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
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.

Review
3 Stars
Kingdom of Souls - Rena Barron
Kingdom of Souls - Rena Barron

Just from the description, it sounded like Kingdom of Souls was a book I'd be interested in - unfortunately, there were a couple of things about it that mean I'm unlikely to carry on with the series, which is a shame as it also did a lot of things that really worked for me. 

 

We experience the whole story through the perspective of Arrah, a teenage girl who is the child of two powerful magic-users and who has been spending her childhood just waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, when she will gain her own magic powers. As she reaches her teens, she starts to accept that this may not happen and this realisation coincides with major problems in the city where she lives - children are going missing and Arrah is determined to find out exactly what's going on and how her over-critical mother is involved. As part of this, she makes a decision that she will risk herself to gain magic illicitly, since it doesn't look like she's going to get those powers any other way. 

 

I enjoyed probably the first half of this book very much, though to be perfectly honest I found Arrah annoying - there's plenty going on, a lot of interesting world-building, and it boded quite well for the rest of the book. The characters overall needed quite a bit of work - in particular Arrah's father was too perfect, while her love interest struggled to become two-dimensional, which is always a bit of an issue with first person if more care isn't given to the characterisation. In all, this was very much a YA-style love sub-plot and both the book and I could have done without it. 

 

Then the wheels started to come off the wagon as more and more stuff got crammed into it and the pace of the book fell away in response - a shed-load more world-building details, the introduction of a major new character and a plot twist that means Arrah goes from having powers she has sacrificed her future for (interesting) to being the most powerful person around (dull). All of this while she's moping for her lost love in exile and then, when they are reunited, he has a big secret too (yes, another sub-plot!). And that's before the rape scene, the aftermath of which doesn't actually get played out as a rape scene because it's a female perpetrator and a male victim with magic involved to disguise who he's having sex with. Yeuch. 

 

So, 3 stars out of 5, could have been so much better and the plot deserved more interesting characters than it got, not to mention a more even sense of pacing. It's the first book of a series but I'm not convinced I'll pick up the rest. 

 

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

Review
5 Stars
Blackdog - KV Johansen
Blackdog - K.V. Johansen

This is one of those books which has been on my wishlist for a while and I finally picked up a copy of the ebook when it was on sale recently. It's one of a series of books that are set in the same universe, though it looks like Blackdog could be read as a standalone if you're looking for that instead. 

 

Blackdog starts off as a story about a local goddess, who chooses to have a human avatar - the latest incarnation is a small child and her stifled life is about to be overturned by an ambitious magician called Tamghat who wants to take her power for himself. The goddess Attalissa also has a servant, a spirit which inhabits one of the only men allowed in her presence and which overtakes its inhabitant if the goddess is threatened. An attack on her temple finds Attalissa and her blackdog on the run, only for the spirit to be forced to move into someone unprepared for it, taking both child and new host into a completely different life. 

 

There's plenty of good world-building here, as Attalissa grows up in completely new surroundings, and as Tamghat expands his power and clashes with other local gods and goddesses. Plots are hatched, though it's never completely clear whether these will work right until the end of the book. In the end, both the lives of individuals and the way things are done are changed, in more ways than one. 

 

I enjoyed it a lot and would very much like to read more books set in this universe. From a brief browsing of the plots, it looks like the next few books involve a set of different characters, though maybe the author comes back to these ones along the way too. Recommended if you're looking for something that looks a bit like traditional epic fantasy but which also has well-drawn female characters who have agency. 

Review
4 Stars
Empress of Forever - Max Gladstone
Empress of Forever - Max Gladstone

I've been a big fan of this author's writing for a while, having fallen in love with his Craft Sequence books (which starts with Three Parts Dead, check it out if you haven't already!), so the news he was writing a standalone space opera was one that I greeted with pleasure. Doubly so when the local library bought a copy so it didn't end up languishing on my ever-growing list of 'books I'd buy if I had the money'.

 

Anyway, the basic premise of Empress of Forever is that it follows the experiences of Vivian Liao, a software developer who has just made a massive breakthrough and who has gone on the run, fearful that she is going to be disappeared by some rival firm or government. That's when she finds herself in the future, in a universe dominated by the eponymous Empress, who spends her time overwhelming other cultures and civilisations, only to also discover that she herself is the focus of interest from rival groups within that future. Gaining a bunch of allies along the way, including one of the Empress' deadly rivals, Viv is just trying to find her way home. 

 

While I enjoyed the book as I was reading it, it didn't really work for me as one that I'll want to come back to, hence the 4 star rating. I spotted fairly early on that one of the influences on it was Journey to the West, which the author mentions in his postscript, and there are definitely a lot of places where someone familiar with that story will see its shadow looming. To be honest, I actually found Viv a much less engaging character than the others with whom she surrounds herself - she's clearly the protagonist and goes through a degree of character development along the way, but so do they and I found myself worrying more about them and their welfare than I did about her. 

Review
4 Stars
Mudlarking - Lara Maiklem
Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames - Lara Maiklem

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, though I go through phases where I just want to read something different, but this looked interesting when I was on Netgalley so I requested it and here we are...

 

For folks who don't know, 'mudlarking' is the term used to describe people who go looking for items left behind in the mud by tidal rivers, especially rivers like the Thames where people have been living for a very long time. Our author is a hobbyist mudlarker, having turned to it when she was struggling with her mental health and life stresses, and the book is based on her experiences of various parts of the river.

 

While it's a story of what she has found, from the macabre to the everyday, it's also set in the context of the development of London and the changes it has experienced. I didn't really come across much in terms of the historical content I wasn't already aware of, but then I've always been a history nerd so maybe I'm not quite the target audience for those sections?

 

In general terms, it's an interesting book and opens the doors on a hobby I hadn't really thought about before - I've been to a number of museums in London and seen stuff recovered from the river, never really thinking about who found it and how. The slightly obsessive nature of it all comes across well but it's also the one minor downfall of the book - at times it devolves into lists ('I found this and this and this...') and I found myself rolling my eyes, not to mention dropping it from five stars to four. There's also an entire paragraph that is just repeated from earlier in the same section, though that might be a formatting error along with the odd formatting in general of the ebook version I received. 

 

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

Review
4 Stars
The Seventh Bride - T. Kingfisher
The Seventh Bride - T. Kingfisher

I picked this book up for free, after reading and enjoying other things by the author under various pen names, and especially after reading Swordheart (which I haven't review yet because I am a bad person). 

 

This is basically a retelling of the Bluebeard myth, in this case featuring a teenage girl called Rhea who is a miller's daughter. One day she gets a proposal of marriage from a noble, a friend of the lord who owns the mill her father works, and doesn't feel that she can say no, even when she discovers that said noble (Crevan) is a sorcerer. On arriving at his house, a mysterious place nobody seems to realise is there, Rhea discovers that she is not Crevan's first wife and also that a number of those previous wives are still alive, either wholly or mostly.

 

Together with the other wives, as well as the help of a hedgehog who turns out to be her familiar, Rhea plots to deal with Crevan and free herself and the other wives, all of whom have had something stolen from them to help Crevan gain fame and influence. He plans, for example, to use Rhea's youth in order to gain immortality and she's determined that his days of taking are numbered. 

 

I very much like this author's turn of phrase and didn't quite see where the storyline was going even though I knew the fairytale on which it's based. The story is well-paced and entertaining, though I'm not quite sure that hedgehogs are capable (or even interested in) all of the things to which this particular one turns its paw!

Review
4 Stars
The City in the Middle of the Night - Charlie Jane Anders
The City in the Middle of the Night - Charlie Jane Anders

A bit of a delayed review, as I finished this before the weekend - picked this one up courtesy of my local library, which have started getting better at ordering the kind of books I really want to read (and long may it continue!). I was also a bit ambivalent about The City in the Middle of the Night, as I'd read this author's previous book and had issues with some of it, but my concerns proved unfounded this time around. 

 

This is a much more traditional (in some ways, at least) SF book, based on a colonised planet called January. This planet has never-ending days and nights, so the human colonists have adapted their lives to try and deal with that, Outside, in the darkness, there are also the original inhabitants of January, who get hunted at times for sport and for food. The initial chapters do a lot of setting up of the world in which our main characters live, with all four being women - two university students (one poor and one a spoiled rich kid) and two traders (one the last of her people, who practised a bizarre religion and were killed before she was technically an adult, and her sarcastic friend). 

 

When Sophie takes the blame for a petty crime her roommate Bianca committed, she is sentenced to death by exposure but survives after coming into contact with the alien inhabitants everyone calls Crocodiles. Bianca is radicalised by the supposed death of her friend but her desire to right societal wrongs is ultimately betrayed by her selfishness and lack of understanding of anyone else. She sees Sophie's link to the Crocodiles, for example, as something to be exploited. In her pursuit of 'justice' for the people of her city, Bianca crosses paths with the others, mainly with Mouth who has lost her job as a smuggler on returning to the city, while Mouth discovers that her people were not only the religious community she believed them to be but had actually put all of the inhabitants of January at risk. 

 

In the end, The City in the Middle of the Night is a beautifully-written book but looking back on it, didn't quite work for me as much as it seemed when I was reading it. Maybe it's because all four protagonists are flawed, some more than others, and some of what happens to them is the result of their own missteps. Sophie is the one who changes the most, both in terms of her ideas and physically, while her idol Bianca is just annoyingly shallow and self-absorbed. I fully expect to see this book on the shortlist for a number of awards next year but am still a long way from accepting the putative comparisons between this author and LeGuin. 

Review
5 Stars
The Calculating Stars - Mary Robinette Kowal
The Calculating Stars - Mary Robinette Kowal

This is another book on the shortlist for Best Novel at the Hugo Awards and then my local library picked up a copy of both this and the sequel (The Fated Sky), which discovery delighted me greatly. While I appreciate reading ebooks for sheer portability, and of course ARC tend to come in this format now, I much prefer proper books if I can get them!

 

A couple of years ago, a shorter piece of fiction featuring the same protagonist picked up the Hugo for Best Novelette, so I was delighted to see these books make an appearance. They're only science fiction in that they posit a world where a massive meteor strike off the eastern coast of the US in the early 1950's has pre-empted climate change to the point where the planet is likely to become uninhabitable in the lifetime of the people driving this story. As a result, plans to go into space and then to other planets are pushed forward dramatically as a worldwide endeavour but with all the period issues around discrimination still looming large. 

 

Our main character, Elma York, is a computer - a woman (as most of these workers wore, before mechanical computers took over their jobs) whose job it is to calculate the information needed for space flight. She's also a pilot, one of a number who had ferried aircraft around during the recent war, and sees absolutely no reason why she and women like her shouldn't be considered as potential astronauts. Surely this is even more sensible, given that impending disaster on Earth will require colonisation rather than just exploration?

 

In this book, we see the immediate aftermath of the meteor strike and the tentative formation of worldwide efforts, as well as the results of Elma and her peers pushing to be included in the plans that are made. Alongside the discrimination she faces, Elma also suffers from anxiety and a fear that even taking medication to manage this will be seen as a sign of weakness. She, and the other women like her, are there for window dressing according to some and aren't taken seriously by everyone. There's a particularly galling scene where they're put through an underwater escape simulation but are first dressed in bikinis for the benefit of the press, before discovering that they aren't even going to be allowed to do the simulation in its entirety. 

 

All in all, this is an excellent book and the amount of research involves shines through without becoming overwhelming. Alongside the solid world-building, there's also strong characterisation and a real sense of uncertainty about how this will all resolve - a few twists and turns along the way! I'm now looking forward to picking up The Fated Sky at some point soon, for the next instalment in Elma's story. 

Review
4 Stars
Spellbound - Allie Therin
Spellbound (Magic in Manhattan #1) - Allie Therin

This is one of those books I picked up off Netgalley because it sounded like it might be my cup of tea and, for the most part, it pretty much worked for me. It's historical urban fantasy, for lack of a better descriptor, set in the Prohibition era in the US but with added magic - a number of the characters we meet during the book have various powers and this is not generally known. 

 

Their way of life is under threat from the import of artefacts which can be used to devastating effect by people who have these magical powers, though usually at a high cost. One of our protagonists (Rory) has such a power, in his case the ability to see the history of an object, which he uses to determine whether or not antiques are fakes and he helps his aunt run a profitable business in Hell's Kitchen. Early on, Rory crosses paths with our other protagonist (Arthur), who has no magic of his own but who hangs around with a hell of a lot of people who do - he and his friends also have a troubled history with magic and its misuse, which led to the death of people they cared about.

 

There's a lot to like about Spellbound, the adventure plot of which mostly hangs together well and the setting of which also promises some future issues around period-typical discrimination even if those are only alluded to in this particular book. There's enough period detail to make the setting work without falling into infodump territory or the perils of an author wanting to demonstrate that they have Done The Research. 

 

In terms of the romance storyline, this book was on the knife-edge for me between 'these characters are delightful' and 'these characters are annoying me now' and I'm not completely sure which side they landed in the end. For a novel-length story, there's a temptation for miscommunication to get over-used and I think this was a little too heavily done here. There's only so much mileage to get out of 'surely he can't feel about me the way I feel about him?' and this was a fraction overdone for my tastes.

 

There's also some messing about with names, as one of our heroes is commonly known as 'Ace' and that's used interchangeably (and not always consistent with the temperature of the relationship at the time) while it's revealed partway through that Rory is actually using an assumed name and not only does he get called by both names, there's also a nickname added in too. I initially thought that Rory's big secret, one of those 'you wouldn't like me if you knew the truth'-type secrets, was that he was trans and that then led me down the wormhole of dead-naming someone, which made the name usage really not work for me. 

 

Anyway, an enjoyable enough read even with the issues above and apparently the first of at least a trilogy, so I guess if I end up reading those then we'll see whether the author can push the characters firmly back into 'delightful' for me!

 

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

Review
4 Stars
Tess of the Road - Rachel Hartman
Tess of the Road - Rachel Hartman

Another of the Hugo-adjacent books, this time because Tess of the Road is nominated for the Lodestar Award, the not-a-Hugo for YA books - not the first book I've read by this writer, as I'd read both Seraphina and its sequel but apparently long enough ago to remember very little about it...

 

Tess of the Road is set in the same universe, with Seraphina's younger half-sister as the eponymous main character, a girl whose every decision seems to lead to trouble of one kind or another. When we first meet Tess, she's still trying to get over a disastrous first relationship and the loss of an illegitimate baby, for which latter event her judgemental mother seems to think she should be grateful. Tess is also hip-deep in trying to sort things out for her twin sister, both in terms of running interference with their mother and organising her present and future life. That, at least, gives her little time to think about the mess she finds herself in and how much she's drinking to try and cope with it.

 

Matters eventually come to a head when Tess discovers that her childhood friend, a dragon-like creature called Pathka, is being held captive and forced to work creating gadgets. Helping him escape, the two go on the run in search of a creature Pathka says is one of seven World Serpents, creatures both humans and dragons have ulterior motives to find first. Along the way, Tess comes to terms with both her own personality and history, while demonstrating she is not as Bad as her mother would have her believe. 

 

One thing I really liked about Tess of the Road was the supporting characters we meet along the way, as they didn't slot into neat categories in the way that happens with some books. Sometimes you can tell how important a character is going to be to the overall story by the way they're introduced and this book avoids that. Tess is, of course, not the most reliable of narrators and at times this becomes a little annoying as she goes into yet another self-critical spiral. 

 

If I have any complaints about Tess of the Road, it's about how the book ends - I would have ended it a little earlier, with Tess addressing her relationships with her sisters and then setting out for her next adventure. Taking matters a little further, to me, seemed to make it more incomplete, as if it was a more arbitrary stopping point rather than a conscious decision. Hence the 4 star rating, as it annoyed me a bit, as well as the heavy-handed sense of potential romance touted at the end, which always annoys me. 

Review
4 Stars
Trail of Lightning - Rebecca Roanhorse
Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) - Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning is another book from my Hugo reading, this time nominated for Best Novel - it's also a book I've had on my TBR pile (at least the imaginary version of it) for quite a while, as it sounded like something that would be very much my cup of tea, even though my appetite for urban fantasy waned a while back. 

 

This is post-apocalyptic urban fantasy too, the apocalypse in particular being a massive flood which has devastated much of the US, leaving the Dinétah (the former Navajo reservation) a place of safety for some but also now populated partly by both gods and monsters. Within that setting, our protagonist (Maggie Hoskie) goes through the traumatic murder of her grandmother and is rescued/apprenticed to become a monster slayer, only to be left behind once more. Maggie has various powers, well suited to her new calling, but also which set her even further apart from everyone else and when we first meet her she's unsuccessfully trying her best to avoid getting drawn back to the slaying of monsters. 

 

It's a really enjoyable ride, with strong characterisation particularly where Maggie is concerned and some first rate world-building. It also avoids what a friend of mine has now termed 'the proximity fuck', where characters (usually a man and a woman) have sex without any apparent chemistry but rather because they are both just physically there. There's pointers towards a planned relationship in a future book or books between Maggie and Kai, who also has powers, but it's clearly not the A plot for this series. 

 

Trail of Lightning does what it does well, I enjoyed it a lot and very much want to read the next book in the series (Storm of Locusts) but it didn't grab that elusive fifth star because I can't see myself re-reading it.