Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Temple of No God by H. M. Long: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Temple of No God by H. M. Long

Temple of No God is the follow-up to H. M. Long’s excellent Hall of Smoke. It is fantasy set in a pre-industrial, tribal world that resembles partly ancient China, partly native American cultures, and partly ancient Rome, with a unique pantheon thrown in the mix.

At the end of the first book, Hessa, the last remaining priestess of warrior goddess Eang, killed all the false gods, hers included, and freed an ancient god Thvynder. This book takes place ten years later. Hessa is the High Priestess and the leader of her people. They’ve had a chance to rebuild their villages, but every year, she leads her tribe to raid the border areas with Arpa, the old enemy of her people, now in disarray without gods and the emperor who gets his power from them.

Then a new god arises in Arpa, and with it a possibility that there will be an emperor once more. Hessa’s god sends the people who worship them to Arpa to make sure the right person is crowned as the emperor. The book is one long campaign that ends at the temple of no god in the middle of the Arpa empire, where the divine coronation is to take place.

This was a good book. Well-written and well-paced, with a straightforward plot that was easy to follow. The chapters were short and there was nothing unnecessary.

But it wasn’t as great as the first book. Nothing was truly at stake, despite the possibility that the rebuilt empire would ignite the ancient warfare. Hessa, the sole point of view character, had nothing to lose. The need to keep her people safe was a good incentive to take on the campaign, but it wasn’t enough to carry the plot.

The first book built on Hessa slowly realising that the goddess she had worshipped and killed for was false, and the reader was taken on a journey of revelation and growth with her. Her rage and need to revenge the people she loved drove the plot.

This book had nothing. The gods are gone and so is Hessa’s rage. She’s a ghost of her former self. There’s no fervour and nothing drives her. The emotional bonds she formed in the previous book are on the background, and the few scenes where she shows affection to her family members feel tagged on. She never has to act on any of her beliefs and she isn’t tested. Not even coming face to face with her former torturer elicit a proper reaction from her and she’s perfectly willing to go with him simply because he has lost his memory of the events.

The emotional payload here is about Hessa’s marriage. Between the books, Hessa has married High Priest Imnir, an odd choice that made me wonder if I’d missed a book because he wasn’t in the first one. We learn nothing about him and don’t have a chance to form an emotional bond with him when we already learn that the marriage is failing.

Imnir is struggling with the loss of his first family, which drives his actions, but which have no emotional meaning for the reader, as we haven’t been there. Hessa, secure with her family and tribe, has nothing to contribute to his struggle. She wants family and children, but not so much that she would force him to confront his grief that is over a decade old already.

We catch up at the tail-end of the marriage, without witnessing the good there might have been and what has been lost. Hessa’s dithering between letting him go and trying to make the marriage work has no meaning. Imnir’s actions fail to make the impact they’re supposed to, because Hessa doesn’t truly care and so the reader doesn’t care. Compared with the betrayals of Hessa’s goddess in the first book, the lack of emotional impact becomes even more pronounced.

Nevertheless, the book was satisfying enough, even if it was light compared with the first. Hessa wasn’t all-powerful, despite the magic she carries, and the solution at the end that worked best for her people came with some personal sacrifice for her. It would’ve meant more, however, if the author had concentrated on the friendships formed in the first book instead of the emotionless marriage. The ending left me feeling good for having read the book, but nothing much else. It doesn’t seem like there will be more books, but I’m sure I’ll read them if there are.

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

Friday, January 14, 2022

Another Day, Another Partner by Rachel Mucha: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Another Day, Another Partner by Rachel Mucha

Another Day, Another Partner is the debut novel of Rachel Mucha, and it’s a good one; well-written and nicely paced. Action and comedy are well-balanced. However, for a series called Partners in Passion, its not at all steamy, and the only bedroom activity is sleeping.

Lulu Martinelli is a cop in a tiny town in Rhode Island, mostly because she didn’t have any other plans after college and made her father, the captain, hire her. After several partners have quit her during the past year because she’s been impossible after a breakup with the love of her life and her first partner, Rob, she’s assigned yet another one, Dominic Delgado.

Dom is a Boston cop recuperating in a small town after a bad drug bust where his partner was killed. He’s easy-going and not about to let Lulu get on his nerves. But the small-town peace is disrupted when the drug lord’s people show up, and at their heels arrives Lulu’s ex.

This was a fun and fast-paced read. Slightly predictable, but in a good way that made the reader anticipate the twists. Lulu was no-nonsense, slightly accident-prone, but not in an overly comical way, and nicely self-aware. The narrative was in first person from her point of view and her inner musings were fun to follow. Dom was a great, grownup man who was good at his work, secure enough to handle a woman as a partner, and fun to be around. Together they made a great couple, in more ways than one.

Side characters were kept at minimum, which was a good choice. The most important ones were Lulu’s sister Val and their father, who were both properly fleshed out and not mere props. They make a great supporting cast if the series continues with same characters.

The book wraps up nicely, so if this a stand-alone and the next book is about different people, it leaves the reader satisfied. But I for one would like to read more about Lulu and Dom.

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

Monday, January 10, 2022

Outcast by Louise Carey: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Outcast by Louise Carey

Outcast is the second book in Louise Carey’s Inscape sci-fi series set in post-apocalyptic London, and easily as good as the first book. It’s not as mind-blowing conceptually as the first, but it’s a more enjoyable read—once I got used to the present tense narrative again.

In the first book, Tanta, the main protagonist, narrowly avoided being caught in the political machinations of InTech corporation and revealing that her CorpWard conditioning has been broken. This book finds her as a lowly guard who isn’t given any responsibilities. Cole, the neuroscientist and Tanta’s co-conspirator, is in house arrest doing menial tasks for his former boss.

They’re both balancing on a tight rope, trying to keep up appearances amid constant surveillance of the Inscape. It doesn’t help Tanta that her girlfriend Reet is still conditioned, making Tanta question everything about their relationship, Reet’s feelings included.

Attacks against InTech have led to food shortage and restlessness, and Cole discovers that there’s going to be a corporation wide update to Inscape that will make everyone behave like conditioned CorpWards, but worse. Tanta and Cole need to handle both, which is easier said than done when neither of them is free to act.

Tanta manages to manipulate the situation so that she and Cole are working together again, but it comes with costs. One is that they’re basically exiled from London to a remote outpost. But they are determined to find out who’s attacking InTech and how to stop the update that will turn everyone into mindless puppets. There’s plenty of action and some heartbreak for both along the way before the truth is revealed.

This was a more enjoyable read than the first book—and that was great too. The world was familiar already and no new concepts were introduced, Tanta and Cole were even better together despite the oddness of their partnership, and the plot was more straightforward. The world became larger with new locations, and the new POV character, Fliss, was a great addition. I guessed the bad guy fairly early, but the author still managed to make an impact with the revelation.

The ending left Tanta and Cole in a completely new situation. It’s so intriguing that I absolutely have to find out what happens next.

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

Monday, January 03, 2022

Good Neighbors: The Full Collection by Stephanie Burgis: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Good Neighbors by Stephanie Burgis

Good Neighbors by Stephanie Burgis consists of four short stories/novellas previously published on the author’s Patreon account. They form a complete story with a continuing plot.

The story is set in a realm that resembles 19th century England, but with magic and fantastic creatures. Mia Brandt is a witch with unique ability to spell metal, a skill she must hide from her suspicious neighbours, especially since she and her father had to flee their previous town after the townspeople burned down their house. Leander Fabian is a necromancer who does nothing to hide who or what he is, living in a black castle next to Mia’s new home with his undead minions.

When the villagers come after Leander with torches and pitchforks, Mia stands up to them, revealing her own magic. She instantly becomes a pariah in her new village, but her act helps her to form an alliance with Leander. A romance is born.

These were great stories, each complete despite the short form, and each continuing where the previous one ended. The first two were shorter and slightly lighter in tone. The third story takes a turn to darker when Mia and Leander visit a city that’s been taken over by Purfiers who want to remove all magical people. That and the last story are longer and meatier because of that storyline, with themes of acceptance and fear. And throughout, the romance between Mia and Leander builds nicely despite their backgrounds where loving and being loved doesn’t come easily.

If I have any complaints, it’s that the first two short stories could’ve been made slightly longer for this omnibus. The first story especially suffers in comparison with the last two. I particularly wish it hadn’t ended before the proper meeting between Mia and Leander; the secondhand description in the next story simply doesn’t have the same feel as a full description would’ve had.

All stories are told in Mia’s point of view, which worked well. She was good-hearted and resourceful, and not willing to give up on people she loves. Leander was a perfect Gothic hero, a bit aloof and distant, and with a heart-breaking backstory. I wouldn’t mind reading more stories about them.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

New year, new books

I’ve composed a reading list for 2022. It’s not a binding list, but I like to write down all the books I want to read during the year so that I wont miss any. And I like to keep tabs on what I have to read on NetGalley and when. I download so many books there that it would be easy to lose tracks.

I pledged to read 90 books in this year’s Goodreads reading challenge. It’s about the same number I read last year. Officially I read 101 books, but ten of those were DNFs.

To finish the challenge, I must read about eight books a month, two books a week. That’s doable, provided the books aren’t massive. Which some of them are bound to be. But to balance things out, some are short and sweet.

Some of my most anticipated books I’ve already downloaded from NetGalley, and I’ll start the year with those, as they all come out in January. There’s Temple of No God by H. M. Long, a follow-up to Hall of Smoke, which was one of my favourite fantasy books in 2020. Then there’s Outcast by Louise Carey, the second book in Inscape, a great cyberpunk/dystopia series. And finally Seven Mercies by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May, a second book in their Seven Devils sci-fi series. And right after them, in February, theres Last Exit by Max Gladstone.

Outside NetGalley, I’m eagerly waiting for Crowbones by Anne Bishop, book three in The World of Others, out in March after a couple of years’ wait. I’m also looking forward to Book of Night by Holly Black, her first fantasy novel for adults, which comes out in May; The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison, out in June, the second book in The Cemeteries of Amalo set in her Goblin Emperor world; Gallant by V. E. Schwab out in March, and The Heretic Royal by G. A. Aiken in October. On top of those, there will be new books by my author stables like J. R. Ward, Nalini Singh, T. Kingfisher, and Darynda Jones, just to mention a few.

These are just the books I know of. My list always changes throughout the year as I learn about new upcoming books or discover authors new to me. NetGalley tends to add to the list too. But it’s a good start for my reading year, and gives me something to look forward to the whole year.

What are your most anticipated books this year? Let me know.