Wednesday, December 29, 2021

My 2021 in books

It’s time to look back at what I’ve read this year. I made an ambitious reading list in January and pledged to read eighty-five books, which I later changed to ninety-five books and eventually to an even hundred. It’s going to be close; as I write this, there’s three days left of the year and I’m a book short of the goal. But I’m confident that I can make it—a new personal best.

In truth, I haven’t actually finished reading all the books Goodreads has marked as read towards my reading goal. There were ten books I’d downloaded from NetGalley that I didn’t finish, but I wrote reviews of them anyway, stating why the books weren’t for me. Still, ninety books read is pretty good for me. I wrote seventy-one posts on my reading blog, and a couple of reviews that only appear on Goodreads, mainly because they were too short for proper posts.

I mostly ignored the reading list I made. It’s more a guideline anyway. Majority of my reading was provided by NetGalley—I really have to stop requesting so many books—and there were several new books that I spotted after composing the list that I absolutely had to read. A couple of times I was granted a book by NetGalley that was a second in a series and I had to read the first book before getting to that one, which hadn’t been on my list.

In general, I managed to request interesting books from NetGalley. The first two books in Rook & Rose trilogy by M. A. Carrick, The Mask of Mirrors and The Liar’s Knot, were imaginative fantasy with great characters and intriguing plots. The Last Watch and The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes, the first two books in The Divide sci-fi series, were exciting and well-written.

I absolutely loved She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan, a start of historical fantasy set in ancient China; The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison, a sequel to The Goblin Emperor with a different main character and setting, but equally delightful; The Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, magical realism set in Malaysia; and Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, a retelling of an old Grimm fairy tale. There were other interesting books as well, like Purgatory Mount by Adam Roberts and Tower of Mud and Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov. All in all, I read seventy-one books from NetGalley, and I discovered several new favourite authors.

The other thirty or so books were mostly those by my old and new favourites. I read six books by T. Kingfisher, one of my new favourite romantic fantasy authors—though my favourite book of hers this year, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, is meant for younger readers. Previous year’s stable, Lindsay Buroker, only features three times this year, because I simply didn’t have room for the prolific author. I’ll try to catch up next year. Old friends, Martha Wells, Nalini Singh and Penny Reid each had at least three books on my list this year, and all were great.

I mostly read fantasy in one form or another. There was historical fantasy like Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis, Gunnie Rose alt-history series by Charlaine Harris, urban fantasy by several authors, romantic fantasy, and your regular fantasy with an epic hero trying to save the world against their better judgement. Twenty books were sci-fi, and the rest were more contemporary, both romance and crime—or a combination of the two. And I read a great many romantic books in all forms.

The first book I read this year was Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher and I’ll finish the year with Beauty and the Mustache by Penny Reid, both excellent holiday reads. All in all, I’m happy with my reading year. I read many authors I wouldn’t have learned about if it weren’t for the NetGalley, and my favourite authors kept providing strong contenders for my attention. And next year’s list is already planned. But more about that in my next post.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Liar’s Knot by M. A. Carrick: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Liar's Knot by M. A. Carrick

The Liar’s Knot is the second book in Rook & Rose trilogy, and what a wonderful book it is. It started strong and didn’t really have empty moments despite its considerable length. It wasn’t non-stop action, but unlike in the first book, every scene mattered, building towards the finale.

The book begins soon after the first ended. Ren, the street urchin turned a self-made noblewoman, is adopted to the family she’s been conning, bringing her ruse to a conclusion she didn’t see coming. And she’s made the heir too, at least until her new cousin comes to age.

As far as Ren is concerned, the con is over and she’s taking her new duties seriously. That doesn’t mean she’ll go confessing the truth to her new family. And as far as the legal system of Nadežra is concerned, she now is who she claims to be, no matter the truth.

Alta Renata isn’t Ren’s only disguise though. She still goes about as the fortune-teller Arenza, and in this persona she grows close to Captain Grey Serrado and his family. And then there’s the masked vigilante Rose, whose job is to protect the original people of Nadežra.

The secrets aren’t easy to maintain though, especially since Grey has his own secret persona to maintain. Grey and Rook have a mission to free Nadežra of the influence of cursed medallions. But he’s not the only one after them. Derossi Vargo, the criminal turned aristocrat, is interested in them too.

Vargo and Ren are invited to a secret society that seem to control the medallions, and the three need to come together to best the most important players of Nadežra. Not an easy task, considering the hatred Grey feels for Vargo and the secrets between them.

The story had many layers that unfolded slowly. The number of players was kept smaller than in the first book, making it easier to keep tabs on them. There were fewer point of view characters too, though some side characters, like Ren’s sister Tess, had random chapters. There were a couple of side plots, like a backlash against the original tribes of Nadežra, which affected Grey and Rose both, and the aristocrats moving against Ren to uncover her secrets. Everything fit together organically though, creating a compelling whole.

There’s romance building between Ren and Grey, and while I expected it, it’s such slow-burn that it probably could’ve waited. Ren’s volatile relationship with Vargo works better and the emotions between them feel more real. I’ll be rooting for Vargo in the last book, if not for Ren’s lover, then as the winner of the masquerade that is Nadežra’s politics. I’m eagerly waiting for the conclusion.

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

Monday, December 06, 2021

Risen by Benedict Jacka: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Risen by Benedict Jacka

Risen ends the twelve-book-long Alex Verus series. Verus has come a long way from a minor mage keeping a magic shop in London to one of the most powerful mages in the country, thanks to some special items, like fateweaver, which allows him to choose the paths the future takes. Unfortunately it comes with a price of slowly killing him by turning him into stone.

Alex doesn’t have a lot of time left, but he still needs to handle the two major issues in his life before he dies: save his ex-girlfriend Anne from being possessed by an evil jinn, and end his megalomaniac former teacher Richard.

I’ve never entirely understood Alex’s relationship with Anne. If I recall correctly, she was an ex-girlfriend already when the series started, and all his dealings with her have made him seem like a dumped guy obsessing with his ex. For most of the series, she’s seemed happy with the choices she’s made, but Alex has to know better. That the jinn does become the master of her in the end is exactly the ‘I told you so’ moment she calls it—and she still hopes he leaves her alone. He doesn’t.

His dealing with Richard is more satisfying and it’s left to the very end. Alex is at his last breath—literally, as his lungs have stopped working—and he has to pull off the impossible before dying. A death scene in first person narrative is never easy, but the author does a passable job with it.

And then he immediately ruins the poignant moment by jumping to his author voice to mock the reader. I’ve seldom encountered a stupider move in a book, and I can’t believe his editor allowed it to go through. What did he think? That we wouldn’t read the epilogue otherwise? Not that I really cared for what happened to Alex’s apprentice Luna, but she did give us the closure with Alex and Anne. [spoiler] That she’s turned from evil to someone who bakes and happily keeps a home is something else again. Are there no other roles for women than a mother and a bitch? [end spoiler]

But most of the book is taken by an endless battle. It starts around 8% mark and continues to the very end. I don’t generally care for battles, and this was mind-numbingly long and pointless. It really didn’t add anything to the story and was merely something the reader had to suffer through to get to the main part, Anne and Richard.

Now that the series is over, I have mixed feelings about it. It had its good moments, but the best books were in the beginning. We have a closure of sorts for Alex, and that’s good enough for me.

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

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

Second books in trilogies are never easy, and they seldom live up to the expectations the first book sets. The world is familiar, the characters won’t grow to their potential until the third book, and the best battles are saved for the last too.

The Bone Shard Emperor, the second book in The Drowning Empire trilogy by Andrea Stewart, is slightly less exciting than the first, but it manages to avoid stagnation and the sense that it’s merely a pass-through to the important final book. Mostly she achieves this by short chapters that always forward the overall plot, and by deepening the world.

Lin is the emperor now, but it’s not an easy or welcome rule. It doesn’t help that she questions her right to rule too, knowing that she isn’t the emperor’s natural daughter. The constructs her father built wreak havoc on the islands, and her decision to end the tithing of bone shards doesn’t bring her the goodwill she hoped. Her father’s shoddy rule has made the governors of the islands independent and they’re not willing to provide soldiers to fight the construct army taking over the islands one by one. The islands keep sinking, and the Alanga, the ancient enemy, are back. And they’re much closer than she could’ve imagined.

Jovis has accepted a position as a commander of Lin’s guard, but he’s still a spy for the Shardless Few, which constantly forces him to choose where his loyalties lie. And he hasn’t managed to get rid of the smugglers either. When he finally decides to side with Lin, he manages to betray her trust.

Phalue and Ranami have smaller roles. They’re trying to establish Phalue’s rule as the new governor of their island, balancing between the emperor and the Shardless Few. And Sand, who now knows she’s a construct copy of the old emperor’s dead wife, is prepared to bring down Lin’s rule with her construct army.

Everything heads inevitably towards a confrontation on a battlefield, much too soon for Lin. She and Jovis have a secret weapon in their magic, but they dare not use it in public. And there’s a new wielder of the same magic on their side. But can they trust him?

This was an interesting book, with enough action and revelations to keep it feeling fresh. Some of the latter seemed to spring out of nowhere, like the existence of replicas in addition to constructs and the origins of Alanga, as if they were clearer to the author than what she’d remembered to tell the reader.

The only thing that caused me to cringe was the rather forced romance between Lin and Jovis. It was clumsy and not necessary. Jovis declaring his love after spending years obsessed with his wife seemed especially poorly done. I also tend to imagine him as much older than he is, in his forties even, and her much younger (in reality, she’s only five, no matter what her memories say), and I find the idea of them together somewhat repulsive.

The ending left Lin and Jovis in a new place again. The existence of Alanga is out and Mephi is in the hands of the enemy. It’ll be interesting to see where all this will lead.

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