ARC Review: THE BLADE BETWEEN by Sam J. Miller (2020)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: December 2020
Source: NetGalley
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an ARC via NetGalley
Trigger warnings: Arson, stabbing, suicide, eviction, drug addiction, sexual assault (implied)

The city of Hudson, New York is rich in a history that’s about to be erased by the gears of gentrification and corporate interests. The community fights back, but it isn’t until the whale gods and ghosts of Hudson’s past join the fray, feasting on hate and unleashing violence upon this already-tense community.

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Review: WHO I WAS WITH HER by Nita Tyndall (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Year Release: 2020
Source: Hard Copy purchased at Unabridged Books

Content warnings: Grief, alcoholism

This book starts with Corinne Parker learning of her girlfriend’s death and continues with Corinne processing that loss and the truths about herself that she was hiding from everyone else in her life during her one year relationship. It hurts as much as it uplifts, ending on a well-deserved hopeful note.

The writing in Who I Was With Her is simply elegant. The chapters alternate between moments of Corinne’s year long relationship with Maggie and the present, during which she struggles with an alcoholic mother and not being out as bisexual to those around her. Corinne is a character I desperately wanted to hug, because I definitely related to her fears about coming out and about choosing things for herself, from low stakes decisions to high stakes debates about whether or not to go to college. The tension in this novel stems from a feeling that this too shall pass, focusing on the journey there. There isn’t a dramatic reveal, the plot beats are soft to lend power to the feelings woven throughout.

Another thing that struck me about this book was just how sex positive it was. There are discussions of sex, both queer and heterosexual, but it’s presented as a normal thing teens consider and something that happens between partners. There isn’t any taboo in the discussions, there’s no scandalous connotation, consent is on the page, and most of it is focused as another fragment of Corinne’s interior journey, not a major event in and of itself.

A quiet, heart-wrenching young adult novel about grief and being true to yourself and the fear that comes with that truth.

ARC Review: THE SCAPEGRACERS (#1) by Hannah Abigail Clarke (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: Physical ARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read a physical ARC from Erewhon Books
Content warnings: Parental death (in flashbacks), blood magic

Outcast teenage lesbian Sideways Pike performs magic at a killer party and gains a coven. What ensues is an exploration of identity, magic, and female friendship while trying to do normal teen things like go to class, have crushes, and run away from witch hunters.

The voice in this novel is powerful. There’s a bit of stream of consciousness, but Sideways has such a distinct POV and way of phrasing that feels authentic. Clarke makes this look effortless, especially as bits of witch lore and plot have to happen. The way Clarke depicts Sideways griefs and traumas don’t flinch from either the details or the underlying emotional journey. It’s so raw. And I liked the way it showed up within the narrative. What really stuck with me was how Sideways opens up to the reader as her new friends let her further and further into their circle. It’s endearing, it’s powerful, it gave a kind of joy that can only come from finding family-like friendships.

Magic within this novel implied stricter rules and more world-building, but since we’re discovering it as Sideways uses it for party tricks and later, teaching Daisy, Jing, and Yates how to cast spells, it made sense to me that it was mostly shown through the experience. The way Clarke ties it into the experience of queerness and teenhood felt powerful, especially as it relates to the trials and tribulations of leaving oneself vulnerable to let friends in. There was never a doubt that her friends would be her life line, even if Sideways herself didn’t quite know it yet.

On September 15th, join a coven of queer disasters as they discover magic and the power of friendship, told through a ferocious, fun voice all its own.

ARC Review: THE FOUR PROFOUND WEAVES by R.B. Lemberg (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: Edelweiss eARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read an eARC from Edelweiss

In the Birdverse, weaves carry magic and four are the most profound: change, wanderlust, hope, and death. Having mastered three of them, Uiziya goes on a journey with her close friend the nameless man to learn the fourth from her aunt.

What really makes this story stand out is how often we don’t see older protagonists get to go on an adventure. There is a sense of recovery and a continued exploration of identity even at older ages. The nameless man is searching for a name, and in a world where magic stems from the number of syllables in a name, this ties in the world-building to a character arc. I won’t spoil how it ends, but it left me with light in my heart.

In addition, the villain worked so well because he represents an opposite theory . There is melancholy in that to weave from death means weaving from bones, but the framing Lemberg establishes throughout infuses the book with brilliant, resistant hope (in addition to hope being one of the weaves). The novella takes its time in these explorations, especially as it relates to connections both familial and platonic.

A delightful debut about identity, art, and friendship.

 

ARC Review: DROWNED COUNTRY by Emily Tesh (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: August 2020
Source: NetGalley ARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read an eARC from NetGalley

Lush, folkloric storytelling returns in this sequel to Silver in the Wood. This time, Silver and Mr. Finch have broken up within the two years since the end of the previous book, but have reunited to solve a vampire problem. And then it’s off to Fairyland.

I really liked the yearning in this one. Silver clearly wants to prove himself, but he is a baby man who wants not much to do with responsibility. I loved the way the state of the manor reflected his inner turmoil, and the fact that Rothport wasn’t much better.

Maud was a fantastic addition to the cast, her introduction with a cleaver is some peak content. She served as an excellent contrast to Silver’s reluctance and Tobias’s more reserved natures. The bit in fairyland was every bit as deceiving as expected. The flashbacks worked really well to contextualize SIlver’s feelings and didn’t interrupt the narrative whatsoever.

If you want to get lost in some magical storytelling, definitely pick up the conclusion to thing duology on 8/18/2020.

ARC Review: YELLOW JESSAMINE by Caitlin Starling (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy Novella
Year Release: September 2020
Source: eARC from Neon Hemlock Press
Buy links: Physical copy | ebook

Content warnings: Poisoning, ideation, vomitingYellow Jessamine starts as a boat belonging to Evelyn Perdanu’s shipping company arrives home several people get sick with a mysterious illness. She’s already developed a bit of a reputation with her garden and tragic past, but it’s a race against transmission as the afflicted have one obsession: Evelyn.

Paranoid is one word to describe Evelyn. The way the fears, both self-inflicted and external, permeate the page creates its own kind of atmosphere. It adds to the gothic qualities of the novel, with the mourning veils, sprawling mansion, haunted histories, and the burden of an empire. There is also a sense of cycles that stretches from beginning to end that’s very well executed, but to say anything more than that, would be spoilers.

I really enjoyed Evelyn’s characterization beyond the paranoia. She has some clear regrets and an agenda that isn’t just her own survival. In addition, her expertise on poisons and medicines (and the balance between the two) fits and flows throughout the narrative and works double-duty as a means to set the mood. Plus, the love between Evelyn and Violetta is the kind of queer pining that fits the mood of these kinds of deadly, melancholic works.

An excellent entry into the gothic literature canon, with some queer pining throughout.

Review: THE MONSTER BARU CORMORANT (The Masquerade #2) by Seth Dickinson (2018)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2018
Source: Kindle Copy

Content warnings: Torture, plague, explosion, drug abuse, vomiting

My current favorite thing to witness in sequels is actual reckoning with consequences of the previous entry. Monster picks up right where Traitor left off. I’ll avoid spoilers, but it leads Baru on a chase around the known world, helping her masters figure what made the Oriati Mbo so powerful while furthering her schemes of tearing up the Masquerade from within. As you can imagine, this makes her immensely popular.

The scope of the world is absolutely massive in this second entry. There are new colonies to explore, old civilizations, new customs, and a whole additional cast. But the plot itself remains so focused, with economies to collapse and other machinations which lend so well to political fantasy without the added complication of magic. Of the new intros, my heart hurts for both the Apparitor (who is done with everyone’s crap) and Tau-indi, a third gender Prince burned by their station and friends alike. The non-European world-building throughout is such a nice reprieve from other models, and the variety is astounding. The real-world analogues are there, but the presentation of names and societies create something befitting a secondary world.

What really shines in the sequel is the amount of processing. Baru is a mess, to put it gently. The book goes to great lengths in terms of exploring what trying to dismantle major world powers does to people. Neither her interior journey nor the various shifts in POV let us, the readers, catch a break from the overwhelming guilt. My personal favorite was Aminata, who knew a few versions of Baru and truly wants to keep her safe. But Baru seems to be her own worst enemy, losing sanity and digits along the way.

A fabulous sequel which blossoms in scope but maintains its untrustworthy tone and darker elements. I am immediately reading Tyrant next.

 

Review: SILVER IN THE WOOD by Emily Tesh (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: My own hard copy

This romance between a four-hundred-year-old forest being and the twenty-three-year-old proprietor is as lush as a primordial forest. The imagery was lovely, as soft as moss. There isn’t too much more I can say without giving away the whole story, but if you also want revenants and evil ex-boyfriends, Greenhollow is the place for you.

This book also features a formidable mom, a very good cat, and an angry dryad.

ARC Review: UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED by Sarah Gailey (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Alternate History/Future (Speculative Fiction)
Year Release: February 4, 2020
Source: The Publisher, Tor.com

Received an ARC from the publisher, Tor.com

The Wild West seems to be a having a very small moment. If you enjoyed Gailey’s first novella, River of TeethUpright Women Wanted will tickle those cowboy needs, albeit with fewer swamps and hippos.

The femmes in this novel are all so complex. Queer librarians actually spying for the resistance on horseback? A tough cinnamon roll who followed all the rules only to run away from there? A non-binary who code-switches when going into towns to protect the mission at large? Casual polyamory? Betrayals? This novel has so many trappings of a great desert adventure on horseback and so much more. The world-building is great and gives context to the work these librarians do without actually having to spell it out for the reader. In addition, it doesn’t flinch away from the mundane nastiness of life on the road, and I found that magical.

It bears repeating: if you liked Gailey’s first two novellas, you’re going to be enamored with this one.

 

Review: KUSHIEL’S DART by Jacqueline Carey (2003)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Series: Phèdre’s Trilogy #1
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2003
Source: Library eBook

Trigger warnings: Murder, self-harm, dubious consent, gore, sexual assault, suicide mentions
Content warnings: I cannot speak to the depiction of the Tsingani (who are clearly inspired by Romani/Travellers), but approach with caution
I had come into this book on a massive hype train once the option had been announced. It’s always been lurking in my TBR as something people greatly enjoyed and its small bit of notoriety for being “that one 900-page BDSM fantasy novel taking place in not-Europe.” Then someone had mentioned to me that this book does cool things with translations and characters talking across different languages.And there was so much more.

Kushiel’s Dart follows the tale of Phèdre no Delaunay and her land of Terra D’Ange in a totally-not-Europe featuring Viking, Picts, Romani, and an off-shoot of angelic totally-not-Jesus descendants with different gifts. She’d been blessed by Kushiel and served Naamah, which basically means she gets a lot of pleasure from pain. But there is so much more as she discovers a conspiracy, several people are murdered, she’s captured, and then suddenly there’s a war.

I arrived for the language, visited for the sexual content, stuck around for the intricately woven political intrigue and delightful characters. My lordy, did all of this stick so many landings. What I also enjoyed most, I think, was how badass a character Phèdre was, but in ways that don’t hinge on violence. She’s adept at language, appealing to emotions, sympathetic and empathetic, and other soft skills that are very important in a world where anyone might betray you.

But there are so many other things to like. For example, the battles, are super good! New character and cultural introductions, also well-executed. The world feels so thoroughly lived in, a bit dangerous, but there are enough small folk encountered to buffer the terribleness of most of the nobility.

The page count, I will admit, is rather intimidating. It’s about twice as long as books I would peg as massive, but it goes so quickly. Kushiel’s Dart is exactly the kind of road map and case study I needed to get into my own epic fantasy that’s in progress. I will, however, take a small break from door-stoppers, but I really want to know what else happens.