Prescient and Hopeful: Octavia E. Butler – Parable of the Talents

It’s probably not a good idea to read post-apocalyptic books when the very real-world pandemic has just passed its first anniversary but if you do, make sure you choose Octavia Butler’s post-apocalyptic books! Having read and loved the first book in the Earthseed duology, Parable of the Sower, recently, I knew this would be dark and I knew I would like it anyway. Much like its predecessor, it manages to be both terrifying and hopeful.

PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
by Octavia E. Butler

Published: Seven Stories Press, 1998
Hardback: 410 pages
Audiobook: 15 hours 26 minutes
Series: Earthseed #2
My rating: 8.5/10

Opening line: They’ll make a god of her.

Octavia Butler tackles the creation of a new religion, the making of a god, and the ultimate fate of humanity in her Earthseed series, which began with Parable of the Sower, and now continues with Parable of the Talents. The saga began with the near-future dystopian tale of Sower, in which young Lauren Olamina began to realize her destiny as a leader of people dispossessed and destroyed by the crumbling of society. The basic principles of Lauren’s faith, Earthseed, were contained in a collection of deceptively simple proverbs that Lauren used to recruit followers. She teaches that “God is change” and that humanity’s ultimate destiny is among the stars.

In Parable of the Talents, the seeds of change that Lauren planted begin to bear fruit, but in unpredictable and brutal ways. Her small community is destroyed, her child is kidnapped, and she is imprisoned by sadistic zealots. She must find a way to escape and begin again, without family or friends. Her single-mindedness in teaching Earthseed may be her only chance to survive, but paradoxically, may cause the ultimate estrangement of her beloved daughter. Parable of the Talents is told from both mother’s and daughter’s perspectives, but it is the narrative of Lauren’s grown daughter, who has seen her mother made into a deity of sorts, that is the most compelling. Butler’s writing is simple and elegant, and her storytelling skills are superb, as usual. Fans will be eagerly awaiting the next installment in what promises to be a moving and adventurous saga.

If, like me, you thought Parable of the Sower was depressing and hopeful at the same time, then prepare yourself for more of the same, except, you know, different. Unlike the first book, this one isn’t told just through Lauren’s diary entries and her Earthseed verses. You still get those, but they are framed by Lauren’s daughter’s first person narration as she reads her mother’s diary and the Books of Earthseed. Interspersed among those are a few written words from Bankole as well, turning this book almost into a little family history.
I immediately liked the mixture of new perspectives with the familiar narration of the first book, especially because the audiobook narration was done really well by all three narrators. (I went all out for this book, getting the gorgeous hardback copies of the duology plus the audiobook for this one.)

But that’s where talking about this book stops being easy. Much like the first book, it deals with many dark themes and comes with a lot of trigger warnings!
Lauren Oya Olamina and her now husband Bankole have been living in Acorn for over five years, the community they built with like-minded people. They support each other, they grow their own food wherever possible, they live together in trust and friendship. And of course, they live by Lauren’s religion Earthseed which has grown a lot over the years. In other parts of the country, people even know about Earthseed as “that cult”. Althought things aren’t exactly idyllic, life is mostly good for Lauren, Bankole and their surviving friends. It doesn’t stay that way…

I will say very, very, very little about the plot of this book. Not because there are so many mind-blowing twists or surprising moments that I don’t want to spoil, but because this isn’t the kind of book where the plot is all that important. Things do happen (and fast!) and they are exciting and terrifying and wonderful and horrible and everything you can imagine. Reading this book for the plot alone will not disappoint you, but that’s not the heart of this novel or, I imagine, any of Octavia Butler’s novels.
In Parable of the Talents, a politician is running for office with the slogan “Make America Great Again” and if that doesn’t send shivers down your spine already, this will: Some of his followers are wannabe Super-Christians who call themselves the Church of Christian America and of course they hate everyone and everything different from their own, narrow world view. Ring a bell? Remind you of anyone? Anyway, add to that a splinter group or a supposedly small, independent part of these Super-Christians, that isn’t satisfied with simply thinking and saying bad things about people of different beliefs, but who actively go after them, beat, rape, enslave, and kill them. It was incredibly chilling, reading about this Church of Christian America and how they try to justify terrible acts (which I can’t imagine any god would condone) in the name of keeping their country “pure”. It would have been chilling at any time, but in the current political climate, it was even worse, simply because what happens in this book doesn’t feel far-fetched at all! We may not have special technology electroshock collars that we use on people to enslave them, but we do have people in this world who believe everyone who doesn’t fit into their own narrow idea of personhood, doesn’t deserve to live. So this may be shelves as science-fiction and near-future but it didn’t really feel like it.

Clashing religions and political unrest aren’t the only themes in this book, however. This is still Lauren’s story and with a baby entering her life, things are about to change. Because we experience the book through flashbacks, we know that Lauren’s daughter grows up to be at least old enough to read her mother’s writing. What we don’t know is whether Lauren herself survives long enough to see her dream of an Earthseed society fulfilled.
I loved how Parable of the Talents approached the theme of family, both blood family and found family. I’m a sucker for found families and the entire duology is pretty much about that, on a large scale. It may start with Lauren building a small community that lives by what Earthseed teaches. But her plan is to convince the entire world that Earthseed is truth and that humanity’s future lies among the stars. Big dreams for a young woman, you may rightly think, but this book tells the story of how such dreams could be realized. Lauren’s approach to teaching her beliefs changes throughout the years and I really enjoyed watching her evolve as a person. I can’t say I always understood or agreed with her, but she is one hell of a fascinating protagonist to read about.

As for the writing style, I enjoyed it as much as I did in the first book. The three narrators each had distinct voices, which was even more obvious in the audiobook than in the paper copy because they were actually narrated by three different people. But I believe if I opened my book at a random point and read a few lines, I could easily tell whose narration I was reading.
I also appreciate how Octavia Butler describes the horrors that happen in her story. It might be tempting for a writer to go into gratuitous detail in the torture or murder scenes, just to elicit emotions from the readers. But Butler went a different route. In fact, the most terrifying events, aren’t described very much at all. They are mostly stated as fact, something that happened, but that we don’t want to dwell on. Considereing this is Lauren’s first person narrative, it makes even more sense to do it that way, because who would recount a traumatic event in vivid detail when they are still under shock?
That said, the sparse descriptions of the various horrors doesn’t lessen their effect at all. I may even have been more shaken by the simple statement of “Yesterday, my friend was raped.” than I would have been if some long-winded description had foreshadowed it. But be aware when reading this book, that although Lauren has a support system now, that doesn’t mean her life gets easier.

The ending of the book came a bit fast compared to the rest, but I found it very fitting and believable. Just like in real life, some things work out the way we hope, and others don’t. Some plot strings lead to nowhere, others aren’t quite resolved, yet others lead to a completely different destination than we had expected. And since I have to stay vague in order not to spoil anything, I’ll just say that I found the way this story wrapped up altogether satisfying. It kept the tone of these books perfectly, showing us that this is an imperfect world with many, many problems, but that there is always hope. And hope can start as the smallest thing. Like a thought in the mind of a young girl, written down in her diary, and tended to until it grows into something so big it might just change the world.

MY RATING: 8.5/10 – Excellent!

Mythothon Round 4 Sign-Up and TBR

Aaaaah, it’s readathon time! As I’ve spent the beginning of the year with many a chunky book, and I picked some other books that simply take me longer to read (Harry Potter in Spanish may be fun, but with my rusty language skills, 200 pages can last me a long time :)). So I really look forward to planning a month of reading as many books as I can, catching up with all the books that had to wait.

So I’m joining Mythothon 4 hosted by the wonderful Louise at Foxes & Fairy Tales. The readathon will run throughout the month of April in your time zone.

The Rules

As with most readathons, there are teams to join and prompts to fulfill. The readathon theme may be inspired by Arthurian legend, but the books don’t have to be mythology-basedor retellings of King Arthur. They just have to fulfill the prompts. You can even double up on prompts (reading one book that fits two prompts would fulfill both).
However, I’ve always enjoyed making things difficult for myself so I will forbid myself to double up on prompts. One prompt, one book is the way I’m going.

For Twitter updates, use the hashtag #mythothon.
I don’t know about you but I always love browsing people’s updates and TBR posts during a readathon. I have so much fun cheering on my team (and, let’s be honest, the other teams as well) and seeing what everyone is reading. It also helps me find inspiration when I’m struggling to find a book for a certain prompt.

The teams

There are three teams to choose from and each comes with its very own first reading prompt. Initially, I wanted to join Team Morgan le Fay, but all the books which fit the prompt are 800 pages long (not a good idea for a readathon!), and I have one book that I’m crazy looking forward to which fits the Nimue prompt perfectly. So although I want to give some love to Morgan le Fay and morally grey characters, I’m joining Team Nimue.

NIMUE — Read a book set at sea.
A. G. Slatter – All the Murmering Bones


MERLIN— Read a book with a witch or wizard.


MORGAN LE FAY — Read a story about a villainous, misunderstood or morally grey character.


The prompts + my tbr

The prompts are, of course, inspired by the Knights of the Round Table. There is a total of 12 prompts plus the final one to end the quest, the Camelot prompt.

I have quite a few books to choose from as my TBR is beyond ridiculous, but that just means more fun and choices for all of these prompts.

KING ARTHUR — Read a book featuring royalty.
Theodora Goss – Snow White Learns Witchcraft (Snow White is a princess and I’m sure there will be more royalty in the fairy tale retellings and poems of this collection)


SIR LANCELOT (Arthur’s greatest companion) — Read a book from a favourite author.
Catherynne M. Valente – Under in Mere (Arthurian legend told by my favourite author, what could be more perfect for this prompt?)


SIR GAWAIN (Known as the Green Knight) — Read a book with the colour green on the cover or in the title.
Joanna Ruth Meyer – Into the Heartless Wood (as green a cover as you’ll find)


SIR PERCIVAL (the original hero in the quest for the Grail) — Read a book with a shiny cover.
Nicole Givens Kurtz  – Kill Three Birds, Jaida Jones & Dani Bennett – Master of One (I only have e-books of both of these but they look like they’ve got shiny covers)


SIR BORS (Arthur’s successor) — Read a sequel.
Amie Kaufmann & Jay Kristoff – Memento (Illuminae #0.5), Tamora Pierce – In the Hand of the Goddess (The Song of the Lioness #2)


SIR LAMORAK (one of the best knights but overlooked in the chivalric romance genre) — Read a book you think is under-hyped.
Katherine Arden – Small Spaces (very beloved by people who’ve read it but I don’t hear a lot of people talk about Arden’s children’s books)


SIR KAY (Arthur’s foster brother) — Read a book with a significant sibling relationship.
Rena Rossner – The Sisters of the Winter Wood (titular sisters), Tamora Pierce – Alanna: The First Adventure (brother and sister protagonists)


SIR GARETH (the youngest knight) — Read a recent addition to your TBR.
Sarah Gailey – The Echo Wife, P. Djèlí Clark – A Dead Djinn in Cairo


SIR BEDIVERE (returns Excalibur to Nimue) — Read a book with something pointy on the cover.
Andrzej Sapkowski – Time of Contempt (pointy sword and lots of teeth)


SIR GALAHAD (“the most perfect of all knights”) — Read a book with a title that starts with a “G”.
Roshanki Chokshi – The Gilded Wolves, Carolyn Turgeon – Godmother


SIR TRISTAN (falls in love with Isolde) — Read a book with a romance that should be legendary.
Chloe Gong – These Violent Delights (Romeo and Juliet retelling, so bound to be rather epic), Maria V. Snyder – Poison Study (found this on recommendation lists, probably heavy on the romance)


SIR GAHERIS (“the least well spoken of all his peers”) — Listen to an audiobook or read part of a story aloud.
Whichever audiobook I’m starting in April. Not making plans for this one at the moment.


CAMELOT — Read a book set in a place you’ve never visited. 
Nnedi Okorafor – Ikenga (set in Nigeria)

The Group Read

The group read isn’t compulsory but I have been interested in this book for a while, so I hope I can join and read along with the other participants.

The book is Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, a modern spin on King Arthur. I’ve heard interesting things about this one, but most reviews agree that there are a lot of twists and the plot is fast-paced. So even though I’m not a huge Urban Fantasy fan (nor a big fan of King Arthur), I think this will be a fun ride.

So this is my rough TBR for the month of April. As you can see, I’ve picked more than one book for many of the prompts because I just need that little bit of freedom to decide what to read when the time comes. Depending on how well I do at the beginning of the readathon, I may go for the shorter or two possible books, and depending on my mood I may choose one over the other.

That said, I’m looking forward to all of the books I’ve picked and I am super excited for my first readathon of 2021. Once April is over, all I’ll be doing is  reading Hugo-nominated works, so this is a great opportunity for catching up on other things before I have to focus on award reading again.

Indian-Inspired Fantasy With Strong Characters: Tasha Suri – Empire of Sand

The days of alternate Medieval Europe as the one and only setting for the fantasy genre are well and truly over. The last decade has brought us increasingly diverse fantasy stories told by equally diverse people whose voices feel so fresh and new because they were left unheard for so long. Tasha Suri is only one among those voices but she demands to be heard. Her debut novel Empire of Sand was so good, you guys!

EMPIRE OF SAND
by Tasha Suri

Published: Orbit, 2018
eBook: 402 pages
Series: The Books of Ambha #1
My rating: 7.5/10

Opening line: Mehr woke to a soft voice calling her name.

A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy.

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda — and should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…

Empire of Sand is a lush, dazzling fantasy novel perfect for readers of City of Brass and The Wrath & the Dawn.

There’s a reason Tasha Suri was nominated for an Astounding Award for Best New Writer and everybody seems to love her. It’s because she’s a damn good writer who effortlessly created a Mughal India-inspired fantasy world that feels fresh but still familiar enough for fans of fantasy tropes to enjoy.

Mehr lives a privileged but difficult life. Her father is a wealthy nobleman but her mother – now exiled – belonged to the Amrithi, a nomad people that is outcast from the rest of  society. They are seen as a sort of witches who are, at the same time, looked down upon and feared. For when the daiva come, it is the Amrithi whose blood can keep them at bay.
I fell completely and utterly in love with the world of this novel during the first few chapters. Through Mehr’s eyes, we are introduced not only to the Empire itself but also to some of its societal intricacies. Mehr is called to her little sister Arwa’s room because a daiva (a spirit) is scaring her. With confidence and grace, Mehr handles the situation and shows us not only how competent she is but also how deep her love for her little sister runs and how difficult her life is. Because the girls’ stepmother doesn’t want Arwa to grow up learning about her mother’s culture and beliefs. While it’s too late to keep Mehr from following “heathen” rituals, the younger sister can still be “saved”.

The plot kicks off when Mehr is married off to a man for the usual reasons. Political power, being rid off the half-Amrithi girl, you know the deal. But when Mehr is picked up by the Empire’s mystics and meets her future husband Amun, she soon learns that there is way more to her impening union than meets the eye. Her Amrithi heritage is not only knowing and performing certain rites, or even having special blood that can keep dangerous daiva at bay. And if Mehr doesn’t want to be used by power-hungry people, she and Amun will have to come up with something fast!

Although I wouldn’t consider certain aspects of this book as a spoiler, I am keeping things very vague for those of you who like to be completely surprised. Because let me tell you, this book has a few good surprises up its sleeve.
I loved most things about this story, so I’ll start with the one  I found the weakest: the plot. It starts out well enough, promising an exploration of a rich world with several cultures juxtaposed, societal norms, and a killer premise (force marriage and leaving a beloved sister behind!). Then comes a plot twist and after than, unfortunately, follows a bit of a dragging middle part. At the end, the plot picked up again but it was fairly predictable what would happen. So I was most intrigued at the very beginning. The kind of intrigued where you think about the book constantly when you can’t read it. After the main story was all set up, however, I lost a bit of interest. I still enjoyed reading the book when I picked it up but that urge to go read immediately when I get the chance was gone. Buuuut that was only one aspect of this book and literally everything else about it was phenomenal.

Possibly my favorite thing was the world buildling. Granted, I’m a sucker for non-European settings in fantasy, so I’m easy to please. But, Tasha Suri does more than just set her story in South Asia and give her characters Indian-inspired names. She built an entire world that feels real and lived-in, like it has centures of history that we don’t get to read about but whose influence and impact we feel on the page. I especially loved how easy it was to learn about the differences between Mehr’s Amrithi culture and the predominant cultures and/or beliefs in the Empire. Although they’re not described in great detail, it’s clear that different areas of the Empire aren’t all the same. Just like any kingdom/empire/country large enough, its people aren’t one big homogenous mass but each area has its own little rites, fashions, and behaviours.
I was super impressed how well the world came to life in this debut novel!

Adding to that, Tasha Suri also writes fantastic characters. I was immediately rooting for Mehr, not only because of her bond to her little sister and her strong wish to keep her mother’s heritage alive inside herself, but also because she is mentally strong, hopeful despite the odds, and loyal to a fault. The man she’s supposed to marry, Amun, may come across as gruff at first but at least I found it obvious from the start that there is more to him than you may think at first. His character was a lot of fun to read because his personality slowly unfolded over the course of the story. I really liked him and getting to know him better and better was a joy.
But even side characters, ones that appear only fleeingly and ones that recur, feel like proper human beings with their own hopes and wishes and that’s something that many debut authors struggle with. Many manage to write a compelling protagonist but forget that the other characters are supposed to be three-dimensional, too. Not so Tasha Suri. Even the somewhat tropey “evil stepmother” character didn’t come across like a cliché but rather like someone who means well and is doing her best, in her own (maybe narrow-minded) world. Even though she doesn’t get a lot of time on the page, having this kind of side character makes the entire book so much more compelling.

And after all that praise I haven’t even mentioned the magic yet. I won’t say much about it because discovering how it works is part of the plot and even more part of Mehr’s character growth. But to give you an idea of what to expect: This is not a neat Sanderson-style magic system where every move has exactly one outcome and things feel almost mathematical. It’s the kind of wild magic that refuses to be controlled, that doesn’t always make logical sense (because duh, it’s magic!) but that feels all the more exciting for it. I particularly liked that this magic is performed not through spells or brewing something up, but rather through movement of body. Tasha Suri described her magic well enough to convey it as dance-like but left enough room for the imagination. I sometimes saw the rites as a dance, sometimes as a sort of yoga flow, but it’s definitely something I haven’t seen done before and that’s always a plus.

I picked this book up because I was excited for Tasha Suri’s upcoming The Jasmine Throne and didn’t want to wait until June to sample her writing. Plus, when she was nominated for an Astounding Award, I didn’t get to this book and have felt a bit guilty ever since. Now at least I know that her nomination was more than deserved and I may just read Realm of Ash, the companion novel, before diving into her newest work.

MY RATING:  7.5/10 – Very, very good!

The State of SFF – March 2021

2021 is moving along FAST and although I’m still waiting for my Covid vaccine (late March/early April sounds realistic at this point), at least SFF publishing is running smoothly again and promises many great books to come out this month.
The land of TV and movies isn’t sleeping either and awards season is getting started as well.

Quickie News

  • The Mythopoeic Award winners have been announced and congratulations are in order. Theodora Goss won the Adult Literature prize for Snow White Learns Witchcraft. The children’s prize went to Yoon Ha Lee for Dragon Pearl.
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  • Hafzah Faisal’s novel We Hunt the Flame (the first in a duology) has been optioned for TV. I have yet to read the book but an Arabian-inspired fantasy book by an Author of Color getting an adaptation is definitely exciting. I’m so tired of remakes of the same old stuff when there are so many new and fresh stories out there.
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  • Namina Forna’s The Gilded Ones, a book that just came out, will be turned into a movie. I’ve had an ARC of this book for months but as I’ve heard some very negative things, I’m putting off reading it. Depending on how long I can drag that out, the movie might be done before I ever read the book…
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  • Gina Carano will no longer be in The Mandalorian because of harmful statements made online. Unfortunately, she has promoted not wearing masks and lied about the US presidential election, among other things. At this point, I still get a little sad when people subscribe to conspiracy theories or post racist shit, but I’ve reached a level of tiredness that prevents me from the outrage I probably should be feeling. Someone was racist/anti-science/hateful/wrong on the internet? Must be Tuesday.
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It’s Time for Hugo Award Nominations!

If you’re a member of this year’s WorldCon or were a member of last year’s WorldCon, congratulations! You can nominated works for the Hugo Awards. And the time to start is now. You can nominate whatever works you liked the best and then come back later and add new ones or swap out others. The nomination period will be open until Marth 19th.

I had a super hard time this year because, for the first time ever, I wanted to nominated more novels than is possible. In other categories I’m relying heavily on my fellow SFF fans to pick the best of last year. I haven’t read many short stories or graphic novels but I’m sure the shortlist will lead me to all the good stuff I’ve missed.

Also, here’s a reminder that Best Fancast is not only for podcasts but also works for other formats such as Youtube videos. I’ve nominated three podcasts and two Youtube channels this year and I hope that others are also trying to open up the category and include a wider variety of fancasts.


Baen’s Bar controversy

I initially had this in the quickie news but, like many things that start small, this has grown a bit too large to talk about it in just a sentence or two.
It all began with Jason Sanford’s report about Baen’s Bar – an online forum for authors by the publisher Baen. From what I’ve learned so far, people on the Baen’s Bar forum talked about the political climate in the US and some comments went beyond just expressing one’s opinion, but actively incited or approved of violence.  File 770 has a good post here that rounds up comments and reactions. Wherever you may fall on the political spectrum and whatever you think about this particular report-turned-discussion-about-free-speech-versus-promoting-violence, I urge you to read more than the pieces I’m linking to here, and to make up your own mind.

In the last few weeks, things have escalated more and more. After being made aware of the accusations, Toni Weisskopf, editor and publisher of Baen Books, temporarily closed the forum and promised to investigate. She was supposed to be Guest of Honor at this year’s WorldCon but has since been uninvited. She is still welcome to attend the convention, of course, just not as Guest of Honor. Obviously, this has made some people upset, among them Larry Correia (remember, the original Sad Puppies guy).
Larry Correia reacted, as he usually does, with an overly dramatic post about cancel culture and how “The Left” is evil and simply can’t appreciate one of the greatest women in publishing. I don’t think very highly of Correia (I have no interest in his books, I disagree with him politically, and I think the way he writes his blog posts only tries to additionally divide an already divided society when we should all be doing the opposite) but I think it’s important to listen to different opinions.

I have no idea how much further this topic will go until this post goes up but I will finally finish reading Sanford’s report in its entirety and then see if anything can be learned of this latest SFF drama…


Shadow and Bone Trailer

Sorry for another Shadow and Bone update but the first proper trailer has arrived and it is making everyone EXCITED! Holy shit, the Shadow Fold looks good!

And the characters are perfect! Even though you see many of the them for just a second or two, you can tell how well they are cast. Inej has amazing “I’ll kill you with one of my 100 knives” energy, Genya looks stunning, the Darkling is gorgeous and villainous-looking as he should be – that character is made of bad boy vibes – and both Kaz and Jesper are just like I imagined them. Alina also seems to be perfect. Her bewildered look in the few scenes we see in the trailer is exactly right. The only one I personally pictured differently was Mal, but hey, I’m not complaining. 🙂

Shadow and Bone“: Erster Trailer zur Fantasyserie im Grishaverse enthüllt – fernsehserien.de

SHADOW AND BONE Trailer Introduces a Dangerous, Beautiful and Magical World

Netflix Drops First 'Shadow and Bone' Teaser Trailer

So yeah, I’m just as excited as the rest of the internet and can’t wait for April 23rd when the show finally arrives. Even if you haven’t set an alert on Netflix yet, I don’t think anyone will miss the release day of this. Now we only have to hope it’s as good as the trailer looks.

Exciting March Publications

February was a good month for SFF publications, so March stood up tall, fixed its crown and is striding along confidently, showing us that it can do even better! At this point, my TBR is so ridiculously high that adding ten-ish more books in March won’t make much of a difference anyway.

ARKADY MARTINE – A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE

Probably many people’s most anticipated release of the entire year, the sequel to the Hugo-winning and absolutely brilliant A Memory Called Empire is finally coming! I’ve been missing Mahit and Three Seagrass and I cannot wait to find out how this story continues. Political intrigue, cultural nuance, great characters, and – so Twitter tells me – a SPACE KITTEN!

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An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.


C. L. CLARK – THE UNBROKEN

The book with the magnificent biceps on it doesn’t just look good, it also sounds fantastic and I have been looking forward to it for quite some time. A princess and a soldier reluctantly working together in a North-African inspired setting, plus assassins, epic stakes, and maybe a bit of romance? Yes, please.

54467051Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.


KAZUO ISHIGURO – KLARA AND THE SUN

I adored both books by Ishigoro that I’ve read and I really like that a Nobel Prize-winning author decided to write more science fiction. Clearly, the wider world is accepting that the genre has way more to offer than spaceships and aliens (not that those aren’t great).

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Klara and the Sun is a magnificent new novel from the Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro–author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day.

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?


A. G. SLATTER – ALL THE MURMURING BONES

Angela Slatter, writing as A. G. Slatter here, is a hugely talented Australian author who isn’t nearly known well enough. Her short story collections Sourdough and The Bitterwood Bible gave me All The Feels and I’ve been a diehard fan of hers ever since. This new fairy tale-esque book sounds amazing and I can’t wait to let Slatter break my heart again.

55302933. sy475 For fans of Naomi Novik and Katharine Arden, a dark gothic fairy tale from award-winning author Angela Slatter.

‘Harrowing and beautiful, this is the grim, fairy-tale gothic you’ve been waiting for’
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN, New York Times bestselling author of Ararat

Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.


LEIGH BARDUGO – RULE OF WOLVES

The Nikolai Duology comes to an end with this gorgeous-looking book. I liked King of Scars well enough but didn’t love it. Of course I’ll read the series conclusion but I hope it steps up its game a little.

36307674. sy475 The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times-bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.


AIDEN THOMAS – LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS

From the author of Cemetery Boys (which I haven’t read yet… can you tell my TBR is gigantic?) comes a fairy tale retelling of sorts that pushes all my buttons. Okay, just two of them, but they are big buttons. It’s a Peter Pan retelling and it has a gorgeous cover. Look at the silhouette the trees are making – it’s two faces! And the colors are so pretteeeeh!

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When children go missing, people want answers. When children go missing in the small coastal town of Astoria, people look to Wendy for answers.

It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.


ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE – THE MIRROR SEASON

March really likes me, I think. Another (probably loose) retelling of a fairy tale, The Snow Queen, with a very pretty cover indeed. I’ve been buying all of McLemore’s books but – you guessed it – I haven’t read any of them yet. This should really be a priority in 2021.
The Mirror Season sounds like it has so much to offer. A girl and boy dealing with trauma and grief, magical pan dulce, disappearing trees. I may just make this my first McLemore book.

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When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly-magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Mirror Season

Graciela Cristales’ whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.

But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela’s school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened.


GABRIELA HOUSTON – THE SECOND BELL

If, like me, you sometimes read fantasy novels and think that the monster’s point of view would be much more interesting than the hero’s POV, then this could be the book for you. The protagonist is a striga, a person with two hearts who is considered a demon, and the story seems to deal with a mother-daughter relationship.

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In a world which believes her to be a monster, a young striga fights to harness the power of her second heart, while her mother sacrifices everything to stop her…

In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. This child is called a striga and is considered a demon who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest. The child’s mother must then decide to leave with her infant, or stay and try to forget.

Nineteen year-old striga, Salka, and her mother, Miriat, made the choice to leave and live a life of deprivation and squalor in an isolated village. The striga tribe share the human belief that to follow the impulses of their other hearts is dangerous, inviting unspoken horrors and bringing ruin onto them all.

Salka, a headstrong and independent young woman, finds herself in a life threatening situation that forces her to explore the depths of her true nature and test the bonds between mother and child…


KATE HOPE DAY – IN THE QUICK

I’ve only recently stumbled across this book (yet another cool cover!) and if it keeps what the blurb promises, this will be great! Bonding over scientific work, a mystery in space that needs to be solved, and two difficult characters who have to work together.

54072857A young, ambitious female astronaut’s life is upended by a fiery love affair that threatens the rescue of a lost crew in this brilliantly imagined novel in the tradition of Station Eleven and The Martian.

June is a brilliant but difficult girl with a gift for mechanical invention, who leaves home to begin a grueling astronaut training program. Six years later, she has gained a coveted post as an engineer on a space station, but is haunted by the mystery of Inquiry, a revolutionary spacecraft powered by her beloved late uncle’s fuel cells. The spacecraft went missing when June was twelve years old, and while the rest of the world has forgotten them, June alone has evidence that makes her believe the crew is still alive.

She seeks out James, her uncle’s former protégée, also brilliant, also difficult, who has been trying to discover why Inquiry’s fuel cells failed. James and June forge an intense intellectual bond that becomes an electric attraction. But the love that develops between them as they work to solve the fuel cell’s fatal flaw threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to create–and any chance of bringing the Inquiry crew home alive.

Equal parts gripping narrative of scientific discovery and charged love story, In the Quick is an exploration of the strengths and limits of human ability in the face of hardship and the costs of human ingenuity. At its beating heart are June and James, whose love for each other is eclipsed only by their drive to conquer the challenges of space travel.


News from the blog

My year didn’t start great but February was already much kinder, reading-wise. I did get sick and had to stay home from work… well, I work from home anyway, but you know, stay at home without working, for over a week. That gave me plenty of time to read and even though I often didn’t know what I was in the mood for, I ended up with some good books.

What I read:

  • Everina Maxwell – Winter’s Orbit
    fun romance in space – intriguing world building – slow middle part
  • Neil Gaiman, Dirk Maggs – The Sandman (Audible)
    great voice acting – works surprisingly well on audio – cool world and cool stories
  • Star Wars – From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back
    anthology of 40 stories – some great, some not so much – nice for fans and to discover new authors
  • Andrea Stewart – The Bone Shard Daughter
    fast-paced – cool world building – complex characters – leaves you eager for the next part
  • Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising
    disappointing – weak main character – hardly any plot – no conflict, no drive – nice writing
  • Nnedi Okorafor – Remote Control
    highly interesting world building – great writing – plot a bit unfocused/unsure what it wants to achieve
  • Tasha Suri – Empire of Sand 
    great world building – intricate characters – weaker middle-part – makes me want to read the companion novel NOW

Currently reading:

  • John Crowley – Little, Big
  • Joe Abercrombie – Last Argument of Kings

I’m still reading Little, Big and I’m still enjoying it. It is not a riveting read, there is very little plot to speak of and so my other books often take precedence. But none of them reach Crowley when it comes to atmosphere or pure strangeness.
I’ve also finally decided to finish the First Law Trilogy. I had forgotten how much I liked Abercrombie’s writing and how fast I can read his books. 670 pages doesn’t sound so intimidating when they’re flying by. Unless he messed up completely on the ending, you can expect a very positive review soon. Also, Glokta is the best!

Until next month: Stay safe, stay kind, and keep reading. 🙂

Tropey Romantic Fun In Space: Everina Maxwell – Winter’s Orbit

Boy am I glad every time one of those overhyped books turns out to be actually good! Tor went all out on this one – I swear there wasn’t a single space on the internet that didn’t bombard me with how fun and tropey and perfect this book would be long before it even came out. While the book was far from perfect, it was definitely fun and I wholeheartedly recommend it to people looking for a bit more romance in their SFF.

WINTER’S ORBIT
by Everina Maxwell

Published: Tor, 2021
Hardcover: 423 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: “Well, someone has to marry the man,” the Emperor said.

Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

This is it, the book that was hyped up like crazy for being originally an AO3 story that happily embraces its tropes, such as “there’s only one bed” and “forced marriage”. While I don’t exactly understand that marketing approach, I can tell you that, yes, these tropes are there, but they are neither the strongest parts of this book, nor the most important ones. Everina Maxwell can do way more than just use tropes effectively. I do, however, appreciate that this book may help certain people see that starting (or even staying) in fanfiction is not a bad thing and that it says nothing about an author’s skill or originality.

So, what’s this all about then? Prince Kiem is called to the Emperor who tells him that he is to be married to the recently widowed Count Jainan of Thea because politics. In just a few weeks’ time, a new treaty will be signed between the Iskari Empire and all its vassal planets and for that to work out smoothly, all alliances must be in place and an auditor must be convinced that the alliances were made of free will. The political background is thought out well enough, but as you can guess, it’s not the focus of this story.
Kiem and Jainan are married pretty quickly, and then comes the difficult part: getting to konw each other, getting along, and finding some way to live together, as happily as possible. And this is where Maxwell got to shine.

I loved both Kiem and Jainan, although Kiem stole my heart a lot faster. He is a chaotic, big-hearted, stumbling, talkative guy who seems to never get things right, never be on time, but somehow remains loved by most people and especially by the press. His time is spent mostly at parties and with the press, trying to smooth out whatever went wrong at said parties. Where there’s a scandal, Prince Kiem is usually not far off but he is clearly an adorable guy who means well enough. His personal assistant Bel was also an immediate hit for me. She’s the kind of stoic yet competent person Kiem needs in his life but you can tell right from the start that her cool exterior hides true affection for her boss. She loves her job and she does it well and damn but I love reading this type of character! Also, the world needs to appreciate its assistants more.
Jainan, being quiet and drawn into himself, was a tougher nut to crack. I liked him as well, but his personality took longer to show itself. For a long time, he says almost nothing and even in his POV chapters, all we learn is that he just wants to stay out of Kiem’s way and have the least possible impact on his life. He also lacks confidence and comes across as a bit of a wallflower. Until he gets to talk to someone about engineering, that is. So yeah, Jainan is never unlikable, but he’s so passive that it took a while for me to warm to him. There are reasons for this, just as there are reasons for his behavior, and while it all makes perfect sense, this is the part where you could see that the characters had to bend a little in order to fit certain tropes into this story.

This was the one problem I had with the book. Certain things just dragged on beyond the point of suspension of disbelief. It’s fine that the protagonists misunderstand each other and thus both behave in ways that only make the misunderstandings worse – but only up to a point. Kiem knows that Jainan’s husband died only a month ago and so assumes that Jainan is grieving and that’s his reason for being so quiet and subdued.
Jainan on the other hand believes that a man as well-loved and socially gifted as Kiem couldn’t possibly find him – Jainan – to be an acceptable husband. He feels like he’s not good enough and therefore just stays quiet, hoping not to inconvenience Kiem too much.
It’s a totally okay setup for a slow burn romance but when “slow burn” really means “standstill” for half the book, I just lose interest. For a while, the fact that these two newly married men  barely speak to each other can be explained away. But after a third of the book I started getting annoyed at the ridiculous ways in which they continue to misunderstand each other. It’s like they’re doing it on purpose just to drag the inevitable out a little longer.
Seriously, after weeks of living with another person and seeing how they react to you expressing your opinion, wouldn’t it be natural for you to undertand that it’s okay to keep expressing your opinion?? Actions speak louder than words and humans communicate way more through body language than spoken words. And yet Jainan insists on behaving as if Kiem would freak out whenever they disagree on something, although Kiem has shown him over and over what kind of a person he is.
The author went out of her way to create situations that draw out the moment of truth for the sake of… I don’t know, keeping the readers at the edge of their seats? That part failed for me because as much as I like romantic tension, I still want my stories to be believable, even if they are set on a different planet with futuristic technology.

But around the middle of the book, things finally get going and not only in terms of the romance. The mystery and various other plot threads have been set up nicely in the first half of the book and they are all coming together to create a rather exciting third act. I especially liked how – although they finally did talk to each other and realize that, hey, the other guy also has feelings for me – neither Kiem nor Jainan are suddenly different people. They both still suffer from the same insecurities they had before, but now they each have some hope that there’s someone out there who cares about them and who thinks highly of them. Whether that’s Jainan realizing he is entitled to his own opinion or Kiem understanding that he is, in fact, not stupid or useless, just a bit disorganized, I thought it was really well done and shows character growth in a believable way.

I also quite enjoyed the world building and side characters. Again, the focus of this novel is the relationship between Kiem and Jainan, but these two don’t exist in a vaccuum. I loved learning a bit more about how this galactic empire is set up, what Kiem’s home planet is like and what cultural differences there are between the two protagonists.
I admit I’m not super sure what the Resolution and its auditors are all about or how exactly the larger universe works in this story, but that’s not necessary to understand and enjoy the book.
The revelation of all the secrets, the way the mysteries get resolved and the ending all worked really well, even though I prefer mysteries that give me all the necessary pieces in advance and only fit them together at the end. You know, the kind that makes you go “oh man, I should have seen this all along”. In the case of Winter’s Orbit, there is no way you can guess the solution with the information you are given so the payoff isn’t as satisfying as it could be.

But I am not judging this book on being a great mystery novel, I’m judging it on whether it entertained me and delivered the space romance it promised. And in that respect, I really can’t compalin. Apart from the drawn-out part of wilfully misunderstanding each other, the relationship between Jainan and Kiem was well done. I cared about both of them (and Bel, don’t forget Bel!) and I wanted them to realize that they are both good people who can have a wonderful life together.
For people who read more romance than me and whose expectations may be a bit higher, there is only one romantic scene in this book and it’s not particularly steamy. This romance is more on the sweet side, not the hot and sexy one. So depending on your mood, this may work for your or not. Do I think this is a groundbreaking or award-worthy book? Well, no, but neither was it silly or too light on the world building (which could happen when the focus lies too heavily on the romance). I had a lot of fun reading it and I’m interested to see what Everina Maxwell comes up with next.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

 

Star Wars Anthology – From A Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back

This Star Wars anthology retells the events of The Empire Strikes Back from different points of view. That much is clear from the title and – if you’ve read it – its predecessor, but for me this was a first foray into the world of Star Wars anthologies. I had read a few novelizations many, many years ago but other than that, I just re-watched the original trilogy a lot. To get stories from minor, sometimes VERY minor side-characters is such a cool idea that I couldn’t resist. The result was mixed but the positives outweigh the negatives.

FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
by various authors

Published: Del Rey, 2020
eBook: 561 pages
Series: Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View #2
My rating: 6/10

Opening line: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

From a Certain Point of View strikes back! Celebrate the legacy of the groundbreaking Star Wars sequel with this exciting reimagining of the timeless film.

On May 21, 1980, Star Wars became a true saga with the release of The Empire Strikes Back. In honor of the fortieth anniversary, forty storytellers recreate an iconic scene from The Empire Strikes Back, through the eyes of a supporting character, from heroes and villains to droids and creatures. From a Certain Point of View features contributions by bestselling authors and trendsetting artists.

This is quite a big book and no way am I going to tell you about each single story and how I liked it. As with any collection of short stories, especially ones by different authors, I liked some, loved others, disliked a few and felt meh about a handful. I’d say that’s a pretty normal reaction to a piece of writing that is made up of 40 different people’s ideas and styles. Nobody is going to like everything, but then again, there will be something for everybody.

I admit I picked this up primarily because I wanted to read Cat Valente‘s story about the exogorth (that worm thingy in the asteroid field) called “This Is No Cave”. I had heard wonderful things about it and those early reviews weren’t wrong. It is astonishing that Valente manged to make me feel for this creature that gets a full 5 seconds of screentime and whose backstory never really crossed my mind. But she gives Sy-O a backstory and it totally worked. I watched Empire again just yesterday – I knew so many side stories now, after all, and wanted to see if I recognized all the characters from this book (I didn’t) – and I felt a bit of a twinge when Sy-O appeared because now I had seen that part of the story from their perspective. And things aren’t as simple as they may seem.

But, and this is as surprising to me as it is to you, the Valente story was not my favorite in this anthology. In fact, three stories tied for my first place and they are all pretty different.
Django Wexler wrote “Amara Kel’s Rules for TIE Pilot Survival (Probably)” which delivers exactly what the title promises but with layers! Amara Kel is an Imperial pilot who knows how to stay alive. So far, at least. She lets us know her rules for survival not just by making a list but by telling us stories for each bullet point, stories that paint a picture of her life, her hopes and dreams, the woman she loves, and, almost as a side note, the events of Empire that happen to be going on at the same time. I loved everything about this story. The voice is lighthearted and funny, the protagonist is super easy to like, despite working for the Empire, and the story has a well-rounded ending. It got 4.75/5 stars from me.

Bildergebnis für faith in an old friend star warsJust like this next story, although for different reasons. “Faith In An Old Friend” by Brittany N. Williams is told from L3-37’s perspective, a droid-turned-part-of-the-Millennium-Falcon and for that alone, it feels more like a real part of Star Wars history, rather than just an aside to Empire. I had to look L3 up to remember exactly who she was but it honestly doesn’t make much difference whether you remember her or not. This story witnesses a few key events from Empire and while it was fun to watch Leia’s heartrate increase when Han is around, all while she pretends to dislike him, the heart of this tale was all about L3. Her history, especially with Lando, her consciousness, and her alliance with the rest of the Falcon’s droid brains. This story really touched me and it did a fantastic job of tying in movie scenes and quotes. Another 4.75/5 stars.

Lastly, “The Whills Strike Back”, the very last story in this anthology, ended up as my third favorite. It’s about the opening scrawl and that’s really all I want to say. It was hilarious and self-aware and made watching the movie again all the more fun.

So these three were my absolute favorites, but there were many more stories that I liked a lot. My overall problem with many stories in this anthology was that they were rather unimaginative. However, in the hands of a great writer, even a not-very-original story can be impressive. I’m thinking of Seth Dickinson’s “The Final Order”, a story which doesn’t exactly hold any surprises in store but which completely blew me away with its writing. I seriously have to read The Traitor Baru Cormorant soon if this is what Dickinson always writes like.
Charles Yu’s “Kendal” similarly impressed me, as did “Against All Odds” by R. F. Kuang. That wasn’t a surprise because Kuang is amazing but it’s still worth mentioning.
“A Good Kiss” by C. B. Lee was one of the few stories that stood well on its own. It’s about Chase Wilsorr, a human on Hoth who runs errands and feels like a loser because he’s not as heroic as, say, Luke Skywalker. He also has a crush on another man. Lee tells a full story here that happens during the evacuation of the Rebel Base at Hoth and while I didn’t think the writing was overwhelming, I loved how fun and altogether nice this story was.

I don’t want to focus very much on the stories that didn’t work for me. But I was a bit surprised to find some authors I knew among my least favorites as well as others that I hadn’t read yet but had been looking forward to. Mark Oshiro’s story wasn’t for me but I’ll probably still try one of their novels. Mackenzi Lee has written The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue which I found entertaining enough. Her short story for Star Wars left me cold and unimpressed.

Generally speaking, I enjoyed this anthology. Reading a story or two before bed was quite nice, even though some stories were better than others and even though at one point, I felt like we’d never get off Hoth. The stories are arranged in chronological order to fit the events of the movie. But given the amount (or lack) of side characters in any given scene, there are about a billion stories set on Hoth, hundreds on Imperial ships and in Cloud City, and a mere few set in different places. I understand why that is but I think that with a little creativity, more could have been done. I mean, there is a story here from the point of view of the cave on Dagobah! And remember Sy-O, the exogorth? Or the Millennium Falcon’s droid brains? Oh well, you can’t have everything I guess.

So would I recommend this book? Sure, if you like Star Wars. With most of the stories, I had no idea who exactly I was reading about but whether I ended up liking a story or not, it put me in a mood to watch the old movies again. I discovered some new authors that I’d like to read more of, and I enjoyed having a book to read in small increments. So unless you hate Star Wars, you can’t go wrong picking this up.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

 

Mysteries, Colonialism, and Revolution: Andrea Stewart – The Bone Shard Daughter

Whenever a book is surrounded by lot of hype, I get suspicious but it also depends on what kind of hype we’re talking about. If the hype starts well before publication date, it’s likely just good marketing and may lead to disappointment on my part when actually reading the book. BUT if the hype begins slowly, building up more and more as more people read the book,  then that’s probably because it’s a good book that appeals to a great many people. In the case of The Bone Shard Daughter, I believe the hype is honest and comes from readers’ true feelings rather than a well-oiled marketing machine, although the latter definitely helped.
Long story short: This is a book everybody seems to love and I am part of everybody now.

THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER
by Andrea Stewart

Published: Orbit, 2020
eBook: 438 pages
Audiobook: 13 hours 44 minutes
Series: The Drowning Empire #1
My rating: 7.5/10

Opening line: Father told me I’m broken.

In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne.
The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.
Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

This was exactly the kind of fun, thoughtful, epic SFF I had been hoping to get based on the buzz surrounding it. It has everything you could want from a fantasy novel, although I am still confused about it being shelved as YA on Goodreads. If fast-paced equals YA these days, then I guess okay, but other than that, the only reason I can see is that it was written by a woman and I had hoped we’ve come far enough to understand that women don’t automatically write YA… Oh well, whatever you want to call it The Bone Shard Daughter is amazing. Let me tell you why.

It is set in an archipelago ruled by an Emperor whose family is the only one that can use bone shard magic. With this magic, he can create constructs – animal-like creatures with his will embedded in them – that can do anything from run the country to serve in a construct army. The magic works with bone shards (duh) that are inscribed with a command which is then inserted into the construct, which in turn has to follow this command. So although it’s clearly magic, I love that there’s an undertone of logic to it. Creating a complex construct is almost like writing a computer program where different commands can’t contradict each other if the construct is to work properly, etc.
But this magic comes at a price, and it’s not one the Emperor pays, but rather his citizens. In regular tithing ceremonies, bone shards are extracted from the people’s children – those shards have to come from somewhere, after all. And whenever a bone shard is used in a construct, it slowly saps the life energy out of its original owner…

On Imperial Island, we follow Lin, the Emperor’s daughter, as she is working to prove herself worthy for the succession. When Lin was a child, she caught a mysterious sickness that made her lose most of her early memories. This sickness came with Bayan, the Emperor’s ward and Lin’s competition for the throne. There are many things Lin doesn’t understand: why Bayan’s memories seem to return more quickly than her own, why her father won’t grant her more keys to explore the palace and learn to do bone shard magic, why the things written in her recently discovered diary don’t make sense…
I can’t talk too much about Lin’s story line without giving things away. But it’s a thrilling plot with  many twists along the way. I must admit I guessed one of them quite a bit before it was revealed but that didn’t diminish my reading pleasure in the least. With or without plots, there was so much in Lin’s story to keep me entertained. Through her, we learn a lot about how bone shard magic works, as well as the way the Empire operates. I also enjoyed her relationship with Bayan, strained and mercurial as it is. And Lin doesn’t seem to be okay with the way her father exploits his own people for making constructs. His pretext is that the Alanga – a powerful magic people defeated by the current dynasty – may come back one day and he needs to defend the empire.

So the power dynamics in the empire are set up pretty clearly but Andrea Stewart doesn’t leave her world quite so black and white. On Nephilanu Island, we follow the governor’s daughter Phalue who is in love with Ranami – who in turn is part of a rebellion wanting to make life better for the lower classes. While the same power dynamics are at work here (albeit on a smaller scale), I loved how Stewart shows a different aspect of it through the eyes of different people. Both Phalue and Ranami have POV chapters which makes it all the more interesting to see their story unfold. Phalue has grown up privileged but she’s only now coming to terms with what that really means and what life is like for other people, including the woman she loves. Much like Lin, she faces some tough decisions between a comfortable life at the cost of others’ happiness and a revolution that may cost her her own safety.

The third, and for a long time my favorite, plot string follows Jovis, notorious smuggler and accidental savior of children. Jovis just wants his wife Emahla back but all he knows is that she was kidnapped and taken onto a dark ship with blue sails, a ship he has been hunting for years now, without ever catching it. On one of his stops, he saves a young child from the tithing ritual and also, purely by accident, a strange cat/ferret/seacreature that jumps onto his boat. After delivering the child back to safety, the strange creature – now called Mephi – stays with Jovis and will bring much joy and surprise to both Jovis and the readers of this book.
Jovis slowly turns into something of a legend, a man who snatches children away just before the tithing, saving them from having their skulls cut open and maybe dying in the process (like Jovis’ own brother when they were kids). But Jovis never loses sight of his quest and he never stops yearning for his wife, even when he sees that revolution is brewing in the empire and he may be needed to help it along.

There is one more POV character named Sand, but she appears so rarely and her chapters are kept so mysterious that I don’t want to give anything away. Just remember she’s important and may serve as a catalyst for the bigger story arc of the trilogy/series.

I had so much fun reading this book! Not only is the world building really interesting, there’s also a very cool magic system that I loved to explore. And the characters all came across as believable people with a history and hopes and dreams. Jovis especially grew dear to me, and not only because of his relationship with Mephi. I mean, who can resist a good animal companion? But Lin also goes through quite a few revelations, learning things both good and bad, and handling them capably but not perfectly. I can’t stress enough how wonderful it is to read about intelligent protagonists who aren’t perfect. Lin is clever and thinks ahead, but she’s also a young woman without a lot of life experience (and some of what she does have is missing along with her memories!), so she makes mistakes but her mistakes are understandable and only make her more relatable.

The world building already has so much interesting stuff to offer in this first volume, but it promises much more for the later books. The empire’s history is hinted at many times but we don’t get any real details about who the Alanga were and why they were so powerful. Many questions remain unanswered about the constructs or why only the imperial family can use bone shard magic, why Jovis’ wife was kidnapped and what that ship with the blue sails is all about. But even without answers to those questions, The Bone Shard Daughter delivers a satsifying ending to its three plot strings, all while making it clear that this is only the beginning and there’s much more epicness to come.

The only critique I have about this book is that things almost happen a bit too quickly. Normally, when I call a book fast-paced it’s a compliment. And I definitely recommend The Bone Shard Daughter for its quick plot(s), but because this novel isn’t only about the plot but has so much more to offer in terms of world building and character development, I almost wished there were more quiet moments that let me dive deeper into these aspects. Don’t get me wrong, Stewart does a masterful job of introducing her world and characters without long expositions or info dumps and that feat deserves all the praise. But every time we switch POV, it feels like the plot has already moved along at breakneck speed and we don’t get time to settle down with the last bit of new information we’ve learned before the next twist comes along. A little time to breathe in between epic revelations, action sequences, daring nightly excursions, etc. would have been nice.

It’s a flimsy complaint to make but it did have an effect on my reading experience. You see, I’ve noticed that I remember some books in much more detail than others and I’ve been trying to pin down why exactly that is. It’s not always the big, chonky ones that stick in my memory more (you’d think spending 500 more pages with a story will make it last longer in your brain, right?), nor is it necessarily the ones that I raced through because I was so excited and engaged. The Bone Shard Daughter was one of those books I never wanted to put down. I liked all the POV characters, I was engaged in the plot and sub plots, I wanted to learn more about the world and its magic and history, I wanted to unravel all the secrets, I wanted the characters to be okay, and those are literally all the things I hope for when I open a new book. But something was still missing. I read this book so quickly that I never felt I could truly fall into the world, if you know what I mean. It’s not like in a Robin Hobb book where I get so immersed in the world that plot becomes secondary.
I can’t tell yet because I’ve just finished this book but I suspect I’ll need a “previous on” when the next book comes out and I don’t remember any of the details I need. But no matter whether it sticks in my memory or not, reading this was an absolute pleasure and I wholeheartedly recommend it to lovers of SFF, especially ones looking to get out of a reading slump.

MY RATING: 7.5/10 – Very, very good

 

Why James McAvoy is a God (or at least one of the Endless): Neil Gaiman – The Sandman (Audible Original)

So here’s a little confession. I read the first three volumes of The Sandman ages ago and then never continued. I believe it was because at the time, I was still a student and didn’t have a lot of money to spend on books, let alone pretty expensive graphic novels. But now that I’m all grown up I want to dive back into this amazing universe and I needed a refresher. What better way than to relive the first three volumes as an audiobook?

THE SANDMAN (Vol. 1 – Vol. 3)
by Neil Gaiman & Dirk Maggs

Published: Audible, 2020
Audiobook: 10 hours 54 minutes
Series: The Sandman Audio #1
My rating: 8/10

Opening line: June 1920. The office of the senior curator of the Royal Museum.

Hailed by the Los Angeles Times Magazine as “the greatest epic in the history of comic books”, The Sandman changed the game with its dark, literary world of fantasy and horror – creating a global, cultural phenomenon in the process. At long last, Audible and DC present the first-ever audio production of the New York Times best-selling series written by acclaimed storyteller Neil Gaiman (who also serves as co-executive producer). Adapted and directed by multi-award-winner (and frequent Gaiman collaborator) Dirk Maggs, and performed by an ensemble cast with James McAvoy (It, Parts One and Two, X-Men: First Class, Split) in the title role, this first installment of a multi-part original audio series will transport you to a world that re-writes the rules of audio entertainment the way that The Sandman originally re-defined the graphic novel.

When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus – the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination – is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three “tools” that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer (Michael Sheen), chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare (Arthur Darvill), and many more.

A powerhouse supporting cast helps translate this masterwork into a sonic experience worthy of its legacy, including Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis, and more. Setting the stage for their performance is an unprecedented cinematic soundscape featuring an original musical score by British Academy Award winner James Hannigan. Fans will especially revel in a new twist for the audio adaptation: Neil Gaiman himself serves as the narrator. Follow him as he leads listeners along a winding path of myths, imagination and, often, terror. Even in your wildest dreams, you’ve never heard anything like this.

I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did but I want to say right away that I wouldn’t recommend this audiobook to people who have never read the comics before. It’s been a very long time for me but I did remember the most important bits as well as some characters and subplots. And that helped enormously with keeping the plot lines straight, remembering which character was related to whom and how that fits into the greater timeline and so on. Going in with no prior knowledge is not something I would do!

So, now that’s out of the way, if you have read the comic books – the first three have been adapted here – then chances are you’ll be as impressed as I was that comic books can actually make good audiobooks. It seems strange that a medium which relies so much on the visual aspect could translate to audible content so well. With Neil Gaiman as the narrator, images are still being drawn in a way, except in your mind instead of on the page. And while it’s definitely a very different experience from reading the books, it was in no way a lesser one.

Also, just let me get this out of the way before I explode: James McAvoy is SUCH A FANTASTIC ACTOR! I know, I know, lots of great actors out there and lots of them do voice acting, blablabla. But the reason I’m so taken with McAvoy’s portrayal of Morpheus is that I remember him as the lead role in another Neil Gaiman audioplay, done by the BBC. Neverwhere (extremely highly recommend, btw) was a brilliant audioplay in which McAvoy played the slightly lost but good-hearted protagonist who stumbles into a magical London beneath the London we know. I have listened to that audioplay many times and so McAvoy’s voice kind of belonged to Richard Mayhew in my brain. I was worried that suddenly hearing him as Morpheus wouldn’t work for me. I was very wrong!
Not only does he change his voice enough for the characters to sound completely distinct, but everything about the way he delivers lines is different too. Morpheus’ way of talking has a certain cadence to it, a gravity that reflects his nature as an Endless. I realize it’s their job and all but I still can’t get over how well certain actors can slip into different roles and appear as completely different people, especially when they do it with nothing but their voice. So. James McAvoy: Voice God!As for the story itself, I won’t go into a lot of detail here. It starts out with a group of power-hungry men trying to capture Death and thus, ensuring eternal, or at least prolonged, life for themselves. Instead of Death, however, they find themselves with a disgruntled Dream on their hands whom they keep captive for many decades. With Morpheus stuck in his prison and nobody else to do his job, a series of events is set into motion that will ripple out for many years to come.
So Morpheus is trying to break out of his prison and set the world right again. That means finding some important objects, punishing the creatures who’ve been doing mischief while he was gone, and righting wrongs wherever possible.
After that, it isn’t so much Morpheus that we follow but we rather jump around following a cast of other characters who – in some way or another – are connected to Morpheus. It could be someone who has suffered from Morpheus imprisonment, someone who threatenes the Dream realm, someone who is simply in a certain place at the right time… I don’t want to spoil any of the episodes for you but be warned that the audiobook, just like the comics, does feel episodic. There are some longer plots that carry on through several episodes but generally, you can enjoy this one chapter at a time and get a well-rounded little story.

The intertwining stories can get confusing at times and although the voice actors do a brilliant job, it wasn’t always easy to keep them apart. I also admit that I didn’t even recognize many of the famous voices in this production. I know what Taron Egerton sounds like normally, as well as Michael Sheen, Samantha Morton and Andy Serkis – I’ve seen movies with them and I should recognize their voices. But I guess that’s another sign of them being really good actors who can change their voice just enough for the not-overly-attentive listener to not notice who they are.
I will be listening to the next instalment as well when it comes out, although I definitely plan to read the comic books first. At certain times during the audiobook I was glad that I had an image in my head of what Morpheus looks like. I mean, him and Death are both striking characters with a very distinctive look. Hearing a description just isn’t the same as seeing it on the page. So, I’ll get myself the next three issues as soon as I can and then I’ll look forward to both the next part in the audiobook series (if indeed they make another one) as well as the TV show!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

 

Apparently, This is a Classic: Susan Cooper – The Dark Is Rising

Last year, I decided to catch up on some classic SFF that I hadn’t read yet because it’s so easy to get swept away by new publications. I started Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence and I found the first book quite nice. Not groundbreaking, but fun enough. The second book is a Newberry Medal winner and appears on all the lists of best fantasy ever so I had high expectations. Having read it, I honestly don’t know if me and all those other people have read the same book.

THE DARK IS RISING
by Susan Cooper

Published: Puffin, 1973
eBook: 272 pages
Series: The Dark is Rising #2
My rating: 3.5/10

Opening line: ‘Too many!’ James shouted, and slammed the door behind him. 

This night will be bad and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.

It’s Midwinter’s Eve, the day before Will’s eleventh birthday. But there is an atmosphere of fear in the familiar countryside around him. This will be a birthday like no other. Will discovers that he has the power of the Old Ones, and that he must embark on a quest to vanquish the terrifyingly evil magic of the Dark.

The second novel in Susan Cooper’s highly acclaimed Dark is Rising sequence.

Will Stanton is turning eleven just a few days before Christmas and strange things are happening. Birds behave weirdly, his wish for snow seems to be coming true, even though snow doesn’t usually stick around in his home town, and a homeless man appears to be following him around.
It doesn’t take long for Will (and us readers) to find out that Will is an Old One, a person involved in the epic battle between the Light and the Dark. No further details are given because I guess labeling things “good” and “evil” is enough. Will meets Merriman – whom we know from the first book – and is taught a little bit of the awesome powers he now possesses, such as making a fire out of nothing or talking with other Old Ones telepathically. Merrimen does not, however, tell Will not to use those powers because it draws the attention of the Dark… Which just seems like a cruel joke, considering any 11-year-old with the sudden power to make a fire would immediately try that power on his way home through the snow.
So Will does, gets into danger, and gets saved by Merriman who then gives  this vital bit of information to Will. And sadly, that whole introductory part of the book tells you exactly how the rest of it will go.

Will is the Sign-Seeker and he is entrusted with a quest by Merriman and the Lady and some other Old Ones, who happen to be Will’s neighbours. Six signs, shaped like a circle with a cross in the middle have to be found and put together. Again, that’s all they tell the boy. No clue as to where to start, what to do, who to talk to, how to use his powers to help him on this quest… not even any information on why the signs are important or what this battle between Light and Dark is all about. Nothing in this book is ever properly explained and therefore, nothing really makes sense. There are these signs and they get cold when evil is around and Will has to protect them somehow? He also gets this ancient book to read which conveniently pours all the knowledge he nees magically into his brain (forgetting that some of it might be interesting to the readers as well) but which doesn’t change anything about Will’s behaviour, powers, or the way he continues on his quest.

About that qBildergebnis für the dark is rising cooperuest: it may say that Will has to “seek” these magical signs but Will  doesn’t actually do anything in this entire book. Will comes across people who either straight up give him one of the signs or at least tell him exactly what to do to get to it. Will gets in danger occasionaly but those scenes also fell flat because he is immediately rescued by a convenient other Old One (they pop out of the ground whenever the plot requires it). So any tension there might have been is taken out by the author. Will is the most passive protagonist I’ve read in a long time and I don’t see why I should like him. There’s nothing about him to like (or dislike, for that matter). He is just a blank human-shaped something that does what he’s told by complete strangers who say they are the Light and he’s one of them and then he collects signs on his belt and hopes someone will save his ass when the Dark gets too close to him. Let me tell you, this was the opposite of engaging and exciting.

The part I enjoyed the most was actually the non-fantasy aspects. Will’s family is huge and while I have no idea which of the 12 siblings is which I really loved reading about their Christmas excitement, their childish banter, their joy at opening presents and so on. They go carol singing at one point and although there’s really nothing all that special about that part, I found myself enjoying the book way more than during any of the epic blahblah that was happening in between. Again, twelve siblings is a lot and most of them didn’t even get to speak, but the ones that do even felt like real characters with a distinct personality. Chatterbox Mary or calm and reliable Paul come to mind. They felt way more alive than Will ever did.

So to sum it all up, this book has three gigantic problems: a passive protagonist, no world building whatsoever, a thin plot without any real stakes.
What worked was the writing itself. I found the prose quite nice and it built up a great atmosphere of this wintery landscape and of Will jumping around in time – oh yeah, the Old Ones can just go through time somehow but don’t ask me how because with one exception where they go through an actual door, nobody explains how this works or if Will could do it by himself or whatever.
The whole quest never feels like a quest because Will just goes about his everyday life, doing whatever he would be doing anyway and then suddenly magic happens to him and one of the Old Ones is there and hands him a sign or tells him how to get it. He goes and gets it and we’re back to regular life until the whole thing starts over again until finally, all six signs are collected and can be united. Because reasons.

When I had finally reached the end of this tedious repetitive bore of a book, I felt quite cheated because there wasn’t even a big epic fight at the end. Sure, Will faces the Rider (kind of the boss of the Dark, at least in this book) and for the first time has to make a decision on his own, but then – conveniently as everything in this story – things just fall into place and Will can go back to doing whatever he was doing before. Merrimen and the Lady – whoever the hell she really is – conclude that now another one of the four big objects has been restored. The first one was the Grail from the first book which means two more are coming. So I guess that means two more books with “quests” and then, finally, the showdown between the Light and the Dark?

Look, I enjoyed the first book well enough but I would have just let it stand on its own if this series wasn’t hyped as such a classic of children’s literature, mentioned in the same breath with Narnia. If this second volume is any indication of how the series will continue, I’ll just call it quits here and go back to those new releases where plot and character and world building actually matter.

MY RATING: 3.5/10 – Quite bad

The State of SFF – February 2021

Ah, 2021. We had such high hopes for you. Of course we all knew, the pandemic wouldn’t suddenly go away but progress has been… let’s say sluggish, at least in my country. Well, at least my grandfather has been vaccinated already and the rest of my family is waiting their turn, doing the same stuff we’ve been doing for the last 10 months. Working from home whenever possible, wearing masks, barely going outside. At least there are books, right?

Quickie News

  • The Dunk and Egg novella prequels to A Song of Ice and Fire are in early development at HBO. I personally look forward to this much more than any other spinoffs because these novellas are really good and a fun, lighter addition to the world of Westeros.
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  • Author Storm Constantine has passed away. She is best-known for her Wraeththu Chronicles, which begin with The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit.
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  • Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow might be coming to FX. I’ve just recently read this book and it ripped my heart out. So I’m very much rooting for an adaptation, especially one written by Queen’s Gambit showrunner Scott Frank!

Wheel of Time Concept art revealed

This reminds me that I should maybe finally start reading The Wheel of Time, something I’ve been planning to do for ever and somehow never managed. If you’ve somehow missed the news, Amazon is developing The Wheel of Time as a TV show and fans are rightfully excited.
Now, some concept art has been revealed that evokes the exact epic fantasy feelings I have been hoping for. Although I haven’t yet read the series, I am super excited for the TV version. Now somebody please kick my ass into gear and make me read The Eye of the World.

The Wheel of Time Preview Honors "The Eye of the World" Anniversary

Shadow and Bone (Netflix) first look

Shadow and Bone First Look Photos and Characters Posters Released by NetflixWe’ve got a first look at what the Grishaverse Netflix show will be like. So far, character posters and some stills have been revealed and no matter if you’re part of the Grisha fandom or not, you have to admit that the costumes look fantastic!

I can’t wait for April 23rd (my Netflix reminder has been set for weeks) to discover how the cast will tackle their roles as well as how the two storylines of the Grisha Trilogy and the Six of Crows duology will be intertwined. Maybe they’ll do a Witcher and simply mix scenes set in different time periods, having the audience figure it all out. Or maybe they changed the plot so characters who never meet in the books do so in the show? I have no idea but I am excited!

jaspar, inej, and kaz draped in shadows

Exciting February Publications

You guys, February is going to be awesome! There’s a good mix of authors I already know and new-to-me authors but all of them have books coming out that tickle my interest. Also, this month’s covers are pretty stunning, don’t you think?

EVERINA MAXWELL – WINTER’S ORBIT

I am beyond excited for this space opera romance where a prince has to marry a guy to save the world (I guess) and then they fall in love. Marketing promises a trope-feast of the best kind and I cannot wait. Also, this is the UK cover because I like it more than the US version.

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Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.


T. L. HUCHU – THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD

Edinburgh, ghosts, and a cynical teen. Need I say more?

52205603. sy475 Sixth Sense meets Stranger Things in T. L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, a sharp contemporary fantasy following a precocious and cynical teen as she explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh.

WHEN GHOSTS TALK SHE WILL LISTEN

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and they sure do love to talk. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to those they left behind. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and strength. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will rock her world.

Ropa will dice with death as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. And although underground Edinburgh hides a wealth of dark secrets, she also discovers an occult library, a magical mentor and some unexpected allies.

Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?


GENEVIEVE GORNICHEC – THE WITCH’S HEART

A witch falls in love with Loki and that’s really all I need to know. But this also has a more literary feel to it, so maybe we’ll get a Norse mythology version of what Madeline Miller does with Greek myths?

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When a banished witch falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki, she risks the wrath of the gods in this moving, subversive debut novel that reimagines Norse mythology.

Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.


NAMINA FORNA – THE GILDED ONES

I’ve had an ARC of this book for months which means I’ve been excited for just as long. As with a lot of YA books, I feel an underlying dread that it could be the same cheap old story in new clothing, but I am quite hopeful that this will turn out to be great. That cover is definitely a stunner!

40024121. sy475 Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.


ALIETTE DE BODARD – FIREHEART TIGER

You can’t really go wrong with Aliette de Bodard but when you mention The Goblin Emperor and Howl’s Moving Castle in the blurb, just go ahead and take my money.

53317495. sy475 Award-winning author Aliette de Bodard returns with a powerful romantic fantasy that reads like The Goblin Emperor meets Howl’s Moving Castle in a pre-colonial Vietnamese-esque world.

Fire burns bright and has a long memory….

Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.

Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.

Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?


SARAH GAILEY – THE ECHO WIFE

I love Sarah Gailey’s writing so much! They come up with new and interesting ideas, not least of them a husband cheating on his wife… with herself. I can’t wait to see how Gailey tackles clones and murder and whatever else they’ve put into this book. This is one of my most anticipated releases of the year.

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“When they said all happy families are alike, I don’t think this is what they meant…”

Evelyn Caldwell’s husband Nathan has been having an affair — with Evelyn Caldwell. Or, to be exact, with a genetically cloned replica.

After a morning that begins with a confrontation and ends with Nathan’s body bleeding out on the kitchen floor, the two Caldwell wives will have to think fast—before sharing everything includes sharing a jail cell.

The Echo Wife is a non-stop thrill ride of lies, betrayal, and identity, perfect for fans of Big Little Lies and Killing Eve.


BECKY CHAMBERS – THE GALAXY AND THE GROUND WITHIN

February is good to us! Becky Chambers brings us a new Wayfarers novel so our need for cozy space opera, diverse characters, and a plot that doesn’t rely on action or blood and murder will be filled. Plus, the trope of being stuck in a place with complete strangers that you slowly get to know better totally works for me.

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With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.


NICOLE LESPERANCE – THE WIDE STARLIGHT

This is my February wild card. I have no idea whether this book will be as great as I hope but magical Northern Lights, a mysteriously disappearing mother, and a journey through a Northern setting sounds too good to miss.

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The Hazel Wood meets The Astonishing Color of After in this dreamy, atmospheric novel that follows sixteen-year-old Eli as she tries to remember what truly happened the night her mother disappeared off a glacier in Norway under the Northern Lights.

Never whistle at the Northern Lights, the story goes, or they’ll sweep down from the sky and carry you away.
Sixteen-year-old Eline Davis knows it’s true. She was there ten years ago, on a frozen fjord in Svalbard, Norway, the night her mother whistled at the lights and then vanished.

Now Eli lives an ordinary life with her dad on Cape Cod. But when the Northern Lights are visible over the Cape for just one night, she can’t resist the possibility of seeing her mother again. So she whistles—and it works. Her mother appears, with snowy hair, frosty fingertips and a hazy story of where she’s been all these years. And she doesn’t return alone.

Along with Eli’s mother’s reappearance come strange, impossible things. Narwhals swimming in Cape Cod Bay, meteorites landing in Eli’s yard, and three shadowy princesses with ominous messages. It’s all too much, too fast, and Eli pushes her mother away. She disappears again—but this time, she leaves behind a note that will send Eli on a journey across continents, to the northern tip of the world:

Find me where I left you.


News from the blog

January was not great. It wasn’t terrible either, but unfortunately I picked up some books that I had high expectations for and that I ended up disliking. On the other hand, I finished a trilogy, re-read an old favorite (still good) and liked one book more than I had expected.

What I read in January:

  • Stina Leicht – Persephone Station
    unfocused – bland characters – terrible dialogue – cool ideas
  • Alechia Dow – The Sound of Stars
    cheesy romance – half-assed world building – repetitive plot
  • Various Authors – Faraway
    great twists on fairy tales – sometimes dark – good writing – Soman Chainani rocks!
  • Naomi Novik – A Deadly Education
    slow start  – cool monsters – lots of open questions – shouldn’t have liked it but somehow did
  • Holly Black – How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories
    nice little addition to the Folk of the Air Trilogy – not groundbreaking but good – lovely illustrations
  • Marissa Meyer – Supernova
    epic ending to the trilogy – loooong middle part – not my favorite but liked it
  • Michael Ende – The Neverending Story (re-read)
    fantastic ideas – writing style felt kind of distant – still great after all these years

Currently reading:

  • Neil Gaiman – Sandman (full cast audiobook) (re-read)
  • John Crowley – Little, Big
  • Various Authors – From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Nnedi Okorafor – Remote Control

I have two current reads that I consider longer projects. The Star Wars anthology is a chonker of a book and I’m not reading it all in one go. A few stories here or there is working well for me. That’s particularly nice when I’ve had an exhausting day and just feel like reading a few pages of something. And thanks to the anthology I’ve already discovered some authors that I want to read more of.
Little, Big on the other hand is taking me longer because it’s the kind of book you need to savor. It’s not about the plot so much as about discovering what the hell is going on and just enjoying the ride. And let’s not forget the language is beautiful and sometimes makes me linger and just admire how well Crowley can string a sentence together.

Until next month: Stay safe, stay kind, and keep reading. 🙂