Review: Burn by Patrick Ness – Dragons, Prophecies, and the Cycle of Violence

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Title: Burn
Author:
Patrick Ness
Publisher:
Quill Tree Books

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Subject(s)/Themes(s): War, Discrimination, Dragons
Representation: Biracial MC, Gay MC

Release Date: June 2nd, 2020
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: 8.0/10

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On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957, Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm…

Sarah Dewhurst and her father, outcasts in their little town of Frome, Washington, are forced to hire a dragon to work their farm, something only the poorest of the poor ever have to resort to.

The dragon, Kazimir, has more to him than meets the eye, though. Sarah can’t help but be curious about him, an animal who supposedly doesn’t have a soul but who is seemingly intent on keeping her safe.

Because the dragon knows something she doesn’t. He has arrived at the farm with a prophecy on his mind. A prophecy that involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents in hot pursuit—and somehow, Sarah Dewhurst herself. 

CW: racism, homophobia, graphic violence, near-assault

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Ah, Patrick Ness. He never goes for the boring, does he? I so admire his drive to create stories that count for something–narratives that serve as pointed commentary on an aspect of society or of human nature, sometimes via non-human characters (he forever has my respect for choosing to tackle an inverted version of Moby Dick from the PoV of whales)–and willingness to branch out into wild genres and concepts. His ideas are like a mystery parfait. A delicious delight to spoon through.

Burn is unlike any of his previous books, yet so entirely like all of his previous books. Bold and imaginative and doesn’t shy away when faced with tough questions, it comes out on the other side with a strong thematic core, even if it does sacrifice a few things along the way.

It’s 1957 and dragons exist in this alternate world, distrusted and looked down on by human society. There have been major conflicts waged between the two groups across history, but all of that is done and out of the way now, with a peace treaty placing the parties in a cold but slightly less hostile relationship.

There is also a Canadian cult that worships said dragons, but not the dragons directly. They instead choose to worship a human proxy who represents the dragon divinity–never mind the fact that the dragons don’t give a toss about humans, cultists or otherwise, and have no voice in electing this pope figure for their own fan club. Then there’s an end-of-the-world prophecy revolving around the protagonist Sarah (it tickles me that the idea of dragons is shrug-worthy in this world, but prophecies and clairvoyance are considered nonsense. I love an alt-fantasy setting with strict rules and boundaries); a sheltered gay assassin named Malcolm who is determined to stop her at any cost; two FBI agents hot on his trail; one red dragon with sandpaper-dry snark; and an examination of inherited hatred, violence, and the human propensity to hurl ourselves into mutual destruction.

And they all work.

Well, mostly.

Most definitely in the first half, which is a stretch of perfect pacing, great character introductions, and a flurry of events that devolve into heartbreak and anger.

I quite loved the main cast of characters–Sarah’s frustration and empathy, her father’s dilemma, Kazimir’s sass, Malcolm’s innocence warring with his cold violence–even though some we don’t see too much of. I found it particularly poignant how Sarah and Malcolm’s storylines are near-mirrors of each other. How both childhoods were shaped by authorities dictating the paths their lives must take, and the boundaries that can’t be crossed, based on what they are and what they are not. And when it comes to good people doing terrible things, morally grey people doing terrible things, and terrible people doing terrible things, the book knows to make you understand what the differences are.

The second half dives deeper into the major themes, and character work takes a backseat as all the plot threads are gathered into one clear moral lesson: that we must be vigilant of how hatred, including self-hatred, curdles and spreads and ricochets across space and time until we can’t even tell where it ends and where it begins. That’s something you can count on with Ness; things like plot and character might skew sideways, but the point of the story never gets lost.

I do think Burn works better if you look at it as a long parable as opposed as your normal YA fiction. There are definitely questions left unanswered by the end, and the characters brush off traumatic events with concerning ease, giving it the feel of a folktale in which things happen and you just have to accept that they do, even though you’re not exactly sure why.

While it’s not favourite story of his, it’s still a strong, memorable entry into his bibliography that had me ruminating for a while after.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

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Blog Tour Review: We Rule the Night – Came for Girl Friendships, Stayed for Girl Friendships

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Title: We Rule the Night
Author: Claire Eliza Bartlett
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 2nd, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Steampunk
Subjects and Themes: Female Friendships, Feminism, History-Inspired
Page Count: 400 (hardback)

Rating: N/A

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Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.
We Rule the Night is a powerful story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival despite impossible odds.

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A fantasy military story with an all-female regiment and a “soft-spoken girl with a blunt, tight-laced girl” dynamic? Gosh, Claire, it’s like you know me.

I’ll be starting off with short bullet points for this beauty because this is so, so very last minute:

♥ This is a fantasy telling/dressup of the WW2 Night Witches, Soviet Union’s all-female bomber regiment (which seems to be a popular topic in fiction lately). I love the way the author constructed the world–the way it feels like a WW2 setting but with a steampunk flair. The girls pilot planes that are made of living metal, which means they can use magic (Weavecraft) to control it. Really cool stuff.

♥ The two main characters, Revna and Linné, are as different as they come. Revna has lost her legs in a factory accident and her use of prostheses makes Linné question whether she’s fit to be a pilot. Linné, on the other hand, is the daughter of a celebrated general and carries a “I’m better than this, why am I here” attitude. Their dynamic is a fascinating one, moving from hostility to respect and friendship.

♥ Girls risking lives for each other. Girls fighting alongside each other. Girls learning to trust each other. And girls supporting each other in an environment that believes women shouldn’t get involved in wars. (I hope you’ve been nodding furiously with each sentence.) It has it all and it does it well.

♥ My only real main problem was with the ending which I thought was rather shockingly abrupt.

Okay, well, awesome! That sounds pretty great, right? So why am I not giving it a rating?

Right. This is 100% on my end. We Rule the Night had the unfortunate timing of coming immediately after the most personal and emotionally draining book I’ve read in the past two years. My brain was (and still is) utterly scrambled and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else, especially other books. I mean, I would read a paragraph and ask myself, “Wait, what did I just read?” It’s ridiculous. It’s like trying to date just days after the (second) worst breakup of my life.

So I couldn’t give this book the full attention that it absolutely deserved, and any rating I give right now wouldn’t feel…fair. But make no mistake, this is a strong debut and I’m definitely going to be doing a re-read once I get my brain pieces back in order. And you should also pick it up because we need more stories about female empowerment floating around in our collective memories.

 

“That was the secret they shared as they held out their cups and got another splash of strong tea and tangy liquor. That was the secret they smiled over when they went to dinner. Not that they could fly, not that they could use the Weave. We can do anything.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Claire Bartlett lives in an enchanted forest apartment in Copenhagen with too many board games and too few cats.

Get more detailed information, like how many board games is too many, how many cats is too few, and what book-related beauties I’m working on by signing up for my newsletter.

 

TOUR SCHEDULE

Check out the rest of the tour stops HERE!

 

Series Review: The Wode – THIS is How You Do a Robin Hood Retelling

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By J. Tullos Hennig
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

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The Robin Hood legend sat beside King Arthur as “stories I was obsessed with as a kid but am now sick to death of thanks to all the retellings that do the same things over and over” (except Robin Hood: Men in Tights. That one’s a masterpiece. Fight me).

And then The Wode came along.

Forget all the Assassin’s Creed-esque action flicks starring Robin Hood in machine-stitched jackets. All those dozens of stories telling you that this time, for sure, they’ve taken the classic in a fresh new direction? They have nothing on this series.

Because this is how a Robin Hood retelling should be done.

The most basic version of The Wode‘s premise is this: queer historical fantasy Robin Hood with a friends to lovers to enemies to lovers plot.

And the author could have taken that and made it into a one-shot 200-300 page romance. I’ve seen it done countless times with other classic retellings. And that’s fine. That’s wonderful.

But turns out Hennig is an overachiever after my own heart. She takes a premise that sounds like a fanfiction prompt and makes a saga out of it (and at four books in, it’s still not finished). And its complexity is astounding–characters built upon layers and layers and tripping over their own demons, pagan folklore woven into a 12th-century England, prose lush with passion and poetry.

It’s a textbook demonstration on what it means to take an original tale and transform it into something that’s wholly your own.

Let’s meet the cast!

Marion – Maiden, Consort, Catalyst

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We’ll start with our leading lady first because Marion plays an actual role in this story beyond trophy love interest. In this version, Marion and Robyn are siblings, and together they’re the mortal representations of the dual pagan deities, the Mother Goddess and her consort the Horned God (with the magic to match).

Marion is kind of the glue that holds our main characters together and her arc goes through the struggles of being a woman who’s not a fighter but who’s still determined to be treated with the same kind of respect given to her brother and not like damaged porcelain.

 

Robyn Hood (Or “Hode”) – Archer, Outlaw, Winterking

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Robyn is the earthly avatar of the Horned Lord, Cernunnos. He stands against the nobility, not only because of the atrocities committed against the peasants, but because their prosperity means the fall of the pagan faith. And he’s determined to stand as the last bulwark against Christianity. Or die trying.

Robyn represents the wild and the untamed, every bit the forest king. Giving little thought to the future, he lives moment to moment, wearing his heart on his sleeves. He rides his emotions to their keenest point–diving head-first into love and passion, welcoming every pain and sorrow and letting them shape him into a weapon to strike against his enemies. He revels in that space where danger and recklessness dance arm in arm which is a source of frustration for his loved ones, but also what makes him so irresistibly magnetic.

Not gonna lie. He’s my favourite incarnation of Robin Hood to date (and I’ve met a lot of them over the years). Not just because of how well-written he is, but also because he manages to be both Robin Hood and someone completely new at the same time.

 

GUY DE GISBORNE/Gamelyn – Templar, Crusader, Summerlord, One Very Confused Man

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The Sheriff of Nottingham would have been the obvious counterpart for Robyn to star in an enemies-to-lovers plot. He’s Robin Hood’s prime nemesis, after all–the villain you see in every retelling.

Instead Hennig chose a man by the name of Guy de Gisborne, this random guy (heh) who appears in one Robin Hood ballad as the mercenary hired to dispatch the outlaw. In the ballad, Gisbourne finds his mark but fails the whole assassination bit and gets beheaded for all his troubles. End of story. The curtain closes.

But what if…

What if Guy and Robyn knew each other from childhood, when they both went by different names? What if they had been two boys learning to navigate the murky waters of friendship and love together?

What if Fate has decreed that their lot in life is to be rivals, Summer and Winter, doomed to destroy one other?

What if they (or Robyn, at least) said, “Fuck that”?

Guy/Gamelyn is ice to Robyn’s fire. Whereas Robyn embraces his emotions, Gamelyn bottles them up, because he’s learned during his years in the Crusade that coldness is where he works best. It’s where he can think and do his job without old pains and doubt surfacing up and muddying things.

The irony of the gods anointing Robyn as “Winterking” and Gamelyn “Summerlord” isn’t lost on any of the characters, and the interplay between the two is utterly engrossing.

“This is one thing about you I’ve never kenned.”

Guy blinked, frowned. “What?”

“How Summer can be so bloody cold.”

 

Paganism and Christianity – Guy/Gamelyn’s Inner Conflict

So, all the previous things I mentioned? Love them. Love them all. But this here is what really sells the series for me. See, as much of a leading character Robyn is, he’s actually not the heart of the story.

That title belongs to Guy/Gamelyn and his push-and-pull conflict of identity.

Their consort, wearing the tabard of his father’s god, but in whom the old Saxon gods of his mother pounded through his veins with undeniable talent and the sap and salt of Summer’s coming….

What I love about Gamelyn’s attraction to the Templar Order is that it has less to do with his love for Christianity and more to do with the sense of belonging it gives him. With the Templars, things are simple. The higher-ups give him orders and he can just follow them without question. No complications of destiny and magic and old gods who would yank him around like a puppet. And for someone who feels he’s had so little control over his life, that means everything. That means a peace of mind and a purpose he can actually name (which is something I can seriously relate to).

And then in waltzes Robyn with his stupid hood and his stupid eyes that see right into him–the very definition of Complication–proclaiming that Gamelyn’s place is in the Wode at the siblings’ side.

Yeah, great. Thanks.

Who am I, here? Just tell me who I am.

Poor guy.

Templar or Summerlord? The Holy Cross or the Oak? This series is about him trying to figure out if it’s possible to exist in two (seemingly) different worlds at the same time, and the process is messy and brilliantly, endlessly fascinating.

 

Love, love, love — ALL kinds of love

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Paternal, platonic, sexual, romantic, and blurry lines between all of them–this has everything covered.

The love between Robyn and Gamelyn is like pouring gasoline in a car and lighting it up, and then throwing in a handful of firecrackers for good measure. It’s explosive. It’s electric. It’s bad news. But at the same time, no–it’s the best news you could hope for.

Gamelyn and Marian? More like a cool running creek. Gentle and soft and peaceful.

Robyn and Little John? Same thing.

It’s all rather open and poly (but NO INCEST) and Hennig shows so well how the strength of one kind of love doesn’t diminish the strength of another.

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This isn’t to say that the books are perfect. Pacing is the biggest issue I have with it; there are periodic lulls in the story where nothing really happens. And as much as I like Marion, I do wish she had more variety of things to do.

But.

The Wode hauls itself out from the box of Recyled Robin Hood Retellings and tries to cobble together something that’s new and unique and ambitious. And for the attempt alone I would have awarded it points.

But to largely succeed in that endeavour? Well, that deserves me banging pots and pans out on the balcony screaming, “GO READ THIS.” But after that last fiasco with the water balloons and the inflatable flamingo, I don’t think my neighbours will be all that impressed.

So this is me banging pots and pans right through your screen.

Go read this.

Review: Where Oblivion Lives (Los Nefilim) – A Nephil’s Quest for a Missing Violin

51m3taqn4-l._sy346_Title: Where Oblivion Lives (Los Nefilim)
Author: T. Frohock
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: February 19th, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Angels/Demons, European History, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 368 (paperback)

Rating: 7.5/10

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Born of daimon and angel, Diago Alvarez is a being unlike all others. The embodiment of dark and light, he has witnessed the good and the horror of this world and those beyond. In the supernatural war between angels and daimons that will determine humankind’s future, Diago has chosen Los Nefilim, the sons and daughters of angels who possess the power to harness music and light.

As the forces of evil gather, Diago must locate the Key, the special chord that will unite the nefilim’s voices, giving them the power to avert the coming civil war between the Republicans and Franco’s Nationalists. Finding the Key will save Spain from plunging into darkness.

And for Diago, it will resurrect the anguish caused by a tragedy he experienced in a past life.

But someone—or something—is determined to stop Diago in his quest and will use his history to destroy him and the nefilim. Hearing his stolen Stradivarius played through the night, Diago is tormented by nightmares about his past life. Each incarnation strengthens the ties shared by the nefilim, whether those bonds are of love or hate . . . or even betrayal.

To retrieve the violin, Diago must journey into enemy territory . . . and face an old nemesis and a fallen angel bent on revenge.

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For those who are new to the series, Los Nefilim presents an early 1930’s Europe in which nefilim, the children of angels and daimons, live hidden amidst mortal kind and serve the angels as earthly soldiers in the angel-daimon war. We follow the activity of the Spanish nephilim branch, Los Nefilim, particularly one Diago Alvarez–a half-angel, half-daimon being who’s recently been inducted into the organization.

While I’d enjoyed the novellas (the characters in particular), I did feel like I was getting held back on the worldbuilding and nefilim lore. This full-length novel firmly addresses those problems. So now we get the heart-tugging family dynamic of the novellas plus a deeper exploration into the nefilim’s magic and their history. The story also widens its field of view to include Germany, introducing a new kind of tension relating to growing Aryan supremacy and too-curious Nazi officers.

While we don’t see a lot of interaction between Diago and his companions (and thus not a lot of development), what we do see of the characters individually I really liked.

Diago’s existence continues to spit in the face of toxic masculinity. Besides being a badass half-angel, half-daimon being who can harness musical energy, he’s also a loving husband, doting father, and a battler of PTSD, full of insecurities and fears but also a willingness (however reluctant) to voice them, which frankly makes him all the more badass.

Rafael continues to be the best kid character I’ve encountered in adult fantasy in the past year. So sweet. So adorable. So authentically child-like–not an adult’s skewed vision of what a child should be. And so incredibly bad for my heart because it melts every time he shows up on page.

“Don’t come home beat up. Every time you go away without us, you come home beat up.”

Disappointingly, Diago’s husband Miquel takes a backseat in this story, but on the upside, we do see a lot of Guillermo, the leader of Los Nefilim, and through his eyes we get more deeply entrenched into the political side of the war which I wholly enjoyed.

The espionage section of the story is the really interesting bit. The blurb dresses it up in this flashy action-adventure garb, but the reality is something more intimate and ordinary and creepy:

One house, two brothers, strange happenings, and suspense threatening to spill through the edges.

When you lay out such a seemingly mundane setting and plop down a character who’s as powerful as Diago is and still manage to make the readers fearful for him, you’ll hear me applauding in the background because that’s such a hard thing to pull off.

While reading the novellas beforehand would be helpful, I don’t think it’s necessary for the enjoyment of the story. I heartily recommend this to anyone who likes angel/demon stories, music magic, fantasy mixing with pre-WW2 history, and male protagonists who embrace vulnerability.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss. All opinions are my own.

Review: The Wolf in the Whale – An Inuk, Three Wolves, and a Viking Walk into an Igloo (And Go On a Soul-Searching Journey)

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Title: The Wolf in the Whale
Author: Jordanna Max Brodsky
Publisher: Redhook
Release Date: January 29th, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Inuit Mythology, Norse Mythology
Page Count: 560 (paperback)

Rating: 8.5/10

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Born with the soul of a hunter and the spirit of the Wolf, Omat is destined to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps-invoking the spirits of the land, sea, and sky to protect her people.

But the gods have stopped listening and Omat’s family is starving. Alone at the edge of the world, hope is all they have left.

Desperate to save them, Omat journeys across the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world…or save it.

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Note
: the main character Omat was born female and identifies as both a man and a woman, but the author uses she/her pronouns in her endnotes, so that’s what I’m going to use as well.

Trigger Warning: Scenes of rape and discussions of them.

The Wolf in the Whale is a languid, immersive tapestry consisting primarily of Inuit culture and mythology but one that has threads of Norse mythos weaving through it. And the result has a little bit of everything–fantastic character work, slow-burn romance, meddling gods, wolves that are whales that are wolves, battles ranging from small-scale to continent-spanning, and themes of gender roles and identity.

Above all that, though, it’s about changing narratives that others have set up for you. And I think that’s what I loved most about it.

I found the story to be a very spiritual and empowering one as it follows the “Heroine’s Journey” template in a way that’s very reminiscent of Juliet Marillier’s work (I talked a bit about the ins-and-outs of the Heroine’s Journey in this post and why I love it so much).

The TL;DR of Heroine’s Journey and what differentiates it from the Hero’s Journey is that while the latter is very external (big baddie to defeat, world to save, etc), the former is very internal. So the plot follows this trajectory:

Omat starts out with nearly everything she could hope for. She’s an Inuit shaman-in-training who will one day lead her camp, and though born female, she thinks of herself a boy and no one really challenges her on that. So she’s allowed to hunt with the men and do other “male” activities (which she’s very good at). All in all, she’s content with her current role and her future.

And then all of that comes crashing down around her.

What follows is a brutal and lonely journey across the ice that culminates in a quest to rescue her brother. But running parallel to that, and what is ultimately the heart of the story, is a personal quest to find herself in a world where people and gods alike are determined to put her in a labelled box, saying “This is where you belong.”

So the Heroine’s Journey doesn’t really work if the main character doesn’t work. Luckily that’s not a problem here because Omat is utterly fantastic–hard-headed, empathetic, vulnerable. Brodsky takes her sweet time to set her up and people might complain that it makes the beginning too slow and ponderous, but I think a comprehensive foundation for the protagonist is essential with these types of stories.

The main plot you see in the synopsis doesn’t actually appear until about 40% of the way in. Everything before that is dedicated to exploring Omat and her relationship with her family and immersing in Inuit culture and mythos (all very well-researched). And I read it in one sitting which doesn’t happen often these days, so that should tell you how engaging this slow first half is.

My second favourite part about the book? The relationship between Omat and Brandr, a battle-weary Norseman who starts out as her enemy but soon becomes her companion.

This isn’t a one-sided “hotshot hero comes in to rescue the heroine and teach her about love” relationship. These are two fractured people–both nursing pain and loneliness–who are learning to understand each other’s language (literally and metaphorically) and helping each other heal and become stronger.

And Brodansky shows exactly what I want to see in a story about two “enemy” characters from different cultures working together–a sharing of beliefs and faiths and the acknowledgement that yes, the other might be strange and foreign, but the world as a whole is strange and foreign. And there’s always more they could learn from it.

There’s this gorgeously drawn-out scene where they talk about the dead and the possibility of afterlives, and Omat consoles Brandr by saying that the souls of your loved ones are reborn within you when they die. His response is skeptical so she counters with this:

“You don’t seem to believe in a world you cannot see. And yet, if I were you, I wouldn’t believe your stories of deserts and volcanoes and tall buildings of stones. I would say you made them up, since I’ve never seen them. But instead, I trust that there are many things beyond my understanding.”

It’s a quiet, introspective scene that does nothing to further the plot and everything to further the characters, and I love it so damn much. There are many like it and they show that, beyond the meshing of mythologies, this is the area Brodsky truly excels at.

Speaking of which…to cap all this praise off, you also get Norse gods clashing with Inuit spirits and the result is exactly what I’d hoped for–exhilarating, educational and, again, highlighting parallels between the two cultures.

That being said, I did have issues with the pacing in the latter third of the book. I think the events leading up to the ending could have been a lot shorter, or if not shorter, then had more of an in-depth exploration into Freydis, the woman who’s leading the Norsemen. She’s a fascinating character and I wish I could have gotten a bit more from her.

I also have a niggling issue with the fact that Omat only becomes comfortable with her female body the moment she starts getting sexually involved with Brandr. It obviously wasn’t the author’s intent to be like, “Hey, kids, you only need to meet the right man to make you feel comfortable in your own skin!” But that’s kind of what it comes across as.

Overall, this is a wonderful standalone mashup of history and fantasy, and one that celebrates a culture that isn’t often explored in mainstream fiction.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Review: Los Nefilim – Came for Angels and Demons, Stayed for the Sweet Family Drama

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Title: Los Nefilim
Author: T. Frohock
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: April 26th, 2016
Genre(s): Paranormal, Dark Fantasy, Historical
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 464 (paperback)

Rating: 7.5/10

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Note: Los Nefilim was originally published as three separate novellas, but they’re more like three parts of a single novel, so I suggest reading them right after the other.

Part 1- In Midnight’s Silence

Set in 1931 Spain, the story introduces our protagonist Diago, a half-daimon, half-angel being working for Los Nefilim, which is an organization made of the offspring of angels and daimons. The Los Nefilim were created to be the foot soldiers of higher angels and all members have the power to harness music and light as a source of power. But power comes with a price and the life of a Nefilim is not pretty one, but one of perpetual reincarnation which forces them to stand between the angel-daimon war presumably until the end of time. If you’re looking for pure, sweet portrayal of angels with halos and white robes woven from the hair of virgin unicorns, this isn’t for you. Frohock’s are petty, scheming, and have no qualms about sacrificing their own to further the big picture.

First of all, the music-based magic is great and something I want to see more of in fantasy. I also liked how the historical elements twine with the paranormal; the idea of this angel-demon war getting tangled up with human affairs–specifically, the start of the Spanish Civil War–is deliciously intriguing.

I also quite enjoyed the dynamic between Diago and his husband Miquel. It’s not often we see a married couple at the forefront of a fantasy book and even rarer for them to be a queer married couple, so kudos to Frohock for that. The real show-stealer of the story, however, is Rafael, Diago’s newfound son, who just melted my heart to putty.

 

PART 2 – Without Light or Guide

This one’s a lot more introspective than the first. We see Diago grappling with PTSD from the events of Part 1, which is another thing I don’t see enough of in fantasy, so that was pretty wonderful (though not so much for Diago). You know what else I don’t see often? A male protagonist saying aloud to another character, “I’m afraid.” Such show of vulnerability is what makes Diago such an engaging and sympathetic character.

As for the plot, we get whiffs of a civil war brewing within the angel faction and delve a bit more of Diago’s background and his relationship with his father. There’s also more of the warm and fuzzy family goodness between Diago, Rafael, and Miquel. I found myself torn between wanting more of Rafael and fearing for the condition of my heart because, my god, this kid just squeezed it so tightly.

 

PART 3 – The Second Death

This was my least favourite of the three. Things get considerably darker in this one as we move away from “cute family drama” and into “a woman getting tortured via electric shocks.”

My main criticism for this part–and the book as a whole–is that even by the end of it, I still didn’t know much about the Los Nefilim, the daimons, and the hierarchy of angels. The story’s got all the foundations for complex worldbuilding, but I feel like it’s only laid down the first five layers out of, like…a hundred. The series could be an amazing one but right now it falls a little short of that mark.

All in all, though, with music magic, vulnerable protagonists, and a grimdark take on angels and demons, Los Nefilim has everything I crave in fantasy, and I’ll be eagerly anticipating the sequel.