ARC Review: FIREHEART TIGER by Aliette de Bodard (2021)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: February 2021
Buy Links: Bookshop.org| Unabridged Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Content warning: emotional abuse, attempted domestic violence, arson

In a palace, Thanh returns from years abroad to a mother that doesn’t value her presence, a fire elemental which has taken to her, and a lover who won’t quite quit. The personal conflict mirrors the political conflict, a perfect blend of interior and exterior stakes.

The structure of this novel is so effective. It’s brief, with so many layers of world-building that would tickle fans of door-stopper fantasies. But it is the relationships that leap off the page. In particular, the waxing of Giang and Thanh’s connection, and the waning of Eldris and Thanh’s relationship really worked well, especially when taken in parallel with Thanh gaining her own footing politically. The precise characterizations and deliberate scenes infuse deep personal stakes that amplify and influence the political machinations. Thanh’s character journey really works. The mutual respect between Thanh and Giang is swoony and casts a warmth like firelight.

ARC Review: WHEN THE TIGER CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN (The Singing Hills Cycle #2) by Nghi Vo (2020)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: December 2020
Buy Links: Bookshop | Libro.fm | Unabridged Books

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Cleric Chih is back at it again with their storytelling. This time, they find themself trapped with Si-Yu and her mammoth by a trio of shape-shifting tigers. To stall for time until the mammoths arrive and to appease the tigers’ desire for the truth, Chih unravels the full story of Ho Thi Thao and her lover, a scholar named Dieu.

Vo has such a knack for weaving otherwise epic storylines into so tight a space. Big emotions thread throughout, and what I found particularly intricate was the compare and contrast of how the tigers knew this epic love story versus how it was passed down among the clerics and throughout folklore. There are so many layers to this world Vo built, and the detail work is simply astounding and completely mesmerizing.

What particularly resonated with me was the violent presentation of Ho Thi Thao’s heartbreak during one segment of the story. It’s great to see a femme act out on page, and the way the narrative jumps back to the frame story to talk through how each character would deal with that specific grief. It worked really well for me, and provides a bit of indulgence that can’t be afforded if the story had strictly been told from either Ho Thi Thao’s or Dieu’s point of view.

Another epic distilled to its finest parts, I really enjoyed this return to the Empire of Ahn and can’t wait to read more of Vo’s work.

Review: EMPRESS OF SALT AND FORTUNE by Nghi Vo (2020)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Physical copy

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Cleric Chih visits a lonely former handmaiden to the Empress of Salt of Fortune once her estate opens up to visit. The story that unfolds is epic in scope as a marriage of alliance turns into exile turns into conquest. But the presentation is so intimate and quiet, especially as chapters start with descriptions of objects found throughout the estate and Rabbit’s focus is primarily on her relationship with In-yo and the other servants who were at court alongside her.

There was a deep sense of melancholy, not so much regret, threaded throughout the elegant prose. But not so much regret, which I found fascinating. Rabbit’s retelling is filled with making sure she spoke her truth, but also ensuring that the listener, Chih and by extension, the reader, internalizes this fable-like history. The court intrigue is top-notch, but it serves as a background to the intensely relationship-driven narrative. The devotion Rabbit felt towards In-yo dripped off the page and it was compelling in a way that wasn’t entirely tragic. The strength of that relationship kept me wanting to know how the story ends. I really liked how Vo directed the storytelling in a way that assumes the reader knows the story of this empire already as told by history books in that world. The gentle but secure guidance made it obvious, but wow, did that ending land.

Epic, but pensive in a deeply personal way, a must-read for people looking for quieter fantasy novels.

Author to Author with Caitlin Starling (#YellowJessamine)

Happy release day to Yellow Jessamine from Neon Hemlock Press. This novella is a gothic tale of murder, poison, and sapphic pining, perfect for the fall season. In this interview, author Caitlin Starling talks about research, inspiration, and her favorite poisons.

Buy links: Physical copy | ebook

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ARC Review: THE ORDER OF THE PURE MOON REFLECTED IN WATER by Zen Cho (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: June 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop |Unabridged Bookstore| Barnes and Noble

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A bandit walks into a coffee shop and it goes about as well as you expect. This novella is a fun ride with a large cast that shares equal page space. Stakes are high as they are trying to deliver relics on contract in a shifting world.

This novel is much quieter than its boisterous beginning implies. There is a lot of fun banter between the nun from the titular order and the unsavory characters that are the bandits. Cho deftly weaves together worldbuilding in a dense package. Each character has their own stakes and tensions, plus moments of evolution and self-discovery. A feat, given that this novella is under 200 pages.

The world and its relationship to and understanding of magic weaves expertly from page to page. What I also admired is the normality of queerness. Though there is an organized religion, we do get moments when the gendered aspects of it are deconstructed and rebuilt into something into something refreshingly inclusive.

A wuxia fantasy novella which blends together tight world-building, fun dialogue, and found family.

 

ARC Review: PROSPER’S DEMON by K.J. Parker (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: NetGalley

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Content warning: possession, gore, violence

I love me a good sarcastic narrator. Our nameless narrator in this very short demon possession story clearly knows better, but choose the more uncouth option every option. I really enjoyed the use of pronouns here, especially because Parker establishes early on that you can see the effects of demons, but never the demons themselves. The two primary demons, He and She, have such different energies, especially Her. She is the titular Prosper’s demon and, wow, is there a symbiotic relationship. It looks rad on page and I can’t say anymore, given the brevity of the read.

A quick read for those who enjoy demons and asshats.