Five Reasons Why You Need to Read Desdemona and the Deep

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Title: Desdemona and the Deep
Author: C.S.E. Cooney
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: July 23rd, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Fae, LGBTQIAP+ (lesbian mc, trans side character)
Page Count: 224 (ebook)

Rating: 9.5/10

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In Desdemona and the Deep, the spoiled daughter of a rich mining family must retrieve the tithe of men her father promised to the world below. On the surface, her world is rife with industrial pollution that ruins the health of poor factory workers while the idle rich indulge themselves in unheard-of luxury. Below are goblins, mysterious kingdoms, and an entirely different hierarchy.

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My god, what an absolute treasure trove this book is.

I’m a little review-weary at the moment and don’t feel like doing elaborate paragraph transitions, so I’ve made this into a “X Reasons Why” post!

 

1. The Prose

The prose, guys. The prose. If you want to see blushing described as “double roses of reverence and rapacious cupidity,” then you’re in for a treat because that’s the whole book. Rich, charismatic, whimsical, and the very definition of purple, the words melt hot in your brain and on your tongue. It’s been a while since I had this much fun with language.

 

2. A Larger-than-Life Protagonist

Desdemona is one of my favourite characters I’ve encountered this year, and hands-down my favourite female protagonist of 2019.

The thing is, she starts out as a pretty shitty person–rich and spoiled, with a dismissive let-them-eat-cake attitude. My definitive “Oh, I really don’t like you” moment was when she mentioned how she enjoys collecting art and artists, not because she cares for them, but because they make her feel prestigious and wanted.

But she grows over the course of the story, as did my opinion of her. Because despite being a prissy heiress, she’s also fun, and stubborn as heck, and her relationship with her best friend Chaz is endearing from the start (they are a magnificent duo). And she’s not some hapless heroine who inadvertently stumbles into another world. Oh no no, Desdemona will march up to the threshold of worlds and obnoxiously demand that they let her in.

There’s really no box you can shove her into, and I love that so much.

 

3. The Worldbuilding

Three worlds exist in this story. Athe for mortals; Valwode for the gentry (a mishmash of fae-adjacent creatures); and Bana, the kingdom of goblins.

If I were to sit here and write out everything I love about the worldbuilding, I’d be siting here typing out the entire book for you. So trust me when I say that it’s incredible. There are details that left me grinning and wanting to roll around in its richness. Like the notion that the fae are as affected by human art as humans are by fae magic. So things like poetry become a weapon and a shield in Valwode.

But my favourite part? How, despite all the beauty, the story doesn’t let you forget that magic has fangs. That these worlds aren’t just about glitter and gold, and their brutality goes hand in hand with beauty. There’s an almost alien quality to it that you don’t fully understand, but one you’re drawn to regardless. And those are the fae stories I want.

 

4. Themes of Justice and Art Prevailing in Darkness

This is a story about a mortal who ventures into another realm for a rescue mission. And usually, with those types of stories, the object of said rescue is a loved one–a spouse, a sibling, a child. Here, it’s not a rescue mission for the heart, but a mission to right a wrong. Because Desdemona was party to an injustice she initially ignored, and she wants to fix that. That to me is incredibly refreshing.

And from there we see the class struggles of the mortal realm (a kind of an alternate early 19th century Europe) being echoed in the magical realms, the idea that compromises exist, and Desdemona giving life back to the women who had it taken from them.

 

5. Just the Utter Joy of It All

Everything about this story, from the language to the characters to the worldbuilding is gaudy in the best way. It’s ostentatious, it’s heartfelt, it’s beautiful, and most importantly, it’s entertaining. You turn your head and you find something new and even more wondrous and strange than the last.

This book made me incredibly happy during a time when I desperately needed to feel happy, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

So, please, PLEASE. Give your brain a treat it sorely deserves. Go pick this up.

 

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

Los Nefilim

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.