I love me a T. Kingfisher book as a comfort read, and Nettle & Bone is her best yet. Full of dark humour and dry wit, this is the twisted take on the fairy-tale trend I needed. A book I’m sure I’ll be re-reading again and again, as it’s exactly the kind of thing I want in a cosy read.
Many thanks to Sarah at Titan for sending me a review copy (with a spell kit!), all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 26/04/2022
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: 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. (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: I adored this book. Nettle & Bone is exactly what I want in a comfort read. It is a darker take on the fairy-tale tropes currently popular in fantasy literature, so it was sure to appeal to me – a princess who decides to kill the prince? What’s not to like about this concept. And then there is a chicken possessed by a demon, which… may be the best animal familiar ever. While the plot is not altogether unpredictable, it is fun, twisty and keeps the reader enthralled, but ultimately, it is the characters and the voice of the story that make it truly shine.
I loved the quirky cast of characters, which is one of Kingfisher’s main strengths. Marra, having spent years in a convent, needs to re-adjust to the outside world, and as usual, there is a traumatised, sensitive hunk of a man (this is a recurring theme in Kingfisher’s books). Cranky witches and odd animals add to the mix, making up a very random group of intrepid adventurers, trying to break a curse. And there is nothing better than a reluctant gang, brought together by happenstance and need to complete a quest…
The story is full of dry wit and dark humour, with a distinct voice narrating the story. And for me, that was Nettle & Bone‘s lifeblood. A great voice can really elevate a book, and this is a stellar example. The sometimes wacky plot and characters could easily have fallen into the absurd, or into more comedic fantasy, which is very hard to pull of if you’re not Terry Pratchett, but staying on the side of sarcasm avoided these pitfalls and made this a pure delight to read. That said, Nettle & Bone does address heavier subjects such as abusive relationships and miscarriage, which may be triggering for some readers, especially within the target demographic. I wish that the publisher had included a content warning – and I hope that this is something they may consider for the paperback edition still.
As you can tell, I loved this book, and will add it to my list of comfort reads, most likely re-reading it again and again. If you too want to experience the magic, add Nettle & Bone to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
More Monday Minis! It’s a true Monday today, Mondaying hard for me. But have some minis to cheer you up and get you in the reading mood – and hopefully improve your Monday… Many thanks to the publicists for eARCs of all of these via NetGalley, opinions are my own as always.
Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May has been very high on my most anticipated list for a very long time – just look at that cover. Absolute Fab-bait right there. Sapphic historical fantasy with witches? Doesn’t really get more me than that. But unfortunately, the book got swept up in my struggles to read digitally – I only managed to get an eARC as the promised physical copy got lost on the way somewhere, and struggled to get into it, mostly because I don’t like reading on kindle and forget about books that aren’t visibly in front of me. So when I finally picked up my final copy (yay gilded edges from Goldsboro, they look amazing and fit the book so well) I ended up racing through it in a day because it gripped me and I connected much better to the story in that format. I loved Emmeline, Annie and Bea, the three women driving the story. It is a slower book, but an immersive one. One that grabbed me just right and hit the stop perfectly. It is a story of self-determination, of finding your own path outside of the conventions that are given to you by society, and especially one where women realise that they don’t need men to live a fulfilling life in a period where they very much still determine how the world works. It is a lovely story, and one that I know I’ll come back to again.
Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen is a fun YA fantasy about witches, seers and princes. I really enjoyed how it did not have a pleasant main character, how Violet was allowed to be prickly and quite literally be made of thorns. It is a fast read, and an entertaining one. Prophecies are usually considered to be a good thing, a driving force in YA and I loved how this took that trope and turned it on its head by having Violet, the resident seer also be a liar and actively speak a false prophecy that affects the elite of the kingdom. In that, Violet Made of Thorns plays with fairy tale tropes throughout, and is a refreshing voice in YA. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Gina Chen’s writing in the future, even if ultimately this one wasn’t 100% my cup of tea in execution.
Seven Devils by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam is one that I read ages ago and somehow just forgot to review – I read it before release! It is a delightful space opera with a ton of references to Greek mythology which made me love it even more. Combining queer found family elements (pretty much all of the main characters are queer, and female or non-binary, which is awesome) with hints at pre-determined story elements through the references and generally a fun space opera story, Seven Devils is pure entertainment. It is fast-paced and not scientifically accurate. This is one of those science fiction books where the rule of cool supersedes everything, rather than being meticulously researched in terms of technology and science. And it makes it compulsively readable. I need to catch up with Seven Mercies, the second book in the duology which has been released in the meantime (shame on me, this is how long this took me…) and dive back in the world of Eris, Ariadne and co. I loved all of the characters, who became more like friends over the course of the story, which I found wonderful. Definite recommendation for a relaxing and quick read.
Equinox is a very unique dark fantasy book, set in the eighteenth century, but in a world where people share their body between a day-self and a night-self. Towsey has created a thrilling mystery in a setting that is sure to draw readers in and enchant them. Massive thanks to Ad Astra at Head of Zeus for having me on the blog tour and sending me a finished copy for review. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 12/05/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: In this world, two souls inhabit a single body, one by day, one by night. But though they live alongside one another, their ends do not always align. For Special Inspector Morden, whose hunt for a dangerous witch takes him far from home, this will be a problem…
Christophor Morden lives by night. His day-brother, Alexsander, knows only the sun. They are two souls in a single body, in a world where identities change with the rising and setting of the sun. Night-brother or day-sister, one never sees the light, the other knows nothing of the night.
Early one evening, Christophor is roused by a call to the city prison. A prisoner has torn his eyes out and cannot say why. Yet worse: in the sockets that once held his eyes, teeth are growing. The police suspect the supernatural, so Christophor, a member of the king’s special inspectorate, is charged with finding the witch responsible.
Night-by-night, Christophor’s investigation leads him ever further from home, toward a backwards village on the far edge of the kingdom. But the closer he gets to the truth, the more his day-brother’s actions frustrate him. Who is Alexsander protecting? What does he not want Christophor to discover?
And all the while, an ancient and apocalyptic ritual creeps closer to completion… (from Head of Zeus)
OPINIONS: I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky and unique take on dark fantasy, with elements adjacent to horror and tropes taken from the classic detective procedural. What makes Equinox stand out most is its world building – everyone is split into two separate people, a day-sibling and a night-sibling. These often have utterly different personalities and don’t share each other’s worldly attachments (so if a day-sibling is married, the night-sibling is not married to the night-equivalent of the day-spouse), which can lead to interesting entanglements, especially in terms of family and relationships. Our hero in this story, Christophor and Alexsander, is utterly different in night and day. Whereas Christophor is a detective, Alexsander is a musician – which the former does use to his own benefit over the course of the investigation, as Alexsander can go places where Christophor may not be able to go as openly.
This makes for an interesting narrative, though at times a confusing one. I appreciated the design choices ensuring that each section was marked with the day or night symbol mirroring the ones used in the cover design, but I can’t help but wish they’d taken a page out of the German edition of The Never-ending Story that I grew up with, and used different font colours for day and night. But alas, that is an expensive production extra, and may be more reasonable in case Equinox ever gets a special edition.
Equinox is fast-paced and compelling, though I found myself more invested in characters over plot. However, the pacing is well-done, so it never feels like the plotting drags or the mystery is too transparent, which makes the story read well to both the casual reader and the reader looking to dive deep into all of the lore mentioned within the story and immerse themself. It is a book that I would definitely recommend – if you like the darker side of humanity and a gripping read, do check this one out.
Welcome to today’s second post – a blog tour review of The Collarbound by Rebecca Zahabi. Fun epic fantasy galore and a promising start to a writing career! Many thanks to Gollancz for sending me a review copy and having me on the blog tour.
RELEASE DATE: 12/05/2022
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: On the other side of the Shadowpass, rebellion is brewing and refugees have begun to trickle into the city at the edge of the world. Looming high on the cliff is The Nest, a fortress full of mages who offer protection, but also embody everything the rebellion is fighting against: a strict hierarchy based on magic abilities.
When Isha arrives as a refugee, she attempts to fit in amongst the other mages, but her Kher tattoo brands her as an outcast. She can’t remember her past or why she has the tattoo. All she knows is that she survived. She doesn’t intend to give up now.
Tatters, who wears the golden collar of a slave, knows that this rebellion is different from past skirmishes. He was once one of the rebels, and technically, they still own him. He plans to stay in the shadows, until Isha appears in his tavern. He’s never seen a human with a tattoo, and the markings look eerily familiar…
As the rebellion carves a path of destruction towards the city, an unlikely friendship forms between a man trying to escape his past and a woman trying to uncover hers, until their secrets threaten to tear them apart. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: In a lot of ways, The Collarbound is pure entertainment. Fast paced epic fantasy, plot-driven but not quest-oriented. It profits from extensive world building, and it is made clear that what we see in this book is only a fraction of a greater world. This is something that always makes me enjoy a book more, seeing obvious thought and care being put into a world that the reader doesn’t fully see – it does pay off, even if it isn’t immediately visible. It makes the story more immersive. And immersive storytelling leads to books you can’t put down – The Collarbound is a very addictive read!
The characters are great as well – with distinct edges and flaws, not forced to be consistently pleasant. This drew me in too, and made it feel as if I was there with them. I loved the interactions, the reluctant familiarity that built between them over the course of the story. And a good dose of politics and intrigue never hurts. While it is plot-driven rather than character-focused, The Collarbound stands out from other epic fantasy due to its focus on the small, rather than a big quest story. It is a book that despite its compelling nature needs attentive reading as it is full of details rather than just allowing the reader to go on the journey with the characters, so be prepared to have to unravel some of the plot strands and world building as you go along.
So, definitely a rec if you like twisty, epic-y stuff with a lot of politics and fun characters! It’s not one of my all-time favourite books, but one I’ll probably re-read in the future and I’m looking forward to the sequel.
There are many wonderful books out there, but few manage to tick all the boxes for elements I love as much as The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah did. I inhaled this – and I admit, I may have inhaled it a bit too quickly, as my memory of the plot is getting a bit hazy – but it was so worth it. I am already looking forward to diving back into the world of this wonderful book, and I hope I get to love it as much as I did this time around for many more reads.
Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for sending me an ARC for review. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 19/05/2022
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Neither here nor there, but long ago…
Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp.
With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artefact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything – her enemy, her magic, even her own past – is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality. (from Orbit)
OPINIONS: I adored this. My current gremlin brain has already forgotten far too much other than that – and I’m looking forward to rereading it soon to refresh my memory. But the story was delightful and dark, gritty and compelling, and all-around wonderful. I fell for this book within just a few chapters, and its many twists and turns kept me engrossed until the very last page. The worldbuilding in this is rich and plastic, which just adds to the book as a whole transporting you into its realm.
This is the sort of fantasy that takes its cues from mythology and stories, but turns them into something wholly its own. The focus is laid on character development and platonic relationships, with romance being very much on the backburner (which I really appreciated, especially as the most obvious comp to this is S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad series, which is wonderful, but also very focused on its romance). The main story is interwoven with in-universe tales, which I loved too, as it added another dimension to the linear storytelling which you don’t see too often. The characters are varied and amazingly well-developed, from Loulie, a merchant of stolen magical artefacts, to Qadir, her bodyguard or Aisha, the resident thief. Each of them brings something unique to the table as they are somewhat unwillingly thrown together on the book’s central quest – and I’m excited to read more when books two and three come out, as The Stardust Thief is announced as a trilogy.
One of the elements I loved most as a reformed historian was the inclusion of magical artefacts, old, valuable and highly sought after. I adore old things, and it’s catnip for me if they’re used as a plot device in books… Combined with the inserted stories and nods to A Thousand and One Nights, this was a book I was always going to love – and what is not to love in a thrilling story based on Arab mythology, with a fantastically diverse cast of characters and an epic quest?
Welcome back to the world of Shady Hollow. I’ve got the honour of kicking off the blog tour for the third book in this delightful cosy mystery series by dynamic author duo Juneau Black, Mirror Lake. Just like the first two books, Shady Hollow and Cold Clay, this follows the anthropomorphic woodland creatures of Shady Hollow as they live their ordinary lives – and encounter extraordinary events, shaking up their community. Led by fox journalist Vera Vixen, we get to follow along as murder brings up secrets and redefines relationships.
Many thanks to Ollie at Hodder for sending me an review copy and inviting me back on the blog tour. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 28/04/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Keen journalist Vera Vixen is recovering from the Harvest Festival (and its bounty of local cheeses, cider and pies) when the calm is shattered by a scream from one of the small town’s grandest houses. Dorothy Springfield, a rat with a reputation for eccentricity, claims her husband – who is standing right next to her – has been murdered. Has Dorothy finally lost her grip on reality? Or is the rat who claims to be Edward an imposter? Vera’s fox nose scents a story. And it’s not long before the discovery of a body, minus the head, complicates things further… (from Hodder)
OPINIONS: I just adore these books. They’re so far out of what I ordinarily read, but I’ve found them such heartwarming comfort reads over the past few months as I’ve been able to read the trilogy as they’ve been released – and now that Mirror Lake is out, you can binge them all at once! This last installment is just as good as the first two, and now that we’ve had the opportunity to spend a fair bit of time with the characters, we really know them and their dynamics well, which makes it even more comforting. This last book in the trilogy has Vera investigate the case of a murdered man who very clearly alive in the town, and in the process uncovering family secrets, discovering more murders and helping her beau get a promotion.
I found that some elements of the mystery were rather transparent, but I don’t think these are books to read because they contain gripping plots. These books are charming because of their whole package – the community of Shady Hollow, Vera Vixen who manages to get a smile out of everyone she meets and the mysteries are just the red thread that allows for forward momentum within the stories. Nevertheless, they are reasonably fast paced and never boring, creating a place that the reader likes to spend time in and would love to visit (not least for the maple pumpkin pancakes Vera eats at Joe’s coffee shop…).
I’m looking forward to diving back into these in the autumn – they’ve got such autumnal vibes – with a mug of mulled cider. The series is just lovely and Mirror Lake is a worthy conclusion. I hope you give them a shot too, and like these books as much as I do.
I can’t believe it’s already time for the next hype post. May has come around very quickly, so have a look at some of our most anticipated books for the month. As always, do have a look at our 2022 overview post for inspiration HERE as we’re trying not to repeat titles.
The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, out on the 12th of May is her second foray into adult fiction, after The Mercies. The latter took my heart by storm, with its lyrical writing and haunting story, so I can’t wait to read another of her adult books. This one is set during the dancing plague in Strasbourg in 1518, a legendary historical event. It tells the story of three women, pregnant Lisbet, her best friend Ida and Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe, newly returned from six years exile for an unkown crime. And no one will tell Lisbet what Nethe did all those years ago… This promises to be another brilliant book by Milwood Hargrave, combining deeply human, individual stories with embedding them in greater historical events, especially those affecting women most of all. These are slow, character-driven stories, but such amazing ones and I cannot recommend her books more – I don’t think there has been a single one, in any age category, that I did not love. Pre-order a copy of The Dance Tree via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
How to be Eaten by Maria Adelmann, out at the very end of May (31st) sounds like a book explicitly written to please me. It mixes a feminist approach to fairy tales with literary analysis and mythological retellings. In a story that is described as wickedly funny, five women meet in a support group to process their trauma in present-day NYC. All corresponding to fairy tale archetypes and representing modern day interpretations of these beloved stories, they start out wary of each other, judging the slightly weird backgrounds and story the other women have. But with time, they realise they have more in common than they thought, and start to consider what brought them together and how they can rescue each other. This hits so many of my favourite tropes, and I can’t wait to give it a read. Pre-order this one via Book Depository here.
I have been reading Kiersten White’s YA since her debut many many years ago, and especially since I’ve been on a bit of a horror and thriller binge recently, I’m very excited for her adult debut. Hide is out on the 24th of May, and set in an abandoned amusement park – which, even the setting is creepy as hell. The challenge has contestants spending a week hiding in the abandoned park without getting caught, offering a life-changing sum of money as a prize. Main character Mack is sure she’s meant to win this. After all, she’s an expert at hiding, as it’s what’s kept her alive while the rest of her family has perished. But when people start disappearing one by one, she starts to realise that this may be far more sinister than she imagined and that she may have to find a way to work with the other contestants if she wants to survive… It sounds like a deliciously dark thriller, keeping readers up all night reading (or not sleeping from the creepy) which is exactly what I want right now. Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Perennial favourite of the book community The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has given me a taste for the glamour of old Hollywood, for the golden age of film. And Siren Queen by Nghi Vo, out on the 10th, seems to scratch exactly that itch. Featuring a Chinese American lead in a universe not made to accommodate anyone who doesn’t fit a very narrow mold, Vo explores a world in which an outsider conquers this world on her own terms, with a fantastical bent where monsters are real. The blurb for this one is brilliant, so have a read:
“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.
But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.
Pre-order this one from Book Depository here.
I have been having a massive writing block in recent weeks – which is why my review output has been much slower than it has been. But luckily, it hasn’t affected my reading as much (though, looking at the huge pile of books that need writing about, that may not be such a good thing after all…). One of the books that have been sitting next to my laptop is The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning. A weird and wacky fantasy adventure inspired by a love of 1980s films that is immensely loveable and immersive – and one that managed to hit exactly that nostalgic love for The Neverending Story that I grew up with (as a child, one of my family nicknames was “Fuchur” – the German name for Falkor, the dragon from that story).
Many thanks to Lydia at Titan for sending me a copy for review. All opinions are my own as usual.
RELEASE DATE: 22/03/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Jack Corman is failing at life.
Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune.
But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father, and he lives with the fear that he’ll end up a failure just like him.
In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, a place creaking with movie memorabilia and painful memories. Then, during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within––and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud. (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: I absolutely devoured The Shadow Glass. I was reading this while traveling across London on the tube, and was very upset when my journey was over and I had to pause – only to race through the rest on my way home. Lydia from Titan sold me the book as her favourite book of the year in the publicity email, and I’m so glad I listened and requested it, as the blurb had it sounding quite out there and I wasn’t sure if it would click with me. But this is brilliant and manages to hit those nostalgic feels without going too far into absurdist comedy. The Shadow Glass is fast paced and plot-driven, but its characters don’t suffer because of it.
I really enjoyed Jack undergoing extensive character growth throughout the story and developing as a person within a relatively short span of time. We also get to know the deceased Bob fairly well, which I liked a lot, as well as some of the stranger creatures from the eponymous film. As a whole, it served as wonderful escapist entertainment, with big dashes of humanity and nostalgia. This will make readers of my generation and that before mine connect with this – it is very much a book aimed at those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, and makes for a refreshing change in the current market.
This week’s Monday Minis are coming to you from Eastercon – the exotic holiday destination of London Heathrow. Sun and I are enjoying our time at Con, meeting many lovely people and listening to inspiring panels. And occasionally hiding out in our room, reading and reviewing – like getting this post ready! Many thanks to the publicists for sending me review copies of these books, all opinions are my own.
This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede is the first book in The Last Finestra series. It has a great hook – Alessa has a god-given gift of magic, supposed to help save her city from a vicious demon attack, except she keeps accidentally killing her suitors instead of amplifying their powers. She’s pretty desperate, she had one job and she’s definitely failing at it. In comes Dante, a mysterious rogue, who seems to be the one person she can touch – so she keeps him around as her bodyguard, all the while trying to solve her other problems. Sadly, I didn’t stay as hooked to the story as I did to the concept, and found Alessa rather frustrating and the chemistry between both her and Dante and her and the other suitors lacking. A lot of people seem to really like this Italian-inspired YA fantasy though, so it’s probably more on me than the book itself – a case of mismatched expectations and reality. I wish I’d enjoyed it more, but while it was a fine book to entertain, it wasn’t more than that for me, and I don’t think I will be continuing the series.
Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders is the middle book in the Unstoppable trilogy. Following up on last year’s Victories Greater Than Death, this is Anders’ first sequel – her first foray into YA and into writing something that isn’t standalone. That said, this volume both manages to build on the strengths of the first book, as well as not quite live up to my expectations – it is the second book in a trilogy, the one where many threads are left open and few plotlines are taken to their conclusion. Whereas Victories very much was concluded in itself, an arc that could mostly be left on its own, Dreams took these characters, took the ensemble cast, and fragmented it again. The found family aspects of the first book that I loved so much took a bit of a back seat as each of the characters embarked on their own arc and worked on establishing themselves as an individual in their changed circumstances – which was very interesting, but felt less compelling and comforting than the first book for me personally. I still adored Rachael, my favourite character, who was given plenty of space for her anxiety to unfold (THANK YOU CHARLIE JANE for giving us such a wonderful character with anxiety rep!) – and who got to grow outside of her friendship with Tina. Definitely still a good book, and I am looking forward to reading the conclusion, even if it didn’t quite have the magic of the first one.
Ghosts by Raina Telgemaier has been out on the other side of the Atlantic for a while, but the UK arm of Scholastic has only just brought it over here. This is a middle grade graphic novel set in Northern California, combining Latinx Day of the Dead traditions with Cystic Fibrosis rep. Cat is frustrated that her family has been uprooted to a new town, providing a better climate for her chronically ill sister Maya, and even more so when they meet local boy Oscar who won’t shut up about ghosts. And when an encounter with ghosts causes a flare-up of Maya’s Cystic Fibrosis, Cat has to find a way to help her sister despite her reluctance to embrace the magic. On paper, this is everything I love – the exact kind of graphic novel I tend to immediately fall in love with. But I struggled to connect with it, I think partially because Cat is so reluctant towards anything supernatural and focused on reality – whereas I am the type of person to immediately embrace anything magical. I did appreciate the chronic illness rep, especially how Maya is disabled but doesn’t let it take away from her love of life and desire to experience the world. Far from embracing toxic positivity or a rose-tinted view, it is a portrayal with nuance and dignity. Ghosts is a lovely story and the art suits it really well, and despite not fully connecting with it, I would recommend it on to middle grade readers.
Portrait of a Thief is a brilliant book combining tropes of dark academia with the classic heist and interrogating the effects of colonialism both on society and on the individuals as all of the main characters are Chinese-American with a variety of backgrounds and relationships to their culture. One that I’d highly recommend, and I’m very much looking forward to having a finished copy in my hands soon.
Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for sending me an eARC of Portait of a Thief via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 14/04/2022
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: This was how things began: Boston on the cusp of fall, the Sackler Museum robbed of 23 pieces of priceless Chinese art. Even in this back room, dust catching the slant of golden, late-afternoon light, Will could hear the sirens. They sounded like a promise.
Will Chen, a Chinese American art history student at Harvard, has spent most of his life learning about the West – its art, its culture, all that it has taken and called its own. He believes art belongs with its creators, so when a Chinese corporation offers him a (highly illegal) chance to reclaim five priceless sculptures, it’s surprisingly easy to say yes.
Will’s crew, fellow students chosen out of his boundless optimism for their skills and loyalty, aren’t exactly experienced criminals. Irene is a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything; Daniel is pre-med with steady hands and dreams of being a surgeon. Lily is an engineering student who races cars in her spare time; and Will is relying on Alex, an MIT dropout turned software engineer, to hack her way in and out of each museum they must rob.
Each student has their own complicated relationship with China and the identities they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but one thing soon becomes certain: they won’t say no.
Because if they succeed? They earn an unfathomable ten million each, and a chance to make history. If they fail, they lose everything . . . and the West wins again. (from Coronet)
OPINIONS: I think this is my favourite non-SFF book I’ve read this year. It combines so many things I tend to love about books – dark academia vibes, a good heist, strong characters with complex backgrounds, and most of all, being a commercial and accessible story with immense depth. Through looking at both colonial theft of art by major museums and the complicated relationships to identity all of the main characters have in regards to being Chinese-American, Portrait of a Thief gives the reader much opportunity to think further than the surface level heist story, but by packaging it in an accessible way, it makes readers more open to receive the message. And that is one of my absolute favourite things about books right now. Thinking about museums and how their collections are largely based on objects looted through colonialism never fails to make me grumpy, so this really felt like a book written specifically for me. (If you’re in London and feel similarly, the V&A has an exciting exhibit of reproductions of major landmarks and sculptures! Instead of looting them they made their own to give us an impression, all the way back in the 19th century)
The story is compelling – as behooves a heist – but it is also a lot of fun. The characters are all charming in their own ways, from Will, who is passionate about art, to Irene who can persuade anyone to do anything (that girl just rolls nat20 after nat20 on persuasion!) or Lily who is a student but also races cars passionately. They come to life in a way that makes the reader almost feel like part of their gang by the end, and while, of course, the idea that a random group of college students can pull of these heists requires a level of suspension of disbelief, as a whole, their shenanigans make sense, and I cheered every time something went off without them being caught.
All in all, just a brilliant book, and I highly recommend it to anyone, even if it’s not necessarily the genre you usually read. It has something for everyone, romance, action, charm, discussion of complex issues, the whole shebang, so really, there are no excuses not to at least give this a shot. I can’t speak to the nuances of cultural representation, but for me, it was an interesting perspective to read, and it felt organic, adding to the book and its story rather than overpowering it.