Today, two reviews for two Tor.com novellas. I read both of them for Marvel-A-Thon: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day for “read a book you know nothing about” and River of Teeth for “read a book involving a heist”.
Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a paranormal standalone novella.
I read this novella just because of the title. I had no idea what this was about, but I trust Tor.com novellas to be, if not always great, at least always interesting.
And it was, but I have to say that I thought this was going to be a horror book, and it’s not creepy at all. It’s a ghost story about grief, growing old and letting go.
The main character of this book is the ghost of a girl who died by suicide in 1972, and she’s now a grown ghost who works at a suicide hotline. She also keeps old cats left behind in her home so that they have a comfortable place to live in during their last months.
I really liked her, but the story was too short for me to get attached to the main character and too long for its actual plot. There are many good ideas here, but not much happens, and I wanted more creepy things happening in a world where there are rat witches, corn witches and ghosts.
It’s a solid story, but I feel like it could have done more with its premise, or that it could have been shorter.
Also, I like Seanan McGuire’s writing most of the time, but she has a problem with subtlety. She writes messages I agree with in her books, but the way she brings them up is usually preachy and forced. During the first scene, the main character is talking with Vicky, who has just called the suicide hotline. At some point during the conversation, Vicky says:
Statistically, women are more likely to go for poisons than men are. We don’t like to leave a mess. We spend our whole lives learning how to be… how to be as neat and tidy and unobtrusive as possible, and then we go out the same way.
True! Also extremely forced, given the context.
It’s not a one-time thing, it’s something I noticed also in Down Among the Sticks and Bones and Beneath the Sugar Sky, in which the unsubtle, forced writing was even worse.
My rating: ★★★½
Taste of Marrow is the second novella in the River of Teeth series.
I don’t have much to say about this one.
I didn’t even dislike it – it’s just that I will forget everything about it in a few days, if not hours. It’s that forgettable. And the main reason this didn’t work for me was the pacing, which was terrible.
Novellas often have pacing problems, that’s nothing new; some of them feel like rushed novels and others like watered-down short stories. But Taste of Marrow – or, I have to say, the whole River of Teeth series – takes “bad novella pacing” to a whole new level.
This series doesn’t work in this format. There are too many PoVs, too many characters, too many people we’re supposed to care about when we barely know them. Every character is flat as a result of this, and everything feels rushed.
The conflict, the passage of time, the interaction between the characters, the romance – all of them, rushed.
The only thing that saves this series is the premise. I mean, it’s ucronic fiction about feral hippos in Baton Rouge (yes, it almost happened. Some Americans thought it could be a good idea to import hippos in Louisiana.)
But the premise isn’t the book, and while diverse crew deals with the aftermath of a heist in hippo-infested marshlands may sound like the best idea ever, I don’t think this is actually worth reading. I liked the hippos, I liked that all main characters are queer and one of them is also non-binary, but I didn’t actually like anything about the story. Book one was worth reading out of curiosity. Book two was not.
My rating: ★★½