#ReadDiverse2017 – A Recommendations List (Part 3)

Here it is, the third and final part of my recommendations for the Read Diverse 2017 challenge. As I mentioned in part 2, these are books and authors on my TBR, so I have no idea if they are any good. But I’ll tell you a little about the books and what made me decide to buy them. Whether it’s a particular buzz word or a setting or a character that drew me in, it may do the same for you.

(even more) diverse authors to read

SILVIA MORENO-GARCÍA

Every book Moreno-García has published so far immediately jumped at me and begged to be read. The reason I still haven’t is that same old tune – too many books, too little time. But I mean, who could resist Mexican noir vampires or a story set in 1980ies Mexico City, involving music and being sold “for fans of Stranger Things”.
Silvia Moreno-García is a Mexican-Canadian writer and she seems to be full of excellent ideas. I’ll definitely be reading Signal to Noise this year and watching out for any new books she publishes.

Books on my TBR: Signal to Noise (I’m including both covers, one of which definitely gives that Stranger Things vibe) and Certain Dark Things.

ROSHANI CHOKSHI

I won’t lie, it’s the covers that drew me in first. But, on closer inspection, it turns out that The Star-Touched Queen is a retelling of the Hades and Persephony myth with a fairy tale flavor. So how could I not buy it? The second book is a companion novel, rather than a sequel which gives Chokshi extra bonus points. Plus, there’s the Book Smugglers story “The Vishakanya’s Choice” which has an Indian setting. Seriously, everything Roshani Chokshi writes sounds up my alley, so I should really get started on reading.
Also, check out her blog – she does make-up based on book covers and characters and it is GORGEOUS!

Books on my TBR: The Star-Touched Queen, its companion A Crown of Wishes and “The Vishakanya’s Choice”.

MIYUKI MIYABE

Miyabe is a Japanese author who writes a lot. In a lot of different genres. And I have actually read one of her books, although it was a novelization of a video game (remember Ico in the Mist, anyone?). Since I really liked the stuff that Miyabe made up, but didn’t like the “retelling” of the game so much, I knew I’d have to try her original fiction. There are gargoyles, sisters saving brothers, and portal fantasies – all things I enjoy. Plus, put a girl with books on the cover and I’m guaranteed to want to read it. I hope that this reading challenge will give me the final nudge to finally pick up one of the books I own and properly discover this author.

Books on my TBR: Brave Story, The Book of Heroes and the recently released The Gate of Sorrows (which is a sequel of sorts so don’t start there).

CORINNE DUYVIS

Much like with Silvia Moreno-García, I have immediately bought Corinne Duyvis’ books when I first discovered them but haven’t read any yet. She is a Dutch author who co-founded and edits Disability in Kidlit (if you don’t know this, definitely check it out) and was herself diagnosed with autism. From what I know of her books, they all feature diverse characters with disabilities and some really original science-fiction/fantasy ideas.
In Otherbound, whenever the main character closes his eyes, he sees through a mute girl’s eyes (and vice versa, I think). On the Edge of Gone sounds darker and more adult with a full-blown apocalypse.

Books on my TBR: Otherbound which features a mute character, and On the Edge of Gone, a post-apocalyptic story with an autustic character.

NICOLA GRIFFITH

Here’s a more established author who I am ashamed to have never read. She has written highly acclaimed novels and a ton of short stories, some of which I own but never seem to get to… My plan is to read Hild this year which not only sounds amazing but also features a bisexual protagonist. Griffith is married to a woman and from the Goodreads tags, I have deduced that pretty much all of her novels feature queer characters.

Books on my TBR: Hild which – from cover to synopsis – pushes all my happy-buttons, Ammonite and Slow River. All standalones. Plus the short story “Cold Wind”.

KAMERON HURLEY

It’s strange because I’ve been reading Hurley’s non-fiction for years now, but I never actually read any of her novels. Most recently, I read her non-fiction collection The Geek Feminist Revolution which exceeded all my expectations and I highly recommend it! But since Hurley always writes interesting female characters, many of whom are queer or bisexual, it’s time I tried one of her novels. I’m unsure whether to start with God’s War, the first of a trilogy, The Mirror Empire (another trilogy starter), or The Stars are Legion, which is a standalone space opera from what Goodreads tells me.

Books on my TBR: The Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy and The Mirror Empire.

And just because it’s always fun to have a list of books to look forward to (read: not yet published), here are some diverse titles on my wishlist that will be published later this year:

  • Mackenzi Lee – The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
    A bisexual young gentleman’s road trip in the 18th century? With magic? Sign me up!!
  • K. Arsenault Rivera – The Tiger’s Daughter
    Interesting setting, queer protagonist, and a seriously gorgeous cover – that’s all it takes to get me interested.
  • Jy Yang – The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune
    Beautiful covers, non-binary author from Singapore, and published by Tor.com – these books are bound to be amazing!
  • Anna-Marie McLemore – Wild Beauty
    I just have to read this book. It’s tagged as GLBT on Goodreads, but it was cover and synopsis that did it for me.
  • Julie C. Dao – Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
    East Asian setting, Vietnamese-American author, PLUS a retelling of The Evil Queen legend.
  • Tochi Onyebuchi – Beasts Made of Night
    Nigerian-flavored fantasy featuring sin-eaters. Just take my money.
  • Melissa Basherdoust – Girls Made of Snow and Glass
    An LGBT fairy tale retelling sold as “Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber” – that’s all I know but that’s totally enough.
  • Aditi Khorana – The Library of Fates
    An Indian author writing a coming-of-age story steeped in Indian folklore. Yes, please!
  • Leena Likitalo – The Five Daughters of the Moon and The Sisters of the Crescent Empire
    A Finnish author writing a Russian-inspired story about the Romanov sisters. Definitely sounds like not-your-average fantasy duology.

 

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#ReadDiverse2017 – A Recommendations List (Part 2)

I am so happy that my first recommendations post got such positive feedback. Thank you to everyone who commented – you have no idea how much joy it gives me when others pick up the books I love. I do a little happy dance every time somebody says they’re trying a new-to-them author because I recommended them. So because you guys seemed to like it and I have so many more diverse authors that I’d like to recommend, here is part 2 of my Read Diverse 2017 recommendations.

Note that I haven’t read as many books by most of these authors (one exception) which is the reason they didn’t make part 1 of my recommendations series. I’ll add covers to the most well known books by them but my recommended starting points are also based on what other people have recommended.

(More of) mY FAVORITE DIVERSE AUTHORS

SOFIA SAMATAR

I have only read one of Samatar’s short stories and the lovely A Stranger in Olondria which won a lot of awards and was nominated for more. It’s a book that I’d recommend also to people who don’t read or like fantasy all that much. While set in a fictional world, it has very few fantasy elements. Okay, there is a ghost, but the meat of the story is one man’s coming-of-age tale while discovering new places. The protagonist is also an avid reader and a lover of stories and history, so any book lover should feel right at home. Plus, the language is just beautiful and the story is very immersive.
Sofia Samatar has Somali and Swiss parents and taught in Sudan. I’ll try and find the interview where she talks about her travels and all the places she has lived but her interest in different cultures definitely shines through her fiction.

Recommended starting point: A Stranger in Olondria or, for the short story crowd, “Selkie Stories are for Losers” (which you can read for free).

KAZUO ISHIGURO

Here’s another one for those of you who don’t read much fantasy or science fiction but wouldn’t mind a little taste of it. Ishiguro is definitely in the literary camp and of the books I’ve read, only one can be called sfnal in any way. But he is a skilled writer who will definitely make you cry. Just give him 200 pages and get the tissues ready. In The Remains of the Day, he tells the life of a super dedicated butler which sounds boring but – trust me – isn’t. There are revelations in that quite book that left me seriously emotional.
Similarly, in Never Let Me Go, the revelation is kind of obvious from the start but while reading you try and pretend it’s not true. This is the book with a sci-fi bend to it, although the characters are so much front and center that it doesn’t matter what genre you normally read.

Recommended starting pointNever Let Me Go because the slightly larger cast makes it a faster read than The Remains of the Day, although I do recommend reading both (and you can watch the movies afterward) . The Buried Giant is still on my reading list, but as Ishiguro writes only standalones, you can pretty much start anywhere.

ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA

I discovered Córdova because I was actively looking for diverse reads and her wonderful novel Labyrinth Lost didn’t disappoint. It’s about brujas and the underworld and lots of cool stuff, and it features a bisexual heroine. The author was born in Ecuador (as far as I could find out) but grew up in New York – her book is flavored with Latin American mythology which made me like it even more. I look forward to the next Brooklyn Brujas book very much.

Recommended starting point: Labyrinth Lost, or the first in Córdova’s mermaid trilogy, The Vicious Deep.

KARIN LOWACHEE

Lowachee should be way better known than she is. Again, I have only read one of her books so far but after finishing Warchild, I immediately went out to get all her other books. Warchild is a science fiction story that focuses on character rather than space battles (although there are some of those, too). As a young boy, Jos’ ship is attacked, his parents killed and he is kidnapped by a space pirate. He is later trained to be a spy in the intergalactic war that is going on. Mostly, this book is about how war can shape humans. If you’re worried going into the story because the first chapter is written in second person, don’t worry, it’s only one chapter but I found the narrative choice gave it even more impact.
Plus, there will be a new book in that series coming out soon, The Warboy.

Recommended starting point: Warchild, which is part one of a loose trilogy (different characters in all the books), or the standalone fantasy novel The Gaslight Dogs.

KAREN LORD

Of the three books I read by Karen Lord, I adored one, liked another, and really disliked the third. But that may well be a matter of personal taste and I still want to recommend Lord because she is such a fresh voice in today’s SFF publishing. Her debut Redemption in Indigo retells a Senegalese folktale (which is much more interesting than the billionth version of Red Riding Hood) and reads very much like a bit of mythology.
My favorite book of hers was The Best of All Possible Worlds which took me a couple of attempts to read, but once I got into it, I was into it! It’s about the remnant (exclusively male) population of an eviscerated planet, trying to find a culture similar to theirs to so they can find wives and keep their own bloodlines and culture alive. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and also a little bit of a love story. The book I didn’t like was its sequel, The Galaxy Game.

Recommended starting point: Redemption in Indigo if you like some mythology and a fairy tale feel, or The Best of All Possible Worlds if you prefer a roadtrip of cultural discovery in a science fictional world.

ZEN CHO

I discovered Zen Cho before her wildly popular book Sorcerer to the Crown came out. This Malaysian writer has been publishing shorter fiction for a while now, and I’d say her most standout quality is charm. Her characters, her writing, her stories are just utterly charming. They don’t have the emotional impact I would like but there’s something about them that makes it hard to put her books down. My first read was The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, but I fell absolutely in love with Prunella Gentleman of Sorcerer to the Crown. Practical women for the win, especially if they can do magic!

Recommended starting point: Sorcerer to the Crown or the short story Monkey King, Faerie Queen which you can read for free or even download for your e-reader.

JACQUELINE KOYANAGI

So Koyanage has only published one book so far and I am still waiting for a sequel to that first novel. But I highly recommend it, especially if you’re reading it for the Read Diverse Challenge. Koyanagi writes queer women of color, protagonists with disabilities, and polyamorous relationships. All of that you get in Ascension, a pretty cool space adventure with lots of kick-ass characters and excellent world building. She suffers from chronic illness herself, and I felt that this experience showed in her protagonist, Alana. Alana’s condition doesn’t feel like a “characteristic” to make a character stand out, it feels like it’s part of who she is, a thing she lives with every day. In short, it felt real. Definitely check out this book!

Recommended starting point: Ascension, the first book in the Tangled Axon series. Hopefully, there will be a second book soon.

CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE

You didn’t think I’d write any sort of recommendation list and leave out Cat Valente, did you? As a bisexual author, Cat writes diverse characters in all her books. Here’s a podcast with lots of recommendations of LGBT+ books that made my wishlist grow quite a bit. Valente is incredibly prolific and while I have read most of her books, it’s difficult to recommend where to start. I will give you pointers that may help you pick the right book for your taste. But all of her books feature characters of all shapes and colors (literally! There are blue characters…) and genders and sexualities and physical abilities.

Recommended starting point(s): For the YA/MG lovers out there and those undecided, the best place to start is with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making. It’s the first in a (completed) series, so you can continue reading once you get a taste.
If you want something more grown up, and more difficult to read, you can pick either of these:

  • Deathless: A standalone fairy tale retelling set during WWII in Leningrad. It’s got lovely, lyrical language, beautiful imagery, Russian folklore, and lots of that fairy tale flavor.
  • Palimpsest: A standalone novel about a sexually transmitted city (no typo, that’s really what it is). It’s not exactly fast-paced, but focuses on character and imagery. Beautiful book, but not for everyone’s taste.
  • Radiance: This is AMAZING! The story of a disappeared film maker set in a pulpy version of our solar system. You can live on all the planets, Hollywood is on the moon, etc. But the best is the way it’s told: through interviews, movie script pages, different narration styles. You kind of have to read it to see what I mean. But it is pretty much a perfect book.
  • The Orphan’s Tales: This duology is difficult because of its structure (stories within stories within stories) but it has the most diverse cast I’ve ever read about. It reads like an alternate 1001 Nights and feels very much like folklore and mythology.
  • Six-Gun Snow White/Speak Easy/Silently and Very Fast: Three novellas if you just want a taste. Six-Gun Snow White is a Snow White retelling set in the Wild West with a biracial Snow White. It’s heartbreaking and kick-ass and very poetic.
    Speak Easy is set in a hotel in the Roaring Twenties where every room hides a secret, the basement is a portal to hell (or a really great party, depending on your stance) and there’s a great twist at the end.
    Silently and Very Fast is a more abstract novella about an AI coming to terms with its existence. It has some fairy tale elements to it but less plot than the other two novellas.

That’s it for my second round of recommendations. In the next and final part, I will tell you about the diverse authors on my TBR that I haven’t read yet. I hope this list was helpful and my favorite writers find new readers because then they’ll write more books and that will be great for all of us. Happy reading!

 

 

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#ReadDiverse2017 – A Recommendations List (Part 1)

It’s officially May and I’m still very much enjoying the Read Diverse 2017 Challenge because it helps me discover so many great books. Some people post Diversity Spotlight posts every week and I like those well enough, but they are always too short for my taste and not as useful as I’d like. I want longer lists of recommendations, and not just a list of book titles and the Goodreads synopsis, but a reason to pick those books up. So, although I could collect tons of points for the Read Diverse challenge by recommending only three books at a time, I thought I’d throw my favorites at you in a few longer posts, contaning lots of books.

MY FAVORITE DIVERSE AUTHORS

N. K. JEMISIN

If you haven’t heard about Nora Jemisin, then (1) where have you been these last years and (2) you are so lucky because you’ve got a ton of great books ahead of you. Jemisin writes fantasy, but unlike anything you’ve read before. There are no elves and dwarves, no European mythology, no setting that’s a blatant copy of medieval England. Her characters are usually people of color, and race and gender play a large role in most of her books. But it’s her original ideas that make her books so addictive to me. Humans controling gods, a thing called Dreamblood, people who can feel and alter seismic activity? It sounds wild and it is, but Jemisin also manages to create believable fantasy worlds, peopled with fleshed-out characters who are flawed and beautiful and heartbreaking.

Recommended starting point: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or, if you feel adventurous and up for something heftier and darker, The Fifth Season.

HELEN OYEYEMI

This is for you if you prefer a more “literary” type of fantasy fiction. Oyeyemi’s writing is gorgeous, no matter what you call it. She plays with fairy tales and folklore, turns tropes on their heads, and above all, writes diverse characters in all her stories. In Boy, Snow, Bird (my favorite of hers) she uses the Snow White fairy tale to examine race and gender during the 1950ies. Her short story collection What is not Yours is not Yours is filled with all sorts of diverse characters. Whether it’s skin color, sexual orientation or gender identity, Oyeyemi tells stories where everybody gets a voice. I found Mr. Fox quite difficult to read so I wouldn’t recommend to start with that. I still have quite a lot of her books to read myself and I look forward to each one of them.

Recommended starting point: Boy, Snow, Bird because the language and structure are easy to get into, or What is Not Yours is Not Yours if you want to try short stories first.

NNEDI OKORAFOR

Okorafor has recently been very successful with her novella series about Binti, a young Himba woman who goes to a renowned space university and accidentally brings peace between two formerly warring alien species. It’s a wonderful novella series and I highly recommend it, but my first book by Okorafor – and the one dearest to my heart – is Who Fears Death, a story so powerful and gut-wrenching I will never forget it. Okorafor also writes short stories and YA novels, so there’s something for every taste.

Recommended starting point: Binti for a quick and wonderful introduction, Who Fears Death if you’re up for dark post-apocalyptic stuff, or Kabu-Kabu for short stories that are much lighter.

NALO HOPKINSON

Hopkinson is one of those authors who effortlessly make two ideas come together and turn into something new and beautiful. Her books are heavily influenced by Caribbean folklore, they are sometimes set in Canada, and they mostly feature women of color as protagonists. But Nalo Hopkinson also does amazing things with language. If you read Midnight Robber and don’t fall in love hard, then I’m sorry, but we can’t be friends.

Recommended starting point: You could start with Hopkinson’s debut novel Brown Girl in the Ring which is accessible enough but (comparatively) not that good. I recommend Midnight Robber and if the language puts you off, go for the short story collection Falling in Love With Hominids.

ALAYA DAWN JOHNSON

I admit to having only read one book by Alaya Dawn Johnson so far but that book was so wonderful that I have been buying her other books since then. My recommended starting point is fairly obvious in this case – start where I started, because apparently it gets you hooked. Johnson’s writing in The Summer Prince did so many things on so many levels. On the one hand, it’s a YA romance story, set in future Brazil, featuring a graffiti artist protagonist. But on the other hand, there is so much going on in this world on a politica, world-building, social level. I am still amazed that such a short book could convey this amount of detail.

Recommended starting point: The Summer Prince! Or Love is the Drug, which won the Andre Norton Award.

 

CAITLÍN R. KIERNAN

I read very little horror but when I feel like it, Kiernan is my go-to woman. Her books are beautiful mind-fucks in which you rarely know what’s real and what’s not, sometimes can’t trust your narrator, and will definitely see some crazy shit. But, you know, in the best of ways. Kiernan also writes amazing characters who suffer from mental illness, as she mentioned on her blog she does herself*. Of the books I’ve read, both featured lesbian protagonists and both led me into a beautiful labyrinth of creepy imagery, folklore and myth. It’s like the horror movies you love to watch even as they follow you into your dreams. Also, this woman has written a LOT of books and short stories.

Recommended starting point: The Drowning Girl, definitely. It is plenty weird, but Imp’s voice is one you can follow, I got super involved in her story and that ending is just perfection. For a darker, creepier, less optimistic start, go for The Red Tree. Or (although I have yet to read this myself) try her latest novella, Agents of Dreamland, if you want to start with something shorter.

YOON HA LEE

Okay, so I’ve only read one book by Lee so far but hey, it’s a Hugo finalist this year and for good reason. Lee’s writing is superb, especially when it comes to characters. I have also heard excellent things about the short story collection Conservation of Shadows. Lee is a trans man who doesn’t want to write about trans characters. Read more about him in his own words in this article at The Book Smugglers. But most of all, read Ninefox Gambit.

Recommended starting point: I have no idea, honestly. I started with Ninefox Gambit which took quite a bit of brain power and persistence. But if I can do it, so can you.

MISHELL BAKER

Here’s another author that stole my heart with only one book. I read Borderline not so long ago and, expecting very little from this Urban Fantasy (because no matter how hard I try, I am full of prejudice when it comes to certain sub-genres), I was blown away. With an amputee suicide-surivor, BPD suffering protagonist, you’d think it’s all a bit much. But Millie was a perfect heroine. Perfect not in the sense that she never messed up – quite the opposite. She was perfect because she felt so real, she makes mistakes, she apologises, she tries to make things right. She’s also just a really cool person that I’d want to be friends with.

Recommended starting point: You really don’t have much choice here. Assuming you don’t want to start with the second book in a series, I suggest you start with the brilliant Borderline. Or try one of the author’s short stories (none of which I know yet).

 

That’s it for my first recommendations post. I hope many other challenge participants continue to recommend books as well, especially SFF books. I see lots of contemporary YA out there and I’m thrilled that this genre is getting more and more diverse, but me, I am always on the lookout for new fantasy writers to discover. So throw them at me, people! And happy reading.

 

 

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#Diversiverse – A More Diverse Universe Reading Challenge (October 4-17)

It’s Diversiverse time again! The reading challenge A More Diverse Universe is hosted by Aarti at Book Lust and will take place from 4th to 17th October this year. If you want to participate, just click on the banner and sign up.

diversiverse 2015

The rules for the challenge are really simple:
  • Read and review one book
  • written by a person of color
  • during the first two weeks of October (October 4th-17th)

It’s a low-pressure challenge without genre restrictions. You can read any type of book you  like. For me, the difficulty is not in finding books but rather in finishing them during the challenge. But two weeks is a good amount of time to read one book, even if your day job eats up most of your time. I’ll up my personal challenge game and aim for two books, because ambition.

Here’s the list of novels I came up with spontaneously. I’ll pick and choose from these or any others that I might think of in the meantime.

  • N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season
  • Karin Lowachee – The Gaslight Dogs
  • Ken Liu – The Grace of Kings
  • Jennifer Marie Brissett – Elysium
  • Zen Cho – Sorcerer to the Crown
  • Hiromi Goto – Half World
  • David Anthony Durham – Acacia
  • Helen Oyeyemi – White is for Witching
  • Miyuki Miyabe – Brave Story
  • Nahoko Uehashi – Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
  • Nalo Hopkinson – Brown Girl in the Ring
  • Aliette de Bodard – The House of Shattered Wings

Those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head. While I am mostly a reader of SFF, I don’t believe that any genre lacks writers of color. They may not get the same promotion from their publishers as others, but they are there. And Aarti’s challenge is all about realising this and trying to read books by people from cultures other than our own – or maybe to finally find a book written by someone with experiences more like your own.

There’s still enough time to sign up to the challenge, find books that sound good to you, or maybe browse other people’s lists to find out what they plan to read. I hope for many participants for purely personal reasons – because those participants will point me in the direction of many new books. And there can never be too many books.

Nnedi Okorafor – The Book of Phoenix

Nnedi Okorafor’s wonderful Who Fears Death was one of my favorite reads a few years ago. Naturally, I jumped on most things she’s written since then. Her short story collection Kabu-Kabu was great, with one standout story that I will mention again during this review. A quasi-prequel to Who Fears Death, it was clear that I needed to get my hands on The Book of Phoenix ASAP. It wasn’t what I expected, it wasn’t as good as Onyesonwu’s story, but it had wonderful parts that made up for the messier bits.

book of phoenixTHE BOOK OF PHOENIX
by Nnedi Okorafor

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015
Ebook: 240 pages
Series: Who Fears Death #0.1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: I’d never known any other place.

The stunning stand-alone prequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning Who Fears Death.
They call her many things – a research project, a test-subject, a specimen. An abomination.
But she calls herself Phoenix, an ‘accelerated woman’ – a genetic experiment grown and raised in Manhattan’s famous Tower 7, the only home she has ever known. Although she’s only two years old, Phoenix has the body and mind of an adult – and powers beyond imagining. Phoenix is an innocent, happy to live quietly in Tower 7, reading voraciously and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human.
Until the night that Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated, Phoenix begins to search for answers – only to discover that everything that she has ever known is a lie.
Tower 7 isn’t a haven. It’s a prison.
And it’s time for Phoenix to spread her wings and rise.
Spanning contents and centuries, The Book of Phoenix is an epic, incendiary work of magial realism featuring Nnedi Okorafor’s most incredible, unforgettable heroine yet.

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I have completely rewritten this review three times now and I’m still unable to properly express how I feel about the book. My reading experience sounds much more negative than it was. Yes, I had problems with the book and I didn’t adore it. But I still liked it and enjoyed the read. The Book of Phoenix is a good book that just didn’t go my way. That’s taste for you.

The first chapter was absolutely stunning. In the prologue, Nnedi Okorafor establishes the timeline and makes the connection to Who Fears Death, but the heart of the story is Phoenix’ first person narrative of her own life. Trapped in Tower 7, she is quite happy with her infinite amount of books and the company of her lover Saeed. But a few moments change her entire life and she escapes what she comes to realise has always been a prison, not a home.

Once out of Tower 7, the tight narrative of the opening chapter weathers a little. Phoenix – true to her name – burns bright throughout the novel. She is a fascinating character to follow, not only because she is so distinctly not human, but because she has to find a place for herself in a world that doesn’t want her. Finding her own identity is the one constant of the novel – as futile as her search seems. She looks African but she is the result of experiments, of genetic manipulation, she is made for one purpose alone – and she refuses to be used that way. Wherever she goes, she is made to feel different.

I had several problems with the story, mainly that it felt so haphazardly put together, especially the middle part. The beginning is fantastic, it sets up a world that intrigued me, that I wanted to learn more about. But we abandon that world quickly and don’t explore the purpose of the Towers, the experiments, and their effects on society any further. Instead, we follow Phoenix to Ghana – a part of the book that did offer good, quieter chapters, but it also felt very disconnected from the larger story arc. In fact, I have a hard time defining the larger story arc… Is it a revenge story? An exploration of identity? A science fiction, X-Men type of story? All of these questions can be answered with a “yes” but I was still missing the red thread.

The most interesting aspects for me were Phoenix’ struggle for identity, her balancing act between heroine and villainess, and the way she dealt with her heritage (or what she chooses to define as her heritage). For example, she refuses to ever set foot on a ship, especially not on one travelling from Africa to America. Although she isn’t sure of who she is, where (biologically speaking) she comes from, she feels kinship to the people she meets in Africa as well as to the other specimens from Tower 7. But Phoenix still knows that she doesn’t truly belong anywhere.

The world building could have been great if more time had been invested in it. For example, I positively squeed when the robotic spiders who protect pipelines were mentioned. I know those spiders. In fact, I had read a story about a woman making a strange connection to the artificial intelligence in Kabu Kabu. Here, the story gets nothing but a fleeting mention (which is fine), but I would have enjoyed even more of these little snippets of news. We know about Phoenix and her friends, but we know very little about the state of the rest of the world. Hints are dropped every once in a while, and every time I caught myself super interested in them, but then we never get to see more. It was frustrating but it kept drawing me in.

This is a very angry book, dealing with exploitation, identity, revenge, and sacrifice. If the plot had been more focused I would have adored it. The language managed to pull me back whenever I got bored with the plot, or found myself looking for a way to fit the current chapter into the bigger story. During these boring bits, I kept reading for specific aspects only to end up disappointed that they were dropped. Phoenix has unique abilities cool enough to fill a whole different book. I wanted to see more of the winged man she frees in the beginning, I wanted more background and scenes with Phoenix’ friends. We do get information on where and when Phoenix’ story is set in relation to Who Fears Death but this, too, would have been an aspect that could have been explore even more.

So I have gripes. That’s fine. Nnedi Okorafor is a great writer, but The Book of Phoenix, much like her first contact novel Lagoon, was too meandering for my taste. The pacing was off, the things I liked best were left aside in favor of others. The beginning and the end were by far the strongest parts of the book, with a confusing unstructured middle part. But then, Okorafor throws in sentences here or there that are so perfect, that hit you right in the guts, that I can’t really be too angry about this. A bit of editing, streamlining the plot, and more in-depth treatment of world building and side characters would have made this the perfect book. To me, it really shows that this used to be a shorter story that got turned into a novel. Much of the middle feels like stuffing, rather than necessary plot. So it wasn’t a great book for me, it’s only good (what a thing to complain about, huh?). And now I’m eagerly waiting for Binti, Okorafor’s first foray into space opera.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very Good

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 Second opinions:

Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Šejić – Rat Queens Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth

I’ve been waiting so long for this. Re-reading the first volume was entertainment enough for a while but I am so glad I finally got to join the Queens for another adventure. They are as kick-ass as ever and even though the art has changed, the story is still superbly funny.

Rat Queens 2RAT QUEENS: THE FAR-REACHING TENTACLES OF N’RYGOTH
by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Illustrated by: Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Šejić
Published by: Image Comics, 2015
Paperback: 128 pages
Series: Rat Queens #2
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Damn it, Sawyer!

This booze-soaked second volume of RAT QUEENS reveals a growing menace within the very walls of Palisade. And while Dee may have run from her past, the bloated, blood-feasting sky god N’rygoth never really lets his children stray too far.

Collects RAT QUEENS #6-10

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While readers had to wait quite a while to find out what the Rat Queens did after saving Palisade from a bunch of monsters, only one night has passed in their world. If you remember, there was a party, and we begin this second collected volume with its aftermath. More precisely, we see who exactly every one of the girls wakes up to the next morning.

The story is pretty simple this time. Big Bad threatening the city and everyone who lives in it, the Rat Queens come to the rescue and get in quite a bit of danger. All the while, they retain their snarky, no-nonsense policy of awesome. The tone is probably what I love best about this. Neither of the girls has trouble cursing or calling genitals by their name (sometimes even referring to actual genitals).

Not only the dialogue is snappy and unafraid, the pictures follow suit. Unlike in TV-land, where people have sex while wearing all their underwear, the Rat Queens appear appropriately naked when things get steamy. I love how this story doesn’t focus on sex but rather shows it as an integral part in everyone’s lives. Violet, Dee, Hannah, and Betty have bigger fish to fry but hey, when they get the chance to sleep with someone they like, they’ll fucking take it! After all, they never know if they’ll survive the next adventure. Betty also still happily tries any new drug she finds and the effects are hilarious.

rat queens and their weapons

What makes this book especially interesting are the tentacle-induced flashbacks. We know Violet shaves her beard but now we actually get to see why she started. Man, I wish my hair looked as good as Vi’s beard… A glimpse into Hannah’s past was even more intriguing but this is getting close to spoiler territory. Let’s just say, I was surprised and not surprised at the same time and I’m not quite sure how to feel about the revelations yet. But Rat Queens being what it is, the comic never takes itself too seriously, so I shouldn’t either.

Arat queens violet is awesomenother thing any careful reader will notice is the change of art mid-volume. I missed this bit of news when it happened, but Google tells me Roc Upchurch was arrested for domestic violence and Kurtis Wiebe decided to continue the series with a different artist. Stjepan Šejić does a fantastic job, although the change is quite visible. Having fallen in love with the art as much as the story, I felt a certain stubbornness and refusal to like new things. I didn’t want a different Hannah. I wanted my Hannah (if you can’t tell, Hannah is my favorite). But I must also pay all sorts of respect to Šejić who not only kept the characters reconisably the same while making them his own, but also for improving some of them. It may be due to the story line or the art or both, but Violet was the star of this volume in my eyes. The picture on the right is too perfect for words and describes Violet better than any piece of prose could.  And since Šejić kept Sawyer just the way I like him, I am now okay with him taking over the series.

Despite the revealing (sometimes literally) flashbacks, there is clearly still a lot to discover. Secrets want to be let out, backstories want to be told, romances want to develop (or break apart), the city needs to be re-built (only to be wrecked again, I’m sure). I sincerely hope the next volume won’t be quite so long in the making because I still can’t get enough of the Rat Queens. May they fight, may they drink, may they fuck, and may they curse Gary to their heart’s desire. I’ll be right there, following them.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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FTF Book Review: Helen Oyeyemi – Boy, Snow, Bird

Every year, I think I’m insane when I sign up for too many reading challenges. But it is exactly these challenges that lead me to books that I might otherwise have missed, that make me discover authors that become favorites. Helen Oyeyemi is such an author. Her latest novel fit beautifully into some of my reading challenges, as well as my theme of the month. And it was so good, I already put all her other books on my soon-to-read list.

boy snow birdBOY, SNOW, BIRD
by Helen Oyeyemi

Published by: Riverhead, 2014
Hardcover: 308 pages
Standalone
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.

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Fairy Tales Retold

  • Snow White

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Synopsis

In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.
A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.
Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

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Review

I had never read anything by Helen Oyeyemi before so this book hit me right in the feels without warning. There is so much beauty in this story, I hardly know where to start. Boy Novak flees from her abusive father and runs away to make a life for herself. She marries a wealthy man, Arturo Whitman, who has the most beautiful daughter anyone has ever seen. Snow, with her sleek hair and white skin, is everybody’s darling. When Boy is pregnant with her first child, she starts both fearing and resenting Snow for taking up her grandparents’ attention, for drawing away from her own unborn child. When Bird, their baby girl, is born, Boy sends Snow away and manages to keep her away for years and years. Bird grows up without having ever seen her own sister. Until one day she discovers a letter…

The novel is structured in three parts. The first and last are told from Boy’s perspective, the second one from Bird’s. In some genius way, Helen Oyeyemi managed to make every single character believable and likeable. I fell in love with Boy on the first page, when she runs away from her rat-catcher father whose punishments were highly original but all the more disturbing.

The easier Boy’s life gets, the more focus she puts on beauty, on her own looks, the more she worries about what she will look like when she is old. She even spins a tale with her best friend (an aspiring journalist) about a magician – ostensibly – but really about women and beauty. Boy doesn’t scream her views and fears at you but they are undeniably there, visible just beneath everything she says and does. It makes for an intriguing character, to say the least.

boy snow bird3

During Bird’s part of the novel, I got really sucked in and didn’t put the book down until I finished. Because Bird, of course, is born with darker skin. The Whitmans are really African Americans with very light skin, passing for white. The moral implications of their actions are discussed but neither condemned nor praised. The author leaves it up to her readers to make up their own minds. My mind didn’t take long making up. If you have the choice between living a life as an equal, fairly treated, full person and a life where you tell the truth about your family lineage but where you aren’t allowed to eat in certain restaurants, buy in certain shops, go to certain places at all – I know what I would choose. But the discussion point is valid. Skin color is part of what makes the Whitmans themselves, and they have a dark-skinned sister hidden away to remind them – and they gave up that cultural identity for a more comfortable life.

In one of her letters to Bird, Snow writes about the part of the family that doesn’t pass for white:

Great-aunt Effie is like that. She thinks there are treasures that were within her reach, but her skin stole them from her. She shinks she could have been somebody. But she is somebody.

Have I mentioned at all that Bird and Snow develop a friendship via letters? When Bird finds a letter adressed to her (hidden away by her mother), she writes Snow on a whim, trying to get to know her far-away sister. She has seen pictures of Snow’s otherworldly beauty, of course, but instead of being jealous (Bird is very pretty herself) she asks intelligent questions. Like what is it like to be seen first and foremost as something beautiful? Did Snow sometimes wish she looked more average? And does Snow also sometimes not show up in mirrors?

Mirrors, while not as front and center as in the fairy tale, are important throughout the story and especially during a revelation at the end. I don’t spoil books so you can read on safely. Mirrors play a part, but I could never, ever have foreseen that ending.

I realise this review is getting long already but I haven’t even told you about the gorgeous, gorgeous writing yet. Helen Oyeyemi is an economical writer. She doesn’t embellish her sentences with a million little flourishes. Instead she finds the right words, puts them together, and they just work.

Possibly the most beautiful thing in this book were its characters. I said before that I liked Boy, Snow, and Bird – they are vastly different people with very different dreams and hopes and problems. But they each have agency. Something so many (even good) authors fail at, is writing good dialogue. Either we get the kind where every line spoken is of the utmost importance for the plot, or we get the sort of dialogue where people just talk and talk without saying much. Helen Oyeyemi finds the middle path. People sometimes just ramble, make up crazy stories with their friends, but within these ramblings they say something about themselves. Like Boy’s made-up story about the magician, it is not just a yarn spun with a friend, it is also a cloak she can put over her feelings so she doesn’t feel naked.

Boy’s decision to run away from home (“home” includes a childhood best friend she truly loves) and marry someone to be safe from her father reveals so much about her. As does her choice to bring Snow back home after years of separation, for the sake of her daughter Bird.

A week later Dad made another trip to Boston and brought me back a gift from Snow – a small, square, white birdcage with a broken door. I hung the cage from the ceiling and watched it swing, and I was happy.

Needless to say, I loved Boy, Snow, Bird with the passion of a thousand fangirls. I want a sequel and a movie and a ton of fanart. How many times can you read a fairy tale retelling of Snow White and fall in love with the princess and the evil queen at the same time, after all?

RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection

divider1If you want to dress like your favorite book cover, here’s an outfit to go with Boy, Snow, Bird (via styleblazer.com)

boy snow bird

Max Gladstone – Three Parts Dead

Even without the John W. Campbell nomination, it has been impossible to miss the buzz surrounding Max Gladstone on the internet. He is almost universally praised and caught my eye especially with the gorgeous covers that grace his books. I couldn’t wait to jump into this secondary world lawyering story where gods can die and gargoyles move. Did I mention how much I love gargoyles?

three parts deadTHREE PARTS DEAD
by Max Gladstone

Published by: Tor, 2012
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: The Craft Sequence #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: God wasn’t answering tonight.

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.
Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.
Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.
When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.
Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

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This was such a blast. Meet Tara Abernathy, kicked out of magician college and promptly picked up by Ms. Kevarian to work for the renowned law firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao. Because a god is dead. Yep, this starts out with a bang and just continues on from there.

Abelard is a priest of the now-dead fire god, Kos, and helps Tara figure out what happened and whether the priests are to blame for his death. This is where the law-meets-magic mumbo jumbo comes in. The world building is difficult to grasp at times, but when it comes to gods and their contracts with the living, it’s pretty straight forward. Power comes in, power goes out, and if you tip the scales too much, bad stuff happens. It is obvious that Kos spent more power than he had at his disposal but the records show that this shouldn’t have been possible.

On their investigation, Tara and Abelard are helped by Cat, a vampire blood addict and a servant of Justice. I could ramble on about Justice, this other goddess who basically keeps the city safe with her police force, but I would inevitable get too excited and stop making sense. Justice’s Blacksuits made for amazing imagery, though, and are probably the most memorable part I’m taking away from Three Parts Dead.

So let me talk about something else instead. I am stunned and surprised and insanely happy about the gender balance of this book. I didn’t exactly keep count but the main characters are three women and three men. Tara is also a woman of color and the protagonist. It’s lovely to see that the cover isn’t just a pretty picture chosen without much thought but it actually depicts the main character. Note the awesome suit and the craft markings on Tara’s arm, please. The artist did such a great job, I want to send a hug their way!

tara abernathy
Three Parts Dead
is Max Gladstone’s debut novel and I now see why he is nominated for an award. The pacing is spot on, even the side-characters are multi-layered and genuine, the plot is engaging and offers a few nice surprises along the way. I did have some minor problems with the world building in that there could have been more of it. But the author avoided exposition to such an extent that I was left confused at times. At which point the characters or plot put their hooks back in me and I had to read on anyway.

My slightly bigger qualms were about the magic. Tara is a necromancer and can do all sorts of cool stuff with her magic. But I still don’t quite understand how at court, magic battles between two opposing lawyers are supposed to decide on the truth of the matter. Maybe I was unattentive or missed an important line, but I just rolled with it, without really getting it. The battles were well told and with a bit more background knowledge about the working of lawyers in Alt Coulumb they could have been great.

Lastly, I loved how Max Gladstone worked in characters and creatures that have become genre tropes. He gives them a new spin. He has vampires, but they’re neither the sparkly kind, nor the mopey Anne Rice type. He has magicians but no Gandalfs or Harry Potters. Other than in a lot of fantasy books, becoming a necromancer is not something I would immediately jump on if I had the chance. There is a price to pay for being a magic user and it gave me a lot of food for thought. Flying sure is cool, but do I want to become something less-than-human for it? See, it’s not that simple, and that is precisely what made Ms. Kevarian so intriguing.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series to find out what new trouble is brewing in the city of Alt Coulumb and I hope I will meet Tara and Abelard again. They have grown on me quite a bit, as have Cat and Captain Pelham. Max Gladstone has created a wonderful world that beautifully sets itself apart from what used to be considered fantasy literature. I’ll check out the other Campbell nominees but they already have very tough competition in Max Gladstone.

(P.S.: Happy Towel Day, everyone!)

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The Craft Sequence:

  1. Three Parts Dead
  2. Two Serpents Rise
  3. Full Fathom Five

craft sequence

Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon

Worlds Without End has seduced me to join four (!) different challenges this year. I don’t know what possessed me during a time where my job is more time-consuming than ever before. Nnedi Okorafor goes on a few of those lists, so I was all the happier when I received an ARC from the lovely people at Hodder. *dances*

lagoonLAGOON
by Nnedi Okorafor

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 10th April 2014
Paperback: 393 pages
Standalone
Review copy from the publisher
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: She slices through the water, imagining herself a deadly beam of black light.

Three strangers, each isolated by their own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the world-famous rapper. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach outside Lagos, Nigeria’s capital city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.
But when a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

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Nnedi Okorafor blew me utterly away with her beautiful Who Fears Death. With that in mind and this gorgeous Joey Hi-Fi cover in front of me, I was sure that great things would expect me in her newest novel. Hailed as an original and unusual first contact story, and as the author’s answer to the movie District 9, it paints the picture of a city during crisis.

The ostentatious protagonists – Adaora, Agu, and Anthony – were never really what the story is about. They meet on the beach just seconds before a meteor strikes (or so they believe) and an alien creature emerges from the sea. After that, chaos ensues throughout the entire city, violence rules the streets, religious zealots hunt witches and the alien “demons”, people frantically film the strange events on their phones or cameras, and the world goes completely bananas.

It is this human reaction to something new, something strange that we don’t immediately understand, that is the heart and soul of Lagoon. Every short chapter is almost a tiny short story that shows us Lagos through a myriad of people’s eyes. This may do wonders for world building and setting a scene, but the quick changes of view point disrupts the narrative in ways that make it hard to stay engaged. The moment one of the proper plot lines got interesting, it was dropped for a quick interlude. This made Lagoon a strenuous read when it should have been engaging.

Getting to spend so little time with the main characters – and leaving them during the most interesting moments of conflict – made it difficult for me to identify with them or care for them in any way. Their personalities never really rise much above what the blurb gives us. Adaora, a marine biologist… well yes, she likes the sea and knows about its inhabitants. She is also a decent person with two kids. I can’t give you anything else because I never had a chance to properly meet her. The same goes for Anthony, who gets to wear the “world-famous Ghanaian rapper” cap and nothing else. Agu, a soldier, stands out only in that he – like Adaora – is a decent human being who will defend people weaker than himself against violence.

The biggest copout of the novel are the actual aliens. I didn’t read this expecting a creature feature. I knew going in that Okorafor would paint a city and its people in all their facets. But, hey, if aliens land on the fucking planet, I’d at least like to know a little bit about them. But every. single. time. there is a scene that gets us close to the real wonders from “beyond the stars”, the scene ends and the characters conveniently don’t remember anything. I, as a reader, feel cheated. I put faith in the author to tell me a story worth reading and every time things got interesting – either with the humans in the city, or with the aliens – we fade to black and hop into a character’s head I neither know nor care about, and who will never show up again for the rest of the novel anyway.

lagoon cover

All of that said, these short chapters are beautifully written. I believe a lot of subplots could have been handled better. In the beginning of the novel, some time is invested in a religious group and their zealous leader, as well as an LGBT organization and their struggle to be themselves in a hostile environment. For the amount of set up and world building involved, these two plot lines were dropped rather unceremoniously. Nnedi Okorafor’s writing may be fantastic, but even if you describe utter chaos, structure is your friend.

A handful of moments make up for some of the novel’s failings (such as turning into a mermaid or gigantic spiders – I’ll always love reading about gigantic spiders) but all things considered, Lagoon didn’t deliver on anything I had hoped for. It may be sold as science fiction, because aliens and magic, but in reality, it is a fix-up novel that only grazes these alien life forms, and focuses more on the humans (and animals) in and around Lagos. Little vignettes, connected by the arrival of aliens off the coast that show humanity in all its ugly beauty.

As much as I loved Who Fears Death, I won’t pounce on the next Okorafor novel. I’ll wait and see what others have to say about it first. If I finish a book only because I feel I should (because it’s an ARC from the publisher) then it failed me as a reader. As it will be published in only one week, I will be on the lookout for reviews to see if I maybe just picked it up while in the wrong mood, or if other readers have the same misgivings.

MY RATING: 6/10  –  Okay

 

Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch – Rat Queens: Sass & Sorcery

See, 2014 is full of awesome. The only comic book series I’ve ever really gotten excited about was Saga (My pre-ordered volume 3 should arrive by the end of the month!). But do me a favor and read the description of this comic below. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Now you know why I needed to read this. And it was even more fun than expected.

rat queens sass and sorceryRAT QUEENS: SASS AND SORCERY
by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch

Published by: Image Comics, 1st April 2014
Ebook: 128 pages
Series: Rat Queens #1-5
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: …and what we face now is, alarmingly, one of Palisade’s greatest threats!

Who are the Rat Queens?
A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all god’s creatures for profit. It’s also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief.
This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!

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Lord of the Rings on crack, indeed! Take your average band of mercenary heroes who kill monsters with swagger and style and always something witty to say, make them a diverse group of girls and add a fistful of humor. There you have it – a hilarious comic adventure that I, for my part, will be following closely.

Hanna, Violet, Dee, and Betty are the Rat Queens, a group of mercenaries usually out to hunt monsters for money. However, when they’re off the job, they enjoy drinking, swearing, brawling, and sex. They also curse like sailors and will kick your ass into next week if you dare speak an angry word at their friends. I fell in love with them immediately. And for so many reasons.

Hannah is dressed like a 50ies super heroine but with her necromantic powers, she can turn quite dark. She is also snarky, sarcastic, and fiercly protective of her band of heroines. Violet shaved off her dwarven beard and instead chose the life of a sword-fighting maiden of awesome. Betty, a Smidgen of many talents, was the fastest to steal my heart. Not only is she a lesbian who enjoys sex and lets people know it whenever she can, she also went full Sherlock in one scene, making further investigations unnecessary. Oh yeah, and she mixes a mean drink. Dee – one gorgeous woman, if you ask me – is terrified of social situations and still has to come to grips with her family’s weird belief in a Chthulu-like god.
They aren’t all equally developed characters but I suspect and hope that the writers simply saved up a bit for later issues. I can’t wait to find out more about each and every one of these girls.
rat queens introduction
But these girls’ personalities are just one slice of the pie. Look at them! I cannot express how much I love the way they are drawn. Hannah’s Rockabilly hairstyle rocks. Violet has the face of a fairy tale princess on the body of a well-muscled, normal woman. Betty looks like half child, half goblin (don’t think for one second she is as cute as she looks) and Dee is one beautiful girl with a dark dress sense. None of them look like anorexic models or unrealistically muscly super girls. They have butts, they have boobs, and their faces are all different. There is nothing I dislike more in comics than when characters look exactly the same, except for their hair and clothes. These girls have personality, inside and out.

If you’re worried that Dee is the only Person of Color in this story, you can stop worrying now. The writer and artist seem to have taken the cry for more diversity in SFF to heart. Sawyer, the captain of the guard and keeper of the peace and law in the city of Palisade (and a majorly good-looking man, if I may say so) has dark skin, as do other side characters. But skin color isn’t even a thing in this story. Neither, so it seems, is species. Violet will gladly seduce an orc if she feels like it and Betty certainly doesn’t keep her romantic adventures within the boundaries of her species. You get to see troll women and orc women (something I’ve never seen in any fantasy story featuring those creatures) and what’s more, you get to see them kick ass and be beautiful! Yes, a large woman with gigantic boobs and legs so muscled they look like tree trunks can be pretty.  Especially as she rips your goblin heart straight out of you.

rat queens betty aint no foolThe tone of the story is much lighter than my beloved Saga but this is also the Rat Queens’ strength. The humor is never cheap and it got more than a few chuckles out of me. There is situational humor, sarcastic remarks, highly original swear words (Fucktarts), and clever jokes galore. This hilarity isn’t merely conveyed through text, however. The art shines with it.

Strike that. The art shines, period. I can’t say anything about the style that will make you like it or dislike it. It is so incredibly subjective. But, like Saga, this one really worked for me. The colors are stunning and immediately give every new setting character. The book is also full of little details that aren’t important to the story, but help build the world without clunky exposition in the text. I’m still happy about that little dog with horns that I caught sitting in the corner of a page. I’m pretty sure there is more to discover and will report once I’ve re-read it.

I haven’t told you anything about the story yet – it’s really not necessairy. You take these four girls, put them together, and you got dynamite. But just to make your mouths water a bit more. There are hints of romance, dark secrets of the past, intrigues… also alcohol, drugs, street brawls, lots of blood, and some insanely quotable lines. You’ll find brightly colored pictures of pretty girls with cuts on their faces and battle scars all over their bodies, drinking and sword fighting and kicking copious amounts of ass.

I just pre-ordered the paperback copy. This needs to be on my shelf in all its glory.  Don’t make me for the next one too long. Pretty please? While I’m waiting, I’ll leave you with this glorious bit of fun (click to biggify):

rat queens secrets

MY RATING: 8,5/10  – Excellent!!

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Links of interest: