Review: SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik (2018)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning for physical abuse and descriptions of antisemitism

Part Rumpelstiltskin, part Persephone and Hades, all Eastern Europe fantasy with its world-building, characterizations, and societies, Spinning Silver is an enchantment from start to finish. We have Miryem who takes her family’s money-lending business from her father, Wanda her assistant, dukes’s daughter Irina, and the cursed prince Minatius.

The way Novik nimbly balances so many POVs throughout needs to be witnessed. Each one had enough voice and their own unique motifs and struggles to be distinct, but all worked together towards a common goal which doesn’t become salient until past the book’s middle. Otherwise, we are fully steeped in their interconnected, but separate struggles, and I found myself interested in how it all comes together as much as I had been interested in the outcomes.

In addition, the world-building and placement is so specific. There are attitudes, biases, etc. that can only be placed in Eastern Europe. The cross-cultural misunderstandings between humans and other-worldly beings were also carefully crafted. Throughout, there necessarily wasn’t a “right” and a “wrong,” only difference and the morality stemmed from reactions to those differences. It was great to read a European fantasy from the perspective of Jewish characters that focused on joys and traditions, rather than oppression (though it isn’t ignored in the text).

If you love resilient female characters, fairy tales, and non-Christian fantasies, definitely pick up Spinning Silver.

 

Review: LADY HOTSPUR by Tessa Gratton (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

I very quickly returned to Tessa Gratton’s Shakespeare retellings with this queer take on Henry IV (which of course, I have not read). In this companion to Queens of Innis Lear, we follow the exploits of Lady Hotspur, Prince Hal, and Banna Mora as they seek to bring political peace to Eremoria and reunite with the magic of Innis Lear.

This book is so deeply character-driven. No political decision had been made without the influence of any of the characters, which made the love story between Lady Hotspur and Prince Hal that much more compelling. I love how authentically messy and ambitious all the POV characters were. They didn’t feel like pawns to destiny, and instead had their own loves and conflicts. The familial relations especially in Prince Hal’s story line really resonated with me.

With regards to the political world-building, the tension between tradition in an otherwise queernorm world soaked through the pages. The examination was so fascinating, and in many places, made the book un-put-down-able because it didn’t have to end in a way defined by bloody history. Figures from Queens of Innis Lear do return in the form of flashbacks, but there is absolutely no requirement to read that book to understand this one.

If you want a book full of disaster queers, including sword lesbians and bisexual wizards, magic, and destiny, definitely pick up Lady Hotspur.

 

Review: WE HUNT THE FLAME by Hafsah Faizal (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

In a world cover in snow, a young woman disguising herself as a hunter to provide for her family and an assassin prince tries to make his father, the sultan proud. Both are sent on a mission to retrieve a book containing lost magic.

The atmosphere of Arawiya is just so good. The world feels lived in, and each of the different cultures had enough time on page for full exploration. Nothing in terms of the politics is black and white, which lends really well to the enemies-to-lovers dynamic happening between Nasir and Zafira. Both are extremely skilled at what they do, but part of the journey is them discovering how much more they are than their roles. Their is so much vulnerability. The rest of the Zumra were fantastic, my personal favorite being Kifah. Their dynamic proved an uneasy alliance with excellent banter. When things got bad towards the end, the emotions were there.

The adventure feels dangerous, with secrets and ifrit posing a threat every step of the way. The plotting is tight, with enough space for further exploration of the world in the sequel. In particular, I really liked how character-driven the world problem was. Each character had their own stakes and arcs, even though the story is told through two POVs. It makes for excellent tension and palpable danger.

A lush fantasy about returning magic to the world, found family, and overcoming destiny. I’m really excited and scared for the Zumra.

ARC Review: FELIX EVER AFTER by Kacen Callender (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult LGBT+ Contemporary
Year Release: May 2020
Source: Edelweiss eARC

Read an ARC granted through Edelweiss

This book captures so many energies and experiences into one beautiful narrative about a Black queer trans teen’s first love, which includes a mystery of who would go so far as to publish Felix’s dead name and pictures of him pre-transition.

What really stuck out to me is just how much care had been taken to depict a group of queer kids of various identities and sexualities, especially those who are still questioning. Identity is not a static thing, and the way Felix has the space to explore his on page felt authentic and brutally honest. What came as a welcome surprse was the way the book also addressed bigotry and prejudices within the LGBT+ Community, especially around Pride when the novel takes place. While there is a clear villain, there were opportunities for characters to make mistakes, take ownership, and work together to move forward. That space for forgiveness made my heart swell, even as I rode with Felix from the lowest lows to the highest highs.

In addition, Callender beautifully captures the atmosphere and energy of a summer in New York City, in boroughs other than Manhattan. The little details sprinkled throughout felt really immersive, from the “show time” guys to the descriptions of outfits that hipsters wear in the city.

Felix Ever After tugs at the heartstrings in all the best ways, a perfect read for summer and for any queer person who wants to feel reassured of their beauty and sense of belonging just as they are.