Grac's Never-ending TBR Pile of Doom

Grac's Never-ending TBR Pile of Doom

Mostly science fiction and fantasy, though the odd non-fiction book will crop up now and then...

Review
4 Stars
The Outside - Ada Hoffmann
The Outside - Ada Hoffmann

I'd seen this book mentioned in a few places on Twitter, so I was very glad to see it pop up on Netgalley and then get approved for it - the premise alone was enough to intrigue me and I wondered whether it was going to live up to my expectations. In the end, it was a pretty good fit for me, though it didn't manage to snag a 5-star rating for reasons I'll explain below.

 

The basic premise of The Outside is that it's set in a universe where the use of computers has been strictly controlled by a number of gods, which are actually AI entities fuelled by the souls of humanity. A particular god gets to claim certain people after they die, dependent on their line of work and also on their behaviour during life. They're assisted by angels, which are augmented humans of various species, and people also can choose to sell their souls to a particular deity in exchange for a variety of upgrades and augmentations. 

 

Our protagonist, Yasira, is a scientist working on a new form of energy drive after years as the protege of another scientist who has since disappeared. When Yasira's drive causes the death of a hundred people on the space station it was powering, she initially dismisses the things she has seen and experienced beforehand as stress-related. What they are, in fact, is evidence of infiltration by the Outside - chaotic forces from beyond their understanding of reality which her mentor had tried to invite into theirs. Yasira is kidnapped by angels and forced to work with them to try and stop this infiltration and starts to discover that perhaps things aren't quite as they seem in the universe where she has been living. 

 

I enjoyed a lot of things about The Outside, even if it did start to lose its way towards the end - I'm not sure if it's intended to be the first part of a series but there was something of a feel of that, with things more fizzling out than being resolved (or even left as a cliffhanger).

 

The general premise and world-building was interesting and engaging, helping to push the story along at a reasonable pace, but I wasn't completely hooked by any of the characters. The most interesting for me was Enga, an angel with a wide variety of modifications who was generally used as muscle, though even she was relatively flatly characterised. Overall then, I'm glad to have read it and will look forward to seeing what else this author comes up with. However, it didn't completely work for me and I can't see myself re-reading it at any point. 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
4 Stars
The Winter of the Witch - Katherine Arden
The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) - Katherine Arden

This is the final book in this trilogy, following on from The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, both of which were a tough act to follow - this is, however, a series that really works for me in a lot of ways, particularly in terms of its use of language.

 

At the end of the previous book, our protagonist (Vasya) has caused the burning of the city of Moscow and is threatened with being burned for witchcraft. This book is the one where Vasya's powers really come into their own, as she uses her position as the metaphorical bridge between humankind and the chyorti to try and stem an imminent invasion.

 

Once, of course, she's managed to escape from the clutches of a particular obsessed priest and discover a little more about her mother's mysterious relatives. One especially will be familiar to anyone who knows Russian folklore, just from the description of the house where she used to live...

 

It's another great, page-turning read and I enjoyed it very much. Two sales for the price of one, as well - I got this copy from my local library, with plans to get my own in paperback once it's out later this year.

Review
3 Stars
David Mogo, Godhunter - Suyi Davies Okungbowa
David Mogo, Godhunter - Suyi Davies Okungbowa

This was one of those books which sadly promised a little more than it was able to deliver in the end - the main issue I had with it was that, while it was an interesting premise and well-written, it got bogged down in unnecessary amounts of exposition and felt as though it was a novella-length plot dragged out to novel-length. 

 

The basic idea of the book is that it's set in Lagos, Nigeria at a time after a number of gods have come to the place, understandably causing chaos. Our protagonist, the eponymous David Mogo, makes a living dealing with the minor gods and makes an unsavoury deal at the beginning of the book to capture a pair of twin gods. In the end, he's only able to catch one of them and then starts to realise that he's been played for a sucker and that his erstwhile employer is actually trying to accumulate power by using the gods he wants David to deliver to him. 

 

Our hero is, of course, something special too - half god, through his mother's side, and raised by a magician to use the powers he's inherited. As the book goes on, David comes into his inheritance more and more, as well as allying himself with a number of others (both gods and mortals) in order to deal with the risks to the people of Lagos. 

 

There's no disputing the author knows how to spin a story, keeping my attention despite the amount of monologuing the villains get up to. I can see why the publishers picked this book up but a stronger editor might have made for a better book in the long run, as well as taking the many interesting ideas laid out here and making them into something more robust. 

 

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
4 Stars
The Girl King - Mimi Yu
The Girl King (The Girl King #1) - Mimi Yu

I have to admit, it took me a while to warm to The Girl King as a book, as initially it seemed as though it was going through all the usual YA tropes and heading in an utterly predictable direction. We have, after all Boy Who is Secretly Special But Traumatised, Girl Who is a Better Fighter Than Everyone and that's just the main characters, not to mention there's a Tragic Romance That Can Never Be...

 

The basic premise of <I>The Girl King</i> is that Lu has been raised to believe by her father than she is going to be named as his heir - she somehow has been allowed, in a very hierarchical and gender-strict system, to be both a pampered princess and be trained as a warrior. Meanwhile, her weedy sister Min is always in Lu's shadow, so when Lu is overlooked in favour of their slightly-unhinged cousin, Min immediately gets groomed to marry said cousin regardless of his obvious negative qualities. Min also has a secret, and this is one place where things start to diverge slightly from my experience of YA and she starts to want power for herself. 

 

Meanwhile Lu has been forced to flee the capital after the death of her father and has met up with Nokhai, who she knew when they were both younger and who is one of the last survivors of a people who Lu's father has pretty much massacred wholesale. Nokhai is a shapeshifter but unable to control his abilities; together, they set out to try and find allies for Lu in order to help her regain the throne and unseat the dodgy cousin. This plan goes all sorts of wrong as the allies they try to recruit are not themselves the most reliable of people. 

 

One thing I didn't expect is that the moustache-twirling cousin meets a bad end before the end of the book, putting Min and Lu as antagonists in their own right rather than Min as someone else's puppet. I'm not sure I would buy the next book in this series (and to be honest, I got this one from the library) but I wouldn't turn it down if I managed to get my hands on it the same way. All in all, some interesting ideas and an author who may bear watching in the longer term. 

Review
4 Stars
The Wolf in the Whale - Jordanna Max Brodsky
The Wolf in the Whale - Jordanna Max Brodsky

I'm not really sure how I first came to hear about The Wolf in the Whale and ultimately ended up getting a copy of it from the library, which is a good thing since it was a great read but something I'm never going to want to re-read. It might, however, work absolutely perfectly for some people reading this, so don't let my reticence to go back to it put you off at all...

 

The book is set in what is now Canada, at a time when the Vikings have colonised part of Greenland and are continuing to look for lands to occupy - this is also a time of change for the people who've always lived there, with newcomers arriving across the land as well as the water, and our protagonist's family are part of that particular incursion. Omat is being brought up as both shaman and hunter, given the name of a deceased father as these particular Inuit believe souls find a new body on death. All of this is, however, complicated along the way by the fact that Omat is a girl and the roles she is taking on are usually forbidden to women. 

 

Omat's immediate family are few and struggling, so when outsiders come she is essentially betrayed by her grandfather and handed off to become a third wife to one of the newcomers and forced into what it means to be a woman in that society. Alongside her physical and mental struggles, including sexual assault, there are also spiritual issues as Omat is stripped of the magic she had been learning to use. All of this comes to a head when a small group of Vikings arrive and Omat's milk-brother is kidnapped by them - she turns back to the skills she had learned as a hunter and sets out to rescue him. 

 

This is a heavily-researched piece of historical fiction, full of rich detail about the lives of the people of this time and place. It's also an exercise in magical realism as I understand it (not being a scholar of English literature) since the gods and spirits of Omat's world and those of the Vikings also play significant parts in the plot that unravels from there onwards. Omat herself regains her powers, especially those of transformation, and cuts her own path into the future. 

 

As I said at the beginning of this review, this is one of those books where I'm very glad I read it but can't see myself reading it again. It also contains quite a bit of (generally non-graphic) sexual assault and violence towards animals and human beings (again with varying levels of graphicness), if this is an issue for you. Well worth a read if the time period or the concepts involved are of interest. 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
5 Stars
The Poison Song - Jen Williams
The Poison Song - Jen Williams

First off, I feel it has to be said that I was an easy sell for this book - I really enjoyed the previous two books in this trilogy (The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins) and the previous books Jen has written as well. If you like well-written fantasy that surprises you along the way, I recommend you check them out.

 

Anyway, on to The Poison Song, which at times lost a little of the previous books' pace but was ultimately a very enjoyable ride. The highlight of the first third of the book was Noon's long-awaited retribution on the Winnowry, using her powers to destroy the system that had imprisoned her but without thinking of the consequences for those currently trapped in it. Her fellow witches, given the opportunity for freedom for the first time, have to then choose what to do with that freedom and make a variety of choices, which seemed much more realistic than them all going 'yes, let's do what we're told' once more. 

 

There's a lot going on in this book and at times it probably could have done with slightly more pruning - still there are plenty of enjoyable set-pieces and none of that stopped me from wanting to know how/if it was all going to get tied up at the end (not to mention who was going to survive to see it!). There's a lot more back-story for Noon in this book, as her recovery of traumatic memories eventually helps her with the final battle against the Jurellia and to figure out where she fits into this new world she has helped create. 

 

For some of its characters, The Poison Song is about the metaphorical chickens coming home to roost - on the Jurellia side, Hestillion is forced to face some of the realities of the choices she's made, including those relating to Celaphon (whose choices in this book have a massive effect on everyone's lives). Meanwhile, Tor is infected by the crimson flux and faces a long and painful death, which leads to some self-destructive behaviour along the way. As with the other books in this series, it's the relationships between the characters (including those who are neither human or Eboran) which helps keep the plot ticking over as much as the need to resolve the situations in which they find themselves.

 

So, all in all, another great book and another great trilogy finished - can't wait to see what comes next from this author!

 

The publisher and Netgalley provided me with a pre-publication copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
4 Stars
Latchkey - Nicole Kornher-Stace
Latchkey - Nicole Kornher-Stace

Since I'd read (and absolutely loved) the previous book set in this universe, Archivist Wasp, I was really pleased to hear about Latchkey and while for me it didn't quite live up to its predecessor, it was still a massively enjoyable read and one I recommend.

 

The events of Latchkey take place about 3 years after the end of Archivist Wasp, which had finished with Wasp using the knowledge she's obtained to topple the post-apocalyptic regime in which she was living. She'd also had the offer to go with the ghosts she befriended in that book but had turned it down, then used her knowledge of the way they worked to keep herself isolated even in the midst of busy rebuilding. Wasp is now, to the people of the settlement where she lives, Isabel - living a fairly stable life until their peace is threatened by raiders. 

 

Forced to access the tunnels under their settlement, Isabel discovers that there are more ghosts left over from the Latchkey project than just Foster and the ghost she'd initially befriended. In fact, in the intervening time, they'd been busy taking up Isabel's mantle and keeping those ghosts contained. So, alongside keeping the most vulnerable members of the settlement safe, Isabel joins forces with them again to try and find out just what is missing from both their memories.

 

To be perfectly honest, until Foster and the ghost turned up again, this book wasn't working quite so well for me as Archivist Wasp did. I think that book had such an unusual feel to it, with the cruelties of the system within which Wasp was trying to survive and the rules she was working hard to subvert, that the 'standard' post-apocalyptic feel of the first part of this one seemed a bit bland. On her own, or even with her fellow former-upstarts, Wasp just wasn't as interesting a character for me as she was when engaged with ghost-hunting. Still recommended though, with the caveat that you really need to read Archivist Wasp first! 

Review
5 Stars
Annex - Rich Larson
Annex - Rich Larson

I've been a fan of Rich Larson's short stories for a while, so I was pleased to see he'd written a novel, even if it's always a bit uncertain whether writing the kind of shorter fiction I enjoy translates over to the longer form. Anyway, I'm pleased to report that I really enjoyed Annex and look forward to both the next in the series and whatever else this author puts out.

 

In some ways this was an even harder sell for me, since I'm not a massive fan of post-apocalyptic novels and that's the premise of Annex - in this case, it's not nuclear war or something home-grown that's the problem, it's alien invasion. This invasion is centred on one particular, unnamed city, home to our main protagonists, Violet and Bo. The aliens concerned have implanted technology in all the adults that makes them live in semi-dream states, unaware of what's going on around them, while the children were used as hosts for Parasites that allow the manipulation of energy. 

 

We first meet Violet when she's raiding a pharmacy, while Bo is escaping from the warehouse where the majority of the children are being kept, desperately searching for his older sister. Both become part of a group of children led by the psychopathic Wyatt, encouraged by him to destroy any vestige of the aliens, with a special focus on the extremely creepy 'othermothers', simulacra of their parents designed to try and lure the children back into drug-addled captivity. 

 

As the story unfolds, Violet learns from bitter experience that Wyatt is not as accepting of her as she wants him to be, while Bo and Violet also undertake an unsuccessful attempt to rescue Lia, Bo's sister. This brings them into contact with a different kind of alien, on the basis that the enemy of my enemy is my friend - while Gloom's motives are questionable, he's clearly much more trustworthy than at least one of their fellow Lost Boys. 

 

I really enjoyed Annex, which kept my attention all the way through and avoided clichés along the way. I'm really looking forward to picking up the next book in the series (Cypher), which has Violet and Bo on the run with their alien friend and is due out in December.

Review
3 Stars
Descendant of the Crane - Joan He
Descendant of the Crane - Joan He

At least this book managed to get me out of a slump of not being able to actually finish anything, even if my interest started to wane towards the end... I'm not sure if it's what I'm reading at the moment or more about me. 

 

Anyway, on to Descendant of the Crane, which had all the makings of a book I would really like and which mostly lived up to what I was expecting. The basic premise is that it's the start of a series and book 1 is all about the accession to the throne of Hesina on the sudden death of her father - she's convinced he was murdered and a good-sized section of the book deals with her investigations and the subsequent trial (including attempts by less savoury elements of the court to scapegoat someone they dislike). 

 

Our setting is a kingdom where a previous monarchy was overthrown by eleven rebels who then instituted a rule based on the Tenets they'd written, including institutionalised hatred and violence towards 'sooths' - people with powers around influencing the future, whose blood burns as a convenient way of identifying them. As a result, the sooths are now in hiding in Hesina's kingdom even as she's looking for a way to overturn the current system (while staying queen). One of the neighbouring kingdoms is enslaving the self-same sooths but using them as weapons, which only helps to inflame the hatred against them in Hesina's kingdom.

 

At the start of the book, Hesina has consulted one of the sooths herself even though this act is considered treasonous, and ends up recruiting a thief from the dungeons as her advocate and assistant throughout the court process. Akira naturally has a hidden history and all sorts of convenient skills which turn up when needed and Hesina just keeps pursuing him romantically even though he's consistently spurning her advances. Seriously, this sucks when the roles are reversed and is equally unappealing when it's this way around, one of the things I least liked about the book. 

 

At the end of the book, Hesina finds herself in hot water and someone within her family turns against her, to the point where she and Akira have to flee. What puzzled me was that the author then chooses to finish this particular part of the series with a chapter explaining why that person was not bad really and is actually working for Hesina's benefit in the long run. That would, to my mind, have worked much better as a reveal later on in the series.

 

There's a couple of bombshells dropped by the author along the way that tip this firmly into fantasy from mock-history, as it's revealed that certain individuals are actually functionally immortal - the search for this had been considered scandalous on the part of the previous regime, so it's passed over a bit more lightly than I'd expected. Maybe this will get picked up later on down the line?

 

So, in the end it wasn't the worst thing I've ever read and I'm mildly interested in where it'll go next but it will probably be one of those series I'll pick up via the library or if it's on sale. No pre-orders for this one, I'm afraid!

 

I received this book free from Netgalley and the publishers on the condition of giving an honest review. 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
A Memory Called Empire - Arkady Martine
A Memory Called Empire - Arkady Martine

There were a lot of things I really liked about this book but, I have to be honest, the pacing at times let A Memory Called Empire down a little. Still, that might be a little unfair for what is both a first novel and also the first in a trilogy with all the world-building requirements that entails. 

 

The basic premise of the book is that we follow the newly-appointed ambassador for Lsel Station who has been unexpectedly called to the heart of the nearby all-consuming Teixcalaan empire. On Lsel, it's traditional for the memories of past individuals to be paired with a new person on their death, so their experiences and expertise are passed on without subsuming the new 'host' and their own life. When Mahit is summoned, she is only able to be given an outdated version of the previous ambassador's memories and hastily packed off in a ship, only to discover on her arrival that the summons was due to her predecessor's murder. 

 

At this point, Yskander's previous memories stop working and Mahit is left to try and navigate the empire she admires and figure out just what Yskander did to get himself killed. This turns out to be offering the memory technology to a dying emperor who is desperate to continue to live through his clone, which is both unacceptable to Lsel and also considered immoral by the empire. In the background, there's also the threat of alien invasion which Mahit is eventually able to use to try and keep Lsel from being swallowed up. 

 

Overall, I really liked the clash of cultures taking place here, with Mahit as a big fan of Teixcalaan culture but eventually realising she can never quite fit in with them. I found it a little annoying that the potential clash between Yskander-as-was and the machinations of his older self were underplayed by the memory device malfunctioning at the least opportune time. As mentioned earlier, at times the pacing was a little uneven but in general I enjoyed A Memory Called Empire a lot and look forward to seeing where the rest of the story goes. 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
The Poppy War - R.F. Kuang
The Poppy War - R. F Kuang

As soon as I saw the blurb for The Poppy War, I was sure I was going to want to read it - it's a great time to be a fantasy reader, as there's so much out there now which is not just farmboy-is-secretly-a-prince set in a faux-medieval European setting. Read plenty of those in my time!

 

Anyway, The Poppy War starts off feeling quite familiar as we're introduced to the character of Rin and the situation she finds herself in at the start of the book - a war orphan taken in by opium traders, Rin is about to be sold off into marriage unless she can find a way out. In this case, her way out is to pass the country-wide examination and get herself a coveted place in one of the empire's military schools. If she manages this (which, of course, she does otherwise it'd be a very different book!) then Rin can decide her own fate in the longer term. 

 

So far, so good. The next third or so of the book follows a pretty well-worn track, especially where moving into a fantasy academic setting is concerned: the outsider maybe makes one or two friends, but also at least one enemy whose vindictiveness will come back to bite her later on. Where The Poppy War diverges from this pattern is with the introduction of a strong theme of shamanism alongside the military training, even if it's heavily frowned upon by the majority of the people Rin comes across. This ability allows someone to channel the power of a deity, at the risk of their own sanity, and if there's one thing Rin wants, it's power. 

 

The whole setting of The Poppy War is more faux-China than faux-medieval Europe and this is made clear when the neighbouring islands (Mugen) mount an invasion. Rin finds herself shipped off to join the other misfits and hone her abilities in defence of a port city, only to discover that their involvement there has not prevented a terrible slaughter taking place in the capital. It's around this time that my willingness to give The Poppy War 5 stars and my accompanying desire to re-read it in the future took a bit of a knock. Things get a bit grisly and, to my mind at least, unnecessarily so - it's too easy to go for graphic rather than thinking about how to use your writing to imply things that are even more horrific, since your reader's minds will make all sorts of connections. 

 

Since this is the first book of a trilogy, it will come as no surprise that Rin finishes the book by making a choice and taking a terrible revenge on the people of Mugen, who are responsible not just for the recent slaughter but apparently also for the genocide of Rin's people. She may be starting to realise just what she's let herself in for, but maybe not, so I guess the next volume will tell us which way she's going to go? The Dragon Republic is due out next year. 

Review
3 Stars
The Lord of Stariel - AJ Lancaster
The Lord of Stariel (Stariel, #1) - AJ Lancaster

This is another one of the books I've picked up on Netgalley because the blurb sounds interesting, though it's taken a while for me to actually finish (real life intruding!) and then review it. 

 

The basic premise of The Lord of Stariel is that it's the first of a series, set in a pseudo-Victorian world where our protagonist, Hetta, has left the family estate and established herself as an illusionist in the theatre. This means she's using magic to support the performances, which is shocking both from her being of the nobility and working for a living and also because she's a woman. When we first meet her, she's returning to the family home after the death of her father because of a ritual which chooses the next Lord. 

 

There's so much foreshadowing going on, and not subtly either, that it's no surprise at all when the ritual chooses Hetta rather than her older brother or younger cousin, the latter having been the expected heir. Hetta is forced to give up her plans to return to her life elsewhere, only to make a number of discoveries about her family and people she cares about. Saying much more would lead to massive spoilers so the fact this is book 1 of 4 will probably tell you that things are going to be complicated long-term.

 

The main problem I had with this book, other than the unsubtle way Hetta spends a good chunk of the first part going 'oh, but this ritual is just a formality for someone else to be chosen and I'm fine with that' (which of course lets you know that she's going to be chosen and then have issues with any problems that subsequently arise) was the tendency of the writer to info-dump. There's a whole chapter which is pretty much two characters talking and one of them giving his back-story to fleshing out a sudden piece of world-building, which I have to confess I skimmed. They are, alas, not alone in having a number of 'as you know, Bob...' style conversations! This is, however, the writer's first novel so maybe this is an area in which they can improve....

 

I wasn't massively impressed with the romance sub-plots going on either, but then I'm not an easy sell where this kind of thing is concerned - I thought Wyn, Hetta's main love interest, wasn't particularly three-dimensional other than being a competent person who she used to have a crush on. 

 

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review
4 Stars
In the Vanisher's Palace
In the Vanisher's Palace - Aliette de Bodard

I've read quite a lot by Aliette de Bodard, so I was very pleased to get approved for a pre-release copy of this by Netgalley. Well, it was pre-release when I got it, even if it's taken me forever to get around to actually reading it and then even longer to review it! That shouldn't be taken as a comment on the quality of the story, just on sudden craziness in my life and inability to settle down and actually read stuff. 

 

Anyway, on to the story. The basic premise of In the Vanisher's Palace is that it's set on a world where aliens had ravaged everything and the characters we come across now are literally living in the ruins of what has been left behind. One of our main characters (Yên) is the daughter of the local healer, who is dealing with all sorts of odd illnesses caused by mutating viruses, and they live in a community where being useful is the key to survival. Yên herself is a scholar and not particularly good at anything else, so when attempts to heal the daughter of one of the community's leaders fail to be effective and more stringent measures are needed, she gets traded away to the dragon Vu Côn in exchange for a more effective treatment.

 

Vu Côn is one of the last dragons living and takes Yên to her palace, the abandoned ship of one of their former alien conquerors (the Vanishers), a place that literally does not obey the rules of physics. Rather than being killed in a bloody and violent manner, as Yên is expecting (and as was her potential fate in the outside world for the crime of not being useful to the community), she's given the job of tutor to Vu Côn's teenage children and also find herself unexpectedly attracted to said dragon. 

 

Anyway, no secret has been made of the fact that this is a Beauty and the Beast re-telling in any of the publicity for In the Vanisher's Palace, so you can probably figure out roughly how it all works out. Finer details would spoil the story, so I just urge you to check it out if you like stuff that's inspired (as much of de Bodard's work is) by her Vietnamese heritage. To be honest, as is often the case with novellas, I get frustrated by the fact that they just don't on for as long as I would like and this is also the case here - there's enough world-building for a novel at least and it's constrained down to support the fairy-tale storyline instead. That's probably why I didn't give 5 stars in the end. 

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
5 Stars
The Bird King - G. Willow Wilson
The Bird King - G. Willow Wilson

I'd really enjoyed this author's previous book, Alif the Unseen, so was delighted to see she was back to writing novel-length work again, though I have to say I've also been loving her work with Ms Marvel... All of which meant I was more than delighted when my Netgalley request for an ARC of The Bird King was accepted and happily settled down this week to reading it. 

 

The basic premise of The Bird King is that it's set in the time when the Moors were losing their grip on Spain, initially taking place in the court of the emperor in Granada. Our main character, Fatima, is one of the emperor's concubines - she was born within the palace's confines and has never known the outside world, her best friend being Hassan the cartographer who she visits illicitly. Hassan has a special gift, in that he is able to use the maps he makes to connect places together and Fatima uses this to obtain a little insight into the world outside the one she knows. 

 

When the would-be Spanish monarchy come calling, with the Inquisition in tow, Hassan's life is threatened and Fatima decides that the best thing to do is for both of them to run away. Aided by a djinn that they discover has been living in the palace, they decide to head for the island occupied by the eponymous king of the birds, the subject of a story they had both grown up with. Neither Fatima or Hassan are particularly equipped for such a journey, in more ways than one, but they head out anyway since they have very few other options that don't involve Hassan being burnt alive for sorcery. 

 

This is such a beautifully-written book, striking just the right balance between getting the details precise and making a drama of how much research must have been required. Fatima, in particular, is a great character and stands out from the page - she doesn't always make the right decision but you believe the ones she does make. Hassan and the other characters are strong too, including the main antagonist and that's not always something writers manage to do well. Moustache-twirling evil is much easier than banal belief that you're doing the right thing and everyone else ought to fall in line. 

 

Anyway, in short: I hope The Bird King is the first of many more novels from this author and I can't wait to get my hands on a paper copy when it goes on sale next year. 

 

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
3 Stars
A Dance of Water and Air - Antonia Aquilante
A Dance of Water and Air - Antonia Aquilante

At times, I feel like I write so many reviews which ought to contain the words 'I really wanted to like this book, but...' and A Dance of Water and Air is just another one of those reviews. For starters, the title itself feels awkward as the elements are just the wrong way round for it to seem natural. That is the least of this book's problems from my perspective. 

 

The basic premise of the book is that we have two neighbouring kingdoms in a universe where people have elemental magic but tend towards having an affinity for one over the rest. You can tell it's a fantasy book because Affinity gets a capital A every time it appears. Said kingdoms are threatened by another neighbour and a plan is hatched to marry the eldest son of one kingdom (Edmund) to the queen of the other, with Edmund getting shipped off there a few months before the wedding so he can get to know his prospective bride.

 

Since she pretty much ignores him once he arrives, Edmund inconveniently falls for the queen's brother (Arden) and also eventually gets accused of an attempt on the queen's life. This forces Arden to make a choice and he chooses to rescue his putative boyfriend, who's been thrown into a dungeon. After fleeing back to Edmund's kingdom and the queen reluctantly agreeing the two of them can marry, Edmund and Arden are discussing the threat from their neighbours and then the book just stops - I think it's meant to be a cliffhanger (maybe?) but instead it left me wondering if there was a problem with the file. 

 

I liked the overall world-building but sadly the characters didn't manage to be as interesting, being generally pretty two-dimensional. There's also a surprise 'oh, by the way I have breasts' moment for one of the characters that I really didn't see coming. Likewise, I found the convenience of the pairing off of Arden and Edmund's respective secretaries just a bit too much like high school and double dating to take seriously. But then all of them were very much working on 'oh, he's so handsome that I must fall in love with him' levels so I guess it's not a massive surprise.

 

I received this book from Netgalley on condition of giving an honest review. 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3.5 Stars
Godblind - Anna Stephens
Godblind - Anna Stephens

This is one of those books where I'm glad there's the ability (on Booklikes, at least!) to give half-stars, as there were quite a few things I liked about Godblind but also some things that didn't quite work for me. Fortunately, I got my copy from the local library so I'm not left feeling like I spent my money on something that I probably won't read again and am also only reading more in this series if I can get them from the same source...

 

The basic premise of Godblind is that there's two lots of gods, one light and one dark, the latter and their followers having been driven out a while back and desperate to return and crush everyone. The book starts with an attempted rape, the subject of which turns the tables on her attacker and then flees into the snow, only to be rescued by a man who is tormented by visions from both sets of gods, but mostly the dark ones. Their followers are working both overtly and covertly, undermining the current rulers and plotting to replace them with those who will restore the 'right' way of doing things, shedding as much blood as necessary along the way.

 

I fell off the grimdark wagon a while back, though I had enjoyed some series that were part of its early incarnation - too much blood and mayhem for the sake of it, too much 'but people are nasty therefore we must go into gory details in our fiction' for my liking. For me, Godblind skirts the edge of going too far - there's one particular torture scene that left me wincing and if there had been more occurrences like that in this volume, I probably would have passed on the rest of the book and series. 

 

The other thing I didn't like about the book was that it felt quite choppy and I struggled to keep track at times of who was who. It's all written from various different people's points of view, and some of the segments (I can hardly call them chapters, at the lengths involved) are quite brief, which left the story feeling a little disjointed. I think this was partly why I didn't really 'click' with most of the characters as I felt jolted out of their experience just as I was getting to grips with them - this was particularly true for Rillirin, who is set up to be one of the main characters of the series. 

 

On the other hand, there's good work done in terms of thinking about and setting up the world-building - I was particularly engaged with the palace intrigues as people's true motivations are revealed and plots spark or fizzle out. Hopefully the characters who I cared about won't get killed off and whenever my local library gets the sequel (Darksoul) I may well pick it up for the princely sum of 47p, which is our current hold fee. 

 

currently reading

Progress: 100/384pages