Review: Fire Dance – Beautiful and Etched with Heartrending Loneliness

Fire Dance

Title: Fire Dance
Author: Ilana C. Myer
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: April 10th, 2018
Genre(s): Fantasy
Page Count: 368 (hardback)
Goodreads

Rating: 9.5/10

 

 

 

 

That, he believed, was the essence of what it meant to be a poet. Not to work magic. Rather it was to see, and weave verse from, life’s manifold truths. Even if they hurt.
They nearly always did.

This book is a triumph. A masterwork of character and prose that wind through your soul like the final trembling notes of a song. Myer’s debut, Last Song Before Night, was brimstone and fire and icy winds and music that rumbled low through your body. Fire Dance plays out like a haunting ballad that recounts a yearning for a time and place long lost and bone-deep loneliness.

There is honestly no one who writes quite like Ilana Myer. The genius of her writing isn’t in the way her individual sentences are constructed (though they are very lovely); you won’t find many quotable one-liners in her books. It’s the way the sentences combine together to evoke emotions in you. Her words just have so much sadness running through them. But there’s also music. And poetry. And the inviolate truths of life and all the wonder and beauty that’s wrought from them. I feel the same way reading her stories as I do listening to Damien Rice songs. Like my soul has been gently lifted and carried off on a journey.

While Fire Dance is marked as a standalone, I highly recommend reading it after Last Song Before Night, because half of the main cast are characters from the first book and much of their past rear their heads in this one. The story is split between Eivar, a country of poetry and music, and their neighbouring ally, Kahishi, which is a land of magicians and prophecies divined from the stars. Lin Amaristoth, Court Poet and Seer (which is pretty much the highest recognition you can get as a poet in Eivar), travels to Kahishi to aid their court against the mysterious Fire Dancers. While Lin mires herself in politics and intrigue, three other characters are caught up in strange magical matters at the Academy (a school for aspiring poets) in Eivar.

The contrast between lush and vibrant Kahishi and the grey austerity of the Academy is utterly fascinating. Myer has a talent for dragging out the best that a setting has to offer, and her descriptions of the major landmarks within Majdara, the capital city of Kahishi, left me breathless with wonder:

Lin’s gaze was drawn up, to the walkways that ran alongside the walls in three levels, accessible by staircases of porphyry and gold. The walls that were entirely glass, clear as air, so that along the walkways burned countless stars.
All this overseen by an arched ceiling like a second sky, adorned with stars and spheres. Against a backdrop of black crystal, jewels made the constellations.

Myer cites Robin Hobb as a major inspiration, and this is readily apparent in her writing because she writes some of the best layered characters in fantasy. You try to peel away at them throughout the course of the story and find there’s yet still more…and more. Morever she is fantastic at writing tortured characters. And I say that, from the bottom of my heart, as a compliment. All her characters have gaping holes. Hunger desperate to be filled with something–friendship, love, recognition, power. The specifics of their hunger may be different, but they all seem to share a common root: loneliness. And often times we see that loneliness twists into something uglier. Sharper.

Like jealousy.

Resentment.

Despair.

They are a symphony of warring longings and pains, and it’s this internal struggle that keeps you so completely–helplessly–enthralled, more so than any strange magical happenings or political intrigues.

The only thing that prevents me from giving it a perfect score is the ending, where the story halts just a bit too prematurely for my liking. The book definitely feels like a Part One of a larger story, and while the main storyline is wrapped up, there are still many questions newly posed or left unanswered.

Reading Fire Dance is like eating chicken noodle soup and watching the ending of Brokeback Mountain at the same. It will heal your soul and simultaneously break it.

So please go check it out.

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And as a little bonus, I leave you with two songs! One that captures the rousing cry of Last Song Before Night (I must have listened to this at least a dozen times while reading the book):

And one that captures the heartaching melancholy of Fire Dance:

 

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday: High Fantasy

Diversity-Spotlight-Thursday-Banner

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme I first found on Aurora Libralis. It’s hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks and the idea is that each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

It’s just such a great way to introduce new diverse books to other readers and to keep challenging yourself to read broadly. I’ll start with general topics and maybe choose more specific ones once I get settled in.

 

diversity1

A-book-I-have-read2
The Thousand Names (The Shadow Campaigns 1) by Django Wexler

Django Wexler’s flintlock series should honestly be the benchmark for modern adult epic fantasy in terms of LGBTQ representation. In the first book, we start out with a single lesbian protagonist. As the series progress, this number grows and grows, and by the fifth and final book, we have not one, not two, not three, but nine major side characters (plus one lesbian protagonist) who are queer. Not only that, it’s chock full of thrilling action, political intrigue, and just plain fun.

A-book-on-my-tbrThe Cloud Roads (Books of the Raksura 1) by Martha Wells

This series has been on my TBR forever and I’m determined to get through the first three books this year, at the very least. The books are set in a fantastical, alien society where matriarchy is the rule and bisexuality and polyamory are the norm. It also features one of my favourite tropes: found family. I loved all of Martha Well’s other books so I’m sure this one will be no exception.

a-book-releasing-soonThe Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
~

I’ve been hearing very interesting things about this book. A story inspired by Chinese history, it features asian characters and a plot that apparently moves from The Name of the Wind to the abject brutality of Schindler’s List. I can’t wait to check it out.

Releases May 1st, 2018

 

Top 5 Wednesday – Ideal Hypothetical Mash-ups

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This weeks theme is: Ideal Mash-Ups.

I was debating whether or not to participate in this one because I usually dislike blurbs that go, “Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games!” or “The love child of Game of Thrones and Twilight!” because I think they’re easy ways of saying something without really saying anything.

Then I started randomly mashing stories together in my head and ended up getting attached to a lot of the combinations. And now I’ve made myself sad because I would REALLY love to read some of these and it kills me that they don’t exist (yet). Or maybe they do. Yell at me in the comments if you know any books that are similar to the following (a few of these might seem ridiculous, but bear with me here):

1. Brooklyn 99 meets The Lord of the Rings

B99+LOTR

This popped into my head out of nowhere and now I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s not even a hypothetical mashup, really. I just want a comical fantasy series featuring the law enforcement of Shire and their cleanup of the various shenanigans the local Hobbits get into. Oh, and clever and insightful social commentary about Middle Earth culture would be nice too.

2. Band of Brothers meets Wind in the Willows

BandofBrothersWind

So basically a panoramic drama featuring two armies of animals at war, with heartpounding action and tearjerking character interactions. We’re long due for a new Redwall-esque series and reading The Builders by Daniel Polansky only fueled my appetite for gritty stories about anthropomorphic animals.

3. Sailor Moon meets Dark Souls 

SailorMoonDS

Don’t look at me like that. Yes, this is a mashup of two complete opposites. Sailor Moon is a bright, cheerful story about magical school girls and romance and friendship defeating all evils. And Dark Souls is, uh…not that. The land you traverse in the game is desolate and unforgiving; the enemies you face range from eerie yet captivating to HOLY SHIT GET ME OUTTA HERE; the allies you meet are lost between apathy and disorientation.

With anime, I guess the closest is Madoka Magica. But I want this story to be told in a secondary fantasy world. I want a group of girls who are chosen, by prophecy or fate or whatever, to wield great magical powers and protect the world from monsters, both within and without. I want the grimdark alongside the themes of hope and friendship.

4. Mass Effect meets Ocean’s Eleven

MEOceansEleven

I am dying for a fun scifi story about a heist set across a series of planets and galaxy not like our own. And if it also explores interesting, complex relationships between the heisters? Even better.

(Someone actually made a parody mashup poster of ME and Ocean’s Eleven, and it’s fantastic: https://pen-gwyn.deviantart.com/art/ME2-Shepard-s-Eleven-Poster-168557919)

5. America’s Got Talent meets Mad Max

GotTalentMax

An apocalyptic wasteland society that has an annual talent show of sorts in which the winner is awarded some mysterious, but highly coveted, prize. So a little like the Hunger Games, but with less murder and more interpretive dancing and magic tricks performed with your radioactive pet mongoose.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write some hobbit fanfic.

 

The 20 Questions Book Tag

I was tagged by Amy from A Court of Crowns and Quills for this, so thank you, Amy! She takes the loveliest book photos and her reviews are just as wonderful. Plus, she’s a former aviator, which is the coolest thing in the world, so go check her out!

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1. How many books is too many books in a book series?

If I love the books, then infinite. Okay, no. With trilogies I often find myself craving just a bit more, so my sweet spot is around five. Eight is where things start to get a little too much. Then again, it really depends on the quality and the genre of the series. With urban fantasies, I will happily read 8+ books, no problem.

2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?

If they’re placed in the middle of an ongoing series, I’m perfectly fine with it. If they’re placed at the end of a series, and the author’s intention is to follow it up at the start of their next series, then there will be smoke pouring out of my ears.

3. Hardback or paperback?

Hardbacks for collecting and looking pretty on my shelves. Paperbacks for absorbing tears, scribblings, and just general abuse.

Harry Potter Goblet of Fire
Here’s an example of such abuse! My first copy of The Goblet of Fire has been through several continents, a bathtub dunking, dozens of falls–and all before I graduated middle school. (I swear, not all my paperbacks are like that, please don’t call book protection services.)

4. Favorite book?

Fool's Fate
Fool’s Fate
by Robin Hobb, just narrowly edging out Fool’s Quest. It’s got everything I love in a book: snowy/icy landscapes, an expedition to find a legendary creature, prophecies, and brilliant, heartrending character interactions.

 

 

 

 

5. Least favorite book?

I don’t know if I can pinpoint my least favourite book of all time, but Ready Player One is a hot topic lately so I’ll talk about that. I get why people love it–nostalgia trip and mindless fun and such. But for me, it’s a regurgitation of 80’s pop culture at best. At worst, it’s a book with an annoying protagonist, bad attempt at diversity, and casual transphobia and sexism. And like Clockwork Orange and Fight Club, I side-eye dudes who call it their favourite book of all time.

6. Love triangles, yes or no?

Generally, no. I hate seeing someone getting rejected and left out.

7. The most recent book you just couldn’t finish?

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton. I know a lot of people loved it, but the prose was just a little too florid for me (and I generally love poetic prose), and I didn’t think I could handle 400 more pages of it. It was like trying to eat an entire dark chocolate cake all by myself.

8. A book you’re currently reading?

Just started Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer! I loved her first book, Last Song Before Night, so I’m very excited for this one.

9. Last book you recommended to someone?

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett to a friend’s mom!

10. Oldest book you’ve read? (Publication date)

The Tale of GenjiI want to say Iliad and The Odyssey, except I haven’t read them completely from start to finish. So either The Tale of Genji (written early 11th century) or Beowulf, which is placed at sometime between late 10th to early 11th century.

11. Newest book you’ve read? (Publication date)

The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards. So new it hasn’t been released yet! It’s also my newest obsession and, I think, my favourite book of 2018 so far. I will most definitely be yelling about it for the rest of the year.

12. Favorite author?

Robin Hobb. Hands down. No questions. I will happily perform blood rituals in her name.

13. Buying books or borrowing books?

I’m greedy and materialistic when it comes to owning physical copies of things I enjoy–whether it’s books or video games or film/TV–but my bank account doesn’t always agree with me. Plus, I love my local library, and borrowing books is a surefire way to sample more books while dodging buyer’s remorse.

14. A book you dislike that everyone else seem to love?

A recent one? Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence, which is the second book in the Book of Ancestors trilogy. Everyone’s showering it with 5 stars and I’m the only one in the corner mumbling, “Um, yeah, it just wasn’t as good as the first…” You can see my review here.

15. Bookmarks or dog-ears?

Bookmarks. I form habits with disturbing ease, so once I start dog-earing books I’ll probably start doing it with all of them, including hardbacks, so I’ll stick with post-its, scraps of paper, tissues (yes), and more conventional bookmarks. 

16. A book you can always reread?

Fitz-Cover-CollageI’m a broken record, but The Realm of the Elderlings. I can read those books again and again, consecutively even, and never, ever get tired of them. How can I, when reading them is like coming home to a best friend?

17. Can you read while hearing music?

Instrumentals or quiet acoustic/indies, yes. I love making fan playlists for books, so listening to a bunch of OSTs while reading helps me find inspiration. 8tracks is a great site for finding music that suit the mood of a book.

18. One POV or multiple POV’s? (POV’s = Point of views)

Usually one. I’m a sucker for first person POVs, and with multiple POVs, I sometimes find myself skipping chapters to get to the POVs that I actually like.

19. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?

Multiple days! (Unless it’s a novella or a children’s book.) It just doesn’t feel right finishing a book whose story spans months (or years) in 24 hours.

20. A book you’ve read because of the cover?

Incarceron
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. The hardcover of this just looked so gorgeous so I nabbed it immediately at the bookstore. This was back when I’d bought books impulsively without checking out any reviews. Thankfully, the story wasn’t too shabby, either!

 

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I TAG:

The Book Nook UK
Lost In A Good Book
Arisutocrat

A Science Girl in a Fantasy World
Alex Reads and Blogs

(If you do the tag, please link directly back to this post! ❤️)

 

Grey Sister – A Case of Arrested Development

Grey Ssiter


Title:
Grey Sister (Second Book of the Ancestor)
Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: ACE
Release Date: April 3th, 2018
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Page Count: 432
Goodreads

Rating: 7.0/10

 

 

I’m probably going to get booed and pelted with virtual tomatoes by every Grey Sister fan (read: everyone) for this review, so I’ve donned my tactical wetsuit and preemptively stationed myself behind a bunch of barrels.

Okay.

*Deep breath*

I didn’t like Grey Sister as much as Red Sister.

*Dodges a tomato*

In fact, I think this is my least favourite Lawrence book.

*Ducks as the world turns into a hellscape of flying vegetables that are technically fruits*

Wa–Wait until I explain!

Grey Sister starts out two years after the ending of Red Sister and sees Nona inducted into Mystic Class. Nothing much has changed at the Convent of Sweet Mercy–Nona has the same friends, same classes, and the same teachers–except for two things: a new nemesis in the form of a girl called Joeli Namsis, and Keot. Keot is a devil that had transferred itself from Raymond Tacis to Nona at the conclusion of their battle in Book 1. He’s been living inside Nona for the past two years and has often spurred Nona into wild bursts of anger. So it’s been a chore for Nona to learn to keep him under control.

All this we know because we are told so in the first 50ish pages. Just casually mentioned like a recap, except it’s all new information to the reader.

They had seen her rages, back before she started to master Keot, and those hadn’t been pretty scenes. Fortunately Zole had suffered the worst of them, mostly out on the sands of Blade Hall, and had never complained…probably because she usually won the fight.

The ending of Red Sister was such a monumental and traumatic event and a pivotal crossroads for character development, and the addition of Keot makes it doubly so. So we should have been there with Nona for the aftermath. We should have walked alongside her during those two years of trying to readjust to school life while harbouring a devil inside her. That kind of crucial character journey shouldn’t have been reduced to a couple of throwaway remarks. It’s such a huge missed opportunity.

What I’ve noticed about Mark Lawrence is that he’s very good at writing protagonists that have one or two defining characteristics. Jorg is serious and somewhat sociopathic. Jalan is fearful and lazy. And Nona is very loyal but also kind of bloodthirsty. He’s good at plucking adjectives from the dictionary and molding them into human shapes. While this leads to characters that sometimes feel like RPG companions than real human beings, they’re fun and interesting to read about. Most of all, though, he’s good at developing them within the boundaries of those one or two characteristics. For example, Jalan at the end of The Liar’s Key is still just as afraid as Jalan in Prince of Fools, but there is additional depth to his fear–it’s no longer just a matter of him being a coward.

Nona didn’t get any such development in this book. It would have been interesting to see her love and loyalty for her friends being tested by the rage that Keot inflames, but we don’t get anything like that. Lawrence tells us that she’s changed, from wild rages to relative calm, but we’ve never seen her in that first state so Book 2 Nona ends up feeling more or less the same as Book 1 Nona. She still loves her friends and would still rush off into battle for them. And while those are likeable qualities, that can’t be all that a person is from childhood to teenagehood.

This sense of arrested development also extends to the side characters, Ara especially. One of my favourite things about Red Sister was Nona’s relationship with her schoolmates–like how Ara grew from rival to best friend. In Grey Sister, their interactions feel very shallow and we don’t even see much of Ara.

All this makes it sound like I hated the book, but I really didn’t. I still like the writing style–Lawrence moves from taut action sequences to florid ruminations with enviable ease. I also love the additional insight into Abess Glass and Kettle. Glass has become my favourite character in the book. She’s a spider through and through and I find her way of viewing the world as a chessboard fascinating. Her POVs are cerebral in a way that Nona’s can’t be and I love that.

The plot is a better-balanced mix of school and world-encompassing stuff than Red Sister. The first half is Nona and co. exploring the immediate area of the Abby and butting heads with Joeli and her cronies, which is fun stuff–especially the Shade Trial. The second half brings Sherzal and the nobility into the mix and also expands on the shipheart lore.

And apropos of nothing, I have a massive crush on the U.S. cover–mostly because Nona reminds me of Lorde (I can’t be the only one who thinks that).

All in all, this was a somewhat disappointing sequel to a book that was one of my favourites of 2017. Grey Sister widens of the scope of the world while stunting the growth of its major characters.

*Vaults over barrels, somersaults, and poses with flourish*

Now you may commence pelting.

 

Top 5 Wednesday – Auto-Buy SFF Authors

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s theme is: your auto-buy authors that write SFF.

I used to buy a lot of books on their release date without reading samples or consulting reviews. But I racked up enough buyer’s remorse to be a lot pickier about them nowadays. The following are authors whose books I’ll not only auto-buy, but buy (sometimes multiple) physical copies of.

1. Pat Rothfuss

Pat Rothfuss
Pat has only published two novels and The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle (which is an…experience and a category in itself) in the past 10 years, which might be considered low compared to some on this list. But his writing style makes my brain cells do happy little jigs. There are so few epic fantasies that laud such lyrical prose while still being entertaining and addicting–like vegetables and junk food all in one–so his books are always a must-buy.

2. N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin never fails to bring something different and important to fantasy with each book that she writes–an Egyptian-inspired setting, bi/pan-sexual gods, a mostly PoC cast, polyamory, and plots that brim with righteous anger. Her books remind me just why I love this genre so much.

3. Patrick Ness

patness
Another Patrick! Ness’ SFF stories never fail to be unique and/or emotionally gutwrenching. I read through the Chaos Walking trilogy more times than I could count and his work has only gotten better and better.

4. Seth Dickinson

Seth Dickinson
Okay, so the guy has published one book to date (with a second coming in Fall), but The Traitor Baru Cormorant whisked me up to the highest of heavens, smiled, and dropped me like sack of rocks. Years later, I’m still rummaging on the ground, trying to pick up the pieces of my body. If that’s not a great first impression, I don’t know what is. I’ll buy anything that Seth writes.

5. Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb portrait

And, of course, the Queen of Fantasy. I dream of one day writing a book that contains even 1% of the magic that her stories have. If tomorrow Robin Hobb decides that she wants to write Dickensian erotica starring anthropomorphic animals, I will support her all the way and smash the pre-order button to smithereens. Because Hobb at her worst is better than many at their best.

 

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And there you have it! Do you see any of your favourites featured on the list? And tell me some of your auto-buy authors!

 

[Review] From Unseen Fire – When in Rome…Do as the Mages Do?

From Unseen Fire.jpg

Title: From Unseen Fire (Aven Cycle 1)
Author: Cass Morris
Publisher: DAW Books
Release Date: April 17th, 2018
Genre(s): Fantasy, Alt-History
Page Count: 400
Goodreads

Rating: 5.0/10

 

 

 

This book is a lesson in tempering expectations. One would think that, being a fan of the video game industry, it’s one I’ve learned backwards and forwards by now, but nope–not when it comes to books, it seems. I came into the story wide-eyed and giddy. Months and months before, I’d feasted my eyes on the gorgeous cover, read the words “alt-history” and “Rome” and “magic,” and thought “holy hell, this is made for me,” then fell headlong into hype town. But alas, reality is a cruel mistress. Because while it’s not a terrible historical-fantasy story, it’s a painfully mediocre one–which, to me, is the ultimate kiss of death.

The premise of the story is based around one question: what would the fate of the Roman Republic have been if it’d had mages at its disposal?

First of all, the story suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It’s mainly set in a city called Aven. And pretty much everything about Aven (minus the magic), from architecture to social and political structure, to its dictator, is identical to Ancient Rome.

Well, okay, so it’s a fantasy world inspired by Rome!

Well, no. Because Aven gods are Roman gods–Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and the like. And the protagonist mentions “Remus” at one point, so Romulus and Remus and the legend of how they founded the ancient city obviously exists in this world (though it makes no sense then as to why the city would be called “Aven” rather than “Rome”).

Then it’s…an alternate history with a dash of fantasy!

No, not quite! Because while Aven does have its own Julius Caesar equivalent, his name of “Ocella,” and he dies not of an assassination but an illness. Also, the Mediterranean Sea is called the “Middle Sea” and Lusitania (known today as Spain and Portugal) has been ever so slightly altered to “Lusetania.” It’s as if Aven is your white friend, Adam Smith, who’d one day decided he would get dreadlocks and call himself Swift Flowing River and sell vaginal cleansing moon water at $69.99 per bottle. It’s all just so weirdly dressed-up and unnecessarily inconsistent. There are too many changes made for it to be alternate history, yet too similar to history for it to be an original fantasy world.

Secondly, let’s take a look at the magic system, which I thought was full of potential:

Aven-magic-list
There are nine types of elemental magics in this world and each has its own patron gods–Spirit mages, for example, are said to be blessed by Jupiter and Juno. When charted all out like this on paper, it looks really neat. Nothing too original, but familiar and cool. My problem is that we don’t get to see many of these magics at work in the story itself. There are throwaway comments here and there about a certain mage doing this or that, but Fire and Shadow are the only ones that the story (sporadically) focuses on.

Moreover, Aven feels like plain old Rome, with little to indicate that it’s a city of mages. There are so many ways that the magic could have been incorporated into the setting. Architectural inventions that rely on magic. Elaborate fashion designs that are reflective of specific patron deities and their powers. There are so many cool possibilities that the story just doesn’t explore, and I was left gnashing my teeth in frustration and disappointment.

The characters are a hit and a miss–mostly the former. Latona is a fine lead character. She’s a Spirt and Fire Mage, which means that she can influence emotions and blow shit up, respectively. She’s independent and fiercely protective of her loved ones, but she’s also dealing with trauma from her time at the Dictator’s court, where she was manipulated and kept under leash. I liked how she channels all the guilt, rage, and helplessness she’d felt into helping other vulnerable women.

The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for her male co-lead, Sempronius, and most of the supporting characters. Stories with large casts run the risk of uneven distribution of character development, and that’s exactly the case with this book.

Sempronius is a Shadow and Water mage. Immediately following the death of Oscella, he scries a vision of two possible Avens: one of properity and strength like it has never seen before; the other, of ruin and dust–our Rome, basically. And so Sempronius is determined to do whatever it takes to prevent this second future from taking hold. We see very early on that he’s a noble, charismatic, and ambitious man. And as the story goes on, he continues to be noble and charismatic and ambitious, and…nothing much more. Interesting, complex characters either shed layers or have layers added to them over the course of a story. But Sempronius at the beginning of this story is the same as the Sempronius at the middle and at the end. Bland and paper-thin, he essentially exists for the sole purpose of moving the plot forward (and very slowly, at that).

The supporting characters fare no better, with perhaps the exception of Aula, Latona’s older sister, and Merula, Latona’s handmaiden. Part of the problem is that we see so little of so many of them that it’s hard to feel one way or the other about any. The other problem is that they’re just not very interesting. There’s nothing notable that distinguishes one from the other and they all kind of blend together after a while.

There are two main plotlines: the upcoming election of Aven, which Sempronius is campaigning for, and the rising conflict in Lucenatnia, led by the 20 year-old war-leader, Ekialde. I wasn’t really invested in either of them, and a lot of that has to do with uneven pacing. Nothing much important happens throughout a large chunk of the middle, and then there’s a sudden flurry of activities in the last 70 pages. It also has to do with the the structure of the narration, which was very different from what I’d expected. Many of the scenes are written almost like vignettes: there’s a lot of dialogue and exposition and description of actions, but no detailed descriptions of the setting (or any extraneous details) in between. It’s very economic. Which makes it digestible but doesn’t keep me deeply immersed in the world.

The bottom line is that I was bored. I was bored reading a character-driven story about Ancient Rome and political intrigue and foreign threats and magic influenced by Roman gods. It’s a brilliant premise that fails to deliver. And I tried to like it. I wanted to like it. But for that to happen, you got to give me something to hook my interest onto, and all I found were smooth, flat walls.

Thank you to DAW Books and Netgalley for providing me with a review copy.

One Lovely Blog Award

I was recently nominated by Andy for the One Lovely Blog Award, so thank you, Andy! Andy runs a blog about LGBTQ books and writing tips. He’s also working on a YA novel so be sure to check him out so you can say “Hey! I know that person!” when he becomes a superstar author!

One Lovely Blog Award

RULES:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Share 7 facts about yourself
  3. Nominate up to 15 bloggers and inform them of the nomination

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SEVEN FACTS ABOUT ME:

1) I was a seriously gullible kid. The first time I ever flew on a plane was when I was seven and immigrating to Canada with my family. My dad had the bright idea to inform me that every passenger was required to parachute out of the plane when they reach their destination. I’d stared at him wide-eyed, bouncing between excitement and trepidation, and asked if kids and parents were allowed to parachute together. He said that he’ll ask one of the flight attendants. Then, when we got close to landing, he was like, “Oh, it’s raining! No parachuting for us today, I’m afraid.” I don’t know if I was more relieved or disappointed. Add a hundred more stories like this and you basically have a summary of my childhood.

 

2) I’m pretty scatterbrained, which can be a bit of an inconvenience when you’re in a science field. I lose stuff all the time. I barged into random people’s rooms constantly, when I was living in dorm, thinking they were mine. And I get hopelessly lost downtown if I don’t have my nose perpetually glued to a map.

 

3) I hate apple pies. Especially hot apple pies. There’s just something about the taste of warm mushy apples combined with cinnamon and sugar and butter that makes me nauseated.

 

4) I wanted to be a voice actor when I was in my teens (and still kind of do, to be honest).  I would play classic RPGs and yammer at the computer screen during all the dialogue bits. I adored Shakespearean read-alongs during English class. Even now, I love reading books aloud and doing all the different voices. My favourites are the angsty, emotional scenes (because of course). Hamlet’s soliloquies? Nailed them.

 

5) I had a massive fear of people in full-body cartoon suits as a kid. More so than clowns. Clowns are fine! Clowns are great. Clowns make balloon animals! Clowns have eyes that blink and facial expressions that change. Not like those 7 ft tall, perpetually smiling monstrosities that lumber up to you with open arms like they’re about to whisk you away to FUNland, where we’ll have so much FUN, with no need to EVER return home, and there’s definitely no murdering of small children going on, haha!

sponge bob no GIF

Disneyland? More like Horrorland. And watching Donnie Darko did NOT improve my opinion of them. (I do apologize to any costumer-wearing peeps I’ve ever encountered who were traumatized by me pointing, wailing and sprinting away)

 

6) I’m a certified lifeguard. I love swimming. But you plop me into any body of opaque water where I can’t touch the bottom, and I will panic and thrash around like a fish in a barrel. So if you ever meet me and decide you want to take me swimming in a lake or an ocean, expect to be used as a human bodyboard.

 

7) Anime! Love them. I pretty much grew up with them because 80% of the kid shows they aired back in Korea were anime. Except they were dubbed over so I didn’t know they were Japanese shows back then–they were just really great cartoons. Some of my favourites were Slayers, Digimon, Slam Dunk, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Case Closed (and yeah, some of these probably aren’t really suitable for a 5-8 year-old).

 

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NOMINATIONS:
Book In Her Eyes (Sionna)
Alex Reads and Blogs
Acquadimore Books
The Bookworm Daydreamer
A Court of Crowns and Quills
A Science Girl in a Fantasy World
Strangely Pop Cultured
Amiie’s Books

(You are not required to do a post on this, so don’t feel pressured!)

[Review] Jade City – Rich, Bloody, and Gloriously Asian

Jade City
Title: Jade City (The Green Bone Saga 1)
Author: Fonda Lee
Publisher: Orbit Books
Release Date: November 7th, 2017
Genre(s): Fantasy, Crime
Page Count: 512
Goodreads

Rating: 9.0/10

 

 

 

Jade City is Fonda Lee’s adult fantasy debut and it is an absolute firecracker–a brutal tale of two warring families set in a rich, vivid world that teeters between modernity and tradition. Its first chapter is the perfect sampler of what you can expect from the rest of the book: intriguing worldbuilding, a dynamic magic system, vivid descriptions of settings, snappy action scenes, and interesting, cutthroat characters. And the best part? It’s all so gloriously, unabashedly, Asian

kekon map
Tell me this isn’t the most adorable map you’ve ever seen.

Kekon is a small island country reminiscent of Southeast Asia. Shaped vaguely like a reptilian embryo, it should win awards for the being the cutest-shaped landmass in the history of fantasy cartography. But, in the story, Kekon is far more notable for being the world’s only source of bioluminscent jade. Only those of Kekonese lineage can harness the jade’s powers to augment existing abilities–speed, strength, and senses–to superhuman levels. Such individuals are known as “Green Bones.” Two powerhouse Green Bone families effectively rule Kekon: the Kauls of No Peak and Ayts of the Mountain clan. The former controls the eastern half of Janloon, Kekon’s capital city, and the latter controls the western half. But pre-existing tensions between the clans have boiled over into hostility, and now it’s an all-out war. To the victor goes the honour, the jade, and control of the country.

There are two things that make Jade City exceptional: worldbuilding and family dynamics.

I’m going to wax poetic about the way Fonda Lee constructed Kekon for the rest of the year, because it’s just so damn good and had me clenching my fist and hissing “yes!” in public like a crazy person. My problem with a lot of fantasy stories is that their worldbuilding feels separate from their magic system. Like you could swap out one magic system from one book with another and there would be very little difference to the world. Such systems tend to feel video gamey–contrived and artificial, regardless of how cool or complex they are.

In Jade City, the world is molded around the magic system–which makes the former feel much more natural and real. Jade isn’t just a magical object, it’s a national symbol that influences every aspect of Kekonese society–commerce, trade, governance, education, religion. Consequently, the powers of the Green Bones don’t feel like magic, but a discipline that’s just common to Kekon.

Moreover, I loved how textured Janloon is. It’s not just a cardboard stage for the characters to play around in, but a character that’s well alive and breathing. And it’s all thanks to small details. Like relayball, a high-intensity sport that is particular to Kekon. Like the various festivals that are held throughout the year, and descriptions of cuisines served at a local favourite restaurant (I had a serious hankering for crispy squid when I finished). Like ordinary middle-aged locals drinking and playing cards in the comfort of their homes. And Kekonese slangs (“You cut?”) and expressions that revolve around jade.

A person hoping for too much good fortune might be warned, “Don’t ask for gold and jade.” A child who demanded a custard tart after already having had a sweet bun was, Lan knew from personal experience, likely to be scolded, “You want gold and jade together!”

Even when the plot’s not moving forward, the world of Janloon is so constantly dynamic and interesting that you hardly notice. It’s a city that you want to get lost in and Fonda Lee has you begging to see more of it.

The story is mostly told from the Kaul family’s point of view. We have Lan, the eldest of the Kaul progeny and the newly-appointed leader of No Peak clan. A leader who is sick of his own advisor questioning his decisions and weary of his younger brother courting trouble with the Mountain clan. We explore through Lan’s eyes the burden of leadership and duty. In a city where public image is everything, he struggles to maintain a confident exterior while battling inner demons. It’s compelling and stressful stuff and I loved every bit of it.

Then there’s Hilo, the middle child and the military arm of the clan. Easygoing and quick to laugh but also quick to anger, he’s the polar opposite of Lan. In the beginning, I felt that Hilo was a fun character but one without much depth. But as the story went on, I saw that there was more to him than meets the eye and he soon catapulted over Lan as my favourite. It’s his passion that got me. The way he wears his heart on his sleeve without shame or fear. How he feels everything with so much intensity. And the fact that he so loves his family and yet is looked down on by most of them. Labelled a volatile thug, overlooked by his mother, and despised by his grandfather, he’s the ultimate underdog. And I do so love those.

“You give a man something to live up to, you tell him he can be more than he is now, more than other people think he’ll ever be, and he’ll try his godsdamned best to make it true.”

Then we have Shae, who’s returned from studying abroad in Espenia (the U.S. equivalent in this world) and is determined to make a living for herself without the help of the Kaul name. And Anden, who, at the age of eighteen, is the youngest (adopted) member of the family. Anden is a quiet, talented young man, who also happens to be gay. I found the way the Kekonese view queerness interesting and different from the attitude found in most fantasy worlds, in that it’s viewed not as a malignancy, but as a kind of an acceptable misfortune.

They are, each and every one, complex people trying to balance family and self-interest in a city that’s gone to hell.

Even discounting the fantastic worldbuilding, the palpable love and bond within the Kaul family makes this an incredibly engaging story. Because at its core, this book isn’t about gangs or magical jade. It’s about family. Asian families, in particular. About the bond that ties each and every member together with a strength that never wanes whether we’re five or five thousand miles apart. There’s something almost frenetic about it–a sense that we are but individual parts of the same whole or, indeed, a clan. That’s why I used to be so confused when I heard North Americans equating family gatherings during holidays to getting their teeth pulled out. Because, for me, such gatherings had held a feeling of rightness to them. A feeling of harmony and completion. And no matter the disagreements, we’ll always come together in the end. Because family is everything.

Until Jade City, I’d never read a fantasy book that captures this dynamic, so a massive thank you to Fonda Lee for that.

This book does its damned best to fill the Gentleman Bastards-shaped hole left in my heart and it feels like just the tip of a very large, very bloody iceberg. The war’s only just begun and I can’t wait to see where things go from here.

 

Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Jokesters

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is: favourite jokesters, pranksters, and funny characters.

This was a hard one. I had trouble remembering any comic-relief/jokey characters in books, let alone ones that I actually liked. The funny ones rarely stick in my mind compared to the broody, serious ones, unless their humour is some sort of well-crafted veneer hiding a mournful or sociopathic interior (which probably says a lot about me). So this is going to be a mishmash of books, film/tv, and comics.

1) Locke Lamora – The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch

Locke Lamora
I mean, every one of the Gentleman Bastards can fit into this category–you’d have a hard time eking out a living in a decrepit crime-den like Camorr without some sense of humour–but Scott Lynch saves some of his funniest lines and scenes for the star of the show.

 

 


“Know something? I’d lay even odds that between the people following us and the people hunting us, we’ve become this city’s principle means of employment. Tal Verrar’s entire economy is now based on
fucking with us.”

 

 

2) Jalan Kendeth (The Red Queen’s War trilogy by Mark Lawrence)

The Prince of Fools
Jalan is who I imagine most of us would (realistically) be if we were thrown into a fantasy world full of monsters and magic–a big resounding “NOPE” and “Fuck this.” He’s the most unlikely hero, a self-professed “coward” who rarely taking things seriously. He’s also hilarious and one of the most entertaining narrators I’ve come across.

 


“Every fortune-teller I ever met was a faker. First thing you should do to a soothsayer is poke them in the eye and say, ‘Didn’t see that coming, did you?”

 

3) Sette Frummagem – Unsounded webcomic

Sette is the protagonist of Unsounded, an epic fantasy webcomic created by Ashley Cope. As the daughter of a crime lord, she’s already well versed in the art of lies, tricks, and thievery, and her antics drive her companion, Duane, absolutely insane. Cheeky, mouthy, and utterly hilarious, she’s become one of my all-time favourite female characters.

Sette 1
Comic by Ashley Cope

 

4) Jonathan Carnahan – The Mummy films

Okay, so pretty much everyone in the first two movies is hilarious, even the bad guys, but Evie’s bumbling brother Jonathan takes the cake. Primarily because of this scene:

 

5) Jim Halpert – The Office (U.S)

And, of course, the King of Pranks himself. Jim Halpert effectively has two job titles: Paper Salesman and Perpetual Nagging Thorn on Dwight Shrute’s Side. The pranks he pulls on his deskmate make for some of the best parts of The Office, and I could watch compilation videos of them all day.

Jim Halpert Dwight
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And there you have it! Feel free to tell me some of your favourites!