Book review · contemporary · Fantasy

Reviews: Two Books I Loved

Today I’ll review two books I loved this summer, the flash fiction collection The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales by Yoon Ha Lee and the poetry novel The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. I’ve already mentioned them on this blog multiple times, but I never got around to reviewing them, and that needed to change.

Since we’re nearing the end of the year and many of us are behind on various reading challenges, I also want to mention that both of these are really short and quick reads.


25733384._sy475_The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales is a collection of flash fairytales, many of which gay, many of which featuring shapeshifting foxes and fox spirits, all of them delightful.

This was the book equivalent of a chocolate box. Every story is just a few pages, and maybe not all of them are as memorable, but all of them are pretty and a pleasure to read. And the ones that are memorable are the kind of stories I will never forget, for their wonderful atmosphere or their clever endings or just for how much they made me happy. I feel like we tend to talk a lot about the books that manage to make us cry, and while I can appreciate occasional heartbreak, books like this one will always be more valuable to me.

In The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales you’ll meet dormouse paladins, non-binary oracles, stories about animal wives with a gay twist, and so many surprisingly cuddly foxes. Here you’ll find stories to remind you that a dragon is a state of mind, stories that will give you some insight into the lives of carousel horses, stories that will show you how shadows are just another reminder of the importance of heartlight.

Apart from the really appreciated casual queerness these stories are full of, what I loved the most about this collection were the descriptions. They’re as unique as they’re beautiful, and maybe talking about crystals unfed by unsunlight and the ice-fruit of stars shouldn’t make sense but it does, it always does.

Also, if you’ve read Ninefox Gambit, a fun part is noticing how in some of these stories there are small references to the trilogy, so much that I almost think of this book as “what the people in the world of the Machineries of Empiretrilogy tell as fairytales”. I think the three prose poems – How the Andan Court explicitly, but very likely also Candles and Thunder – were written specifically with some of those characters/parts of that world in mind. The prose poems are really pretty even if you don’t know the context, but with context… I have too many feelings that I can’t put them into words.

Apart from the prose poems, my favorite stories were The Virtues of Magpies, featuring a non-binary youth and their mischievous magical magpie friends, and The Red Braid, whose ending was everything to me. Also, The Firziak Mountains made me laugh, and stories like The Youngest FoxThe Fox’s Forest and The Crane Wife were adorable.

My rating: ★★★★★


41020406._sx318_A beautiful coming-of-age story about a gay biracial black boy as he find his voice through poetry and drag.

For me, it’s always a breath of fresh air to read about marginalized characters who are not from the US. Yes, Michael is British, and it’s not difficult to find stories set in England, but stories about marginalized characters in contemporary are overwhelmingly American. In this story, you’ll see Michael come to terms with what it means for him to be British and Jamaican and Cypriot; to be all of these things and also a gay man, one who wants to be a drag artist.

It’s a really emotional journey, one I would really recommend to everyone who liked The Poet X. The poems in here were so beautiful, especially the ones about biracial and multicultural identity not being made of halves, about best friends being the ones who can hurt you the most with their internalized homophobia and racism (House of Mirrors. That hurt so much), about toxic masculinity, and the final one about coming out.
I also thought that the way this book focused on family relationships – Michael’s somewhat complicated relationship with his mother, who accepts him but still messes up; Michael’s nonexistent relationship with his father; his connection with his uncle and grandmother on his father’s side – and friendships was something that isn’t as common as it should be in YA. Daisy’s (his best friend) storyline was probably my favorite part of the book.

I also really liked the flamingo symbolism, and all the illustrations.

My rating: ★★★★½


Have you read any good short fiction/poetry lately?

Book review · Fantasy · Young adult

Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan

43558747Me and YA fantasy this year really don’t get along.

In terms of how it compares to the first book, Girls of Storm and Shadow is probably the worst sequel I’ve ever read.
After all, how can a series in which I love the two main characters end up being actively unenjoyable? Somehow, this one managed, and without ever making me change my feelings about Lei and Wren – which is a remarkable accomplishment, one I hope to never see again.

The best word I can find to describe what went wrong with most of this book is “sloppy“. A lot of good ideas, but to say that the execution left something to be desired would be an understatement, and this was true right from the beginning. I read an ARC, and I hope some of these don’t make it to the final copy, but one of the first things that stood out to me about Girls of Storm and Shadow was the jarringly modern language – characters using words like “fanmail”, or “B.O.” to mean body odor, or saying “stealth mode activated” – out of nowhere, in what is very much a high fantasy setting. There are also some puns that, to work, would require the characters to be speaking English, which clashed with everything I know about the worldbuilding. Also, since we’re talking about the puns: I didn’t mind that they were purposefully terrible, but the attempt at funny banter involving Bo, Nitta and Merrin was so cringey I just wanted them all to disappear. There really isn’t a character more annoying than the unfunny comic relief.

The jarring parts didn’t stop there; no, soon I started to notice how awkward the dialogue was at times – always at the same very specific times. While every character has their own way to speak and it’s usually easy to understand who is saying what without needing a dialogue tag, most of the characters seemed to have a thing for launching themselves into monologues about what bravery is and the costs of fighting back. In those monologues, they all spoke the exact same way. It was as if these parts were made to work out of context instead of in context, as if they were meant to be quoted and shared instead of actually belonging in the text. While I agreed with what the book said about resistance and what it means to be brave, abandoning all subtlety to deliver important lessons to the reader is talking down to the reader.

This is also a journey book.
I’m always hesitant with sequels of books I loved, because in a trilogy, the second book often turns into a journey book. If the first book wasn’t one already, the second often fails. One of the things I loved the most about Girls of Paper and Fire was the atmosphere, at the same time dazzling and claustrophobic, and the way the f/f romance was framed as a light in the darkness for Lei. All of this is lost in the second book; we go from a developed, vivid setting that feels real to speeding through a series of locations we’re told relatively little about, and everything feels so flat and fake. We go from a romance that was a source of strength for the characters to something that is mostly yet one more obstacle for them.

I appreciated how this book portrayed the way even a loving relationship can become really strained when two people are uprooted from the circumstances in which the relationship began and thrown into a very different but still ugly situation. Lei is suffering because she feels out of place (on top of everything we saw in the first book); Wren has been raised by a family that mostly saw her as means to an end, and at times finds herself missing some parts of palace life, and this horrifies her. I wasn’t annoyed by the way the main characters found communicating difficult – no, I think the miscommunication was realistic and necessary. These are traumatized 17-year-olds and Lei is clearly displaying PTSD symptoms. Of course they’re struggling, and that impacts their relationship. This book doesn’t shy away from any of that, and that’s probably what I liked the most about it.

What really annoyed me was that this book thought it was necessary to include [spoilery thing] of all things, out of nowhere, 70% in. Now, I can have fun with this sort of thing in lighter reads in which I’m just there for the drama. This is very much not that kind of book, and I have no idea why this was done. To add conflict? As if there wasn’t enough. That sort of thing only annoys your reader, and it’s not like I needed that, because believe me, after spending 300 pages with Bo I was already annoyed.

Click here to see what the spoiler-y thing is, because I wish I had known:

Unnecessary drama involving an ex-girlfriend that is suddenly introduced.

I also felt like nothing happened, even though a lot of things clearly happened, since the characters were constantly on the run or trying to convince people to ally with them. The problem is, the situation felt very stagnant, because the characters’ goals were always the same, their relationship with the world and each other were always the same, the villains’ goals were always the same – at least for the first three quarters of the book.
I quit 75% of the way through, because I realized that I wasn’t actually liking anything of what I was reading anymore.

My rating: ★★

Adult · Book review · contemporary · Fantasy

Recent Reads That Didn’t Work

Today, I’m going to talk about four books I DNFed in the last two months, and why I DNFed them. These are not to be considered true reviews, as I didn’t even read half of the book, but I want to talk about what makes me decide to part ways with a book.


Three Immediate DNFs

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman: I don’t find easy to describe what exactly went wrong with this one. It was a combination of forced dialogue, characters angsting about their magic/lack thereof even before you understand which kind of magic there is in this world, and vague descriptions that made it feel like a novelization of a not particularly well-thought-out TV show. You know the ones with a bad script people rave about because the actors are pretty, but of which you can’t see two scenes without dying of secondhand embarrassment? Those, and being a book it can’t even have the pretty actors.

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling: I just really wasn’t feeling this one. I started it for Spookathon, realized it really wasn’t my kind of thing, and stopped. It was starting to bore me already, there was far too much talk about rerouting intestines (please stop) instead of actual descriptions of the creepy cave, and that was… not what I wanted. I mean, caves are beautiful and awe-inducing and this book didn’t even try to describe what was in them? They’re not just holes in the rock. I’m sad because in theory I’m always there for the messed up f/f relationships, but this one wasn’t working. Maybe I’ll try again someday, I don’t know.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware: I tried this one because of… booktube hype, mostly. It sounded interesting and I could have used it for an upcoming “out of my comfort” zone post! However, when the main character – who is in jail at the beginning of the book – started to tell me how she’s middle class and because of that feels like she doesn’t belong there while the other women clearly do, I decided that I didn’t particularly care that I was meant to dislike her and quit. I tried to give a book in which I hated the main characters a chance just a few days ago and it wasn’t worth it at all; I have better things to do with my time.


“Pokémon, but make it ugly”
― Steel Crow Saga, probably

47524040._sy475_I had read and really liked another book by Paul Krueger before, so when I started seeing positive reviews of Steel Crow Saga, I was sure that this was going to be a fun fantasy read for me. Unfortunately, me and this book didn’t get along at all, for various reasons, the main ones being my dislike of the writing and the humor, which I found more cringe-y than funny. I ended up DNFing it because I just couldn’t get into the story and kept putting it down out of boredom.

I didn’t expect to dislike the writing, since I didn’t remember having a problem with it during Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, but here I found it awkward and with a tendency to state the obvious (the kind of thing that I might notice mostly by chance and then can’t unsee for the rest of the novel), and… this might sound weird, but I’ve never disliked the descriptions in a book so much. It got to the point that I hoped the author would stop describing things.

First of all: nothing felt grounded. For the first eighty pages or so, there was very little sense of setting, and I had only a vague idea of how the characters’ surroundings were like. But the descriptions we actually got were worse, so that most of my feelings about this book ended up being puzzlement about its choices in aesthetics and character design. I mean, how do you make vaguely Pokémon-like animal companions ugly? By making them exactly like normal animals, just upsettingly oversized! And it wasn’t just that, every single description seemed to go out of its way to make everything as ugly as possible. I don’t think that the book was even trying to be unsettling (with one main exception) – it wasn’t creepy, just deeply aesthetically unpleasant. Why?

As I had just spent two weeks trying to wade through The Ten Thousand Doors of January hoping that it would get better and it didn’t, I decided to just let this one go without a rating before reaching page 100. I did see a little of potential in Lee and Xiulan’s storyline, and I always get sad when I don’t like an f/f book, but they weren’t worth the tasteless slog that were Tala and Jimuro’s chapters.


How do you know when it’s time to DNF a book?

Adult · Book review · Fantasy · Short fiction

Reviews: Two Villainous Novellas

Today I’m reviewing two Tor.com novellas I’ve read this year:

  • The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang, which I read this August and hadn’t posted a review of yet, despite having talked about it many times on this blog already
  • The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht, a book I read this October for Spookathon.

34613788The Ascent to Godhood is about the relationship between Hekate, the series’ villainess, and Lady Han, a courtesan-turned-revolutionary. It follows how the two met, the times they spent together, and how the relationship fell apart – so, yes, it’s basically an f/f villain romance, with delicious intrigue in the background.

The Tensorate is a series of novellas written in unusual formats, some of which worked for me more than others, and when I heard that The Ascent to Godhood was to be a transcription of “a drunken monologue”, I thought this wouldn’t work for me at all. And was I wrong. You already vaguely know how the story ends, and you’re being told by Lady Han what happened, and yet it works – maybe too much? (Those were my FEELINGS, book. How dare you.) It makes up for the details lost in the telling with a narrative voice that you will remember, and maybe exactly because of the few descriptions you’re given, the few details you know are even more memorable.
This ended up being my favorite novella in the series.

This is not the story of a revolution. It is much more personal than that, it’s a story about love and loss and grief, and it deliberately doesn’t focus on Hekate’s downfall, because that’s not what was important to Lady Han to begin with. Lady Han loved this terrible woman, and hated her just as much, and this is about how those feelings can coexist, and this complicated, twisted relationship. If you’re looking for something that is about political intrigue and a revolution, you’re going to be disappointed – they’re the background, not the focus. I didn’t mind that; I was there for the villain romance, and all the conflicting feelings that come with it. It’s probably my favorite trope, and it means so much to me to finally see a book focus specifically on an f/f version of it.

Villainous, competent women are my favorite kind of characters, so I knew right from the beginning that Hekate was going to have a lot of potential, but I didn’t think I would get a book focusing on her, and I’m so glad this exists. Lady Han is also brave and shrewd and manipulative, and I loved reading her version of the story.
The Ascent to Godhood is a tragedy, one about how your love and admiration for a person can mislead you, and about how the excessive mistrust from those experiences can destroy you all the same. Tragic f/f love stories in which the tragedy has nothing to do with homophobia, like the m/f ones that have existed since forever, have so much value, and while this is a tragic gay story, it’s not the kind of tragic gay story we’re so familiar with.

I also loved how this novella and The Descent of Monsters were tied to each other. I didn’t love The Descent of Monsters, but this novella gave it more meaning. I really recommend reading this even if you, like me, thought the third book was kind of a waste of your time. The only thing I still don’t understand is what is even up with Sonami. I mean, this book kind of gave me an answer, but as she’s not a developed character at all, I’d still love to know more.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Content warnings: suicide of a minor character, child trafficking, death of a toddler, forced sterilization. Nothing graphic because you’re just being told about it, and usually not in detail.


42269378-1This was so gory, disgusting and atmospheric you could almost feel the smell of decay wafting from the pages.

The Monster of Elendhaven is a dark fantasy novella following an immortal, magical man as he meets another man who might be even more dangerous than him, and who might have some nefarious plans; deliciously evil relationship ensues.

What I loved the most about this novella was the writing. It is vivid, even though most of the time you kind of wish it hadn’t been, because Elendhaven is a horrible place to be in, and every single character is on some level corrupt and/or unhinged. I loved it for that; it truly makes you experience just how ugly this world is. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the narrator’s humor made this city bearable to read about and also made it feel more real.

“Leickenbloom Manor was the oldest mansion in the city: four floors, twenty-six rooms, and a wrought-iron trim that made it look like an ancient prison that had been garnished by an extremely fussy knitting circle.”

This book had the best descriptions, yes.

I also really liked the way the relationship was being set up: as usual, I’m always there for the trainwrecks, especially if they involve gay characters being evil the way a straight one would be allowed to be. (I don’t feel like the novella explored the full potential of it, but that’s not too unusual for short books.)

Those two things were a significant part of why I loved the first half, which introduces the reader to the world, the characters and what they’re up to; I thought this was going to be amazing because of what it seemed to lead up to.
And then… it just fizzled out. It starts talking about an apocalypse and then just ends with that? (I know, I’m vague, but I keep things non-spoilery.) Maybe there’ll be a sequel, I don’t know. What I know is that when I got to the end, my main feeling was “that’s it?”

I hesitate to say that this isn’t good, because it is well-written, but I didn’t really get what it was going for, and in the end, I kept thinking about so many other directions it could have taken that I would have liked more – but then that’s kind of wanting to read a different book.

My rating: ★★★½


Have you read any great novellas/stories about villains lately?

Discussion · Fantasy

Am I Falling Out of Love With Fantasy?

Fantasy was once my favorite genre. A trend I’m noticing – in my ratings, in my favorites, and even in what I add to my TBR now – is that I seem to like it less and less.

This is going to be long! I can’t promise it will be worth it, but here we are.


First, A Disclaimer

Defining what is and isn’t fantasy is complicated, as the line between sci-fi and fantasy can get really blurred, and as some genres are considered fantasy by some and not by others (for example, magical realism, paranormal romance, contemporary with a small speculative twist…)

In this post, I will use the word “fantasy” to mean a book set in a fictional/historical-fictional world in which magic has a significant role, and in which the technology is on average less advanced than our own.

I know this excludes a lot of subgenres, but drawing the line between what can be considered fantasy and what can’t is even more complicated in a contemporary or futuristic setting; as this post does not apply to urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, magical realism and all the subgenres and arguably separate genres one doesn’t immediately think of when the word “fantasy” is said, consider them excluded from the word “fantasy” for the purpose of this post.
I consider urban fantasy a fantasy subgenre, of course – it’s just not what I’m talking about, it’s not a genre I considered a favorite when I was younger. I also didn’t want to say “high and historical fantasy” every time when that’s what most people immediately think of when they hear the word “fantasy” anyway.


The Current Situation

43263188I have rated only one fantasy novel five stars this year. Said novel is The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore (review), and it’s a 4.5 rounded up because the buddy read with Silvia was a great experience. I don’t know if I would have rounded up had I read it on my own; it was fun, but far from flawless, and it doesn’t fully feel like a five star. It’s really the kind of book I’d actually love to have half stars for.

I have loved some fantasy short stories (The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections), novellas (The Ascent to Godhood) and graphic novels (Monstress), but novels… not so much. And I have been reading fantasy novels.

Let’s make a quick, simple list. Of the 91 books I read this year:

  • 33 are not novels (short stories, graphic novels, novellas, collections and anthologies of various genres)
  • 7 are novels I reread (of various genres)
  • which leaves 51 novels.

Of those 51 novels:

  • 17 are fantasy (of which one is a 5 star)
  • 9 are sci-fi/futuristic (of which five are 5 stars)
  • 14 are realistic contemporary or historical fiction (of which four are 5 stars)
  • 11 belong to the “contemporary with a magical/sci-fi/paranormal/horror twist” group (and three of them are 5 stars)

You see, it’s not like I’m not reading fantasy novels. But I’m not liking them, or at least, I’m constantly disappointed by them. Some of the most disappointing books I read this year were hyped fantasy books like The Fifth Season, The Ten Thousand Doors of January and House of Salt and Sorrows. And that’s just counting the ones I finished! I just DNFed Steel Crow Saga, for example, another anticipated release.

If you compare these stats with what I read in 2016 (around 100 books, of which 30+ were fantasy novels for the purpose of this post), yes, I’m also reading a lot less fantasy.


Why Is This Happening?

Here are some possible explanations, and what I think of them.

is the fantasy genre getting worse? I honestly don’t think that’s the case; if anything, I think that in the YA fantasy age range, it’s getting better; at least we’re not still stuck retelling the same 3 fairytales with straight, white main characters as we were in early 2016. I don’t know enough about the recent past of the adult part to say if it’s the same there, but I think we’re seeing a lot more women, more diversity and that’s of course positive. YA fantasy is also taking itself more seriously and that’s a double-edged sword, as some kinds of narratives and clichés just don’t work when you try to write that kind of story, but overall, I think the quality has improved.

I have read too much of it. Well, this is definitely a significant part of my recent dislike, especially when it comes to YA fantasy. YA fantasy is formulaic enough to feel stagnant, and when novels that actually feel like a breath of fresh air – like Six of Crows did back then – the genre’s response is to try and make lesser copycats of them instead of looking for more stories that branch out from the typical YA fantasy structure.
I was starting to feel “YA fantasy fatigue” in 2017, and I was 17 at the time, so I don’t even think it’s a “you’re not the target audience” problem. Teens get tired of reading the same exact story 20 times, too; I don’t think “this might be the first time a reader encounters that story, though!” is that much of a justification – it almost surely isn’t the first time, if said reader reads more than three YA books in a year, and if they don’t, they’re unlikely to reach for the midlist first! It’s almost as if this category almost only ever tries to play safe, and I don’t like that. (The “really formulaic” thing is also true for most YA sci-fi, but that genre has never been my favorite.) I understand that to some YA is kind of a comfort read, but that was not true for me as a teen; I mostly wanted original stories that didn’t go into adult territory, and I truly believe there’s space for both the cliché and the not.
Also, while I think that formulaic diverse stories have a value, I’d love to see publishers understand that marginalized readers might also want diverse stories that are not  formulaic, not “exactly the same plot as popular m/f YA fantasy book, but gayer” or something like that. You can have both. I promise.

⇝ Since I have read a lot of it, I have higher standards. Also true. I know what has been done really often before in fantasy more than I do in other genres. A lot of fantasy books I love, even books I loved this year on reread like Shadow and Bone, aren’t books I’d give five stars to today if I read them for the first time. It’s less about nostalgia (for Shadow and Bone: I read it in 2015 and that isn’t a time I’m nostalgic about, really) and more about that being the first time I experienced this kind of story, with a main character who was almost exactly the same as 15-year-old me; it carries a weight that similar stories could not today. I would still like it, of that I’m certain, but I wouldn’t love it (and would be annoyed by some things that I forgive in fantasy published in 2012 but not now). It would probably be around four stars.

⇝ finding adult fantasy without a serious pacing problem is difficult. It doesn’t make sense to me that adult fantasy is totally fine with taking 200+ pages to get to the point almost every single time, because the more I approach actual adulthood, the more I think I’m not 13 and I don’t have unlimited free time anymore, can you shut up and get there already? For example, Jade City and especially Jade War by Fonda Lee would have been such great books, if not for the fact that half of the text that isn’t dialogue could have been omitted to make a perfectly viable story anyway. Who allowed them to get that long?
And the thing is: adult sci-fi, which has just as complex (and sometimes more complex) worldbuilding, doesn’t have this problem nearly as often, or maybe I’ve been really lucky. It might have to do with the fact that adult fantasy has had a history of being long-winded since basically the beginning? I know nothing about older sci-fi, so I’m not sure how the two compare.

⇝ a lot of fantasy acts as if having a sense of humor could kill it. We‘re very serious people here! This is meant to be Meaningful! Fun is forbidden because here we are Edgy and it’s all about pain! Of course, this isn’t the case for all books, but I wish dark fantasy’s sense of humor weren’t just really occasional sarcasm. I think most of us really are here to have fun – maybe not literally, I think it’s more about being interested and captivated and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the book has to be funny, but I don’t think I’m the only one who finds overwhelming misery overrated, as it’s really easy to come by without needing a fictional world. Balance is everything to me, when it comes to these things, and adding humor to difficult circumstances doesn’t make a story cheaper.
(Though I have to say that when the book has a sense of humor I don’t actually find funny, it gets awkward. See what happened with Steel Crow Saga.)

⇝ something that I also need to remember is that it’s more difficult to tell apart fantasy that isn’t going to work for me. I’m pretty good at guessing which sci-fi I need to abandon within the first chapters; this also works – though not as much – with contemporaries. With fantasy, I struggle. I’m not sure why; I can tell that a sci-fi book does not interest me from the premise but with fantasy I’m not able to do the same as often and end up with more low ratings. However, this does not explain why there are so few high ratings.


What About the Future

I’m still going to be reading fantasy books. Of course. However, I don’t consider it my favorite genre anymore, and I think me and YA fantasy are inevitably going to grow apart, not because I’m not interested in reading about teenagers anymore – I’m not thirty either, but that doesn’t make fantasy stories with adults in their 30s as main characters automatically uninteresting – but because it isn’t doing much for me anymore. Things could change, but if they don’t, my YA fantasy reads will slowly become more the exception than the rule.

I don’t see myself growing apart from fantasy altogether. For example, if it hadn’t been for the problems I had with the romance and portrayals of female characters, Mo Dao Zu Shi (review) would have probably been a five star, and even though it wasn’t, I still couldn’t think about anything else for a week, so yes, I can still love fantasy.

A Few Fantasy Reads I Have High Hopes For

Who knows, maybe I will be able to find a full five star read in the fantasy genre before the end of this year!

⇝ The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
If I ever get to this, which might not happen because I am a coward, I’m actually pretty sure that I’m going to like it. I’ve heard that as far as books this long go, the pacing is great, and what I’ve heard about the characters and worldbuilding was encouraging as well.

Descendants of the Crane by Joan He
I’ve heard this one is slow, but slow YA fantasy is easier to deal with than slow adult fantasy, being on average shorter and lighter. I’ve also heard this has political intrigue and interesting court dynamics and I live for that. I haven’t been reading enough “backstabbing at court” books this year, and I usually like those.

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
I’m not completely sure what this is about but it comes highly recommended from people I trust. I’ve heard there are complex villains and queer characters in here, so that’s bound to be interesting. I haven’t heard a lot about the series in general but I’m hopeful.


Have you ever felt like you and a genre were growing apart? What are your current thoughts on fantasy?

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore

43263188When I heard that The Perfect Assassin was going to get a companion sequel that was also about assassins but with a main f/f romance, The Impossible Contract instantly became one of my most anticipated books of the year. And it didn’t disappoint.

While reviewing a sequel, one of the first things I think about is how the sequel is in comparison to the first book. And in this case, I can say that I’ve never read two books in the same series that had such different strengths. Where The Perfect Assassin was a slow-burn mystery all set in the same city, The Impossible Contract is a fast-paced journey book involving necromancy. It’s darker and bloodier – and, in a way, also messier than the first book, not as clear in its direction or themes, but way funnier at the same time.
I can’t tell you if it’s better or worse, but what I can tell you it’s that it’s different, and that I enjoyed it a lot more.

This is the story of Thana, the daughter of the famous assassin known as “the Serpent of Ghadid”. Thana has always wanted to prove herself, to be seen as something more than “the daughter of someone famous”. She wants to be a legend herself, and this new assassination contract seems to be her chance… except it’s impossible, and she ends entangled into a web of political and magical machinations that reach as far as the capital of the empire.

And help her meet a cute healer girl. I loved Mo so much, and her relationship with Thana. They are people with very different values and strengths and… they made it work anyway, but it wasn’t easy and seamless. Thana, who learns that she doesn’t have to be a copy of her mother; Mo, who learns to not deal in moral absolutes. And it’s so interesting to see how the romance storyline is a foil to the one in the first book.
(Also, Mo deserves the world and a hug.)

I can’t not mention the third relevant character, Heru, the man Thana has been hired to kill. He is a powerful en-marabi, a necromancer, and a really self-important, irritating man obsessed with researching magic. He ended up being the funniest character in the book – not by his intention – and ended up having all the best lines.
Also, he’s the reason me and Silvia keep making zombie camel jokes.

While I can’t talk about the villain without spoilers, I will say that for a character who got relatively little page time, they were really fascinating.

I talked about the worldbuilding in this series before, but can I just repeat how… not obvious and yet so logical it is to have a water-based magic system and economy in a desert fantasy book? And the repercussions that has on a world in which there’s also blood-based necromancy? This is how you do worldbuilding.

The only thing that didn’t work for me that much was the pacing. Journey books often have pacing problems, but in some places here it was clear that a scene had been cut and then summed up, so that sometimes we’re only told about things I would have liked to see – but that’s a minor complaint, and overall I really liked this.

My rating: ★★★★½

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

40794181I think that at its heart, The Ten Thousand Doors of January has a great message. It is based on some really clever and interesting ideas, especially the ones surrounding the role of doors, of magic and portal fantasy. I also thought that the writing was – usually, more on that later – beautiful without needing to draw that much attention to itself, every word chosen carefully. It had a harmony to it, as if it were made to be read out loud; I think it would sound amazing as an audiobook.

I was also going to say that this book had a solid portrayal of the psychological consequences of childhood abuse, but something that happened in the second half made me change my mind. One didn’t need that to make January’s struggle to talk back and disobey realistic. It kind of undermined the whole thing.
Anyway, abuse does have a relevant role in this story, as the biracial main character is raised by a racist white man and abused both by him and by her white maid; at one point the main character also experiences forced institutionalization and abuse at the hand of psychiatrists, which I wish I had known before reading.

The rest of the book is… fine. I don’t have much to say about it, because one of my problems with it was exactly how unremarkable it was. All the characters but January didn’t have any dimension to them. All the portal worlds but one are barely described.
Also, it took me more than two weeks only to get through the first 30%. It was partly my fault, but everything I have to say on the pacing isn’t good.

While I said that the author clearly put effort in choosing the right words, the same didn’t happen when it came to including Italian ones. This led to jarring sentences and weird moments, like the one in which the Italian-American love interest calls the main character a “strega”, as if that were a compliment. It does mean “witch”, yes, but not in the way the English word does. It doesn’t carry the same connotations, the aspect of the cool independent woman who saves herself. I asked the people around me, and it doesn’t make any of us think of mysterious, dangerous but alluring magic. A strega is an old woman with a pointy hat and warts. He basically called her a hag.

It might be that the character, having grown up in America, sees the word as just a translation – but then, why not use the word “witch”, if that’s what you mean. And why use Italian words at all, if you don’t even bother to get the plural right? Was that a sign of laziness, of not even caring that other languages don’t do plurals the way English does, or was it done to cater to monolingual anglophones who might be confused by an Italian plural but still want a sprinkle of ~exotic flavor~?
I don’t know, I don’t particularly care, but in a book that attempted to talk about exotification among other things, this struck me as hypocritical.

My rating: ★★½