Category Archives: Book Review

Review: The Fifth Season (N. K. Jemisin)

Book Review:  The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
Fantasy, Post-apocalyptic/#1 of 3, The Broken Earth Trilogy

“This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say ‘the world has ended,’ it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine.
But this is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
For the last time.”

One of the benefits of not having a rating system is that when I feel like it, I can arbitrarily make one up. With that in mind I would like to give The Fifth Season FIVE MILLION STARS. I loved this book.

The basic premise: the ironically named Stillness is a world in constant motion, wracked by earthquakes, volcanic activity, and tsunamis. Some people – called the orogenes – are born with an innate ability to manipulate the earth, calming or exacerbating the seismic that is part of daily life. They are the most feared and yet most valuable members of society, and are isolated and tightly controlled from childhood or birth – whenever they are first discovered.

The Fifth Season is remarkable in every way; it is brilliantly and beautifully written. I love the combination of fantasy/science fiction/post-apocalyptic influences in the story, and the unpredictability the unusual hybrid of genres creates.  The sweeping drama of the world is a fantastic backdrop to the true drama, which is intensely personal in nature.  It’s one of those rare and especially rewarding books where a new bit of information, dropped well into the book, suddenly makes all the pieces of the story fall into place and connect in a way that they didn’t before. (I am guessing that a lot of people, like me, exclaimed “Aha!” out loud at one point while reading the book. Though hopefully they didn’t do it on a bus full of people and startle the stranger sitting next to them, like I did.)

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Review: Uprooted (Naomi Novik)

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Fantasy / Standalone

“We were of the valley. Born in the valley, of families planted too deep to leave even when they knew their daughter might be taken; raised in the valley, drinking of whatever power also fed the Wood.”

The woods near Agnieska’s hometown are dark and sinister, corrupting people who are caught too close or too careless. The town’s only protection is the Dragon, a powerful wizard who lives nearby. As his price, he takes one young woman from the village every ten years. Everyone is sure the next girl he takes will be Agnieska’s beautiful and talented best friend, Kasia – but when the time comes, he chooses Agnieska instead, and she finds herself face to face with the power and mystery of both the Dragon and the malevolent woods.

There are so many good things about this book. It is beautifully and cleverly written. I enjoyed the name, and how “uprootedness” comes back again and again both metaphorically and literally through the book. I appreciated the system of magic, and particularly the anti-classist themes that were explored by it. The Dragon looks down on Agnieska’s magic because it is rural, primitive, and intuitive, only to find it is more powerful – magically and emotionally – than his own. And I am always really pleased by the depiction of a complicated but strong female friendship like the one between Kasia and Agnieska.

But ultimately Uprooted felt unsatisfying for me, in spite of all the good things I can say about it. One reason, sadly, is the hype burnout effect. Having fallen in love with her Temeraire series, and then seeing the pretty much unanimous praise for Uprooted, I had enormous expectations for this book. I undoubtedly would have appreciated it much more if I had read it without any knowledge of Novik’s work and without having read any reviews. I went in fully expecting to love it to pieces, and that’s a tough bar for any book.

The second reason is the somewhat indefinable question of resonance – that is, do the story or characters resonate with me in a meaningful way? For whatever reason, this is where the book fell flat for me. Nothing about the book’s thematic content, or the characters, or the plot moved me particularly, and I’m at a bit of a loss to explain why when so many other people have found them so compelling.

The best I can do is try to compare and contrast with a similar book I read recently which did resonate with me, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn. There are countless similarities between the two books: a young girl who is ‘uprooted’, a Dragon who is actually a human man; a vain, narcissistic but strangely appealing love interest, and the mysterious, sinister woods who the protagonist feels both connected to and threatened by. Both books kept me excited and entertained throughout, but it was A Creature of Moonlight that left me in tears at the end. Uprooted has stronger writing, especially in the comparable sections with the young country protagonist adjusting to life at court, which was much more interesting, exciting, and nuanced in Uprooted. And yet I ended up connecting to the character much more in A Creature of Moonlight. I felt the book was so much about respecting the agency and choices of young women, and I related to it so forcefully. There were such obvious and tragic consequences for not respecting the decisions and values of young women in A Creature of Moonlight; the same consequences weren’t present for anyone in Upooted. And I’m especially referring to the Dragon, of course – I don’t feel like he ever has to face consequences for his condescending and disrespectful treatment of Agnieska.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with the book: the main relationships. I didn’t like the Dragon at all, and his relationship with Agnieska horrified me. I should clarify that I think he’s an interesting and well-written character – but an ass, and so I had no investment in Agnieska’s relationship with him. There is no chance I would pursue a romantic relationship with someone who had insulted my intelligence, habits, and appearance so casually for so long, and it was hard to watch Agnieska do just that. Kasia, on the other hand, I liked a great deal, but I wanted more out of her relationship with Agnieska. I would rather have spent more time exploring her emotional state and connection to Agnieska (and less time with the Dragon).

So that was Uprooted for me; I’m glad I read it, I enjoyed it, but I  wish I had loved it the way I wanted to.

If you like _____________, I recommend checking out Uprooted:

  • Eastern European folklore
  • Atmospheric fairytales
  • Coming of age stories about young women
  • Strong female friendships
  • Standalone (completed) epic fantasy

If you dislike____________, you might want to avoid Uprooted:

  • Content including attempted rape/sexual assault and abusive relationships

Review: The Moon and the Sun (Vonda N. McIntyre)

Book Review: The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre
Historical Fantasy / Pocket / Standalone

The Moon and the Sun is a historical fantasy, or alternate history, about the discovery of a sea-monster by a 17th century scientist. At the behest of Louis VIX, who believes the monsters hold the secret to immortality, Yves de la Croix captures two sea-monsters for study. His sister Marie-Josèphe assists with his studies, but finds that the more she learns about the sea creatures, the less convinced she of their monstrosity she is. This Nebula Award winner from 1998 is an interesting mix of politics, science, art, and history, with obvious research and attention to detail behind it.

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Book Review: The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison)

Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Fantasy / Tor /  Standalone Novel

“‘In our inmost and secret heart, which you ask us to bare to you, we wish to banish them as we were banished, to a cold and lonely house, in the charge of a man who hated us. And we wish them trapped there as we were trapped.’ 
‘You consider that unjust, Serenity?’ 
‘We consider it cruel,’ Maia said. ‘And we do not think that cruelty is ever just.’ ”

The Emperor had four sons, and would have been happy to see any of them follow him on the throne – any, that is, apart from his youngest, neglected and maligned half-goblin son, Maia, who has been kept away from him since birth. A tragic twist of fate, however, leaves Maia inheriting the throne, alone and utterly uninformed about the intricacies of both palace life and the empire’s political situation. Maia struggles against alienation and his own awkwardness and obliviousness to try and make the best of the unexpected (and dangerous) situation.

The Goblin Emperor was a fun and refreshing change of pace for me in terms of epic fantasy. It’s a rarity: a feel-good book about courtly intrigue and political machinations. You put it down feeling, in spite of the manipulation, classism, racism, assassination attempts and general villainy, convinced that ultimately people are good-hearted and generous. It’s strange to think that could feel subversive, but in the current landscape of epic fantasy, it seems like a long time since I read a book as optimistic as this. Continue reading Book Review: The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison)

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic (V. E. Schwab)

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Tor / A Darker Shade of Magic #1

“I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

Kell is one of the Travelers—people who can use magic to travel between parallel universes. He lives in Red London, where magic is bountiful, the monarchs beneficent, and life generally good. His counterpart Holland lives in White London, under the thumb of a brutal brother and sister and in a corrupt and cruel land. Kell’s new partner in crime, the thief Lila, is from Grey London—our London, more or less, magic-less and dull. And no one speaks of Dark London, the dead city that was sealed away, and whose nearness is what corrupts White London.

The idea of the four Londons—the crucial concept behind the book—is an excellent one. I feel like there is a fantastic foundation here for future books, because we spent most of our time in Red London and Grey London, whereas White and Black London were the ones I was most interested in seeing. Both make me think of Fallen London, the the game which has some of the most detailed, thorough, and vibrant world-building I’ve ever experienced. I think having that comparison made me want more out of White London; I wanted a better sense of the class and power structure and details of day to day life. But like I said, there is a lot of groundwork laid here that I am intrigued to see built on.

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Book Review: Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie)

Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Orbit / #3 of 3, Imperial Radch

“The point is, there is not point. Choose your own.”

This review remains spoiler-free for all three books, apart from character mentions (so you’ll be aware of a couple of people who are still alive as of Ancillary Mercy).

As with Ancillary Justice, I’m struggling to write a review for Mercy that doesn’t for sound like incoherent gushing because I loved it so much. An example of how much: I picked it up today with the idea of flipping through to find a quote for the beginning of the review, and two hours later realized that I hadn’t moved and was halfway through rereading it. Most of this book is people just talking to each other, politicking and navigating personal relationships, and yet it is completely spellbinding and impossible to put down. Moments of suspense and action are combined with social commentary and a rich array of thematic material about how people (some of them AIs) negotiate sentience, decision-making, personhood, privilege, feelings, self-determination. And did I mention the protagonist being a singing spaceship?!? These books are amazing. Ann Leckie is amazing.

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Book Review: Broken Monsters (Lauren Beukes)

Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
HarperCollins – Standalone

“Everyone lives three versions of themselves; a public life, a private life and a secret life.”

Detective Gabi Versado is investigating a series of murders in the city of Detroit, murders that are more gruesome and creative than anything she has seen in her career. She searches for the killer slongside a host of other characters searching for their desires—fame, meaning, love, a fresh start.

Broken Monsters is a tense and creepy combination of supernatural horror and crime thriller, populated with complex, flawed characters and unforgettable murder scenes. The beginning is like the opening to an episode of NBC’s Hannibal*—aka, with a memorable, incredibly disturbing, but artistically rendered murder tableau. Turning death into art, and tapping into the strange fascination and appeal death can have, is a major theme of the book—both with our artistically inclined murderer leaving behind beautiful and horrifying bodies, and through the plotline of journalist Jonno, who hopes to turn images of the dying, recession-hit Detroit into art.

Also, each book I read by Beukes seems to be getting progressively more disturbing. I can’t wait for what’s next!!

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Book Review: Magic Bites (Ilona Andrews)

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Urban Fantasy / #1 of 8, Kate Daniels

“It’s a reflex. Hear a bell, get food. See an undead, throw a knife. Same thing, really.”

Kate Daniels is a mercenary for hire in a sort of alternate-universe Atlanta where residents have to contend with waves of magic that knock out almost all technology in the city. When someone important to Kate is killed, she begins to investigate, and finds a rash of disturbing crimes that point to a larger mystery involving some of the city’s most powerful leaders.

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Book Review: Iron Night (M. L. Brennan)

Review: Iron Night by M. L. Brennan
Urban Fantasy / #2 of 4, Generation V

“Holy shit. You’re going to feed Titus to a troll?” I felt appalled.
“This is why we don’t name or pet the goats.” Chivalry said blandly.

Vampire Fortitude Scott has gained (somewhat) in self-confidence and ability since the end of Generation V. So when someone is maiming and murdering young men around the city, Fort—once again in defiance of his family—teams up with his shapeshifting fox friend Suzume Hollis in an effort to stop the slaughter. Initially expecting to uncover a run-of-the-mill serial killer, he instead finds himself dealing with paranormal forces, including an enormous conspiracy in the elven community and a blood chillingly evil predator… and he has to do it all without alerting his newly suspicious friend, Matt, to the Scott family’s vampirical secret.

I really, really enjoyed Generation V… and Iron Night was even better. We get more insight into the characters, and the plot is a bit more complex and exciting. There’s never really any doubt who is responsible for the crimes committed in Generation V, whereas as Iron Night keeps you in the dark for a bit longer. And while Luca in Generation V was a nasty piece of work, the villains of Iron Night might just be even nastier (which I can hardly even believe is possible)… so it feels like the stakes are higher. Plus, while I was mostly only attached to Fort and Suzume in the first book and was never really worried for the safety of either of them, I am attached to some of the more expendable secondary characters in Iron Night, and that left me feeling a lot more anxious for a lot more of the book.

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Book Review: Dreamer’s Pool (Juliet Marillier)

Review: Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier
Fantasy – Blackthorn and Grim, #1 of ?

I fished out the rusty nail from under my pallet and scratched another mark on the wall. Tomorrow was midsummer, not that a person could tell rain from shine in this cesspit. I’d been here a year. A whole year of filth and abuse and being shoved back down the moment I lifted myself so much as an inch. Tomorrow, at last, I’d get my chance to speak out. Tomorrow I would tell my story.

An imprisoned former healer, Blackthorn makes a bargain with a stranger that she will return to her old profession for 7 years, during which she will give help to anyone who asks for it and only use her gifts for good. In exchange, he helps her escape. With a fellow prisoner, her strong and silent cell-mate Grim, she settles near the village of Winterfalls… but Blackthorn and Grim are left bitter and traumatized by their pasts, and the two of them struggle to rebuild their lives. When Prince Oran and asks for their help in a delicate matter, Blackthorn is unable to turn him down. 

Dreamer’s Pool seems very thoughtful and slow at first, which is why I was completely caught off guard when I realized, somewhere along the way, that the plot had taken off like a bat out of hell and I was completely hooked. I started it in an afternoon, had trouble putting it down so that I could go eat supper, eschewed a delicious homemade dessert afterwards so that I could get back to reading, and finished it later that evening. I was completely drawn in by the writing and hopelessly addicted to the plot.

Continue reading Book Review: Dreamer’s Pool (Juliet Marillier)