Book review · Fantasy · Young adult

Review: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

40221949Now I have feelings, book, how dare you.

I love ghost stories. It’s not so much about wanting to believe in the paranormal or wanting to talk about what is after death; that’s not what draws me in. It’s that haunting stories are stories about isolation. There’s something inherently detached from reality in this kind of paranormal. They are stories about the word’s hidden pockets, the in-between spaces, for the lonely and the lost. They are about the weight isolation has on a person, and seeing Lexi’s journey with that, seeing how what the story does with this theme, meant so much to me.

Lexi is a bitter and deeply pessimistic person. The first impression I had of this story, before I really got to know her and her past, was that it really was a downer. And it’s not. I’m not saying this just because there is humor – dark and sarcastic, often, but it is funny – but because whether something ends up being depressing is about what a story does with its premise, and this might be dark, but it’s all but hopeless.
And, after all, how could Lexi not be the way she is? She can’t touch people without seeing the time and the cause of their deaths, and she avoids (and is avoided by) people for that reason. Stories often understate how much loneliness can affect a person. What matters is that she is not static in this, and the way the book ends up dealing with all of this was both original and right for the story. (Ghost therapy? Ghost therapy.)
By the way, giving your haunted and isolated main character a power that can double as a metaphor for significant touch aversion, and showing how people often don’t respect that kind of boundary, which only reinforces something that already is really isolating to deal with: great and painful content.

This is a story about an angry, isolated girl who can see death and the dead as she meets an angry, vengeful ghost of a murdered teenage girl (Jane), and their relationship was one of my favorite aspects of the book. In equal parts tender and raw, it’s messy and tangled and somewhat unbalanced, and the main character absolutely do say terrible things to each other, think terrible things about each other, harm each other. And yet. There is a conversation in which Lexi says that she’s not sure they’re going to work, and she thinks that trying and not making it could only hurt her more, but here’s the thing: I can see it working, and in the end, so does she. Because they finally talk about their feelings, and not wanting to deal with them was a big part of why their early interactions were toxic (so much that Lexi at one point thinks, paraphrasing, “I wish Jane would always be angry and vengeful instead of trying to make me think about my feelings”). The elephant-in-the-review I still haven’t talked about, which clearly had a strong negative impact on their relationship while at the same time bringing them together, also had a resolution.

About the relationship: (spoiler-y)

it’s so interesting to see a story about isolation through hauntings have this kind of resolution. Lexi finds friends and a girlfriend in the ghosts around her; they’re not the ones isolating her anymore, they’re a part of her world and just as human and the relationships Lexi ends up forging with them have the same value to her. She can’t be around living people the way everyone does – even though she does find some living friends as well and slowly accepts that they are in fact friends – and so she finds her people mostly among the dead.

But let’s talk about the aforementioned elephant, the reason I haven’t given this f/f ghost story about all the themes I love, following two angry bi girls I also loved, a full five stars. And that elephant is the murder mystery, the thing this book wants you to deceive it is. It’s not, really, even though the mystery drives a significant part of the tension. Get into this if you’re interested in an introspective story about isolation; as a murder mystery, it’s underwhelming. I did fall for one of the things the book threw at me, which I did appreciate, but this is the kind of book that doesn’t give you enough elements to solve the mystery along with the characters, and that’s always disappointing. Also, introducing this many (often irrelevant) male characters in the first chapters of a story meant that I kept confusing them, so that didn’t help either.

Overall, this was a really compelling paranormal read and I really recommend it to everyone who needs more queer ghost stories in their lives.

My rating: ★★★★½

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Reviews: Short, Gay Urban Fantasy Books

Today, I’m reviewing a few short novels and stories I read lately, and they all happen to be gay urban fantasy, because I’m predictable.


46284528._sy475_Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall is one of the most trope-y and unnecessarily overdramatic things I have ever read, and I was living for it.
I mean, it is a story about Kate, a paranormal investigator, as she tries to solve the murder of a werewolf, falls for a vampire prince (don’t let the name fool you, Julian is a vampire woman), while also trying not to anger various other paranormal creatures.
Everyone in this book is a combination of queer, ridiculous, and horny, often all three, and… I didn’t know how much I needed an f/f vampire romance until I read this book. I loved how these tired and often ugly tropes felt a lot less unbearable and even interesting when one makes them gay and doesn’t expect the reader to take everything seriously. For example, drama with ex-girlfriends from the point of view of a lesbian is a lot more interesting than the drama with exes in straight books. I loved all of it.

“My girlfriend, my ex-girlfriend, my girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend, and my new assistant were all staring at me.”

When I say that this is tropey, I mean that this does read a little like fanfiction, also because so many parts of it are obviously references to more well-known urban fantasy series, and that’s part of the fun. The minor character who is very clearly an Edward Cullen reference was hilarious, and I mean, after years of being told by the very straight urban fantasy genre that I needed to take books like Twilight and its sparkly vampires or the Fever series and the walking personification of toxic masculinity that was its love interest seriously, this is so refreshing. Nothing about this book demands that! And urban fantasy works so much better this way.

On the negatives, I will say that while the sex scenes aren’t bad, they could have used less weird metaphors and descriptions (it could have been part of the parody aspect, but it usually wasn’t over-the-top enough to be funny, so maybe it wasn’t?) and that the pacing felt a bit wobbly, but overall, but I haven’t laughed this much while reading a book in months, so I’m definitely not here to complain. It’s short, it’s fun, it’s exactly what it needs to be.

My rating: ★★★★


26300164._sy475_This month I also read Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship by Aliette de Bodard, a short story set in the world of The House of Shattered Wings.

This is a really cute f/f romance between two fallen angels! It can be read independently from the novels, but it does work better if you know a little about the characters and world already. That way, for example, you can understand the full implications of two fallen angels infiltrating an enemy House (they end up kissing there. of course they end up kissing there.)

This mostly reminded me that I can’t wait to read The House of Sundering Flames and get more of Emmanuelle’s PoV, and also it confirmed that I do really like Selene, when I’m not reading about her as the Head of the House. She is arrogant and cold, but there’s more to her than that, and her and bookish, quieter (but far from spineless) Emmanuelle balance each other perfectly.

It’s also nice to read about a Paris before the war that destroyed it in the books, even though from here, you can already see that injustice and rot were already everywhere in the society; the war just made it impossible to ignore even for the powerful.

My rating: ★★★★¾


I also read the short story at the back of the UK edition of The House of Shattered Wings, The House, In Winter, and… please, if it’s a possibility for you and if you’re interested in reading this book, try to pick up this edition, it’s even better than the book itself. I’ve never been more glad to have the UK edition of something. (For once, the American ones aren’t the ones having the additional content.)

The best kind of short stories really are the ones that manage to make you feel a lot about a character you already know is dead in the novel. I’m in so much pain. And I want, really want more content about that one fallen angel.

Also, the atmosphere, the sense of dread, the level of details!! This is quality content. I’ve read so many things written by Aliette de Bodard this month and this is unambiguously one of the best ones.

My rating: ★★★★★


As usual, if you have short story recommendations, especially if queer, throw them at me!

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee

37578998For something that took me more than a month to complete, this was surprisingly fun. It’s just that the writing leaned into the aspect I didn’t like in Jade City even more than in the first book – giving you far more details than you actually need to understand the story – and that’s how we got a 600-page sequel that was at the same time far too long and far too short for what it was trying to do.

I’ll try to explain what went wrong, which I can sum up as “I’ve never read a book in which the pacing was so bad“. The scenes themselves are slow, often full of paragraphs and paragraphs of useless infodumps; I skimmed most of the non-dialogue parts in the second half and still didn’t struggle at all with understanding the story. (It was more fun that way, actually.)
Why far too short, then? Because in this book, the sense of passage of time goes completely out of the window after 30%. There are enormous time jumps between chapters, and you’re not told that so much time has passed until, for example, the book tells you that the character who was pregnant a few chapters ago is also pregnant now… with another child. Where did that year go?

Which is how I started focusing on odd details, one of them being the unusual amount of pregnancies in this book. I joked that this book, sequel to Jade City, should really have been called Pregnancity: every single relevant female character but the villain (and even a few of the not relevant ones) gets pregnant in this book, some of them multiple times, for a total of six pregnancies. I guess that’s what happens when you put too many straight people on an island.

The only major gay character, the token self-loathing gay cousin, is away in another country, and queer women don’t seem to exist. I won’t tell you that this book is bad because it has none, but I do wish there had been less overwhelming heterosexuality and more female characters in general (…all of them can get pregnant because there are only a few relevant ones to begin with).
Now that I got my complaints out of the way, let’s talk about what I liked.

Jade War is an ambitious sequel. A lot of things about it didn’t work for me, but something I never lost was my interest in it, or my attachment to the characters. I loved reading about these complicated family dynamics, seeing how far the character would go for each other and for what they believe in – sometimes, maybe too far; there were a few scenes that surprised me that way, and yet they made so much sense. I’ve always been interested in stories about families and stories about loyalty and its limits, and this is both, so it’s perfect.
Also, can we talk about how refreshing it is to read an adult book in which sibling relationships are the backbone of the story? We’re lucky if even YA novels remember that siblings are a thing.
I might not have been there for the politics and the overly-detailed worldbuilding, but I was always there for the quieter scenes, the ones in which I saw the characters interact. There was always tension, and it always felt personal and real. I loved all of them.

(Also, not to be predictable, but I’m really fascinated by Ayt Mada and would love to have her PoV.)

Once I stopped forcing myself to wade through the text walls, the plot also turned out to be really engaging, complex and surprising, and this time I also loved the ending.
So, will I continue the series? It depends on how long the third book will be and how willing I’ll be to get into something just to skim it, but I really do want to know what happens. I even have some theories:

Spoiler-y theories

Since Jade City had a plot-relevant near-lethal duel halfway through involving Lan, and Jade War had a plot-relevant near-lethal duel halfway through involving Shae, it only makes sense that Jade Legacy will have a plot-relevant duel halfway through involving Hilo, only I have a hunch that this time it will actually be lethal for him. I don’t know who the opponent is, I just hope it’s not Bero.

My rating: ★★★

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

34606064Jade City is the first book in the Green Bone Saga, a mix of urban fantasy, wuxia and gangster sagas.

The first time I started reading this book, I couldn’t get into it. I put it down and considered writing a 2-star DNF review. When I realized I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I decided to try again. It’s surprising how much my experience with a book can change if I read it at the right time; it almost makes me doubt my previous DNFs.
I’m glad I gave it a second chance.

What I liked the most about Jade City were the characters and family dynamics. This story is about the beginning of a war between two clans over magical jade, but more than the action scenes – which were compelling themselves – I was drawn by the relationship between the characters. It helps that there’s not much romance; the focus is mostly on the sometimes-strained bonds between the Kaul siblings.
I also really appreciated how this book subtly subverted many fantasy tropes, especially regarding women’s roles, even though it is set in a sexist world. For example, I think many authors would have fridged a certain side female character to start the war, and I’m so glad Fonda Lee didn’t.

Jade City is told mostly in four PoVs:
🍃Kaul Lan, the Pillar of the No Peak, who is trying to prevent the war. He tries to act like he’s fine and everything is going well, but it really isn’t.
🍃Kaul Hilo, the Horn. He has the mind of a warrior and enough charisma to lead the Fists, but while he understands how people think, he often lacks diplomacy.
🍃Kaul Shae, the younger sister, who decided against her grandfather’s wishes to study in Espenia. She has just returned to Kekon at the beginning of the book. I really like her.
🍃Emery Anden, adopted by the Kaul family. He is queer, biracial, and his family has a history of mental illness; all of this feeds his self-loathing. Probably my least favorite PoV.
🍃there are other chapters following side characters, like Bero, who is one of the most intentionally irritating characters I’ve read about in a while.

I had mixed feelings about the writing and the plot. The first was fine, if not exactly easy to get into – the author decided to name a lot of things after body parts, which means that at some point I had to read the sentence “let me take five of my Fists into the Armpit” and wow did that take me out of the story – and too detailed at times. I often found myself skimming, and this book was longer than it should have been.

Regarding the plot, I found it a bit predictable. For a book that is so heavy on the political intrigue, it has almost no twists, and I saw coming the main one from chapter two.
I love political fantasy, and while I adored the set up here – Kekon as a society is built around its magic system based on jade, and all the intrigue we see here is ultimately tied to jade, which influences everything – I didn’t love the plot itself. Also, the clan’s behavior often reminded me of the mafia, which is probably intentional on the author’s part, but as an Italian, it made me uncomfortable. If this book had been even a bit more similar to it (for example, if it had been set in an Italian-inspired world but with a similar plot) I wouldn’t have been able to finish it.

And while I can say that I mostly loved the journey, was really invested in the characters, and loved the (sometimes too many) details of the worldbuilding, I found the ending somewhat underwhelming and at first I wasn’t completely sure I was going to read the sequel (I am. I need to know).

My rating: ★★★★¼

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

27693272The House of Binding Thorns is the best fantasy I’ve read so far this year, the opposite of second book syndrome, and part of a series you need to read if you’re interested in diverse SFF.
I really liked The House of Shattered Wings, but this was on a completely other level – the character arcs actually went somewhere, the conspiracy was unpredictable but didn’t come out of nowhere, and there were even more queer characters.

If The House of Shattered Wings followed the events surrounding the mysteries and past of House Silverspires, this book follows another house of fallen angels in fallen historical Paris: House Hawthorn, and its relation with the underwater Dragon Kingdom in the Seine.
We follow:
✨ Madeleine, a woman who is trying to recover from angel essence addiction while not falling victim to political intrigue, which seems to be everywhere in House Hawthorn;
✨ Philippe, a Vietnamese ex-immortal who is trying to bring someone back to life;
✨ Thuan, a shapeshifting bisexual Dragon Prince, also Vietnamese, who is a spy in House Hawthorn;
Françoise, a pregnant Vietnamese woman who is trying to survive in this post-magical-war Paris with her trans girlfriend, a fallen angel;
✨ not PoV characters, but a major characters anyway: Asmodeus, gay fallen angel, antivillain, in an arranged marriage with a prince from the Dragon Kingdom, and Ngoc Bich, a dragon princess. I loved them both, Asmodeus because he’s awful and Ngoc Bich because she’s awesome and just a bit awful.

In the first book, not being able to connect with the characters was one of my main problems. Here, that didn’t happen – I loved all of the new ones (Thuan’s and Françoise’s PoVs were my favorites), but Madeleine grew on me a lot, and some of the side characters were just as memorable as the PoV ones.
I read this book in two days, which is something I haven’t been able to do with novels – especially not with adult fantasy – lately. But this was so good that I just couldn’t stop reading it. So much political intrigue, most of it revolving around a gay antivillain, of course I loved this.

I also really liked the setting – in The House of Shattered Wings, I wanted to know more about the Dragon Kingdom, and a significant part of this book is set there. This also meant that this book gave an even more overwhelming sense of rot than the first book, and it may sound weird, but the atmosphere is beautiful also because of it. Ruins have their charm, and it makes sense that in a series about falling the settings is falling apart too.

There’s not much romance in this series – there is an established f/f couple in this book, another one in the first book, and a m/m arranged marriage with the kind of plotline I love (which means: tension between enemies) – but all the romance here is wonderful. I’d read more of it and I almost never say that.

My rating: ★★★★★

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

This is my review during the first read. With my reread, I raised the rating to 4.25 out of 5. You can see the updated review here.

23601046The House of Shatterd Wings is a very interesting book. It’s a blend of post-apocalyptic urban fantasy, historical fiction and mystery, set in a Paris as fallen as the angels who inhabit it, and with some influences from Vietnamese mythology. I’ve never found anything similar, and I probably never will.

What drew me in right from the first chapter was the atmosphere. I usually don’t like post-apocalyptic settings – for many reasons, the main one being that I like pretty and don’t like sad, and this kind of places are usually very not pretty and very sad – but this version of Paris was fascinating. Books set in Paris are usually praised for their atmosphere, because there’s a lot to work with (it’s not that difficult to write pretty descriptions of a place that is both well-known and objectively pretty) but Dark!Paris works even better as a fantasy setting. It’s as beautiful as it is creepy.
Also, everything about this book gives such a sense of rot. There’s something deeply wrong with this city and everyone who lives in it, and the shadows of the past are – quite literally – still affecting the present.

This book can be seen as a murder mystery, but I find it’s mostly about political intrigue between fallen angels and their Houses, with murderous magic and old grudges around. There’s also commentary on colonialism from the point of view of one of the PoV characters, Philippe, who is Annamite (Vietnamese). Colonialism influenced both his homeland, its magic, and Paris’ magic in ways no one expected.

This story is told mainly through three PoVs. There’s Philippe’s, and then there are Madeleine’s (the human alchemist of House Silver Spires, dying because of her addiction to a specific kind of magic) and Selene’s (the head of House Silver Spires).
I loved that this book had very little to no romance, but there was an established relationship between two women (Selene and her lover Emmanuelle) and I’m always here for powerful lesbians.

I have to say, though, that the characters weren’t as interesting as the worldbuilding and weren’t exactly the driving force of the story, and I would have liked them to be more developed. I found them distant, even if they weren’t badly written, but surprisingly this didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment of the story: the suspense, the intrigue and the mysterious magic were enough to keep my interest, and I almost read this in one sitting.

What brought me to lower the rating was the ending. I didn’t like the ending at all. It felt pointless, and the answers to the mystery were unsatisfying, the kind that the reader couldn’t have figured out along with the characters because they barely knew that person even existed. I know it’s only the first book in a series, so I understand why it felt so abrupt and unresolved, but I wanted more from those last chapters.

My rating: ★★★¾

I read this book for the “read a book with a villain/antihero as a main character” of Marvel-A-Thon.

TW: death of a side gay character; the main f/f couple is ok at the end of the book.

Book review · Fantasy · Young adult

Review: Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova

33918887Bruja Born is the second book in the urban fantasy series Brooklyn Brujas, and one of the best YA fantasy novels I’ve read this year.
I almost didn’t read this. The first book, Labyrinth Lost, followed middle sister Alex. I read it when I was Alex’s age, and I still found both the narration and the writing to be very juvenile, the plot predictable.
I didn’t have any of these problems with Bruja Born, and I think this book is worth reading even if you were disappointed by Labyrinth Lost. This novel follows older sister Lula, who is struggling to cope with the return of her dad and the way Los Lagos affected her. When her boyfriend breaks up with her and is victim of a car accident just a few minutes later, Lula knows she will do anything to get him back. She is a healer Bruja, after all: can’t she make him return from his coma and heal their love?

Bruja Born is a very unique book. I’ve always been fascinated by the novels who choose to deal with the dark side of crushes, with the intensity of teenage love. For a genre that is so obsessed with teenagers and their romantic relationships (finding a YA book without a romance is a struggle), I rarely see this aspect in YA fiction, especially in regard to the protagonist’s crushes (the evil ex trope does not count). Also, Lula isn’t demonized for it, which is important.
This is not a love story, and I loved it for that.

Because here’s the thing about magical teenagers: they are going to be selfish and mess up, again and again, and that will become even worse when they’re in love. Most of them will probably use their power not only to unselfishly save the world. I love how in the Brooklyn Brujas series the conflict is driven by the main character’s mistakes. It feels far more real than any demon invasion or urban fantasy supervillain.

Another of my problems with Labyrinth Lost was that it didn’t go far enough. It was set in a paranormal world but it was never as creepy and atmospheric as it could have been. Bruja Born didn’t have this problem. It’s one of the creepiest books I’ve read in a while, and the scenes in which Lady de la Muerte is described gave me chills. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to look around you when you’re alone in your room because it makes silence feel unsettling. Also, real-world casimuerto-infested New York is far more atmospheric than Los Lagos was.

I feel like this series is very underrated. This book made me want to reread Labyrinth Lost to see if I’d like it more now, to understand if I reviewed it too harshly because I wasn’t in the mood for it when I read it.
The Brooklyn Brujas series reminds me of The Shadowhunter Chronicles, except there’s more diversity, less cheesy romance tropes, and more depth in far less pages. If you like The Shadowhunters Chronicles, you should try this series – the magic system (Brujeria) and the atmosphere are unique, but they have the same feel. Also, in this novel we’re introduced to a wider variety of magical creatures: vampires, shifters, hunters, zombies…

Another thing I love about this series is the focus on family. Brooklyn Brujas is a series about sisters, and their bond it’s one of the things that makes it stand out from many other urban fantasy series. Parents and extended family are also relevant to the plot.

While I liked this book far more than I expected, I can’t say it was flawless. Some of the small problems I had with the writing in book one are still here – mostly, the descriptions of Nova’s eyes, at least they aren’t “bipolar” anymore, but why would you describe someone’s eyes as “Caribbean Sea” eyes?
The other small problem I had with this is also one of the main reasons I didn’t like the first book: Rishi, Alex’s female love interest, is not in this book. Instead, we get a lot of Nova. In the first book, Alex spends a lot of time describing how attractive is Nova, and says almost nothing about Rishi – and then the endgame relationship is her and Rishi. It almost comes out of nowhere, and it has very little development, so much that in the second book Rishi isn’t there at all. What’s the point of having an f/f relationship if you’re never going to show it?

I read this for the “a book involving siblings” challenge of Marvel-A-Thon.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Fantasy · Weekly

T5W: Favorite Urban Fantasy Books

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is Favorite Urban Fantasy Books.

The technical urban fantasy definition is: a subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting. Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy. A contemporary setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy: works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings.


Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

28220892

Vassa in the Night is my favorite urban fantasy novel. It’s a retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful set in a magical version of Brooklyn, and it’s as whimsy as it is macabre. It’s also one of the weirdest YA books I’ve ever read, so if weird isn’t your thing this may not work for you.


Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

LastCall

If you want something on the lighter side, try Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, a new adult book that has little romance and lots of demons. It’s about demon-fighting bartenders in Chicago, and I found it addicting. Also, Chinese-American main character.


Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

CertainDarkThings

Tired of straight, white vampire books set in the US? Certain Dark Things is a paranormal noir about the vampire descendants of Aztec blood drinkers, and it’s set in Mexico City. There are vampire gang rivalries, action, romance, and a bisexual main character.


Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth

I may not have loved everything about this book, but it’s still a urban fantasy novel I recommend, especially to younger teens – if I had read this when I was the main character’s age (15), I know I would have loved this.
Labyrinth Lost is the first book in an urban fantasy series set in Brooklyn, which follows a family of brujas (latinx witches). Every book is narrated from a different point of view. This first one follows Alex, who is bisexual, and it’s about a creepy parallel universe and a love triangle.


This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Tthissava

If you want to read an urban fantasy book set in a fictional city, I recommend This Savage Song: it’s set in Verity, a city haunted by monsters and even more monstrous humans. There’s barely any romance, a lot of violence, a lot of action and I had a lot of feelings.


What are your favorite urban fantasy books?

Book review · Fantasy · Young adult

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

[while the rating still reflects what I think of this book, my thoughts on *why* I’m giving this rating are different. Read here if you’re interested in something far more accurate.]

26032825The Cruel Prince is the first book in The Folk of the Air trilogy, and it’s one of the most hyped releases for 2018. I thought it was overhyped, and I have a lot of mixed feelings.

The Cruel Prince is the third fae book by Holly Black I’ve read. I hated her Tithe trilogy – it was 90% shock value and 10% actual characterization and worldbuilding – and I liked The Darkest Part of the Forest, mostly because of its atmosphere, but it was somewhat forgettable. However, Holly Black wrote one of my favorite books of all times (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown) and I like her writing style, so I’m always willing to give her another chance. I had mixed feelings on this book, but I will read the sequels – the ending had a lot of potential, and I want to know what happens.

What almost ruined this book for me was the pacing. The action doesn’t start until 60% in, maybe even later. All the hype was for the second half, not the first – during the first nothing happen, unless you count “Jude being bullied by fairies”, of course, which… I don’t.
I loved everything about the second half but one scene (which was the most romantic one, no one is surprised) so I’m not that disappointed, but it was slow. Keep that in mind if you want to start this.

The Cruel Prince follows Jude, a human girl who is living in Faerie because of complicated backstory. She’s not even half as morally gray as reviews led me to believe. None of her decisions were that questionable in a fae book setting, not in that sense – I mean, she even tries to save a human girl she doesn’t know when it’s clear it’s a terrible idea?
In-universe, she’s a good person in both means (yes, killing that one character was… survival instinct, not moral grayness) and goals as of this first book.
But I do like her. She makes a lot of bad decisions, but I don’t have a problem with that. She’s a teenager, and I understood why she made them. That’s enough for me to like her. Maybe I’ll love her in the sequels; right now I don’t, but she has potential.

What I didn’t like was the romance.
Look, your terrifying faeries shouldn’t feel like magic high school bullies, but that’s what I got. It was clearly intentional, and a bad choice, in my opinion – because this leads to two tropes I hate, which are the bully/bullied person romance and the fake redemption arc.

Stop spreading the idea that bullies are bullies because they like you. That’s not how it works. Yes, that character admits he had a lot of insecurities, but does he ever make up for his actions…? No! He tells Jude that his main motivation for the bullying was the crush, instead.
This is a fake redemption arc. There’s one in Shatter Me, and there’s one in A Court of Mist and Fury, and I don’t know why this trope is so loved.

How a true redemption arc would work, in this situation: male mc hurts female mc. Male mc somehow makes up for those actions, grows up, and you have redemption.
How a fake redemption arc works: male mc hurts female mc. female mc hates male mc. Male mc explains to female mc that what he did wasn’t as bad as she thought, so she shouldn’t hate him this much. He did all of this because he loved her! Girls always overreact! And we discover that male mc is actually a tortured soul who was abused by his family (this was so Cassandra Clare it hurt to read). Readers (and female mc) are supposed to forgive him now. This trope is both lazy and manipulative, and I want it to disappear.

I liked that by the end they aren’t a perfect healthy couple in love, because that would have been really unrealistic. Will we get a true redemption arc in the sequels? I don’t know. For now, I don’t love this setup for the romance, but I like the character themselves, even the love interest, who was a walking cliché.

And let’s not talk about the Taryn love square/plotline. That was so unnecessary and predictable it was actually embarrassing to read. If you want to read about sisters who share a strong bond and don’t fight over a boy… you choose the wrong book.

I had mixed feelings on the political intrigue – I saw coming too many things, but I was totally into what happened. So, not a negative part for me. And I loved Madoc. He’s truly a morally gray character, and everyone both loves him and hates him.
I have to say that the side characters were really well-written; most of them were as developed as they needed to be. (Not Locke. Let’s pretend that plotline didn’t happen.)

I really liked the atmosphere! I wanted more descriptions, and I hope there will be more of them in the sequel, but I loved what I got. There was a really creepy, really violent scene I loved, and it had the best writing.
It was also nice to see characters from The Darkest Part of the Forest and Tithe again here. I even liked seeing Roiben again, and I hate him. There’s also a side f/f couple.

My rating: ★★★½


Have you ever read a book written by Holly Black? And, if you’ve read this book: which prince was the cruel prince?

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift

Paris Adrift is a fantasy book about the way small events can shape people, places, and the destiny of humanity itself.

One of the main strengths of this book is the atmosphere. The descriptions of Paris through time – the crowded bars of 2017, the theaters of 1875, the alternate dystopian city of 2042 – are vivid and fascinating.

The main character is Hallie, a young woman who is on a gap year from her geology studies. She is running from her family, from her past, and in some way from herself, but at Millie’s there’s something awaiting for her: the staff will quickly become her new family, and in the keg room there’s the anomaly – time travel.
Millie’s, as it turns out, is a very special place.

All the characters and their friendships were memorable and well-developed. Even the romance, which I didn’t like for half of the novel, slowly grew on me. By the end of the book, I loved Hallie and Léon.

Paris Adrift is also really diverse (a diverse ensemble cast!). The main character struggles with panic attacks, which I had never seen before in an adult fantasy novel; there are side characters who are Colombian and Algerian; there’s a side f/f couple.
The only thing I didn’t love was how some words like psychopath, schizophrenic and borderline were sometimes used in a disparaging way/to describe a character who was acting weird (and that’s not what those words mean).

My favorite character was the mysterious chronometrist; she was unsettling in the best way.
This book does have its creepy moments – the anomaly isn’t exactly a benevolent entity, and time-travel in the catacombs isn’t a pleasant experience either.

Paris Adrift is a story that weaves together time travel and modern politics, exploring many relevant themes. Maybe it will feel dated sooner, but it also feels more real, more grounded.

I flew through this book. I always wanted to know what was going to happen; the short chapters helped. It’s divided into nine parts, and this could have felt disjointed, but the transition was never awkward. I never knew which direction the story would take next.

My rating: ★★★★¾