Member Reviews

*I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for the free book.*

I had a very hard time getting into this book and picking it up again, I cannot really tell you why. At first I was confused by world building and characters, I felt overwhelmed. Then some characters started growing on me but I found the story to be quite predictable.

I love the aroace rep and that there are queerplatonic relationships but I found this also to be underexplored. Overall, the book read like at least two books had been crammed into one. Yes, it is cozy in parts and yes it is a fun scifi, but there was a lot of unused potential.

3 stars

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After Remy’s beloved older brother dies, he vows revenge on the man who cursed him, Idrian Delaciel. Thankfully, Remy is a witherer and is capable of returning the favor without much more than a drop of Idrian’s blood. Unfortunately, the curse backfires and Remy must seek out his sworn enemy in order to save his own life.

In this queer enemies to lovers, we follow Remy as he is forced to acknowledge the bond between himself and the person who killed the one he loved most. Arbeaux does an amazing job of world and character building and I found myself laughing just as much as I was tearing up. This story of conflicting emotions and government cover ups was just what I needed as a refresher between my more difficult reads!

If you are looking for a quick and entertaining fantasy, this is the perfect choice for pride month!

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One of the best found families
Queer platonic connections

So much about this book was unexpected to me, I thought there would be a 'love story', I was uncertain about the tethers in the first few pages and I wasn't sure what I thought about Remy. Excuse my 180 after a chapter or two where I was completely inquisitive and invested in the ideas of tethers..."please tell me more" and I began to like Remy a lot.

Remy went from entitled to rebel, from murderer to saviour and all of this was under the watch of Idrian, the Lord of the Empty Isles. Idrian was a character I wanted to get to know, to unpick and find out what made him tick. I didn't get to know him quite as much as I wished but I really liked who he was as an individual, but even more, who he was as a leader and friend.

This book delivered on the kind of found family I long for in books. This family was inter-dependent in a good way, full of authenticity and rolled from one crisis-trauma to the next. There were lots of queer characters who were simply their lovely selves.

The story/plot had lots to bring in terms of grief and loss, a displaced population under the control of a dictator who rationed their water, air and food; so much to identify with current times. While there were difficult scenes in this story, the author still managed to make this a hopeful read.

Lastly, I just want to address my expectations in terms of a romantic love, there wasn't, although there seemed to be chemistry. However, the other kinds of love were strong and prevalent and I don't think I missed out on this.

Jules Arbeaux is an author I will be jumping to read again. I think this is a standalone as it wraps up well but I guess there could be more to come in this world. I would be happy if there was.

Thank you to Pride Book Tours and Hodderscape for the review copy.

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I really loved Lord of the Empty Isles!
It was such a good book! It made me tear up a few times as there were really some heartbreaking moments, especially this one scene that made me cry. The way the book explored grief was just so well done.
The book wasn't all full of grief, though, as there were also many lovely moments full of healing and found family.
There were so many great characters, and they were definitely the highlight of the book.

Remy was a great main character, and I loved his relationships with everyone, especially Idrian, who was also a really great character. I just loved them both!
They had such a good enemies to queerplatonic relationship, it was done so well.
Lord of the Empty Isles is definitely a book that i highly recommend as it was an amazing read that will definitely stay with me. It will both make you cry and then make you feel better with characters that you will love! I already miss them so much!

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for a review.

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Thank you Hodderscape and NetGalley for an eARC of this book.

I feel so torn in this review, because despite loving so many things about this book, I can’t bring myself to give it 5 stars.

Overall, this was a wonderful story about morality and perspective and whether the ends can truly justify the means. Jules Arbeaux is a blisteringly good writer, spinning out seemingly effortless prose with a gorgeous lilt and rhythm. At the same time, the author manages to balance artful prose with snappy and funny dialogue that definitely lives squarely in the snarky camp but never feels obnoxious. Despite the quick pace of the book the characters are well fleshed out. Watching Remy and Idrian challenge each other’s world views and grow to find a way of life that is less binary and destructive is moving and sometimes downright profound.

However, the one place Lord of the Empty Isles really faltered for me was in its villain. The Chancellor’s motivation for evil is protecting the planet they live on and preventing another catastrophic environmental catastrophe like the one that nearly destroyed humanity hundreds of years ago. I’m all for an interesting nuanced villain with relatable goals, but the Chancellor is not that - Arbeaux presents him as entirely, 100% evil and never cèdes any ground that protecting the planet might be a good thing, if better executed. This left the book seeming to argue that any laws requiring people to protect the environment are evil and oppressive, which is…a choice. Given the massive scale of environmental destruction our world is experiencing now, this borders on irresponsible. I doubt Arbeaux is actually an anti-environmentalist. But after giving so much thought to the prose and the emotional growth of the characters, it really disappointed me that the author apparently couldn’t spare a few moments to wrestle with the political and philosophical implications of the villain. It unfortunately soured what could have been one of my favorite reads of the year. But I can’t really abide how the author treats the villain, no more than I could abide a novel where the cartoonishly evil villain is pro-choice or anti-racist - it just feels regressive in a way that gave me the ick.

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This book is beautiful and heartbreaking and inspiring and infused throughout with both grief and love. The tethering magic was like nothing I've read and it really feeds into the story so well. Also, the queerplatonic rep is beautiful to behold.

It is impressive that this is a debut, especially with the amount of emotion and depth to the story and characters. However, the book is a little too long and does suffer from some uneven pacing. Also this is a personal preference but I do struggle with POV protagonists who kinda suck at the beginning and then go though a growth journey. Fortunately, Remy gets to a better place eventually but many of his choices and actions and thoughts are rough to read in the first half.

Definitely trigger warnings - there is a lot of grief and human suffering (and indifference to that suffering) that is not easy to read.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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As soon as I started Lord of the Empty Isles I could not put it down and finished it in one sitting. I highly recommend this book to anyone (even the people that rarely read sci-fi). I had a lot of fun reading this and I just wish there was more. I can't wait to read more books from the author.

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I really wanted to love this book, but sadly it wasn't for me.
The concept is wonderful - literal connections tethering us to significant people in our lives, and the placement of each tether reflects the nature of the bond. When a connection is severed (through death, separation, neglect, etc), the tether may begin to rot. Our hero, Remy, is a witherer, a person who can sever these bonds. His gift is seen as a necessary evil in society - nobody likes to think about why they might need a bond severed, but it's either that or leaving it rotting.
I love this idea! It's unique, and the writer has executed it well. It's clear it's been carefully thought out, with deep lore and explanations behind the bonds and the nature of withering. The plot has been built around this concept, making it feel like more than just window dressing.
Remy's motivation is clear: he wants revenge. There's something to be said for keeping character motivations straightforward. However, I did find that he perhaps too quickly begins to abandon this idea. It felt a bit like the narrative was rushing into the found-family aspect, which I found difficult to buy, given the lengths Remy went to to exact his revenge.
I suspect the other reason I struggled to get into this book was I found the messaging a tiny bit heavy handed. A light touch will usually work better than hitting the point too hard.
Most of my thoughts around this work are either positive or minor gripes - at the end of the day, I just didn't connect with the voice. Can't win them all! But, if you like cosy sci-fi/fantasy with a cool worldbuilding, a unique magic system and found family, this might be worth a look!

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I really enjoyed this read. The pacing was great! I think I went into this book expecting more romance than there was & that’s fine! I also think the complexity of Remy’s character was really well done but many of the supporting characters felt flat. In my opinion Emil, Thom, and Roca all felt very surface level. I think I would have appreciated a bit more on each of them to understand their dynamic and how they became a found family in the first place. But otherwise I think it was a really great read!

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An absolutely gripping read! I want to give it 4 point something, and round up to 5, because I was swept away by it all and am not quite done processing.

The cover made me initially think it was a more low-stakes, tropey story, but it actually hits pretty hard – it has complex characters that make choices that you can understand but that aren’t always great, complex intentions and plans, and features themes of death, grief and the split between hate and finding the similarities between you and the person you hate.

I think my only complaint is that the plot happens very, very fast in terms of in-universe time passing, and also sometimes in the sense that the characters get thrown into the next situation before the last is really over. This might make the action but also the emotional development feel a bit choppy and abrupt.
I personally might have liked a more gradual shift of opinions and feelings. But this pace also made it gripping and gave the characters an urgency since there isn’t much time for long considerations, they just have to act as best as they can.
Also, the many different facts about tethers are strewn into the story, as well as added as some blurbs, but with the multiple ways they work and multiple things tethers can mean, it can be a bit confusing. But that is also not specifically needed to understand what is going on in the plot.

I was absolutely carried away by the story, especially once the premise starts and the main character starts traveling and discovering things. Before that, it could have been a much sweeter story, but then THINGS HAPPEN SO FAST, from new, devastating information, to dangerous events happening, to situations where hiding and finding out the secrets kept by the characters just ends up thickening the plot.
All this is done with interesting characters, who have their own conflicting emotions and opinions, much like the main characters. I almost think some characters deserved a bit more screen time to give them more depth, but most of the characters were super interesting as they are.

I really enjoyed the different bonds the characters build, be it familial by blood or as a chosen family, or the platonic and complicated connection Remy forms with Idrian.

All in all, the book is a cool adventure that doesn’t pull its punches, and hits you hard with the bad things that happen, and how that changes the characters. At the same time, it deals with processing loss, grief and trauma. All that, spun in with a story about a deep connection of an aroace main character, makes it a really good read.

Thank you to Netgalley for giving me an advanced copy! All opinions are my own.
The trigger warnings can be found on the author’s page, if anyone is interested.

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Jules Arbeaux's debut, Lord of the Empty Isles, sits in that still-too-rare space between SF and fantasy. It's set in a world where magical 'tethers' are central to everybody's experience: you can be invisibly tethered through love, work, fate, intellectual interest or duty, and when deep-rooted tethers snap through death, you can end up with a 'rotbond' which causes you continuing pain unless you have it removed by a witherer. Nineteen-year-old Remy is one of these witherers, but he also has a rotbond of his own after the murder of his brother five years ago. He knows that his brother's death was ordered by Idrian Delaciel, a space pirate who robs supplies for a group of outcast people living on a group of moons. When he gets hold of some of Delaciel's blood, he is finally able to take revenge by casting a death curse. Unfortunately, it has consequences he never imagined...

I obviously did not pay much attention to the blurb of this book before requesting it because I thought it was going to be a romance (I think the comp to Winter's Orbit misled me there) and I missed that one early twist is actually revealed upfront. I was actually glad that I went into the story pretty blind, so I'd suggest skipping the publisher's description if you can. (Also, absolutely no problem that there was no romance. I appreciated the focus on platonic ties.) Lord of the Empty Isles feels more like YA to me than the other adult SFF novels that are obvious comps (Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series, for example) but it's done very well, avoiding the usual issues I have with YA SFF. I loved that the plot basically centres on solving a magical problem, reminding me of old-school YA fantasy like Patricia C. Wrede's Searching for Dragons and Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic and Circle Opens series - I always enjoy reading about the unseen mechanics of magic. And while these characters are not deeply individual nor complex, Arbeaux is very good at letting them inhabit a morally grey area; they all make mistakes and mess up, but they also have their priorities in order when it comes to dealing with death curses.

The fantasy elements of Lord of the Empty Isles are stronger than the SF. The SF bits are necessary to set up the situation Idrian and his crew confront, but don't feel quite fleshed out, and the resolution of the novel makes this world feel even more like a game than a genuine political system. Nevertheless, I loved the system of tethers, there's loads more to explore here, and I'd love to see Arbeaux write further novels set in this universe, though ideally not with the same cast, as I think their story is done.

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First off, I stayed up 'til 3 AM reading this book last night, and I was bawling by the end. I honestly can't believe this was a debut! I read this immediately after reading Winter's Orbit for the first time too, and honestly my heart is just so full. The worldbuilding and magic was immaculate, the characters were so great to follow and the way grief was explored here was SO GOOD. I resonated so much with the different dynamics here and once again, I can't believe this was a debut. I love Remy, I love Idrian, I love the found family, I love the politics and the messages that Jules had here. I was constantly kept on my toes with everything that was happening, and I just love how everything came together. I absolutely can't wait to see what Arbeaux writes next!!!

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This was such an incredible book, and I don't say this lightly - Although I knew I could read this book within a day, I really didn't want to. Why? because when I got caught up in the story, the characters and the world building I honestly did not want this book to end. I grew so attached to the characters and all their complexities, alongside the tethering system and weathering system - which I honestly found absolutely fascinating. Arbeaux's has created something that I really feel is quite unique in this book, both in terms of story, the characters back story/narratives and the rich world building that exists on every page.

It's true that Sci-fi books can be hit or miss, but this was honestly an absolute HIT for me.

What was so wonderful about the characters were how raw and real they felt. Remy, our main character is complex - for reasons that we can both understand and still be annoyed about at times. We learn that his flaws very early on are really built round his unwillingness to see the bigger picture of what is happening around him several years after his brother Cam is murdered. As with everything, Remy only knows one side of the story in the beginning, and takes matters into his own hands that causes whole host of issues. His character redemption and growth throughout the book is what really makes you warm to him so much more, Don't even get me STARTED on how much I fell in love with Adrian's crew, every single one of them was unique and chaotic in their own way. The 'found family' trope in this really warmed my heart so much. The story itself really highlights how we ALL come with baggage as people, baggage that sometimes we aren't even aware we have it and often choosing what we do about our baggage (whether it's healing, or even trauma) determines how our life can play out in so many different ways. This book is essentially, put simply enough - a tale about bonds between people, and the impact these bonds can have.

Arceaux paints such an exceptional picture of the world building with her words, so much so that I could imagine every location we were in. There is such depth and detail put into the writing over all.

This was, overall, such a refreshing read for me. The focus on platonic relationships, queer and ace-representation, and a more HONEST look at what impact grief and revenge can have was truly gut wrenching for me.

Congrats on such a spectacular debut Arbeaux, for challenging the norm of what often exists in Sci-Fi narratives and giving us something so heartfelt and wonderful.

I can't wait for what comes next.

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Review on goodreads:

4.5 stars

Thank you to the publisher for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Lord of the Empty Isles is a story about messy, intense queerplatonic relationships, grief, and found family juxtaposed with climate catastrophe, political corruption, and genocide. It explores how we define and justify sacrifice and pulls no punches when exploring the emotions conected to death, helplessness, and betrayal. This is definitely a book that requires attention to content warnings but, at the same time, there is a lot of moments of tenderness, healing, and grace.

We get amazing banter, loveable side characters, good character development, and a well crafted balance between humour and tragedy, entertainment and commentary.

I would have appreciated a bit more detail on the types of tethers and what they mean for the bonds between people. I think the concept is lot more complicated than what the story allowed to explore. However, I appreciate how creative and engaging the idea is.

Overall, this book had me hooked the whole time and made me feel very emotional. I definitely cried a bit at the end.

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Mixing magic and sci-fi, this revenge/conspiracy story is compelling and engrossing once you accept the slightly confusing magic system will be explained more fully as you go along. Interesting and fun characters

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Thank you netgalley for the arc!

I requested this book on a bit of a whim and wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but I ultimately was glad I did.

What sells Lord of the Empty Isles is that it immediately establishes dire and emotionally resonant stakes. From the first couple chapters, I was so locked in, it really didn't really matter what happened for the rest of the book, but luckily the rest of the book was pretty good too.

The main character, Remy, is seeking revenge on the criminal who killed brother. But, whoops! Their lives are linked and he cannot kill him without killing himself, and now the clock is ticking down on both of their lives. What ensues after is an introspection on love and loss, grief and healing, the value and undervaluing of a life.

Anything truly genuine can sometimes feel a little corny, but like I said, I was on board. The same can be said about some of the soap-opera-esque reveals. Like, yes they're a little melodramatic, but also?? Drama is a good thing when I like it. At the beginning of the novel, I thought it was paced too quickly, but by the end, I appreciated how the story unfolded and was paced. All the characters bloomed colorfully on the page, with complete inner lives and personalities. Found family is a little hit or miss for me, but top to bottom, this is a cast you can care for.

All debuts have some technical mishaps in terms of plot, but the heart of this book was in the right place. Not only that, but setting, magic system, character, and plot were all interconnected into theme with a captivating diligence. As someone who appreciates comprehensive thematics only second to character work, it was like a breath of fresh air to see both done so well. The novel lets you roll around the ideas it's introducing like the medicinal burn of a lozenge at the back of your tongue. And what a lozenge.

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I requested Lord of the Empty Isles on a whim. It is the June GSFF special edition, and their edition is so pretty that it piqued my interest. The genre is Science Fiction Fantasy, which I didn’t know I was missing. I have problems getting into most Science Fiction books, but with this one, the Fantasy and Science Fiction were so intertwined that I found myself not wanting to stop reading.

Now, getting into the book, Remy has spent the last five years mourning the death of the brother who raised him. The story begins with Remy finally getting revenge on his brother’s murderer. The character growth is delightful, and I can’t think of anyone I disliked (other than those you are meant to dislike). My only gripe is that there were some coincidences in the storytelling that made things too easy and less believable.

There are relationships in the book but no main romance. While I do love a good romance, Remy is characterized as aroace, and if the author had casually given him a romance, it would have been a detriment to his character.

I loved this book, and while I haven’t decided yet, I think it is my favorite read of 2024 so far. I know I will be looking for more Science Fiction Fantasy and have this book to thank for that.

I received an eARC from Hodder & Stoughton/Hodderscape via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I absolutely adored Lord of the Empty Isles, and was so excited to be able to read and review it early. This is a fantastic debut that will live on in my heart for a long time to come. Arbeaux is a master of characterization, and the grief and pain of these characters will nestle deep into your heart as you read. Highly recommended. I can't wait to read my preordered copy!

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I'M SO LATE I'M SO LATE I'M SO LATE!!! I read this book back in...January? Was so overcome that I decided I needed to let it sit for a few days before I wrote a review...and here we are, in June, with the book releasing right now, and still no review. What can I say but that even now, ~4 months later, I still don't feel I can properly do it justice--and that even ~4 months later I still haven't stopped thinking or talking about or recommending this truly astonishing debut. This is comfortably one of my debuts of the year. Based on the marketing materials I was expecting a sweet, cosy, gentle story of healing; to my endless delight what I got instead was a heartwrenching, raw, pull-no-punches deep dive into the pain of loss, grief and revenge, and the way those emotions, unchecked, can completely ruin you. Jules Arbeaux is (already!!) a master of layering theme, and I was--and remain--so impressed with the depth and complexity with which they explore their thematic material, and how beautifully that's folded into both their external and internal arcs. The character work in general was exquisite--this is a deeply character-driven work--but they managed to simultaneously keep up a well-paced, gripping external plot alongside that meant I tore through I think well over half the book in a single setting. The worldbuilding was lush and rich, the magic system so elegant and (again!) thematically resonant, and I really must say it again: the THEMATIC WORK. UGH. I'm positive this is a book I will continue thinking about and rereading for years to come--and I'm so excited to see how this already tremendously talented author's career develops.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Hodderscape for the eARC in exchange for my review! It was a true privilege.

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This one was outside of my normal reading, but I really enjoyed it. It is a sci-fi fantasy that is in turns visceral, heartbreaking, and beautiful; a tale of grief, revenge and the extent people are willing to go for those that they love. This was also a good read to kick off pride month as the main character, Remy, is aroace, and there is representation throughout the book. This isn't a romance, but a tale that involves platonic bonds of friendship and love at its core. Speaking of bonds, the soul bond system in the story was very well developed and explained and I found the concept so interesting. The characters felt real and the story was captivating. Just be warned that you will feel all of the feels.

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