In my current research project, I have this knack – I’m working on the Horned God in fantasy fiction, a figure that usually pops up on the sidelines or has a very limited presence, but casually browsing bookshelves in a shop or library, I’ll often pick up a random volume that catches my eye – and there he is. It’s uncanny, honestly! This was certainly the case with Sistersong. I picked the volume up on recommendation from Fabienne and because I enjoyed Lucy Holland’s previous fantasy oeuvre, the Worldmaker trilogy. I did not expect to find Cernunnos in its pages, nor did I expect that this novel would come to occupy such a central space in my research.
Sistersong weaves a sellic spell that pluck at the heartstrings and leaves the reader wondering.
RELEASE DATE: 28/04/2022
STAR RATING: 5/5✶
SUMMARY: King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for adventure.
All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky – bringing Myrdhin, meddler and magician. The siblings discover the power that lies within them and the land. But fate also brings Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.
Riva, Keyne and Sinne become entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, and must fight to forge their own paths. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain (from Pan Macmillan).
OPINIONS: First and foremost, this is an excellently researched novel. The historical details are grounded in both medieval chronicles and longstanding tradition of reimagining the Middle Ages, but Sistersong also respectfully engages with concerns of the 21st century, especially gender politics and notions of spiritual autonomy.
As for the Horned God, Cernunnos, his godhood is more literary than factual – the name survives to us in a single inscription of a Gallo-Roman devotional stele discovered in Paris (you can see it here), and archaeological evidence suggests he was a local deity subsumed into the Roman pantheon as Gaul became part of the Roman Empire. Further concrete information about how he was worshipped and by whom is lost to history, but he did find an ally in anthropologist Margaret Murray, whose ideas can be considered key for modern paganism in the West. Murray suggested that Cernunnos was one example among countless expressions of a pan-European Horned God, embodiment of male sexuality, wildness, and the natural world. This idea was taken up by fantasy authors to give Cernunnos a revived divinity. And he makes his appearance in Sistersong, along with Celtic goddesses Andraste, Brigid, and Epona.
What struck me specifically was the gods were seen as ways of understanding the natural world. It’s something I’m arguing in my thesis: pagan gods in fiction are used to bring to mind nature and our relationship with it. And Holland presents this idea is a wonderfully eloquent way: at one point in the narrative one of the protagonists discusses the nature of magic with Myrdhin/Mori, a mysterious mentor character. Mori insists that there are no gods, and that ‘Brigid, Andraste, the Horned One […] are just names […] folk have given the land and its many faces.’
Throughout the novel, humanity’s union with and attention to the land is leitmotif that defines the characters’ success or downfall – forget the land’s name and you forget yourself. Without overtly referencing the current ecological catastrophe, Holland brings to mind the importance of human compassion to our environment. I found this incredibly powerful.
Now that Sistersong is out in paperback, do give it a read yourself and delve into legends of spectral hunts, ancient monuments and the uncanny bond between three siblings.
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?
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.
For those who are looking for an unconventional sci-fi read exploring topics of ecology, empathy and the morality of making money, this book will have you snap your fingers and go ‘found it!’ The Devil’s Dictionary is full of complex questions, but it never leaves levity behind. It’s wry protagonist and clever, tongue-in-cheek narrative style are bound to get you hooked.
RELEASE DATE: 19/04/2022
STAR RATING: 5/5 *
Hard to say exactly when the human species fractured. Harder to say when this new talent arrived. But Lion Zorn, protagonist of Last Tango in Cyberspace, is the first of his kind—an empathy tracker, an emotional forecaster, with a felt sense for how culture evolves and the future arrives.
It’s also a useful skill in today’s competitive business market.
In The Devil’s Dictionary, when a routine em-tracking job goes sideways and em-trackers themselves start disappearing, Lion finds himself not knowing who to trust in a life and death race to uncover the truth. And when the trail leads to the world’s first mega-linkage, a continent-wide national park advertised as the best way to stave off environmental collapse, and exotic animals unlike any on Earth start showing up—Lion’s quest for truth becomes a fight for the survival of the species. (from Macmillan)
Hands down, my favourite read of the year! Kotler takes no prisoners in this sci-fi novel meets detective mystery. The premise that a mind-altering substance actually increases your empathy to other, especially other-than-human, beings is refreshing after the convention of sci-fi tech equaling emotionless rationality. It is also an excellent premise through which to discuss human-led ecological change, which Kotler does exceptionally well.
Kotler’s language has a superb physicality to it. Like ‘one of those info-marketers turned self-help gurus, …, who seems to have self-helped himself to damn nearly every piece of real estate in this part of London’ – a situation that is both alternative reality and also here, now, unapologetically in your face. The dialogue especially is a marvellous thing. The story’s diverse cast is captured through unique linguistic patterns and mannerisms. The conversations are vibrant, with interruptions, tangents and in-jokes that make them come alive. I’ve had these conversations with my friends. Well, maybe not exactly these conversations…
Since I work on ecological themes in literature for my research, The Devil’s Dictionary was a goldmine of philosophical quandaries and popular imagination assumptions, all bound up in a riveting plot that zigs and zags its way through the mystery, but never lets the readers lose themselves. I finished the book galvanised; perhaps, because despite tackling current social concerns, the novel does not preach anything, but presents a complex situation in a complex world. And that world is not lacking in beauty for being imperfect. It’s a book with feeling, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone!
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.
I love traveling with the help of books – especially in these days. And A Thousand Steps Into Night takes us into a Japanese-inspired secondary world called Awara, following the adventures of Miuko. A world of demons, gods and humans, where anything can happen. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay, and I hope you’ll follow me there.
Many thanks to Harper360YA for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 01/03/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: In the realm of Awara, where gods, monsters, and humans exist side by side, Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to a safe, if uneventful, existence as an innkeeper’s daughter.
But when Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life. Aided by a thieving magpie spirit and continuously thwarted by a demon prince, Miuko must outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods if she wants to make it home again.
With her transformation comes power and freedom she never even dreamed of, and she’ll have to decide if saving her soul is worth trying to cram herself back into an ordinary life that no longer fits her… and perhaps never did. (from HarperCollins)
OPINIONS: I love me a compelling YA. And A Thousand Steps Into Night has something that made me fall in love with it quite early on in the story: a scene in which Miuko, the main character, is disguised as male – magically, so she doesn’t have to worry about visibly passing – and has actual gender feelings about it. And not in the way of discovering that she is, in fact, trans or gender non-conforming, but a scene in which she moves through the world, ostensibly male for everyone who perceives her, but feeling uncomfortable in this body, specifically pointing out elements of dysphoria this disguise is giving her. And that is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a YA novel before. It is something so small – the scene only takes up a couple of pages – but it is something that meant a lot to me, to have this trope of a girl passing as a boy interrogated from the perspective of what this actually does with a person.
As a whole, the story is relatively fast-paced and compelling. It is in many ways a YA fantasy that revolves around tropes, and as such, doesn’t feel like it re-invents the wheel. But it is compelling and keeps the reader enthralled. Miuko is a charming heroine, and one who doesn’t feel overpowered. She isn’t incapable of failure – which for me is always something that irritates – and the narration sticks close enough to her to get her insecurities across. And that is where YA shines for me – the main characters are allowed to be insecure and not know how to deal with the world and unknown situations. I found A Thousand Steps Into Night to be a fun, escapist read with some deeper undertones that made me like it all the more.
Oh, and I loved the footnotes giving more information about the Japanese mythology behind creatures and elements in the story. Both in terms of pronunciation and backstory, I just loved the added focus on *this is something relevant* as somewhat of an information magpie.
One of my favourite tropes is books about books. There is just something special about stories that share that love for the written word so openly, that carry their heart on their sleeve. And A.J. Hackwith’s Hell’s Library trilogy does this in so many different ways. Set in the Unwritten Wing – the part of Hell’s Library where books that were never finished are kept – Claire, the librarian, is an author herself, and Hero and Brevity, the two other main characters are a literal main character and a muse respectively. It is a special series, combining a love for books and storytelling with action-packed fantasy, and The God of Lost Words is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
Many thanks to Sarah Mather at Titan Books for sending me a review copy, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 08/02/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: To save the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, former librarian Claire and her allies may have to destroy it first.
Claire, rakish Hero, angel Rami, and muse-turned-librarian Brevity have accomplished the impossible by discovering the true nature of unwritten books. But now that the secret is out, in its quest for power Hell will be coming for every wing of the Library.
To protect the Unwritten Wing and stave off the insidious reach of Malphas, Hell’s most bloodthirsty general, Claire and her friends will have to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to keep their vulnerable corner of the afterlife. Succeeding would mean rewriting the nature of the Library, but losing would mean obliteration. Their only chance at survival lies in outwitting Hell and writing a new chapter for the Library. Luckily, Claire and her friends know how the right story, told well, can start a revolution. (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: I’ve been burned a few times with sequels recently. But this one is a heck of a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favourite of the three, to be entirely honest. The first sets up the characters and world, the second introduces a more expansive setting (including a very skaldic Valhalla!) and this third volume has the entire ecosystem break down and having to be re-built. The God of Lost Words is as immersive and addictive as the first two books in the series – just with even higher stakes. If you have liked the series so far, this is a must read, and if you’re new to the series this should be incentive enough to pick it up and binge all three.
I think what draws me so much to these books is that the characters, for the most part, are those who love stories as much as I do. And that makes connecting with them that much easier. But this isn’t just about that. This is a book about what it means to care about your home and the people in it, wherever that may be. About a willingness to sacrifice everything for those you hold dear. Unexpected bravery, found through research and logic, but attained through emotion. And that is what I love about these books. They are set in Hell, in what is proverbially the worst place in the universe, but they are about personal connection, about human relationships (even if most characters aren’t technically humans) and about finding out who you are inside and what your passions are. The series is at times pulpy, often fast-paced, but always full of compassion and heart.
Writing about this last book in the series has made me want to do a binge-reread of the whole trilogy, so I hope I have been able to bring across some of my love for these books. They are some of my favourite library-set stories, incorporating mythology from a variety of cultures and focusing on their characters and bringing them to (after)life. Add The God of Lost Words to your Goodreads here, or order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
This is one of my new favourites. I fell head over heels for this middle grade graphic novels about deep sea creatures taking over a diving suit, addressing themes of loss, family and finding yourself. Massive thanks to Kiran at Scholastic for sending me a review copy, all opinions are entirely my own.
RELEASE DATE: 01/03/2022
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: The Aquanaut follows a group of determined characters on their entangled journey to save their family. First there’s a band of sea creatures struggling to find their way to a fabled paradise and safe haven for marine life. Then there’s a girl who lost her father at sea and is at risk of losing her uncle to his obsession with the legacy of a theme park. The unlikely group find their way to each other at AQUALAND, and stumble across what they are looking for in unexpected ways. (from Scholastic)
OPINIONS: This middle grade graphic novel is absolutely adorable – but also heartbreaking and sad and emotional. It is one that is suited for children just as much as for adults, and perhaps older readers even get more out of it than younger ones. It deals with family, loss and standing up for yourself. This makes it not necessarily an easy read, but one worth your while. It starts out with the loss of a parent – a topic that may be triggering for some, but handles it well and with nuance throughout the story.
I thought that the graphic novel format worked especially well to tell this particular story – the form worked with the characters and plot to shape and make them come to life in ways that a purely linguistic story would not have been able to. A great example for the value of graphic stories for young readers! (I’m a huge proponent of letting everyone read in the format that works best for them, but its always lovely to come across a story where formats other than text add so much to it.)
For me, this is a true gem of a book, and one I see myself picking up again and again when I need to have a good cry and a comfort read. It is one of my favourite graphic novels of all time and I highly recommend it to anyone.
‘Never gamble more than you can afford to lose’ is an excellent tag-line, but The Knave of Secrets refreshingly focuses on the losses of a single person. There is no cosmic evil rearing to engulf the world in darkness, no prophesied saviour, but the stakes are high none the less, and the protagonists must make their own luck to stay ahead in the game. Oh, and if you’re into period table-top games – this one’s for you!
RELEASE DATE: 07/06/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 *
When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.
Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war… (from Simon & Schuster)
This book is bound to appeal both to fans of Now You See Me and to those who like their fantasy with a side of politics. Like a clever card trick, The Knave… looks good from all angles. For me personally, it is an unusual choice: a book in which the vast expanses of the world are glimpsed in the gaps, and the real action takes place in close rooms and across gaming tables. The protagonist, a middle-aged ‘honest cheat’, is also hardly the type I tend to go for. But for all that, The Knave of Secrets was a wonderfully refreshing read. Despite it’s well-developed world, it scales the narrative down to human concerns and personal choices. Resolutions lie not in force of arms, but in a cleverly played secret.
Livingston’s research of gambling and dishonest play is impeccable, but I have to confess my attention wandered from some descriptions of gameplay. The book reminded me of a Dutch genre painting: a glimpse of a life that is all the more titillating for its brevity and its incompleteness. The characters feel like they’ll go right along with their lives after I’ve turned the final page.
From a metatextual point of view, The Knave… is cognisant of its readership. Subtle choices that problematise nationalism, elitism, and inequalities in education (especially the magical sort) are made to Livingston’s credit. It’s a book of quiet tension, and one I would openly recommend.
Offer me queer dark fantasy and I will not be able to resist. I’m a simple Fab in that respect. And Pennyblade by J.L. Worrad is certainly dark, gritty and fast-paced, a true grimdark fantasy that will likely appeal to many readers who come to this because of those elements, even if it didn’t click for me.
Many thanks to Sarah at Titan Books for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own as usual.
RELEASE DATE: 29/03/2022
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Exile. Mercenary. Lover. Monster. Pennyblade.
Kyra Cal’Adra has spent the last four years on the Main, living in exile from her people, her power and her past. A commrach, she’s welcome among the humans only for her rapierwork. They don’t care about her highblood, which of the gleaming towers she came from, nor that her family aspires to rule the Isle.
On the Main, superstitions and monsters are in every shadow, but Kyra is haunted by the ghost of Shen, the love of her life and lowblood servant she left behind. She survives by wit and blade alone in a land that would see her dead for who she is, for who she loves.
When her fellow pennyblades betray her, Kyra is forced to track the demon preying on the souls of the commoners. She must tear the masks off to see the true face of things, as the age-old conflict between the Main and the Isle threatens to erupt once more. (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: Pennyblade is fast paced, and thus draws the reader in quickly. However, I didn’t feel like it lived up to the excitement it built up through the immersive and fast plotting – and I think, at least for me personally, that was largely connected to the narrative perspective. It felt like the focus was left on the action to such an extent that even though this is a queer fantasy and one in a world which is very much not queernormative, it is not something that really came through all that much while reading, and especially not on an emotional level. As a whole, the book felt like it was written through a very male gaze which made me bounce off the story constantly. This probably means that I am not the right reader for the book – I think someone who comes to Pennyblade from a more traditional grimdark background is less likely to struggle with the same issues I struggled with coming to it coming from a more queer, character-driven background.
And grimdark is the best way to describe this novel. In every regard, from the writing, to the world, to the characters. It is full of swearing, betrayal and general shittiness – I don’t think I can really remember anything positive happening throughout the story. And again, I can see this working a lot better for a lot of readers, but I do tend to want just a tad of positivity in my reading, some moments of tenderness. Pennyblade just felt a bit pointless in the end, as I just couldn’t get myself to care about bad things happening to unlikeable people. As you may be able to tell, the book kind of made me very grumpy because I somehow wanted it to be something it wasn’t. That’s on me more than anything.
So yeah, a book that I think will appeal to fans of dark, pacy stories with less focus on characters and relationships than action. It exudes what I’d describe as masculine energy despite being about lesbians and swords, which I feel says a lot about it. Not necessarily bad, but one where I’d rec checking out a sample to see if it meshes with you in terms of prose and focus.