunzel’s relationship is different from Eugene and Lance. Cass’s adoptive father has a different relationship to her than Rapunzel’s newly found family. It is really exciting and shows really well how there is more than one way to have relationships.
    • None of the relationships are built or fixed easily.
  • World building
    • It starts small in Season One just in Corona and focusing on the mystery of the kingdom and the Sun Drop, It expands literally and figuratively in season 2 and 3. We venture to other kingdoms, gods, and magic.
  • Character Development
    • I like that for the characters this is is not always positive development. It explores really well what happens when any character trait is taken too far.
  • Talented Cast
    • It DID retain the voice cast from the movie which was amazing and they did a great job.
    • They got Jeremy Jordan and Eden Espinosa and did not waste them. They had frequent songs and all their talents were used.

The Bad:

  • Rapunzel had to retain her naivete and “niceness” from the movie into the series. Due to this she has to relearn many of the same lessons and often ends up not being able to differentiate between nice and good.
    • She lost two of her friends in the same way and kept being in fights with Max (horse) and Pascal (chameleon) for the same reasons, Some how neither Raps nor anyone else hold her accountable for this in her role as hero.
  • Shorty – was funny in season 1 but not necessary to join the permanent cast.
  • Filler Episodes – there were too many filler episodes in the later seasons as we had a clearer idea of the overarching plot. They made sense in Season 1 when this story was still coming together.
  • The Monkey – I really can’t explain this better

How long is it: 3 Seasons and a Movie

Best Season: Season 2. This road tripping season was focused on growth of the world and the characters. The development excelled!

Best Song: “Ready as I’ll Ever Be” or “Nothing Left to Lose”

Where to watch it: Disney Channel and Disney Plus

All images from IMDB

Series Review: The Four Kingdoms by Melanie Cellier

This is a Young Adult (kinda) series that is centered around fairytale retellings. Each story is a different relationship and a new fairytale. The realm has four countries and we rotate through with each kingdom’s royal family and unique political problems. The stories focus around mystery and adventure with a touch of political intrigue. While they can be predictable, the stories were really fun and the romances were genuinely very sweet.

Genre: Light fantasy – There are a lot of magical references but none of our characters use magic. Young Adult – The romances are all fluff. The main characters tend to be late teens (at youngest 16) to early twenties, so it’s your call.

My review: The retelling elements are really clever and the references make me smile. The romances are based in trust and love. They also always involve members of the other’s family or their friends. Well the relationships tend to cross classes, there is consideration for class politics and identities before and during the romance. Because it is a series you can the political ramifications as well.

The Books

  1. The Princess Companion (Princess and the Pea)
  2. The Princess Fugitive (Red Riding Hood)
  3. Happily Ever Afters (Snow White and Rose Red – Novella)
  4. The Princess Pact (Rumpelstiltskin)
  5. A Midwinter’s Wedding (Princess and the Frog – Novella)
  6. he Princess Game (Sleeping Beauty)
  7. The Princess Search (The Ugly Duckling)

Favorite Retelling:

I thought The Princess Pact which was a Rumpelstiltskin retelling that actually made sense! Melanie Cellier flipped the deal Rumpelstiltskin made and it was so smart and made me really care about the families created.

Favorite Couple:

Ava and Hans from The Princess Fugitive. Honestly, princess and the guard is one of my favorite tropes, but I also love couples that make each other better.

Favorite Kingdom:

Lanover. This is a kingdom that the Princess Game and the Princess Search take place in. There is a huge variety of geographic location and culture that actually gets explored.

Favorite Family:

Arcadia (from The Princess Companion). I think we do spend the most time with this family but they are so genuinely welcoming and love spending time together. Lily and Sophia, twin princesses, are hilarious. The parents genuinely just care about Prince Max’s happiness.

Favorite Book:

The Princess Search. One I never expected an Ugly Duckling retelling to work so well or hit so hard. It was a great travel and mystery story. There is a lot of unpacking of past trauma and focus on valuing relationships and oneself. The romance was beautiful and such a slow burn.

Three Dark Crowns series review (Spoiler Free)

The Premise: This series is written by Kendare Blake and published by Harper Collins. It covers 4 novels and novella bind-up of 2 stories. The story is set on the island of Fennbirn, which is isolated by a mysterious mist and ruled by factions of magic. Fennbirn is ruled by a queen from a faction of magics. In each generation of queens triplets are born with equal claim to the throne. At 6 they are separated and raised by the three major magical factions that they represent (naturalist, elemental, poisoner). The queen that survives their 16th year becomes queen and her faction rules until the next set of triplets come of age. The first book starts with Katherine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe preparing for their ascension year that only one of them will survive.

My Review: I really enjoyed this series across the for books and two short stories I gave it an average rating of 4.3 stars. I loved the characters (my secret favorite is Braddock). For me fantasy stories that are really character driven is what gets me. All the queen are in the same situation but the way the respond to it is what moves the plot. Personally, the moral grey aspect was done well as it’s not characters choosing power or evil influences. It is one form of survival or another.

Initially, I was hesitant to pick it up because it is marketed as this big fight to the death series ( which is it I guess).If you are picking it up for the fight to the death, please know that there are a couple of epic fight scenes but they don’t first appear until the end of book 1. While the romances have a lot of chemistry, I wish they were either more or less prevalent in the page space. I am never a fan of love spells.

In short, I think the things that I didn’t like were small or because of the way the book was pitched and my expectations were off for book one. I really enjoyed a majority of this series and think it is strong all the way through, book two as a little bit of a sophomore slump but is not as notable as in other popular fantasy series.

Best Book: Five Dark Fates (Book 4) for me it is super rare to feel so happy and satisfied with a finale and it just really stood out. The Oracle Queen (short story of queens past) had me on the edge of my seat screaming. It was so fun to see how other queens have handled the ascension year.

Worst Book: The only one I didn’t enjoy was The Young Queens (short story of Katherine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe as children). I know with these optional short stories to give new information is hard when it is optional for the main series but I got nothing out of this.

Read this series if you enjoy:

  • A fantasy series with a satisfying and wonderful conclusion.
  • Morally grey characters who make the choices that they have.
  • Powerful magic
  • Complex family dynamics

Let me know if you have read this series or if you plan to!