Fantasy · Mystery

The Mortal Word – Genevieve Cogman

3.5 stars

The Mortal Word is the fifth in Genevieve Cogman’s lovely Invisible Library series. A classic who-dunnit murder mystery with a large dose of portal fantasy and magic.

A corrupt countess31690153 (1)
A spy in danger
And an assassin at large

Peace talks are always tricky, especially when a key diplomat gets stabbed. This rudely interrupts a top-secret summit between the warring dragons and Fae. As a neutral party, Librarian-spy Irene is summoned to investigate. She must head to a version of 1890s Paris, with her assistant Kai and her detective friend Vale, where these talks are fracturing. Here, she must get to the bottom of the attack – before either the peace negotiations or the city go up in flames.

Suspicions fly thick and fast and Irene soon finds herself in the seedy depths of the Parisian underworld. She’s on the trail of a notoriously warlike Fae, the Blood Countess. However, the evidence against the Countess is circumstantial. Could the killer be a member of the Library itself?

The first time I read an Invisible Library novel I enjoyed the first book, but bounced off the second. It took me a while to come back to the series, but when book #5, The Mortal Word was given to me to review, I was able to dive into book 2 again and absolutely binged books 2-5. The first book had a serious issue with clunky world-building as info-dumps, and the rest of the books still suffer from the same issues, but to a lesser degree.

This series is supposedly about Irene, but her world’s unpleasant Sherlock Holmes stand-in Vale takes altogether too much page time and is too often the key or the focus of a story. It is so, in The Mortal Word as well. Vale and Irene are invited to help solve a high-profile murder that could derail a fragile peace-treaty negotiation between the Fae and Dragons.

Vale causes as many headaches as the murder itself does with his refusal to follow any kind of social expectation despite being literally in a different world than his own. He fails to respect any kind of authority and insults both the Dragons and the Fae, making Irene run around smoothing things over for him so nobody takes TOO MUCH insult and the peace talks don’t derail over his behavior. It’s a lot of traditional women’s emotional labor, smoothing things over for irritable men that refuse to play by the rules. I find Vale exasperating.

The ultimate resolution of the story felt a little predictable and unoriginal. Anyone familiar with Holmsian or Agatha Christie Who-dunnit mysteries that have been popular for a long while would have worked out the killer fairly early on.

All that being said, I didn’t want to put the book down. There’s something about Cogman’s writing and immersive world that makes me want to speed through the books as fast as I can because I want to know what happens next.

Irene is a fun character, and I just wish she’d stop letting Vale boss her around. I am so curious about her parents and her past! I want to know more!

I really loved getting to learn a lot more about Dragon society and relationships in The Mortal Word as well. Up to now, the Dragons had been quite secretive and even Kai remained quite tight-lipped about many aspects of their society. I live for the details about the Dragons and the Fae societies and hierarchies.

The Mortal Word is on shelves now!

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.

Advertisement
Fantasy

The Tiger’s Daughter – K. Arsenault Rivera

3 Stars

Have you been looking for an epic fantasy, set in a second-world heavily influenced by Chinese history and full of lesbian romance and badass women? If so, The Tiger’s Daughter is the book for you.

29760778.jpg
Cover from Goodreads

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

O-Shizuka and Barsalayaa Shefali are wonderfully constructed characters (as are the rest), full of fire and passion and different kinds of strength. They are both incredibly gifted warriors, but where Shizuka is arrogant and firey, Shefali is quiet and steady. This is the story of their shared youth.

Told mostly through a single letter from Shefali, with short asides from the letter’s recipient Shizuka, their entire history is recounted from Shefali’s point of view. Through the letter, we are privy to Shefali’s inner thoughts about Shizuka and their escapades.

I have to admit, I found the letter construct a challenge. I really struggled with understanding WHY Shefali was writing a letter that basically recounted her entire history with Shizuka TO Shizuka – especially when it’s clear partially through the book that not much time has passed. Only a few years. It’s not like Shizuka would have forgotten all of this in the brief three years that have gone by. I really struggled with understanding where the letter was going and what its point was. (I struggle with books where I don’t see the “point” of the book by about halfway through. What are they supposed to be accomplishing?) The letter didn’t really relay much “new” information between Shefali and Shizuka. Obviously it’s all new information to the reader, but it’s really only the last chapter where new information is revealed.

Structural challenges aside, it’s a wonderful story with incredible characters and a well-fleshed out world.

The Tiger’s Daughter is available now through Tor. Come back next week for my review of the sequel, The Phoenix Empress.

Fantasy · historical fiction · YA

Smoke and Iron – Rachel Caine

4 Stars

Happy bookday to Smoke and IronThe fourth in the five-book The Great Library series by Rachel Caine is a strong entry in the series. Like many avid readers, I’m like a moth to a flame with books set in and around libraries.

36595619.jpg
Cover from Goodreads 

To save the Great Library, the unforgettable characters from Ink and BonePaper and Fire, and Ash and Quill put themselves in danger in the next thrilling adventure in the New York Times bestselling series.

The opening moves of a deadly game have begun. Jess Brightwell has put himself in direct peril, with only his wits and skill to aid him in a game of cat and mouse with the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. With the world catching fire, and words printed on paper the spark that lights rebellion, it falls to smugglers, thieves, and scholars to save a library thousands of years in the making…if they can stay alive long enough to outwit their enemies.

I previously reviewed book 3 in the series, Ash and Quill. The rebellion against the Archivist reaches a fever pitch and it’s impossible not to see the parallels between our raggedy cast’s struggle for the soul of the Great Library and the political turmoil in the United States.

How do we separate something we love from its leadership? How do Jess and Morgan and Khalila and the rest of the main cast of characters separate the Great Library from the Archivist and his cabinet of corrupt leadership? How do Americans separate love for country from a Congress and President that care more for short-term power than for the long-term good of the country’s people and land? How do you convince others of that same separation in hopes of saving the institution while dismantling the corrupt head, and hopefully garnering their aid? Or, if not aid, at least their lack of opposition?

These meaty questions are the same that our central cast must wrestle with as they move forward in their plot to overthrow the corruption at the core of the Great Library. Can they save that which they love, without losing life, limb and love?

Rachel Caine is a master at making each book in a series feel like an escalation to the Final Battle and pulling a surprise twist at the end that results in another book. Her Morganville Vampires series did this to my frustration, and I abandoned the series without finishing it. The Great Library series, however, will end in the fifth and final book. The upside of this talent is that books in the middle of series rarely feel like filler books. Rather, each is important in the larger story and really can’t be skipped.

Smoke and Iron* is in stores today!

I received an eARC from Berkley in exchange for my honest review. 

*This post contains affiliate links. Please consider supporting this blog by purchasing this book using my affiliate link. 

 

Fantasy · historical fiction

The Philosopher’s Flight – Tom Miller

5 Stars

Lately, it seems like I’ve been accidentally gravitating toward books that have an element of “reverse-sexism” in them. In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan with her gender flip in Elven society and now, The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller, his debut novel. Let me tell you, I was blown away.

 

32620364
Cover from Goodreads

 

The Philosopher’s Flight is an epic historical fantasy set in a World-War-I-era America where magic and science have blended into a single extraordinary art.

Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is a practitioner of empirical philosophy—an arcane, female-dominated branch of science used to summon the wind, shape clouds of smoke, heal the injured, and even fly. Though he dreams of fighting in the Great War as the first male in the elite US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service—a team of flying medics—Robert is resigned to mixing batches of philosophical chemicals and keeping the books for the family business in rural Montana, where his mother, a former soldier and vigilante, aids the locals.

When a deadly accident puts his philosophical abilities to the test, Robert rises to the occasion and wins a scholarship to study at Radcliffe College, an all-women’s school. At Radcliffe, Robert hones his skills and strives to win the respect of his classmates, a host of formidable, unruly women.

Robert falls hard for Danielle Hardin, a disillusioned young war hero turned political radical. However, Danielle’s activism and Robert’s recklessness attract the attention of the same fanatical anti-philosophical group that Robert’s mother fought years before. With their lives in mounting danger, Robert and Danielle band together with a team of unlikely heroes to fight for Robert’s place among the next generation of empirical philosophers—and for philosophy’s very survival against the men who would destroy it.

The Philosopher’s Flight was an unexpected hit for me. I had been told it was good by a friend and added it to my library holds list. It came in and sat on my nightstand as I passed it by to read other things. Until two days before it was due back at the library, and I couldn’t renew the book. I finally sat down to read it and I am regretting my tardiness.

I loved everything about this book, except for one little thing. I just don’t understand why sigilry is called empirical philosophy. Something like “applied theoretical physics” would have made more sense to me. Calling it philosophy just never clicked for me, and kind of turned me off from the book at first. Philosophy evokes this sense of the guys at my college who were philosophy majors and absolutely insufferable. However, that is not the case here and that small nitpick aside, I LOVE LOVE LOVED this book.

Robert Weekes is such an earnest man. His mother is his hero and he wants nothing more in the world than to join the US Sigilry Corps and fly Rescue and Evacuation in the wars. But, he’s a man. So there’s no way he can keep up with the women. It’s women’s work and he should be content to stay home and keep house.

This is where that delicious reverse sexism element comes into play. Robert faces challenges that are easy for women to relate to. They’re challenges that women have faced in society time and time again – and continue to face even now. An additional element to this is the Trenchers. They were an interesting foil to the Sigilrists. They read like religious anti-abortion activists, feeling a lot like today’s Men’s Rights Activists.

The Philosopher’s Flight doesn’t shy away from including other elements of the political atmosphere of the time. The people of color in the book still face racism and discrimination but in a twist, the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement and sigilrist’s rights movement seem to be working intersectionally, if not in unison, at least with some cooperation.

This book was just so well written and fleshed out so beautifully. I am already tapping my foot with impatience for the next book in the series, which is slated for June 2019.

 

Fantasy · YA

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

5 Stars

This is one of the easiest ratings I’ve ever given. I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I knew that I was giving this book a 5-star rating.

 

31944679
Cover from Goodreads

 

“What’s your name?”

“Serene.”

“Serena?” Elliot asked.

“Serene,” said Serene. “My full name is Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle.”

Elliot’s mouth fell open. “That is badass.”

The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border—unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and—best of all as far as Elliot is concerned—mermaids.

Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.

It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.

Our main character, Elliott, is annoying. Seriously annoying. He embraces his annoyingness and uses it to whatever advantage he can. Exactly like every thirteen-year-old boy I’ve ever met. He’s whiny, obnoxious, kind of a jerk, terrible to his friends, and yet really accepting of people as they are. In Other Lands follows Elliott through four formative years – the most crucial years of his life to date. Elliott has a lot of growing up and self-discovery ahead of him, and that journey is one of the many things that makes this book special. Elliott is surprisingly oblivious to things that are obvious to the reader, despite being pretty introspective.

He goes over the wall into the Borderlands and chooses to stay. His portal opens and he runs right in and makes it his home. He has to navigate cultural differences, teenage emotions, relationships, friendships, classes and his own personal desires.

I don’t want to spoil the magic of discovery for other readers, but In Other Lands is inclusive, witty, and touching. I laughed out loud and leaked tears on and off throughout my read. I didn’t want to put it down, and when I had to, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

In Other Lands is what you’d get if Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway had a baby with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. The tone is light, but the subject matter is meaty and full of pointed and poignant observations about our own culture.

My one and only complaint about In Other Lands is the cover. It’s a beautiful cover, but a misleading one. Let’s be honest here: people judge books by their covers. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. Another unfortunate fact is that many boys won’t pick up books that they think are for girls. (Girls generally pick up more “boy” books than vice versa) This cover feels feminine, and I fear has turned boys off from picking this book up. If I were to re-cover In Other Lands I’d give it a gorgeous, adventure-y cover reminiscent of the Percy Jackson books. (Or we could have both covers and the world would rejoice.) I want this book to be in as many hands as possible, and it makes me sad thinking that anyone might pass on this book because of the cover/content mismatch. Everyone with even a passing interest in YA, Fantasy or a combination of the two should read this book.

In Other Lands is on shelves now and everyone should be tripping over themselves to go out and get a copy RIGHT NOW!

Fantasy · historical fiction

Weaver’s Lament – Emma Newman

2 Stars

I haven’t been this disappointed by a second novel in a while. Brother’s Ruin, the first in Emma Newman’s Industrial Magic series was fantastic and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Weaver’s Lament, but boy was I disappointed.

 

31375770.jpg
Cover from Goodreads

 

Charlotte’s magical adventures continue in Weaver’s Lament, the sequel to Emma Newman’s Brother’s Ruin.

Charlotte is learning to control her emerging magical prowess under the secret tutelage of Magus Hopkins. Her first covert mission takes her to a textile mill where the disgruntled workers are apparently in revolt.

But it isn’t the workers causing the trouble. The real culprits are far more extranormal in nature.

And they have a grudge to settle.

Weaver’s Lament has little of the same magic and excitement that Brother’s Ruin had. The entire book is spent demonstrating how terrible the conditions are for women, and especially working women. Nobody listens to Charlotte in the book but everyone is using her. Her brother is using her while dismissing her talent and intelligence. Magus Hopkins, while pretending to help her is obviously not telling her important things. She seems oblivious to this despite obvious evidence of it.

There’s nearly no magic in this book and entirely too much frustration. I’m sorely disappointed. I’m still hoping for a third book in the series, and hoping it will be a massive improvement.

Fantasy · YA

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

5 stars

Oh, Readers that was good. Godsgrave is the second novel in Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight Chronicle and I just can’t wait for the third and final book to be released. I’m so mad that I have to wait for the next one.

 

Godsgrave
Cover from Goodreads

 

As in the first novel, Nevernight, Kristoff employs a dual storytelling structure, weaving past and present together, but Kristoff is a master of suspense and twists. I certainly didn’t see half of this book coming. Twist after surprising twist. Even when I thought I knew where things were going because of the dual storylines, I was surprised again and again.

Mia murders her way through any obstacle between her and her ultimate goal of retribution against the men who murdered her family – though something more is going on around her. The body count is high, and the pages bloody, but oh, the adventure is good. Mia isn’t a hero (or is she?) but it’s sure fun to follow her as she slits throats and takes no names as she climbs over literal mountains of bodies toward her goal. She might think she’s the spider at the center of the web, but others are pulling strings that she’s still unaware of.

Despite the violence and high body count, Kristoff finds room for raw vulnerability, emotional connection and even a little romance. An LGBTQ romance even! (And boy does Kristoff write some sexy scenes. I did a little face fanning here and there.)

The Nevernight Chronicle is a fully rounded dark fantasy like nothing else I’ve read.

Please, Jay Kristoff, WRITE BOOK THREE ALREADY!

 

 

Fantasy

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

4 Stars

I’d been meaning to read A Discovery of Witches for a while now, and finally picked up the audiobook to accompany me on a long solo trip I took to Portland, Oregon a couple weekends ago.

The synopsis, from Goodreads:

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery, so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks, but her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries–and she’s the only creature who can break its spell.

Ultimately, A Discovery of Witches read like an academic Twilight. Better written, better characters, better plot, but definitely Twilight vibes mashed together with some Harry Potter vibes. There was lots of eyerolling and talking back to the audio on my part, but not so much that I shelved the book.

If I did not have to commit to the first three hours of the book while driving back from Portland, I might not have kept listening. But, after a bit of a slow start, I was drawn in by A Discovery of Witches and found myself looking for chores to do around my house so I could continue to listen to the 24-hour long audiobook. Harkness writes in a descriptive style that when combined with Jennifer Ikeda’s narration offered an immersive experience. I could imagine each setting of the novel with clarity, but never felt bogged down in description.

I enjoyed the audiobook enough that I’m not-so-patiently waiting for the second audiobook to be available at my library. (Any minute now!)

A TV adaptation of A Discovery of Witches is also in production and I plan to watch.

Have you read A Discovery of Witches or the sequels in the All Souls trilogy? What did you think?

 

Fantasy

An Enchantment of Ravens – Margaret Rogerson

4 stars

I picked An Enchantment of Ravens up from the library the other day after spending weeks drooling over the cover art online and I’m so glad I did!

 

Ravens
Cover image from Goodreads

 

I’ve been in a reading slump lately. Disappointing book after disappointing book. An Enchantment of Ravens finally broke that streak!

The Goodreads synopsis:

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.

I trimmed a bit off the end of Goodreads’ synopsis because I felt that it bled over into spoiler territory.

An Enchantment of Ravens is a lovely standalone novel and Rogerson’s debut. Tightly written and neatly wrapped up, An Enchantment of Ravens was just the light palate cleanser I needed. Ravens has the feel of a classic fairytale, without being completely predictable or a retelling of a familiar story. Much like Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, An Enchantment of Ravens gave me the comforting feeling of visiting old friends and familiar worlds while still providing a fresh story to discover.

I enjoyed getting to know Isobel and Rook and discover the fairy lands through Isobel’s eyes. Rogerson built an interesting world with familiar elements and new twists.

I can see revisiting An Enchantment of Ravens time and time again, whenever I need a break from reading what feels like an endless onslaught of new series. It’s becoming a rarer thing to find a story encapsulated in a single tome with a satisfying ending. As such, Ravens was a delight.

An Enchantment of Ravens hit shelves on September 26, 2017.

 

Fantasy · YA

Jane, Unlimited – Kristin Cashore

3 Stars

I picked Jane, Unlimited up from the library on a whim the other day, after seeing a description and the cover in a Facebook group I’m active in.

Jane
Cover from Goodreads

The metallic cover was intriguing and I am sometimes a sucker for a pretty cover. The description was also interesting:

If you could change your story, would you?

Jane has lived a mostly ordinary life, raised by her recently deceased aunt Magnolia, whom she counted on to turn life into an adventure. Without Aunt Magnolia, Jane is directionless. Then an old acquaintance, the glamorous and capricious Kiran Thrash, blows back into Jane’s life and invites her to a gala at the Thrashes’ extravagant island mansion called Tu Reviens. Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.”

What Jane doesn’t know is that at Tu Reviens her story will change; the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But every choice comes with a price. She might fall in love, she might lose her life, she might come face-to-face with herself. At Tu Reviens, anything is possible.

Jane, Unlimited was quite a strange book. I got very serious Rebecca vibes from the book – which Cashore reinforced in her afterword where she explains that she was inspired by Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It would make sense then, that I wouldn’t enjoy Jane, Unlimited much, since I HATED Rebecca when I had to read it in high school.

I also struggled with the structure of the book. Cashore starts by building a story with many threads and mysteries swirling around and then abruptly things get weird. It’s as though Cashore couldn’t figure out how to weave all her various storylines together, so instead of writing one cohesive ending, she wrote five – each ending more absurd than the last. This made for somewhat dull reading. Each new ending started at the same moment the others did and therefore was fairly repetitive. For cohesion, some details and events remained the same throughout each ending which was pretty boring.

Ultimately, I loved the fifth and final ending, even though it was very nearly the most absurd of them all (though #4 sure gives it a run for its’ money.) I could have read an entire book based just on the fifth ending and done without all the rest of the book.

Jane, Unlimited hit shelves on September 19, 2017. If you check it out, let me know what you think!