Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

29774026Verdict: Everything I wanted it to be.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Published by Bloomsbury, 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

This book hit me right in my sweet spot when it comes to fantasy. I usually don’t enjoy these super long fantasy tomes but this one really worked for me. This book casually grounds itself in female characters and queer relationships in a way that worked exceedingly well for me. Shannon wrote a book nearly custom-made for me (there is nearly no miscommunication! People actually talk to each other honestly! There is no sexualized violence! The good guys are allowed to be good and are allowed to grow! There are many many wonderful women! Some carry swords, some ride dragons, and some are better suited to diplomacy! And it is ok that they are different! They are not compared to each other!). I adored every second of this 26-hour long audiobook and I am so glad I decided to read it.

This is a fairly traditional high fantasy book focussing of two very different parts of this fictional world: one where dragons are worshipped and one where dragons are reviled. We follow four different characters: Tané who is training to become a dragon rider, Niclays who is an alchemist living in exile, Loth who has been thrust into a dangerous diplomatic mission, and Ead, a handmaiden to the Priory of the Orange Tree, send to protect the Queen of Inys who would have her executed if her real faith was revealed. As a background to this, draconic creatures are stirring again, indicating that the Nameless One who nearly destroyed human society one thousand years ago might be returning. As is hardly ever the case, I enjoyed every single perspective – especially Niclays really grew on me in the course of the book. He is a deeply unhappy, spiteful man filled with regret and hatred – but he is humanized by his deep love for a man he lost many years ago. He is selfish and cruel but also so very lost that I could not help but root for him in the end. Tané is very much a hero with a proper hero’s journey, but I loved her earnest wish to do what is right. Loth worked best for me when put into situations with his sister or his queen – both of whom he loves dearly and honestly. My favourite perspective however was Ead: I do love kickass women who do what is right, no matter how difficult.

My favourite part of this book were the great variety of relationships Shannon depicts: there are romantic relationships and platonic ones, childhood friends and unlikely friends, sibling love and the love between children and their parental figures (biological and otherwise), friendships between humans and fantastical beasts, grudging respect and long-lived hate – I adored this. All to often the main focus of books is romantic love – and to have this facette of human behaviour be only one part of a great kaleidoscope of relationships really worked for me. I also really loved the main romantic relationship at its core: these two women were just wonderful together (skirting spoiler territory here).

I read this book as part of Wyrd & Wonder – a month-long celebration of the fantastic hosted by imyril @ There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa @ Dear Geek Place and Jorie @ Jorie Loves a Story. You can sign up here!

Content warning: Miscarriage, infertility, death.

 

 

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Review: Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse

37920490Verdict: Damn.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/ Fantasy.

Published by Saga Press, April 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.

Rebecca Roanhorse does not pull any punches. From the very first page I was hooked again and her story keeps its relentless pace until the very end while still spending enough time with the characters for them to develop and for the scenes to hit the emotional notes they are supposed to hit. This was, quite simply, incredible. Now, I know I am far from an impartial judge, given that the first book in the series reignited my love for Urban Fantasy, but believe me when I tell you, that this second book was even better than the first and seriously impressive.

Picking back up a few weeks after the events of the first book, this book delivers on all the promise Roanhorse’s world showed. I adore the matter-of-factness of a world not based on the usual fantasy fair but thoroughly different. Roanhorse trusts her (non-Native) readers to figure out stuff on their own in a way that I found refreshing – and I am sure for Native readers this book delivers on a whole different level. The worldbuilding is as intricate and immersive as before and this time around I thought the characters were equally interesting. I loved the addition of Ben who brings out a side of Maggie we hadn’t seen before in a way that made her more well-rounded while not changing anything about what we knew of her (something that I find particularly intriguing in books). I loved the way in which Rissa and Maggie dealt with their complicated relationship and I loved the themes of found family (obviously). Kai is not my favourite but even he got some really brilliant scenes.

I thought that Roanhorse impressively plays with themes of agency and destiny in a way that makes me very excited to see where this story goes next. I am a big fan of stories that ruminate on the role of human action in worlds dominated by gods – and Roanhorse gives the reader just enough of a glimpse of what is yet to come that I am beyond thrilled by the direction she chose to take her story.

I always find reviews of five-star books difficult without falling back onto superlatives, but I really loved this in a way I haven’t loved very many books this year. If you like fantasy at all, I urge you to check out this series.

I read this as part of Wyrd and Wonder, a month long fantasy readalong I am trying to participate in. You can find the sign-up post here where you can find all necessary information.

 

Review: The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden

38391059Verdict: Still in love.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Re-Telling

Published by Ebury Publishing, January 10 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

One girl can make a difference…

Moscow has burned nearly to the ground, leaving its people searching for answers – and someone to hold accountable. Vasya finds herself on her own, amid a rabid mob that calls for her death, blaming her witchery for their misfortune.

Then a vengeful demon returns, renewed and stronger than ever, determined to spread chaos in his wake and never be chained again. Enlisting the hateful priest Konstantin as his servant, turmoil plagues the Muscovites and the magical creatures alike, and all find their fates resting on the shoulders of Vasya.

With an uncertain destiny ahead of her, Vasya learns surprising truths of her past as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all…

I adored this beyond measure.

I am a huge fan of this trilogy, have been ever since reading the very first chapter of the first book. I was both super excited and a bit apprehensive before reading this book – but I didn’t have to worry because Katherine Arden absolutely sticks the landing here. This book is both a great conclusion to this brilliant series as well as a great book in its own right.

What Arden does better than most authors I read is building an atmosphere so immersive I become lost in her (impeccably researched) world. I found reading this book a very rewarding experience and I am definitely a life-long fan. Drawing on Russian fairy tales and real world figures to build a world uniquely her own, Arden tells a story of a girl and her choices. Whatever happens in this book is always filtered through Vasya’s lenses and her destiny and I am in love with this. Vasya is a difficult character but someone I could not help root for. I wanted her to find her place and be happy. She is allowed to be prickly and nurturing, she can be rash and caring, and altogether wonderfully rounded. Her relationship to the Winter King just worked for me in this book (I was not fully on board in the book before) and I really liked the overwhelming tenderness between those two.

I adore how the world becomes more complicated as Vasya grows and the scope increases. Things that seemed very black and white to her in the first book become more ambivalent, people grow while staying true to their characterization, and overall the world becomes ever more believable.

Arden has a very distinct and very beautiful writing style that hints at her influences while being very much her own thing and from the very first chapter I was glad to be back in her capable hands. There is a rhythm to her writing that I find very beautiful and this coupled with a story that wraps up strong makes this a strong contender for my favourite book of this year (I just know it’ll make the list).

Other books in the series:
The Bear and the Nightingale: 5 out of 5 stars
The Girl in the Tower: 4 out of 5 stars

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

Review: Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London #7) by Ben Aaronovitch

36534574Verdict: Great, as always

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Published by Gollancz, November 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

The seventh book of the bestselling Rivers of London urban fantasy series returns to the adventures of Peter Grant, detective and apprentice wizard, as he solves magical crimes in the city of London.

Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague–Lesley May–who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch….

This is one of my all-time favourite series – and this installment was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint, as usual. There is just something charming and compulsive about this series that makes me very happy.

I won’t write about the plot so much, because doing so invariably would spoil the books that came before (and what twists and turns there were) except to say that I found the way the story went and how some parts wrapped up highly satisfying. I know that there is a novella coming out in a few months (I am so glad!) but except for that I do not know where the story will go next – but wherever it is, I am sure I will be reading it.

The best part, as always, is Peter’s wonderful narration, this time aided by the absolutely brilliant Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who narrates the audiobook to perfection. I felt a bit spoiled, having pre-ordered the paperback and then buying the audiobook but it was definitely worth it. Peter’s tone and his sense of humour are as brilliant as ever – but what I appreciate most is that he is a genuinely good person, always striving to be better. This is something I am always looking forward to in my reading, especially in a genre saturated by anti-heroes, and something I needed at the end of the long year that was 2018.

There were some genuinely heartbreaking and heartwarming scenes in this book (the dancing! It made me teary eyed) and the ending was so very wonderful – I cannot wait for my partner to read this book so that I can squeal at him.

If you like Urban Fantasy and haven’t checked this out, I highly recommend you do – I love Ben Aaronovitch’s mix of police procedural and highly inventive fantasy, his characters are wonderfully drawn and realistically diverse (it is set in present-day London after all), and his storylines (especially the overarching ones) are exciting and well-thought-out.

 

Series-Review: Kate Daniels #6 – #10 by Ilona Andrews

I am usually not good at finishing series – but this one I could not leave alone. I had a rather longer break between the ninth and the tenth book because I wanted to read the spin-off book inbetween but was not all that excited about reading about Hugh d’Ambray. And then I did not want this series to end.

While I think that the first five books were overall stronger, I still enjoyed the second half of the series a whole lot. Ilona Andrews really are one of the high points of my reading year. (I did also read their Hidden Legacy series before finishing this one.) I don’t feel like I can write proper (or even mini-) reviews for this second half of the series as I mostly sped through the books. Also reviews would need to be spoilery and I don’t want to do that. So what I will do is tell you the ratings I gave the books and then gush about what I loved in the series as a whole.

Continue reading “Series-Review: Kate Daniels #6 – #10 by Ilona Andrews”

Review: Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

38633526Verdict: Just incredible.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Published by HarperVoyager, November 1st, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Our life is brief . . .

While on holiday at the beach with her mother, Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov under the most peculiar circumstances. The teenage girl is powerless to refuse when this strange and unusual man with a sinister air directs her to perform strange and uncomfortable tasks. He rewards her efforts with a strange golden coin.

As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more coins from Kozhennikov. As summer ends, her new domineering mentor directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies. Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or university, she also feels that somehow it’s the only place she should be. Against her mother’s wishes, Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her education.

As she quickly discovers, the institute’s ‘special technologies’ are unlike anything she has ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, the lessons maddeningly obscure, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, their families pay a terrible price.

Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of… and suddenly all she could ever want.

Sometimes a book is so custom-made for me that I am unsure whether I can reasonably recommend it to anyone or if the reading experience was incredible just because the book hit all my favourite things. This is one of those times. Combining some of my greatest loves in fiction: dark fantasy, inspired by Russian literature, set in the middle of nowhere with plenty of snow, combining boarding school tropes with unconventional storytelling, this book was everything to me.

This book follows Sasha, whose life is changed forever when she is approached by an otherworldly man who tells her she is stuck in a time-loop and the only way to change this is to get up at four in the morning (never missing a day) and nakedly swimming in the ocean. She does so every day, vomiting up weird gold coins afterwards. Returning home and to what she thinks will be normalcy, she is approached again, having to follow new sets of rules, always throwing up gold coins afterwards. She does not feel she has a choice when the man tells her she will be attending a rural university instead of the one she had planned for all her life.

This book is a wild ride, and for the vast majority of its duration it stays opaque and the reader is left in the dark just as much as Sasha is. I did not mind this one bit and I loved this introspective, weird book a whole lot. There is a menacing undercurrent here that is made even more spell-binding as we closely follow Sasha and her fears without ever really being in her head at all. I found the use of third-person narration worked really well here and made the book all that more compulsive for me.

While Sasha is definitely the heart of this book and I adored her prickliness and her focus and her love for her family, I have to admit my favourite characters were the two main teachers and her mentor, the latter one being so very fascinating and awful and just everything I wanted him to be.

I do want everybody to read this, for one thing because it is brilliant and one of the highlights of my reading but also for another, totally selfish reason, I want it to be successful enough that the second book gets translated as soon as possible. I want to spend more time in this world and with this characters and I have very many theories where this might go next.

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

Review: City of Broken Magic (Chronicles of Amicae #1) by Mirah Bolender

Verdict: Very slow, interesting worldbuilding, weak characters.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Published by Tor Books, November 20th, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Five hundred years ago, magi created a weapon they couldn’t control. An infestation that ate magic—and anything else it came into contact with. Enemies and allies were equally filling.

Only an elite team of non-magical humans, known as sweepers, can defuse and dispose of infestations before they spread. Most die before they finish training.

Laura, a new team member, has stayed alive longer than most. Now, she’s the last—and only—sweeper standing between the city and a massive infestation.

I really am not that great at predicting which books I will adore. I was so sure I would love this because at the surface it does so many things I appreciate in books; but I also found its pace fairly slow and, more importantly, some of the narrative decisions when it came to the characters unfortunate.

Set in a partly industrialized fantasy setting (something I happen to really enjoy), this story follows Laura, newly employed Sweeper working for what is basically a bomb-squad but for monsters (awesome, right?). The world and the premise are brilliant – but the way this story is told might have worked better in a different medium – I would love this as a video game for example. Laura and her boss have to banish different monsters, always trying to find new ways to do so. These scenes, while exhilerating in the beginning, did start to feel a bit stale fairly soon. When the newest team member arrives, the story lost steam for me even more. I found Laura’s reaction to him deeply troubling in its lack of empathy and also not quite fitting for her character who before has not displayed this much selfishness.

I did really love the world but did not always appreciate the world building itself. There were many super interesting ideas floating around but they never felt organically integrated into the story. Ultimately the world building happened mostly through info-dumping and slowed down the pacing even more.

While I in theory appreciate the commentary on women’s roles in this society, I found its discussion in the text fairly obvious and not all that original. Laura is quick to assume everybody’s reaction to her is down to them being sexist and while that may well be the case the reader was never shown the way sexism is integral to the society but is rather told so. One major problem I had in this context was that while we were told that women were only allowed certain jobs, we were shown many women in powerful positions without anybody reacting to that at all, indicating that this is in fact normal for the society. This made Laura seem particularly thin-skinned and her reaction often overblown.

I received an arc courtesy of NetGalley and Tor Books in exchange for an honest review.