Falling in Love With Death: Martine Leavitt – Keturah and Lord Death

This is a fairy tale-esque book I’ve been meaning to read forever. It’s part 1001 Nights, part Hades and Persephone, and part medieval romance. Its simplicity is at the same time what makes it so lovely and also what will probably make it disappear from my memory quite fast.

KETURAH AND LORD DEATH
by Martine Leavitt

Published: Boyds Mill Press, 2006
Ebook: 216 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: “Keturah, tell us a story,” said Naomi, “one of your tales of faërie or magic.”

Keturah, renowned for her storytelling, follows a legendary hart deep into the forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near—and learns then that death is a young lord, melancholy and stern. She is able to charm Lord Death with a story and gain a reprieve, but he grants her only a day, and within that day she must find true love. A mesmerizing love story, interweaving elements of classic fantasy and high romance.

Keturah lives in a small village that has come into disrepair and wants very little of life. She wants her grandmother to be well, her best friends Beatrice and Gretta to be happy, and a true love for herself. When she gets lost in the wood and almost freezes to death, she meets a tall dark stranger who turns out to be none other than Lord Death himself. Not wanting to die without having experienced love yet, she tells him a story but leaves out the ending, bargaining for another day in which she can prove to Death that she can find her true love and marry him.

So begins the fairy tale of Keturah and Lord Death. Keturah doesn’t mess around but promptly seeks out the village wise woman (read: witch) for a charm to let her know which of the eligible bachelors in town may be Keturah’s own true love. And then go and follow her in her daily business, get to know other characters and see that, to Keturah’s dismay, none of the village boys seems to be her true love, no matter how much she likes them or how much they admire her.

This story is a very simple one but that doesn’t mean it’s easily dismissed. Not only does Keturah have to keep bargaining with Death – by use of unfinished stories – for another day, and another after that, but the way her home town sees her also changes. They accuse her of witchcraft, of having met fairies, of being in league with Death! The only people who always, always stick by Keturah’s side are her grandmother and her two best friends. It seems silly to mention in a tale like this because it really does read like a fairy tale, but the female friendships were truly heartwarming. Beatrice and Gretta not only try their best to help Keturah but even offer up the men they are secretly in love with for her to marry – just so she can escape being taken by Death.

For a book this slim, there’s actually a lot going on. The town expects a visit from the King, there is a threat of plague (how timely…), and a big celebration is coming up, including a cooking contest that Keturah needs to win in order to potentially marry one of the boys in town – men in his family only marry Best Cook because tradition. The fairy tale-like writing style worked pretty well and while not much happens that couldn’t be predicted from the first page, I was never bored.
But it was also the writing style that makes this book a little forgettable. I quite enjoyed it while I read it but it really did feel like reading an old tale that I had read many times before. There were no twists, no real villains, there was just a bunch of essentially good people and beautiful Keturah, who is possibly the best of them all.

The conclusion also doesn’t come as a surprise, and I don’t think it tried to. For us readers, it’s clear from the start who Keturah’s true love is and who she will end up marrying, but watching Keturah herself slowly learn this truth was a lot of fun. Even though I feel bad for the boys who clearly had a crush on her.

If you want a quick read that reminds you of being a child, reading fairy tales in bed, do pick this up. It’s a lovely little story with wonderful characters. And even though I’ll probably forget all their names within the next week, I will remember the feelings this book gave me fondly.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

Modern Gender-Flipped Sherlock Holmes: Brittany Cavallaro – A Study in Charlotte

Again, the 2020 Retellings Challenge is helping me conquer my insurmountable TBR by pushing me to read books that I would otherwise have neglected for another few years. In this case, we have a Sherlock Holmes “retelling” that follows the descendants of Holmes and Watson in an American high school. While this book was definitely not perfect, it actually worked really well and made me want to continue the series.

A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE
by Brittany Cavallaro

Published: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016
Ebook: 341 pages
Series: Charlotte Holmes #1
My rating: 6,5/10

Opening line: The first time I met her was at the tail end of one of those endless weekday nights you could only have at a school like Sherringford.

The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.
From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

It seems pre-destined for Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes to meet and team up. But at the beginning of his school year, Jamie doesn’t think that’s ever going to happen. Because Charlotte Holmes – as brilliant as she might be – is distant and not at all interested in starting a friendship with him. When Jamie beats up a bully protecting Charlotte, her reaction is not thankful maiden but rather stay-out-of-my-business ice queen. When said bully turns up dead a few days later and both Jamie and Charlotte are the prime suspects, however, Charlotte agrees to team up.

This book was in many ways exactly what I expected and in other ways highly surprising. While it is a murder mystery that needs to be solved by Charlotte (with Jamie’s help), what drew me in more was the characters. Jamie is a nice guy who loves the stories about his great-great-great-grandfather and who may want to follow in his footsteps. Charlotte, however, is cold and severe, and she also has a drug problem. While I have read some Sherlock Holmes books, that came out of nowhere for me and turned the entire book a little darker than I had expected. Charlotte’s history with the now dead bully also deserves trigger warnings!

For a long time, Jamie and Charlotte have very little to go on, so they just investigate along with pretty much no useful clues turning up. This could have been boring but with such an intriguing character to discover, I wasn’t bored for a second. Figuring Charlotte out is what made this book fun, if you can call it that, what with people being murdered and all. As the story is told from Jamie’s perspective – keeping up the tradition of Sherlock Holmes tales – we learn to understand Charlotte better and better. The small ways in which she shows kindness, the little things she does that show Jamie she cares… It was lovely to see their friendship grow. And even though Jamie seemed hell-bent on this turning into a romantic relationship, I was happy with the two of them just being friends.

The murder case our two teenaged heroes are trying to solve felt like background decoration for a long time. But of course, at the end, everything is revealed. I’m not a big reader of crime fiction but I know what I like. And this was not it. I like when authors plant the clues in plain sight, but still hidden well enough for me to overlook them. Then, when the ending arrives, I can slap my head and say OF COURSE, it was there all along! But the solution to this particular case could not have been guessed even by the most experienced reader of murder mysteries. Because it hinges on one particular bit of information that is thrown in very late in the book and felt a bit like narrative handwavium.

When I think back on the book now, I admit I enjoyed it a lot. If not for the plot, then for the fantastic characters and their relationships. And I’m not just talking about Jamie and Charlotte here, but also Charlotte’s relationship with her Mycroft-like brother, Jamie’s relationship to his absentee father, and their friendships with other students. It was all really well done, so I feel quite forgiving that the solution to the mystery came a little out of the blue. This is one of those YA books that actually feels like YA, if you know what I mean. I love YA fiction, but I can’t stand when authors or publishers dumb down a book so it is supposedly easier for the target group to consume. I don’t know if that was the case here but it felt like this could have been a much more mature story if it hadn’t been aimed so obviously at a younger audience. Why the forced potential romance? Why the simple language? Again, I had a lot of fun reading it, but I thought there was some wasted potential here as well.

All of that said, this was entertaining enough for me to continue the series one day. I’m not in a hurry, though. Next time, I’ll make sure not to expect a brainy mystery but rather the story of highly interesting, flawed characters trying to find their place in a world that has such high expectations of them. If you like YA books and Sherlock Holmes then you’ll probably enjoy this. If you like YA books that focus more on characters than plot, then definitely go for it.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Quite good

 

What it Says on the Tin: Ahmed Saadawi – Frankenstein in Baghdad

I was thrilled when I saw that the 2020 Retellings Challenge had a bingo square for a retelling of Frankenstein. Not only did I enjoy the original Frankenstein way more than I expected but it’s a very different kind of retelling from the ones I usually read – which, let’s be honest, is mostly fairy tales. Plus, this is a translated book, it is set in Baghdad, and it was shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize. Those are all things of which I read way too few books, so instead of picking one of the YA Frankenstein retellings, I picked this one and I’m glad I did.

FRANKENSTEIN IN BAGHDAD
by Ahmed Saadawi
translated by Jonathan Wright

Published: Penguin, 2018 (2013 in Arabic)
Ebook: 287 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: With regard to the activities of the Tracking and Pursuit Department, which is partially affiliated with the civil administration of the international coalition forces in Iraq, the special committee of inquiry set up under my chairmanship, with representatives of the Iraqi security and intelligence agencies and observers from U.S. military intelligence, has come to the following conclusions:

From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi–a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café–collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive–first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path. A prizewinning novel by “Baghdad’s new literary star” (The New York Times), Frankenstein in Baghdad captures with white-knuckle horror and black humor the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started this book. The very long list of characters at the beginning worried me a little, especially considering that this isn’t a very big book. But there was no need to worry and if you pick up this book, you don’t have to study the character list too closely. Like any good writer, Ahmed Saadawi manages to introduce his cast to the readers with ease, making each character distinct and believable, and I only once had to check back with the character list because I had two similarly-named characters confused.

This is a story told through several viewpoints. First, Saadawi paints a picture of Baghdad that makes what we read in the news feel way more real. Suicide bombers are a weekly occurence, bombs exploding, people dying… these things happen so often that people have come accept them as part of their daily lives. They are still terrible, of course, but nobody breaks into the kind of panic I would expect of myself if that happened in my city. So these first introductory chapters served not only to show us the first characters but also to set up the place for this story. As a fantasy reader, I usually don’t have trouble imagining crazy things, impossible places, or alien species. But to imagine living in a place where you or your loved ones could be killed in an explosion at any time was really tough.

We follow a cast of characters, among them the elderly Elishva who simply can’t deal with the grief of having lost her son during the war and still holds fast to the hope that he will just return one day. Her neighbor, the junkdealer Hadi, is probably the closest character to the original Victor Frankenstein – he collects body parts from the various explosions and stitches them together. Why? He’s not sure himself but after a while, he’s got a whole entire body made up of different people’s parts. Mahmoud is a young journalist with a secret past who admires his boss and discovers the story of Hadi’s creation. There are quite a few other characters that help flesh out the story but they aren’t what I’d call protagonists. And of course there’s the Whatsitsname itself.

Once the Whatsitsname (this book’s Frankenstein’s monster) comes to life, he follows a mission. That mission seems clear enough at first, but after being mistaken by Elishva for her long dead son and after witnessing certain events, the “monster” asks itself many questions about morality, good and bad, about when killing is justified. We don’t get too many chapters from the Whatsitsname’s point of view but the ones we do get are powerful!

While we follow each of the main characters on their own personal journey, they do intertwine every so often, making the story feel like a big whole rather than jumbled up short stories. I was quite taken with the writing style, so props to the translator as well as the author. I can’t quite describe it because it’s not particularly flowery, nor particularly stark, but it was unlike most books I’d read before. The prose flowed nicely so, despite the heavy subject matter, I read this book pretty quickly.

On the one hand, this book is exactly what you’d expect. It is Frankenstein in Baghdad. But you can’t just take a story set in Europe and place it in a different part of the world without changing anything. Where Shelley’s creature deals mostly with abandonment and loneliness, Saadawi’s Whatsitsname has the added burden of being made up of innocent terrorism victims’ parts and wanting to avenge them. So much happens between the lines that I still can’t put into words, but it was fascinating to read.

When all is said and done, I am quite happy to have picked up this book. Sure, it was tough to read at times because of its setting and subject matter, but it gave me a glimpse into a real place in our world, peopled with fictional characters who are as lovable as they are flawed, varied and interesting to follow. From now on, I will be on the lookout for more translated books and more settings I usually neglect.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

Sarah Gailey – Upright Women Wanted

Ever since I read the brilliant Magic for Liars, I have been determined to pick up whatever else Sarah Gailey publishes. Their newest novella is a post-apocalyptic western with gunslinging librarians, so there was no way around it. And although the book wasn’t at all what I had hoped for, I liked it for other reasons. This may not end up as one of my favorites but I can see how this book could be meaningful to so many other readers out there.

UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED
by Sarah Gailey

Published: Tor.com, 2020
Ebook: 176 pages
Standalone novella
My rating: 6,5/10

Opening line: As Esther breathed in the sweet, musty smell of the horse blanketsin the back of the Librairans’ wagon, she chewed on the I-told-you-so feeling that had overwhelmed her ever since her father had told her the news about Beatriz.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”
Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.
The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

When I read, I love putting myself in other people’s shoes. I like pretending I’m a character from a different place, a different gender, even from a different species. I also like reading books where the protagonist has sexual preferences that differ from mine – because that’s what makes books so great. You get to be all sorts of people, you get to live with them through amazing stories, have great adventures, and experience so many emotions. I don’t believe that certain books are specifically for a certain type of person, but in this case, I felt like Sarah Gailey not only wrote a very personal book but also one specifically for people who struggle with similar things as the protagonist, who maybe haven’t found their place in the world yet or even think that there isn’t one for them.

With that out of the way, let me tell you about this book. It’s about young Esther who has run away from home and hidden in the cart of a traveling librarians’ group. When she is found out, to her surprise, the three women allow her to ride on with them for a while. Because Esther’s reasons for running away, it turns out, are very, very good. Her secret girlfriend was hanged for possessing Unapproved Materials – and Esther is supposed to be married off to some man her father picked for her. You can see how that’s not a prospect she’s looking forward to. So out into the unknown she goes, in the hopes of becoming a librarian herself.

Sarah Gailey gives us many glimpses into the world she has set up, but sadly that’s all we ever get. It becomes clear that this wild west is a post-apocalyptic one. There used to be cars everywhere, now we’re back to horses and carriages. We’re also back to executing gay people. And let’s not forget that people only get to read Approved Material… It doesn’t take more than that to make it clear that America is not a very nice place to live in. And although what little world building we get is enough to set the scene, I always kept hoping for more.

But this book isn’t really about the world, nor is it about the plot which wasn’t very strong either. Esther travels with Bet, Leda, and Cye, three queer librarians with the task of picking up a parcel and taking it to the insurrection. So far, so exciting. And of course, trouble is hot on their heels, the law wants to hunt them down, and they have to keep many aspects of their personalities secret when they reach a settlement. But for Esther, this is the first time seeing a lesbian couple just living happily together. Dangerously, sure, but happily nonetheless. And Esther also can’t help but feel attracted to Cye, who makes clear from the very start that they are “they” on the road but “she” in town. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking to read about these characters. Carving out a little place in the world where they can be themselves, but having to hide who they are when other people are around…

While the book deals with a certain amount of adventure, it really is about Esther accepting who she is and being happy with herself. If all the books you were ever allowed to read were about husband and wives, and all the people you know are straight, it’s only understandable that Esther feels like something is wrong with her. Learning that that’s not the case, that in fact it’s the world that’s wrong, is what it’s all about. So you might call this a book that’s more about the message than the actual plot and I know some people have an issue with that. I don’t. Because if the message is this clear and told through great characters, then why the hell not? All of that said, I am white and cis and straight, so I don’t pretend even for a second to understand what Esther might feel like. I can try and imagine, of course, but I know very well that’s nowhere near the real thing. But even doing just that, putting myself in her shoes, I felt for her. I wanted her to be okay and I wanted her to see that she is fine the way she is.

Despite afterwords and acknowledgements, we readers can never really know how much of themselves an author puts into their work. But whether it’s true or not, this felt like a very personal novel. Sarah Gailey definitely can write and from the dedication and acknowledgements, I got the feeling that this is the book they wrote for their younger self. Maybe I’m totally wrong and they’re just really good at making up fantastic and diverse characters, but it’s definitely a book I would put into many young people’s hands. Not just queer ones, not only ones who seem to struggle with their identity, but everyone! Because the message that, no matter who you love or what color your skin is, you are valuable and you deserve to live a happy life – that’s something everyone should know.

I will be looking for reviews of this book from queer people because I suspect that this novella resonates with the LGBTQ community way more than it did with me. All things considered, I liked the book for its characters and the message of hope it sends, but I thought the plot wasn’t particularly strong and I would have liked more world building, more fleshing out of its science fictional setting. But this is a hard one to rate. For its importance, I would give this book 9/10 points, but I rate all the books on my blog first and foremost by my own personal enjoyment. So here goes…

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Quite good

From a Different Perspective: Juliet Marillier – Beautiful

Whenever I discover a new fairy tale retelling, my ears prick up. In this case, it was also my ears who got to experience said retelling because it’s an Audible Original, meaning it only exists (so far) as an audiobook. I had read one book by Juliet Marillier previously and while I didn’t love it as much as many others did, it convinced me of her storytelling abilities and I knew she had great ideas about how to tell fairy tales in a new and original way.

BEAUTIFUL
by Juliet Marillier

Published: Audible Studios, 2019
Audiobook: 7 hours 18 minutes
Standalone
My rating: 5,5/10

Opening line: There were no mirrors in our house.

With the Nordic fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon as her inspiration, Juliet Marillier weaves a magical story of a young princess’ search for her true self.
Hulde is a queen’s daughter and lives in a palace. But her life is lonely. Growing up atop the glass mountain, she knows only her violent and autocratic mother and a household of terrified servants.
Then a white bear named Rune comes to visit, and Hulde learns what kindness is.
But the queen has a plan for Hulde. When she turns 16, she will wed the most beautiful man in all the world. Hulde has never met her intended husband, and her mother refuses to explain the arrangement. Hulde becomes desperate to find out more and seeks the help of a magic mirror. Perhaps someone is coming to her rescue.
On her wedding day, Hulde’s existence is turned upside down. For the first time she leaves the glass mountain behind, setting out to be as brave as the heroines in her beloved storybook.
The journey will test Hulde to the limit. Can she overcome her fears and take control of her own life?

This audiobook comes in three parts. The first part was fantastic, the second meandered a bit, and the third was a nice, but unsurprising conclusion. That’s the reason I’m not rating this any higher because I love a book that starts out slow and the builds momentum but here, we have the exact reverse happening. Overall, I’d still recommend it but because the beginning was the best part, the story left me feeling mostly meh.

Hulde is a princess who lives in a castle without any mirrors. She is told she is beautiful and will marry the most beautiful prince in all the lands when she turns 16. Her tyrant of a mother has made arrangements. But Hulde has very little to do in her castle. Her days are spent waiting for the few months that her only friend, a polar bear, comes to stay. This white bear called Rune brings not only his friendship but also books. Hulde especially likes the stories that talk about brave heroines who go out into the world and defy the odds.

As I didn’t read any synopsis of this book before I started listening other than “a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, it took me quite a while to see what Marillier was doing here, although it’s highly obvious from the start. You see, Hulde is not your average princess but the troll queen’s daughter. That’s right – she’s the villain of the original fairy tale, the girl who is supposed to marry the enchanted prince unless he can lift his curse. Once I figured that out, I was all ablaze! Because Marillier makes Hulde so sympathetic. She is a kind young woman who yearns for friendship and love, who wants to see the world rather than just wait to be married off to a prince. She also disapproves of her mother’s terrible rule and the way she “disciplines” the servants (with a whip, usually). So who are we supposed to root for here? Obviously, the poor prince shouldn’t have to be married off to a person someone else picked for him, but we also want Hulde to be happy and we, the readers, know something she doesn’t. Her friend Rune the bear, is actually that most handsome prince who is supposed to marry her when she turns sixteen.

But Hulde is also clever and eventually figures out what’s going on. Her love for fairy tales and a magic mirror lent a helping hand and Hulde’s kindness and good nature made her do what is right. Which leads me to the second part o the story. Because the fairy tale as we know it is over and Hulde is the new troll queen. But ruling, it turns out, is more difficult than expected, especially since Hulde doesn’t want to be like her mother. She decides to seek out all the troll tribes and unify her people once more. On her way, she finds out that her mother’s lack of leadership has lead to strife within the kingdom which left many people dead, villages destroyed, and Hulde to pick up the pieces.

This was where the story started to become boring for me. Hulde was as kind a protagonist as ever but there just wasn’t much going on. The plot felt forced, the conflict seemed like it was thrown in there last-minute because otherwise, what would Hulde do for the rest of the book. She goes on a journey accompanied by two pet companions (who were adorable!) and two male trolls as a sort of advisors and protectors. While she learns many interesting things about her own people’s culture, there wasn’t anything really driving the story. Hulde became almost too good, too kind to still be interesting.

The climax felt equally predictable as the ending. Although Hulde didn’t get to marry her promised prince, there is a romantic sub-plot. But where Hulde and Rune’s friendship came to life through Marillier’s storytelling, this actual romance fell completely flat for me. Again, it was obvious from the start how things would turn out, there was no tension, there weren’t any sweet moments, everything just sort of went its predictable little way.

I didn’t find this book to be bad, I had just hoped – after that great beginning – that the author had at least some little twists in store. But the fact that I could have told you exactly how things would end after the first few minutes of part two tells you that this is not the kind of story that surprises you. If you’re okay with that, if you don’t mind seeing what’s coming, and if you enjoy a protagonist who’s maybe a bit too good to be believable, then pick this up. It was a short audiobook that retells one of my favorite fairy tales and I don’t regret having bought it. But in the future, I’ll stick with Marillier’s longer novels.

MY RATING: 5,5/10 – Good-ish

Shakespeare, But With Magic: Tessa Gratton – The Queens of Innis Lear

I’ve read some Shakespeare in my life and I have usually enjoyed his plays quite a lot. However, I have never read King Lear (shame on me, I know). I tend to prefer Shakespeare’s tragedies to his comedies – at least when reading them instead of actually watching a play – so I thought, why not try this feminist fantasy retelling without actually knowing the source material? I still intend to read King Lear eventually but I also really liked this experiment of reading a retelling first.

THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR
by Tessa Gratton

Published: Tor, 2018
Hardcover: 575 pages
Audiobook: 26 hours 22 minutes
Standalone
My rating: 7,75/10

Opening line: It begins when a wizard cleavers an island from the mainland, because the king destroyed her temple.

A kingdom at risk, a crown divided, a family drenched in blood.
The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.
The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Regan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.
Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

This was quite an adventure… This is, first and foremost, the story of three sisters who grew up on the island of Innis Lear, a place filled with magic but also superstition. It used to be that the magical wells were allowed to feed the land and the trees. But King Lear has done away with all that, trusting only in the stars. His youngest daughter Elia has learned to read the stars, make star charts, tell the future from stars, just like her father wants. So it seems clear that, when Lear is about to announce his successor, Elia will be his choice. But things don’t turn out that way and so begins an almost 600-page-long tale of war, love, revenge, grief, magic, and death. It was brilliant!

I loved how Tessa Gratton introduces her readers to all the characters first. There are quite a few but she took enough time to give each of them a personality. The alternating POV chapters help flesh out the characters and make each of them interesting in their own right. Elia was the easiest to like. She’s a good child who cares deeply for her ageing father. All she wants is to live quietly and happily, without ambition. Regan wants a child, more than anything, but so far has only had miscarriages and it weighs on her heavily. Of course she mostly wants a baby for herself and her husband, but she is also thinking about the line of succession. A queen who can’t promise her people an heir may not be queen for long. And Gaela lives for war. She wants battlefields and power, blood and strength, and most of all – her father’s throne. Her plan is to rule as king with her sister as queen.

You can see already that this book turns dark. Like many Shakespeare tragedies, the body count stays pretty low for a while but it might just go through the roof by the end. What starts as mere ambition or, in some characters’ minds, their given birthright, spirals into something quite more. Because in addition to these three amazing women characters, there are some equally amazing men among the cast. First and foremost is Ban the Fox, a Lord’s bastard son who used to be friends with Elia when they were children. When I read about these two, I couldn’t help but hope for a story quite different to the want that awaited me. I would have gladly read a romance book about Elia and Ban. But, alas, we are in a Shakespeare retelling and so I prepared myself for terrible things. Because whether there is love or not, as the succession gets more and more hazy, Elia has to think about alliances much more than love when it comes to picking a potential husband.

My biggest trouble with reviewing this book is that I don’t want to give anything away. You’d think that in 575 pages, there would be some things I could tell you but the thing is, this tale unravels so beautifully, more and more secrets are revealed over time, and the plot thickens constantly, even when not much seems to happen. I’ll give you a few teasers, though. There is a very tense (but fantastic) relationship between Ban and his legitimate half-brother. There is also a mystery surrounding the death of King Lear’s wife. And there are prophecies and tree magic and love and family. I think this is a book that everyone can take something different away from. For me, it was in large part about a young girl growing into her own and finding her place in the world, regardless of her father’s wishes or society’s expectations. And, I admit, I was also rooting for Ban and Elia to get together, never mind marriage alliances.

I should also mention that this is marketed as a feminist Shakespeare retelling and it absolutely is! If by “feminist” you mean it features a diverse cast of different kinds of women who get to be flawed but powerful, soft or assertive, girly or genderfluid. And if you worry that the three protagonists are the only women this tale have to offer, I can reassure you. They may not appear as much as Elia, Regan, and Gaela, but there are other women characters who are just as interesting as the Lear sisters. In flashback chapters, we get to see the girls’ mother, and we meet Ban’s mother as well, who is probably the coolest character in the entire book. I also found it funny how the men in this story keep trying to steer the tale when it’s clearly the women who hold the reigns.

Now that I’ve made this sound like the greatest book ever, let me tell you about the few things I didn’t particularly like. With a book this size, I always expect there to be a certain, slowish build up to the big climax and I really enjoyed it here, because it gave me time to get to know the characters and the various factions vying for the throne of Innis Lear. But when that explosive ending did finally arrive, it felt rushed in comparison. Suddenly, every single chapter had a Big Thing happening, people died, secrets were revealed, and it all just felt like too much at once.
Secondly, I wanted more magic! I know, I know, that’s a ridiculous thing to whine about but this book gives us such nice glimpses into a cool kind of magic (several kinds, in fact) and then it does almost nothing with it. It’s probably because I’m mostly a fantasy reader but I felt there was wasted potential on the magic front. Someone who doesn’t read as much fantasy as me will probably not mind at all.

Lastly, the writing style was amazing. I thought for the longest time that this was a debut novel and I just couldn’t believe it. Turns out that I was totally wrong and Tessa Gratton has published quite a few works before this one. I don’t know if all her books are written so well or if she’s just grown better over time but keeping me entertained and on the edge of my seat for this amount of time is no small feat. This was not a fast read and it wasn’t exactly fun because lots of dark stuff happens, but it was an incredibly rewarding one. And I’ll surely be checking out Tessa Gratton’s new “hand holding a crown” book, Lady Hotspur, which is inspired by Henry IV. Maybe this time, I’ll read the Shakespeare first and see how that goes.

MY RATING: 7,75/10 – Leaning towards excellent

The Sequel is Better: Marissa Meyer – Archenemies

It’s been quite a while since I read the first book in Marissa Meyer’s Renegades trilogy and, as I said in my review, I mostly remember the good parts and have forgotten all the book’s problems. Despite my failing memory, I feel confident in saying that this sequel is much better than the first book because it finally gets the plot moving. Plus, it’s a quick read with nice action, a little romance, and very cool ideas. Not necessarily a book that would get an award but so much fun that I can’t help but love it.

ARCHENEMIES
by Marissa Meyer

Published: 2018
Ebook: 560 pages
Series: Renegades #2
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: Adrian crouched on the rooftop, peering at the delivery entrance behind Gatlon City Hospital.

The Renegades Trilogy continues, in this fiercely awaited second installment after the New York Times-bestselling Renegades by Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles.

Time is running out.
Together, they can save the world.
But they each other’s worst nightmare.

In Renegades, Nova and Adrian (aka Insomnia and Sketch) fought the battle of their lives against the Anarchist known as the Detonator. It was a short-lived victory.
The Anarchists still have a secret weapon, one that Nova believes will protect her. The Renegades also have a strategy for overpowering the Anarchists, but both Nova and Adrian understand that it could mean the end of Gatlon City – and the world – as they know it.

Nova and Adrian are back and their secrets are as much in danger of being found out as ever. Nova is still hiding her real identity as the Anarchist Nightmare, posing as the Renegade Insomnia, and Adrian – who is known as Sketch – still hasn’t told anyone about his alter alter ego the Sentinel. And things are brewing in Gatlon city as a villain named Hawthorn is stealing medical supplies which then show up throughout the city, altered and used as drugs that claimed several people’s lives…

Nova has a new plan to retrieve Ace Anarchy’s helmet and hit the Renegades where it hurts. Except that plan also needs her to stay close to Adrian and maybe even make him fall in love with her. Because when feelings are involved, people slip up, and Nova may just find out important secrets from the boy she’s not quite pretending to flirt with.

The Renegades have also developed a new and terrifying weapon – one that can take away a prodigy’s powers. Forever! What I particularly liked about that was the question of whether this weapon should even ethically be used. Sure, the Renegades are of the opinion that they’ll only use it “on bad guys” but who decides who’s bad and who’s good? And who makes sure accidents don’t happen? Nova asks these questions outright from the start, with varying responses from her teammates. And while we are meant to sympathise with Nova first and foremost, we also know there are bad guys in this story and they deserve punishment. But whether such a horrible, irreversible method should be used is definitely food for thought. My stance on the matter is pretty clear but I like that ethics and human rights play such a big part in this YA book.

The lines between good and evil or Renegades and Anarchist also get blurrier and less easily defined than in the first book. Of course the entire premise of the story is that all prodigies have the potential to use their powers for good or not-so-good but I still found that the Anarchists were pretty obviously more reckless and didn’t care as much about civilians’ lives lost, if that served their bigger cause. Nova’s reasons for hating the Renegades so much were always rather weak and in this middle book, she learns more and more that not all Renegades are the same, that most of them truly do want to help people and that she doesn’t entirely disagree with them.

What I also enjoyed was that it becomes much clearer why the way the Renegades run Gatlon City may not be the best, even if they have good intentions. Nova’s biggest criticism is that civilians rely too much on prodigies to save the day and don’t even bother acquiring the skills necessary to take care of themselves. While this was mentioned several times before, it is only in Archenemies that it is really shown for the problem it is. Because if everyone just lies back and waits for the Renegades to solve their problems, it not only drains the Renegades’ resources (there are many prodigies, but their number is finite) and it paths the way to a less and less educated population. I was rooting pretty much for the Renegades in the first book and waited for Nova to come around, but  after this one, I see that neither option – Renegades or Anarchists ruling – is a good one and people will have to think of a new and better solution to run their society.

The plot is as exciting as you’d expect from Marissa Meyer. While her characters may not be very deep, they are always involved in great action scenes, quieter moments with plenty of romance, and in this case many situations that are tense simply because they are keeping so many secrets from each other. The ending is a culmination of many plot strings. Everything comes together in one pretty explosive climax that made me itch to pick up the next book immediately. I won’t spoil anything about it, but let me just say that things really go batshit. Stuff happens that will change this world forever. The setup for the third novel makes sure that we, knowing more than the characters, are more excited than ever about how Nova and Adrian’s story will end. Because there is no easy solution to these kids’ problems… they’ve just been sliding deeper and deeper into trouble and I am there for it!

I always mention this when I talk about Marissa Meyer’s books and I want to repeat it here again. This is kind of a guilty pleasure for me because I could nitpick so many things, so many little flaws about this book (the at times uneven pacing, the cheesy lines, the romance, how oblivious certain characters are, etc.) but Meyer’s writing is just so damn engaging and fun that I just don’t mind these things. When I pick up her books I’m not looking for literary enlightenment. I just want to have fun, to fall into an exciting story with characters I can root for, and maybe a few cool twists on the way. And she delivers exactly that. I don’t want to sound snobbish either when I say this because as much as I appreciate authors playing with language, the world would be a much sadder place if that was all there was to read. I will gladly keep throwing my money at Marissa Meyer because, boy, do her books make  me happy.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

The Raven Boy(s) Continued: Maggie Stiefvater – Call Down the Hawk

I have endless amounts of love for The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, and a big reason for that is the character of Ronan Lynch. When I heard Maggie was going to write a sequel trilogy all about Ronan, I got super excited. But could a story focused on only one of the Raven Boys hold up? Well… after having read this book, I believe that the trilogy may still be great, but this first book does not stand alone and can’t compete with the Raven Cycle books. Also MASSIVE SPOILERS for the Raven Cycle below!

CALL DOWN THE HAWK
by Maggie Stiefvater

Published: 2019
Hardcover: 472 pages
Audiobook: 13 hours 45 minutes
Series: The Dreamer Trilogy #1
My rating: 6,5/10

Opening line: This is going to be a story about the Lynch brothers.

The dreamers walk among us . . . and so do the dreamed. Those who dream cannot stop dreaming – they can only try to control it. Those who are dreamed cannot have their own lives – they will sleep forever if their dreamers die.
And then there are those who are drawn to the dreamers. To use them. To trap them. To kill them before their dreams destroy us all.

Ronan Lynch is a dreamer. He can pull both curiosities and catastrophes out of his dreams and into his compromised reality.
Jordan Hennessy is a thief. The closer she comes to the dream object she is after, the more inextricably she becomes tied to it.
Carmen Farooq-Lane is a hunter. Her brother was a dreamer . . . and a killer. She has seen what dreaming can do to a person. And she has seen the damage that dreamers can do. But that is nothing compared to the destruction that is about to be unleashed. . .

This will be a difficult review to write, not only because I didn’t love the book as much as I’d hoped but also because it felt so convoluted at times that I don’t even know where to start. This is a story about the Lynch brothers but it’s also the story of several new characters. We start with an establishing shot of Ronan – still in a happy relationship with Adam, still dreaming his dreams, still with his pet raven Chainsaw. Being with Adam, who went off to college, is not as easy as Ronan had hoped, not only because they are physically separated for long stretches of time but also because a sleepover isn’t as easy for Ronan as it is for other people. His dreams want to come out and sometimes, that can lead to good things but sometimes, it’s the nightmare creatures that follow him into the waking world. You can imagine how explaining that to unsuspecting roommates may be a tad difficult.

Call Down the Hawk also introduces two new plot strings. One follows Carmen Farooq-Lane who is protecting someone named Parsifal, someone she calls a “visionary”. Farooq-Lane works for a man named Locke and other than that, we don’t get much information for a very, very long time. Things do become clearer and her connection to Ronan’s story becomes obvious by the end but I felt annoyed with that plot line for the longest time. It’s not even that I didn’t like the characters. Farooq-Lane was as brilliantly written as all of Stiefvater’s characters and I sympathised with her. I just wanted that story line to feel more like it was part of a whole than just its own thing.

Things fared similarly with the third plot string, which follows Jordan Hennessey, who has easily become the most intriguing character in this book. Hennessey is a thief, a forger of fine arts, and also a dreamer. Her story also takes a long time to get started but once it gets going, it is really exciting. You see, when Hennessey takes things out of her dreams, they are always the same – they are always herself! So each time she dreams, she creates another Jordan Hennessey, who are real people with real feelings and hopes and dreams. That poses all sorts of difficulties, starting from Hennessey’s fear of sleeping for longer than 20 minutes at a time, over social security numbers, over appearing in the same place with several of her copies. Twins can be explained, sure, but what about four of five “siblings”?

So far for the setup and the characters. Again, Stiefvater is a master of creating believable people on the page, of making them distinct, of giving them a personality with just a few lines. I cared about all of the characters, even the annoying ones. At this point, I’d also like to mention Ronan’s brothers Declan and Matthew. Those two have so much potential and they didn’t appear nearly enough in this book for my taste. The actual story is kicked off when Declan takes Ronan to something called the Fairy Market and buys a painting there. A painting that a certain Hennessey desperately wants.

The story as such is actually rather thin and I’m not sure how much to talk about here because so many things only start making sense in the second half of the book. On the one hand, Farooq-Lane’s strange occupation drives the plot along, on the other hand, Ronan meets someone in his dreams who can talk to him and seems to know about him and his special ability. Declan meets Jordan which loosely connects those two plot strings, but as Declan doesnt’t appear all that much throughout the book, the romance I’m hoping for will probably have to wait until the next book. We jump between these characters with each chapter, mostly setting things up. We get to know the new characters, learn about where the Lynch brothers are now, but there isn’t much forward movement in terms of plot.

And this was my biggest problem with the book. While I loved the characters and the writing was superb as always, it just took too long for some kind of red string to appear. More than half the book is just set-up. In the second half, the Hennessey and Ronan stories finally come together and the Farooq-Lane story fits into the bigger narrative. There are still many unanswered questions and there’s still all of the actual plot to happen, and then Stiefvater dumps us with a very open ending that just left me feeling dissatisfied. This is a good book, no doubt, and if I had the sequel in my hands right now, I might even rate this higher. But as it is, the book doesn’t stand on its own, takes ages to get going, and by the end still hasn’t quite found its footing. For the wonderful characters and the beautiful prose, I’m still rating it pretty high, and I will definitely pick up the sequel.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Pretty good

Superheroes and Spies: Marissa Meyer – Renegades

In my ongoing attempt to continue and finish book series I have started, I decided to finally pick up the sequel to Marissa Meyer’s Renegades. Which in turn made me realize I had never even reviewed the first book here on the blog. So I’m writing this more than a year after having read the book and many things have become hazy in my memory. But I do remember the most important bit, which is that – much like Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles – I really enjoyed this book in a guilty pleasure sort of way. 🙂

RENEGADES
by Marissa Meyer

Published: 2017
Ebook: 563 pages
Series: Renegades #1
My rating: 6/10

Opening line: We were all villains in the beginning.

Secret Identities. Extraordinary Powers. She wants vengeance. He wants justice.
The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone… except the villains they once overthrew.
Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.

Marissa Meyer’s second series, after her wildly successful and ridiculously entertaining Lunar Chronicles, takes a step away from fairy tales and explores the world of superheroes. Nova is one such superhero, or prodigy as they are called, who lives in Gatlon City. Her parents were killed when she was just a child and ever since then, Nova has held a grudge against the Renegades – the superheroes who were supposed to save her family from the villains who killed them. It’s a pretty weak reason to join a group of villains set out to destroy the Renegades if you ask me, but if you just get over that one glaring problem, this book is a lot of fun.

But let’s start with the basic set up, because things do get a little confusing. The Renegades (officially good superheroes) fought against the Anarchists (the villains) a while ago after an age of Chaos. Many people died and many more were hurt. The Renegades now are a powerful society of gifted humans with all sorts of cool, weird, or funny superpowers. The world pretty much works according to the Renegades’ rules and while they have learned from past mistakes and implemented a code that is meant to protect civilians, their decisions are law. It’s an intriguing set up that immediately poses the question of who decides who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Because obviously, it isn’t quite that simple.

Nova is an Anarchist hoping to avenge her dead parents and destroy one of the most powerful Renegades there is – Captain Chromium. Raised by her uncle, Ace Anarchy, the leader of the Anarchists, she was born into the life of a supervillain, although of course she sees herself and her friends as the Good Guys.
Our second protagonist, Adrian aka Sketch, is a Renegade – equally born into his role as a superhero – who wants to take down the Anarchists. He also hopes to figure out who killed his mother, Lady Indomitable, and he also has a big secret. Adrian’s ability is to draw anything and make it real. So if he draws a worm, he can take it out of the piece of paper and it’s an actual, live worm. That’s a pretty cool power and Adrian has figured out that if he draws tattoos on himself, he can create his own new superpowers. As the Sentinel, his secret identity, he hopes to help the Renegades even more in their quest to vanquish the Anarchists.
The Anarchists decide that it would be amazing if they had a spy among the Renegades and send Nova to compete in the trials looking for new Renegade members. Nova’s superpower is not needing any sleep and being able to put people to sleep with her touch. As an Anarchist, she goes by Nightmare, but in her new Renegade identity, she is Insomnia.

You can see how this book can get confusing but the whole secret identity thing also makes it incredibly compelling. Both Nova and Adrian have to worry constantly that their secret will be discovered, so even during the quieter scenes, there is a feeling of tension. One wrong word and Nova’s scheme will blow up. She also has to try to work against the Renegades while keeping up the pretense of working for them. Adrian, on the other hand, never wanted his Sentinel identity to stay secret but a certain turn of events makes it necessary for him to hide it. So you can expect scenes that almost reminded me of romantic comedies where one person pretends to be two people, leaving the room as one character and returning as another. Adrian needs to turn into the Sentinel occasionally, but then he has to explain where his regular self was during that time, and Nova faces the same problem as Nightmare/Insomnia.

The plot itself doesn’t actually have that much to offer. There are exciting action sequences and of course a budding romance, which I enjoyed a lot. But there isn’t that much story there. Most of the book is concerned with Nova infiltrating the Renegades, learning the ropes, and hiding who she really is. Meyer does do some groundwork for what I suspect will become the overarching story, though. A side character named Max is held in quarantine in the Renegades headquarter because of his particular superpower. Finding out what that is was part of the reason I kept reading. The whole Anarchist/Renegades shenanigans themselves weren’t that interesting because, while fun to read, they never really pushed the story forward. Until the very end, that is, when some things are revealed, but mostly more questions pop up to be (hopefully) answered in the later books. This reads more like an introduction to a story rather than a story in its own right, but if you’re okay with that, it’s still a lot of fun.

Renegades also doesn’t provide much in terms of side characters. There are plenty of them but they are as forgettable as they are difficult to tell apart. It doesn’t help that each one of them has a civilian name and a superhero/supervillain name. As they all remain pretty bland and are reduced mostly to their superpower and maybe a quippy line here or there, I didn’t remember any of them (seriously, not a single one) until I started the second book. And even now (20% through the sequel) I don’t really remember them, I feel like I’m meeting them for the first time. That’s not a good sign…

I read some other people’s reviews of this book in order to jog my memory and I have now learned two things. Number one: Boy, this book got some negative reviews! Not hateful ones, but really thoughtful, critical ones that point out everything that’s wrong with it. I remember when I first read the book I was a bit underwhelmed as well, but now, a year later, I seem to only remember the fun bits. Number two: I have forgotten so much! Again, not a good sign, but considering how “meh” this book was received by many reviewers, maybe it’s for the best that I kind of blacked out all its flaws?
Many people had problems with the clichés but I just assumed those happened on purpose. Because this is a story about superheroes and villains… I mean, you’d expect some cheesy dialogue, flowing capes, and somewhat predictable battles, right?

This review is probably not what it would have been had I written it right after reading the book, but what I remember was really not that bad. Sure, the romance is obvious, the side characters were pale cardboard cutouts, and there wasn’t much plot. But Meyer put so much creativity into her characters’ superpowers and she writes action scenes so well that I found the read quite engaging. Her prose may be on the simple side, but its straight-forwardness makes this such a page turner. Renegades is clearly not be on par with the Lunar Chronicles, although those books too weren’t particularly good from a critic’s standpoint. I am an unabashed fan, however, and I am determined to enjoy this series as well, regardless of the many sensible voices telling me why I kind of shouldn’t.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

The Witcher Continues: Andrzej Sapkowski – Sword of Destiny

I was so taken with The Last Wish that I didn’t wait long to continue reading about Geralt of Rivia and the various monsters he encounters. Although this second story collection is a little different than the first (in some ways better, in some rather worse), I like where the story is going. I also finally watched the first few episodes of the Netflix show and I really, really liked them!

SWORD OF DESTINY
by Andrzej Sapkowski

Published by: Orbit, 1992
Ebook: 400 pages
Series: The Witcher #0.75
My rating: 6,5/10

First line: “He won’t get out of there, I’m telling you,” the pockmarked man said, sahking his head with conviction.

The Witcher returns in this action-packed sequel to The Last Wish, in the series that inspired The Witcher video games.
Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety.
In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike…

Geralt of Rivia is back and he’s ready to slay some monsters for coin. Or, you know, not. He’s equally as ready to befriend the monster, refuse the coin, muse about the existence of destiny, and yearn for the sorceress Yennefer. And all that despite the fact that he’s not supposed to have feelings…
Lots of people have been recommending this series long before it was on Netflix, and I now understand why. Geralt is such a great character. Brooding and quiet, seemingly unfeeling but so obviously a Good Guy that it hurts, he goes through the world, seeing all the evils there are and trying to make things a little better. He can also do magic and use elixirs to give himself superpowers, so that doesn’t hurt. But I was most impressed that a character who says relatively little can feel so three-dimensional and real. In case you haven’t noticed, I love Geralt with all my readerly heart.

This book is, again, comprised of  (this time not so short) stories that aren’t immediately connected to each other but paint a wonderful picture of the world and start to flesh out a much  bigger tale. Although the allusions to fairy tales weren’t as obvious here as they were in the previous book, there were tales where I could recognise The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, and The Six Swans. The stories aren’t retellings but these fairy tales are used as a sort of kick-off point for an original tale. Of course, Geralt then tells us that we’re idiots for believing those old tales because reality is totally different.
And it’s true. The Little Mermaid asks her prince why he doesn’t change his appearence for her and comes to live with her under the sea. One of the former six swans (there weren’t even six) laughs about the idea that a shirt made of nettles should have lifted his curse, and so on. So fairy tales are used and turned on their head, and we can laugh at these tropes at the same times as reading about different ones. Although it’s not a big part of the book, I absolutely loved discovering these little hints and allusions, and seeing what Sapkowski makes of them.

What I loved the most in this book was Geralt as a character.  But I was also ridiculously happy to see some side characters from the previous book again. Dandelion the bard is back, Yennefer becomes way more important and has easily turned one of the most intriguing characters in this series for me. And we meet Ciri – who I only knew would be important from the video game (which I didn’t play myself but my boyfriend did and I caught the occasional glimpse of it). Ciri’s appearence also connects this volume to the first book because events that happened in The Last Wish have an effect on events from Sword of Destiny. So it’s not just random tales about a witcher that later evolved into a series of novels, but Sapkowski already had some sort of plan for a larger story.

There were obvious differences between the first collection and this one. Obviously, I jumped into this book because I really enjoyed the first one, so I was a little surprised that I wasn’t getting more of the same. The most obvious difference is the length of the stories and subsequently the entire book – but then, I consider more Geralt a good thing. However he writing style itself also changed and that is what put me off the most. It wasn’s stellar in the first book either, but since The Last Wish was so dialogue-heavy, I didn’t mind too much. I could pretend that characters simply expressed themselves in strangely or had certain ways of speaking.
In Sword of Destiny, there is a lot more description – which I find good, in general, as it helps flesh out the world and the characters – but most of it is rather bad and inconsistent. I stumbled across many lines where I thought “oh boy, was he trying to be poetic here?”, there are frequent repetitions, sometimes words just don’t quite fit. It was a pretty jarring experience and if I hadn’t loved the other aspects of the book so much, I probably would have DNFed this book. I assume much of this can be attributed to this being a translation. But, not speaking Polish, I don’t really know. It might just be how Sapkowski wrote it in the original. This has prompted me to try the next book in German, to see if the language is as jarring in a different translation. I will let you know how that went in my next review. 🙂

Despite my problems with the writing, I really enjoyed reading this and I would be totally happy to dive into the next witcher novel (a proper novel this time) right away. The last story in this collection, and its ending in particular, made me cheer out loud because not only was it very touching, it also delivered a pretty cool twist. My plan is to watch the first season of the Netflix show and then continue with Blood of Elves (Das Erbe der Elfen in German). I also got The Witcher III for my birthday, so I think I’m all set for the foreseeable future. All that’s left to say is: “Toss a coion to your witcher!”

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Very good