Once more onto the breech, my friends. It is Monday once more. I received review copies of all of these books, but as always, opinions are entirely my own.
This Eden by Ed O’Loughlin is a weird one. Out earlier this month from riverrun, this is a sort of spy thriller set in the tech industry around Michael who is drawn into a cryptocurrency conspiracy after his girlfriend’s death. It is extremely fast-paced and tension is high throughout – though at the expense of logic consistency. I struggled a lot with the voice, the urgency with which the story was told grated on me after the first few dozen pages and felt repetitive and annoying. Through the tone of the story and the constant secrecy the characters uphold even with each other, the reader doesn’t really know anything about any of them, even at the end of the story, so for me it was very hard to get invested in the book. A gripping plot is not the only thing that I need to like a book – I need characters I care about, I need emotional investment, I need a compelling voice. And sadly, the only thing that kept me reading was that This Eden had a good hook.
Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams will be published in July by Harper. This is a solid murder-mystery thriller. The story revolves around Heather, whose mother has just killed herself – and while tidying up her affairs, Heather finds a bunch of letters her mother had been exchanging with a convicted serial killer. But despite him being behind bars, new victims are being found in the same distinctive manner… Heather is pulled into the investigation whether she wants to or not, as she is innately connected to the mystery at hand. I found the story compelling, relateable and compulsively readable. However, some twists were very predictable – I saw some parts of the ending coming from very early on in the story and was just waiting for the resolution to happen. It’s not a perfect book, but a very solid one for fans of the genre. Worth a shot if you like twisty murdery books!
I was super excited for Star Eater by Kerstin Hall, published last week by Tordotcom. So obviously I was thrilled to be able to review an audio ARC, but sadly I didn’t love this as much as I expected to. Star Eater is a story about cannibal nuns – a religious sect who gain magical powers through eating the flesh of their martyred mothers. The book centres on Elfreda Rahn, who is drawn into an intricate political web, where she plays a role she never expected. I never expected I’d say this but this political fantasy about cannibal nuns needed more politics, religion and cannibalism. It felt like the story was trying to go in too many directions at once, doing too many things, and lost sight of the concept. There is certainly a lot of interesting stuff in here, and I wouldn’t call it bad, but it’s also nothing that is outstanding. In some ways, this felt unfinished – I think it might have worked better as a novella, shorter, but focused on only one aspect and exploring that in detail, maybe even as a series of novellas. The way it is now, it lost a lot of its emotional impact through bombarding the reader with a ton of different strands and relationships that aren’t properly explored.
It does not often happen that I receive a review copy and read it on the same day. But that is exactly how it played out with Daughters of Sparta. I couldn’t resist the lure of the shiny gold foil and once in the world of Ancient Greece and Troy I couldn’t snap out of it again until the story was over. I am thrilled that 2021 is bringing so many books inspired by mythology – just my thing.
Massive thanks to Maria at Hodder for sending me a review copy, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 22/07/2021
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.
Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.
But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years. (from Hodder & Stroughton)
OPINIONS: Daughters of Sparta is extremely compelling. I’ve always wanted to know more about Helen – who is such a catalyst in the Homerian epic, but such a passive figure without a voice of her own. Traditionally she is reduced merely to her beauty, when really, she should be presented as a woman in her own right, making decisions that have repercussions rippling across all of Ancient Greece and Troy. And her sister Klytemnestra – famous for murdering her husband – is often similarly pigeonholed due to a single moment in her legendary life, missing all the other moments that led to this one. In this novel, Claire Heywood manages to make the sisters into flawed women, trying to live their lives the best they can.
Neither Helen nor Klytemnestra are presented as heroines – or villainesses, for that matter – in the story. They are simply human. They struggle, they suffer, they make mistakes. And they are at the mercy of men. Because no matter how feminist one wants to present this story, that remains a central aspect of it – both of their lives were heavily driven by the whims of men – fathers, husbands, lovers. And while the reader knows how this story goes, it is after all one that is thousands of years old, Claire Heywood packages it in a compelling voice that leaves the reader captivated and unable to stop reading on. Daughters of Sparta is an excellent example for the magic of strong characterisations and emotional investment being the crucial ingredients in a fantastic book.
I devoured this book. It didn’t even make it onto my kindle – I was having a bad day and I read it like a gremlin on my phone while I was curled up. And every time I put it down I had to immediately pick it back up because I needed to know how the story continued. It is addictive and fun and just an all-around-great read and I DESPERATELY need a physical copy (hint, hint).
Massive thanks to Will O’Mullane and NetGalley for a super early eARC, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 11/11/2021
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: After the publication of a salacious tell-all book, the remote city of Ilvernath is thrust into the spotlight. Tourists, protesters, and reporters alike flock to its spellshops and historic ruins to witness an ancient curse unfold: every generation, seven families name a champion among them to compete in a tournament to the death. The winner awards their family exclusive control over the city’s high magick supply, the most powerful resource in the world.
In the past, the villainous Lowes have won nearly every tournament, and their champion is prepared to continue his family’s reign. But this year, thanks to the influence of their newfound notoriety, each of the champions has a means to win. Or better yet–a chance to rewrite their story.
But this is a story that must be penned in blood. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: Think of this as a magical Gossip Girl meets The Hunger Games with a dash of Nevernight. So, pretty damn addictive. It hits that easy reading and moreish vibe that I’ve been looking for. I need more ASAP and desperately. Also this will be PERFECT for a screen adaptation. I don’t think I’ve read anything that is as suited to adaptation as this is.
All Of Us Villains is one of those books where having a larger cast of main characters works great – it follows the seven contestants through the story as well as some tangential characters. Through its limited setting in the game, the world is contained and small, and tensions are high, leading to extreme reactions from everyone involved. This is a lot of fun to read. Honestly, none of the characters were especially NICE people, but all of them were interesting. I think my favourites were Isobel and Briony, and I might even have shipped them a little – and while that’s not where the story went, who knows where the twists of book two will take the contestants!
One thing I really loved about this is that the characters are thrown into this situation where they are all competing against each other, battle royale style. But Briony realises just before the competition starts that there might be a way to stop the whole thing from happening if they all work together, and a major part of the story is her trying to get the contestants to work together in a situation that is designed to pit them against each other. These psychological dynamics are really interesting, and I am super curious where the authors will be taking this in the second book, especially after the way this one ends.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work is the epitome of books that in theory sound like they’re perfect for me but somehow fail to capture me. This is the third of her books that I’ve read – after Gods of Jade and Shadow and Mexican Gothic – and again, the pitch sounded like something that I’d absolutely love. Fantasy of manners, combining high society with magic and courtship. But once again, I struggled with its execution.
Many thanks to Ella Patel and Jo Fletcher Books for sending me an ARC of The Beautiful Ones. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 27/04/2021
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis: the haphazard manifestations of her powers have long made her the subject of gossip – malicious neighbours even call her the Witch of Oldhouse.
But Nina’s life is about to change, for there is a new arrival in town: Hector Auvray, the renowned entertainer, who has used his own telekinetic talent to perform for admiring audiences around the world. Nina is dazzled by Hector, for he sees her not as a witch, but ripe with magical potential. Under his tutelage, Nina’s talent blossoms – as does her love for the great man.
But great romances are for fairy-tales, and Hector is hiding a secret bitter truth from Nina – and himself – that threatens their courtship. (from Jo Fletcher)
OPINIONS: The Beautiful Ones is a beautifully written story of intrigue, high society and romance, with a dash of magic thrown in. But while there isn’t anything wrong with the book itself, it failed to capture my heart and maintain tension throughout the story. In what seems to have become a pattern with Moreno-Garcia’s books for me, I love the openings, and then get distracted and bored as the story sputters on. I really struggle to put my finger on what exactly it is that makes me disconnect with her work so much as all of the books I’ve picked up are quite different in genre and have fantastic premises that tempt me into trying again – but then the issues I end up having are quite similar.
I think it might be something that comes down to characters. They are well-crafted, but they lack emotions – and the emotional connection is something that I find crucial to the enjoyment of a book for me. This is probably also partially down to the setting, as The Beautiful Ones, as all of the books by Moreno-Garcia I’ve read, are set in the early twentieth century, in a society that is rather stilted and stiff, and thus not as open and ready to show emotions. It really comes down to personal preference I think – in no way is The Beautiful Ones a bad book, just one that doesn’t work too well for me personally.
If you are a fan of Regency romances, of fantasy of manners books in general, this is a book for you. If you adored Bridgerton, check this out. If you are intrigued, you can add The Beautiful Ones to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Sorry for letting you all down last week by not writing any Monday Minis! I got my vaccine over the preceding weekend and it killed me. It took me quite a few days to recuperate from the ensuing fatigue and insomnia – great combination, if I may say so. Pretty much everything on the blog this past week was stuff I’d wisely pre-scheduled, but at least I got a bunch of reading done. So back to your regular barrage of books now! All of these are digital review copies I received from the publishers through NetGalley, and as usual all opinions are my own.
Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier, Val Wise and Oscar O. Jupiter is an adorable YA graphic novel. Like all my favourite graphic novels, it is queer as hell and super cute. This one is out in August from Oni Press. Annie is a grumpy lesbian in her senior year of high school – and her mum and teachers are on her case because she lacks extracurriculars for her college applications (don’t get me started about how shitty I think THAT system is). So she reluctantly ends up joining the cheer squad – where BeeBee, the only trans girl for miles is basically bullied into being captain to make everyone else look and feel good. But Annie gets more than she’s bargained for when she falls for BeeBee and both of them find their confidence and shed their outward masks of “the rebel” and “the people pleaser” they use to cope. I loved this little story so much and I really hope that we get more installments – it’s perfect for fans of the Fence series!
Some Faraway Place by Lauren Shippen is the third novel to go with The Bright Sessions podcast. This one is Rose’s story. It’s the first novel I’ve read, though I’ve listened to the whole of the podcast and really enjoyed the audiodrama. I feel like the book itself doesn’t work if you don’t have the context of the podcast – though I might feel differently if I hadn’t listened to it and only read the earlier books. The TL:DR is that in this world, there are humans who have special abilities, so-called Atypicals. There are two central places they go for help – a government agency referred to as the AM and a therapist operating largely independently, Dr. Bright. Rose, the main character of Some Faraway Place is in her late teens, dreams of being a chef and comes from a family of Atypicals when she realises that she can dreamwalk. The story follows her as she explores her ability, meets a cute girl, falls in love, through a lot of family and relationship drama and gives a different perspective to quite a bit of the events of the podcast. However, I feel like my enjoyment of this was hampered a lot by having listened to the audiodrama first. I knew about a lot of the twists before they happened and I didn’t think the writing itself was strong enough to work as a novel. Loved the characters and base material, this… not so much. Out from Tor Teen in August!
The Gatekeeper’s Staff is the first in the TJ Young & The Orishas series by Antoine Bandele, out in July from Bandele Books. I got to listen to an audio ARC (which, best thing ever!) – the audio was really well done with sound effects and transitions, one of the best audio adaptations I’ve listened to recently. In its basic concept, it is reminiscent of the Percy Jackson series – boy realises that he is special and goes to magic summer camp where he defeats a major threat. But that’s where the similarities end. This is based on the West African mythology of the Orisha – I loved learning more about them and Nigerian culture, as The Gatekeeper’s Staff is deeply rooted in Black American and Nigerian spaces. TJ has always considered himself the dud of a family where everyone but him has powers, and his older sister is the golden child. When she dies unexpectedly, and they are attacked by the Keepers at her funeral, he discovers that he is not as powerless as he thought and is invited to a magical summer camp. He jumps at the chance to discover his magic and find out what truly happened to his sister. This is a fun story, which also fits nicely into the teen space between middle grade and YA, which is often neglected. TJ is fourteen, and while there is a very soft romance, it is slow and blossoming rather than the full on kind that often shows in true YA. I really recommend this to anyone who is growing out of the age range of middle grade and is looking for their next adventure.
Aaaaaand another blog tour! I’m starting to feel like a tour guide for books – and I like the feeling. Today I’m taking you to Dacia, approximately where Romania is situated in the present day, to one of the later big expansions of the Roman Empire. The story of The Fort takes place, surprise, surprise, at a Roman fort and the people situated around it.
Many thanks to Vicky Joss and Head of Zeus for inviting me on this blog tour and for sending me a review copy of The Fort. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 10/06/2021
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: AD 105: DACIA
The Dacian kingdom and Rome are at peace, but no one thinks that it will last. Sent to command an isolated fort beyond the Danube, centurion Flavius Ferox can sense that war is coming, but also knows that enemies may be closer to home.
Many of the Brigantes under his command are former rebels and convicts, as likely to kill him as obey an order. And then there is Hadrian, the emperor’s cousin, and a man with plans of his own… (from Head of Zeus)
OPINIONS: The Fort is exceedingly fun. It’s small-scale military drama woven into bigger politics with some strong characters. I picked this up without knowing too much about what to expect simply because I have been really enjoying the recent classically set novels like The Wolf Den (haha, Fab, you are slightly ridiculous given the title of this book) – this is actually more of a dad-book rather than a feminist one, so I was certainly in for a surprise. But not necessarily a bad one. Once I adjusted my expectations (aka Fab stops being upset at the lack of women in a Roman army) I really enjoyed myself and the story for what it is. Sometimes it is a good thing if I don’t pay too much attention to blurbs past the setting because I’m not sure I would have picked this up otherwise and I’d have deprived myself of a story I really enjoyed.
The Fort is really fast paced and compelling. I consistently struggled to put it down at the intervals I gave myself – part of that is that I think I’m slowly getting my reading mojo back, but a large part is the writing in The Fort. I loved reading this action packed military novel, detailing the struggles at the Dacian border, with problems with traitors within the legion. The leading characters are strong, and I especially liked Claudia Enica, the Dacian queen. She stood out not only as a female warrior but through the respect that the Romans showed her, both in her own right and as the wife of Flavius Ferox. I appreciated that as one of the only women in the story she was presented as a character with agency rather than objectified which seems to be the case in this sort of novel all too often.
It is clear that the author is an expert on the time period and the Roman army and has done his research. The Fort is excellently embedded in history without detail overwhelming the reader, which is the true art of writing historical novels. I am curious to see where the series goes next.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adrian Goldsworthy has a doctorate from Oxford University. His first book, The Roman Army at War was recognised by John Keegan as an exceptionally impressive work, original in treatment and impressive in style. He has gone on to write several other books, including The Fall of the West, Caesar, In the Name of Rome, Cannae and Roman Warfare, which have sold more than a quarter of a million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. A full-time author, he regularly contributes to TV documentaries on Roman themes.
And July just keeps up the great streak 2021 has been in terms of book releases. One of my favourite reads of the year so far, She Who Became the Sun will finally be released (see my review here). But it’s not the only book that I can’t wait to get my hands on.
Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian will be published by Ace on the 6th of July. This is her adult debut after a YA trilogy, and a feminist reimagining of the story of the Lady of Shalott. So obviously I can’t wait to read it – feminist retelling, Arthuriana and influenced by mythology are my jam. From the blurb: “Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of Shalott is cursed to see the future.” It sounds delicious and wonderful and I need it. If you’re just as tempted, you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
I’ve been getting into horror more recently, and so I’m very excited about The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix, out on the 13th by Titan. The final girl is a huge horror/splatter trope, but what happens to those girls who have survived the slaughter? Six of them formed a self-help therapy group – which has been going for a very long time. But now it’s coming to an end – one, maybe all of the final girls might not survive the day. It sounds like such good fun and I can’t wait to escape into this good old fashioned slasher thriller. You can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
After those big adult tomes, another book I’m very excited about is The Ghoul Next Door – a MG graphic novel by Cullen Bunn and Cat Farris. This is the story of a boy who is haunted, a friendship with a ghost and much mystery and creep. It sounds absolutely charming and wonderful – I love graphic novels these days and a middle grade ghost story is really my kind of thing. And if the cover is any indication, the art is really cool too. Order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
This wouldn’t be a me-list if I didn’t include some awesome YA fantasy as well. I’m very excited about It Ends In Fire by Andrew Shvarts, out on the 6th. This is a dark-ish story about a girl going undercover at a wizard school, determined to use her gained knowledge to destroy them all. The cover is stunning – which might have been why I was interested in the book to start with. But it also fits hardmode revenge seeking plot for the r/fantasy bingo, which might just be the excuse I need to order myself a copy. It sounds delightfully fun. Order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
This seems to be an author who can do no wrong. P. Djèlí Clark manages to switch genres effortlessly, but keep his smart, insightful voice throughout. His novella Ring Shout was one of my favourites of 2020 – I reviewed this over at Grimdark Magazine, and even got to do an interview with him for it (review here and interview here). A Master of Djinn is his first full-length novel, but it goes back to the world that he created in the short story A Dead Djinn in Cairo (which you can read for free here) – and returns to the wonderful leading character Fatma el-Sha’awawi.
Massive thanks to Orbit for sending me an ARC. All opinions are entirely my own.
RELEASE DATE: 19/08/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.
So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, Al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world fifty years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be Al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.
Alongside her Ministry colleagues and a familiar person from her past, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems. (from Orbit)
OPINIONS: This is brilliant. I think chances are good that this will become one of my all-time favourites. There isn’t anything that I would change about this story. A Master of Djinn is smart, sapphic and compelling. And it ruthlessly trolls the foreigners in the story, especially the English – who come to Cairo, believing they are above Egyptians and just.. fail. Apart from being a great story, it deals with colonialism, its repercussions and the arrogance resulting from it, and it does so incredibly well.
Historical fantasy is one of my favourite genres at the moment, and this seamlessly weaves together a historical fantasy tale with a procedural murder mystery and added djinn. Never boring, A Master of Djinn is both well-written and compelling throughout. I loved the use of djinn-lore, the many kinds that are present in stories. It’s getting to the point where I really need to read up on them after such great adaptations of them in fantasy.
This also features fantastic characters. Fatma is such an amazing badass and I want to be more like her. She is not the only great one, but she is the one that stands out to me. She has impressive respect for the social structures she is part of, while being truly her own person, acting in ways that seem contradictory to her surroundings. Fatma is a role model to us all, and her relationship with Siti is so cute. I stan.
I highly suggest you keep an eye out for this one, especially if you like smart fantasy that draws on important issues. You can add A Master of Djinn to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
The Good Neighbours by Nina Allan is one of those books that sits squarely on the border between speculative and literary fiction. It reminds me a bit of The Cottingley Cuckoo by A.J. Elwood, which came out from Titan a little while ago (see my review here) in that respect, though it approaches the themes in a very different manner. But if you like one, chances are you’ll like the other too. Both are rather odd, but charming in a lot of ways, even if not necessarily books that worked super well for me personally.
Massive thanks to riverrun for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 10/06/2021
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Cath is a photographer hoping to go freelance, working in a record shop to pay the rent and eking out her time with her manager Steve. He thinks her photography is detective work, drawing attention to things that would otherwise pass unseen and maybe he’s right…
Starting work on her new project – photographing murder houses – she returns to the island where she grew up for the first time since she left for Glasgow when she was just eighteen. The Isle of Bute is embedded in her identity, the draughty house that overlooked the bay, the feeling of being nowhere, the memory of her childhood friend Shirley Craigie and the devastating familicide of her family by the father, John Craigie.
Arriving at the Craigie house, Cath finds that it’s occupied by Financial Analyst Alice Rahman. Her bid to escape the city lifestyle, the anxiety she felt in that world, led her to leave London and settle on the island. The strangeness of the situation brings them closer, leading them to reinvestigate the Craigie murder. Now, within the walls of the Craigie house, Cath can uncover the nefarious truths and curious nature of John Craigie: his hidden obsession with the work of Richard Dadd and the local myths of the fairy folk. (from riverrun)
OPINIONS: This story starts out really intriguing. I enjoyed this book a lot until about two thirds through, when I realised that ultimately the story was not going to be resolved in a manner that would be satisfying to me. It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly why that was, but I think it boils down to character potential falling flat. There are so many strands that are presented, that would be really interesting if followed through on, that then aren’t explored properly. It feels like answers are always either far too simple or completely out of the blue with little perceived logic.
For example, Cath is said to be a photographer. She sets out on this photography project. But there is awfully little photography in the story. She is also shown to have a visual disability – something that one would think would be explored and discussed in relation to being a visual artist, but is only brought up as an explanation why she doesn’t drive. And all of The Good Neighbours hinges on such unquestioned acceptance of character traits and actions and an ignorance of logic. This is something I struggle with, and ultimately it hindered my enjoyment of the story quite a bit.
The Good Neighbours wanders on the boundary between fairy tale and literary fiction quite a bit, trying to reconstruct the past and using individual’s belief in fairies which may or may not exist. These elements are interesting and make up a lot of the tension in the story. It is a compelling tale, even if it is one that didn’t fully work for me.
It’s release day for Ed Cox’s wonderful The Wood Bee Queen, and I’m thrilled to open the Gollancz blog tour for it. With a title this punny, how could I not love this book. Massive thanks for Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for having me and sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 10/06/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Somewhere in England, in a small town called Strange Ground by the Skea, Ebbie Wren is the last librarian and he’s about to lose his job. Estranged from his parents, unable to make connections with anyone except the old homeless lady who lives near the library, Ebbie isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to do next. His only escape from reality is his deep interest in local folklore, but reality is far stranger than Ebbie can dream.
On the other side of the sky and the sea, the Queen of House Wood Bee has been murdered. Her sister has made the first move in a long game, one which will lead her to greatness, yet risk destruction for the entire Realm. She needs the two magical stones Foresight and Hindsight for her power to be complete, but no one knows where they are. Although the sword recently stolen by Bek Rana, small time thief and not very good at it, might hold a clue to their location… and to stopping the chaos. But all Bek wants is to sell the sword and buy herself a better life. She’s not interested in being a hero, and neither is Ebbie.
But someone is forcing their hand and playing for the heart of the Realm. Ebbie and Bek are destined to unite. They must find a way to stop the destruction of House Wood Bee, save the Realm, and just maybe save themselves in the process. All victories come at a price. The Oldungods are rising. And they are watching… (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: I think the best way to describe The Wood Bee Queen is to say that it’s a children’s fantasy adventure for adults. This does not mean that it’s a childish book or a story without depth, but that its form as a portal fantasy, coupled with a fairy-tale style world and its use of a deus ex machina plot device is most often found in that area. As I love both adult fantasy and children’s books, I thought this was a really cool concept and I really enjoyed my reading experience.
The Wood Bee Queen is humorous, compelling and entertaining. The story is quite fast-paced and keeps up tension throughout. I think what might make this a make-or-break kind of book is the use of a deus ex machina device that explains things to the characters and leads them on their journey – enjoyment of the story is hinged on being able to go with it and accept a magical guiding hand. The plot as a whole isn’t anything new – it’s a fairly straight forward quest – but its packaging in a detailed and imaginative world makes it stand out.
I really enjoyed the characters – Ebbie Wren, small-town librarian in his late twenties who doesn’t know what to do with himself is far too relatable for comfort. Bek Rana is a badass snarky thief and I fell for her very quickly. And Mai, whose death is the catalyst for the story, never appears herself, but oversees the events through her memory. Simply wonderful. Another thing I appreciated about this book is that there is NO ROMANCE. It’s just a story, a quest, with found family elements and friendship. So good to read a book that focuses on those elements rather than romantic ones for a change.