Fantasy

The City of Brass – S. A. Chakraborty

5 stars

I received an eARC of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for my review. 

The City of Brass is S.A. Chakraborty’s absolutely spellbinding debut novel, an epic fantasy set in Cairo and the Middle East.

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass; a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

But it wasn’t that description that made me want to read this novel. I came across Chakraborty’s Twitter feed about a month ago and found her tweet-thread about just how much she nerded out over ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern history and mythology while she wrote The City of Brass and her enthusiasm just oozed out of my screen. I had seen a mention of the book earlier in the day, but after seeing her tweets, I just had to read it. I’m sad to say I couldn’t find the thread again (if I do, I’ll edit a link in here.)

I was absolutely transported by Chakraborty’s descriptive storytelling. She sets the scene so completely that I could hear the noises of bazaars and mobs. I could feel the heat of Cairo on my skin – quite the feat since Seattle has been chilly and damp lately. I could clearly picture the scenes she set and in those scenes, she brings Nahri, Ali, and Dara to life.

Nahri is the magical, unbelieving thief at the center of City of Brass though she doesn’t know it at the start. She’s motivated not by greed, but by a necessary selfishness that comes from scraping out a living on the streets from a very young age. Nahri is Nahri’s number one, and she’s not going to apologize for who and what she is. She felt believable and even when her actions surprised me, ultimately they make sense for her character.

Dara is a broken Daeva man from a broken clan, broken past, and broken family. Just about the only thing unbroken about him is his fierce spirit – but even that fierce spirit is tested. He is untamed fire, a hero and a horror. But Dara is driven by loyalty and duty, which is where he finds his strength.

Ali is the second son of the king in Daevabad, raised in The Citadel in order to become his brother’s security minister when his brother ascends the throne. Ali finds himself at the center of a tangled web he helped others weave around him by playing upon his good intentions, naivete, and religious zeal. Ali was the character I had the hardest time with. For someone raised from childhood in a military setting, he was surprisingly soft-hearted. As someone to be a fixture at court he was surprisingly naive.

Nahri, Dara, and Ali are at the center of the war for the soul of Daevabad, the City of Brass. Battles are fought in a swirling, fast-paced plot that kept me turning the pages until I reached the dreaded end of the novel. Thankfully, The City of Brass is the first book in the Daevabad trilogy, so I have two more novels packed full of their adventures to look forward to. I can only hope Chakraborty takes us to new locations. I’m just aching for new places for her to describe.

The City of Brass is the first novel in the Daevabad trilogy and will be released on November 14, 2017.

Advertisements
Horror

Deadlands: Boneyard – Seanan McGuire

3 stars

I received an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley. 

I will be totally honest and say that Deadlands: Boneyard is not my cup of tea. I am not familiar with the Deadlands RPG system that the books are based around, but I don’t think that affected my overall enjoyment of the book.

The publisher’s blurb on NetGalley:

Step right up to see the oddities and marvels of The Blackstone Family Circus and Travelling Wonder Show! Gasp at pit wasps the size of a man’s forearm. Beware the pumpkin-headed corn stalker, lest it plant its roots in you!

Annie Pearl is the keeper of oddities, the mistress of monsters. Her unique collection of creatures is one of the circus’s star attractions, drawing wide-eyed crowds at every small frontier town they visit. But Annie is also a woman running from her past . . . and the mother of a mute young daughter, Adeline, whom she will do anything to protect.

Hoping to fill its coffers before winter sets in, the circus steers its wagons to The Clearing, a remote community deep in the Oregon wilderness, surrounded by an ominous dark wood. Word is that a travelling show can turn a tidy profit at The Clearing, but there are whispers, too, of unexplained disappearances that afflict one out of every four shows that pass through the town.

The Clearing has it secrets, and so does Annie. And it may take everything she has to save her daughter—and the circus—from both.

McGuire does weird well, and she seamlessly blends circuses, mad scientists, steampunk, and the wild, wild wilderness in Oregon. She builds a cohesive world and interesting characters. My issue is the plot.

There are no holes, dangling threads but boy is it slow to start. I’ve read a lot of McGuire’s writing (just about everything I can get my hands on) and a slow start isn’t atypical for her, but Deadlands: Boneyard was the first where I struggled with the slow start. McGuire spends the first four chapters of the book just setting the scene. It isn’t until part of the way through the fourth chapter does the plot start to finally take shape. Once it gets going, she builds and maintains tension with skill making Deadlands: Boneyard a perfect October, pre-Halloween read.

McGuire’s writing is lyrical and descriptive, though she does sometimes get lost in metaphorical descriptions it does make for a nice turn of phrase.

If the wild, weird West is your kind of thing, Deadlands: Boneyard will be your kind of book.

Deadlands: Boneyard is a novel set in the Deadlands RPG universe and hits shelves October 17, 2017 – today!

That Reading Life

#Shelfies!

My friend Arlene over at Wishful Thinking recently did a neat post showing off her bookshelves and I thought it would be fun to do the same!

I have moved many times over the last decade. I left for college and moved 1-2 times each year, then I moved in with my (then) fiance’s parents, and then with roommates and then an apartment with my (now) husband and most recently into my first (teeny) house! As a result of all that moving, I’ve had to be pretty choosy about what books continue to line my shelves. In most of those places, I only had one bookshelf – if you can imagine the horror! Instead of purchasing books, I often borrow them from the library and purchase only the books I hope to reread or collect.
20171010_174256

20171010_174233In these first two photos, you can see my favorites! These are the three authors that I reread time and time again, so I like having them close at hand. This bookshelf is next to my bed, crammed in a corner but within easy reach. The bank box is full of library books to be read, a remnant of the recent move. Someday I’ll figure out a different storage solution for borrowed books. (Wave hi to Monroe! My middle kitty, Roro, Manx of Knives as we call him – he is SHARP!)

Like many bookworms, I love book-related things and decorate my shelves with nicknacks. I work hard to curate my Funko Pop! collection so that it doesn’t take over my life. (I bet you can’t tell my favorite comic publisher.)

20171010_174217.jpg

My second shelf is also in my bedroom, and here is where I begin organizing alphabetically by author. These shelves are surprisingly bare of extras, a result of our recent move. The cat theme continues, however. 🙂 Somehow, I always end up with cat related things on my shelves, even if I don’t actively go out looking for cat-related things.

20171010_174346

My final bookshelf is crammed in the corner of my office next to my computer desk. The bottom shelf is my husband’s teeeeeeny collection of books which he never touches. My new house has terrible bathroom storage, so most of my cosmetics are living in my office. Here you can see my shelf of eyeshadow palettes and just some of my extensive lipstick collection.

I suspect, now that we own our home and have plans to stay for more than a few years, I’ll be adding more bookshelves (and books) as I find them.

I currently have no space for my boxes full of cookbooks, which live piled on the counter or still in their boxes from moving. Someday I’ll be able to set them free…

Now, you’ve seen mine! Show me yours! Your shelfies, I mean.

Fantasy

Plague of Giants – Kevin Hearne

5 Stars

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

When I saw Plague of Giants pop up on NetGalley I was so excited! I’m a fan of Hearne’s Iron Druid series so I couldn’t wait to see what he thought up next!

I was definitely not disappointed! Plague of Giants is a brand new series – Seven Kennings – set in a brand new universe. Instead of an urban fantasy like Iron Druid, Plague of Giants is more of a traditional high fantasy. Epic adventure, bards, pre-technology society, magic (called kenning), kings, and espionage are all present.

Plague of Giants is a story within a story – a central bard ties different characters’ threads together as he shares the many stories of how the war we’re thrust into at the beginning of the novel came to be.

There are seven societies at the center of our story and each society is built around their own specific form of kenning, and each of those broad kennings has specialist sub-forms of kenning or magic. One has kenning related to water, another to fire, a third to wood and plants, a fourth to earth and a fifth to air. (I do have those out of official order. Fire is referred to as “the first kenning” so there is an order of discovery.) You may recall that the series is called the Seven Kennings. You’ll have to read Plague of Giants for more information about Kenning # 6 and #7.

The kennings and societies built around them feel much like the elemental societies of the Avatar: The Last Airbender or Legend of Korra animated shows on Nickelodeon. If you’re familiar with The Last Airbender, then the quote “Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked” will feel very appropriately applied to Plague of Giants. 

Hearne weaves a rich tapestry of complex characters that drive the story forward. He jumps from character to character, fleshing each out with different POV sections. It’s in these different sections that we meet a variety of diverse characters. Hearne has obviously taken some of the general criticism of High Fantasy as a genre – that it’s painfully white and heterosexual – to heart. His cast of characters includes more than one LGBT character and more than one non-white race – including POV sections from characters of those non-white races. It’s heartening to see someone so prominent in the fantasy world do something to address the yawning chasm where diversity should be. Characters are given space to breathe and grow and ponder the ethics of their decisions.

I will admit that I was afraid that in his shift from lighthearted urban fantasy to high fantasy, Hearne would swing too far toward a stiffer storytelling and lose some of his signature humor that charms us all in the Iron Druid series. I am glad to be wrong. Hearne’s humor is deftly applied and just as satisfyingly clever. Many of Hearne’s fans adore the dog Oberon in the Iron Druid series, but I find the dog to be pretty obnoxious and the opposite of charming. (The dog’s obsession with females is kind of gross and sexist.) I’m pleased to find no parallel character in Plague of Giants. Instead, Hearne takes the best of Iron Druid’s wit and humor and injects it into The Seven Kennings. I found myself laughing out loud and rolling my eyes at the best (worst) puns.

Plague of Giants is a masterfully written pivot for Hearne and I’m simply dying for the next installment of the series, A Blight of Blackwings. Do yourself a favor and run right out and buy this for yourself.

Plague of Giants is the first in Kevin Hearne’s new series, Seven Kennings, and will be released October 17, 2017.

Bookish Products

Bookish Products

No book review today, but I have a not-secret to share with you instead: I love bookish products.

There’s something irresistible about things inspired by my favorite characters and stories and crafted to capture the essence of the story or character.

I am also a collector at heart, amassing collections of books and nicknacks that make me smile – and bookish things are a particular weakness of mine.

Funko Pop!s, shirts, and other products that visually or physically represent my favorites are of course easy favorites, but I’ve also become drawn to more abstract representations. My current obsessions are candles/wax melts and nail polish – especially when there’s a Harry Potter theme.

There is a myriad of bookish candle and wax companies producing scents inspired by different characters and series and I just can’t help myself! But scent is a tricky thing. Some characters have scent notes that must be present or they just don’t make sense. (Don’t try to sell me a Hermione candle that doesn’t have a paper or old-book note in it. It just won’t be right.) I always find it interesting to see how a person interprets and associates scents with a character. Why did that character get a strawberry note or a bright mossy note?

Some of the candle and wax companies I’ve been feverishly stalking are The Melting Library, Canterbury Road Co, and Super Tarts.

Nail polish is another of my favorite places to look for abstract interpretations of books and characters. There’s a thriving handmade “indie” nail polish community and there are many, many brands making polish inspired by books and stories, but no one does it like Literary Lacquers does it*. The entire brand is inspired by literature. Some of the interpretations are right on the nose – the Felix Felicis polish is, appropriately, a bright gold polish. However, the polish representation of Avada Kedavra is sinister feeling without being obvious:  green and black and gold glitters in a variety of sizes in a matte black base.

*I am biased – I love the brand so much that I now support Literary Lacquers in their marketing and social media efforts.

What about you, Reader? Do you enjoy bookish products? If so, what kinds and companies?

Blog Housekeeping · Fantasy · Science Fiction

Why Read Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I keep coming across this question in book groups and it’s one of those questions that just knocks around my head. “Why do you read about things that aren’t real? Why read science fiction or fantasy? (Those are separate genres, for the record… a rant for another day.)

And I just keep coming back to “Why not?”

Non-fiction and general or historical fiction are all well and fine, but they’re planted firmly in reality, which is honestly pretty mundane. Don’t get me wrong, the right memoir or the right historical fiction story might spark something for me, but in general, I’m not drawn to stories about real life.

Simply put, I read for escape. I’m perfectly happy with my normal, drama-free life but I love to live vicariously through the eyes of characters experiencing what is impossible for me to experience. No matter how exciting my life might turn out to be, I’ll never be chased by a dragon or launched into space. I’m never going to dine with fairies or participate in epic battles with magic trees and elves.

Not only that, but there’s an extra layer of imagination from the author to craft a good science fiction or fantasy novel. Not to knock writers of general fiction, but there’s less imagination required to describe how a middle-class neighborhood and social circle functions than there is to create a functional system of magic or define a new society ruled by technology.

There’s something special about cracking open a book and discovering a new take on elven society or a system of magic that’s unlike anything I’ve read before. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve finished and simply marveled at the amount of imagination it takes to create something like what I just read (Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence comes to mind.)

I’m not drawn to the fictional tales of people’s sad, broken lives. There are only so many stories of brokenhearted wives discovering their husband cheating on them that I can stand. I lead my own mundane life and while I’m happily married and leading a drama-free life, I find it somewhat voyeuristic to consume the stories of others’ run of the mill unhappiness.

You’ll find the occasional non-fiction or general fiction novel featured on this blog, which will hopefully signal when I’ve found something that does catch my fairly narrow fancy.

That’s why I read science fiction and fantasy – but what about you, Reader? Do you read scifi or fantasy? If so, why? If not, why not?