Mini Reviews (and a Reading Woe): The Shadows by Alex North & Red Heir by Lisa Henry

How does one…read a book?

If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to mail out a note to my brain detailing step-by-step instructions, as the poor thing has clearly forgotten. Which, turns out, is a bit of an inconvenience when you’re trying to run a book blog.

It’s not that I don’t have the time – quite the opposite, really. It’s not that I don’t have a good selection of books to read, or that I’m not excited to get to them – because I have and I do. It’s just that I open a book, read the first couple of chapters, and then think, “Oh look, squirrel!” and proceed to chase the squirrel instead. And in this case the squirrel is a text message or a cute YouTube video or a dark blotch on my ceiling that I swear is a spider. I feel like, at this point, if I were stuck in a 10 ft x 10 ft room with nothing but the clothes on my back, some water, and a Kindle on my lap, I would still manage to find an excuse to NOT read.

Sigh. It’s a maddening puzzle, my friends. But one I’m determined to crack this month. There are so many incredible-sounding books coming out in the next couple of months, and I do not want to miss them.

In the meantime, here are a few mini reviews that I’ve been procrastinating on!

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Title:
The Shadows
Author:
Alex North
Publisher:
Celadon Books

Genre(s): Mystery, Thriller
Subject(s)/Themes(s): Childhood, Dreams
Representation: N/A

Release Date: July 7th, 2020
Page Count: 326 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

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You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile–always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet–and inspired more than one copycat.

Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree–and his victim–were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and suffering from dementia, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.

It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Paul learns that Detective Amanda Beck is investigating another copycat that has struck in the nearby town of Featherbank. His mother is distressed, insistent that there’s something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.

It wasn’t just the murder.

It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again…

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The Shadows is less of a thriller-horror than what the blurb suggests, and a more reflective story of a man who returns home to reconcile with a traumatic past. It’s got the tone of rifling through a box of old photographs, with all the tension and melancholia that accompanies it, which I absolutely vibe with – sad trips into the fictional past are my jam – but it wasn’t quite the skin-crawling experience I was hoping for.

It is, however, still a solid atmosphere-driven tale and, in a weird way, there’s this magical lustre to it. Maybe it’s just that my brain has a tendency to categorize all stories involving dreams as fantasy-adjacent, but this feels like it exists in that grey narrative space between reality and not-quite. It’s in the way that the characters long for things they know they can’t have, and long for them hard enough to stitch their own world, their own stories, into existence. And I love it when stories do that – grounded in the real world but still dangling a thread of “But what if?”

Aside from the main character, the rest of the cast kind of fade into the background. I understand why the author chose to alternate Paul’s chapters with Amanda’s. His narration is so entrenched in old memories and biases, and the detective offers a more outside-in look into everything with better objectivity (the thriller/mystery aspect definitely becomes sharper with her chapters). But I couldn’t help but feel that she’s mostly there to serve as a mirror for all the strangeness that’s going on, and not so much as a fleshed-out character. A narrative device, really, albeit an effective one.

Creepy handprints on the cover notwithstanding, I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone looking for a high-octane horror story. It’s the quiet exploration of childhood traumas and our compartmentalization of them that truly shines throughout.

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review


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Title:
Red Heir
Author:
Lisa Henry and Sarah Honey
Publisher:
Self-published

Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance
Subject(s)/Themes(s): Fake royal, Road trip
Representation: Gay MC and side characters

Release Date: July 28th, 2020
Page Count: 234 (ebook)

Rating: 5.0/10

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Imprisoned pickpocket Loth isn’t sure why a bunch of idiots just broke into his cell claiming they’re here to rescue the lost prince of Aguillon, and he doesn’t really care. They’re looking for a redheaded prince, and he’s more than happy to play along if it means freedom. Then his cranky cellmate Grub complicates things by claiming to be the prince as well.

Now they’re fleeing across the country and Loth’s stuck sharing a horse and a bedroll with Grub while imitating royalty, eating eel porridge, and dodging swamp monsters and bandits.

Along the way, Loth discovers that there’s more to Grub than meets the eye. Under the dirt and bad attitude, Grub’s not completely awful. He might even be attractive. In fact, Loth has a terrible suspicion that he’s developing feelings, and he’s not sure what to do about that. He’d probably have more luck figuring it out if people would just stop trying to kill them.

Still, at least they’ve got a dragon, right?

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A dwarf, an elf, a human, and an orc crash into a prison where two redheads await. One of them is the lost prince, you see, and these unlikely band of rescuers are determined to snatch him away to safety and earn all the glory. A case of mistaken identity, however, lands the wrong guy as the prince and his cellmate as his grumpy tagalong. Cue adventure.

This was….okay, in every sense of the word. It’s a simple story; it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting with the imposter royal trope, the worldbuilding is sparse, and the side characters are cute and provide some extra banter. In terms of queer fantasy adventures, it’s nowhere near the kind of funny that Lightning Struck Heart is, but it definitely has its witty moments.

I was just rather bored with it. I mean, the book knows what it’s about – it’s not meant to be a sprawling fantasy epic – but everything from the characters to the relationship to the plot felt surface-level and derivative compared to other stories that tackle this premise in a more interesting way. It plays safe and doesn’t attempt to be anything it’s not, but damn, I sure wish it’d at least tried.

But if you’re looking for quick and light-hearted fantasy that you want to squeeze inbetween heavier reads, or you just really love red-haired protagonists, then this might be one for you.

Thank you to Gay Romance Reviews and the authors for providing the review copy

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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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Review: Mayhem by Estelle Laure – A Gorgeous Chaotic Mess

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Title: Mayhem
Author:
Estelle Laure
Publisher:
Wednesday Books

Genre(s): YA Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Magical Realism
Subject(s): Multigenerational, Abuse

Release Date:
July 14th, 2020
Page Count: 304 (hardback)

Rating: 4.0/10

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It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.

But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

CW: talk and depictions of domestic abuse, sexual assault, suicide

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Set in 1987 against the backdrop of Santa Maria, with a girl and her mother fleeing their abusive household, Mayhem is a poetically wrought mess that disappointed me the more I read.

The core message of the story is sound and impactful, about taking control and power in an environment where you’re offered little of either, but it’s heavily stifled by a tangle of storylines and genres that gets thrown onto your lap without much fanfare. From research, it seems that the book is less of a mashup of The Lost Boys and The Craft and more of a direct retelling with a few changes made here and there. Which is a little eyebrow-raising considering how the marketing did its usual “If you like X and Y, you must check this out!” and made it out to be a book that takes elements of those films while still remaining an original, not a near-same story with a different filter. And I would have been fine with that, since I didn’t know much about the source materials to begin with, if it wasn’t obvious that the book is multiple stories awkwardly cobbled into one. It tries to fit magical witchy elements, mother-daughter relationships, new friendships, budding romance, navigation of past trauma, an abusive husband/stepfather on the loose, and a serial killer mystery in 300 pages.

It just doesn’t work.

It picks up a plotline and then pushes it aside in favour of a different one, resolves the latter with underwhelming speed, and returns to the old one only to leave it hanging or tied in the messiest knot imaginable. Characterization also suffers because of this. There are just too many people introduced all at once–Roxy, Roxy’s twin sister Elle, the three children living in Elle’s attic, Roxy’s old friends–and Roxy, the one character aside from May who should have had the main focus throughout, fades into the background in the second half. The other side characters are surface-level interesting, but again, never given enough time for me to get attached to.

The writing is beautiful, however; that’s what hooked in the beginning. And environmental storytelling is the story’s strongest suit. Laure knows how to create quiet scenes that seem to expand with each sentence, and some of the chapters read like haunting vignettes, a moment in time frozen by the lingering memories of what May and her mother endured. There are scenes that made my throat close up in empathy and anger, and the horrors of abuse and assault are depicted with care.

If Laure had just taken that and expanded on it for the rest of the book, focusing solely on the relationships between the characters and their individual pains and journey to healing, while introducing the magic as a subtle undercurrent? How complete the story might have been.

As it is, Mayhem knows what it wants to accomplish, and the emotional depth is well present, but it tries to go about it with more tools than it can hold and falls in the execution.

 

 


About the Author

AP Estelle Laure_Credit Zoe Zimmerman

Twitter || Instagram

Estelle Laure, the author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back believes in love, magic, and the power of facing hard truths. She has a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her family. Her work is translated widely around the world.

 


Bonus Content

A Letter from the Author | Chapter One Excerpt

 

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Thank you to Wedneday Books for having me on this tour!

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

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Review: Dragon Age Tevinter Nights – Burn, Thedas, Burn

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Title: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights
Author(s):
Patrick Weekes, Sylvia Fektekuty, John Epler, Lukas Kristjanson, Brianne Battye, Caitlin Sullivan Kelly, Courtney Woods, Ryan Cormier, Arone LaBray

Publisher: Tor Books
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Game-to-Novel
Subject(s): Gods, LGBTQ+

Release Date:
March 10th, 2020
Page Count: 496 (paperback)

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

The Dragon Age games are dark, heroic, epic fantasy role playing games that have won legions of devoted fans. The first game went triple platinum (over three millions units sold) worldwide, and the second game was released in March of 2011 to solid reviews. This sixth book in the series is an anthology put together by the game’s writing staff and specifically follows the fates of various characters and events from the previous three games and the newly announced fourth game.

 

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So you thought your patience meter was pretty high with regards to DA4’s release? Thought “Yeah, sure, I can wait another few years for it”? Well, you can kiss that serenity goodbye, my friends, because that bar’s going to be bottomed out by the time you finish this.

Tevinter Nights just displaced The Last Flight as my favourite Dragon Age novel. Not so much in terms of prose and character work, but in terms of the breadth of content –walking you through the northern regions of Thedas, throwing you hints and speculation fodder, teasing you with storylines that will most definitely reappear in the next game (I’ll eat my stuffed nug if they don’t), and just re-immersing you and setting up the stage for everything that’s to come–Tevinter Nights is fantastic and a must-read for all fans of the series.

And here’s what the stage looks like: the Qunari invasion is well underway; Tevinter is being eaten up bit by bit even as the Magisters and the Venatori scheme from within; Nevarra is standing on a fracture line that cuts between the Mortalitasi and the royal family; Antiva is being forced to rely on the Crows as their main defense against the Qunari; and a bald overpowered heartbreaker idiot thinks he knows what’s best for the world and will stop at seemingly nothing to achieve it. And that’s just what’s on the surface and on this side of the Veil.

Things aren’t looking too great right now–and as this is THEDAS we’re talking about, that’s saying something.

A few general criticisms, though. Some of these stories are obviously a lead-in to side quests or the main quest in DA4, so their conclusions aren’t super satisfying; they serve more as teasers (though they’re pretty good teasers). Also, a lot of them follow the same plot formula: “x is killing y” or “x wants to kill y”, followed by “z has to step in to find out who and why.” It gets a bit repetitive, especially if you’re reading the book all in one go. And as with all anthologies, you’re going to get a mix of stories that you like and stories that just don’t work.

 

My favourites in order:

“The Wigmaker” by Courtney Woods
“The Horror of Hormok” by John Epler
“Eight Little Talons” by Courtney Woods
“Half Up Front” by John Epler
“The Dread Wolf Take You” by Patrick Weekes

(Courtney Woods and John Epler are really the MVPs of this anthology. Their stories are stuffed with interesting lore, they nail the balance of teaser and substance, and character-wise, they’re just more solidly crafted than the others)

As far as anthologies go, this was one of the best I’ve read in recent memory. And my furious obsession with the series has no bearing on that assessment. None whatsoever!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go play Inquisition for the 50th time.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

 

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January & February 2020 Wrap-Up: Begone, Cursed Months! (Feat. Pretty Lights)

Happy March, everyone!

These past two months felt overly short and dragged out at the same time. And I’m torn between wanting to re-do them or wanting to stuff them into a burlap sack filled with rocks and hurl them into the nearest lake.

I ended up re-reading a lot of old comfort books, partly because of a two-month reading slump I was still shaking off, and partly because I’ve been in and out of a really bad mental place and trying to do my best to stay afloat.

And kind of jumping from that, here’s a little PSA for anyone with depression and suicidal thoughts: don’t wait until you reach the lowest of the lowest breaking point before calling hotline numbers or checking yourself in. I used to think those were things you only do when you’re in a really fucked-up mindspace, and it took me a while to learn otherwise. Do it before you start playing roulette with yourself. Sure, they’re not one-shot fixes; no one comes to you with a platter of solutions and a magic wand to neatly sprinkle them into your brain. But they do try their best, and they give you a safe place when you’re not in a position to trust yourself. Sometimes that’s enough, sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s always better than nothing.

Good? Okay, onto more fun things!

I did manage to get to a few new/upcoming releases, so here are some of the highlights:

⚔️= Fantasy; 🚀= Scifi; 🐺= Paranormal; 👻= Horror; 🔍= Mystery; 🌺= Contemporary; 🗝️= Historical; 🌈= LGBTQ+

 

The Best

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The Poet King (The Harp and Ring Sequence 3) by Ilana C. Myer ⚔️🌈:

I adore this series and sometimes I have a hard time explaining why except to say that it just speaks to me. The characters. The aesthetics. The texture of the world and how music shapes it. The Poet King is the end to a saga that started with Last Song Before Night and I loved it. I mean, it’s got some glaring conclusion issues, but I still loved it.

The “Sequence” part makes me wonder if there’s going to be more stories set in the world. It confuses me (and gives me false hope) when authors don’t come right out and say “trilogy” or “duology.”

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (Watchmaker 2) by Natasha Pulley 🗝️🌈:

I was nervous about this because Watchmaker on Filigree Street was kind of a disappointment, especially after reading Bedlam Stacks, but Pepperharrow shows how much Pulley is growing as a writer. It’s got everything I adore about her stories–the whimsical seeping into the everyday normal, love that’s portrayed by its negative spaces–plus a lot of the issues in the first book addressed.

 

The Great

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Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus 👻🌺:

The worst and also the best alien abduction story I’ve read in a while. Daniel Kraus has no chill. [Review]

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights ⚔️:

Tevinter Nights is the first Dragon Age novel since 2014 and the first major romp through Thedas since 2015, and my god, I was stupidly excited. It’s an anthology, and while I’m not the biggest reader of anthologies and definitely not someone who finishes them in one go, make it Dragon Age and I’ll read dozens of them in one month. DA has been my number one game world obsession for the past 10 years. By far. And there’s a running joke–which isn’t really a joke–that when my friends and I play through the series we spend half the time playing the game and the other half combing through pixels trying to catch every bit of information about the world and compiling dossiers. Save the world? Sorry, that’s gotta wait; I have to stare at some statues for the next two hours and cross-reference them with these texts. And sometimes the sleuthing is even more fun than the actual gameplay.

Okay, I’m being told I need to stop before I diverge into full tumblr mode.

But yeah, the stories? *chef’s kiss* They were (mostly) a joy to read through, and I’m back with my tinfoil hat on. The review is going to be horrendously biased and I don’t even care.

 

The Good & Fine

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Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore 🗝️🌺⚔️:

My first venture into Anna-Marie McLemore and I wasn’t disappointed. Story-wise it’s nothing amazing, but I love McLemore’s style of writing and the way she approaches certain details. I’ll be working my way through her other books this year. [Review]

Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 🌺:

This was, uh…..fine? Pleasant? More of a quiet experience than a story that I want to shout from the rooftops about. Review to come!

 

The Could Be Better, Could Be Worse

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The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood ⚔️:

This wasn’t really up to the hype and expectations, but I do like the protagonist–a lesbian orc fighter/merc who tries her best–and I’m hoping the sequel irons out some of the problems. [Review]

 

 


Life Things

I sprained my neck during a hike a few weeks ago which meant little to no drawing or painting (another reason to chuck February to the bottom-most depths), but it’s mostly healed now and I’m eagerly getting back into it.

Also, we got our first winter snow in January! There’s a lake-that’s-more-of-a-large-pond outside my apartment complex and it’s host to a lights festival during winter–creative light sculptures and light-strewn trees winding all around, everything from Christmas themes to Canadian-centric stuff (lots of beavers and maple leaves).

They look gorgeous on any normal night. But when it snows? It’s like you’re moving through these little pockets of magical worlds. Kind of ethereal. Kind of eerie. And super, super neat.

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Tell me how your winter months went and what you’re looking forward to in spring!

Review: The Unspoken Name – A Saga of Badass Lesbian Orc and Wonder Bread Boy

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Title: The Unspoken Name
Author:
A.K. Larkwood
Publisher:
Tor Books

Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Portal Fantasy
Subject(s): Gods, Coming-of-Age, LGBTQ+ (main and secondary)

Release Date:
Feb 11th, 2020
Page Count: 464 (hardback)

Rating: 6.0/10

 

 

 

 

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.

Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard’s loyal sword-hand — stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.

But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

 

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Turns out I have a few things to say about this book, so to keep everything organized we’re doing sections today. Huzzah!

 

❤️❤️❤️

Unconventional But Likeable Protagonist

Csorwe is a female orc and also a fighter who’s pretty laid back–almost humble–about being a well-oiled sword swinging machine. That makes her a bit of a unicorn in a genre that lauds its “badass” female human characters. She’s skilled and pragmatic and levelheaded, which is a super underrated character trait, and just plain readable. And the contrast between her calm and Tal’s anxiety-ridden disorder is a joy to behold.

 

  Fun and Genuine Character Interactions

The dialogue is pitch-perfect and arguably the shining point of the whole thing. From scenes of vulnerability to wry sarcasm to fuck-it anarchy (mostly on Tal’s part), they do much to convey the characters’ personalities and their relationships. Csorwe and Tal’s dynamic is pure schoolyard antagonism and entertaining as hell to see played out. Though I’m hoping the sequel adds a few more layers to them because the 24/7 sniping (and nothing else) is going to get old pretty quick.

The slow-burn romance between Csorwe and Shuthmili is also one of the highest points of the story. I mean, Shuthmili is a great character to begin with–her surface coldness a product of a life that’s always been about fearing and being feared for her powers–and her journey of learning to see choices beyond ones that have been spoonfed to her is a nice parallel to Csorwe’s own journey of independence (and I would say better written than Csorwe’s).

The two together are cute and sweet and make me smile–what more can you ask for?

 

Cool Worldbuilding Setup

Dying worlds and broken gods and airships. It’s like the book knows me. Oh, and any author who includes a sentient and intelligent serpent race in their story has my eternal love.

 

 


💔💔💔

Picturing this World in My Head is Like Walking to the Grocery Store Without My Contacts On

You can have an interesting broad scheme for your worldbuilding but drop the ball on the details. And that’s the case here.

This is a story that hops through different worlds, but if you ask me to sketch out what each of them looks or feels like, I’d shrug at you from across a blank page. At best I’d call the settings minimalist–and nothing wrong with that, no one needs a two-page description of the texture of a tavern wall–but mostly they’re a frustrating landscape of vague shapes and smells. It’s like squinting though a mist while a tour guide yammers at your ear about how wonderful the place looks and how rich the culture is–all well and good except you can’t see any of it.

The snake world near the beginning is pretty interesting, but that’s the only one that left a solid impression. The rest are an absolute blur, to the point where I felt disoriented. I’m assuming this was a stylistic decision on the author’s part, but it makes the story resemble too much of an elongated dream sequence. And with an epic portal fantasy, it just feels like a lost opportunity.

 

Sethennai the Wonder Bread Boy

Speaking of blurs! Let’s talk about Belthandros Sethennai. Oh, Sethennai. Sethennai the poster boy for not living up to a badass name.

You know when your friend tells you about their celebrity crush and the person in question turns out to be a bland white dude whose appeal is completely lost on you, and you can’t even differentiate him from the previous bland white dude they were crushing on, so you’re just sitting there thinking, “This is the greatest mystery of my life”? Well, that’s Sethennai. Minus the white bit.

The book tries to make me believe that most everything in its narrative orbits this man. He’s the “kindly” mentor/savior figure who rescues Csorwe. His quest for the reliquary is what propels the storyline forward. Women swoon over him. His mentees fall over themselves to try to please him. It’s devotion at its finest, and all I want to know is WHY. Just why. What makes him so special? From Csorwe’s point of view, I kind of understand; he pulled her out from a horrific fate and I imagine a life debt makes for some thick rose-tinted glasses. But what about everyone else?

The characters tell you that he’s charming and suave and convincing. Whether or not he actually is any of those things is very much the greatest fucking mystery of my life, because at the end of the day, I don’t know who Sethennai is. He’s clear paint smeared atop a clear canvas and just about as exciting and remarkable.

And his weak characterization affects other major aspects of the story, like his quest for the Reliquary. In order for me to have cared about this plotline at least one of the following had to be true:

(1) I’m interested in the premise of the quest itself
(2) I think Sethennai is an interesting person
(3) I care that Csorwe cares about Sethennai

And…yeah. None of those were happening.

 

Lackluster Character Development

This also leads back to good ol’ Belthandros! (He’s out here just ruining everyone’s day, isn’t he?) The other reason why Sethennai had to be a solid character is that both Tal and Csorwe’s storylines lead back to him. So the fact that he isn’t makes Csorwe’s journey of self-discovery, and kicking herself out of the nest, so to speak, less impactful than it should have been. And Tal’s journey is even more underwhelming. If I have zero impressions–good or otherwise–about the man they’ve had this complicated and mostly-one-sided relationship with, then I can’t be expected to feel much for a series of character developments that directly depend on the guy being at least somewhat complex.

Also, there’s a big gap in Csorwe’s development from Csorwe the Chosen Bride and Csorwe Thereafter. From 14 years of living in a convent and being slated for death to being told you’re now a free agent with a future, and the transition between the two is basically non-existent. No exploration of how she’s had to adjust, or how her world views have changed, just a “Okay, I was living in Point A, now I’m living in Point B. The end.”

 


Okay, I know, that seems like a lot of ranting. But I did mostly like the book! On the surface it’s an enjoyable story with great potential, and it’s got a set of main characters (minus He Who I Shall No Longer Name) that interest me enough to keep going. But things start fraying when you try to delve deeper, and I just wish it ended up being more than what it turned out to be.

 

(Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review)

 

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News & Review: The Hanged Man (Tarot Sequence 2) – I Got Blurbed On a Book Cover

So um. A thing happened several months ago.

Well, okay, a bunch of things happened. And they’re all interconnected and relevant to THE thing I want to talk about, so let’s just go through them in chronological order. Imagine the countdown from Hamilton‘s “Ten Duel Commandments.”

 

☀️ Number one! ☀️

I got to read one of my top two most anticipated books of the year–AKA K.D. Edwards’ The Hanged Man (yes, The Hanged Man that I’ve been blathering about on Twitter and doing promo for)–and I wrote a review for it on Goodreads.

 

☀️ Number two! ☀️

My brain tried to coerce me. “Listen. I know have your hands full with a day job and volunteer work and art studies and a blog and, like, social obligations–whatever those are–but don’t you think doing a release promo for this book would be fun? And sexy?”

And friends, I’m a sucker. I fell for it.

 

☀️ Number three! ☀️

I was asked if I wanted to be featured on the book as a blurb, and once I gathered my jaw off the floor, I immediately said yes. Elation was closely followed by “Oh shit, I only spent 20 minutes writing that review.” But my thought was that it was going to be inside the book, within the first few pages, and squashed between a handful of blurbs from other bloggers. So no biggie if it’s not super polished, right?

 

☀️ Number four! ☀️

I got an email with the final proof of the cover.

…….Eh? Cover??

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Scott Reintgen! T. Frohock! And… *squints* this other person?

Ahem. Yes! Hi! Hello!

Imposter Syndrome, meet the pointy end of my sword. (Named “This is so beyond what I was expecting that my brain didn’t even have a chance to freak out”)

The Tarot Sequence series has been a source of incredible opportunities and friendships, and the fact that my first blurb opportunity was for this book says something loud and precious. And I’ll be holding onto it for a while.

Also, did you know publishers allowed swearing on their full-release covers?? Because I didn’t, and this was a VERY cool way of finding out.

 


 

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Author: K.D. Edwards
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, LitRPG (lite)
Subject(s)/Theme(s): LGBTQ+ (everyone), Found Family
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: December 17th, 2019
Page Count: 386 (paperback)

Rating: 10/10*

(*There’s a lot of bias with this rating. Like, a LOT. It’s a beautifully muddied water of personal relationships and life events…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

CW: talk and implications of sexual abuse, rape, and pedophilia

 

Hey, K.D? Sequel Syndrome just called. It wants you to send some pillows and blankets to the titanium coffin you just buried it in.

Clearly The Hanged Man is the product of a mortal man making deals with a high demon, because it has no business–none whatsoever–being this damn good. Disgusting, paradoxical levels of good.

I mean, we’ve seen New Atlantis before, we know these characters, so the honeymoon glow should have worn off at least a little, because that’s how sequels tend to go. The world shouldn’t feel just as heartpounding and unexpected as the first time I read The Last Sun–like the jolt of a first kiss experienced over and over again. There is ZERO logic to that.

And yet. And yet.

This book takes everything you loved about The Last Sun and takes it up a level. And another. And another. And then just when you think, “Well, that has to be the peak,” it smiles and takes you up into another building stacked on top of this one. Because the last 1/3 of the book? Fucking brace yourselves. It is an unending, head-spinning series of revelations and backs against the wall and consequent choices–choices that left me yelling and shaking with adrenaline–and Atlantean magic pushed beyond limits to mesmerizing results. It’s characters navigating their vulnerabilities and fears with one another, and I lost track of the number of times I cried.

Brand said, fiercely, in a breaking voice. “You’re my boy. You can do anything. Anything.”


Things get darker (more so than I’d expected). Stakes are much higher. The banter and the jokes are even better. And the worldbuilding is off the charts. We also get to see Rune and Brand interacting with small children, to hilarious and surprisingly good results, and that’s something I can’t get enough of.

Oh, and for those who felt that TLS was a bit of a white sausage fest (and I say that with affection)–rest assured! Several new major characters make their appearance in this book, many of them female and/or POC, and they’re all written with exquisite care.

This beautiful messy family just got a lot bigger and I cannot wait for everyone to experience it.

 

☀️ My Review of The Last Sun (Tarot Sequence 1)


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Spotlight + Giveaway (US): The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

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Yup, it’s yet another blog tour! (Seriously, how did I sign up for so many tours? Did I accidentally clone myself one night?) And my YA curse continues because The Light at the Bottom of the World didn’t exactly light up my world. So my review will be posted later this week after the tour ends.

Meanwhile, enjoy this spotlight and giveaway!

 

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Author
: London Shah
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: October 29th 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Sci-Fi

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Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters.

At the end of the twenty-first century, the world has changed dramatically, but life continues one thousand feet below the ocean’s surface. In Great Britain, sea creatures swim among the ruins of Big Ben and the Tower of London, and citizens waver between fear and hope; fear of what lurks in the abyss, and hope that humanity will soon discover a way to reclaim the Earth.

Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen has her own problems to deal with. Her father’s been arrested, accused of taking advantage of victims of the Seasickness-a debilitating malaise that consumes people,often claiming their lives. But Leyla knows he’s innocent, and all she’s interested in is getting him back so that their lives can return to normal.

When she’s picked to race in the action-packed London Submersible Marathon, Leyla gets the chance to secure his freedom; the Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. The race takes an unexpected turn, though, and presents her with an opportunity she never wanted: Leyla must venture outside of London for the first time in her life, to find and rescue her father herself.

Now, she’ll have to brave the unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a secretive, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If she fails, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture-and her father might be lost forever.

 


About the Author

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Author London Shah is a British-born Muslim of Pashtun ethnicity. She has lived in Britain’s capital city for most of her life via England’s beautiful North. When she’s not busy re-imagining the past, plotting an alternate present or dreaming up a surreal future, then she’s most likely drinking copious amounts of tea, eating all the sweets and cakes, strolling through Richmond Park or along the Thames, getting lost on an evening in the city’s older, darker alleyways—preferably just after it’s rained—listening to punk rock, or losing herself in a fab SFF book or film. If she could have only one super power, it would be to breathe underwater. THE LIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD is her debut novel.

 


Giveaway (US Only)

One finished copy of the book is up for grabs! ENTER HERE.

 

 

 

The Hanged Man (Tarot Sequence 2) Promotion Extravaganza

Happy Samhain, New Atlanteans!!

The hotly anticipated sequel to K.D. Edwards’ The Last Sun is arriving on December 17th, and KD, Sia, and I want to make the next two months a fun, exciting, and involved affair for everyone.

We have some seriously cool events planned–for current fans of the series and readers who aren’t familiar with it but would like to be–and today we’ll be giving you an overview of what’s to come (we’ll get into the heavier details of specific events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

But first, if you want to know how #HangedManPromo got started…

 

ORIGIN STORY

I had the chance to read The Hanged Man in September, and predictably I was obsessed with it. And when I get really obsessed about something, like a-dog-trembling-with-a-bone-in-its-mouth obsessed, I try to funnel that energy into activities. Which often means writing, gaming, drawing, dancing, making a playlist and going for a hike…Or, as in this case, creating an extensive project. Because otherwise the excitement settles into a cloying, negative thing–a kind of congealed anxiety with no outlet–which doesn’t rate super high on my Fun Scale. And as anyone who’s read The Tarot Sequence knows, it’s got a +100 to “Obsession Inducer”, which equals to a lot of anxiety.

So that’s the selfish reason.

The not-quite-as-selfish reason is that my grandmother had passed away from cancer in July, and I’d spent most of the summer months thinking about–well, life, to sound cliche. About pushing past doubt and just doing things because you may not have another chance.

And after finishing THM, there was this sense of “I’m feeling everything and I need more people to read this so they can feel it with me.” And, “I can do that, so what’s stopping me?” That would normally mean writing a review and making fanart (which I still plan to do!) But I also wanted to do something bigger, more wide reaching, something that could be accessible to newcomers of the series. The publication date for THM got delayed again, and no one was very happy, and I wanted the months leading up to its release to be as festive as I could make it.

And…here we are.

I asked two of my favourite people in the world to join me, Sia and KD–well, we obviously can’t do it without the damn author–who I’m convinced are actual superheroes and/or angels (I mean, they’re not even hiding it very well *rolls eyes*). Together we polished this into something AWESOME. And do you know the best/scary part? We’re not done brainstorming.

This event is a love letter to a series that celebrates the families we make for ourselves.

It’s a love letter to four people–two fictional, two very real–who have become bright stars in my orbit.

And it’s a love letter to you–the fans, both present and future.

We’re going to have so much fun with this.

 


So here’s what’s definitively on the schedule. MARK. YOUR. CALENDARS.

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Nov 2nd – January 1st:
Creative Tarot Sequence Project

What it says on the tin. I wanted to do a contest to celebrate creativity and specifically, Tarot Sequence creativity. We’ll be talking more about it on November 2nd, and revealing the VERY cool prizes involved.

 

Nov 3rd – Dec 17: Giveaway (INTL)

Giveaway of what, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to see on November 3rd!

 

Nov 16 – Dec 16th: Last Sun Readalong

Perfect for those who haven’t read The Last Sun yet, and for those who want to refresh their memories and get reacquainted with the characters before Book 2 drops. We’ll be doing weekly discussions and K.D. will answer any questions you have regarding the text. More info to come tomorrow! (#LastSunReadalong)

 

Nov 6th – January 1st: Street Team (#ScionsOfAtlantis)

This is our biggest event, and also my favourite (just barely passing Creative Tarot Project), as it allows for roleplay–for us and for you. Do you like roleplay? Quests? Competitions? Letters that may or may not hide clues to special secret content? Then come pledge your allegiance.

As a Scion-with-amnesia, you’ll align with one of four courts (Sun, Justice, Tower, Death) and complete quests and collect points along with your teammates in preparation for the Hanged Man’s arrival. Glory will be heaped on the winning court, along with some very cool rewards.

By joining you also get a chance to participate in The Convocation of the Traveling Last Sun. The idea is that we send a physical copy of The Last Sun to North American and European members, and you get to scribble, doodle, and highlight the book to your heart’s content. Leave messages to your team members! Point out a favourite passage! Then you take pictures and post them on social media, and pass the book to the next person.

(You can read more about the Sun and Justice courts HERE, and Tower and Death courts HERE) Also, we would LOVE it if a couple of more people joined Sun and Justice!

 

☀️ SIGN UP HERE ☀️

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DATES TBA:

We also have a challenging quiz for The Last Sun planned (plus a raffle), blog posts, including a discussion about the series’ worldbuilding, and MORE.

If you have an idea that you think would be a good fit for the campaign, or if you want to pitch in some prizes (we would love you forever), contact us on Twitter or email us at hangedmanpromo@gmail.com.

 

DNF Reviews: Tarnished are the Stars & The Good Luck Girls – Why does YA Hate Me? (I’m Open to Suggestions)

Here’s a fun stat for you: I DNFed 5 books in the past month and a half, and four of them were YA SFF. And I’m pretty sure they’re at least 60% responsible for the reading slump I’m currently in.

Conclusion?

1) Recent YA SFF is just missing a lot of the stuff I crave. Also, I should be more selective about the books that I request, and for god’s sake, read some reviews beforehand.

or

2) I’ve been (VERY UNFAIRLY) cursed by the bookish gods and now I must travel to the heart of the Northern Canadian woods to capture a Wendigo and make an offering–

Yeah, clearly 2 is the way to go.

 

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(Stopping point: ~45%)

You say “steampunk” and “divided loyalties” and “cat and mouse” and “queer”; I say,  “Please–I offer you my first born.”

Well, I hope the bookish gods accept cancellations because Tarnished are the Stars is definitely not worth my first born. Or any of my born for that matter.

I always say that I can forgive poor worldbuildng if I’m able to connect with the characters. But there’s a limit to that. And my limit is this book. I found the writing to be so sparse of detail to the point where it felt like a slice-of-life contemporary than a sci-fi–heavy with dialogue and a vague sense of setting, which isn’t at all helped by how short each POV chapter is.

And a slice-of-life-esque worldbuilding is fine if the story itself is slice-of-life. This book? Nothing close to that. It’s a steampunk space opera with intrigue and a organics-versus-technology plotline, and therefore I want to see something more than Scene A – generic store, Scene B – generic mansion, and Scene C – generic field.

 

 


Now, this next book has the exact OPPOSITE problem. So at least my DNF reads were…varied? Yay?

The Good Luck Girls

(Stopping point: ~38%)

ME: So, it’s kind of weird how there are no characters in The Good Luck Girls…but at least the setting is neat!

*vague whisperings in brain cavity*

ME: Uh, what do you mean I’m looking at the characters?

Ah yes. The good old problem of “interesting worldbuilding, flat/invisible characters.” This is a more familiar territory for me.

Let’s get to the positive first: the worldbuilding and the general premise of the story is super fascinating. There are two groups of people who live in Arketta, dustbloods and fairbloods, and they’re more or less alike in appearance minus one little detail: dustbloods don’t cast shadows. And while fairbloods are offered privileges and opportunities, dustbloods are forced to live in indentured servitude–as prostitutes, for example, which is what the Good Luck Girls are.

The writing itself is really solid and descriptive, and all the little details about the setting are a nice touch. Also, copious descriptions of food equal a very happy Kathy.

All of this was negated by the characters. Holy friggin’ coconuts, the characters. You have this cool western setting–rich and dusty and unforgiving–and it’s somehow populated with characters with less personality and depth than the back of a cereal box. They were just…blank. And eerily so. I couldn’t find myself caring about any of them, or their predicament, and well, that was that.

 

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So. What books should I pack for my Wendigo-hunting trip? And what’s your go-to remedy for bookish curses?

(I’ve been a BIT sleep-deprived this week–I don’t know if you can tell??)