Review: Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford

“It wasn’t crazy to me. Being her daughter was all I’d ever known.”

Crooked Halleluja – published by Grove Altantic, July 14th 2020

It’s 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and fifteen-year-old Justine grows up in a family of tough, complicated, and loyal women, presided over by her mother, Lula, and Granny. After Justine’s father abandoned the family, Lula became a devout member of the Holiness Church – a community that Justine at times finds stifling and terrifying. But Justine does her best as a devoted daughter, until an act of violence sends her on a different path forever. Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine–a mixed-blood Cherokee woman– and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma’s Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn’t easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country. Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world–of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados–intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.

In lush and empathic prose, Kelli Jo Ford depicts what this family of proud, stubborn, Cherokee women sacrifice for those they love, amid larger forces of history, religion, class, and culture. This is a big-hearted and ambitious novel of the powerful bonds between mothers and daughters by an exquisite and rare new talent.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Brilliant, heartbreaking, let down by the ending.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This is a book about family, or rather a book about mother-daughter-relationships. Following four generations of Cherokee women in their attempts to live their lives and to make better choices possible for their daughters, this book is focussed on the peculiar relationships women can have with their mothers. The story is told chronologically but jumping forward in time, sometimes in first person, sometimes in close third person, and as such fairly introspective. Kelli Jo Ford chose to tell every chapter from the perspective of the daughter in the relationship she focusses for this moment – and I adored that choice.

I thought this was excellent – especially when Ford focussed the difficult relationship between Lula (hyper religious and often harsh) and her daughter Justine (who has her own daughter at 16). I loved the parallels between these two women who seem at first glance very different but who both try their very best to change their daughters’ trajectories for the better. Both make the best of the limited choices they have – and this limitation of choices due to poverty is at the core of this book. Justine who is prickly, difficult, lonely, strong remained my favourite until the end.

There were two things that did not completely work for me. There is a chapter in the middle of the book that is only tangentially related to the rest of the book and that I found gratuitous in its depiction of homophobic violence. I also thought that the final chapter taking place in the near future in a climate change ravaged Texas, did not completely work. I understand the thematic relevance and I loved the mirroring Ford achieved here, I just would have liked to not have it take place in the future. But even if I have slight problems, this book was for many pages absolutely brilliant and I love the tenderness Ford’s writing has for her characters. Even when the women fight, they always, obviously love each other and only want to help each other.

Content warnings: rape, miscarriage, tubal pregnancy, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, Christian fundamentalism, death of loved ones, death of animals (horse), teenaged pregnancy, robbery, homophobia, epilepsy

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Best ARCs I read

I realized that I usually talk about my review copies in terms of being late and feeling overwhelmed – and this gives a wrong impression, I think. Because I just love getting review copies and have read some really really brilliant ones over the years (I checked, I have been on NetGalley – my main way of getting review copies – since 2016). It feels right using this low-key readathon to talk about some of my favourites.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (review)

I read and reviewed the complete trilogy early – and it is one of my absolute favourite series. I thought both the first and the third book were pitch-perfect and I cannot wait until Arden writes another adult book (she has hinted on twitter at something in the same world as this series and I just cannot wait.)

The Pisces by Melissa Broder (review)

I requested this on a whim, unsure whether I would like it but absolutely loving the cover. I needed have worried – this book was just perfect for the kind of reader I am (I also convinced quite a few of my blogging friends to read this and so far they all liked it!). I am currently reading Broder’s second novel which is also really good but so far not as absolutely brilliant as this here was for me.

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood (review)

I am unsure if I would have gotten to this if I hadn’t been able to read an ARC (there are so many fantasy books coming out and I am not always good at reading series) – but wow, I loved this. I do love fantasy books about gods a lot and I thought that Larkwood executes her premise brilliantly – and pulls her different threads together so very satisfyingly at the end that I cannot wait to read the next one, whenever it will be released.

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko (tr. by Julia Meitov Hersey) (review)

What a thrill this book was – I adored everything about it. But it is also one of those books that seem to custom-made for me that I am unsure if I can recommend it to people. It is dark, and weird, and set in the deep of Russia, and just so very much my kind of thing.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (review)

I would definitely have read this anyways – but I loved it so much, I am glad I got to it early (it was also one of my earliest reviews that got enough likes to be prominently featured on the book’s Goodreads page). It is still one of my all-time favourite short stories and possibly the one that cemented my love of the format. Such a brilliant book.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (review)

I do not think I would have gotten to this, if I hadn’t requested it fairly early on in my blogging journey. When I read it, I was one of the very first people to review the book on Goodreads – and then it obviously got longlisted for the Women’s Prize. The book is brilliant, compulsively readable, and incredibly emotional.

In writing this blogpost, I realized just how many brilliant books I have read as ARCs – this is helping me a lot to get even more motivated to use these two weeks to catch up with some of my unread ARCs – who knows what brilliant things I will discover.

Rachel and I have too many ARCs – another try at an emergency readathon (2020 edition)

Last year around this time, Rachel and I created a two-person-readathon to get our amount of unread ARCs under something resembling control. Ask me how that went! (Not great. Not great at all. I was newly pregnant and feeling pretty awful) But, it was fun! So we are doing it again the last two weeks of September and hopefully this time around I will actually make a dent into my (even bigger) mountain of unread ARCs. You are all absolutely invited to join but we don’t have any prompts, we won’t be doing anything fancy like reading sprints, but it is fun all the same!

Most of my ARCs are overdue and I do not even know how this will ever change – but I really am trying to at least get my number of unreviewed ARCs down significantly over the next few months.

I am currently in the middle of two ARCs – these will obviously my priority:

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Published by Titan Books, October 6th 2020

I did not expect to be approved for this – it is Schwab after all and people have been looking forward to this book for years, but I did and I am so glad. I was super in the mood for her kind of writing and prefer reading on my kindle to reading physical books lately.

Crooked Halleluja by Kelli Jo Ford

Published by Grove Atlantic, July 14th 2020

I am absolutely loving this – but it is also a difficult read due to its content. I am super enjoying Ford’s characterization and her prose. If this keeps up, it will surely be one of my favourites of the year.

I usually read a few books at the same time but try to read different genres. Once I finish Crooked Hallelujah, I will pick one of my more literary fiction ARCs, and once I finish Addie LaRue, I will choose another speculative novel.

Literary Fiction

Machine by Susan Steinberg (published by Pushkin Press, August 6th 2020)

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (published by Knopf Doubleday, September 1st 2020)

Pew by Catherine Lacey (published by Granta, May 14th 2020)

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (published by Faber & Faber, August 20th 2020)

Of those four I am most excited about Emezi’s second novel – I adored Freshwater and have high hopes that this will also be a favourite.

Speculative Fiction:

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri (published by Orbit, November 2018)

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron (published by HarperCollins, September 2019)

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez (published by Titan Books, August 11th 2020)

Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam (published by Bloomsbury, October 6th 2020)

I am most excited about Empire of Sand – but I also never pick it up. I am fairly certain I will love it – many people with similar tastes to mine have already adored it, I love speculative romance, and Suri is a delight on twitter. I really should finally get to this. But I am also intrigued by Alam’s book, who is also a delight on twitter – but I also scare easily, so we will have to see how this horror/ fantasy/ thriller hybrid works for me.

I have also quite a few ARCs I have read parts of but for some reason did not finish. I hope to return to some of these and decide whether I want to keep reading.

This list of ARCs is by far not complete but it is more than enough to keep me occupied for more than the two weeks the readathon runs. And also, who am I kidding, I recently got an ARC of Melissa Broder’s second novel Milk Fed which does not release until next year but which I will probably read before anything else because I am so very excited (and this is how I manage to never ever catch up on my unread ARCs).

Mini-Review: You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South

Verdict: Bleak, hopeless, not for me.

Published by Pan Macmillan, August 6th 2020

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

In this provocative, bitingly funny debut collection, people attempt to use technology to escape their uncontrollable feelings of grief or rage or despair, only to reveal their most flawed and human selves

An architect draws questionable inspiration from her daughter’s birth defect. A content moderator for “the world’s biggest search engine,” who spends her days culling videos of beheadings and suicides, turns from stalking her rapist online to following him in real life. At a camp for recovering internet trolls, a sensitive misfit goes missing. A wounded mother raises the second incarnation of her child.

In You Will Never Be Forgotten, Mary South explores how technology can both collapse our relationships from within and provide opportunities for genuine connection. Formally inventive, darkly absurdist, savagely critical of the increasingly fraught cultural climates we inhabit, these ten stories also find hope in fleeting interactions and moments of tenderness. They reveal our grotesque selfishness and our intense need for love and acceptance, and the psychic pain that either shuts us off or allows us to discover our deepest reaches of empathy. This incendiary debut marks the arrival of a perceptive, idiosyncratic, instantly recognizable voice in fiction – one that could only belong to Mary South.

This collection was very much not for me – and I had been close to just putting it down, when the third story (Frequently Asked Questions About Your Craniotomy) was just brilliant and I spent the rest of my reading time chasing that high (which never came). South takes already uncomfortable premises and somehow makes them worse – and I do not like fiction that makes me feel like I need to take a shower. I admit that this is very much a me-thing and looking at other reviews made that very clear – there is a lot to love here, if you don’t mind sitting with discomfort.

I left the collection wondering if South does like the internet, at all, or even people, for that matter. Most of her premises lean into the possibility of technology making everything worse, while most her protagonists are genuinely awful people, or at least people at the whim of other horrible people. Her men are self-involved and rarely able to look outside their own problems, her women are often victim of either their own bodies or patriarchy. I did not enjoy my time with this book as it was way too bleak and hopeless for me.

Content warnings: rape, miscarriage, SIDS, trolling, depiction of graphic violence, killing of a cat, alcohol and drug abuse, fat shaming, death of loved ones, stalking, cheating

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Mini-Reviews: Alpha Night by Nalini Singh and Catalina Baylor #1 and #2 by Ilona Andrews

Alpha Night (Psy-Changeling #19) by Nalini Singh

Published by Orion, June 11th 2020

There was very little chance of me not enjoying this book – therefore it feels necessary to begin this review with a disclaimer. I have read more than 20 books by Nalini Singh in about 18 months, I love what she does with her world building and I nearly always adore the couple she centers in each of these books. I am in no way impartial. But, if like me you enjoy these books (or if you like romance and interesting sci-fi-esque fantasy worlds and haven’t read any of her books, I really recommend you remedy that!), you will be pleased to hear that her latest (the 19th full-length novel in her Psy-Changeling universe) is as great as we all hoped.

Singh explores a new dynamic here with a mating at first sight and while this for sure is not my favourite trope, I thought she pulled it off. Ethan and Selenka are an interesting and believable couple and I bought into their relationship immediately. They are, however, not my favourite and I enjoyed the parts concerned with the larger political developments more. I am very excited to see where Singh takes the story next as this book indicates some far-reaching changes. I have said so before but it is worth saying it again: if this series wasn’t primarily romance focussed, Singh would be one of the authors always recommended when impeccable world-building is discussed.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Catalina Baylor Trilogy (Hidden Legacy #3.5, #4, #5) by Ilona Andrews

I am upset. And I only have myself to blame.

I managed to hold of reading the first two books until the week the second full novel in the continuation of the brilliant Hidden Legacy series released and then I basically inhaled them. I obviously love this but you know what I do not love? The absolutely brutal cliffhanger and the fact that I now have to wait until at least 2021 to find out how this is going to be resolved.

I always love Ilona Andrews’ particular mix of kickass women, snark, great world building, and incredibly binge-able writing style. I thought Catalina was an incredible new main character and I love her. I love the family dynamics as much as I always did, I love her power and the way in which her modus operandi differs from her older sister. I did not love Alessandro as much as I loved Mad Rogan but he did grow on me. The world is as impeccable as ever and I can always trust that the Andrews’ have a plan.

Wrap Up August 2020

I cannot remember the last time I had a reading month this good. It seems like my choice to finally finish reading some of the books I had started months ago was a very good thing indeed. I have also finally gotten back into the groove of reading and reviewing ARCs – I do hope I can keep the momentum going. Especially because Rachel and I are planning on doing our two-person-ARC-readathon again at the end of September, this time without me being pregnant and not reading. (You are all invited to participate! But it’s super low-key and I am famously bad at reading plans.)

Books I read in August:

  1. Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. Alpha Night by Nalini Singh: 4 out of 5 stars
  4. The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Larkwood: 4.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  5. Sisters by Daisy Johnson: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  6. Luster by Raven Leilani: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  7. Diamond Fire (Hidden Legacy #3.5) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel: 5 out of 5 stars (review)
  9. Saphire Flames (Hidden Legacy #4, Catalina Baylor Trilogy #1) by Ilona Andrews: 5 out of 5 stars
  10. Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy #5, Catalina Baylor Trilogy #2) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars

I also started and DNFed The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E. Harrow.

Favourite of the Month:

Quality-wise, The Glass Hotel, hands down. I knew I would love it but also was scared of not being able to properly appreciate it during the pandemic and kept putting it off – I am so glad to have finally read it, it’s as good as I hoped it would be. But my proper favourite is probably Saphire Flames which I kept putting off because I know how addictive Ilona Andrews’ writing is. It’s so good! I had such a blast!

Stats(ish):

I read ten books, seven of which were written by women and the other three by a husband and wife team. Five books can broadly be categorized as literary fiction, one is a fantasy-scifi hybrid and four are some form of romantic fantasy.

Currently Reading:

Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

“Later, we all remembered the party differently, either because of the open bar or because of course memories are always bent in retrospect to fit individual narratives.”

The Glass Hotel – published by Pan MacMillan, August 6th 2020

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

From the award-winning author of Station Eleven, a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York, dragging countless fortunes with it.

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass and cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half-brother, Paul, scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune Logistics, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of the Neptune Cumberland. Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: I loved this so.

I am having a difficult time putting into words why I loved this so. A book prominently featuring a Ponzi scheme and its fall out is on paper not something that should work for me – but this is Emily St. John Mandel we are talking about here, author of one of my all-time favourite books whose next work I had been eagerly awaiting for literal years. And underneath the premise, there are so very many things that I adore in fiction: told unchronologically from a variety of points of views, featuring difficult characters that I nevertheless rooted for (especially Vincent who I just adored), with hints of the supernatural as manifestation of guilt, scenes that would recontextualize what came before, and above all the author’s incredible way with words.

This is not a book concerned with closure or with satisfying conclusions and I thought it was that much stronger because of this. Emily St. John Mandel deals with human emotions and human faults without shying away from the fact that often in life, things do not end with a neat bow around them. Her characters make irreversible mistakes, they hurt each other and themselves, and they just have to live with that. Many of them reminisce about how their lives could have turned out differently if they had chosen different paths, imagining a sort of parallel universe where their mistakes were not this grave – and I loved this. The whole book has a lovely sense of melancholy but it is not hopeless which is a difficult to achieve balance.

I really do hope I won’t have to wait as long as last time for a new book by Emily St. John Mandel.

Content warnings: drug abuse, death of a loved one, ghosts

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Luster by Raven Leilani

“This was the contradiction that would define me for years, my attempt to secure undiluted solitude and my swift betrayal of this effort once in the spotlight of an interested man.”

Luster – published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, August 4th 2020

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sharp, comic, disruptive, tender, Raven Leilani’s debut novel, Luster, sees a young black woman fall into art and someone else’s open marriage

Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She’s also, secretly, haltingly figuring her way into life as an artist. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and falling into Eric’s family life, his home. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.

Razor sharp, darkly comic, sexually charged, socially disruptive, Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make her sense of her life in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: I do love difficult women.

It is no secret that I adore books with a difficult female main character, so it’s no surprise that I was beyond excited to get to this book – and I adored (seriously adored) the first thirty percent: Edie is wonderfully flawed and interesting and her narration is pitch-perfect. I adored the mix between long run-on sentences and shorter, punchier ones. I was certain this would be my favourite book of the year. I am not quite sure what happened then but by the end I was not quite as enamored and ultimately I was glad to be done with it. Maybe it was the endless parade of humiliations (I get a very bad case of secondhand embarrassment that makes reading something like this very difficult), maybe it was the way in which the narrative became unfocussed – but even if I didn’t love it the whole way through; what an impressive debut. As my thoughts are all over the place, so will be my review, but please bear with me as I am trying to figure out my exact feelings (and rating).

The biggest draw of a book like this is always the main character and Edie fits wonderfully in the canon of what Rachel has called “disaster women” – or rather, she expands on it. Because as a Black woman, her decisions have more far reaching consequences, more dangerous implications. And for this alone, I loved this book. I loved how Edie is unflinchingly aware of what being a Black woman in the middle of a difficult personal time entails. Unflinchingly aware is a good way to describe Edie in general; she is always aware of what her decisions might mean and then she does stupid things anyways – I appreciated that facet of her personality.

Ultimately, this is a book about loneliness; unbearable, all-encompassing loneliness is what defines all four of the book’s main characters, but most of all Edie who has lost her (difficult) parents young and does not know what she wants out of her life. Her loneliness is most obvious when she chooses to remain in situations that are humiliating beyond measure just to avoid being alone. But the married couple she gets entangled with is also lonely, even in their coupledom, and their adopted daughter seems to have accepted her own loneliness in a way that made my heart hurt.

Overall, an incredibly impressive debut that thankfully is getting the accolades it deserves. I will for sure be reading whatever Raven Leilani publishes next because this mix of incredible prose and interesting characters is my literary fiction catnip.

Content warnings: violent sex, vomit, miscarriage, asphyxiation, loss of a loved one (backstory), racism, police brutality, cheating, alcohol abuse, drug abuse

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Sisters by Daisy Johnson

50186889._sx318_sy475_Verdict: Creepy, tense, unsettling – let down by the ending.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Psychological Horror/ Literary Fiction

Published by Jonathan Cape, August 13th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

After a serious case of school bullying becomes too much to bear, sisters July and September move across the country with their mother to a long-abandoned family home.

In their new and unsettling surroundings, July finds that the deep bond she has always had with September – a closeness that not even their mother is allowed to penetrate – is starting to change in ways she cannot entirely understand.

Inside the house the tension among the three women builds, while outside the sisters meet a boy who tests the limits of their shared experiences.

With its roots in psychological horror, Sisters is a taut, powerful and deeply moving account of sibling love that cements Daisy Johnson’s place as one of the most inventive and exciting young writers at work today.

I read this mostly on the strength of Johnson’s debut novel and did not really know what to expect from it. The blurb is intentionally vague and I was unprepared for how creepy this book was. I was hooked from the very beginning though, racing through this book breathlessly, torn between wanting to keep reading and dreading what was to come – that something is not quite right with September and July is obvious from the beginning. Johnson skillfully leads the reader through her labyrinthian narrative told from the perspective of July, the younger of the two sisters and the more quiet and withdrawn one, always in the shadow of her slightly older and domineering sister September. The sibling relationship is at the core of this novel (and I am always a fan of well-told sibling stories) and that it feels so real is one of the big strengths. Their relationship is creepy and obsessive, they are so close to each other that even their mother has no place in their vincinity. Parts told in third person from their mother’s perspective underscore how weirdly codependent the two sisters are. September often treats July abysmally, and Johnson leans into the inherent creepiness of children’s games when she has her teenaged main characters play them with an increasing escalation of violence.

After some tragedy the family leaves Oxford for a house by the ocean owned by their dead father’s sister; here the mother takes to her room and leaves her daughters to roam Settle House, which is just as unsettling as the name indicates. The tragedy in the wake of July being bullied at school is one of the central mysteries of the book as July does not seem to remember what exactly happened that made her mother abruptly leave Oxford and decide to live in a house she hates as it brings only bad memories of the abusive father of her children. July’s narration is often unclear and I early began wondering how reliable she was, as her mind seems to be fragmenting. The novel works best when Johnson plays with this unreality she invokes, when it isn’t at all clear what is happening. Her fragmented, allusion-rich prose coupled with her vivid and unsettling imagery mirror’s July’s mental state excellently. As such the ending, when things became more clear again, did not work for me as well as the parts that preceeded it. But even so, the pitch perfect prose and an impressively oppressive atmosphere made this a rewarding reading experience that I was nevertheless ultimately glad to be done with – this book gave me nightmares.

Content warnings: bullying, assault, revenge porn, vomit, underage drinking, blackouts, depression, spousal abuse, death of a loved one

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Lardwood

45046552Verdict: Delightful, clever, incredible world-building – not my favourite main character.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Published by Pan Macmillan, February 20th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

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.

I loved very many things about this. The worldbuilding is impeccable and wonderfully integrated into the main storyline, giving just enough details to make the world(s) believable without overwhelming the narrative. I loved the prose which I found lyrical enough to work for me while being somehow quintessentially “fantasy”. I nearly always love fantasy books dealing with deities and this one was no exception. Set in a multi-world multiverse governed by many different deities, some of these half dead or lost, with many different belief-systems, our focus is Csorwe who was supposed to be a sacrifice to her (creepy and horrifying) god until a visiting wizard rescued her and made her his bodyguard/ assassin/ ward.

I adored this – the book just worked for me in every single way, except for Csorwe who I found indistinct and to be honest, sometimes painfully daft. She kept getting herself into situations that obviously would not work out the way she expected them to and she never seemed to learn. I did really appreciate her rivalry with another of the wizard’s men and their banter was great. I also loved the fraught and complicated relationship she has with her mentor and the way this wrapped up had me glued to the page. I was not so keen on the love story which ultimately kept me from giving this the whole five stars.

My favourite part of this sci-fi/ fantasy hybrid was the underlying mythology and the way in which Larkwood fleshes it out with different deities and their believers; in parts creepy, in parts interesting, always fascinating. There are so many ways in which the story can be developed next and I am excited for most of them. I had such a great time reading it and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel. This is the best high fantasy novel I have read in ages.

Content warning: disfigurement, death, huge serpents, death cults

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.