Serena’s Review: “The House in the Cerulean Sea”

45047384._sy475_Book: “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

Review: Cover art alert! Cover art alert! Yes, again, I selected a book almost completely based on the cover art itself. I’ve never read any of TJ Klune’s work before, though I believe he was largely a self-published author before the break-out into big publishers with this title. I did see a few references to “The Umbrella Academy” thrown around, so that was the last bit of justification I needed for placing a request for a book just because I thought the cover was pretty! But it is! Look at all of those colors! For some reason, the cover art put me in mind of the covers for “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Not a bad thing at all, as I enjoyed that series for the most part. In the end, I did enjoy this book quite a bit.

While not ecstatic about life, Linus Baker is quite content with the solitary existence he’s created for himself. A stable job, a small, cozy house, and, of course his beloved cat and records. But this quiet life is suddenly interrupted when Linus finds himself given a peculiar assignment: to travel to a remote orphanage and evaluate the state of things. Once there, Linus discovers six wondrous, but dangerous, children and their charming caretaker Arthur. As Linus learns more about these wards and Arthur himself, he finds himself more and more drawn to this small family, danger and all.

I’m not typically a fan of contemporary fantasy (though I will concede that that’s a pretty catch-all subgenre so my preferences therein aren’t particularly well-defined), but this book was a great opportunity for me push my comfort levels a bit. And it was a bit of a stretch, as the fantasy elements were fairly low, other than our magical children. But they were delightful enough that the parts of me that was missing world-building and magic systems was satisfied enough.

The comparisons to “The Umbrella Academy” (only watched the Netflix show) is very apt, and, similar to story, this one lives and dies on its characters. The collection of bizarre orphans are where Klune’s work really shines. They were all perfect blends of heart-wrenching and heart-warming, misfits and fitting perfectly together, witty but hiding deep emotions behind their words. The dialogue for these character in particular was quite good, and I found myself really speeding through the book once Linus met up with them.

Linus himself was a solid main character and his slowly built relationship with Arthur and the kids was lovely to explore. There was a lot of exploration around themes of found families, trust, and how we judge those around us. The romance was definitely more on the sweet side, and I would say that the book overall would appeal to a varied range of ages from middle grade to adults (a very good thing, as the cover definitely speaks to a younger audience, I think).

There were a few moments where the story did strike me as trying a bit too hard, just a bit too bizarre for its own good. But readers will have different experiences with this, depending on their preferences for fantasy writing and modes of humor. The book was also a tad longer than I would have liked. Most of it read very quickly, but I felt that there were times when Klune was simply having fun with his characters and the book got away from him a bit. I mean, the characters are a blast, so I can easily understand getting carried away with all of these moments, but it did end up with the book having a bit of a bloated feel. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and fans of contemporary fantasy, found family stories, and ensemble casts of characters are sure to have a blast!

Rating 7: A bit long, a bit silly at times, but its characters were so heart-warming that they carry it through.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The House on the Cerulean Sea” is a newer book so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Books released in 2020 I’m curious about.”

Find “The House on the Cerulean Sea” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Saint X”

43782399Book: “Saint X” by Alexis Schaitkin

Publishing Info: Celadon Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison, disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men – employees at the resort – are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.

Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth – not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.

As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.

Review: Whenever I hear the phrase ‘missing white woman syndrome’ I immediately think of Natalee Holloway. Holloway was an eighteen year old on a school sponsored trip to Aruba when she went missing. Her disappearance was all over the news, her face practically everywhere even as little new information came up. While her case is technically still unsolved, the general consensus is that she was murdered by a local whose father was a judge, and therefore had a lot of protection (it just so happens the same guy was eventually convicted of murdering another woman in Peru). A very sad and mysterious case all around, and it was all I was thinking of when I read the description for “Saint X” by Alexis Schaitkin. But instead of a run of the mill thriller that takes inspiration from real tragedy for lurid entertainment (I know that I’m one of the people who perpetuates that problematic issue by reading books like that), I instead found a literary thriller that had a lot of deep thoughts and haunting themes.

“Saint X” is less about Alison’s disappearance, and more about the fallout and consequences for those involved with the case, specifically her sister Claire and one of the accused but cleared suspects, Clive. Both Claire and Clive have had their lives completely upended by what happened to Alison. For Claire, it’s the grief and trauma of loss that her family never recovered from, and her obsession of wanting to find out what happened. This is sparked when she sees Clive in New York City. For Clive, being suspected and never officially cleared made his life back on Saint X one of suspicion, and he felt the need to start over and leave it all behind, which meant leaving everything he ever knew and loved. They are both damaged people with one commonality, and Schaitkin really brings out the pain that both of them have been dealing with. Along with these two and their trauma, we also get snippets of other people’s associations with Alison’s death. These bits are left to the end of chapters, and not only shed light into how Alison’s death sent shockwaves through many lives, but how she was as a person before her ill fated trip and during it as well.

Alison herself is a bit more of a mystery, but I thought that that was deliberate and I enjoyed that. We see her through Claire’s eyes, and Clive’s eyes, and the eyes of others. But those eyes can’t really know who Alison was as a person. Even the audio diary entries that Claire finds and listens to don’t quite capture who Alison was, because Alison was still trying to figure all that out. It’s a really interesting way to call out this obsession people get with missing and murdered (usually white and attractive) women, and how we project our own ideas of who they are upon their memory, even if those ideas are totally of the mark. I also liked that what we DO know about Alison is that she is very human, in that she isn’t perfect. Alison is at that tenuous age where she is trying to find herself, and yet still trying to be seen in a certain way by others. She is privileged and naive, and sees the colonizer issue of a resort in the Caribbean, but doesn’t see that her presence, as judgemental of the system as she is, is still perpetuating the problem.

And that was another thing that I liked about this book: Schaitkin definitely takes shots at the resort society on Saint X. It’s an industry that drives the economy, but relies upon a population group that is underprivileged and taken advantage of. Clive is doing his best to support himself and his loved ones, and has to kowtow to wealthy white tourists who see his home as an escape, but doesn’t see the inequities outside of the resort walls. This theme wasn’t at the very front of the story, but it was simmering underneath.

I wasn’t expecting what I got from “Saint X”, in that I was ready for a tense and addictive thriller. What I got instead was a little more ruminative. That isn’t a bad thing, but I will admit that had I known it was more literary I would have probably enjoyed it more. I did enjoy it, but it didn’t grab me as much as I think it would have had I had the expectations it called for. That said, I think that “Saint X” is a worthwhile read. Just go in expecting something more nuanced.

Rating 7: A haunting and evocative literary mystery. It wasn’t what I was expecting. But it’s definitely worth the read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Saint X” is included on the Goodreads list “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications January-July).

Find “Saint X” at your local library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Broken Queen”

45046564Book: “A Broken Queen” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Barely surviving her ordeal in Oromondo and scarred by its Fire Spirit, Cerulia is taken to a recovery house in Wyeland to heal from the trauma. In a ward with others who are all bound to serve each other, she discovers that not all scars are visible, and dying can be done with grace and acceptance.

While she would like to stay in this place of healing, will she ever be able to leave the peace she has found to re-take the throne?

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding” and “The Queen of Raiders”

Review: And we’re back with the third book already! Man, I’m really loving being able to read an entire series like this. In the “My Year with Jane Austen” series I’m writing, I’m getting near to reviewing the 1995 mini series version of “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s excellent for many reasons, but I’ll be honest, a large part of my love for it is simply that it’s nearly six hours long, meaning I can sink into one world with one set of characters for an extended period of time all once. It’s been a similar experience with this series.

Cerulia is badly injured, both physically by the scars left on her body by the flames, but also internally, unsure of her own role as a leader and queen going forward. In the quiet and peace of the healing ward where she is recovering, she is badly tempted to give up her quest of regaining her throne. The path has been harder than she ever thought, but she comes to see her responsibility to her people is greater than her own insecurities and fears. But without an army and with her sister poised to marry the son of her great enemy, Cerulia must work hard to remain free and in a position to challenge Matwyck for her throne.

I actually ended up liking this third book a bit more even than the first two, especially portions in the first half of the book while Cerulia is struggling to find her way again. For an individual who has been in exile for so long, jumping from one place to another, one entire identity to another, it’s no wonder that questions would arise about whether it is worth it and who she really is beneath all of the disguises. Through these reflections, she’s forced to confront her own insecurities and fears. She also come across the tried and true “with great responsibility” way of thinking, recognizing that her own struggles are ultimately not about what she has lost as a princess/queen forced from her home, but in the service of a greater duty to the country that’s been left behind. All of the people who don’t have the option to flee and re-create lives for themselves with the help of magical abilities and a grand heritage.

After this period of reflection, the action picks up again with Cerulia returning home, reuniting with her foster family, and facing the stark reality of the challenges ahead of her on her journey to the throne. There are also some interesting discussions regarding the necessity of a queen at all. It was fun seeing Cerulia go full circle and finally return to her home and her foster family, and it’s a great set-up for the final conflict to come in the last book.

But, with the increased interest I had in Cerulia’s story, I found myself feeling more disconnected from the other characters’ portions of the story. While there have been some moments where these other characters’ perspectives have added strength and context to the story, at this point, as we near the end of the series, their portions felt like more of a distraction than anything. I was always eager to return to Cerulia’s story and found myself more and more impatient with any breaks in the momentum of her plot line.

Lastly, I want to throw out a brief kudos to the cover art for this series! I always like covers that don’t include models, so that was a great start. But mostly I think the understated changes to the crown and how it reflects the action of each story was very clever. The first cover had a crown that was literally hidden behind vines. In the second, we see a crown being consumed by flames, a direct nod to Cerulia’s own perilous experience with fire. And here we have the broken remains of that ordeal, cracked but not destroyed. The final cover, of course, finally brings the crown to it’s completed state: regal and whole, free of damage or concealment. It’s a very simple little theme, but I think it works perfectly for this story.

Only one more month to go until we wrap this all up! In the meantime, make sure to enter the giveaway for a finished copy of “A Broken Queen.”

Rating 8: Poignant reflections on the responsibility of privilege and the definitions of self set a solid foundation for the final book to come.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Broken Queen” is a newer title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Upcoming 2020 SFF with female leads or co-leads.”

Find “A Broken Queen” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “My Dark Vanessa”

44890081Book: “My Dark Vanessa” by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Publishing Info: William Morrow, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Review: Thank you to William Morrow for sending me a print ARC of this novel!

I will admit that when Serena handed me the print ARC of “My Dark Vanessa” by Kate Elizabeth Russell and said it arrived for the blog and that it sounded more in my genres, at first glance I agreed. I mean, Stephen King’s blurb was on the cover, so clearly it had to be, right? But then when I read the description of the book, I was suddenly nervous. For one, it sounded more literary than horror or thriller. But hey, I can go outside my usual genres if a book really interests me, right? The bigger issue was what the plot sounded like: a woman has to contend with the fact that her illicit affair with her English teacher when she was fifteen was, in fact, abusive. Heavy stuff to be sure. But I was still very interested, especially as time went on and more buzz began to build around the novel. So I steeled myself, and finally dove in. It’s definitely not a book I’d say is within my usual genres. But I’m still glad that I read it.

“My Dark Vanessa” is a complex and very uncomfortable and upsetting novel about abuse, grooming, rape culture, and coming of age in very hard ways. It’s told through two timelines, both from the perspective of a woman named Vanessa. In 2017 she’s a woman who works at a hotel in hospitality, and is seeing her former teacher, Strane, being swept up in accusations of sexual misconduct with his female students. Vanessa, who was in an illicit relationship (I hate using that term here but am at a loss as to how else to describe it) with him that started at age fifteen, has to contend with the fallout of his downfall, and how that trauma of their ‘relationship’ has affected her after all these years. The other timeline is seeing Vanessa during the time that Strane began grooming her, and seeing how their relationship progressed. Russell is frank and unflinching in how she shows the realities of the sexual abuse that Vanessa experienced at the hands of her teacher, but is also very honest about how Vanessa herself cannot seem to view it as abuse as time goes on, even as other women are coming forward with their experiences with him. I greatly appreciated that Russell was also inclined to explore the very complex feelings that a survivor like Vanessa could feel, being groomed and manipulated for so long and therein not comfortable with seeing herself as a victim, and not wanting to expose herself in such a way. A subplot within the story is that a journalist starts pressuring Vanessa to tell her her story so that it can be put in an article, and heavily implies that Vanessa has an obligation to do so for victims everywhere. I think that it’s VERY important to make that point that victims of sexual abuse have NO obligation to open up about their experiences, and they are allowed to unpack and deal with said experiences in the way that they are most comfortable with.

(This kind of segues into some of the controversy that surrounded “My Dark Vanessa” for a hot minute before its release. HERE is a good article that sums it up. My two cents: I think that there are absolutely important questions to be asked about the publishing industry, and what stories get huge cash advances while other ones get left aside and not as promoted. But I think that it’s really gross that the discourse rose to the point where a survivor felt that the only way to move forward was to out herself as a victim of sexual abuse when she really didn’t want to. And unfortunately, abuse like this is probably more prevalent than we think, and the MOs of the abusers are probably pretty similar. Can we say that it must be plagiarism if it’s an experience that is, unfortunately, more commonplace than we’re comfortable admitting? I really don’t think so.)

I did find this book a little bit bogged down by the narrative as it went on, however, and more just in the sense that it felt longer than it probably needed to be and had some repetitive moments that could have been shaved, or at least tightened. I read it in a timely manner, but it did lag a bit at times, and I would put it down less because of the really hard content but more because of how it kind of felt like it was dragging.

And finally, content warnings abound for this book. There are scenes of rape, scenes of grooming and sexual harassment, and some really heavy and hard themes. This is not a book I would say that I ‘enjoyed’, as it’s greatly upsetting and unsettling, but I do think that Russell has crafted a story that is well done and filled with things that we should be thinking about as a society that has issues with misogyny and rape culture.

“My Dark Vanessa” was a hard read. But it’s one that I think has a lot of important points to make.

Rating 7: A deeply unsettling but engrossing novel, “My Dark Vanessa” tackles some seriously difficult themes but sometimes gets a bit bogged down within the narrative.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Dark Vanessa” isn’t on any Goodreads lists that I feel really do it justice (“Hot For Teacher”? Seriously?), but I think that it would fit in on “#MeToo”, and “Sexual Assault Awareness Month”.

Find “My Dark Vanessa” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.9): The Cure”

8733231Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 9): The Cure” by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, November 2003

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The forces of darkness are closing in on outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem and his merry, filthy band, but now they’ve got their own rope around the neck of corrupt President Callahan, and it’s time to start tightening the noose. TRANSMETROPOLITAN: THE CURE is the ninth volume reprinting the acclaimed series written by Warren Ellis (PLANETARY, RED) with art by Darick Robertson (The Boys). Jerusalem and his cohorts step up their investigation into Callahan’s misdeeds and turn up some startling evidence…not to mention a sole surviving witness to the President’s depravity. The problem, as always, will be getting the word out before the massive forces of the Executive Branch black out everything, and everyone, involved.

Review: I can’t believe that my re-read of “Transmetropolitan” took me this long, but I also can’t believe that it’s almost over. I’ve been reminded during my revisit that Spider Jerusalem is one of the best comic characters of the past twenty years, and that while this story is outlandish and crude it still has so much to say about the world we live in. I opened up “The Cure”, the penultimate volume, ready to be blown away by how it all turned out and totally ready to move on to the last volume, hyped and pumped up. And that didn’t QUITE happen. I am definitely ready to move on to the last and to enjoy wrapping up this series for a second time. But it didn’t hit me the way that I’d hoped it would, but honestly, that isn’t any fault of this story. It’s more the fault of the world we live in now. Somehow, “Transmetropolitan” feels, dare I say, naive.

giphy-5
I don’t understand how we ended up here. (source)

Overall I am still totally loving this story, though, so we’re definitely going to start with The Good and save the spoilery Not So Good for a bit. I like how Ellis is pulling the final threads all together as the starts to wrap up his story. Spider, Yelena, and Channon are outlaw journalists now, and as they are starting to finish up their final gambit in an effort to take down The Smiler, we’re revisiting old characters and seeing how they still have roles to play in this story. We get to see Fred Christ, the despicable and wormy leader of the Transient movement, and how this character from way back when is connected to our final storyline (and boy, was it really cathartic seeing how Spider finally got to take him down). I loved seeing Royce again, the somewhat cowardly but ultimately loyal former Editor that Spider used to work for. And what I really loved about this volume is that we once again got to see Spider at his very best, trying to protect a source, trying to make her feel comfortable, and showing the empathy that he has deep down, as any good journalist should have when it comes to some of the more complicated and sensitive stories. Channon and Yelena didn’t shine as much in this one, but since Spider’s health is really deteriorating and therefore his downfall is inevitable I am okay with letting the spotlight be on him this time around as he tries to pull out all the stops to bring down The Smiler.

So here is that part that didn’t work for me as much, and since I need to talk about nitty gritty plot points to really address it, consider this your

tenor
(source)

We end this volume with the first strike of the final battle between Spider and The Smiler, in which Spider gets the goods on The Smiler and brings out information that will start the snowball that will theoretically lead to his downfall. I’ve talked about how “Transmetropolitan” has managed to stay relevant in spite of the fact that it’s been out for almost twenty years, and that Ellis has been able to make it feel timeless in regards to our political climate. But what was that first blow of the final takedown? Spider reveals that The Smiler has been having sex with Transient sex workers. It’s used as a HUGE moment and for the first time you see The Smiler’s facade crack, and that he looks genuinely scared that this is going to be the scandal that will take his power away. There are two problems with this for me. The first is that in a world where we are to believe that society has become so degenerative and scummy, I have a hard time believing that a sex scandal like this, even if it involves people who have purposely hybrided (that’s not a word but I can’t think of better way to describe it) themselves with Alien DNA, would actually affect the greater opinion of this culture. I think it would have been more effective if the Big Reveal was somehow getting evidence that The Smiler had set up the murder of martyred Vita Severn, or even that of his own immediate family. And the next thing is that, as we now know, in our CURRENT society the President being revealed to have an affair with a sex worker DIDN’T MEAN JACK SHIT. It kind of takes away the timelessness. That isn’t “Transmetropolitan”‘s fault, and shame on me for projecting my frustrations in this regard to this book, but it did take me out of it.

That aside, I’m very excited to go on to the next and final volume of “Transmetropolitan”. I kind of remember how it ends, but the details are fuzzy. No matter how it susses out, Warren Ellis has created a fantastic world that is still relatable when you look past the very outlandish aspects of it.

Rating 7: We start to wrap up the story of Spider Jerusalem, his filthy assistants, and The City, and while the pieces of the puzzle are seamlessly coming together, it doesn’t hold up as well anymore.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.9): The Cure” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Cyberpunk”, and “Best of Vertigo Comics”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.9): The Cure” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “Night Spinner”

45046766Book: “Night Spinner” by Addie Thorley

Publication Info: Page Street Kids, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Before the massacre at Nariin, Enebish was one of the greatest warriors in the Sky King’s Imperial Army: a rare and dangerous Night Spinner, blessed with the ability to control the threads of darkness. Now, she is known as Enebish the Destroyer―a monster and murderer, banished to a monastery for losing control of her power and annihilating a merchant caravan.

Guilt stricken and scarred, Enebish tries to be grateful for her sanctuary, until her adoptive sister, Imperial Army commander Ghoa, returns from the war front with a tantalizing offer. If Enebish can capture the notorious criminal, Temujin, whose band of rebels has been seizing army supply wagons, not only will her crimes be pardoned, she will be reinstated as a warrior.

Enebish eagerly accepts. But as she hunts Temujin across the tundra, she discovers the tides of war have shifted, and the supplies he’s stealing are the only thing keeping thousands of shepherds from starving. Torn between duty and conscience, Enebish must decide whether to put her trust in the charismatic rebel or her beloved sister. No matter who she chooses, an even greater enemy is advancing, ready to bring the empire to its knees.

Review: Another beautiful cover! It seems like I’m a broken record recently in my praise of the cover art of my books, but it’s also just true that many of them have been extraordinary! It’s nice to see original cover art that properly reflects the book itself rather than trying to brazenly mimic other successful titles in an attempt to trick readers into picking books up. I mean, I get it, publishing is a business and all of that. But a beautiful cover will do the job just as well, as many readers, myself included, will pick up titles like this because the cover is lovely and unique. The book was also marketed at a retelling of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” And because I can’t even really picture what that looks like, this was an immediate request for me!

Enebish’s life is now one of seclusion and repression, a far fall from a few years ago when she had been on the cusp of becoming a great warrior and great leader for her people. But when a horrific accident occurs, killing many and crippling Enebish, her life takes a drastic turn, leaving her hated and feared by those who used to respect her. But, after years of hiding from her own powers and ignoring the temptations of the night, she is finally given a path forward to redeem herself. As she chases down a notorious criminal, however, she learns that there are many secrets in the night, not least of all her own.

While this book wasn’t the home run I’d been hoping for, there was still a lot I ended up liking about it. For one thing (and in my book, most importantly), Enebish was an excellent character. While some of her secrets and the reveals she discovers throughout the book were easy to guess, her own process of exploring these new insights was always sympathetic and relatable. As the story progresses, we see more and more clearly that her physical injuries are not nearly as crippling as her fear. Fear of her past, fear of the judgement of others, and, of course, fear of herself.

I was also a fan of the writing style and world-building. It was the kind of book that I was able to immediately sink into. Writing is always one of the hardest aspects of a book to review because what makes one author’s style work and another’s struggle can be both very subjective to the reader as well as almost impossible to pinpoint with specifics. I can usually tell within the first few chapters of a book whether the writing is going to click for me, and right off the bat, this one did. The world-building was also interesting, and I was able to easily picture the various locations that Enebish travels to.

The romance is definitely on the slow-burn side and there were hints of a love triangle at points. Luckily, the story didn’t commit fully to said triangle and the romance itself was very sweet, what little we had of it.

My struggles had to do with the length/pacing of the story, as well as the comparison to ” The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” To the latter point, I found this expectation more distracting than anything. I can see the base elements for why this was referenced in the blurb, but frankly, in the first half of the book I spent way too much time comparing characters and events to that story and not enough appreciating the book before me. I think, as a whole, the comparison is too weak to add anything to the story and is likely to prove more distracting to readers. I recommend trying to put that thought out of your head immediately to better enjoy the book. The middle of the story also lagged a bit, and, overall, I think the book was a bit longer than what was necessary. As the writing and characters were strong, these were minor concerns, but still worth noting.

Overall, I thought this was a really interesting read. I’m not biting at the bit to get to the second one, but it laid down a decent foundation for the plot going forward, and I’m fairly invested in Enebish herself. If you’re looking for an original fantasy novel this spring, this might be one worth checking out!

Rating 7: A bit longer than was necessary, but a compelling lead character and interesting magic system pulled this one into the “win” column.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Night Spinner” is a new book, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it is on “Profiles in Silhouette.”

Find “Night Spinner” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Queen of Raiders”

45046587Book: “The Queen of Raiders” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: The soliders of Oromondo have invaded the Free States, leaving a wake of misery and death. Thalen, a young scholar, survives and gathers a small cadre of guerilla fighters for a one-way mission into the heart of an enemy land.

Unconsciously guided by the elemental Spirits of Ennea Mon, Cerulia is drawn to the Land of the Fire Mountains to join Thelan’s Raiders, where she will learn the price of war.

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding” 

Review: It’s really fun being able to review an entire series like this, one book a month for four months to the series’ conclusion. It makes the whole process so much less painfully unsure. I can read this book, confident that any questions I still have or tension points that are left hanging will be followed up on in only 30 short days! (Well, less, because the publisher was kind enough to send ARCs.) But! Even the public has a very short wait between books, and for a fantasy series that started off as well as this one did, that’s something, indeed!

Cerulia, or Wren as we now know her, is still a queen without a home. Her quest back to her throne is by no means clear, but she is determined to find her way. In many ways, she is still learning the ins and outs of her Talent and is still coming to know her own strengths and weakness as a leader. In this book, her story converges with that of Thalen and his raiders who continue to work towards their own political goals.

This is definitely a complicated political fantasy novel. I’m in the midst of reading another book like this right now. It, too, is the second book in a series. But unlike this one, the first book came out a year ago. It took me quite a while to re-orient myself to the various players, the known (and unknown) alliances, the character motivations, etc. All this on top of the secrets and reveals that were still coming out in the book. It was a lot. This is one of the biggest strengths of releasing a series like this one after another. It’s a decision that may work better or worse for various types of books, but I think Tor picked the best option right of the gate choosing this series to release this way. All of these intricate moving pieces are a lot to keep in mind, but having the books come out one right after another allowed me to jump right into this book with very little adjustment needed.

We get most of the same POV characters that we had before, but between keeping up with Cerulia and Thalen, we also see behind enemy lines into the maneuverings of Lord Matwyck who is currently serving as Lord Regent. Through his son’s eyes, we see the corruption at the heart of Matwyck regime and the priority he places on his own power above that of the country he is meant to care for. I still continue to enjoy Thalen and Cerulia/Wren/Kestrel’s journey. It was fun trying to anticipate how their choices and actions would affect other aspects of the story, and it was great watching some storylines begin to converge (always a point of excitement for books with large ensemble casts like this).

I liked the detailed look into the effects of warfare on an entire region, not only the country first immediately targeted by an army itself. The book explores how war is a long-term disaster, one that doesn’t wrap up neatly or quickly, but instead spreads out with ripple effects touching far and wide. We also look into what rebellion looks like, both on the macro and micro level, from the organized actions of a group of raiders to the personal choices of those with varying levels of influence and power.

My one criticism of the book is one that I had in the first book, as well, and it has carried over here, too. For me, there is something a bit stilted about the writing style of the story. I think part of this is simply word choice and sentence construction. She has a very frank, and to the point, way of writing. But while this leaves a lot of room for detail, it also makes it hard to become emotionally invested in what is going on. The other part comes down to editing: a good editor could potentially identify parts of the story that could be trimmed down, giving the pacing a boost that I think it could use at times.

Overall, I continue to enjoy this series and am excited to get started on the third book in the series! I’ll have a giveaway for that title and my review coming out in March! In the mean time, don’t forget to enter the current giveaway to win a paperback copy of “The Queen of Raiders!”

Rating 7: The short wait time definitely plays in this series’ favor as the author only presses down harder on the complicated-political-fantasy gas pedal in this second novel.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Queen of Raiders” is a new book, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Upcoming 2020 SFF with female leads or co-leads.”

Find “The Queen of Raiders” at your library using WorldCat!