ARC Review: THE FORTRESS by S.A. Jones (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Physical ARC from Publisher

Received an ARC from the Erewhon Books, the publisher
Trigger warnings: violence, sex, abuse, child sexual assault (not shown, but mentioned), corporal punishment, acid attack

Some stories you read and you enjoy it for the story. Others you read, and you can see the author trying to process things going on the real world. In The Fortress, Jonathon Bridges pledges himself to one year of servitude to the Vaik, an all-women population living on their own land separate from the rest of society. The story follows his year and describes the litany of sins and penance.

What Jones masterfully pulls off is the kind of tale where I found it hard to critique in ways one would normally engage in a story. The prose is sharp. The world-building doesn’t quite fade into the background as immersion, but it’s there enough to contextualized everything happening to Jonathon. I found myself wishing him to get a hold of himself and nigh-yelling about how much of a piece of shit he is, but not in the way of a character in a story, but a person in real life. How he could be so complicit to so many heinous things. It seems that Jones herself is trying to understand men like Jonathon. Instead of going a revenge route—and there were so many opportunities—Jones chooses compassion. The choice of service as opposed to violence left such an impression. Did I read this book or did its thesis just happen?

A unique tale in which the path to anything resembling redemption means letting go of your ego and giving over completely to servitude.

Review: ECHO NORTH by Joanna Ruth Meyer (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library physical copy

Starting with the wolf attack that left her scarred from age seven, Echo Alkaev’s life has the makings of a fairy tale: magic, strange curses, a selfish stepmother. When she meets the same wolf almost ten years later while searching for her missing father, Echo must house sit for a year with the wolf or else her father dies. But there is far more to this promise.

This story is steeped in folklore and fairy tale. From the Wolf Queen to the boy trapped in stories to the settings, it all seems so familiar. Atmosphere and magic sustain every page. I find it interesting how there was a micro-trend of library magic, but in this story, books are mirrors and you can inhabit as if they were movies in VR. These had been created by one of the characters, but that’s spoiler territory and it’s an unnecessary detail for most of the narrative. Because the world-building was otherwise so light, it was easy to follow along with internal character struggles of Echo and especially Echo’s perspective of Hal.

If you’re looking for something Beauty and the Beast (1999), this book captures the same magic, right down to a wonderful library and enchanted ball.

 

Review: THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER by Theodora Goss (2017)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2017
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Do you like mash-ups of gothic horror like Penny Dreadful but wish it had the camp of the Robert Downey Junior Sherlock Holmes and starred an all-female cast? Look no further. The Athena Club consists of the daughters of monstrous scientists teaming up to solve murders in White Chapel.

The remix and reconstruction of classic tales like Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde were absolutely spot-on. This book serves more as an introduction to our five main heroines. The original stories had been updated enough to fit a new narrative, but familiar enough to even feed where the mystery was going. Goss clearly had much fun in crafting the world, with its secret societies and monstrous experiments, and that enthusiasm carries from the first page until the very end.

London is particularly gloomy in these installments, and Goss has such a handle on the atmosphere. This tome simply felt like it came out of a different time, right down to the dialogue choices, and it worked so wonderfully. I cannot wait to venture beyond England to follow the next excursion of The Athena Club.

Perfect for people who love cross-over novels and who have a special fondness for the Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law Sherlock Holmes films.

 

 

Review: THE AGE OF ICE by J.M. Sidorova (2013)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2013
Source: Library physical copy

Alexander Velitzyn was born in a palace constructed from ice alongside his twin brother Andrei. He suffers from some kind of affliction that makes his skin literally cold as ice. The rest of the book is his life, in addition to finding literally answer to why he had been cursed.

The voice here is so Eastern European: deeply sarcastic, sort of self-pitying if it all weren’t true. Because of the cold disposition his turn as Old Man Frost granted him, his personal relationships suffer, until he learns that they can actually thrive besides the frost of his skin. The side characters had been fairly well-developed. I found myself thinking about them during long intervals during their absence. The consistent introspection gave weight to the personal touchstones in his life, which is hard to convey in a narrative that spans so many years.

In addition the relationships, I greatly admired how Sidorova omitted greater events of historical history. In fact, Alexander runs away from Russia in the 1800s to go to Persia. He even spends a good decade in the Arctic, trying to discover ice’s secrets and the relationships there are simply fascinating.

Icy in its sarcasm and coverage of smaller political stories mostly set in the 1700s, The Age of Ice perfectly covers the exhaustion that comes with long, unnatural life.

 

Review: SORCERY OF THORNS by Margaret Rogerson (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Sorceries, demons, and libraries coming alive, oh my. Rogerson has provided another fantastic fantasy novel featuring a driven heroine and a smarmy love interest. Elisabeth wants to serve to great libraries but uncovered a conspiracy that has her working with disgraced sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn and his very good demon companion Silas. There’s demonic summonings and a love of books galore.

I really loved all the main characters. This trio had such an excellent dynamic. My personal favorite was Silas. So wise, so benevolent, but the narrative never makes you forget that he is a demon. The love Nathaniel has and the love which Elisabeth develops felt so natural in the progression of the story. There’s such a great relationship among all three them. In addition, Rogerson has a deft hand at actually describing the magic. It’s cinematic and visceral and wraps the reader in all five senses.

That all being said, the ending seems a little unevenly paced. The resolution of so many feelings had me convinced the book was ending, but when I looked, I was actually at the 75% mark. The rest of it feels fairly rushed, but everything ties up neatly in a way that is satisfying to both the characters and the world conflict.

Perfect for people who love books, magic, and an anime called Black Butler.

ARC Review: WHEN WE WERE MAGIC by Sarah Gailey (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Sarah Gailey has such a knack for capturing the feeling of hopeless effort. In this young adult novel, Alexis accidentally kills a boy at prom and it is up to her and five magic friends to figure out what to do with the body. Strange things start happening around them, all while senior year winds down to a close and the feelings Alexis has for one of her friends stir stronger than ever.

I don’t think I’ve seen such accurate representation of the petulance, uncertainty, and stress that comes with being a teenager. Adding stresses like keeping your magic secret from those outside your circle and concealing that terrible thing you did definitely heightens the ante. What also really stood out to me was the fantastic balance between Alexis’s found family and true family. Because I read a lot of fantasy young adult, parents tend to be absent, either dead or evil. Here, Dad and Pop are so supportive and definitely are trying their best in terms of being parents.

This book is very light on the world-building, but that’s because it is so character-driven. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where the magic came from or how it shifts as the coven tries to solve its big problem. The story is tightly woven in its emotional arcs that ultimately, the real magic was also the friends we had along the way.

We have been blessed in these last twelve months of works by Sarah Gailey. While I hope they get some rest, I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.

 

Author to Author with K.M. Szpara (#Docile)

AtoA_Kellan

In an alternate future of the United States, debtors sell their debts to the wealthy and becomes Dociles. Harrowing and seductive, Docile takes its time depicting complexities of power and consent against a glittering, sexy back-drop of the ultra-wealthy. On this release day, author K.M. Szpara stops by to talk a bit about the process of crafting this phenomenal debut. Continue reading