Mini-Reviews: Immortal Longings & The Earl I RuinedImmortal Longings by Chloe Gong
Series: Flesh and False Gods #1
Published by Simon and Schuster on July 18, 2023
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: Audiobook
Source: the library


#1 New York Times bestselling author Chloe Gong’s adult epic fantasy debut.

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Immortal Longings is a fiery collision of power plays, spilled blood, and romance amidst a set of deadly games.

Every year, thousands in the kingdom of Talin will flock to its capital twin cities, San-Er, where the palace hosts a set of games. For those confident enough in their ability to jump between bodies, competitors across San-Er fight to the death to win unimaginable riches.

Princess Calla Tuoleimi lurks in hiding. Five years ago, a massacre killed her parents and left the palace of Er empty…and she was the one who did it. Before King Kasa’s forces in San can catch her, she plans to finish the job and bring down the monarchy. Her reclusive uncle always greets the victor of the games, so if she wins, she gets her opportunity at last to kill him.

Enter Anton Makusa, an exiled aristocrat. His childhood love has lain in a coma since they were both ousted from the palace, and he’s deep in debt trying to keep her alive. Thankfully, he’s one of the best jumpers in the kingdom, flitting from body to body at will. His last chance at saving her is entering the games and winning.

Calla finds both an unexpected alliance with Anton and help from King Kasa’s adopted son, August, who wants to mend Talin’s ills. But the three of them have very different goals, even as Calla and Anton’s partnership spirals into something all-consuming. Before the games close, Calla must decide what she’s playing for—her lover or her kingdom.

Chloe Gong is one of the buzziest writers in the YA fantasy space and has been for a couple years, but I’ve been drifting further away from YA and haven’t picked up her work. Gong’s recent adult fantasy debut  seemed like a perfect introduction, but now I’m not so sure.

Immortal Longings introduces the kingdom of Talin and its twin cities San-Er. Life in San-Er is hellish, with widespread poverty crushing most of the populace while the ruling classes enjoy lives of luxury. Even those who can jump, or shift their qi from one body to another, can’t seem to escape the cycle of poverty. The only opportunity for working people to change their lives is through the games, a gladiatorial-style spectacle where competitors use combat and jumping skills to fight to the death. The winner is awarded riches beyond their wildest dreams and gains entry to the upper classes.

Calla Tuolemi, a princess of Talin infamous for murdering her own family in an attempt to topple the monarchy, plans to win this year. Rumours of her demise have been greatly exaggerated, and she’s out to finish what she started. With the help of the king’s adopted heir Prince August, controlling the games behind the scenes, the lethal princess should have no difficulty winning. But neither Calla nor August counted on Anton Makusa, another exiled aristocrat and the most skilled jumper in San-Er, throwing his name into the ring.

Immortal Longings is an entertaining ride with many interesting ideas – perhaps too many. The pacing was quite erratic, with the first third of the novel dedicated to introducing the world and the characters before those got tossed aside for the propulsive plot arcs of the latter sections. There are interesting ideas here, with everything from privatized healthcare to capitalism coming under scrutiny. I’m absolutely on board with that, but the critiques felt a little shallow. My real issue was with the characters, who read to me like overdone archetypes. Their motivations were obvious and their actions predictable, and even Calla couldn’t explain what she hoped to achieve as her plans changed.

I recommend Immortal Longings with reservations. If you’re an avid YA reader looking to branch into adult fantasy (with the violence and explicit sex that comes with it), this would probably work for you. If you’re someone who looks for well-developed adult characters, give it a pass.

Mini-Reviews: Immortal Longings & The Earl I RuinedThe Earl I Ruined by Scarlett Peckham
Series: The Secrets of Charlotte Street #2
Published by NYLA on December 11, 2018
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Received from author

She’s beautiful, rich, and reckless...

When Lady Constance Stonewell accidentally ruins the Earl of Apthorp’s entire future with her gossip column, she does what any honorable young lady must: offer her hand in marriage. Or, at the very least, stage a whirlwind fake engagement to repair his reputation. Never mind that it means spending a month with the dullest man in England. Or the fact that he disapproves of everything she holds dear.

He’s supposedly the most boring politician in the House of Lords...

Julian Haywood, the Earl of Apthorp, is on the cusp of finally proving himself to be the man he’s always wanted to be when his future is destroyed in a single afternoon. When the woman he’s secretly in love with confesses she’s at fault, it isn’t just his life that is shattered: it’s his heart.

They have a month to clear his name and convince society they are madly in love...

But when Constance discovers her faux-intended is decidedly more than meets the eye—not to mention adept at shocking forms of wickedness—she finds herself falling for him.

There’s only one problem: he can’t forgive her for breaking his heart.

Historical romance fans, gather round: if you’re not reading Scarlett Peckham, you need to fix that. Immediately. With her second novel, The Earl I Ruined, Peckham proves that the success of her debut was no fluke. She’s a talent to watch.

The set-up of The Earl I Ruined is just so damn refreshing. For once, it’s a story where the heroine does the ruining rather than the hero (or some random other character). Lady Constance Stonewell is a free-spirited young woman who bucks off society’s norms, delighting in making friends in low places and saying what would be better kept to herself. Constance loves to play and tease, and few things please her more than writing ribald plays and poems. She’s also a huge gossip with a meddlesome streak a mile wide – really, an accident waiting to happen.

And happen it does, when one of her gossip columns ends up ruining the formerly sterling reputation of Julian Haywood. Lord Bore, as Constance calls him, is extremely uptight and unyielding. A perfect gentleman with impeccable manners, he’s absolutely furious to be brought down by such a flight and bothersome girl. Especially by a girl he’s been pining over for decades. Constance soon realizes the depth of his anger and vows to make things right using the most obvious solution – a fake engagement, of course. Everything’s going according to plan until Constance finally realizes that there’s absolutely nothing boring about the so-called Lord Bore.

Peckham beautifully blends love and lust with solemnity and angst. Constance and Julian are polar opposites, but each has what the other lacks. Constance brings out Julian’s playfulness, and he helps her add some much needed seriousness to her life. The angst of their misunderstandings absolutely ruined me (pun intended), but of course it all works out in the end. Something that I really appreciate about Scarlett Peckham is how sex positive her stories are, especially given the Victorian setting. The ruination – and er, subsequent events – is framed as scandalous, yes, but also delicious.

Highly recommended to fans of historical romance and contemporary romance readers who love spice and want to try some historicals.