Emma Donoghue – Kissing the Witch

Because of the Dumbledore’s Army readathon, my first book of the year was a fantastic and diverse read. I chose this book first because it’s short and I needed to start 2017 with a feeling of success. So, yay, for reading my first book on the first day of the year. And double-yay for it being a great read!

kissing the witchKISSING THE WITCH
by Emma Donoghue

Published by: Harper Collins, 1997
Ebook: 228 pages
Short story collection
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Till she came it was all cold.

Thirteen tales are unspun from the deeply familiar, and woven anew into a collection of fairy tales that wind back through time. Acclaimed Irish author Emma Donoghue reveals heroines young and old in unexpected alliances–sometimes treacherous, sometimes erotic, but always courageous. Told with luminous voices that shimmer with sensuality and truth, these age-old characters shed their antiquated cloaks to travel a seductive new landscape, radiantly transformed. Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother; Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire.
Acclaimed writer Emma Donoghue spins new tales out of old in a magical web of thirteen interconnected stories about power and transformation and choosing one’s own path in the world. In these fairy tales, women young and old tell their own stories of love and hate, honor and revenge, passion and deception. Using the intricate patterns and oral rhythms of traditional fairy tales, Emma Donoghue wraps age-old characters in a dazzling new skin.

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Twisted fairy tales are nothing new, not even genderbent ones, so it takes a bit more to impress me. Emma Donoghue doesn’t stray too far off the path in her versions of the most famous and well-known fairy tales. She revisits Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, Rumpelstilstkin, and many more. The plot doesn’t change all that and the main hook appears to be that almost all fairy tale couples end up to be two women. Whether it’s Cinderella who falls for her fairy godmother or Beauty who discovers what is really behind Beast’s mask, if there is romance, it’s between women.

But that’s not what I found so amazing (although it is wonderfully refreshing). It wasn’t even the plot or the way Donoghue tells her stories that I found extraordinary. Even the structure of this collection is a fairly obvious one. At the end of each tale, the protagonist asks another character about their tale. They tell it and at the end of their tale, they, in turn, ask a character they met about their story. And so it goes on and on until the end of the collection. This has been done many times before and it has been done with fairy tales as well, but despite that, the structure drew my attention to something amazing.

We all know fairy tales are terrible to women and children. You can either be a beautiful but vapid princess, a fairy (godmother), or a villainous, jealous, evil female antagonist. And either way, horrible things will happen to you in a fairy tale. But what I had never noticed until now is how many fairy tales, especially Donoghue’s versions, have exactly two important female characters, the two who really carry the story, never mind the prince. Without the godmother, Cinderella would never make it to the ball. Without the witch, the little mermaid would just have to live without her prince. Without the jealous mother, Snow White would have grown up like a normal child. And since each story in Emma Donoghue’s collection invariably ends with one woman asking another about her story, it becomes obvious that every fairy tale has at least two female characters who do meaningful stuff. I loved that and I am going to pay closer attention when I read my next fairy tale retellings.

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What I didn’t like so much is how carelessly these connections between tales were made. You must remember that we meet each story teller in somebody else’s story first. So the horse in The Goose Girl apparently used to be Rapunzel – which is totally fine if you use some handwavium to explain that away (I mean, come on! Different species! Yet the damn horse only tells the Rapunzel story, not how it went from woman to horse… that’s a tale I’d gladly read any day.) but Emma Donoghue never does and never even bothers to mention the gaps between fairy tales. The little “connections” between these tales may sound nice enough and be useful as a sort of bridge between single stories but they make no sense whatsoever. And that makes them feel gimmicky and cheap.

But I never intended to read this collection as one larger story. I had no trouble enjoying every tale on its own merits, and these merits are pretty good. Donoghue writes beautifully and changes tone according to the tale told and who is telling it. As with any collection, I liked certain tales better than others, but I definitely enjoyed the variety. Sometimes we see things from the princess’ point of view, sometimes the villain’s. This is neither the most beautifully written I’ve ever read, nor the most original, nor the one with the cleverest twists. But I absolutely enjoyed every page of this collection and how it puts women front and center and allows them to take back the stories which have treated them so terribly.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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#DAReadAThon

Hello, New Year! It’s nice to meet you. Let me welcome you by collecting lots of House Points for Ravenclaw during the Dumbledore’s Army Read-A-Thon (hosted by Read at Midnight).

Here’s my challenge ID card:

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I particularly look forward to this read-a-thon because it promotes diverse books, it lasts for two whole weeks, and it gives us Potter nerds a chance to show our House pride. I have prepared a list of books to tackle for the challenge – each of them is matched with a spell from the Potter universe. More details about the books I chose to read, what spell they correspond with, and how I like them, below.

Let the reading begin!

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There are several ways to collect House points, the most obvious one of which is reading! Per 10 pages read, you gain your house 1 point and if you finish a book, that’s an additional 5 points. A review for the DA Readathon gets you another 5 points. But you can also collect points on social media by tweeting about current reads or giving book recommendations. The same goes for Instagram photos of your TBR or current #DAReadathon book.

Points for pages read:  101

  • Kissing the Witch: 228
  • Labyrinth Lost: 336
  • Six of Crows: 285
  • Borderline: 168

Points for books finished:  10

  • Emma Donoghue – Kissing the Witch
  • Zoraida Córdova – Labyrinth Lost

Points for reviews posted: 10

Points for social media: 5

POINTS EARNED FOR RAVENCLAW: 126

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dareadathon-expecto-patronum

My first book has been chosen and it is Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue. This means I’m starting my Dumbledore’s Army readathon with the Patronus charm.

This book retells all the most famous fairy tales with a lesbian twist. Because I have loved fairy tales for as long as I can think, I consider this topic one of personal significance. I’ve never read anything by Emma Donoghue before but, so far, I really like what she’s done with the Grimms’ tales.

kissing the witch

Each short story ends with one character asking a second one about how they came to be where they are. And then they tell their story. In that story, they, in turn, ask someone else about their past, and so it goes on and on. I already have some issues with how everything fits together (because it doesn’t) but the stories themselves are lovely! Sometimes, we read about the princesses, sometimes the villains, but the story, although familiar, is never quite what you’d expect.

January 1st: Because this is rather a short book, I managed to finish it on the first day of the readathon. I hope I’ll have a review up by next week. On to my next spell…

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dareadthon-lumos

My Lumos book is Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova and I cannot wait to get started. A lot of people had this book on their readathon TBR, so I guess we’ll all be sort of buddy reading it, which makes this even more fun.

labyrinth-lost

What convinced me to read this book next was the gorgeous cover and the fantastic map at the beginning. It looks dark and creepy and just like my kind of (under?)world – I just couldn’t resist. At 336 pages, this will take me a bit longer than my first book but I am super motivated to read all 7 books for the readathon.

January 2nd: Okay, so I totally love this! After only one chapter, I already feel at home in this family of brujas. The sisters are adorable and just like sisters should be. Fighting over favorite clothes, who gets to use the bathroom first, but a loving family nonetheless. I cannot wait to find out everything that’s going on here.

January 5th: I couldn’t read very much these last days because work is… well, work. It makes me fall asleep as soon as I see my bed. No time for reading. But tomorrow is a holiday so I’ll have the entire long weekend to catch up. Labyrinth Lost continues to be wonderful. In fact, it’s getting better and better. I love Alejandra, the protagonist (and her family!), and I also really, really enjoy the potential love interests. I see two characters with potential, either of them may become a romantic partner, or neither of them. But the not knowing makes this  a highly refreshing book.

Evening: Aaaaand I’m home from work and have officially started my weekend. I am starting to seriously love this book even though I only read a few pages on the train today.

January 8th: So, I’m almost done with this book (still loving it) but I didn’t have a lot of time to read any other DA readathon books. On the upside, I finally went to see Rogue One on Saturday and it was much better than I expected. Plus, I still have to finish reading Flashfall, which I started very late last year and which, although very exciting at first, has kind of run out of steam by now.
However, I’m pretty sure I’ll have a review of Labyrinth Lost up next week and hopefully finish the rest of my readathon books.

January 10th: I finished this book yesterday and although I saw one part of the ending coming, I loved it to bits. The feeling of family, the warmth of friendship, and watching Alex come of age was just beautiful. My review is now online!

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I also couldn’t resist any longer and started Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I picked it because of the hype surrounding the duology and again, just two chapters in, I am so hooked I want to just stay home all week and read this book!

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January 2nd: I had only ever read the first Grisha book by Leigh Bardugo before but if Six of Crows continues to be as good as its first chapters, I believe I’ve been missing out. Holy shit, how can I like both Inej and Kaz so much after one short encounter?

January 5th: As much as I adore Labyrinth Lost, I think it’s time to switch it up a bit and continue this amazeballs book! I still don’t know what the plot is really going to be about but I adore the characters so far.

January 11th: This is so much fun. Kaz is gathering a crew for his big job and you’d think the introduction of each character would be boring but it’s not. Bardugo uses the time for world-building as well as showing us who these guys are. I already have trouble picking a favorite (I was just introduced to Matthias) but I adore the names used in this novel. Ketterdam, the Barrel, the Dregs… names and places aren’t just words here – they have meaning and they paint pictures in your head. So even if you don’t get a description of the Dregs, you still get the idea that it’s not a nice place, that it’s a dark underbelly sort of area of the city. Just because of its name. Well done, Leigh Bardugo!

January 14th: OMG, there is so much going on here! While I am excited to see how the group will get the job done, what I find infinitely more interesting is the relationships between the members of the group. First of all – Nina and Inej, the only two girls, are friends. I love it. I love how effortlessy normal they are, how they are nice to each other, care about each other. I just hope they don’t become part of a love triangle, but  so far I trust Leigh Bardugo.
Nina and Matthias also have a… weird thing going on. These two are totally in love, I am sure of it even though it was never stated. But he also wants to kill her? And she got him sent to prison? Talk about baggage. I finally have reading time, and it’s wonderful to dive into this world for an hour or two without interruptions.

January 15th: I’ve read more than half of this book but I don’t think I can finish it in time. Plus, during a Twitter chat, somebody massively spoiled part of the story and now I’m reading certain chapters thinking about nothing else but that spoiler. It’s like a big cloud of doom hanging over the book. However, the book is still fun, and I hope that spoiled one wasn’t the only twist that’s coming up.

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da-readathon-expelliarmus

Because I can’t ever read just one book at a time, I had to start with my next Hogwarts spell right after finishing the last book and while still reading Six of Crows. Because that book is so immersive, I wanted something with a completely different world and tone, where I couldn’t possible mix up the stories in my brain. And here it is:

borderline

From what I’ve heard of this novel – and I have only heard good things – the protagonist has a failed suicide attempt in her past, lost both legs, and has Borderline Personality Disorder. If that doesn’t sound intriguing, I don’t know what does. And after reading the first few pages, I am already in love with the voice. Plus, I read about disabled characters so rarely, it’s about time to expand my horizons. Let’s get our Expelliarmus on, right?

January 11th: I read the first few chapters before bed yesterday and I am so surprised. Urban Fantasy is usually not my thing, because I just can’t read about another snarky, yet super sexy and capable, fighting machine heroine anymore who solves crimes with werewolves and vampires. But this? This is awesome! I can safely say I have never read about a character like Millie and although we have nothing in common, I love reading about her.

January 14th: This is a fantastic book! I only wish I’d had more energy during the last few days to actually read. Now that the weekend is finally here, I’ll need to get my butt in gear and catch up a little. I love Millie’s narration, I find the world fascinating, but I was so exhausted after work every day of the week that I only read a chapter or two before bed.

As much as this is a page-turner, I’ve been spending most of my time with Six of Crows, so I only read about a third of Borderline. Another book I won’t be able to finish during the readathon. But not only do I look forward to reading the rest of it, I am already eyeing the sequel which will come out this year.

January 15th: I’m a bit confused about the rules of the readathon. If today is still included in the challenge, I might just have a shot at finishing another book. Wish me luck!

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Sarah Porter – Vassa in the Night

I am so glad that one of the last books I read in 2016 was this weird, atmospheric modern twist on Russian fairy tales. It’s by no means a perfect book but I fell in love with Sarah Porter’s ideas and the way she incorporates fairy tale elements into a world sort of like our own, just more magical.

vassa in the nightVASSA IN THE NIGHT
by Sarah Porter

Published by: Tor Teen, 2016
Hardcover: 296 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: When Night looked down, it saw its own eyes staring back at it.

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

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The nights have gotten weird in Brooklyn. Vassa and her two stepsisters all know something is up, that the nights feel too long, that although they seem to drag on forever, time itself doesn’t slow down. But something is definitely not right. When Vassa storms out on a dare and walks straight into the local BY’s – a 24 hour convenience store whose parking lot is surrounded by heads on spikes (yeah, I know), that’s when things get going.

I loved every aspect of this story. In the prelude, we learn that something happened to Night, which explains the strange way nights behave for our protagonist. In the first chapter, we meet Vassa, a wonderfully practical girl, and her doll friend, Erg. This is where I started figuring out that this was going to be a weird book. Talking dolls, a supermarket whose owner beheads shoplifters, and nobody really batting an eye? When Vassa arrives at BY’s which is also supported on huge chicken legs, the connection to the Russian folktale couldn’t be clearer. BY stands, in this case, for Babs Yagg, the old and scary owner. And because Vassa isn’t all that careful, she gets herself into a big mess and has to work for Babs for three nights… however long those last.

While I marvelled at the originality of the plot and the way Sarah Porter mixes folktale and modern Brooklyn. But there is also a lot going on under the surface. Vassa’s relationship to her doll Erg was as touching as it was strange, and until the end, I was never sure what exactly Erg was or why she was there, such a clearly magical object in Vassa’s otherwise magic-free life. As we get to know Vassa more, it also becomes clear that her family situation isn’t exactly easy. Sure, the stepsisters aren’t as bad as Cinderella’s but their family is still a broken one.

I wish I could tell you all the other little things and ideas that made this book so much fun for me, but at the same time, I want you to be as surprised as I was. Well, one thing I’ll tell you is how refreshing it was not to have some forced romance pushed onto a story that doesn’t need one. Vassa is a teenage girl and she does show interest in certain characters, but there is no relationship drama because – come on! – Vassa has no time for that shit. She has to save her neighborhood, maybe even the world, and trying to survive leaves little time for flirting or putting on fancy clothes. I LOVED THAT!

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A lot of reviews I’ve read complain about the book not making sense or the plot being too crazy. I didn’t have that impression at all. In fact, there is a beautiful internal logic to everything, although, sure, dreamwalking and speaking to dolls while working the night shift in a chicken-legged convenience store can be construed as slightly insane. And I concede that certain side characters didn’t really have a place in the story. I loved Picnic and Pangolin, I adored the swans, but like many others, I thought this would have been a better story if Bea was never mentioned. But her presence also didn’t do a lot of harm, so you know.

The one thing that I believe still hasn’t reached its potential is Porter’s language. There are already moments of greatness in Vassa in the Night, stuff you’d want to hang on your wall as an inspirational quote, but then there are also passages that weren’t impressive, just pure worksmanship. The words get the meaning across, but there’s nothing extra to them. The only reason I mention this is because I think Sarah Porter is the kind of writer who gets better with every book.  If you hadn’t guessed, I will be keeping an eye out for any new books from this author because although it wasn’t perfect, this book completely took me out of my world and into another and it’s playing with fairy tales. What more can a girl ask for, really?

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

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Best of 2016 – My favorite books of the year

One more week, then this miserable year will be over. I think 2016 has been tough on many people and a fresh start is much needed. At least when it comes to books, however, my year wasn’t that bad. I discovered a new author that I will probably love forever, I finally read one of Brandon Sanderson’s gigantic Stormlight Archive books, I finished a few book series I was reading, and I learned (yet again) that not all YA fiction that is hyped and marketed to death actually ends up being bad.

Here are my top books of 2016

(in no particular order)

It’s interesting that I read most of these books during the first half of the year. In summer, I took a break from reading and the second half of 2016 was pretty stressful so, again, I cut back on reading time. I’m also surprised that most of my favorite books of the year have either orange or blue-ish covers…

My happiest discovery of the year is easily C.S.E. Cooney. The woman is a genius with words and I have fall in love with her fiction hard.

Honorable author mentions must also include T. Kingfisher, Ursula Vernon’s pseudonym under which she writes retold fairy tales. I expected something cute and fluffy but was served a surprisingly dark, yet incredibly charming version of Bluebeard in her book The Seventh Bride.

I read a few series ending books, all of which managed to nail the ending to their story. Cat Valente’s Fairyland was the hardes to part with (to nobody’s surprise) but I also shed a tear or two when I closed The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Plus many, many tears while reading Terry Pratchett’s The Shepherd’s Crown. None of these books was perfect on its own but as they each had the tough job of ending a beloved series, they did a phenomenal job. I left all of these series satisfied, although with a major book hangover.

2016 was an excellent year for new books and I am still very much behind on reading sequels to books I loved and other new publications. But I fully intend to use the last week of the year (incidentally a week off work, muahahaha) for catching up. If you want to help me prioritize, let me know the one book published in 2016 you think I should read!

Happy Holidays everyone!

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books of 2017 I’m Looking Forward To

Here’s a great topic for Top Ten Tuesday which I totally missed so I’m doing it now, on a Friday, because I’m rebellious like that. Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. 2016 has been such a busy year for great new releases, even better than 2015 And I am SO. VERY. BEHIND. on reading all of those new books. However, I already have a list of stuff I’m looking forward to next year. Here are my top ten:

Top Ten 2017 Releases I’m Looking Forward To

In order to spare you my incessant gushing about Cat Valente, I have split this list into sections. You can skip whichever one you want to avoid.

Part I: The Valentes

Catherynne M. Valente – The Lords of Glass Town

The Brontës as children, stepping into their made-up portal fantasy? Written by Cat Valente?! GIMME GIMME GIMME! The book doesn’t have a cover yet (I’m sure it will be epic) but here’s what little Goodreads says about the plot:

The Lords of Glass Town follows Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Anne Brontë as they discover a portal into Glass Town, a Narnia-like fantasy world of their own creation.

Catherynne M. Valente – Matryoshka

Unlike The Lords of Glass Town, I’m not sure this will actually be published in 2017. If it is, I’ll be the first to pounce on it and in this case, I’ll probably need the UK and US edition to go with my UK and US editions of Deathless.

The Deathless companion novel is a retelling of Ivan and the Firebird set during the children’s evacuation of Leningrad.

Catherynne M. Valente – The Spindle of Necessity

Valente said recently on Twitter that this third of her Prester John books would be Kickstarted next year. I still haven’t read the second book in the trilogy, but come on. Like I’m going to miss out on that. Plus, if it’s on Kickstarter, there may be some awesome extra swag to go with the book. Cat Valente is the one author I’ll gladly throw all my money at. No regrets.

Catherynne M. Valente – The Refrigerator Monologues

refrigerator-monologuesCat Valente has been busy writing, it appears, with four books coming out in a single year. This happens to be the perfect amount of Valente books per annum, if you ask me, and she could totally keep doing that forever and ever. AND this book is illustrated, so yay!

The lives of six female superheroes and the girlfriends of superheroes. A ferocious riff on women in superhero comics.
From the New York Times bestselling author Catherynne Valente comes a series of linked stories from the points of view of the wives and girlfriends of superheroes, female heroes, and anyone who’s ever been “refrigerated”: comic book women who are killed, raped, brainwashed, driven mad, disabled, or had their powers taken so that a male superhero’s storyline will progress.
In an entirely new and original superhero universe, Valente subversively explores these ideas and themes in the superhero genre, treating them with the same love, gravity, and humor as her fairy tales. After all, superheroes are our new fairy tales and these six women have their own stories to share.

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Part II: The Obvious Choices

Scott Lynch – The Thorn of Emberlain

thorn of emberlainNo idea if this will come out in 2017. It’s been pushed back several times and I’ll have to re-read The Republic of Thieves anyway. But despite my fading memories of a terrible reveal and new cliffhanger, I will look forward to this until it is finally in my hands.

With 50,000 copies sold of The Republic of Thieves and with praise from the likes of Joe Abercrombie and George RR Martin the saga of the Gentleman Bastard has become a favourite and key part of the fantasy landscape. And now Locke Lamora, thief, con-man, pirate, political deceiver must become a soldier.
A new chapter for Locke and Jean and finally the war that has been brewing in the Kingdom of the Marrows flares up and threatens to capture all in its flames.
And all the while Locke must try to deal with the disturbing rumours about his past revealed in The Republic of Thieves. Fighting a war when you don’t know the truth of right and wrong is one thing. Fighting a war when you don’t know the truth of yourself is quite another. Particularly when you’ve never been that good with a sword anyway…

Nnedi Okorafor – Binti: Home

binti-homeI adored Okorafor’s Tor.com novella, Binti, and I cannot wait for the sequel. Although Binti told a full story, the world is wide open for more and I am so glad Okorafor decided to share more of it with her readers. The cover is gorgeous again.

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she left her family to pursue her dream.
And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.
But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.
After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

Caitlín R. Kiernan – Agents of Dreamland

agents-of-dreamlandThe description actualyl doesn’t sound like my thing but it is a new Caitlín R. Kiernan novel and it’s sure to be weird and creepy and wonderful.

A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. Later that day he meets a woman in a diner to exchange information about an event that happened a week earlier for which neither has an explanation, but which haunts the Signalman.
In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible—the Children of the Next Level—and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. The future is coming and they will help to usher it in.
A day after the events at the ranch house which disturbed the Signalman so deeply that he and his government sought out help from ‘other’ sources, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe New Horizons. Something out beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact.
And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to what can save humanity.

Susan Dennard – Windwitch

windwitchHere’s an unexpected one. I didn’t think I’d come to like Truthwitch as much as I did. It had flaws, sure, but overall, the fun aspect was stronger and I find myself eagerly awaiting the sequel.

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In this follow-up to New York Times bestselling Truthwitch, a shadow man haunts the Nubrevnan streets, leaving corpses in his wake—and then raising those corpses from the dead. Windwitch continues the tale of Merik—cunning privateer, prince, and windwitch.

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Part IV: The Not-So-Obvious Choices

Katherine Arden – The Bear and the Nightingale

Ibear-and-the-nightingalef you read the synopsis, you’ll know why I want this. It has all my buzzwords right there. Fairy tales, Russian ones at that, a wild, willful girl – I need this!

A young woman’s family is threatened by forces both real and fantastical in this debut novel inspired by Russian fairy tales.
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

S. Jae-Jones – Wintersong

wintersongThis is a Labyrinth retelling/sequel/spinoff!!! I was worried for a long time because this could go so very, very wrong. However, a handful of early reviews are up (by authors and trusted people) and they all sound quite positive. This appears to be less YA-tropey than expected so I’m all in.

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.
All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.
But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.
Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

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Part V: Non-Fiction

Jo Walton – An Informal History of the Hugos

informal-history-of-the-hugosI feel like I’ve read a dozen informal histories of the Hugos during the last three years and their accompanying Hugo disasters. But next year I’ll actually be attending WordCon for the first time, so more Hugo writing is welcome. Plus, I love Jo Walton’s non-fiction.

The Hugo Awards, named after pioneer science-fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback, and voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Society, have been given out since 1953. They are widely considered the most prestigious award in science fiction.
Between 2010 and 2013, Jo Walton wrote a series of posts for Tor.com, surveying the Hugo finalists and winners from the award’s inception up to the year 2000. Her contention was that each year’s full set of finalists generally tells a meaningful story about the state of science fiction at that time.
Walton’s cheerfully opinionated and vastly well-informed posts provoked valuable conversation among the field’s historians. Now these posts, lightly revised, have been gathered into this book, along with a small selection of the comments posted by SF luminaries such as Rich Horton, Gardner Dozois, and the late David G. Hartwell.
Engaged, passionate, and consistently entertaining, this is a book for the many who enjoyed Walton’s previous collection of writing from Tor.com, the Locus Award-winning What Makes This Book So Great.

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Between starting this post and finishing it, I have accumulated a whole new list of books to look forward to in 2017. I believe it’s going to be a good year for SFF.

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Let’s start 2017 with a Read-a-thon – #DAReadAThon Sign-Up Post

I haven’t posted very much lately because all my time is taken up by catching up on all those unread books and, you know, the usual Christmas madness. And while I am pretty sure I’ll have to admit defeat by the end of the month (so many challenges unfinished), I intend to start the new year with a bang and read-a-thon right into 2017!

When I found this awesome challenge hosted by Aentee at Read at Midnight I knew I had to join.

The Dumbledore’s Army Read-a-Thon

Here’s what you need to know:

  • it runs from January 1st through January 15th 2017
  • it gives you great prompts on how to choose your books (more on that below)
    • the prompts are inspired by Harry Potter spells, which is so awesome!
  • it promotes the reading of diverse books
  • you can collect points for your Hogwarts house!!! (gamification works on me, I guess)
    • you get points for reading and for interacting with others on social media

And here’s my official sign-up card and a list of books I’m going to read for the seven prompts.

dina da-readathon

Choosing the books was super difficult because I want to read All The Things but I think I’ve got a pretty good lineup here. In case you’re participating and still looking for a good book to read, I added descriptions from Goodreads.dareadathon-stupefy

I think it’s safe to say that Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows has taken the internet by storm. When people wouldn’t stop posting about it and its sequel, I knew I had to have those books. The duology is sitting on my shelf, looking all pretty, and eagerly awaiting January. As far as I know, it features characters suffering from PTSD.

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Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

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I don’t think I’ve ever read a book by a Mexicon author or set in Mexico and Siliva Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise has been on my radar ever since it came out. Mexico City, music, the 80ies! What’s not to look forward to? Plus, look at that new cover with its incredible Stranger Things vibe… it’s the font, I know, but it totally makes me want to pick it up right now and read it.

A literary fantasy about love, music and sorcery, set against the background of Mexico City.
Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends — Sebastian and Daniela — and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. With help from this newfound magic, the three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love…
Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father’s funeral. It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, and it revives memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? And, is there any magic left?

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The marginalised group that I almost never read about is characters with disabilities. I thought about two different books to choose for this prompt (Corinne Duyvis – On the Edge of Gone and Mishell Baker – Borderline) but in the end, I am going with Borderline because my gut tells me to and because I really meant to read this book in 2016 and never got around to it.

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A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.
For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she’ll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble’s disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.
No pressure.

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My initial idea was to finally read something by Kameron Hurley but then I decided to go with another book that I’ve owned since it was published and that I desperately want to read. So my pick is Hild by Nicola Griffith.

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A brilliant, lush, sweeping historical novel about the rise of the most powerful woman of the Middle Ages: Hild.
Hild is born into a world in transition. In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, usually violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods’ priests are worrying. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief.
Hild is the king’s youngest niece. She has the powerful curiosity of a bright child, a will of adamant, and a way of seeing the world—of studying nature, of matching cause with effect, of observing human nature and predicting what will happen next—that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her. She establishes herself as the king’s seer. And she is indispensable—until she should ever lead the king astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, her family, her loved ones, and the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can read the world and see the future.
Hild is a young woman at the heart of the violence, subtlety, and mysticism of the early medieval age—all of it brilliantly and accurately evoked by Nicola Griffith’s luminous prose. Recalling such feats of historical fiction as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, Hild brings a beautiful, brutal world—and one of its most fascinating, pivotal figures, the girl who would become St. Hilda of Whitby—to vivid, absorbing life.

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This prompt is screaming for Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, a book telling the love story between Achilles and Patroclus. I bought this when it was new but even though the book is pretty slim, I always felt a little daunted. Now it’s time to finally read it.

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Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.

But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

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Whew! This is a hard one. Since I don’t want to get too personal here, I chose a book that encompasses my childhood and there is nothing that screams “Dina’s childhood” more than fairy tales. If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know about my slight obsession with this type of story. Finding a fairy tale retelling that also features diverse characters is a always worth a little victory dance. To mix things up, I’m going for a story collection instead of a novel: Emma Donoghue – Kissing the Witch

kissing the witch

Thirteen tales are unspun from the deeply familiar, and woven anew into a collection of fairy tales that wind back through time. Acclaimed Irish author Emma Donoghue reveals heroines young and old in unexpected alliances–sometimes treacherous, sometimes erotic, but always courageous. Told with luminous voices that shimmer with sensuality and truth, these age-old characters shed their antiquated cloaks to travel a seductive new landscape, radiantly transformed. Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother; Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire. Acclaimed writer Emma Donoghue spins new tales out of old in a magical web of thirteen interconnected stories about power and transformation and choosing one’s own path in the world. In these fairy tales, women young and old tell their own stories of love and hate, honor and revenge, passion and deception. Using the intricate patterns and oral rhythms of traditional fairy tales, Emma Donoghue wraps age-old characters in a dazzling new skin.

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I browsed through other participants’ TBRs for this challenge to find recommendations for books I haven’t thought of myself, and I came across this post. Isabella is going to read Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova and now, so am I. Thanks for helping me pick my last book for the read-a-thon. I am super excited to start reading.

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Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.
I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.
Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.
The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…
Beautiful Creatures meets Daughter of Smoke and Bone with an infusion of Latin American tradition in this highly original fantasy adventure.

I can’t wait to get started and dive into all these wonderful books. And if I can win some house points for Ravenclaw in the process, that makes it all the better.

What about you? Are you going to participate? If yes, what house are you reading for. I’ve seen some Slytherin and Hufflepuff sign-ups so far as well as a few fellow Ravenclaws, but surprisingly no Gryffindors yet.

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Paul Cornell – The Lost Child of Lychford

Remember how much I loved Paul Cornell’s Tor.com novella Witches of Lychford? Well, there’s a sequel novella out tomorrow that builds on everything the first story did so well and invents a whole new – and super creepy – danger for our three witches to fight. I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley. Thank you to the wonderful people at Tor.com!

THE LOST CHILD OF LYCHFORD
by Paul Cornell

Published by: Tor.com, 22nd November 2016
Ebook: 136 pages
Series: Lychford #2
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: The Reverend Lizzie Blackmore slowly blinked awake, and found, to her surprise, that she was already furious.

It’s December in the English village of Lychford – the first Christmas since an evil conglomerate tried to force open the borders between our world and… another.
Which means it’s Lizzie’s first Christmas as Reverend of St. Martin’s. Which means more stress, more expectation, more scrutiny by the congregation. Which means… well, business as usual, really.
Until the apparition of a small boy finds its way to Lizzie in the church. Is he a ghost? A vision? Something else? Whatever the truth, our trio of witches (they don’t approve of “coven”) are about to face their toughest battle, yet!
The Lost Child of Lychford is the sequel to Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford.

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There is something utterly magical about how Paul Cornell draws you into his story within a few short sentences. It’s been a while since I read the first book but I immediately felt back at home in the small town of Lychford, and with the three resident witches, Judith, Lizzie, and Autum. A new evil is threatening their already stressful lives, what with Lizzie preparing for her first Christmas as the reverend, Autumn trying online dating, and Judith… well just being Judith and dealing with the demons she’s been dealing with for a while.

If, like me, you have forgotten certain bits about the first book, don’t worry. They are called back into memory easily, without bogging down the plot. And I absolutely loved the plot. All three witches get into serious trouble and the way Cornell wrote their descent into strange behaviors was so expertly done, I couldn’t pick any specific scene where the changes first happen. Like the witches, I only noticed something was way off when it was already too late!

Great characters in shitty, seemingly impossible to get out of situations is the best thing you can give to a reader. Whether it’s a little ghost boy following you around or the borders of reality turning all wobbly, a lot is going on in Lychford but Cornell juggles it all beautifully. There is not much time in a novella to explain things or slowly build up a threat, so I was really happy with the dread I felt at the dangers our witches have to face.

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There were some truly creepy moments in here and the ghost boy is not the reason. Halloween may be over but if you want a little treat with just a hint of scary and a lot of heart, this book is for you. It was more the things that weren’t said that gave me the creeps. The way that the protagonists’ minds are warped means that we readers also get an unreliable version of events.

While not as much time is spent on introducing the characters – we know them already, after all – the plot is fast-paced and doesn’t let off until the end. The ending includes a crowning moment of awesome for one of the witches (not telling you which) as well as the hint of more to come. There are epic villains to be defeated and borders between worlds to save, and I for one hope that Paul Cornell and Tor.co will give us many more adventures with Judith, Lizzie, and Autum, these three witches who are so very different and work together so well.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

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Brandon Sanderson – The Bands of Mourning

I can’t believe it. I am actually all caught up on a Brandon Sanderson series. Granted, it’s only one of his many book series and I still have a prequel-novella to read but novel-wise, I am up to date. And now I have to wait first for the next book to come out and then for Graphic Audio to adapt it. Ah, the beautiful agony that is waiting for books…

bands-of-mourningTHE BANDS OF MOURNING
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2016
Hardcover: 447 pages
Series: Mistborn #6
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: “Telsin!” Waxillium hissed as he crept out of the training hut.

With The Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.
Now, with The Bands of Mourning, Sanderson continues the story. The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.

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Vin’s story is long over but her victory over the Lord Ruler has left its marks on the world. It also left physical relics, such as the fabled metalminds which the Lord Ruler used to make himself practically immortal. Wax and Wayne get tangled up in another adventure that has them search for these Bands. Marasi, Me-Laan, and even Steris, get to be part of the crew and they pick up some new friends – and enemies – along the way.

As in Shadows of Self, it felt like a number of sub-plots were being juggled, but juggled rather hectically and without as much planning as in the first Mistborn trilogy. Where plot strings beautifully wove together to create a bigger whole at the end, here it feels like every book introduces new side plots, new political factions and character side stories, only to unceremoniously drop some (Wayne’s attempts at redemption, or his obesseion with their weapons supplier, for example). Others feel like they should have been foreshadowed way earlier but were instead thrown in quickly and info-dumpy to prepare for the scenes to come.

But I was pretty forgiving of that because of the sheer creativity that is coming from this author. After having explored this world and magic system for five books (of not inconsiderable size) I loved how Sanderson still manages to find a new way (or several, really) to use this type of metal magic. There is very little I can say without spoiling but if you’ve come this far in the series you already know that there’s always another secret.

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This book also took me on quite an emotional joy-ride. Not only was there a lot going on and it was a thrill to follow the characters as they solve problems each in their own way – I will never forget Spoiled Tomato – but I have also come to love all of them for being who they are. Marasi has grown into herself and trusts as much in her instincts as in statistical data, Wayne is slightly more serious, although you still mustn’t take away his hat. Ever! And Wax, who has been through so much, is put through hell once more. The biggest surprise was Steris, in her cold mathematical manner, who showed kindness and courage and creativity in the face of danger. So yeah, I love that gang!

One more aspect took me by surprise, in a very positive way. I had only read one romance penned by Sanderson and while I liked it, many people found it silly. Here, however, we find romance in an unlikely place and I was quite surprised at how much I rooted for this particular couple to work things out. It also shows a deft hand at writing character – Sanderson may have shown us certain aspects of these characters in the previous books, but that doesn’t mean we truly know them. In The Bands of Mourning, almost all of them got to show a different side of themselves and it was great fun to discover how amazing this group truly is.

The very end, of course, dangles a new bit of information in front of our noses, only to end in a cliffhanger. The main story of The Bands of Mourning may be resolved, but Wax’s tale is not over yet, and in the big picture, we have only seen the slightest glimpse of what the Cosmere has to offer.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

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Here are my opinions on all the previous books in the series:

 

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Kendare Blake – Three Dark Crowns

I got this book in a bookish subscription box (The Nerdy Bookworm Box), otherwise I probably wouldn’t have read it so soon after publication. Before you pick this up, know that it is NOT what the synopsis promises. It’s not a royal Battle Royale, a bloody fight between three siblings to the death. It is the preparation for that fight. That’s not a spoiler, trust me, that’s a fair warning that will make you enjoy the book more.

three-dark-crownsTHREE DARK CROWNS
by Kendare Blake

Published by: Macmillan Children’s Books, 2016
Paperback: 407 pages
Series: Three Dark Crowns #1
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: A young queen stands barefoot on a wooden block with her arms outstretched.

Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.
But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.
If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

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We are introduced, one after the other, to each of the three queens fighting for the throne of Fennbirn, a magical island about which way too little is learned over the course of 400 pages. Katherine, weak and fragile, has been raised as a poisoner but her gift has still not properly set in. She is basically tortured on a daily basis by her host family, the Arrons. They let venomous snakes bite her, feed her all sorts of poisonous food, in order to build up resistance. But Kat comes away from it mostly scared and broken and full of scars.
Arsinoe is a naturalist and, just like her sister, shows very little gift. She is still waiting for her animal familiar while her best friend (and host sister) Jules has one of the most powerful gifts ever seen on the island. Her chapters are the longest and most detailed, because Jules is as much a protagonist as Arsinoe is.
Mirabella, already famous throughout Fennbirn, is the only queen with a powerful elemental gift. She can controll storms, lightning, and even fire. But she lives secluded and under constant surveillance by the priestesses of the Temple.

Three dark queens
are born in a glen,
sweet little triplets
will never be friends

Three dark sisters
all fair to be seen,
two to devour
and one to be Queen

So much for the set-up. Three Dark Crowns follows these three young queens as well as some side characters in alternating chapters and although they are all supposed to be different, the storylines and characters are all extremely similar. First of all, the side characters could easily be interchanged without anyone noticing. Most of them are just names thrown around when convenient. One side character, Luke, seems to be able to do whatever is needed for the plot at the moment. He is a librarian but also cooks and runs a coffee shop? Turns out, he can also sew dresses… and that’s as far as his personality goes. The others are literally just names, most of which I couldn’t keep apart because there is no description, not even age or relations. Sometime in the middle, I finally figured out that Madrigal is Jules’s mother, not some friend of the girls. I am the first to accept that I sometimes read inattentively, but this is not my fault, this is bad writing. Each girl gets a love interest, each is pushed or driven by a mentor figure, each has at least one friend to confide in. They do have different hair styles, which seems to be more important than giving their friends a past or character traits.

As mentioned, Arsinoe gets the most pages, Katherine gets by far the least. But I found her to be the most interesting character because she has it the hardest. But once the scheming Natalia, her mentor, throws young Pietyr in Kat’s path, this book is all about romance. Never mind why three queens have to battle to the death or how eating poisonous stuff without dying is going to help Katherine survive. Let’s talk about kissing because young adults are all hormonal idiots who want to read about kissing and nothing else. ARGH!!

Arsinoe, Jules, and Mirabella also get a love interest and, sure, some of that creates conflict, but come on! That’s not what it said on the tin. Do we really need another stupid love triangle? Kendare Blake tried to balance the r

omance with female friendships but by leaving the queens’ friends (except Jules) such bland, blank papers, the friendship becomes virtually worthless. Jules and Arsinoe are a great team, but Mirabella’s two friends, although one of them gets a story arc of a sort, are just stand-ins so Mirabella has someone to talk to. It’s a wasted opportunity if I ever saw one. However, Arsinoe’s storyline also contains the most world building and the best characters and development. Low magic, as the islanders call it, was mentioned plenty, although its roots are left unexplored. Joseph and Billy, the only two men with personality, also appear in Arsinoe’s story. This makes me belive that we are meant to like her best – so if the other two die, I won’t be surprised, but it is a rather obvious and cheap way of going about it. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

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Finally, at the very end, the plot actually moves foward. The queens each have to demonstrate their gifts in a ceremony that marks the beginning of the year in which they are to kill each other until only one queen remains. And shit goes down during that ceremony! Before that, the powerful houses of Fennbirn scheme around a bit, but because apparently young people are also too dumb to get subtlety, it’s all very obvious and the schemers are not very smart. Again, the villains of this story are also interchangeable. Put a serrated blade in ones hand and icy blond hair on the other, they are still basically the same person.

The ending did have two twists, one of which became sort of predictable while reading the novel. The other, I will happily admit, took me by surprise and actually made me say WTF! But is a two-page shocking twist enough to justify 400 pages of lame romance and a very unbalanced view of three sisters thrown into a terrible situation? I mean, Kendare Blake wrote the book she wanted to write, not one I wanted to read. But if you have a premise so interesting why would you not explore that at all? And if you build a world with so many strange rules, different sets of magics, why not mention anything about that? It makes me think that none of it is actually thought-through, but just window-dressing for some teen romances.

Fennbirn, for example, is super intersting but we only get glimpses of why when the delegations from the mainland arrive. It’s also a much smaller island than I originally thought (there is a cool map in the beginning of the book) because a character can walk, in a few days, over half the island. The magical gifts that the people of Fennbirn posses also don’t make much selse. Elementals are cool, and Naturalists are also interesting. But Poisoners, the only really non-staple fantasy magic, are pretty useless in my eyes. Anyone can learn how to mix a poison and, sure to survive poisoning is useful but what is the point? What’s the greater scheme of things? Why are poisoner queens so powerful when – forgive me – an Elemental can control the elements and a Naturalist might have a seriously vicious animal familiar. How would a battle between such people look? Well, if you want to find out, I guess you’ll have to wait for the sequel because this book ends just before the battle begins.

As many flaws as this story has, I did enjoy the read. I can’t tell you why because when I think about it, everything is wrong, there are plot holes all over the place, the characters mostly aren’t very good and the romances drifted into soap opera territory really quickly. But it was still fun. The chapters are short, I kept being pushed by the hope of learning more about the world, and I did grow to like the queens, although Katherine remains rather pale because she appears so little in the book. Look, it’s better than some other cliché and trope-ridden YA but not by a large margin. There are good ideas here, I only have to wait for the sequel to see if they actually come to anything. And at least, after reading this, I’m ready for some smart science fiction. I shall take delight in the lack of tropey YA love triangles!

MY RATING: 6/10 – Okay

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Second opinions:

 

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Angela Slatter – Vigil

I know, I know. I said I’d read anything the wonderful Angela Slatter writes and she warned me herself on Twitter that this was urban fantasy and thus nothing like her fairytale-esque story collections. But a great writer is a great writer and can dabble in many genres. Despite the underlying mythology, I found this to be a bit too much like my generic idea of an Urban Fantasy. It did have original ideas and was a fun read. I’ll just never love Urban Fantasy with all its tropes and clichés as much as I do other subgenres.

vigil1VIGIL
by Angela Slatter

Published by: Jo Fletcher Books, 2016
Paperback: 400 pages
Series: Verity Fassbinder #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: The ribbon was judging me, I knew it.

Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength – and the ability to walk between us and the other – as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.
But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale – and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways – and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.
And Verity must investigate – or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.

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I don’t read much urban fantasy and I’m probably doing the subgenre very wrong with my prejudices but every time I seem to pick up an UF book, all the tropes are there, the plot feels predictable, and I feel all the more justified in my reasons for avoiding books of that kind. I’m just not into your typical hot and sexy, yet snarky narrator girl who can kick ass despite weighing 45 kg. Please no more mysterious, dark handsome men – be they vampires or werewolves or something else entirely. I’m so tired of pecking orders in packs and covens or even the special supernatural FBI. It’s been done and done to bits, in so many books, TV shows, and movies.

Enter Angela Slatter, a woman who loves tropes. Well, she loves to play with and subvert them, so I knew I wouldn’t mind an Urban Fantasy written by her. She does fall victim to a cliché or two, but there are fresh ideas in here, definitely. It starts with Verity Fassbinder, who is an intriguing protagonist. First of all, I don’t know how old she is. Did I miss it in the book, was it never mentioned, was I just inattentive? Her tone of voice could put her anywhere from her early twenties to her fourties and that’s partly what made me like her but also annoying at times. A character that shifts so easily between “quirky badass young woman” to “seasoned and somewhat cynical adult” is difficult to identify with. It doesn’t matter much for the plot but I did notice and it kept taking me out of the reading flow.

My favorite part about Vigil was the world building and the cases Verity pursues. Those go hand in hand as it is those cases that show us more of the fascinating world. Angela Slatter has turned Brisneyland into a place with actual magic, both light and dark, but mostly dark and scary. Let me say first that the whole introduction of Verity’s past (or rather her father’s past) felt unnecessary and info-dumpy, especially right there at the beginning where we don’t even know who is who yet and what kind of world we are in. I would also like to say right now that if Verity’s (deceased) father surprisingly shows up alive in the sequel, I will throw something against a wall. It feels like that kind of setup and I really hope I’m wrong here.

But back to Verity Fassbinder’s Brisbane. Well, we are in a world with Normals (that’s us, folks) and Weyrd (all the weird shit) and some people who are in-between (Verity). The Weyrd hide from us with glamours and charms and so on and we all live happily side by side. Except when shit goes down, people go missing, or turn up dead – then Verity investigates. In Vigil she has both her hands full. Sirens – who are not what you think, by the way and I loved that twist to pieces – are dying and nobody knows what’s killing them. Turns out it’s not so easy to kill a mythological creature who is practically immortal. In addition, children are disappearing, and a terrifying whirlwind of evil is randomly killing people. Shit is hitting the proverbial fan and Verity has no clue where to start looking for answers. Her investigations are a lot of fun to follow, especially because she has a great relationship with her private taxi driver.

While Verity’s voice and character aren’t completely tropey, they did remind me a lot about the snarky, kickass, superstrong characters we see everywhere. Just make Buffy a bit older, fly her over to Australia, and there you go – it’s a Verity. However, she does have an interesting past, as her father was quite a… let’s say infamous figure in Weyrd circles. She also has a past with her hot vampire boss of course, which I found completely useless. It does absolutely nothing for the plot, and not much for anyone’s character development. They are not awkward with each other, their relationship doesn’t feel all heavy because of their past, it’s just a gimmick to give Bela more personality than he has as just “the boss”. On the bright side, the romance that comes Verity’s way throughout the book, is actually lovely. It’s not front and center, it happens naturally, there’s no big drama and I love both characters involved all the more for that.

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I also loved little nods like Bela’s name. Zvezdomir Tepes – Tepes as in Vlad the Impaler, I’m guessing – and Bela as a nickname after Bela Lugosi. It’s thinking around two small corners like that to create a name that fits the character perfectly, that makes me really happy. The Sirens as well all have appropriate (and lovely) names, as do the Norns. I loved the inclusion of them precisely because they are not werewolves or the usual Urban Fantasy creature. Slatter knows the treasure chest of mythology and folklore is deep and I love her for looking beyond wolves and fanged bloodsuckers. It’s not only Greek mythology you’ll find here, however, and I suspect (and hope) that the next books will show us even more creatures from all around the world.

Plot-wise, this was an engaging read. It moves along quickly, there is barely a moment to catch your breath. I like that Verity’s life feels like a lived-in place, there are people who know her or work with her and this all makes Brisbane feel much more real, more alive.

All things considered, reading this was fun, but there was nothing overwhelming or groundbreaking in it for me. It’s urban fantasy and it does exactly what you expect. Sure, there are cooler creatures that replace werewolves and vampires, the romance is a wonderful background-plot, and Verity is just a good person so it’s nice to follow her around trying to save everyone. The twists at the end were well-executed, but because the three cases get jumbled up, I felt like there was no way for me to guess any of the solution. I always prefer when the clues are there and just so well hidden that I miss them, but technically could have guessed right. So yeah, I’ll read the next book in the series, but I much prefer Angela Slatter when she’s not trying to fit in a subgenre mold but just does her own thing.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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