I was a massive fan of Gabriela Houston’s adult debut, The Second Bell, which was released earlier in 2021, so of course I could not resist the opportunity to review her children’s debut, The Wind Child as well. And damn, this is a great book. When I started it, I was just going to read a couple of chapters as a taster, but I raced through it, blundering my way through the London Tube system, kindle in hand, non-stop reading. Get on the Gabriela Houston train, friends. And if you have kids distracting you from reading, either get this one to share with them, or to distract them while you go off to read The Second Bell, whichever option you prefer.
Many thanks to UCLan Publishing for sending me an eARC via NetGalley, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 03/02/2022
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: No human has ever returned from Navia, the Slavic afterlife. But twelve-year-old Mara is not entirely human. She is the granddaughter of Stribog, the god of winter winds and she’s determined to bring her beloved father back from the dead. Though powerless, Mara and her best friend Torniv, the bear-shifter, set out on an epic journey to defy the gods and rescue her father. On their epic journey they will bargain with forest lords, free goddesses from enchantments, sail the stormy seas in a ship made of gold and dodge the cooking pot of the villainous Baba Latingorka. Little do the intrepid duo know of the terrible forces they have set in motion, for the world is full of darkness and Mara will have to rely on her wits to survive. (from UCLan Publishing)
OPINIONS: This is such an entirely wonderful book. Not only is it an immersive story full of great characters, but I learned a lot about Slavic mythology along the way – and I love learning new things. This is a rather short middle grade fantasy adventure, which makes it perfect for young readers, and especially reluctant readers as well. It is addictive – I got stuck into it so much that I could not stop reading until I was done, which for me, is one of the crucial elements of a great children’s book. I found this to be an uncontested five star read – the only thing I could imagine being improved about it is to add some interior illustrations, which is more of a publishing thing rather than a criticism of the book itself, added value, not something that detracts from it now.
One of the things I loved most about The Wind Child is the emotional impact the story had on me. Mara sets out on this grand adventure to try and achieve the impossible, to try and get her recently deceased father back from the afterlife. The ending of the story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming and is the best possible way the book could have resolved. It had me crying in the best possible way (though that may have been connected to reading a dead parent book around the ten year anniversary of my mum’s passing as well, making me more emotionally susceptible to the topic).
Mara and her friend Torniv are fantastic characters. They are not all-powerful, but they are stubborn and they don’t accept no for an answer, and they are determined to succeed. It was a joy to follow them on part of their story, and I wish that we got to spend more time with them. I loved The Wind Child just as much as Gabriela’s adult debut, The Second Bell, and if you have a child in your life, I highly recommend you get them a copy, and either read it with them, or let them read it while you read Gabriela’s other book. She truly is a writer to look out for, and one that I think will go far.
There’s something to be said about a book that truly surprises its readers with an unexpected message. Dark Wizard by Jeffe Kennedy certainly falls into that category. I went into this book assuming classic Fantasy-Romance content, and while the book certainly delivered on genre expectations, it genuinely surprised me with how it tied romance into its unique world-building and magic system and used it as a social commentary on slavery and self-worth. Thought-provoking and sometimes necessarily uncomfortable in its message, Dark Wizard is the first book in Kennedy’s Bonds of Magic series. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 25/02/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
Lord Gabriel Phel wants one thing: to restore his shattered House to its former station in the Convocation’s complex and arcane society. Fortunately, through a wild chance of birth, he was born with the magic of a powerful wizard, the first in his family in generations. If he can obtain a familiar to supplement his skills, ideally one who is a highborn daughter who can also be his lady wife, then he’ll be that much closer to restoring House Phel. And to exacting his ultimate revenge on the Convocation that destroyed his family.
Lady Veronica Elal doesn’t have many choices. To her bitter disappointment, she will never be the powerful wizard she and her father hoped she’d be. Instead Nic is doomed to be a familiar like her mother, a second-class citizen in the Convocation, and one destined to be bonded to a wizard, serving his purposes for the rest of her life. Her one hope lies in entering the Betrothal Trials—and choosing a wizard from the Convocation candidates that she can manipulate. Whichever one of her suitors impregnates her will claim her as familiar and wife, and she can use her wiles to rule her wizard master, and the House she marries into.
But Gabriel throws a wrench into Nic’s careful scheming, by seducing and fascinating her. When she finds she’s pregnant by the rogue wizard she can never hope to control, Nic does the unthinkable: she runs.
At its core, Dark Wizard delivers a powerful message about slavery, self-worth, and how our world view and possibilies for self are shaped through the lens of our upbringing and societal expectations. Kennedy’s world-building focuses on a magic system and a social structure that has developed around that system. In this world, magic is the purview of wizards – they alone can wield magic and they do so under the contracts of their particular house and the laws of the Convocation. But magic is also held by familiars, and this is where the conflict arises and the world-building gets interesting. Familiars can hold as much magic as a Wizard, but they can’t use it – their magic must be channeled for use by a wizard – creating an unbalanced power dynamic in which a familiar is magically bound in servitude to a wizard, their entire lives relegated to providing a fountain of magic for their wizard to pull from, having no agency to change their fate or shape a purpose of their own.
At first, I was taken aback and (honestly) a bit disgusted by the brutal concept of the Betrothal Trials. When a familiar is ready to be bonded to a wizard, they are paired each month with a new candidate to determine the couple’s “productivity” (so-to-speak) – they bed each other to find out if they can get pregnant, thereby ensuring a magical bloodline. If the pair gets pregnant that month, they are bonded, and the familiar enters a life of servitude to the wizard. If not, they are repaired, and the process continues until pregnancy occurs. Like I said, brutal. But once I got deeper into the book, I understood the Betrothal Trials to be part of the larger, complex world-building that really is an allegory for slavery and a construction necessary for delivering important messages about slavery and self-worth. I should point out that these pairings are not based on gender – the wizard-familiar bond can happen between any combination of genders, and I really love that Kennedy took gender out of this discussion all together.
The Romance plot of this book is interwoven with what I believe will be the ongoing series arc – dismantling the caste system enforced by the Convocation. Gabriel summarily rejects the ideals and strictures set up around the power dynamic betwen familiars and wizards, because his upbringing was not shaped by the Convocation. He doesn’t base his self-worth, or that of others, on magical potential. He wants to bond and marry Nic out of love and trust. Unfortunately, Nic’s upbringing was vastly different, and her entire life and world view has been shaped by the Convocation. She struggles with a relationship based in true love and trust, the very concepts to her impossible given the power dynamic and expectations of the wizard-fimilar bond. Can they ever be sure that they’ve truly won each other’s hearts, or are they merely compelled to each other by their stations? The contrast between Gabriel and Nic’s world views – the potential for new, versus the confines of the old – and the ideals that have been ingrained in them since birth form the basis of a fascinating relationship that has so much potential for both evolution and growth.
Another clever aspect of Gabriel and Nic’s relationship that stems from their upbringings revolves around Gabriel’s use of magic. Because he is new to the world of magic and wasn’t formally trained by the Convocation, he often forgets he’s an incredibly powerful Wizard, reaching for his sword instead of using magic. Nic was the top of her class at the academy, and even though she cannot use magic herself and is supposed to be “less than” a wizard, she has all the training and knowledge Gabriel needs to understand and use his skills, adding depth and nuance to this unbalanced power dynamic central to the book’s plot and themes.
For the Romance readers out there, this series does follow the same couple, and there are open questions at the end of the first book. There is significant room for an interesting evolution in both the relationship between Gabriel and Nic as well as their relationship to the Convocation, which makes the lack of a tidy HEA understadable and necessary. I’m looking forward to reading on in the series and seeing how this all unfolds!
Stephanie Garber has been one of the most popular YA authors of recent years since she exploded onto the scene with her Caraval series. Once Upon A Broken Heart follows up on that trilogy, but at the same time stands on its own. It is the first in a new series, but features some characters that will be familiar to readers of the earlier books, while the plot itself goes in a completely new direction. The cover is also absolutely stunning (which, to be fair, is part of the reason I was so excited to dive back into the world).
Many thanks to Kate at Hodder for sending me an eARC via NetGalley, all opinions are my own as usual.
RELEASE DATE: 30/09/2021
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: For as long as she can remember, Evangeline Fox has believed in happily ever after. Until she learns that the love of her life is about to marry another, and her dreams are shattered.
Desperate to stop the wedding, and heal her wounded heart, Evangeline strikes a deal with the charismatic, but wicked, Prince of Hearts. In exchange for his help, he asks for three kisses, to be given at the time and place of his choosing.
But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that bargaining with an immortal is a dangerous game – and that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she pledged. He has plans for Evangeline, plans that will either end in the greatest happily ever after, or the most exquisite tragedy… (from Hodder)
OPINIONS: I should probably preface this by saying that I’m not exactly the target audience for this – I’m more of a person who tends to get sucked in by books that are a bit more off the beaten path and a tad less commercially oriented. That said, Once Upon A Broken Heart does hit upon a lot of the popular trends at the moment and it makes a lot of sense that this, and Garber’s other books are as popular as they are. You have the aspirational heroines, who aren’t as well-defined as to not let readers self-insert, you have dark and broody love interests with a villainous streak and you have twists and turns, romance and betrayal.
But while it is a fun and entertaining read, it never properly absorbed me. Part of it may be down to formatting issues that the eARC had (the story is interspersed with newspaper articles, and those ended up very messy, with scattered text), which will be fixed in final copies, though I don’t think that it is only that. I guess it may also be that I am just not as taken in by either of the men in Evangeline’s life – they’re just not all that swoon-worthy to me, tbh, one is bland and doesn’t really have a discernible personality, and the other is a manipulator with a track-record of being a bad person? And Evangeline herself is kind of a damsel in distress type character throughout the story, constantly relying on everyone else to sort things out for her and going ‘woe is me’. Somehow I think I may be slightly saltier about this book than I thought before I started writing this review… It’s not like it’s a bad book, but I think ultimately, it’s not one for me. And that’s ok. It’s a book aimed at a different type of reader and I really should learn not to always get sucked in by pretty covers when I kind of know that I won’t love the story from the start.
There are so many things I liked about Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt (a.k.a. Bradley Beaulieu writing under a pseudonym for his first foray into Science Fiction) that when I sat down to write this, I struggled to organize my thoughts into a coherent review. I had this overwhelming urge to gush and simply list all the disparate pieces of this book that resonated with me. But upon further reflection (and after tempering my initial impulse), I realized that these various elements all contribute to a singular purpose that can be summarized quite succinctly: to present the reader with a uniquely expansive and unexpectedly harsh world that makes the book’s simple message about love and the essence of humanity that much more profound. I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 07/12/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
Liam Mulcahey, a reclusive, shell-shocked veteran, remembers little of the Great War. Ten years later, when he is caught in a brutal attack on a Chicago speakeasy, Liam is saved by Grace, an alluring heiress who’s able to cast illusions. Though the attack appears to have been committed by the hated Uprising, Grace believes it was orchestrated by Leland De Pere–Liam’s former commander and the current President of the United States.
Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but when De Pere learns of it, he orders his militia to eliminate Liam at any cost.
But Liam’s abilities are expanding quickly. When Liam turns the tables and digs deeper into De Pere’s plans, he discovers a terrible secret. The same experiment that granted Liam’s abilities was bent toward darker purposes. Liam must navigate both his enemies and supposed allies to stop the President’s nefarious plans before they’re unleashed on the world. And Grace is hiding secrets of her own, secrets that could prove every bit as dangerous as the President’s.
More often than not, when I find myself captivated by a speculative fiction novel, intriguing world-building plays an especially significant role. I can point to several novels that have caught my interest due to their unique and imaginative world-building, and to this day these books stand out in my memory for their ability to transport me to a world so unlike anything I might have expected. The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams and An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock immediately come to mind; Absynthe now falls high on this list.
Imagine if WWI had taken place on American soil, the final, definitive battle on the shores of Lake Michigan in a suburb of Milwaukee. And then imagine that WWI warfare was augmented with mechanikal exoskeletons called Hoppers and performance-enhancing biotech. Absynthe provides readers with a well-crafted and vivid “decopunk” aesthetic, inventing a world where tommy guns and flights of absynthe in jazz-filled speakeasies exist alongside automata with human intelligence, zeppelins, and bullet trains that connect Chicago with the new capital of Nova Solis. The world-building is rich and encompassing from pinstripe suits and flapper dresses to the Saint Lawrence Pact of nations allied against the US. It transports you to a world with roots in our reality, but wholly reimagined, providng ample setting for the themes of the mysterious and winding plot.
(Aside: As a Milwaukee native, this book resonated with me in a very special way. If I said this book’s setting didn’t have anything to do with my interest, it would be a bold-faced lie! I never realized how satisfying it would be to read a genre novel set in the city in which I grew up and still utterly adore. The local references to places like Lake Geneva, the Kinnickinnic River, Whitefish Bay, and Dinkel’s were like a warm hug of familiarity that I didn’t know I needed.)
But it is also a harsh world in which veterans are used and discarded, where soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress, their mortal wounds often healed with mechanikal appendages and devices, citizens are injected with mysterious serums, and factions within the US undermine the trust of the government and each other. Bellencourt presents the evils of war and humanizes them through the struggles of his characters; Liam’s constant flashbacks, Clay’s inability to accept a life bound to mechaniks, and the revelation of Alistair’s true nature all contribute to a moral commentary on the true cost of war in the humanity that is lost in its aftermath.
The plot is a fast-paced mystery in which the main character Liam struggles to piece together the truth surrounding the tensions between, and intentions of, the government he fought for and the Uprising that is helping restore the vestiges of his shattered memory. The serums, their application, their evolution, and their interplay create an evocative SciFi plot that will have you theorizing and reading well into the night! As the truth about the serums is slowly revealed, and the pieces of the puzzle start to come together, Liam begins to question his actions and those of his leaders, the nature of his most important relationships, and ultimately what is needed to defeat the rising evil that threatens them all. His relationships are powerful in their diversity – he takes comfort from caring for his Nana, he’s devoted to his best friend Morgan, and he develops romantic feelings for Colette. But at the core of each relationship is an unconditional love, something that defines them as completely human and ultimately provides their deliverance. I found Liam’s realization and the subsequent ending heartfelt, infused with a message I think we all need right now.
Creative and intricate world-building and strong themes delivered through a griping and fast-paced plot are sure to capture any reader of Beaulieu’s debut Science Fiction novel. If I’ve captured your interest as much as this book captured mine, you can find Absynthe on Goodreads here, and pre-order it via Amazon here.
Addictive stories are always a goodie in my book – and The Offset is certainly that. It has an extremely hooky concept, and asks some really interesting moral questions.
Many thanks to the lovely Caroline at Angry Robot for sending an ARC – all opinions are my own as usual.
RELEASE DATE: 14/09/2021
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: In a dying world, the Offset ceremony has been introduced to counteract and discourage procreation. It is a rule that is simultaneously accepted, celebrated and abhorred. But in this world, survival demands sacrifice so for every birth, there must be a death.
Professor Jac Boltanski is leading Project Salix, a ground-breaking new mission to save the world by replanting radioactive Greenland with genetically-modified willow trees. But things aren’t working out and there are discrepancies in the data. Has someone intervened to sabotage her life’s work? In the meantime, her daughter Miri, an anti-natalist, has run away from home. Days before their Offset ceremony where one of her mothers must be sentenced to death, she is brought back against her will following a run-in with the law. Which parent will Miri pick to die: the one she loves, or the one she hates who is working to save the world? (from Angry Robot)
OPINIONS: So this has an incredibly compelling hook – on your eighteenth birthday, you have to choose one of your parents to die to offset your carbon dioxide output as the levels have risen to an unsustainable niveau. And Miri is about to turn eighteen. Her choice is more difficult than most – she has two mothers, and while she is quite clear on what her heart tells her to do, one of her mothers is a scientist working to save all of humanity – and in a crucial position to do so. Unfortunately, this is also the mother Miri’s never gotten along with. So, yeah. It’s an interesting story – though one led more by teen angst than I had expected, to be honest.
However, the concept was what I liked best about this book. I felt like especially the ending was ultimately very unsatisfying in terms of answering my questions, and much of the plot hinged on the characters not communicating or communicating very badly, and that is something that I tend to find very frustrating. There are some major moments where the story could have gone in a very different direction if the characters would have just TALKED TO EACH OTHER, and where it felt to me at least, it would have been natural to communicate better.
So while I was sucked into the world of The Offset, I also left it feeling very frustrated. This has left me feeling very ambivalent about it as a whole – it does bring up interesting questions, especially in terms of how humanity will persevere when our natural resources become finite, but also it feels like it didn’t really live up to the potential it had by letting its characters remain rather stereotypical archetypes and not moving out of the expected path. I don’t think I was ever truly surprised by the book, and I wish I was. Really ended up being a proper three star read for me.
I love Shakespeare – in fact, the very first theatre production I staged as a director was one of the bard’s. So modern reworkings of his work have always had a special place in my heart. And ones focused on overlooked female characters? Yes please. I was thrilled when I heard of Learwife and jumped at the opportunity to read and review this wonderful novel in the vein of Madeline Miller’s Circe or Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne , though situated a bit more on the literary end of the spectrum. It doesn’t hurt that the cover’s absolutely gorgeous, either.
Many thanks to Lucy Zhou and Canongate for the ARC, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 04/11/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: ’I am the queen of two crowns, banished fifteen years, the famed and gilded woman, bad-luck baleful girl, mother of three small animals, now gone. I am fifty-five years old. I am Lear’s wife. I am here.’
Word has come. Care-bent King Lear is dead, driven mad and betrayed. His three daughters too, broken in battle. But someone has survived: Lear’s queen. Exiled to a nunnery years ago, written out of history, her name forgotten. Now she can tell her story.
Though her grief and rage may threaten to crack the earth open, she knows she must seek answers. Why was she sent away in shame and disgrace? What has happened to Kent, her oldest friend and ally? And what will become of her now, in this place of women? To find peace she must reckon with her past and make a terrible choice – one upon which her destiny, and that of the entire abbey, rests.
Giving unforgettable voice to a woman whose absence has been a tantalising mystery, Learwife is a breathtaking novel of loss, renewal and how history bleeds into the present. (from Canongate)
OPINIONS: Learwife is beautifully written. I was immediately immersed in the prose, which is always a good sign for a book. The story starts where King Lear’s story traditionally ends: the tragic death of Lear’s family. But his queen isn’t mentioned in the play, and so this is her story, picking up the pieces after the death of her estranged husband and children. It is told non-linearly, jumping between memories and the present day, though it never feels like the thread of the story gets lost in the telling.
I loved that the memories gave us more insight into Lear’s daughters – who, for the most part – only exist as flat archetypes in their own stories. These snapshots gave us a view of who they were as people, as children, as girls growing up. And ultimately, this showed that the story of Lear isn’t the story of a man and his tragedy, but the story of a family – and a family made up of mostly women. As Queen Lear unravels her life and picks up the fragments of her future, she paints a harrowing picture of her family that shows more than the original play ever did.
Learwife isn’t a fast-moving, plot heavy story. It is a meditation, a haunting piece of writing. Everytime I think literary novels might not be for me, something like this comes along and makes me fall in love with the genre all over again – I wouldn’t be surprised if this one will be nominated for awards as well as receive a lot of critical acclaim. It really is a win in my book.
Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire is really the OG sapphic YA fantasy. I feel like when it came out in 2018 it was one of the first books to lean into what is now an established sub-genre, especially considering the lead time needed in traditional publishing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and its sequel, Girls of Storm and Shadow, when they first came out, and so I was super excited to read the last book in the trilogy. I do have to admit, when I first started Girls of Fate and Fury, I struggled to follow along – so I squeezed in a cheeky reread and read the whole trilogy over the past week. And I think I loved them even more this time around!
Massive thanks to Kate Keehan and Hodder for sending me an eARC of this via NetGalley, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 23/11/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: The final pages of Girls of Storm and Shadow brought a jaw-dropping conclusion that had the fates of Lei and Wren hanging in uncertainty. But one thing was certain – the Hidden Palace was the last place that Lei would ever consider home. The trauma and tragedy she suffered behind those opulent walls would plague her forever. She could not be trapped there with the sadistic king again, especially without Wren. The last Lei saw of the girl she loved, Wren was fighting an army of soldiers in a furious battle to the death. With the two girls torn apart and each in terrorizing peril, will they find each other again or have their destinies diverged forever? (from Hodder)
OPINIONS: I loved Girls of Fate and Fury. In fact, I loved re-reading the whole trilogy, but this conclusion to the series was the best book out of all of them. It took all of the themes and things I enjoyed, and went into them in more depth and detail. This still is the wonderful sapphic YA fantasy centred around Lei and Wren that readers have loved since the beginning, but this really dives into the themes of abuse and trauma. Not only are Lei and Wren dealing with their pasts and present, but many of the side characters actively show and experience the consequences of what happens to them, and their treatment at the hands of the king.
Natasha Ngan is a master at writing with compassion. The way she writes about trauma, abuse and disability never feels like it’s condescending or lecturing, but accepting. As someone with mental health issues, I really empathized with the wide range of responses the former Paper Girls had in the wake of Lei’s return – none of them considered lesser because they struggled. Another character became paralyzed, and after the first shock of everyone around them, the acceptance and love that emanated from the characters was wonderful. Not many authors manage to strike this balance and it is clear that this series is a true labour of love for Ngan.
And damn, the story. It’s fast-paced – faster than the previous two books – and extremely addictive. I really liked that this switched between Lei and Wren’s PoV for the first time, as they are apart for the first time in the trilogy. It really allowed both their stories to shine, and Ngan to explore the struggles they faced. And while, obviously they are the OTP and fated to be together, reading about them striving to reunite and longing for the other is so damn delicious. Combine that with revolution, overthrowing an evil king and friendships in all their iterations, and you have a fantastic conclusion to a great trilogy.
The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw is one of those books that coasts on vibes. And because one of the important locations of the story is a planet called Dimmuborgir, and it is an angry queer space opera, I can’t resist starting this review with a Dimmu Borgir song – I love that the band’s vibes fit the book’s vibes so well. So press play, and have the fitting soundtrack to get you into the right mood.
And we’re back with the second space opera of the week. The All-Consuming World is a very different kettle of fish to Far From the Light of Heaven, though, much less streamlined and linear, and far grittier and queer. I really enjoyed the reading experience of this one too but this one will be much more of a Marmite type book, dividing opinion as it is ultimately something very special. Massive thanks to Marty at Erewhon for sending me a review copy, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 07/09/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Maya has died and been resurrected into countless cyborg bodies through the years of a long, dangerous career with the infamous Dirty Dozen, the most storied crew of criminals in the galaxy, at least before their untimely and gruesome demise.
Decades later, she and her diverse team of broken, diminished outlaws must get back together to solve the mystery of their last, disastrous mission and to rescue a missing and much-changed comrade… but they’re not the only ones in pursuit of the secret at the heart of the planet Dimmuborgir.
The highly evolved AI of the galaxy have their own agenda and will do whatever it takes to keep humanity from ever regaining control. As Maya and her comrades spiral closer to uncovering the AIs’ vast conspiracy, this band of violent women—half-clone and half-machine—must battle their own traumas and a universe of sapient ageships who want them dead, in order to settle their affairs once and for all. (from Erewhon)
OPINIONS: So this one is quite special. It’s really a Marmite book I think that is dividing opinions – I personally really enjoyed it, but I can see how this will definitely not work for everyone. Have a read of my thoughts and see if The All-Consuming World might be one for you. This book really lives off vibes more so than coherent storytelling. It is all about the characters and the world that they move in, and in that sense, it reminds me a bit of the brilliant Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo – which is an entirely different book, as it is a gothic dark academia novel, but it similarly focuses on vibes and atmosphere over plot.
Think of this as weird along the lines of Gideon the Ninth, edgy like Jay Kristoff (but less problematic) and fun like a very dark episode of Doctor Who with a dash of Becky Chambers. This isn’t a book for the faint of heart – there is surgery that happens while the character is awake, on the page, for example, so do heed the content warnings. The official ones are depictions of abusive relationships, mentioned character death, codependency, emotional manipulation, eye trauma, gaslighting, grief and surgery without anesthesia. It sounds like a long list of difficult topics, but it didn’t read like a heavy book to me – though that might be speaking from a position of privilege as my wounds are in very different places.
While The All-Consuming World is pitched as a heist book, it doesn’t feel like one. It’s mostly an angry queer book, set in space, where you get to know the characters, their stories and their problems. It doesn’t always feel like there is too much to the story, but ultimately I didn’t mind that. I cared about the characters, and I was emotionally invested, which is always the most crucial for me personally. I just loved being along for the ride with these characters and enjoyed my experience. It is a book that functions like a Black Metal album for me – escapism, forgetting the world and how shit it is by sinking into noise.
A fun mixture of historical fantasy, mystery and romance, with lots of wit, entertaining characters and my favourite use of weaponized holly. Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy, all opinions are my own
RELEASE DATE: 02/11/21 (US) 09/12/2021 (UK)
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.
Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.
Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles—and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.
OPINIONS: After an introductory chapter, the main story starts with Robin Blyth, an easy-going, charming non-magical person suddenly and without warning finding out about the existence of magic when he has been spitefully put into what his supervisor thinks is a dead-end, out of the way job deep within the Civil Service. The highly prickly (although not without good reason) Edwin Courcey is his liaison and guide to the previously unknown world of magic.
The writing for this reveal is particularly effective. Whilst it grounds the rules and parameters of this world’s magic, it does it in a natural way without the dreaded info dump. The magic in this world is straightforward to understand- based largely on patterns and “cradling” i.e winding string (or in this case energy) in shapes and lines to produce a result. How magic is revealed to Robin is particularly effective at highlighting his character to a T. Instead of the expected horror or apprehension he’s charmed and a little bit delighted with what Edwin shows him. Edwin on the other hand, whose magic is significantly weaker than is expected in his otherwise magically powerful family gets to bask in Robin’s enjoyment and show off a little. This pattern of Robin appreciating Edwin for what he can do, and illuminating how spectacular it is when viewed in a different light to one his family uses is repeated again and again throughout the book – my favourite one is when Edwin has effectively recreated a magical version of the Dewy decimal system and brushes it off as not worth mentioning. He’s not being modest, it just doesn’t seem to him to compare to his family’s achievements or what was expected of him.
Although it’s set in a version of Edwardian England where queerness is still secret and undesirable, hiding their feelings both from each other and society as a whole is not a key part of this book. Both realise the other is interested in men fairly on in the book and in a low key, undramatic way. This gives the story time to question what it is that they both want from each other and how their characters play off each other. Whilst at its simplest it is the sunshine happy-go-lucky and the gloomy withdrawn misanthropist pairing both Robin and Edwin are more than that very simple definition. Although Robin is definitely the golden retriever he appears early on in the book, he’s a person who is at home in himself, unlike Edwin who is all sharp edges and elbows. Both have been strongly shaped by the expectations and abuse of their families albeit in very different ways
The mystery side of this book is also strong. As Robin has been cursed by the same people looking for the mysterious object mentioned in the first chapter, he’s dragged through half of Southern England’s libraries looking for answers. As a book lover, the description of the library at Edwin’s family home is the thing of dreams and the maze Robin and Edwin end up trapped in is one of my favourite parts of the book where plants come to life and holly becomes a somewhat unnerving weapon. The book also sets itself up well for the remainder of the (presumed) trilogy without feeling like nothing is resolved.
All in all a fun blend of historical fantasy and romance with a mystery added for good measure. Perfect for fans of KJ Charles.
I saw the cover for Far From the Light of Heaven and I knew I needed to read this book, even though I’m not always a massive fan of science fiction. I started Rosewater by the same authors quite a while back, and it’s still on my pile of partially read books – I’m not sure why, but my mood-reader self didn’t quite click with it at the time. But I can say with confidence that even if Tade Thompson’s earlier work wasn’t for you, pick up Far From the Light of Heaven – it is a great story, addictive and thought-provoking (and I know quite a few people who feel similarly about this one!).
Many thanks to Nazia Khatun at Orbit for sending me an ARC of this excellent space opera. All opinions are my own as usual.
RELEASE DATE: 28/10/2021
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: The colony ship Ragtime docks in the Lagos system, having traveled light-years to bring one thousand sleeping souls to a new home among the stars. But when first mate Michelle Campion rouses, she discovers some of the sleepers will never wake.
Answering Campion’s distress call, investigator Rasheed Fin is tasked with finding out who is responsible for these deaths. Soon a sinister mystery unfolds aboard the gigantic vessel, one that will have repercussions for the entire system—from the scheming politicians of Lagos station, to the colony planet Bloodroot, to other far-flung systems, and indeed to Earth itself. (from Orbit)
OPINIONS: Hi, you need this book. And coming from someone who doesn’t read too much space opera that means something. (though funnily enough, the next book I’m going to review is ALSO space opera) I really really enjoyed Far From the Light of Heaven. It is compulsively readable, and has that great quality of being accessible and commercial while still having deeper themes and making you think without hitting the reader over the head with its politics – a balance that Orbit’s editors have been managing to hit really well with their recent releases. I started reading this one a little while ago, and got distracted with life, and when I picked it up to just read a few chapters, it sucked me in and I blitzed through the last two-thirds of the book – that’s how compelling it is.
This is space opera, and a locked-room murder mystery, and a criticism of capitalism (there’s a UBER-rich guy who reads as a cross between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk – obviously he ends up dead and is a dumbass) and so basically combines everything needed for a damn good story. Ultimately, the ending feels a bit rushed – I thought there was still a bit of story coming and was blindsided by the book being over (partially because the ARC came with some back matter that filled the last 20-30 pages) – but that feels like a minor quibble. And oh, Shell and Fin are such wonderful characters. I loved their interactions, their banter, and how they grow as the story unfolds. The way Ragtime’s AI is woven into the narrative is delightful too.
I thought that the way the bigger issues about space travel, capitalism and worker’s rights and conditions were woven into this story about deaths on a spaceship was really well done, in a way that did not feel like the author was forcing his readers to deal with them, while subtly making it clear that these were important factors driving both the story and our world. This really is one of the best space operas I have read, and one that I will be thinking about for a long time to come.
All in all, highly recommended. If you like your books fast-paced, smart and compelling, even if you’re not the biggest fan of science fiction or space opera usually. Add Far From the Light of Heaven to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).