I’m reading a lot more fantasy than in the last few months! Considering that I thought I was tired of the genre, this is a really good sign. Today I’m going to review:
- my first five star novel of the year (!!) that wasn’t a reread
- a really unexpected and disappointing DNF
- something light and fun I surprised myself with thanks to scribd.
…and this is how you write a sequel.
As a general rule, I tend not to like sequels, and maybe I didn’t love The Kingdom of Copper quite as much as The City of Brass (hard to say for sure, though; I didn’t love The City of Brass as much as I do now the first time I read it) but in this situation “almost as good as the first book” means “still stunning”, so I’ll take it.
The Kingdom of Copper is The City of Brass‘s less romantic, more murderous sibling. It has less of a focus on setting up the world and more on delving into the connections between the characters, their divided loyalties, and a city built on suffering that seems lost in endless cycles of violence.
As a whole, it felt like a meditation on how powerful people exploit the existence of others’ suffering and trauma to prop their own agenda; a warning that nothing good can come from violence. It can do all that and still make you cheer when a certain character dies, because if there’s one thing this series is good at, it’s balancing on difficult lines and never dealing in absolutes. (The other is being hilarious even when so many characters seem to lack a sense of humor.)
One of the things I didn’t love about The City of Brass was how pretty much every relevant character but Nahri was a man. This isn’t as true for The Kingdom of Copper, as Zaynab gets some much-needed development (and now I love her), we get to know Queen Hatset (I love her too and her priorities) and we see a lot of Manizheh (I love when the scary charismatic character is a woman). We also see Nahri mature but never lose the best part of herself, about which I say, Nahri conning people >>> everything else.
And the ending? Explosive. It was a particularly fun time and also the moment many characters redeemed themselves in my eyes.
Spoilery thoughts on the ending, because wow, was that an ending, and are these spoilers
I spent the whole book wanting to shake Dara because he never learns from his mistakes, and then in the ending I had… so many feelings about the scene in which Nahri makes a hallway collapse on him? Like, yes, this is the kind of relationships I like to read about! Keep going! Even Munthadhir redeemed himself for me – after I spent the book annoyed at him – in the scene in which he tries to trick Dara into killing him (was it supposed to be as funny as I found it?). Even Ghassan lol no Ghassan is dead and we love that
I’m also glad this book told us more about the Marid, the Ifrit and past enslaved Djinn. I feel like there are going to be more surprises in store for us still – the Ayaanle/Marid relationship: something is wrong; also, what’s going on with Ali now – and all I’m going to say is that things are certainly not going to end well for a lot of people and I hope to have a lot of fun reading about it.
My rating: ★★★★¾
The problem with Crier’s War by Nina Varela is the problem I’ve had this year with four out of five of the F/F fantasy books I’ve read (the only exception being The Winged Histories): they all have the same trope.
In every single one of them, at least one of the two girls is being pressured to marry a man.
I hate this trope now, I hate how prevalent it is, I hate how in this kind of situation most straight main characters get to have a fun-if-kitschy love triangle to create tension but we get blackmail (Crier’s War), sexual harassment (The Winter Duke), and a lesbian being forced to sleep with a man and get pregnant (The Priory of the Orange Tree). [The other book I’ve read this year that has done this was Stormsong by C.L. Polk, which did make it look more like a triangle you already knew the answer to.]
Authors: is this really the only way you can think of to stir up conflict in an F/F book? Would it break you to do something original for once? The world of Crier’s War doesn’t even have homophobia and there’s no need to birth a heir since Automae can’t reproduce anyway, so it’s the most annoying iteration of this trope I’ve read yet.
Why couldn’t Scyre Kinok be a woman? Then you’d have an interesting evil woman and the reader wouldn’t know which character would be the endgame F/F couple from the first page, which would have made this book 100% more interesting (also, we could have had a tense love triangle! Blackmail inside a love triangle > blackmail from a character the reader is meant to hate without a doubt from page 1). But authors are either scared to write evil women or forget the idea that women can be evil, so we can’t have nice things. It didn’t help that I tried reading all of this while reading the masterpiece in moral ambiguity that is The Kingdom of Copper, and here it was glaring which characters the author wanted you to love or to hate. The result felt manipulative, flat, and afraid of any grey space.
I also couldn’t get over how one of the plot points in this book was the character named Crier could cry despite not being technically human, and I DNFed this around halfway through, something I should have already done 20% in. And here I state again that one can never trust a hyped YA fantasy. I’m glad I decided to try it on scribd and didn’t buy the 9€ ebook or the 20€ (seriously) audiobook.
I then saw that Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher, which I discovered because it had been nominated for the Lodestar Award, was on scribd. It turned out to be a delightful middle grade novella following a young not-very-good mage and his familiar, an armadillo, on a trip to retrieve the rain and bring it back to their village. It drew inspiration from creepy folktales and dedicated attention to the importance of environmental knowledge (and environmental magic). I really appreciate books that explore the kind of magic that would realistically be used for everyday life and the, uh, more creative applications of it.
The spinning spiders scene was my favorite, definitely a highlight, and I also really liked what this said about mobs and assorted irrational group behavior, but overall I didn’t feel strongly about Minor Mage and I don’t think this kind of very light, fairytale-like fantasy is for me (something confirmed by my failed attempt at getting through The Raven and the Reindeer the following day).
By the way, this is apparently the author’s adult pen name? And the editor of this thought this wasn’t suitable for children? It might be that I’m young and not a parent but this is very much a children’s book. (If I were to rate it by adult fantasy standards, it would get two stars or less. There’s not much to get here if not “I would have had a lot of fun with this in middle school”.)
My rating: ★★★
Have you read any of these?