Editorial Articles

Digital Artists You Absolutely Need To Follow!

As a strong advocator for the arts, I’ve thought to myself at starting an article here on my website—even though it’s mainly for book reviews and fancasts—to share some names of artists that I feel like everyone should know. Now, I know this is a hard pill to swallow, but I love to read….I know, I’ll let you take a few to process that shocking bit of information on my book review website…

…Now that your mind is no longer officially blown, let it also be known that there are a lot of artists out there who love to read as well, and it’s even better when those artists commission artwork of books I’ve read and also enjoyed! It adds a whole new layer to the fandom of the books themselves, and I want to celebrate their beautiful work, and possibly even give them some free exposure to maybe even let more people discover them too.

Over the years, a few specific artists have stayed in my mind since I’d discovered them either on Pinterest, Instagram, or even through word of mouth from my friends. A lot of them are pretty prolific when it comes to fanart of popular book fandoms, and if you’re an avid reader like myself, will probably recognize quite a few names yourself. They are all noteworthy graphic designers, digital artists, video game artists, commissioners; pretty much anyone who uses a drawing tablet. Enjoy the beautiful work, and hopefully be inspired for your own creative content, no matter what that may be!

Enjoy this list, it is in no particular order!

*I do not own any of this artwork, and have no rights towards any of it. If any of the artists listed below come across this article and wish for their work to be taken down, please let me know!*

CLICK HERE TO SEE PART 2 OF THIS LIST!

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Monolime Art

This artist has a unique style that has caught my eye ever since their work was showcased in a special edition of Sarah J. Maas’s “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series inside the cover. As you can see, they’ve also done amazing artwork for “The Folk of the Air” trilogy by Holly Black, the “Shades of Magic” trilogy by V.E. Schwab, “Nevernight” by Jay Kristoff, and even “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo.

Instagram: @monolimeart

Tumblr: monolime

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Charlie Bowater

Charlie’s work is simply breathtaking, and she definitely deserves a spot on my top three favorites out of all the artists I’ve included. She does some of the best work for Sarah J. Maas’s books, and her artwork has also graced book covers, and on the inside of dust jackets for exclusive editions. I only hope to see her work showcased even more as time goes on!

Instagram: @charliebowater

Tumblr: @charliebowater

Website

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Kayla Nyre

Kayla Nyre has a style unlike any other artist mentioned in this article. The UW-Stout Animation alumni has taken to social media to showcase her line of prints dubbed “PotHeads” which are an infused style she’s created because of her love of plants and art, and has been a great way for her to focus more on figure drawing!

Instagram: @kaylamnyre

Website

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Daniel Kordek

As a big fan of Ariana Grande, this led me to discovering this artist on Instagram. Daniel has a pattern of turning towards fabulous, fierce females of pop culture. I really enjoy the caricature-like style he has with his work, and his ability to cover all aspects of who are considered to be influential, powerful women in both contemporary times and through history.

Instagram: @danielkordek

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Ivan Belikov

I’d discovered Ivan with his stunning artwork that’d become the cover of the fantasy novel: “The Priory of the Orange Tree” by Samantha Shannon. While I was disappointed by the book, one thing thats held my adoration was his artwork—hint, hint: it’s the blue dragon below. His attention to detail is utterly magnificent, and I definitely recommend checking him out on his website or social media to get an even closer look, it’s simply mind-blowing!

Instagram: @further_up

Website

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Ngozi Ukazu

Ngozi is an artist I’d discovered through her incredible graphic novel, Check, Please! It’s about about a young figure-skater—who loves to bake, and has a vlog—going to college on a Hockey scholarship. Going from Georgia peaches to hockey pucks is already a big transition for a new college freshman, but it gets even worse when he’s got a big crush on the captain. I love her cartoony yet crisp style, and her Graphic Novel is a Sports LGBTQ+ romance to defs give a read-through!

Instagram: @ngoziu

Tumblr: @ngoziu

Website

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Justin Totemical

Just a few words that come to mind when I look at Justin’s artwork: colorful, radiant, transcendent, other-worldly, and trippy AF. His work looks straight out of a vision while on some sort of hallucinogen or out of some crazy video game, but is definitely worth remembering! He’s a computer artist, and is always looking forwards to the latest in whatever technology has to offer in order to create more visually stunning masterpieces!

Instagram: @totemical

Website

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Niru Sky

I’d first come across this freelance artist for their work on Julian and Legend from “Caraval” by Stephanie Garber, and they’ve also done amazing work for Nikolai Lantsov and the Darkling from the Grishaverse, and even the wicked king Cardan Greenbriar from “The Folk of the Air” trilogy by Holly Black!

Instagram: @niru.sky

Tumblr: nirusky.tumblr.com

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icandrawthingz

Like many of the artists on here, this artist—who also doesn’t have much about them on their profiles—have done great artwork commissions for books I love, like “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” “Six of Crows,” and “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab. They’ve also done some fanart from Disney movies and even some OC work of their own. Their work definitely gives me some Disney Animation Studios-esque style!

Instagram: @icandrawthingz

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Natalia Dias

Natalia does some brilliant work with colorful female portraits. They can either be realistic and contemporary or more on the fantasy side, but their most notable work comes from the colorful hair they seem to be a master of commissioning! Her work takes on a euphoric vibe with women of all shapes, sizes, and skin colors to enjoy!

Instagram: @nataliadsw

Website

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Gabriel Picolo

Kayla Nyre, a close friend of mine—remember her potheads from earlier?—recommended this comic artist to me that they’d found on Instagram. I love his style, especially his work with DC’s “Teen Titans.” His scenes with them perfectly capture the fun, youthful vibes of the teens of our culture today, and even does so with Snapchat captions/filters! He can tell a whole story in a single image, and I’d read the first Graphic Novel for Raven, and while the author’s writing was sub-par, his illustrations were what truly shined!

Instagram: @_picolo

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Maya Danuta

Maya has a fun, lighter toned style of work that focuses mainly around the world of Harry Potter. She goes all over the place with Harry, Ron and Hermoine but also goes even further with some artwork centering around James Potter and the rest of the marauders during their years at Hogwarts! While any potterhead will appreciate their work, there’s also a few non-HP related work worth checking out too!

Instagram: @wingedcorgiart

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Tara Spruit

Tara is a brilliant illustrator who’s work is used in exclusive YA-Fantasy subscription boxes like Fairyloot and Owlcrate on a regular basis. She’s done work for just about EVERY fantasy book fandom there is, and that’s too many names to list! If it’s a popular YA Fantasy book/series, odds are she’s created some beautiful artwork for everyone to enjoy!

Instagram: @taratjah

Twitter: @taratjah

Tumblr: @taratjah

Website

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Kira Night

A fellow Minnesotan like myself, Kira is a great artist who loves to use her work to explore whimsical lands with many interesting characters. I was first drawn to her work through some amazing artwork of characters from V.E. Schwab’s “Shades of Magic” Series, but she’s also done Tarot card designs of the “Six of Crows” characters too!

Instagram: @kiranight_art

Website

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Laura Casara

Another artist who does absolutely brilliant artwork of characters from books by Holly Black and V.E. Schwab that I’ve mentioned before. At first, her work is light, whimsical, and full of color until you peer closer and see the character’s dark expressions. She does a wonderful job of sneaking darkness into her characters to it more of a wicked edge!

Instagram: @loweana.art

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Salome Totladze

Much like Tara Spruit, Salome has done artwork for just about EVERY major book fandom out there when it comes to Fantasy novels/series. I’ve been following this fashion designer, illustrator, and comic artist on social media since their earlier days of posting characters from the “Throne of Glass” series, and it’s been an absolute joy to see them continue to improve with every work of art posted for the world to see!

Instagram: @morgana0anagrom

Twitter: @morgana0anagrom

Tumblr: @morgana0anagrom

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Gabriella Bujdoso

Another incredible artist to add to this collection, they do a lot of commissions for popular book fandoms. Along with titles I’ve mentioned for other designers, they’ve also done work for “An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir, the “Captive Prince” trilogy by C.S Pacat, and “House of Earth and Blood” by Sarah J. Maas. Gabriella also has a distinct style that places them amongst who are considered the best of book fandom artists!

Instagram: @gabriella.bujdoso

Twitter: @gabibujdoso

Website

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Diana Dworak

Diana is another book fandom artist that’s worth mentioning because their work is also gorgeous! They’ve made art for many popular book series, and she’s also done work for “Children of Blood and Bone” by Toni Adeyemi and “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson.

Instagram: @dianadworak

Twitter: @DianaDworak

Website

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Nolan Harris

Nolan is a different kind of artist on here who’s not known for commissioning for popular book fandoms, or really even their own character/environments. He’s actually a freelance illustrator that makes pieces of the professional wrestlers of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and has been hired by the company for many merchandise opportunities. His style is so much fun to look at, and captures the essence of each superstar perfectly while infusing it with his caricature style.

Instagram: @nolanium

Website

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Coralie Jubénot

Coralie is by far my favorite digital artist amongst all the names I know…I mean, I’m not sure I need to explain why when you look at their gallery below. Her art is instantly recognizable amongst all the book fandoms for their uniquely drawn characters and their distinctly sharpened facial features. She can really draw those Sarah J. Maas males like Chaol, Dorian, Rowan, and Rhysand to perfection!

Instagram: @merwildandco

Twitter: @Merwild

Website

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N.C. Winters

N.C Winters has artwork that feels incredibly surreal. Whether it’s a beautiful dream or a complete nightmare, the imagery packs a wallop and leaves a lasting impression. They love to focus on beautiful disaster and the windows to the soul; some of their work really reminds me of the cursed crew of the Flying Duchman from “The Pirates of the Caribbean” movies!

Instagram: @ncwinersart

Website

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PhantomRin

One of the first digital artists I’d ever discovered on Instagram, they were also one of the first artists to showcase fanart of Holly Black’s “The Folk of the Air” trilogy. Their style is more simplistic than some of the other names mentioned in this collection, but that doesn’t deteriorate from their work at all! What I can appreciate about their art is how they’re willing to try different styles and different choices of mediums while maintaining their key characteristics that fans can still recognize. Check out their stuff on Instagram if you don’t believe me!

Instagram: @phantomrin

Tumblr: phantomrin.tumblr.com

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Fab Ng

Some key words for this artist’s work is gay, erotic, and Fabuloooooous! They’ve recently gone more in the direction of creating sexy male mermaids, but what initially drew me in was their collection of overly sexualized male superheroes. They do a lot of different types of freelance work with contemporary models, DC and Marvel characters, mermaids and other mythological half-creatures, and also draw up some fierce females too! They have a Patreon page to view their raunchier work, since Instagram unfortunately doesn’t allow such art on their platform.

Instagram: @artbyfab

Tumblr: artbyfab.tumblr.com

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Jemlin Creations

A digital artist that started their little business by designing bookmarks showcasing popular YA and Adult Fantasy characters for fans to add a gorgeous little visual for their reading adventures. They’ve recently gotten more popular for their colorful style, and so they’ve been posting their art on Instagram for all of us to enjoy!

Instagram: @jemlincreations

Website

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Mitch Aseltine

A more recent addition to this collection, I’d discovered this freelance concept artist through @phantasyarts on Instagram: a collection page of amazing concept art and matte paintings for fans of sci-fi/fantasy imagery. He’s got amazing style, and his artwork looks like it should be showcased in video games; I feel like he’s going to be a name to remember!

Instagram: @mitchaseltine

Website

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So, there you have it! So many names, and so much amazing artwork to enjoy and inspire. I wanted to create an article to collect names and profiles not only for me to refer back to, but for others as well for any reason: to discover more artist names, for inspiration on your own artwork, or even for fellow writers who want to use art as a prompt.

I plan to continuously add more and more names as time goes on, so feel free to bookmark this page and refer back to it from time to time too. I want this to be a great resource for interested parties, and please please please please please reach out and talk to me if there are names not on here that you feel like they should be! There are so many artists out there, not even I am aware of everyone out there. Thats kind of the beauty of it; it’s a constant hunt to find them all.

CLICK HERE TO SEE PART 2 OF THE LIST!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, LGBT, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: Prince’s Gambit (Captive Prince #2): by C.S. Pacat

Publish Date: July 7th, 2015
Number of Pages: 404 Pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance, LGBT+ (M/M)

***Warning!! This book review contains spoilers from the previous title of this trilogy, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – The Captive Prince – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

To get what you want, you have to know exactly how much you’re willing to give up.”

– C.S. Pacat, “Prince’s Gambit”

So, right off the bat, it must be known that this trilogy is a total MOOD read.

It’s very niche and specific, and you have to be in a particular place to be able to really enjoy these books. I’m not going to lie, these books are kind of sleazy, perverted, and horny underneath the usual fantasy aspects of courtly intrigue, evil plots to overthrow kingdoms, oppression and slavery, epic battles, secrets revealed, complex and morally grey characters, and long journeys on horseback. A mild warning: there’s lots of penis references or penises mentioned throughout, like, everyone is aware of each others penises. It can be a turn off for certain readers, but don’t we live in a phallic dominating world anyways?….never mind, let’s not get into that.

You see a panther opening its jaws, you don’t get your dick out.”

– C.S. Pacat, “Prince’s Gambit”

As for me. this trilogy just got so much better in the 2nd book! Prince’s Gambit fulfilled everything I wanted for these books, but of course, STILL left me wanting even more!

Damen and Laurent’s relationship continues to develop at an achingly slow pace, but I love the enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story arc, so believe me when I say it’s all worth it in the end.

The first book taught me patience,
This book taught me pain
And I know the next one will teach me love–but I’m sure there will be a lot of pain with it too…

What It’s About:

Damen and Laurent are on the road with a select number of soldiers, some men are Laurent’s and some belong to the Regent: Laurent’s creepy, corrupt uncle who rules their country named Vere. In the previous title, his uncle coerced Laurent into serving a small territory close to their border, but unbeknownst to Laurent and Damen, he’s sent assassins and part of his army after them to kill them all off before Laurent comes of age and can completely ascend to the throne. Laurent’s cruel situation with his uncle comes to light, and is revealed how he may be just as captive as Damen in certain ways.

His uncle’s plan, of course, begins to backfire and causes Damen and Laurent’s alliance to only grow stronger. They begin to trust each other, confide in each other, and become inseparable. Others amongst their soldiers begin to notice, and suddenly Damen seems like the lady doth protest too much when they ask him if anything is going on between the two of them.

More characters are introduced, and some get more attention this time around, but what isn’t new is there are still plenty of hidden agendas amongst everyone. Damen’s biggest secret–his real identity as the Prince of Akielos–is still kept under wraps, which is good, because who knows what would happen if Laurent finds out that it was Damen who’d killed his older brother in battle a few years prior. It’s okay though, because the two of them spend too much time staring longingly and broodingly at each other to worry about it ever coming up!

Problem solved.

More secrets are revealed, more enemies make their presence known, plots are discovered, and even more bitter betrayals threaten everything in order to bring peace back to the realm as war appears on the horizon.

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse, Rape, Violence, Dismemberment, Heartbreak

What I Liked:

  1. The Slow-Burn Romance Continues! It’s one of the main driving points of the story, but more happens in this sequel that leans towards an eventual romantic relationship between Damen and Laurent. The first book didn’t have any; it was more about them starting off as sworn enemies turned reluctant allies, but this book has them growing closer as they travel across the land, narrowly escaping danger, and both secretly deal with their growing attraction for each other, even if they refuse to admit it to the other. It does move at an incredibly slow speed, so impatient readers will get frustrated at how little they receive from the author until the very end. There are a couple side-romances to somewhat fill the void while you wait and see what goes down between our two protagonists as the tension builds.
  2. More Battles! The first book was more about the hedonistic indulgences of Laurent’s kingdom, along with its cruelty and political intrigue; Damen figures out what a truly effed up world he’d been transported to. This title includes all that plus more with high octane, gritty battles between soldiers that makes it a much faster paced read in that regard!
  3. So Much More Complexity! The first title just set the scene for us that included the slavery, the court politics, and the underhanded scheming, but this book includes all that plus so much more! Evil plots are revealed, even more betrayals occur, complex characters and their motives being revealed, more heartbreak and violence; everything just feels enhanced and exaggerated in this second title that makes it so much more interesting of a read!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Maybe Needed More Romance?…Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot I didn’t like about this book, but maybe I wish there was a little more romance between the two main characters? A stolen kiss here or there? Something to satisfy or tease us to help build up towards Chapter 19, and maybe not make it feel like it takes forever to get to that point.

Conclusion:

Everything about this book is so much better than the first, and the real plot is revealed that brings up the point of how nothing is truly as it seems; we as humans only see what we want to see. The author excellently crafted a well plotted, intricate piece of LGBT fantasy literature that’s hidden beneath hedonism, sexual imagery/themes and erotic undertones. I can understand that it’s not for everyone and it caters to a more specific kind of audience, but I can say I was a part of it because of how much I’d enjoyed it!

There’s slow romance to the point of it being more frustratingly slow than any other one I’ve read before, but that just makes what we’re given all that more satisfying. It’s like having ice cold water after a long journey through the desert.

I’ve grown really fond of Damen–despite the gigantic secret he keeps from Laurent–because of his courage, his honor, and willingness to do what is right even when the odds are stacked against him. It’s also just a nice change of pace to read a protagonist who’s already well adjusted into his queer sexuality, and that part of the story isn’t about him or Laurent coming to terms with it.

The ending of this title certainly raises a bunch of questions, and sets it up to have quite an intriguing next chapter in this complex story! I dove into it immediately because I had to know what would happen next! What do Damen and his friends showing up mean? How does Laurent and Damen’s relationship develop? Does Laurent know? So many questions!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

NJGEntertainment’s Top 5 Reads of 2019!

Image created with canva.com

The year 2019 is quickly coming to a close, and the 2010’s are almost behind us! Frankly, it’s a gigantic relief and it makes me start to look back on the year I’ve had as a human being. I will admit it and say that it wasn’t necessarily an easy year, but I won’t bore any of my readers with the tragic details…

One thing it did teach me was who would really be in my corner when the going gets tough, and while I have my own inner circle, squad, tribe, fam, whatever slang term is appropriate for the times, books are always a warm presence in my life! Why not follow the trend and end the year with my top picks that I enjoyed throughout the last 11 months!

Looking back on the year of books that I’ve read—My Goodreads Reading Challenge was 65 titles—I’ve noticed a lot of the books I was drawn towards tended to be within the Romance genre. There were plenty of Fantasy genre selections too, but Romance kind of owned it this year; I believe it is because I am so happy to see how many LGBTQ+ titles are now out there on the market. Back when I was an angsty young lad trying to survive just growing up and figuring out my place in this crazy world—I totally still am by the way—there weren’t as many available, nor were the ones that were really marketed that well and/or showcased like they are now. Representation matters (in all positive forms)!

Below are my top five titles that really seemed to have stuck with me, and left a huge impression on me amongst the many titles I got my hands on. They are in no particular order because I simply loved all of them as they continued to ignite my passion for books, reading, storytelling, and be sure to click on the linked titles to see my full reviews (who knows, you may discover your next favorite title!)

I hope you all enjoy my selections, have a great holiday season and happy new year, and Thanks for Reading!

Red, White, and Royal Blue: by Casey McQuiston

An excellent addition to the ever-growing LGBTQ+ representation in literature, this book is an enemies-to-lovers romance between the bisexual first son of the president of the United States (who’s also half-latino) and the Royal Prince of Wales. Alex and Prince Henry were complete couples goals, and so much fun to read! This was Casey McQuiston’s debut novel, so I can’t wait to see what she comes out with in future book titles!

Check, Please! Book 1: # Hockey: by Ngozi Ukazu

Another LGBTQ+ romance to add to my selections, this time in Graphic Novel form. This story follows figure skater, vlogger, and baker–Eric Bittle–as he goes off to start his freshman year of college to continue competing on the ice, but instead joins the hockey team! It’s an adorable coming-of-age story as he juggles adjusting to a whole new world on the ice with bro-ey hockey jocks, discovering more about his sexuality, and deal with his growing crush on Jack Zimmerman, the Junior Hockey team captain! The hilarious, memorable characters and the gorgeous illustrations were what really drew me in, and I absolutely loved this first volume! I am also so excited for the second volume to release in print in Spring 2020!

New Camelot Trilogy (American Queen, American Prince, and American King): by Sierra Simone

A scorching, seductive retelling of the iconic Arthurian tale that involves a passionate, secret affair amongst the President of the United States, his wife, and the Vice President. Excellently written from multiple perspectives as the whole story is slowly revealed; these books are freakin’ hot and unlike any other romance/erotic title(s) I’ve ever read before! I can’t recommend these enough to anyone looking for something 1000x better than Fifty Shades of Grey!

Again, But Better: by Christine Riccio

A debut work of YA-Contemporary fiction from a well-known Youtube Book Reviewer, this novel was an ultimate feel-good, coming-of-age uplifting story that reminds us to live life to the fullest, even when we aren’t always allowed a second chance to do over our past mistakes! A little amateurish in terms of prose and plot, but this title helped me out of a rough patch and has an amazing message that can really speak to just about anyone who reads it!

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1): by V.E. Schwab

Probably my favorite Fantasy genre book I read this year, V.E. Schwab really impresses with this book for its unique, imaginative, multi-universe London setting based on color, a magical being who can travel between them to send messages while wearing a transforming overcoat, a cross dressing female pirate who hopes for more, and dangerous, dark magic that makes a surprise return after being believed to have been lost long ago…

There are my personally selected Top 5 picks for the year! It was hard to condense the many titles I’d read down to these 5, so maybe next year I’ll raise it to my top 10! There were plenty of other titles that I really enjoyed, and so I’m granting them their own little section of this post, check them out below! (The titles with links attached are ones that I’ve previously reviewed, the others are ones that will be on here soon!

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BONUS CONTENT:

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2019 Honorable Mentions:

The Wicked King & The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #2 & #3): by Holly Black

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Him (Him #1): by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

Caraval (Caraval #1): by Stephanie Garber

It Ends With Us: by Colleen Hoover

The Captive Prince Trilogy (Captive Prince, Princes Gambit, and Kings Rising): by C.S. Pacat

The Kiss Quotient: by Helen Hoang

Verity: by Colleen Hoover

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So, there you have it! 2019 was filled with many amazing titles that made for a great year of reading! 2020 is just around the corner, and with the new year fast approaching, my plan is to get even more heavily into Fantasy genre titles/series to not only enjoy them, but to also start narrowing in on ideas on what I want another future writing project to be about: Yes, I want to write a fantasy novel/series sometime!

So far, all I’ve got is that I want it to include queer romance, mermaids/sirens, more found family dynamics as a group embarks on some sort of journey, animal companions/guardians, half-bird folk, possibly two ancient dragons destined to return and battle it out, and a secret school of female assassins! We’ll see what happens!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, LGBT, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: Captive Prince (Captive Prince #1): by C.S. Pacat

Publish Date: April 7th, 2015
Number of Pages: 270
Publisher: Berkely
Genre(s): LGBT, Fantasy, Romance (M/M), New Adult

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

Back around the time when I’d first found this book, I’d made it a point to search for more queer romance stories, specifically of the M/M variety, because why not celebrate my own queerness and read books with my people as the leads, am I right? Doing some research into finding titles, this trilogy showed up quite a lot, like, actually A LOT. Tumblr, Goodreads, lists all over the internet, and Bookstagram all had high praise for this trilogy, and with it being described as a M/M Fantasy romance, added with seeing some amazing fan art (like the one below), I was sold and knew I had to get my hands on them.

Fan artwork of Laurent & Damen, image courtesy of @gabriella.bujdoso on Instagram

Upon reading it, I found out that it’s actually very little fantasy; there’s no wizards, dragons, elves, white walkers or anything magical. It’s considered Fantasy based on the fact that the story takes place in a fictional land, so I almost considered it to just be a period piece, or even just historical fiction to a small degree. It’s set in medieval times, with opposing countries on the brink of war with corrupt and powerful courts filled with deadly secrets and intrigue.

It’s funny to look at other reviews of this title and see that it’s either “OMG I LOVE THIS, IT’S AMAZEBALLS AND ITS SO EFFING GREAT,” or “WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS CRAP? SLAVERY AND TORTURE ISN’T SEXY, THIS IS DISGUSTING & I HATE IT!” …Honestly I was more towards the middle. Yeah, there is some problematic subject matter within the story that may trigger certain readers: there’s torture, slavery, kidnapping, sexual assault & rape, voyeurism, and even some pedophilia (yeah, even I can admit that’s a lot). I personally was not so taken aback by it all, but I understand that other readers would for sure be turned off to any of those triggers to keep them from going near this book, it all makes it incredibly controversial, which is what also made me more interested.

What It’s About:

Damen, a warrior prince and next in line to ascend the throne of Akielos, is taken prisoner when his half-brother seizes the throne with brutal power after their father passes away, and strips him of his identity and has him shipped off to enemy territory in order to hide him away and greedily keep his newfound place of power.

Map of the world of the Captive Prince Trilogy, image courtesy of fuckyeahfictionalmaps Tumblr profile

Damen, now turned slave, is brought to the northern realm of Vere, and becomes a pleasure slave for its Crown Prince, Laurent. Laurent is everything thats vile about the Veretian Court; he’s manipulative, vindictive, pampered, spoiled, sadistic, cruel, but Damen also couldn’t deny that he was absolutely gorgeous.

Trying to survive and find any way to escape back home, Damen soon gets wrapped up in the dark, twisted web of the Veretian Court, and soon discovers that more is going on behind closed doors than he’d ever anticipated. It will require him to find allies in unexpected places, and work together with Laurent in a dangerous chase towards the throne, but keep his true identity a secret when he discovers that Laurent has a reason to despise him more than anyone else…

What I Liked:

  1. It was Character-Driven! There isn’t a whole lot of world-building, but this story mainly focuses on the two main characters, Laurent and Damen, and their developing relationship along with others including guards, royals, slaves and courtiers. It’s funny though: Laurent is absolutely despicable in this book, like, he’s actually portrayed as an elitist human douchestick. Even thought it’s obvious that him and Damen will end up together, you really question it at times like: “What does he see in him? How will they ever actually get together?” He’s an interesting character though; he does some heinous things, but then it turns out later that he was actually helping someone or doing it for the good of the cause, and you slowly turn around on your initial opinion of him. The author does an amazingly job of his development; it’s so fragile and delicate, but again, so well done.
  2. Haters-to-Lovers Trope! Based on how the two interact, you can easily decipher that any sort of romance between them is going to be a slow burn. Damen and Laurent absolutely despise each other right off the bat, but must become reluctant allies when secrets are revealed and they learn they need to work together. There’s sexual chemistry that develops, but it moves at a slower, but realistic pace both sexually and otherwise.
  3. Queer-centric! The vast majority of the cast of characters are male, and everyone is some sort of version of being queer, or at least not straight. It’s funny, but it’s like being straight is the taboo, sinful, forbidden way for people to be, unless it’s simply to create an heir. I found it completely refreshing how it’s never questioned by anyone, it’s a normal way of life which made me sigh at how much I wish we could live in a world like that, where people don’t get so bent out of shape for who they’re attracted to.
  4. Complexity of the Characters! The character work done in this story is incredible. There’s plenty of subplots throughout, and you really start to wonder about the characters and how they operate; why are they like this, what are their true intentions, and what isn’t the author telling us? There’s definitely a feeling that things are not what they appear to be in both the characters and the plot, and that will keep you longing to find out more.
  5. Its Subject Matter is Controversial! This book is trigger warnings galore, and it’s something that quite a lot of people are not going to be able to read. It makes you uncomfortable, it’s unsettling and even kind of perverted in some scenes. Our society likes to shy away from these topics (rape, sex slaves, abuse of all kinds, torture, kidnapping, pedophilia), even censor it entirely like it doesn’t even exist. I say, just because a book has these topics in it doesn’t make it a bad book. Yes, the author has them all within her story, but she does present it in a delicate way and touches on them much care. She doesn’t glorify it or make it seem like its alright; it’s oppressive and heavy, and unfortunately for some that experience it, it’s all they know and it’s been normalized for them. They don’t know any better, and this terrible treatment is expected of them, at least in their minds. It’s sad, it’s depressing, but you know what? It’s not too far off from the world we live in today; things like this are happening, and censoring it and ignoring it won’t make it fully disappear. Exposing ourselves to it allows us to open our minds and make us more aware of the world; maybe not in a good way, but gives us a deeper understanding of it in some way, and that its not a safe place, and if we don’t like it, we should do something to help create change.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Politics…I’ve said it before, but I’m not a big fan of politics in works of fiction (It’s just a personal preference of mine), and this book has quite a bit of it. Sure, political intrigue helps further the plot of the story, but when things got to technical in terms of the way the courts are set up, along with rules and societal norms & regulations, I admit I was tempted to skip over it to get the story moving faster during those parts.
  2. Very Little World-Building…The world that the author places this story in is fictional, and there are some references to how it all came to be, but I wish the author went a little more in depth with it and how the world she created developed over history. It seems like there’s a ton of it, but it’s only ever hinted at and never fully explained. It’s funny though, Vere resembles renaissance Italy, where people are dressed in frivolous, campy costumes with intricate detail and shows little skin, but are much more open about their sexuality amongst themselves. Akielos is the complete opposite; they resemble Ancient Greece or Rome where everyone wears barely-there togas and even the architectural style is more open like the Pantheon, but they’re more conservative with their sexuality; it’s kind of ironic if you think about it.

Conclusion:

Overall, this was an incredibly eye-opening book that’s certainly controversial and something that a lot of sensitive readers will not enjoy, which is understandable. I can recognize my own privilege and know that none of the subject matter really upset me all that much (maybe just slightly made me uncomfortable at most), but understand that someone who may have suffered a similar kind of abuse will not appreciate it in this book.

The author has created an interesting world, even if not as much as you’d like is revealed, but the characters and the vague but obvious sense that more is to come really drives you forward. The characters have some unknown depths that you want to uncover more of, and in the climax, it becomes apparent that there’s some sort of plan in motion that thrillingly gives in an air of mystery.

I found myself still hoping for more in a lot of aspects of the story, including the developing relationship between the two characters, but I was definitely entertained enough to want to keep reading, and ***mild spoiler alert*** I can say that there’s so many good things to come in the next two books that will satisfy whoever is willing to stick with the story long enough!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell