Saturday, April 29, 2023

Remnants of Filth by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Remnants of Filth by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou

Remnants of Filth is Chinese xianxia m/m (or danmei) fantasy set in some imaginary, distant past. A war between two countries, the empire of Chonghua that cultivates following the good path and kingdom of Liao that follows demonic path, has just ended. As a peace offering, Liao has returned Gu Mang, a once respected general of Chonghua who defected to their side and is now hated more than anyone, as a prisoner of war.

Mo Xi, a nobleman and a highly valued general of Chonghua, returns home from the war with one purpose: confronting Gu Mang and demanding answers. He’s not interested in why Gu Mang defected. He basically knows, though not why he chose Liao. He wants to know if Gu Mang ever truly loved him like he loved Gu Mang. But to his utter dismay and anger, the demonic cultivators of Liao have destroyed Gu Mang’s mind before sending him back.

The book starts in a roundabout way and takes a moment to get going. It follows mostly Mo Xi who is desperate to find the truth about Gu Mang and have a closure, only to be denied. Making his task more difficult is his need to keep everything secret. Gay relationships are frowned at in general and making matters worse is that Gu Mang is a slave. Mo Xi is a determined person who is perceived as cold and pure, but the reader is shown a passionate, angry, and highly compassionate man. He knows he should hate Gu Mang, but he can’t help trying to save him.

We don’t get Gu Mang’s side and we only get glimpses of him as he used to be in Mo Xi’s memories, a lighthearted, volatile person who is desperate to survive. He’s a pitiful creature now, believing he’s a wolf, forced to be a prostitute as a punishment by his owner Murong Lian, and constantly tortured to learn the secrets of Liao.

Then, in a burst of demonic energy, Gu Mang escapes. The story turns into a murder mystery and a hunt for an elusive killer. Volume one ends at a cliffhanger in the middle of a scene, with nothing resolved. It’s typical of Chinese xianxias, but it’s annoying nonetheless.

This was a sad but not a hopeless story. I felt for Mo Xi and couldn’t help hoping that Gu Mang would return the way he’d been. I will definitely read more.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London takes place in alternative London of 1983; alternative, because magic and magical beings exist, and because post-war Britain has seen greater advancement in women’s rights than the actual Britain, though the only evidence of that is an earlier woman prime minister and a woman detective at the Met.

Susan Arkshaw has turned eighteen and is about to start in an art school in London in the fall. She has the summer to experience the big city after growing up in a farm outside Bath, and find her father that her mother never talks about. The first clue leads her to a man that turns out to be not only a criminal, but not even a human.

This brings her to the attention of an organisation of booksellers, both left and right-handed, that exists to keep the Old World and its creatures in check. But the Old World is curiously interested in Susan, which makes the booksellers suspect that her father might not be a human either. Unfortunately for Susan, it has been the policy of the booksellers to kill such children outright.

Not all booksellers are so old-fashioned though. Helping her are Merlin, a left-handed bookseller and a charming manmost of the timeof nineteen, and his sister Vivian, a right-handed bookseller. Together, they journey through England to find the truth about Susan’s father. Action, adventure and a rather high body count follow.

This was a great book. Susan was a levelheaded young woman who took her new circumstances in a stride. For an art student, however, she was curiously uninterested in expressing herself with art. Only her encyclopedic knowledge of everything from old grandfather clocks to architecture and weapons revealed her hobby, and even then, it might be the narrator’s knowledge. Merlin was a delightful character with his interest in clothes, both men’s and women’s, and he made a good love interest. The booksellers were a fun bunch with their eccentricities and love for books.

Narration was from the third person omniscient point of view, which gave the book a somewhat old-fashioned feel. It also led to some abrupt changes in point of view, but for the most part it worked well. I’m definitely interested in reading more.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Fourth Wing starts The Empyrean series. It’s set in a preindustrial world that’s been divided in two by a war that’s raged for centuries. The kingdom of Navarra is protected by a barrier of magic upheld by dragons against the enemy’s griffins, but the barrier has started to break.

Dragons need riders that are trained in a brutal military academy where the weak are weeded by death. Violet Sorrengail has never thought to follow her older siblings there. She has a frail body and mind best suited to become a scribe. But her mother, the commander of dragon riders, orders otherwise, and so, at twenty, she joins the hopefuls of her age group to try and make it to the academy through a deadly test that’s only the beginning of the torments.

There is an enemy within the academy too. Children of a recent rebellion within Navarra are forced to take the deadly training to become dragon riders in the hopes that the academy will kill them. They all hate Violet as the daughter of the woman who killed their parents. And their leader, Xaden Riorson, is the most powerful wing leader in the academy, and Violet’s commander in the fourth wing.

This is a dark academy type of story that follows Violet’s progression through the military training. There is foul competition to best and friends and allies to gather, and the book doesn’t shy away from killing both. Violet struggles more than most, but she’s cunning and determined, and when she triumphs, she does it with flair.

There’s romance too, a not-so-difficult choice between a childhood friend and the gorgeous and sexy enemy. And since this is adult fantasy, and the author has written steamy contemporary romances before, Violet is a grown woman who goes after what she wants and the sex scenes are graphic and good.

The world is interesting with its dragons that bond with humans. They had very humanlike qualities too, making the reader root for them as much as the humans. The friendships were good, but since people could die at any moment, I didn’t dare to invest in themand had my heart broken anyway. Violet was an excellent character with a good growth arc, and Xaden made a perfect counterpart for her.

The last fifth of the book opens the story to a more epic narrative. There’s an enemy within the enemy that turns the world upside down, and Violet doesn’t know who to trust anymore. The ending leaves everything open, with a bit of a stunner added in the mix. I’m desperate to read more.

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

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Manner of Death vol 1 by Yukari Umemoto & Sammon: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Manner of Death by Yukari Umemoto & Sammon

Manner of Death is a manga adaptation by Yukari Umemoto of an original story and Thai TV series by Sammon. It’s set in a small town in Thailand, where Dr Bun works as a forensic examiner. An apparent suicide of a woman turns out to be a murder, but before he can rule it as one, he’s attacked in his home and ordered to make sure it’s considered a suicide.

Dr Bun won’t let the matter be and people he cares about start disappearing, so he begins his own investigation. His best suspect is Tan, the victim’s boyfriend, who claims he’s innocent and has an alibi. The two team up to investigate, even though Bun doesn’t trust Tan. Despite that, the two end up in bed together. Dr Bun is very much in the closet, which adds to tension between the men.

This was an interesting murder mystery involving mafia. Bun doesn’t know who to trust, and every time he does, he’s betrayed. The reader is taken on an emotional rollercoaster ride with him, with plenty of twists and turns. Things soon get out of his hands, but the volume ends before matters are solved. The story was long as it was, so I didn’t believe it could be stretched to another volume, but I was wrong. At least we know who the killer is, just not how to get Dr Bun out safely.

Dr Bun was an interesting but reserved character, mostly due to having to guard his secret of being gay. Tan was more open and a bit flaky, despite being the dominant in their odd relationship. Even though the two ended up in bed together a bit fast, the relationship with the secrecy and anger felt real. I hope there’s a happy ending for the two, but this was more a murder mystery than a romance, so it can go either way.

The art was black and white and beautiful. Since it’s done by a Japanese artist, it looks and feels Japanese, and only the character names point at Thailand. It makes the story feel more familiar, but I wouldn’t have minded more authentic imagery.

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