ARC Review: DEFEKT (Finna #2) by Nino Cipri (2021)

Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: April 2021
Buy Links: Bookshop.org| Unabridged Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Content warning: bleeding (mild), doppelgangers

This unexpected sequel to Finna starts off with the backstory of why Derek couldn’t come into that fateful work day when Jules and Ava fall into a wormhole. What continues is an unexpected shift to tame homicidal toilets with a team of Derek’s own doppelgangers.

With fantastic dynamics, characters that leap off the page, and the cost of company loyalty, Defekt is a wonderfully weird sequel which leaves the reader wide-eyed at the strangeness and grinning with delight.

This book was a ton of fun. I feel like the tone went from scary-weird to funny-weird with clever uses of character introductions. Derek, as a person, is relatively harmless, albeit annoying as far as coworkers go. He’s senselessly loyal to LitenVäld, including details like how he lives in a cargo trailer near the store and seems to not know how to interact with other humans. He feels suddenly ill one day and takes a sick day, leading him to sleep for 30 hours which accidentally causes the relationship tension in Finna.

To make up for his absence, Derek gets assigned to a special inventory unit to deal with defekta, or mutant furniture. In true LitenVäld form, however, his coworkers are also his clones. I enjoyed how Cipri pulled this off. Each doppelganger definitely feels like they’re cut from the same cloth as Derek. It was also super exciting to see him interact with being that aren’t all LitenVäld all the time. It’s really funny from the end, and the inclusion of company handbook advice between the chapters to remind the reader of the capitalist horror that is this future brand.

Author Nino Cipri returns to the blog to talk about this sequel, which will be posted on release day, April 20.

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.

ARC Review: RING SHOUT by P. Djèlí Clark (2020)

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

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Trigger warnings: Body horror, Ku Klux Klan, arson, lynching, gore 

In this historical dark fantasy, the Ku Klux Klan also turns into literal abominations powered by hate. What stands between them and summoning their elder god is a Black girl with a leaf-shaped sword and the power of Shouts.

The voice in this novella is incredible. This story could not have been narrated by anyone other than Maryse in Georgia during Prohibition. The setting and prose leap off the page and immerse the reader in rhythm, aesthetic, slang, cuisine, and more. This effect works well during the more uplifting moments centering Maryse and her community, and brings forth terrors when the mouths start appearing on metaphorical monsters in uncanny places. The creature designs fit the Shout motif which repeats throughout the novella.

The pacing is great and hits several familiar beats as far as fantasy stories go. To say more would ruin some magical moments and spoil some of the fun, horrific action sequences that span this book. But I found Maryse’s character arc compelling. Moreover, I loved the relationship among Maryse, Chef, and Sadie. One of my favorite things to see in fantasy is the girl Chosen One surrounded and supported by other women in her community. It was joyful and uplifting, despite the tragedy and horror happening around them.

This book is intense and horrifying, but ultimately fun as a community of eldritch horror slayers go against a KKK steeped in Lovecraftian designs.

ARC Review: BURNING ROSES by S.L. Huang

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Fairy tales from the East and West come together in this brisk tale of regret, forgiveness, and closure told in flashbacks while two legends—Hou Yi and Rosa (Red Riding Hood)—hunt sunbirds to save their countryside.

I love how the present-day story serves as a book-end to having the two characters recount to each other their great tragedies. As readers, we get to watch that past unfold on page. Huang expertly balances nostalgia and regret, while also having the characters be open about feelings that made past decisions seem like a good idea in the first place. Both main characters are honest with each other in a way that’s compelling both as people who need to work together to solve an immediate problem and as people who need to make room for healing from the past.

In addition, how many retellings appeared in one novella impressed me. We got the fairy tales of our main characters, but Goldilocks and Beauty and the Beast also make an appearance. The world-building isn’t heavy in this one, but the subtle way Huang highlights the difference in Hou Yi and Rosa’s languages was a very nice addition.

Two older queer women (one of whom is trans) embark on a retelling that suggests that there other ways to make things last than quests for immortality.

ARC Review: THE SEVENTH PERFECTION by Daniel Polansky (2020)

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

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Content warnings: Cutting off a finger, removal of an eye

The structure of this novella is absolutely fascinating. Manet, Amanuensis to the God King, is trying to solve the riddle of her origin and the secret of the king himself. She also has the seventh perfection, a condition which grants her perfect memory.

Which leads seamlessly explains why and how each chapter of this book is told via dialogue from an intriguing character. It reads to me like the dialogue from an RPG, except we don’t have the visuals and interiority of the main character to ground us in a story. It’s all told from the perspectives of essentially NPCs. But the tone, pacing, and sense of a larger world are all there. The history and aesthetics of the land simply shines. It’s a magic-techno world where a discussion unfolds about mythology and the veracity of epic tales that become more legend than historical account, even if contemporaries still exist in the present.

The journey to having the curtains pulled on god’s truths is a wild ride, and The Seventh Perfection is highly recommended for those wanting to read experimental novels or novellas.

ARC Review: NIGHT OF THE MANNEQUINS by Stephen Graham Jones (2020)

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

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A slasher film comes to the page in this misadventure in a teenage prank gone wrong. Sawyer and his friends sneak a dressed-up mannequin into a movie theater and at the end, the mannequin gets up and leaves. Everything goes downhill from there.

This novella nestles deeply into Sawyer’s head. We get everything from his lens: his impressions of his friends, their families, his family, his logic (and all its holes), the town they live in, and all of it. The sentences meander, but paint such a clear image of his descent into paranoid homicide. By the end, you find yourself wondering what’s real and what’s a delusion and it works so well. Like a finely illustrated car wreck, I could not look away. Every moment had me wondering where Sawyer was going next, even when he was straight up telling the reader.

A wild ride from start to finish, definitely a must-read for fans of 80’s films coming to you on 9/1.

 

ARC Review: DROWNED COUNTRY by Emily Tesh (2020)

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

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: OUT OF BODY by Jeffrey Ford (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror Novella
Year Release: May 2020
Source: Physical ARC

Read an ARC given to me by the publisher

Librarians sure are having a time in the spotlight in recent months. In this horror, a librarian witnesses a murder during an attempted robbery which comes with a side effect of being able to wander the night as a sleeper while his flesh remains at home.

I really liked the depiction and use of sleep paralysis in this one. Trauma can have different effects on an individual and Ford found a great way to make sleep come with a veneer of control. Melody, his tutor, had also been great as a mentor character without seeming too omniscient on the exact workings of being a sleeper. The book didn’t go too heavily into the machinations and lore, but at under 200 pages, there was enough established about the sleeper experience that it ultimately didn’t matter. In addition, it was a nice touch that the main character served as a side kick to the hunts in motion, as opposed to becoming preternaturally good at being a sleeper.

A quick eerie read about a librarian with sleep paralysis who’s in over his head when it leads to out-of-body experiences and monsters. Perfect for readers who want to revisit Scott Westerfeld’s Midnighters for a moment.