My Year of Finishing Series!

Happy Holidays!
I’m spending time with family for the next few days (we’ve all been tested negative and been isolated for the past weeks, plus we have masks, so it’ll be a very safe and very strange Christmas, but you know. We make the best of it). I have so many reviews to write as well as my favorite books of the year list to finish, but there’s no way I can get that done before Christmas. So I’m leaving you with this loooong list of mostly great books and promise to catch up after 26th December. I hope you’re all safe and healthy and I wish you wonderful holidays!

Entirely by accident, 2020 turned out to be the year where I finally continued and even finished (!) a bunch of book series I had started. By no means did I finish all the series I have ongoing, but a good chunk of them is now done and I cannot begin to tell you how satisfying it is to get to the end of a long, sprawling story that has been with you for years. Even if the ending didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, it still left me with a feeling of accomplishment.

Now let me tell you about the series I finished (or caught up on) this year and whether they were worth it.

Finished

Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham – FABLES

Fables complete serie - The Deluxe Edition - Hardcover - - Catawiki

I finally did it! I finished Fables!!! Now, to be honest, this wasn’t a series I ever intended to rush through. Some volumes were better than others but the overall quality was so good that it felt kind of nice to always have a few more volumes to look forward to. I’ve been reading the deluxe editions in increments, sometimes waiting for the next one to come out, then waiting for the right mood to strike. I have had the final three volumes on my shelf for some time now and all I needed to do to get to the very end was pick them up. Thanks to Covid-19 and the lockdown, I had a lot of time on my hands.
This story about fairy tale characters living secretly in our world, with politcal intrigues, crimes, a full-blown war, dark mysteries, curses, love stories, and everything else you can think of, is exactly the kind of thing I go for. At the beginning I would never have thought I’d come to care so much for random side characters or go out and actually buy all the books in the spin-off series about Jack of Fables… and yet I did. It was the idea that drew me in, but it was the characters that made me stay. There were definitely some weaker volumes but I can totally see myself re-reading the entire thing someday.


Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor – Cups and Thoughts

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Technically, I still have the novella about side characters Mik and Zuzana to read, but I’ve finished the main trilogy after a rather rough start. I first read Daughter of Smoke and Bone years ago and didn’t love it. In fact, I was rather pissed off by the tropes used and the sudden shift in story in that book. On a re-read, however, knowing what to expect, I ended up quite liking the book. Then I continued reading and the series sneakily stole my heart. Laini Taylor’s wonderful ideas and world building are stunning – even if her fictional creatures are maybe a tad too beautiful. The way she wrote about this unwinnable war, about star-crossed lovers, about friendship and death and loyalty and loss… yeah, it worked for me. So much so that, immediately after finishing the second book, I went and devoured the third. Taylor also managed to stick the landing with the ending, delivering a satisfying finale that left me feeling content and mostly happy. I’m definitely still going to read that book about Mik and Zuzana though!


LAINI TAYLOR – STRANGE THE DREAMER

Look, I didn’t expect anything else but I was still surprised at how much this duology touched me. It’s not just Laini Taylor’s exquisite language or her brilliant, faceted characters who are never all good or all bad, it’s also the world building and the plot. Seriously, I can’t find fault in these books and I’ll probably re-read them many times to come.
Any lover of books or fairy tales, anyone who loves learning about different cultures, or who just likes reading about crazy original fantasy ideas will find something to enjoy in these books. Laszlo Strange is so easy to love and his story turns from rather small and intimate into a sprawling epic that I didn’t see coming. I consider this some of the very best the fantasy genre has to offer!


Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea due to be re-released on October 17th with brand new covers and illustrations. : Fantasy

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Earthsea Cycle

Books keep getting added to this series every time I check but for a while, at least, it was the Earthsea Quartet and that’s the part I’ve finished. I still have two short story collections to read but I read all the novels in LeGuin’s beloved fantasy series. This was also prompted by a re-read of A Wizard of Earthsea, a book I didn’t adore either time I read it but one I appreciated much more when I read it the second time, simply because I was looking for different things and noticing different aspects of LeGuin’s genius. When I got to the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, I finally understood why everyone loves this series so much. Man, did that book hit me in the feels! The third one was rather meh but I suspect I may like it more when I’m older and Tehanu, the one that got lots of award nominations and wins, was a thing of pure beauty. There is something special about the Earthsea books. Each is quite different from the previous one, in a way, and yet they all share common themes and LeGuin’s way of conveying emotion almost without me noticing (I mean that in the best way possible).
Reading these books was definitely rewarding and gave me a lot of food for thought.


The Arcadia Project: Borderline; Phantom Pains; Impostor Syndrome von Mishell Baker - Taschenbuch - 978-1-5344-1828-8 | Thalia

Mishell Baker – The Arcadia Project

This is the trilogy where my reading experience has led to a clear recommendation for you guys: Don’t let years pass between books 2 and 3! I read the first and second books soon after they were published and that small-ish gap between them worked fine. But then I waited several years before picking up the third book and I had a hard time remembering everyone’s name and station, who’s currently fighting with whom, how exactly all the magic worked, etc.
That didn’t keep me from enjoying Millie’s story as she handles not only her Borderline Personality Disorder as well as being a double amputee, but also navigating a new workplace (with magic!), her attractive boss, trying to make friends with people who don’t necessarily want to be her friend, and of course all sorts of fairy shenanigans. In terms of representation, this trilogy is amazing! Not only have I never read a story with so many diverse characters in terms of mental health, disabilities, LGBTQIA+, but the best thing is, they are all drawn with care, like real people – some likable, some not so much. These character’s aren’t their disabilities. They are all people, some of whom are gay, some transgender, some with mental health issues, some with physical disabilities, some with disabilities that aren’t visible. Even if there hadn’t been a kick-ass story about humans and fairies, this would be an important trilogy for our time.


FANS WILL WORSHIP THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, BOOK ONE

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie – The Wicked + the Divine

I read this comic book series in its entirety (re-reading the first volume) for the Hugo Awards and again, re-reading made everything better. Giving books a second chance is definitely the way to go, because apparently my mood plays a large part in how much I enjoy a book. This series, while it has some slight ups and downs, was overall really fun and exciting.
A pantheon of gods is reborn into regular humans’ bodies who then live like rockstars for two years, after which they will die. Except this time, they seem to die much quicker and it’s not of “natural causes”. There was so much to love here, starting with the art style which I found absolutely stunning. The story also grows bigger and bigger as you follow along. The characters become more fleshed out and I caught myself caring for some of them who I previously didn’t even notice all that much. Overall, this was a great experience, all the more because it sticks the ending.


Die Ära der Zeitreisen | Kultur

Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson – Paper Girls

For this, I didn’t re-read the first volume, which I had also read when the series first started. I liked the Stranger Things vibe but I remember that the story got a little too crazy for me at the end of the first book. As I continued, however, I was just fine with the amount of crazy. Time travel, LGBT romance, meeting your older selves, saving the world… yes please, give me more.
I don’t quite know why, but although I enjoyed every single volume of this 6-volume series, none of the instalments ever got me really excited. It felt a bit like a great mash-up of things that had been done before, drawn quite beautifully, and told well. But not groundbreaking. So it was a solid series, I’m happy I read it, but I don’t think I’ll revisit it.


Robin Hobb – The Tawny Man Trilogy (Realm of the Elderlings)

I first read Assassin’s Apprentice when I was 16 years old (I’m 34 now) and spent the following years devouring more and more of Hobb’s books set in the Realm of the Elderlings. Except with the Tawny Man Trilogy, I kind of hit a slump. I read The Golden Fool in 2012, so it’s been a LONG time. But Hobb wouldn’t be Hobb if she didn’t manage to immerse me in her world immediately and make me feel like no time has passed at all. I finally finished this third trilogy in her series of connected trilogies (plus one quartet). And although this trilogy is done, I will continue on with the larger series and see what’s been happening down South with those Bingtowners and the people in the Rain Wilds. After all, nobody can make me cry like Robin Hobb and her stories have stayed with me throughout the years. I’m actually glad I still have more of them to look forward to.


N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Earth Trilogy

You guys, I know it’s weird that I didn’t gobble up these books right when they came out. The Fifth Season still is one of the most mind-blowing fantasy books I’ve ever read and I wish I could erase my memory of it just to experience it for the first time again! But it’s exactly because it was so good that I waited a while before picking up The Obelisk Gate. And then I saved up The Stone Sky deliberately as a treat. Well, I think I’ve earned that treat by the end of 2020 and so, in December, I finally picked up the finale of this triple Hugo Award winning trilogy.

All caught up

Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda – Monstress

This is the one series on this list that I don’t plan to continue. I had read the first volume when it came out, liked it okay, but not enough to continue. The gorgeous art kept distracting me from the story and the aloof protagonist never managed to get me emotionally involved with her story. But as volume 4 was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, I caught up on the series and am left with the exact same feeling. Cool ideas, stunning artwork, but little emotional impact. I have to concede that this series is just not for me because as far as I can tell, neither writer nor artists are doing anything wrong. I see the appeal and I’m glad so many other people like it, but I don’t feel like reading more of it.
If the next volume is nominated for a Hugo again, I’ll read it but I won’t go out and actively buy a copy for myself.


Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn

So, I had read (or rather listened to) all of the Mistborn books already. First era, second era, all done. But! There was still this little novella set during the first era told from a different perspective on my TBR. I finally picked this one up, not expecting too much from it. I should have known better. Sanderson always delivers, after all!
Plotwise, Secret History doesn’t offer much that’s new, but it was like a behind the scenes look that gives a bit more background information on the larger story and on the Cosmere as a whole. You don’t need to read this to enjoy the Mistborn series but if you’re into the Cosmere, you won’t want to  miss it.


Brandon Sanderson – Skyward

Yeah, there’s no question I’ll always jump on the next book in this series as soon as it comes out. This YA sci-fi series is not Sanderson’s best but I can’t help but love it anyway. You’ll get his trademark twists at the end, you get a cast of lovable characters, great side characters (M-Bot & Doomslug!) and you get an exciting plot that promises even bigger secrets to be revealed in the future.
I also loved how Sanderson has grown in terms of his characters. They still don’t curse, ever, but in Starsight, we get characters who don’t belong to a specific gender and that’s not something I had expected from Sanderson. Way to go and please keep moving in that direction. People and aliens come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, with all kinds of abilities and disabilities. There will be two more volumes in this series so I don’t expect it to be finished before 2023. Until then, we get the next Stormlight Archive book, so I’m not complaining.


Carina's Books: Cover Reveal: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman – The Book of Dust

I had heard mixed things about this follow-up trilogy to His Dark Materials. With La Belle Sauvage, Pullman convinced me that he could actually pull it off and The Secret Commonwealth was no different. We follow an adult Lyra whose relationship with her daemon Pan is rather fraught. Lots of exciting things happen, of course, but the heart of the story is Lyra and Pan’s struggle to find back to each other emotionally.
Look, this isn’t His Dark Materials and nothing can take away the greatness of that trilogy. Even if the story is very different, the writing style gives me major nostalgia and reminds me how I felt when I first discovered this world as a teenager. So it is a worthy successor and one I intend to follow until the end.


Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Her Pitiless Command

I was thrilled to find out that the book that had felt so much like a series opener was, in fact, a series opener. So I picked up Mirrorstrike soon after it came out. It wasn’t as good as the first book, Winterglass, but then middle volumes rarely are. When the third volume comes out, I’ll be right here waiting for it because the characters and world building are simply too good not to find out how it all ends. And let’s not forget the absolutely stunning language with which Sriduangkaew tells this sort-of fairy tale retelling of The Snow Queen set in South East Asia.


Review: Martha Wells & The Murderbot Diaries | A Study in Murderbot

Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaires

I waited a bit before I picked up the first full-sized Murderbot novel, part five of the Murderbot Diaries. When I did pick it up, it was just as delightful as I had hoped. Murderbot simply has a way of stealing your heart with its hilarious narration and the way it deals with emotions (it would rather not). This series is a source of pure joy and I hope it continues for a long, long time – whether the next one is a novella or another novel, I don’t even care. Just as long as I get more Murderbot and maybe even more ART. Despite all the action and the constant danger, I’d even call this a feelgood series.

Continued a bit

Emma Newman – Planetfall

So I actually only started this series this year but rather than do what I usually do (read book one, then wait forever before I pick up the next), I continued pretty soon after with the second book. Although very different in setting and story type, I was taken with both of these. And since the series is finished, I intend to read the other two books as well. And soon!
Planetfall tells a very interesting story set on a different planet where humans have settled. But things aren’t exactly as they seem, the protagonist holds a highly intriguing secret (well, more than one actually) and things unravel from there.
In After Atlas we get a police procedural set on Earth, but a future Earth where society works a bit different from ours, and not exactly in a good way. I had so much fun reading both of these and I can’t wait to discover where Emma Newman takes the story in the final two books.


The Dark Tower series (9 BOOKS) BY Stephen King-MP3 AUDIOBOOK – ty's cheap DIGITAL audiobook/Etextbook

Stephen King – The Dark Tower

I don’t even remember when I started this series but I think I was still in school. So… very long ago. The first book wasn’t really for me, the second took a while to get going but then I binged books 3 and 4 right after. Wolves of the Calla was the one that made me stall again. It was just too long, had too many side stories, and I was a bit burned out on Dark Tower stuff by then. Newly motivated to continue some series, I picked up Song of Susannah, read it in no time at all and, while not loving it, at least gained my excitement for Stephen King’s writing back as well as the urge to finally finish this epic series. So far, I have managed to avoid spoilers about the ending (thank you, internet, for being so considerate and actually hiding spoilers about this series 🙂 ).


Open Your Door to Centaurs and Unicorns in Across the Green Grass Fields, the Newest Installment of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children Series! | Tor.com

Seanan McGuire – Wayward Children

This series is so hit or miss for me I hadn’t planned on continuing it. But it keeps getting nominated for the Hugo Awards and as a diligent voter, I had to pick up In an Absent Dream. It turns out, this was one of the good volumes and I really, really enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ll continue with the next book even if it doesn’t get an awards nomination. Considering how much I hated the third book, that’s pretty high praise.


Series Sunday: Toby Daye by Seanan McGuire – Post Thirty Two of Stay Home Order – Redd's Reads

Seanan McGuire – October Daye

As strange as my relationship with McGuire’s writing is, this is a series I really like so far. Granted, I’ve only read the first two books but they have both delivered exciting, action-packed tales with interesting fairy politics and a protagonist I can root for. I know nothing about the rest of the series (again, thank you, people who use spoiler tags!) but I’m hoping for a certain romantic pairing and to see more of some side characters I’ve grown to like.
I usually read hardly any Urban Fantasy so I’m glad I discovered a series I can follow along, knowing I’ll get a quick read that will be fun and make me feel stuff. I think the Shakespeare quote titles are a bit pretentious and don’t have much to do with the plot but I intend to stay with this series for the next few years. These books (so far) are excellent to get you out of a reading slump.


My Top Ten 2019 Reads (+ 20 More Great Ones) – Book Geek Reviews

Jessica Townsend – Nevermoor

I picked up the The Trials of Morrigan Crow during my holiday (which luckily fell into the time just before Covid-19 hit Europe and everything went into lockdown), then continued on with The Calling of Morrigan Crow in the Summer. I bought the third volume when it came out but haven’t gotten to it just yet.
This is such a heartwarming, whimsical tale with the loveliest found family, great friendships and lots of cool ideas. The world of Nevermoor may be dangerous, but it’s a cozy kind of dangerous if you know what I mean. Following Morrigan on new adventures feels a bit like coming home and the series was definitely worth it for all the warm and fuzzy feelings it gave me.
It’s also nice to have a book series I can gift to the kids in my family that isn’t you-know-what.


My Fancast/Dreamcast: An Ember In The Ashes Series – NJG Entertainment.com

Sabaa Tahir – An Ember in the Ashes

I remember how the first book in this quartet had me at the edge of my seat THE ENTIRE TIME. Every chapter made my pulse go up because it was so damn exciting and I was so scared for the protagonist! I wanted more of that, but unfortunately, the second book was a big let down. There was a ridiculous, obvious, unnecessary love triangle, the plot was quite weak, and there were none of the tense scenes I enjoyed so much in book 1. I’ll give the next book a chance but I’m not super eager to continue the series at this point. Depending on how well volume 3 does for me, I may just call it quits after that.


Marissa Meyer's Renegades Trilogy is Riveting Superhero Fiction | Den of Geek

Marissa Meyer – Renegades

I was lukewarm about Meyer’s sci-fi superhero series Renegades after reading the first book. Sure, it was fun and easy to read, but it felt a bit unstructured and convoluted. I did pick up the second book because Meyer is my guilty pleasure author and sometimes you just need a book that doesn’t require too much brain power. I enjoyed it well enough, I liked how it fleshed out the world and finally delivered some moments I had been hoping for from the very start.
It’s not great science fiction and not great literature either, but definitely great fun. After the second book, things are perfectly set up for a great climax, so it won’t be too long before I finish the trilogy.


Andrzej Sapkowski – The Witcher

Like many people, I finally picked up the Witcher books because of the Netflix series and I’m not sorry. Not only did the picture of Henry Cavill in my mind greatly enhance the reading experience, but the books themselves also surprised me. My expectations were… let’s say different. I thought tough manly Witcher man would run around slaying monsters. Instead I got a thoughtful exploration of who the real monsters are and a protagonist who, most of all, stands out because of his empathy! So far, I’ve read the two story collections that form the start of the series as well as the first novel. It wasn’t as good as the collections but I’m still invested enough in this universe and its characters that I look forward to the rest of the series.


Netflix verfilmt Bone von Jeff Smith - Anidrom - Animation News

Jeff Smith – Bone

I have a big, chunky all-in-one volume of this series and finally started reading it late last year. This charming tale about three bone creatures trying to survive in a hostile world and find their way home to Boneville starts out so simply and then slowly grows in the telling. At first, it’s this whimsical, cute story, but the more adventures the Bones go on, the bigger the world seems to get. We get mythology, strange creatures, lovable side characters, and a tale that grows up to be rather epic in scope.
I’ve read four out of the ten volumes so far and I’m glad there’s more Bone to look forward to.


Diana Wynne Jones – The Land of Ingary/Howl’s World

This loosely connected trilogy has languished on my TBR for too long. I read and loved Howl’s Moving Castle many years ago but when it was picked for the Sword and Laser book club, I took that chance to finally continue the series instead of re-reading the first book. Diana Wynne Jones writes with such charm and ease that it’s hard not to love her stories.
Humble carpet merchant Abdullah goes on an unexpected and rather wild adventure that was too delightful to describe here. Howl and Sophie do make an appearance, but this is clearly Abdullah’s book. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy next year. Whenever I need a book that feels like balm for my soul, I’ll pick this up.

So this is it… I swear I didn’t set out to do this at the beginning of the year. I planned on catching up on some series but I never thought I would get so far. It’s been incredibly rewarding, especially when I was reminded again, after years of neglecting a series, how much I loved it in the first place and how great it was to return to that world.
I’ve also discovered that re-reads can do wonders. Books I didn’t like the first time suddenly appeared in a new light or I appreciated things I simply missed before.

How are you handling your book series? Do you wait until it’s finished and then binge it in one go? Do you catch up on the newest volume every year? Or are you like me, which is to say completely unorganized? 🙂

Middle Book Syndrome: Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Mirrorstrike

If you’ve read my review of Sriduangkaew’s beautiful novella Winterglassyou know that my one gripe with it was that it felt so unfinished, like the beginning of a bigger story. Well, apparently the author felt the same because here is the sequel in what will probably be a trilogy.
There are some spoilers below for the first book in the series, although I think Winterglass is just as enjoyable to read even if you already know what happens.

MIRRORSTRIKE
by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Published: 2019
Paperback: 160 pages
Series: Her Pitiless Command #2
My rating: 7,5/10

Opening line: In the house of the Winter Queen, even time itself slows.

With her mother’s blood fresh on her hands, Nuawa has learned that to overthrow the tyrant Winter Queen she must be as exact as a bullet… and as pitiless.
In the greatest city of winter, a revolt has broken out and General Lussadh has arrived to suppress it. She’s no stranger to treason, for this city is her home where she slaughtered her own family for the Winter Queen.
Accompanying the general to prove her loyalty, Nuawa confronts a rebel who once worked to end the queen’s reign and who now holds secrets that will cement the queen’s rule. But this is not Nuawa’s only predicament. A relentless killer has emerged and he means to hunt down anyone who holds in their heart a shard of the queen’s mirror. Like the general. Like Nuawa herself.
On these fields of tumult and shattered history, the queen’s purposes will at last be revealed, and both Lussadh and Nuawa tested to their limits.
One to wake. Two to bind. These are the laws that govern those of the glass.

There are few retellings that gripped me as much as Winterglass did. With striking language, brilliant characters, original world building and the beginning of a kick-ass plot, it had everything I wanted from a retelling. Some of the things I loved so much are continued in this sequel, although I have to say it could have used some more editing. The plot meanders and it felt like it couldn’t quite decide which direction it wanted to go. Are we still in a science-fantasy retelling? Because we drift off into very cheesy romance territory at times… but let’s start at the beginning.

Nuawa is now a lieutenant in the Winter Queen’s service and she’s also started a relationship with general Lussadh, that most intriguing of characters. Unfortunately, the characters and world building really stalled in this book, or in some cases was even less present than before. Nuawa’s goal is still destroying the Winter Queen, working closely by her enemy to discover weaknesses and exploit them. So far, so exciting. But instead of the active part she played in the first book, in this one she mostly just reacts to other people’s actions. She is still kick-ass and her character grows throughout the story, but she has much less agency than she did in Winterglass and the book was just a little less good for it.

One of the most interesting aspects of the first book was the world building. Set in an alternate Thailand (or at least South East Asia), winter rules supreme since the Winter Queen conquered the land. With people’s ghosts used for power, magical ghost kilns which extract those ghosts from living people, science-fantasy style chiurgeons who can perform unbelievable feats, and magic weapons that can kill someone by hurting their shadow, there was so much to discover, so many little things that I wanted to learn more about. Sadly, there is almost nothing new in this book about ghosts or the kilns or even how this conquered world even really works, government-wise. Most of those ideas are treated as throw-away lines here and there. It felt like the author had lost all drive to establish her world further, or maybe she hadn’t thought her ideas through to the end. What was imaginative in the first book felt like window dressing in this one.
The one thing Sriduangkaew does give her readers is more information about the Winter Queen’s origins and the power of those glass fragments that created her glass bearers. While interesting, that didn’t nearly reach the level of world building and lore from the first book.

As I already mentioned, the characters also seem to have lost a lot of their strength. I don’t mean physical strength – both Nuawa and Lussadh are still amazing fighters – but I’m talking more about their agency and personalities. Nuawa has done some crazy stuff in the first book in order to get close to the Winter Queen and achieve her goal of avenging her country and her family. Lussadh has equally been through horrible things, but while in Winterglass she was surrounded by a mesmerizing aura of mystery, all of that was gone in Mirrorstrike. It’s nice to see those two as a happy-ish couple but they exchanged some serioiusly cheesy lines and felt like cliché people from a bad romance story.
Nuawa does go through an interesting development, although it is lessened by the fact that it’s so blatantly stated instead of being shown subtly. She is warned that being a glass-bearer will turn her more and more to the Queen’s side, make her willing to help the Queen stay in power, and Nuawa feels that pull and has to fight it. But this also felt like something that came and went, being very visible in one chapter only to be almost forgotten in the next. Nuawa was such a standout strong character and now she felt kind of wishy-washy. Sometimes she feels how the Queen draws her in, then that’s all forgotten and she pursues her goal single-mindedly again.

As for the plot… that was the weakest part of the book. A lot of little things happen, only some of which pushed the plot forward, and most of which felt like distjointed scenes put together somehow. There is a plot line about traitors to the Queen plus some assassination attempts – and that just fizzles out. There is a new character who has connections to Nuawa’s past, and while I think that story will continue in the next book, it was also left hanging in this one, rather unceremoniously. What bothered me the most was that it felt like I could see through the writing. It felt like the author wanted to get a piece of information across – like the Winter Queen’s weakness or a hidden truth about Nuawa’s mothers – and the scene did just that, but nothing more. And I know the author can do more, she proved that over and over in the first book. I actually re-read Winterglass before starting this one and even on the second reading, that book was just amazing. Mirrorstrike felt like a bit of a mess in comparison, with no red thread to follow, random things happening here and there, but very little that connects it to the bigger plot hinted at in Winterglass.

But the one thing that still stands out and that made this still a very good book is the language. You kind of have to like that particular style, but if you do, you’ll love it. It’s lyrical, it has big words, and it flows beautifully. I did think that Sriduangkaew overdid it a few times in this book, maybe trying a tad too hard to sound poetic and ending up with something more resembling ridiculous, mostly during the romantic exchanges between Nuawa and Lussadh. But for most of the book, the prose is gorgeous and paints vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. And it kept me reading even though the somewhat disjointed plot kept confusing me.

This is definitely a case of middle book syndrome but at 160 pages, that is forgivable. The ending delivered a nice little twist (which made sure I’d want to read the next book) and, sadly, another super cheesy moment. But I’ll forgive that because I really finally want to know how the story ends and whether the Winter Queen can be vanquished. Now all I have to do is wait for the third book…

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

 

Excellent but kind of unfinished: Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Winterglass

I can’t resist a good fairy tale retelling, especially if it comes wrapped in a cover like this! And at 130 pages, this promised to be a quick read which is good to keep motivation for reading challenges up.

WINTERGLASS
by Benjanun Sridunagkaew

Published by: Apex Book Company, 2017
eBook: 130 pages
Standalone (?)
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: On the night of Nuawa’s execution, she saw the Winter Queen for the first time.

Winterglass is a sci-fantasy about one woman’s love for her homeland (Sirapirat) and her determination to defeat the Winter Queen who has overtaken the land.
The city-state Sirapirat once knew only warmth and monsoon. When the Winter Queen conquered it, she remade the land in her image, turning Sirapirat into a country of snow and unending frost. But an empire is not her only goal. In secret, she seeks the fragments of a mirror whose power will grant her deepest desire.
At her right hand is General Lussadh, who bears a mirror shard in her heart, as loyal to winter as she is plagued by her past as a traitor to her country. Tasked with locating other glass-bearers, she finds one in Nuawa, an insurgent who’s forged herself into a weapon that will strike down the queen.
To earn her place in the queen’s army, Nuawa must enter a deadly tournament where the losers’ souls are given in service to winter. To free Sirapirat, she is prepared to make sacrifices: those she loves, herself, and the complicated bond slowly forming between her and Lussadh.
If the splinter of glass in Nuawa’s heart doesn’t destroy her first.

This book was both a bit of a rush and a pleasure cruise. In the prologue alone, so many details are introduced that don’t make sense yet. The protagonist, Nuawa, just a little girl, is sent into an execution device called a ghost-kiln. But her mother – who is to be executed with her – gives her something to swallow, something sharp and icy, and Nuawa survives.

Nothing much makes sense at first, but throughout the story of (now grown-up) Nuawa, readers get to explore this strange science-fantasy world, in which human souls are used to generate power, where the Winter Queen has conquered formerly lush and warm places and turned them to ice, where nobody seems powerful enough to defeat her. And of course that is Nuawa’s goal. To kill the Winter Queen, who is not only responsible for turning her home into a cold place but for killing her mother as well. But Nuawa is the embodiment of patience. Many assassin’s have failed but Nuawa doesn’t plan to be one of them.

I found this a strange reading experience because it was at once a slow read, focused on character development, and at the same time things happend very quickly, rushing you through the plot to the end – which didn’t really feel like the end of the story, merely a first chapter of something bigger.

But let’s start with the story’s strong points. I loved the world building, maybe even because the reader gets thrown into it and we have to figure things out for ourselves. For Nuawa, having grown up in it, her world is self-explanatory. For us, there are many strange things and customs to discover. It’s a beautifully diverse world, filled with weird little details that enrich the story greatly. In a fight, Nuawa can slice through her oponent’s shadow, inflicting pain (and even death) on them. Sexuality seems very fluid, as well as gender identity – there is a variety of pronouns used for different characters. There are methods, appearing magical but presented as a sort of science, to protect your body against harm, and I found this all highly original and interesting. So discovering this world definitely whetted my appetite for more.

My favorite part, by far, were the characters. Although Nuawa is not exactly someone who warms the heart, her determination and strength mader her into an intriguing protagonist. She pursues her goal at any cost – there was one particularly harrowing scene which demonstrates just how far she will go. It sent shivers down my spain and made me question if I should even like Nuawa. Equally interesting was General Lussadh, the Winter Queen’s best soldier and lover. I could have read a whole book just about Lussadh!
When Nuawa and Lussadh meet, there is an instant spark – which is probably due to them both having one of the Queen’s mirror shards in them, but I like to believe that there’s also a bit of regular old attraction mixed into it. Either way, reading about these two not so different characters was the absolute best.

The story itself is pretty straight forward. Nuawa enters a tournament and wants to battle her way to the top, to become one of the Winter Queen’s soldiers. She hopes that getting close to the Queen, she will get a chance at killing her, ending her country’s enslavement to winter once and for all. And battle, she does! I will not go into detail here, but I found the fight scenes pretty awesome, especially because they show the science-fantasy quality of the book so well.

If you’ve read anything by Sriduangkaew, you know that she’s got a firm grip on language and knows how to use it to great effect. She describes scents and sounds so beautifully to make you feel like you’re there, at the place she’s talking about, standing just next to the protagonist. You can just fall into the story, which is no easy feat when the story is so short. To create a full world on such a little amount of pages is something few authors can do.

But the ending… if you can call it an ending. I do not know, at this point, if this novella is meant as the beginning of a trilogy or series but I sincerely hope so. There is a story arc here, without a cliffhanger. But the story is far from finished. Both Nuawa and Lussadh’s relationship  as well as Nuawa’s quest (and it is a quest!) simply stop at the end of this book, without even a hint of being resolved. My rating of this book depends a lot on whether it is the first part of a series or meant as a standalone. Reading this was pure pleasure but I just want more! If there is more, you can go ahead and add a full point to my rating.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

Second opinions:

Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Scale Bright

Some books are best approached without any prior knowledge, without even reading a blurb or recommendation. Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Scale Bright is not one of those books. At least not if – like me – you have no knowledge of Chinese mythology. A cozy sort of buzz surrounds this novella but it was Little Red Reviewer’s recommendation that gave me the final push and made me buy my own copy. Thank you, Andrea, for a shining new author on my bookshelf.

scale brightSCALE BRIGHT
by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Published by: Immersion Press, 2014
Ebook: 162 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Julienne is in a crowded train when a man whose skin gleams smooth as stone appears to inquire after her heart’s desire.

Julienne’s aunts are the archer who shot down the suns and the woman who lives on the moon. They teach her that there’s more to the city of her birth than meets the eye – that beneath the modern chrome and glass of Hong Kong there are demons, gods, and the seethe of ancient feuds. As a mortal Julienne is to give them wide berth, for unlike her divine aunts she is painfully vulnerable, and choice prey for any demon.
Until one day, she comes across a wounded, bleeding woman no one else can see, and is drawn into an old, old story of love, snake women, and the deathless monk who hunts them.

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Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s fiction is an adventure. When Andrea compared her style to Catherynne M. Valente’s, I was as sold as I could be. Quickly bought and quickly read, I am once more happy that book bloggers exist and nudge me in the right direction at the right time.

Disregarding the advice given by Andrea, I picked up the book and started reading without really caring what it was about. But soon I discovered that certain characters had more than one name, and names fraught with meaning that I didn’t understand. A few pages in, Wikipedia saved my butt. The short paragraphs on the Chinese myths surrounding Houyi, the Archer who shot down the suns and Chang’e, the woman who lives in the moon, are really all you need to get the gist of the story. Thus prepared, I could finally really enjoy the magic that Sriduangkaew weaves on these pages.

It’s hard to choose what to rave about first. But as I’ve already mentioned Cat Valente’s name, let’s begin with the writing style. Simply said, it is gorgeous.  Sriduangkaew definitely falls into the vague sub-genre of mythpunk, with her poetic language and beautiful, beautiful descriptions. Her characterization seems effortless, the settings vibrant, and all without overdoing it. There isn’t a single line out of place, not one description too flowery. Opening this little book is like falling into a different world, made up of dreams and gods and a young girl coming of age.

Julienne, ostentatiously the protagonist, goes through an interesting growth. Her actions aren’t always obvious, her past unravels slowly, as does her personality. I enjoyed discovering who she was immensely, but the real stars for me were Houyi, the Archer, and Olivia, the Snake-Woman. None of the characters are what you’d call an open book. You have to discover each of them in turn and that was part of the pleasure. Houyi made the biggest impression on me, simply because she was such an entity of power. The tall woman who wears men’s clothing and is married to the woman in the moon has a tender core, especially when it comes to her niece, Julienne. Olivia, at first a pretty straight-forward baddie, becomes more three-dimensional along the way. And Julienne, who was sort of pale to begin with, turns out to be a fully-formed human being with a past and hopes and dreams.

I spefically didn’t talk about the plot because, (1) I don’t want to ruin anyone’s reading experience, and (2) I thought it was one of the book’s weaker points. Yes, there are twists and turns that are surprising and wonderful. But the breaks between certain points happened too harshly. I was comfy in one scene and, suddenly, in the next we cut to somewhere completely different. Following the time frame was difficult for me, but I always found back into the story relatively quickly. It’s a minor point but, ever since reading this, I’ve been wishing for a full-sized doorstopper novel from Benjanun Sriduangkaew – I’m sure the breaks would be much smoother if she had more time setting up each scene and time period.

scale bright detail

After the novella, Scale Bright also includes the three short stories that precede it chronologically.  My favorite was “The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate”, which tells the story of  Xihe, her unhappy marriage and her becoming the mother of suns. The entire story was gripping and gorgeous, the characters filled with strength and anger and hope, I couldn’t stop reading. Considering how short it is, I am also amazed at how much character growth happens. The author really knows how to use language in its most effective way.

“Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon” tells the love story of Houyi and Chang’e and is probably the one you should read before Scale Bright, as it gives a good background on who Julienne’s aunts are. Even gods, it seems, don’t have an easy time when they want a same-sex marriage but Houyi has some awesome lines about why she refuses to wear women’s clothes or change her appearance into that of a man. I really giggled at her comebacks to some of the stupid things people say to her. Altogether, I must admit this was my least favorite of the short stories (which doesn’t say much as it’s still pretty damn good).

“Chang’e Dashes from the Moon” was my second favorite, because Houyi totally rocked her part of the story. It must be a taste thing because I’m suspicious of how much I adored Houyi every time she showed up. This is supposed to be Chang’e’s chance to shine, and she does, but in my opinion Houyi steals the show.

This review was very rambly and not exactly coherent but I’ve noticed that all the best books end up with this kind of review from me. It’s because my head is so full of thoughts that I can’t write a straight sentence. But, as you also know, it is the mark of an excellent book that it evokes so much emotion. I’ll be watching out closely for Sriduangkaew’s next publication, whether it’s a short story, another novella, or – please, please, please – a novel.

RATING: 8/10 –  Excellent

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