Sunday, June 16, 2024

Winter Lost by Patricia Briggs: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Winter Lost by Patricia Briggs

Fourteenth Mercy Thompson book is a good addition to the series and a welcome interlude after the previous book. Mercy is suffering from consequences of the artefact that took her over, and no one can help. But when her brother by the Coyote, Gary, needs her help, she puts her issues aside and heads to Montana with Adam.

An artefact has been stolen from the Frost Giant and until he gets it back, he’s going to bury the mountains in snow. That’s not even the worst part: if the ritual where the artifact is needed isn’t performed, the world will end. No pressure.

Despite the high stakes, the case is relatively easy to handle for a change. There isn’t an overwhelming evil to kill and even the main adversary is a fairly benign creature. It takes a bit of a toll on Mercy nonetheless, but she has good help too.

On top of the main story, there are random side stories that don’t seem to have any importance, and minor characters points of view glimpses. They add to the length of the book, but don’t really offer anything to the overall story, except maybe the one about Sherwood. My only gripe is that despite it taking place in Montana, not a single member of Bran’s pack made an appearance. All in all, a less intense but interesting addition to the series.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Case File Compendium Vol. 2 by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Case File Compendium by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou

In volume 2, He Yu, the university student with a rare mental disorder, and Xie Qingcheng, a professor of medicine and He Yu’s former doctor, continue their toxic relationship. And it gets really bad here.

The beginning is fine, and it seems the men will slowly but surely work through their misunderstandings, hatreds, hurts and homophobia into a friendship of sort. But then the shadowy criminal organisation on the background decides to purge their ranks at the university campus, and the men get drawn in.

Xie Qingcheng realises these are the people who killed his parents and he’ll stop at nothing to find the truth. But the organisation isn’t willing to divulge it, and they throw Xie Qingcheng under a social media bus. The video they surface makes He Yu question everything that took place when Xie Qingcheng was his doctor and he comes to a conclusion that the only person who he thought cared for him never did.

It leads to his mental disorder to flair up, and to a huge confrontation with Xie Qingcheng. What follows is a graphic, very much non-consensual bedroom scene that destroys what goodwill Xie Qingcheng might have built towards his former patient. He’s a proud, unyielding man, and it’s difficult to see how their relationship could recover from this.

This was a good volume, but sad and uncomfortable. We learn more about He Yu’s childhood and it makes one want to throttle everyone who was responsible for his wellbeing. That he’s as functional as he is, is a miracle. The way he chooses to act out his pain isn’t acceptable, but it’s in line with his character and the men’s angry relationship and powerplays, and it fits the tone of the book insofar as such actions can, leaving the reader both sad and angry. That being said, if such scenes make you uncomfortable, you can skip it. The aftermath is understandable even without reading it.

The background story with the organisation is a bit over the top and sort of unnecessary, even if their actions push the men around. And there was a revelation about it that I didn’t see coming. The cast of characters was smaller than in the first volume, keeping things simpler, the plot was more straightforward and advanced in a fast pace, and the ending wasn’t a cliffhanger, though it didn’t conclude anything either. And I absolutely have to find out how anything can be salvaged between the men after this volume.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Ballad of Sword and Wine Vol. 1 by Tang Jiu Qing: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Ballad of Sword and Wine by Tang Jiu Qing

Ballad of Sword and Wine: Qiang Jin Jiu is the latest Chinese boylove series translated by Seven Seas. It’s set in a secondary world that resembles ancient China with its culture, but with a completely different geography. The book even comes with a helpful map.

A war has almost ended in defeat when Prince Shen Wei shamefully fled before the enemy before killing himself. All his family has died too, except the youngest, illegitimate son, Shen Zechuan. He’s fourteen and hasn’t even met his father, as he’s been raised by his shifu, Ji Gang. Nevertheless, he’s been brought to the nation’s capital to face death for what his father has done. But political machinations and the Dowager Empress intervene, and he’s confined to a house arrest instead.

Xiao Chiye is sixteen and a son of another warrior prince. His family had to step up to defend the nation when Shen Wei fled. He’s a volatile young man and he hates Shen Zechuan for what his father has done. But political machinations catch him too, and the reward he’s granted to command the useless Imperial Army is in fact a prison for him too, as he’s basically held hostage in the capital to keep his family from revolting.

The main story starts five years later. Tides turn again, and Shen Zechuan is released, much to the dismay of the nation. Xiao Chiye’s hatred hasn’t eased at all, and he makes it his business to make life difficult for Shen Zechuan. But the emperor is dying and he doesn’t have children. People have started to take sides, and Xiao Chiye has his own player in the game. And behind the scenes, helped by his shifu and an old teacher of the former crown prince, Shen Zechuan is working on his revenge.

When the plot comes to a point, the two young men find themselves on the same side and Shen Zechuan ends up saving Xiao Chiye’s life. Their lives become tangled, but their animosity doesn’t ease. The problem for Xiao Chiye is, however, that he’s finding himself attracted to the younger man. For his part, Shen Zechuan is willing to make most of the attraction to get his revenge. It’s a game about power and manipulation that slowly comes to a point.

This was a great book. The two men were very similar in how they gave the world to understand they are useless while hiding their true strength and intent. Shen Zechuan is a dainty, beautiful man who seems to be plagued by an ill health. But he’s traumatized by the war and almost sociopathic in his behaviour when he finally has the chance for revenge. Xiao Chiye pretends to be a wastrel and  drunkard, while he’s reorganising and training the Imperial Army for a coup.

Court intrigue dominates the plot, but the relationship between the two men is its backbone. It’s in no way romantic in this first book. Both are using the other for their own ends, and neither trusts the other. Xiao Chiye is open about his lust, but determined to control it. Shen Zechuan doesn’t feel the same, but in a fit of anger, he’s willing to push things to a point. The book ends with a bedroom scene, quite literally with a climax. It’s a slightly odd choice, but kind of works well with the tone of the book, and leaves the reader desperate for more.

The book is well written and doesn’t suffer from the over-abundance of telling instead of showing like so many of these Chinese BL series. Court machinations and background stories are handled in the dialogue, there are no repetitions, and the story advances in a fast pace. The opening chapters have some descriptions of torture, and there’s a very disturbing scene of animal cruelty in chapter 18: Donkey Roast, which you can easily skip, though it’s referred to later. All in all, one of the best BL series translated so far. I’ll definitely continue with it.

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Moonstorm by Yoon Ha Lee: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Moonstorm by Yoon Ha Lee

Moonstorm starts a new Lancers YA sci-fi series by Yoon Ha Lee. It’s set in New Joseon, an empire inspired by the Korean past. It’s a collection of moons and artificial planets orbiting together in Moonstorm, what seems to be a vast asteroid field of sorts filled with ether where people can survive for a moment, instead of void. The empire is held together by gravity that is created by peoples’ adherence to rituals and respect for the empress.

But Moonstorm has rogue moons and planetoids in random orbits too. They belong to clanners who hold their gravity with different rituals and don’t bow to the empress. The two different gravities don’t mix and the two sides are at constant war.

Hwa Young is ten when her clanner moon is destroyed by the empire. As the sole survivor, she’s taken to New Joseon and given an education as the ward of the empress. She’s made a conscious decision to become a good citizen of the empire and hide her clanner past, because she wants to become a lancer in the empire’s military, a pilot of huge mechas that operate in space.

At sixteen, she’s unexpectedly given a chance to enter the lancer program. And that, inevitably, leads to her going to a battle against the clanners. It’s all very abstract to her, until it turns out that it’s her former home she’ll be attacking against.

The war isn’t going as well for the empire as the news propaganda gives to understand. Hwa Young is forced to consider the possibility that the empire isn’t entirely right. And it turns out, there’s such thing as too much devotion.

This is a great start to a series. Lee has once again created a world that is unique and interesting, and which has an integral role in the story instead of being a mere prop, although the Korean elements could’ve been brought out more clearly. The mechas with their sentience are more interesting than usually too.

Hwa Young is a fairly typical YA heroine, a headstrong loner who makes emotional decisions at wrong moments. There’s no romance; a good decision, although she seems to be eyeing someone in that light. I hope it doesn’t lead anywhere, as I didn’t really feel the pairing. Side characters were interesting with lives of their own.

The ending leaves Hwa Young in a completely new place in the world. It’ll be interesting to see where that’ll lead.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

p.s Its seldom that a book has two such vastly different cover images. I chose the YA version that brings out the Asian characteristics of the story. The other is more hard-core sci-fi with completely different vibes:


 

Monday, May 27, 2024

Hell for Hire by Rachel Aaron: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Hell for Hire by Rachel Aaron

Hell for Hire starts a new Tear Down Heaven UF series. It’s set in a modern-day Seattle and a world where humans are ignorant about the supernatural around them. It’s not a fun or good world for non-humans. 5000 years ago, Gilgamesh conquered the Paradise that held both heaven and hell, killed its rulers and enslaved all demons. Magic is strictly regulated for warlocks and sorcerers. Only Blackwood witches hiding inside magical forests are allowed to do free magic. And they’re all women.

Adrian Blackwood has been given to warlocks as a child to train with them, a concession Blackwood witches do to keep their freedom. But he escaped and trained as a witch, and the warlocks have hunted him ever since. He’s come to the other side of the States to Seattle to grow his own Blackwood forest, to lure the warlocks there and fight them once and for all.

He hires security that turns out to be four free demons who really shouldn’t exist, as all are enslaved by warlocks. Their leader, Bex, turns out to be more than meets the eye, and she draws the ire of the heavens on them too in addition to the warlocks. Fighting Gilgamesh is something she’s been doing for a long time, but for the first time, she has magical help.

This was a good start to a series. The world is interesting and based on a fresh mythology, and Adrian’s magic is fascinating. Adrian and Bex are great characters with backstories that were only brushed here. A romance may be building between them, but it’s only hinted at here. Side characters, Bex’s demon team and Adrians familiar Boston, remained a bit one-dimensional, but perhaps we get to know them better in following books.

Nevertheless, this didn’t hit me quite as hard as Aaron’s previous UF series set in post-apocalyptic Detroit. The pace was slow, the third person point of view was distancing, and there was no proper plot that the characters would be driving, just events. This is sort of a two-act book, where there is preparation for an event that is known from the start, and then the event, the final battle. No highs, lows, or turning points in between. It feels short an act and low on emotions.  The ending is good though, and sets the war to come. It’ll be interesting to see how the odd group pulls that off.

I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.