Review: Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long

“Eang, Eang, The Brave, the Vengeful, the Swift and the Watchful.”

Hall of Smoke – published by Titan Books, January 19th 2021

An epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war

Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.

While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller, atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path, Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.

Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.

Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Great world, great main character, interesting mythology – weirdly paced.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Books about gods are my favourite. As such I jumped at the chance to read this – not only does it feature gods, it features gods that walk among their people – and mythology that depends on the country it is told in. I love these kinds of ruminations on the nature of belief and culture.

The book starts with a bang when recently exiled Hessa is the only warrior priestess of Eang – the Goddess of War – to survive a sudden invasion. She was cast out of her order for failing to kill a visitor she had been foretold to kill. Killing him becomes her only focus – in the hopes of earning her Goddess’ forgiveness (a Goddess who is not known for being forgiving). The plot itself did not always grip me as we follow Hessa from one place to another (I am not that into travel fantasy) and I found it weirdly low-stakes given that the literal survival of a country is threatened but what I absolutely adored was the underlying mythology and Hessa herself. The story is told from a very close first person narration, a choice that is unusual for the genre but that worked extremely well as Hessa is our entry point into the world and we learn as she learns. As such I found the worldbuilding well integrated and easy enough to follow. It also helps to show just what a heavy burden is expected of Hessa to carry.

Hessa is a wonderful main character and one of the reasons I was so happy with this book. She is strong and stubborn but ultimately able to adapt to her changed circumstances – and she is warm and caring and absolutely kickass. I love kickass women in my fantasy reading and she definitely delivered.

Content warnings: genocide, gore, loss of loved ones

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quotations are taken from an unfinished copy and are subject to change.

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

“The darkness claimed he’d given her freedom, but really, there is no such thing for a woman, not in a world where they are bound up inside their clothes, and sealed inside their homes, a world where only men are given leave to roam.”

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – published by Titan Books, October 6th 2020

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever-and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore, and he remembers her name.

In the vein of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Life After Life, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is New York Times bestselling author V. E. Schwab’s #1 New York Times Bestselling Author genre-defying tour de force.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Surprisingly slow-paced, with neither prose nor characters strong enough to off-set.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I am obviously in the minority here, as every single one of my bookish friends has adored this – but I did not. I found it perfectly alright, but never compulsive enough for me to neccessitate the book’s length. It took me a lot longer to read it than I had anticipated (I usually find Schwab’s books fast-paced and unputdownable).

Schwab tells her story of a girl who made a pact with a devil and got something in return she did not anticipate (as is usually the case with deals with devils): she becomes immortal and able to see more of the world than her birth town but at the same time she loses the ability to be remembered. Told in two time lines (past and present), Schwab chose a languid, description heavy approach that worked beautifully for other readers – I, however, vastly prefered the present time line without much direct interference of the devil, who was, ad nauseum, described in the past. I enjoyed the gradual unveiling of the limits of Addie’s pact and the way it influenced her over the centuries.

Addie is a typical Schwab heroine – and as such I often found her a bit difficult to root for. Especially in the past, she is incredibly dismissive of women who choose other paths in life – she seems to grow out of this tendency over the span of her long (long) life, but her air of “not like other girls” never lets up. Henry, on the other hand, I adored. I found his backstory incredibly moving and effective – I wish the book had focussed more on him and the present day timeline. Schwab’s obvious favourite character is Luc (the devil) who is vividly described and always the focus of the chapters he appears him. I found him neither convincing as a otherwordly character nor believable as a love interest. I often adore stories featuring gods, but I do like them to be more other and thought this was a missed opportunity for Schwab to use her imagination.

Content warnings: dubious consent, death of loved ones, assault, prostitution (half involuntary)

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quotations are taken from an unfinished copy and are subject to change.