Kate’s Review: “The Weight of Blood”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Weight of Blood” by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: When Springville residents—at least the ones still alive—are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation . . . Maddy did it.

An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies. And she’s dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage. Until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept secret: Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington.

After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High’s racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their image: host the school’s first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it’s possible to have a normal life.

But some of her classmates aren’t done with her just yet. And what they don’t know is that Maddy still has another secret . . . one that will cost them all their lives.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I’ve reviewed Stephen King’s “Carrie” on the blog before, and in my review I mentioned how much I love that book. Like, I LOVE it and have loved it since I was in middle school. I have also come to love the books of Tiffany D. Jackson, one of my favorite YA authors writing today, as her stories are always rife with well done tension as well as great examinations of social issues about race in the U.S. So when it was announced that Jackson was going to write a book that was a reimagining of “Carrie”, I just about lost my mind with glee. Suffice to say, I had been looking forward to “The Weight of Blood” ever since the publishing notice fell across my Twitter feed. When I finally sat down to read it, I told myself to go slow and savor it… and immediately burned through it in two days time. She’s done it again, folks, and this time she took one of my favorite horror novels along for the ride.

I really, really enjoyed this book, so buckle up for a long review.

First and foremost, this is a “Carrie” re-telling/re-imagining, and Jackson really does a good job of making it her own while still drawing clear connecting lines to the original plot, themes, and characters. But I really love how she takes it a few steps further and bolder and makes it not only a story about bullying, but racial bullying and systemic racism that fosters and creates environments where racial bullying thrives. Maddy is our protagonist, who is a biracial teenage girl that has been able to pass as white in her small southern town, mostly due to her fanatical father and his insistence that she do so. Once she is outed as Black due to a rain storm having a reaction with her hair, her white classmates, already using her as a target because of her social awkwardness, amp up the bullying in ways that become far more vicious. It’s biting commentary and it works really, really well, as plot points from the source material are tweaked to take on more complex meanings. The Prom that Maddy ends up going to (to disastrous results of course) is the first desegregated Prom the high school has ever had. Her tyrannical parent this time is her white father, and his zealotry is as much Christian Evangelism as it is worshiping at the altar of whiteness in America. Our Sue Snell analog, Wendy, is a white girl with a Black quarterback boyfriend named Kenny, and her motives for getting Kenny to take Maddy to Prom are more a white savior complex at work than a nice girl feeling bad about being an accessory to bullying. And so forth. It all feels like “Carrie” but it goes further and feels like a different kind of gut punch as racism is at the forefront, and it works incredibly well.

The story is told through a third person narrative between a few different characters, as well as podcast transcripts, official police reports, and articles and book excerpts, and they all come together in ways to slowly show not only what disaster happened the night of Prom, but also to show the racist history of Springville, and how the town has been fostering racial animosity and inequity up through the events of the book. I really liked learning about the town and the people in it in this way, as it really does drive home the greater point that the the ugly truths about race and racism have rotted the town through, and by the time we get to the story at hand, it all comes to a head on Prom night. Again, a direct line to the story that the book is paying homage to with the transcripts and interviews, but expanding upon it to make the story at hand all the richer.

And finally, and this is probably one of the less important points of this re-telling (mild spoiler alerts here too), but I loved, LOVED that Jackson fully leans into the romance between Maddy and popular quarterback turned prom date Kenny. I have always been a huge proponent of the Tommy Ross and Carrie White romance, as the book and both movies make it clear, at least to me, that had the Prom not ended up with Carrie burning it all down and Tommy being killed by a falling bucket, they absolutely would have ended up together PROBABLY FOREVER, OKAY? So when it became clear that Maddie and Kenny were absolutely falling in love with each other, I was hooting and hollering, and then, of course, preparing for the worst given how the source material ends for them both. Though, all that said, Jackson definitely makes this tale her own in spite of the great homage, and that is all I am going to say about THAT, so….

Did I put my kindle down for a moment during my read just to rewatch the ‘Someone Like Me’ scene in this movie and then cry a little bit to myself? You’re DAMN RIGHT I DID! (source)

“The Weight of Blood” is a great remix of one of my favorite books, and Jackson knows how to draw the comparisons out while making her own points and plot. I really enjoyed this one as a fan of her work, and a fan of “Carrie”. Just stupendous.

Rating 10: A fantastic re-imagining of “Carrie” that takes on social issues of racism and bigotry that are, unfortunately, still all too relevant, “The Weight of Blood” is another page turner from Tiffany D. Jackson!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Weight of Blood” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “Popsugar 2022 #33: A Social Horror Book”.

Book Club Review: “Circe”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Circe” by Madeline Miller

Publishing Info: Little Brown and Company, April 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: a book with a map

Book Description: In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child – not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power – the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Kate’s Thoughts

I was obsessed with Greek Mythology as a kid, so much so that I would be constantly checking out books of that topic from the library, or taking little extracurricular classes on the subject in my grade school (these classes were called ‘Minis’ and we could sign up for just about any topic). In high school I took a class on Greek mythology, and one of the books we read was “The Odyssey”, the well known tale of Odysseus trying to make his way home after the Trojan War. I didn’t REALLY care for the book, but I did love the time he spent on Aeaea with Circe, the witch who turns his men into pigs. When Serena picked “Circe” for book club I was happy for two reasons. The first is that I love Madeline Miller’s book “The Song of Achilles”. The second is that “Circe” had been sitting on my shelf ever since it first came out and this was the kick to the pants I needed to pick it up.

Much like “Song of Achilles”, Miller takes a well known Greek myth and character and delves into a backstory that fits the greater mythology while exploring more modern themes and notions. In this we get the backstory of Circe the witch, from her time as the child of a Titan and a nymph to her banishment to her desert island to her time with Odysseus and beyond, while also exploring her womanhood, her isolation, her thought process, and her traumas. We see her role in other parts of Greek Mythology, sometimes being a passive player and other times being very active, and so in turn see new perspectives on some of these stories. Who could make the Minotaur pitiful, or Medea a little more complicated, or Odysseus less heroic? Madeline Miller can, and it works perfectly through the eyes of Circe as she weathers her own storms and learns her own lessons.

You need not be a fan of Greek Mythology to pick up “Circe”, as the themes are broad and relatable as a woman who has been disenfranchised has to stake a claim to her ability to live her life and keep herself and her loved ones safe. It’s resonant and powerful and I really enjoyed it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve had “Circe” sitting on my TBR pile for quite a while also. That said, I also have “Song of Achilles” right there next to it. While I’ve heard great things, I’m just not up for all the tears! So it was an easy pick to just skip ahead to “Circe,” a tale that, while tragic at times, didn’t come with a foregone, ball-worthy conclusion.

I can echo everything Kate said. I, too, very much enjoyed Greek mythology as a kid and teen. I didn’t have the same resources for taking classes on the subject, but I definitely gobbled up everything I could. Even with that being the case however, I haven’t re-familiarized myself with the pantheon or myths for quite some time, so reading this book, I can speak to the fact that it’s still approachable for those with less (or older) knowledge of the original stories. For one thing, I didn’t remember just how entwined some of these stories became. It was truly impressive how many various different myths, gods, heroes, and monsters the author was able to weave Circe’s story through and around.

Circe’s story was also very much one of power, especially the unique power of being a woman. It was an all inclusive exploration, not looking away from the restrictions placed on women with power but also acknowledging the specific destructive tendencies that some powerful women can turn to in a world that would limit their options. Circe’s own experience with her magic progress over literally centuries. And we see several examples of other powerful women working with their own forms of power and existence, both to good and bad outcomes. I also really liked the versions of womanhood we see through Circe’s life. We see a daughter, a sister, a lover, a mother, a friend. All tied within her own ongoing story of self-acceptance and growth.

I really liked this book. I think it’s the kind of story that has a lot of great cross-over appeal, likely to please fans from almost all genres.

Kate’s Rating 9 : A truly marvelous exploration of a notorious character of Greek Mythology, “Circe” gives the Witch of Aeaea a compelling backstory and some well done connections to other myths while taking on themes of womanhood, power, and resilience.

Serena’s Rating 10: Simply brilliant, a powerful re-imagination of a powerful female character who has existed largely on the sidelines of mythology.

Book Club Questions

  1. How familiar were you with the Greek myths that are touched on in this story? Particularly “The Odyssey” itself?
  2. Circe and her siblings all take very different paths in life. In what ways did their upbringings make them similar and in what ways did they differ? Why do you think they each chose the paths they did?
  3. This book has many themes revolving around women and power. What aspects of this theme stood out to you? How did Circe’s attitude towards her own power shift throughout the book?
  4. Circe come from a dysfunctional family. In what ways do we see this impact her choices when raising her son? Does she fall into any of the same traps? How do her choices compare to those she was raised with?
  5. What did you think of the portrayal of the various gods and titans we see in this story? Did they align with what you knew of these mythical beings from before? In what ways did they surprise you?

Reader’s Advisory

“Circe” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Books About Mythology and Awesome Women of the Ancient World.

Kate’s Review: “The Pallbearers Club”

Book: “The Pallbearers Club” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A cleverly voiced psychological thriller about an unforgettable—and unsettling—friendship, with blood-chilling twists, crackling wit, and a thrumming pulse in its veins—from the nationally bestselling author of The Cabin at the End of the World and Survivor Song.

What if the coolest girl you’ve ever met decided to be your friend?

Art Barbara was so not cool. He was a seventeen-year-old high school loner in the late 1980s who listened to hair metal, had to wear a monstrous back-brace at night for his scoliosis, and started an extracurricular club for volunteer pallbearers at poorly attended funerals. But his new friend thought the Pallbearers’ Club was cool. And she brought along her Polaroid camera to take pictures of the corpses. Okay, that part was a little weird. So was her obsessive knowledge of a notorious bit of New England folklore that involved digging up the dead. And there were other strange things – terrifying things – that happened when she was around, usually at night. But she was his friend, so it was okay, right?

Decades later, Art tries to make sense of it all by writing The Pallbearers’ Club: A Memoir. But somehow this friend got her hands on the manuscript and, well, she has some issues with it. And now she’s making cuts.

Seamlessly blurring the lines between fiction and memory, the supernatural and the mundane, The Pallbearers’ Club is an immersive, suspenseful portrait of an unforgettable and unsettling friendship.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel.

It’s finally time, everyone! Paul Tremblay has a new horror novel out, and it’s one that caught my attention VERY quickly when I read about it. For one reason, obviously, is that it’s Paul Tremblay. He’s one of my favorite horror authors, and one of the best ones writing today. But the bigger issue at hand is that while he has taken on other horror themes and twisted them onto their head (possession, zombies, ghosts, etc), he is taking on a subgenre that is near and dear to my heart, and that I am VERY picky about: vampires. I love vampire stories, but I want very specific things from my vampire stories. And Paul Tremblay gave me everything I need. Oh, and yes, like in most of his other works, I ended up weeping relentlessly by the end.

It almost always comes to this when I read his books. (source)

Let’s start with the plot and the way this story is told. The narrative structure of this book is so fantastic. It is framed as a memoir written by Art Barbara. Going in, we know nothing about Art, or why he would have written a memoir about himself. We also almost immediately notice that there are seemingly handwritten annotations and footnotes written by a mystery voice, and those footnotes are critiquing the story as written. We soon realize that this story Art is telling is about his friendship with mysterious cool girl Mercy Brown, whom he met through the Pallbearers Club, a group he formed in high school as a community service opportunity. Teens work at funerals of forgotten people to serve as mourners and pallbearers. Mercy saw the ad Art put out, and called him. Thus began a friendship built on punk music, 80s yearning, and a mutual interest in working funerals. Art for extracurricular brownie points, Mercy for… other reasons. As Art talks about their friendship, he slowly reveals that he believes her to be a vampire. Mercy, in the footnotes, is constantly questioning his words, editorializing, and it is through both of their POVs that we see a slow burn creepy story about toxic friendship and potential vampirism come to be. I loved how Tremblay decided to tell this story, as it makes both of our narrators have truths and lies that the are sprinkling in. And given that Tremblay is a master at creating deeply disturbing horror moments, the vampire stuff (as Art describes it) is well done, unique, and taps into an actual folktale from New England that is about, in fact, a woman named Mercy Brown who was thought to be a vampire. Look it up! Start HERE. I loved how he brought in this actual story of American mythology and connected it to a metaphor about toxic friendships. The vampire mythos that we get feels fresh and new, and it taps into the non-romanticized themes of vampires as users, superstitions around illness, and codependence. It’s so damn good.

Now I need to talk about Mercy. Mercy is the shining star of this book, of all Paul Tremblay books. He so effortlessly captures the ‘cool girl as seen through the geek boy’s eyes’ trope and turns it into something that is both malevolent as well as bittersweet. We have this great tactic in which we see how Art views Mercy through his memoir, and we also get to see Mercy’s voice not only tell him how badly he has projected his own insecurities into he perception of her (which I believe so many ‘cool girls’ have to deal with when it comes to these kinds of geek boys and their worshiping), but also reflect that cool girl-ness she absolutely DOES have, as well as the clear love (and resentment) she also has for him. There is no question that both Art and Mercy are terrible for each other, and that they both get a lot of things wrong about each other. But the way that Tremblay gives both of them voices to construct a broader truth is great, and he does it in a way that doesn’t make Mercy just a potential vampire that is also a well worn manic pixie dream girl trope. She is basically what I wanted Samara Weaving’s character in “The Babysitter” to be in terms of meeting her full potential, and I absolutely adored her with my entire heart.

Bee is pretty great too, don’t get me wrong, but Mercy is Bee with a bit more depth. (source)

And finally I need to talk about this pathos I keep mentioning. Because this book is just brimming with it in the way that Tremblay does. He really, really knows how to just gut the reader. As said above, Art and Mercy’s friendship is not healthy, really, given that the entire ‘is it a vampire thing?’ question harkens back to the parasitic nature of vampirism, and therein the parasitic natures of some bad human relationships. But I will say, without spoiling things, there is some serious emotional depth that Tremblay taps into with their friendship, about their mutual outcast status and loneliness that connected them in the first place, and at once makes you think ‘this is so unhealthy’, while also feeling the mutual, real love they have for each other. And, once again, I found myself bawling during a Paul Tremblay horror novel. God DAMN do I love how this man knows how to destroy my soul.

“The Pallbearers Club” is a phenomenal take on a vampire story. It is definitely my favorite of Tremblay’s books. I urge horror fans, especially if you like new takes on vampire stories, to pick this one up.

Rating 10: Loved it so much. Mixing humor, horror, and a whole lot of pathos, “The Pallbearers Club” is Tremblay’s best work.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Pallbearers Club” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror To Look Forward To in 2022”, and it would fit right in on “The Ultimate List of Vampire Books”.

Serena’s Review: “Nettle & Bone”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Nettle & Bone” by T. Kingfisher

Publishing Info: Tor Books, April 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.

Review: Somehow I seem to have missed out on T. Kingfisher. She’s a fairly popular and pretty universally beloved fantasy author. And yet…here I am, I think reading my first book from her! And, spoiler alert, I really did myself a disservice by waiting this long to read her books! You can likely look forward to seeing her name crop up quite a bit from here on out.

Marra has been the lucky princess. The one to escape the confining life of a princess to grow up at a convent, largely unknown and allowed to become a grown woman free of the trappings of royalty. But while she has been afforded this quiet life, she’s watched her sisters suffer at the hands of a cruel prince. When it becomes clear that her sister’s life is teetering at the brink of her husband’s rage, Marra knows that only she is willing to risk the wrath of the prince and his kingdom to save her. And so she sets out on a perilous quest to find the power to overcome a man protected by a powerful godmother’s gift. Along the way, she picks up a ragtag troupe of fellow outsiders. Together, can they save Marra’s sister?

Oh man, I loved this book. It was everything I love about fantasy fiction. The story has a very fairytale vibe, especially in the first half of the book when Marra is attempting to complete three magical tasks to gain the aide of a powerful gravewitch. The fantasy elements included were all unique but grounded in fantasy traditions that are familiar and oddly comforting. Godmothers with curses and blessing. Goblin markets with capricious deals. And animal companions of the most bizarre sort. We have both a possessed chicken and a dog made of bones! And man, who would have thought you could get so attached to a bone dog? Tears may have been shed (but in a good way).

I also loved the way the story was told. In the first bit of the book, the story jumps between Marra’s current quest and brief glimpses of her growing up. In this way, we’re immediately grounded in the high action of Marra’s current storyline, but we are also quickly filled in on her character, life history, and motivations through these flash backs. The second half follows a more straight-forward arc, but by that time, we fully understand the stakes involved and have come to know Marra more fully. From there, the action is fast and fun. There are numerous smaller conflicts, all touching on unique magical elements, before we get to the big confrontation at the end. And there, the story definitely goes about solving this challenge in a surprising way.

Marra was such a great main character. She was strong, funny, and determined to do what she can for her sister. Her task is almost impossible from the start. And we see as the story unfolds that she is successful purely due to sheer stubbornness and the insistence that if know one else will act, even if she’s not the best person for the job, she will do it herself. There’s also a very sweet, slow-burn romance that develops in the second half of the story. For me, this was the perfect balance of a smattering of romance alongside the more central rescue story at its heart.

I also really loved the writing style. It was lyrical and descriptive when painting the magical scenes and elements, fast-paced and exciting during the action scenes, and surprisingly funny throughout the entire thing. So many of the side characters are quirky and hilarious, and there were a number of entertaining observations about people and life sprinkled throughout the book.

This book is definitely not trying to be literary fantasy or any complicated epic. Instead, it feels completely comfortable for what it is: a fun, sweet fairytale. And I think it’s important to not see it as anything lesser for that fact. There’s a tendency to dismiss these more simple, straight-forward fantasies as somehow not as worthy of acclaim as massive tomes of epic fantasy or magical realism that leans heavily on commentary of human existence. But these fantasy stories have just as much value. And I will give this the ten rating I think it deserves simply because it feels like the best of what these kinds of books can be.

Rating 10: A perfect mixture of romance, comedy, action, and tragedy with unique magical elements sprinkled throughout.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Nettle & Bone” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2022 and Recommended by Seanan McGuire.

Serena’s Review: “This Woven Kingdom”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “This Woven Kingdom” by Tahereh Mafi

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, March 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: To all the world, Alizeh is a disposable servant, not the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom forced to hide in plain sight.

The crown prince, Kamran, has heard the prophecies foretelling the death of his king. But he could never have imagined that the servant girl with the strange eyes, the girl he can’t put out of his mind, would one day soon uproot his kingdom—and the world.

Perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Tomi Adeyemi, and Sabaa Tahir, this is the explosive first book in a new fantasy trilogy from the New York Times bestselling and National Book Award-nominated author Tahereh Mafi.

Review: I’ve had a lot of luck in the past with books featuring Jinn. Several of my favorite fantasy novels both old (“City of Brass”) and new (“Daughter of the Salt King“) have featured these magical creatures and the, often unique, cultures and mythologies built up around them. So when I saw another fantasy novel coming out with a Jinn main character, I knew I had to read it ASAP!

Working as a lowly house maid, Alizeh is cautiously optimistic that, at last, she will be able to lead a quiet life in the shadows, no one ever knowing who she is. That is, a Queen to the powerful, but oppressed, Jinn who have been dispersed across the land and only await the call of a leader to come together once again. For Kamran, any threat to his father’s reign is one to take seriously. So when he bumps into a house maid with skills that should not belong to one in such a class of people, he immediately senses a spy and threat. As he circles closer to the truth, Alizeh also begins to feel the stirrings of change, much as she wishes to repel it.

This book had everything I look for in the start of a new fantasy trilogy. To begin with, the world felt vast yet understandable. The history was rich and complicated, but presented in an approachable way. I particularly enjoyed the history and legends of the Jinn themselves. We get some early backstory to their existence early in the book, but as the story continues to unfold, we get a closer look at how their current standings in society have affected Alizeh’s existence. Mafi deftly nails how a once powerful race could become reduced to a scrap of people who exist in the shadows, how comprise to end bloodshed does not end oppression and prejudice, and how power struggles can go beyond who has the most force (magic, in this case).

Alizeh was such a great character. Her life is full of struggle and hardship, and yet we see her persevere in the face it all. There were very strong “A Little Princess” vibes from her. We also got to see examples of the power she must keep hidden within herself. And while it gives her advantages, she’s not presented as an over-powered Mary Sue. Instead, we see hardships that have come with her “gift” of being the chosen Queen, pains that tax her daily, both physically and emotionally. Her life has been one of tragedy, and when we meet her, she’s all but given up on any hopes of fulfilling her role, preferring instead to exist in a safe, quiet life in the shadows.

For his part, Kamrad’s life has been much more straight forward and existing in whites and blacks, trusting that his family is on the right side of all conflict. His story is much more that of someone losing the blinders they’ve hid behind throughout their life. The story never shies away from the crippling pain that would come with these sorts of revelations, especially about people who are dear. But with all of this, his story was believable, in that all of these revelations and challenges to his perceptions would result in slow, incremental change. His life has been one of duty, and we see the constant tensions playing within him between this loyalty and his inherent sense of right and wrong.

I also appreciated that the romance of the story was quiet and often in the background of the story. It slowly builds as the story unfolds, but neither character is swept up so much as to forget their own challenges and priorities. It’s the exact sort of start to a grand romance that I look for. There are several books to go and, for the most part, these two barely know each other at this point. There’s still plenty of room to grow, and I’m glad the author didn’t give it all way in the very first book.

The book does end on quite a cliffhanger, so readers should beware of that going in. However, it’s so strongly written and imaginative, that I still very much recommend fantasy fans check it out!

Rating 10: Beautiful and compelling while exploring themes of loyalty, oppression, and the challenge of seeing one’s world as it is.

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Woven Kingdom” is on these Goodreads lists: South Asian Representation and Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2022.

Kate’s Review: “The Violence”

Book: “The Violence” by Delilah S. Dawson

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, February 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: A mysterious plague that causes random bouts of violence is sweeping the nation. Now three generations of women must navigate their chilling new reality in this moving exploration of identity, cycles of abuse, and hope.

Chelsea Martin appears to be the perfect housewife: married to her high school sweetheart, the mother of two daughters, keeper of an immaculate home. But Chelsea’s husband has turned their house into a prison; he has been abusing her for years, cutting off her independence, autonomy, and support. She has nowhere to turn, not even to her narcissistic mother, Patricia, who is more concerned with maintaining the appearance of an ideal family than she is with her daughter’s actual well-being. And Chelsea is worried that her daughters will be trapped just as she is–then a mysterious illness sweeps the nation.

Known as The Violence, this illness causes the infected to experience sudden, explosive bouts of animalistic rage and attack anyone in their path. But for Chelsea, the chaos and confusion the virus causes is an opportunity–and inspires a plan to liberate herself from her abuser.

Review: Thank you to Del Rey for providing me with an eARC of this novel via NetGalley.

As this seemingly never ending pandemic goes on, there has been a pattern in my reading and other media consumption that has been consistent: I have been having a hard time with anything that has to do with mass illness and epidemic plotlines. It has tainted my reading experiences, it has made me put off shows I would normally be interested in (“The Stand”? “Station Eleven”? Not right now, thanks!), and I just don’t want to think about it in my reading or viewing things. So when “The Violence” by Delilah S. Dawson ended up in my inbox, I was hesitant. I eventually relented, expecting it to be an entertaining but probably difficult read.

But apparently all a pandemic story needs for me to be completely and utterly in love with it is professional wrestling?

By the way I’m still bitter that this show was cancelled before the last season could happen. (source)

Okay that’s not the only reason that I absolutely adored “The Violence”, but it was definitely one of many lovable aspects of this angry, snarky, and highly entertaining pandemic book. Dawson has created a scary virus mythology that she tackles with suspense, humor, and believability as to how it would unfold, given everything we’ve seen in the past two years. A strange virus causes people to completely disassociate and turn lethally violent, and we follow three generations of women in one family as they experience this new disease through the lens of their own experiences of victimhood and generational trauma. Our first is Claudia, a housewife who has been in a picture perfect but deeply abusive marriage to her nasty husband David. The second is Ella, Claudia’s oldest daughter who has seen the pain her mother has gone through, has protected her younger sister Brookie, and has found herself in a similar relationship with her seemingly wonderful boyfriend at school. And then there’s Patricia, Claudia’s narcissistic mother who is in her second marriage as a trophy wife and lives in privileged wealth. When The Violence strikes, and Claudia sees a potential out from her abusive marriage, all three have their lives change dramatically.

And I loved all three of these characters in all of their well rounded, complicated, and messy glory. Dawson explores all of them and all of their depths, and she has created strong, sometimes maddening, always relatable characters who I ended up caring about very deeply. I also loved how she draws out explorations of trauma and abuse and how victims of abuse find themselves in terrible cycles that they can’t escape from so easily, and how that in turn can make them do things that are harmful. It’s all so sympathetic and raw, and even when I thought that I was going to feel one way about a character, Dawson would surprise me with how I would end up feeling about them. I loved everyone in this book. I loved all of their journeys, be they literal ones or ones within themselves, and how they all changed and grew. And yes, without spoiling too much, I will say that Claudia ends up as part of a pro wrestling league during her storyline, so she absolutely became Betty Gilpin in my head during my time with this book.

And what of the Violence itself? I really enjoyed this virus mythology in this book, as Dawson creates something that feels as scary as it should without becoming overwrought with aspects that would make it ultimately untenable in a real world setting. The transmission of The Violence, the way that people try to study it, the things they discover about it, and the way that the public reacts to it all feel correct after all we’ve seen these past few years dealing with COVID. Dawson doesn’t feel a need to over explain, but she does find ways to make it seem believable in terms of transmission and origin, as well as how society would deal with it (there is a whole plot point about vaccine hoarding and how the privileged can deal better with pandemics than lower income people can, and man oh man do we know that that’s absolutely correct after everything). And while it’s all dark, it’s also supremely entertaining. As our characters find themselves in dangerous situations, and they certainly do, the tension is always on point and is paced in a way that it reads quick while still keeping the reader into what is coming next. There were plenty of moments where I was on the edge of my seat, and the tone definitely goes to twisted places, but still inspires a lot of hope. And I absolutely needed that hope in this story, since hope has felt hard to come by in the face of the inevitability of Omicron. Seeing these relatable and likable characters find hope in the hopelessness really, really resonated.

“The Violence” is my first 10 read of the year. It’s phenomenally entertaining and cathartic in this moment. Just great.

Rating 10: So. Much. Fun. Not to mention twisted, hopeful, and cathartic.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Violence” is included on the Goodreads lists “Anticipated 2022 Horror/Thriller Releases”, and “Books Containing One of the “Clue” Game Weapons On the Cover Or in the Title” (I had to, the concept is too good).

Find “The Violence” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Love Hypothesis”

Book: “The Love Hypothesis” by Ali Hazelwood

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, September 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding… six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

Review: So this is a bit of a surprise! I’m sure you are thinking ‘now wait a minute, usually Serena is doing reviews of romance, not Kate! What is going on lately?!’ Well, I had to review this one. I just had to. I know that I’ve mentioned on here that I’ve been doing my fair share of romance reading this year (you saw last week’s review of “The Ex Hex”, which wasn’t representative of my overall positive experience of romance reading), and let me tell you, do I have a treat for you all. I am here to review “The Love Hypothesis” by Ali Hazelwood. A steamy and STEM-y romance that I just LOVED, with an unexpected “Star Wars” connection. Yep. This is repurposed Reylo fan fiction, everyone!

As someone who only saw the first two movies in the new trilogy once, and never bothered with ROS, this is out of context for me but also kinda really hot? (source)

So for those who don’t know, “The Love Hypothesis” was originally an AU Reylo fanfic that put the characters into an academia setting. Now they are Olive, an ambitious and driven graduate student in biology, and Adam, a greatly feared professor within the program, and they are both well formed and conceived characters on their own, “Star Wars” inspirations noticeable but certainly not constraining. In an act of desperation, Olive kisses Adam in hopes of convincing her best friend Rose Anh that she has moved on from the man she had been dating previously, and whom Anh has a huge thing for. Olive and Adam eventually cut a deal to fake date each other, as it’s mutually beneficial (Olive can keep Anh feeling secure in her feelings, and Adam can convince Stanford that he isn’t considering leaving and therefore stopping the institution from freezing his research funds). It’s the perfect set up for a fake dating trope, and Hazelwood makes Olive and Adam so likable it’s impossible not to root for them in their perpetual optimism (Olive) and reserved grouchiness (Adam). There are silly misunderstandings, witty banter, and a slow burn build up to some really sexy scenes, and I have found that all of this is EVERYTHING I NEED IN A ROMANCE NOVEL. But Hazelwood also tackles some pretty hefty issues, like sexual harassment in academia, abusive mentors, and trauma and loss, and does it all in a way that feels genuine and not just to keep a plot going. We also get to know all these characters (albeit through Olive’s perspective for the most part) and really find something to like about almost all of them, from Olive and Adam (boy do I love Adam) to their various friends and foils. I especially loved Adam’s bestie Dr. Rodriguez, a sarcastic and devil may care professor who is almost assuredly the Poe Dameron analog from the original fan fiction. Everyone is just so darn lovely.

And the sexiness. I mentioned how it’s a slow burn progression, and as I said, that’s just how I like it. But let me tell you, the sweet sweet build up in this book makes for a very satisfying pay off, and when it pays off, IT PAYS OFF. I lent my copy to my dear friend and fellow “It” reviewer Laura (who is as big an Adam Driver fan girl as I am), and in a video chat she said, ‘this is good, but when does it get GOOD?’ Well, the next day I got a text that just said ‘IT GOT GOOD’. For someone who loves a slow burn and wrote some pretty salacious fan fic in her own time (I’m not telling which fandom it was for), even I was clutching my pearls a bit by how graphic it was once it finally came to a simmering head. In the best way. There is also some really solid and realistic demisexual representation in this book, which I always love to see. Sometimes I encounter romance novels that (for me) lay the horniness on a little too thick, and then there are others that are a bit too chaste. “The Love Hypothesis” meets in the middle.

Hoo boy, I am not used to reviewing romance novels. All I can say is that I LOVED “The Love Hypothesis”. I know that there are lots of opinions about Reylos on the Internet, but I gotta say, Ali Hazelwood has written an awesome romance, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store next! Olive and Adam forever!

Rating 10: Just hook this up to my veins whenever I need a pick me up. SO DAMN ADORABLE.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Love Hypothesis” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Grumpy Sunshine Romances”, and “Romance Novels With STEM Heroines”.

Find “The Love Hypothesis” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Vespertine”

Book: “Vespertine” by Margaret Rogerson

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, October 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: The dead of Loraille do not rest.

Artemisia is training to be a Gray Sister, a nun who cleanses the bodies of the deceased so that their souls can pass on; otherwise, they will rise as spirits with a ravenous hunger for the living. She would rather deal with the dead than the living, who trade whispers about her scarred hands and troubled past.

When her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia defends it by awakening an ancient spirit bound to a saint’s relic. It is a revenant, a malevolent being that threatens to possess her the moment she drops her guard. Wielding its extraordinary power almost consumes her—but death has come to Loraille, and only a vespertine, a priestess trained to wield a high relic, has any chance of stopping it. With all knowledge of vespertines lost to time, Artemisia turns to the last remaining expert for help: the revenant itself.

As she unravels a sinister mystery of saints, secrets, and dark magic, her bond with the revenant grows. And when a hidden evil begins to surface, she discovers that facing this enemy might require her to betray everything she has been taught to believe—if the revenant doesn’t betray her first.

Review: I have been Goodreads stalking Margaret Rogerson for years now. Awhile ago she mentioned she was working on a new project, but it hadn’t yet been picked by a publisher. So imagine my glee when I finally saw an ARC pop up on Edelweiss+? This has probably been one of my most anticipated reads this year, so you know I dove in immediately (regardless of the timing of this review…)

Tending to the dead, freeing their spirits to depart in peace, lingering in the shadows. This is all that Artemisia wants for her life. And with hundreds of years passing in relative peace, her path seems clear before her. But now the dead are on the move once more, gathering in groups and attacking in a coordinated effort. Some greater force must be at work. And when her home is attacked, Artemisia is forced to take up a greater spirit herself, wielding its power to save her home. But with this new power comes a new test: who can she trust? The revenant inside her, whispering of dark things in the past? Or he Clerisy itself, with priests who are tasked to protect this world seeming to now work against it?

So the question was never would I like this book or not. Instead, it was just how much would I love it! I was a bit concerned about reports that there was no romance included in the story. Not only do I like my fantasy paired with a nice romance, but Rogerson’s two previous books each featured an excellent romance, part of what made me like them so much to begin with! But I’m happy to report that Rogerson cleverly out-maneuvered me here. Yes, there isn’t a romance at its heart. But there still is a deep relationship at its heart, the one that slowly forms between the revenant and Artemisia. It’s not a romance, but it’s also hard to frame within the general confines of typical relationships.

For one thing, the revenant is so clearly not human. The witty banter and sharp criticism of “silly humans” not only kept this fact clear in the reader’s mind the entire time, but was also highly effective at creating a character who’s only real presence is that of a disembodied voice. There were also a number of mysteries surrounding this world’s past, the great war that saw the destruction of this and other revenants, and of this particular revenant itself. These details slowly came out bit by bit, and I was anxiously speed-reading the entire time trying to get to the next revelation.

Artemisia was also an excellent character. While human herself, her entire life was made up of “otherness” in some form or another. In this way, her growing closeness with a being considered by the rest of the world to be supremely evil is fairly natural. We see her struggles to participate in interactions with other people in ways that they understand, not knowing what to say and not reacting in the ways they expect. Given her troubled past, she also struggles with crowds and is quickly overwhelmed by people around her. These anxieties felt very real and I think were very relatable.

I also really liked the magic system and world that Rogerson created. All three of the books I’ve read from her now were very original in this way. But throughout them all, there was a level of detail and creativity that made it appear that she was equally comfortable in all three, never hindered by any specifics found in fantasy subgenres. Instead, its her strong character work and witty dialogue that is the true through-line of her work. As a character reader myself, that left this book with no where to go but straight into the “10 rating” column for me.

Rating: I absolutely adored it. Action-packed, fantasy-forward, and with a delightful odd-couple at its heart.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Vespertine” is on these Goodreads lists: Awesome Fantasy Heroines and YA Second World Fantasy.

Find “Vespertine” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery”

Book: “Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” by Brom

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, September 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley, and a preview from Tor Nightfire via a giveaway.

Book Description: A spirited young Englishwoman, Abitha, arrives at a Puritan colony betrothed to a stranger – only to become quickly widowed when her husband dies under mysterious circumstances. All alone in this pious and patriarchal society, Abitha fights for what little freedom she can grasp onto, while trying to stay true to herself and her past.

Enter Slewfoot, a powerful spirit of antiquity newly woken… and trying to find his own role in the world. Healer or destroyer? Protector or predator? But as the shadows walk and villagers start dying, a new rumor is whispered: Witch.

Both Abitha and Slewfoot must swiftly decide who they are, and what they must do to survive in a world intent on hanging any who meddle in the dark arts.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel, as well as Tor Nightfire for sending me a preview with illustrations.

I’ve crowed on here about how much I love the historical horror film “The Witch” probably dozens of times. If you are sick of it, sorry! But I really love the story of a Puritan family being tormented by a coven that lives in the woods by their farm…. Or is it their own hubris and mistreatment of their teenage daughter Thomasin that is the true horror of that movie? Who can say? Best movie ending EVER. When I was reading up on “Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” by Brom, I was getting serious “The Witch” vibes, which made me super eager to get my grubby little paws on it, and I sat down one night thinking I’d start it, and enjoy the first few chapters. But then the ol’ Soup Brain happened, because I basically read this book in one sitting.

Jumping for joy at this book, truly. (source)

I never knew that I needed a “Beauty and the Beast” meets “The Witch” story, and yet here we are and “Slewfoot” gave me LIFE. Brom has created two compelling main characters who are isolated, angry, scared, and in need of companionship, and makes you care about both of them so, so much. Our first is Abitha, an Englishwoman who was sent to The Colonies to become a bride for a farmer (at a price, of course, as her father had no need for her but need for drinking cash). Abitha’s husband Edward is caring and a little awkward, and while they aren’t really romantic there is an intimacy there that is lovely, as well as short lived. When Edward dies tragically, Abitha takes over the farm, lest his nasty brother Wallace take it over and take her in as an indentured servant. And then we have a nameless forest spirit who awakens after a slumber, hungry and egged on by other spirits to kill and feed, in hopes that a mysterious Pawpaw tree will rebloom and recapture the magic of the forest. When Abitha and this being meet, thus begins a slow burn friendship, quasi-romance that both their worlds don’t approve of.

For me Abitha’s story was the more compelling one, as she is a headstrong woman in a Puritan community, and tales of this kind of strife are always my jam (especially if there is hope for the woman taking her freedom… and maybe a little revenge). Abitha is very easy to root for, and watching her slowly start to trust ‘Slewfoot’ (as her community calls The Devil, and she isn’t so sure this being she befriends ISN’T a devil of some kind) and come into her own ‘cunning’ powers through his assistance and friendship is so, so gratifying. You want her to remain powerful, you want her to get the best of Wallace as he plots against her and turns the town against her, and you want her and Slewfoot to just be together, be it romantic or platonic or a third kind of love that transcends both.

I also liked seeing Slewfoot slowly learn that he can be more than just a slayer and avenger for nature, which is what the wildfolk Forest, Creek, and Air have told him he is. Slewfoot has no memory of what he was before he went into this stasis, and while he starts out hungry and violent and frankly a bit terrifying, he starts to yearn to be more than this, and to connect with Abitha as they tentatively begin to interact with each other. I did find some of the folklore stuff to be interesting, though it KIND OF also felt a bit appropriative as Brom does take stories from Indigenous cultures of the region and applies them to this tale in some ways. It sounds like he did a lot of research and also spoke to members of the Pequot community to be as accurate and respectful as possible, which is definitely good, but there were some elements of the story that felt glossed over in regards to themes involving Indigenous people and their role in the narrative.

And the horror elements of this story are pretty on point, though they are few and far between until they are REALLY front and center. I would almost consider this more of a dark fairy tale or fantasy than a horror story, but that said I’m going to keep it as horror because there are definitely moments of body horror and just the horror of terrible humans that set me on edge. Slewfoot has his moments (especially when he’s still in the cave at the beginning of the book), but it’s really more the horrors of a fanatical community that will commit terrible acts in the name of God that really made me uncomfortable. As this kind of story always does. Abitha is so beaten down and abused by most of the town (with a few exceptions), that by the time she has to make a choice about mercy or revenge, you almost assuredly will be rooting for revenge. But that is also interesting, because as the story goes on and Slewfoot’s true identity is slowly parsed out, it becomes clear that sometimes the things we see as evil are actually neutral in the big scheme of things, and the things we consider righteous and good are deeply insidious. It’s a direction that I am all for, and I was wholly satisfied with how everything in this book gets wrapped up.

And finally, I have to mention the illustrations. The eARC that I received from NetGalley didn’t have any illustrations, but I was lucky enough to win a giveaway of a preview of the book from Tor Nightfire, which had a written sample of the story and a sampling of some of the artwork that Brom has included in the book. It’s haunting and feels very traditional in its design, and I know that when I do eventually get the book in print (as I need this to be a part of my home library) I will be excited to see what other images there are beyond the handful in the preview.

“Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” is one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had this year to be sure. If you like “The Witch”, this book will probably be a good fit for you. It’s just so damn good.

Rating 10: Magical, dark, angry, and wondrous, “Slewfoot” is a fantastic tale of witchcraft and finding out where you belong.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Releases”, and would fit in on “Witch Hunts”.

Find “Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Book Club Review: “Black Sun”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Black Sun” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Publishing Info: Saga Press, October 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Award: Alex Award

Book Description: A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Kate’s Thoughts

I’d heard of “Black Sun” through various book circles, online hype, and awards talk. I knew that it was really well liked by fantasy fans, and when it was picked as a book club book I had two very clear feelings about it. The first was ‘oh good, it’s great seeing BIPOC authors writing fantasy novels and this one has a lot of good hype around it!’ The second was ‘oh no, epic fantasy’. But I went in with an open mind because I have been surprised by fantasy now and then, in terms of how well I connect to it!

I can definitely recognize that “Black Sun” has some great epic fantasy elements to it, and hell, there were things that I liked about it as well! For one, I really liked Serapio and Xiala. For Serapio it’s because of his brooding and haunting backstory and the fact he seems to be walking the line between potential hero and villain. For Xiala, I liked her tenacity, I liked her motivation of being a disgraced sea captain, and I liked that she was tough but also very layered. I also really liked the two of them together, and how their potential romance built and formed against a backdrop of seafaring and potential disaster with the impending eclipse and Serapio’s potential destiny. And the themes and elements taken from Pre-Columbian folklore and mythology all seemed well researched and well implemented, which made me curious to look into some of the folklore beyond my own limited knowledge.

But as well all know, at the end of the day, I am not really an epic fantasy reading kind of gal. While there are some exceptions to that general rule, as a genre it doesn’t connect with me as much. So even though I could absolutely see the talent that Roanhorse has in writing this book and can appreciate the final product for how ambitious and well crafted it is, “Black Sun” wasn’t really my thing. And that is purely based on the genre preferences I have and not on the work itself. You should absolutely take my thoughts with a grain of salt, as Serena is the one who is going to have the most helpful and relevant things to say.

“Black Sun” may not work for you if you’re like me and you don’t care for epic fantasy. But it’s easy to see why it’s so lauded by those who do like the genre.

Serena’s Thoughts

I said this at bookclub itself, and I’ll repeat it here: this is why Kate and I are great blog partners! We both love books, but (with some definite exceptions and cross-overs) we tend to enjoy very different genres and types of reads. This gives us a lot of breadth of coverage on the blog and, hopefully, provides options and insights to readers of a lot of different sorts. This book is a perfect example. Epic fantasy is hardly ever Kate’s thing, and this was a bit of a miss for her. But for me? Loved the heck out of it! Hit every checkbox for things I like! Excellent all around! So, you see? Two very different sides of the same “loves books” coin.

For me, there was much to love about this book. I read the audiobook, so I missed out on the awesome maps that were provided in the print copy, but the world-building was so detailed and imaginative that I had no trouble picturing this sprawling world. From cities perched on pillars linked with bridges, to perilous seas and distant lands, it felt like a fully realized world full of different cultures, histories and religions. This information came out slowly and organically, something of a staple of epic fantasy, so readers must trust that these bits of the world and history will come together as the story continues. Which it does, brilliantly!

I also really enjoyed the way the story was laid out. It’s definitely the kind of read that takes its time setting up all of the various characters and their arcs and motivations. But the author wisely helps jumpstart this process by giving us a few glimpses of where some characters will end up by the book’s end before jumping back to about a month before these events. This type of teaser keeps readers on their feet, wondering how a character will get from point A to point B. I think it worked really well and did help with the slower pacing at the front end of the story.

I also really liked our three (kind of four?) main characters. I definitely had favorites, but I enjoyed all of their stories individually as well. It’s that delicious sort of torture where you have multiple characters you love and you see them beginning to be set up on opposing sides of a coming conflict. Like Kate, Serapio and Xiala were my favorites, with the spunky and sea-bitten Xiala taking the crown as my most enjoyed character. However, I also liked the political intrigue (another staple of much epic fantasy) that came with Naranpa’s story.

I loved the heck out of this book. The audiobook was also an excellent read, and I highly recommend that to fans of audiobooks. There are different narrators for all four main characters, and each one does an excellent job. I will definitely be checking out the second book the minute it comes out!

Kate’s Rating 6: This is very clearly well written and thought out epic fantasy. But as we all know, epic fantasy and I don’t really mix well.

Serena’s Rating 10: I loved this! Strong world-building, excellent mythology, and relatable characters make for the perfect fantasy read.

Book Club Questions

  1. Did you like the maps and the character list that were provided for the reader? Did these things make it easier to keep everything straight while you read?
  2. Do you think that the world building that Roanhorse did in regards to the Pre-Columbian inspirations was well done?
  3. What did you think of the gender representation in this novel?
  4. What did you think of the major city and town settings of Tova vs Cuecolla?
  5. Whose perspectives were your favorites? If there was a side story you could explore, whose would you choose?
  6. What are your thoughts on the magical elements and systems in this book?

Reader’s Advisory

“Black Sun” is included on the Goodreads lists “Non-Caucasian Protagonists in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal Romance”, and “2020 Locus Recommended Reading List”.

Find “Black Sun” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Furia” by Yamile Saied Méndez

%d bloggers like this: