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
3 Stars
The Owl Service - Alan Garner
The Owl Service - Alan Garner

I can't remember the last time I read The Owl Service - I definitely read it when I was at school, more years ago than I care to count, and had a vague recollection of it being creepy but that was pretty much it. Anyway, my local library has a load of Alan Garner books as ebooks, so I'm working my way through them...

 

The setting for the book is a house in a Welsh village and the surrounding countryside, which feels quite claustrophobic. It's now owned by Alison, a teenage girl, who has inherited it from her uncle after his death - also present are Alison's mother and step-father, as well as her new step-brother Roger, all of whom have come on an extended holiday to the house. Also arrived there are Nancy, a Welsh woman who grew up in the village, and her son Gwyn who was born and brought up elsewhere. They, along with Huw, are the staff of the house with Nancy as housekeeper and cook. 

 

There's a very clear class divide between the English children and Gwyn, whose ambitions mainly centre on staying in school despite his mother's threats to make him leave school and work in a shop. There's also a cultural divide, with the English as incomers who are left wondering just what is going on both in terms of language and when events start to spiral out of control. These start with an odd scratching sound coming from the attic - a pile of old plates are found there and Alison becomes obsessed with the pattern on them, flowers which can be put together to form the shape of an owl. 

 

Later, there is also a mysterious picture that appears and the relationship between Alison, Roger and Gwyn deteriorates as tensions rise - Alison's mother forbids her from spending time with Gwyn, who mocks her for following the predetermined (and very limited) path her parents have set for her without realising there are other things she could do. Gwyn wants his freedom too and resents his mother, even as revelations occur which change his relationship to both the house and the surrounding valley. They are, it seems, revisiting a series of events that happened in myth and again with Nancy and Huw.

 

In the end, disappointingly, it's the insufferable Roger who provides what answer there is to the situation in which they find themselves. Gwyn, who is a much more likeable and well-drawn character in many ways, is portrayed as unable to get past the anger he (rightly) feels at what he sees as Alison betraying him for a life of tennis club memberships and choir practice. Much like the previous Garner books I've re-read recently, I can't see myself revisiting The Owl Service any time soon.

Review
3 Stars
The Glamourist - Luanne G. Smith
The Glamourist - Luanne G. Smith

I picked up the previous book in this series (The Vine Witch) when it was on offer on Amazon and enjoyed it, so thought I'd check this one out when it turned up on Netgalley. Like the previous book, this one is set in turn of the century France, but a France where magic is real and lives alongside everyday life - it's an immediate sequel too, so will make much more sense in terms of characters if you've already read The Vine Witch.

 

In The Glamourist, the focus shifts mostly from Elena our previous eponymous character, to one of the women with whom she was imprisoned briefly when accused of murder in the previous book. Elena has come to Paris with her now-fiancee to meet his mother and plan for their wedding, only to bump into Yvette - she's still on the run after escaping from prison and also trying to address the gaps in her past.

 

While Elena plays a significant part, this is very much Yvette's book and I guess I just don't find teenagers as interesting. The character of Jean-Paul gets significantly sidelined, whereas in The Vine Witch I really liked his gradual realisation that magic was real and what that meant for his relationship with Elena. That change of focus and the setting just didn't keep my interest as much as the previous book managed. 

 

Elena herself is trying to address historical issues as well - her parents were executed for murder, so her family has a reputation for using poison and this is contradictory for a woman who wants to work with vines. She's given an ultimatum: help the authorities capture Yvette or lose the chance to work with vines again. However, since the focus was very much on Yvette, this ended up feeling like a minor plot point and didn't really get much action. 

 

Once again we get the odd French word thrown in as the story goes along, which jolts a little at times. All in all, The Glamourist just didn't quite work as well for me as the previous book in the series, hence the 3-star rating. 

 

 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free copy of this book, which was received in exchange for an honest review.

Review
5 Stars
The Ten Thousand Doors of January - Alix E. Harrow
The Ten Thousand Doors of January - Alix E. Harrow

So, it's taken me more than a month to read this book and that shouldn't be taken as any reflection on the quality of the book (which is fantastic, and of which more shortly) but the fact that although I love me a good hardback, they're not really great for reading in bed, which is where I do a lot of my quality book-work nowadays. 

 

There's a longstanding tradition in fantasy of Doors, which even though they might not have the capital D when they're written, play a substantial part in helping characters move from one place to the next, one world to the next. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a wonderful addition to those books, paying homage to those that have gone before while also creating a whole new storyline involving them.

 

The eponymous January is our main character, who we first meet as a young teenager, living in the house of her guardian and benefactor who is also her father's employer - Julian's job is to travel and send back things he discovers to his employer, which he does relentlessly throughout the course of the book. He also sends back things for January herself, including a book that shares the name of the novel, telling his story and the story of January's mother. January finds out about Doors through that book, as well as discovering that she has powers of her own, in this case to bring Doors into being by writing them into existence. 

 

It's through this book as well that she finds out too that she is between-worlds in a way that is different from the one she has always known - she's living in turn of the century America and while her benefactor is white and rich, she distinctly isn't either of those things - and that it was a Door that brought her parents together in the first place. Now, despite the best efforts of January and her friends, who we meet along the way, the Doors are in danger as someone is closing them and that just might mean January will never get to see either of her parents again. 

 

All in all, this is a beautifully-written book and one which I imagine I will find myself re-reading in the future. It's full of hope and just what I needed in these current uncertain times - highly recommended! And apparently the author has another novel coming out later in the year... :)

Review
3 Stars
The Hand, the Eye and the Heart - Zoe Marriott
The Hand, the Eye and the Heart - Zoë Marriott

This is one of those books which left me feeling a bit torn - it wasn't bad but it could have been so much better and there were definitely elements to it that left me scratching my head (metaphorically). 

 

The basic premise is that, much like the story of Mulan, this is the tale of a girl who goes off to serve in the army in place of her father. It's set in an unspecified empire which has a female emperor but also a lot of very familiar tropes around the power differential and expectations of men and women within the family and society. This empire is under threat from a general known as the Leopard whose men are killing and raping their way across the countryside - Zhi is recruited to an army meant to stop him, discovering along the way that this rebellion may not be as it appears, since the Leopard is apparently getting information on troop movements from a source inside the palace. 

 

It should be mentioned that Zhi has magical abilities and high level of martial arts training too, which help along the way both with a bullying captain and more and more difficult situations that crop up. Along the way, Zhi's secret is discovered by one of the generals, who promptly assigns Zhi as his aide and also makes it clear that he plans to ask for permission to marry her once all this is over. This causes Zhi no end of feelings (this should probably be Feelings), especially as it causes difficulties between Zhi and best friend in the army Wang Jie. 

 

I don't want to say much more about the storyline for fear of spoilers but this is where the overall storyline starts to unravel a little. It's almost as if the writer has thought 'how can I top this?' every time there's a story twist - Zhi saves the life of the emperor, not once but twice, eventually unmasks who is behind the Leopard, as well as escaping from his stronghold which nobody has ever done before. It all gets a bit trying, to be honest. 

 

Then there's the gender stuff, which is a mix of okay and annoying - I should probably say I'm not non-binary but it partly worked for me. Zhi clearly doesn't identify as female 100% any more, if ever, and both how others approach this once it's revealed (especially the extremely self-obsessed general) and internal thought processes seem reasonable. What doesn't work for me is the conversation between Zhi and Wang Jie about it all, which was totally anachronistic, as well as the author shoe-horning a way for the romance storyline to continue despite everything. Well, I guess it's a YA book after all...

Review
2 Stars
Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England
Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England - Annie Whitehead

I was very up and down on this book, which could have been so much more interesting - maybe the structure was the problem, as it was based not always chronologically but on arbitrary categories these various women had been slotted into. That lack of context, along with the many very similar names, made for confusing reading at times.

 

This wasn't helped either by the issues with the primary material and a lot of sentences with words like 'it seemed...' or 'X was probably...', so that there didn't seem to be a great deal of substance to some of the claims being made. Of course, the women of this time can't all be Æthelflæd and have a lot of verifiable detail about them but even she didn't particularly get a good deal out of this book.

 

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

 

Review
3 Stars
A Spy in the House - Y.S. Lee
A Spy in the House  - Y.S. Lee

I picked this book up via my local library ebook service and found it's the first of a series, only to discover that although they have another book in this series, it's book 4 and they don't have books 2 or 3. *sigh*

 

Anyway, the basic premise of A Spy in the House is that it's set in Victorian times and is the story of Mary Quinn, who we first meet as she is being sentenced to death for theft aged 12 and who is given a reprieve by a pair of women who offer her an alternative: join their school and stay alive. The school is, of course, no ordinary place of education but the front for a secret organisation that recruits likely women as agents - their reasoning being that they can place these women as servants and companions and nobody really looks at them. 

 

On her first mission, Mary is placed as a paid companion in the house of a businessman who has made a lot of money smuggling opium and other things but who seems to be deliberately wrecking his ships. While investigating, Mary discovers that she is not the only one checking this individual out and forms an unofficial partnership with the younger brother of a man who is trying to marry into this family. Alongside all of this there's a subplot about Mary's own past and the death of her father, who may have been one of the sailors lost on the ships in question. 

 

All in all, it's an easy read and there's minimal romance between our two main characters, which is always a plus for me with YA. It's not a book I'd buy and I probably wouldn't even bother with the second book in the series if the library had it, as it didn't really grab me. Maybe my days of reading historical crime are well and truly over? 

Review
4 Stars
Witchmark - C.L. Polk
Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle #1) - C. L. Polk

I'm going to blame my local library for the delay in reading Witchmark, as it was on their system as being on order for absolutely ages and then suddenly they didn't buy it after all, so I had to! I knew from the moment I read the blurb that it was probably a book that would really work for me and was pleased to discover that, for once, that assessment was correct.

 

Witchmark is set in a world which is faux-Edwardian in many ways, where a terrible war has just ended and many new devices are powered by Aether rather than electricity. Our protagonist, Miles, was born into a family where he was expected to be the magical power source for his sister, as well as entering an arranged marriage to produce more like him. Disliking this idea, and wanting to be a doctor, Miles fled his family and enlisted in the army, only to find himself held prisoner and his healing powers exploited by the enemy. Now he works as a psychiatrist, attempting to help former soldiers recover from their experiences and hiding from his family.

 

As we enter the story, Miles is under pressure to discharge a number of soldiers back into the community, as he puzzles over the increasing numbers who are struggling with their mental health. Stories emerge in the press of ex-soldiers who have slaughtered their families and Miles is certain that something unnatural is going on. Matters come to a head when a handsome stranger brings a dying man to the hospital and Miles encounters his sister at a social event in aid of the hospital, with both events threatening everything he has worked to achieve in his new persona. 

 

There's a lot going on in this story, with some interesting world-building - the characters could have done with being a little stronger, particularly the main love interest whose personality mostly starts and ends at being handsome. There's a dichotomy between active persecution of witchcraft and tacit acceptance of magic that doesn't really work for me completely, even though it's clearly class-based. Similarly, the apparent gender equality where magic is concerned doesn't convince, in a world where the majority of the doctors are men and all the nurses are women.

 

All in all, I enjoyed Witchmark quite a lot and hope to get my hands on the next book in this universe (Stormsong), even if its main characters are people I didn't particularly like this time around. 

Review
3 Stars
A Study in Honor - Claire O'Dell
A Study in Honor - Claire O'Dell

I guess we can chalk this up as another of those books I really wanted to like a lot and it turned out to be just okay - it might work better for other people but just didn't quite manage it for me. 

 

The basic premise of A Study in Honor is that it's a Sherlock Holmes AU, set in the near future where a new civil war is raging inside the US and has been for some time. Our point of view character, Dr Janet Watson, is returning to civilian life after losing her arm and being fitted with a secondhand prosthesis as that was all that was available at the time. Money is short for everything except weapons, even to help a talented surgeon keep her career. While dealing with PTSD from her experiences, Watson discovers that there are limited opportunities available to her until she runs into an old friend and finds herself getting an offer to share expensive lodgings with Sara Holmes. 

 

In search of something to keep her head above water, Watson takes a job at the local VA hospital and struggles to cope with the limited resources available to both herself and the other ex-military personnel she comes across. Alongside this is something more sinister, rumours of an experimental drug that has terrible side-effects and Watson's amateur investigation of this puts both her life and the lives of others at risk. 

 

Where the book fell down for me was with the character of Holmes, as adaptations so often do - this Holmes, unlike the one of the source material or my preferred TV adaptations (Elementary or the Jeremy Brett ITV series, in case you were wondering) is a little too enigmatic and self-absorbed. Everything she does is for her own opaque reasons and Watson gets dragged along in her wake, protesting feebly. That power dynamic just doesn't really work for me and it made me more than a little uncomfortable.

 

In the end, the 'mystery' Watson is solving is pretty clear-cut from early on as well, so it left me a bit cold to be honest. There's a sequel but I don't think I'll bother. 

Review
3 Stars
Liquid Crystal Nightingale - Eeleen Lee
Liquid Crystal Nightingale - Eeleen Lee

I have a feeling Liquid Crystal Nightingale is going to be one of those books that other people rave about but that leaves me cold - it's not badly written, it just didn't really do anything for me and I ended up skimming the last quarter of it to see if anything actually got resolved (which it didn't, as far as I could see).

 

It's written from three points of view, the first being that of Pleo, who is the child of the only survivor of a mining accident, who ends up being framed for the murder of her much-wealthier classmate. Our second point of view is that of Marsh and, to be honest, I wasn't 100% sure what he was up to even by the end of the book - he may have been a revolutionary of some kind, I'm not really certain. Our third point of view character is the man tasked with investigating the crime of which Pleo is accused and he has his own issues with the bureaucracy within which he functions and where he remains still an outsider. 

 

All of this is set in a very hierarchical society and the blurb says that this murder/accident, depending on whose perspective you go from, sets off a chain of events that threatens this. The only problem is that (unless I'm missing the end of the book) it doesn't really seem to do that at all - the storyline just stops with what appears to be a terrorist attack on the head of one of these powerful families. 

 

Part of the problem was that I didn't really give a damn about any of these characters and so their survival (or otherwise) failed to move me. If I hadn't been looking to review this book, I'm not completely certain I would have read it through to the end and it just didn't engage me in any meaningful way. Disappointing, considering that the author can apparently string a good sentence together, to see such possibility ending up a bit half-baked. 

 

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

 

Review
3 Stars
Tales of Alderley - Alan Garner
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen - Alan Garner The Moon of Gomrath - Alan Garner Boneland - Alan Garner

I'd been wanting to re-read some Alan Garner for a while and discovered that my library had a slew of ebooks of his works, so here's my first three - two which I first read as a child (The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath) and its long-after final book (Boneland) which was only published in the last couple of years. Alan Garner was one of my gateway writers, getting me into SFF as a genre before I even really knew such a thing existed, so I was curious to see how the first two books held up after all this time and also how he 'finished' the story. 

 

The first two books are the tale of a brother and sister who end up living in Cheshire, on a small farm near Alderley Edge, and who discover that the landscape where they are living is a magical one. Under the Edge there are a bunch of warriors and horses, guarded by a wizard, who are waiting to ride forth when the country is facing calamity - there are also elves and dwarves, both good and bad, as well as other malign forces. There's a very strong sense of place and these books are clearly written by someone who knows and loves that particular part of the country incredibly well. The language is heavy archaic fantasy language at times, not helped by the heavy dialect-speak of one of the human characters, which has not aged well. 

 

The third book, the one I ended up putting aside unfinished, is about one of those children. Now grown up and working at Jodrell Bank, Colin has no memory before 13 and his determination that he once had a sister and lost her somehow has driven him to the edge (and over it). Alongside this, Boneland tells the story of someone in the deep past who is the last of his kind, looking for someone to teach his ways before he dies. To be honest, I found this book a bit impenetrable and gave up partway through, despite the loveliness of some of the prose. 

 

In general, I'm glad I re-read the first two and not massively upset to have bounced off the third book. I'm looking forward to picking up my favourite Garner book again sometime soon (the incredibly creepy The Owl Service, in case you were wondering), and there's a couple more of his books to re-read after that. So, not a priority but not the worst way to have spent my time. 

Review
3 Stars
Beneath the Rising - Premee Mohamed
Beneath the Rising - Premee Mohamed

I'm not sure quite what I was expecting from Beneath the Rising but it wasn't what I got, which was a creepy coming of age story that soon morphed into something about the implications of making deals when you don't have all the information.

 

It's the story of two teenagers, Nick and Johnny, bound together as children by being the lone survivors of a mass shooting and whose relationship from then onwards is completely tangled up with their lives. Nick is struggling to get by, as is his whole family, while Johnny is a child prodigy and responsible for a wide variety of inventions that have effectively helped to change the world. When her latest invention seems to rip apart the barrier between this world and another, Nick ends up on the run with her across a number of countries, in search of a way to close the rift that has opened. 

 

As a plot, the whole concept works well, especially as Nick discovers during their journey together that there's way more going on than he's aware of. He's always thought of Johnny as being brilliant, only to discover that she had made a metaphorical deal with the devil to get that brilliance and is paying for it with her life. While he's in love with Johnny, she doesn't seem to even like him very much, even though again we discover there's much more (from her perspective, at least) to their relationship than that. 

 

Beneath the Rising kept my interest all the way through, though I'm not sure if it really worked for me as a whole - the ending certainly didn't really resolve anything and I'm not sure if it convinced me. I suppose part of the problem was empathising with the two main characters, with both of them being quite self-absorbed even when the world wasn't in jeopardy. So this is probably another one of those books where I'll keep an eye out for more from this author but won't bother re-reading. 

 

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
5 Stars
City of Lies - Sam Hawke
City of Lies - Sam Hawke

Here it is, my first five star review of 2020! Yes, City of Lies did everything I wanted from a book with only a couple of minor quibbles and I can't wait for the sequel, which is due later this year. 

 

I'm sure we've all read plenty of books where our protagonist is an assassin (I know I have) and that includes the use of poisons as well - here, one of our main characters has the job of making sure the ruling Chancellor of a city does not get poisoned. This involves not just tasting (or preparing) all his food but also building up immunity to certain poisons and being able to detect them by taste. This has been a hereditary responsibility, one which should have gone to Kalini as the older child but her ongoing health issues meant that instead it was her younger brother Jovan who ended up trained for this role.

 

The overall story is told from these siblings' perspective, with both of them having issues that they need to overcome in order to push the storyline onwards. As we first encounter them, they discover that the current Chancellor and their uncle have both been poisoned, forcing them into a responsibility they expected to have years to prepare for, along with the Chancellor's slightly wayward nephew Tain.

 

Alongside this, the city finds itself under siege from an army of its own people, as their dream of a perfect society crashes against the reality of how people live outside the city itself. There's both social and religious divides involved, all of which the ruling elite have chosen to overlook till forced to do otherwise. In the end, all our main characters have to step up and accept their responsibility, using the skills they have acquired and the strengths of their own character to make a difference. There's also the added factor at the end of the book that the much-maligned earthers' belief in spirits was justified and seems likely to have an even bigger impact later down the line. 

 

If I had one quibble about City of Lies, other than the fact that the follow-up book (Hollow Empire) isn't available immediately, it would be that for a supposedly matriarchal society, there's a lot of pairing off on a heteronormative basis. There's a degree of comments about the 'special' relationship between Chancellor and proofer but at the end everyone just turns out straight after all. I'm not complaining too much because Jovan ends up in a healthier relationship and Tain still seems like a bit of a dick, but it could have definitely gone in a different direction without any complaints from me!

Review
3 Stars
The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern
The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern

I feel I should probably start by saying that I haven't read the previous book by this author (<I>The Night Circus</i>) for no particular reason despite its popularity - it just never made it onto my TBR pile. So this is my first experience of this author's writing, characterisation and world-building and that will probably have an effect on my views of it as a book.

 

This is very much a book about books, one where there are secret worlds fought over by different factions who protect or destroy books that are dangerous. Our protagonist once found a door which he could have used to enter these realms and would have been recruited then but chose not to do so. We meet him again when he comes across a mysterious book in the university library that nobody else seems to know about and discovers one of the stories is about him. This leads him on a quest to discover the truth about his own past experience and also what he could have done if he'd only had the courage to embrace his opportunity at the time.

 

There's plenty going on in this story, most of it described in adjective-heavy detail, and that's both this book's virtue and its curse. If you like that sort of writing, this will probably be a book you'll enjoy, while others will struggle with it because it's just so very wordy in parts. The writing also distracts from the thinness of the characterisation, especially as there are two romantic sub-plots and one of them just <I>happens</i> with no forewarning. It's not massively convincing at all to me that our protagonist will suddenly be in instalove with someone he's met once (and vice versa, though we discover there's been a degree of stalking on the part of the other member of this pairing).

 

In the end, this book just ends up being another one of those I'm happy to have read but it doesn't make me want to chase up her previous book or desperate to read anything else she's written. There are plenty of other writers doing much stronger work out there at the moment and I'm pretty busy with them and their works...

Review
3 Stars
The Resurrectionist of Caligo - Wendy Trimboli & Alicia Zaloga
The Resurrectionist of Caligo - Alicia Zaloga, Wendy Trimboli

The last of my books for 2019, The Resurrectionist of Caligo falls firmly into the category of books I am glad to have got from the library, since I would be really annoyed if I'd spent actual cash money on this. It's not bad, just very clearly a first novel where the writers haven't quite figured out what they want to do, not to mention falling into some horrible tropes that really grind my gears when I keep coming across them.

 

So, to begin with, the plot - it's essentially a two-hander with our protagonists being respectively Roger, the eponymous resurrectionist making a living from selling corpses for dissection and hampered by his past from making any progress in his would-be career as a doctor, and Sibylla, princess who when we first meet her is living in isolation because she is objecting to her marriage to one of her numerous awful cousins. Their stories are set in a world where there is genetically-related magic and the royal family are subsequently worshipped as gods because of it (which doesn't make a great deal of sense to me but I rolled with it). Roger and Sibylla were involved with one another when teenagers, as he worked in the palace at the time, but fell out after she saw him kissing someone else. 

 

Alongside their personal traumas, there's a storyline involving serial murder of women and this is where things get tricky for Roger - already convicted of graverobbing, he's a prime candidate for a frame job as the murderer and his life is only saved by him unwillingly entering into a weird blood-pact with Sibylla. She will essentially enslave him by making him drink her blood (yes, I know...) while at the same time dealing with the appearance of a rival for her hand in the shape of the emperor of a distant country. This whole scenario is underpinned by heavy handed feelings between Sibylla and Roger, which really didn't convince me in the slightest. 

 

To be honest, The Resurrectionist of Caligo would have benefitted from an editor who could have stopped the writers from using dialect for Roger's speech (I don't think I've seen many books where this works well) and by also getting rid of the whole teenage romance plotline. The best characterisation in the book belongs not to the main characters, who are by turns annoying or bland, but to Roger's pre-pubescent sidekick Ada. All in all, not the worst thing I've ever read but it could have been so much better!

Review
4 Stars
The Future of Another Timeline - Annalee Newitz
The Future of Another Timeline - Annalee Newitz

Two time travel books in one week, that has to be a record! Normally I try to avoid reading books with similar themes at the the same time, as they tend to compare unfavourably with one another, but somehow it just happened this time around.

 

The Future of Another Timeline is a more straightforward time travel book than the previous one I reviewed, if you'll pardon the description. It's all about a world where time travel is normal, due to the existence of various Machines which have always been present in different parts of the world - using these, it's possible to travel into the past and back again, and the book itself is partly set in two different times, the 1990s and 1890s.

 

In the former, our protagonist Beth is struggling with living in an abusive family while also discovering that her best friend Lizzy is a bit of a psychopath. After becoming involved in the death of Lizzy's rapist, Beth keeps getting herself in difficult situations where her friend is involved, only to be visited by someone called Tess who says she is Beth's older self using the Machine to travel back and give her advice. 

 

Meanwhile, another part of the book is about people's efforts to edit the timeline. The majority of this storyline is set in Chicago at the 1893 World's Fair, where another of our protagonists is studying the battle for that city's morals and the impact of it on the rights of women through the subsequent decades. Attempts are being made to alter the timeline so that women never get the vote and abortion remains illegal, right through to the present day. There's also a significant role played by another character who has come from an even more oppressive future, who has to learn to embrace freedoms to do simple things that she has never experienced before.

 

This is another of those books that I'm glad I read but can't see myself re-reading. It's not particularly graphic but the body count is fairly high and I especially have a thing about eye trauma, which nearly led me to nope my way out of the book quite early on. The amount of research done to set up the whole thing is clear from the outset, as the settings feel realistic, but without a heavy-handed approach to demonstrate the time it must have taken to gather all the information required. Many authors could learn a lot from the fine balance taken here, as well as the ways in which the story moves, even if the end is not quite the end and left a little uncertain. 

Review
3 Stars
This is How You Lose the Time War - Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
This Is How You Lose the Time War - Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

I can't say I'm massively surprised to discover that this novella, which a lot of people I know have raved about, is another of those books which just didn't quite work for me. I suspect that This is How You Lose the Time War stands a reasonable chance of picking up next year's Hugo but it left me cold - this happens more often than you'd think!

 

Anyway, the main plot is about time travel, two different authorities sending agents into the timeline to mess with things in the hope that they'll come out on top. Two particular agents, referred to as Red and Blue all the way through the novella, start a correspondence alongside their efforts to mess with each other's plans and end up falling in love. That's a very bare bones recital of a much more twisty plotline that really can't be explained without spoiling the whole thing. 

 

In the end, I think for me the problem I had was that I liked the time travel aspect but really couldn't care less about the romance storyline, and then the whole thing was told in language that was at points intentionally opaque. If I wanted verbiage I needed to untangle, I'd stick to literary fiction, so I'm really not the audience for this novella. Best of luck to both authors, whose individual works I've really enjoyed, but this book just makes me have to work way too hard and I'm not here for that.