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Fran Wilde – Updraft

I try not to be a jerk about covers. Authors usually don’t have a say in their books’ outfits and Tor has a really, I mean really, good track record of providing excellent covers. But this is the type of book where the cover could have been helpful in providing information the text itself doesn’t. The picture is nice to look at but the illustration of the bone towers didn’t help me personally imagine how this society actually lives.  That’s not a cover’s job and the fact that I still don’t quite get how the bone towers work are the author’s failing (or that of my own imagination) but more on that problem below …

updraftUPDRAFT
by Fran Wilde

Published by: Tor, 1st September 2015
Ebook: 352 pages
Series: Bone Universe #1
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: My mother selected her wings as early morning light reached through our balcony shutters.

In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.
Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.
Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.
As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn’t destroyed outright.

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If you bait me with “floating cities” long enough, I will bite. I will never fall out of love with Bioshock Infinite’s Columbia, the city in the sky, and I was quite intrigued by the idea of a city above the clouds built into living bone, a city that’s constantly growing.

Kirit Densira wants to become a trader like her mother. All she needs to do is pass her wingtest, a mix of flying, singing, history, and geography. But of course, things don’t go as planned and instead of living her dream and becoming her mother’s apprentice, Kirit is supposed to go to the Spire where the Singers live. It’s the largest bone tower, full of secrets and lies, because the Singers protect the city – sometimes from itself…

With such a wonderful premise, I expected great things. Obviously, the most interesting part that grabbed my attention right away is the world building. Living bone, okay. Gigantic living bone, obviously, if people live in and on it… towers grow new tiers and the more renowned inhabitants live higher up. So far so good. Except no. My very first problem with Updraft was that I had a difficult time suspending my disbelief, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t know how things worked, what they looked like. To say that the walls and floor of Kirit’s home are made of bone is one thing. But are they inside a gigantic bone? Do the tiers grow out of a central bone pillar? There are mentions here and there, especially when comparing and contrasting the Towers to the Spire and from that I gleamed some information, but I still don’t have a clear (or even fuzzy) picture in my head of what the Towers really look like.

Putting that big gripe aside, the beginning is really slow. Once Kirit takes her wingtest, however, the pacing gets better and better, and there is more than one scene that left me holding my breath in excitement. Then Kirit reaches the Spire and I felt like I’d been thrown into YA-cliché-land. A lot of things are obvious from the get go – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Kirit has to go through the typical (think Divergent, Harry Potter, what have you) introduction into the world-within-her-world. The Spire has its own rules, its own rituals, and in order to earn her wings as a Singer, Kirit has to go through a series of lessons and seriously freaky tests. This part was fantastic. It takes the tropes of its genre and just rolls with them, but because of the unusual setting, this was still a lot of fun to discover. Now there were some things I found rather ridiculous, but they were consistent with the world Fran Wilde has set up. Singers, unlike the rest of the city, can fly by night. Instead of vision, they use… a different trick. I wouldn’t really consider this a spoiler but for the very careful among you, I’ll leave it at that. That “trick” however made me giggle, it’s so silly.

Another thing I labeled with “silly” (and this bothered me way more) were the rules imposed upon everyone in the bone city. Naturally, living way above the clouds comes with a lot of danger. Should you fall, gods know how much time you have to contemplate your mistake. The towers are also plagued by the skymouths’ migration. These are giant, invisible monsters that open their mouth and eat whatever they can get. A Singer’s job, among others, is to protect the towers from these beasts. So it’s understandable that this society would have strict rules in order to keep people alive. But some  of their traditions are just dumb. When somebody challenges the Spire and dies in the process, it is tradition for the Singers to bring back the challenger’s wings to their family. Tradition dictates that the Singer must not speak during this, except for the traditional words which are always the same. I just can’t understand the purpose of forbidding someone to show kindness, to hug somebody, or even just say “sorry for your loss”. But breaking this tradition is considered betrayal and – guess what – you get executed for that shit! WHAT?!

updraft cover detail

As Kirit discovers the Spire from within, it is obvious that it harbors secrets. It is also obvious that the people in power aren’t really doing their thing for the good of the city. There are intrigues, and lies, and allegiances – this is not a plot twist. What could have been a twist would be the content of these secrets. It is clear from the beginning that the most powerful Singers are lying to the people, are doing something for their own benefit. But when that secret is revealed, I kept asking myself That’s it? Really?! – then, almost as a side plot, another thing about Kirit’s world is revealed that I found much more shocking, and none of the characters really gave a shit. They’re all about “Oh no, Kirit spoke when she wasn’t allowed. She is a traitor and must die”, and Kirit is all “The people must know the truth of this thing that will make almost no difference in their lives” – I just didn’t get it.

All of that said, the book still had that wonderful quality, that flow to it. I started reading a chapter and completely fell into it. The prose sucks you in and, like many good YA novels, just kind of holds on to you, making it hard to put the book down. At the end, all of the really interesting questions remain unanswered, even unasked by the characters, but I am not sure I’ll try the second in the series just to find out whose bones these people live on, why they grow, what they look like or what effect Kirit’s story had on the overall world. There were too many things I disliked or felt were missing from Updraft, and only overwhelmingly fantastic characters could have saved it. Kirit and the rest of them, however, are pretty bland fare, none of them really fleshed out, just a notch above cardboard.

Updraft wasn’t a bad book. Reading it was quite enjoyable at times, but mostly for the action and the descriptions of flight, using gravity, air, and winds in everyday life. The world building was too lacking for my taste, so I’ll wait for the first reviews to come in on the second book before I decide if I’ll give it a try.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 –  Okay with some great moments

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Second opinions (way more positive than mine):

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Theodora Goss – The Thorn and the Blossom

There are some books that just won’t ever be as good in e-book format.  Depending on your e-reader, illustrations could look really nice, but certain books have more to them than just text and pictures. Theodora Goss’ The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story is one such book. If I had gone by page count alone, this would have gone on my Kobo and that’s that. But scroll down to see why I needed a paper copy of this little marvel.

thorn and the blossomTHE THORN AND THE BLOSSOM
by Theodora Goss

Published by: Quirk Books, 2012
Hardcover: 82 pages
Standalone
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: By the time Evelyn arrived at the inn, she was tired, dirty, and hungry. OR Brendan saw her before she saw him, a girl about his own age, wearing a gray cardigan, faded jeans, and sneakers.

One enchanting romance. Two lovers keeping secrets. And a uniquely crafted book that binds their stories forever.
When Evelyn Morgan walked into the village bookstore, she didn’t know she would meet the love of her life. When Brendan Thorne handed her a medieval romance, he didn’t know it would change the course of his future. It was almost as if they were the cursed lovers in the old book itself . . .
The Thorn and the Blossom
 is a remarkable literary artifact: You can open the book in either direction to decide whether you’ll first read Brendan’s, or Evelyn’s account of the mysterious love affair. Choose a side, read it like a regular novel—and when you get to the end, you’ll find yourself at a whole new beginning.

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Telling you about this won’t be nearly as effective as showing you. So here, have some pictures:

The book’s subtitle reads “A Two-Sided Love Story” and that subtitle is meant literally. Although you are free to choose whether you begin with Evelyn’s or Brendan’s story, I started with Evelyn (the copyright page encouraged me). The book’s design ensures that, after closing the back cover of Evelyn’s tale, you are faced with the beginning of Brendan’s side of the same story.

For those who wonder whether it isn’t boring to read the same story from two perspectives, worry not. Yes, you may already know what happens when the characters meet, but you only find out about their backgrounds, their motives, their feelings when you read each story. It’s a beautiful way of showing the difference in how we see ourselves and how others perceive us. It also illustrates the misunderstandings that can happen when you only sees one side of a story.

That said, the unusual make-up of the book and the discovery of “the other side” are its stronger points. The story itself wasn’t all that breath-taking, although I did love how mythology and folktales are woven into it. Evelyn and Brendan meet in the small town of Crews and end up discussing the tale of Sir Gawan and The Green Knight. They even make it a large part of their academic pursuits, and I understand why. It’s a tale of eternal love, of a giant-slaying knight, his cursed beloved, and a promise to wait 1000 years to continue their romance. The implication that Evelyn and Brendan themselves might be Sir Gawan and Elowen reincarnated is less than subtle – but intentionally so.

The lesson I took away from this love story is that communication is key. Evelyn and Brendan could have had it much easier if they’d just come out with their respective secrets and talked to each other. While I didn’t care all that much about the protagonists, and their love story didn’t give me any butterflies, it was interesting – in a scientist looking through a microscope kind of way – to watch them make mistakes, learn and grow, then meet again only to make more mistakes. Seeing them go through life is actually refreshingly realistic. And while I wanted them to just talk to each other, their motives for keeping certain things to themselves are understandable.

Theodora Goss’ language is simple but poignant. My favorite parts were the ones involving nature or mythology. Goss is fantastic at creating atmosphere and setting a scene with just a few words. Characterization is not the strongest part of this very short novel (novella? short story?). Considering that each story is only about 40 pages long – although the print is pretty small – this isn’t surprising. I don’t know what went into the decision to print the book at this short length (I’m thinking production costs on accordeon-style books might be quite high) but adding another 40 pages per story in order to flesh out the characters would have been a great idea.

Short as they are, the two stories span over a decade in the protagonists’ lives. After spending a romantic week together as young students, Evelyn and Brendan’s lives are connected through myth, academia, and serendipitous meetings. The ending is left open, but hopeful. It’s not a bad conclusion but I had hoped for at least a hint about Evelyn and Brendan’s future relationship, and even more about them possibly being Sir Gawan and Elowen.

All things considered, this wasn’t a book that left a big impression because of its plot but it did make me want to read up on Sir Gawan and the Green Knight and definitely put me in the mood for mythology and fairies and ancient love stories in general. Brendan and Evelyn aren’t characters to write home about, but Theodora Goss certainly is. My copy of Songs for Ophelia has finally arrived and I can’t wait to dive into this volume of poetry.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

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Bout of Books 14.0 – Challenges

To keep my updates post from being too crowded and long, I decided to collect all the Bout of Books challenges I participate in here.


 MONDAY

Today’s challenge is very much up my alley. Between Library Shelves is hosting the Fictional World Travel challenge.

To participate, I could simply point to my Read Around the World page where I’m doing just that – reading books set in all sorts of places (or alternate versions thereof). But that wouldn’t be fun, so I decided to choose my favorite books set in countries other than my own:

  • Terry Pratchett – Nation
    Set in the Pelagic Ocean (alternate Pacific Ocean) on a small island.
  • Naomi Novik – Uprooted
    Set in an alternate version of Poland, heavily influenced by its folklore and mythology.
  • Catherynne M. Valente – Deathless
    Set in two Russias. One is the real one during wartime, the other is its fairytale counterpart.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay – Tigana
    Set in an alternate Italy. Despite being fantasy, this felt like a real historical novel.
  • Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber
    Set in an alternate Caribbean-influenced world.
  • Alaya Dawn Johnson – The Summer Prince
    Set in futuristic Brazil.

Regardless of their setting, I adored all of these books and highly recommend you check them out. For those interested in books set in Austria, I recommend the crime writer Wolf Haas. His Brenner books are hilarious and very, very Austrian, although I don’t know if his particular style makes it through the translation process.


THURSDAY

Due to lack of sleep, I didn’t read much during the last two days, much less thought about doing any challenges. But my body got some much-needed rest and I’m motivated to participate again. Plus, today’s challenge is a really nice idea (if you love playing around with book covers).

Kimberly Faye Reads is hosting the Four Seasons in Book Covers Challenge. The challenge is: Find four covers/books that represent the four seasons. Whether you use colors, titles, author names or something else is up to you.

And because I can’t keep it to four covers only, have four each for every season:

WINTER

SPRING

SUMMER

AUTUMN


SATURDAY

Today, Steph in Wonderland asked us to plan a road trip. Either we find books set in places that we want to visit or by authors from those places. For this road trip I only chose books I haven’t read yet and, with the exception of Paris, places I’ve never been to:

  • NEW ZEALAND: Tina Makereti – Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa
    Makereti is a New Zealander, plus this book is set in New Zealand and playing with its mythology.
  • FRANCE: Aliette de Bodard – The House of Shattered Wings
    A book set in Paris by a French-American author. I look forward to discovering this alternate Paris.
  • PORTUGAL: J. Kathleen Cheney – The Golden City
    The book is set in Portugal and made it onto my TBR despite the typical YA-ish cover.
  • AUSTRALIA: Angela Slatter – Of Sorrows and Such
    Slatter is Australian and I can’t wait to read her short stories and this upcoming novella!

SUNDAY

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Bout of Books 14.0 – Updates

Bout of Books is here and I am in desperate need of it. My reading challenges are nowhere near finished, I’m drowning in review copies, and I feel like I’m still missing out on all the new books coming out this year. This post is where I’ll keep track of how the read-a-thon is going for me, what I’m reading, the challenges I’m participating in, and so on. Maybe I’ll add a special bonus bullet point for how ungodly hot it is outside…

bout of books banner

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

Let’s get started! I have a lot of books to get through.


OVERALL STATS

Books read:
Terry Pratchett – Soul Music
Bill Willingham – Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Vol. 10
Fran Wilde – Updraft
Pages read: ~  715
Challenges: 3
Twitter chats:

 


MONDAY

Total books read:  0
Total pages read:
~ 165
Pages read today: ~ 165
Challenges: Fictional World Travel
Books I’m reading:

  • Fran Wilde – Updraft
  • Terry Pratchett – Soul Music

Notes:

I had started both Updraft and Soul Music before the read-a-thon so finishing those two shouldn’t take too long.
Updraft is a gripping and fast read, although I do think it’s getting a bit silly. I have enormous trouble suspending my disbelief about the world-building and at the same time appreciate the original ideas. A city in the sky, people living on structures of growing bone, flying around with attachable wings… it sounds really good but you really can’t think about it too much or it all falls apart.

Also: IT’S BEEN RAINING ALL NIGHT! Ladies and gentlemen, we have weather again. The days of blazing heat and sleepless nights seem to be over. For someone who’s normally always cold, I now know that 38°C is just too damn hot.


TUESDAY

Total books read: 
Total pages read:
~
Pages read today: I don’t know, 5?
Books I’m reading:

  • Fran Wilde – Updraft
  • Terry Pratchett – Soul Music

Notes:

I couldn’t sleep at all last night and feel like a cast member of The Walking Dead (not one of the ones with speaking parts, mind you).  Thanks to my spontaneous insomnia, I almost finished my Terry Pratchett book, however. A few more pages today, and a review shall follow soon. Soul Music was fun, funny, and – as every Death novel – a little bit heartbreaking.

Updraft is also getting more and more interesting. I still have trouble with the world-building but it’s gotten better. I generally dislike when an entire society of people doesn’t question the status quo, but Fran Wilde took care that there are people who wonder what those in power plan and if it’s really for the greater good. I officially want to know All The Secrets!

This turned out to be one of the worst work days ever. I was completely sleep-deprived and several shots of coffee didn’t really help. Even on enough sleep, this would have been a horrible day. Instead of reading, I went shopping with a friend (which was wonderful!), ordered food, and went straight to bed. Better luck tomorrow, I hope.


WEDNESDAY

Total books read:  1
Total pages read:
 ~ 210
Pages read today: ~ 40
Books finished:  Terry Pratchett – Soul Music
Books I’m reading:

  • Fran Wilde – Updraft

Notes:

Still trying to catch up on sleep, so not much reading today. Audiobooks, however, worked beautifully – although I had to go back and re-listen a lot because I fell asleep pretty randomly. I am now starting to put all my hope into the weekend as I suspect the rest of my work week will be just as awful.


THURSDAY

Total books read:  1
Total pages read:
~ 225
Pages read today: ~ 15
Challenges: Four Seasons in Book Covers
Books I’m reading:

  • Fran Wilde – Updraft

Notes:

The tired overcame me again. I’m putting all my money on the weekend now. Now time to read during the week, and if I did have time, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t. I may start another audiobook tonight…


FRIDAY

Total books read:  2
Total pages read:
~ 609
Pages read today: ~ 384
Books finished: Bill Willingham – Fables Deluxe, Vol. 10
Books I’m reading:

  • Fran Wilde – Updraft

Notes:

IT’S FRIDAY!!! Thank the gods for weekends. I finally had some time to just sit down and curl up with my book. Updraft will be finished today and I’m not sure yet what book I’ll start next. There are so many that look intriguing…

I also noticed I completely forgot to mention that I read Fables: The Deluxe Edition Vol. 10. Spread out over the week, I nibbled at this comic book every day. I’ll put that one in today’s stats, but please note that I’m not made of magic and couldn’t actually read that much in a day. :)


SATURDAY

Total books read:  3
Total pages read:
~ 715
Pages read today: ~ 106
Books finished: Fran Wilde – Updraft
Challenges:
Road Trip Challenge
Books I’m reading:

  • Rosamund Hodge – Gilded Ashes

Notes:

I slept all morning (seriously, I properly got up around 1pm) and finally, I feel rested. I finished Updraft and must now dive into my huge TBR pile to find my next read. Reviews of all books read during this week will follow of course. But only next week when I’ve had time to mull them over a bit.

Alright, I’ve made my decision. I picked a very short book because then I might squeeze another one in tomorrow. After reading the first paragraph of Gilded Ashes, I knew I had to continue. Cinderella retold in the Cruel Beauty universe? That sounds awesome. And the first chapter already offers up plenty of spins on the Grimms’ tale. Yes, I am happy with this. Now, let’s read.


SUNDAY

Total books read:  4
Total pages read:
~ 826
Pages read today: ~ 111
Books finished: Rosamund Hodge – Gilded Ashes
Books I’m reading:

  • ??

Notes:

The Hugo Awards are over and I am so happy! My favorite novel (The Goblin Emperor) didn’t win but in almost all other categories, my number one votes got the rocket. The discussions on Twitter are ugly (and the Puppies’ conspiracy theories more and more out of this world) but I don’t care. I’m already making a list of great books to nominate next year and I hope that all the new voters will do the same and nominate their favorites. I want to read some good stuff again next year!

Back to the read-a-thon though, Gilded Ashes by Rosamunde Hodge was a lot of fun. The romance started developing slowly, then took an insta-love turn, but it did some really amazing thing with the female characters. Maia and her stepsisters have more layers than you’d expect from a 100-page story based on a fairy tale. I am impressed.

Now back to the TBR pile for my next read. There’s so much stuff that looks amazing.

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Terry Pratchett – Reaper Man

Terry Pratchett’s passing in March of this year touched me more than expected. I never thought I could feel so sad about a man’s death when I never knew him personally. But Sir Terry has given his readers so much joy, so many wonderful stories, that he has touched all of us in a way. When I saw his last tweets (posted by his assistant Rob), I cried non-stop for a full hour. The numerous tributes, memories, and quotes posted on the internet didn’t help. It’s probably telling that the next book I chose to read was one in the Death subseries.

reaper manREAPER MAN
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 1991
Paperback: 352 pages
Series: Discworld #11
Death #2
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: The Morris dance is common to all inhabited worlds in the multiverse.

“Death has to happen. That’s what bein’ alive is all about. You’re alive, and then you’re dead. It can’t just stop happening.”
But it can. And it has. Death is missing – presumed…er…gone (and on a little farm far, far away, a tall dark stranger is turning out to be really good with a scythe). Which leads to the kind of chaos you always get when an important public service is withdrawn. If Death doesn’t come for you, then what are you supposed to do in the meantime? You can’t have the undead wandering about like lost souls. There’s no telling what might happen, particularly when they discover that life really is only for the living…

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Death is fired from his job by the Auditors of Reality. He has become too emotionally involved in the fate of the humans for whom he provides a service, he even dared to become a personality. This leads to all sorts of trouble on the Discworld. On the one hand, Death now has to figure out what to do with the lifetime that is given to him, on the other – well, if Death is gone, it’s a bit difficult for people to die. Enter zombies, excessive life foce, Death counting his time (literally) and a beautiful exploration of what it means to be alive, regardless of having a heartbeat.

Death takes on a job on Miss Flitworth’s farm. Helping with the harvest, especially using a scythe, is the perfect job for him and so he becomes a literal reaper man. Taking on the name of Bill Door (chosen in a really funny scene), Death not only sees what it’s like to be human, to watch your own time running out, but he also gets to know Miss Flitworth, his gruff but adorable employer. I cannot put into words how much I loved the scenes between these two.

The other big story arc of Reaper Man involves the wizards. I’ve never liked the wizards. They are a heap of bumbling old idiots that spend most of their time annoying me. But Windle Poons, recently deceased but not quite dead, was surprisingly likable and perfect for showing the other end of Death’s retirement. At 130 years old, Winlde waits for Death to come… but nothing happens. Newly un-dead, Windle discovers that he is not the only one and that undead does not equal unperson. He tries his best to die properly at first, only to realize that there’s still so much stuff to do, that he might still be needed. The city itself is, in fact, positively overflowing with life force.

This excess life force has a bizarre impact on Ankh-Morpork – which turns into an invasion of snow globes, who grow into wire baskets on wheels (so, shopping trolleys). Honestly, this part was a tad too silly for me but I did chuckle at the wizards trying not to curse because cursing agitates the trolleys. Darn it to heck, indeed! Apart from its obvious humor, I found the idea rather silly. It makes Reaper Man into a strange book that I both love and am kind of indifferent about. Death’s story – absolutely LOVE. The wizards – meh.

My general dislike of the wizards definitely plays into this, but I felt there was entirely too little Death and too much wizard stuff going on. Windle Poons’ story line was fun and I actually enjoyed his meetings with the other various types of undead, especially the boogeyman. But my favorite parts, and the heart of the novel, in my opinion, were the ones involving Bill Door (Death) and Miss Flitworth. His is the story that delivered heartbreaking scenes, when Death shows once again that – yes – he actually is too emotionally involved with humans and their fate. For the first time, Death has to learn what it means to have Time, and to not have an infinite amount of it.

reaper man simonetti

art by Marc Simonetti

I also love what Pratchett did with Miss Flitworth. This old spinster could have been a Discworld incarnation of Miss Havisham – and I guess Pratchett wanted us to think exactly that – but instead he gives her warmth and heart and pragmatism. No wonder she and Bill Door get along the way they do. While Death comes to understand humanity better by having a limited amount of time, his relationship with Miss Flitworth also changes him as a person anthropomorphic personification.

Although I really, really, really wanted Death’s story to be more prominent in this book, I adored the story we did get. It shows Death the way I want to imagine him. He has the best come-backs, he clearly cares about people, he is kind and even has a sense of humor. And it turns out, he actually really likes his job. The ending hit this point home again and made me cry like a little baby.

No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…

Although I didn’t care for the wizards and their wire baskets, Reaper Man will probably always be a favorite Discworld novel, in part because of its perfect ending. There is drama, there is sacrifice, and there is Death, back at his job, making the kindest gesture you can imagine, embracing his personality and being better for it. Even without the knowledge that Sir Terry is gone, I would have cried at this ending. But believing (and I’m not alone in this – see the petition to get him back) that it is this Death that has come to take Terry Pratchett with him, is heartening. After all, Discworld’s version of Death is nothing to be afraid of. More like joining a kind friend, for a game of chess, and then a walk in the black desert…

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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Second opinions:

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Ellen Kushner – Thomas the Rhymer

Many years ago, I read Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint – well loved among fandom and almost completely forgotten by me. I barely remember anything about the book, its characters, or the plot – so naturally, I wasn’t at all sure if I would like another Ellen Kushner novel. Turns out my worries were unnecessary and I’ll have to give Swordspoint (and the other Riverside books) another chance.

thomas the rhymerTHOMAS THE RHYMER
by Ellen Kushner

Published by: Spectra, 1990
Ebook: 304 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: I’m not a teller of tales, not like the Rhymer.

A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate. As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence – and captivity – he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen’s parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie. Award-winning author Ellen Kushner’s inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, here is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift.

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I didn’t know the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer before picking up this retelling (still haven’t read it), so I went into this knowing nothing except what the blurb told me. I knew I was in for a sort of fairy tale, something medieval, with elves and riddles and music and maybe a romance. Ellen Kushner delivered all of this but instead of a sweeping epic tale involving grand armies, she tells Thomas’ story through the eyes of a small circle of four connected characters.

We are introduced to Thomas the Rhymer by an old shepherd named Gavin. He and his wife Meg live comfortably in their small village and gladly take in the travelling bard when he shows up on their doorstep. Of this chance encounter, a friendship is born and Thomas almost becomes a son to Gavin and Meg. This was so beautiful to read – although Thomas disappears for months on end only to show up unexpected again, there is so much love between these three. I have always believed that family has nothing to do with blood relation, and Thomas, Gavin, and Meg are a great (if fictional) example of this. There are scenes of idyllic life, sitting around the hearth and doing chores while listening to Tom’s music, and those scenes are better than any epic battle could be.

During his time at Gavin and Meg’s house, Thomas also meets young Elspeth. It is clear that these two young people are falling in love but Thomas – normally quick to seduce the women he likes with his wit and his music – stays surprisingly distant. They bicker, but then they share quiet moments of tenderness, then they ignore each other again. In fact, by being so very un-Thomas-like (normally cocky, flirtatious, talkative), he shows more of his true feelings than he knows. I felt a bit like an intruder or a voyeur, watching these characters, interpreting their actions, and grinning to myself the same way Meg does as she watches them.

thomas the rhymerBut one day, lying idly under the Eildon tree, Thomas meets the Queen of Elfland. Her beauty overwhelms him and he dares to kiss her – after which she sweeps him away to Elfland, with a few conditions… At this point, we shift perspective and hear directly from Thomas what happens in the seven years that follow. Bound by his promise to the Queen, he must not speak to anyone except her during his stay in Elfland. He is allowed to sing, however, and so musically unravels a mystery, a riddle set him by Hunter, the Queen’s fairy adversary (of a sort). Thomas’ experience at the Elvin court, despite being the Queen’s own lover, is not all happiness and flowers. This dreamlike chapter contains an almost self-contained story that inspires one of Thomas’ ballads. I enjoyed how alien the elves were portrayed, how human feelings are nothing to them, but how that doesn’t necessarily make them unkind. Kushner also did great job with her world-building, in that Elfland has a dynamic of its own that is completely independent of Thomas’ arrival. There were feuds and intrigues, riddles and games, all begun long before Thomas even knew Elfland was real. And these games and riddles will continue long after he has left again.

When his seven years are done and Thomas is returned to the human world, it is Meg who tells of his homecoming. Once again, we are back to this loving old couple who will gladly forgive the rhymer for disappearing so long without a word. His time in Elfland has changed Thomas, and not only because of the last gift the Elf Queen bestowed on him – the tongue that cannot lie. Reading about this new Thomas, seeing how his old friends react to him and how he, in turn, reacts differently to certain situations than he would have before, was fascinating. I drank in the words and waited eagerly for a reunion with Elspeth. That girl spent seven years without word of the man she loved and quite naturally moved on with her own life. Again, I caught myself watching these characters, trying to predict how a meeting between them would end. Would Elspeth hate Thomas, would she ignore him? Would he beg her forgiveness? Or play it cool again?

It is Elspeth who tells the last chapter of this book, and it was her perspective that made me appreciate how well fleshed-out all these characters were in a story whose main focus is definitely the titular rhymer. Thomas is the glue that holds them all together, even in absentia. While Gavin and Meg are lovable, honest people, Thomas and Elspeth each change and grow as characters. That said, this last chapter is the one dealing with Thomas’ “gift” of being able to only answer truthfully to any question. Although there is an underlying feeling of what this does to him as a person, more could have been done with the idea. Powerful people visit him to find out their future, Thomas’ family learns to be careful about how the frame questions adressed to him. But until the very end, there wasn’t a real sense of the burden such a gift really is. It’s my one gripe with the novel, and considering that this part is told through Elspeth’s perspective, I can understand why this theme wasn’t explored more. Maybe another shift to Thomas’ perspective would have done the trick – I certainly would have loved it.

This is a big tale shown through a small, intimate lens. I fell in love with the characters and I adored the language, especially that of Thomas’ songs. That mood of being in the center of a myth, of watching it be created, permeates the whole book. Thomas the Rhymer is an atmospheric read, featuring four wonderful characters. If you like quiet stories without big plot twists, that focus on character development and language, then this is for you. I know that it made me want to read more books by Ellen Kushner.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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Second opinions:

1

Mervyn Peake – Titus Groan

It’s taken me long enough to pick up this classic fantasy book and explore the vast hallways of Castle Gormenghast. I couldn’t tell you why I waited so long to read this. The language is so up my alley, I ended up underlining half the book. Who’d have thought there’s a word for the amount that’s missing to fill a container (it’s “ullage”)? But discovering words was only a small part of the pleasure I got from reading this.

titus groanTITUS GROAN
by Mervyn Peake

Published by: Vintage Classics, 1998 (1946)
Paperback: 477 pages
Series: Gormenghast #1
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architecturial quality were it possible to have ingnored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls.

Mervyn Peake’s gothic masterpiece, the Gormenghast trilogy, begins with the superlative Titus Groan, a darkly humorous, stunningly complex tale of the first two years in the life of the heir to an ancient, rambling castle. The Gormenghast royal family, the castle’s decidedly eccentric staff, and the peasant artisans living around the dreary, crumbling structure make up the cast of characters in this engrossing story.
Peake has been compared to Dickens, Tolkien, and Peacock, but Titus Groan is truly unique. Unforgettable characters with names like Steerpike and Prunesquallor make their way through an architecturally stifling world, with lots of dark corners around to dampen any whimsy that might arise. This true classic is a feast of words unlike anything else in the world of fantasy. Those who explore Gormenghast castle will be richly rewarded.

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Every character in this book is nuts! Not knowing what I was getting into, I expected some kind of protagonist to hold on to, some sensible soul wandering the crazy halls of Gormenghast with me. Neither did I find a protagonist nor anyone sane – but that was just as it should be.

Mervyn Peake takes his time introducing Gormenghast and its inhabitants. This old castle, seemingly cut off from the outside world, leads a life of its own. Inhabited by the Earl of Groan, his family, and a slew of servants, Gormenghast is elevated from a stoney building to a hive of pure crazy. Every chapter offers a glimpse into a new part of the castle, and shows it through the eyes of a different character. Only after everybody has been introduced do we return to them in other chapters, and by that time, their mannerisms, dialogue, and look has grown so familiar that you feel like you’re part of them. Soon I realised that this story is unlike any I’d read before. It’s hard to speak of plot when most of the fun comes from simply watching these deranged beings be themselves and when most of the writing is descriptions, either of the surroundings or of the characters themselves. Whether it’s Lady Gormenghast – the ultimate crazy cat lady – or cunning Steerpike, no matter if you follow Fuchsia and Nannie Slagg or the Twins, you will find that all of them are in serious need of a psychiatrist… sadly, even the castle’s Doctor Prunesquallor seems muddled at best.

So if this is not a traditional story, why is it so intriguing? Oh, for so many reasons. The language, the names, the characters, the castle itself, its traditions, the intrigue… I can’t pick just one.

The language is breathtaking. I already mentioned that I learned a bunch of new words but even without that added bonus, it’s just immensely enjoyable to read Peake’s long, beautiful sentences. For a book consisting mostly of description, it’s important that the description is somehow interesting. Mervyn Peake creates vivid images of Castle Gormenghast, not only – but also – because he uses the perfect words to make every room and person come to life. Sure, he takes his sweet time describing everything, but what the reader gets out of this is a fully-formed image, almost like a movie in your head.

swelterAnother part I absolutely loved was Peake’s original way of naming his characters. Names are important, names have meaning and, in a lot of fantasy literature, power. In this case, every name fits its owner so perfectly that it hurts. Flay – scrawny, creaky, sickly-looking – or Swelter – obese, sweaty, loud – Doctor Prunesquallor (Fuchsia calls him Prune, Lady Gormenghast calls him Squallor, and that says as much about them as it does about him)… I could go on. The names fit the personalities, or maybe the characters were formed by their names? Either way, the language made for a melodious read, even if it was just in my head. (Come to think of it, I must look if there’s a good audiobook version of this.)

So what’s this collection of crazy characters up to all the time, you ask. Castle Gormenghast is ruled by its traditions. With the birth of young Titus, the family line is secure but the young heir also requires a lot of traditional celebrations and rites that must be done exactly as they were always done. These ceremonies are as strange as they are funny. In fact, after a few chapters, I found the entire book quite hilarious, in a dark, creepy kind of way. It doesn’t take long for a character to do something and for me to go “oh, that’s so typically them”. After a while, you stop questioning the sense or purpose of these celebrations. They don’t have to make sense, they just have to be done by the book.

Titus Groan would have been excellent if it were just about following the characters around the castle, but there is more to it than that. Young kitchenboy Steerpike wants to get to the top and he is willing to do whatever it takes to reach his goal. His schemes are ruthless, but I followed them with interest nonetheless. I could also tell you long stories about the chapters involving him and the twins – probably the two dumbest people in the entire castle. Flay and Swelter have their own feud going on that keeps readers on their toes, and Fuchsia (one of the saner people) is just a young girl trying to find her place in the world. If I’ve scared you off with my ramblings, let me assure you – there is a plot. It’s just not the most important aspect of the book.

All characters, with their varying degrees of insanity, grew on me in a way. I couldn’t say that I gained more pleasure from reading about either of them because they are all unique. I did have a particular dislike for Swelter but reading about him was just as much fun as the rest of the cast.

While the castle seems to be self-sustaining and doesn’t interact with the wider world, there are people living just outside the castle walls. One of them, Keda, was quite interesting, if only because she seems slightly less crazy than the rest. For a while, at least. But she also made my literary spidey-sense tingle, in that I think her actions will have greater repercussions on the larger story. I may be wrong, but even so, Breda was fascinating in a less creepy way than, say, Steerpike.

If this sort-of-review lacks focus, that’s because whenever I think of this book, a billion thoughts come to my mind, none of them organised. It was an explosion of the weird, a challenging read that is truly unique. With its atmospheric setting, its vibrant cast, and their strange motivations, you have everything for a firework of the awesome. I read this on a tropical beach (so the setting couldn’t have been less fitting) but I still get chills when I think of Steerpike first following Flay through the stone corridors.

It took me a long time to finish reading this book, mainly because the language was so challenging, but in the end, every slowly-devoured page was worth it. I will wait for a week off work before I dive into the second book, Gormenghast, because this is the kind of story you want to savor. It’s not a book to read on train rides to work. I understand why this is a classic of fantasy literature, despite its complete and utter lack of actual magic.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Excellent!

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Bout of Books 14.0 – Let’s do this… again

It feels like the last Bout of Books read-a-thon just happened last week – where has all this time gone?  Since this is the only read-a-thon that I’m able to participate in without massive amounts of sleep deprivation or having to quit my job, I’m joining again. I’ve got some review copies lying around that need to be read anyway.

Bout of Books
As always, for the unintiated, here’s what Bout of Books is all about:
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

Reading goals:

I wasn’t very ambitious last time because it’s difficult to read a lot during a work week. But then I did better than expected, so I’ll up my game this time. If I manage to read 100 pages every day, I’ll be more than happy.

  • Finish current book
    • whatever is current at the time
  • Read 3 books
    • Fran Wilde – Updraft
    • Elizabeth Bear – Karen Memory
    • N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season
  • Listen to 1 audiobook
    • Terry Pratchett – Soul Music
  • Participate in 1 Twitter chat
  • Continue (or finish) reading:
    • Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla (57% read)

There are many other books I feel like reading now, but the read-a-thon is still a few weeks away. The main goals will remain, but I may change around the books I plan to read, especially because I don’t know how much longer I can stay away from them. But I will try to focus on review copies or books that I want to read for next year’s Hugo nominations.
For my one audiobook, I figured I can’t go wrong with Pratchett. And Stephen King’s Dark Tower has been dreadfully neglected by me for a while now. I don’t have the ambition to finish this book but reading a few chapters to get back into it is doable.

Apart from reading these awesome books, I look forward to the challenges (something with covers, please something with covers) and the epic twitter chats as well as meeting tons of other book bloggers and booktubers. I’ll probably use the next few weeks to rearrange my list above, change my goals a billion times, pick a whole set of completely different books to read, discard that idea and go back to my original goals. It’s fun to be a book nerd sometimes…

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Nalo Hopkinson – Falling in Love with Hominids

Look, I would read anything by Nalo Hopkinson, but that cover is STUNNING! The colors, that woman, her hair, the sketchy art. I want to print a poster of this and put it on my wall. No wonder I jumped at the chance of a review copy. After reading the content – yeah, yeah, I know that’s the important bit – I am once again reminded of Hopkinson’s ability to write amazingly diverse stories, and at the same time a bit worried that her best work is her older stuff…

falling in love with hominidsFALLING IN LOVE WITH HOMINIDS
by Nalo Hopkinson

Published by: Tachyon Publications, 11 August 2015
Ebook: 240 pages
Short story collection
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: I didn’t used to like people much.

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, The Salt Roads, Sister Mine) is an internationally-beloved storyteller. Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as having “an imagination that most of us would kill for,” her Afro-Caribbean, Canadian, and American influences shine in truly unique stories that are filled with striking imagery, unlikely beauty, and delightful strangeness.
In this long-awaited collection, Hopkinson continues to expand the boundaries of culture and imagination. Whether she is retelling The Tempest as a new Caribbean myth, filling a shopping mall with unfulfilled ghosts, or herding chickens that occasionally breathe fire, Hopkinson continues to create bold fiction that transcends boundaries and borders.

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Falling in Love With Hominids  was pure delight. I read few short story collections but when I do – despite other plans – I tend to read them like a novel. I don’t read one story, wait a few days, then read the next. I read story after story after story until it’s time to sleep or go to work or, you know, all that other grown-up stuff that gets in the way of reading. This makes it difficult to review single stories because they blur together in my memory, some I don’t remember very well at all, but others stand out.

The collection’s first story “The Easthound” is such a standout story. It first appeared in an anthology called After: Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Tales and that is exactly the kind of story it is. A group of children and young adults fight for survival in a world infested with what I first assumed to be zombies. Hopkinson is more original than that and the focus of the story is not that survival but much more presonal. It reminded me of the YA novel This is Not a Test which attempted to do in 300 pages what Nalo Hopkinson managed much better in one little short story.

My favorite story of the collection was the hilarious, whimsical “Emily Breakfast”. Emily Breakfast is a missing chicken – yes, really. Cranston, a young man goes to pick up fresh eggs for breakfast and notices one of the three chickens is missing. He and his wonderful cat Rose of Sharon go and search for Emily Breakfast. The plot is really simple, but what made this so entertaining was the almost sneaky world-building and the wonderful tone of voice. Yes, a man searching for his missing chicken really can be super entertaining and smart and funny. Oh, this was so funny. I particularly loved Rose of Sharon, who is so very clearly a cat and at the same time definitely not from this world.

Another tale that stuck in my memory is Hopkinson’s take on Shakespeare’s Tempest. In “Shift”, we follow Caliban and Ariel as one tries to lead a free life and the other, while driven by the same motive of freedom, looks to have him imprisoned again. This read like a folktale, or a dream. The distinct voices, the characterisation, the language – everything about this story was magical.

While writing this, I just remembered the heartbreaking “Old Habits”, a ghost story about the people who died in a shopping mall. Not only do they have to come to terms with being dead and having lost their sense of smell, taste, and touch, they also have to relive their death every day, as it occurred. The ending wasn’t really surprising but the journey there was heartbreaking.

The reason I mentioned Hopkinson’s older work being better is that the only previously unpublished story in the collection, “Flying Lessons”, was disappointing, and so short it felt like she had to put it in just to give us something new. I also greatly preferred her older novel Midnight Robber to the Nebula winning Sister Mine. Now that small gripe is out of the way, let me say that I adored almost all of the stories featured here, especially because they are so different in theme and style. Although Nalo Hopkinson mentions in the foreword that the only connecting tissue between these stories is, well, her being their author, I disagree. As varied as the collection is, I believe its stories are also connected by their diversity. Almost all characters are people of color, there were at least three stories featuring queer couples, and several characters with disabilities. Hopkinson also puts a distinct flavor of Caribbean myth in everything she writes and I can’t get enough of it.

Regardless of their publication dates, I preferred the stories featured in the first half of this collection. For some reason, the last few stories just didn’t work for me, perhaps with the exception of Hopkinson’s foray into Bordertown. I had heard about this shared universe before, although I don’t know any of the characters or world-building it’s based on. “Ours is the Prettiest” is Hopkinson’s contribution to Welcome to Bordertown and I believe it speaks for her that I enjoyed the story immensely, despite not knowing Bordertown and its inhabitants. This story served up an interesting twist that had more to do with character than, say, a shocking plot element. Well done, indeed!

Despite the few stories that I didn’t find very memorable and others that I simply disliked – Hopkinson’s twist on Bluebeard could have been executed better and wasn’t very original – the collection overall was just wonderful. Whether she explores strange plants, runaway chickens, shopping mall ghosts, or my favorite story from Unnatural Creatures, “The Smile on the Face”, Hopkinson is one of the most intriguing voices in fantasy and I intend to keep reading whatever she publishes.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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Second opinions:

4

Books in the Queue – The Late Summer Edition

Lately, I’ve been switching between reading slump and reading burst and I have no idea what’s going on. For weeks I can’t bring myself to read more than 10 pages, and then suddenly I devour 3 books in as many days. But whether it’s hormonal or related to the weather, I am currently in that motivated, must-read-all-the-books phase. And because we’re already well into the second half of the year, I am tackling some reading challenges and review copies during the rest of the summer.

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Ellen Kushner – Thomas the Rhymer

(Ages ago) I read Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and then forgot almost everything about it. I remember liking the book while I read it but can’t for the life of me tell you the plot or the character names – which could be either because my memory sucks or because the book really was forgettable. So I was hesitant about Thomas the Rhymer – a few pages in, however, I am positively ecstatic. This will be a good one, I just know it!

thomas the rhymerAward-winning author and radio personality Ellen Kushner’s inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, here is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift.
A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate. As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence—and captivity—he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen’s parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie.

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Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower #5)

Oh man, The Dark Tower has been with me since I was in my teens. I kind of like spreading out this epic series over many years. But the boyfriend (who finished the entire series in a few weeks after I gave him The Gunslinger) keeps pestering me. He wants me to finish it so we can discuss All The Spoilers. Somehow, I got in the mood again to return to my favorite ka-tet.

wolves of the callaRoland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing south-east through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough…

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Sarah Monette – Mélusine

My one big hope for this year’s Hugos is that The Goblin Emperor takes home the award for best novel. I loved that book so, so much! As I’ve owned a paperback copy of  Mélusine for over a decade, I thought it was time to finally read more by Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette. This sounds dark and tragic and absolutely wonderful (despite the cover).

melusineMélusine — a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption — and destinies lost and found.
Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But his aristocratic peers don’t know his dark past — how his abusive former master enslaved him, body and soul, and trained him to pass as a nobleman. Within the walls of the Mirador — Melusine’s citadel of power and wizardry — Felix believed he was safe. He was wrong. Now, the horrors of his previous life have found him and threaten to destroy all he has since become.
Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. Raised as a kept-thief and trained as an assassin, he escaped his Keeper long ago and lives on his own as a cat burglar. But now he has been caught by a mysterious foreign wizard using a powerful calling charm. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay — but for Felix Harrowgate.” Thrown together by fate, the broken wizard Felix and the wanted killer Mildmay journey far from Melusine through lands thick with strange magics and terrible demons of darkness. But it is the shocking secret from their pasts, linking them inexorably together, that will either save them, or destroy them.

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Zen Cho – Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal #1)

Aaaaaah, I got a review copy of this and I’m so excited! Zen Cho’s novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo wasn’t a great hit with me, but mostly because it was too short. I loved the language and just wanted more time to get to know the characters. Now Cho has written a novel which promises all those things. Plus magic.

sorcerer to the crownIn this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite…
The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…
At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

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Fran Wilde – Updraft

Another review copy! I actually really dislike the cover but I’ve been hearing so many great things from early readers that I couldn’t resist. The story sounds ambitious and intriguing. Having never read anything by Fran Wilde, I’m curious how this will turn out.

updraftIn a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.
Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.
Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.
As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn’t destroyed outright.

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Now I’m only hoping that my current reading mood persists and I can catch up on everything I missed in July. Seriously, I only read two books in July. TWO! But August looks to be a quiet month at work so I’m hoping I will find enough time to read all these beauties up there.