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
Borne - Jeff VanderMeer
Borne: A Novel - Jeff VanderMeer

I picked up Borne completely by chance at the local library, not being completely sure what I was getting myself into - the only other book I'd read from this author was Annihilation, which I enjoyed (though I preferred the movie, if I'm being honest). 

 

This is post-apocalyptic stuff, set in a world where biotechnology has gone unchecked and the remaining survivors are menaced by the creatures it's created. Most powerful among them is a giant bear called Mord, which used to be a man before biotech got involved with him, and who menaces the landscape as well as having followers of his own. Our protagonist is Rachel, a scavenger who finds another biotech creature (the eponymous Borne) and brings it into the world she shares with fellow-survivor Wick. 

 

From then on, Rachel and Wick have a love-hate relationship with Borne as it grows and learns, with Wick in particular wanting to dissect and experiment on Borne. As Borne learns and begins to communicate, the question becomes whether Borne is a creature or a weapon - it can, in the end, be both. Rachel and Wick find themselves running for their lives as Borne continues to change and other threats to their tenuous survival ebb and flow. 

 

I wasn't completely expecting to stick with this novel but it kept me carried along, bleak as the world the author describes turns out to be. There are also secrets along the way, things Rachel doesn't know about herself or her companion, but in the end it's actually quite a hopeful story. There seems to be another book coming out soon (Dead Astronauts) that's set in the same world but it's not immediately clear to me from the blurb if it's a sequel, a prequel or just shares the same universe. Not sure I'll buy it, but I might check it out if the library can oblige...

Review
3 Stars
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City - K.J. Parker
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City - K.J. Parker

I've read some of this author's books before and happened across this one at the library while I was browsing - to be honest, I was attracted as much by the fact that it was a standalone novel as the plot itself.

 

The basic premise: our protagonist, Orhan, is an engineer who is now in charge of a regiment for an empire which is mostly made up of people who don't look like him. He was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery, learning a trade during that time which he has subsequently capitalised on to acquire a relatively good life but is constantly reminded that he's an outsider. This book is about how he gets called upon to help defend the capital city against raiders who have decimated the empire's army and are about to roll over the capital as well. 

 

As you'd expect if you've read a K.J. Parker book before, there's plenty of detail around how exactly Orhan does this and the various schemes he comes up with. He's a bit of an unreliable narrator, even when we're inside his head, saying one thing and then often doing something that counteracts that statement. It's an interesting enough book, with a couple of twists along the way - the identity of the military leader Orhan is up against, for example, and what that means for him personally - but it didn't quite grab me. 

 

There were a couple of reasons why, I think, and they're all to do with identity. First off, one of the problems with being inside someone's head is that you don't necessarily get a real look at the characterisation of others within the story, as they're all skewed by your perspective. This is particularly true of the female characters in this book, both of them. Yes, in a cast of lots there are literally two women who actually do something and the exact nature of Orhan's relationship with one of them is meant to be one of the plot twists. 

 

Secondly, the heavy handed way the author approaches the racial differences between Orhan and the majority of the population around him. An experienced author like Parker should surely have been able to come up with subtler ways of expressing this, even in Orhan's own head, than he does. It just felt very laboured and obvious, which bounced me out of the plot at times. 

 

So, all in all not the worst thing I've ever read but glad I picked it up from the library as I won't want to read it again. 

Review
3 Stars
The Mutual Admiration Society - Mo Moulton
The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women - Mo Moulton

I don't read a great deal of non-fiction, but every so often I need some as a bit of a palate cleanser between books - usually I turn to something historical at this kind of time, then this caught my eye because of its subtitle. I've been a massive Dorothy L Sayers fan for many year and didn't really know much about her other than the Wimsey books, so it seemed like a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

 

DLS, as she is called all the way through The Mutual Admiration Society, is the most well-known of the group of women who this book is about but also possibly the most difficult to understand. These are women who first met at Somerville College in Oxford, arriving there at a time when the university was grudgingly accepting women as students (with many criteria for how they should then behave) but not to the point of actually giving them a degree at the end of their studies. Being self-selecting, these are predominantly middle class women who have the luxury of pursuing their interests even though very few options will be available at the end of their studies: pretty much the choice is teaching or marriage and most of them go through both at some point in their lives. 

 

The book does the best it can with the difficulties posed by people's desire not to have their private lives talked about after their death, as at least one member of the MAS requested that her private papers be burned. At least one was engaged in a same-sex relationship and there was also some polyamory going on too, though the book rightly states that sticking current labels on previous generations' behaviour is always tricky and problematic.

 

In the end, I think it was still DLS who remained the focus of the book for me. I had little idea of the influence of her life on the characters she wrote, so to some extent that was interesting to see. I remain unconvinced of the accuracy of the subtitle of this book: the only one of their number who possibly had the effect suggested on others was heavily involved in public health matters, especially about women and birth control. Beyond that, did the others actually affect women's everyday life to the extent this subtitle suggests?

 

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

Review
2 Stars
The Glass Magician - Caroline Stevermer
The Glass Magician - Caroline Stevermer

This is one of those books where the basic premise is interesting but the way in which it's developed fails to bear it out - in short, it's just a clunky, talk-heavy bit of a mess. 

 

The Glass Magician is set in turn of the century New York for the most part, but a New York where there are 3 distinct groups of people - Solitaires, Traders and Sylvestri. Traders are the most financially powerful of the three, as well as being able to change (or Trade) between human and animal forms at will. They look down on the Solitaires for not having that ability, even though they seem to make up the majority of the population. Meanwhile the Sylvestri are the (less-defined) outsiders, a mixture of Native Americans and everyone else not accepted by polite society but with control over the West of the country.

 

Our protagonist, Thalia, is a stage magician whose parents both died, leaving her in the care of their friend who works as Thalia's manager. They make a reasonable living, travelling from city to city, and the part of the story which actually revolved around them doing this was the most interesting part of the book. During an act on stage, Thalia almost dies and is convinced that she partly Traded in order to save her own life, though her friend is sceptical. Unfortunately, it also causes a massive 'as you know Bob' style conversation between them that acts as an info-dump to set up the world building that had me almost giving up entirely.

 

Shortly after their arrival in New York, circumstances force Thalia to stop performing on stage and financial needs mean she agrees to take on the tutoring of a young Trader woman in the art of stage magic. This puts her into close proximity with said woman's brother, who's doubtless being lined up as a love interest in future books, but the time she spends in their house (as a visitor and then later, when her True History is revealed, as a guest) is pretty dull in the most part. There's a sub-plot around the murder of their main rival which is much more interesting but gets sucked into the overall one-note of the book. 

 

There's a lot of talking and a lot of explaining, some of which necessary world-building could surely have been done in some other way? It's ironic that a book ostensibly about a stage magician could have spent so much time with that character not being that. Those were the best bits, shame about the rest of the book. 

 

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

Review
3 Stars
The Mermaid's Sister - Carrie Anne Noble
The Mermaid's Sister - Carrie Anne Noble

I guess we can file this one under 'so much promise, so little done with it' in a lot of ways - a nicely-written story, with a good use of language in keeping with the tone but hampered by a lot of plot ideas and an insistence on tying up the romance sub-plot with a big bow.

 

The basic premise of The Mermaid's Sister is that it's set in a kind of pseudo-turn of the century USA, completely with travelling shows - our protagonist, Clara, is 16 and one of the three adopted children who live (at least some of the time) with their Auntie. Her adoptive brother, O'Neill, gets to go out and explore the world while she and her sister Maren stay home (and that was my first annoyance, Boys Explore While Girls Stay Home). As we first encounter them, Maren is starting to change - she's turning into the eponymous mermaid, though no explanation is ever given as to why she's been left in the care of someone, a long way from the sea. 

 

As it begins to become clear that this process is irreversible, Clara and O'Neill plan to take Maren to the ocean. There O'Neill plans to try and bargain for Maren to be changed back, as there's a bit of an icky sub-plot here - these three, who have been brought up ostensibly as siblings, are stuck in a bit of a love triangle. Yep, technically not illegal as they're not actually related, but still icky. At one point it looks as though things will work out and Clara will realise that what she has is not love but a crush on the only teenage boy she's ever actually spent time with (except for the odious Simon, who wants to marry Maren and to whom Bad Things Happen Offscreen later). This book would have been so much better without the love triangle nonsense.

 

In general, it felt as though the author was a bit uncomfortable with knowing how far to push the fantastical elements of the storyline. For example, we have a resident wyvern who acts as guard dog and protector, with some heavy foreshadowing about the role it will play in the death of a later antagonist. In the end, said wyvern only gets to scare the antagonist to an unspecified death, as if something more violent was too unsettling to write. See my previous comment about what happens to Maren's unwanted suitor. 

 

Likewise, there's an odd staidness about it all. Any possible tension of a romantic sub-plot between Auntie and O'Neill's guardian is waved away by the discovery of a marriage that was cursed so they can't live together. Our protagonists fall for one another and the first thing they do is set out to find someone to marry them - heaven forbid they should actually do anything before being married! 

 

 

In all then, The Mermaid's Sister could have been so much better. Ditch the romantic sub-plot (or let Clara realise that what she has is a crush, not True Love, then grow up a bit) and it would have been so much better. But that would have meant Maren became the centre of the story, while I suspect instead there was a degree of projection into the character of Clara going on from the author. 

Review
4 Stars
The Impossible Contract - K.A. Doore
The Impossible Contract - K.A. Doore

I picked up The Impossible Contract shortly after reading and enjoying the previous book set in this universe, The Perfect Assassin - I suppose it was a little too much to expect lightning to strike twice as, while I enjoyed this book in the most part, it didn't quite work for me as well.

 

We start this book a few years after the events of the previous one - the protagonist of that book, Amastan, is mingling with guests at a party having been given the order to assassinate one of them. His partner in this is Thana, who we met as a supporting character in The Perfect Assassin, working undercover in the household of their mark for months in order to get things in motion. Their plot goes wrong, forcing them to improvise later and for Thana to take a life for the first time on her own. Remember we're dealing with societally-mandated assassinations here, in this case for someone who's a powerful man accused of sexual assault against women who have no other recourse. 

 

Thana is then approached to take on a contract of her own, to assassinate the ambassador of the powerful Empire which has tried to overrun Ghadid in the past. She's heartened to discover that he's a powerful but ethically-challenged sorceror and enlists Amastan to help her - again, due to circumstances outside her control, things go wrong and Amastan is badly injured, forcing Thana to continue the contract alone. This will force her to leave Ghadid for the first time, travelling to the Empire's capital city and discovering that she has to make a choice between her contract and the future of her people. There's a bigger threat at play here and her mark seems to be the only person who can help her save Ghadid. 

 

As with the previous book, there's a lot to like in The Impossible Contract, not least the dilemma in which Thana finds herself. She's honour-bound to kill the man whose powers she needs to protect her people against a major threat - Heru doesn't help by being pretty callous about what he does, including killing in the name of science, so he's not exactly helping her decision making a lot of the time.

 

What didn't quite work for me was the romance sub-plot. Thana and Heru are travelling with a healer called Mo, who Thana falls into insta-love with on first meeting her and who she lies to relentlessly throughout a good chunk of the book. Heru is supposed to need Mo and her powers but to be honest, a few hours after finishing the book I can't quite remember what the logic behind it was. In exchange for not telling Mo he's a mass-murdering sorcerer with powers over the dead, Heru agrees not to blab that Thana is an assassin. The truth comes out, of course, and equally unsurprisingly Mo forgives Thana a hell of a lot faster than is probably realistic. Except that Mo is more of a plot device than a character here, being a bit two-dimensional for my tastes. 

 

Anyway, overall I enjoyed more about the book than I disliked and happily give it 4 stars. I'm not sure I care enough about Thana to read anything else in which she's the main character though, I guess I didn't really feel like I knew her at all by the end of the book.

 

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

Review
3 Stars
Frankenstein in Baghdad - Ahmed Saadawi
Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel - Ahmed Saadawi

Frankenstein in Baghdad is one of those books where I'm quite glad to say that I read it, and it managed to keep my interest all the way through, but I can't see myself either re-reading it or recommending it to anyone unless they have very specific tastes. I'd picked up a copy in the local Oxfam shop, where it was shelved under SFF but it's very clearly (for me, as a long-term SFF reader) more a literary novel than a genre one. So, if that's your cup of tea then it might work better for you than it did for me. 

 

The basic premise of the book is that it's set in Baghdad during the Iraq War, with US forces in the background of the story all the time as one man initially takes it on himself to try and get some kind of closure for the many people who have been killed by bombs. Hadi, who otherwise makes a living buying and selling secondhand furniture, does this by stitching the body parts together to make a whole person, only for that 'person' to be taken over by the wandering spirit of someone who is killed in a local car-bombing. The Whatsisname, as it's referred to for a good chunk of the book, takes on the mission of killing the people responsible for the death of its body parts, as well as waging an ongoing battle against its own disintegrating body and replacing bits as they fall off. 

 

This is all taking place alongside other stories, one of an elderly widow who comes to believe the Whatsisname is her long-lost son, returned by divine intervention from a previous war many years earlier. There's also the storyline of Mahmoud, a journalist who arrives in Baghdad fleeing the vengeance of a criminal he'd written about, only to get sucked into the schemes his boss has cooked up as Mahmoud writes about what's happening there. There are other stories too, including the use of astrology to predict terrorist acts which seems so unlikely that it's probably true. 

 

All in all, I can see why Frankenstein in Baghdad was nominated for the Booker, as it's a well-written literary work, but as a fan of genre it didn't really strike a chord with me in the same way. There was a little too much navel-gazing going on, which is literary fiction all the way as I see it. 

Review
4 Stars
The Vine Witch - Luanne G Smith
The Vine Witch - Luanne G. Smith

I picked up The Vine Witch when it was on offer, not knowing anything about the story bar the blurb, and was pleasantly surprised by this story from a first-time author. It's a mixture of historical fiction, being set in France around the turn of the last century, and fantasy, so it seemed like something that would work for me.

 

We first meet Elena, our protagonist, while she is struggling under a curse - she has literally been a toad for the past seven years but has managed to find a way to break free. She plans to return to the vineyard where she grew up and which she has served as a vine witch, working magic to make the vines grow and good wine be produced. When she reverts to human, Elena finds that all sorts of things have moved on in her absence, including her ex-boyfriend who she suspects of having cursed her. The vineyard she loves is struggling under curses of its own and has been sold to an outsider, who is sceptical of magic to say the least. 

 

Alongside Elena's attempts to free the vineyard and discover who turned her into a toad, there's a series of cats being murdered for their blood (not graphically described, as far as I can recall, for people who worry about this sort of thing) and when the ex-boyfriend turns up dead, Elena is the main suspect. 

 

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about The Vine Witch, although I wasn't 100% convinced by the setting - sometimes you can get a sense of how much research has gone into the background details and I just didn't get a good feel of that from this book. This wasn't helped by the odd occasions when a random French word or expression got dropped in, sometimes to conversation, as if to remind us of our location. This was a little jarring considering people would be speaking French all the time anyway, so why pick those particular things? It wasn't enough to bounce me out of the story but I still found it a little annoying.

 

Anyway, there's a sequel (The Glamourist) coming next summer, so if this book works for you then maybe you'll keep an eye out for it? This story isn't left with a cliffhanger, though, so it works perfectly well as a standalone book. 

 

Review
5 Stars
An Enchantment of Ravens - Margaret Rogerson
An Enchantment of Ravens - Margaret Rogerson

After a while reading a particular genre, it takes a talented author to make a well-worn story idea and turn it into something new - this is particularly true of those stories where humans and fae interact, like An Enchantment of Ravens. In the end, this was a well-written book that definitely worked for me and the fact it seemed to take forever to finish was much more about me than the book itself. 

 

Our protagonist is Isobel, a teenage painter living in Whimsy, which is a place where human and fae freely interact. The fae come to Whimsy for the things they can't do themselves, which is essentially anything that comes within the category of Craft: making food, clothes or anything to do with art. Whimsy is also in the grip of the Alder King, so it's always summer there and never autumn, even though the fae from other lands visit and bring something of themselves. 

 

Isobel's portraits of the fae are in demand, which is all very well until the arrival of Rook - as king of the autumn lands, his reign is always under threat at the first sign of weakness and Isobel paints him as she sees him, with a suspiciously human emotion visible on his face. This act, and the relationship she has forged with him over the time Rook has sat for his painting, put both of them at risk along with the entirety of Whimsy. Hijinks ensue. 

 

Although it was obvious from the outset that there would be a romantic relationship between Isobel and Rook, the author doesn't shy away from showing that humans and fae are definitely different in many ways. The fae use glamour to hide their true appearance, so even what Isobel has painted is not what Rook truly looks like, just makes him different enough from the other fae to be at risk. Isobel herself is capable and competent, not a shrinking violet who needs to be rescued, and that was one aspect of the story which I really liked.

 

Another positive - this a standalone novel, so there's resolution here, which makes for a pleasant surprise when we're usually faced with an endless procession of trilogies and longer. I'll definitely be checking out this author's next book, Sorcery of Thorns, as I enjoyed this one so much. 

Review
3 Stars
No Good Men - Thea McAlister
No Good Men - Thea McAlistair

This is another of those books I picked up on Netgalley, as I try and kickstart my reading habits again - yes, I have other stuff to finish and/or review but I thought I'd write about this one first, while it's still fresh in my memory.

 

No Good Men seemed like an ideal book for me, being m/m historical romance set in the 1930's. Our protagonist, Alex, is a would-be pulp novellist working as a bodyguard for the local mayor after his friend pulled a few strings, so when both the mayor and his friend are killed and the police don't seem to particularly care, Alex decides he needs to investigate. Matters are confused a little by the budding romance between him and the nightclub owner, who has a fearful reputation and ties to the area's gangsters. As Alex's investigation continues, people keep getting killed.

 

So far, so good. To my relatively untutored eye, the world-building seems believable enough but it's let down by the fact that both Alex and his love interest Sev are a bit two-dimensional. I don't really find myself caring what happens to either of them, let alone their relationship, and that doesn't help build any kind of tension as matters come to a head. There's also a singularly annoying child of the plot moppet variety, who exists solely to push the plot forward and also provide the final clue to the identity of the killer. 

 

All in all, No Good Men isn't a bad first novel but the author will need to really flesh out their characters and make their readers give a damn about what happens to them if they intend to make a career of this thing. 

 

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

Review
3 Stars
Snowspelled - Stephanie Burgis
Snowspelled - Stephanie Burgis

I picked this one up when it was on sale, since the blurb sounded like something that would work for me - it's alternate history with a side of magic, a society like the Regency period but one based off a history where men have magic and women do politics. In the end, I liked the idea a lot better than I liked its execution, which was frustrating. 

 

As we start the book, our protagonist Cassandra is in a difficult but predominantly self-generated situation: having always been the odd one out (a woman who wants to do magic, even though she comes from a long line of female politicians), she's then proceeded to burn herself out by attempting a spell she shouldn't have tried on her own. As she was also engaged to another magician at the time, she's broken things off with him and is annoyed to find that she's thrown together with him in the context of a snow-locked house party. Someone there is threatening to upset the long-standing treaties with the fey by messing with the weather and, mostly as a result of an ill-judged promise, Cassandra ends up being the one who needs to find out and fix the situation. . 

 

So far, so good. Plenty to work with there, you'd think, but also some room for recriminations and a soupcon of angst. Nope, not in this particular book - Cassandra's ex is particularly perfect despite having no perceivable backbone, as he's apparently the most understanding creature ever to make puppy eyes across the room at a woman in all of written history. Sure, she's trampled on his heart but he understands why and doesn't judge her in any way for doing so! 

 

Anyway, the situation gets unravelled and the person threatening the alliance is identified and dealt with, while Cassandra and her ex get back together. There's a sub-plot around another woman wanting to follow in Cassandra's footsteps by becoming a magician, which is used as a way to sublimate her feelings around not being able to do magic any more by setting up a rival school for female wizards. Sadly, I don't think I could cope with this amount of sugar again, so I will bow out gracefully here and not pick up the sequel...

Review
5 Stars
The Perfect Assassin - K.A. Doore
The Perfect Assassin - K.A. Doore

Another of the ongoing series of books which seem like they are written specifically to my tastes, since it's about time the publishing industry caught up with this! I enjoyed The Perfect Assassin very much, even though some of what it does is fairly well-worn, mostly because it generally does it so well. 

 

The book itself is set in a desert society where water is literally life and where, as our story starts, everyone is waiting for the first rainstorms of the season - this is a society where the wasting of water is one of the worst crimes that can be committed and where it's also the basis for healing magic. This particular society also has a history of training a small group of assassins to punish crimes that would cause upheaval in that society if they were to be known, working on the premise that it's better for the individual to be killed than for their family to go through the shame and social opprobrium of that crime being known by everyone. 

 

Our protagonist, Amastan, is one of those trainee assassins although he'd much rather be reading in a corner somewhere. There's a big emphasis on this particular training program only turning out people who can kill rather than people who enjoy doing it, since there's also a caveat that the people who are killed have to be found by someone within a specific period of time if their spirit is not to turn vengeful and try to possess someone. As Amastan is finishing his training, he and his fellow trainees are told that there won't be any contracts for them to carry out anyway, as those were banned after their mentor broke the system some years earlier. 

 

In the aftermath of that revelation, which has Amastan more than a little relieved since he didn't want to be killing people anyway, he stumbles across the body of a murder victim which has been hidden. Then another murder happens, this time one of the assassins themselves, again with the body hidden afterwards. Amastan is tasked with finding out exactly what's going on and reluctantly goes undercover serving drinks so he can find out what the initial murder victim's servants really thought of him and therefore who would want him dead.

 

He also gets to do a lot of reading to help figure out what actually happened when the contracts were stopped and that, at least, makes him happy some of the time. As does meeting Yufit, with the two of them rescuing each other on more than one occasion before the realities of what is going on come crashing down around the two of them. It was fairly obvious what the big plot twist was going to be but it was handled very deftly - a less able writer might have gone full-on redemption mode (in service of the romantic sub-plot) even though the realities of the situation just don't allow it. 

 

All in all, I found The Perfect Assassin a very enjoyable read that kept me up well past when I should have gone to sleep in order to actually finish it. That for me is the mark of a well-written story and I also managed to pick up the next book set in this universe (The Impossible Contract) off Netgalley, so all is well. 

Review
4 Stars
Shadows of the Short Days - Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson
Shadows of the Short Days - Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson

A couple of days on from finishing Shadows of the Short Days and I'm still not quite sure what I think about it - when I first heard of it, I thought 'that sounds like something I'd like' and that pretty much turned out to be the case, but it's also an uncomfortable read at times and it did that thing I hate where it just kind of stops without a real conclusion. Apparently it's the first in a duology, which I didn't know at the time, so I guess there's that...

 

Anyway, on to the book itself. It's set in an alternative Reykjavik, one which is populated by both humans and a variety of other creatures, a colony of Kalmar following an invasion. This is also a country riddled with magic of two kinds, with one of our protagonists (Sæmundur) as a practitioner with radical ideas about the use of said magic and who we first meet as he's being kicked out of the magical university. Part of the story line in this book is his determination to prove everyone else wrong and the disastrous decisions he makes along the way in order to do so. 

 

Our other main character is Garún, half-human and half-huldufólk, she's not accepted by any part of Hrimland society and spends her days trying to foment a revolution and using magically-infused graffiti to cause chaos. Again, she's a character who will literally do whatever it takes to achieve her aims and drag her associates along with her kicking and screaming if she has to. At one point, Garún and Sæmundur had been lovers as well, but this relationship was just as disastrous as everything else in their car crash lives. 

 

Pretty much everyone we meet in Shadows of the Short Days is unpleasant in some way and it's hard to summon up much sympathy for them - Sæmundur in particular is arrogant to the extreme, making one particular decision midway through the book that sums up exactly how much he's prepared for others to sacrifice in order for him to get his own way. It's only later that he starts to pay the price for the decisions he's made and you might start to feel a little bit sorry for him, since he's gone far past the point of being able to walk things back. 

 

The world-building is excellent, with a lot of thought clearly having gone into all of the aspects of Hrimland society (and there's a glossary, which helps with a few Icelandic terms I wasn't 100% familiar with). I had an ARC so hopefully the mis-spellings and homophone issues have been picked up in the actual published version, as they were a little jarring for those of us with perfectionist tendencies. Not sure I'd want to read it again but would very much like to see if the author can tease out an actual ending from all of this. 

Review
5 Stars
Iron and Velvet - Alexis Hall
Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator #1) - Alexis Hall

To be perfectly honest, I went off urban fantasy as a genre a while ago, having read far too many books which were retreads of each other. This meant that Iron and Velvet was a bit of a harder sell for me than it should have been - it's one of those books I wouldn't have read if not for Netgalley.

 

It's urban fantasy set in London, with a protagonist who has just broken up with her girlfriend and also lost her (business) partner, so life is all a bit raw. She also has a dodgy ex hanging around who's obsessed with her and who happens to be a vampire, leading her to have a strict no-dating-vampires policy. This doesn't stop her from getting dragged into a murder outside a vampire-run club and then getting embroiled in the life and former history of its proprietor.

 

There's a lot to like about this book, as it had a really strong set of characters - even the supporting cast are well-defined and feel like real people (or not people, depending on where they come from). There's also a strong sense of place, though a lot of that time the place is London's sewers so some people might struggle with that as a location. While our hero has powers, they're not convenient most of the time and aren't used as a cheat code for the situation. The plot is also pacey and drives on, with all sorts of twists and turns - what starts off looking like inter-species rivalry turns out to be well-entrenched in our hero's new love interest's own history. My only slight caveat is that our hero is also attractive to everyone, which is the curse of many urban fantasy protagonists and gets a bit annoying. 

 

So, all in all an enjoyable read and also a book that went a few places I wasn't expecting. These books have been republished so there's a sequel but at the moment only one, if you're not looking to dive into a lengthy series. 

 

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

Review
3 Stars
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - Becky Chambers
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky Chambers

I promise I don't do it solely to be contrary but there are definitely books I read which other people have raved about and I'm just left going 'huh' and moving on to something else. This is one of those books. To be perfectly frank, I'd also bounced off it hard first time around and only came back to it once the series it starts got nominated for Best Series at the Hugos. 

 

So, the premise: it's pretty much set in one location, the Wayfarer - a ship used to join distant points of space together by a technology called 'tunnelling'. When we meet our crew, we're initially brought in alongside newcomer Rosemary, who is fleeing from something under an assumed name, and so serves as our introduction to the various species that make up the crew and the way in which they live together. As she is taken on, they are in the process of getting a new contract which will take them deep into formerly-hostile territory, so Rosemary (and us) will have a lot of time to look at the personal dynamics.

 

The positives: there's some excellent world-building here in terms of alien species, both physically and culturally, as well as around the dynamics between those species, humans included. It's that which fuels the ending of this particular book, with tragedy for more than one member of the crew as their careful plans unravel through no fault of their own. 

 

What didn't work for me: one of the main characters is Just So Quirky as a substitute for actually having a personality, which is annoying enough for me but seems like it's something that would be almost unbearable if you were stuck in a tin can with her for weeks on end. Likewise, because there's a lot going on here with a sub-plot for everyone, that's almost too much to cram into a novel and so some plot elements are just not developed any further. Things get not resolved but just ended, with no aftermath.

 

All in all, there's no doubt for me that Becky Chambers is a competent writer with a lot of skills in many areas, but it still just didn't quite do it for me. The next book in the series, A Closed and Common Orbit, takes the story of one main and one supporting character from this book and spins them off, but I'm not convinced I will be following them.

Review
2 Stars
Mainly by Moonlight - Josh Lanyon
Mainly by Moonlight - Josh Lanyon

I have to admit, I skimmed the last third or so of this book because I wanted to see if various things in the plot got resolved, only to discover that they didn't (though apparently one of them is a major plot point in book 2).

 

This is one of those books which could have been so much better if a couple of things had been resolved, or at least the main character actually thought through the consequences of their actions. There's just too much going on and too many characters who are quirky in different ways rather than having actual human characteristics. 

 

Anyway, on to Mainly by Moonlight itself. The basic premise is that our protagonist, an antiques dealer who also happens to have magical powers, runs across a hunky guy while they're both wanting to buy a weird bed at auction and doesn't really think much of it. Later on, he discovers said hunky guy has been trying to track him down, they date and suddenly they're getting married. 

 

Between that decision and the actual wedding, he discovers that his husband-to-be has been bewitched into believing it's true love. Before he finds this out, he's also accused of murder as he's found by the police standing over the body of a man he'd previously argued with. So far so good, complete with quirky meet-cute and ethical dilemma, alongside a practical problem to solve (together or apart), as his impending spouse is the district attorney. 

 

And that's where for me it all goes awry. First off, they are getting married after only knowing each other for 2 weeks. Yes, 2 weeks. And apparently managed to organise buying a new place, getting some renovations done on it and also a pair of wedding ceremonies in that time. Forgive me if that alone is stretching the bounds of credulity. However, more work's been done by the author on the wedding details than on giving hubbie-to-be an actual personality, which means he comes across as a bid of a tree stump and I never quite get a sense of why this is a relationship I'm supposed to care about. 

 

None of that would have been insurmountable, however, compared to the fact that after discovering that there's coercion involved (because putting magic on someone to make them believe they've found The One is just that), not only do they continue with the wedding, they also have sex together while he waits to see if the spell is just going to wear off. Dude, that's just not okay. And our protagonist doesn't seem to see the implications of the fact they've already had sex in these circumstances, not to mention that he doesn't seem particularly angry at his friend for putting him in this situation. Friends who don't mind making you complicit in sexual assault, what can you do?

 

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