Book of Night by Holly Black | Book Review

Genre: urban fantasy

Pages: 304

Synopsis

In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.

Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.

My thoughts

one out of five stars

I should say that I’ve read and loved eleven of Holly Black’s books, so I didn’t expect to hate this one as much as I did. Holly Black wanted to create an adult urban fantasy book, but she didn’t put enough effort into the world-building or the characters. Everything in this book seems like the shadow of other fantasy books, because it’s all just tropes thrown into a world that tries to be in the “now” with the mentions of NFTs, forums for sharing witch spells and witches that could be crystal-lovers of this world only with real magic. Holly Black seemed to struggle to write an interesting con-artist, the flashback scenes where she is trained are the most unorginal and boring. The writing in general is bad and overly descriptive of mudane tasks, as if that is what is going to make the story an urban fantasy.

Much of the emotional heart of this book is supposed to be carried by the relationship between Charlie and her mysterious boyfriend Vince, and the author manages to create such a distance between them even as they live together. It makes perfect sense for the plot, but also not written in a way where you automatically actually care about them staying together. It doesn’t help how Charlie has only had abusive boyfriends (claims it’s a family curse) and he’s simply decent to her. Charlie’s hate for men in general is weirdly written, it’s not a “been hurt one time too many”, it just shows up when the author needs some angst or bitterness. In general, Jessica Jones seems like the well-written version of the character Charlie was supposed to be. Also, I almost forgot how there’s this weird incest issue surrouding Vince that is never adressed further.

One thing is writing a dark novel for adults, another is being “edgy” with no further implications to the story. For a book about a con-artist, it’s not about heists, more a mystery novel. The plot is not that bad, but I had no interest in the not developed characters as it progressed. You can’t have a morally-gray character when there’s no depth to them to start with.

My Disappointment in The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman | Book Review

Trigger warnings (!!!): sexual assault, attempted gang rape

Genre: fantasy

Pages: 780

My thoughts

One out of five stars.

I’m just not okay with the accumulated wrongs of this book. Like of having Malcolm, a scholar in his thirties who both rescued Lyra from a flood as a baby, watched her sucking a fairy’s titty and tried to tutor her, declaring his romantic love for Lyra, now twenty. If not the age-gap is the problem, it is how the author having full control of how the last book and the past series has been told, is still angling it this way claiming it to be true love. Even worse is the very graphically written sexual assault of Lyra by a group of soldiers towards the end of the book, which explicitly states she had no way of getting out of no matter how hard she fought. Or the words afterwards from another “safer” guard: “‘Wear a niqab’, he said. ‘It will help’.” I forgot to mention the assault happened the moment she was on a train headed for this world’s Aleppo, which makes it worse.

There’s also on other levels some weirdly written scenes. For example, Lyra is on a boat which saves refugees from drowning after their boat is destroyed, in a very real-world drawn upon scenario. Lyra is told to take care of a younger girl rescued from the water, for the night. And it’s quickly turned into parallells between Lyra being rescued as a baby and the girl, at the very least it is used as an instant personal development tool and even Lyra claiming she will never forget the comfort she got from the refugee girl and her daemon. Malcolm also stops a religious coup in one swift, badly planned assassin act of going from a hostage to killing the leader and escaping as if he was a ghost. Because it’s that easy right? Also Lyra secretly enjoys being catcalled – no, I don’t know why that’s included either.

There’s a few good things in this book, at the beginning. I’m just going to write them all out here to retain some of the magic of Lyra’s world that I’ve grown up loving, even though debates of logic vs magic gets lost in the sexism and racism. Good things: Lyra never quite letting Will go in a very believable way. The protective circle around Lyra becoming more obvious and political. New, somewhat interesting way of reading the alethiometer. The storyline of complete rationality and logic vs magic. The magic of the commonwealth and the stories told by the gyptian. Dr. Crane taking care of Lyra and how heart-wrenching Lyra being kicked out from the College was, as the only home she’s known in one of the more relatable changes in a young adult’s life.

I just turned 23 years old, but I still find myself wondering if I’ve become old & grumpy when I get annoyed at books for things I see as really damaging that no one else seem to pick up on. But then I remember I didn’t pick up on it when I read my first “adult” books either. I’ve loved Pullman’s books for so many years, yet I agreed with the change of tone from His Dark Materials to The Book of Dust. Reading The Secret Commonwealth though, I just found myself constantly wondering why the choice of narrative had taken the wrong turn and just how much misogynism Pullman can write into his work now that Lyra has become “a woman” and no longer a pure girl, which is a character he again here proves he can write with much more grace.

Lyra has on every turn of this book lost all sense of agency as a person because she is now a young woman. This is not showcasing what a woman goes through in a realistic manner the way Pullman seem to think it is. I’m not reading the next one.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo | Book Review

Genre: fantasy, dark academia (debatable)

Pages: 459

This book pissed me off; I wanted to like it, but its faults are so enormous. I DNF’ed it 60% in, should’ve been much earlier, but I had hopes considering the author.

Rating out of five: one star

I love dark academia, I love books with “darker” or morally gray protagonists, I’m even a fan of messy and disorganized plots. This book is too shallow to be able to drown someone in it, though a drowning was certainly in the plot. You cannot just give your characters all this past and current, very explicit, trauma and then not play out the consequences in any shape or form. It is not the shortcut to “darker” or more “mature” content that this book was so heavily marketed as, it only brings up questions of what is for shock factor.

Here’s an actual list of all the trigger warnings for this book, but just a few; sexual assault, rape (including of a child), racism, discussed suicide.

It’s a girlboss-gatekeep-gaslight type of book, even if it starts pretty catchy and held my interest for a while. Bardugo has gone to Yale, where it takes place, and brings a lot of realistic components. Among all the upper-class students (future world-leaders) and their secret-society magic, the characters sometimes briefly dips their toes into the societal discussions it seems this book wants to have as its themes.

Meaning you get characters around the MC Alex superficially talking/having one-liners about feminism, poverty, privilege, homelessness, sexism and drug-use. And Alex herself is supposed to come from a very poor background, but only carries that with her when convenient plot-line-wise. Otherwise she seems pretty middle-class, as it’s the only group Bardugo explicitly highlights to be hard-workers. There is actually nothing good connected to any poor characters, although Alex has her moments of «even the drug dealer didn’t deserve to be murdered». The poor people are sell-outs, they’re drug-dealers, murderers, something to leave behind. That could’ve been parts of her trauma, but it’s never brought-up or discussed as such.

Now. I’m going to write this as quickly as possible, because I do not want to think about it anymore. Here’s where I stopped reading; the MC’s Alex’s friend is sexual assaulted while on magical drugs (in which she seems to give consent on camera, but is drugged in an non-noticeable way bc magic) and the pay-back is Alex getting the confession with magic and then making the guy responsible eat shit, literally. Up ’til that point there was some uncomfortable casual racist comments and thoughts from the other MC towards Alex, which is never brought up in any other shape. Of course you can have racist characters, it’s just a bit (very) weird when it’s never pointed out by anyone. Alex herself is also sexually assaulted as a kid by some magical creature (ghost? demon?), making her act out in all kinds of ways – but this also was written very out of the blue and explicitly. Also it’s very heavily emphasised that she was a kid, same day as she got her first period. It felt very wrong in how it was written. I don’t even want to quote it.

Obviously, it’s difficult criticizing how authors writes (or not writes) anything to do with sexual assault. This is personal feelings only. But I can definitely say there’s lack of depth all over this novel. All together it gives the book a big fucking no from me.

Bardugo tried to go in many directions in this book. It’s a murder mystery, it’s magical societies, it’s supposedly dark academia even though it hits so few of the characteristics other than being placed at Yale with next-to-none of the school part of it. I’ve wondered where it went wrong, because the author managed the balance of depth and action in Six of Crows, but honestly it’s too un-redeemable for me to care. There’s so much better secret-society dark academia, even with magic, out there to find. For the most part, I can’t understand why so many people love this book except for it drawing in a YA crowd that has never read anything “darker” and finds it exciting, ignoring anything bad or horrible. Like it genuinely confuses me. I wanted to like it too, but there was too many warning flags showing up throughout the 60% I read.

More by T. M. Franklin | Book Review

I don’t know if I’ve seen a worse cover. I don’t like that look at all

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Every time I thought this book would get better, the plot took another predictable turn. I really wanted this to be good, but it just fell through too many times.

Synopsis

It starts out with the usual. Ava’s a college student and when she was younger she claimed to have magic powers. She could make things happen that should’ve been impossible. In college, Ava’s struggling with physics and gets help from this guy called Caleb. Turns out he’s more than a regular college student and is there observing her, he’s a Protector for this ancient race. Cue the cringy standard fantasy names with capital letters. Guardians, Council, it’s all there. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and “random” attacks for Ava to find this out. Even with dreams and weird memory losses she can’t seem to connect any dots whatsoever.

My thoughts

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The book goes slowly downwards from there, except for a few surprises. I’m not going to get into the things that annoyed me, except for *SPOILER* Caleb gives up everything to protect Ava although it’s told he’s given up other suspected untrained Race members to be executed. Why? Is the next book’s plot how he’s been good from the beginning or something? I can’t say if some parts are predictable or just bad. This book had it’s good points, but as a whole it seemed unfinished.    

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

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Don’t be fooled by the beautiful cover or the fact that “it’s based on Swan Lake and Robin Hood”, this book is horribly boring. 

*some spoilers, but it’s so predicable nothing should be considered spoilers*

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Odette, the huntress and supposedly female version of Robin Hood, is the orphaned niece of a merchant and pouching from the margrave’s forest to feed the poor. She’s early Katniss Everdeen, only she’s less snarky, less brave, less of a personality and will never go hungry herself again. Jorgen is the new forester who will do anything to catch the poucher, not knowing it’s the girl he’s fallen in love with. It’s forbidden romance – of course it will happen, no secret there. But there’s also this third wealthy guy I can’t remember the name of who wants to marry Odette and so he does anything to split them up. At least he’s honest about what a douche he is.

What bothered me most about this book was how predictable it is. I wasn’t wrong about guesses a single time, and I couldn’t even feel good about it because I was so bored. This book made every other book seem like an original masterwork.

The only thing that works is the straight-forward (at best) writing. Unless you’re – like me – annoyed at the use of the word “Ja”, which means Yes in both norwegian and this supposedly german language. This book makes me want to never say the word again. Or see Robin Hood. Or read another “historical novel” in a long time. Have women be oppressed, throw in some misplaced Bible learning in this fantasy-ish story and claim it’s placed in the Holy Roman Empire. That’s how you get into that historical novel genre and not “get it at the convencience store near you – romance”. That’s also a word in norwegian – kiosknovelle – but I don’t know how to translate it, which still beats the author not translating fucking “Ja”.

It has a fucking masquerade ball. I laughed out loud. The perfect example of an over-used element. What happens at masquerade balls (in books)? People are mistaken for other people, causing drama. It’s so good at being predictable you almost have to applaud it. Also if you haven’t already figured out the plot a few chapters in, the author so graciously sums it all up in big speeches, often in big chuncks at the end of the last chapters. Below the cut there’s examples, all spoilers. To sum up this book was a big miss for me, with nothing but cliches and info dumps.

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