Sunday, July 03, 2022

Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London series has advanced to its ninth book, plus a couple of shorter ones in between. Amongst Our Weapons finds Peter slightly more mature than he’s been. After all, he’s about to become a father to twins, the mother of whom is his river goddess girlfriend Beverly, aka one of the rivers of London.

An angel of death is targeting former members of a prayer group. Not that Peter believes angels exist, even if he’s seen a few odd things during his career as a detective constable of weird bollocks, aka The Folly. Helping him solve the case is a new apprentice Danni, who’s a no-nonsense woman, but otherwise unmemorable, Sahra Guleed, his usual partner who is emerging as a distinctive character in what is otherwise quite an unmemorable cast, and of course Thomas Nightingale, his supervisor in magical crime.

This was pretty much a standard fare: a police procedural interspersed with architectural musings, historical accounts, and talking foxes. The superior officers took a more hands-on approach than usually, Peter’s former friend, current foe Leslie made an appearance, and nothing blew up. Much. And in the end, the world welcomed two new, tiny rivers. If it wasnt quite as gripping as some of the earlier books, it was nontheless an entertaining affair, and Im looking forward to continuing with the series.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances by Aliette de Bodard: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances by Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard’s Dragons and Blades is a spin-off mystery series set in the world of her Dominion of the Fallen series, and Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances is the second book. It’s a short novella that despite its length contains a nice little story. I haven’t read the first book, but I’m familiar with the world and was able to enjoy this one.

Thuan the dragon prince and his fallen angel husband Asmodeus are visiting the underwater world of Thuan’s dragon family. For some odd reason, in a palace full of servants, they’re made to look after a bunch of children. All goes well, until a ghost of a child joins in their play.

The child leads them to a body of a murdered woman. Asmodeus and Thuan want to investigate, but before they can even start, they’re attacked. Forced to flee, they seek out allies who can help with the investigation, and with the ghost child they’re now in charge of.

Alongside the mystery, Thuan and Asmodeus go through a marital crisis. Theirs is an arranged marriage that has grown to a real partnership, but things aren’t always easy. In the end, the relationship drama dominates the story, and the mystery is solved behind the scenes by a secondary character. The final showdown helps Thuan and Asmodeus work out their crisis too.

If you like charming little fantasy stories where the world and characters are at the front, this is for you, but don’t expect a great mystery. However, I recommend getting familiar with the world before picking this one up. You can read it as a stand-alone, but you’ll enjoy it more if you already know the setting.

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

Monday, June 27, 2022

Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald

Daughter of Redwinter (The Redwinter Chronicles 1) is exactly the kind of fantasy I like best these days. It concentrates on one character with no unnecessary side-plots that drag the story in the hopes to make it ‘epic’. The story follows the MC as they face events that aren’t in their control, yet have to solve anyway. As they do so, they become more than they were in the beginning.

Raine is a young woman who has thrown her lot with a small band of mercenaries. As she is trying to find a way out of siege, she comes across a young woman fleeing and helps heran epic mistake. The woman tries to awaken a terrible being and the warrior pursuing her only just manages to subdue it and only with Raine’s help.

Ulovar takes her with him to Redwinter, a fortress town of the Draoihn, warriors who protect the realm with their special abilities. Raine hopes to be trained with them too, but their Grand Master decides otherwise. Raine has to settle into an existence of not quite a servant and definitely not a warrior. But she doesn’t quite feel like she belongs, because she has a secret that will get her executed. She can see the dead.

But she can’t leave, because Ulovar is accused of treason for what took place during the siege. It’s up to Raine to prove his innocence. In the end, she has to decide if death is a small price to pay for the truth after all.

This was an excellent book. The description makes it sound like an epic fantasy, but it’s rather small in scope, part a mystery, part a build-up to something larger. The pace is fast and the chapters are short. The mystery took its time to unravel, and although I called the twist, I did it only a little before it was revealed.

The world is well-crafted with an interesting history and mythology, a pre-industrial society that doesn’t automatically follow the rules of real-world equivalent. The Draoihn with their trances and gates were an interesting invention, though not entirely unique as such.

Raine is an excellent main character. She’s lost, frightened and unable to trust anyone because of her ability. She blames herself for what happened to the mercenaries and goes through much of the book not caring about anything. She seeks to belong with desperation that leads her to make mistakes that are both predictable and natural. She relies to the strengths she had from the start and while she does pull off some epic moves in the final battle, they aren’t beyond reason or her character’s development.

Side characters were interesting, but remain a bit vague because of the first person narrative. There are a couple of potential love interests for Raine, who doesn’t limit her love to opposite gender, but nothing comes of them yet. She makes friends, some briefly and the characters all but disappear, some with great length like Ovitus, Ulovar’s nephew and heir. None of the main relationships are easily defined as black and white, friend or enemy.

While this was a start of a series, the first book reads as a stand-alone with a satisfying ending and no cliffhangers. There is, however, an opening for Raine’s story to continue. I’m looking forward to reading more.

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

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Storm Echo by Nalini Singh: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Storm Echo by Nalini Singh

With over twenty books, the return to Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series always feels like coming home. This time more so, as Storm Echo returns to the DarkRiver leopard pack where the series began all those books ago.

We’ve been following the members of the Mercant Psy-family. The hero is Ivan Mercant, the family security expert and assassin with a difficult past. He meets and immediately loses Lei, an Ocelot changeling. A year later, he runs into her again, but she doesn’t remember him anymore.

Soleil is an Ocelot changeling who has lost her entire pack, first to a massacre and then to Lucas Hunter, who has executed what was left of them. Alone in the world, she wows to kill him. But before she has a chance, she meets a man that her cat recognises even though she has no recollection of him.

Psy-Changeling books are always a bit of insta-love, as the changelings recognise their mates in primal level before they fall in love. This isn’t an exception. Soleil’s cat claims Ivan, binding them together despite his efforts to break the bond. Because he knows it’s only a matter of time before his dark side devours him and takes Soleil too if they’re bonded.

In these Psy-Changeling Trinity books, the relationship drama and heartbreak are kept at minimum. The suspense comes from the outside. The Scarab Queen keeps destabilising the PsyNet in order to destroy it completely. And to his surprise, Ivan realises he might be able to do something about it. Problem is, it might kill him.

This was a lovely book with wonderful protagonists, and a welcome return of a few favourites from previous books. Even though the story is basically the same from book to book, there’s always something new and fresh. And Nalini Singh has a skill to tell the stories so that it’s almost a compulsion to keep reading.

That said, I wouldve wished for more drama. Everything happened so smoothly and easily that Id barely braced myself for action when it was already over. It left me feeling happy but not very excited.

Ivan is the last of the Mercant family to get his story, ending a longer arc. I’m eager to find out where the series goes next.

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

Friday, June 10, 2022

The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

 

The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman

The Untold Story ends Cogman’s wonderful The Invisible Library series. We’ve followed Irene, a librarian whose job it is to acquire rare books from parallel worlds to the Library to stabilize the universe. But we’ve never learned how or why the Library came to be in the first place.

In the last book, Irene is trying to uncover just that. Prompted by the greatest enemy of the Library, Albrecht, she sets out to find the origin story. But where Albrecht wants to destroy the Library, Irene has other plans. But this time it seems the Library itself is out to get her.

This was an excellent finish for the series. All the main characters were there, Irene learned a lot about her own origins as well as the Library’s, and the focus stayed fairly well on the task. The events of the finale were perfect for the idea of the series about stories keeping the world in balance. And I especially loved how not all that much changed after all, Irene and her friends ending up exactly where they wanted to be.

I will miss this series, but I’m happy with how it ended.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison

The Grief of Stones is the third book in The Goblin Emperor, Addison’s wonderfully unique steampunkish world of goblins and elves, and the second in The Cemeteries of Amalo starring Thara Celehar, the Witness for the Dead. He’s a goblin priest whose job it is to communicate with the recently, and not so recently, departed on behalf of their families or the authorities to find out how they died, or to settle disputes.

The book starts soon after the previous ended. A marquise wants to know if his wife was murdered and Celehar sets to investigate. A case follows another and soon he is trying to figure out how to save foundling girls from an unscrupulous person.

The cases weren’t complicated, and the overall tone was that of a cosy mystery. But the latter lead to an encounter that changed Celehar’s life, maybe forever. The rest of the book deals with the aftermath and the never-ending politics of Amalo.

Celehar is not alone with his investigations. Out of the blue, he’s sent an apprentice, a widow who has had no formal training as a priest but who can also communicate with the dead. And he has the friends he made in the previous book that he can turn to, and does, despite being much of a loner.

The city of Amalo is as huge, strange, and complicated as ever. I never knew where anything was in relation to other places, but it didn’t really matter, though I would’ve welcomed a map (I don’t know if final versions come with those). There are trams and air travel, pneumatic tubes and photographing, but the overall impression is of a highly hierarchical society where traditions matter more than innovations. And nothing matters more than funeral traditions.

This was a sad book, much more so than the previous ones. Celehar is maybe ready to open a little after the tragedy in his past, but the rigid norms of the society make him afraid of even contemplating friendship, let alone love. He’s lonely. The cases of exploited girls were sad, and Celehar’s fate saddest of all, even though the book ends in a hopeful note.

The book wasn’t as much about the belief in humanity and decency as the previous ones, but it left me feeling positive in the end. And the hints about changes for Celehar make me eager to read the next book.

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

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Crowbones by Anne Bishop: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Crowbones by Anne Bishop

It has been a long wait for a new book in The Others series, three years since Wild Country and four since Lake Silence, where the characters of Crowbones were introduced. Its book eight in the overall series and third book in the World of the Others spin-off.

Only a few months has passed since the events of Lake Silence. Vicki DeVine has her resort, The Jumble, up and running, and humans are vacationing there for the experience of living among the Others. But not even the Crows that Vicki employs are harmless, and the resort is surrounded and protected by much more deadly creatures too. When humans show disrespect and outright break the rules, the Others retaliate swiftly.

Someone is deliberately spreading maliciousness among humans and the Others. But they haven’t gone unnoticed, and they’re being followed by Crowbones, a creature who punishes the misbehaving. When people start dying, the human police, Chief Grimshaw, tries his best to investigate. When it doesn’t happen fast enough, the Others who rule the small town of Sproing, decide to speed things up by blocking all the routes in and out. Nobody is leaving until the guilty are foundand punished.

This was another great addition to the series. The creepy, dark atmosphere is the same, the world of the Others as unique as it has ever been, and the characters more familiar. There are more point of view characters and Vicki isn’t the focus, despite having her chapters in first person narrative while the others are in third. It’s mostly Grimshaw’s book, and he’s emerging to be my favourite. I kept wishing that the romantic pairing would be with him and Vicki, as they have better chemistry, but the author is set on Julian. He’s fine, just not interesting, and since there werent any scenes where the two properly interacted, it was difficult to get into the spirit of the slowly building romance.

Because of the several narrators, the suspense wasn’t quite as tense as in the previous book and the personal stakes weren’t as high, but it worked well in the end. But we still didn’t learn anything new about Sproingers, those unique critters that live only in Sproing.

I hope we don’t have to wait for the next book quite as long as this one, because I can’t get enough of this wonderful series. Maybe its time for a re-read...

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient is a contemporary romance set in San Francisco. It follows Stella, a highly successful econometrician and Michael, a male escort. Stella is autistic, but she doesn’t want to disclose it to anyone. With her good coping mechanisms, not many people notice, but it has led into some very bad dates and sexual encounters.

Disgusted with herself, she hires Michael to teach her how to be better in bed. This soon turns into teaching her how to be better in relationships. It turns out, she’s just fine with both. She just needs a partner that takes her needs into consideration. But as she is bad at reading people, and he is keeping secrets from her, what could’ve been a start of a great relationship dissolves into misunderstandings and heartbreak. Both need to do some thinking before the happily ever after.

This is a satisfying romance, with enough angst to give it a bite. Sex scenes are great and there are quite a lot of those, especially in the beginning. I liked Stella and Michael both, but side characters remained somewhat vague.

What I didn’t like, and which almost made me give this one star, is how Michael never told Stella that her romantic problems aren’t her fault. He doesn’t tell her that she’s good as she is, and that her problems with sex stem from her partners. Instead of telling her she should let the relationship grow before sex, he pretty much treats her like a porn object, forcing his needs to make her feel good on her. That she does enjoy everything, eventually, didn’t really compensate for it.

Stella figures it out by herself, in the end, and Michael works on his issue too, but as they do it separately, it lessens the romantic impact of the ending. It was satisfying, but not very emotional. But I liked the book well enough to read the next one in the series too.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchins: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchins

Under Fortunate Stars is a sci-fi novel set in the far future, far out there. Humanity is at war with an incomprehensible alien race, with the loss of humanity imminent. Except a hundred and fifty years later, there’s peace with the aliens, thanks to an unlikely crew of Jonah, the Fortunate Five.

The crew of Jonah have no idea what awaits them. They barely know each other. But then a space anomaly strands them and the crew of the science vessel that comes to their rescue tells them what they are expected to do. They don’t exactly believe it, but then again, neither do the people from the future believe these are their saviours.

The book has a decent core idea: how history is made and how it’s remembered are two different things. But I found the execution boring in how neatly everything fell in place. Everyone assumes when the two ships meet in the rift that Jonah is on its way to save the world, instead of arriving from a random point in time. It’s only a matter of getting Jonah where it needs to be.

Most of the book is spent on the science vessel trying to figure out how to get the ships out of the rift and the necessary people on Jonah to make the future happen as it should. The rest is spent recounting the pasts of the key characters, most of which wasn’t all that interestingor even necessary. It didn’t make a very interesting plot.

There was a twist at the end that the author had clearly aimed at. If it hadn’t been the goal, the plot might have been more interesting, as the author wouldn’t have needed to hide who ended on Jonah. There could’ve been a third time level, for example, where the Fortunate Five were negotiating the peace, adding depth to the narrative and balance to the past-heavy narrative.

The end was unnecessarily vague and abrupt. The reader at least should’ve been told what really happened, instead of leaving it to the imperfect historical accounts. We were robbed of proper character arcs and conclusion for the characters.

My biggest problem was, however, that I didn’t connect with the characters; it took me ages to tell Shaan and Una apart, for example. I liked Jereth well enough, and for him I would’ve liked that the author hadn’t copped out from writing a proper ending. Narrative was competent and the chapters were short, keeping the pace good. Pity it didnt lead anywhere.

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

Swordheart is another wonderful fantasy romance by T. Kingfisher, set in her World of the White Rat between Clockataur War and The Saint of Steel books. Paladins and a gnole are featured, as well as the Vagrant Hills and the great people of the White Rat.

Halla has, to her utter surprise, inherited her late husband’s late great-uncle Silas, of whom she’s been taking care for years. His family doesn’t approve, and they lock her in her room until she agrees to marry Cousin Alvar to get the money. He has clammy hands and is very disagreeable too, not to mention her horrible mother, so she’d rather die. The problem is, she doesn’t quite know how to throw herself into a sword. Less so, when a man appears from it when she draws it.

Sarkis is a mercenary from centuries past who has been cursed into a sword, not quite dead but not truly living either, to obey and protect whoever draws the sword. That it turns out to be Halla is somewhat bemusing to him, but since she clearly needs help, he’s there to provide.

Together they flee the house and through the country to plea her case at the temple of the White Rat. It turns out to be a surprising and LONG journey up and down the same road. I’m not entirely sure the book needed all the twists and turns thrown at the pair, a much shorter book would’ve sufficed, but they were entertaining and there was never a dull moment in the book.

And of course, there’s romance. But how is one to romance an ancient sword who might disappear in the blink of an eye? Especially when one is not very experienced in the romance department, despite being a widow.

This was a great book. Both Sarkis and Halla were wonderful, mature characters and they suited each other surprisingly well, despite being the opposites of each other. Brindle the gnole was delightful and Zale the lawyer of the White Rat a good addition to the story. Villains were villainous, though I’m not sure what purpose the priests of the Hanged Mother served other than slowing down the story. They don’t even show up in the latter series.

There’s a promise of two more books in this series, and I wish they existed. But as this one is four years old already, and the author has written several other books since without returning to the swords, I’m not entirely hopeful. I’ll read them though, if they are ever written.

Friday, May 06, 2022

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Can I start with just AAAAGGGHH! I was not prepared for the ending, despite the book pointing at it with a large arrow from the first page. Now I have the agonising wait untill September to find out how it’ll turn out. Based on the description of that book, all is not lost. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

The Last Graduate is the second book in the Scholomance trilogy of a school for mages. The school is infested with all sorts of monsters who kill and eat the students, and the main purpose of the education is to learn to spot and defend oneself against thema fact that I missed reading the first book, if it was spelled out that clearly there. The students are trapped inside it for four years, and those who are alive and able to exit the portal out at the end, after battling through hordes of monsters, graduate.

The main character is El, Galadriel, who has potential to become the greatest evil mage ever. She tries to resist her destiny with everything she has, despite the semi-sentient school pushing her towards it with everything it makes her learn. She’s never truly tempted, but occasionally the spells get out of her hands.

It’s the last year and the school has upped its efforts. At first she believes it’s out to get her, but little by little it dawns on her that it’s preparing her for a different mission: saving her entire graduation class. And that morphs into a bigger challenge: saving everyone. She’s unique in her magic and strength, and possibly the only one who can do it.

She isn’t alone in her mission, much to her surprise, having spent most of her time in the school without friends. She doesn’t always know what to do with them, not accustomed to having friends, but she gets it mostly right in the end. The biggest puzzle for her is Orion Lake, her sort of boyfriend. He’s a wonderful character in his single-minded mission to kill all the monsters, with room for only one other thing, El.

Most of the book is about preparing for the graduation day. It gets slightly repetitive, maybe, but with all the action, it never becomes dull. Obviously the exit from the school doesn’t go entirely as planned, and definitely not for El. The abrupt ending is a perfect cliff-hanger, and I can’t wait to read the last book.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Rosebud by Paul Cornell: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Rosebud by Paul Cornell

Rosebud is a sci-fi novella that takes place in a pebble-sized spaceship somewhere around Saturn in the far future. It’s manned by consciousnesses of what used to be humansexcept for one of them who is an AI constructand they’ve been there for hundreds of years, working for a corporation that apparently rules the earth. They are happy to serve.

Then they encounter something unexpected: a pebble even smaller than their ship that emits no light and blocks their communications to earth. The crew sets to explore. Or do they? Or have they? Or did they lose communications after all?

Who even are they?

Told in the point of view of Haunt, an AI construct of computer games presenting as a goth made of smoke, this is a story about time. Whether or not it’s real, simultaneous, and/or malleableand who is there to alter it. The alien pebble takes the crew, Diana, Huge, Bob and Quin to their pasts (Haunt doesn’t have one), and the reader is shown in a few short pages why the humanity and the crew are in their current state (a human woman, a ball of hands, a balloon, and a swarm of insects, respectively, except when theyre not).

This wasn’t an entirely easy novella to get a hang of, but it was interesting and even amusing at times. The ending is good, though the reader is left to make their own conclusions about what it means. Is this a one-off event, or has the crew been stuck for centuries with the pebble, constantly altering the state they and the past are in. And does the answer even matter.

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

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Kiss Hard by Nalini Singh: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Kiss Hard by Nalini Singh

Kiss Hard is the fourth book in Hard Play contemporary romance series by Nalini Singh about four rugby playing brothers, and it’s my favourite. Danny and Catie were well matched in temperament and current situation as athletes at the top of their game. Catie being a double amputee was handled well from a drama point of view (no idea if it was true to life). They were fun to be around, and the hot scenes were good. There wasn’t any huge drama or heartbreak, but plenty of opportunities to heal, especially for Catie who had great trust issues. I shed many tears. I hope this isn’t the last of the series, even though there are no more Bishop-Esera brothers left.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Hunters of the Lost City by Kali Wallace: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Hunters of the Lost City by Kali Wallace

Hunters of the Lost City by Kali Wallace is post-apocalyptic fantasy for middle grade readers. The town of Vittoria has stood fifty years behind tightly guarded walls, keeping magically created monsters at bay, the residents unable to go more than a couple of miles outside and only on daytime. They know they are the last people in the world, after a magical plague unleashed by a sorcerer killed everyone else.

Octavia is a twelve-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a hunter of the monsters like her mother and her recently died eldest sister. But her parents have different ideas and apprentice her to learn magic instead. But she’s a headstrong, wilful girl, and she ventures outside the wall anyway. There, against everything she knows to be true, she meets a girl who isn’t from her town. Sima tells her the world is still out there.

But instead of haling this news as a miracle like Octavia expects, the town leader denies everything and locks her new friend up. It’s up to Octavia to save Sima and find the truth about the world.

This was a good book with a solid plot about fear and how it cripples you, and people who cling to power no matter the cost to others. I’m not entirely sure though, that it was a good MG book.

Octavia, despite being twelve, behaved like a much older kid, with strength and skills to match, and ability to figure out complex issues that adults somehow had missed. The story gave her responsibilities beyond her age, and then handed the crucial parts for grownups to solve, sidelining her. The chapters were too long for younger readers and slowed the pace, and I was annoyed with the stereotypical representation of Sima and her culture.

Nonetheless, as long as I imagined Octavia as a sixteen-year-old, I was able to enjoy the story. The ending was conclusive, so this was likely a stand-alone, but it might be interesting to read Octavia explore the world.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) has an amazing ability to write adult fairy tales that sound exactly like the stories I grew up with. The tone, pace, and tropes like fairy godmothers in Nettle & Bone are all as should for a comforting reading experience, no matter the grimness of the story.

Marra is a princess who has had to watch first the beloved eldest sister and then the second sister be married off to a prince to protect her country from invasion. If the second sister dies too, Marra will be next, so she’s whisked off to a cloister to keep her safenot from the prince but for him.

Fifteen years of secluded life later, she’s unprepared, at thirty, to deal with the realisation that the prince abuses her sister physically and mentally, and the only thing keeping her relatively safe is to stay pregnant. But that’ll only last until she delivers a boy.

Filled with anger for her sister, Marra sets out to save her with a vague notion that such a heroic act needs a heroic journey and deeds. She meets a witch who gives her three impossible tasks, and then decides to accompany her on the quest. Good thing too, because Marra wouldn’t have survived without her. They are joined by a knight with a death wish and Marra’s fairy godmother who isn’t quite what she seems.

But it isn’t just the prince they need to defeat. There’s a curse on his kingdom, and until that’s dealt with, Marra’s sister and her child are as good as dead.

This was such a wonderful book. Marra was an excellent character, slightly slow and na├»ve for her age, but utterly determined to see her quest through. In the end, her role in saving her sister was mostly about getting together the people who could do it for her. The two old witches were brilliant and fun, and the knight a mature man who was just perfect for Marra. The language was rich and the narrative delightful, and if the world was a fairly generic fairy tale kingdom, with Christian concepts like christening thrown in the mix, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

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

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

The Bone Orchard is adult fantasy at its best: dark, disturbing, and romantic, with intriguing characters and enough political machinations to keep one guessing to the end. It’s also a story of survival and dealing with trauma so severe that the only way to handle it is to shatter one’s mind to several independent personas.

Charm runs the most popular brothel in Borenguard, with the Emperor of Boren himself as her client. But she is the Emperor’s prisoner, has been for decades, thanks to pills that keep her and the Emperor’s family eternally young. He controls her with a mindlock that is used for keeping those with psychic abilities in rein and from going mad.

But she has a way around the control. She has shattered her mind into separate personas, each with a living body of flesh she calls bone ghosts, copies of her that don’t need sustenance. Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain each hold a facet of her to keep the traumatic memories of her past from overwhelming her. Their bodies are unique creations of Lady, with whom Charm shares her mind, but who is mostly kept sleeping because of her delicate nature.

Then the Emperor summons Charm to his deathbed and gives her one last command: find out who murdered him and keep his sons from inheriting the throne. The command plunges her in the middle of political machinations and on a road that will either destroy her mind for goodor heal it.

This was an absolutely brilliant book. Slow-paced, but constantly moving ahead. Charm doesn’t have an easy time figuring out what happened to the Emperor and her task is made even more difficult when the Lady starts to fight over the control of their shared mind. The bone ghosts, who serve the customers at her brothel, begin to show independent streaks too.

There are three point of view characters, Charm, Lady, and Pain who has a unique position in the brothel as the only person who can leave the grounds. Despite being facets of the same mind, they are different persons and have unique voices. Pain’s path to independence and her slow-burning romance acted as a counter to Charm’s cold determination to find out the killer and earn her freedom, and Lady’s persistent clinging to her innocence.

Little by little, we learn about the events that led to Charm’s mind shattering and how it played to current political turmoil. And while none of the emperor’s sons are fit to rule, there might be other candidates for the throne after all. This was a stand-alone book, but I would love to return to its world and characters.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Saint Death's Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney is a brilliant debut. It’s well-written with a wonderfully unique world, a great main character, and a plot that doesn’t follow the worn patterns. It’s advertised as YA, but even though the MC is fifteen in the beginning, she’s an adult responsible for a child for most of the book. There are some dark themes too of childhood abuse and abduction that a delicate reader might find upsetting.

Miscellaneous Stones comes from a long line of sorcerers who have served the ruler for centuries with their murderous talents with magic. She’s the first necromancer to born in a century, and it comes with a rather unfortunate allergy towards violence and death. Even violent thoughts in her vicinity make her body break out in real wounds in response. To keep her alive until she reaches maturity and her full powers, the family has isolated her in their country manor. That hasn’t stopped her big sister Amanita from torturing her for all her life, until she mercifully left for a boarding school.

Then the parents are assassinated, leaving Lanie to deal with a staggering debt. Out of options, she summons Nita back. Nita promptly becomes an assassin to pay the debt. But she doesn’t come home alone. She’s abducted a man who can turn into a falcon to make him her husband, controlling him with his own magic. Mak hates Nita and Lanie, but to avoid having his memory wiped, he succumbs.

The book then skips seven years. Lanie is twenty-two and has come to her powers, though she still has a lot to learnmostly from a murderous ghost of the previous family necromancer. Mak and Nita have a six-year-old daughter, Datu, who, having grown in a highly dysfunctional environment, isn’t exactly a nice kid. Mak still hates everyone but his daughter. And then Nita is assassinated, forcing Mak and Lanie to flee to protect Datu. To keep her family safe, Lanie has to face the powerful enemy who wants them dead.

The book takes a rather winding path to where it needs to go. Mostly we follow Lanie as she learns to be a necromancer. The book is solely from her point of view, and she is an excellent MC, strong, resilient, and warm-hearted despite her upbringing and the form of magic she wields. She maybe grows a bit too powerful towards the end, but she has friends to keep her in rein.

The supporting cast is interesting and not stereotypical. Mak was my favourite, but he wasn’t given enough airtime. Datu as a tantrum prone, murderous kid was wonderful. The enemies weren’t pure evil and could occasionally be allies too, and the friends Lanie made along the way were a good addition.

But I found the romantic subplot uninspiring. It’s seldom that romances work when they’ve begun before the book does, and this wasn’t an exception. I never felt any connection between Lanie and Lir (the great twist at the end failed to affect me in any way because of it). Mak and Haaken would both have been perfect for a wonderful enemies-to-lovers plot, but neither choice was in any ways utilised. However, the way the book ended gives me hope that the childhood infatuation will be forgotten and there will be a proper romance in Lanie’s future.

The world is interesting and fully developed, with a rich history that is constantly referred to, at least in funny footnotes, large pantheon of gods, and unique ways to practice magic. Nothing is overly explained, but the narrative flows easily and makes everything effortlessly understood.

The book has a good ending. It’s conclusive enough to satisfy, but with a few open threads that’ll hopefully lead to a sequel. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

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

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Lover Arisen by J. R. Ward: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Lover Arisen by J. R. Ward

Black Dagger Brotherhood series has so many books already that reading them is like visiting a good friend you only see once or twice a year. Even a less exciting meeting is meaningful.

Lover Arisen was a solid addition to the series. The romance between Balthazar and Erika began already in the previous book, and it was given time to grow here, even if the events took place in a matter of days. The demon Davina messing with their lives didn’t make things any easier. But as far as additions to the character gallery went, Erika was fairly unmemorable (I actually had to check her name writing this). Balthazar had a bad-boy thing going for him with his thieving, but that was watered down here.

The more interesting storylines took place outside the romance. Nate’s story was good, even with the ending it had. Davina trying to find her true love had me sympathising with her occasionally. But since she had to ruin a true love of others to achieve it, she didn’t turn into a sympathetic character.

Lassiter was given proper airtime for a change. My heart breaks for him, and I hope he’ll have his own book soon where he’ll have his dreams come true.

This book seems like an end of a storyline. For once, there wasn’t a next one built here, so it’ll be interesting to see where the series goes with the next book.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

It’s not often that the second book in a trilogy is better than the first, but Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak is. The world is richer, the plot is more exciting and coherent, and the characters are more interesting, with good personal growth arcs.

The book starts soon after the first ends. The six teenagers from earth have settled on the ruling planet to pursue their dreams. Tina, the sole point of view character of the first book, is in the military academy to train to be the hero she was genetically supposed to be. However, she isn’t the POV character in this book, and we only catch glimpses of her training and adventures through her diary entries. Her story isn’t at the centre of the plot anyway, so the narrative choice works well.

The two POV characters are Rachel and Elsa. Rachel saved the universe at the end of the first book, and she’s now living with the consequences. She has nightmares and headaches, and she’s constantly pestered by the authorities to reveal everything she knows about the aliens and their intentions, only she doesn’t remember anything. And the worst of all, she’s lost her ability to make art. When the authorities decide to take a direct route to her mindthrough her brainit’s time for her to flee.

Elsa is living her dream, competing to be accepted in the princess programme. It’s less about being regal and more about being able to join her mind with an ancient hivemind species who monitor everything that happens in the universe. But most of her time she studies the history of Marrat, the megalomaniac enemy they didn’t manage to defeat. And now he’s been given a free range at the royal palace.

The three girls and their friends embark on three different spaceships to find answers to their problems, only to unite when Marrat makes his move. Once again, he manages to destroy everything, and it’s up to the humans to fix the mess. But this time they might not be able to. The ending was great, and promises an exciting conclusion for the trilogy.

Like the previous book, this was about inclusion, acceptance, and self-discovery. The humans present themselves in various ways they have been unable to do when still living at home, and they’re thriving. Everyone is conscious of pronouns and asking permission to invade the personal space of others, and it happens more naturally than in the first book where it tended to stick out. They seem to be more mature, too, than the teenagers of the first book. They are more like adults who actually might be able to save the universe.

But as a species, they’re being treated as inferior. Much of the plot is about defeating the reign of Compassion that tries to purge the universe of lesser species in the name of freedom. Hopefully the humans will manage it in the conclusionthough it might be smallest of their problems.

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

Saturday, April 02, 2022

The House of Cats and Gulls by Stephen Deas: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The House of Cats and Gulls by Stephen Deas

The House of Cats and Gulls, the second book in the Dominion series, continues where the first left. Myla returns to her hometown to face her past before it can destroy the lives of her own and her found family. Orien, the mage, follows her to Deephavenand has an inexplicable relationship with her. Worried for her, he calls Fings and Seth there too to save her.

Fings sees this as an opportunity to find his long-lost brother and Seth is about to face death for his forbidden magic, so it’s a timely request. For Fings, things are straightforward: rescue Myla and find his brother. For Seth, it’s a chance to learn more about the forbidden magic. Myla learns that others don’t value her self-sacrifice as much as she does, her family included. And it turns out Orien isn’t there for Myla after all.

This was at its heart Myla’s book. She was the reason everyone came to Deephaven and it was her need to set things straight that drove most of the plot. It was therefore unfortunate, that I didn’t feel that plotline at all. No matter what she did or didn’t do, she came across as single-minded and selfish. The people she wanted to save didn’t seem worth saving.

Seth’s path was more interesting, even if he kept making same stupid mistakes again and again, unleashing something he shouldn’t have. In the end, it was his book too, setting the stage for the next one. But my favourite was once again Fings. He’s resourceful, clever and loyal. Things didn’t go quite as he hoped, but he kept going, no matter what it took.

I liked this book maybe better than the first one. The plot was good, and it wasn’t filled with unnecessary stories of the empire’s past. The ending was open enough to make me want to read the next book too.

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