Friday, October 01, 2021

Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis’ new series, Regency Dragons, gets a delightful start in Scales and Sensibility. Its a regency romance with added fantasy elements, dragons and magic, and the two sides go together seamlessly to create a world that feels natural.

Elinor Tregarth lives the dreary life of a poor relative in her aunt and uncle’s manor after her parents died and left her and her two sisters penniless. Constantly bullied by her cousin Penelope, she finally snaps and leaves the house without a penny, but with Penelope’s pet dragon Sir Jessamyn.

Her position untenable, she makes an ardent wish to be exactly like a society matron, Mrs. De Lacey—and her dragon makes it happen! A game of masquerade ensues, where she tries to maintain her pretense among people who are becoming increasingly suspicious of her. She soon finds herself in deep trouble from many quarters.

To make matters worse—or better—Benedict Hawkins, a penniless suitor of Penelope, likes to spend time with Elinor instead. But how is she to let her feelings grow when she isn’t who he thinks—and he needs a fortune to save his estate and family.

Tension rises to almost unbearable before everything is solved and a happy ending can be declared.

This was a charming, well-written historical romance that was maybe a little lighter on the romance than I would’ve wished, but there was plenty of other things to keep my interest. Elinor was an excellent heroine, Benedict was a slightly distant but wonderfully suitable hero, and all the villains were perfectly villainous. But the book was stolen by Sir Jessamyn, the timid dragon who ended up changing Elinor’s life for good. A wonderful start to a series. I will definitely want to read more.

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Infamous by Minerva Spencer: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Infamous by Minerva Spencer

Infamous is the third book in Rebels of the Ton series by Minerva Spencer. It’s a Regency romance set in the early 19th century England and the world of its aristocrats.

It’s a series only in a loose sense. The people featured in this book made only a brief appearance in the epilogue of the previous book and vice versa. However, most of the characters have been introduced in Spencer’s previous series, Outcasts, and are familiar to readers of that. I haven’t read them, and as the author assumed familiarity, it left me feeling a bit of an outsider throughout the book.

The book begins a decade before the actual events. Celia, the pet of the ton is also its meanest person. Egged on by an equally mean duke, she creates a scandal that forces two people, Lucian and Phyllida, to marry. But the scandal destroys her too and a decade later she’s living retired life as a companion of an old lady. She’s learned her lesson and is transformed, but when she’s forced to spend Christmas at Luce and Phil’s manor, old hurts surface. As does her old attraction to Richard, Luce’s twin brother.

Richard hasn’t been bothered by the scandal, living his dream life as an entomologist and travelling around the world. His sister’s Christmas wedding forces him to return home, only to find Celia there, the woman he was attracted to a decade earlier. But her sister’s fiancĂ© is the same horrible duke that ruined Celia’s life—and Lucian’s too.

There are two romances in this book, with own point of view chapters for every party: Richard and Celia, and Luce and Phil. Despite having been married for a decade, the latter are strangers to each other. Celia’s sudden presence forces them to take stock of their marriage and build a better relationship. I was more invested in their romance. I found it sweet and a bit heart-breaking too.

Richard and Celia were a more typical couple. Since Richard didn’t feel ill-done by Celia, there wasn’t a great baggage between them. Their romance was built during time spent together. They were good scenes, but at some point I began to grow bored, as they didn’t really drive the plot forward, making the middle part of the book slow and too long.

There was only a minimal plot outside the romance. The dastardly duke made his move at the end of the book, but until then no one tried to do anything about him, not even to stop an innocent girl from marrying him. Plot-wise, then, this was a bit of a disappointment. But the writing was good, people were interesting and there was a happy ending for everyone involved, so it left me feeling good.

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


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Ignite the Fire: Incendiary by Karen Chance: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Ignite the Fire: Incendiary by Karen Chance

There was a bit of a wait (again) for Ignite the Fire, book 11 in Cassandra Palmer UF series, and when it finally arrived, it had been divided into two parts for its size. The first is called Incendiary.

The book starts with the exact scene the previous book ended, with Cassie, Pritkin and Mircea on their way to a fey party in 16th century Romania to locate someone who might know where Mircea’s long-lost wife is. There’s a lot of mayhemand a dragonwhich made me fear that the book would be yet another chaotic addition to the series.

Fortunately things slow down a littlefor a moment. Enough to give Cassie and the reader time to reflect what’s going on and what’s happened so far in the series, which is a lot. And while it’s a short respite, the action and rest are better balanced here than has been the case in previous books.

The action scenes are easier to follow this time, with fewer things going on simultaneously and with better descriptions. The timeline is still messy though, as according to Cassie only six months has gone and the reader has witnessed it all, yet Cassie has an entire life happening between the books too.

There’s a new god giving Cassie trouble and this time it’s Zeus, who isn’t exactly easy to win. But he’s occupying the body of a fae king, so she sets out to defeat him instead. It doesn’t go easily, but instead of endless detours like usually where she ends up in a totally unrelated situation, she actually manages to locate him, if not like she imagined or planned.

Since this is the first part of a two-parter, there isn’t a final battle at the end of the book. The book ends in a middle of a fight-scene, with the worst kind of cliff-hanger. But hopefully the second part has already been written and we don’t have long to wait for the conclusion.

On the personal front, Cassie seems to have gotten the hang of her life as Pythia. Her court is in order, her successor, Rhea, is becoming truly formidable, and her self-confidence issues were at minimum. She again went through most of the book without taking care of her physical needs like eating, so if the gods don’t kill her, malnutrition will.

The love spell that ties her to Mircea and Pritkin, which Mircea promised was lifted, is back in effectwith some interesting consequences. But since Cassie really needs the strength and skills she can borrow from her companions, she doesn’t complain. But it may put her relationship with Pritkin in jeopardy. My only complaint is that Pritkin spent most of the book absent or unconscious, which is never good.

With a book this well balanced and interesting once againand without Mircea’s obsession with his wifeI’m hopeful for the rest of the series. And I hope the second part comes out soon.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Mind over Magic by Lindsay Buroker: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Mind over Magic by Lindsay Buroker

Mind over Magic starts Witch in Wolf Wood, a new UF series by Lindsay Buroker. Like her previous series, Death Before Dragons, it’s set in Washington State, near Seattle, but while it has werewolves, it’s not immediately obvious if it takes place in the same world.

The book is described as paranormal women’s fiction, meaning it’s aimed at a more mature audience. Morgen, the protagonist, is forty-something, newly divorced computer geek who’s just lost her job. Inheriting her grandmother’s house in the middle of nowhere might be her chance for a fresh start.

Turns out it makes things even more complicated. The house is guarded by a grumpy werewolf whose self-appointed task is to make sure that the new owner doesn’t sell the place. There are plenty of takers though, and one of them might have hastened things up by killing Morgen’s grandmother.

This is a good series starter, and it’s different enough from DBD that it doesn’t feel like a repeat. Morgen isn’t a tough and practically unbreakable assassin of supernatural creatures. She’s introverted and perfectly ordinary human—only it might be she isn’t. The book is told in third person in her point of view, which makes her feel slightly distant, but there’s enough background information to make her interesting. Armin the werewolf is grumpy and not very talkative, and we don’t learn much about him yet. There’s mystery and some mayhem, but it’s dealt with a real-world fashion, with cops and accountability. There isn’t romance—yet—and while it’s sort of stand-alone, the ending is open enough to build a series on. I will definitely read the rest too.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Jessica Arden: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Jessica Arden

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Jessica Arden starts Ghosted Cozy Mysteries series. It’s set in New Orleans and stars Paige Harrington who suddenly finds herself being called to investigate a murder—by the ghost of the victim.

It’s a closed room murder, with a limited number of suspects. But since it was dark, the ghost has no idea who killed him, so no easy solution there. Paige sets out to investigate, but she can’t exactly tell the police where she gets her information from, not even when her good friend is framed for the murder.

She isn’t alone though. She’s helped by her ex-boyfriend who suddenly returns to town after disappearing four years earlier with only a goodbye note. His leaving has left Paige with self-confidence issues, and now that he’s back, old romantic feelings resurface too. It makes working together difficult.

This was a quirky and fun book, but not a terribly good mystery. Paige ignores obvious questions that would lead to solving the mystery faster, random people show up just so they can offer helpful information that she then ignores, and in the end the killer reveals themselves before she even suspects them. The killer’s motivation is bizarre, to say the least. (spoiler) I mean, why would a secret society that does ritual killings be so concerned with representation that more old-fashioned members would feel it necessary to act to stop it? (end spoiler)

But what truly irked me and lowered the rating was the deus ex machina solution. I dislike them in general, and here it removed Paige’s agency completely. Instead of being the main actor of her story, someone who rises to the occasion despite being the underdog, she was forced to look from the sidelines as others handle the difficult parts for her. For someone already dealing with self-confidence issues, this should’ve been the worst kind of outcome. Yet she doesn’t even notice.

I had some smaller issues too. Paige took to becoming a ghost PI a bit too easily; not even a token question about why it happened. Character info was repeated several times, as if for the first time; random character facts sprang out of nowhere, and important info was omitted completely. For example, I thought Paige was showing unseemly interest in a married man, only to learn towards the end of the book that he’s divorced. The cast of characters was slightly too large, and not everyone was necessary for the story. But in general, the characters were nice and interesting (Auguste the talking hedgehog was my favourite) and they will carry the series onwards.

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

Thursday, September 09, 2021

The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman: review

2/5 stars on Goodreads

The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman

I picked this book because of its great title, The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey, and the wonderful cover. It’s the debut of its author, Shawn Speakman, and it starts a series of the same name.

In far future, the earth is nothing but a colony of the Imperium, people who have left the earth millennia ago and have become almost a different species called celestials. A century ago, a war between Erth, as its now called, and Imperium over natural resources ended with Erth losing.

The person held responsible for it is the great-grandmother of Antiquity Grey, a sixteen-year-old girl whose family have been ostracised as a consequence. One day, she stumbles on a truth about what took place during the war, and ends up bringing the wrath of Imperium on her and her three friends with whom she has to flee. Bent on revenge, she travels after clues left by her great-grandmother to find resources that would defeat the Imperium once and for all.

I wish I could say I enjoyed this book as much as I hoped I would, but I have several issues. First up, I think it was written by a mansplainer. Nothing else explains why characters regularly put words to other characters’ mouths, explaining their lives for them, persisting in this even after being told they’re wrong (along the lines of “In your culture women aren’t allowed to carry a sword.” “You know nothing about my culture.”). The dialogue in general was odd. Maybe it was meant to sound old-fashioned, but it came across as stilted.

I’m not sure either, why the author thought a teenager was a good protagonist for this story. Especially one who is wilful, annoying, and stupid, and remains so. She definitely doesn’t have the tempered steel the title promises. Manor (? I can’t remember his name) came across as even worse, considering that at eighteen he was deemed old enough to become a member of the leading council (all men, naturally, now that the pesky rule of women had been obliterated), yet he behaved like a child. The proposed marriage between the two was creepy and a full-on patriarchal assault, no matter the reasons given for it later.

The rest of the characters weren’t any better, but mostly they remained sketches, existing to serve the needs of the main character. It doesn’t give me much hope that the future of the Erth is in their hands. We’re spared of the YA staple of a romance, at least, though the seeds are there.

The plot read like an RPG, a quest from place to place to find clues. Not that the reader knew that that was the objective until at the climax when Antiquity suddenly puts together random facts she has noticed during her journey. There’s a lot of action, but it doesn’t really lead anywhere. However, unlike so often in YA, characters die too. I wish I could say that I cared, but it’s difficult to care for someone you know nothing about.

My biggest issue, however, is the handling of the other. First up, why does a far future earth still have cultures treated as the other, with the white ‘western’ culture as the norm? And why does a far future world that is so different from ours have a warmongering, zealous, religious sect called arabi? The author couldn’t come up with any other word for them? Persai as their more acceptable (inoffensive) counterpart wasn’t any better word when they only served as a way to emphasise how horrible the arabi were with their swords and beheadings, and when their otherness to the main character’s ‘normal’ (white) culture was constantly brought up.

That one of the characters was arabi didn’t help. The opposite. Like white colonists of the past, the main characters kept repeatedly judging her and her people to her face, refusing to accept her word about her culture. Moreover, these characters were constantly referred to as arabi and persai (in italics), as if that was the only thing that defined them; all the more pronounced because Antiquity and Manor(?), the white characters, were called by their names.

All in all, a disappointment. I didn’t care about the characters or the plot, the mechs weren’t as exciting as I’d hoped, and the promised dragons were a huge let-down. I don’t really see how Antiquity would be the person to lead the Erth to rebel against the Imperium. I don’t care to find out either.

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

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Among Thieves is one of those books that I really wanted to like, but which ended up being a disappointment. The idea is great: a group of thieves trying to pull off a daring heist. Mostly, that’s what I got. It’s the execution that was lacking.

The book relies solely on secrecy and ‘plot twists’ instead of character building and a plot stemming from it. The beginning of the book was especially trying, as I tried to make sense of the world and characters, only to realise that that was all I was going to get. The characters knew more than the reader who was constantly kept in the dark. It got old pretty fast.

Since we didn’t learn anything about the characters, they and their motivations weren’t driving the plot. The ‘plot’ happened behind the scenes, and was thrown at the reader’s face instead of taking the reader along the ride. And the ‘plot twists’ had no impact when they’d been constantly hinted at in lieu of character building.

A group of thieves in the slums of a coast town stumble on a plot to steal something that one king is willing to pay extraordinary sums for. They take the job, even though they don’t know what it is they’re stealing and why the king wants it, and even though it takes them to the most dangerous person in the realm.

Each thief has their secret that is meticulously hinted at throughout the book, only to be revealed when it has already stopped having meaning. Ryia is named as the main character in the book description, but since they all have their named chapters and everyone gets a lot of screen time, she doesn’t really stand out. None of the characters does, because we learn nothing about them. I’m struggling to remember their names even.

Ryia, aka The Butcher, kills people for living. She’s good at it, she takes pride in her skills, and not once does she show any remorse for what she’s done. In my book, that makes her a sociopath. That we learn at the end of the book why she is like this, doesn’t change the fact. She’s not a cutesy, quirky leader of a ragtag gang that a reader should root for, because at her heart she’s not a good person. There’s nothing in the story that causes the reader to root for her. And the way she comes on Evelyn is downright creepy. All I can say to the poor Captain is run. 

Their secrets cause them to make choices that put the heist at risk. The choices make sense to them, but they’re meaningless to the reader. The entire bunch comes across as selfish as a result. There were weird hints at romantic interests at times. I didn’t care, because I didn’t care about any of the characters.

The book ends with a sort of a cliff-hanger and an epilogue that reveals that the true mastermind was someone else entirely, with their ‘surprise’ POV chapter. I didn’t care for them either. Needless to say, I won’t read the next book.

The book wasn’t all bad though, hence three stars. The language was good, and a decent effort had been put to the world-building, with its creepy enhanced humans. Or non-humans—not that more than a token was done to criticise the treatment of these slaves. If the author had concentrated more on people and less on gimmicks, this would’ve been a good book.

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

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Paladin's Strength by T. Kingfisher

Paladin’s Strength is the second book in T. Kingfisher’s (Ursula Vernon) Saints of Steel romantic fantasy series. It’s part of her World of the White Rat series, but with different characters and setting, though I haven’t given up hope that some of the earlier characters will make an appearance in subsequent books.

Istvhan is a former paladin of the Saint of Steel. Former, because his god is dead. It hasn’t taken as great a toll on him as his fellows, but it had left him without purpose until the efficient people of the White Rat god gave him a job as a mercenary. He’s on a mission to escort a merchant across the land, a cover for his true mission to follow the rumours that the Smooth men, the clay-headed creatures of the first book, have been spotted again.

Clara is a lay nun of St Ursa, an order with a great secret (or not so great if you understand even smidgen of Latin, or have sharp eyes to study the cover). There has been a raid against her convent, and all the nuns have been captured, but she was thought dead and left behind. She’s on a mission to rescue her sisters when she comes across Istvhan and his men.

Since their paths align, she joins the group to hunt down her sisters and the Smooth men. Eventually, both paths lead to same place, a weird coast town ruled by sea lords. There’s a lot of action and mayhem before the nuns are freed and the Smooth men dealt with. So much so, that Istvhan and Clara have a really hard time to find a peaceful moment to act on their mutual attraction.

I love fantasy romances, a perfect romantic combination of fantasy setting and romance plot, and this one didn’t disappoint. It is heavy on action, and the romance is slow to build, but once it gets there, it’s very solid.

Clara and Istvhan are both a bit older than romantic couples in romances usually are (36 and 40), but it suits this genre well. It also means that they’ve been around the romance block a few times and they both know what they want and have fears based on their earlier experiences. Clara especially has her secret, which she just knows will drive Istvhan away when he finds out. Only it doesn’t.

They are both great characters. Istvhan has his paladin core that doesn’t allow him to abandon a woman in need, no matter that she’s almost his size and has the strength to match. Clara has had to keep her secret for all her life, and it’s difficult for her to trust outsiders with it, but he’s worth her trust. They are a great match and together they can handle pretty much anything. The book is told in both their points of view, so the reader gets a good understanding of them. Other characters remain a bit more distant, but they are great and well-drawn too.

If I have any complaints, it’s that the book could’ve used an epilogue. The impact of the final romantic moment was sort of lost when it came so soon after the final battle. A few pages of where the two end up at would’ve gone a long way to satisfy this reader. But all in all, a great book, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next one.


Saturday, August 28, 2021

Fortune and Glory by Janet Evanovich: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Fortune and Glory by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum has advanced to her twenty-seventh adventure in Fortune and Glory. After several years of the series staling pretty badly, the last couple of books have been more interesting. There’s even been a continuing storyline between the books.

Stephanie’s grandmother married a mobster a couple of books ago, only to be widowed an hour later. Her late husband’s mob buddies are convinced that she has the keys to a safe where they have hidden a great treasure. She does have them, but doesn’t know where the safe is. In the previous book, Stephanie and Grandmother were taken hostage so that they would give up the keys, which they didn’t. The case continues in this book.

The worst of the mobsters are still free and they’re bringing in big guns. Stephanie barely escapes with her life a couple of times, and she’s still no closer finding the treasure. And there’s a new player in town, Gabriella, a female version of Ranger, who seems to be after the treasure too.

But not everything is deathly serious. There are the less dangerous skips to trace that give Stephanie hilarious trouble. George Potts is especially tenacious in his belief that he’s now her bodyguard. Lula is her voluptuous self, but actually helpful for a change with her contacts of street girls. And there’s the usual on-again, off-again relationship with Morelli, currently in its off stage, which gives room for Ranger to sweep in. At this point in the series it’s safe to say that the romances are never advancing anywhere.

There was a good balance between danger and mayhem. And if the danger was equally over the top as the mayhem, it felt like Stephanie was genuinely putting herself at risk. Since I’ve given up on her romances, they didn’t cause any emotional upheavals, except for Stephanie. But I ended to book feeling like I want to read more of these books, which is a change. There’s hope for this series yet.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Breaking Badger by Shelly Laurenston: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Breaking Badger by Shelly Laurenston

I’m a fan of Laurenston’s work as G. A. Aiken, all those dragons and especially the Scarred Earth Saga. But Breaking Badger is the first book as Laurenston that I’ve read. It’s the book four of Honey Badger Chronicles urban fantasy series about batshit crazy honey badger shifter women, with some romance thrown in the mix.

The book description (and cover) is highly misleading. This isn’t a paranormal romance, and it doesn’t merely follow the two persons mentioned there, Mads and Finn. It most assuredly isn’t a cutesy book, like it gives to understand (“utterly irresistible kitty-cat”, lol). And it isn’t a stand-alone, like paranormal romances often are, even when they’re part of a series.

There’s a large cast of characters that each get screen time, plus a bunch of other characters that only make brief appearances for a point of view change. The main trio, Charlie, Max, and Stevie, are sisters with a traumatic past. Their stories were told in the first three books, but they continue here too. Mads is Max’s friend since school and they play pro basketball together, with three more women who also feature heavily here. Finn (as far as I know, not having read the first books) and his brothers make their first appearance here.

None of the characters are introduced properly. I have no idea how old they are or what they look like, let alone more important things, like their backstories. Much of what I know about them is conjecture, though I did read the prologues of the earlier books just to make a bit more sense of what was happening here.

Mads, a honey badger, has been abused by her hyena family all her life. Basketball is the only thing that matters to her, as is her team, which doubles as a tactical unit that kill those who abuse shifters. She’s an efficient killer, but the mere mention of her family makes her lock up. One storyline follows her finally standing up to them. But since this isn’t a cutesy romance, it’s done with a wholesale butchering, not with handholding and hugs.

Finn is a Siberian tiger, huge and lethal. He’s trying to find out who killed his father, a mystery that no one seems willing to talk about. In a cast of characters of borderline psycopaths, he’s sort of steady and normal. Mads catches his attention and the ‘romance’ sort of happens from there. In the end, the best that can be said about it is that he has a steadying influence on her.

There’s a lot going on in this book. All sort of plotlines and events that either continue from the earlier books or spring up out of blue here. Some of them are seen to their conclusion, one way or another, some aren’t. We don’t learn who killed Finn’s father, for example, and we don’t see the consequences of Mads standing up to her family. Some events are ignored completely. Like, no one seems to care who lured the honey badgers and tigers to a trap in order to butcher them all.

What this book has is batshit craziness from start to finish. At first I tried to keep up, but in the end I just let the book take me on a ride. It’s a highly entertaining ride too, if you have a high tolerance for graphic violence for comedic effect. The honey badgers are a bunch of violent psychopaths (no matter what Max’s shrinks claim), and there’s absolutely no predicting their reactions to any given situation. But I loved them all, how they’re allowed to be exactly like they are, and not ‘softened’ by love or other conventions of romance. They’re not apologising and they’re not going to change.

Unfortunately the mayhem isn’t quite enough to make this a great book. There’s no emotional payback. The romance is very low-key, and Mads dealing with her family isn’t really dealt with either. There’s a lot of action and then the book just ends.

Since this a middle book in an ongoing series, I presume that everything will continue in the next book. If it fell into my hands, I’d read it, but I won’t go out of my way to get it. Meanwhile, I’ll just wait for the next G. A. Aiken book. We’re due a new Scarred Earth Saga, aren’t we?

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


Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes

The Exiled Fleet is the second book in The Divide sci-fi series by J. S. Dewes. It starts six months after The Last Watch ended for Cavalon, and five weeks after it for Adequin Rake, thanks to time distortions created by faster than light travel and the void at the edge of the universe where the Sentinels have been posted.

At the end of the first book, the crew of discarded soldiers stopped the shrinking of the universe by activating the devices created by the alien race that humans have tried to wipe out of existence. Not that anyone knows they’ve saved the universe, because they have been deliberately abandoned to their fates at the Divide, the edge of the void.

Rake has been busy saving what was left of the Sentinels and activating the rest of the devices. It’s been only five weeks for her, and she’s still reeling from everything and mourning the death of her lover. Returning to the ancient ship that is the only thing that survived the void is difficult for her, and being greeted as a heroic leader by people who have had months to recover is a bit too much for her.

Meanwhile, Cavalon, the disowned prince of the ruling family of the universe, has been busy building a genius engine that will allow them to make warp jumps with the engineless star ship. But the first jump burns all their fuel, stranding four thousand Sentinels to starve to death unless they can find more. Rake instantly seizes the chance to head on to another adventure. Anything to escape the people she’s made herself responsible of.

The quest isn’t easy. Cavalon’s grandfather has destroyed all but one factory that makes the fuel to control the FTL travel. The small crew must venture deep into the core of the galaxy, a perilous journey that’ll take them straight to the heart of the empire, the palace of the emperor Cavalon has made his best to escape all his life. There he learns some truths about himself that nearly make him destroy himself again. And Rake has to make yet another sacrifice to save the people she’s responsible for.

This book was slower to start than the first. Events were constantly in motion, yet it felt like nothing happened. Once the quest got underway, the pace picked up and kept me in its grips. The character dynamics, especially the friendship between Rake and Cavalon, were as odd as they were in the first book. Partly that’s because apart from those two, I didn’t remember any of the characters. There were no introductions or reminders about who they were to the story and other characters, so I never quite understood what the characters went through (looking at you, Jackin). But we learned a lot about Rake’s and Cavalon’s pasts, which gave depth to them.

In a way, this felt like a smaller book too. The first book took mostly place in a large star ship with constant buzz and random characters creating havoc. Most of this one took place in a small cruiser with a compact cast, and even though they travelled long distances to achieve the impossible, the focus was always within the group.

I liked how the universe expanded though, with new peoples and places added to it. The alien technology was a good way to achieve the impossible tasks the crew had to accomplish without quite feeling like deus ex machina solutions (apart from the ending). However, the addition of the mystical element that brings the universe and the fates of the people where they need to be, felt a bit too much.

I like where the crew ended at. It offered a conclusion while setting the adventures of the next book. I’m looking forward to reading that.

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


Oddball by Sarah Andersen: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Oddball by Sarah Andersen

I love Sarah Andersen’s comics, the drawing style (only a few lines to tell a story), the witty insights into the lives of younger generations (I’m gen-x), and her ability to put herself out there, insecurities and oddities alike.

Oddball is the fourth book in Sarah’s Scribbles series and a solid continuation of her work. I laughed out loud and was moved in equal measures (Medusa with a blind cat will stay with me a long time). I recognised myself in many strips (introvert author here), but in a good way, like sharing a secret with a likeminded soul.

If you’re new to her work, this is as good a place to start as any, but why would you rob yourself the pleasure of reading it all. And the fans will love this like all her work.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange of an honest review (but will buy the book, because I absolutely need it).

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Bright and Breaking Sea by Chloe Neill: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Bright and Breaking Sea by Chloe Neill

I love alt-history fantasy, with its the manipulations of familiar to create something new. The Bright and Breaking Sea by Chloe Neill is a great example of that.

The book is set in the alternative early 19th century, right after the first Napoleonic wars. Only, Britain is called the Isles, France is Gallia, Queen Charlotte sits on the throne of the Isles in New London and the invading emperor is called Gerard. There’s equality of sorts. Women and people of colour hold important positions in the army and navy, but there are still haves and have-nots, and the white aristocratic male still gets what he wants. There’s no Christianity but two deities who are credited with bringing magic into the world.

Not everyone is able to manipulate magic though. Kit Brightling is a foundling who is Aligned to sea magic. She’s risen to a captain of her own ship despite her young age, and works directly for the Queen, undertaking daring missions for her—not that anyone knows about it. But this time, she’s forced to take an army fellow—and a Viscount to boot—on her ship, which doesn’t sit well with her. Together they handle mission after mission for the Queen and country, unravelling a plot to bring Gerard back to power. Along the way, they become friends, and there’s even love kindling. But sea is a harsh mistress, and Kit has chosen her.

This was a great book with a lot of swashbuckling action, pirates, sea battles, spies, and even romance, though nothing like in Neills urban fantasy books. The alternative details were clever, nautical details rich, the plot was good and well-paced, if slightly simplistic, and there was a lot of action. I liked Kit and how she was allowed to be a formidable captain without constantly reminding the reader that she’s a woman. Grant was a wonderful romantic hero, but he remained sightly distant, as we didn’t get his point of view despite the prologue hinting at it. A great disappointment, really.

With alt-history, it’s pointless to be upset about details that don’t seem historical, but there were a couple of moments that didn’t really work. First, if a person is thrown overboard in a storm, the ship moves so fast that it’s useless to try a rescue, let alone one where the ship instantly stops and remains still while the person is fished up. Second, gold likely is valuable even in this world, so paying a fair to an amusement park with gold coins strikes as really odd, as do paper notes.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and intend to read the next one when it comes out this November.