Short Fantasy Reviews: queens, heists & folklore

Spoiler-alert; they were all kind of let downs in different ways.

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

I was promised a “cunning, villainous queen” who wanted to take the reign from the king with magical shadowy powers & secrets, even though I suspected she would fall in love with him instead. What I got was a lot of whining and unpreparedness after she’d shown considerable ambition. The writing falls into the hole of telling you how dangerous certain people are without truly following through, there seems to be little consequences. Like you might call both the main characters cold-blooded murderers, but it’s just based in a lack of reaction to murders happening around them or those they commit in some kind of self-defense. There’s very little of the expected morally-gray aspects here. Also imagine me shaking my fist at how the main character manages to get noticed by the king because she’s not a follower like all the other girls at court. It feels like a worse version of Holly Black’s ‘The Cruel Prince’ in every way, as this MC lacks a lot in comparison, like the true viciousness or skill. This book started out good, which was the reason I finished it, but in total it was a let down. Read it for the romance, I guess, but it’s pretty plain and straight forward. 2/5 stars.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

A young adult fantasy that I was excited for because of the heist, found family, dark vibes and the morally gray & diverse characters which a lot of other bloggers seems to have fallen for as I’ve seen a lot of five stars reviews. Not to forget the bisexual character & autistic scientist. Still, I DNF’ed at 32% as I tried to give it a fair chance. The first thing that didn’t match with me was simply the writing, then nothing else about the characters, plot or world-building caught my interest. It’s been three weeks since I read it and there’s nothing remarkable I remember at all unfortunately. For the record, I absolutely loved Six of Crows, which it has been compared to a lot.

Silver in the Wood (Greenhollow Duology #1) by Emily Tesh

You ever have those books that you enjoyed the experience of reading, but looking back it wasn’t all that much? I feel so mixed about this book, because I liked the cottagecore aesthetic of the Wild Man of Greenhollow and the secret-folklorist that comes upon him. In 112 pages this novella manages to deliver on the fairytale-ish forest, magical realism vibes in the writing, but plot-wise, character-wise, etc. it does come up short to me. The m/m relationship and yearning could’ve been so much better than it was. I don’t quite understand the idea of giving out a second novella either, instead of having used that time setting up the story to fulfill its potential. It seems strange. Definitely an interesting debut author to watch, but I think I’ll pass on that sequel for now. 2/5 stars.

Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler | Book Review

Pages: 352

Genre: young adult fantasy, lgbt; bi morally-gray protagonist, f/f relationships, a lot of queer characters, pirates

Synopsis

In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there’s money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire—an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty’s service—she’s sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit. 

My thoughts

Four out of five stars

Rating out of five: two stars

I read the book “Ship of Smoke and Steel” by Django Wexler right after this one and I would very much recommend it if you’ve already read & liked this book, because it’s pretty similar in the style of the protagonist’s voice, but I also found them both lacking in the same areas.

The world-building isn’t great, but it truly is interesting as it is pretty much powered by magic, and you get to slowly learn the mechanisms behind the ship and the world as the plot unfolds. It’s obvious the author has experience writing fantasy books and I think it’s more of a choice considering the YA targeting. There is also the constant questioning of which characters to trust and not, while none of them ever claim to truly be ‘the good ones’, there’s just different degrees of selfishness among them. The whole crew of the ship were tributes with magical abilities trapped there forever, meaning Isoka is no longer that special, but at the same time she does seem to have abilities to do things the other never could, so it does feel like there’s some short-cuts taken there.

I don’t care about everyone. Maybe that makes me a monster, but I’ve always known that. o save Tori, to save Meroe, to save my own skin, I’d kill every crew on the ship if I had to. But— There’s more to saving Meroe than just keeping her alive. If I take her with me, and we live when everyone else dies, then she’d never forgive herself. The goodness in her, the part that makes her care, might be snuffed out forever. Then she’d be a monster, too. And I can’t accept that.

– Isoka in Ship of Smoke and Steel

There’s certainly some heart-warming elements to the book as well, they even highlight some of the unreliable narration as there’s a split between how she views herself and her actions; like how Isoka claims that she cares about little other than her sister, but at the same time she’s finding herself saving strangers and wanting other things. Meroe is also an interesting character, having skills that isn’t revealed right away and a good backstory to back them up, but for the most part they’re pretty shallow and stereotypical.

The queer parts (were kind of bad)

I could tell this book is written by a man through the writing of some characters. It’s not as bad as it sometimes can be and there was (thankfully) no explicit scenes, even if it’s obvious when people have sex. There’s a lot of queer characters, so a clap for that I guess. The f/f romance between Isoka & Meroe is nice, their gender has little to do with it in many ways though. It’s a nice touch from the start how Isoka is always thinking about what Meroe might think if she were to kill someone, in a way that social pressure becomes her conscience, not to mention a bit of jealousy.

There’s no book or plot reason Isoka is a girl really in this book at all. I’ll explain – there’s a few extra sentences put in here about both experiencing exchanging sex for favours or power of some sort (which does happen for also the male characters) and being threatened extra for being female, but overall there’s nothing characteristicly making her female. Which I would maybe even have truly liked, weren’t it for the sexist world built up around them and how it never seems to affect Isoka, which is truly weird. Isoka is afraid of certain things, like the fate of her sister, but never for herself. When she’s in a position where she has sex with a guy to get access as part of a plan, she talks herself into how she wants it in a very strange and not empowering way, to be honest.

Being female never holds her back, but the world built up around her should at least bring her to have more thoughts around it, if not feel the consequences directly. For fuck’s sake, she talks about how if she were found to be unwilling to cooperate back in the city, as someone with magical abilities, they would’ve just kidnapped her and bred her. It’s basically mentioned as a one-off comment. There’s also the fact that Isoka is all of a sudden constantly distracted by Meroe & her body, as she’s fighting for her life, in a very fanfic way that does not match her character. Fantasy worlds doesn’t inheritely have to be sexist; either naturally have it affect a female character or just don’t make a sexist world??? They’re very much not a joy to read for your female readers??? At least make a point if you are to create them. The more I think about this, the angrier I get at how it colors this book for me.

I haven’t even mentioned the “beast” of a woman that is a tyrannical leader, somehow to make the woman also evil in this book, without any reason other than pride/humiliation of course as the other leaders gets more complex ones.

For someone truly excited about queer relationships, Jack and Thora (both female) is where it already started to feel sketchy. They’re both kind of one-dimensional characters, which doesn’t help as every time they’re in the room together Jack is all over Thora, who sometimes even reads as if she’s uncomfortable. There’s the fact that Isoka deals with some internalized homophobia in the beginning, before realizing she likes girls as well, that might draw the relationship worse than it is. But it does at times contribute to the feeling that the author wanted to write a good fantasy where the YA parts and the female protagonist, as well as the queer characters, became more of a selling-point than truly a part of the story.

The plot was predictable, but interesting. I went into this book looking for a badass morally-gray protagonist and a cool fantasy world. I finished it being both a bit confused about my feelings around it, a bit excited by the action, very let down about the predictability of plot and lack of explanation about the world. But most of all with the sense that the wrong person wrote the story for all its highlighting of a kickass-female-character & queer cast.

I REPEAT: Fantasy worlds doesn’t inheritely have to be sexist; either naturally have it affect a female character or just don’t make a sexist world???

Graphic Novels: dark fairytale, dystopian & fluffy gay romance | Short Reviews

I’m having a bit of a hard time reading as I’m busy with studying (2nd year physics student) as well as ill at the moment (no worries, thankfully not corona, I’ve been tested twice). So it’s the perfect time to again read as many graphic novels that I could get my hands on! Here’s some of my other graphic novels reviews.

Through the Woods by Emily Carrol

As I begun reading I was sceptical because the illustrations were breath-taking from the start, giving all the dark fairytale vibes, but I didn’t know how much of a substance the plots would have. A few pages in it truly got much better, as the fairytale twists got mysterious, exciting and dark. It’s made up from several different “short stories”, some more red riding hood inspired and some that reminded me some of Coraline and some of the podcast The Magnus Archive. Reading this felt like playing a game where you know every decision is a bad one. I also immediately ordered the author’s other graphic novel «When I arrived at the castle»! 5/5 stars.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina vol. 1

Plus points for being dark, but that’s the only positive in my eyes. I was excited for this as I truly liked the new TV series made from Sabrina the teenage witch. But this graphic novel drains any personality Sabrina is known for out of the character. I get that setting up somewhat the same plot as the TV series does in multiple episodes is difficult in one volume, but it just isn’t done with any charm at all. I won’t be reading the rest of the series as I felt it has little potential. 2/5 stars.

Paper Girls vol. 1 & 2

First impression of volume 1 was that I liked the retro apocalyptic stranger things vibe featuring a teen girl squad. It didn’t really get further into the plot or explanation than unexplained aliens, but it was also a lot to set up. It’s about a group of girls out delivering newspapers when they get caught up in this mystery of disappearing people and frightening strangers hunting after them. 3/5 stars.

Volume 2 had a higher chance of keeping the suspense up without as much of the confusion, which made the time-travel, sci-fi aspects much more enjoyable as well as delving into an interesting cast. Not to forget how monster tardigrades was a thing I didn’t know I needed in my life before now. I yelped out loud from surprise and happiness – I can’t explain it either. It’s just a good mix of chaos & the unexpected. Like the looming, flying ships that came into the picture suddenly. The color scheme is also truly lovely.

If I would criticize something it’s the ‘feminism’ branding push that seems a bit ‘off’, not that I’ve looked further into reasons behind it. It’s a similar feeling that lingers as from the casual homophobia that makes an appearance in volume 1, as if that was something that just belongs with the retro vibes. It was called out by other characters, so I just mentally noted it down as strange for now and makes me second-guess the future dynamic of the friendgroup somewhat. 4/5 stars.

Heartstopper vol. 2 & 3 by Alice Oseman

Review of vol. 1! To sum up I really like the author’s writing in general and that it was a truly cute, important gay coming of age story. And I love the illustration style. And this is true for the second and third volume as well. My only critique is a somewhat big one; a lot doesn’t happen in each volume. It feels like the story told could’ve been cut down in some ways, but at the same time I realize it’s aimed at a younger audience for the most part and I’m so happy it just exists. 3/5 stars for both.

Death, princesses, assassins | Short Reviews

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I really don’t see the so many impressed (4.36 average on goodsreads) reviewers side on this, because there’s an interesting premise behind this dystopian world, where Scythe’s have to choose who dies because everyone’s immortal. But it’s nothing … new? at the same time?
The ending was great and clever, I guess.
Everything up ’til that point were pretty expected, it all written with a certain coldness that fit the systematic view of death of the story, but also made it somewhat boring to read. And if you want to go philosophical – why not go deeply philosophical instead of just sometimes dropping questions on how this view of death changes this society? and then not going into any real debate?
Overall I’m not that impressed and found it quite boring, while certainly it being a well-composed book. Is this a side-effect of growing up reading Jostein Gaarder’s books? I’m truly curious about the fascination with this book.

The Selection (#1-3) by Kiera Cass

This YA royal series always sounded like something I didn’t want to read, from what I heard of a whiny main character in the competition to become the new princess. But then I was in the mood for something light-hearted and gave it a try. It’s so much more cut-throat than I expected. So fast-paced, but also well written and more and more feminist as it progresses, with the girls finally bonding together. I truly enjoyed seeing this actual reality TV series, much the Hunger Games vibes here, with its cute dresses turn into assassins attacking regularly and then our dear red-haired main character America getting her claws into power and turning the whole thing upside down. It’s any other revolution YA series packaged nicely so that younger girls would pick it up. It’s not perfect, this somewhat luke-warm romance is a huge part of it, but I enjoyed it.

Deadly Class Comics by Rick Remender vol. 1-9

I talked briefly about the TV series adaptation of Deadly Class in this post, and how it looks like dark academia teenage series with its boarding school, found-family trope and ‘assassins training’, then turns into an epic blood bath. Well, let me tell you – this comic series is so filled with blood and horror as it gets so much worse after where the one-season TV series cuts off. Definitely search up trigger warnings before getting into it. But it’s also so awesome. My thought-process reading this was something like;

Oh shit it’s so good!!! How the fuck do you kill people in that many different ways? Is it okay to like this? AHh I quickly sped through that part, I really don’t like seeing eye-balls outside of the body. I have to stop posting on tumblr about this now, people will think I’m crazy. Ok, I like it again now. You can’t really kill of all the characters and then expect us to care about the new ones you introduce with a brief backstory now, can you? Even if they’re interesting enough, fool me once, twice – you know how it goes.

Truly it became really boring around issue six, picked up again for a while and was truly boring when I came to the latest issue nine. But all credit to the creators, it was truly amazing work. Would suggest people to read the first few issues and then try the TV series, but you’re warned.

Bad bad-boy romance & good queer fantasy | Short Reviews

The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

It’s a young adult fantasy about an orphan Nirrim that has magical abilities (takes a while to realize), something that belongs to the upper classes in the society she lives in. Going through constant discrimination and trying to help those around her makes it important for her to keep her head down. But it also keeps her from developing or learning about the world around her, making it easy to be taken advantage of. Her fierce spirit lands her in prison, where she meets a stranger that transforms her life, and also starts a slow-burn of a queer romance. It’s a very character-driven novel and I really enjoyed it, while it was far from perfect. The magic system reminded me of a much less complex version of Warbreaker by Sanderson. A dubious 4/5 stars, for the f/f romance.

Vicious by L. J. Shen

You ever just pick up a book because it promises enemies to lovers romance and that’s what you’re craving. But while the writing isn’t bad, the dialogue is so cringy and you hope it gets better, but it doesn’t, but you’re too far in to quit, but it never ever gets better. Yeah, this is one of those types of books. I regretted even picking it up. It just has every element of a “rich bad boy poor good girl” thing, but never puts them together in a fresh or interesting way. The murders from the backstory that are never discussed much was the most interesting part, huh. I still give it 2/5 stars, for the good parts in between. I did like Emilia and her sister. The romance is not worth it, neither is the cringe. It’s almost my fault for starting to read it, almost.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Far far back I wrote a five star predictions post. It’s a lot of fun until you have one book left that you never get to reading. This was that book and I bought it, I tried to read it once. Gave up because I wasn’t in the mood. Tried to give it a real try the second time, but the writing just didn’t click with me, and that’s the one thing that makes it nearly impossible for me to care about a book. There was nothing luring me in. So I’m considering this a DNF, even though it has such good ratings and I can remember nothing from it already.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson | Book Review

Pages: 391

Genre: young adult, mental illness – ptsd

Synopsis

For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

My thoughts

Four out of five stars

Rating out of five: two stars

It’s very possible to put down this book. The number of pages should be half of what it is. It had enough interesting moments for me to see if the ending would be as bad, only to find it was the worst part.

This book is aimed at middle graders, even though it’s marketed as young adult. It gives an insight to a girl – seventeen year old Hayley – dealing with her dad’s PTSD from being a war veteran. She never has a normal A4 life and only is to attend school the year before being supposed to go to college. Hayley lacks in maturity, something that gives for a very annoying inner voice narrating the story, while she’s always acting like the adult in her house and good at crises management. Like extremely good, she saves her father again and again, in gradually less realistic ways, until the book loses its suspense of belief on my part. I truly hated the wrapped-up ‘happily ever after’ ending as well, just because it didn’t match anything happening in the story and felt so very unrealistic.

There’s so many ways this book could’ve been better, because it tries to bring awareness to a very bad living situation with a girl under a lot of pressure, and a dad suffering with ptsd, not getting the help he needs. Still, I wouldn’t recommend this book, there has to be better ones out there with similiar topics.

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson | Book Review

Genre: YA fantasy romance, fae creatures

Pages: 300

Synopsis

A skilled painter must stand up to the ancient power of the faerie courts—even as she falls in love with a faerie prince—in this gorgeous debut novel.

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

My thoughts

Four out of five stars

Rating out of five: two stars

I’ve got mixed feelings on this book, but mostly it felt like fanfiction or a draft nowhere near ready for publishing. I continued reading it to the end because I was waiting for some twist or new creative direction of the book and plot without that ever happening. My biggest problem was bad writing. The last sentence sums it up, because it could’ve been funny, I guess, if it wasn’t how the whole book was written:

And we wouldn’t live happily ever after, because I don’t believe in such nonsense, but we both had a long, bold adventure ahead of us, and a great deal to look forward to at last.

Isobel is interesting as a character that has value to the fae because she’s a great painter, and able to do something they can not, so it starts from a great concept. Especially when she so clearly from the beginning has her boundraries set and keeps a certain distance to her intriguing and dangerous clients. Not that that lasts long. It would’ve been fair to take inspiration from A Court of Mist and Fury, but this book is just nowhere near as good in its execution. Unfortunately, as lovely as the cover is, the story itself became unoriginal and uninteresting pretty quickly.

Once A Witch | Book Review

Genre: YA Paranormal with witches

Pages: 290

Synopsis

“Your daughter will be one of the most powerful we have ever seen in this family. She will be a beacon for us all.”

Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and on the day she was born, her grandmother proclaimed she would be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin’s magic never showed up. Now, seventeen years later, she spends most of her time at boarding school in Manhattan, where she can at least pretend to be normal. But during the summers, she’s forced to return home and work at her family’s bookstore/magic shop.

One night a handsome young professor from New York University arrives in the shop and mistakes Tamsin for her extremely Talented older sister. For once, it’s Tamsin who’s being looked at with awe and admiration, and before she can stop herself, she agrees to find a family heirloom for him that was lost more than a century ago. But the search – and the stranger – prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the past sins of her family, and unleash a power so strong and so vengeful that it could destroy them all.

My thoughts

Four out of five stars

My rating: two out of five stars

All you expect to happen in this book – it does happen. That’s it. The villain is obvious from the start, and then makes his plans clear and that’s the plot. I kept reading this book waiting for a surprising twist that I felt never came. The world and magic, with each family member having their own power, was cool, but never really used to its full potential. I didn’t expect the time travel, but even that wasn’t exciting as a part of this story.

As for the main character, Tamsin, she made the book start out great with a real insight in how much she hates being the only one without powers in her family and being treated as an outsider because of it. But that whole problem quickly disappears along with Tamsin’s uniqueness.

“We were playing a game,” he mutters. This used to be one of Gwyneth’s favorite defense lines whenever the adults found any of us coated in ice, our lips blue with frost. “You were playing,” I snap. “She wasn’t.” I present the bear to the tear-stained child, who regards me doubtfully with big brown eyes. “You’re just jealous,” he mutters. “Because you can’t do anything.” Before I can stop myself, I whip the toy back from the toddler’s hesitant fingers and mash it over the boy’s head a few more times. 

Once a witch (p. 33)

Also the guys are written strangely? I wouldn’t recommend this book. The first 50 pages was quite promising, and then it just went so far downhill.

Legion Series by Bradon Sanderson | Book Review

The book Legion is the first of three in a series by the same name, which has also been collected and sold as one bigger book, which is makes it a bit awkward to search for. Here is it all collected in one book.

Genre: Sci-fi

Pages: 350 in total

Synopsis

Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are mad.

A genius of unrivaled aptitude, Stephen can learn any new skill, vocation, or art in a matter of hours. However, to contain all of this, his mind creates hallucinatory people—Stephen calls them aspects—to hold and manifest the information. Wherever he goes, he is joined by a team of imaginary experts to give advice, interpretation, and explanation. He uses them to solve problems. . .for a price.

His brain is getting a little crowded and the aspects have a tendency of taking on lives of their own. When a company hires him to recover stolen property—a camera that can allegedly take pictures of the past—Stephen finds himself in an adventure crossing oceans and fighting terrorists. What he discovers may upend the foundation of three major world religions—and, perhaps, give him a vital clue into the true nature of his aspects.

My thoughts

Four out of five stars

Rating out of five: Book One – 5 stars. Book Two – 4 stars. Book Three – 2 stars.

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite authors, which is what made me pick up this series. It started out with a great concept, a genius who has split himself into aspects, creating side-kicks with specialization in different skills, different personalities and made up backstories. For example can there be one expert in language, fighting, deciphering code or computers. With Sanderson funny dialogues, and an imaginative plot with a camera that can take pictures of the past, the first book comes together into one perfectly entertaining story.

In the second book it starts to get a bit repetitive. The plot is still exciting, the interaction between the different hallucinations/characters still entertaining to follow. But it also brings with it the beginning of what becomes my big problem with book three, where Stephen Leeds becomes even more overwhelmed with the aspects he’s created, and Sanderson repeating how they’re made up way too often. It feels clunky in the story, which is weird since the fact that they’re in Stephen’s mind doesn’t really matter to it. He’s created them in a way where Stephen does everything he imagines the aspect characters doing.

In book three Sanderson doesn’t succeed in portraying how Stephen is suddenly losing his mind completely, and still finish the plot he’s built up. It doesn’t feel as fast-paced, entertaining or exciting anymore. My thoughts through the whole third book was “let’s get to the end and see if the aspects are still there or if he’s gotten rid of them somehow”. To me it feels rushed and much less clever than the first book, somehow. It was the execution I disliked more than the concept of the ending, I think.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially to anyone wanting to read some sci-fi, have a quick refreshing read between larger books or want a book that include some questions of psychology.

Favourite quotes

“My name is Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad.”


Short reviews: poetry

Monument by Natasha Trethewey: a poetry collection consisting of serious stories of a mixed-race prostitute, historical struggles of people of colour, about hurricane Katrina, the poet’s own family stories of loss. Still, the writing doesn’t pull me in as a reader, there’s not a lot of emotion here. It doesn’t seem like a purposefully lack of emotion either, and it got better towards the end. She describes scenes, but doesn’t add much to most of them, the way I see it. 2/5 stars. I received this copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon: now, this one is harder to give a review of because it’s really well-written the way I see it, but it didn’t grab my interest. There were a couple poems that I really liked, but overall it didn’t work for me. Won’t give it a rating because it’s confusing. It might be worth a try, if you’re looking for poetry collections.